Friday, April 28, 2017

The Blind See

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Preserving Love

John 9:35-41. The Message

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.
39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

For Reflection
A man asked another man, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?"

The second man seemed to be fumbling for an answer.  After an embarrassingly long pause, he replied, "Ask for forgiveness? I don't know. Why would I ask for forgiveness? If I don't do something right, I correct it. I make it right, Why would I need forgiveness? I go to church, take communion and all. You know."

Self-direction is an illusion of righteousness. It is a Godless existence where right is what I say it is.

Pray
Pray that you will live a life in the protective, loving hands of God. Pray that you fill your soul with the Holy Spirit so that it displaces fear and the need to take things into your hands. Pray to rely on God and trust that God will make all things good.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pastors, "Shepherd the Church of God"

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Preserving Love

Acts 20:25-28. The Message

25-27 “And so this is good-bye. You’re not going to see me again, nor I you, you whom I have gone among for so long proclaiming the news of God’s inaugurated kingdom. I’ve done my best for you, given you my all, held back nothing of God’s will for you.
28 “Now it’s up to you. Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God’s people they are—to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for.

For Reflection
I remember the old spaghetti westerns. Inevitably, a person pursued by the bad guys sought refuge in a Christian sanctuary. Many times this hallowed ground was respected, even by the bad guys, and the person was sheltered from immediate harm.  Today, I cringe at the thought that our church locks all doors save the main entrance to the sanctuary, and yet, I understand the threat which motivates it.  Locking doors is an easy answer to a threatening world.

The threat of physical harm, however real, is not the only threat Christians face.  How well are we protected from false prophets, who confuse the promise of the gospel with material prosperity, or preach retribution instead of reconciliation? How are we protected from a would where fear and hate overpower hope and love.  How are we protected in a culture where truth is an illusion and considered irrelevant?

To discern the difference between the various ways Christians narrate the world in which we live is a difficult task.  Only study, open discussion, and prayer can protect us from taking false paths to Grace.

Pray
Resolve that you will spend more time praying about and discussing the Scriptures.  Pray so that you will find an authentic path to righteousness.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Shepherd Cares for the Lost

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Preserving Love

Matthew 18:1-14. The Message

Whoever Becomes Simple Again

18 At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?”
2-5 For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.
6-7 “But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do.
8-9 “If your hand or your foot gets in the way of God, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owners of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.
10 “Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

Work It Out Between You

12-14 “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.

For Reflection
As much time as the disciples have spent with Jesus, they still fail to understand.  They still are moved by the ways of their world; worrying about who is better loved, who is more righteous, who will have the highest position of power.

Sometimes we, too, have to start over as children.  We need to be humbled.  We need to seek truth, understanding, and wisdom as eagerly as a young child.  We need to approach our spiritual lives with the same unfettered lust for knowledge and clear-sightedness as the most curious children. We have been re-born into a new life, eager to grow and mature into a new grace.

Pray
Pray that you will never reject your lust for a fulfilling spiritual life.  Pray for wisdom.  Pray so that God will help you understand God's will for you and all of humankind.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

God Will Rescue Endangered Sheep

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Preserving Love

Ezekiel 34:1-10 The Message 

When the Sheep Get Scattered

34 1-6 God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, ‘God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd—scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!
7-9 “‘Therefore, shepherds, listen to the Message of God: As sure as I am the living God—Decree of God, the Master—because my sheep have been turned into mere prey, into easy meals for wolves because you shepherds ignored them and only fed yourselves, listen to what God has to say:
10 “‘Watch out! I’m coming down on the shepherds and taking my sheep back. They’re fired as shepherds of my sheep. No more shepherds who just feed themselves! I’ll rescue my sheep from their greed. They’re not going to feed off my sheep any longer!

For Reflection
Have our churches become so self-centered that they cannot share the blessings of their faith?  Have they become so mired in the common culture that they become advocates for secular lives rather than God-centered lives? Are they motivated by fear rather than hope?  Are God's sheep scattered?

If so, as the shepherds turn their backs on the truth embedded in the life of Christ, God will not let the wolves devour God's sheep. Authentic Christians take heart.  Shepherd yourselves in the light of the Grace and Love of God.

Pray
Pray that you will bear allegiance to the living God as a shepherd, a humble servant of God.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Why Don't You Understand?

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Preserving Love

Matthew 13:10-17  The Message

Why Tell Stories?

10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”
11-15 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.
16-17 “But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.

For Reflection
As a teacher, Jesus understood that not everyone is ready to understand.  He understood the power of truth told in a story with which others could identify.  He understood that leading one to understand stories preserved an individual's right to choose a righteous life.  Christ led people to see themselves in the light of God's love.  He helped them understand the perilous consequences of self-direction and the blessings in acting from God-centered love. Christ helped people understand how they could escape from the tyranny of their time.  Christ can show us how we can escape the tyranny of our time.  To this day, Christ's wisdom is controversial.  We must close our eyes to doctrinal allegiance and open them to the truth in Christ's stories.  In His truth, we will find righteousness.

Pray
Pray that you will open your hearts to the authentic story of God's love for humankind as found in the story of Christ.  Pray that you will be transformed by the word and Spirit of God.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Paul's Faithful Ministry

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Love as Victory over Death

2 Corinthians 11:21-27. The Message

Many a Long and Lonely Night

21-23 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I’m their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can’t believe I’m saying these things. It’s crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I’m going to finish.)
23-27 I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

For Reflection
Paul recalls pain and suffering he endured as he preached the gospel. And yet, Paul has never been so alive in his calling. He has a new quality of life not marred by suffering but strengthened by it.

Pray
Pray that your suffering does not tempt you to decry God. Pray that through suffering, you grow in trust and grace.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

God's Will Shapes Human Direction

God Loves Us
God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love


God's Love as Victory over Death

Romans 8:26-30. The Message

26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

For Reflection
When your problems are bigger than you are, God will help you grow. When everything you tried to do failed, God will walk beside you. When you finally arrive at a place where there is no more down and only up, God will lift you. God will take you from lost to found. Just Give up on "do it yourself salvation" and pray.  God will work God's good in you. No Conditions. No Ifs. Just the accepting love of God.

Pray
Pray and give your life over to God so all the big things will shrink and the small joys will expand and displace all worry.