If You Can

www.bible.com/1713/mrk.9.21-23.csb

I’m wondering what Jesus is questioning here. Youversion only had the last verse in their “verse of the day” so I went back and included the preceding two verses to give you come context. From this context, the phrase “If you can” precedes “do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus’ response “Everything is possible for the one who believes” seems to answer “if you can do anything.” “If you can” sounds like an expression of positive doubt, meaning that the mean is hopeful, but not certain that Jesus will actually be able to do anything to help his son. But bringing his son to Jesus is an expression of faith. Why bring your son if you don’t think Jesus can help?

Jesus’ response seems one of surprise, as if surprised at one who would come such a long way with his demon-possessed son would suddenly doubt the healing power in Jesus.

I wonder then if the man, rather than doubting Jesus’ healing power, instead doubted Jesus compassion. If you have ever had a child with a prolonged illness, sure people are compassionate, at first. If your child acts out or make strange noises in public, then people start to avoid you, or complain to the manager about you because your child is disrupting their meal. People give you strange looks, like, “I can’t believe you brought that thing here. What kind of parent are you?” I can imagine this wearied father had tried to bring his child to a synagogue or to healers before, only to be rebuffed and told to take that “thing” home. They were not welcome. I have no doubt many times this father chastised himself, asking God why He would burden him with such a child? Maybe even sometimes wishing the child had died, and then feeling guilt, profound guilt at such thoughts. The man brings the child to Jesus, halfway hoping that the stories he had heard were true, that this Jesus is compassionate, helpful, and able to rid his son.

I see these same parents the Emergency Room, sitting by their children who’ve had another overdose. I see the agony in their faces, wondering if this time, THIS TIME, their child will discover the error of their ways. The know people talk about them. They know some medical staff even despise them. “Why do you keep caring? They deserve that they get!” Yet they keep praying, “Dear God, please let this time be the last time. Let me have my child back!” If you’ve ever had a child caught in the destructive pattern of sin and addiction, you know all about this.

And can you imagine the man’s joy when his son is freed?

Dear Father, I know sometimes I question why certain things happen to me. I question Your Divine Wisdom, but my sense of what ought to be is always bested by Yours. You know what is best. You knew that this father would have to go through all kinds of ignominy before he met Jesus, and I know that after his son was freed, he experienced profound joy. Father my prayer is for all the fathers and mothers whose children are in bondage, who have tried everything to free them (from addictions, sinful behaviors, all those things that tear families apart). I know that this agony is for a time, and You have better things planned. Please Father free these children from their bondage, help them open their eyes and see their parents again, just like that boy before Jesus. I pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen!

Hungry Much?

www.bible.com/1713/psa.34.8.csb

It doesn’t seem possible to actually fulfill this command, does it? How can anyone “taste” or even “see” God to know that He is good? Fortunately, “taste” can also be translated figuratively as “perceive” which should help, but “see”? Sometimes I wonder if David was just hungry, so he used his hunger as inspiration for his writing.

David is definitely arguing for an active perception of the goodness of the Lord, and that is often through seeing His handiwork, sometimes by viewing the heavens, or seeing nature as it surrounds us and fills us with awe. And when you do, it doesn’t take long to see after all.

Lord God, help me to see what I’ve been missing gazing at my cell phone or my computer screen all day. Show me the wonder that only You possess, that unmistakable wonder that the Lord God has revealed through His handiwork. May I be close enough to taste it, so that I may rejoice again. Thank You for all of Your marvelous work. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Christmas God

www.bible.com/1713/heb.4.16.csb

How fortunate are we that we serve a God who sits on a throne of grace? If you remember the movie ELF, you might remember Will Farrell’s title character getting very angry at the department store Santa where he worked, telling him he is not the “real” Santa, and that the chair made up for him to visit with eager holiday shopping children is a “throne of lies!” What a sad commentary on our religious system. Something many people are waking up to these days is that the system in which they’ve been employed, raised their families, gone to church and given their blood, sweat and treasure, is built on “lies”. The throne of Santa in many ways epitomizes that system.

What we have made of Christmas is the throne of lies. If Christmas is the best holiday of the year, then we have truly turned it into a cash cow, when everything is Christmas-ified. Even things that have nothing to do with Christmas, like outdoor power equipment, liquor beer and wine sales, palm trees, you name it, everything gets the Christmas treatment. All to make an extra dollar. The character of Santa, and his god-like persona is the kind of god who rewards kindness, just for the asking, but looks askance at evil, just this once, so that you can have a good holiday. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake, but he doesn’t punish evil, but to grant a stocking full of coal. He is the kind of god people want when grace without cost. That’s what we call “cheap grace” and the feelings of forgiveness and gratitude last just as long at the packaging it comes in. The kindness of “good feelings” of Christmas wear off by December 26th, and all the “good will toward men” seems to fade with the last of the Christmas carols. This isn’t a throne of grace, but a throne of lies. Actually, it reveals the human heart as much as anything, since it demonstrates that we can all get along with each other when we expect something, but when it is unmet, or even satisfied, we go back to the business of looking out for ourselves as usual.

There has got to be a better way. If we can all respect the ideals of Christmas, the joy and the feeling of peace and well-being, then perhaps we need to seek a different throne. Instead of one built on presents and anticipation, perhaps we need to seek one built on Presence and realization. We can no longer rely on cheap forgiveness and “cheap grace”. What we hope for in Christmas is fulfilled in Christ. The “peace on earth and good will toward men” isn’t something found in a box under a tree, but in a man who died on a cross 2000 years ago. Peace of earth doesn’t come from a store, but from the atoning death of the One who came from heaven, lived among us, tempted in all ways that we are, and yet without sin. This One died in our place. He took the punishment and the wrath intended for you, and suffered it in Himself. So instead of wrath, as we deserve, we can receive peace and grace from the Father.

Don’t dare reduce the sacrifice that Jesus made for you. Don’t dare reduce the penalty for sin. God doesn’t wink at sin and say, “maybe just this once”. God hates sin. And He hates the one who sins. Be glad. Because if God was apathetic towards sinners, He wouldn’t care if you lived or died. But because God hates the sinner, he very much cares about what happens to them. This is why He sent His own Son to suffer and die in Your place, not because He had to. God is under no obligation to suffer for you. You are obligated under His justice to suffer and die for your own sins, and you will if you ignore His great salvation. But God in Christ chose the suffer the indignity of human flesh so that each of us could choose life in Him and through Him. This throne of Justice is awesome, and will strike you with intense fear, because even as a Christian, you know you are not holy enough to be in His presence. But for us, it is a throne of grace. Though we are terrified, He loves us. And that is a strange feeling.

Dear Father, as I come before you today, let me pray for my brothers and sisters today who still cling to the lies of this world. For a whom a veil has been pulled over their eyes, and they cannot see the truth for the lies, who have clung to cheap grace without consequence. Father, rather let us open our eyes to the reality of grace. It comes at great cost, at the dearest most treasured price, and shame on us if we do not keep this before our eyes, that we were bought at extreme cost, precious beyond anything this world can offer. This is the grace extended to us because our sins, our vile, filthy, worthless sins, spare us from that grief and everlasting punishment for which our sins deserve. Lord we do not deserve what You offer us, and I know that is the point of grace. Thank You Jesus for bearing that sins upon Your shoulders, so that we could live. In Your holy Name I pray, Amen.

Opportunity for the Flesh

www.bible.com/1713/gal.5.13.csb

Have you ever let your flesh get the best of you? Sometimes I get really hungry, and when I get hungry, I get irritable. I can feel it happening, and I just stop caring. I mean, I can feel myself, see myself getting irritable and angry, and there’s a piece of me that recognizes what’s happening, but it’s like I am seeing it through a tunnel, and my flesh, which is hungry, tired, and doesn’t care anymore gets in control of my mouth, and things come out, hurtful things that I regret when I am sated. Some call it “hangry” but it happens whenever I’ve been out of my comfort zone and don’t know what dinner plans are. I try to avoid it, but it still happens. It’s hard to be a Christian and hungry. Lord help me when I fast.

But the flesh takes advantage of spiritual weakness. It’s not that the flesh is evil, for it has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, just as your mind and your soul has. But the flesh is more reactionary. You flinch at the prospect of pain. For some, anger is an easy ally. The flesh wants what it wants, whether it be food, water, rest, or justice. When you are hot, you want to be cool. When you are cold, you want to be warm. And the flesh let’s you know when something is wrong by delivering messages of pain. But the flesh can easily be tempted. Satan’s first temptation of Jesus was to attempt to manipulate Him through His human flesh by asking Him to use His power to turns stones into bread, as Jesus had not eaten for 40 days.

There are opportunities to serve the flesh, and there are opportunities to serve the needs of others, and unfortunately, they often occur at the same time. What would you think of a mother who fed and took care of herself first before she met the needs of her children? Or a father that spent his paycheck on beer and women before paying the bills and needs of his family? We would rightly despise both of them.

Rather, we look at those who sacrifice themselves as noble. Those who give up their own wants and needs and more honorable that those that only serve themselves. This is ideal of altruism. This is the ideal of Christian service, giving sacrificially. And for us, this is freedom. We are no longer subject or slaves to our own desires. That may seem counter-intuitive, since many see freedom as the freedom to do what we want to do. But our wants and needs are different after Christ than before. We do not see our freedom as an excuse to indulge ourselves, but to be free from ourselves, our vices and self-imposed hobbles. We are free from the sin that so easily besets us, so that we may run the race of the Kingdom, for all who finish gain the victory.

Lord help me gain today gain the victory over my life. Every day my flesh with great help from temptation seeks to undermine my spirit and my freedom to serve You. May my food be the will of Him who called me. May my sustenance be the grace he offered me at great cost. May I seek to do Your will today and every day. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Most Important Command

www.bible.com/1713/mat.22.37-39.csb

What would you consider to be the most important commandment? In light of recent events, I might put forth “do not bear false witness” as so much of what we do are are motivated to do comes from truth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blatantly lied to. It makes me sick. Just tell the truth and get it over with.

However, you may have a different experience than mine, and see “do not murder” as the most important, or maybe, “do not steal”. I think our experiences tend to color our perception of God’s laws a bit more when we’ve been the victim of a particular sin. If you’ve suffered loss of life because of someone else’s wrongdoing, or you’ve suffered loss of property or promotion because someone else stole it from you.

This passage is Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ question, “What is the most important commandment in the Law?” It was probably a test, and whatever answer He chose, they likely assumed it would be one of the Ten Commandments, and their relative importance was hotly debated. Knowing which of those He chose would give them grounds to argue His authority.

But like always, Jesus outwits them, choosing not one of the Ten Commandments, but from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), which was the capstone for reiterating the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Jesus makes it very clear that He knows the commandments better than they do. He was there when they were written. He is the Word of God, so He is the living embodiment of the words of God. In short, He knows the Law.

But the second Law, doesn’t come from Deuteronomy, but from Leviticus 19:18. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” It’s not likely one the Pharisees would have picked for their list of most important commandments, as it seems is some ways tacked on, an afterthought, and applicable in this particular incidence. But Jesus plucks out of relative obscurity, as if to say, “If you really knew the Law, you would realize how foundational this is to the whole.” And in their attempt to trick Him, they were violating both the first and second greatest commandments. They didn’t ask Him the question to see His succeed, but to fail. That is not love, either for God, or for their neighbor.

Dear God, I know every day I try Your patience. Every day I do things that make you shake your head and occasionally do a facepalm. Thank You for being so patient with me. Thank You for still loving me when I’ve lost that loving feeling, and turn inward to my own selfish lusts. I pray for Your forgiveness and grace each and every day, and pray that today I will do better. Thank You for everything Lord. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

In the House of the Lord

www.bible.com/1713/psa.27.4.csb

It is my place of peace. My sacred space is the church house, and every time I am there, no matter what church or denomination it is, I feel peace there.

And this despite some of the bad experiences I’ve had at church, with church people being cruel. I still find my Father’s house a place of refuge and hope. Which is why I miss being at church. I really miss going to church and participating in worship. Which is why I’ve attended a handful of churches recently, whoever is open, just to be there. I need it for my own sense of wholeness.

Since I’ve been working at the hospital as a Chaplain, I also have access to the hospital Chapel, which in some ways helps. I go there sometimes just to sit and pray.

In short, I am looking forward to the day when we will all be in the Lord’s presence forever, of which we’ve had merely a taste of.

I hope today has been a great Sunday for you. God bless you and I hope to have something of substance tomorrow.

Just as God

I probably don’t need to remind you first that as Paul is writing here, he is writing to a church, where these behaviors are beginning to surface. This is a church that has lost its passion for the gospel and has settled into a pseudo-legalism, where religion is about following rules, rather than being obedient to God in faith.

Paul’s list of evil interaction is as follows:

  • Bitterness (acridity or poison) It’s not hard to imagine this person, as every word they speak is dripping with criticism. You can do nothing right about these people. Even if you do something right, you did it by accident.
  • Anger (violent passion) – This is a person whose anger flares up quickly. I’ve seen this in board meetings, and it’s not pretty. Such people are toxic to the faith, and their brief flashes of anger hurt other Christians because this person has no self-control.
  • Wrath (indignation) – This person wears their offense as a badge of honor. They are always offended, and even the slightest word can set them off, so you walk around them on eggshells, trying not to offend them again. They use their anger as a means to control others.
  • Shouting (crying out, intimidating speech?) – This is the loud-talker, because they know if they talk loudly, they will intimidate others. They like to dominate their conversation and their point of view is the only one that matters.
  • Slander (literally blasphemy) – This person has taken what little they know of the faith and use it to their own benefit. They are the kind of people who will tell you that if you give them money, God will bless you. They will salt their speech with just enough platitudes to encourage trust, but their “truth” is all about themselves.
  • Malice (depravity, evil) – This is the dark-hearted individual, who for whatever reason (usually past trauma) works to undermine and destroy your growth as a believer.

And his list of favored interaction is:

  • Kindness (graciousness) – There is no end of kindness with this person. They will be kind to you, even when you haven’t been kind to them. They are kindness without fail, and these are the ones that remind you what Jesus is like.
  • Compassion (deep-seated kindness) – These seek out those in need, those in pain, and actively work to relieve it.
  • Forgiveness (favor, pardon) – These are the ones who are never offended by you, accept you as you are, and love you because you are made in God’s image.

Paul’s remind to the church in Ephesus is to avoid the behaviors on the first list, and seeks the behaviors of the second. When you take Paul’s advice, you will find your church becoming a church people come to because the Spirit of God is there, where a person finds love and peace, and you will find a Church just as God intended.

May God bless you and your fellowship tomorrow!

No One and Everyone

www.bible.com/1713/1th.5.15.csb

What are a Christian’s relationship to society at large? I know that in the church we are to “love one another” just as Christ loves us. We are to treat one another as brothers and sisters. That being said, I have to say a few words.

Today the mandate for wearing masks in public was put in force by the most high and benevolent Lord and Master Beshear. In his great love for the people of our beloved Commonwealth, and in spite of his own need for freedom, he has unilaterally ordered that all people must wear masks in public to further prevent already declining virulence of COVID-19. This was not an order in force when the virus was at its height, but now when the actual threat is diminishing. COVID-19 has indicated that it is no more dangerous than the flu, and even less so, as it kills less people than the flu. However, that is not the point. The point is what this verse says about this mandate.

“Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone”. If this is a command from Scripture, then it is non-negotiable. Today, because of our beloved leader’s order, our own church, arguably a private organization and free to resist orders of the state within its own walls when it conflicts with worship (Freedom to exercise religion is still in effect) decided to take the path of least resistance. Our church has not opened back up since March, relying completely on online services, which I believe is to the detriment. Many other churches in our area have reopened, and we have been attending them. Our church has decided that mask-wearing will be mandatory for all attenders and volunteers. And it frankly peeves me. I have to wear a mask every day I work (at the hospital, whose own mask-requirement is about a month old). I have been told that masks are important, but the principles of wearing masks to stop COVID infection are ludicrous. I have been asymptomatic for months. I have no droplets to spread COVID. If I was sick, I would stay home in quarantine. I am not sick.

If I had AIDS, and I knew I had AIDS, and then went about spitting on people in order to infect them, that would be intentionally doing harm and would be reprehensible. COVID is not AIDS. COVID is so much less lethal than AIDS (0.05% versus 100%) as to not even be comparable. Who is out there saying we need to wear masks because of AIDS? Tuberculosis? Pneumonia? Flu? Measles? Small Pox? Anything? Not one. For none of these diseases (not even the dreaded Ebola just a few years ago) have entire states been forced to wear masks. Read that again. Only with COVID-19, are far less lethal virus, who for many, the only way you know you have it is if you have a test (which tests for all Corona viruses, not just 19), have entire states been told they have to wear masks in public.

If the glorious leader had said, “You can wear masks if you feel you need them,” then freedom would be left in the hands of the individual. I would be okay with that. If he said, “Stay at home is you feel sick.” That would be find with me. That’s how we treat every other disease. But this state mandate?

Some will say that we ought to wear the masks to help people feel safer. That we will appear to be doing good. I’ve seen the masks people wear. I don’t buy it. I wear the mask all the time. I don’t like it. So when it comes to my church mandating masks for worship?

There is one passage in Scripture which speaks to an issue like this. It is a passage in 1 Corinthians which suggests that believers who are more mature ought to make concessions for those that are weak for the sake of unity. For the sake of unity, even though I despise it, I will wear a mask if it means that we will worship together again. If modesty says I need to keep certain parts of my body covered, then covering one more part will not matter. As angry as I am with all of this, if it hurts my brother in Christ by not wearing a mask, I remember that I have made other concessions for the sake of unity, concessions dearer to my heart than this one.

What about my brother who says it hurts him for me to wear a mask? I can only plead unity.

My Lord and My God, King of Kings and Governor of Governors, may You grant me the patience to deal with my weaker brothers for the sake of unity. I know I don’t have it yet, but for the sake of my fellowship and where I worship, I feel this is the path of “do good to everyone”. Father if there is greater wisdom, please teach me. For I trust in You and Your word above all else. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Without Holiness

www.bible.com/1713/heb.12.14.csb

“Depart from me, I never knew you” is probably the most scary phrase you can ever hear from God. But this is a close second. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” I may have good news, in that in Christ, we are made holy. He covers us with His holiness. And that ought to be important to you, since you have no ability to be holy on your own.

Holiness is purity and separateness. Your mother may have had a set of dishes that she only used on special occasions, like when the President came over to visit. Those dishes were kept separate from your “everyday” dishes in a hutch or a cabinet. In your whole life, you may have seen them used once a year, if that. Those dishes, by definition, are holy. Holy is the antitheses of common. In a religious sense, it is the antithesis of secular, or worldly. The farther we go from a Christian worldview, we find less and less holiness. What was once holy is now often considered ordinary. Instead of Sanctuaries, we have Auditoriums. Instead of prayer time, we have share time. Few things have been able to hold on to holiness, largely because our view of God has been diminished. Our sacred music is so like our secular music, that we often cannot tell the difference. Our sacred spaces look ordinary, instead of majestic. We have few sacred spaces anymore. And we need that.

Yesterday, I talked about the prayer closet. We need prayer closets again, just to have a sacred space in our lives. A special place that is God’s alone. The longer we neglect it, the harder it is to regain it.

As a Christian, I mourn the loss of sacred spaces. Maybe it attracts more people to Jesus. But its hardly something that Christians find inspiring, who wish to be unstained by the world. Christians who seek holiness will find it evermore challenging in today’s world to find it, unless they rediscover for themselves the holiness granted to them from Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, help me regain the sacred spaces in my life. Help me find that sacredness that I’ve lost, so that I may see the Lord. I know there is no greater tragedy than to have served my whole life only to fall short because I did not know holiness. Please help me rediscover it so that I won’t lose it again. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Unseen

www.bible.com/1713/mat.6.6.csb

What do you tend to keep out of sight of others? I imagine they are things that you would not want most people to know about. Most people tend to keep their vices to themselves. They can’t handle the scrutiny of others’ eyes. As a rule, folks hide stuff that they don’t want other people to know about. Funny thing is, it seems that exactly what Jesus is telling about our prayer life.

Now if you are like me, you grew up in church, and offering a public prayer was just part of the service. Leaders in the church offered prayer and they tended to ask for the Lord’s blessing on the service, or a blessing on the sick and so forth. Growing up in church taught me that prayer, when offered, ought to be offered as part of a service where others could see and hear it (and get bored by it if it went too long).

But Jesus offers an alternative here. He counters the then-public notion that prayer was to be offered in public, on the street corners, where others could see and hear. His reasoning is that when prayers are offered in such a fashion, they are offered to get the attention of others, to point to the holiness of the one praying, and to receive praise at such holiness. I doubt that’s a problem today. We are hard-pressed to get people to pray today at all.

But in both those days and today, Jesus is calling us to a fervent prayer life. I think it might be comparable to the intimacy we share with our spouse. With the degree of intimacy we have, and the passion we share with out spouse, Jesus is calling us to have such a passionate prayer life. We ought to have such fervent prayer and intimacy in our passionate seeking the Lord’s presence that the tears and the sighing and all of our deep soul’s emanations that we just don’t want others to see it for embarrassment. I have had that kind of prayer. It is the kind of prayer where your soul both aches and yet is strangely warmed.

Lord Jesus, I need that kind of prayer life. May my prayers be so passionate for You that I can’t bear to share them in public, but that in my prayer closet, I honor and lift up You. Lead me to real, soul-filled prayer, that I won’t be surprised when I see you face to face. In You Name I pray, Amen!