Taking Good Counsel

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us…  1 Corinthians 2:1-13  Sometimes we take bad advise. Everything in the spirit is discernible, yet the human spirit and God’s spirit are not the same. They don’t desire the same things. This journey will have many receding paths, unless we learn to discern between the two.

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No One Greater

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her (Death of John the Baptist). Mark 6:13-29  While we are free to do what is in our authority to do, taking someone’s life is a serious offense. Taking even a piece of it can be devastating. I believe that one of the most difficult things in life is the burden of living with the knowledge of having done something that has caused someone else pain. Not even a king is exempt from the burden of sin. It is for this reason Christ came, that we may live in spite of our selves. Discernment of what is right according to the New Commandment is an ongoing process – constantly making the choice to live rejoicing in Christ or live rejoicing to our selves (bodies). We wont always get it right and there are times when we don’t know when our actions (said or done) have hurt someone. But reconciliation in Christ is our journey in salvation. A repentant heart will not be despised nor forgotten (psalm 51:17) and God’s grace and mercy is greater than a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:11-21 

Boldness And Intentions

‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Mark 10:17-31 

I remember the first time I met Maya Angelou. I don’t remember the exact question I asked her but it was something along the lines of “What must I do?” However, what I clearly remember was her answer “read.” I have to say at the time I was a bit perplexed on one hand and disappointed on the other. “Read what?” Why hadn’t I asked her something else? Maybe she would have given me something I could use. Today of course I read all the time but thirty plus years ago I only read out of necessity. It’s no wonder I was perplexed. Consequently, for some time I dismissed the advice of someone I still admire today. The old statement about being careful of what you ask for is very important in today’s gospel message. You’re not always going to like the answer that you get, particularly when the answer requires you to do something you don’t really want to do, regardless of how simple or complex. So, you go about finding other solutions to your quest, never fully fulfilling your desire.

The man in the gospel reading called Jesus “Good Teacher.” So we can assume that he valued Jesus’ authority. However, when he was advised to sell everything he had, he was left perplexed and discerning his true desire for eternal life. Honestly for me, asking us today to sell everything we have seems drastic and extreme. This is one of several events where Jesus advises drastic actions, including cutting off body parts (Matt. 5:30) and leaving the dead to bury the dead (Matt. 8:20). But I really believe Christ makes the point that no obstacle tangible or intangible should come between our desires to be in relationship with God. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12). If we are bold enough to ask the question, we must be bold enough to accept the answer that challenges our commitment to God’s will. “Follow me.” Sometimes that means we have to let some things go completely. When we do, God’s graciousness rewards us a hundredfold in this life. Yet with the persecutions we will have to endure, the greater reward is eternal life, that being the assurance of God’s presence with us today and the life to come.

Hebrews 4:12-16 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

A Sheep’s Wisdom

I once had a five year old child tell me one day in Sunday School class that he did not like being compared to a sheep because sheep were stupid animals and he wasn’t stupid. No doubt this kid was beyond his years but I can’t help wondering if the Pharisees felt this way about Jesus’ sheep metaphors. One thing is for certain, the sheep were at least smart enough to know when they were being called by the Good Shepherd. Perhaps sheep aren’t the brightest of animals, but if we can achieve half as much wisdom to know the Savior’s voice when he calls us, we can all be just as smart. I believe if we can learn to always hear God’s voice, the following will get easier; perhaps as easily as sheep.

John 10: 19-30 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want

What God Sees

Our blessings come when we are able to discern the physical forces which challenge our faith from the spiritual forces of God which keeps us reconciled to Christ, that we may be able to know and understand what things we ought to do and have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them (BCP 231). To hear the message of the Gospel and believe in it, is the key to unlocking the manifestation of God’s love within us, which was given before the foundation of the world as we understand it. Otherwise we like Herod stay bound to a state of our humanity (pride, selfishness, idolatry etc.) that is in opposition to God’s will and the riches of his grace. Let us not forget Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that encourages our choice to walk in his love by faith as having obtained the inheritance of God’s glory. For by it we learn to concern our selves and respond by what God sees in us as beloved offspring and not by the judgment of others.

Ephesians 1:3-14  In him… when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Discerning The Challenge

The good news about John’s message is that it prevails today and no testing, has overtaken us that is not common to everyone (1 Corinthians 10:13). However, our repentance during that test is the work of God’s grace and mercy manifesting in our lives. It also enables the process of discerning the physical from the spiritual. Herod could have acknowledged and repented to what he had done as wrong according to Jewish law, if in fact he was committed to it. Historically we know that he was not (Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews). By his actions, Herod was committed to himself. While there are times when we should be committed to our selves, for example our health, a Herod’s dilemma, isn’t one of those times. When we are committed only to ourselves we often have a tendency to believe that the laws or rules therein do not apply to us, we make our own rule for life and go our own way. John’s message is given that we may prepare our selves to be committed to the Spirit of God so that when the challenge of our commitment is tested, our response will honor God (from the heart) and not our selves (according to other peoples’ perceptions). History tells us that this is not always an easy thing to do and if we continue to look through the eyes of others we only see what other people see and respond the way other people respond. When we learn to look through the eyes of Christ we begin to see what God sees and learn to respond through Christ.

Ephesians 1:3,7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,

Did I Say That?

Perhaps we should take some responsibility for what was about to happen. We’ve always tried to emphasize the importance of telling the truth. While the policeman is taking the accident report, my son faithfully offers; “I didn’t look both ways”. What! You just admitted to fault!  I suppose we could chalk it up to inexperience on his part, but the number one unwritten rule in an auto accident is never admit to fault particularly, if you believe you’ve broken a written rule (in his case, at the stop sign, after making a full and complete stop, look both ways!) Let the insurance company figure it all out.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes we say things which we later wish we hadn’t said because the consequence or the price to be paid is too high or worse, we find our selves in a position of having to make a decision that challenges our integrity. Having to separate  our feelings (who we believe our selves to be) from our image (how others perceive us) in order to “save face” can be very painful and sometimes damaging to the self. Soon enough we find that there is little room for falsehoods or grandiose facades. There will always be a time when we have to “put up or shut up.” King Herod, found himself in such a situation, desperately needing to be more important (perhaps than he really was) and in control of everything, everybody and every situation. However, when your integrity is on the line (that’s all the time) we should be more careful about making promises we don’t really want to keep (this is different from promises you make every effort to keep). At any rate, what’s a King with a foot in his mouth suppose to do?

Mark 6:23 …and he (King Herod) solemnly swore to her, “Whatever of ask me, I will give you, even half my kingdom.”

The Way Out

Lent: Day 22 – All storms, famines and turmoil in our lives serve (intentionally or unintentionally) for the purpose of separating us from God’s Love, that being Jesus Christ. Abundant blessings can have a tendency to allow us to forget that attacks on God’s Love within us do exist. If we find ourselves struggling to endure them, Paul reminds us that even our biblical ancestors were blessed abundantly and yet struggled with fear and doubt. He also assures us that the guide, who led them out, is also our guide who will lead us to the way out and onto the peaceful side of those storms. What exactly is the way out? Jesus Christ within us is the way, the truth, and our life. We must be careful not to let our response to these attacks change who we are and forget that Christ within has not left us and will forever be with us when the storm passes over.

Genesis 47:27-48:7 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; and they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.

Mark 7:1-23 …‘there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Psalm 136

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever…

who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;…

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;…

O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Faith For The Benefit Of Others

Lent: Day 11 – Because of his faith in God alone who interprets dreams, Joseph is placed in a position to make a difference. He does so because he himself now has a family of his own. Thus, saving Egypt means saving his own family. Joseph’s wilderness was a good ten plus years, plenty of time to discern his relationship not only with God, but also with the family he as been separated from. He has time to discern the responsibility that his own attitude, arrogance and naïveté played in his endured and present circumstance. My guess is that initially, Joseph was angry. Perhaps he even thought about vengeance until his situation seemed to get worse, being falsely imprisoned, in spite of God’s favor. Yet ironically, being in prison saves his life. Joseph’s faith in God allows him to truly recognize and experience God’s wisdom in his life! Yes, Joseph suffered, but it was not his suffering that saved the life of his family but rather his faith in God. In this journey, we fight a lot of battles and suffer a lot of things for our selves and the people we love. To put our hope in those battles and suffering I believe is a disservice to God. I believe our hope should be in our faith and belief that God’s wisdom in the midst of our circumstance is greater than our own. Victory is only a matter of time.

Genesis 41:46-57 Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.’ … all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.

1 Corinthians 4:8-21 We are fools for the sake of Christ, …To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly.

The Company We Keep

Lent: Day 8 – Sometimes we just have to work a little harder for the things we want and especially for the things in which we believe. Other times we have to work even harder for someone else we love, who doesn’t believe because they have lost hope, lost their way, or perhaps are simply paralyzed by fear, which keeps them moving forward in their lives. One of the most difficult things to do is to forgive our self for the things we’ve done or the things we believe we have done. The longer we convict our self, the longer it takes for us to believe that anyone else will forgive us. It is at this point in our lives when the people, with whom we have surrounded our selves, become very important. When because of our weakened faith, we are unable to see the blessing God has waiting for us, it is in and through the company we keep that supports and holds us up. Continually, while in our strength, we must discern the company that we keep, so that in our times of weakness we know that God’s presence will still be reached through the strength, prayers and efforts of those surrounding us, who not only believe but also desire to help build our faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

Mark 2:1-12 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15  Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.