All the Difference in the World

If anyone had a reason to be politically correct it was the exiled Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. But, confronted not with a raging Twitter feed or a riotous SJW protest but with life or death choices, they acted in full confidence in who they were.

They were the chosen people of God. They knew what they were about even when their names were changed to Babylonian names. Chosen once again out of the Jewish exiles because of their unique qualities, these four were to become advisors to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It was during the start of their three-year training that Daniel balked at eating the royal food. It had been offered to idols:

 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. – Daniel chapter one

 

You know the story. Though it would have been politically correct to eat the King’s food, Daniel and the others knew that if you drink the King’s wine, you sing the King’s songs. They instead chose to be faithful to God even in this small matter. So, God gave them greater things to be faithful in. One of those greater things was a smelting furnace.

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel chapter three

 

Though bowing to the image would have been politically correct, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have nothing to do with worshiping anything other than the one true God. So, because of the decree, they were thrown into a seven-times stoked blazing furnace. This furnace is likely the oven where metals were refined to make idols like the “image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” But that kind of heat is nothing to the Creator of the Big Bang, especially with regard to his faithful ones. In the heat of the moment, the true God was revealed:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel chapter three

 

 

In Daniel chapter six we read that Daniel, a newly appointed satrap (basically, an overseer of a district) was the focus of the other satrap’s and their social justice jealousy. The satraps didn’t like it that Daniel had qualities and favor they didn’t possess. So, they devised a devilish edict formulated to depose Daniel from King Darius’ good pleasure: “the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.”

You know the story. Being thrown into the lion’s den is something Daniel’s Creator God could also handle. The Lord God shut the lions’ mouths and the mouths of the ends-justifying-the-means SJWs.

By now you should be able to glimpse that the book of Daniel provides us with, among its telescoped history, its dreams and interpretations, an understanding of how God’s people are to live in this world and under its rulers. God’s chosen appear different, peculiar, to those onlookers standing outside the furnace and outside our place of prayer and outside the lion’s den. The reason the world does not know them is that it does not know the One True God.

 

 

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church (chapter 6), Paul pleads with the readers to see what he and others have suffered to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. He lists the adversities they encountered. He tells them that the hardships and their Christian character throughout are confirmed “by speaking the truth, by God’s power”.

The Corinthians Christians certainly may have presumed that because Paul and the others faced so many adversities and challenges, that they could off in their messaging. Paul wanted them to know that their messaging, though it kicked against the goads of the Roman empire (“Jesus is Lord”) and popular opinion (“food for the stomach, the stomach for food”), was not an attempt at politically correct virtue signaling. The message cost him and others dearly. The grace of his Lord cost him the cross. At the beginning of chapter six Paul appeals to the Corinthians saying, “when you accept God’s grace, don’t let it go to waste! Paul was not talking about cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later sum up cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

 

 

Unlike many church leaders today, Paul, Apostle and pastor, made sure his message and his character were one and the same. Otherwise, the Gospel would be compromised. Again, Corinthians six:

We put no obstacles in anybody’s way, so that nobody will say abusive things about our ministry. …

We have been wide open in our speaking to you, my dear Corinthians! Our heart has been open wide! There are no restrictions at our end…

Don’t be drawn into partnerships with unbelievers. What kind of sharing can there be, after all, between justice and lawlessness? What kind of partnership can there be between light and darkness? What kind of harmony can the Messiah have with Beliar? What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What kind of agreement can there be between God’s temple and idols? We are the temple of the living God, you see, just as God said:

I will live among them and walk about them;

I will be their God, and they will be my people.

So come out from the midst of them,

And separate yourselves, says the Lord:

No unclean thing must you touch.

Then I will receive you gladly,

And I will be to you as a father,

And you will be to me as sons and daughters,

Says the Lord, the Almighty.

 

 

So, my beloved people, with promises like these, let’s make ourselves clean from everything that defiles us, outside and inside, and let’s become completely holy in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6: 1-7-1)

 

Reading this passage, do you think that Paul was talking about how the church should become acculturated to better evangelize? Do you think Paul was talking about the church assimilating the Post-modern New Age Epicurean culture surrounding it?  Do you think Paul was talking here was about being inclusive? About diversity? About unleashing one’s feelings as the criteria for love?

The words Paul wrote to the Corinthian church came from the narrative God gave to his people long ago – to be a people unto himself. This is the same narrative that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah understood and honored. In the passage Paul references the prophet Isaiah. His language is priestly temple language. Holiness is to be narrative of God’s people. Holiness separates them from an ego-centric life full of earthly desires to be a nation for God. Holiness is an upward and outward movement of the soul towards the Father, whereas narcissism, promoted in the world since the beginning of our time, is just the opposite, focusing the soul inward and downward towards the baser elements.

The Apostle Peter wrote in the same fashion (2:9-10):

But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you were “no people; now you are “god’s people.” Once you had not received mercy; now you have received mercy.

 

 

 

There are several abhorrent notions going around in churches that rubber stamp Jesus on their narratives: all religions seek the same God and are equal in that respect; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor, so advocating for a social gospel akin to Marxism is acceptable to God; Jesus talked about loving your neighbor and not judging so you must love sinners and accept their values; America is a Christian nation; our priority as Christians is to make a just and fair world; illegal immigration is an acceptable form of lawlessness; homosexuality is just another version of human sexuality. Sex/gender are not binary; prayer doesn’t feed the thousands, Progressivism’s social gospel does; prayer is a nice sentiment but action and advocacy move mountains; democracy is the best and desired form of government for everyone; revealed values trump revealed truth, as values are based one’s sincere feelings.

That is the short list.

 

As a teenager I read Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles. As I read, I encountered a living and vibrant church whose members were not politically motivated and who demanded nothing of the Roman empire other than for it to honor its laws and to maintain order. The church was the church and the state was the state. The early church was not democratic. Leaders were Godly men. Prayer, prayer, prayer, reading Scripture, prayer, the words of the Apostles, preparing for the return of the Lord, and, prayer, was the culture for the early church.

The early church did not push for Constantinianism. The church knew that governments were in place, by God’s will, to provide order. They prayed for those in authority. They had their own political reality.

The early Christians only political motivation, their only ideology came down to a personal statement: “Jesus is Lord”. Everything and everyone fell underneath his jurisdiction, since all things were created for Jesus and for his good pleasure. The early Kingdom Christians also anticipated and prepared in holiness for the Lord’s return to fully establish his kingdom on earth. Today’s Christians anxiously await the election of their candidate to establish their kingdom of values.

As the world asked, “What is truth?” the early Christians put on Christ and became Truth incarnate. The church became a community of Truth. The embodied Truth suffered persecution and martyrdom just as their Lord told them they would. The world looked on and saw that the early Christians were turning the world upside down. They were making all the difference in the world. Today’s Christians are letting the world turn them upside down and that is making all the difference in the world, too.

 

 

 

As I finished writing this post, I heard the Lord say to me, “Write these words: ‘I am with you and will never forsake you.’”

 

~~~

Here are two church position statements I came across this past week. I endorse their message.

Adapted from American Anglican Council’s “A Place to Stand

FOR TRUE INCLUSIVITY

In grateful response to Christ Jesus, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we will extend the welcome of the Church to every person, regardless of race, sex, social or economic status, sexual orientation, or past behavior. We will oppose prejudice in ourselves and others and renounce any false notion of inclusivity that denies that all are sinners who need to repent. (emphasis mine)

 

 

FOR HUMAN SEXUALITY

Sexuality is inherent in God’s creation of every human person in his image as male and female. All Christians are called to chastity: Husbands and wives by exclusive sexual fidelity to one another and single persons by abstinence from sexual intercourse. God intends and enables all people to live within these boundaries through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

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Here are some interesting links I came across this past week:

 

 

Wheaton Offers Scholarship Named for Former Professor Who Said Muslims, Christians Worship Same God

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.

-Proverbs 17:9

~~~

If anyone had a right to settle accounts it was the young dreamer Joseph. Cast into a hole in the ground by his brothers over a dream he relayed to them and a love gift his father imparted to him, Joseph had every right to be up in arms.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. …

 

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37)

  

The dream and the ornate garment where not prompted by Joseph. The God of Jacob gave Joseph the dream. Jacob, Joseph’s father, out of love for the son of his old age, gave Joseph an ornate garment. As father he had the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. But, the brothers decided that such a dream and such a gift to one member, a younger brother at that, and not to the many represented a horrible injustice. So, they brought about their version of justice: kill Joseph and dump the object of their resentment into a dry cistern. After Reuben’s pleas they dumped Joseph alive into the dry well. Joseph’s flesh and blood did not want flesh and blood on their hands. So, it was decided by the brothers that Joseph should be sold as a slave instead of done away with. To throw their father off the trail of Joseph’s whereabouts, the ornate garment yanked off of Joseph was dabbed with blood. The brothers wanted their father to think Joseph had been eaten by wild animals

What the brothers didn’t know, and didn’t know all along, was that in spite of the being tossed into a pit, Joseph had a different perspective. Sure, he questioned his brothers from the pit. “Why have you done this? What have I done to you?” Joseph had every right to be up in arms. But in that pit Joseph laid down his claim for justice and looked to the Sovereign God for resolution.

The resolution brought Joseph to Egypt and away from his father. We never hear of Joseph griping about the injustice done to him, though. Over time God would reverse Joseph’s slave status making him a master of much of the Egyptian people.

The resolution also brought his brothers to Egypt. There, they would not stand trial before Joseph for their crimes. But they would be tested by him to see if they could be trusted anew. 

After the testing, a reconciliation would ensue, brought about by Joseph. It happened when their father Jacob died:

After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-21)

 

We read in Genesis 39:2 that, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

 

Alternative ending: After being thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave, Joseph vowed to take vengeance on every last one of those who did him wrong. Once in Egypt, he slaughtered the slave traders who bought him there. He slaughtered their families and his task masters and their families. He returned home and slaughtered his brothers and their wives and children. He threw their bodies into a cistern. He became a warlord and began ransacking and raping those he came upon. He rode into towns wearing the ornate garments he stole from those he killed. He slew anyone who looked at him the wrong way. His father Jacob would not bless Joseph after Joseph’s murderous rampage. Joseph slew his father after he forced a blessing out of him with torture. Nothing would stop Joseph’s quest for justice. Accounts had to be settled.

 

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a litigious world. There are caseloads of lawsuits in the courts. Closer to home, in the social media realm of words, the hyperbole used to describe offense taken is akin to that of an attorney who makes his case to the public.

Certainly, there are legitimate offenses that occur. Just as certain, there are also illegitimate offenses that are drummed up for the sake of personal benefit. Much of what is on TV is highlighting offenses taken. You never see forgiveness highlighted on TV. It is as if forgiveness is a sign of weakness in a world where power is the most sought-after commodity.

 As mentioned in my last post, people hold grudges. Many will take an offense if any one looks at them the wrong way or drives the ‘wrong’ way or words are not received in the manner given. There are those who generate their own offenses by their very nature. Some are envious. Some are covetous. Many, as seen this last presidential election, take offense that some folks have what they consider a bigger piece of pie, which they translate into a larger share of power over circumstances. Their form of social justice is not much different from Joseph’s brother’s. The envy-driven will call for the wealthy to be taken down and to have their costly ornate ‘garments’ removed and given to others before throwing them into a financial pit.

 

Parenthetically, it is important that I use both Old and New Testament accounts in my posts. I’ve learned from social media that many people consider the Old Testament a relic, outmoded, and archaic.  They contend that Jesus came to throw away all of those rule-ish books. But, nothing could be further from the truth. All of Scripture is one narrative about God’s interaction with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. As you read Scripture from cover to cover you will come across many parallel situations revealing God’s relationship with man. You will have to come to Scripture to find highlights of forgiveness. The world’s narrative is about highlighting those maintaining power.

The story of Joseph contains a dramatic turnaround – from victim of the merciless to merciful forgiver. The next account contains another dramatic turnaround – from mercifully forgiven to merciless.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus.

“Master”, he said, “how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I wouldn’t say seven time,” replied Jesus. “Why not—seventy times seven?

“So, you see,” he went on, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle up accounts with his servants. As he was beginning to sort it all out, one man was brought before him who owed ten thousand talents. He had no means of paying it back, so the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and everything he possessed, and payment to be made.

“So the servant fell down and prostrated himself before the master.

“’Be patient with me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll pay you everything!”

“The master was very sorry for his servant, and let him off. He forgave him the loan.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred dinars. He seized him and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me back what you owe me! He said.

“The colleague fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll repay you!’

“But he refused, and went and threw him into the prison until he could pay the debt.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very upset. They went and informed their master about the whole affair. Then the master summoned him.

“’You’re a scoundrel of a servant! He said to him. ‘I let you off the whole debt, because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have taken pity on your colleague, like I took pity on you?’

“His master was angry, and handed him over to the torturers, until he had paid the whole debt. And that’s what my heavenly father will do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”

        Matthew’s Gospel account 18: 21-35

 

I suspect like many in his day and in our day, Peter wanted to know if there is a limit to enduring an injustice. He likely wanted to know when he could settle accounts. Perhaps he was wondering to himself, “How long do I have to keep my anger in check?’ Jesus responded with the multiplicity of forgiving with mercy as the gift that keeps on forgiving. Jesus would not only tell the crowd that his kingdom encompassed those who forgive over and over the myriad offenses taken in. Jesus forgave those of the world their myriad offenses. About the matter of settling accounts, The Lord God spoke these words through Isaiah the prophet to the descendants of Jacob:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Isaiah 43: 25-26

A truly good Man was sentenced to die the horrific death of the cross. I wonder. Did Jesus think of Joseph in the cistern when he said, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.” (Psalm 88:4)? What we do know is what the Only Begotten Son said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

 

 Those of us who call Jesus “Lord” are a ‘storied’ people. Our narrative is Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Our narrative contains the Creator and Creation, the life of Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Our narrative highlights forgiveness. Our narrative contains the Lord’s teaching prayer. From that prayer we learn that we settle accounts with one another by forgiving one another.

Our story reveals that the Mercy shown to us is the Mercy we freely offer to the world around us.

Mercy, the gift that keeps on forgiving.

 

 

  

~~~

 “Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

A lack of forgiveness is absent in détente. Tit for tat aggression is the rule: you affected the means of our pleasure and now we will deal with you.

How can there be peace in this world? Holding up a placard and the peace sign doesn’t work. Holding up a palm branch of forgiveness just might. But, to not forgive is to say there is no sovereign God who will put things right someday. Because there will be the ultimate putting right of things, forgiveness does not seek revenge. Forgiveness can let go of control because there is One who will ultimately bring justice and put things right. And, don’t forget: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord”.

 

Coming up: To Remain the Church, The Church Cannot Remain Tolerant

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

“Behold! Watch me pull a resentment out of my high hat!”.

 

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter you are well aware that people hold grudges – election result grudges, offense taken grudges and reply grudges generated when someone disagrees with your entrenched point of view. The ‘magic’ of holding grudges is that one can take offense out of thin air and then present the illusion of an injustice done to them for all to see

Holding a grudge has become a national pastime. On Twitter there seems to be a reply thread competition to see who can hold the bigger grudge and hold it the longest. With such carrying on, I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t a National Offense Taken Day. In the meantime, though, one can watch The Real Housewives of Bitter End County to get their fill of outrage. Week after week resentments are pulled out of thin air and viewers keep coming back for more high-hat hocus-pocus. There is even a show about the shows to summarize offenses taken.

I sense that behind all of the chicanery is a hot bed of unresolved anger. One person cannot forgive their parent for perceived wrongs. Another cannot forgive a friend who said something to someone about something. A parishioner cannot let go of her hurt and so she talks to others. Many others, as it seems to go. Soon a flock of resentful sheep head out the gate, creating a schism in the church. One national group decides that it must be the angry #Resistance against another national group who they feel is not like them and therefore does not give them pleasure. Such fuming unresolved anger is given new firewood to burn by social media, the place to disengage the “other” at will and without personal cost. Where does all this unresolved anger come from? It is the internalized desire to be justified.

“Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Those entrenched and warring members of your soul do not stay entrenched. They are brought out to the light of day in pursuit of validation. Remember the illustrative story Jesus told his disciples about the tax collector and the Pharisee?

He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others

“Two men,” he said. “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood a long way off and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”  – Jesus, Luke’s Gospel record 18: 9-14

 

The Pharisee, in trying to justify himself before God, pulled a resentment out of his high hat: God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector.

The Pharisee gave himself and his audience the illusion of being justified before God. But his self-justification was not validated by the Lord. And, that is the heart of this parable: you cannot justify yourself to the Lord. You must come humbly before the Lord for his assessment of your motives and your behavior. His light must reveal your heart and motives. Trusting in your inner ‘light’ or your sincerity is self-deceiving artifice.

Now, I have seen this parable used on Twitter to decry looking down one’s nose and judging others. In that context, a Jesuit projected condemnation onto conservatives, implying that they judge sinners and that, by contrast, Progressives love the sinner and do not judge. Yet, this application of Jesus’ parable is exactly what Jesus is teaching against: self-justification.

It seems to me that we learn to self-justify. We learn early on to measure ourselves by the perceived good or bad of others. We always find someone who we feel is beneath us. I would suggest that since the Enlightenment, though it brought about many good things, there are some self-justifying folks using mis-guided reason as a measuring stick. They see themselves as “too good, too smart” to believe in a Creator God or the concept of sin. They resent anyone telling them that there is a God and that one day we are held accountable. They belittle you If you say so.

Self-justifying resentment is used to disengage and distance oneself from the “other”, as seen in the case of the Pharisee. This disengagement, in my thinking, is also the origin of malignant use of power over others. Resentments are employing the troops of warring desires to destroy the “other”. Resentments use the force of self-justifying power to isolate and then crush the enemy – the “other”. Holding a grudge is the use of self-justification to disparage the “other” and then abandon them on the field to bleed out.

Resentment, and its unresolved warring desire to be justified at all costs, excludes the “other” who does not validate them. The person holding resentment begrudges others. This state of heart, left unchecked, can lead to violent revenge. And self-justifying exclusion of the “other” leads, not to love but to fear and hate and, even murder. When resentment is deployed on a national level there are wars and genocide.

 

Every time you pull resentment out of your high-hat to feign offense its root of bitterness is exposed. The audience can see it even if you do not. You fool no one. Before another self-justifying ‘illusion’ cut that root off, curse it and throw into the fires of hell. Though you once provided a showy diversion for your audience you provided nothing of substance. (See the Gospel of Mark 11:12-14)

If you do not deal with that root, it will continue to grow until it chokes the life out of you and others before too long.

 

 

 

Coming up: Forgiveness is Never Optional

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Two-minutes of hate can turn into fifteen minutes of murderous infamy:

 

“A 38-year-old woman who was angry at YouTube and believed the company was discriminating against her videos, causing her to lose money and views, opened fire with a handgun at the video-sharing website’s California headquarters Tuesday, wounding three people before fatally shooting herself…

“Nasim the Persian Azeri female vegan bodybuilder, also animal rights activist promoting healthy and humane living.”

Nasim Aghdam: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

 

Aghdam shot three victims in the courtyard of the YouTube campus in San Bruno on Tuesday. Police say she then killed herself. Law enforcement officials say they believe that the motive behind the shooting is a domestic-related dispute.

Suspect in YouTube Shooting Posted Rants About the Company Online

The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

~~~

A summing junction symbol:

Yes, even the death of the cross

 

 

“…I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit…

…Now my heart is troubled,” Jesus went on. “What am I going to say? ‘Father, save me from this moment’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

 

 

Here is Our King!

 

 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you

Psalm 118:25, 26

 

When he came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen

“Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing,”

They sang.

Welcome to the king in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven and glory on high!”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “teacher, tell your disciples to stop that.”

“Let me tell you,” replied Jesus, “if they stayed silent, the stones would be shouting out!”

Luke 19: 37-40

“Save Eternal King!”

 

 

Let’s start with some extreme telescoping of history: Long before Palm Sunday there was the Big Bang and the creation of the cosmos over billions of years. A people were later chosen by God. Those people wanted a king. First came Saul, then came David.

Do you remember the Davidic covenant made by God?

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”  The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant

Our God was faithful and fulfilled this covenant. A descendent of King David – Mary – gave birth to a King who would reign over the house of David, and over all nations and, would rule forever. Do you remember David’s desire?

King David wanted to build a Temple for the presence of the Lord. He wasn’t allowed to do so. But his son King Solomon did build an impressive temporary one. It was later destroyed in ~586 BCE by the Babylonians. But God’s plan to dwell with man would not be thwarted. So, not only did Jesus become King forever, but Jesus would become a High Priest forever in a ‘forever’ Temple built to unite heaven and earth as one.

“[The Father’s] plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and earth in him.” Eph. 1: 10

 

Now we turn the telescope around.

Great news! “For unto you is born this Day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” A King was born in Bethlehem! A star created billions of years before guided wise men from the east to the place where the King stayed. These wise men brought gifts to the new King. Years later and a week before Passover, the crowd assembled along a road up to Jerusalem would honor King Jesus with palm branches and blessings.

King Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on his coronation day (1 Kings 1:28-40). The prophet Zechariah prophesied that the King of the Jews would do the same(Zechariah 9:9) 

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

The cheering crowd had witnessed signs of the King’s authority over his creation: water had been turned into wine; a blind man’s sight was restored; a lame man was able to walk, food was multiplied to feed thousands; a storm at sea was calmed by his words; Lazarus was raised form the dead, and a man was forgiven of his sins. That Palm Sunday was the royal appearing of the Son of Man, Lord of Creation and King. “Save Eternal King!”

 

 

At Christmas time we sing, “Joy to the world”. I say, let’s make this hymn a Palm Sunday hymn and throw ourselves down before Him right here and now! I’m guessing that stones would do so even if we didn’t!

 

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Text Without Ceasing

 

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossian churches begins and ends with references to Epaphras and to prayer.

In the opening of his letter Paul gives thanks in prayer to God for “the word of truth” which is “producing fruit and growing” in the world and is now doing so among the Christians in Colossae.  Paul reminds them that the gospel had been brought to their “doorstep” (1: 6) by Epaphras. And, that their enabling to flourish was produced in them by constant prayer:

“That’s how you learned [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave. He’s a loyal and faithful servant of the king on your behalf. He it was who gave us the news about your love in the spirit.

“For this reason, from the day we heard [of your faith], we haven’t stopped praying for you. We’re asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Colossians 1: 7-9

 

What struck me even more about Paul’s opening words is the faithful witness of Epaphras and the “we haven’t stopped praying for you” mature Christian’s devotion to prayer. Both commitments, it seems to me, are required of us: planting the Kingdom of God mustard seed and nurturing that seedling to full maturity (Matt. 13:31).

 

The Apostle Paul ends his circular letter to the house churches in and around Colossae with greetings from those supporting him and the work of the Gospel. Among those is “fellow slave” Epaphras. And though Paul sends on Epaphras’ warm regards, the message is no greeting card sentiment.  Paul was no sentimentalist. Paul was in prison because he spoke “the word of truth”. Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians would mature and also speak “the word of truth”. Paul was aware that, like himself, the Colossian Christians also may end up in jail for doing so. But, he pressed them to remain faithful to that “word”.

In the closing Paul relates how Epaphras is asking God that the Colossians remain resolute and unyielding in their commitment to the “word of truth” they had received:

 

“Epaphras, one of your own folk and also one of King Jesus’s slaves, sends you his greetings. He’s always struggling in prayer on your behalf, praying that you will stand firm and mature, and have your minds fully settled on everything that God wants you to do.”  Colossians 4:12

 

The tongue-in-cheek title of this post is meant to be a prod for Christians to mature and to pray without ceasing. The Apostle Paul, the former Saul, who met Jesus on the Damascus road thought that prayer maintained that revelation:

 

“Never stop praying”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

“Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving.”

Colossians 4:2

 

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

Philippians 4:6

 

Pray on every occasion in the spirit, with every type of prayer and intercession.

Ephesians 6:18

 

To be sure, prayer is a mystery. We understand asking and confessing in prayer. Those are direct interactions. But interceding in prayer? It sounds right, but how does that work, especially when the objects of our prayers have a free will? Paul’s prayer for “God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” would seem to imply that change in another’s life comes about through the effects of prayer.

Also, to be sure, those who call Jesus “Lord’ are invited into the mysteries of the Godhead. The Godhood’s desired relationship with you includes the mystery of prayer. (I don’t know about you, but I like mysteries. If I knew everything, life would be boring and romance less.)

 

From one Member of the Godhead we learn that prayer is required for life. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said we should ask the Father for our daily bread.

Also, from Jesus we learn that prayer is required for peace. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us.

From Paul we learn that we are helpless in prayer but not left to our own devices. We are told in Scripture that when we pray the spirit intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray.

See prayer as essential to all of life. Then, pray for your spouse and for those in your church to become mature in Christ and to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding. I look around and I do not see mature Christians. I see hobbling Hobbits.

 

Pray and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (adapted)

 

~~~

Garden Praying:

 

There are times when the press of life so weighs on me that I find it difficult to pray. It is then that I go to my secret garden of prayer… 

 

In my mind’s eye I see myself standing and looking out the kitchen window. Behind me are the world of concerns which reside in my life. Out the window I see a lush garden bathed in sunlight. I feel a pull to go outside. I step out the back door and down the stairs. I walk the stone path to an arbor with two benches. The arch is covered in vines. There is a scent of Hyacinths in the breeze.

Jesus is sitting on the bench. He’s been waiting for me. I sit across from him. I want to look into his eyes. We sit in the silence of nature. Then He speaks.

“I have greatly desired this time with you.”

I begin to worship him. I confess my sins. I ask for his forgiveness. I tell him my concerns. I release control of my life. I release my control of other’s lives. I return to silence. I look into the Lord of Creation’s eyes. I see mercy and goodness and help and strength. Those eyes, those times, beckon my trust.

 

Pray the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

 

‘If there’s trouble, you should pray’

 

Hannah’s story of coming to faith and surviving a labour camp in North Korea

She prayed every day, often in the living room, quite openly. My father and I had to watch out for our neighbors. If anyone came close, we’d cough and she’d stop praying. Even on her deathbed—in the mid-nineties—she told us to always be thankful and to always pray. “Life is trouble,” she told us. “If there’s trouble, you should pray.” But she didn’t do one thing: she never explained to us how to pray.

All we could make out was, “Hanonim! Hanonim! Lord! Lord! Help.” And then we couldn’t understand the phrases that followed because she spoke so fast. Sometimes my father was annoyed with her and didn’t want her praying in the living room. So she went outside, even when it snowed. One time—when I was older—I sent my 9-year-old daughter after her to cover her up with a blanket.

Praying was so important for my mother that she even washed her hair and put on her nicest clothes. “We approach God with the deepest reverence,” she said. We had no idea who this ‘Hanonim’ was. My daughter even asked her one day why she wouldn’t simply visit this guy if he was that important to her. My mother replied, “One day I will.”

Because of my mother’s prayers, I was never as indoctrinated by the Juche ideology as other North Korean people. Especially after she confessed to me how I was born. My father and mother were married during the Japanese occupation. My father had been married before, but he was unable to have any children with his first wife. And my mother was also unable to conceive. But someone told her that if she prayed to Jesus she would have a baby. So she prayed. For almost eight years she prayed. And then, not long after the Second World War, I was born.

As I said, my mother never explained the full gospel to me, but when I got married in my early twenties, she shared this story with me. And I knew I was a gift of faith.

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

 

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost

NOUN

economics

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost

 

Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.

When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.

Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.

Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)

My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.

I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.

After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.

I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.

My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.

My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places

My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.

Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.

During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in.  And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.

Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.

My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.

Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?

In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?

“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.

Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord. 

The Veteran in a New Field 1865 by Winslow Homer

 

What I would like to see happen in the church:

1.       At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.

2.      I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)

3.      Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”

By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.

 

 

 

II. For Commerce and Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

~~~

The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?

February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet:

The Image Locker

 

“But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. – Joshua 7: 1

(“devoted things” – The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them; also found in verses 11, 12, 13 and 15 of Joshua 7.)  

~~~

What do you covet? What image is stored in your mind for safe-space keeping? Does your mind turn to that image and then imagine the possibilities of its actual possession? Anyone hoarding the desired ‘thing’ in their heart and mind has already taken into their possession what isn’t theirs and what wasn’t meant for them. If that is the case for you, then maybe you already know this: the desired thing — the devoted thing –is the thing you become. Whether it be gold or porn you will become a lifeless object. You have replaced the image of Living God with the image of your inanimate “precious”.

Our days are inundated with images. Images are ubiquitous. They are downloaded onto TVs, Computer screens, and Smartphones. Images are posted on walls, on trains, buses and park benches. Images are engraved into skin. One’s use of encountered images in fantasy plays a role in inordinate desires. Dwelling on fantasy, one loses grip on reality. Achan knew reality and chose fantasy.

I have no doubt that Achan knew God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that Achan knew the Garden of Eden story. I can picture the Evil One talking to him, “Did God really say you could not have those devoted things?”

I have no doubt that most Christians today know God’s commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” I also have no doubt that most Christians know the Garden of Eden story. They also know the Gospel and the Sacrifice of Jesus which has destroyed the devoted things that once belonged to the Enemy of our souls.

Yet, modern man continues to covet what isn’t his or what wasn’t meant for him. This is particularly true of those addicted to porn. To view his “precious” in secret, the porn addict isolates himself from God and from others. He becomes a “devoted thing” person and disengaged from those around him. If you were to look into his eyes you would see a dull and almost lifeless person, a mere representation of a human.

The porn addict becomes like the images he takes in. The images are impersonal, distant, one dimensional, unreal, emptied of good, full of vulgar suggestions. The addict’s self-degradation continues biochemically through masturbation:

“When one masturbates using the porn image, Dopamine is released into your blood stream. You then feel a flicker euphoria and relief which passes away immediately leaving feeling depleted, irritable, depressed and ashamed when you realize that you became less human by desiring an image instead of the image of God in your spouse.

 “When having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.””

Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: Science Shows How Porn Harms Us

 

 

Achan buried his stash of “devoted things” under his tent. Men, not unlike Achan, will bury their images under the guise of normal.  But what happens under the “tent of normal” does not stay in the “tent of the normal”. The people around you are adversely affected, just as the people around Achan were affected by his sin. The people of Israel were defeated in battle because God was angry about the sin. From Joshua chapter 7:

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

How do we deal with our own Image Locker? Achan began with confession:

And Achan answered Joshua, “Of a truth I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Joshua 7:20-21

Be sure, sin’s consequences follow sin, again from Joshua 7:

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord.

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor[f] ever since.

 

If you are looking for trouble then the Valley of Achor is the place you will end up at. “Achor” means trouble. Continue to covet those things God meant for you to destroy. Continue to view porn. Then, as happened to Achan, you and your Image Locker will be tossed out of your family and your community. You and those around you will be burned and stoned and a huge pile of rocks will cover your charred and flattened carcass.

Or, you can confess to God and to your family about your sin. And, you take the images out of your Image Locker and burn them and then stone them and then bury them under a huge pile of rocks. This may require you to take the TV, the computer and the Smartphone and burn them, stone them and bury them.  Better these things than you. I am not kidding. This is how healing of memories begins: speaking the truth about sin and then dealing with it so as to destroy its existence. Besides, you had been warned about the heat you would incur:

“For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom And his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals And his feet not be scorched?… “  –Proverbs 6: 26-28

 

I know of a man who was addicted to pornography. This man traveled about 60% of the time for his job. He was alone most of the time. In his hotel room at night, he told himself that he was under a lot pressure to perform. As such, to ‘comfort’ himself, he took in images from the computer and TV. The things he took in were things which should have been destroyed. They are the Enemies’ ‘things’.

After a time, he became depressed and sensed a growing feeling of emptiness and shame. He had put himself under the pressure excuse and now he was covered with dirt and holding onto his “devoted things”. This man finally confessed his sin. He then destroyed whatever image files he had saved to his computer. He then began to use a web browser that wouldn’t allow him to see pornography. He put his TV into a bedroom closet. He took another job where he was around the same people every day. He held himself accountable. But, his response didn’t end there. He knew he had to re-image his mind.

He “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” He began to study art. He attended life drawing classes where he learned to see and draw the human figure. He went on to become a portrait artist. He is now seeing the image of the Creator in the eyes and faces of those he paints.

Final word:  Take your Image Locker and move somewhere where you can be in nature. One could become a bird watcher or an astronomer. In other words, begin to fill your Image Locker with “things that are above” the “earthly elements”.

~~~

Here are three quotes regarding the effects of pornography:

“I believe – and research backs it – that material that children see online affects their ideas on sex. Nonetheless this is something that teaches us that we need to react before the damage is done and we need to prevent children seeing something online that might harm them or give them delusions”, explained Dagbjört Ásbjörnsdóttir, a sexologist at the Reykjavik department of Education and Youth.

Tackling the impact of porn on Iceland’s youths

 

“He was close with his family, but as far as friends go — he maybe had those acquaintances he communicated with every once in a while, but he pretty much isolated himself,” a source tells PEOPLE of Salling —Mark Salling’s Final Days: Glee Alum ‘Isolated Himself’ Amid Child Porn Case, Source Says

  

“[Anonymous] made me a more extreme version of myself,” William said. “I used to sleep badly. Now I sleep terribly. I used to be sarcastic; now I can be an a__hole.” He didn’t just “like “tormenting people; he loved it. He didn’t just “like” porn; he looked at it every day. “None of this bothers me, he added. “I don’t care about anything.” William had said in the past that he had no moral code; everything was case by case, his decisions based on gut reaction. Earnest Hemingway had said it best: “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

Jake was nodding. “I have to agree with all of that, “he said. It desensitized me.”Acting out with crowds of people on the Internet had created a detachment from reality and a sense of obliviousness to certain consequences. Anonymous did bad things, but its members were not bad people, per se.” (emphasis mine) —We Are Anonymous: Inside the World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency

Added 2-10-2018:

“Research has found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” Spano said before the House Health & Human Services Committee approved the resolution on an 18-1 vote.
Florida Legislature could declare pornography a health risk

 Added 2-22-2018:
Resources for Combating porn:

Dealing with a porn addiction: Integrity Restored
Internet filter: Covenant Eyes
A book for junior high and high school level: Plunging Pornography
A book for the very young: Good Pictures Bad Pictures

The Search ‘Engine’ Above the Cloud

 

“So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3: 1-2 

 

 

Studying Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this past week, I came across the above verse. It is one which is well-known to me. I’ve read it many times. Looking at it very casually over the years, the verse seemed to hold a nice greeting card thought, one that seemed more sentiment than prescription. But this time, words stood out. First, I wondered: what does Paul mean by “search for things above”?

Paul wrote this letter in prison. His limbs were likely aching from the dampness. His eyes, possible bleary with cataracts, saw dark figures of vermin looking for morsels of bread he may have dropped. The torch in the cavern flickered dark images onto the wall in front of his cell. Looking above his circumstances, Paul warns the Colossian church, with words preceding the above instruction, of placing faith in the temporal:

“If you died with the king, coming out from the rule of the “worldly elements,” what’s the point of laying down laws as though your life was still merely worldly? “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Rules like that all have to do with things that disappear as you use them.”

Paul goes on to point out the pretense of these man-made rules: “They may give the appearance of wisdom since they promote a do-it-yourself religion.” Instead of a religion of here-today-gone-tomorrow works, Paul was pushing these Christians to live in the resurrection life they had received. Good works would flow out from them. And he knew that no DIY secular religion would honor King Jesus. So, in order to help them come out from “the rule of ‘worldly elements’”, Paul placed them under the rule of King Jesus.  Paul wrote, “So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above…”

Two things popped out at me reading the above verse. I mentioned the first. The second:  Paul writing “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Immediately I remembered where I had heard something similar before.

“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!”

These words are found in Acts chapter 7. There we find Stephen forced to address the Assembly of religious leaders. He provides the audience with a marvelous summary of Israel’s history. Stephen ends his discourse with some piercing words and the words above. The crowd would never forget those words, even though they covered their ears and yelled at him at the tops of the voices. So unsettled and angry was the crowd that they took Stephen out and stoned him to death. This was all done before a witness, a young man named Saul.

Who do you think Saul/Paul had in mind when he wrote, “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.”? We don’t know for sure if Paul was in the Assembly that day Stephen spoke. Even if he wasn’t he would have been very aware of what was said. Paul was the Assembly’s appointed Inquisitor. He was ordered to stop the insurgents called “Followers of the Way”.

Paul, the witness and persecutor, was now Paul the prisoner and fellow sufferer in Christ with martyred Stephen. His relationship with King Jesus had taken him to new personal lows. But, Paul searched for things above and found them. They sufficed. Paul saw King Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.

 

What about our search?

Have you watched the TV series The Curse of Oak Island? Over the many episodes I’ve watched, the Lagina brothers search for buried treasure. In their search they have looked at maps. They have been to the library and to France. They have sifted dirt and information. They found both material fragments related to the historical period of the treasure and fragments of information also related. They have talked to many people who have knowledge of the island and the treasure. And, they dug and dug and dug. They are relentless in their pursuit of the treasure. They have a hope in what they do not yet see but visualize. What they do see are milestones that point in the direction of the fulfillment of their hope.

Have we stopped searching “for things above”? Have we stopped digging deep into the Word? Have we thrown away fragments of our character that would have pointed us to hope realized?

Does our search involve Scripture reading, studying Greek and Hebrew and history, praying and visualizing? Does our search involve hours and days and months and years looking for the pearl of great price? If you are looking at yourself and people’s reactions to you online then you will not find the treasure. Looking at the “worldly elements” won’t reveal it. Searching is lifetime, long-haul hard work. That is the Indian Jones adventure and romance of life. Except, we chose fantasy and the illusory.

In TV commercials one can see someone talking into an impersonal box. The ‘intelligent personal assistant’ box is connected to a search engine which is tied into a data cloud which is linked into a data storage island somewhere. But “the box” does not have the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As an engineer, I hold no grudge against technology. I just know that technology will not “search for things above.” You are responsible for that.

Many will use a search engine like Google to find information related to a certain topic. Now, consider searching “for things above” for answers to all of life’s “topics”. These ‘topics’ would include “Why is there pain and suffering?”; “How do I go on?”; “Who should I marry?”; “What about my wayward son? “How will I afford this surgery?”; What hope do I have when I can’t see things getting better?”; “What is my raison d’être?”; “What is God’s will and how will it be done on earth as in heaven?” Back to Paul and his words to the Roman churches about searching questions and seeing results.

“We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait eagerly — but also patiently.” Romans 8:24-25

So, hope means waiting for what we do not yet see. But, are you uneasy when you can’t visualize the person you are talking to? Then learn to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the father, with all authority in heaven and earth. Still struggling with searching “for things above”?

“In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to, but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groanings too deep for words. And the Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirt pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” Romans 8:26-27

In prison and on the road, Paul tapped into resurrection life – into “the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Paul was well aware that earthly and evil forces would love for us to remain in our petty, self-serving and secularly pious ways, embracing “worldly elements.” The Evil One wants us to focus only on ourselves and our material concerns. The Evil One does not want us to look above. Remember Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. The Evil One wanted Jesus to acknowledge him, in effect, as the top Search Engine of the World. A ‘search engine’ that offered the world to his web-surfing devotees.

“Then the devil took him off again, this time to a very high mountain. There he showed Jesus all the magnificent kingdoms of the world.

“I’ll give the whole lot to you” he said, “If you will fall down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, you satan!” replied Jesus. “The Bible says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and, serve him alone!”

The Searcher of Hearts – the only Authoritative ‘search engine’-sits at God’s right hand. We are told to “search for the things that are above”, where our king “is seated at God’s right hand”. What are you waiting for? There’s a seat waiting for you.

 “This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21