Are you alone?

Judges 16:20
Has God left you?
This is considered perhaps the saddest sentence in the Old Testament because it speaks to the ultimate loss. It speaks to complete unawareness of disconnection. Not knowing that God has abandoned you. Sampson had the strength of The Lord. The bind of his strength was the length of his hair and so long as it was not shorn, his binding to the strength of The Lord would remain. But by defying God, and by allowing his cord of strength bound to eternity be severed, he lost connection. He lost relationship with God… and the saddest thing is he doesn’t even know it. 
I cannot imagine a worse feeling than knowing I have lost connection with my lord and savior. To know that God has told me in no uncertain terms that I am no longer his to care for. To love. To turn his face to. But in that I could know that it happened. What if he left me, and I never even know it? How desperate could I be thinking I was protected by God, but when I enter into a situation where I need Him, “knowing” he’s with me… only to discover that He is not? Could there be an adequate way to describe the dark place I could be in to not never know what I’m missing out on. But worse to not know it until it is lost to me? Knowing full well I was fully in control of maintaining that connection and allowing a little g God come between me and THE God. Cutting, literally, my connection to God? And not. Even. Knowing. It. Happened. What a dark place to be. 

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How will you thank God?

Psalm 18:1-2

David was a scoundrel. These no doubt. Yet that, God saw something within him that was beyond any of our seeing. Because of his grace, David was spared his demise. Perhaps it was to teach us a lesson that none of us are so far gone that God is unwilling to accept us to his bosom if we are sincere in our faith to him. The key is that we far too often forget that when God secures us from certain peril, we must give god praise in our own way. This psalm was written by David to the chief musician. I find it interesting that David was inspired to write to God but didn’t settle with a word. He gave it to a musician to make it into song. He collaborated if you will. In a way, this is emblematic of how we get anything done that will last and have significant impact on others and honor God; where two or three are gathered. 

I see David at his desk struggling to find the words that will perfectly express his joy at having escaped his doom. Words flow but he is not satisfied. He then turns to the musician. Together they create what is perhaps one of the most memorable of all psalms that has been sung for generation to generation. 

If you were to thank God with your heart, would a word be enough? Would you need to put those words to music too? Maybe in stone? In a book where a single line or paragraph would not be enough? Would you recite a poem? Deliver a sermon? Whisper it in someone’s ear as a way to inspir them too? Whatever you do, thank God. He is our rock and our salvation. His armament is sufficient to turn aside anything that have design to harm you. Thank him today. 

Comforting the comforter 

2 Corinthians 1:3,4

It has been said that only the one who has been through something can testify to another how to ‘get over’ their similar issue. 

It has been thought that only a recovered alcoholic can truly minister to the alcoholic because the recovered drinker has been there and done that. To be sure, there is some logic to that notion. No doubt. If I want to know how to do something and do it well, I would seek one who has been there before too. Someone who has the ability to explain my path forward in as much detail as my curious mind may require. Children ask adults questions not always to be annoying, but because they know not what they do. 

So what of the times that will come that shall bring tribulations, which is a stained-glass word for the struggles of life? How are we to face those days? How does the faithful find comfort when they have heard so much tribulation even the most devout is now disquieted? What is the faithful to do when the confessions and mentoring has reached a tipping point and their mind is full of sinful thoughts we are unable to release the pain? 

This passage tells us that the same comforter that restores the stressed person, whom we as leaders of the Christian church will pray the Holy Spirit upon, will also fall upon us. What I see this passage saying is that the cycle of comfort is reciprocal and cyclical. That while we for comfort to the disconsolate we will receive comfort from The Holy One. Said another way, if you are not comforted, seek another that is discomforted and pray with them. Hold their hand and walk with them. Receive the blessing of comfort from the Holy Spirit and pay it forward to those who may not know the Lord. In so doing, the Word says that we will be comforted too. 

Your might say that this struggle I have, there cannot be any comfort for me. This pain is too strong and my scars are too deep. I say to you that the God we serve says that He is the God of all comfort. No pain or struggle, sadness or disappointment is stronger than the mighty God we serve. If we just stay in faith with him and continue to be a comforter to others, the Lord will be a comfort to us as well. He will fill us up and never let us run dry. Amen

Be excellent to each other 

Ephesians 4:32

It is 1989. Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston have some pressure. They are in school and must pass history class. But they are the epitome of slackers without a clue. In comes Rufus played by George Carlin. The plot is not really that important right now, but there was one really important scene toward the end that never left me. The boys found themselves faced with a future world where world peace had been achieved through the power of music and they discovered that there is one defining statement they make to their future selves: Be excellent to each other. 

This notion is not new nor is it novel. But it is increasingly rare. Many of us spend a great deal of time finding ways to serve ourselves. Not because we set out to, but because we simply think of self before others.  It could be because that is how we were trained when young and that is reinforced as we age. But Paul says very clearly to the church of Ephesus that we are to be excellent to each other. In fact he writes to be kind toward one another, which to me is no different. But what is kindness? Someone once said that kindness is the byproduct of Gods love. One cannot be loving without expressing kindness. 

I believe that Paul is asking us to let go of the very thing that felled pharaoh; a hardened heart. But there’s more. Paul also says to forgive one another. Forgiveness is necessary for us to move forward after some great pain has occurred in our life. It’s purpose is to allow us to be freed from the past. 

Why do all of this? Because we have a requirement as Christians to respond to the love of Jesus with love. It is a natural thing to respond with love when we are shown love. Likewise the expression of kindness is nothing short of being excellent to one another. 

Until I come

Ecclesiastes 10:15-19
Luke 19:11-27 “Occupy until I come” 
After just having entertained someone who all others had avoided (Zacchaeus), Jesus was preparing to go from Jericho to Jerusalem. So what was Jesus going to do in Jerusalem? He revealed his plan in this parable about faithfulness over money. Jesus knew that money was a pressing issue for the people. That the disciples were needing to be prepared to speak on issues of import to the people. At that time, as now, it was money and how to manage it. 

Zacchaeus was supping with Jesus and He shared a parable about folk who would look to control Zacchaeus (vs. 11) 

The parable: This certain man that Jesus spoke of went to receive a kingdom as his own. But the citizens hated him. In fact they said, they will not let him lead them. So while he was away, he told his 3 servants to occupy while he was gone. That is to invest his money while he was gone. This turned out to be a test to see who would be capable of being the proven leader the citizens might allow to lead them. 
The parable continued: So he quizzed each one upon his return and to see who was willing to be a true steward of that which he trusted them with. The one he gave 10 to reported that he was quite successful in his investments. Was he simply better than the others? Or was he able to do more with much? Or was the certain man aware of his ability to begin with? Perhaps it is all that. But understand this: to whom much is given, much is required and in this case, the one with 10 did not disappoint. 
So he asked what happened to the money? How did you do? The first with 10 said, that his trust was not wasted. That the ten he entrusted him with had literally doubled. In other words the bounty he gave him had not been wasted. It instead had been sent out as a significant investment and came back with twice as much. This might say that he had confidence in the man with ten. Knowing that what he gave him would not be wasted. But it also could mean that he was wise in the recognition of his ability to be proven wise. You see sometimes folk will not trust you with much until they see that another, who has much himself already, trusts you. They will not allow you to lead them unless others speak to you skills. So by knowing the citizens hated him, and they needed a leader, he needed someone that others could speak well of. That he was ready to lead because he already proved his worth. So he said thou good and faithful servant you were a good steward over much. Therefore, emblematic of your ten that you managed well, you shall actually lead ten communities. 
Likewise he testified to the worth of the one with five. But to the last, he asked what was the result of the one I gave you? The little I know I could trust you with? The small amount I know you wouldn’t waste or use to my directive; Which was to occupy? His servant answered with a litany of excuses and. complained about how fearful he was of the austere nature of the certain man. That what he laid down was what he exposed to pick up. In fact rather than being a steward or occupier he instead hid it in his napkin and hid his blessing from the world. 
As such the certain man said I will judge you as by your own words. Yes, he was austere. Likely his tightwad ways is exactly why the folk in his kingdom did not want him. But he was hoping that others would be better received than he. And rather than one who would be just like him, he wanted to see his servants do better. To be brave enough to not be a copycat and unoriginal thinker. But to follow direction, invest in the banks and occupy. Instead he hid the money. The single talent. Well maybe he looked at that little and thought that his boss hated him so he wasn’t going to try. That he was not going to try any harder and just do the little bit. But God doesn’t ask us to have the faith of a fully grown plant or tree. He asks us to have the faith of just a little mustard seed. Because God can do so much with so little if we just trust him.   

Friends and family plan 

Proverbs 17:17

I was at a major cellphone retail outlet once. They were discussing different plans they had available for my new mobile phone. They discussed different fees that provided different levels of service. They said to me that the more I spend the more services would be made available for my benefit. Each plan was for me to have a worry free way to maintain a connected relationship with the people in my life. One option they shared with me was called a friends and family plan. Curious I asked about it. In essence they said that in this plan I could have unlimited connection to my friends and family or a single fee. All I needed to do was be willing to share with the provider who my friends and family are. 

Interestingly I feel a message from God in this. 

Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend loves at all times. The message within those simple five words is that if I have the love of others, they are my friends. Too often I hear people say this person or that person is my friend.  But i believe they use the word too freely. In truth, there are only a few most of us could say are truly our friend. A few who can be trusted to love us regardless of who we are or where we go. Love doesn’t know limits and doesn’t die. A person who is only there when you are in good spirits or needing a drink is not a friend because those are not love. Those are fair weather friends. Love is there in season and out of season. Love is patient and allows me to grow and stays with me no matter what. At all times. 

But what of times that try men’s souls? Times that make me question my own worth as a man and a Christian? That is when I need my brother. He is there when adversity comes and come it will. No doubt. No day will come and go without some form of trial or trouble coming. It may be minor and quickly dismissed. Or it may be life changing and cause me to completely re-evaluate my life. But the trouble will come. The question then becomes, who is my brother? Who will be at my side when my view is focused ahead and I cannot see the danger behind? My brother will, be there. So is it wrong to say to random men, how are you brother? I don’t think so, but I do need to be aware that if I choose to call upon someone in a troubled times and need his presence due to adversity which has come my way, he must truly be my brother. My Christian brother. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, I was born for this? This means to me that I was always meant for this purpose. The word says that my brother was born for adversity. That says to me that adversity better watch out because my brother is here and he was born to deal with it. 

So what does this mean? This means that by investing in my friends and family time in ever increasing amounts, I can be sure that the love I think me will be returned to me and when I am troubled by adversity, so long as I stay connected to my brother, no arrow will profit in me. I find my greatest days are those where I am graced by my truest friends and protected by my brothers. 

May God bless me and you with the love of a friend and the brother who will stand with us in adversity. Amen. 

God is more than love

Romans 15:13

God is love. Love is God. Where there is love there too is God. 

This is a truth I embrace and know to be true in my heart of hearts.  But I’d love all that God is? 

The first thing I must understand is that my limited understanding of love is just that. Limited. God is limitless. So too is what God is. My comprehension of that which created all that I’ve ever known and all that any sentient being that ever realized something beyond itself knew, is depressingly limited. I cannot perceive much at all that God truly is. So how can I say that God is in essence love and love alone? 

Aparantly Paul saw this too in his letters. 

In this passage I see Paul writing that God is not just love, but is the source of hope. Love is kind and patient and long suffering. That I know. But love is hope? What could love hope for? Certainly not itself because the Word says love is not self seeking. The passage continues:

Love is hope and is on a mission to fill us with joy and peace. But it doesn’t happen automatically. It happens by believing. Belief is a powerful thing. For example, I believe that if I go outside now, I will be cold because it is winter. I believe that if I go to a website and click “buy now”, in a few days, something will be delivered to my home. I believe that if I touch my beloved one, I will feel human warmth and tenderness returned to me. Why? Because love is a natural response to love expressed. I love God because he first loved me. Not because I deserved it. But because I am His and a good father cannot help but love his own. 

But what can all of this possibly do for us, the children of God? To what end will this joy and peace bring me? I see this verse saying to the reader that they are feeling hopeless. Perhaps forgotten and unloved. Their days are troubled and their nights are without joy. But joy comes in the morning and Paul is saying that if we just believe in God and his love, we will not just feel better. See a dawn after the dark. Be given peace. Much more than that we will be able to hope and hope abundantly. In a time where daily I hear disheartening news on my radio and in my daily walk, I could use a bit more joy. A bit more love. 

A bit more hope. That is God. Hope in a hopeless situation. 

Go. Teach. Baptize. 

Matthew 28: 19
Jesus was dead. Jesus was risen. But they weren’t sure yet. 

This encounter with Christ at the end of the gospel according to Matthew describes the encounter that believers and doubters had with the newly risen Christ. This rising up was evidence to them that Jesus had indeed conquered death, had fulfilled the prophesie, and had made the way for salvation. 

That’s all fine and good. But what do we do here and now while we await the only sure thing in life; death? Here Jesus leaves no doubt or question. He instructs us to do three separate and distinct things:

1. Go

2. Teach

3. Baptize

In some ways we might very easily assume that because Jesus paid it all on the cross as soon as we accept him into our hearts our work is done. After all, didn’t our pastors say that if you take one step towards Jesus, he would take two towards you? That his yoke was easy and his burden light, and what could be lighter than taking it easy and not working anymore to curry favor in the eyes of the Lord? 

This in some ways suggests to me that his will on earth as it is in heaven is not thornless roses and clouds. It’s work. Work that you want to do that comes with joy and no paycheck but with every need you ever had already fulfilled. The work of the saints according to this passage is for us to eschew a lazy Christian ethic and get up from or place of comacency and go. Go from the comfort of the pew. Go from the easy chair with the television evangelist on. Go from your place of comfort and choose to lean on faith. This is not comfortable. It never was intended to be. It was instead meant to be a promise that no matter where you go, he will be there with you as a rod and staff guiding and protecting you. But you must go. 

That is understandable, but to teach. What are we to teach? It would be easy to become sidetracked into teaching the wrong things. Think of how we are when we know that we know that we know what is. You are certain that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be able to retire and have a glorious golden age in the sunset of your life. Right? No? What happened to that knowledge? Nothing like that is assured. But we still teach it. Neither did Jesus promise us an easy life yet some still teach that. He taught us to love one another as he loves us. That is hard because the truth is, it’s easier to fight and struggle fuss and cause war than it is to love and stay our raised fist. Teach his love. Teach the basic ethic to love one another in every land. 

Baptize. Baptism is not simply getting wet and it doesn’t save you. A baptism is an outward demonstration of the change that has already occurred in your heart. Evidence to all that you’ve entered into relationship with Christ. Baptism is an immersion into the water but it is also immersion of your spirit into one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the great act we can make to show our unashamed willingness to love, to walk, and to proclaim the glory of God in our lives. 

Grace, before. 

2 Timothy 1:9

This passage is shocking to the new Christian who may not realize that Jesus was here at the beginning. What beginning? The beginning before the world was formed. Before the stars were flung against the inky blue blackness of space and time. Before there was form in the void. Before you yourself were corporeal and walked. 

Before. 
In this passage I see God reveal to me the awesome truth of salvation. That we cannot do anything to earn his grace. We could work day in and day out to the glory of his kingdom without ceasing and without rest. We could raise the dead and converse with every being the universe has and share the gospel to all who have ears. We could live faultless from this day forward and cause no one to stumble. We could pastor the pastor and give peace to the troubled everywhere. And yet we still could not earn a place in his palace of many rooms where Jesus might go to prepare for us. Our works are insufficient in his sight. Yet he will welcome us in if we just accept his grace. But I thought he gave his grace to us 2000 years ago. Not before it all began. 

Therein lies the shock. 

What grace could Jesus have given us before the known universe even began? Timothy is saying that grace and purpose are not mutually exclusive. The purpose of God is not to set down commandment after commandment law after law and edict after edict by which he will judge us worthy or wanting. It seems to this uneducated deacon that Gods purpose is to reveal grace to us. Grace to be his representative on earth. Grace to receive his blessings here and now to his glory. Grace that we might do unto others as he has done unto us. Grace to receive the right hand of fellowship in his presence. Grace to enter thou in, as his good and faithful servant. Grace to receive the blood of Christ which we didn’t earn but he gave willingly for our sake. Grace to be in relationship with the eternal and living God. Grace to be ever ready to practice mercy on those who have done wrong and deserve justice, but instead receive…. grace. 

And he planned it in the beginning when the holy trinity were as one in the beginning. Before. 

The Christmas Promise

1 John 4:9

The Christmas season is always hard on people for one reason or another. It may be because we are suffering in poverty. Or perhaps there’s someone you love who longs to see you but isn’t able to for any number of reasons. Or maybe there is someone that loved you, but is no longer of this world. Sometimes plans are made to see one another but circumstances prevent this from happening. Maybe it was a card, or gift that you expected that never came. Maybe someone gave their word to you that this Christmas they wouldn’t let you down… and then did.

 But consider this: what if THE gift had never come? What if THE biggest gift of all was expected and never came? In 1 John 4:9 the Word of God talks of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it because of a promise God made in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would bear a child and name him Immanuel. But that was years before the birth of Jesus. What would have happened if Gods promise of the coming Immanuel had never come to be? Or put another way: what if the promises of God were no more reliable than those of mortal man? 1 John speaks to me by saying that the promises of God are the only ones I can expect to happen.

But is the promise of God fulfilled because we deserve it? 

Every Christmas we enter the holiday with visions of sugarplums dancing in our childish heads and hopes that a jolly fat guy will drop down our chimney with gifts we deserve because we were good this year. How do we know he’s coming? Because the commercial told me my deservedness should allow me to expect him to come. But if I really examine myself, I know I deserve nothing less than Gods judgement because every day I sin a little. It may be as simple as having negative thoughts of my neighbor who chose not to say good morning or as egregious as stealing supplies from my overseers stores. I may think in the natural I deserve a break today, but I don’t deserve anything of the sort; especially at Christmas.

But God made me…and God made you…and God made our neighbor. God is our Father and because I am His son he loves me too much to treat me like a stranger. 1 John says that I can expect the only son of God to come not because I deserve life, but because my sin deserved death. Oh, but His love… His love was manifest in the person of his son wrapped in human flesh and given as a living sacrifice so that I would not die but live through his grace. Honestly I cannot think of a better gift that I know I can expect. I expect man to make promises all the time. On his whim, circumstance, or choice he may decide to reprioritize and deny his promise to me. But not God and that is why Christmas matters to me. I urge you to think of the promises that God has kept. The promise made that He is there with us in the joy and the pain. He is there in the valley and on the hill. The promise he would never again destroy the world and signed it with a rainbow. The promise that if we choose Him, and reject walking alone, God will walk with us all the days of our life. This is Christmas.

I ask you to remember that no matter whom you meet or what you read that tells you otherwise, you are worth it. You are a child of the living God and deserve his judgement but instead you have been given a Christmas gift called grace. You are loved even when you don’t think you deserve it and even when you don’t feel it. If you weren’t loved, Jesus would never have come. He never would’ve been born and he never would’ve fulfilled his father’s promise. My brothers and sisters, I wish you a very blessed, expectant, and promised Christmas.