Your Authority to Choose

 

Mark 1:21-28

     At one point in history, Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time. For almost two thousand years, people believed Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object was, the faster it would fall to earth. That was the truth for two thousand years, determined by the world’s greater thinker. Anyone, of course, could have taken a heavy object and a light one, and dropped them from a tall place to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did that until nearly two thousand years after Aristotle’s death.

     Legend has it that in 1589 Galileo gathered all the learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top with a ten pound weight and a one pound weight and dropped them at the same time. Both landed at the same moment. Yet even though they saw it with their own eyes, the professors denied the evidence and continued to say Aristotle was right.[1]

     Why? Because they gave more authority to what the legendary Aristotle said than they were ready to give the new guy on the block, Galileo. “Who does this upstart think he is to contradict the greatest thinker in the world?”

     This only shows that it’s human nature we’re dealing with. It’s hard to shift away from what you’ve given authority to all your life – having accepted the belief of others for thousands of years – even if it’s proven to be in error. It just shows that visual evidence that clearly reveals the truth is not enough to change some people’s minds.

     Jesus came along and taught something new. He taught, not as the scribes taught, but as one having authority. The fact that the scriptures were being interpreted differently was nothing new for the children of Israel. They were used to it. They had their conservative side of interpretation and their liberal side and all the flavors in-between.

     A rabbi with a new teaching would say things like, “You have heard it said that ‘the scriptures should be understood this way,’ but I tell you, ‘this is what God really wants.’” That’s what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you ‘do not resist an evil person”… and he also said, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matt. 5:38-39; 43-44)

     A Jewish rabbi taught one of my classes at Vanderbilt. He said it’s been determined that there were a least twenty-three different Jewish sects or what we might classify as denominations of the Jewish faith at the time of Jesus. Nobody has ever been able to agree about what God wants based on the Scriptures, not even the Jews.

   homeschooling-diploma-template-sample1   Still, the Jewish scribes were the authorized teachers of the Scriptures. They wore a belt and on that belt hung some keys. These keys were symbolic of the knowledge, experience, and authority of that scribe. In the business and religious worlds, diplomas seem to indicate the level of authority some will be given. These keys were recognizable symbols that gave you honor and authority because you had achieved a certain level of proficiency in the tradition.

     Rabbis who had a new teaching would then attract followers who became their students, or disciples. Once a rabbi taught his disciples the details of his interpretations, he then gave them authority to teach the Scriptures in the way he had taught. He would say something similar to what Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 16, “I give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:13-20)

     At one point, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do and teach what you do?” The Greek word for authority means “the power to choose.” If you remember the story, Jesus didn’t tell them. He said, “You answer this question for me first and then I’ll tell you by what authority I say what I say.” They wouldn’t answer the question, so he didn’t tell them where his power to choose came from.

     I read a book (Phyllis Tickle, The Emergent Church) that pointed out that in the two thousand year history of Christianity, there’s been a major shift about every five hundred years in where the body of Christ has placed its authority.

     In the fourth and fifth centuries, the institutional church was formed in Rome and it was given the power to choose what was right and wrong. Then in the ninth and tenth centuries, the pope became the infallible authority for interpreting the truth. Then in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, during the Reformation, a group of people decided the Scriptures should be the ultimate authority for deciding the truth. Obviously, everyone wasn’t on board with every shift in who could decide what God’s will was.

     And now, in the 21st century, we’re seeing another shift. People are questioning whether every word in every part of the written Scriptures is actually the truth about what God wants. Just like many question whether the pope is infallible, and the institutional church continues to show it isn’t perfect in its choices. The Scriptures are now in question – is every part of it true?

      It’s upsetting when you begin to wonder if the place you have put your authority is somehow shown to be imperfect – whether it’s Aristotle or the church, the pope or the Bible. If we can’t trust something to tell us the absolute truth in every way, what are we going to stand on? I hope and pray we are finally shifting our authority to the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ, and let him be our final authority.

     How do you as a follower of Jesus decide how to bind and loose? Martin Luther gave clear direction on how to decide which Scriptures are to be followed in a sermon on Luke 14. He said, “If you are a Christian you have power to dispense with all commandments as far as they hinder you in the practice of love. (volume V: 165:20)

     That was his way of saying, “I give you the authority to bind and to loose if it leads to love.” If it helps and guides you to love, then follow it. If it hinders you and prevents you from showing love, then get rid of it. Love is to be the interpreter of the law. Luther also said, “Love and necessity control all law; and there should be no law that cannot be enforced and applied in love. If it cannot, then let it be done away with, even though an angel from heaven had [broadcast] it. (volume V:165:28)

     Luther said since it’s your life/soul that depends upon it, you must chose who you will follow. Don’t turn your soul over to truths others mandate for you. Be accountable to yourself for what you believe. Don’t trust an institution, a figurehead, or even a compiled book that’s never been interpreted the same way by any generation of human beings from the day it was put on paper.

     Luther said this is how you decide the matter for yourself: “God must speak to your heart: “This is God’s Word” (second sermon on Matt. 7:15-22, volume IV: 239:8).

     The Scriptures tell us that God is love. Do you accept this as truth? If you have love (Love) in your heart, then make your decisions on the authority of your heart for there is no greater authority than love. When love is your authority and Jesus is the example you are trying to follow, your choices will always lead to the fruits of the Spirit, bringing peace, joy, kindness, generosity, healing, and comfort into the lives of people who are hurting, like Jesus did. And the kingdom of heaven will be near.

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[1] Brett Blair and Staff, “Astonishing!” sermon on Mark 1:21-28, Sermons.com

 

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Bring the Kingdom of God to Someone

 

Mark 1:14-20                                              

     The kingdom of God (which is the same thing as the kingdom of heaven) is one of my favorite topics. I think it was one of Jesus’s favorite topics. John the Baptist considered it a favorite topic, too. Matthew, Mark, and Luke also thought it was important enough to tell us that the first teaching of John and Jesus when they began their ministries was the same – “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

     Unfortunately, most modern day Christians fail to understand what that means. I know because for most of my life I didn’t realize that I didn’t understand it. I was taught that the kingdom of God/heaven was the place where I was going after I was dead, assuming that I believed the right doctrines.

     But that’s incorrect information.

     According to both John the Baptist and Jesus, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” At hand means anything from “within your reach” to “now.”

     If the kingdom of God is not a place to go to after you’re dead, then what is it?

     It’s a state of living today that is an image of the Garden of Eden. All things are working together in peace, harmony, and unity. It’s that simple.

     Let me explain it in Aramaic terms. The Aramaic name for God is Alaha. It means “oneness” or “unity.” That means the kingdom of Alaha is a kingdom of Unity. The Kingdom is a state where all things are working together for the good of everyone and everything else.

     This is the kingdom Jesus was hoping to usher in—a place where all people are working together and living in peace.

     I explained most of it in my ebook, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real and It’s Open to Everyone! (or at the iBookstore here), so I’ll go on with the rest of the text.

     After Jesus proclaimed his message about the kingdom, he went looking for ordinary people to help him bring a state of peace and harmony to Israel. He didn’t need professionally trained clergy to do the job. He needed ordinary people.

     Today’s clergy seem to be more focused on bringing peace and harmony to people after they are dead than to bring peace and harmony to them today. Whenever you see that happening, you know they still believe the kingdom of God will only be seen when people are dead, even though Jesus and John said something different.

     Anyway, you and I are called, as followers of Jesus, to bring peace and unity into the lives of people today. Whenever we can do that, many will be grateful. Some will be curious. And some may even want to hang around with us and try to keep the peace and harmony going.

     Following Jesus is about making the kingdom of God a reality today. You have been given the power to bring the peace, hope, and harmony into someone’s life today. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or an ordained clergyperson to do that. It just takes someone with compassion and love.

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     Thanks so much to all of you who pre-ordered my new ebook about the power to forgive that was released Monday!

 

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New ebook on Forgiveness Available Now!

 

7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life

     My newest ebook, 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life, is now available online at these links: here for your Kindle, here for your Nook, here for your Apple device. It’s forty-three pages long and will set you back 99 cents.

     The word “forgive” has practical meanings beyond the religious undertones that tend to invoke guilt when you’re finding it difficult to let go of an offense.    

     Emphasis is placed on the intentional effort invested in the process so you can move forward with your life. Yet it takes a special Power within you to initiate and fulfill the process of forgiveness. This information, with its comments and prayers, will teach you how to overcome wrongdoings and resentments so you can claim peace and joy in your life.

     Topics covered: What other ways are there to forgive? What are the benefits of forgiving? What about justice? How do you forgive 70 x 7 times? How do you forgive yourself? How do you forgive those closest to you? The Power from on High. Is there life after forgiveness?

     Order here for your Kindle, here for your Nook, here for your Apple device.

 

 

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Under the Fig Tree of Scriptures

 

John 1:43-51                                                

     An average fig tree is about fifteen feet tall and its branches spread out about twenty-five feet wide. It acts a little bit like an umbrella, creating a cozy space underneath that is almost like a private room. If someone wanted to get away from the chaos of a one-room house or the heat of the sun, he would sit under the fig tree.

Fig_Tree     In biblical days, students would sit there to read scripture or to reflect or to pray. Sitting under a fig tree was a sign of seeking and praying for God’s living presence.

     Churches act a little bit like umbrellas and fig trees, too. We gather together under the umbrella of the Word with a desire to know the presence of the living God. We gather to “retreat” from the chaos of the world so we can read scripture, reflect, and pray. In that way, we have much in common with Nathaniel.

     Nathanael was a student of the scriptures. It explains why his response to Philip claiming Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah was: “How can anything this good come out of Nazareth?”

     There’s a good reason why Nathanael asks this question. The writings of Moses and the prophets said something different. The messiah wasn’t supposed to come out of Nazareth. The book of Micah said the messiah was going to come out of Bethlehem in Judah.

     “How can this be, Philip? The Scriptures say something different from what you’re saying is true. So why should I believe anything you say?”

     It sounds a little fundamental, doesn’t it? Whatever Scripture says has to be right. As it turns out, both were right. Jesus came from both places. Most fundies think there is only one “truth.”

     All Philip said was, “Come and see for yourself.”

     There’s no need to convince anyone about the truth. The truth is convincing enough in itself.

     So Nathanael came, experienced Christ for himself, and believed. Nathanael’s advantage was that he was prepared to recognize the messiah. He was a student who spent enough time under the fig tree, praying and meditating, to recognize the Truth for himself.

     Maybe one of the many truths in this story is that we are expected to recognize the truth for ourselves rather than accept something because someone else said it’s true. That’s not possible when we are youth and our brains were not fully developed. Many of us believed what we were told. We had no capacity to be able to disagree.

      But there comes a time after your brain is fully developed and capable of abstract thinking (late teens and into the twenties), where it behooves you to sort through all the things you learned as a child. Why? Because not everything you learned was true.

       Some people grew up learning to look down on other races and nationalities. Some people grew up learning that men were more important than women. Some grew up learning that if someone wasn’t heterosexual, (s)he was purposefully opposing the will of God. Some grew up learning that rules in the Bible that hurt people are more important than compassion for the people the scriptures were written to serve.

      Without a doubt, the Bible holds wisdom from the days of old. It’s a tool the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us. But you have to know it well enough to understand which truths are from God and which don’t sound like our God of love. That’s when you have to pull on your big girl and big boy pants.

     The Bible encourages us to spend time under the fig tree. The psalmist encourages us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This was my motivation for writing the book, 30 Days to Loving God with All Your Heart.

     Ignatius of Loyola’s ancient practice of meditation on scriptures changed my whole understanding of God. In the midst of the stories I’d read about a God of Israel who killed his own children when they were bad, the Spirit showed me the truth about God. God is love, not a killer.

     To be a disciple is first to be a student or an apprentice. An apprentice can’t go to work until he or she has been trained. That’s why you spend time sitting under the fig tree in a church sanctuary—to read and meditate on the writings in the Holy Scriptures.

     A church sanctuary isn’t the only place that can be called a fig tree. Anyplace where you meditate on the things of God is a sanctuary. It’s a place where you sit under an umbrella, protected and taught by the Holy Spirit.

     The places where we meditate also produce many fruits that are sweet. Peace of mind, a feeling of wholeness, knowledge of the Oneness of the universe in God. When you have tasted the sweetness of the fruits of sitting under the fig tree, you will understand that whatever God appoints you to do is not something to be feared but it is something He’s prepared you for. It will give you joy and peace and a sense of purpose in this life.

     Maybe then you will be one whose enthusiasm for Christ in your life will make people want to know the reason for your joyful outlook on life – and you can say, “I found Jesus and he has revealed the Father to me. Come and see.”

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Check out some devotional options for the season of Lent, 2015.

 

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Lenten Devotional Options for 2015

 

     If you are considering setting aside time for a personal devotion during the season of Lent, here are some options.

     Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther is a book of 67 prayers based on Luther’s sermons in the Church Postils. It can be used at any time for personal and group study, but I’ve rearranged a devotional schedule for LENT. The devotions run Monday through Saturday.

     There are 40 devotional times during Lent, and the rest will carry you deep into the season of Easter. The devotions begin the day before Ash Wednesday and extend four weeks after Easter. I believe you’ll be surprised at some of the things Martin Luther preached.

     I’ve also arranged a 30 day devotional study for 30 Days to Loving God with All Your Heart that you can use any time during the year, but if you want to use it for a Lenten study, follow these dates. The recommended days are Monday through Friday. (This book was first marketed under the title: O Taste and See: Discovering God Through Imaginative Meditations, so you can use the same study guide.)

     7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life will be released on Monday, Jan. 19th. You can pre-order it for 99 cents on Amazon, at the iBookStore, and for all others at this link. Thanks for considering it, too.

 

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Sample from the Introduction of 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive…

 

     My new ebook will be released on January 19th – it’s about forgiveness from the human perspective. The word “forgive” has practical meanings beyond the religious undertones. It doesn’t always require you to wipe the slate clean when others offend you. Here’s the introduction so you can decide if you’d like to pre-order it.

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     True story. A man bought a vacation home for his family. His vision was to enjoy many relaxing times together. While they were experiencing a weekend getaway, his primary residence was broken into and ransacked. Everything of value was stolen.

     This event altered his life. Even though his homeowners insurance paid to replace most of the possessions, this man’s personality changed. He became bitter. He sold the vacation house. After a few years, he developed bone cancer and died.

     I can only speculate about the deep-seated sense of violation this man felt that dominated his attitude and destroyed his zest for life. The man lost some prized possessions. But lots of people lose possessions and move on to live an abundant life.

     Some life events become like ghosts of the past, haunting you and injecting you with their negative energies. However, it doesn’t have to remain that way. You have the Power to rise above those memories so their effects are reduced.

7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life     It is the power to forgive.

     Forgiveness in its diverse forms will help you overcome negative energies revolving in your heart and mind that are blocking you from peace, joy, or contentment in life.

     Jesus is the icon for forgiveness. He personified forgiveness. He revealed one of the purposes for which he was sent when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 NKJV). Forgiveness leads to life in its abundance.

Choose Life

     When the children of Israel were getting ready to cross over the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land, Moses gave them a choice. He said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…” (Deut. 30:19-20).

     In many places in the Bible, life and death can be seen as metaphors. Moses wasn’t saying that people would live or die physically based on following his commandments. “Life” refers to the quality of life God wants for you, a life of blessings and good things. “Death” refers to the absence of true and abundant living. Death is living with hardship, struggle, and facing the consequences of sin.

     Every day you have choices to make. They can bring peace, joy, and harmony to your body, mind, and spirit. Or your choices can bring negativity, conflict, division, and anger with their effects to your body, mind, and spirit. Forgiveness is one of those choices.

     Forgiveness is one of the doors to the blessings of peace and freedom. And don’t worry. I’m not going to repeat the tired, insensitive mantras that require complete absolution of all your offenders. My hope is that you will recognize there are diverse and compassionate ways to understand the words of the Bible when they speak of forgiving.

     With God, all things are possible. God has supplied you with a Power that will help you make the right choices and move forward. So let’s cross the Jordan River, choosing life, and journey into the Promised Land.

(c) Paul W. Meier, 2015  Published by Malcolm Creek Publishing.

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     This is a short ebook, 43 pages long, and covers seven practical aspects of forgiveness at the human level. You can pre-order 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life for 99¢ at these links for your Kindle, Apple device, NOOK, or KOBO. It will be delivered on Jan. 19th. Thanks for considering it.

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Doing Your Part in Baptism

 

Mark 1:4-11

baptismal font     Baptism is one of the rites Christians around the world share in common. It’s one thing that unifies us. If you meet a Catholic in Nova Scotia. He was baptized. If you meet a Pentecostal in Kenya. She was baptized. If you meet a Baptist in Paducah, she was baptized. Christians share this common initiation rite. Some think that the ritual part is the salvific end and you have little else to do. As usual, it’s the external details and intellectual explanations surrounding the sacrament of Holy Baptism that causes us headaches.

     The gospel verse 4 says, “John [the Baptist] came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…and all the people…confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

     Let’s look at three words in this passage: repent, baptism, and forgiveness.

     I was taught in seminary to say that God does all the work in baptism. Really? It’s an intellectual rationalization that helps justify infant baptism. Yet Jesus wasn’t ritually baptized until he was thirty years of age. Why did he wait so long?

     Did Jesus have to repent and be baptized? Yes.

     The Greek word for repentance means “to turn around” or “turn away.” It also means “change your mind.” Repentance means we make a conscious decision to turn away from the temptations of the world.

     Jesus didn’t have to be sorry for his sins. But he did have to continually turn away from the temptation to sin. He was in a constant state of repentance according to the definition. He resisted the powerful attraction to satisfy the desires of the flesh. He committed, in the outward ritual of baptism, to turn away from the world.

     Did Jesus need to be baptized? It depends on how you understand “baptized.”

     The Greek word for baptize means “immerse” or “pour lots of water over.” There arebaptism-immersion actually two words in Greek for baptize. One is a temporary immersion (like blanching vegetables for one minute before you freeze them). The other is a very long immersion (like pickling vegetables, canning them and sticking them in a cupboard).

     The baptism John spoke of is the lengthy method of immersion. Metaphorically, Jesus immersed himself in the things of God, in a life of prayer, study of the scriptures, worship of God in spirit and truth, in service and love for the welfare of His neighbor.

     Immersing, pouring, or sprinkling with water for a few seconds in a church ceremony does not instill a new Spirit within a person. It takes canning as opposed to blanching to do that.

     Let’s go on to “forgiveness.” Religious training has led many to believe that forgiveness in this verse refers to God’s forgiveness. Except God isn’t mentioned in the verse.

     Don’t get me wrong. The concept that God lets go of our sins, washes them away, and will never remember them again is a wonderful way to think of it. But if you take fourth and sixteenth century theology out of the equation, the verse is rather practical.

     “John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” doesn’t appear that John was suggesting we get baptized so God will forget our sins.

     Similarly, in Luke 24:46-7, Jesus said “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Do you think Jesus meant God’s forgiveness? If he meant God’s forgiveness, wouldn’t he have said that? I think he meant people should be entreated to stop hurting themselves and each other.

     As I say in my new ebook, 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life: “In biblical times, the main usage of aphiemi [the Greek word translated as “forgive”] was “to let go, send away, leave, or abandon.” Aphiemi did not refer to forgiveness in a religious sense.

     In baptism, we are making a commitment to turn away from the world and abandon (or let go of) sin that hurts ourselves and others. In this kind of forgiveness, we have a part to play—to let go of sin, to depart from sin so it does not dominate us and so we stop hurting each other.

     Baptism with water is an incredibly important and symbolic act, that when performed in a Christian church, initiates a life of commitment to God. It used to be in the early church, and continues to be a practice in some churches today, that those who wanted to be baptized were required to go through a one or two year process of education to be accepted for baptism. The catechumens were immersed in a process of prayer, study, and worship so they understood what they were making a commitment to. Education is a good practice. Yet it’s not a biblical command that you must do it to be baptized.

     Ultimately, all that education is supposed to help people to love each other, i.e., to stop hurting one another rather than to make sure we all believe the right things.

     Learning what the Christian life is about and making a conscious commitment to Christ in the church offers more benefits than giving a parent or grandparent the idea that the water is holy magic and if some is poured on the child it will guarantee she will go to heaven when she dies.

     The water of baptism is not what saves you. It’s the letting go of sin that saves you. You have a part to play in that. Letting go of hurtful actions saves you from the negative consequences of sin—pain, trouble, sorrow, punishment. When you don’t sin, then you have no negative consequences to suffer.

     Has the ceremonial act of baptism with water rescued you from sin today? It’s not the symbol that saves us. It’s the turning away from sin, the commitment you make to avoid sin by loving God and our neighbor, and the Holy Spirit that rescues you today from sin and its consequences.

     We all still have a part to play in baptism. Baptism is not a one-time thing. Baptism is a long term immersion in the Spirit, in the things that bring us into communion with God—prayer, Bible study, worship, service, fellowship and breaking of bread for the building up of relationships with your neighbors, and acts of love to all people—today and for the rest of your life.

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AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!

7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life     If you will pre-order my new ebook for 99¢ before it’s released on Jan. 19th, 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life, I’ll send you any one of my other ebooks free of charge. You can find them at this link to my book page. Here’s how you do it: place your pre-order and then email me at — pwmeier390 (at) gmail (dot) com — to tell me which ebook you want me to send you. Let me know if you want it as a PDF or as a gift from Amazon. That’s it. I’ll send your free ebook via email on Jan. 19th.

 

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Like Father, Like Son

 

John 1:1, 10-18

     Unlike Matthew or Luke, John was writing to both the Greeks and to the Jews. John was trying to combine something that was familiar to both of them as a common denominator. Both Jews and Greeks recognized that there was a force in the universe that held things together in an organized way, and that caused things to happen. The Greeks gave it the name, ‘the Logos’. When you translate ‘logos’ into English, it becomes ‘the word.’ (In Greek, logos also can be translated as “teaching.”)

     To the Jews, a word was a force that when you spoke it, it possessed energy. It went out and did something. It wasn’t some scribbling on a piece of parchment. When the word of the Lord came to someone, it was an energized thought spoken into the heart.

     When God spoke and said, “Let there be light”, the word went out and made light happen. To the Greeks, the Logos was the Wisdom of the universe that connected and held all things in place. To the Jews, the logos literally meant ‘the wisdom’ or the ‘activating energy of the universe.’

     John was telling the Greeks and Jews that this Word that both of them looked up to became flesh. And his name is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was the Word that possessed energy to bring harmony to the world. Jesus was the truth, the wisdom, and the activity of God.

     Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus identifies himself as this Force. He says, “I am the light of the world”; “I am the bread of life”; “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He said, “The Father and I are one”; and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (we are one and the same). Jesus is the revelation and truth about God in a form the world could see, hear, feel, and touch.

     I like John’s Christmas story best of the four Gospels. He tells it as directly as you can. And he tells it to both Jews and non-Jews. He said, the Word, the Wisdom of the Universe, the Creative Force that holds all things together, came into the world as a human being. God’s very self, heart and being, became flesh.

     That’s one reason the Jews were so upset and treated the first Christians so poorly. The Jews continued to believe in an image of God passed down for two thousand years. It was an image based on a God that had never been seen. Jesus said in so many words, “If you want to know what God is like and what God wants, look at me.” Like Father, like Son. If it’s true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, then Jesus is still upsetting a lot of apple carts.

     Trying to figure out religion by comparing the perspectives of different authors of the Bible who were writing to different audiences makes me want to be more like Charlie Brown in the cartoon that has Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy lying on a hillside looking up at the clouds. Lucy says, “If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you think you see, Linus?”

     Linus replies, “Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. The cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, a famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there gives me the impressions of the stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.”

     Lucy responds, “Uh, huh, That’s very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?” and Charlie responds with his typical note of inadequacy: “Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsy, but I changed my mind.”[1]  

     We can make cloud formations simple or complex. The Gospel writer John tried to simplify it. Jesus is the image of God. Jesus is the Wisdom of the Universe made flesh. He is the Mind and Heart and Fullness of God in a form we could see, and hear, and touch.

     Even St. Paul tries to get this across. In Colossians 1:15 &19 (NKJV), he said, “For he [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God… it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.” The writer of Hebrews (1:3, NKJV) says, “He [Jesus] is …the exact imprint of God’s very being…” Jesus doesn’t show us only the compassionate part of God. He is the fullness of God within the physical boundaries of matter and space.

     The Old Testament is the incredible witness of those who loved the God who was Unseen. And then they met God in human form. And the rest is history.

     My original concepts of God came from blending the two images of God – God was a loving God, but you’d better be careful around Him. God was a forgiving God, but don’t make the same mistake twice or you’ll make him angry enough to hurt you. Today, I have one image of God, a New Testament image shown in human form. Jesus shows all the good traits ascribed to God in the Old Testament and none of the punishing and vindictive traits.

     Jesus was clear in his claims about himself and his heavenly Father. He told his disciples, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” (John 14:7). Jesus liberates us from any fear we could have of a God who wants to hurt us if and when we fail. Jesus shows us a God who would rather die in our place than hurt us…a God of unconditional love and mercy. That’s the kind of God you could turn your life over to.

     In Jesus, we know the truth about the person and character of God. My hope is that you too will equate and connect, in a deep and personal way, the image of God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth with Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. The Word was made flesh. If you want to get to know the Father better, look at the Son.

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I’ve got a new ebook coming out on Jan. 19th – 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life. You can preorder it here for 99 cents!

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Also, if you’re interested in a more “New Year” kind of message, check out my other blog here.

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[1] King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com, “The Light Shines in the Darkness”

 

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Never Too Old

 

(A sermon I gave on Luke 2:22-40 that might offer some ideas for this Sunday, Dec. 28. Permission is granted to use any part of it – just make sure you use the citations for the non-original parts).

      I’m learning that the older I get, the more important it is to carry a pen and paper with me so I can write down what needs to be done. That way I’ll be more likely to get it done, because I’m not trying to ask my brain to remember more than it is already processing. My memory is great, but sometimes it’s takes a little longer to find what I know is in there. Some of you might know what I’m talking about.

     I found a poem on the internet that describes it in one way:

 Shall I? – Or – Have I?

 Just a line to say I’m living

That I’m not among the dead.

Though I’m getting more forgetful

And more mixed up in the head.

 

For sometimes I can’t remember

When I stand at foot of stair,

If I must go up for something

Or I’ve just come down from there.

 

And before the frig’, so often

My poor mind is filled with doubt,

Have I just put food away, or

Have I come to take some out?

 

And there’s times when it is dark out

With my nightcap on my head,

I don’t know if I’m retiring

Or just getting out of bed.

 

So if it’s my turn to write you

There’s no need of getting sore,

I may think I have written

And don’t want to be a bore.

 

So, remember…I do love you,

And I wish that you were here;

But now, it is nearly mail time

So I must say: “Goodbye Dear”.

 

Here I stand beside the mailbox,

With my face so very red,

Instead of mailing you this letter…

I have opened it instead….

Source Unknown.

 

happy anniversary     Old age is dreaded by almost everyone because it usually means a decline in one’s physical health. As it progresses, one loses the ability or desire to overcome some of those hurdles that are necessary to overcome so they can stay active, socially and mentally. Some people tend to lose their enthusiasm for life. It takes positive input and effort to keep that enthusiasm up. 

     History shows us that many people made some of their greatest contributions to society after the age of 65. At 69, Hudson Taylor was still opening up new territories in Indochina on the mission field. Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73. The Earl of Halsburg was 90 when he began revising a 20-volume set of English law. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is generally thought of as one of the most outstanding justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until he was 91. Two years later, President Roosevelt visited him and found him reading Plato. “Why?” FDR asked.  Holmes answered, “To improve my mind”.[1] At 93 he was seeking to improve his mind instead of making jokes about it that might lead one day to believing the jokes are true. (What you say is what you get.)

     When you look at these people, they continued to see important work to accomplish while they were here. Age didn’t diminish their opinion that they could make the world a better place. Retirement wasn’t an end to their contribution to life. Their work continued to fulfill what God had in store when He formed them in their mother’s womb. God never intends for us to retire from mental or spiritual activity or from bringing good into the world. The Bible says we can “still bring forth fruit in old age.” At a time when one’s wisdom from life experience has reached its peak, too many people decide they’ve done enough work, deciding they have nothing further to contribute. God has a worthwhile ministry for you as long as you are here.[2]

     It was Anna, the prophetess from our gospel lesson, that inspired this focus on old age today.  Anna, who had married young, lived with her husband only seven years before he died. From that point on, she leaned heavily on her God to care for her. The lesson says she never left the Temple, day or night. Wow. That’s pretty unusual. How does that apply to you and me? I wonder how ‘literal’ we have to be in the way we interpret what the writer wants us to know?

     I can imagine Anna was in the physical building of the Temple a lot, but to not leave it day or night makes me think she never let God out of her heart for a minute. Her heart was a permanent – a constant – dwelling place of the Almighty God. She never permitted anything else to take priority in her life. The peace and comfort of God was always with her, day and night, into and through her old age.

     Anna reminded me of two other stories in the Bible of elderly people that God had given a special task in their old age. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when God asked them to leave their homeland…and then at 100 & 90 yrs., to have and raise another child. That’s asking a lot! And Zechariah and Elizabeth, after her child bearing years were over, were given the opportunity to be parents of John the Baptist in their old age. Sometimes, that still happens today. Some people are asked to be parents in their old age. Many times they are grandparents who are given the opportunity to parent and influence their grandchildren. Imagine what God might have in store – to raise and be the positive influence on a child for whom God has an incredible plan. God always brings good out of the things He asks us to do.

      All this is simply to say, “God wants to use you, no matter how old or how young you are.” And God is able to use you, no matter how weak or small you think you are. For St. Paul said, ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.’ And he said, ‘whenever I am weak, I am strong.’ It’s when we recognize that we have no power of our own, it’s then that we recognize God is the one who multiplies bread to feed 5000, who calms the storms of life, who heals the sick, who comforts the hearts of those who grieve. We don’t have to have any strength to be God’s tool. It’s God who does the work. 

     You are never too young for God to use you. You are never too old for God to send you to help your neighbor, or welcome the stranger, or visit the sick. You only have to be willing to receive the gift of meaning and purpose for your life. Set a resolution or two for 2009 that you will pay attention to where God might want to use you to serve this year. Pray that God will teach you the blessing it is

to give of your time and talents and possessions in service to Him as you serve your neighbor. Let us give thanks to God for each day we are physically able to get up – and be of service to our neighbor. 

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[1] Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990.

[2] Adapted from Our Daily Bread.

 

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New Ebook – 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive

 

7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life     I have another ebook ready to be released in January (the 19th, to be exact) – 7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life. It’s a relatively short book – 43 pages, and deals with the topic of forgiveness.

     In it, you’ll find an expanded perspective of what it means to forgive and why it’s to your benefit to consider it. The word “forgive” has practical meanings beyond the religious undertones that tend to invoke guilt when you’re finding it difficult to let go of an offense.

     Emphasis is placed on the intentional effort invested in the process so you can move forward with your life. Yet it takes a special Power within you to initiate and fulfill the process of forgiveness. This information, with its comments and prayers, will teach you how to overcome wrongdoings and resentments so you can claim peace and joy in your life.

Topics covered:

How many ways are there to forgive?

What are the benefits of forgiving?

What about justice?

How do you forgive 70 x 7 times?

How do you forgive yourself?

How do you forgive those closest to you?

The Power from on High.

Is there life after forgiveness?

     The ebook is available for pre-order at this link.

     You may be wondering if there will be a hard-copy book of some of my newer releases. Well, maybe if I find some time to put it into a print format—which is time consuming. The reality is that ebooks are selling twenty to one times better. It’s easier to spend 99¢ to $2.99 on digital books than $6.95-12.95 for a printed copy. And most bookstores don’t like to carry anything that Amazon will benefit from (I use the Amazon printing service called CreateSpace).

     I’m not ruling out print copies. I just have more things to write that are waiting their turn.

     I am so very grateful for those who pre-ordered my last ebook – How to Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart and Change Your Life Forever. It really helped raise the awareness on Amazon and gave it a push. Thank you for trusting that it would be worth your 99¢—I hope it raised your awe and reverence for the God who brings peace on earth, good will toward all humankind.

     In line with the theme of that ebook, it’s an appropriate time of year—Christmas—to celebrate the One who came to reveal the truth about God to us.

     If you felt you got your money’s worth from that ebook, or any others, I think you’ll like this new one, too—7 Prayers for the Power to Forgive and Move Forward with Your Life. And I’d really appreciate your pre-order. Merry Christmas!

 

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