Grow Ears and Let Your Light Shine

 

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

NOAHI haven’t seen the movie, “Noah”—yet. But after reading an explanation of its basis, it’s on my “to-see” list. I wasn’t going to give it another thought because I imagined it would be like so many other shallow and literal efforts to tell the stories of the Bible.

I don’t have any illusions that it will be the whole truth, but my ears are now open to seeing what it might offer.

In a tiny nutshell, it appears many of the unusual depictions in the Noah movie come from the Kabbala, writings of the Jewish mystical/gnostic tradition. They might be compared to the Teresa of Avila’s, St. John of the Cross’s, Meister Eckhart’s, and other early Christian church ‘mystics.”

Funny that current day traditionalists don’t turn up their noses and label the Christian mystics as “gnostics.” The label is a derogatory word that attempts to bully people out of considering what others have to say if they don’t comply with the policy manual as interpreted by those who don’t have time to meditate. I’m starting to think that meditation is about growing ears. Those who have no ears will not hear.

The comments of religious traditionalists shown on Jon Stewart’s clip about Noah, displays the childish way in which some Christians hold onto adolescent perceptions they learned in Sunday School into adulthood rather than maturing in their understanding about God and the writings of people seeking truth through the millennia.

When humankind matures in the way it understand God, as more than a “Father Knows Best” figure in the sky who can snap his fingers and create a universe, a heaven and a hell—then the kingdom of the heavens will exist more often and for longer lengths of time than it ever has.

You’ll be able to understand what I mean about that after May 12 when my new ebook comes out—In Living Color: Heaven.

What the heck does this have to do with “let your light shine?”

God was not named “God” in the Old Testament. God wasn’t always the image of Robert Young (Father Knows Best) or Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons) or Hugh Beaumont (Leave It To Beaver). The concept of God is trying to evolve, with great resistance. But the stone is ever so slowly rolling away.

Where did the name “God” come from? Here’s the explanation out of an online Greek lexicon of the word translated as “God.”

Θες (Theos 2316)

God – A name reclaimed from the heathen, and used in the New Testament for the true God. Various derivations, ancient and modern, have been proposed, but it is nearly certain that its origin is from the East and comes from the Sanscrit root, DIU-S (pronounced dyus), which means (1) masculine, fire, the sun, (2) feminine, a ray of light, day, (3) neuter, the sky, heaven. DIV-S also means (1) as adjective, brilliant, (2) as feminine, substantive, sky or heaven.

[Wherever the Sun shines in the world, he has been or is worshipped as God because he gives light to Heaven and life to earth; and heaven was in turn worshipped as the abode of the Sun, but the object of adoration was Light and Life, or heaven either as the abode of the Sun, or as personified. Then DIAUS was the procreating or generative power dwelling in heaven. The Father of light and life…]. http://greattreasures.org/gnt/main.do explanation of “theos.”

People have been trying since time began to explain and understand the Force that brought all things into being. Some of the ones who meditated got closer than those who didn’t meditate. Only one is said to have actualized this  Light in a human form. You can hide a Light under a bushel or try to concretize it in the words of a book or bury it inside a tomb, but you can’t stop it from bursting forth and changing the world.

Meditate. Then let your Light shine. Let the God who is within you shine. Let Christ, the Light of the world, radiate from within you — so your good works (not your human theologies) will glorify the Procreating and Generative power of the heavens. Easter might be a good time to do this.

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New Book Release – In Living Color: Heaven

 

In Living Color: Heaven     I’m excited about my newest book coming out in May – In Living Color: Heaven. I usually avoid buying books with “Heaven” in the title because they typically deal with afterlife destinations. But I don’t think Jesus was talking about a place where you’ll have an abundant life after you’re dead. He said the kingdom of heaven is “at hand” — now.

     Let me tell you a little bit about “Heaven.”

     Jesus never referred to “heaven or the kingdom of God/heaven” as an afterlife destination. The only time Jesus spoke of an afterlife was on the cross. He called that “paradise.”

I explain that Jesus describes the kingdom of “the heavens” to be the “progress toward harmony” or the “advancement toward unity” in the created world in the present day. God’s will, design, and plan from the beginning of time has been perfect peace and harmony among all creation.

      This book is the third in a series called In Living Color. The focus of the series is how translation of the Bible has been taken wrongly as a black and white, exact conversion of the original languages in which it was spoken. I am trying to show how greater understanding of the language Jesus spoke (Aramaic), and even the Greek, can reveal teachings that are far more beautiful and appropriate to life today. It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz stepping out of her black and white house in Kansas and walking into Munchkin Land, a world of living color and beauty.

     In Living Color: Heaven begins with describing what many religions say the kingdom of heaven will be like in the afterlife. Then I explain how the Aramaic language translates the “kingdom of heaven” as the perfect and harmonious working together of all things here on earth. I review Jesus’s parables in light of this kind of kingdom, demonstrating how the growth of peace and harmony and order among people and nations can be compared to mustard seeds, hidden treasure, nets cast into the sea, etc.

      I think you’ll get a better idea of why Jesus (and John the Baptist) confronted their tradition with such vigor, proclaiming the “good news (gospel)” of the kingdom of heaven and why this is such good news. Look for more information about the release date for In Living Color: Heaven in the weeks to come.

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“Lazarus, Freed from Death”

John 11:1-41                                                              

     It’s not very often that you and I have the opportunity to liken ourselves to a dead man. The stories in the Bible are about you and me and our relationship to God. Most of the explanations for the story of Jesus raising Lazarus focus on Jesus’ power over death, and that is an important message of the story.

     LAZARUSYet Bible stories are not just stories about some people who lived two thousand years ago. These stories show us ourselves as we live today. We are often like Lazarus…dead, and Jesus calls us out of our tombs.

     At fifty-four years of age, when I used visualization to enter the stories as one of the characters, it changed my theology. It made such an impact on me that I was compelled to write 30 Days To Loving God With All Your Heart — to teach the practice to others.

     How are we like dead people? To understand this, we have to look at the words death and life in a different way. Life means far more than just breathing, and walking, and being physically alive. More often, it refers to a state of being…a condition of life…where you are experiencing joy, peace, hope, patience, goodness, and love while you inhabit this mortal body. Life refers to the fullness of what God intends for it to be.

     We typically understand ‘death’ to mean – “no heartbeat, no longer breathing, the spirit/soul has left the physical body.” That’s not accurate in all places in the Bible.

     In the broadest definition of the Greek word for death in the Bible is this: death includes all the miseries arising from sin. Physical death can be one of those miseries. Other forms of death include the loss or absence of a life of peace, love, and joy on earth, absence of the abundant life offered only by God.

     The words dead and death are often used in the Bible as a metaphor, as in being spiritually dead…deficient of a life that trusts in the Source of true life, wrapped up in ourselves, and inactive - as it relates to doing the right things.

     When Ezekiel spoke about Israel as dry bones, he wasn’t talking about being dead as meaning having “no heartbeat or no breath.” He was using death as a metaphor for the children of Israel, describing their absence of peace and joy. Through the prophet, God said, “I will open your graves…I will put my Spirit within youand then you will live.” The Spirit of harmony and joy. It is the Spirit who brings life to us.

     In the broadest sense, the Greek word for death includes all the miseries arising from sin. Physical death can be one of the miseries that comes from sin. But the most common kind of death is the absence of a life of peace, love, and joy. There are a lot of dead people walking and breathing today because they have little joy or peace in their lives. If you substitute the words “absence of peace or joy” in place of “dead” and “die” in many verses of the Bible, you will understand better what the writer wanted to convey. Let me show you what I mean.

     In Gen. 2:15-17, when the Lord God commanded of the man, “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”? What happened they ate the fruit? – they didn’t fall over dead. What they died to was the abundant life. They were removed from paradise. They lost the peace and joy of abiding in God’s presence.

     From Rom. 8:6-8, “To set the mind on the flesh is death,” (In other words: to set the mind on the things of this world removes/takes away the abundant life that God wants for you) but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Lazaruses of the 21st century tend to set their minds on physical pleasures, self-indulgence, trying to acquire the material things of this world, positions of power and influence – they think these things will bring them joy. These things never bring peace, or joy, or love.

     There are many verses of the Bible where we can replace the words death or dead with a form of “separated from the Source of true life” and understand what the writer really meant. Listen to some examples:

     Rom 8:6-8   “To set the mind on the flesh [the things of this world] is death [separation from true life], but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

     Prodigal Son story: Luke 15:24 At the conclusion, the father is explaining why he is having a party for the son who returned. He said, For this son of mine was dead [separated from true life], and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” To be dead is to have rejected the things that bring life in its abundance.

    1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death [lives separated from true life].”  Love means being committed to the good and wellbeing of our neighbor.  Love connects us to God.  All these verses are referring to death as a current state of living, like dead people walking.

     Ephesians 2:4-6, But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead [separated from true life] in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…”

       John 5:25, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead [those living in the power of sin] will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live [the abundant life in God].”

         Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”  The wages of sin is separation from God and the life that only God can give us.

     The metaphorical interpretations of life and death certainly offer a new way of looking at this statement by Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

       Jesus calls us out of the tomb, tells us to stop being so wrapped up in ourselves and the things of this world so that we can put our skills and talents into action for the good of others. He calls us to step out of our personal little worlds of darkness. With the help of the community of faith, we get unwrapped from sin and selfish living that separate us from meeting Jesus face-to-face. We need to step out in faith into a life of commitment to God and active love for our neighbors.

     Jesus said to each of us, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”

     Freed – raised from the dead – just like Lazarus.

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An Elephant in the Room

John 9:1-41                                       

     Once there was a village where all the inhabitants were blind. One day, a man passed through riding an elephant. A group of the village men cried out asking the rider to let them touch the great beast, for although they had heard about elephants, they had never been close to one. About six of them were allowed to approach the animal, each being led e-phantto touch a different part.

After a time, the rider left, and the blind men hurried back to the people to share their experience. “So what is an elephant like?” the people in the crowd asked their six friends. “Oh, I know all about elephants,” boasted the man who had touched the animal’s side. “He is long and tall, built like a thick wall.”

     “No way!” shouted the man who had touched the elephant’s tusk. “He is stout, smooth, rounded, and curved. I would compare an elephant to . . . well, let’s say a tree limb without bark.” A third man, who had touched the ear, chimed in. “It’s nothing like a wall or tree limb. An elephant is like a gigantic leaf, made of thick wool carpet and it moves when you touch it.”

     “I disagree,” said the fourth man who had handled the trunk. “An elephant is much like a very large snake.” The fifth man who had touched a leg of the great beast shouted his disapproval, “It’s plain to me than none of you knows what an elephant looks like. It is round and rough and reaches toward the heavens like a tree.” The sixth man who had been placed on the elephant’s back, cried out, “Can none of you accurately describe an elephant? He is like a gigantic moving mountain.”

     To this day, the argument has not been resolved, and the people of that village still have no idea what an elephant looks like.[1]

     Jesus told the Pharisees they were like the blind teaching the blind. He was speaking to men who had spent their lives studying the word of Moses and the prophets. These Pharisees believed they knew what the elephant looked like. But Jesus said, “If you say that you are blind, you have no sin. But now that you say we see (we understand – and you have to think the way we think), your sin remains.”

     God was the elephant in the room. Yet, the people staring at him were still blind to him. They admitted they were followers of Moses. The Pharisees said, “This man, Jesus, is not from God.  He doesn’t follow the Sabbath rules.”  Their vision of God was a God of commandments.

     There are many Christians today who listen to Moses more than Jesus. Moses said many good things about God. He also said God’s command is to put children to death who curse their parents. He taught ‘if you work on the Sabbath, that too is worthy of death.’

     Five times in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the Pharisees they didn’t know God. He said this to the experts in the Book. They read and studied it forward and backward (literally, since it was in Hebrew).

     “Yes, you may have the stories and commands of Moses written on scrolls, but you don’t know God. And if you don’t know God, how can you know God’s will? Is God’s will obedience to rules, or is God’s will like many of the prophets you murdered tried to explain, caring for those in need?”

     Who can be trusted if the blind are leading the blind?

     Now we have stories from people who saw Jesus face to face. All they saw was good in God, no death sentences — except for one — his own.

     For many years I accepted conflicting images of God. I tried to blend Moses’ image of God with Isaiah’s image. Then I poured in some of Paul’s, and Matthew’s, and Luke’s, and John’s, and Jame’s, etc. It tried to do that until, finally, like the parents said of their son, “He’s of age. He’s old enough to know for himself. He has his own opinion.”    

     Contemplating your own experience of the Elephant is important. How have you elephantexperienced God for yourself? Have you ever felt threatened by God? Or have you felt a healing peace? Has God treated you the way the Jews before Christ described or has God treated you the way those who saw Jesus described? Which image would be good news for you?

     If you’re over 18 years old, you’re old enough to make up your own mind about what God is like based upon your own experience. You can stop depending on other people to tell you what they think the Elephant looks like.

     There’s an Elephant in the room. Start meeting together with the Elephant on your own time, and begin trusting your own experience of God in your life. And let the image of God in Jesus Christ transform you into the beautiful person God intended for you to be.



[1] Adapted from “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in Speaking in Stories by William White, p. 78 (eSermons illustration).

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News Too Good Not To Share

John 4:5-42  

The woman at the well met Jesus and then brought the good news to her community. A woman who had already had five husbands, and was living in sin with a man. She’s not remembered for her lifestyle. She’s honored because she’s an unexpected candidate to have shared Christ with her community.

What is it about the Samaritan woman at the well that make her an unlikely person to be honored in some Christian traditions? First, she’s the wrong gender. What do women know about the things of God?

good news     A year ago, I had lunch with a friend that I’d lost contact with in Nashville. We got to talking about religion. He had an amazing story of faith, even though in eight years, he’d gone from a net worth of $1.2 million to declaring bankruptcy. I was amazed at his confidence that God was leading him in his journey of faith.

And yet, although he agreed that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, he also believes the Bible has set specific roles for men and women in the church. My friend goes to a church where only men can preach the good news of God’s love in Christ and lead Bible study. That’s okay. It’s his choice. It’s a tradition that’s time has long past.

Assigned roles established by tradition don’t change easily. Why? Because without traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. Watching a high school play, Fiddler on the Roof, I was reminded of things that we fondly call our “traditions.” But the play is a story of traditions crumbling around people. One daughter decided love was more important than the tradition of letting parents arrange who you married.

She didn’t want to follow the patterns established by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who all arranged the marriages of their sons. She wanted a husband of her own choosing, founded in love rather than tradition. What would you have done if your parents wanted to secure a business deal by giving you away in marriage? We wouldn’t think of arranging marriages for our children today.

Traditions anchor us and give us a feeling of stability — something concrete in a world that is constantly changing. Traditions make us comfortable. Like caterpillars protected in a safe cocoon, they often have great value. Yet there’s a time to move on.

The Jewish tradition in the first century said Jesus shouldn’t be giving a Samaritan the time of day. Samaritans were polluted by the world. Moses had given a command – don’t associate with people outside the nation of Israel. They worship idols. They’ll pollute your mind and cause you to change the way you think. Some people think Christians just don’t need that kind of temptation either.

The woman at well had been married five times. No one knows the circumstances. She was not married to the man she was living with.  Three strikes against her — a woman, polluted by other theologies, and living in sin. Why should any decent person listen to her testimony of faith in Jesus?

If those in her community had closed their ears to her testimony, they would have missed the opportunity to encounter the Living Word himself. Who she was and what she had done was not important. What was important was the message she carried.

There’s a TV commercial that shows, in slow motion, a Mercedes Benz smashing into a concrete wall during a safety test. Someone then asks a Mercedes engineer why his company doesn’t enforce the patent they hold on their car’s energy-absorbing design. The design has been copied by almost every other car maker in the world in spite of the fact that Mercedes has an exclusive patent on that design. The engineer replies, “Because in life, some things are just too important not to share.” Some things are just too important not to share. As Christians we believe the good news of Jesus Christ is one of those things that is too important not to share.

Martin Luther said in one of his sermons, Therefore, it depends not on the person, whoever it may be … that preaches the Word or hears it. They may be saints or sinners, believers or unbelievers; if only the Word is preached and taught in its purity, then the ministry is also right, no matter who the minister may be.”[1] In another sermon, Luther said, “If Herod or Pontius Pilate told you the gospel, you would have to believe it.”

The Word in its purity is Jesus the Christ. The Gospel in its purity Jesus the Christ. Sharing God’s love in Christ is more important than any tradition we want to hold onto, because even a sinner, like you or me, sharing how Jesus has made a difference in our lives can bring a whole community into a relationship with the Savior. Jesus is the Word. He is the good news. It doesn’t matter who you are, share him.


 

[1] Mark 16:14-20, Martin Luther’s Church Postil, Vol. 3:238-9.  Paragraph #69.

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Born of a Holy Spirit

John 3:1-17

      How do you know if you’ve been born again? I think it’s easy to know. The Bible says the result (fruit) of receiving “the Spirit” is love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are present when a person is filled with a holy spirit.

symbol of the Holy Spirit      Jesus said that being born of the Spirit is like the wind, and the wind doesn’t blow because we tell it to blow by making a decision or a commitment.  “It blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

     The Spirit doesn’t come just because we decide it’s the right time for the Spirit to enter us. Like we can summon God whenever we are ready for Him.  Remember Jesus told his disciples, “You didn’t choose me. But I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

      I’m afraid some pastors think they empower the wind when they sprinkle water over infants or immerse adults in water. If that were true, there would be a lot more loving, kind, gentle people in the Christian church.

      Martin Luther compared being filled with the Holy Spirit to the iron of a blacksmith that would glow, burn, and place its stamp on wood. Those who are born of the Spirit leave their mark, an impression on whatever and whoever they touch.

      If you really want to know Martin Luther’s stance on the role of the Holy Spirit, read my post on the topic. You probably didn’t learn this in confirmation class.

      The word “holy” in Greek means “worthy of reverence, worthy of praise.” God is worthy of reverence and praise. Why?  Because God is love. God is the Source of peace and joy and all the fruits of the Spirit.

      I always wondered what it meant in the Bible when different writers said,

 1 Peter 1:15-16 “Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

 Ephesians 1:4 “…just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.”

      It means “be worthy of reverence and praise in everything you do.”

      In the human condition, it’s not possible to hold onto love, peace, and joy all the time. Since that’s the case, it means we are not always under the power of a “holy spirit.” Sometimes the power of unclean spirits rule within us. That’s why baptism (immersion) in a Holy Spirit is not just a one-time thing.

      We need our spirit to be reborn (re-immersed) every day because we enter exit the kingdom of God every day, sometimes several times a day. You can be experiencing the goodness and peace of God in the morning, and by the afternoon, you can be as angry as a hornet whose comfortable nest has been disrupted.

      You must receive a new and right Spirit daily that is capable of bearing the fruits of that Holy Spirit – which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

      There are times when I think I’ve reverted back to the caterpillar stage of the human spirit. Those are the times I identify with St. Paul when he says, “The works of the flesh (which are in opposition to the Spirit) are obvious: (they include) hostilities, conflict, anger, quarrels, disagreements, divisions, and things like these. I am warning you as I warned you before: those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).

      No one can experience peace, no one experiences unity, when they are fighting and arguing. The church is providing no example of the unity called for by Jesus that anyone, including the U.S. congress, can follow these days. Forget converting unbelievers, I think the church needs to be born again.

      Yet Sundays are the days I tend to feel most like I’ve been born again. I experience peace after I have received the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness in worship, in hymns, Scriptures, and in the bread and the wine. My spirit feels renewed. I feel uplifted. I feel at peace with God.

      When you are experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, you have the kingdom of God. It is these that Christ came to bring us — to save us from our humanness, our arguments, and our divisions.

     Do you want to be born again? Jesus said, “If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give a holy spirit to those who ask him?” Ask for a Spirit that is holy. Ask for a Spirit that is worthy of reverence and praise. And your heavenly Father will be pleased to give you the kingdom.

     Let love be your guide and you will know what it’s like to be born again of the Holy Spirit.

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Wilderness Fasting and Temptations

Matthew 4:1-11

There are many desolate places in the world. Three years ago today, I got a taste of what a true wilderness looks like. I went to Haiti to visit some of the schools we are feeding through Trinity/HOPE. You can see some of the videos I took on my favorite charities pages. Looking back on the trip, I experienced a mere seven days of fasting. When I returned home, the temptations of the false self (my practical view of satan that in Greek is defined as a false accuser) became greater.

Haitian roadwayI lived in motels that had little or no hot water. In fact, it was a blessing to have enough running water in some of them to be able to wash my hair. I used bottled water to brush my teeth because if you ingested the local water, you’d get sick. The temperatures were manageable at 85 degrees. The air conditioners were activated after 4 pm. The roads getting back to the schools were dirt, rutted, and jarring.

I missed the conveniences of life at my fingertips. You know, those things you complain about if they aren’t at your beck and call. Like if the electricity goes off or if your satellite dish gets scrambled for ten seconds. I missed clean water. I missed hot water. I missed good food, safe food. I missed being around people who have so little to complain about that they invent things to complain about. I was awakened to the blessings in life I take for granted.

Wilderness is not a bad thing. Wilderness is often a good thing. The wilderness is a teaching tool. Sometimes it’s a place where purification takes place. Why else would the Spirit lead Jesus into a wilderness where there would be temptations? Because it prepared him to accomplish the work for which he was sent into the world. The Spirit sometimes leads you and me into lonely and desolate places where our faith is tested and strengthened.

Having been home for three years now, several temptations circle around me like buzzardsChildren in school in Haiti. in the sky. The most powerful one is the inner voice that says, “I’m so glad to be back in the United States —comfortable, blessed. It’s so tempting to fall back into the attitude that ‘Yes, it was a good experience to see what I saw, but it’s over and let’s get on with enjoying the abundance here where clean water and electricity and food and paved roads are part of everyday life.’”

Visiting eleven schools during the week, one of our tasks was to talk to ten children at each school (through an interpreter) and ask them, “Did you have breakfast this morning? If so, was it enough?” And “Did you have food last night? And if so, was it enough?” In school after school, an average of one or two children said “yes” that they’d had something to eat for breakfast, but rarely was it enough. And maybe two said they had something to eat the night before, and rarely was it enough.

Like the first temptation Jesus experienced, I’m so tempted to use my time and abilities to provide only for my own physical needs, comforts and pleasures, and to ignore the obvious needs of those who have no ability to care for themselves.

Another temptation hovering around me is to put God to the test. Maybe I could make a huge production out of how God is going to fix this problem in a miraculous way and begin mobilizing you and others to pray every day so we can show how God follows every word that comes out of his mouth in Holy Scriptures. You know, Jesus said, “Anything you ask in my name, I will do it.” Well, what better thing to ask for than for God to provide food for these poor children in Haiti? Let’s ask God to do a dramatic thing so he can prove how he comes to the rescue.

I like Martin Luther’s answer to the temptation of putting God to the test. He said, “Why should Jesus jump off the pinnacle of the Temple to prove that God would make sure he got to the ground safely, when there was a very simple and practical way of getting to his destination? He could just walk the flight of stairs from the top to the bottom.”

God is not in the business of the dramatic. There’s a simple way already laid out to get to the bottom of feeding all the hungry children in Haiti.

Children of Colminy School in Haiti.For only 28 cents, you can feed one child a bowl of rice and beans in Haiti today through Trinity/HOPE. A penny of that amount is needed to cover administrative costs but the rest feeds children. One child at a time. One meal at a time. It’s taken fifteen years to reach the point of feeding 18,000 children one meal every day they come to school. It wasn’t fast and dramatic, but it is well laid-out and implemented. And most important, it’s not just a hand-out. Trinity/HOPE is also trying to teach churches and communities to assume some accountability for helping themselves.

A third temptation that circles around me is to try to use that experience to bring glory to myself by acting like I did something special. I merely used some of the money God had entrusted to me. What I found out was how much more I have been given by God than I ever imagined.

And I saw how appreciative people could be even when they have so little. We arrived at a school a few minutes before school was to start. The cooks were already cooking the beans, frying some chicken wings, and cutting up vegetables to feed us. It was a generous act of hospitality for them to kill some of their chickens and prepare them for us. They had so little, and yet, they were willing to share it with us whose bellies were already full. I didn’t do anything special. They did something special for us by giving out of their poverty to us who have an overabundance.

The real temptations for me came after the fast. What would I do from that day forward knowing the abundance God has given to me and the lack of basic necessities of others?

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Enjoy the Ride!

Matt. 17:1-9

 rollercoaster 2    There’s a story about a seven‑year‑old girl who was thrilled when her parents took her to Disney World. She rode the Space Mountain roller coaster twice and loved every minute of it. The next year they returned to Space Mountain. As they stood in line, though, she started reading the signs with the rules that warn about the ride’s speed. As her father waited in line with her, she said, “I don’t think I want to go.” He asked, “Why would you be nervous when you enjoyed the ride so much last year?” She said, “This year, I can read.”[1]

     Early in their conversion, many Christians feel the joy of following Jesus. And then they start to read. They begin to think the Bible is “God’s personally dictated book of behavior.” Like Miss Manners on steroids. If you ask me, the Old Testament is a dissertation on how we are not supposed to behave.

     Bible teachers have a tendency to focus on the rules (Moses) and the dangers you will face if you turn away from the rules (Prophets). For some reason, people think that the prophets were enforcing rules when many of them were doing the opposite. Many said “God doesn’t want your empty words and rituals – compassion and personal sacrifice for the good of the poor” was their message, a message Jesus repeated. That’s why prophets had shorter lifespans than most.

     When you place your focus on Moses and adherence to law, the joy and thrill of living a truly Christian life begin to fade.

     People want to enjoy the roller coaster ride of life, but when they focus on all the dangers and things that could happen if they have too much fun – who wants to risk upsetting God? It doesn’t even require reading Moses and the prophets. Just put yourself at the mercy of the person standing behind a pulpit who has done more reading about the dangers of God’s wrath than is healthy. Some people can make God look ominous and dangerous by quoting Moses or some of the prophets. No wonder some people shy away from religion when they begin hearing that God can and will hurt them if they don’t follow the rules. That’s not good news.

     If you are truly getting a thrill out of the Christian ride, what will you do? You’ll tell someone else about the joy and goodness of God— how you’ve witnessed it personally and nobody will have to twist your arm to do it. If your religion is about the rules and punishment, that’s probably how you are going to explain it. Which message do you think will win more people to follow Christ?

     Some people get on roller coasters and make double sure the safety bar is locked in. They grip it with white knuckles the whole time. They close their eyes purposefully so they can’t see. They are so concerned about their safety.

     The rules of Christianity are their safety bar. Obviously everybody needs to use them forroller-coaster-24 protection – but some grip the rules tightly because they are so stressed about what could happen to them if God gets mad at them. Others trust in Jesus, and raise their hands in the seats ahead of them. They are protected by the rules, but they can enjoy the ride.

     The rules are important but rules don’t have the power to comfort you, or strengthen you, or encourage you. You can go through the ups and downs of life in full confidence of the goodness and mercy of God and take in as much of life as you can as it flies by. The rules are important but they aren’t true religion. James tells us that true religion is caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

     What is not easy to understand about Christianity is how caring for those who cannot care for themselves is thrilling, joyful, and more satisfying than making lots of money and trying to fool yourself that you control everything in your life. That’s where faith comes in. If you haven’t tried caring for the personal needs of anyone else, just buckle yourself in and close your eyes the first time. It will be easier the next time. The Word promises this will bring you true life. Have a little faith. Step into the action and see for yourself. 

     Look at the face of Jesus.  Let Him purify your image of what God is like.  “God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:3).  And remember: God is good all the time, not just some of the time. 

     Pay attention to Jesus. Yes, Moses and Elijah were part of the plan; but now, Jesus reveals the glory of God. When the disciples got up from their fear, all they could see was Jesus. Jesus needs no help in showing the infinite Goodness and Wisdom of God. Get in and enjoy the ride!



[1] Brett Blair and staff, eSermons.co.

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Choose Good Habits

Matt. 5:38-48 

I have a couple of things I do automatically when I get up in the morning. I brush my teeth, run a comb through my hair, stand on the scale, start a cup of tea, meditate for twenty-five minutes, then I get up and pour some Raisin Bran mixed with mini-shredded wheat in a bowl, a half cup of blueberries on tope, and pour some Almond Milk on top. It’s automatic. One little step leads to the next. After some writing and planning for the day, I take a shower, check my email, and head to work.

My truck knows the way to work. It drives itself.  Some mornings I decide that I need to stop at the bank to deposit money or get some cash on the way. Except my truck is doing the driving. I don’t usually have to think about driving on the way to church. My truck doesn’t think either, it’s habit is to turn right at the light in Draffenville. I get so mad at my truck for not changing its habitual pattern just because the passenger (that’s me) decided to add something out of the usual to the morning’s schedule.

Anymore when I know I have made the conscious decision to alter my pattern, I’ll hold the deposit slip in my hand on the steering wheel so I can visually remind myself to force my truck out of its pattern or habit. Sometimes my truck still turns right at the light instead of left.

I’m reading a new book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. It points out that so much of what we do is out of habit more than conscious choice. After all, the brain has a lot to do. If it can do something without having to go through the whole decision-making process, then it saves time and it can work on the things that haven’t been figured out yet. What the brain doesn’t do is make any judgment as to whether a habit is good or bad. It’s been conditioned to proceed in a certain direction based on what it’s been told to do. YOU have the free will to let it go one direction or another.

You can never get rid of a bad habit, you can only replace it. You always have the choice to repeat actions that don’t require thinking, so the choice remains. You just have to use your mature mind to choose to replace a bad habit. Let me show you what I mean.

I know in my mind that ice cream with chocolate poured all over it is not good for my overall health. It’s a man-made product that has too many calories, bad fats, allergens, and the chocolate has far too many sugars in it that disrupt the natural harmony of my body.

There was a time when I formed the habit of eating dairy-notice cream after supper. Supper was the cue. Supper’s over? That means it’s time for ice cream. My taste buds were happy. All was complete.

As I thought about this, I also figured out why I like fishing so much. When my father took my brother and I fishing as little children, after every fishing trip, we stopped at Dairy Queen on the way home. Ice cream was the reward for going fishing even if we didn’t catch anything. The trip was always successful because we ended it with a treat. Anytime Dad would suggest we go fishing, the subliminal message was, “We’re going to get ice cream.”

So it could be that ice cream becomes a way to reward yourself for doing well. Kind of like when you lose five pounds, you say, “Hey, I deserve some ice cream now!” Justifying and succumbing to the bad choice that added the five pounds in the first place doesn’t make much sense, does it? So – once you identify the stupidity in allowing bad habits return you to the cycle of failure, you can let your mature mind make a better choice that brings a positive outcome.

Just last week I discovered a replacement solution for ice cream and chocolate. Whenever I want to reward myself for a job well-done, I’m going to pull out my tea cup (no longer coffee cup since I’ve given up coffee for better health reasons) – and insert a new reward that has no caffeine and no calories = chocolate hazelnut tea, made by Stash – found at Kroger in Murray. You won’t believe it’s tea.

If chocolate is not your thing, pick another flavor you like – raspberry, cinnamon, Kai spice, pomegranate. You name it, they’ve got it. Rather than add sugar or aspartame, I’ll add honey or stevia or the yellow stuff that they haven’t proven is bad…yet.

If you reward yourself with a candy bar or M & M’s for making it through a hard day, change your choice to a crunchy snack that is healthy – something that has fewer sugars and fats. Find something with more nutrients and fewer calories. Replace your bad choices with good choices.

The same thing goes with your interactions with people who aren’t very nice. What’s your habitual response when someone complains about what congress or the president or Iran did last week? Is it your first response to let your blood pressure go up and you get ready to do battle with those who don’t agree with your position? Is your first response to take an aggressive or defensive position in the battle?

I’m trying to replace that habit, which only stirs up turmoil and unpeace within me, with a response that gets me more focused on things I actually have some control over…like bringing order and harmony into my life and the lives of people around me. I can impact my world far more easily than live in someone else’s world that I don’t know from Adam. I choose not to let someone else’s imbalanced priorities mess up my priorities. It’s not always easy because sometimes the choices of others impact my world. But it is what it is. And that’s why I vote.

Jesus said love your enemies. That’s not a habitual first reaction, is it? He said “instead repay evil deeds with good deeds, for in doing so you heap burning coals on them.” Why does going good to someone who acted immaturely heap burning coals on them? Because when you do so, your maturity is revealed. They recognize the childish nature of their own actions.

It’s not rocket science to tell the difference between the actions of a fully developed adult who wants to bring peace and harmony and the actions of an undisciplined child. Even children can recognize responsible behavior when compared with childish behavior.

 Adult behavior is thought-out behavior. Why else would you give your shirt to someone who just took your coat? Because you’ve developed the maturity to understand that people don’t cross the boundaries of others and steal from them unless they are desperate…whether that means they are cold, hungry, or addicted…it doesn’t matter what the need – the bottom line is that they are desperate enough to violate the property of someone else. If you have everything you need, and that includes respect, dignity, value, and self-worth – you respect and honor the boundaries of others, and you have no reason to be desperate.

I’ve talked about “evil” before, redefining evil as something that is not done at the right time, either too early or too late. Other words for evil can be “unripe or immature.” Actions done too soon without taking the time to think them through are poorly chosen.

Jesus had thought through all his actions, and he made mature responses into habits. That way he didn’t have to think about them anymore. He consciously chose to repay evil with good. He consciously chose to forgive the actions of unripe people – why? Because he knew he could only do what he could do. He couldn’t control their actions or choices.

 Jesus was and is the icon of choosing the right actions and making them a habit. That’s why he could say, from the cross, “Father forgive them. Let go of their hurtful actions. They are unripe children who don’t understand how they are letting their bad habits control their lives. They are unhappy people as a result.” This was his habit.

Take time to choose the actions that are mature, and make them a habit. In doing so, you will be more like Jesus, the Christ, the One we’ve chosen to follow.

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