Love and Accountability

The passage of Scripture I am struggling with for next Sunday is one that brings up the issue of judgment.  It is a passage the speaks of a final separation of those who are children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one.

Thinking about judgment is disturbing.  To reflect upon the possibility of a human being living in an existence from which there is no comfort, no possibility of hope is a hard thing to do.  If we love people (to love God one cannot help but love people) eternal judgment seems so against ideas of mercy and compassion. 

I cannot come up with an explanation for why this must be.  I can only accept the fact that Scripture does teach the certainty of this event and the awareness deep within my own heart that what the Scripture teaches is true.  The necessity of this reality is not something we can rationalize or fit neatly into some theological construct we might create to easy our distress.  It is, however, something that should motivate us out of love and concern to reach out in urgency to those who may be at risk.  It is also something that we should be concerned with ourselves as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Assurance comes with intimacy not complacency.  Confidence comes with commitment and involvement not with assumption or ignorance. 

In my reflection, I also believe that if the promised coming of judgment is hard for us, we cannot image how hard it must be for God.  It is my limited understanding that God is omnipresent.  In this statement I am expressing the belief that there is no place that God does not exist.  If this is true, then the eternal state of separation is a place that God endures as well as those who have rejected God’s grace.  How painful will it be for God to see these people created out of God’s love in this state of separation.  The omnipresence of God would seem to indicate that God too carries a great burden for those who chose the path of perdition. 

My theological task this week is a challenge.  It will require a lot of prayer and reflection.  I will have to seek diligently the guidance of the Holy Spirit for understanding and direction as I seek to mold a message that has meaning and inspires motivation to respond in faith to what is a hard truth to face.

I do this because I do love the Lord.

 

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 40 The Journey comes to a close!

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When the Journey began

NIV 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed

The Journey that began with ashes and a desire to be penitent and repentant comes to its end this year in a service of darkness and a day that ends the week in which the powers and principalities though they had won.  

For forty days and six Lord’s days we have journeyed seeking awareness.  As for me I found awareness of my fallen nature, awareness of my failures and needs, and awareness of God’s presence in the everyday challenges of life.  I have asked others to join me in seeking God.  I hope they have had the times of intimacy the Lord  has blessed me with.  My desire to worship and serve you have grown and I pray will continue to grow and grow and grow.

On Sunday the church year changes.  Easter, the spring of the church (or fall depending upon which hemisphere one lives in), brings our focus on the resurrection.  It calls to us with the blessed hope made certain by Jesus conquering victory over the grave.  It is a time of appearances, surprises, and again, teachings which Jesus has given to us to guide us toward perfection.  Not perfection in the sense this world views perfection, but perfection in desire to holiness and a willingness to live the new life our faith in God who is with us and God’s resurrection offers.

Easter leads us toward Pentecost.  So another journey will begin.  This is purpose.  We were created to walk with God.  It is God’s will for us to join the Divine presence that journeys beyond time and space.  God became one of us so that we might be one with God.   May this motivate us toward a deepening of what we have found in Lent!

NIV Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 38

NIV Acts 2:28  You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.

The above verse is from the Psalter.  It is the ending verse of chapter 16.  The in reality it is the ending thought of a group of four verses:

NIV  Psalm 16:8-11  I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the grave (Sheol) ,  nor will you let your Holy (faithful) One  see decay.  You have made (or will make) known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

I needed this verse when I set down to write this entry.  In reality, if God was at my right hand tonight God would have notice that my hand most likely was shaking.  And while even as I type these words the above verses are pulling me away from the pity party I was trying to attend.   It is hard, but it is important when doubts and emotions rise to be careful to not let circumstances or the slow unrelenting heaviness of life pull one away from the presence who is always there.

In the verse from Acts list above, Peter is preaching his Pentecost sermon.  God has shown up.  The Spirit of God has descended in power and the small stones are about to become the giant rock.  The church is born.  God will now be more than with us, God will be in us.  This is the gift that Jesus claimed for us in his death and resurrection.

Tonight, in confirmation class, I asked each of the young people present how they knew God was with them.  Three were very confident and positive.  Three did not know.  I appreciated their honesty.  Did I try to get them saved? (slight laughter at myself)  I don’t get anyone saved.  Only one human being has (notice the present tense) the power to “save” and that human being is also the Creator of everything, the author of life, and God incarnate.  All I can do is follow the example of Peter and tell them what Jesus did and why.  All I can do is talk about how amazing a relationship with God is.  All I can do is explain to them the power God has granted them as free (but accountable) sentient beings.  All I can do is tell them what Jesus has done (does and is doing) for me.

We are getting near the end of the Lenten journey for this year.  The real time journey I have been on apart from these posts has been a pretty wild emotional and spiritual ride.  Through it all I have been aware that: You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  Amen!!!!!

Tonight the church will gather as did the disciples on the night before the crucifixion.  The sacrament of communion will be shared.  The body of Christ and the blood of Christ blessed and consumed.  In the exercise of this duty (that is reality a delight) the joy of sanctify grace will again fill those of us who come.  How could we not but find reason for joy!

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 30

NIV 1 Corinthians 1:7  Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

One day while Jesus was teaching his disciples he asked them the question, “Who do people think I am?”  Obviously Jesus was aware of the discussions and speculations about his person and abilities.  Even in a time in which there were no mobile phones, the news of the activities of Jesus spread fast.

Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel.  He was the lamb of God who came to be paid the wages for our sin.  He IS God with us, God incarnate.  Even though the people of Jesus’s day were eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come, they did not recognize him when he did.   Jesus became of us as as a gift, the gift above all gifts.  A gift given out of love.  Those who came, who come, and will come to understand this are blessed.  But it was not an easy task for the to disciples understand and accept.  Perhaps the reality of that time is best summed up in Jesus own words to the woman at the well:

John 4:10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“If you knew the gift of God”, what a profound truth.  This statement is still valid.  It is valid not only for those who are walking darkness, but also for those who would be true disciples of today as well.

The church of Jesus Christ is in decline.  Why in the world would this be!  Again, is we are to be faithful we must answer in the desire of faith and the drawing of the Spirit the question “Who do we think Jesus is?”  If we really believe he is God, really believe he is the way the truth and the life, should this belief not be obvious in our words and deeds?

“If we know the gift of God”, should we not be trusting in the prayer he taught us for our daily needs rather than making our own security and pleasure our primary pursuits?  This is the prime question needing to be faced during this time of Lent.

The beginning verse is a reminder why these questions need to be asked.  The church has been given the spiritual gifts we need to be successful in God’s eyes.   We are waiting for his return.  Till that at time we need to being active in the understanding of who Jesus is, what Jesus has given us, and avoid the mistakes the church has made in the past.

We need be so careful that we are not like those during Jesus on day who were not ready for God incarnate to come to them.

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 29

NIV 1 Peter 2:23  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

The idea of getting even, getting back, getting revenge (which even has its own TV show) against someone you believe has wronged you seems to be growing as an idea seen as being somehow justified, even ethical.  The extent to how far one can go to get revenge is still limited by law, but even there more courts of law are not convicting defendants who are get their sympathy for because their act of vengeance seemed to be an eye for an eye.

NIV Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

As the beginning verse states, Jesus was not into getting revenge.  There are some writing by a group called Gnostics who wrote accounts of the life of Jesus in which, as a child, Jesus was vengeful but the accounts were fabricated.  All accepted evidence indicates that what Peter wrote about our Lord is true.

In this world and its fallen state we need to understand that people will do things that violates us physically and in other ways.  We will get angry.  We most likely will want to lash out.  However, if we do we simply become like the one who hurt us and we feed the effects of the Fall (our violation of God’w will) and thus grieve God.

When we pay attention to the life of Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to make us more like him, the desire for revenge shrinks in intensity while the desire to love as God loves grows.  As Christian we do not believe in the concept of karma (what comes around goes around).  We live and hope for forgiveness and grace.  Hopefully we understand their is a more important process going on here than just easing our emotions and feelings concerning what has happened to me.  Revenge destroys relationships or the possibility of relationships.  The work of the powers and principalities is a work of revenge against God.   Jesus gave his life so they we could have victory over captivity these elements have over us.  Jesus has set the example.

As we pray, meditate, study, reflect, and practice spiritual disciplines during this season it would most likely be beneficial if we would take the time to check out our own perceive hurts and wrongs committed against us and give the over to God.  God has claimed ownership.  We need to pray that he takes them from us and replaces them with a desire to see those who have offended changed.  God is good at doing just that!

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 26

NIV Luke 8:50  Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.

Our own physical pain and suffering can be difficult burdens to bear.  When someone we love is going through pain and suffering the mental and emotional burden can push us to the breaking point.  I know because I have been there.

Some of the most agonizing times of my life have come not because of what has happened to me but what has happened to someone I love.  It is a distress that cannot be cured with medicine nor forgotten with the dulling influence of any prescribe drug or self medication.

The verse above is from an account in Scripture that I have sermonized more than any other passage.  It is a story of dealing with despair and suffering.  It is a story of how the Lord brings encouragement and hope.

I cannot imagine how Jarius felt when Jesus said “don’t be afraid.”  How could he not be afraid.  I believe Jesus knew that this would be nearly impossible for Jarius but that it would give him a glimmer of hope.  All it takes is a glimmer, a small possibility of hope, to break through the darkness of despair.

It is through our belief that our faith begins to grow.  As our faith begins to grow we can gain a new perspective on life.  Yes we will (not could or maybe be face situations of despair, suffering, and pain but will) face times of anguish.  We will hurt.  Yet because of Jesus and our willingness to walk with him we can know healing is coming.  This healing may not come outside of passing through the veil of death, but it will come.  There will come a day when those who do believe and who do experience grace through faith will here the words:

(NIV Luke 8:54)  “My child, get up!” 

and up from the grave, up form the earth we will rise!

Lent is a time of reflecting on the life of Jesus up to the experience of the cross and the grave.  It is to think of how Jesus face all the kinds of pain, suffering, and trials we will face.  Lent does not end in despair.  Lent is given hope in the power of the resurrection.  Lent is a time of listen for God to say to us:  Don’t be afraid; just believe!

 

Journey to Awareness Lent Day 23

NIV Romans 6:9  For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

When I was young, I played “army” with other kids in the neighborhood.  Sometimes we would have toy guns, sometimes a stick gun, or sometimes just our fingers.  We would run and hide and shoot and die.  When we died we had to count to 10 before we could come back to life.  Today, many people play video games in which they are given a certain amount of lives in the game.  When they die the game resets and they go one until they use all their lives or win the game.

Death is not a game.  Death is the result of accepting deception over truth and desire over instruction.  Death is a separation.  It is a separation that would be humanities master.  Death has the power to being deep pain.  Death has a hurtful sting. Fear of death dwells in the back of the mind of every mortal.  Yes, the fear can be ignored or veiled.  However, I do believe that if one approaches that threshold alone death will be able to bring forth that fear and turn it into despair.  No, death is not a game.

Jesus faced death.  Jesus knew the fear.  In the garden of Gethsemane the reality of facing death brought the deepest kind of anguish.  Even God incarnate wished there was a way around facing it.  While on the cross, in the midst of pain, in the hands of death itself, Jesus cried out in despair (Mark 15:34  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Death thought it had won.  Death had not won.  Jesus commitment Himself to the Father’s will and care and three days later death was mastered.  Death now faces despair.  Death could not keep hold of Jesus.  Jesus rose from the dead.  But Jesus did more than just come back to life, He came back with new life.  He came back with life to share.  He came back to give us hope.

Now we do not have to count to 10 but we do need to wait.  We do not have a certain amount of lives, but we can have eternal life with God through faith in Jesus.  When we let His death become our death His life becomes our life.  When we approach the veil where death waits to claim us, death is pushed aside, despair is nowhere to be found because Jesus walks us through to our ultimate purpose, our true destination.  We shall live with God.

Yes, in the season of Lent, death is closing in.  The drama is relived in the practice of our faith.  And no matter how many times it is replayed the results will remain the same.  Death will be overcome.  Death will be defeated.  This is our hope.  Growing in this hope is the beginning of our life apart from the power of death.  May Jesus be lifted up!

The Journey to Awareness Lent Day 6

Nehemiah 9:6   You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

Romans 1:20  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Living in a small town in West Texas you are never far away from wide open spaces.  It is not hard to see a vast starry sky at night or a to watch clouds forming all kinds of shapes and images during the day.  It is not to hard to find a dove sitting on a wire or a hawk sitting on high vantage point.  All around us the natural world functions as God has decreed.

It is important to be aware of this wonder.  Jesus would retreat to be alone with the Father.  It might be a mountain, or a garden, or a stop on the side of the road.  Nature was aware of Jesus presence.  The rocks would worship Him if we did not.  The creation is groaning for His deliverance.  Until then it stands as a witness to us.  It function as God intended.  It does so and will continue to do say until God changes things.  This is natural revelation.  Deep in our hearts every person knows this is so.

During the season of Lent Spring will began to once again bring forth the cycle of life.  Out of Winters barren-ness will come the new life of seeds, of leaves, of baby birds, caterpillars, and all other kinds of life.  God reveals life.  God is about life.  God overcomes death.  There is no excuse for our ignoring the good desires to bring to us.

The Journey of Awareness – the Temple Lent Day 5

NIV 1 Kings 8:27-29  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!   Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.   May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.

NIV 1 Corinthians 3:16  Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

This morning I awoke to a daily ritual.  I get up, let the dog, feed the dog, turn on the Keurig, check my email, and then do Tai Chi followed by the Morning office of prayer.  The last two my wife and I do together.  It is a simple routine that provides a sense of connected-ness with time and the ordinary.  I am also aware what I do God is doing with me.  Why, because God has chosen me as his temple.

Jesus said in  Luke 19:46 (and two other Gospels)   ‘My house will be a house of prayer.  God comes and dwells with us making us his temple and calls us to continual prayer.  God wants us to be a place of worship.  This does NOT negate our coming together as the Church as some people falsely believe.  I does mean that God really does want to be with us.  This is one of the primary elements of love.

As we make this journey with Jesus toward the cross I hope we can be filled with the awe  and the desire for mercy that Solomon felt when God entered the Temple he had built.   I also hope it fills us with a sense of deeper intimacy and connected-ness with our Lord who wants to be a part of everything we do.

Ash Wednesday – Lent Day One

CSB Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for people to die once– and after this, judgment

Lent begins with a reminder of a reality.  The reality is we are mortal.  We will die.

NIV Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

When you see a person wearing the sign of the cross made by the imposition of ashes you can know this person has been confronted by this reality.  They have been involved in a time of worship, of joining together with others in the presence of God,  that has intentionally brought up this truth.  The ashes on their foreheads are there as a witness to the world that they understand.  They care about the future and what they, and all of humanity, faces in the future.  They have heard the words that call us to reflect, repent, renew, and be revived as a people who can face the reality of death with the words:

NIV 1 Corinthians 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we take time to bow before our God, admit we are flawed, finite, people who need to cry out to God, “Have Mercy!”  It is also a time to remember that we are to walk with God.  We must be ready to take up our cross.  We must commit to carry out our calling to make disciples.

Love is not a spectator activity.  Love requires participation.  Love requires our involvement in helping one another.  Love, the love God has for us is what makes us more than simply animated ashes awaiting the destiny of becoming decaying dust.   We have been made in the image of God and God is love.  It is love that answers the question:

NRS Psalm 8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Let us seek the love of God that will enable us to overcome any fear of our mortality.

Lent is usually a time of fasting, of “giving up” something as an act of self-denial and trust in the Lord.  Perhaps today you will reflect on something you might give over to God in order to be more mindful of our need of God.  This will be our topic tomorrow.

Our journey of Lent has begun.