Friday, December 31, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 3

 I see the Sermon on the Mount as the manifesto of the ministry of Jesus. Not that Jesus is seeking to bring something new, but rather a resetting of God's intention. 

Matthew 5:17,18

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

The corruption of God's intention for relationship with man started in the Garden when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, and it has not stopped since. It certainly did not stop with the advent of the Gospel. From the book of Acts on, much of the New Testament deals with correcting issues of  corruption of the Gospel. It did not take long for the infiltration of sin into the church. Even as early as the book of Acts, we see issues such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) and Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:18-24).

Yet I get the feeling that many believe that finally, 2,000 plus years later we finally have it figured out. Well, at least our denomination does. 

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Why these words? Or perhaps more importantly, what is being mourned? Who or what has died? 

Romans 6:1,2  What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Does the mourning that Jesus is speaking of here have anything to do with our own death? Not our physical death, but the death of our old self, the putting away of our past way of life and now walking in newness of life? Some might argue, why would we mourn the death of our old self? But I believe it is healthy to do that. We should see the destructive force of that old way of living, and all of the misery it caused both for ourselves and those we love, are work through the emotions that go with that that we might be set free from a return to that life. (Matthew 12:43-45)

Again, I am reminded of the 12 Steps of AA:

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

Do you see a mourning process here, because I do. First, we take an honest look at our past way of life. Then we admit where we were wrong and how it played out in our actions. We see the path and toll of destruction we have forged. Next, we lay that old self on the altar before God, closing the casket and sealing it up. If that isn't a reason to mourning, what is? So now, being at rock bottom, gasping for breath, mourning over the death of our own past, we are finally ready to go to God and ask Him to bury that person. Step 7:

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

You don't have to know the steps to go through the process. Maybe you didn't write out an inventory, or share it with another, but did you not see the destruction? Do you not see your need for a Savior?

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure in a field. (Matthew 13:44) Once found, the man saw the value of the treasure, and sold all that he had to possess it. Did this man mourn over some of what he had to lose in order to gain that treasure? I would imagine he did. But he saw the greater value in possessing the treasure. He mourned the loss of his present possessions, but the value of what he would now possess is where he found comfort.

Jesus talks about dying to ourselves often. He tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him. Is this not an invitation to our own death? And what more powerful image could He have chosen that to tell us to pick up our cross? He did this, I believe, knowing that He would have to perform this very act Himself! When you pick up your cross, it is only for one reason, to carry it to the place of your crucifixion. Think about that. an you imagine the thoughts running through your head as you walk down the street toward the pain and suffering that lies ahead? Would you not be mourning your own death? 

Jesus tells us to love everyone and pray for those who persecute us. Do you not have to die to yourself to perform such an act? Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" My thought is, how can you truly love even those who persecute you, and pray for them, if you have not first died to yourself that you might live for Christ? And why would you choose to do such a thing unless you see the beauty and value of who Christ is and what it is he offers? 

Have we not watered down and emasculated the gospel message when we say that salvation is simply a matter of belief (head knowledge) that Jesus is Lord, and that accepting His as Savior simply means praying a prayer or even being baptized in His name? If we have not recognized that death that we must die, and what the newness of life is that we must now live in, and mourned that death, should we really call ourselves saved?

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 2

 Matthew 5:1

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

Interesting tidbit found in this verse. It mentions that Jesus sat down. This is significant, because I understand that Jews stood to read Scripture, but when giving instruction if they stood, it was seen as informal. For formal teaching, they sat. This would seem to be in line with the idea that Jesus is giving this first recorded sermon as a manifesto, or at least as a formal instruction into what He believes to be of great importance.

Matthew 5:2-3

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Looking at the big picture, I see this as Jesus setting the foundation for His earthly ministry. This stuff in important. And His audience can be divided into two parts, depending on your point of view. Jewish leaders and common Jews, or sheep and wolves. 

So what is He saying in the very first words of this message? A closer look at the words. Blessed  (can also mean happy) are the poor (as in a beggar, but also can be used to indicate distress) in spirit (as in an angel, demon, or God. Also can mean a breath of air or one's mental disposition). So in a sense, He is saying, blessed are those who are gasping for air, blessed are those who are in a place of deep distress and discomfort, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Why would He say something like that? I look to His audience and their mindset. The Jews looked to their leaders as the ultimate example of piety. Don't we do that too? If not, can someone please explain to me why many in leadership live in mansions, have private jets, expensive clothes, etc., and we continue to send them money to fund these projects? Do we not also take their word as truth, with no regard for what the Bible says? Of course, there is a reason for this. Perhaps because we do not spend enough time studying and praying about it ourselves. Some might say, "But isn't all of that success and those possessions proof of God's blessing on them?" I think Jesus would say no, that real blessing and happiness comes from God alone, and unless you know what it means to be dependent on Him, you might never find it. (Matt 19:22-23)

Jesus did not come for the righteous. (Romans 3:10; Luke 19:10) He came to seek and save the lost, the poor in spirit, the beggars for breath. And He did not come to give us material or physical blessing, He came to set us free. (John 8:31-36; Heb 13:5-6) I think of the first 3 steps of AA:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

AA does not have the power to save you from your sins. Neither does working the 12 Steps. But if your sin drives you to your knees, perhaps because you are gasping for breath and don't know where else to turn, it might just give you the clarity to turn to the one who can.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Sermon on the Mount - Part 1

 God has place the Sermon on the Mount on my heart and brain lately. Not bits and pieces, but the whole thing. He has shown me that if I look at it as a whole, parts take on a different meaning, and there is a definite flow and message to this sermon. Not that this invalidates the messages we get from looking at the individual parts, just a different take that I think I was missing before.

THE AUDIENCE

One of the things that came to mind was the audience. The Jewish audience, basically divided into two parts. One part being the religious leaders. They were to haves. They had the power, prestige, knowledge, respect, etc. of the people. They were there most likely to see what would be said by this man that they had likely been hearing about. This mystical person who had the ability to heal people. I believe they most likely stood together, wanting to be with their peers and not wanting to mingle with the common folk. Otherwise, people might have seen them for the wolves that they were.

That brings me to the other group. The common Jews, the have nots. The sheep, following these leaders wherever they would take them. Ignorant people. I don't say that as an insult, but as a statement of fact. They did not study the Scriptures the way the leaders did. They did not get to interpret them, or decide what rules needed to be followed. They trusted the leaders to do this for them, for they were the ones who had the knowledge and experience to do so.

RELIGION

So this is what religion had become. People trusting in leaders, leaders trusting in themselves and their traditions. It was organized, specific, ritualistic. It was also cold, calculated, and done in a manner that kept those in control in control.

MANIFESTO

So along comes Jesus. He did become a rabbi through the usual means. He was not on the radar as coming from good stock, but rather of questionable lineage, the son of a peasant girl and a carpenter. Perhaps there were even rumors of His illegitimacy. 

In the series, The Chosen, Jesus makes a comment prior to giving the sermon, that this is His manifesto. I agree. This is His first recorded sermon, and will set the stage for His ministry. I believe it will bear a message of great importance and foundation. I also believe that many of the future things He will say and do can be directly tied to parts or all of this sermon. So it deserves a lot of thought and examination. And even though I will not go through with it in one setting, I will attempt to always look at each piece in conjunction with the whole.

Starting with my next post in this theme. Today I will close with this question: If Jesus were to address the masses today, would He need to change His message?

My answer is, no. While we might not be Jewish, do most not fit into one side or the other? One side being those who lead, and who expect their leadership to be followed. I recall sitting in an elder's meeting when a suggestion was brought up. The chairman said, "If that happens here, it will be might last day as an elder." End of discussion. Then there is the other side, the one that I sat on that day in the meeting. The one who worships the leader instead of the Lord. The one who sits back and says nothing, even though they question the wisdom. There are so many on that side. People who blindly trust the wolves who lead them because they do not know Jesus, they only know the Jesus the wolves present to them. Jesus wants this to change. He came to set us free, not to change the chains of bondage.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sing Unto the Lord...as long as you do it my way.

Found this in my drafts. 

I went to a small (around 500 students?), conservative, Christian college. I had worked a year after graduating High School, but the realities of adult life were confusing. I had a job as an apprentice mechanic in a small shop (7 mechanics) that would have been a satisfying and decent paying career, but the drama and politics of the adults in that place were sometimes beyond childish. Although I enjoyed the work, I wanted something different. I decided to go to college. I would probably just go a year or two. I wanted a Christian college, because I felt that I had so much to learn about my faith and the Bible. 

And I thought the shop guys were childish.

I ended up going 4 years and graduating from this institution. I learned a lot along the way, some things in class, some things outside of class. This story deals with something that happened outside of class.

My freshman year I was a part of a male quartet that traveled for the school. We were ambassadors for the school that did church events for churches that supported the school. We were the only all male group (we had a female pianist), and somewhat popular. Going in to the second semester, we had several appearances booked, including one at the home church of the pianist and another at the home church of two of the men in the group. That's when we got the news.

Apparently, two of our members grades were below the expected standard for extra-curricular participation, and our group was put on academic probation. This meant we could still practice, but not travel for the school. They were graciously (sarcasm) willing to allow us to fulfill our January obligations (which happened to be traveling to churches where school trustees were members), but then probation would take affect until the next grades in March. This was disappointing to us, as our 2 February dates were to churches of members of the group. When this was brought to the schools attention, the made accommodations for us to be able to travel to those as well. So now, we are only two weeks away from being off probation because grades come out mid-March. 

Now I had a problem with this. If the purpose of academic probation is to allow the students the extra time to focus on getting their grades back up to par, and we were going to be given accommodations to travel in January and February, was the purpose of the probation being accomplished? I thought no, can't remember what the others felt, but this was brought to the administration's attention. Their response was to keep us on probation, and they wanted our group to meet with the president and vice president of the college. At the meeting, they explained their position, which was since the other dates were already set, to avoid any embarrassment, they would be fulfilled, and we would serve out our probation for the first half of March. Just to add some context, I want to state that I was not one of the students on probation, so my problem with this was more about doing what I believed was right rather than defending my own issues. Also, I wonder if this same logic would apply to other areas as well. Example: Since the basketball schedule is already out, we should let the players fulfill their obligation to avoid embarrassment. Don't think that would fly.

If an athlete were on probation, even a star one, would they be granted the accommodation to be able to continue to play games that had already been scheduled? I wanted the rules to be consistent and fair. Silly me. They did not agree. To me, it came down to either we were on probation and should not travel, or we were not on probation, and we could continue a regular schedule. I voiced this, and was told that if it was an either/or situation, then we would not travel and in fact, they would disband our group. Hardball. So we had a decision to make, and we ended up disbanding. Not a big issue for me, as it freed up more time in my schedule, but disappointing because we enjoyed doing this and enjoyed one another.

Footnote: The other two members that were not on probation were offered the opportunity to join another group, the school's chorale, and not lose their 1 credit hour this would earn them. I was never given this choice, and in fact did not find this out until talking to one of the other members years later. They showed me.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Back to Church - Part 3

My journey through high school was fairly uneventful. Life in the youth group was fun, and gave me a sense of belonging. But not all was roses.

My brother was 2 and a half years younger that me. He got involved in youth after the choir thing had died down and disappeared. A new youth minister or two, neither of whom was musically inclined. Basketball became one of the next big things. We even had enough players to have 2 teams. The "A" team was the older, better players and the "B" team was the younger, less experienced players. 

When one of your major draws to church is sports, you pick up people who are there just for the sports. I think that the hope is that being with strong Christians will help draw you in to a relationship with Jesus. I am not sure we had many strong Christians. I do know that we had those there who were only there for the sports. The group that was a few years behind the group I was involved with had a lot of those kids. That would be the group my brother was mostly involved with. I think the adults assume the best, and turn a blind eye to some of the worst.

I believe my brother was in a time of life that would shape who he would become. 

But here is my question: When we use things like sports (or any other activity for that matter) as a means to draw people in to the church, is that an acceptable approach to evangelism? I know that this is a widely practiced method, but is it right? As someone who has been in ministry, and has used activities to draw people in, I now stand and question this tactic.

Perhaps the answer is found in the way it is done. My fear is that we use some events to get people to come to church to see that it is not that bad a place, that we are not the bizarre weirdos they might think, and if the opportunity arises to sneak in some Jesus, great! But what does that teach about Christianity, and about the salvation that Jesus offers? (I will ask lots of questions, but really won't present many answers, mostly because I don't know them.) Perhaps at least a part of the answer lies in the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. 

I think back to my high school days. One of the teams in our softball league had several members arrested as part of a chop shop operation. How did that witness work out for the church? 

Perhaps a part of the issue is the idea that we have to sneak Jesus in to stuff, like getting used to the water one toe at a time rather than diving in. Which approach is best? Again, just a question for thought. Yet it is a question that should be asked when planning such methods.

I like what I heard Matt Chandler say about why they don't have a coffee bar at their church. He said (not an exact quote) that they don't offer coffee in church to encourage their people to go out and buy coffee on the way to church and interact with the people they meet as they do. Tip the barista. Say thank you and don't cause a scene when the order is wrong. Seems to be in line with Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus said GO, he didn't say, Bring them in with cool activities and nice buildings and etc. Of course, this approach has its drawbacks too. It might take longer. In some instances, the desired result might not happen. And, of course, it takes mature and grounded Christians to pull it off. Whereas the other approach puts the task mostly on the church staff. Did the preacher give a good sermon? Did the Youth Minister give a good devotion? Does the Music Minister look good in skinny jeans and a knit cap?

One of my greatest concerns today is that we have an audience of people who think they are Christian because they go to church. It is as if God is taking attendance. Just as in the days of Jesus, only instead of looking to the scribes and Pharisees, we look to those on stage. Is there any depth? The pool goes on for miles, but there is no need to part the water because if you walk across, only the bottom of your shoes gets wet. And no one wants to get their feet wet.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Back Again

 2021 has been a challenging year. I have had so many urgent issues to deal with (such as family illnesses) that blogging has had to take a back seat again. But the issues have not changed. I was just reading the post I had written before taking that break, and I find myself in a similar situation again. I won't go into that now. 

Jesus's Sermon on the Mount has been on my mind a lot lately. Not little bits and pieces of it, but the whole thing. There is a message in this sermon that I had missed because I was looking at the details instead of the whole. This was his first recorded public sermon. What was He trying to get across?

I believe He was setting the stage for His ministry. Out with the old and in with the new. The old way of doing things had become corrupted. Corrupted by man's ways of doing things. Trying to put God in our debt, instead of recognizing the debt we owe to God. Leaders had become proud and arrogant. Followers had become worshippers of leaders rather than of God. Jesus sought to correct this while still giving the items of importance their appropriate honor. 

Matthew 5:17-18 (ESV)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished."

Look at the beginning of the message. He attacks the ideology of current thought by highlighting behaviors such as meekness and mercy. 

I am not sure where I will go from here. Or when that will be. Still a lot of things that I have to deal with on several fronts. Should I continue with my prior thread? Maybe that would be good for me to finish. I still have some drafts started that I probably should go through. Or should I address my current issue that has been laid on my heart? Perhaps a return to the Sermon on the Mount? Or another popular book to discuss. The one I just read has my head spinning, and not in a good way. More like the ways that you might see in a Linda Blair movie (The Exorcist). 

Time will tell. Whatever the course, it will be done mostly out of therapy for me. Sometimes I just need to vent.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Back to Church - Part 2

It was the first summer after starting to attend church again. We (the church choir) were taking a trip to Florida and back (from the Chicago area). Stopping at churches along the way, doing concerts, spending the night in churches or at the homes of folks from that church. Making it to Orlando to spend a day at Disney, then back with the same plan. Don't recall a lot of things, but here is one memory.

It was after we had returned from the trip. Someone approached the Youth Minister and asked how things went. He replied that overall, things had gone well, just a few minor bumps in the road. Like the one kids who showed up wearing a Budweiser hat. That was me! It just never dawned on this son of German immigrants, former Catholic, that that would be frowned on. Did he remember it was me? Did he know I could hear him? I recall thinking, if that was an issue, why didn't you talk to me about it? Not one person, adult or youth, made any mention that such apparel might be considered inappropriate by some. I was careful not to wear such apparel around church kids again. In fact. that hat "disappeared" somewhere on the trip. I sometimes wonder...

I look back and see a lot of legalism in the church. Like how we talk about dating. Seems like everything is about finding that magic line, and making sure that it does not get crossed. Forget about teaching people to love and honor God with their lives, just stay away from crossing that line! Thank goodness we weren't Baptist. At least we could go to movies and attend dances. But in many ways it was the same thing, only different rules. Tithe, don't use certain words, look good for Sunday service, etc. The Scribes and the Pharisees were also good a making rules. Got to have a pretty dish. (Luke 11:37-41) We love pretty dishes. Problem is, some people get so caught up in doing dishes that they forget why that is so important. I am not advocating that behavior does not matter, as I have been accused of doing. What I am advocating is that the motive behind the behavior is just as if not more important that the behavior itself. If it were only the behavior that mattered, was Jesus death really necessary? 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Back to Church - Part 1

In the seventh grade, we moved from the city of Chicago to the suburbs across the border in Indiana. This move made sense, as dad now worked in East Chicago, Indiana. I had a hard time adjusting to the move, but eventually made some friends, one of whom invited me to church, where they had a robust teen choir, which I became a member of. 

Mom and Dad were okay with me attending church here, and even my younger brother eventually got involved. I think the basketball team became more of an attraction for him, as he never joined the choir. Shortly after getting involved with the choir, they put on a presentation for Easter, and Mom and Dad attended. Something must have struck a chord with them, as soon after attending the Easter presentation, they announced that they would be coming to church there on a regular basis.

Church soon became a central point of my life. Most of my friends were from there, youth on Sunday with choir practice before, Wednesday night study, activities, etc. The one aspect of this I regret is the distance it put between my younger brother and I. He was 2-1/2 years younger, and we had always been close. Now, as I had more friends, distance grew. Sometimes you don't want your little brother hanging with you and your friends. That distance continued and we never regained the closeness we had had when we were younger. He withdrew from the entire family and also had some substance abuse issues. I wonder if that might have been different had I been more inclusive with him. That is easy to ask, looking back. But in the moment, it was impossible to see.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Growing Up Catholic - Part 3

So we continued in this pattern of the kids going to church, and the parents staying at home. I think mom may have gone with us occasionally. In third grade I started going to catechism. This was cool because every kid who went to catechism got to leave school early. We would walk to the church a few blocks from the school. Third grade was when you started taking communion, and catechism was to prepare you for your first communion, which was a big deal with the Catholics, as least back then. They would have a special service for the newbies, where you would dress your best and family and friends would attend to witness it. You also go congratulatory cards from people, usually with gifts, mostly cash. Cha-ching!

Fourth grade was another year of catechism. (I do not recall if it was the full year, I really don't think it was, but I cannot say how many weeks it went. This time they were preparing you for confirmation, another big deal for the Catholics. Confirmation was to be in May. By January, I was already in classes for it. Then something happened that changed things. My grandmother on my mom's side was planning to come over from Germany to attend my confirmation. This would have been her first trip to the states. But that never happened. The January prior to that May she had a stroke and passed away. As I recall, I came home one day to mom crying. She had gotten a telegram with the news. That was how mom and dad found out about the passing of a relative back then. I don't think they ever got a telegram that had good news.

Shortly after grandma's passing, mom came to me and asked me me if I would mind waiting until the next year to participate in confirmation, that doing it so soon after grandma's passing would be hard on her. No problem, not a big deal for me since I still wasn't sure what it all meant. Soon after that, they stopped sending us to church, and the subject was not mentioned much again. I did not participate in catechism or my confirmation that next year.

My mom and dad were good people. They drank, as Germans do, but I never saw them drunk. They didn't curse, well, dad did let one slip a time or two and made me promise not to tell mom. They were good at taking care of us, dad worked hard and mom kept a clean house. And so on. I remember dad saying something once about how even though we didn't attend church, that did not mean that we did not believe in God. I just accepted that. And life went on.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Growing Up Catholic - Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that I would share an encounter I had with a Catholic priest when I was probably about 8 years old. I don't recall many of the details, but here is what is burned in my memory. 

I had stopped by the church to find my brother. I am not sure why I thought he would be there, but I thought he would be. I went into the church, and there was a service going on. I opened the door of the sanctuary and peered about, hoping to see him, but I did not. I closed the door, and was headed out of the building when I was approached by a priest who asked what I was doing. I told him that I was looking for my brother, but did not see him. He told me that what I had done was a mortal sin. Even now, it seems odd to me that he would say this. But I was eight, and in my eight year old understanding, there were two types of sin. One being venial, which I understood to be forgivable, and the other to be mortal, which I understood to be unforgiveable. I was stunned, as I felt that this meant that I was now doomed to an eternity in hell. The one thought that I strongly remember having was, I can't tell my mother about this, she would be devastated.

That is legalism, a death sentence to true faith. Catholics are not the only ones with a strong sense of legalism. I recall in high school how one girl in particular always wore modest, homemade clothes, and was not allowed to go to movies or dances. Other faiths have other conditions. I recall how the conservative Christian college I went to had many such rules, not that these rules were bound on us by Scripture, but that we needed to go above and beyond because we were under a microscope as ambassadors for Christ. So keep that face clean shaven and that hair above your collar. You don't want to look like Jesus, do you?

Growing Up Catholic - Part 1

I was born to immigrant parents. They were from Germany. Mom was Catholic, Dad was Lutheran. As a Catholic, mom had to have her marriage approved before a priest would perform it. Dad would have to promise that any children would be raised Catholic. I wonder how many people make that promise without thinking of the consequence or without intending to follow through. Whatever the case, when we were young, mom took us to church while dad stayed home. As we got older, mom just sent us to church. It was just over a half mile away, about a 10-15 minute walk.

Here's what I remember about Catholic church:

The kneeling. They had little padded benches that pulled down for when it was time to kneel. Seems like there was a lot of kneeling during the service.

The candles. A lot of them at the back of the church. You "donated" to light them, 25c for small and $1 for large. You lit candles in honor of loved ones. For each candle you lit, it shortened their time in purgatory. I'm not sure if the large candles shortened their time more or not.

Holy Water. There were small bowls mounted to the walls in the vestibule. You would dip your fingers in them and do the sign of the cross before entering the sanctuary. I guess that cleansed you before you entered a holy place? Not sure, but what kid doesn't like dipping their fingers in water?

Communion. They used real wine! And the priests got to drink most of it. Usually we just got the communion bread placed on our tongue. White circles and it melted in your mouth. Of course, the Catholics believe that the bread turns into the actual body of Christ once you partake.

Mary. The mother of God. You could pray to her and she would take your requests to God. I seem to recall also being able to pray to the apostles, but not sure about that.

Confession. This is where you go tell a priest all of your sins, and he offers absolution for you. For penance, you had to say prayers. Usually the Our Father and the Hail Mary a certain number of times. 

The priests. No, I was not molested, but I do have one encounter to share. Saving that for the next post.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Taking a Break - sort of

I am going to take a break from reading books of the Bible or other books, and share some of the experiences that I have had that shape my thinking of Christianity. 

We are all shaped by the experiences of our past. I am no exception. These experiences shape the way we think about everything, including our faith. Everyone has faith. Perhaps your faith is in God. Maybe your faith says that God does not exist. It is still faith, because regardless of your evidence, you cannot know for certain. You could be a staunch believer in evolution, the big bang, etc., that still does not prove that there is no God. Perhaps your faith is in many Gods or in the spirit world. Whatever your faith is in, your experiences shape not only what you believe, but how that belief affects you.

My experiences are just that, my experiences. Some are positive, some are not. They still have an impact. My purpose in sharing is at least two-fold. One is for me to reflect on the past and its influence on my belief system. The other is to perhaps share with others who may have had a similar experience to one or more of my experiences. Perhaps they might not feel they are alone in their experience, as I often do.

So here goes...

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Amos 9 - A Happy Ending?

Amos - Chapter 9

We all like and want happy endings. Hard to believe Rocky lost to Apollo in Rocky I. So many are still waiting for the hammer to fall, and the corruption to be exposed in Washington. Good luck, and I hope it happens, but not holding my breath. All things come in God's timing, and not mine. 

Chapter 9 starts out great, with the guilty getting what they deserve. There is no escape. Their power and wealth do nothing to save them. There is no where they can go to hide from God's justice. Vs 4 states, "and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good." (The word evil can also be translated "harm, adversity, affliction) The next section speaks of the greatness and the might of God Almighty. Then a promise is made. A very near and dear promise. Vs 8: "Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord." Jacob would not be utterly destroyed. There will be a restoration of a remnant. Most likely a remnant that has been through it all. A remnant that, while not utterly destroyed, has suffered and is broken. A remnant that has survived, and will see the fruit of their faithfulness. Like in so many movies, a remnant that will rise out of the ashes, to victory. I am reminded of the Princess Bride, and all that Wesley suffered including being "mostly dead." Yet in the end, they ride of on horses to a new and better life, while Prince Humperdinck does not die, but must live out his life in the shame of his cowardice.

I pray to be a part of the remnant. Not the one in the Princess Bride, but the remnant of the faithful.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Amos 8 - Will He Find Faith?

Amos - Chapter 8

Chapter 8 starts with a description of the corruption of the rich and powerful. They can't wait for the new moon and the Sabbath to be over, so they can get on with the accumulation of more power and wealth through their lies and deceit. Judgement is coming, and it will be severe, "like the mourning for an only son." (Vs 10) Famine will come on the land, which leads me to believe that this judgement will affect everyone. But the famine is not of food, but rather a famine of the word of the Lord. Wow. How long have I felt this in my soul? Go back and read my blog from the beginning. I recall our days at the church in Muncie, how my wife would tell me that the words of the speaker only unsettled her soul, and we would talk about what was missing in the message, the gospel. I could go on with countless examples, but not now. "they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." (Vs 12)

Verse 13 and 14: "In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.

Assuming that this prophesy is as applicable today as it was then, do the lovely people represent the church of today? All pretty on the outside, but nothing on the inside? (See matt 23:27,28) Is that why God can not stand our worship and offerings? (Amos 5:21-24) Is that why Jesus says in Luke 18:8, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" Or why Timothy writes in 2 Tim 3:1-5, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people."

Judgement is coming, and the problem is that it is coming for everyone, not just the rich and powerful. It may come today. or tomorrow, or maybe it is already here. Whatever the case, our prayer should not be for relief or even justice, those are God's areas. Our prayer should be for faithfulness. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Amos 7 - Danger Ahead!

Amos - Chapter 7

God gave Amos visions. Visions of the judgement He was about to send on Israel. Locusts to devour, fire. Amos pleads for them, and God relents. Then God shows Amos something else, a plumb line. A tool used by builders to make sure that their buildings are straight. God says that the high places shall be made desolate, the sanctuaries laid waste, and He will rise against the house of Jeroboam. He will stand in judgement over Israel, judgement by sword. (Jeroboam was an evil king who led Israel into sin.)

Amaziah was a priest not in the line of the Tribe of Levi. He was at Bethel to perform idolatrous services. He realized that Amos was prophesying against them, and therefore wanted to get rid of Amos. I wonder about the prophets of today. Are they prophets of God? If God were to send a prophet who gave a message of judgement against America, would they want to cast them out? I know there were prophets who prophesied Trump would win and the evil would be exposed. But what if the evil that God is concerned about is the evil in His people, and not the leaders? What is a time of judgement and purge is coming and it will not be avoided? I know that even now, prophets continue to insist that a time of judgement is coming, that Biden is not the real president. They have moved the date forward to mid-April or May. Why do people keep following these shifting targets? Perhaps we do not want to think about the possibility of a time of judgement? 

Amos does not back down. He prophesies against Amaziah. Bad stuff, read it. Yet even though Amaziah will go down in flames, that should not be our concern. What should matter to us is what is our standing before God. Likewise, whether or not the swamp is drained should not be our main focus. Evil will always be among us until judgement day. Our focus should be on God and serving Him, because He is the righteous one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Amos 6 - For Those at the Top of the Heap

Amos - Chapter 6

This chapter seems to be a severe warning for those who are at the top of the heap. They are not immune to the calamities that will fall upon the nation. Their place of prominence does not get them out of what God has decreed. They live in the lap of luxury now, but that is coming to an end.

God says that He will raise up a nation against the house of Israel. Doesn't this fly in the face of what many think God should do? Israel are the chosen ones, but the chosen ones have deserted their God, and even the chosen ones can be held accountable. 

Many think that America now holds this distinction, because many label us a Christian nation. But a nation that is Christian in name, but does not know God, that has gone astray of His teachings, can and will be held accountable. Is that what is happening currently? I guess time will tell, as some still prophesy that God will ONLY hold those in leadership accountable. But that doesn't seem to be His pattern, does it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Amos 5 - Seek the Lord!

Amos - Chapter 5

The prophet begins by lamenting over Israel, who has fallen. 

Things are not looking good for Israel. What will God do? What should the people do?

Seek the Lord and live. So we storm the castle, right? We show up in large numbers, right? We post memes and are not afraid to repost the ones that say, "If you agree, type AMEN and share, right?

Maybe, maybe not. But first things first, we seek the Lord our God. Perhaps that is why we are in this mess in the first place, we have been listening to others and seeking our good rather than seeking the Lord, thinking that goodness and comfort are what God wants for us. (Where is that found in the Bible?) We are warned not to go to Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba. These places, places of prophets and worship will get their justice. I think this refers to the  idea that we shouldn't go to preachers or others to tell us what to do in this time, as we are responsible for our faith and actions. Go to the Lord. Pray. Study and know your Bible. I believe that if more people knew their Bibles, they wouldn't fall prey to many of the charlatans that claim to speak as prophets or messengers of the Lord, but are actually wolves in sheep's clothing, masquerading as angels of light. (2 Cor 11:14)

So if God is not all about our goodness and comfort, what does He want for us? Holiness and righteousness come to mind. He knows that perfection is beyond us, but striving for perfection is within everyone's grasp. Whole nations have been subject to captivity that they might repent and turn to the Lord. Those that do reap the reward. Not rewards, as in goodness and comfort, but reward, as in salvation. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind, as I see people post it whenever things go south. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." But do we understand the context of that promise? That the people would be in captivity for a long time, and that some of them would not see life after captivity? The future and hope is not a return to prosperity or a rescue from their enemies, it is the salvation they receive as a result of seeking the Lord.

Here's the passage in Amos that has me thinking, 5:21-24. 

“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

What? God HATES our feasts and gatherings? He does not accept our offerings? He considers our songs an irritating noise? Why? Because they are offered without justice. They are offered in ignorance, with a lack of knowledge of who God is and what He wants for and from us. 

So what does it all come down to? No matter the circumstance, seek the Lord, not easy or convenient answers. Paul, before writing Philippians 4:13, another verse most often taken out of context, writes Philippians 4:11-12, which states, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." That secret is the very essence of Amos 5, seek the Lord. So when he states in verse 13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." it is really a statement of why he could endure all things (past tense) rather than a promise that looks forward promising God's eternal blessing in all our endeavors. Perhaps a better rendering of this verse would be, "I have prevailed in all these things because of God who gave me the strength. Prevailing in an eternal sense, and not temporal.

But don't take my word for it, seek the Lord,



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Amos 4 - This AND That...

 Amos - Chapter 4

I want to focus on Israel, in verses 6 through 13.

Basically, God has made life difficult in many ways for the people of Israel, all in an attempt to turn their dependence back to Him and away from the blessings they receive from Him. I believe this flies south in comparison to the messages being shared by many of today's prophets, as well as by those who preach any form of a prosperity gospel. 

Verse 12 - "...prepare to meet your God, O Israel." Wow! Could not these same words be spoken today? We cling to a God who blesses us financially, and in our leadership, and in our health. But is that the God of the Bible? Yes, God blessed many godly people in the Bible. He also allowed many to suffer. The rain fell on the just and the unjust! (Matt 5:43-45)

Why do we believe those who prophesied that Trump would win? Is it because we serve a Republican God? Is it because we serve a God who always allows the righteous to win? Is it because we serve a God who would not allow us to suffer under unjust leadership? Have you read your Bible? What about the Israelites serving under Pharaoh? The Babylonian Captivity? The stoning of Stephen or the beheading of John the Baptist? The persecution of Paul, as well as the early Christians? 

Perhaps there is more truth in 2 Chronicles 7:13,14 than we want to see. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. When will God hear? When His people hear AND seek His face. I fear that many of the prayers that are being offered are more about relief from evil and persecution than they are about seeking His face. They are more about getting blessings than serving the giver of those blessings. 

God help us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Amos 3 - Look in the Mirror!

Amos - Chapter 3 

It is easy to focus on the faults of others. Let's again look at the current political situation. Both sides are hypocritical. Was there election fraud? Many believe so. They go so far as to say that God is working in such a way as to expose the corruption at just the right time. They keep saying that, waiting, hoping. If corruption exists, I too hope it will be exposed. Or do I?

Israel could point to the sins of Moab, and they were many and awful. But when God deals with what is going on, He doesn't just look at Moab, He also looks at Israel and what has been going on with them. How has Israel handled what it has been given during this time? Have they used a time of plenty to honor their God? Or has the plenty become their God? Prior to this election, what has been the climate of the churches in America? Have we used this time to help the "widows and orphans," (James 1:27) or has this time been used to build elaborate buildings, programs, and staff in order to increase our presence and popularity among ourselves? Have we honored God during times of plenty in the way the He would desire to be honored, or have we honored our own agendas in His name? 

Verse 11 is striking. "Therefore thus says the Lord God: An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered." Does this sound like God is just going to expose the corruption of Moab, without also dealing with the sins of Israel? 

Yet I do believe that there is a difference in how God deals and punishes Moab verses how God deals and punishes Israel. Moab's punishment is the end result, a direct consequence of their sins. There will ultimately be no relief from their punishment. For Israel, the punishment has a desired result, repentance. God desires that Israel look in the mirror and see their sins and turn back to God. 

I find verse 12 interesting, and wonder at its true interpretation. As I see it, the shepherd rescues a portion of the animal devoured by the lion. Does that mean that Jesus will redeem some, but not all of Israel? That in this time of trial, some will be overtaken and still refuse to repent, but those who do will find redemption? As I recall the words of Jesus, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt 7:13,14) It is also interesting to note that these verses are followed by a stern warning regarding false prophets.

I think the bottom line is this, look at yourself first! You may or may not be able to change the situation at the top, but you can definitely change your situation in regard to what you have put your faith and trust in, and how you deal with the circumstances you encounter as a result. It all starts with a hard look at what is in the mirror.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Amos 2 - Has God Found What He is Looking For?

Amos - Chapter 2

I chose this book because of our current political situation. Some still don't believe that the election results are legit, and hold that the truth will yet come out. They believe that God is working to expose the corruption, and when it is revealed, things will be set right and those guilty will be held accountable. I wonder if that includes us?

God sends forth judgement in chapter 2. Moab gets it pretty good, an they deserved it too. But there is also judgement on Judah. The chosen ones? The tribe through which the Messiah would come? Say it isn't so. But it is. They are guilty not of the corruption of Moab, but of rejecting the law and not keeping the statutes of God. They have believed and perpetuated lies. So are we much different? Perhaps we are not corrupt politicians, but what about faithfulness? Do we know God's word, or do we trust some local or television preacher? Do we listen to those who prophesy about God's desire for our health and wealth, or do we read about God's holiness and justice. A justice that is for all. So Moab gets judgement, and so does Judah. Maybe in the process of all that is going on, we too are seeing God's wrath for sin.

Israel does not avoid punishment either. Grievous sins. Abuse of the poor, of women. God's name profaned because of it. This after God has taken them and led them to a place where they could worship and live in peace, by defeating some powerful enemies. Enemies more powerful than they could have slain on their own. 

It seems that now that they have some strength and power, they are prideful and have forgotten about their need for God. But God will remind them. Their power and might will not save them. Nor will their wealth. 

I think about the Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians. Yay! God saves the day and rescues them. The corruption of Egypt is exposed and Israel is free. Free to leave. Free to wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years. Not the freedom they were hoping for. But God had to teach them too. Teach them perhaps the value of freedom. Teach them that freedom from the Egyptians is not freedom from God. Teach them to trust God, even when things look bleak. That sea must have looked awful foreboding before God parted it for them. 

I do not know what the future holds. Will corruption be exposed? Will we see glory days? Will darkness take over? I don't know. What I do know is that God is looking for faithfulness. Faithfulness in captivity. Faithfulness in wandering. Faithfulness in times of blessing. For those in corruption, unfaithfulness, or any other sin, know that there is always accountability. For no matter the circumstances of this life, judgement awaits us all. And only those in Christ will be to bear it.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Amos 1 - Why Not Save Them?

Amos - Chapter 1

God is reigning down judgement. The people have wandered away. Again.

The people that God is calling out have some grievous sins. And in their sin, they lost all sensitivity to others. (Vs 7: and cast off all pity) Things like ripping open pregnant women. Their evil seems to know no boundaries. Sound familiar? The hatred and anger seem to be all that drives them. 

I cannot see much difference between their behavior and the behavior of many who rule today. Greed, and the pursuit of more never satisfies. Doing whatever it takes, harming whoever stands in their way. Lying, throwing around their might, crushing those who would object. 

Some would ask, "Where is God? Why doesn't he wipe them out?" This is a question that the oppressed could have asked for centuries.

A few thoughts:

God has provided a way. Jesus. He is giving them and us a chance to repent. Even the oppressed do not stand by as innocents. The oppressed just want more too. Today, we follow the likes of Osteen and Furtick, because they preach a gospel that is not really a gospel at all, it is merely a ruse to follow a God who wants you to have "your best life NOW." If that is true, why do the oppressors exist? 

I have heard so many prophesies leading up to yesterday's inauguration that Trump would be victorious. I believe it was stated by those who follow such a philosophy that God does not want us to suffer. But Biden was sworn in. Isn't this how God responded in the past? When people wandered away, He did not EVER say, "Perhaps what they need is more prosperity." No, oppression, captivity, calamity came to drive people from their possessions into their only assurance, which is found in the arms of God. 

The difference here is in knowing the true character of God verses knowing a God who fits our desires. That is the God that most preach today. We only hear of the God who saves those in the loin's den, as we feel we all are, and not the God who led John the Baptist into a place where he would demonstrate his faith by being beheaded. God said that there was none greater than John in the kingdom (Mt 11:11), yet this is how the greatest dies? That does not preach well. That does not bring in customers.

It seems that is what has happened to Christianity. We are customers flocking to the church that best meets our needs through its programming, flocking to a God who loves us so much that He only wants what is good (in our own eyes) for us. 

And we think we deserve salvation from oppression? 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Amos - Introduction

 Amos was a farmer and a shepherd who was called into being a prophet during the reigns of Jeroboam (Northern Kingdom) and Uzziah (Southern Kingdom). These were prosperous times. But with prosperity came idolatry and corruption. Amos called the people of Israel out for their behavior, for breaking their covenant with God. 

I think of my lifetime. I grew up during the Reagan years of prosperity. But I also see the seeds of corruption that we sown during that time. Not just politically, but also in the church. Prosperity theology is not just for TV preachers, but has worked its way into the local congregations as well. Just look at the books in their libraries, the promises made from their pulpits, the general lack of Scripture by the average church goer. Is it any wonder that Jesus wonders if He will find faith when He returns. Faith in a God who is concerned with righteousness. With trust even when things do not go as we desire. Faith in God rather than faith in the things God provides.

Perhaps as I read through this book of the Old Testament, I will see a relevance that is just as strong today as it was when Amos was around...