Monday, December 18, 2006

Does God say "Rebuke Those Sinners"?

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Today is a study on calling out other's sins... so many Christians insist that we are told to point out the errors of others...

'God tells us to do that!' 'God COMMANDS IT' 'WE MUST REBUKE THEM UNTIL THEY TURN AWAY FROM SIN!!!!!'

Yeah... um... not exactly.

John 4:4-9
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)


Here we have Jesus speaking with someone the Jews would normally avoid. Not only that, the woman had gone to the well at the sixth hour... alone. Drawing water was a social time back in those days, and all the women and young children would usually gather together earlier in the day, as was custom. This woman was obviously being shunned by the other women in her village. Yet, Jesus, a Jew, was asking a Samaritan for a drink of water. It's interesting to note that during that period of time, Jews did not even share vessels or dishes with Samaritans. It was simply a social no-no!


John 4:10-12
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

The Samaritan women is being a little snippy here, if not a little flirty... teasing Jesus, a Jew, about his lack of basket or bucket. She even chides him, asking if he is greater than Jacob of the OT.


John 4:13-14
Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


This is intriguing! Jesus is speaking of Salvation... eternal life through him. He is offering a sinner grace and it peaks her curiosity enough that she replies:

John 4:15
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

Now Jesus plays a little hard ball with her. (John 4:16) He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."

And she responds (John 4:17a) "I have no husband," she replied.

John 4:17b-18
Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."


Jesus has just pointed her sin. He did not point it out by citing passages from the Talmud that speak about marriage or prostitution. He didn't call her an outright sinner. He merely told her what she had done. The woman is amazed by this! He is a prophet?!

John 4:19-24
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."


Jesus does several things in that passage. The first thing he does is something he doesn't do. He doesn't harp on her sin. He placed conviction in her heart prior to his statement, and he allowed God to open her eyes. He does not continue to damn or judge her. Instead, he starts talking about the changes God has in store for humanity. He begins teaching her... not preaching at her... about the kind of worshipers that God is seeking. He speaks of spiritual matters. He knows that this woman has been shunned and damned by the people in the village. He knows how rough her life has been because of her sin. He doesn't want to cast her aside like they do. Instead, he wants her to know that God has plans in store. How beautiful is that message? Is it one we share with the sinners we meet in our own life?

John 4:25-26
The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."

His message of hope... a message of God's plans... opens her eyes to the Truth of who Jesus is. It is the perfect example of how a message of compassion and mercy can move a heart to see God. She is open to the message of Salvation... of eternal life. But...

John 4:27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?"

Hello... what happens? A group of Christ's followers approach and see that he is talking with a disgusting little Samaritan slut. Tsk! TRAMP! They don't say anything, but their looks must have been obvious as the bible records them as 'surprised to find him talking with a woman.'

John 4:28-30 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Let's look at this one clearly. As I said, the woman was shunned. She was at the well alone, long after the normal period of the day when people gathered at the well. She was a social outcast because of her 'sleeping around'. Yet, there she was, crying out to everyone in her village to come meet the man who told her everything she ever did. Some villagers may have scoffed, and others may have wondered... but, the truth is, they left the village and made their way towards Christ, just because the woman ran back there all excited about Jesus.

John 3:31-39
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat something."

But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about."

Then his disciples said to each other, "Could someone have brought him food?"

"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."

Jesus is speaking very clearly, although at first glance it may seem like he's just talking about food. He is actually urging his followers to look at the people, not a field. The sower sets the seeds in place, and the reaper harvests the grown wheat. He tells his disciples that he has sent them to harvest what they didn't plant. How many times have we convicted a sinner without knowing their past? How many times has God sent someone to plant the seed, and we have attempted to claim the glory for the finished work? God has planted many seeds, and those seeds have grown and become ripe. Why is this lesson in this passage? Let's look at what happened next. And remember, Jesus planted a seed by speaking to the woman at the well...

John 4:39-42
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."


The woman brought her village back to Christ, and because of that, more seeds were planted. She didn't run back to her village, break off her relationship immediately with her man, atone and cleanse herself. Nope. She was too excited! Instead, she ran back and said 'I am a sinner, and God has offered me eternal life!' The village came before Christ, listened to him, and urged him to stay with them for 2 days. They at first believed just because of what the woman said... she planted a seed!... but then they no longer believed it just because she said it, because they grew in their own spiritual walk through Jesus himself.



What does this story teach us?
First of all, it teaches us that we are not Christ... but we should try to reflect him. He gives us the formula for planting a seed. He does not launch into an instant 'DAMN YOU SINNER', but takes the time to speak with the woman as a human being. He then calmly points out her sin, but doesn't dwell on it. Instead, he talks to her about God.

Second, the woman runs to her village to lead people to Christ. She knows she has done sin, and knows she is shunned, yet Jesus mercy and kindness is so overwhelming that she puts aside all her fears and talks to the very people who shunned her so cruelly!

Third, Christ teaches us that we don't own the whole 'salvation' market. God sends many people to plant seeds. Just because we think someone can be harvested several months... or years... from now doesn't mean that we can claim glory for all the hard work. Further, we can't get so caught up in our own desire to 'convert someone' that we are blind to the fact that God may have planted a seed in that person, and made them a sower. What if the Disciples had condemned the woman for being a Samaritan? What if they had damned her for being a 'sinner' or an outcast? Do you think she would have run to her village with a heart on fire for the Lord? Do you think she would have planted seeds on her own? Had they damned her, she would have taken her water jar and left, and kept her mouth quiet, because her heart was hardened towards God. ALWAYS remember this lesson when you speak to people you assume are unforgiven sinners! The woman hadn't had time to change her ways, and God used her to sow seeds. Humbling, isn't it?

The final lesson is that she, a sinner, lead people to Christ. At first, they believed her only because of her passion. Once they came to know Jesus, they believed in him because of their own time with him. This is how hearts are turned to God.

We can not be Christ. We can not save anyone. We can gently correct, but before we correct, we have to take the time to talk to that person with respect and a little kindness. Once they express interest, we can gently tell them about an error... if God so opens our eyes to it... but we should never dwell on their sins. Don't you know that the world has already cast them aside because of sin? Don't you understand that your job is not to kill the soul, but to either plant the seed or help it grow? Everyone shuns... but hearts are moved when a message of promise is given. And so, we must be like the woman at the well. We must go out and share about Christ, speaking from our own personal experience. We can lead others to Christ when they see the transformation he does in us.

Second Timothy 3:16-17 states:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Please note... those two verses must always be read as one. Scripture is used to reach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness... God's righteousness... so that you can have a righteous heart when you go out to spread the Gospels. Scripture is meant as a personal teaching aide to keep us on the correct path. Jesus did not use Scripture to teach the woman at the well. He spoke to her freely, sharing mercy and the promise of Salvation.

A person is not a 'man of God' until that person has the seed planted. They can spend years in their newfound Christian walk learning about God's plans and will. As they grow in Christ, they begin to learn the lessons from Scripture... lessons meant to help them become righteous (not self-righteous). Ripping scriptures out of the bible and using them in an attempt to teach, rebuke, correct or train someone... before a seed is planted in that person... is just like a harvester coming along and trying to harvest an empty field. As you wave the scythe about, you scare off the sowers and the ground trampled beneath your feet becomes too hard for a seed to be sown. You do nothing but condemn a field to remain fallow.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Beatitudes, our instructions from Jesus Christ

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The Beatitudes

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What is a beatitude? Of course, it is a word easily associated with any of the declarations made in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:3-11, beginning with "Blessed are". But, it is also a state of utmost bliss (Latin, beatitudo.) When Jesus spoke these beatitudes, he was giving us the instructions for living in a state of utmost bliss, or peace. Many people can point to these verses and say 'I'm so there.' Unfortunately, they often miss the mark on the principles behind these wonderful verses.

What does it mean to be 'poor in spirit'? It doesn't mean lacking spirituality, or even downtrodden.... nothing negative Poor in spirit means humble. The humble shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Humility is the very first thing Christ speaks of, with good reason! Not all who cry out 'Lord, Lord' will be heard. It takes a humble heart to put one's self last and God first. It takes a humble nature to speak the words of the Lord without sounding self-righteous or patronizing. To be humble is to be neither proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive. A state of humbleness is a state of being where the person puts other people first, puts themselves in another person's shoes, and tries to have compassion for others. It is speaking to someone in a way that will not insult or be viewed as aggressive for the sole purpose of proving a point. The self-righteous say "you are a sinner! Repent!", while the humble says "We are all sinners, but God gives us Salvation."

Jesus says "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." There is no shame in mourning. To mourn is to show grief or sorrow. It does not have to be a display of grief usually seen at funerals. We can mourn the loss of a friendship. We can mourn that a person we love is going astray. We can mourn for just about anything... a humble person, who has compassion for those around them, is capable of feeling another's sorrow. When a Christian mourns, they often turn to prayer. And, through prayer, we do find comfort. Mourning is a sign of compassion.

"Blessed are the meek," Jesus continues, "For they will inherit the earth." Being meek is not the same as being humble! Meekness, although seen in modern times as a negative thing, is actually a very strong quality. Yes, it does mean to be without strength or violence, and it also means lacking courage. When Jesus used it, it was defining positive quality: enduring injury with patience and without resentment! Christ is urging us to endure things. To suck it up, and let it go. To take the abuse, threats, insults, and animosity... and then to let the feelings of bitterness and anger slip through our fingers like sand. Many people will hurt us in our lifetimes, but we can not hold a grudge against every person who harms us. Resentment eats away at us, holding us back from happiness. Once we turn over a new page and do away with resentment, we can inherit the bounty of the earth. For example, to be meek is to be someone who endures harassment in chat, and then forgives quietly, so that the next day, old bitterness is not brought up again (ps to that... using the ignore feature is not a sign of lacking courage... it is keeping yourself meek and humble, so that you are not tempted to throw aside the first three beatitudes and embark on a campaign of vengeance against those who hurt you.)

Jesus says "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Please note: it does not say self-righteousness, or blessed are the righteous. The righteousness we hunger for is not of this world. It is the hunger for God's righteousness. It is the desire to walk in that righteousness in our personal lives. It is not bringing God's righteousness to others, because we are, after all, human beings and not God. When we seek God's righteousness, we tend to live a life that is spiritually uplifting and positive. In return, God gives us spiritual wisdom and strength. We become a light of Christ at this point, having adopted these first few beatitudes in our daily living.

Jesus knew that living a good life would not be easy. He went on to say "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Sometimes we forget ourselves... we begin to think of ourselves as perfect people, and we forget that we are still, in the end, just humble sinners who have turned to God for Salvation. We are no better than anyone else... because we are human and prone to making mistakes. So, Jesus adds the "be merciful" at this point. We should always show others mercy. It ties in with being humble, and being meek. Showing mercy is not simply sparing someone from your sword tip. Showing mercy is showing compassion towards someone who offends you. It is also showing compassion to those in distress.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." How do we become pure in heart? The word pure means 'unmixed with any other matter'. If we allow God to rule our hearts, instead of our own issues, we find life becomes very peaceful. Do we hold grudges in our hearts? Do we hold envy? Are we proud? Are we self-centered? We can not shove God into a corner of our hearts, or out of our hearts, and still expect we will see him in heaven someday.

Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." No, this does not mean a peaceful person is a Christ. It does mean that we will reflect the light of Christ. We will reflect Christ's example. We will be God's children, obeying his laws and living a life that is wonderful, spiritually. I'm often asked how I could be friendly to a sinner, or why I don't bash a sinner for their sins. It is simple... I am a peacemaker, or I try to be. Only through peace can we gain understanding. To make peace, we have to have a humble heart, compassion for others, and a desire to keep God in our hearts. We may not 'convert' anyone to Christianity. We not even be able to convince someone they are in sin. But, we will leave an impression in their minds, and an impression in their hearts. To make peace we have to offer peace. To keep peace, we have to keep the beatitudes Jesus gave us as paramount in our daily lives.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is a biggie. Jesus does not say "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of self-righteousness!" nor does it say "Blessed are the Pharisee, who command the laws be followed while neglecting their own sins!" This verse does not mean we have unlimited license to debase, abuse, bash or torment people we think are in sin. It does not mean we can shred them with bible verses that say others are evil. It doesn't mean we can behave in God's place and judge. It says, very simply, blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. If you keep all the other beatitudes, you will be in righteousness (God's!)

Jesus ends the Beatitudes by saying, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Now, if you are acting like a total git, or Pharisee, and belittling folks in God's name, this verse does NOT apply to you. If you are hold a spiritual gun to someone's head, demanding they turn to Christ or else suffer your wrath, this verse also does not apply. When you act like an ass, people will respond back the same way. If you insult, you will be insulted. If you persecute, you will have every wrong thing you have ever done thrown back in your face. If you use Jesus to punish people because of their own sins (and forget that, by doing so, you are also in sin), you can't hold this last verse up as your saving glory and expect anyone to take you seriously. However, if you keep the other Beatitudes, follow them, live them, and show them, this verse does apply to you. A humble, compassionate person who seeks God's righteousness, while enduring hardships (by showing mercy instead of vengeance), will have a pure heart and be a true peacemaker, even though they are spit upon for all their efforts to follow the Beatitudes... this verse applies to them. Jesus could have just said that last, complex sentence, but instead, he took the time to spell it all out for us during his sermon.

Only one life will soon be passed. Only what's done for Christ will last. For me, to live, is Christ.


Matthew 5:1-11

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."





Tuesday, December 05, 2006

CASTING THAT FIRST STONE

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Jesus went to the mount of Olives, and early in the morning he came again into the temple. All the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him that had been accused of adultery. They placed her in front of him and said, "Master, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such a person should be stoned: but what do you say?"

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him (of breaking the Law.) But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he hadn't heard them. So when they continued asking him, he stood up and said to them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. Those that heard his words, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last. Jesus was left alone, and the woman was still in front of him.

When Jesus had stood up again, and saw none but the woman, he said to her, "Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?"

She said, "No man, Lord."

And Jesus said unto her, "Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more."
(John 8:1-11)

This passage is often overlooked, except for Jesus's last quote at the end. It's often interesting to see things in a new light...

The bible never does say what exactly it was that Jesus was writing. Once the woman was brought before him, he just stooped down and began to write in the sand. We do know that we wasn't drawing pictures. Yet, he spoke briefly, and continued to write. And, one by one, those guilty of their own sins crept away, leaving only the woman behind. Is it possible that Jesus was carefully writing out the sins of each man in that sand? Was there a message being carefully inscribed on the temple floor as a reminder to each accuser that no one was unblemished? Surely, if the men were with sin, they would boldly proclaim themselves to be free from the accusations of a rebel. They sought to entrap him, by giving him cause to denounce the Law. Yet, they leave... perhaps a bit unhinged that this teacher would know exactly what their sins were (yet, Jesus nor the bible reveal exactly what he wrote!)

And then we have the woman. Does Jesus speak to her as he did the woman at the well? Does he tell her sins out loud... or call her a sinner? No. He treats her with mercy. A very simple 'Go, and sin no more.'

We shouldn't be so quick to judge others, because clearly none of us is perfect. And, we shouldn't be so quick to judge in place of God! For God himself did not condemn the woman, but instead instructed her to cease in sinning. How many have you condemned during your lifetime, simply because you felt they were in sin? How many have you shown mercy towards, even though they were sinners?

Jesus does go on to say "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me." It is God's right to judge, and he judges our souls.

We, as humans, tend to judge others souls and body as one. We see someone who looks or acts 'like a sinner', and we... being human beings... don't have the divine ability to see that person's soul. We assume that, because we caught them in a moment of sin, it is our place to put them in their place... to stone them spiritually. Plus, we tend to hold past sins against them, even if God has forgiven them! It doesn't look very intelligent to stand before God, pointing a finger of shame at someone we think is a sinner, when our own sins are right in front of us. I'm pretty sure God would want to know why we were so busy judging others that we couldn't take time to correct our own sins.

(Picture via email. Artist unknown. This is a republishing of an earlier entry. I had a lot of email come in, asking when a new entry would be posted. I'm still on vacation, and summer is always hectic for me. I'll do my best to get something new posted by Sunday.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Chanukah!

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Thank you Aut...

What is Chanukah?

Chanukah means "Dedication / Lights". This is a winter festival that begins on 25th of Kislev and lasts for eight days.

Chanukah is the only ancient holiday that is not written in the (Protestant) Bible. The reason for this is because it took place in the year 165 B.C.E., although the events of Chanukah are described in books 1 and 2 of the Maccabees (which are found in the Catholic Bible).

Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the forces of Antiochus and the recapture of the Temple after a three-year battle. The story tells us when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple they only had one jar of oil that was sealed by the High Priests for lighting the menorah. This only had enough oil in it to last for one night but a miracle happened, the oil lasted for eight days, the time it took to purify new oil for the Temples needs.

Today we celebrate Chanukah by lighting lights on a Chanukiyah over eight days; during this time we also give gifts as well. For Jewish children this is a bit like Christmas but it is not to be confused with it.

Although we are told this is a minor festival, we should see it as a more important one as it tells us about the fight against Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, who tried to wipe out the Jewish people, this again can be seen as a attempt of ethnic cleansing. Buy celebrating Chanukah, lighting the candles and remembering the struggle of the Maccabees we can reflect on the true meaning of the festival. That is the re-assertion of our Jewish faith in a world full of anti-Semitism.



The following article was written for and appears in the December Issue of Sussex Jewish News

MAH CHANUKAH? - WHAT IS CHANUKAH?

We all think we know the answer to this question. But it isn't as straight forward as it seems. Not only do different texts provide different answers, but the meaning of Chanukah has been different at different times and in different places. What meaning does Chanukah have for us here (in Britain) and now?

The rabbis of the Talmud were the first to ask, 'Mah Chanukah?' (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 21b). More than 650 years after the event, were they enquiring about what had happened then, or were they taking the opportunity to offer a new explanation? Another generation of sages, around three hundred years earlier, had pronounced that at Chanukah mourning was forbidden for eight days (Megillat Taanit, 'Scroll of Fasts', 9). Quoting this prohibition, the Talmud goes on to echo a comment on the passage in the Scroll of Fasts: When the Hasmoneans re-took the Temple, they found only one day's supply of oil - but 'a miracle happened', and it lasted for eight.

Interestingly this miracle story does not appear in the two Books of the Macabbees, which tell the story of the struggle against the Syrian Greeks - and the eight day re-dedication of the Temple. Interestingly although these books read like straightforward historical narratives, the sages responsible for finalising the Canon of the Bible two thousand years ago, decided not to include these works in the Bible.

Maccabees II relates: 'They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing in the manner of the Feast of Sukkot, mindful of how but a little while before at the festival of Sukkot they had been wandering about like wild beasts in the mountains and caves' (10: 6). Apparently, Chanukah was, simply, a belated Sukkot celebration. So why didn't the rabbis acknowledge the Books of the Macabbees, and what's all this about the miracle of the oil? 'Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit says the God of Hosts' (Zechariah 4:6). The Haftarah the rabbis selected for reading on Shabbat Chanukah says it all: Rather than glorifying the fighters, the rabbis chose to present the victory as God's work.

The sages regarded Chanukah as a time to recall how God's spirit brought the religious heart of the people back to life. So, what is the meaning of Chanukah for us? Like the Christian festival on which contemporary Chanukah celebrations seem to be modeled, Chanukah has become more than a little materialistic. Of course, the rigours of the dark cold days of winter in Northern Europe demand, quite rightly, that both Christians and Jews alike create oases of warmth and light. Our material needs for comfort are very real. But our souls, too, need to be nurtured. Without rejecting the material dimension of Chanukah, like the rabbis before us, we, too, might ask, Mah Chanukah? Perhaps, as we light the candles each evening, celebrating Chanukah might be an opportunity for exploring ways of re-igniting the sparks within us.

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah

Friday, October 13, 2006

Military Chaplains

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I noticed Debra J.M. Smith had the audacity to attack military chaplains recently. Of course, she is clueless as to what the MOS of a chaplain actually is. I'm going to take a moment to let you peak into their world...

Most people hear the world chaplain and think of a certain character from M*A*S*H. That character, who happened to be a Catholic chaplain, pretty much sums up what chaplains do during times of war.

A military chaplain is not just some preacher in uniform. Not only do they see to the spiritual needs of the troops around them, but they also function as non-combatants. They tend to the wounded, they help keep troop moral up, they function as counselors, they are the military's link with International Red Cross... which means that if you need to go home because your wife is having a baby, or if your spouse is a POW the chaplain can help your packages reach him... and they performs a variety of clerical duties. The chaplain also maintains the lists of those who are dead and wounded, and they might be the only person your loved one has to pray over that fallen soldier at the time of his death.

Now a days, chaplain is also a spiritual leader. The modern employment of chaplains is not in violation of the Constitution, because the separation of church and state is still present. A chaplain is not in the chain of command at all. If a chaplain colonel (a rank only) and an infantry 2nd lieutenant are the two surviving officers in an infantry unit, the 2nd lieutenant is in charge. The chaplain has no command duties whatsoever. The chaplain does not expect to even protect himself in combat, nor is he asked to serve his country with a gun (he may have a chaplain's assistant, who can carry a gun to protect the chaplain.)

A chaplain can be of any denomination, and any faith, and is trained to administer to troops of all faiths. In other words, a Catholic chaplain has no problems or issues with helping a Islamic chaplain, and if the Islamic chaplain needs help administrating to a Catholic troop, he can contact the Catholic chaplain, who can relay instructions to him. Chaplains of all faiths work together in the Chaplain Corps for the betterment of the troops.

This inept blogger goes on to say "Most true Christians would not want a military chaplain that prays to a 'catch all' god. But what many are not realizing is that some chaplains 'pray' in a false name of Jesus. Just because a chaplain says he is praying in Jesus' name, does not mean he is praying in the real Jesus' name." First of all, this statement shows how clueless this blogger is in matters of military procedure. I am certain she has never served her country in that capacity, nor does she know any heroes (military personnel.) ALL chaplains are ordained ministers of their faith (preachers, fathers, imams, rabbis, etc.) If a Christian soldier has only an Islamic or Jewish chaplain, that chaplain will encourage that soldier according to that soldier's belief system. The chaplain will further offer to put the soldier in touch with a chaplain of his (the soldier's) own denomination. If the soldier requests prayer, the chaplain will either pray with the soldier (in this case, he will pray to God.) A Jewish chaplain will not pray 'in Jesus name', but he certainly will say 'in God's name'.

A chaplain is a chaplain. Not all chaplains are Christian, just as not all soldiers are Christian. The title of chaplain is a MOS. An MOS means a Military Occupational Specialty, and it is for officers only. Again, the person is ordained in their faith.

The position of chaplain as it is today was not around in James Madison's time. You can see what the Army Chaplains are about at

GoArmy.com > Army Chaplain Corps > Overview. Each branch of service has a Chaplain Corps, except the Marine Corps (which use Navy Chaplains.)

I find her half-truths and lack of research disgusting. She claims herself to be a 'nondenominational' Christian. I question that she is Christian at all, for her bigotry towards our men in uniform and those that support them, leads me to believe that she has never taken the time to think outside of the sheltering box she thrives in. Bigoted points of view have no place in society. Her attacks on chaplains and other groups can be viewed at http://www.debrajmsmith.com/.

Update 10/15/06: I do find it amusing that people assume that I wrote this as a personal attack on Ms. Smith. This entire post is a clarification of what a military chaplain does, as well as how it is possible to have chaplains of all faiths. In a time when our military men and women need the support of our citizens, we do not need bigoted speech thrown at the one inner support system available to those troops in the Middle East. Ladies and Gentlemen, it's not all about Ms. Smith. Please forgive me for having to add these paragraphs as clarification. I am guessing that Ms. Smith's camp lacks reading comprehension, as they have elected to overlook the clarification of the MOS of a chaplain, and have turned this into a petty "Ms. Smith - Madison War". Considering that they have not bothered to read any of my bible devotions, I find their efforts to turn this into an attack on Ms. Smith laughable.

Ms. Smith should realize that, by posting misconcepts of this modern MOS, she opens herself up for correction. Since this is my personal blog, I will gladly post that clarification of the MOS as well as my opinion on her lack of knowledge of what that MOS is. I do not care if she has an opinion on the separation of Church and State. My correction is due to her statement, which is quoted above. Ms. Smith has long been known as being nondenominational herself, and intolerant of denominations in general. Perhaps she has assumed that all military chaplains are Roman Catholic, a denomination she takes great delight in abusing on her blog. As I stated above, chaplains are of all denominations and faiths. It might surprise her to know that there are nondenominational Christian chaplains as well. A chaplain who prays "in Jesus' name" is praying to the real Jesus. A chaplain who does not belong to a faith that believes in Jesus as we do in our own faith ("born agains", Christians etc.) ... such as a Jewish or Muslim chaplain... will inform the troop of that, but he will offer to pray to God on behalf of that soldier. If a chaplain is Buddhist, they offer a compassionate ear, but will not go against their own doctrine and pray to a god or God that they do not represent. A military chaplain does not insist (and can not insist) that a soldier from another faith convert to the chaplain's own. I restate: a chaplain of another faith will network with the chaplain corps in order to find a means to best provide for the soldiers in need of spiritual help.

One last tidbit: a military chaplain can refuse a direct order if it goes against his doctrine. God is put above the desires of generals and wars. A chaplain may be in the military, but he is separated by the cloth.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Prophets

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Today was a study on prophets, and upon the message God sends with them. Prophets were a frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, and looking at many of the stories, we can see that, often, the Word is not easy to share. The Word can be heavy, and in times of burden, it is so much easier to remain carefree and light humored. Yet, we must respond when God calls upon us to do our work.


The Calling of a Prophet
Ez 2:2-5 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.' And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.

Ezekiel was called by the Lord to travel to the Israelites, who at the time had turned away from God's laws. God had put it upon him to enter a strange land and tell the inhabitants that they were in the wrong. God did not tell Ezekiel exactly what to say, as far as judgement of them, but he did leave him the instruction to say to them "This is what the Sovereign LORD says." God also reminded Ezekiel that the people may or may not listen to him at all, but at least they would know, by his words, that Ezekiel was a prophet.

How often we find ourselves in the same struggle. We know that, in our hearts and minds, that God would want us to speak up about what is right and wrong as far as the actions (or inactions) of others are concerned. We can point to our bibles and quote scripture, but truly, it may not make any difference. As a prophet, our job is difficult, as our message may fall on deaf ears. God told Ezekiel that he would face this challenge, and He did not tell Ezekiel that He, God, would be too upset with him if the people refused to listen. The expression "pearls before swine" comes to mind at this point. If we speak with the authority of the Lord (and not out of our own desire to be seen as a great prophet), then people will recognize us for what we are. They may not listen, but they will know in their hearts.


The Key to being a good Prophet
Paul ponders the ramifications of being called as a prophet in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:7-10). He tells them "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

God is infinitely intelligent. He understands the pride human hold in their hearts. Paul's own prophetly pride was kept in check by God. The Lord had given him powerful insight into things, and the people were in awe of Paul, yet God made certain that Paul's own pride was tempered with humility. Three times, the Lord caused Paul to be reminded of just exactly who he was, and He instructed Paul to pay attention to these lessons. God told Paul "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." What God was saying was very simple: all that you are, every gift you have, comes from Me. Because of Paul's continued humility, God was able to work through him. The more Paul accepted his weaknesses and shortcomings, the more God worked through him. When Paul encountered hardships and taunts, he did not turn aside from his work, but used them to find a greater strength in the Lord.

How did Paul know that his words were from God, and not from his own ego or desire to be superior? Paul tempered every action with humility. Paul put his full trust in the Lord, and allowed himself to be an instrument. There are many people who claim to be prophets of the Lord - everything from TV evangelists to the strange men who stand on street corners proclaiming "the end is near!" - yet, falling back on Ez 2:2-5, we can tell if someone is a true man of God and a prophet just by what they proclaim. When it is from the heart, filled with humility and love, and when the speaker shares the Word out of a desire to better those around him (while he, the prophet, becomes only more humble), the words are true. This is often the greatest test! Anyone can proclaim the Word, but when insulted or taunted, the speaker will take one of two actions: he will become more humble, admit his own shortcomings gladly, and continue to teach those around him of God's will and mercy... or he will cast his message aside, bring up his fists (or sharpen his tongue) and begin to attack back because his ego is offended.


The Prophet in Everyday life
Anyone can go to foreign nations and preach the Word. The most difficult obstacle is bringing the Word to everyday life. Jesus encountered this in His own ministry on earth. He had returned to His hometown, to find the reception less than illustrious.

In Mark 6:1-6, we read "Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith."

This does not mean that Jesus was not who He was. What he probably encountered were the people He had known for most of his life. An older man could have snorted and said, "I remember when you were just a lad, only 3 feet tall!" A woman could have said, "I saw you going to the market with your mother every day!" These people knew Jesus, not as a prophet or God, but as the man (or boy) He was before His ministry began. They could not break away from their preconceived notions of Him. They were offended to think that Jesus, the son of a simple carpenter, was anything other than Jesus, the son of a simple carpenter.

Jesus, on his own behalf, recognized the limitations of the people's ability to accept things. Like Ezekiel, He faced the challenge of having his message fall upon deaf ears. He did do His best, but their lack of faith in Him prevented them from seeing Him for who He really was. He could cure a few, but they would never honor him as a 'true prophet' because they could not overcome their own mind set.

One of the best gifts God gives us is our faith. The best gift we can return to Him is trust. The people Jesus met in His hometown could not put their faith in Him, and thus they were unable to trust in the Lord. They may have accepted the Truth down the line, but by then it was too late for them to sit and listen to His Words. He was killed, and rose again, and returned to the Heavens - they missed out on a good opportunity to hear, firsthand, the Message God had sent.


What does it take to do God's work?
It is never easy to do God's work. We find ourselves up against all sorts of obstacles. We set off in one direction, only to find that God has moved us to a new pathway according to His will. My priest reminded us of this today, during his wonderful homily. He reminded us that Mother Teresa probably never realized as a young girl that she would one day travel far from Europe and settle in the middle of poverty, just to help ease the burdens of the starving children around her. Rosa Parks probably never realized on that wonderful day when, having worked long hours in a hot factory - and just wanting to sit down on the bus and rest her weary body - that she would breathe life into a movement that sought equality for all people, no matter their skin color. We never know what direction God will send us in.

Sometimes it only takes a simple action to get us going. Sometimes it only takes Trust in the Lord that all things will turn out right. Often, it is the willingness to accept our shortcomings and open ourselves up to being humble before the Lord.


The Prophet's mission
Doing God's work is the most rewarding thing you will ever undertake. You may not become famous like Mother Teresa or Rosa Parks. No one may acknowledge you for the good that you bring to the world, but God will bless you for it with renewed faith in Him, with mercy, and with grace. We are called, each of us, to be prophets to the lands. We are called to bring the Message of the Gospels to the world. The Word is not easy for some people to digest, and we will often meet with resistance, yet we foster this burden gladly, for we can rest assured that, although we thing that our words fall upon deaf ears, the people may look back and give what we say some consideration after we have moved on.

We are not charged by God to damn all those around us. God does not need us beating people into submission. Instead, we are to share the promise of Salvation. We are to lead by example, admitting when we are weak and praising God for giving us strength. When we try to speak with the Authority of God, we can only succeed at it when we speak with the Authority of the Holy Spirit working through us. We can not speak with that Authority when we allow our own faith to stagnate. Nor can we speak with any Authority when our words spring from our own desire to be seen as Holy by those we speak with.


A final reflection
Paul gives this insight in Acts 20:28-32: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

God's Elect - or just a Hypocrite?

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I've been doing some thinking about hypocrites this week. I think it has something to do with a certain chat room (which I avoid like the plague most of the time.)

You see, there is a group - they call themselves "God's Elect" - no, not our Jewish brothers and sisters - I mean those Christians who spend their days looking for faults in others so that they might built up their own appearances as God's children. To them, there is no mercy for the homosexuals, divorced, Mormons or Catholics. God does not love sinners, according to them, nor does He listen to their prayers (which is fairly stupid to assume - how would anyone be able to ask Jesus into their heart if God doesn't listen to the prayers of sinners?)

This group, "God's Elect" appears outwardly to be Christian in nature. They spew forth bible verses, hurling quotations almost as soundly as they hurl snide remarks about other chatters. This gave me reason to question exactly what the bible says about pharisees (spiritual leaders appointed by committees of friends who, for lack of better definition, embody the role but not the fellowship - they don't walk what they talk.)

I can cite various verses from the Holy Bible (I believe a study on the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector has already been done here.) Rather, I choose to refer to Christ's teachings concerning the End Time (ala "You don't know when it will happen, so shut up already - you are not SUPPOSED to know when it will happen, so try not to make an ass of yourself while spewing forth false prophecy.)

Matthew 14:45-51 NIV
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

A particular part of that passage always comes to mind when I see a Christian attacking another. "he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards." The person, thinking they are more holy than the fellow next to him, attacks. This form of attack is usually verbal, complete with damnations, curses, name-calling, and mockery. Snide comments, alluding to another person as "not having Jesus", and general jackass behavior seem to prevail. Those who mock the sinners ("sinners" defined as being anyone who doesn't agree with the attacker's methods) should take note: they now fit the second part of this verse - they stoop to the level of real sinners. By attacking other Christians (in a ay that attempts to portray the attacker as God's Elect, or more holy than the next fellow), they remove themselves from fellow servants (the body of Christ) and cavort with "drunkards" (sinners, or people with no self-control and no heart-felt desire or ability to refrain from offending God.)

These "Elect" will often browbeat to the point where others respond back in a none-too-polite manner, at which point the Elect profess that they are being attacked on behalf of Jesus Christ himself. Woe is me! I suppose they have not had an opportunity to read Job 17:8-10, which states: "Upright men shall be astonished at this, and the innocent shall stir up himself against the hypocrite. The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. But as for you all, do ye return, and come now: for I cannot find one wise man among you." I suppose in the great scheme of things, those self-appointed Elect do not realize how foolish they sound when they attack others. Proverbs 11:9 clearly states that "A hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered."

Part of the problem is jealousy. The "Elect" see a Godly person, and that seems to bother them. They look for any fault they can find. If the person is fat, they mock their weight. If they are bald, they mock the lack of hair. And, if the person is beautiful physically, they attack their words and family. How shameful. Jealously is coveting what you don't or can't have. The Holy Bible speaks very clearly on how wrong it is to covet!

It is ironic to me that the very verse used to "bash" sinners includes the sin of jealousy and a coveting nature... greed. Mark 7:20-23 says, "He (Jesus)went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' " What was that? Evil thoughts include: greed, malice, deceit, envy, slander, and arrogance! To hear it told, the only sins that are bad are sexual immorality and adultery or lewdness. I propose this: any man who strikes another out of envy or arrogance, or who seeks to deceive or slander others - these things are unholy and those who do them are the true goats.

Having stated that, I can say that I am not perfect, and when pushed hard enough I do respond in an unkind manner. However, I can stop and rethink my actions, and admit that I fall short. Many refuse to do this, and continue on, blindly, in their attempt to appear holy. Appearances can be deceiving.

I leave you with this last thought: Mark 7:6-8 Jesus replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." Not "traditions" as in doctrinal. Far from it. "Traditions" as in the attitude that is prevalent with some Christians, fostered by a false love of being godly and fed by the wells of ego and self-righteousness.

Annie's The Benedict Notes

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The Benedict Notes - I thought I'd direct you over to Annieelf's site, to an article entitled: Benedict's evolving thought on evolution. Good stuff!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Psalm 37... Fretting Into Wickedness

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I had three people ask me to look at Psalm 37 of David, and to share my personal study of it. No one has ever asked me to do that before, and I'm not going to hesitate and say 'no'... and I appreciate your confidence in me. I just hope I don't 'blow it'. lol

I have studied this one before, using the KJV, NIV and St. Joseph's editions, and found the NIV version to be the most beneficial for a general study.

Before we launch into the whole thing, we need to consider the basics. The 'wicked' David speaks of are not 'just evil people'. They are not 'just sinners', or perceived sinners. The wicked, in David's time, were those who would not align themselves with God, those who set out to purposely destroy David and his people, those who were vicious in nature, those who were disgustingly unpleasant, and/or those who went beyond responsible limits on things. Let's not forget, Jesus called the Pharisees wicked, as well.

An evil person is one who is morally reprehensible (sinful), and their actions are evil if they arise from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. Even God-fearing Christians can be 'evil' in their actions, when those actions intend to bring harm to others for the benefit of personal glorification of the person doing those actions.

In the first few verses of Psalm 37, David tells us "Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away." He is advising us to not get upset when people do things to us... Jesus drives this home when he speaks of loving your neighbor and not returning an eye for an eye. If someone gets away with hurting us, we should not allow ourselves to stoop to their tactics... eventually, the one that harmed us will wither and die away. At the least, we can pray that their attitude itself dies away, to be replaced with a heart for God.

David then speaks of how we can best remain firm in the Lord. He points out that we must "Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture." Again, David drives home the fact that we should not return evil for evil, but remain anchored in God, and in his message. If we strive for this, and, as David says, " Delight yourself in the LORD", "he will give us the the desires of your heart." What should our heart's desire be? Revenge? Pain to our enemies? Healing? Hope? Forgiveness? Or perhaps our heart's desire should be to "trust in the Lord and do good!"

It's hard to allow our ego to calm down and realize that God is there to help! David continues with this next advice to us, which is "Commit your way to the LORD!" If we place our trust in him, he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." This is the classic LET GO AND LET GOD. You can not make yourself appear Holy. That is God's ability to do. If we stand firm in our trust of the Lord, and commit ourselves to him, God will reveal your righteousness in him shine brightly. This small verse is perhaps one that many of the Pharisees of Jesus' day just didn't understand. The Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts... he guides us with the right things to say to another who has harmed us. When we 'let go and let God', our words to that person are not ones filled with hatred, bitterness, or evil. We have no need to prove our righteousness to man, because God proves it without us having to do a thing.

It's not an easy thing to do! David fully realized that, having lived through it! We are tempted to throw our hands up and say, "Yeah, David, whatever. How can we even begin to follow your advise?"

David was a clever man. He never gave advise without expanding upon it. He answers our questions in the next few verses with simple, down to earth common spiritual sense.

"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him," advises David. "Do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes." Step back, allow it to slide off you, and refer back to the 'Trust in God' part.

"Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evil." David mentions several times that we are not to fret... we are not to allow our indignation over the actions of others upset us to the point where we are tempted to avenge ourselves. Remember, God avenges in part by revealing the righteousness within us. Nothing we say or do that is revengeful will allow that righteousness to shine through. Why? Because we will appear just as evil as the ones who attacked us! We become just as evil as they are!

David warns that our falling into that evil mind set is a bad idea. He tell us "For evil men will be cut off," removed from God's presence, and cast aside. However, "those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land."

An interesting thought I have about the next few lines has always stuck with me... was David speaking of the gates of hell, or was he speaking of our actions (through our Trust in God to handle things) helping bring an end to wicked actions? "A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace." Jesus reminded us over and over that wicked actions do not mean wicked souls. People can change. If we take pains to forgive them, and we don't fret constantly over a past harm, it is possible that this person might come to see the righteousness of God through us. If we don't trade evil for evil, this person might begin to understand the mercy of Christ through us.

David spent time telling us not to fret, and then he begins this lovely rant about wicked people... he goes off on a tangent, and seems to tack a bunch of warnings onto his psalm. The verses above warn us that fretting leads to evil. What happens when evil people do evil things... what happens when we cease to trust in God and take matters into our own hands by replaying harm with harm?

"The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming." Yes, this is true. However, if we have fallen into the trap of fretting, we are no better than the ones who hurt us, and we fall under this biblical reprimand! We all have the ability to be savage towards others, to offend out of a false sense of pride (instead of trusting God and having faith in him to handle things), and to go beyond reasonable limits!

"The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken." If we judge someone as a sinner, and they do evil unto us, wouldn't it be a fair statement that they are needy? That they need the strength of a spiritual walk with God? They ways may not currently be upright, but the POTENTUAL is there. I'm sure this is not what David meant in these verses, but it is an interesting thought, when applied to the teachings of our Lord Jesus. I also look at it as, well... you wouldn't have a wicked person doing evil things to you to the point that you fret if you just kept your mouth shut and didn't judge them in the first place. God knows who the wicked are. Just because we think we know does not mean that we really know. Had you stood in the temple commons on the day Jesus drove the animals away, would you have mistakenly judged his anger as unrighteous because you didn't stick around to hear him speak afterwards? Would you have stoned the women before you saw what Jesus wrote in the dirt? Would you have clapped at the suffering of the thief on the cross if you had not heard what he whispered to Christ as they both hung there that day? Quick judgement is evil itself, in that it only serves to boost up your own sense of personal righteousness and pride.

David continues with "Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous." So what if an wicked person is popular, or has good clothes, or lives in a nice house? Who cares if they eat at banquets daily? It doesn't matter. The Lord is the Lord, and those who trust in the Lord do not want for anything. He provides a bounty that the wicked will never understand, and the first glorious course is peace... and freedom from fretting over wicked people!

"The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever."... an early taste of Salvation there. "In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish; vanish like smoke." This pretty much speaks for itself.

David tosses in "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off." Borrow what? To borrow and not repay is stealing. An old priest once told me the answer was 'glory'. The wicked borrow the glory from God, and do not repay it to him, while a Godly man give glory to God so generously that the Lord blesses him on a constant basis.

"If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand." We don't have a one-sided walk with God. When we strive to walk with him, he walks beside us and keeps us going. It doesn't say we will never stumble... but when we do stumble, God is there. It goes back to the 'trust in God' part, yet again.

And now we come to blessings: "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed. Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off; the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever."

David then explains how we will know the revealed righteousness, by saying "The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip." Can any of us honestly say we have not fretted over the deeds of another? To fret is human, but to pursue that desire to fret is wrong. Anyone who allows words of hate, anger, viciousness or revenge to come out of their mouths is not righteous, but wicked.

The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the LORD will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial." In other words, and I have seen this many times in daily life, don't sit there waiting for someone to come into a room, just to attack them with an onslaught of bible verses, condemnation, or gossip. It is in God's hands. You are meddling in God's affairs. It's up to God to punish them, to bring them down, not you. The wicked are there, and if you trust in God, they can not harm you. Do not seek to harm them. Simply carry out your daily actions, and allow the righteousness to shine through you. You don't have to preach at them, hurl stones at them, or do anything to them... because God is in charge, and only God knows in what ways he is moving their hearts towards him. If you must give in to the urge to fret over them, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. It is possible that God intends to use you to minister to them, even if it is only planting a tiny seed and moving on, but unless you are totally unified with the Holy Spirit, all you do is behave like the Pharisees of old, which may hinder the work God is trying to have done in their lives.

"Wait for the LORD and keep his way," command David, "He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found." Again, David is simply reaffirming what he has said earlier in this chapter.

"Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off." Don't allow your fretting to cause you to be one of those sinners!

"The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him." David ends with yet another reminder to trust in the Lord.

In a nutshell: you become wicked when you take righteousness into your own hands. Don't fret when wrongs are done to you, because your trust in God will get you through it. Allow God to take control... let go and let God do his business.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Christian Unity

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Romans 15:1-7 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good to edification (build him up.) For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.



The Scriptures Paul writes about are not our 'modern bible'. They are the Jewish texts, and the other letters being written at the time. I don't mean to shock anyone... but the bible was not 'mysteriously' written by unknown authors! The NT is filled mainly with letters to the early church. The books are named after the letter's recipient, in most cases. Even Timothy did not write the book of Timothy... it was a letter written TO Timothy by Paul.

All these books of the NT... letters to Romans, and Thessalonians... are nothing more than someone reaching out to edify, or build up, the writer's 'neighbor'. They were not written in a smug fashion, or as a means of insulting someone. They were written for the purpose of guidance for the early church leaders and teachers. They teach patience, and encourage the reader to strengthen his or her own spiritual walk with God. They are scripture in their own right. (Scripture doesn't just mean our own Holy Bible. Scripture can also be a body of writings that are considered sacred or authoritative... the Jewish Talmud is also Scripture under this definition.)

So, over 2000 years later, we are still addressing a problem that Paul pointed out in Romans... unity. Paul urges us to accept one another so that we can praise God in one accord. I'm guessing that feeling of 'I know more than you, get behind me Satan, you stupid liar' was around back in his day, too. Hundreds of letters were written by the early Apostles in an attempt to stop the church from straying too far from the message Jesus brought us. People began to interpret things on their own, without understanding the whole message behind it. A lot of poor attitude was going around, with people been abused for the benefit of the preachers.

Today, we can apply Paul's lesson to our lives. We can fall back on our bible, scriptures in letter form to the early church, for inspiration. It helps to read the whole book, instead of plucking out a single verse. The authors took great pains to say something, and then (much like this post) clarify what they are saying in later verses. The verses I have posted at the beginning of this email are a prolog toward Paul's message of spreading the word of God to the Gentiles. They are a stern reminder that we need to have unity, and that we need to reach out to our neighbors with support, instead of tearing them down for being different. Paul goes on to say that Jesus told us that our insults to others would be seen as insults to him. He ends this passage with the word 'accept'... reminding us that Jesus accepted us just as we were, and that we must do the same. He doesn't say Jesus accepted our sins and told us to continue. He doesn't say Jesus accepted us and then told us to go to hell. He says "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Don't push your brethren aside just because you disagree on doctrine. Strengthen your brother or sister in Christ, with words to build up their faith in God, so that, together, you both may bring praise to God.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Seek Ye First

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Have you ever spent the day with a song stuck in your head? I've had one of those days... woke up with it firmly playing in my brain. Of course, when we get these melodies rattling around, it's usually not the entire song, but just a few sound bites. In my case, it was the first stanza... over and over, with the mental image of the music sheet and notation for cello.

Well, if it's there, you might as well plug into it and allow the Lord to work through it. Thus... "Seek Ye First", which I believe was a 1970's Christian classic... at least, I can still picture those words off the sheet... by Karen Lafferty.


Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Man shall not live by bread alone
But by every word
That proceeds from the mouth of God
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

If the Son shall set you free
Ye shall be free indeed
Ye shall know the truth, and it shall set you free
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Let your light so shine before men that they may see
Your good works and glorify
Your Father in heaven
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart
He shall direct thy paths
In all thy ways acknowledge Him
Hallelu, Hallelujah!



Other than being a fantastic song for Communion (our tiny choir hummed it at mass several weeks ago)... it really does speak to the heart. It flows like a Psalm of David. It teaches, even though many people never really pay attention to the wording, or bother to sing it all the way through. I'm not a fan of Christian radio stations, so I can't really say if this oldie but goodie gets much air time anymore, but really, it is a pleasing (to God) song with a valuable message.

We are to seek God in all things, depending upon him for our daily needs. When we seek his kingdom and righteousness, instead of trying to make our own righteousness, we find that God provides both. We can't live on our own egos, either. We have to rely upon our faith in the Lord, and the Holy Spirit, to keep our walks straight.

When times are troubled, and we find ourselves lacking, we need only ask the Lord for help. He will answer us. If we seek him, he will reveal himself to us. We just need to humble ourselves and knock upon his door. Like the parable of the Prodigal Son, our Father will rush towards us, wrapping us in an embrace, no matter how grizzly we look or how horrible we have been. Such is the mercy of God.

Jesus suffered and died so that our sins may be forgiven. He rose again to show the world the promise of that Salvation. God can not die. God is eternal, powerful and victorious. Once we have been given that freedom, God will never take it away from us. We will have that Truth until such a time as we decide, of our own free will, to turn away from it. The Truth, Salvation, does set us free. It is a wonderful feeling, to be cleansed by the Lord, and made anew.

Once we have embraced the Father, we can not keep that good feeling to ourselves. This doesn't mean we need to run out and give Salvation to others... we can not save anyone... we can only plant the seed (remember, it is Jesus that gives Salvation!) But, God charges us to go forth and spread his Good News. We are to be a beacon for others... the Light of Christ shining outward. Our words and actions should be for God. This doesn't mean adding 'Jesus' to every sentence we say. It doesn't mean judging others to see who lacks Jesus. It means that we are to be an example to the world. We have been given freedom, and it is only through the Grace of God that we are blessed. If others see our peace and joy, they may just ask us how they can obtain that feeling for themselves. Fellow Christians can see our walk and be re-inspired in their own walks. United through Christ, Blessed with Salvation, we are one body, one breath, one heart dedicated to the Lord.

Trust in the Lord, always, even when you feel you can't continue. He will direct you, lead you, and uplift you, now and for the rest of your days.


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Saturday, July 29, 2006

A One Book Meme, tagged by Moneybags.

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A One Book Meme, tagged by Moneybags.

These are genuinely fun, especially since you get to peek into someone's life and get to know them a bit better!


1. One book that changed your life:
Diary of Saint Faustina Kowalska. It's the foundation for those who pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. A real inspiration!

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
There are really too many to list!

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Bible

4. One book that made you laugh:
War and Peace (seriously)

5. One book that made you cry:
Diary of Anne Frank

6. One book that you wish had been written:
The Intelligent Person's Guide to Dummys.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Harry Potter - gut oder böse, by Gabriele Kuby

8. One book you’re currently reading:
I'm working my way through the R.A. Salvatore series this summer, for kicks.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Pope Benedict XVI has a book published called The Europe of Benedict, in the Crisis of Cultures. It is a 152 page book written from 1992 to current times, right before he was elected Pope. The publisher Cantagalli Publishing does not know when an English translation will be available... so I will have to wait to read it.


TAG. If you blog, then post your own One Book Meme.

Captured Me: Sunday Scribblings - My Two Cents

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I wanted to share this link with you today. captured me: Sunday Scribblings - My Two Cents

It is a powerful story, and Rachael has spun a tale that really makes the reader stop and think. Please visit her blog.

If the link will not open when you click on it, please copy and paste the following into your browser:


http://captured-me.blogspot.com/2006/07/sunday-scribblings-my-two-cents.html

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Master Carpenter and Us

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I was browsing through a backyard project magazine today, searching for some inspiration for a few winter projects. The thought of creating a bench or other landscape feature is one that I have been toying with for a while, and to create something with my own hands would be not only a challenge, but a testament to my determination to add beauty to my yard without resorting to prefabricated junk from Walmart.

I am not a stupid person, and can understand the complexities of blueprints and diagrams. I did find, however, that I was at a total loss when pondering the diagram for a simple "easy glider" bench. And that is when inspiration hit me.

Many people would love to know the joy of creating something with their own hands, but many also lack the skills or experience needed to complete just tasks. How often do we valiantly struggle with something we do not comprehend, taking it a step at a time, and hoping things will all work out in the end? How often do we complete the project, only to step back and say "that looks like crap" if only because it does not resemble the picture in our minds? Many people do not know how to take the rough wood and transform it into something that will stand the test of time. The instructions are just too confusing.

Our spiritual walk is like this. We are not all master carpenters, and the skills needed are not programmed into us. We certainly are born with the desire to have perfection, and we can appreciate the beauty of the finished project. Yet, sadly, Our work is shoddy, and things fit loosely, and eventually falls apart.

I believe the best step we can take is to enlist the aid of the true Master Carpenter. It all begins with God. He designed the plan, He knows the plan, and He knows what the outcome will be. He will not build our spirituality for us, but He is more than willing to help us master the skills needed to build things for ourselves.

So we, as Christians, surrender to Him, and admit that we can't do this on our own. We beg him to forgive us for our past mistakes, to scrap our old horrendous work, and to bring us into His mercy. And He, being a loving and compassionate God, says to us "Ok."

What now?

God, our Master Carpenter, hands us a, Instruction manual - the Holy Bible. Oh my! It is complex! It is overwhelming! So many steps, and instructions, and insight - all to help us learn proper techniques! Do this, but don't do that! Behave like this, but avoid that! How can we possibly understand this thing? Are we freaking out? Sure thing! But, don't forget, the Master Carpenter is right there with us, hiding an amused smile and reaching out to help.

The first thing we should do is accept the fact that the Blueprints the Master Carpenter provides to us are ours alone. Other people have the same Instruction Manual, but unless we are master carpenters, we should accept that our Blueprints are our own special project, and learn to leave other people alone with theirs. You see, the Master Carpenter is working with them, too. So, forget about others telling you to skip steps 1 - 500, and concentrate on following each step accordingly.

Step one we have already done - enlisting the Master Carpenter as our Only One. There is a side note on this step; the Master Carpenter will make sure that there are other carpenters along the way who can help us grasp basic concepts, should we need to fall back on things we may have forgotten. These carpenters, or our pastors or ministers, are in place to see that we don't fall away from the plan. They will follow the blueprints exactly, as the Master Carpenter as set them, and will not try to confuse you or hand you a different set of plans. In other words, they will not try to place themselves as Master Carpenter, and will be humble enough to accept that they, too, were once novices like you and I.

Step two is the hardest step, but we have already done part of it. We have admitted that our past works were terrible. We must now vow to never fall back on them, even if we think it means saving time. These bad habits are what caused our projects to turn out poorly, and now that we have the Master Carpenter to teach us, we must accept that our old ways were sadly lacking. we can't bring these sins into the workshop with us. We must leave them at the door, and never pick them up again! In return, the Master Carpenter hands us new tools, and teaches us new techniques. We are starting over from scratch, renewed in Him. So, we wash ourselves, a baptism that expresses our commitment to the Master Carpenter. We dedicate ourselves to His purposes and instruction.

Step three - a big step - learn. Study the Instruction Manual. If you look closely, you will see that the Master Carpenter lays things out very simply. If you try to grasp the whole concept at once, you will miss all the little details. If you skim those instructions for things that you think apply only to others, you will miss the fact that all things within the Instruction Manual itself apply to your project, to your blueprint - to your life.

Step four is a wonderful one. This is where you begin your work. It is work done with you and with the Master Carpenter, along with His appointed carpenters lending you aid from time to time. You are at the point where you begin to build. What? Begin to build? What about this step, and that step, and the step everyone tells me I have to do before I begin to build? Hello? Stop reading ahead and follow the Blueprint and Instruction Manual already! You see, each step you take is according to the Master Carpenter's Blueprint for you! His plan is different for each person, even if the Instruction Manuals are the same. Does this confuse you? Think of it this way: the Master Carpenter is with you each step of the way. The Instruction Manual, the Holy Bible, contains all the basics you need to know as you work on your Spiritual project. The Blueprints are the plans God has for you. So, although we all can read the Bible, we don't all share the same Plan that God has for us. Your neighbor may have a comprehension of his own blueprint, but he can't see yours. He can advise you on things, but you should understand that his advice comes from his own familiarity with his personal blueprints. It's best to leave the Master Carpenter in charge of your project, instead of relying upon someone who thinks they know what your blueprint is.

Our project isn't something simple. It starts off simple. Over time, as we gain more and more skill, the Master Carpenter reveals more and more of the Blueprint to us. He unrolls it, bit by bit. Sometimes we take a look at the newest part and freak, because we think it's just too much, too intense. But, don't forget, we have already been working on gaining the skills needed to get through this next step. Nothing on the blueprint is so hard, or so confusing, that it can not be worked out. You have to have faith in the Master Carpenter, and you must trust in Him to get you through this.

Once you have gained enough mastery of the basics, the Master Carpenter might ask you to help someone out. He does not intend for you to build the other person's project! Nor does He want you trying to confuse that person by imposing your own opinion on them concerning their level of skill, their experience, or their current place in the steps. We are not to belittle someone for not having as much skill as us, because we, too, once lacked the skills needed! Instead, the Master Carpenter wants us to share our own trials and errors, to be humble enough to admit that we were just as lost when we first started out. He wants us to share the Instruction Manual with others, and to remind them that the Manual contains the very same Promise that was given to us. He doesn't want us blasting someone for holding the drill wrong, or for not using the sander correctly - teaching that is the job of the Master Carpenter! Rather, he wants us to stand next to that person, and to show them through our own efforts, how using the tool correctly helps us to work on our own project with ease and mastery... perhaps the person will see this example and have a desire to listen to the Master Carpenter. We should also refrain from trying to tell others that they have incorrect Blueprints. Those Blueprints were given to them by the Master Carpenter, and if they are on a certain step on those plans, we may be unaware of what the past steps were or what the future steps will be. Meddling in God's plans for others only causes confusion. We don't know what the future holds for that person. If we harp on them too harshly, they just may walk away from the Master Carpenter altogether - we will have helped to push them away, by trying to impose our will upon them.

Never forget to speak to the Master Carpenter daily. Communication with Him helps keep things positive. Trust in Him to guide you as you work. Remember to thank Him when you make advances in life, when you are blessed. And thank Him for the challenging parts of the Blueprint, also, because it means that you have grown enough to not only undertake that challenge, but also because He knows you are ready for that test of your skill.