Many of us are familiar with the phrase “agree to disagree.” However, in matters such as human dignity it doesn’t apply so well. The phrase allows us to make an excuse to do nothing about unjust behavior towards race, poverty, and gender that is experienced everyday. We turn deaf to the truth of our inability to hear and listen to the pain of others. Seek to find a way towards understanding and make that which seems disagreeable a pathway to break down barriers and build mutual acts of equality, justice and peace.
The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting; grant me understanding, that I may live. Psalm 119: 144 Once I started a new job and for days I asked God for mercy that I may make it through; that my days would be light and without issue. Initially the mercy I asked for was granted. Then one day someone complained about my work and I asked God, “What happened to the mercy?” After a while, things neither got better or worse. Even though the work was hard and ultimately it wasn’t what I wanted to do, I had settled in to the job along with everyone else. I realized in this situation I wasn’t special. We were all deserving of mercy. The job was what it was; some days light and some days heavy. It changed from day to day. God had no more taken the mercy from me than he did from anyone else. I stopped asking for mercy and began to thank God for giving me strength and the strength of my co-workers.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.’ Job 38:1-7, 34-41 This was the beginning of God’s response to Job as he struggled with the adversity that was happening in his life. As a believer, during adversity in my life, I sometimes find it very difficult to believe that God really is on my side. Perhaps it’s because I forget God’s relationship to this world, which of course includes me as well as the rest of humankind. I like to think that somewhere, at some point I was always a part of God’s grand scheme. Then there are times like today however when I feel as if God has left me in a cloud of unknowing. I think of his servant Job and ask myself where was I indeed? Yet because of his greater plan in the midst of everything else under his authority, here I am.
Job 42:2 I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
The word is vexation, a state of being frustrated, annoyed or worried. Job went through a period of vexation. He pleaded for understanding of his friends’ reprimand as to what he had done to render such devastation in his life. Of course we know from the scripture that Job was innocent, guilty only of serving God. I believe Job had every right to plead his case. However, fear of God (Job 28:28) does not mean that we should be afraid to question God concerning the trials and tribulations in our lives. Wisdom is it’s own teacher. There will be many times that we are frustrated, annoyed or worried about a negative situation of which we are unaware as to why we are being challenged with this experience. Let us pray that seeking God will be our first and only recourse. Of course seeking wisdom about the situation will require that we believe God is present and at work even when what we see is to the contrary and all we are able to do is praise a truly just and loving God as we wait it out. All the while we know that redemption, reconciliation and healing is God’s blessed assurance.
Job 4:6 Is not your fear of God your confidence and the integrity of your ways your hope?
Proverbs 14:26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and one’s children will have a refuge.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
“Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” This scripture from 2 Samuel reminds me of the times when I believed myself to be grown enough to tell my own parents what I could do for them. Of course they didn’t need me, but somehow it seemed important for me to let them know that I had in fact “arrived”, even though aside from my education I really had not accomplished very much. I had not saved any money. I did not buy most of my own clothes. I did not own a house or a car nor did I live on my own. Everything I had, the conveniences that I enjoyed up to that point were provided by my parents who I am sure loved me quite dearly, and yet probably thinking I had simply lost my mind, a momentary lapse in understanding graciousness and the reality of my true status and place in life. It was an event that was met with my mother’s usual snide response of “child please!”, and she was quick to remind me that I although had everything, I had earned nothing. So too, as children and inheritors of God’s grace we have everything; and as recipients of God’s mercy we’ve earned nothing. Who are we to say what we can do for God? In times like these it’s always a good thing to heed Paul’s warning in his letter to the Romans, that we ought not think of our selves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3)! Unfortunately, it was a warning I failed to heed on several occasions.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
Herod’s story helps us to understand several things. First, that John’s message was for everyone. Second, not everyone who hears the message of repentance will be committed to it. Third, for those who hear and receive it, they will make the choice to prepare themselves so that God can enter in and live according to God’s will and not the will of the self. By doing so it doesn’t make us perfect and we won’t always make the right decision but the spirit that condemns us will lead us back to John’s message of repentance of the heart. What story would we be telling if Herod chose not to honor his daughter’s request? How many decisions have we made in our own lives simply for our own self-preservation out of pride, arrogance, selfishness and fear? How many times have we in hindsight, with knowledge of Christ, wish we had made a different decision, not for things in which we have no relationship like the color of carpet, but rather in those matters that reflect our relationship to others? However, in spite of our selves and out past, God chooses to be in relationship with us, as blameless before him according to his love, which is revealed to us through Christ. As we strive to live according to God’s love, a Herod’s dilemma becomes less prevalent in our lives as we travel this journey.
I believe experiencing love for oneself is one of the most important things we can teach our children. It is not simply the arrogance of loving oneself. It is experiencing love in relationship with the Holy Spirit within us. It is the consciousness of what is good, what is right, what is whole, and what is perfect. It is not experienced in bits and pieces but rather consistent and ongoing knowledge of God’s love for us in spite of our conditions. This ultimate perfection in love cannot be experienced through other people because as humans we are imperfect. It can only be experienced through God in Christ. As much as we like to think that our love is perfect, it is not. We hurt each other albeit unintentionally. Even our feeble attempts to protect those we love hurts because we want to hide things. The reality is that we hide things to protect ourselves, not the people we love. If we first seek and experience God’s perfect love, then we will know what love is suppose to feel like, without conditions (mercy and grace). Having obtained the perfection of God’s love within us, it is then that the peace, which passes all understanding, becomes our peace, walking in love, as Christ loves us. We obtain that peace when we understand God’s love for us. When we understand God’s love for us, then we are able to begin to apply God’s love to other people. Not the other way around.
1 John 4:7-8 …because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Lent: Day 23 – British singer Adele sings a wonderfully beautiful and yet heart wrenching song about love lost called Someone Like You. If you’ve ever lost what was for you a true love, the song could bring back some painful memories. In part of her refrain, she sings; “sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.” In this she is quite true, however what we have to understand is that the love that hurts and the love that lasts are two different kinds of love. The love that hurts is always physical. The love that lasts is the spiritual one God continually gives to the soul that seeks him out. He is always ready to welcome us back into his refuge and reconcile us with his love. No physical relationship of love is ever without some kind of pain, either great or small. Through Christ, if we choose to believe, we will begin to have a fuller understanding of the true love God has for us. Since we are human even our fullest understanding of true love is limited. This should not keep us from striving to give true love (love as Christ loved) to those we say we love in this physical life. Yes, sometimes it hurts in love, but always remember that to accept God’s love instead, always lasts.
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16 When he (David) commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens…
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord
Romans 4:13-18 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law (physical) but through the righteousness of faith (spirit/believing in God).
Lent: Day 19 – We often think of idols as individuals or perhaps tangible things like food, clothing, or jewelry. In fact an idol can also include intangible entities. I believe, in fact, it is the intangible for which most of us have an unaware affinity. Why exactly do we do the some of the things we do if not for the fulfillment of some personal need or gratification? There is no harm in this of course except when our own personal need or gratification supersedes our love and faith in God’s precepts. Is it perhaps out of genuine concern or fear that Pharaoh keeps Joseph very close and charges all of Joseph’s family to leave the land God promised to Israel in Canaan, to give them “the best of the land of Egypt? Although King Herod feared John the Baptist and thought him to be a righteous and holy man, does he not choose to kill John the Baptist to protect his own image? Today, does not Paul caution against foolishly using our knowledge and liberty through Christ to feed our own egos to the detriment of others coming to the same knowledge of Christ? I believe that even the knowledge we now have is but a fraction of what we can fully understand about God. Is it not through Christ whom all things exist? Therefore, let us not elevate our selves, or the things of this world, over God’s knowledge and relationship with us, and remember that physically we too, are but dust.
Genesis 45:16-28 “Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.”
Mark 6:13-29 The king (Herod) was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up… when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Psalm 82 I say, ‘You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.’ Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
Lent: Day 18 – Before I knew it I was hooked. Somehow I had managed to move from a 25¢ bag to the $1.49 bag of potato chips per day. What’s worse, I couldn’t look at a bag of potato chips without watering at the mouth! No one could tell it was happening, but it was still embarrassing. I knew some type of drastic intervention was needed or the weight I had gained would get worse and as summer would soon be on its way, I wouldn’t have the cold weather as an excuse. Lent was coming and I decided to go cold turkey with the chips. The first week I thought I would drown in my own saliva. It was much worse than I thought! Determined not to give in I had to cut out lunch to keep from ordering potato anything. I decided that perhaps scripture might help. At the time I only knew one by heart, “The Lord’s Prayer” and one in part, Psalm 23 verse 1. I know that sounds pretty sad, but I really didn’t have much of a relationship with God back then. Anyway, I figured if God’s word had any power in my pathetic situation, my limited knowledge at the time was going to have to be sufficient. So, every time I thought, or even looked at a bag of potato chips I just prayed what I knew. It worked and I lost 10 pounds! What’s even more significant, I realized God’s intimate concern for me in such a small matter in my life. Had it not been for a few verses I don’t know if I would have had that small but significant victory that I did. Truly, more than twenty years ago, it was the beginning of a different kind of relationship with my Lord and Savior and a different understanding of Lent, which endures to this day. Thanks be to God!
Psalm 78:1-39 They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved… He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.