Monday, December 29, 2014

A Thought for Monday 29 December 2014

“All of you stand today before the Lord your God … that you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God makes with you today, that He may establish you as a people for Himself and that He may be God to you just as He has spoken to you and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  Deuteronomy 29:10-13 NKJV

Sometimes we make too much of New Year’s resolutions and not enough of daily resolutions in our prayers.  It is easy to go before The Lord in prayer to offer petitions and express personal desires, but it is much more challenging to stand before The Lord daily and offer to Him our hearts and minds and souls.  Yet this is what Moses is asking of the people of Israel before they enter into the Promised Land.

Time and again Moses reminded Israel of the goodness of the Land they would enter and how easily they would be enticed not only by the religious practices of those who already occupied the Land, but also by the bounty that the Land would already supply to them: “cities you did not build, houses full of all good things which you did not fill, hewn-out wells you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees you did not plant” (Deut 6:11).

Moses knew – just as surely as The Lord had given him sight to see – that it is too easy to become complacent when all the things we need are already provided for us.  Soon we get a sense of entitlement and then begin to take everything (even our faith) for granted when things become too “easy”.

So it is a necessary practice to renew ourselves to The Lord’s Covenant daily as part of our prayers and devotions, to contemplate what is being asked of us through the Written Word, and to consider how we will act as The Lord’s agents through our work.  It is not an easy task, of course, because through serious contemplation we can also see our need to confess our failures from the days before.  Yet a renewal means that we are aware of our failures and resolve to do better – long before we get so full of ourselves that we take worship, The Lord, the Covenant, our neighbors, and our faith for granted.

Let us prepare for the New Year with a new resolve; a resolve to become a part of the building UP – rather than the tearing DOWN (yes, if you do not actively support the Church with your prayers and your presence, you are actively engaged in the tearing down of the Church.  Sorry to be so blunt) – of the Holy Church, for no one will share the Gospel apart from the Church.  This is who we are, what we have been commissioned to do, what we vowed to do when we joined the Church.  And the sooner we realize the privilege (rather than a burden) of doing so, the sooner we can believe that what we do really does matter – to the Church, to our neighbors, and to The Lord.



Looking back, moving forward

Isaiah 61:10-62:2
1 Peter 2:1-8
Luke 2:21-40

"The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”  Oscar Wilde

I always wondered how New Year’s Resolutions got started.  Of course the Gregorian calendar we know today would seem to lend itself to a new start on January 1, but this calendar is relatively new (16th century) compared to a theory of new year’s resolutions dating back some 4000 years to ancient Babylonia.

The festival of Akitu, which marked the beginning of the spring harvest, not only saw the seating of a new king if applicable or the reaffirmation of loyalty to the old king, the ancient Babylonians also went through special rituals in which they affirmed their covenants to their gods especially during a time of plentiful harvest.

In ancient Rome centuries later the practice was pretty much the same except that new magistrates would come into office on March 1, and the outgoing magistrates affirmed to the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws of the Empire while the new guys took their oaths of office to do the same.

The shift from March to January took place sometime after 300 BC maybe for the sake of military campaigns.  Military commanders needed to be sworn in long before the harvest since spring was the ideal time for combat, and they would need to travel great distances as the Empire expanded its reach.  Then came a social transition.

As Romans gradually became less warlike, the switch from celebrating the New Year during a month (March) associated with Mars, the god of war to one (January), associated with Janus, a god of home and hearth, seemed appropriate. The first half of New Year's Day in Rome would have been taken up by public ceremonies, oath-taking and temple sacrifices, while the second half of the day was for social activities. Citizens would bring each other gifts of honey, pears and other sweets as presents for a ‘sweet new year’." (

So there are records to suggest New Year’s Resolutions, made on January 1 or closer to March to coincide with the harvest, began more or less as official oaths; oaths to a god and covenant or to an empire and a social contract with one another.  These were external oaths made ostensibly for the well-being of society as a whole.  As with most modern practices, it is hard to show exactly when people began making resolutions only for themselves, but it would seem that somewhere along the line people stopped worrying about society as a whole and began worrying more about themselves.

Peter’s letters should not be confused as letters to any individual.  As with most of Paul’s letters as well as Jude’s and James’ epistles, the letters are addressed to whole congregations – just as they should be read and understood.  This is important especially as Peter previously points out that “you rejoice [in the salvation to be revealed in the last time] even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials so that the genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

It goes to the time-honored question, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’  Well, Peter does not answer that question, and often we are too quick to pull that trigger whenever we cannot explain tragedies much as we might like to.  Attributing bad things to Divine Will not only gives others even more reason not to embrace The Lord who comes off as arbitrary and vindictive, doing so also encourages believers to let such things go with no thought, no introspection.  More often than not, we are as likely to say, “Better them than us” as we are to think about what we may learn from such things. 

Still, we cannot ignore another time-honored proverb; ‘That which does not kill us only makes us stronger’.  The so-called “college of hard knocks” has produced more “honor grads” than every university in the nation, maybe in the entire world.  We learn when we stumble.  We learn when we fail.  But we never learn if we never stick out our necks and take risks.  And we never love if we ignore those around us. 

We never learn from these letters, the Gospels, or the “Chronicles” of Israel if we never read them.  And we never learn if we fail to develop some kind of kinship with Israel who often brought about their own sufferings OR the early saints who suffered by the hands of others – simply for believing in something greater than themselves.  We often fail to realize or appreciate that our faith came at great cost to those who came before us.

It is reasonable to assume that even though Peter makes reference to “sufferings” endured by the congregation to whom he is writing, there are probably some who took harder knocks than others.  Yet Peter does not suggest these few got off easy.  Quite to the contrary, Peter (in speaking to an entire congregation) suggests that if one has suffered, it becomes the burden of the entire congregation.

Though there have been attempts to make something religious out of New Year’s Day (Wesley’s Renewal of Covenant in the 18th century), there is no real religious attachment.  However, it must also be said that if we enter into a New Year with no real resolve, no appreciation for what we have endured in the past, and no useful lesson learned for the future, then it can be said there is no appreciation for those among us who didn’t have such a great year and have no real reason to look forward to another year.

It is my hope that we begin a new practice to be continued in perpetuity of “remembrances”.  It is a practice done at our annual Charge Conference as well as at Annual Conference to remember those who passed away in the last year.  We not only remember the saints (and sinners) who have gone before us; we also remember their lives, their mistakes, our own mistakes, and especially remember that in Christ we all have a future.

We cannot walk into the future blindly, however.  We have been given much suffering, much loss, much grief and pain so that we may enter into the New Year stronger than the year before.  With real blessings come spiritual “scar tissue” lest we come to take too much for granted – as I think we already do.  So let us pray not only to give thanks for the past – good AND bad – but also for strength to endure the new challenges we will certainly face IF we are so willing to walk in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ without fear into the Fullness of Life – in this age and in the age to come.  Amen.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 2014: "The Word became Flesh"

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
John 1:1-5, 10-14

“Action is always superior to speech in the Gospels, which is why the Word became flesh and not newsprint.”  Colin M. Morris, Mankind my Church

The cosmic battle between Good and evil had been raging long before the birth of Jesus, so our Lord found it necessary to do battle with the evil one on his own territory, to free us from death’s grip.  Yet it often is that we become so fixated on a single moment of “birth” that we overlook something much greater and more enduring.  In this great battle, then, it might be said that The Lord became one of us so that we could become Him in the world – empowered by the Spirit and in the Word to take up His mantle.

I was reminded by a recent essay that the earliest Christian writer – St. Paul – makes no mention of a manger, wise men from the east following a star, or even faithful Joseph whisking the Holy Family away in the dark of night to escape Herod’s evil plot.  The earliest known Gospel account – Mark – begins his story with the Baptizer; he does not mention the “birth”, but he and St. John write extensively about “Incarnation” (even as the word itself is not used).  Matthew and Luke each have “birth” details the other ignores.  Nothing seems to match universally.

Do the seeming conflicting accounts suggest what we read may not be true?  No.  Or that we are focusing on the wrong things?  Not necessarily.  It is the practices of today which suggest that while we acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of Messiah, the meaning of “Incarnation” has been lost in all the contemporary celebrations, many of which are undeniably of pagan – rather than of biblical - origin.  And these will all come to an end.

The twist is ironic given that the early Church fathers actually “invaded” these pagan celebrations to bring “light into darkness” by introducing the Light of the World into the solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.  The irony is that these pagan practices have since invaded Christian hearts and minds.

This isn't about the consumerism of the “shopping season” that has overwhelmed the Advent season, however.  This is about becoming more fully aware of and coming to more fully understand the significance not of a mere birth event but of an Incarnation – when “the Word became flesh and dwelt with us” – the Incarnation which continues to unfold even today with every new baptism and every new profession of faithIt is entirely about how the Word which spoke the world into existence was utterly rejected by the world created by that Word.  And it is about what this Incarnation means to the Holy Church, the Body of Christ in the world today.

Though in the case of Jesus there seems a fine line between a “birth” and an “incarnation”, it nevertheless falls to the Church to understand – and convey to the world - that there is, in fact, a profound difference.  It is not enough to merely acknowledge the birth of a child even as we are talking about the very Son of the Most High God.  If this is all there is to the Incarnation, then there is nothing more to say beyond this moment, beyond this Day we declare by our words to be Holy but prove by our deeds to be secular, pagan even, and thus meaningless beyond the moment, beyond the season. 

There clearly is much more to say, however, because in the Incarnation we are talking about the “embodiment” of the Word of God – that same Word which was in the beginning and will be forevermore.  As our Lord Jesus spoke, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33).  It is The WORD which is incarnate and eternal; not the world it creates nor the seasons that celebrate it.

It was written in the late 13th century by a Dominican monk (Meister Eckhart): “What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture?  This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

Heaven, earth, your mortal bodies, my mortal body, even Jesus’ own mortal body would not long endure.  The Eternal Word, however, was embodied in mortal flesh so that mortal flesh could embody the Word.  This is the Incarnation.  This is what we are called to embrace, for this is Christ in the world today.

In the name of the Eternal Father, the Enduring Word, the everlasting Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Thought for Christmas Eve 2014

“You, child (John the Baptizer), will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of The Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:76-79 NKJV

Zacharias, after a long silence imposed by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19-20), found his voice upon the birth of his son.  Finally having a voice with which to speak, Zacharias praises The Lord who has not only brought to him and Elizabeth a child they had longed for but Who also blessed them with the one who would “prepare the way” for the One to come. 

I wonder how many of us had ever stopped to consider how our own newborns would be used by The Lord to do such an awesome thing as to “give knowledge of salvation”.  I have no doubt most of us gave thanks when our own children were born, but have we ever listened to the Spirit?  I mean really listened?

Some plan to have their children baptized and then later confirmed in the faith, but how many of us have earnestly sought Divine Will to determine exactly how our children should raised and taught?  I freely admit it never occurred to me to consider that The Lord may have a unique claim on each of my own children beyond simply believing.  Surely this Divine calling did not end with John!

The Lord has more in store from us, but I am afraid we have been programmed more toward “taking” Divine blessing than “offering” it back.  The Law of The Lord stipulates a unique, Divine claim on the first-born – and surely for this very purpose.  How much have we missed out on because we have tried to insist that The Law is no longer applicable to us as Christians?  How many children have been withheld from The Lord because we have been convinced that some “magic spell” from a spiritual and religious void will awaken our children?  How many of us have failed to teach our children about The Lord so that one day they would even recognize His Voice?

Zacharias had to be struck mute in order to be reminded that his son would not be brought into the world only to bring him and his wife pleasure and joy; his child was claimed long before.  So have we and our children been so claimed.  Let this Christmas bring to The Church a renewal of our sense of purpose and peace in The Lord’s will.  Let us realize we, too, were born to “prepare the way”; and so let us go about His business.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Thought for Tuesday 23 December 2014

“We all experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism; in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one learns quickly that the more one possesses, the more one wants.”  John Paul II

What makes a “good” Christmas?  I’m sure the answers will vary because each of us has priorities of our own.  For some, being with family is a “good” Christmas.  For others a “good” Christmas is defined by the presence of children.  There are many others depending upon circumstances of the day.

Yet for so many others, a “good” Christmas has no meaning one way or the other.  It is like any other day; a day in which our health is still failing, a day in which the uncertainties of a job still linger, a day without friends or family.  It is just another lonely day filled with fear and doubt. 

Though we do curse the consumerism that pervades the season and we moan (or scream on social media!) when someone refuses to say “Merry Christmas”, the truth is our priorities do not often include the celebration of the Incarnation of Messiah.  He is an afterthought, an incidental to the holiday rather than the Primary Focus of the Holy Day.  I doubt very much that anyone heads to a department story for a special sale on the particular thing we have in mind with a sole focus on The Lord.

Yet the late Pope John Paul II observed the one thing we should surely know: the more we have, the more we want.  When we measure satisfaction on any scale according to our resources, it is a rare thing that we ever have “enough”.  Whether it is money or material possessions, we miss out on the greatest Gift of all when we put any thing or any one ahead of Christ – even as we insist that “Jesus is the reason for the season”.  Merely saying it does not make it so – not in the eyes of unbelievers who watch carefully for any sign of faith, any sign that there is a reason for hope.  They believe what they see.

If we really want this Holy Day to be the very best Christmas we have ever experienced, Christ must come first.  No family gatherings, no friends at a feast, no opening of presents … until we have offered our very best to The Lord in word AND deed.  Once we find our way of doing this, the family gatherings, the welcoming of friends, and the opening of presents will have new meaning.  And we will find blessings we have been missing all along.

Come soon, Lord Jesus!


Monday, December 22, 2014

A Thought for Monday 22 December 2014

“Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.  Foolish ones!  Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?  But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.  But woe to you Pharisees!  For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and yet pass by justice and the love of God.  These things you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”  Luke 11:39-42 NKJV

The season of Advent was intended to teach believers to take a good, hard look at where we are in our journey to sanctification and, ultimately, glory.  In preparation for the coming of Messiah, like the Baptizer, the Church calls all to a life of reflection and repentance; and like the Baptizer, the Church should be challenging all believers to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”.  These are the acts of “justice” as expressions of our “love of God” Jesus Himself is referring to.  There is much we can do within the Church itself, such as offering our gifts and our hearts to The Lord in worship and supporting one another in our fellowship, but there is much more to be done outside of the Church; deeds of mercy that prove to our “neighbors” that the love of God is truly within us.

Christians have gotten comfortable with and proficient in insisting that “works” do not have to be done in order to be saved but in such a narrow observation, we miss the point of discipleship altogether.  Like the rich young ruler, we often ask the wrong questions (e.g., “what must I do to be saved?”); rarely do we ask, “What can I do to help?”  We forget that discipleship is never about “me”.  We fail to realize that if our own “ticket to heaven” is all we are concerned about, the “love of God” is not within us.  This means Christ is not in us.  And this means we are not disciples – because we do not care what Jesus has to say about our daily living, and we do not care whether our “neighbor” (or the Church) lives or dies.  It is the difference between a mere changing of the mind (believing) and the radical transformation of the heart (genuine faith).

We must remember that the substance of the Gospel Message changes.  For those who do not believe, The Lord asks only that they be willing to trust Him.  For those who are on board and call themselves disciples of Christ, however, more is expected of us because more has already been entrusted to us.  If such service feels like a burden or an inconvenience to the point that we simply refuse, then, the harsh truth is we are not on board. 

Discipleship is never defined in a single moment by a single event, just as the Bible teaches of the “way”, not the spot, of salvation.  Discipleship is life itself.  It is the Way of Christ Himself.  And it is the difference, to an unbelieving world, in whether or not Christ is even worth following.  And this is our true blessing – for we know He is worth following.  “He has shown you what is good; and what does The Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).



Sunday, December 21, 2014

21 December 2014 - 4th Sunday of Advent - What Peace? For Whom?

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
John 1:26-38

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”  Mother Teresa

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully ...  With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up [our] wounds, to care for [those] who shall have borne the battle … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace ...”  A. Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865

President Lincoln was addressing the nation as the War Between the States was about to come to a close, but the address was also an honest reflection of how easily a people who have so much in common can be so easily at odds with one another.  And given that President Lincoln most likely meant the veterans of that terrible War as those "who shall have borne the battle", I wonder if he was not also referring to those who were harmed because of the War; that which we now refer to as "collateral damage" - innocent bystanders.

Even before the Council of Nicaea when the Church was established as an institution, writers and elders of all stripes have written volumes about the state of the Church in reflecting on the many problems we face as the Body of Christ, and we are no closer to a solution than before.  As many have determined the Church is in “crisis”, we have created for ourselves a new church “office”; that of a consultant ... an "outsider" looking in.

While this is not a problem in itself, it may be denying the one problem the Church knows we have, but we put all emphasis on trying to figure out what will bring new blood in while perhaps denying the one thing that may be keeping “outsiders” out: there is no peace in the House.

The Lord revealed to the prophet Nathan that as much as King David desired to build a house for The Lord, The Lord had every intention of building a house for David (2 Samuel 7:11).  David surely meant well, but he was focused on his own ideas and his own will.  Of course we know that a physical structure was not what The Lord had in mind.  There would be something much more enduring than a physical structure.  It is incredibly ironic that the disciples approached Jesus so many generations later in asking if Jesus had a place to stay (John 1:38).  It would take time before they came to realize Jesus Himself is the "House" The Lord intended to "build" - the Covenant into which all are invited to reside.

Without fully realizing it, the problems we face today are the same problems ancient Israel faced before the Exile: the curse of "every man for himself".  And the problem may have been made worse as the post-exile generation overcorrected itself by heaping rule upon rule to make even more rigid those simple but profound Commandments upon which the entire Law rests: “You shall love The Lord your God [with all you have and with all you are]” … and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I submit to you that in all the extra "rules", they forgot to fully define "love".

The Word existed before the foundation of the world, the Word was revealed at Sinai, and then that Word became flesh in Bethlehem.  Same God, same Word.  Yet since the birth of Messiah Christians in every generation have tried to create an even “newer” and more “improved” Word that makes more sense to us and accommodates us individually “just as I am”; a “new” word separate - and distinguishable – from the “old”.

A secularized culture has invaded and infected the Church to the point that we often “cast pearls before swine” in the name of holiness, and we insist that in order for something to be “right”, someone must be wrong … and all within the Church, all within the Body of which Messiah alone is the Head. 

Trying to maintain a delicate balance between this opinion and that is necessary … not strictly so we can get along but, more importantly, so we may rediscover – or perhaps find for the first time - our missional voice.  Without that Voice we lose an essential component of our being; that of Messiah who was born not to “rule” – but to serve (“I came not to be served, but to serve”, Mark 10:45).  We have lost our sense of peace because we have lost our sense of self.  Worse than this, perhaps; we have lost our sense of Messiah’s Presence.  And without Christ at the Head, then it's anyone's game.

It is an easy thing to say all we have to do is pray (and we should!), yet an earnest prayer life is very hard for some.  It is not because they do not try hard enough or believe deeply enough, but it may be perhaps because they try too hard.  Like many of our well-intentioned efforts, we put our best foot forward with the firm belief that “this” will work or “that” will work so much so that we will have to add new space to our churches to accommodate all the new folks who will come crashing through our doors - all because "someone" had a great idea!

It’s a nice idea, of course, but our efforts are often misguided because we confuse what we want (even with the best and most noble of intentions: bringing new souls to The Lord) with what The Lord has designated for us to do.  Same with prayer; we often go to The Lord with all our own desires (and sometimes, our demands), but too often we forget that after we search for just the right words to say and put all our energy into finding all the right phrases, trying to get it "just right", we forgot to “be still”.

The Lord spoke to the prophet Jeremiah: “Am I a God near by … and not a God far off? (23:23)”  Speaking to the people of Judah, The Lord further stated, “I know the plans I have for you … plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). 

"I know MY plans I have for you ... but do you have a clue?  Do you even care?"

While we often try to individualize this passage for our personal use, we fail to realize that the Word is much bigger than any individual.  Thus when one individual tries to capture that one passage for oneself, others who also embrace that passage for themselves find conflict – especially within the Church! 

It is a wonderfully fulfilling passage and very comforting especially when we have doubts, but “the prayers of both could not be answered.  That of neither has been answered fully.”  Because we do not think as "The Church"; we think individually.  This may be our greatest curse.

Mother Teresa had it right when she observed that "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  That is to say, when we take a single passage from the Scriptures to be applicable to only "me", we ignore the greater context that involves "us".  So then not only do we create a conflict, we also give that conflict teeth!

We do, in fact, "belong" to one another - and we should thank The Lord for this reality - because we need each other more than we are willing to admit.  Especially when it comes to the mission of the Church, should any single component matter more than that which proves to our neighbors we really do care about THEM, that we are willing to engage in their lives, that we are not so concerned about kitchen colors, flooring samples, and other equipment that does not change lives in a meaningful way?

"There stands One among you whom you do not know ... the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  He is among you ... and you do not know it.  Is this the mystery of the Incarnation?  Or has it become an indictment against the people of The Lord for whom this should not be such a mystery?

The peace we want, the peace we desire, the peace we so desperately need is that peace which will be found only when we as The Church submit to Christ as His Body.  Just as our bodies will submit to the will of our minds, so must the Church submit to the Mind of Christ.  And there - there alone - we will find peace.  Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Thought for Thursday 18 December 2014

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of The Lord; make His paths straight’.”  Matthew 3:3

John the Baptizer was the designated one who would prepare the way for Messiah to come, not into the world (the angels made that announcement), but to come into our lives.  Preparation, then, became necessary – and still is necessary.  How do we go about making such preparations?  What is it we can do that will make a “path” appropriate for the King of kings to trod?

In His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus teaches many lessons not least of which is the power and necessity of forgiveness.  He not only requires that before we can offer our gifts to The Lord, we must first go and make peace with “those who have something against you” (5:23-24); Jesus also requires that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:15).

I wonder why these simple yet profound commandments of Christ do not get more traction in the Church (believe me, I struggle as well!).  We seem entirely too wrapped up in finding someone whom we can hold responsible for the anger that seems so prevalent in our culture today, and then justifying our anger as a legitimate excuse for not offering forgiveness.  We can even find a lot to be angry about that does not affect us directly.

Actor Stephen Collins has finally come clean regarding allegations made earlier that he had had inappropriate contact with underage girls some 20-30 years ago.  He is paying a terrible price for his sins (his professional acting career may be completely over) as he should, but many who have no real stake in his past indiscretions are chiming in with raw hatred as if they had been directly impacted by his acts.

Instead of finding reasons to be angry (very easily done), maybe we should be actively engaged in charitable acts, acts of justice and mercy that can actually transform lives (not so easily done).  The people of the Covenant have been given a great gift in the birth of Messiah.  Yet even though Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, He did not establish the Kingdom on earth.  He has taught us that He will return again for that final Act.  It is that time for which we must prepare.

The people of the Covenant have been given that charge to “prepare the way of The Lord”.  It is past time for us to get to it.  Let go of the past, stop trying to find people to blame for your misery, and look forward to the fulfillment of the Ultimate Promise: that of the fullness of Life in Christ when the Kingdom is finally and completely upon us. 

There is much to do to “prepare the way”.  Let the Church go about it as we celebrate that most Wondrous Gift of all – the empowerment to do this Great Thing!



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Thought for Wednesday 17 December 2014

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.  The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.  You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of The Lord will name.  You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of The Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate …”  Isaiah 62:1-4 NKJV

You’ve no doubt heard the story of how a frog can be placed into a pot of water at room temperature, but will not try to escape the pot as the water is slowly brought to a boil.  The increase in the water’s temperature is so gradual that the body (and mind!) is given time to acclimate until the boiling water begins to do its damage. 

Of course we cannot imagine this happening to us because it is impossible for us to comprehend such a thing unless we actually experience it ourselves.  We would like to believe we are smart enough to jump out of a pot of water that begins to boil, but this is part of what social science understands about “conditioning”.  Over a period of time we go through changes we hardly notice.  We fail to understand how easily we are conditioned over time.

Israel went through the same social conditioning.  They were taught about their own religion, of course (assuming they put forth the effort to be taught), but they were conditioned to the surrounding cultures they were previously supposed to have completely destroyed.  The Lord had assured Israel He would drive out all the “-ites” whose religious and social practices were detestable to The Lord, but this would happen only if Israel would faithfully follow The Lord’s instruction to the letter.  They did not, as we know, so there were remnants left of a culture The Lord knew would entice Israel.

This reality of how easily humans are conditioned is why St. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “walk circumspectly” (5:15) – that is, “think” about things as we perceive them and take nothing for granted – to think about things through the Scriptures and The Lord.  If we only react or respond impulsively, then we will do what is pleasing to our physical senses with little thought toward what The Lord would ask of us, ultimately taking His love for granted.

Although we are not offered excuses, the reality of how easily we can be enticed will not stop The Lord from doing what He intends to do through Israel.  The Lord intends not only to bless Israel but to bless the Gentiles through Israel’s “righteousness”.  So maybe we can see how easily Israel had been “conditioned” away from The Lord so that through the Exile, The Lord would “recondition” His people back to Himself! 

Especially considering The Story about to unfold in the season of Advent, surely we can see the great lengths to which The Lord will go to redeem His people, release us from our self-imposed prisons and chains, and give us the Life He has intended for us since the beginning!  All we have to do is respond with our choices, our lives, our decisions – and The Lord will take care of the rest!

Let not another moment slip past.  Embrace the reality of this Love, and let the Holy Spirit teach us!  Lord, bless Your Church!  And come soon, Emmanuel!



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Thought for Tuesday 16 December 2014

A pious and beloved but poorly dressed Chasidic rabbi took a lengthy train ride to teach Torah in a town far away. The well-to-do passenger seated next to him subjected him to insult and verbal abuse for most of the ride. When the train finally reached its destination, the rabbi was greeted at the station by thousands of excited disciples, anxious to learn at his feet. The disrespectful passenger looked mortified as he saw the scene unfold. "I'm so ashamed," he said. "I had no idea who you were. Please accept my apologies." The rabbi turned to him and said, "Don't apologize to me. Apologize to the anonymous nobody you sat next to on the train. When you insulted me, you did so because in your eyes, I was a nobody."
(Chasidic tale, adapted from Erica Brown's retelling)

“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to Me.” 

So says our Lord.  Isn’t it funny that a person’s appearance can (and often will) affect how we will treat them?  By their dress and demeanor and race, we make snap judgments all the time about the worthiness of a person and determine (too often) that such a person who is not up to our standards has no value and is not deserving of any semblance of human dignity.

We make these snap decisions all the time because we have been conditioned (rather than taught) to do so.  In part we do so for safety’s sake, but too often we do so for entirely the wrong reasons.  We too easily forget that Jesus taught us better so that when we do what we so easily do, we disappoint and perhaps anger the Very One who gave us the Life we often misuse and abuse; the same Life belonging to someone else we determine to have no real value, yet the same person for whom Jesus also died.

Let us remember that even those who have been sentenced to prison for the most heinous crimes still do, in the eyes of our Lord, have sacred value.  It is the same Divine Love our Lord extended at the Cross.  It is not a special kind of love reserved only for a few who choose to embrace it; it is the universal standard of Love extended to all of humanity irrespective of whether they will accept or reject it, whether they deserve it or not.  And that, dear friends, is the standard by which we are commanded to order our lives.  Anything less than our absolute best is not worthy of the title “Christian”.

We must reach deeper and try harder.  It is too easy to take our redemption for granted; and in doing so, we alienate so many who might otherwise find the nerve and the courage to join us on this remarkable journey we call “discipleship”.  It will all be worth it in the end.


Monday, December 15, 2014

A Thought for Monday 15 December 2014

“Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they will rejoice in their portion.  Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs.”  Isaiah 61:7 NKJV

Not only was this the Promise to Israel in the midst of their exile, it is also the Promise to the people of the Holy Church who will endure this life with faith, with gratitude, and with a sense of holy purpose.  As Israel was being reminded of their “chosen” status as a “priestly nation”, so must the Holy Church reconnect to her source of Life so that our purpose may be found, embraced, and lived.

There is no better time to do so than during the season of Advent.  Just as the shepherds came to see upon the news of the birth of Messiah – and then went to tell – so must the Church rediscover the real joy of this blessed season; the privilege to “see”, and then the joy to “tell”.  Sadly, however, this is the time of year when we go a little overboard in telling our children about Santa Claus, more so than we tell them about the Messiah; and there are few among us who are not guilty to some degree.  We need only to look at the trouble many go to so their children can sit on Santa’s knee, but will not go to that much trouble to bring their children to Christ through the Church.

It is not enough to tell our children that Jesus was born; we must teach them how this wondrous story came about … and why.  Santa will not bring our children closer to Jesus, so we should probably stop trying to make Santa fit into the story.  It’s been fun, I will admit, but it may be that the generations of the past who were raised on a benevolent Santa who fulfills all wishes are those generations that have walked away from the Church, having connected the Santa “myth” with a Christ “myth”.  Talk about “confusion”!!  We have created a generation (or two) of agnostics!!!

Let us help our neighbors and our children get past the confusion of this life and the conflicting messages.  Let us tell them the Truth, the full Truth, the only Truth – because as it is so often said, if we do not teach our children how and why to follow The Lord, the world will fill their heads with “visions of sugar plums” and teach them not to.

Looking at the world we have created for ourselves, maybe it is time for us to grow up ourselves and stop the fantasies.  Israel was trying to have its cake and eat it, too; and this “confusion” led to their downfall as subsequent generations were not told The real Story.  Yet those who sought the Truth and worked to reconnect to that Truth were given this Promise of “everlasting joy” rather than seasonal bliss about a magical elf who brings the desires of the heart to good little children – but clearly ignores others with greater needs than a new Xbox.

Hold fast to what is good and true and right.  We are not “Santa people”; we are the Church, the Body of Christ.  There is no confusion in that.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent: News we can use

Isaiah 61:1-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:19-28

“Because [Israel’s] shame was double and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy will be theirs.”  Isaiah 61:7

Isaiah’s words give me pause to consider the “lot” of the Church in our society much in the same way we should consider the “lot” of Israel in Isaiah’s context.  Depending upon whom we ask, of course, and what we consider of the Church’s past and present, there is plenty to be ashamed of.  Scandals and schisms have come and gone, and churches such as Westboro Baptist in Topeka KS get all the headlines and virtually "define" Christianity for the masses – and there will likely be more - but hospitals and schools and orphanages and shelters and soup kitchens and food pantries have sprung to life and served thousands in need by the hands of the Church whenever the Church has been faithful to Her calling. 

Isaiah’s writings are directed at a less-than-faithful people who had squandered their calling, their divinely appointed role as a “priestly” nation, a holy people set apart for YHWH’s purposes.  Yet in the face of Israel’s squandering of their holy calling, YHWH nevertheless remains faithful … not to Israel, per say, but to the Holy Covenant YHWH established with Israel.

Israel cannot avoid the “shame” and “dishonor” they brought upon themselves by denying YHWH’s true love: “justice” (Isaiah 61:8).  It is the same “shame” and “dishonor” the Church shares with Israel when the Church fails not only to speak up in the name of “justice” but fails also to act in the name of “justice”.  It is one thing to demand justice through legislation; it is another thing altogether to demand acts of justice from someone else – even a government agency – when we are unwilling to perform these acts of justice and mercy ourselves.

That’s the quandary the Church faces daily.  We can easily see through the lens of the New Covenant and the Great Commission that there is much to be done besides to simply exist as a building and hope people will get the message and maybe show up for worship, yet we are easily overwhelmed when the problems we are painfully aware of simply seem too big for us to handle – especially when the demands of our own lives require virtually all of our time and attention and energy.  The Advent season and the unreasonable demands we voluntarily impose upon ourselves – demands that often have little or nothing do to with the mission of the Church - make getting and staying properly focused on the Covenant even more challenging.

But this is entirely the purpose of Advent, a penitential season in which we are called to reflect and return; return to and embrace the Covenant, return to and embrace the Great Commission.  The birth of Messiah is a good place to start, but not in the way we have grown accustomed to.  Christmas is not, in and of itself, the sole focus of Advent.  As it has been said so many times before, Messiah will not be “born again”, and yet He will come again "to judge the living and the dead".  But what we have allowed Christmas to become in the Church is no help, for we have oriented ourselves to the fullness of the Advent season to be completed – over and done - on December 25. 

Yet within the reality and the hope of the New Covenant and the Great Commission, that blessed and holy Day on which humanity was so fully touched, is only the beginning.  Upon the news and remembrance of this Wondrous Day when "the Word became flesh", we take on the role of the shepherds who came to see – and then went to tell (Luke 2:17)!

Isaiah was speaking into the current reality of the Exile.  The book itself is filled with plenty of curses that would come as a result of faithlessness, but we cannot allow ourselves to become confused between “belief” as only an intellectual acknowledgement and earnest “faith” that calls us beyond ourselves and transforms our souls and lives.  We must not allow ourselves to be convinced that Israel had stopped “believing” and that this lack of "belief" somehow brought about the demise of a once-great nation.  Rather we must affirm an understanding that the faithlessness of Israel – the "faithlessness" of a “believing” and “chosen” people - was made manifest in their collective disobedience

They knew right from wrong – and they chose “wrong” over “right” ... in their actions and in their spiritual complacency.  It was not so much that they actively sought to do harm to their neighbors; it was more that they ignored their neighbors, the "widows and orphans" in distress.

As much as they had endured by their own failures which all but invited invading armies, however, YHWH chose to approach His beloved in the midst of their exile so they would know they had not been forgotten.  And this is that portion of Advent in which, during what should be a season of penitence and prayer and preparation for the Church, we are invited to look up from our own exile, see through the tears of our sorrow, and hear the Promise which is before us.  This is the purpose and the focus of Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent; “gaudete” being Latin for “rejoice”.  And the message from YHWH is this: I have not forgotten My Covenant.

As it was with Israel, YHWH may well be doing this very thing for the Church today.  We may, as individuals and as individual churches, believe all is well; but the collective Body of Christ (which should be our greater concern) is taking quite a beating – and will continue to take a beating for as long as we continue on our current course.  And it may get worse before it gets better as YHWH expects so much from His Body the Church (“To whom much has been given, much will be required”, Luke 12:48).  So the Church must be shaken from its complacency and realize its own desires and demands are not necessarily the Will of YHWH. 

Not much gets done for the sake of “justice” (which goes beyond mere ‘law and order’, by the way) when we are concerned only with ourselves, and our “outreach” is strictly limited only to those we like – or who look like us and act the way we think they should.  In other words, we don’t want to endure the hard and often uncomfortable and painful work of “making” disciples; we prefer to “recruit” new church members who are already so oriented and will be much more useful to us.  

In the middle of this spiritual complacency, however, our Lord (through the disciplined seasons of the Church, including Advent) reminds us that as disappointed as He may be in us, He has not stopped loving us and has not completely given up on us.  It then falls to us to respond to that reality in a real and socially tangible way – not simply take it for granted that He loves "me", and then call it "good".

We have heard these past couple of weeks the ominous warnings of YHWH’s return when the Final Judgment will be rendered.  Like Israel’s “chosen” status, we have confused our “redemption” and YHWH’s enduring mercy as an “excuse” to continue as before.  We have convinced ourselves that “repentance” is strictly for the non-believer; and this simply is not true, for the non-believer has no real concept of "repentance".  They only know loneliness and isolation - and very often, a judgmental Church.

On Gaudete Sunday, however, we are given a wondrous Gift.  We are reminded of a divinely appointed status which must be reclaimed and re-embraced!  It will not make us “perfect” – but it will remind us of who we truly are … and Whose we are when we learn and discipline ourselves to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:16-18).  It is that Holy Embrace of Divine Will in which we are assured we will find once again that special status conferred on us as when we were baptized: “You are My beloved”; “and everlasting joy will be yours.”

Glory and honor to the Most High God – and peace to His people on earth!  Amen.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Thought for Monday 8 December 2014

“[The Lord] humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know; that [The Lord] might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone, but shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of The Lord.”  Deuteronomy 8:3 NKJV

It almost never fails that when bad things happen, or when things simply do not go the way we want or expect, we think “the devil is out to get me”.  It rarely seems to occur to us that sometimes stuff happens that we have no control over, and it may even be safe to say we never think maybe The Lord is trying to get our attention.  Our contemporary theology has become so cheap and easy that we all but demand prosperity (on our terms); and when it does not come about as we desire, it must be the devil’s fault. 

Worse than this, however, is how we have allowed cheap grace to become so much a part of our theology that others who do not know The Lord become convinced that a) there is no God, or b) the devil has more sway over us and our lives (when we give the evil one any credit whatsoever).  Either way, the sovereignty of The Lord is challenged with each careless word.

So we must back up a bit and see that even The Lord’s “most cherished possession” (Israel) had to be “humbled” not so The Lord could get His jollies, but so that Israel will come to know that we “shall not live by bread alone” (that is, the world’s goods).  The world’s possessions will never give us what we need most.  In fact it can be easily said that the more of the world’s goods we have, the more we desire.  “Enough” is not in our vocabulary.

Especially during this time of year as we busy ourselves with so much holiday prepping and shopping, even as we try to claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season”, the reality is that Jesus is an afterthought – and the world can see that through careless Christians.  If Jesus can so easily be put in the “back seat”, so can “every word that proceeds from the mouth of The Lord” – for Jesus is “the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us”.

Instead of resolving to make this the “best Christmas ever”, resolve instead to give real meaning to this Holy Day we should more busily prepare in our hearts to commemorate.  That glorious day when the lowliest of them all, the ones who had nothing to give, the shepherds, were the very first to be made aware that the Messiah had come, that the Promise had been fulfilled.  Let us embrace the “Word made flesh” as if our lives depend on it – because our well-being does indeed depend on how eagerly we embrace The Word.



Sunday, December 07, 2014

7 December 2014 - 2nd Sunday of Advent - Christ the Way

“This life is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not being, but becoming.  All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified to gleam.”  Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s observation gives us every reason to maintain a proper level of humility when we are reminded that our Lord Jesus is “The Way; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” 

Our Lord made this bold proclamation, and the Church has since been struggling to understand it universally.  That is to say, Jesus meant one thing; we as individuals have taken great liberty to allow it to mean different things to different people. 

On the surface there is no dispute; the Messiah leads us to the Father.  This is why He came.  The disputes arise when we try to define individually what it means (or what we would rather it mean) to embrace Christ as The Way; that is, to define the whole of our being in Him – as He requires that we “abide in” Him as He “abides in” the Father (John 15:9-10). 

“I am The Way to the Father; as it may also be said, “I am The Way of the Father”.  What does this mean to us as The Church, as The Body of Christ Himself?  To look at the statement more holistically (all-encompassing), we will find not only The Way to the Father as we are “becoming” - but also The Way of the Father in living from day to day – being Christ in the world today by always becoming better than we currently are AND showing others The Way.

Therefore there must be more to it than a one-time prayer of confession.  The Way transcends baptism.  The Way must also involve much more than memorizing a particular creed or any Bible verse.  The Way even goes beyond worship, beyond offering a tithe, and even beyond participating in the Supper of The Lord.  All these practices are necessary to be fed, to learn and grow in faith and in love, to support the life and mission of the Church, and to pay homage to our God; but these acts in themselves do not speak exclusively to what it means to acknowledge Christ as The Way.  There is more; much more than any single event.

We began this Advent season last Sunday celebrating Christ as our Hope, not only to celebrate the newborn “Babe” who brought Light into a dark world but also to prepare ourselves for the Risen Christ who will return to “judge the living and the dead”, who will end the suffering and misery we know all too well, who will “wipe away every tear”, who will restore justice, who will bring the Kingdom forth – when all else has failed?  “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15a).

Now we are in the second Sunday of Advent, and the theme is Christ The Way.  So to be able to embrace the Hope that is Christ our Lord, we are compelled to explore more fully The Way of our Lord, what The Way looks like, and what The Way means for The Church – and what it can mean for those who do not yet believe. 

The people of the Church must learn to get past individual interpretations and strive to work together with holy purpose to ascertain The Way for us and for the community we are called to serve, and how we will as a Body “repent” from our individualistic desires consumerist demands, and with some sense of unity define for the world enslaved in darkness The Way of Christ.

The Baptizer prepared The Way for Jesus by calling the people to a baptism of repentance.  Jesus also proclaimed the message of repentance as the necessary means by which The Way will be found through the Gospel of The Lord, but even the call to repentance is only one piece of the luggage which must be carefully unpacked so as to draw closer to the full meaning of Christ The Way.  If Christ is The Way, we must look more carefully at The Way He went – as opposed to The Way we have been going for so long; The Way of the declining Church.

Pastor and writer Jonathan Dobson wrote an interesting piece not long ago (Church in which he challenged the historic Church’s notion of “evangelism”; that is, what sharing the Message really means AND what it looks like.  Dobson wrote, “What can we do to be more believable to an inoculated, indifferent, and at times, antagonistic society?”

It seems as though he has determined we have already “said” all we can say.  Now we have to become “believable”.

He wrote, “I actually know someone who was asked this very question [about how to gain eternal life]. But instead of telling the person how to get eternal life, he avoided it by asking a question in return. He had the evangelistic ball all teed up, and didn’t even answer the question!”

Dobson goes on to say, “You’ll probably think of him as an evangelistic failure, especially after I tell you what he did next. Instead of inviting the seeker to repent and believe in the gospel—to have faith—this so-called evangelist told him he needed to do good works (serve the poor) before getting eternal life! Now he’s a failure not only by evangelistic standards but also by Reformed standards.”

The “evangelist” to whom the writer is referring is none other than Jesus Himself!  Jesus did not say, “You must accept Me as your personal Lord and Savior”, as has become the Reformed Tradition’s mantra.  Jesus goes farther and deeper to define what it means to call Him “Lord”; what it looks like to embrace “The Word made Flesh” as The Way of salvation itself: embrace the commandments not as a list of rules but as The Way of living. 

It is indeed written in Mark’s Gospel (1:15, as it is written elsewhere) that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee with this proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News!” 

Repentance involves much more than to simply confess our sins.  Even to proclaim belief engenders so much more from us than to say, “I believe it to be so”.  Rather that faith must be made manifest in a real way not only for the sake of the continued Mission of the Church but also for the believability of that Mission and the Gospel that informs us and ultimately compels us to look up from our navel gazing!  This requires a real investment of all who claim the Name – and an abiding Trust that we are “doing” right things rather than worrying about merely “believing” right things.

As it is so often said, people do not believe what we say; but they will believe what we do.  And frankly, The Way we will actually come to believe the Gospel as the Good News it is, is to actually DO the Gospel in the community. 

It is what Martin Luther believed to be the heart of the Christian community; the essence of “becoming” in plain sight for all to see, for all to believe.  When we embrace The Way of Christ as our own way, so will others who yearn for the Truth to be revealed to them.  And this, my dear friends, will be enough to get us back on track.  To the glory of God the Father and Christ the Word – and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we all say, “Amen!”

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A Thought for Thursday 4 December 2014

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  John 15:9-10 NKJV

What makes a commandment a commandment?  Christians generally recognize the “Ten” from Exodus and repeated in Deuteronomy as well as the two “big ones” Jesus cites from Deuteronomy and Leviticus (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul, and strength”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). 

Judaism recognizes 613 commandments as preceded from the mouth of The Lord with “You shall …”  That is, they do take the “Ten”, of course, but they look deeper into the texts of the whole Torah not as a list of “rules” to be memorized but as a transition from being a mere observer of “rules” to become a person of The Lord perfected in this prescribed way of life. 

In the Gospel text Jesus seems to refer to two different sets of commandments; “My Father’s commandments” and “My commandments”.  Our Lord, however, does not set these in opposition to one another.  Rather they are complementary, each feeding from, informing, and perfecting the other.  It is not as if we are given a choice to observe “these” or “those”.  Instead we must look more carefully at what is being asked of us.  For instance, we hear the commandment to “love the Lord your God” but do not find real meaning until we hear our Lord state very clearly that the “second great commandment is like the first; You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  In this, then, we will discover within the full context of not only Torah but the New Testament what that “love” really means, what it actually looks like.  We will not discover this, however, until we draw closer.

Even to consider Jesus’ words at the Last Supper means we have to take a step closer, to move from being a mere observer to becoming a participating practitioner.  When Jesus says to “Do this”, we draw closer to hear Him further say, “in remembrance of Me” and considering how loaded this simple statement is.  So we don’t simply “do” anything unless in “doing” we find ourselves “becoming”; “becoming” more than we are, “becoming” bigger than the moment; “becoming” the Image in which we are created.

I read somewhere that the Christmas season generates some $617 billion (with a “B”) in retail spending (this number does not include charitable giving!), yet we shake our heads at the incomprehensible billions we believe are wasted during election season as if there is much of a difference.  Yet we cannot see much difference because we are mere observers of “commandments” – and only “Ten” of these!  If we “abide” in Divine Love, however, we will begin to see more clearly that The Lord’s commandments do much more than to only prohibit a particular act; the fullness of The Lord calls forth much more from us than to only stand safely by.

It will not be easy, of course.  In fact I can guarantee that the closer we get, the more difficult it will seem because of the struggle within us by “spirit” and “flesh” – these truly in opposition to one another – until the “spirit” finally wins over our personal desires and we find ourselves “becoming” more than we are.

If we truly want Christ to remain in Christmas, we must become Christ especially during Christmas.  The only way to become Christ is to abide in Christ.  Then we will find true meaning in the Holy Day.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

A Thought for Wednesday 3 December 2014

“Those who feared The Lord spoke to one another, and The Lord listened and heard them.  So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear The Lord and meditate on His Name.  ‘They shall be Mine’, says The Lord of hosts, ‘on the day I will make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him’.  Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”  Malachi 3:16-18

This assurance came to the people of The Lord as some had begun to question the need to follow The Lord; “It is useless to serve God.  What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance …?”

I suppose it is a daily question we ask ourselves more often implicitly by the way we choose to conduct ourselves, believing we fall under the umbrella of “grace” but with little or no regard for how others outside of the Covenant may see us and perceive the God we claim to serve.  We must never forget that what many people know about The Lord has been gleaned from our conduct, we who claim to believe.  This most especially includes our own children and grandchildren!

Yet in Malachi’s context, there were still faithful persons who distanced themselves from the many who took the easy road, the road that appears to hold more promise than the unknown road traversed in faith.  For their faithfulness and for their fellowship (“those who feared The Lord spoke to one another”), they were “remembered” and then claimed by The Lord; “They shall be Mine.”

Jesus never said following Him would be easy, but we do have the assurance that our perseverance in faith will one day find its own reward; “Those who endure to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).  And the value of the fellowship and support of the Church can never be overstated!  We need one another as surely as we need The Lord; to guide us, to direct us, to support us, and even to correct us when we veer from the righteous Path.

So shall we face the future unafraid, knowing The Lord will not turn His back on His faithful – and counting on one another until the Final Trumpet sounds!



Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A Thought for Tuesday 2 December 2014

“An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.”  Proverb 17:4 NKJV

Scrolling through Facebook last night I came across a photo of three men who were protesting in Ferguson MO.  Each of these men was holding a sign, one of which displayed so outrageous a statement that it is difficult to believe it had not been photoshopped; doctored up to suit someone’s propaganda purposes.  When I came across this display which had already been forwarded by someone else, I questioned whether or not it could possibly be real.  The response was, “I don’t know if it’s real or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

And therein lies the problem.  This one “share” had not been the only one I came across of this same image.  The display had not been authenticated, but it continues being passed around as though it were fact.  As if the people of Ferguson MO do not have enough problems to deal with, the people of the country who are in no way connected to this town seem eager to keep the pot stirred – while accusing the media of keeping the pot stirred!  

Why is it we are so eager to believe the worst rather than to seek out and hope for the best?  It is hard to believe those who shared this photo are “evildoers” (I personally know at least one of those who shared, and others claim to be Christian), yet the wisdom of the Proverbs challenges everything we see and what we choose to do with it.  More than this, we are indicted by the Scriptures when we pass along negative information about anyone, true or not, and more so when we pass along something we do not have first-hand knowledge about.  “You shall not bear false witness.”  If we lack first-hand knowledge, we lack knowledge – period.

Even our own opinions (to which we are entitled, of course) can “lead us into temptation” if we do not guard ourselves against evil intent or fail to go to the trouble of making sure our “opinion” is not being confused with “fact”. 

Our eagerness to pass along such dribble suggests the Gospel of The Lord is not in us, for this is what we should be spending our time helping to spread.  It is the greatest News of all time!  Yet we are more eager to share something negative about someone else – something we do not know for sure against someone we don’t know at all!  Could it really be true that we have a need to destroy others in order to feel good about ourselves?  Is the Gospel really so shallow and meaningless to those who claim allegiance to Christ?

We can do better, and we must.  What we may have “heard” second- or third-hand is likely not what truly is, so let it die the painful death it deserves, and do not be afraid to challenge those who so eagerly “share”.  Let us be the “doers” of mercy and justice rather than the “doers” of evil deeds; for what we “do” is actually who we really are.

“You must choose this day whom you will serve.”  I recommend we choose wisely.