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.