Posted in The Word

An Apt Prayer for our Time

The crazier things get here in the United States, the more Bible verses I run across that speak to our times.  The first highlighted line, in the passage below, stood out because tolerance does not seem enough these days.  No, they want more.  Like Mordecai, they want us to bow down and worship them as the parade by.  When that doesn’t happen religious persecution begins.  That was exactly what Jewish Mordecai experienced when he wouldn’t bend the knee and worship man.  What he underwent so long ago is what American Christians are undergoing today.

” . . .O Lord, Lord, almighty king, for all things are in thy power, and there is none that can resist thy will, if thou determine to save Israel. Thou hast made heaven and earth and all things that are under the cope of heaven. Thou art Lord of all, and there is none that can resist thy majesty. Thou knowest all things, and thou knowest that it was not out of pride and or any desire of glory, that I refused to worship the proud Aman, (For I would willingly and readily for the salvation of Israel have kissed even the steps of his feet,) But I feared lest I should transfer the honour of my God to a man, and lest I should adore any one except my God. And now, O Lord, O king, O God of Abraham, have mercy on thy people, because our enemies resolve to destroy us, and extinguish thy inheritance. Despise not thy portion, which thou hast redeemed for thyself out of Egypt. Hear my supplication, and be merciful to thy lot and inheritance, and turn our mourning into joy, that we may live and praise thy name, O Lord, and shut not the mouths of them that sing to thee. – Esther 13:9-17

The final line, especially, “shut not the mouths of them that sing to thee” drives home the purpose and end of all the current legal harrassments; simply shutting Christians up.   Mordecai’s prayer; uttered in a time, place, and language so very different from ours; is a prayer apt for our time.

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Posted in The Word

Reflections on Part 1 of What Christ Won for Himself at Golgotha

I don’t think people realize that when I go to write a post I don’t always have the knowledge beforehand.  It’s true that my older posts are about thoughts I’ve held or things I’ve experienced, but these new posts have been a source of discovery.  So it was as I was writing What Christ Won for Himself at Golgotha part one.  That was not the post I meant to write.  I’ve read Job before and the most I ever got out of it was after everything was said and done Job no longer had the fear, although I never understood why.  Then on Sunday when I was summarizing Who’s Offense and Who’s Defense in Spiritual Warfare in the This Week post  the Holy Spirit had me substitute “through the suffering servant” for “not sinning.”  “Not sinning” is accurate, but it’s just one part–a big part, but still a part–of the dynamics involved.  The rest I didn’t truly understand until writing part one of What Christ Won . . . .  Reflecting on that post over the last few days has led to some revelations on my part.

In my old understanding Christ as the suffering servant made sense: He came to serve and He suffered unjustly, like Job.  Christ paying for our sins made sense.  He died for our sins.  But it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit put it all together for me in that post that it truly came together.  In the Garden of Gethsemane the apostles fleeing–leaving Christ alone– represents how Lord Jesus stands in the breach for us.  We get to go free while He faced the wrath that, without grace, would have fell on us.  Now I know why there were no Christians in Jerusalem when it was sacked.  Christ had warned them when to get out.  That was the coming wrath that Christ said they would see in their lifetime.  Now I get what Christ meant when He said when you see these signs don’t stop to pack a bag,  just go.  There’s some serious stuff going to come down and, because of Christ’s sacrifice it’s no longer meant for us.

Now is there going to be persecution against Christians?  Yes, pick up your cross and follow me.  Help Christ hold that breach, giving others time to come in and time to grow in grace. Holding until reinforcements come. We help Him hold it knowing that what we experience is a tiny fraction compared to what the world is going to experience.  It really makes you rethink history.  We also know that there is great grace merited.  What 100 (figurative number) men could normally accomplish can be done by one persecuted person fighting the good fight, most especially when they are doing it at God’s direction.  Just look at how much God accomplished through Christ’s sacrifice.  This is one reason why in the OT/Hebrew Scriptures you see God whittling down the numbers that actually do end up engaging in battle. That and so people will know that it is God behind them which glorifies God.

We do all of this knowing that not all battles take the same form.  Christ was victorious over every power that came against Him and not once did He raise His hand against any of them.  They, however, all raised their hands against them and they did it through abuse of their power and authority.  They sealed their fates when they killed Him.  Unlike a military campaign between armies, where the advantage goes to the side that kills more of the other side, the war between powers and principalities is won by who can hold out the longest without sinning.  Once they killed Christ they fixed the outcome.  He had no more opportunity to sin here on earth.  Game over.  He remains sinless because the battle was fought out here on earth.  Once He died that battle was over. All that is left after that is to help Christ hold the line giving the necessary time to gather everyone in.  This includes giving those who were enemies of Christ time to repent.

The main battle is to not give into temptation and abuse/neglect your power and authority. Whether living in comfort or under persecution the toughest fight is remaining vigilant and dutiful.   Dereliction of duty is probably the number one temptation for those living in comfort.  When nothing seems pressing or on the line it’s pretty easy to get sidetracked and set aside our responsibilities.  Whether that simply be daily prayer, weekly mass, spending time with family, donating our time/expertise, and/or civic duties, etc.  Could you just imagine the change that would take place if all Christians just exchanged one distraction/amusement for one responsibility?  The funny thing about this one is that we’d all probably enjoy our lives more if we spent more time on things that matter.The seriousness of sin is restored.  This is something that is desperately needed in our own time when so many seem to believe that there is no sin.  I love that people aren’t terrified of Lord Jesus and that God made Him so accessible .  It gives those who feel/are unloved someone who loves them.  It gives those that who are truly repentant for their past sins the forgiveness and confidence they need to move past them. But if we don’t put Christ’s sacrifice in perspective of holding back God’s wrath, then sin is diminished.

Minimizing sin minimizes Christ’s sacrifice, God’s mercy and His great love for us.  If there is no sin, then what do you need Christ for?  For who need sacrifice their life for a righteous man? If there is no sin, then God becomes simply a big meanie keeping people from enjoying themselves rather than a God who loves us so much He sacrificed His only begotten Son to be a covering from His great wrath.  If there is no sin, then Lord Jesus, rather than someone crazy in love with us, just becomes a really nice guy along the lines of Ghandi.

Evangelizing also decreases when sin is diminished.  It’s pretty hard to get enthusiastic about evangelizing when there doesn’t seem to be any consequences to being a sinner.  Once you can see what is in store for them in this life to come and after death, then evangelizing becomes a great deal more important.Down is not out.  Things looked bad for Job and really bad for Christ.  You don’t get much more down than dead.  Yet, not only did God bring them out of their situation, but they were better off than they were before.  So things can look pretty grim, but, with God at the helm, and people turning to God to ask for that help, situations can turn around in an instant.Suffering has been redeemed.  It’s no longer some senseless experience that has no outlet.   God, who works all things to the good for those that love Him, has provided an outlet for our suffering.  As Christians we are sharers in Christ’s sufferings: our sufferings are united with Christ’s.   They have similar redemptive value as Christ’s.  What this means is that we no longer have to hang on to those hurts and limp through life with them. It’s not all for nought.  We can let all of that pain go by offering it up to God for the good of those we love and for the Church we love.

This is not just for individuals, but for other bodies who have a shared history of pain and suffering.  This would include families, communities, races, and nations.  Coming together to let it all go by offering it up, so God can redeem it, can help them move on.  Don’t let the acts of hateful and/or careless people take away the life God always meant for you to have.

The forgiveness of sins was offered to the world, but it is mainly for the Church.  That’s who Christ laid down His life for: His friends. Now the Church was tiny at that time and Christ had many friends still out in the world and still to come.  No Church no place for them to come into, so it’s imperative that the Church not fail and it’s failing badly.  When that happens more persecution against the Church  is going to occur because we’re failing to help Christ hold the breach.  We’re a partner with Christ in this.  We have responsibilities, too

So what do I do?  Every morning I offer up my day to God.  I started out with conversion of sinners, but since learning all of this I now offer up my day to shore up the Church.  Throughout the day whenever I get any type of pain I take a second a offer it up.  Even though the pain and suffering was not a direct result of persecution I still offer it up because the death and decay that we all experience is a result of original and communal sin and we all suffer for it.  The same could be said for anything that breaks on us that causes frustration or makes the day harder, social interactions that didn’t go so well that day, a pain caused by a family member or friend whose undergoing some trials or left the flock, and pain caused by the state of the world or your situation.  In other words, anything that is a result of ungodliness–and any type of breakdown is a result of ungodliness–that causes you pain and suffering qualifies, whether it be emotional, mental, or physical.

This is not to say we just have to sit around and take all of this without trying to change it.  That would be a dereliction of duty.  We are supposed to be acting to change the world to a more godly one.  In the meantime, help hold the breach by offering it up.

We can also offer up thanksgiving when things go right.  That’s a true blessing from God.   It gives us hope and shows us how God meant things to be.  He should be thanked for it.  We’re way too negligent of God in our everyday lives when we make it all about man and forget at the core of everything is God’s purpose for the existence of the heavens, earth, and man.  God is doing a great work and He has done all of this for that purpose.  We need to remember this, so we don’t get sucked into the world’s vision of what life on earth is really about.It’s just as imperative that we, like Christ, do not fall into temptation.  When we fail the impact may not be so catastrophic, on a cosmic scale, as it would have been if Christ failed, but it can still have catastrophic consequences.  For example, this article highlights how young Christian women base their decision to have an abortion on the fact that God will forgive them later.  This has catastrophic consequences for the unborn child, supports the idea that abortion is an valid option, keeps the abortion mills in business which leads to catastrophic consequences for other unborn children , and allows the sale of baby body parts to continue, etc.  All of that because of a single failing made by one person.  When this same decision is multiplied over and over again the results can become catastrophic on a worldwide scale.

One thing I hear a lot from people is how everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?  I don’t know when we all decided to settle on the lowest common denominator, but that is not an imitation of Christ.  It’s the exact opposite of what Christ was aiming for: excellence or perfection.  God’s grace and mercy was meant as impetus to help us overcome our sins.  In no shape or fashion should it ever be construed as a reason to sin.  That defeats the very purpose of His sacrifice.  Christ’s sacrifice was meant as a covering, not a cover up.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. Luke 23:34

Christ is a covering for us because we come into the Church from a world which teaches us things that contradictory to God’s will for us.  While God does much for us when initially called we still have much farther to go.  In a nutshell, we don’t always know better.  It’s going to take time, study, diligence, grace, and mercy to get us to the point where we need to be.  That’s what the Holy Spirit and the Church are for. That’s why Christ sent the Holy Spirit and why He set up the Church, so that people would have a place to gather and could find the resources and sacraments they needed in order to restore their relationship with God and join together under the covering of Christ to help bring about God’s great work.

May we all come to experience the love of Christ! God bless!

 

Posted in The Word

What Christ Won for Himself at Golgotha, part 1

In part one we saw how Christ was playing offense, not defense; that Golgotha was the final objective and not some tragic ending; and since it was the final battle the devil was defending it for all he was worth in order to tempt Christ. In part two we learned why God had to become man to redeem man, why He had to undergo the same temptation as the devil to beat the devil, and why anyone who sets themselves against God is fighting a losing battle.  In this post I’d like to start looking at just what Christ won for Himself. Before we do that let’s take a look at some of the dynamics in play.

Temptation is very real for those with power and authority

Because I don’t want this to become meaningless, I want to stop here for a minute and reflect on the very real temptation for those with authority and power.  We all have some level of both.  At it’s most basic, is the authority and power over our lives.  We’re not born with it and, normally, don’t gain it right away.  In most cases, we have to to win/attain it.  We have to prove ourselves worthy. We accomplish this by learning, trying, training, studying, etc. and then passing some kind of test.

All other things being equal, once won, we retain it until we are found to be unworthy. We are found to be unworthy when we abuse/misuse/neglect that power and authority vested in us in order to feather our own nests.  There seems to be some sense that those who have everything are no longer subject to temptation.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Look at Saul, David, Ahab, the Pharisees, and Solomon (who seemed practically insatiable), to name a few.

In general, what occurs after depends on the circumstances, but in the main some sort of punishment ensues.  Depending on the severity of the trespass it can be anything: from asking forgiveness, a fine, recompense, relinquishing the authority/power, prison, to death, or some combination.  For our purposes, we’ll only be concerned with the relinquishing of authority/power as that seems to be the big problem in most of these cases. Instead of accepting God’s decision, repenting, asking forgiveness, and getting on board with God’s plan they tend to dig themselves in deeper by trying to hold onto their power and authority.

Job

We know from the temptation in the wilderness that the devil had been given power and authority at some point (Ps 18:14) and he lost that power and authority when he rebelled against God, even though he still retained after it had been lost.

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 1:9-11

Instead of repenting, the devil, being jealous of his position, wasn’t willing to accept God’s decision because he thought God was acting unjustly: man was as unworthy as the devil was. As we can see from Job, the devil felt that the only  thing keeping Job loyal to God was the benefits Job gained from that relationship, (I think this is incredibly ironic since it was at the peak of his power that the devil sinned and not when he was laid low.), and fear.  Then the devil accuses Job of blasphemy–even though Job was innocent of that charge–and tells God he can prove it by removing the profit motive.

But Job does one better than the devil: Job has power and authority, yet does not sin.  I’m going to give the devil his due here; fear does seem to be the reason Job does what he does.  Job may even be trying to stave off the wrath of God by trying to appease God through offering sacrifice, instruction, and admonishing people not to sin.  Similar to someone trying to shore up a falling building.

Anyway God gives the devil the go ahead–with certain limitations–, the devil tries to get Job to blaspheme God to His face, but Job doesn’t.  The devil loses.  The point is, after everything is said and done Job changes in two ways: Job no longer fears he needs to appease God and Job can now see Him where before he could only hear Him.

Christ’s suffering in light of Job

What you’ll notice in the story of Job is how similar this is to the story of Christ in that we start out with someone who is given power and authority; which He uses to admonish and teach people, but doesn’t sin by using it to profit Himself; is falsely accused of blasphemy; and, in the Garden of Gethsemane, does show fear of the coming wrath of God.  Christ, like the prophets and priests (including Job) before Him, tries to stave it off through His teachings, admonitions, and sacrifice. There are differences, too.

Unlike Christ, Job was powerless to save himself, so he didn’t have that temptation of calling on that power while undergoing his suffering. Job’s test was to not blaspheme God to His face.  Christ, being God, was not going to blaspheme Himself.1   Unlike Job, Christ knew why He would undergo suffering and death, even though, like Job, He still dreaded it.  Job always feared it, but his worldview was that if you acted righteously, then God protected you.  So Job, like the devil, felt He was being treated unjustly by God because he was innocent.  He had done everything right.  What Job didn’t realize is if the wrath of God falls on the guilty, then it hasn’t been staved off: it’s been realized.  When it falls on the saints, out of His great love for the saints, it’s only a small fraction of what it would have been had it fallen on the guilty. Compare what Christ underwent and what happened to those who didn’t come to believe in Him during the sack of Rome.  I hear it was pretty horrendous.

While a fraction of the wrath is received, there seems to be no bounds put on the grace and mercy merited which covers an incomprehensible number of sins. This is one of the major victories, (and the one I’m most grateful for), Christ won with His sacrifice: to be a covering for those who have believed, do believe, and will believe in Him. Thanks be to God!

The sacrificial lamb and the scapegoat

As I tried to explain in Jumping in with Both Feet God has this way of pulling many loose threads together, so they culminate into one point.  So it should be expected, not surprising, that Christ can be both the scapegoat and the Lamb of God at one and the same time.  The lamb because He was the sacrifice God had promised Abraham.  The scapegoat because the devil and the Pharisees blamed Lord Jesus for their own failings.  Remember, Jesus was, among other things, a prophet and they don’t usually show up unless someone has sinned.

If you truly want to see the face of God, it is in Christ.  A point where the OT wrath of God and the NT mercy and grace of God come together.  The wrath of God has not gone away.  Sin hurts people.  God will never ever condone it.  There are people who go through their entire lives wounded by others sin and they in turn hurt still others. There is a very certain wrath waiting for those who do not convert to Christ.   For the sinner, and we have all sinned, repent and get on board with God, so the Christ won grace can give you a new lease on life. Otherwise, you’ll have to face the wrath of God. For those wounded by sin God has provided a way out of this mess and can give you the healing you desperately need to restore your lives.  And so it isn’t all a senseless waste, raise up your suffering to something higher and better and unite them with those of Christ and offer it to God for the conversion of sinners or, better yet, for fallen away Christians so as to shore up the Church.  For many of them are as you once were: hurting others by either repeating the sin in trying to come to terms with it, or acting out in hurt, anger, or fear.

Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing! Rev 5:12

To be continued . . .

1     I believe He was accused of blasphemy by the Pharisees to tie the two stories together in order to show that they, like the devil, believed He would blaspheme God (remember, they didn’t believe He was God) under the right circumstances.  When the false witness shows up and mentions destruction it appears to be a real AHA! moment for them.

Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa in Acts confirms that persecution was used by the Pharisees in order to get a person to blaspheme God.  In Acts 26:5 Paul states he belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.  And in 26:10-11 Paul asserts he was authorized by the chief priests to do the following: imprison Christians, cast his lot against them when they were being condemned to death, and punish them in the synagogues as a means to force them to blaspheme God.

Unmodified post photo generously donated by Ben White @Unsplash

 

Posted in The Word

Defending the Indefensible

In  Who’s Offense and Who’s Defense in Spiritual Warfare? we begin to see–in the ignorance of what the game is, who’s playing which side, and the stakes–the first glimmer of the grand delusion the world lies under.  The belief that it can go against God and profit from it

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Mark 8:36

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:14-16

or, conversely, believing they have something to lose by following Him.

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” John 11:47-8

It’s delusional because there is no way that God was ever going to create a world in which He could be defeated by His enemies.  So when it appears to be otherwise–the death of Christ–one has to ask, “What’s really going on?”  What is the game?

The game is to not sin. Christ, to be an acceptable sacrifice, had to die sinless.  Christ’s death and resurrection was not a matter of God simply experiencing death just because we do, sleeping for a couple of days, and getting back up.  For God to redeem man, then God had to become man and succeed where we had failed.  If he wanted to beat the devil who had tempted them, then He had to be susceptible to the same temptations.  Compare these two verses:

And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. Luke 4:6

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 28:18

Now, remember, it was Lord Jesus whose authority and power was so vast He could command demons to come out of people and they had to obey (He could have ordered the devil to back off), He had the power to instantly heal people (He could have healed Himself), to multiply bread and fishes (He could have fed Himself), and to calm storms (He could have calmed the crowds). He could have done all of that, but it would have been an abuse of power, misuse of authority, and a betrayal of trust.  Because Lord Jesus would have been using them to profit Himself instead of the purposes they were intended: to glorify God.  Compare that to the devil in Luke 4:6 who uses his authority to profit himself with the temptation of Christ.  The fall of Christ would in no way have glorified God.

Even though Christ never sinned can you imagine how incredibly tempting it must’ve been? Especially, while He was dying on the cross.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. John 10:17

We get a little taste of this each Lent when we intentionally set something aside for 40 days: something which is completely in our power and authority to pick up again.  If we have a hard time doing this, think how much harder it would be to set aside one’s own life?  To undergo death rather than to be tempted to use that power and authority to save oneself.

If Christ had given into those temptations, then He would have failed.  Mankind would not have been redeemed, Christ would not have been resurrected, no justification, no saving grace, no mercy, no forgiveness of sins, and no Holy Spirit to comfort us and guide us. Mankind would have been lost just as it had been before.

Christ achieved a great victory at Golgotha by remaining sinless even unto death

Does that mean that the devil would have won? No.  Oh, he would have been successful in what he was trying to accomplish, but that’s not the game.  The game is to not sin.  The devil lost that game the moment he rebelled against God.  When he later went up against Christ during His passion he was defending an indefensible position.  All he would have accomplished was to add to the number of sinners and sin in the world.  A short-term gain for a long-term loss.  That’s the grand delusion: the more we gain through sin the better off we are.  When it’s just the opposite: the more we gain through sin the worse off we are.  We think we are winners, but we lose the moment our foot steps on that path.  Consider those who wanted Christ crucified. They were probably feeling like winners when Christ died.  That lasted for about three days.  That was while they were alive.  There’s still the judgment to come after death.  Wonder how they’re feeling now?

I just have one more thing to add.  Anytime anyone turns away from God they are leaving the rational for the irrational and the truth for a lie.  This is why the more the world sins the more irrational it gets.  And having no rational basis for what they do the arguments become one of emotion rather than truth.  Now, this isn’t always going to be the case.  There are times when someone simply can’t explain the positions they hold even when they are right, but it’s a good rule of thumb.  If you want to discover whether something truly is a sin, then just look for the lie whether it be in the premises, the logic, intentional omissions, intentional obfuscation, or in the meaning of the words.

May we all come to appreciate the great things God has done for us! God bless!

Original post photo provided by Ben White @Unsplash

Posted in The Word

Who’s Offense and Who’s Defense in Spiritual Warfare?

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These days it seems that Christians are constantly on the defensive side of the spiritual war. If we zoom out, earthly life seems like a constant battle to fend off death and decay.  We see it everywhere.  In the wife simply trying to provide a safe and clean environment for her family by keeping the dirt and clutter at bay; in the husband going to work each day to keep poverty from overtaking his family;  in the single parent, trying to do both; in lawyers defending life in court; in the military fighting our enemies; in the junkie fighting their addiction; and in the Christian fighting off temptation.  In all of this where is our offensive line?  Or am I looking at it wrong?  Are we on the offensive and it’s the devil who is trying to keep us at bay?  Seems to me if one side is trying to take a hill and the other side is trying to hold it things are going to look a little different, yet, the one on the bottom is the one playing offense and the one on top is playing defense.

” . . . the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Just look at Lord Jesus.  There towards the the end He looked like He was down, yet He was getting closer to His goal. Lord Jesus was born for one objective: take the hill Golgotha.  And look at how hard the devil tried to keep Him from accomplishing it: He was betrayed, false witness lied about Him, He was wrongfully convicted, scourged, rejected by His own people, mocked, a crown of thorns jammed onto his head, forced to carry a  cross which would have driven the thorns farther into his head and constantly scraped the wounds on His back, had nails driven through His hands and feet, hung on a cross and ridiculed while slowly suffocating to death. Every evil thing that happened to Lord Jesus was the devil playing defense.  It seems so horribly excessive? Why did the devil throw so much at Him?

One reason was because the end was near, so the devil was trying to hold Golgotha with everything he had in hopes of weakening Christ, making Him more susceptible to temptation.  That’s how the devil works: he either goes after your weak spots or he waits until you are susceptible.  That’s usually when you’re weak.  Look at how many times the devil went after Christ during His short stay here on earth when He was weak.  The devil made a play for Him in the beginning of His life when He was a small and weak by tempting Herod to order soldiers off to kill Him.  The devil went after Him again when he tempted Him in the wilderness when He was weak from lack of food and probably feeling a little lost, if the ancient Hebrew people were anything to go by.  Once again, this time through St. Peter, at the beginning of the end when Lord Jesus was heading towards Jerusalem and death.  We know that was a temptation because not much later Lord Jesus prayed that He wouldn’t have to go through all that suffering. The final temptation came at the end of His life when He had been weakened by betrayal, ridicule, shame, physical agony and, probably, mental anguish.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the devil was whispering temptations in His ear the entire time of Christ’s passion. When His people were calling for His death, “They hate you.  They don’t want you.  Why put yourself through all of this?” When He was too weak to carry the cross on His own, “It’s not worth it.  You can’t do this.”  When He fell, “Give up. Stay down.  Call your angels down from heaven.” When He was on the cross, “You’re the Son of God. Save yourself”  And probably, hundreds more times and thousands of different ways.  And at each step as Lord Jesus was getting weaker I’m positive the temptations were getting stronger.

It’s truly a testament to not only His commitment and faithfulness to God, but also of His great love for us. Christ’s passion was not just one of physical stamina, but mental fortitude and resolution of will.  For all of that, He died in the end. By worldly standards He would be considered the one that was playing defense and He lost. By worldly standard it would appear evil won.  But the game wasn’t what the world thinks it was, they weren’t aware of who was playing offense and who defense, and down is not out.

to be continued . . .

Original post photo provided by Ben White @Unsplash

Posted in The Word

Jews, Gentiles, and Finches

I use to own a couple of finches: male and female.  One day the female died.  Since I didn’t want the male to be alone I went out and got another female finch to keep him company.  What I didn’t know was that cute little finches can be as territorial as lions and just as fierce.  In my ignorance I introduced the female by simply placing her in the cage with the male.  The next thing I know the male is chasing the female around the cage trying to kill her.  Before I could react the male had her wing in his beak and she was hanging in midair: the weight of her body pulling the one wing (the one in his beak) open and frantically beating the other wing.

After separating them I tried to find out what was going on.  I discovered that finches, like any other animal, are extremely territorial and you can’t just introduce them by throwing them in together and expecting them to get along.  What you have to do instead is mess up their worldview.  You accomplish this by removing the one from its territory and giving it to the other one.  Then you place them side by side, not close enough where they can harm one another, but close enough, so they can get used to each other.  Then you reintroduce the one who had been taken out of his territory and they will now get along.

This works because, in a sense, it humbles both of them.  The new bird that has been introduced into the old one’s territory knows, because of the scents left by the displaced bird that this is not rightly their territory and, therefore, will not try to dominate.  The old bird, whose original territory it is, when reintroduced will not try to dominate because of the new smells introduced into it by the new bird.  He cannot claim dominance because it is no longer his alone.

The history of Christianity is much like what occurred with my finches: first, it was introduced to the Jews (the elect) and the early Jews persecuted the new Christian converts (who were later mainly gentiles) because they felt they were impinging on their territory. This led to their eventual separation where they coexisted in the world, but could not cross over from one side to another.  What barred them from this was Christ.  The Jews could only cross the bar by accepting Him as the Messiah and the Christians were barred unless they rejected Him.  And as I reintroduced my finches by bringing the old into the new, so the Church teaches that the Jews and Christians will eventually be reunited when the Jews are converted and enter the Church.

The similarities between my experience with my finches and the Jews and gentiles is so eerie that it makes me wonder if that is why God has done what He has done: to humble both the Jews and the gentiles, so when they are reintroduced neither will try to dominate.

Post photo suppled by Steven Lilley at Flickr under the Creative Commons Share Alike Attribution 2.0 license

Posted in The Word

Merry Christmas

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,a the Lord.  Luke 2:10-11

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THIRD FRIDAY ADVENT 2016 REFLECTION: THE WILL OF THE FATHER

Reading

You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. John 5:33-36

Reflection

 “Do not preach”—thus they preach— “one should not preach of such things; . . . ” Micah 2:6

When I read this passage the other day I had to laugh at the hypocrisy Micah is pointing out because it sounded just like the hypocrisy I see in the left today.  It was so similar that I began to wonder if the prophets lived in such times as ours.   Since, instead of a prophet, this last time God sent His only begotten Son then was it the same for the Son as it was for the prophets?  I would say so.

In the times of the prophets the Hebrew people were normally under foreign rule: either literally or figuratively.  Literally, when they were in Egypt and Babylon, or under the dominion of the Greeks and Romans and figuratively, when they had left off following God and followed something or someone else: another nation’s god with its own teachings; their own inclinations, etc.  Whatever the case may be they weren’t following God and, therefore, had either fallen away or were led astray.  From what we read in the New Testament it seems they were under both literal (the Romans) and figurative (teaching of the religious leaders that went against God) foreign rule, as it is in our own time.  We have a worldly people whose beliefs have influenced both our laws and some religious leaders.  There has been either outright aggression against the Word of God, an effort to undermine Him with alliances meant to infiltrate those institutions most faithful to the Word, and a concentrated effort to remove any trace of Him from the public square.

As we know from the prophets, the Gospels, and a witness to our own times that leads to a very hostile environment for anyone doing the works of the Father.  And when both sides are living in one nation, then you have a situation that is summed up nicely in this verse from Esther:

Then Hamane said to King Artaxerxes, “There is a certain nation scattered among the other nations in all your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other nation, and they do not keep the laws of the king. Esther 3:7-8

In that passage Hamane is speaking of the Jews, but the same could be said of Christ and His disciples: Christ was following God and the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven amidst a people following different civil and religious laws.

This is similar to what is happening today for those living in the world, but not following the world. As I wrote in a previous post, people that undergo similar experiences relate on a different level than those that don’t.  This means we can now better relate to what Christ was up against, which should bring us closer to Him by giving us better insight into the times He lived on earth and, alternatively, having experienced this Himself should reassure us that He is not unsympathetic to our situation.

I think it also helps drive home what we sometimes understand only on a peripheral level: where before we had a little glimmer of comprehension, we now can comprehend more fully: Christ’s entire time on earth was spent for one purpose only: doing the will of the Father.

The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. John 5:36

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. John 12:45

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Matthew 26:53

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” John 19:11

It didn’t matter what people thought, what they wanted, how much power they felt they had, whether they threatened, whether they liked it or didn’t like it.  Only one thing mattered and that was the will of the Father.  So next time we hear the Church teaching that the Son is one with the Father or that the will of Christ was aligned with the Father, then we can  have a deeper understanding as to what that really means.

May we all be one with Christ!  God bless!

#Advent

Posted in The Word

THIRD TUESDAY OF ADVENT 2016 REFLECTION: LIP SERVICE AND A STUBBORN REFUSAL TO BELIEVE

Reading

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:27-32

Reflection

I can see two issues being addressed in today’s reading: lip service and the stubborn refusal to believe; both of which God had to correct in the Hebrew people many a time in the Old Testament. What He did before through the prophets, He did face-to-face in this passage.  Unfortunately, the result was the same in both cases (see Matthew 21:33-38).  Maybe we can do better by identifying the problems and using this information as a corrective to our own lives, if needed.

Lip Service

As you all know, in our current age “lip service” normally refers to a person who tells another that they will do something, even though they have no intention of doing it.  It’s mostly used as a method of appeasement.  I’ll be quite honest with you, I would have said the second son in the Parable above was just paying his father lip service and left it at that.  As I was meditating on today’s reading Lord Jesus indicated there was fuller sense of the term “lip service.”   It’s the sense that not only our hands, but also our lips are meant to be used in serving God.

In Worship:

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Hebrews 13:15

In Building up of the kingdom of God:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 2 Timothy 4:1-2

In acting as an Intermediary:

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Malachi 2:7

In the Salvation of Souls:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. Romans 10:8-10

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? Romans 10:13-14

As we can see lip service is serious business. Firstly, it’s a great honor that God has bestowed on man in allowing him a share in this great work.  Secondly, God depends on us to do our part.  Using the parable in the reading as an example, what happens when the second son says yes, but doesn’t carry out the work?  The work doesn’t get done because the father thinking the son is going to do the work isn’t going to make arrangements for another to do the job.  To help make it more real try to remember to a time when one of your plans went awry because someone promised to do something, but then didn’t?  I bet it wasn’t a pleasant memory.  When God can’t depend on us to follow up on our amens, then we do a disservice to both God and man (both of which are in Lord Jesus).  The problem with the Pharisees wasn’t just their pride, it was a failure of duty.  A duty which now falls to us.

The Stubborn Refusal to Believe

But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. Zechariah 7:11

Its fine not to believe when you don’t have enough evidence, but when there is an abundance of evidence and one still chooses not to believe, then that is simply a stubborn refusal to believe.  The Pharisees knew John was righteous and were witness to how many people he was turning back to God and yet they still refused to believe.  That was just plain stubbornness, which is without excuse. It was this stubborn refusal to believe that kept them from fulfilling their duty.

It’s for these reasons that the tax collectors and prostitutes are worthier of the kingdom.  They didn’t lie and take a job and then fail to perform it letting down both God and man.  They just said no from the outset and went about their business.  But when they were made aware of their incorrect behavior they repented and got to work.  Hence, these are the one who built up the kingdom of God; but the ones whose job it was originally refused to believe they needed repentance and failed in their service to God (Luke 7:30).

May we all build up the kingdom of God! God bless!

#Advent

The beautiful image was supplied by Roberta Borge @Unsplash

Posted in The Word

SECOND SATURDAY ADVENT 2016 REFLECTION: THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Reading

And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13

Reflection

As this passage shows recognizing the sign of the times is not that easy.  Not even John the Baptist knew he was Elijah (John 1:21).  It is passages such as these that leave me a little worried about my ability to recognize the end times.  When God started it He had planned on bringing it to an end.  So, technically, we have been in the end times, since the beginning and each passing day brings us one day closer to both our end and The End.  But it’s really easy to forget about it when we get all caught up in our day-to-day affairs.

False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. Mark 13:22

So imagine my surprise when I followed a link that showed up on one of my social media feeds and figured out the person was claiming  to be the second coming of Christ.  I did a little further searching and found from a list on Wikipedia that there are currently 11 false messiahs in the world and many more that are no longer living but made the claim.  How many was I aware of? Zero. What’s another word for clueless? Rebecca.  What’s really upsetting is that was going to be my go-to for recognizing the end times.  I sure hope the Church can recognize it and call it when it happens.

May we all be right with God when our end does come!  God bless!

#Advent

Image by Tyler B @Unsplash

 

Posted in The Word

Second Friday of Advent 2016 Reflection: Vindication of Wisdom

Reading

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He hath a devil.’ The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.’ But wisdom is justified of her children [or vindicated by her deeds].” Matthew 11:16-19

Reflection

So that generation is like someone who is calling everything wrong.  They’re piping the wrong tune, they call the precursor of Christ–John the Baptist–a “devil” and their Messiah “gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”  They do all of this and Christ says that “wisdom is justified of her children.”

Who are wisdom’s children?

I think wisdom has two children: the worldly wise (who are futile 1 Cor 3:20): pipers and those graced with the wisdom of God: Christ and John the Baptist.  Although both the godly and the worldly are wise, it is in different ways which keeps the two clearly separated.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:17-21

To top it all off it was wise to set it up this way, so wisdom is vindicated.

#Advent

Image generously shared by Jeff Sheldon at Unsplash

Posted in The Word

SECOND THURSDAY ADVENT 2016 REFLECTION: THE KIND CONSIDERATION OF GOD

Reading

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:28-38

Reflection

I guess I’m not like most other people in that I’m not impressed that God can perform miracles.  In my mind what we consider miraculous is just everyday humdrum for someone who is capable of bringing about such things.  This is why I think I am always surprised when such a powerful God is so kind and considerate.  It never ceases to amaze that this God who can bring about everything would be so considerate of people’s feelings. What always pops out at me in this reading is when Gabriel tells the Blessed Virgin Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant.

For one reason, it seems so out of place.  Gabriel has just delivered the news of the century when he tells Mary she is going to be the mother of the long-awaited and -hoped for Messiah.  This is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Jewish people and she is going to be the one it happens through.  Gabriel follows this momentous news with something that, in my mind, goes like this, “Btw, your cousin is pregnant.”

Why?

One possibility is that Gabriel could be trying to reassure her that “nothing will be impossible with God.”  But the Virgin Mary seems more confused about the mechanics of how it is going to come about rather than doubting that God can bring it about, so I don’t think that’s it.   Another possibility is that Gabriel is informing her that there is another person out there who is also experiencing a miraculous pregnancy, so she would have someone to share this joyous news with.

Can you imagine her trying to tell the people of Nazareth that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit?  Who would have believed her?  For Joseph to believe God had to send him a dream and explain to him how it came about (Mt 1:20) and he was a righteous man.  Can you imagine what the unrighteous would have thought?  I say not much as we already know from a later scripture that the people of Nazareth did not think that highly of any of the family when it came to religion:

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Matthew 13:53-55

If they had thought highly of the family, especially the holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then I don’t think they would have been so “astounded” at the teachings of Christ.  They would have expected at least “wisdom,” if not “deeds of power” rather than taking offense at him (Mt 13:57).

But let’s say there was someone who believed her, such as Joseph.  Sharing something with someone who believes you is not the same as sharing it with someone that can relate to you because they are undergoing or have undergone a similar experience.  Imagine having a joy that no one around you understands, so there is no one with which you can share  it with.  How lonely and isolated she must have felt.  If the lives of the saints are anything to go by, then I think she was probably having a rough time of it. Rather than leave her alone I think that God let her know that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant.  And with the help of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth knows exactly what is going on when she hears the Virgin Mary: she knows the Virgin Mary is pregnant and she knows how it came about.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:41-45

This is the recognition that the Virgin Mary needed.  Now she could openly and freely share her joy at the great things God had done for her. The Magnificat seems to practically burst from her lips.  I don’t know that I’ve read any other passages in the Bible where two people are so filled with so much wonder and joy: all because of the kind consideration of God.

May we all recognize the kindness of God! God bless!

#Advent

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ADVENT REFLECTION 2016: SECOND MONDAY OF ADVENT

First off, let me thank James Hahn over at The Hahn Family blog for his Advent Scripture Challenge which is making me spend a lot more time contemplating each day’s reading.  This is something that I’ve been meaning to do anyway, but never really put into action (You know when you’re on the right track when God provides the means to get you where you wanted to be.).

Reading

 “One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Luke 5:17-20

Reflection

Like the sick man’s friends I also believe that Lord Jesus is the answer.  Faith in Him and faithfulness to Him is the only thing that is going to be able to turn our country and the world from the sinfulness and craziness that abounds.  It’s getting people there that’s the hard part.   So Christ carried the cross for us like the friends carried the paralyzed man. Like Simon the Cyrene and all the saints, we shoulder our share of the burden of the cross by helping Christ.  We try to persevere as intercessors through prayer and offering up for them even when there may be a full out rejection of Christ or complete apathy.