Passages

The type of passage I’m referring to is “the act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another”. From online dictionary.

“Every time there are losses, there are choices to be made.  You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.” Henri Nouwen

 This quote is the essence of the gospel, the Good News!  Jesus Christ has come and through His sacrifice has made it possible for us to have a working relationship with God through Him to co-create with God. By our choosing to let God manage the passage from loss to something new, wider and deeper, we are recognizing that we can’t do it on our own. Left to our own choices, it would be so easy to let anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment take over and consume us, keeping us stuck right where we are.  One Easter service at my church in Willow Springs, I used file boxes that had been painted white to build a large cross outside in our church pavilion for a pre-dawn service.   “Lamb’s blood” that we had painted on the boxes earlier in the year telling the Passover story was still visible in the partial light as day was breaking just before the sunrise service. After the crucifixion/resurrection story, the cross of boxes were then turned into a doorway facing the sun just starting to rise in the east to visualize the message in John 10:9 – “ I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is the only Passage to something new, lasting and eternal.

“In Jesus’ day there was a pool where people went, hoping to experience miraculous healing.  One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?” ‘I can’t sir,’ the sick man said, ‘for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up.  Someone else always gets there ahead of me.’ Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’ instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!” John 5:5-9

At the point of providing healing, Jesus asked him if that is what he wanted, waiting on him to make the choice.    

In the Life Recovery Bible, the writer describes the experience like this:  “This man was so crippled that he couldn’t go any farther on his own.  He camped as near as he could to a place where there was hope for recovery.  God met him there and brought him the rest of the way.  For us, “entirely ready” may mean getting as close to the hope of healing as we can in our crippled condition.  When we do, God will meet us there and take us the rest of the way. 

Paul said of himself, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. . . There is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” Romans 7:18, 23

“No matter how far we progress, our sinful nature will always incline toward and be susceptible to the lure of our addiction (our sinful nature RF).  We can’t afford to forget this or let down our guard.  Maintaining sobriety (being sin-free RF) is something we will need to nurture for the rest of our life, one day at a time.  But we also have a reason for great hope.  By trusting Christ and recognizing our helplessness against the power of sin, we open our life to the transforming power of God.” From Life Recovery Bible 

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:12-13

“When you give your life over to Jesus Christ, part of that act of . . .submission is that you don’t know what’s best and recognizing that your choices are always going to be influenced by your addictions whether that is an ego-centered “me” or something from outside yourself that you are trying to control.  It is Jesus Christ in you that will always call on your higher self to act and take control.  Psalm 27:4-6 helps us to understand the desires of the higher self that is within us.”  L R Bible 

“The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.  For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary.  He will place me out of reach on a high rock.  Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me.  At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.”  Psalm 27:4-6

The prophet Ezekiel in his time around 600 BC stood at the brink of Israel’s greatest loss.  They had finally been taken into captivity by a pagan king, King Nebuchadnezzar.  No longer in their homeland of Jerusalem, they arrived in a strange land driven in chains like prisoner slaves to a life of which they had no concept.  They had no real conviction that God had allowed this to happen after numerous warnings by the prophets that it was coming if they didn’t change their ways.  Ezekiel, himself, was one of the Israelite captives and one day he witnessed an awesome, yet frightening vision. The image in the vision had four faces, angels with hands under their wings and God elevated above them with a rainbow representing his everlasting covenant with us. The image had wheels inside of wheels that made it possible for the contraption to go East/West or North/South without turning around as it could only move in a straight line. 

 (Read Ezekiel 1:1-14)

In Matthew Henry’s Commentary, we are given a deeper understanding of the meaning of this vision:

“It is a mercy to have the word of God brought to us, and a duty to attend to it diligently, when we are in affliction. The voice of God came in the fulness of light and power, by the Holy Spirit. These visions seem to have been sent to possess the prophet’s mind with great and high thoughts of God. To strike terror upon sinners. To speak comfort to those that feared God, and humbled themselves. In verses 4-14, is the first part of the vision, which represents God as attended and served by a vast company of angels, who are all his messengers, his ministers, doing his commandments. This vision would impress the mind with solemn awe and fear of the Divine displeasure, yet raise expectations of blessings. The fire is surrounded with a glory. Though we cannot by searching find out God to perfection, yet we see the brightness round about it. . . The prophet saw these living creatures by their own light, for their appearance was like burning coals of fire; they are seraphim, or “burners;” denoting the ardor of their love to God, and fervent zeal in his service. We may learn profitable lessons from subjects we cannot fully enter into or understand. But let us attend to the things which relate to our peace and duty, and leave secret things to the Lord, to whom alone they belong.”  Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you.  I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”Ezekiel 36:26 This is the key verse of the book of Ezekiel.  You can’t make a successful passage from loss into something new, deeper and wider without a new spirit and a tender, responsive heart that turns to God and seeks his guidance and purpose for your life. 

  In the vision God is showing Ezekiel what it takes to get through challenges by visually showing him the images: “The likeness of the living creatures came out of the midst of the fire; angels derive their being and power from God. They have the understanding of a man, and far more. A lion excels in strength and boldness. An ox excels in diligence and patience, and unwearied discharge of the work he has to do. An eagle excels in quickness and piercing sight, and in soaring high; and the angels, who excel man in all these respects, put on these appearances.” Matthew Henry

You may ask, “what does this strange vision have to do with passages to something new, wider and deeper?” I believe it is an important part of my journey.

My second life began in the 1980’s as I have written about in other Sweetwater Journey chapters.  The change was brought on by a Force outside of myself. God had to nurture strength, boldness, diligence and patience within me to survive the challenges that were coming.  At some point, God must have heard the prayer in my heart for something to change the path I was on.  More and more, I was waking up to a deeper walk with Christ but was yoked to a partner who had no understanding of spiritual submission to a higher power.  The “stony, stubborn heart” my partner possessed, even though he was a good person in the eyes of the world, was not seeking “a new heart or a new spirit, responsive to God”

The worst agricultural crisis in history began to loom large on the horizon of our lives and before very long we were engulfed by it.  The only way forward was through it.  There would be much loss and changes that would force me to make choices based on the higher calling that was gradually taking shape in my life.  I can only testify to what I know and where I’ve been.  In the chapter I wrote titled “The One-Effect” I opened with this quote from a movie:

“A good man draws a circle around him and cares for those within – his woman and his children.  Other men draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters but some men have a great destiny.  They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more.  You must decide for yourself who you are.”  From the movie,“10,000 B.C.”

When I was a child, the sixth-born of seven, playing with my brothers in the corn rows on our eastern Nebraska farm between Omaha and Sioux City, IA, I would never have believed the impact my life would have one day on so many. 

I believe that God places within each one of us a destiny that lays dormant as our lives unfold and then at the right moment, the next phase of the work that God began within us begins to emerge.  “. . . he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV

In the 1980’s, I was forced to decide who I was.  I was yoked to someone who only wanted to draw a circle around his woman and children which is admirable, yet, I was being called to include many, many more.

All around us in the agriculture community where we lived, there were people suffering with the tremendous changes and loss that were taking place due to the farm crisis.  The financial crisis gouged deep into people’s personal lives, taking away any security they may have thought they had, causing financial ruin, long-term mental breakdowns, divorce, health problems – extreme loss.  We could be victims or we could use what we were going through to make us stronger and deeper and moving towards something new.  Like others at that time who were stepping up, God showed me a way through the chaos that I wanted to show to others – I felt compelled to show to others.  Even today, when I hear an inspiring story of conquering adversity, I think of all those who would benefit from hearing about it.  Then I go about spreading it to others, whether through my writing, word of mouth in my presentations or sharing with the inmates I work with.  That is how I am made.  I gradually discovered, that the responsive heart God gave me was not going to stop with just me and mine, I would be compelled to take on leadership roles that were totally foreign to my farm-girl background of enjoying a quiet, private life.  At any point, I could have chosen differently but that is not what I felt at the time.  History is filled with people who stood up and took the risks.  It didn’t seem at the time that I was choosing something that would put me in a place to impact the lives of so many but as I look back, I can see the path I was on and the work I was doing was clearly one that only God could have begun within me.

An important part of Ezekiel’s vision was about the angels with hands under their wings. Matthew Henry gives this insight:

”The angels have wings; and whatever business God sends them upon, they lose no time. They stood straight, and firm, and steady. They had not only wings for motion, but hands for action. Many persons are quick, who are not active; they hurry about, but do nothing to purpose; they have wings, but no hands. But wherever the angels’ wings carried them, they carried hands with them, to be doing what duty required. Whatever service they went about, they went every one straight forward. When we go straight, we go forward; when we serve God with one heart, we perform work. They turned not when they went. They made no mistakes; and their work needed not to be gone over again. They turned not from their business to trifle with anything. They went whithersoever the Spirit of God would have them go.” Matthew Henry Commentary

 I joined the ranks of servants to bring relief to the people who were being victimized to provide a light for their paths to something new, wider and deeper.  At the time of those choices, I didn’t feel I was alone, I truly believed that I was doing what God wanted me to do and now I can look back and see the positive results and the difference I have been blessed to make for others.  : Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.”  Proverbs 31:8-10

Now, the words and images of the twenty-third psalm mean even more to me having been through the challenges that I have faced on my passage to something new, wider and deeper.

Kristen Cooper has a blog online she has titled “Through the Valley”.  The following is a personal reflection written by her about the loss of her husband and her passage through the valley of the shadow of death at that time:

“I’ve walked through the valley.  I’ve seen the shadow of death.  I’ve had my life ripped apart at the seams.  Stolen from me in an instant.  I’ve lived through the days when I could only take one step at a time.  One foot in front of the other.  One minute. One second. Without being able to think farther ahead.  I’ve walked through the valley. It’s an ugly place.  It’s dark and cold.  The mountains are high on each side.  Tall and forbidding.  Too high to climb.  The path is windy ahead. It curves where I can’t see.  Each day I make it a little farther.  I sleep alone.  I’m scared.  But there’s a tiny flame inside my heart.  At first, it is the tiniest flicker.  From the first moment I can feel it.  As cold and scared and dark as it is I can feel the burn in my heart.  The flame brings peace.  Comfort, light.  The flame leads me.  Shows me the way to the green pastures of my home and the still waters of my family.”  Kristen Cooper “Through the Valley”     

at http://kristinwcooper.blogspot.com/

Kristen has since remarried, had a second child and built a new life.

I know the flame she refers to, one that I cannot deny. It has been with me all my life.  God’s plan for me has taken on a life of its own. I am happier when I follow it.  My life is much more rewarding even though I have to push against my selfish nature to settle for complacency, “after all I’m 73, I’ve done enough”, my ego is saying, but it is the spiritual fire within me that drives me forward to the new, wider and deeper me around the bend.  How does God do his work if not through us? 

Kristen completes her writing: “The flame anoints me with the warmth of love.  I cling to the flame.  I seek it.  Tend it.  And it grows.  It can’t carry me out of the valley.  That job is mine.  But it lights my path.  Guides my feet.  Stays with me.  Protects me from my fears.  And day by day, step by step, it leads me.  Outside the valley there is a life waiting for me.  A life overflowing with goodness.  A life full of mercy and love.  It’s my job to take the steps.  But I’ll never be alone.” Kristen Cooper “Through the Valley”

The Oil of Joy

 

 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3 KJV

If there is something amazing that reading the Scriptures brings to me, it is comfort, joy, peace and great expectation. When Jesus stood up in the synagogue that day and went forward to read from Isaiah 61 in the Torah, what a palpable moment that was.  Thousands of years of prophecies and waiting had led up to this moment.  The gathered Jews that sat in the hearing of  this prophecy from Isaiah – one that they knew from memory and had heard read time after time – had no idea of what they were about to experience.  Jesus Christ began a revolution that still is being felt today.  This Isaiah prophecy was being fulfilled in their presence.  As He left the synagogue, a group of the religious leaders who were there that day were so enraged with Him for His Messianic declaration, that they almost succeeded in crowding Him off a bank and down a steep slope as He made a quick departure.  This reference covers everything that plagues our culture today.  The drug abuse epidemic that we are facing right now exists because of the way our culture attempts to solve the ills that challenge us.  We have the ills of poverty, the brokenhearted, those who are imprisoned literally and emotionally and intellectually, those who mourn and those who have a spirit of heaviness.  Jesus Christ is the answer to heal the ills of our culture yet we have dwindling church attendance to the point that the church is becoming irrelevant and out of touch.  There are three concepts mentioned in the Isaiah reference: beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  I would like to focus on the oil of joy in this chapter.  Unless we embody this concept so that it lives through us, it has no effect. We symbolically pour this oil on everyone we come in contact with.  Oil of joy oozes from every pore of someone who is centered in Jesus Christ and feels the joy and comfort it brings to their own lives.

One day I received a call from a former inmate who had been released.  He had had a rocky imprisonment and had been waiting for charges to be dealt with that had already been cleared in a prior trial.  There was extenuating circumstances, the prosecuting attorney had charged, that had just come to light and he was left in limbo not knowing what was coming next.  I met him about a month before he was released.  During that month we had some beautiful Thursday gatherings that worked on his heart in its anger over what was happening to him.  In the last gathering, we felt a rush of the Holy Spirit as it ministered to these men, some at varying degrees of acceptance.  But with this man, the Spirit washed over him with the oil of joy and release and thoroughly changed his life.  When he left the cell, he called his wife to tell her what happened and she told him that all the charges had been dropped and he could come home immediately.  The day he called me, he wanted to get together with me and share what the Spirit had done for him.  On the evening we chose, I got to meet his dear and faithful wife and her mom, both had stuck by this man for twenty years plus.  As he described the kind of old man he had been before his conversion – the new man that sat before us was on fire with the Spirit and ready to serve.  He had never been baptized, and he was excitedly waiting for that experience.  What I saw was a miracle!  His wife and mother-in-law both described the change that had taken place.  I felt as we were talking that I was to begin a work with this family to help other released inmates. 

 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 

 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:24-26

 

The old man had died so that the new man could be born to sow seeds for a great spiritual harvest.  This change could have only been possible through the Holy Spirit.  We can never give up on someone who is lost, even if we have to separate ourselves from that person and pray from afar, we still haven’t given up.  He had been given the oil of joy along with the other blessings we find in Isaiah 61. “. . .  preach good tidings unto the meek; . . . bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” 1-3

 

 This change is very real and visible in the way it takes over.  C.H. Spurgeon tells us:

 

“Certainly there is a beauty which the Spirit gives to men, which they can never obtain in any other way.  Oh, the excellence of the character that is formed by the hand of the Spirit of God!  It is a beautiful thing which even God himself delights to look upon; it is a thing of beauty, and in the most emphatic sense a joy forever.  He that is made comely with the comeliness which the Holy Spirit gives must be a happy man.  Other beauty may bring sorrow, but the beauty of holiness makes us akin to angels.. . As the believer is delivered from the power of sin he is brought into a condition in which the joy of the Lord can more and more abide in him.  Now, in every way Jesus loved righteousness intensely and hated wickedness intensely.  He died that He might establish righteousness and that He might destroy wickedness from off the face of the earth, therefore it is that he has greater gladness because He had greater holiness.  Moreover, you know that  in any holy enterprise, if the business succeeds, the joy of the worker is proportionate to the trial it has cost him.  In the great battle of righteousness our Lord has led the vanguard, the great fight against wickedness our Savior has borne the brunt of the battle, therefore, because He to the death loved righteousness and to the agony and bloody sweat strove against sin, the accomplished conquest brings him the greatest joy.  He has done the most for the good cause, and therefore He is anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows.. . On Christ this anointing is poured above His fellows, and then upon his fellows in communion with Himself there comes the sprinkling of the oil.  We have our measure, He has it without measure.. . and through the power of the anointing we are told that His people come into the same condition of righteousness as Himself.” C.H.Spurgeon

 

C.H. Spurgeon was a great minister in the 1800’s.  But what I gain most from his sermons is his great love of Christ and the joy his words bring to thrill the spirit of the follower of Christ in every era.  It doesn’t matter.  His words are timeless just like the Scriptures because they bear the living Spirit that infused him when Spurgeon wrote them.

 

He states further “Once more, it becomes a perfume.  When oil was poured on a man, his presence scented the air around him, and when the Spirit of God is given to us it is perceived by other spiritual minds.  Cannot you detect in a brother’s prayer that he has been with Jesus? Do you not know by the lives of some of the Christ’s dear saints that he is very familiar with them? Do you not perceive that they have had a special anointing? The ungodly world cannot tell it, but saints discern it.  The nostril of the wicked is only pleased by the leeks, and the garlic, and the onions of Egypt, but the believing nostril has been sanctified, and it perceives the delicate myrrh and cinnamon, and sweet calamus and cassia, which make up the anointing oil.  The rare combination of sacred qualities which make up a holy character will be seen in the believer in whom the Holy Spirit displays his power, and as a consequence he will be glad at heart.” C.H. Spurgeon

 

I witnessed evidence of the oil of joy in this man who sat in the booth we shared and praised God for the transformation that had taken place in him.

Good Friday Meditation

It’s important that we focus on the image of the crucifixion of God our Creator who came as Jesus Christ  during this season.  It’s important that we fully understand that there are conditions in the hearts of humanity who could do this to the Son of Man who had no sin and only came to save us in our sins.  He reached out to the poor, lost and sick and gave them hope. He stated:”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Unfortunately, we are capable of doing this to one another. We are capable of rendering harm even death- spiritual, emotional and physical. At this point, our Savior appeared to have no hope. We appeared to have no hope. Everything was lost. Evil had won! His followers were absolutely devastated scattering to the wind; hiding and scared. Sometimes our lives look just like this when we think everything is over and there is no one who is coming to rescue us – when we feel that evil and injustice have won!!!

Sometimes our world looks like this and there are those bleeding and dying where there should be joy and laughter.  “My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. . . My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. O Lord do not stay far away. You are my strength; come quickly to my aid.”  Psalm 22 “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

jesuscross_silo

Meditate upon this bloody and scarred image to begin to let in the truth and the comfort and hope that’s coming as we begin to realize the difference three days can make.  In those three days, miraculous, wonderful things begin to happen as God does his resurrection work.  Everything is about to change. A new millennium is coming.  Everything wrong is about to be made right.  All of creation is focused on the body in the borrowed tomb as life begins to course through the veins of a perfect being who came in love and has paid the price for our redemption.   All of the prophetic word comes to bear in this moment of the rising up. “I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 66:9 NCV   This is the new normal for us.  There is nothing that can come into our lives that can separate us from the love of God and from his perfect outcome.  In three days, you will see He has overcome the world!!!

Rethinking Abundance

 “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Because of the guidance we are given in the Scriptures toward a deepening spiritual life, and the fact that Jesus was homeless during His three years of ministry, the abundant life is not centered in having things, it’s centered in an awareness of having a purpose and belonging to Something and Someone beyond us. Our eventual awareness of this fact is recognizing the distractions of our Western culture that steal away the purely spiritual walk that is possible. 

 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

The Apostle Paul had to constantly deal with the early Church that was not spiritually growing because of the world’s distractions. In his first letter to members in Corinth, he pointed out that they were creating division because they were always arguing about which of the apostles were the most spiritual. The petty debates they engaged in over who was greatest were undermining their spiritual growth.

“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly—as infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for solid food. 3for you are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and dissension among you, are you not worldly? Are you not walking in the way of man?” I Cor 3:1-3

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

K. Edward Skidmore helps us understand the different steps that delineate the milk vs the meat concept in his sermon “Moving On From Milk To Meat in the Word of God” Oct. 26, 2011. “So, what happens to Christians who keep gravitating towards milk long after they should be shifting over to meat? They can be identified by showing the following characteristics:

• Slow to learn deeper truths:  There is a sluggishness about hearing anything beyond what they have already learned about the basics of the gospel message. 

• Inability to articulate their faith: Not only are they slow to hear and learn anything new, they also are unable to share what they have come to know about Christ. Like jabbering toddlers, spiritual babies keep returning to the spiritual ABC’s and show no interest in going on to deeper things.

• Worldly behavior: (1 Cor. 3:3) Baby Christians are hard to tell from non Christians because they often retain vestiges of carnality from their former lives. Paul encouraged Christians to put off the old man and its ways, and put on the new man. This means a transition from the ways unsaved people live to the ways of living that reveal our new natures in Christ. (Eph. 4:22)

• Inability to self feed: (2 Tim. 2:15) Even a baby drinking from a bottle can eventually hold his bottle with his own hands. In the same way, a baby Christian should be able to pick up their own Bible and read it devotionally for themselves. The spiritual baby who needs to be spoon fed continuously is heading towards arrested spiritual development. No Christian can get by on one 30 minute sermon per week as the sum total of spiritual feeding. That would be the same thing as eating only one meal per week. Eventually you would starve to death.

• Inability to discern between good and bad: (Heb 5:13-14) ‘Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’ Spiritual babies gravitate towards rule books and lists that spell out what is right and wrong so that they can mindlessly go along with the dictates of manipulative teachers who call for conformity to outward rituals rather than the inner life of relationship with God. This is what Jesus condemned in the behavior of the Pharisees who placed burdens on the people that no one could possibly bear. Spiritual babies like to make a good impression on others by outward conformity to rules and regulations regardless of what may be going on in the heart.”

Now Skidmore helps us understand how to grow spiritually.

“How do Spiritual Babies Grow? Having warned against the dangers of failure to grow up and make progress in the Christian life, the writer of Hebrews shows the process of moving forward towards maturity. He wrote, ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.’ (Hebrews 6:9-12)

When we talk about spiritual growth we must make it clear that growth is not just an option for a Christian; growing up is the very definition of a Christian! A Christian grows to be like Christ. This is a transformation much like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The process of this changing is described in 2 Cor. 3:18, ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ The principle here is that we become more like whatever we focus on. . . The verse just mentioned reveals that focusing on Christ himself will have a changing effect on whoever is able to see Christ clearly. We are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to the next. It is a daily changing so that we become more like Christ (having his mind within us), and people are more able to see Jesus living within us with the passing of time.

Looking back at Heb. 6:10-12 we also morph into the image of Christ if we do what the text advises us to do as growing Christians:

• Show your love of God by helping His people (vs. 10) As Christians grow towards maturity, they are able to develop more outward focus, and to be as concerned about the spiritual growth of others as they are about their own spiritual growth. It is odd but true that the more we focus on the spiritual development of others (by helping them out with the process) the more we find ourselves growing as well.

• Give diligence to the very end (vs. 11) . . A part of the process in spiritual development is to learn how to keep on keepin’ on.”  K. Edward Skidmore, “Moving On From Milk To Meat in the Word of God” Oct. 26, 2011.

The first part of Jesus’ statement in John 10:10 about why He came sets up His interpretation – the only one that matters – of abundance: “I have come that you might have life. . .”  Henri Nouwen, professor, writer and theologian wrote: “Every time there are losses, there are choices to be made.  You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper.”

Life is about choices.  It’s not living the abundant life just through financial blessings.  You hear a lot about the economy of the Kingdom.  Economy in this usage is not money or things, it’s spiritual depth of understanding.  The definition of “economy” is: “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.”

We think of it as relating to money but the economy of the Kingdom is far different.  Everyone has a level playing field when it comes to the economy of the Kingdom.  We all have access to the “abundant life” that Jesus talks about.  We may not all have equal access to what is considered the “American Dream” of possession, status and ownership but we do have access to the most important resource of all – a life centered in Jesus Christ, the greatest resource of all.  He is the economy of the Kingdom.  The abundant life is accessible through choices.  Until we really understand that it’s spiritual abundance Christ was referring to, not money and things unless we have them to help others, we could be on the wrong path.   There is no careful budgeting, scrimping, restraint and thriftiness needed to have the Kingdom life.  It is the never-ending spring of life that we discover and choose.

 

On our farm, we have a spring that feeds one of our ponds. It worked well for years and years until the silt began to fill it in and stop the flow.  Once that was removed, the flow resumed.  In the case of an artesian well, it takes special handling to be controlled.  It’s very nature is that it can run freely as if it’s being pumped by artificial means. Wikipedia states that “An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure. This causes the water level in a well to rise to a point where hydrostatic equilibrium has been reached. A well drilled into such an aquifer is called an artesian well.”

This positive pressure causes it to flow without a pump. A flowing well has it’s challenges to control. I am not that knowledgeable about how an artesian well works but I have always found the few I’ve encountered in my life interesting in how they are not capped, they just flow.  The Spiritual spring I have found is an artesian spring of living water that never stops. Its source is boundless with no limits.  As it flows into me, everything I am and am not is challenged.  If I say I want to grow and I pray for blessings in my life but because of resistant pride am not willing to change, those blessings may not happen, and my life may not change for the better.  When I don’t love enough because of pride, my life will not look any different.  This artesian spring of living water causes me to look at selfish pride and examples of me not being willing to share what I have.  Like you, I am the answer to someone’s prayer.  We are God’s Plan A for someone.  Blessings most often come through someone to us – someone who is responding to the spiritual leading of the living water that flows through them.  We are someone’s source of abundance.  It may be temporal or spiritual abundance, but nevertheless abundance needed for that person’s well-being and spiritual growth.  Jesus told His followers “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 

 I try to keep in mind that everything I have is God’s, given to me by God to use at his discretion, not mine. In the beginning, God walked with us in the Garden. It was not his initial intention to be invisible and seemingly inaccessible to us.  Sin has caused that to change.  Sending his Son to teach us how to live and then making the ultimate sacrifice so that our lives could be spiritual and we are now able to have a rich relationship with God as in the beginning.  

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2 

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15

“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John 6:51 

“He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.” From Rev 2:17

The manna given to the Israelites during the wilderness journey was a provision for their physical needs.  This manna was a special food, prepared by God, that contained everything necessary for the sustenance of the physical body.  It was provided fresh daily, and the Israelites were to gather only what they needed for the day’s food.  No supplemental food was provided or required.

The “manna” that the Israelites were given in the wilderness typified Christ, “the living bread that came down from heaven”; and this “living bread” is the provision that Christians have been given for their wilderness journey.  Christians “eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood” (John 6:48-54) through the assimilation of the Word of God.  This Word is a special food, prepared by God, containing everything necessary for the sustenance and well-being of the spiritual life.

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

“All drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” I Corinthans 10:4

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7

 “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”

2 Cor. 2:2

Hebrews 6 ends with wonderful assurance for anyone willing to grow closer to Christ. Vs. 18-19 tell us to “Take hold of the hope offered to us and be greatly encouraged. For we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Imagine our community filled with Christ’s followers who are operating on a spiritual-based level of understanding, and like Christ are working for inclusion for all, not just for those who have. 

Light Up the Night

  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love

and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24 

Children, dressed in pajamas and gowns walk quickly down a long white corridor to a welcoming room awash with light and chairs and tables.  Elation bubbles as each child that is able mounts the chairs to sit on the tables and face the wall of windows.  They can see out beyond the hospital grounds, the traffic moving on the busy highway.  It’s Wednesday and One Magic Minute is about to begin.  At 8:30PM, the attendants clad in scrubs shut off the lights signaling an even greater welling of excitement as the children busily work to get their flashlights turned on and pointed toward the windows.  Eyes sparkle with building anticipation when suddenly just beyond the highway a long line of lights burst into life in response- cars and police cruisers with rotating emergency lights.  Beyond the cars and cruisers, businesses in the city blink their lights off and on in a magical spectacle.  Neighbors in Providence, Rhode Island are telling the children in the cancer ward “Good Night”.

 The minute to three minute long “Good Night” passes quickly with the children turning their flashlights on and off as excited laughter and sharing fills the room, letting out the day’s frustrations of sometimes painful medical treatments and care.  Flashlights and vehicle lights go dark when the overhead lights come on.  One Magic Minute, also called “Good Night Lights” has successfully raised everyone’s spirits and brought a community together to express the love that is an important part of the healing for their community children.

Here is a report written about this community event:   

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — For one sparkling minute each night, skyscrapers, tugboats, hotels, a yacht club and police cruisers send a blinking goodnight message to sick kids inside a children’s hospital. A gesture that began with a single light six years ago has become a nightly display along the Providence River — and a highly anticipated ritual — inside Hasbro Children’s Hospital. ’It’s special to know that people I don’t even know will take the time  to flash the lights’, said 13-year-old Olivia Stephenson, who has been admitted to the hospital three times since June, most recently last week. To thank the invisible strangers shining their lights at her and fellow patients, she blinks her own flashlight back toward the downtown skyline, using a two-flash response that means ‘thank you’. ‘They don’t know me; they could skip the step of flicking the lights, but they do it anyway,’ she said after seeing the Good Night Lights display for the first time in late August. ‘I hope they saw the thank you’. Some of Providence’s bigger hotels have installed permanent signals that automatically turn on flashy messages at 8:30 p.m., to the delight of giddy toddlers and older children who can spot them from their windows. But most of the lights are hand-held. One volunteer group gathers near the top of a 28-story office building to flash their lights. The farthest signal comes from a church group blinking from a dark shoreline 2 miles downriver in East Providence. The idea began with the hospital’s resident cartoonist, Steve Brosnihan, who has spent 26 years regaling sick kids with on-the-spot drawings and word games. Brosnihan, who gets to the hospital by bike or bus, noticed one day in 2010 that he could see his route home from inside the six-story hospital. Using his bike light and flashlights, he began sending simple messages tailored to individual kids. Late last year, he appealed to local businesses to send a joint message: Goodnight, Hasbro, using four flashes to represent each syllable.

The first business to participate was The Hot Club, a waterfront nightclub and restaurant. Along with flashing its large neon sign, patrons gather on the deck each night, even in cold weather, to wave their flashlights and cellphones. Following the nightclub were the tugboats of the Providence Steamboat Company. They shine their powerful searchlights at the hospital and occasionally blow their horns. A yacht club, restaurants and police officers have also joined in. About two dozen kids who can range in age from 2 to 20 are in the hospital on any given night. . . The anonymity of the exchange is what Brosnihan finds most beautiful. ‘No one knows who’s on the other side of the gesture,’ Brosnihan said. ‘People often say, I get goosebumps hearing about this.’ Brosnihan said he dreams of what he calls the “minute of magic” catching on in other cities with children’s hospitals. But he also notes that Providence’s pediatric hospital is peculiarly suited to the phenomenon because it has an open view of a harbor and the city’s downtown skyline.

  

In the Providence Journal we find this statement by Richard Salit a staff writer published 12-23-16: 

“About a half-dozen senior residents of Tockwotten on the Waterfront in East Providence gather with flashlights in a darkened room one night a week. ‘It connects generations,’ says activities director Timothy Anderson. ‘It’s a way residents can feel that they are contributing and making someone’s life better.”                   Richard Salit, Providence Journal.

This story was recently reported on the national news in September, 2017 so it must still be taking place.  It’s such a simple idea that started with one person flashing his flashlight so the children could look for it in the dark and be distracted for a few moments to tell them loud and clear, “You are loved!” 

“The first time a kid sees this, when it happens, they’re like, ‘Are you kidding? That’s for me?’ There’s a joyful surprise in it.” Steven Brosnihan

Lighting up someone’s night is within all of us.  That is one of the most telling connection to God’s image we have.  Jesus used stories of good will to teach us about caring for one another. One of the most familiar stories was a parable he chose when his listeners were trying to trap Him in some kind of mind game. It was the story of the Good Samaritan.  The Samaritans were former Jews who had married outside of the Jewish culture and contact with them was considered taboo.  Some of Jesus’ best experiences were with the Samaritans. He exposed the divisions we create through prejudice and religious precepts and the way they destroy our civilization with just a “for instance” story about a man who came down from Jerusalem to Jericho. 

“25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ He replied. ‘How do you read it?’ 27 He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ 30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ 37 The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke 10:25-37NIV

 

 

The following is written by Edward Markquart:

It happened on the Jericho Road.  It always happens on the Jericho Road.  The Jericho Road is the seventeen mile road that connects Jerusalem to Jericho.  That road drops 3600 feet in those seventeen miles.  It is a steep, winding, descending, remote road that for centuries has been a place of robberies. 

The Jericho Road.  It always happens on the Jericho Road.  It is the seventeen miles of violence and oppression.  It is the strip of suffering.  The Jericho Road?  It’s a symbol.  It’s a symbol of suffering in the world.  The Jericho Road is the seventeen rooms of the corridor of the nursing home where Myrtle lives who has Alzheimer’s disease . . . The Jericho Road?  It is a seventeen floor tenement building that I used to visit when I was a child in Chicago; it was a frightening place with great family violence.  ….  The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen blocks on First Avenue South in downtown Seattle, where many people live who are mentally handicapped or teenagers on the run.  …. The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen mile border between warring nations, e.g. recently, between Nicaragua and El Salvador, Namibia and Angola, or Israel and Palestine, where thousands upon thousands of people have been killed. … The Jericho Road?   It is the seventeen miles that goes right through the heart of Calcutta.  …  The Jericho Road?  It is the seventeen years that my Aunt Billie took care of my Uncle Johnnie with his chronic heart disease. … You see, the Jericho Road is any place where there is violence; it is any place where there is oppression; it is any place where people are robbed of their dignity and robbed of their love and robbed of their food and robbed of their freedom.  The Jericho Road is always with us.  The Jericho Road.

Edward Markquart shares his own version of The Good Samaritan:  “A parable about a parable.  One day a priest went to visit the Jericho Road.  He was a very religious man, and he saw somebody who had been hurt on the Jericho Road, and he was mortified.  He came and gave that person the last rites, and he quickly ran back to his parish as fast as he could.  The following Sunday, he gave a sterling sermon about the Jericho Road, and he felt so much better.  … Then there was a pastor who went down to the Jericho Road and he was appalled by what he saw.  It was awful on the Jericho Road, and so he came back to his church, and do you know what he did?  He taught a course called, ‘The Biblical Understanding and Perspective of Poverty.’ They showed films of people who were being beaten up on the Jericho Road, and everybody felt rotten, but they all felt so good that they had finally done something for the people on the Jericho Road.  …  There was still another person.  He was a revivalist.  Now, he didn’t go to the Jericho Road, but he saw it on television.  He then gathered 65,000 people together in the Jerusalem Dome, and they sang songs about the Jericho Road. You should have seen them, with their microphones and all the spotlights.  How they sang and prayed so beautifully about the Jericho Road.  … While the priest and the pastor and the revivalist . . . were all busy, the man on the Jericho Road died.  The Jericho Road is always with us.  The Jericho Road is any place where people are robbed; where people are robbed of their dignity, robbed of their love, robbed of their food and clothing, robbed of their value as human beings.  It is any place where there is suffering and oppression. . . The first lesson that is to be learned from this parable of Jesus is that it is an attack on non-involvement towards people in need . . .   You see, this parable is essentially a parable about people not wanting to get involved with people who are suffering because of safety, because of money, because of time, because of inconvenience, because of busyness with churchy activities.  I don’t have time to be involved with people on the Jericho Road because I am so busy at church.  Jesus condemned that attitude.  Jesus expects that all Christians are good Samaritans. You cannot be a Christian and not be involved with people on the Jericho Road.  In fact, Christians are people who are always cruising on the Jericho Road. . .This parable is an invitation for us to have a heart that overflows with love and mercy for those who are hurting.  This parable is an invitation for us to love our enemies.  One day, a lawyer came up to Jesus and asked, ‘What can I do, Jesus, so that I can inherit eternal life?’  And Jesus, being a good counselor, said,  ‘What do you think?’ The lawyer answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.’   Jesus said:  ‘You do this, and you shall live.’  The lawyer became defensive and said, ‘Who is my neighbor?  How would you define the word, neighbor?’  Jesus said, ‘There once was a man who was walking down…the Jericho Road.’  Christians are always walking and loving and caring for people on the Jericho Road.  Amen.” Jericho Road, Sermons from Seattle, Edward Markquart

Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”  Titus 3:14 NIV


 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:8-19 NIV

Just recently in our area, a youth was killed, mutilated and then burned.  This heinous act was done by teens and young adults and happened in a rural county where tradition and rural values are embraced as sacred.  We all share the responsibility of seeing to it that this never happens again.  This case is not being handled as a hate crime even though the youth claimed to be trans-gender and used not only a male but a female name.  We cannot judge what we don’t understand.  We especially cannot hate what we don’t understand.  God is the final judge.  We are called to love one another and to leave the things we don’t understand to him.

I believe the Scriptures were never meant to be used for us to pass judgment on one another and to act upon those judgments with hateful words and actions but to give guidance to the individual as to God’s will.  The rest is between God and that individual.  I’m so grateful that we can give to God what we don’t understand and what we are commanded not to judge because we have not walked in that person’s shoes, so that way we can love unconditionally and extend hope and God’s love to everyone we meet equally.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 1:11 NIV

 

Pray for the youth who committed this crime.  The report came out that they expressed no remorse in court for this act, but suppose they thought they were acting out of a belief they had been taught that valued their actions.  They probably wouldn’t feel any remorse.

“A hungry person needs a meal, not a menu.  A starving person needs rice, not a recipe.  A sick person needs medicine, not a lecture on medicine.  Too many sermons are menus, recipes, and lectures.”  Soren Kierkegaard.

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst, But I the Lord will answer them;  I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”  Isaiah 41:17 NIV

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:17 NIV 

The night in people’s lives may be more about the night that is in our own life. We can be that one person at a time – that one light at a time who lights up the night by displaying the shining love of God that is within us.

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:4-5

“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”  I John 1:5

 

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23

 

 ” In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”  II Corinthinians  4:4

 

 ” But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”  I John 2:11

 

 “The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.”

Romans 13:12

 

 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.”  Isaiah 9:2-3

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:9-14

 

Jesus’ followers are to be the light. Light is what distinguishes a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 Ephesians 5:8-9  “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.”

1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 “But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.”

 

We all walk the Jericho Road at some point and we make decisions to help or just not be involved that determine the outcome for others.  I was in a circle of women at the jail one Thursday afternoon.  We were discussing the Scriptures and how the Holy Spirit works in our life, when I felt led to tell them about a sermon I had given at church the Sunday before.  It was taken from Exodus 33 when Moses had boldly petitioned God that he needed to continue with them to the Promised Land. “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.  You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ ‘If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.  Remember that this nation is your people.’” Exodus 33:12-13   God didn’t respond with drastic outrage at Moses’ plea, he comforted him with a Parent’s reassurance: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest”.  Then God said: “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name”. This meant that “I know everything about you, your every fear, every doubt, every vulnerability” – making a statement about the relationship he has with Moses.  Then Moses asked to visibly see God.  God’s response was “But you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 

God then comforted Moses with this amazing experience:  “While my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of a rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back.”  There is always a message for us today from the encounters that happened with God and his people in the distant past.  The message is that we may not have assurances from God that he is with us during the hard times but because of the ways he has blessed us before, we will hang on safely in the cleft in the rock where he has put us to keep us safe and continue in faith trusting that when he takes his heavenly hand away from our eyes, we will see that he has been present during it all, directing the right outcome – we will see his back.    One of the women in the circle had been softly crying during this and then shared with everyone that she had laid awake during the night and kept hearing this song running through her mind: “Meet With Me”-   I’m here to meet with you, Come and meet with me.  I’m here to find you, Reveal yourself to me. As I wait, you make me strong; As I long, draw me to your arms; As I stand and sing your praise; You come, you come and you fill this place; Won’t you come, Won’t you come and fill this place.”  (lyrics by Lamont Heibert, Universal Publishing Group)

What I had just presented had been an affirmation to her that God was with her and she was in the right place- in the cleft of the rock being protected from herself and the addictions that plagued her and were destroying her life. I’m glad that in that moment I responded to the Spirit to light up her night with hope and affirmation.  

 

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.  He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with  fire.  He says, ‘Be still, and  know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Psalm 46

The Return

The Prologue

“. . . concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”   Mark 13:32-37

 

Bethlehem

 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,    whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

Micah 5:2

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful,  Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting  Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

 

“Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” The arrival of this child, this phenomenal Promise to the world had come under cover of darkness, only known to a select few. God in human flesh awaking in cold, dank conditions barely acceptable for human survival yet thriving and driven to live, He pierced the night with His cries, a wondrous sound!  “I’m here world, all is well! I have come for you!”  Even Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand the path this child would take and who He would eventually become for the sake of redemption.

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  Luke 2

    On the distant nightscape, the anxious parents could see shapes of people coming toward them.  They were moving quickly, and now, some were breaking into a run crying “This is it, this is the place beneath the star!”  

    There is fear and wonder in their faces as now they hesitantly approach and gradually finding their voices, begin to share their amazing stories of the fierce angel surrounded by light and speaking in a booming voice that shook the earth, declaring this child to be the Savior.  Mary’s own fear and wonder grew as the realization of who had been given to her and Joseph was starting to sink in.   She could feel the electricity and conviction of which each shepherd spoke as they related their own version of this once-in-a-lifetime event.  The angel of the Lord had told the shepherds about the newborn babe and not to be afraid but that great joy was coming through this child. The youngest shepherd boys then began to clamor closer to the couple and child, excitedly declaring the best part of what they had seen and experienced: “Angels, more angels – feathers and wings everywhere – light as day and singing, they were singing.”   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace. . .” were the words they remembered. One by one they filed by to look into the face of this baby King that lay in his mother’s arms gurgling and hungry for the next feeding, as strategic witnesses to an astronomical earth-heaven event.

“17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  

    Mary selfishly wondered why her and Joseph had not seen this amazing spectacle the shepherds described. She had gone through the miracle of birth in pain and fear and discomfort on a bed of straw outside in the cold and no angels appeared, no song of praise was sung by countless angels.  As she looked into the infant face, she began to realize the monumental responsibility of bearing a child that belonged to the world.  Not just her and Joseph but everyone, everywhere.  The words of the shepherds resonated with the words her angel, Gabriel had said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. 31 See! You are to become a mother and have a Son. You are to give Him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the place where His early father David sat. 33 He will be King over the family of Jacob forever and His nation will have no end.” Luke 2:30-33 

    Those words were becoming very real to her now. There would be others in the world who would be witnesses to the coming of this child of hers.  No longer just her baby, but one that she would have to share and unclear to her in that moment, one she would have to sacrifice for a broken world. Everything was changing now, rushing headlong and taking on a feeling of proportions for which she could only trust Yahweh.

    A quote from “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim helps us understand the need for Mary’s human bond with this child without full knowledge of His divinity : “Upon all His history seemed to lie such wondrous light, that she (Mary) could only see the path behind, so far as she had trodden it; while upon that on which she was to move, was such dazzling brightness, that she could scarce look upon the present, and dared not gaze towards the future. . . Might we not rather have expected, that the Virgin-Mother from the inception of this Child’s life would have understood, that He was truly the Son of God? . . .Christ could not in any true sense, have been subject to His parents, if they had fully understood that He was divine; nor could He, in that case, have been watched as He grew in ‘wisdom and in favor with God and men’. Such knowledge would have broken the bond of His humanity to ours, by severing that which bound Him as a child to His mother.  We could not have become His brethren, had He not been truly the Virgin’s Son.  The mystery of the Incarnation would have been needless and fruitless, had His humanity not been subject to its right and ordinary conditions.  And, applying the same principle more widely, we can thus, in some measure, understand why the mystery of His divinity had to be kept while He was on earth.  Had it been otherwise, the thought of His Divinity would have proved so all-absorbing, as to render impossible that of His humanity, with all its lessons.  The Son of God Most High, whom they worshipped, could never have been the loving man with whom they could hold such close converse.  The bond which bound the Master to his disciples – the son of man to humanity – would have been dissolved; His teaching as a man, the  incarnation, and  the tabernacling among men, in place  of  the former Old Testament revelation from heaven, would have become wholly impossible.  In short, . . . the distinctive New Testament element in our salvation would have been taken away.  At the beginning of His life He would have anticipated the lessons of the end – nay, not those of His death only, but of His Resurrection and Ascension, and  of the coming of  the Holy Ghost.  In all this we have only been taking the subjective, not the objective, view of the question; considered the earthward, not the heavenward, aspect of His life.Edersheim

    Mary’s spiritual knowledge was meant to grow incrementally, day by day, grace upon grace as did that of her special son.  His humanity was paramount to the day to day unfolding of coming events.  It was important that Christ be raised in Jewish tenets from the Old Testament by Jewish parents in order for Him to fulfill the law.    ”Thus it was, that every event connected with the Messianic manifestation of Jesus would come to the Virgin-Mother as a fresh discovery and a new surprise. Each event, as it took place, stood isolated in her mind; not as part of a whole which she would anticipate, nor as only one link in a chain; but as something quite by itself.  She knew the beginning, and she knew the end; but she knew not the path which led from the one to the other; and each step in it was a new revelation.” Edersheim

    As Jewish parents, the first obligation was to fulfill all the requirements of the Law, as regarding Mary and her child.   The first of these was Mary’s Purification then the child’s circumcision, representing voluntary subjection to the conditions of the law, and acceptance of the obligations but also of the privileges, of the Covenant between God and Abraham and his seed.  There could not be special treatment without losing the balance that was being sought in Jesus’ human experience. 

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:21-24

    On the eighth day, Joseph and Mary made the trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  Mary would pass through the Gate of the Women as she entered the Temple and then into The Court of the Women.  It was part of Jewish law that Mary was to go through purification rites before she could resume worship in the temple. 

    It would occur on the eighth day at the same time of the naming of this child, His circumcision and His consecration as first-born male of the family. It was at this time that two more witnesses would become known.  Since this birth, Mary was required to make a sin offering so the priests could make atonement for her.  The sacrificial offering for the purification rite of the mother was for the sin offering attached to the beginning of life and a burnt offering that marked the restoration of communion with God.

    The Law of Moses was given to represent everything the Messiah would do absolutely to the nth degree to fulfill it.  Because Jesus was born to a poor family from a rural village on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Mary could only afford doves or pigeons for the offering, not a lamb that was a first option. At this time, the name “Jesus” was given.   Christ did these things, not because he was with sin but in order to provide an example for others–an example of obedience to the Mosaic Law with regard to circumcision and Passover, and an example of obedience to the Christian Law in the case of baptism.

    Also, there was the issue of a firstborn son who must be redeemed. This is because the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrews with the blood of the door posts and spared the first born sons. They were then the property of the Lord and given for his service. The redemption price was to buy the son back into the family.  Exodus 13:2, 12-13: “Sanctify unto me every firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel, as well of men as of beasts: for they are all mine. Thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord, and all that is first brought forth of thy cattle: whatsoever thou shalt have of the male sex, thou shalt consecrate to the Lord. The firstborn of an ass thou shalt change for a sheep: and if thou do not redeem it, thou shalt kill it. And every firstborn of men thou shalt redeem with a price.” 


Numbers 18:15-16 “Whatsoever is firstborn of all flesh, which they offer to the Lord, whether it be of men, or of beasts, shall belong to thee: only for the firstborn of man thou shalt take a price, and every beast that is unclean thou shalt cause to be redeemed, And the redemption of it shall be after one month, for five sicles of silver, by the weight of the sanctuary. A sicle hath twenty obols.”

    Mary would pass by trumpet-shaped chests and go to the third chest where she would be told by the superintending priest stationed by the Trumpet that day’s price of two turtle doves.  It could be as little as two pennies.  She deposited the coins and waited.  At a certain appointed time during the day, the trumpet sound declared that the incense would soon be kindled on the Golden Altar for those who were to be purified. The purification-service would not last long and the women who had shared in the rite were now Levitically clean.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” Luke 2

    The next witness was Simeon, a temple priest.  His longing to be able to see the Messiah in his lifetime was recognized by God and a promise was made and this day was kept. As verse 26 states, the Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple courts at just the right time on just the right day that Joseph and Mary would be bringing their infant to the Temple. This is what ensued because Simeon responded:

 “When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”  Luke 2

    “With this infant in his arms, it was as if he stood on the mountain-height of prophetic vision, and watched the golden beams of sunrise far away over the isles of the Gentiles, and then gathering their full flow over his own beloved land and people. . . It was to be a stone of decision; a foundation and cornerstone

 (Isa 8:14) for fall or for uprising; a sign spoken against; the sword of deep personal sorrow would pierce the Mother’s heart.” Edersheim

    Like John the Baptist, Simeon served as a bridge between God’s Old Covenant with the people of Israel and the New Covenant He wanted to establish through Jesus Christ.

    Anna was the next witness.  She had dedicated her life to fasting and praying in the Temple.  Referred to as a prophet, the Scriptures state that she never left the temple but worshipped day and night. She was not your average worshipper. Her dedication like the priest Simeon, was grounded in “waiting” for the Savior of Isaiah that God had promised.  She wasn’t doing this for recognition as someone who was dedicated as did the Pharisees, she had a deep longing for the redemption to come that could only be quenched fully engaged in the life of the Temple. 

36 “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

    Dedicated Jews like Anna were impressed by the Spirit that the Passover laws that everyone was required to keep under the law of Moses were not enough to free her nation from sin. The Passover was only a shadow of what God would ultimately provide to be fulfilled by the coming Messiah for redemption. She treasured the words of Isaiah: “and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;  and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah 53:5-6

    When Anna saw Jesus, she gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all who were waiting for redemption. Here, at last, was the One who would save His people from their sins.  Both Simeon and Anna were waiting for someone with great anticipation, alert to His appearance and ready to welcome Him.

    The witnesses have spoken and bore their testimonies that God has kept his promise and that the Messiah has come and fulfilled the law. The prophets who prophesied of His coming have all been exonerated, their words fulfilled.

Isaiah 53:3-7 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;  upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,  and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray;  we have turned—every one—to his own way;  and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

 

Zechariah 9:9  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!   Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!    Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,  humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Pastor Dion in his sermon “The Wait For Christmas tells us: “Both Simeon and Anna were movers. When the Holy Spirit prompted them to move, they didn’t sit still. I wonder what would have happened if they had not responded? Actually, every one of the Christmas characters responded to the Spirit’s leading ­ with the exception of Herod:

Mary was ready to move when she said to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 2:38)

Joseph demonstrated that he was a mover when he woke up from his dream and “…did what the angel of the Lord had commanded and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)

The Shepherds were movers as well when they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…” (Luke 2:15)

. . . the wise men saw the star and moved out of their comfort zone to find the King of Christmas.

Friend, when God prompts you to do something, then you need to do it. It might mean salvation for some of you. It might mean full surrender for others of you. Or, maybe the Spirit wants you to be more involved in serving people. Do you sense Him asking you to do something tonight? Are you a mover? Are you willing to move? Don’t procrastinate when God prompts you to do something — you may miss out on a miracle this Christmas.” Pastor Dion

 

Keeping the Vigil

    We are called to a life of exhilarating anticipation.  Keeping watch, staying awake, keeping on guard and being alert at all times!  Living the Christ in our lives through our anticipation of His Return, is having the Kingdom here on earth because it is resident in each of us.  We are still surrounded by brokenness and sin but the light Jesus Christ gives us is enough and more for now as we wait for His Return. 

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!”  Mark 13:32-33

 “. . . for you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” I Thess. 5:2             

 

    The Holy Spirit is the Consoler, theTeacher that Jesus left with us when He ascended back to His Father in Heaven.  We are not alone and we are not without direction and blessings.  In the midst of chaos, miracles are still happening all around us wherever His Watchers are engaged in well-doing and well-being.  We are filled with joy as we pass the Light on by teaching this generation to keep watch, stay awake, keep on guard and be alert at all times, because we know not when He will return.   There is so much happening beyond our view.  The Big Picture that only God sees concerns the direction and eventual outcome of the whole of creation which includes each of us personally.   

 

    The measured rhythm of our lives is still one moment at a time in communion with Christ through the living Holy Spirit leading us to continue on.  Wherever there is a need that we can fill in a spirit of love, of faith and of joy, we should want to be sent to that person or place, regardless who it is or where it is.  We can’t give in to despair, impatience or misjudgment about God’s timing. Like God, we should want as many as possible to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ in this life.

 

2 Peter 3:1-12

 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? 

Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

    As I prepared to write this Christmas chapter, I was thinking “Come, Lord Jesus!” as a hope for Him to come quickly and save us in these perilous times, but through the work of the Spirit, I see it differently.  However long it takes for the “falling away” that is mentioned in II Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” is in God’s time not ours. 

    The times couldn’t be more profound than they are right now for the love of Christ to be a stark contrast to the chaotic conditions we have everywhere, in every community and every family. Bringing to every challenge, a loving, hopeful heart that sees only the positive midst the negative is a power for miraculous change beyond anything we can imagine.  How much of the chaos that we see right now in the world could be changed by loving people filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ? What if for now, we are God’s Plan A for change? How would that change your perspective? Your actions? Your heart?

    As Christ said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

    We must keep the vigil!  Pass it on to the next generation in the only real form that has any transforming impact – love.  The early Saints believed that Christ was returning in their lifetime.  Simeon and Anna were near their time of death before God’s perfect timing was realized, even so, no matter how long it will take, all 0f his promises will be kept.

 

 

    Like the shepherds, Anna and Simeon, we know this Child. We have seen and felt Him being born in us and those with whom we share the Good News with or without words. He has given us new eyes and we are filled with renewed hope and anticipation as we light a Christmas Candle in the window this year keeping the vigil for His splendid return.

 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  I John 3:2

Have a glorious Christmas holiday and a new vision of possibilities for 2018!

Gratitude is True Thanksgiving

To understand true thanksgiving, we must begin with Christ’s example.  He gave up everything.  He was homeless and trusted His Father in heaven for His daily bread.  He could have summoned the elements to come together to create any comfort and convenience He wanted or needed.  Instead, His every waking hour was focused in ministry to others, demonstrating the love of God the Father.  Everything He said and did was meant to teach us a lesson for us to follow toward the “abundant life” He spoke of.  If you have nothing or in your estimation, not enough, don’t compare what you have to what others have.  If your faith is right, then you have everything you need. Trust God.

Melody Beattie writes: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:6-7

“A rich landowner named Carl often rode around his vast estate so he could congratulate himself on his great wealth. One day while riding around his estate on his favorite horse, he saw Hans, an old tenant farmer. Hans was sitting under a tree when Carl rode by. Hans said, ‘I was just thanking God for my food.’ Carl protested, ‘If that is all I had to eat, I wouldn’t feel like giving thanks.’ Hans replied, ‘God has given me everything I need, and I am thankful for it. ‘The old farmer added, ‘It is strange you should come by today because I had a dream last night. In my dream a voice told me, ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’ I don’t know what it means, but I thought I ought to tell you.’ Carl snorted, ‘Dreams are nonsense,’ and galloped away, but he could not forget Hans’ words: ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’ He was obviously the richest man in the valley, so he invited his doctor to his house that evening. Carl told the doctor what Hans had said. After a thorough examination, the doctor told the wealthy landowner, ‘Carl, you are as strong and healthy as a horse. There is no way you are going to die tonight. ‘Nevertheless, for assurance, the doctor stayed with Carl, and they played cards through the night. The doctor left the next morning and Carl apologized for becoming so upset over the old man’s dream. At about nine o’clock, a messenger arrived at Carl’s door. ‘What is it?’ Carl demanded. The messenger explained, ‘It’s about old Hans. He died last night in his sleep.’ “   Author Unknown A gift of Inspiration website

Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount with what is referred to as the Beatitudes, how to have joy, not to just be happy.  Joy is more about being happy in unhappy circumstances.

“The word, ‘happiness,’ is derived from the Latin word, ‘hap’. Hap means hap-hazard. It refers to circumstances that are happy. . . Whereas the Biblical concept of joy comes from the Greek word, makarios. You can be joyful and unhappy at the same time. You can be joyful even in the midst of unhappy circumstances. Joy has to do with the Spirit of God living inside of you. It has to do with that smile of God living in your heart. Joy is the assurance that God is with you and in you in all circumstances. It is knowing that in all circumstances of life, good and bad, that God is in control and will take care of you. It is knowing that God has a plan, a purpose and a prayer for you, even when the circumstances are unhappy. The net result is that you can be joyful during unhappy circumstances.  Jesus took his newly called disciples, his inner core, and took them up onto a hillside to teach them about his core values, and Jesus began his teachings with that which was most dear to his heart: joy.” True Joy vs Temporary Happiness  By Edward Markquart (Sermons from Seattle)

*On a warm summer morning in September, 1620, a group of English Separatists as they were called boarded the ship that was to take them to America.  The residents of a small Dutch seaside town in Holland, never forgot what they witnessed that day, people kneeling on the deck pouring out their hearts in gratitude, commending themselves into God’s care for the journey ahead.  It was recorded that “it was a remarkable display of love seldom found on earth”.  This was to be the voyage of the Mayflower Pilgrims.   One definition of ‘pilgrim’ is very fitting to this story:  A pilgrim is a traveler, literally one who has come from afar, who is on a journey to a holy place.  The 180 ton ship left the small Dutch port of Delfshaven, Holland with 102 passengers.  It wasn’t what the Pilgrims had hoped for.  There were many who were not of their religious bent which made the journey that much harder.  The Mayflower was built in a way that it could be tossed around with the wind and the waves like a bobbing cork. 65 days later on November 9 they saw land. As the Mayflower arrived in America, it had blown off course.  Where they had landed one half of the shipwrecks on the Atlantic coast are said to occur in that area.  With the ship on the brink of disaster, Master Christopher Jones made the historic decision to sail northward around Cape Cod to settle in New England instead of further south where they had a land patent. The historic landing took place and they poured out their hearts in thanks to their God of providence for delivery from the treacheries of their journey.  They were truly Pilgrims. We do not know the exact date of the celebration of the First Thanksgiving, but it was probably late September or early October, 1621, soon after their corn, squash, beans, barley and peas had been harvested.  The 52 Pilgrims, one half of the original colony, declared that now they had gathered the fruit of their labors it was time to rejoice together after a more special manner.  It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese.  Four men were sent fowling.  Rather than it being an European affair, it quickly became a native celebration when Massasoit their Native savior and a hundred Pokanokets arrived with five freshly killed deer.  Besides deer, ducks and geese there were wild turkeys.  All of which were being turned on a spit over open fires with cast-iron pots filled with stew. The Pilgrims with their new friends gathered around tables and fires and thanked God for their survival in the Promised Land.*

Our nation began in true thanksgiving for the most basic blessings, as we came together with those we perceived in the beginning as enemies.   Wherever you are and whatever you have, be thankful. Turn what you have into “enough and more”.  Glorify God with a life of gratitude and inspire that in others through whatever means God has given you.   Every good life is centered in joy and gratitude.  Have a joyful thanksgiving!

*Quotes and information taken from “The Mayflower and the Pilgrims’ New World” written by Nathaniel Philbrick

I Am

 

“Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain. . .”

   Mary Elizabeth Frye

Today is October 2, 2017.  When I woke up today at 5am, I began this chapter on  mortality. I had been thinking about it for the last few days and when I awoke, I felt that today was the day to begin.  My normal routine is to write for a few hours and then turn on the Today Show at 7am.  Today on the screen, the words across the bottom was a complete contradiction to a picture frame I have sitting next to the TV – “Life is Beautiful”.  It was the first reports coming in from Las Vegas of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The account is alarming in its inhumanity. What will we hear about the shooter that will help us understand his decision to transport multiple automatic weapons and numerous cases of ammo to the 32nd floor of a Vegas hotel for the purpose of murderous mayhem against thousands of concert goers that particular weekend?  What explains, breaking out a window nearly 400 ft from the ground and standing there spraying bullets down on innocent people. After the May, 2017 terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a father of one of the victims wrote to her “We need inspiration.”  Inspiration comes from a source of hope and light that can work through us to bring understanding and healing and be a path through the insanity at times. I have always used Sweetwater Journey as a platform in which to bring hope and light for the reader. This writing will be no exception but you, the reader and I will have to work together to come to a mutual understanding of life and death from God’s perspective.  To begin our mutual work, I can look to the only common resource we have to understand who we are and what God has in mind for us – the Holy Scriptures.

There are phrases in the pages of this holy book that put into perspective the truth about life here like: “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” James 4:14; “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” Psalms 144:4; “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,” I Peter 1:24;  “We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” II Samuel 14:14; “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” Psalms 39:5; “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding” I Chronicles 29:15.

God created us for a relationship with him.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  John 14:23

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” I John 3:1

“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”  Acts 17:27

  We were created with a deep dependency for that relationship but we must seek him and choose him. Sometimes we create unhealthy dependent relationships that can distract us from God. We try to fill that hole with people; or money and the things and influence that money buys; or seeking the approval of others which has something to do with the downside of the popularity of social media; and unfortunately drugs and alcohol that temporarily numb us to living in general and the disappointments and even trauma that comes with it because of our misplaced relationships. This would explain the epidemic of drug addiction we are facing now in our country. 

As I grow older, my relationship with God is now becoming more of a state of being in which I can feel and know his spirit. 

God be in my head, and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes, and in my looking;

God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;

God be in my heart, and in my thinking; (Anonymous)

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It’s not a self-righteous or moral high ground kind of being, it’s just a right state of being.  As I was thinking about the innocent victims in the light of a mass shooting, I realized that rather than be concerned that I die for a good purpose, I would rather that I live for a good purpose.  God has given me control while I live to mindfully have purpose in my life by helping others in my work and as a volunteer.  Unfortunately, there are many who die because of strangers’ random acts and heinous choices.  Even though we don’t want to imagine that our passing and that of our loved ones may not have a lofty reason or serve a good purpose, or our number just came up, it would be quite a stretch for us to believe that God orchestrated getting all of the 58 people who died on October 2nd into Las Vegas to the concert to meet their destined fate.  Many of the survivors stated that the dead did not die alone. That was important to them to assure loved ones of those who passed.

God to enfold me, God to surround me

God in my sleeping, God in my waking.

God in my watching, God in my hoping; 

Consider this reference as we contemplate our mortality:“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:13-17

The last line in this reference gives us a deeper insight “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  Keep in mind that sin isn’t just a moral issue, it is the wrong choices we make that separates us from God.  It is the times we fail to do what we know to be right. That is sin.

We find another element to consider in 2 Samuel 14:14;“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

It is my understanding that God has devised a means to “not take away life” but continue our life elsewhere, going on in eternity.  We will not be an outcast. He has a plan for when we die.  We don’t have to understand this. It’s only important that he understands it.   It’s important that we do the right thing here in this life while we have the opportunity.  It is important that we seek a relationship with God and demonstrate his loving ways as we live for others, not just ourselves.

“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ..”

James 1:21-27

“ What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He (God) jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”  James 4:1-17 NIV

If eternity is the ongoing relationship we have with God here in this life, then it would be important that we begin to look inward to the vast world of sacred inquiry and knowledge that awaits us.  God has already shown who he is and what he’s about in his Son, Jesus Christ. I don’t fully understand why God had to come here and die to restore us back to him, but I believe it if the Scriptures say that’s how it is. What He went through during His short life here is important to us. He knew his life was moving toward a heinous end at the hands of religious people who looked and acted normal; influential people He knew who were a powerful force in His time and cried out “Barrabas” with the crowd, knowing  full well the results of that choice.  But God had the last word.  He knows about innocent death. Out of His innocent death came the greatest outcome for us that is beyond our understanding but has transformed our lives forever – resurrection, from death to life and the restoration of a relationship with God. 

God in my life, God in my lips.

God in my soul, God in my heart.

God in my sufficing, God in my slumber.

Over the next several weeks and months we will hear experts’ opinions on how to keep another mass shooting tragedy from happening again.  Their ideas will be around many facets of this problem but the only real solution is each of us doing the right thing, Christ in us, living beyond ourselves for others the way Christ taught us.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

Today, is October 3rd and the stories are pouring in of people helping people that night on the blood-stained concert grounds. This is who we are when love and compassion fill us to do the right thing and put others before ourselves. This is who we are capable of becoming beyond the week following a tragedy, where each of us are helping others have their best lives. Our history is proving out that there are most likely more sick people who are making plans in secret because their distorted view of the world is driving deliberate choices to destroy. It is possible that some, even one could think differently and change their mind if hope and compassion begins changing the world around them. What a legacy we could provide for all the innocent people who have died unnecessarily and will never have a chance to realize their hopes and dreams.  It begins with one.   

The teaching in the Scriptures about our mortality is not easy to understand but we don’t have to fully understand.  We take them on faith because we were made in God’s image and we have a blood relationship with him.  He is family.  He is our Father. The Scriptures are an amazing living relic that came to us from a world above and beyond ours from an entity who is reaching out to us in love and hope to tell us who we are and why we were made for not just this life, but forever. 

 When Christ prepared to return back to Heaven, He assured us that we weren’t going to be just stranded here, He would send another representative of Him and God, the Father – the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.  

I don’t know how many people who have taken part in the jail ministry I offer really turn their lives around and never return to jail, it’s just important to me that I am making the right choice to go there and represent the love of Christ to them; that I am telling them about the love God has for them and how he showed us that love through his Son.

“We are all beggars telling another beggar where to find bread.” I don’t know where I read that phrase; I just know that I believe it and I try to live it.  “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. . .” I Cor 15:10 ESV

  

Life is beautiful if we see it through God’s eyes and the time we do have here is spent in glorifying him with our lives in relationship with him. We are but sojourners traveling through a foreign land and learning to understand that by letting go of the things over which we have no control and trusting God with them, we can have peace of mind and take care of the person in front of us whom God has sent into our path that moment.  

God be at my end, and at my departing.

God in my ever-living soul; God in my eternity.

 

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  Isaiah 40:6-8

Sometime in the early morning hours on October 4, our little Borgie (Border Collie/Corgi) dog “Raven” passed away in her sleep. We will miss her.


“. . .When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.” 

Mary Elizabeth Frye

Sacred

 

 

It’s so pleasing on a hike into the wild to find a waterfall in a place where you’ve never been.  It immediately catches your attention.  You spread out your jacket and sit beside it to rest.  The rushing sound can be a roaring white column or a continuous gentle bubbling as fresh ice cold water cascades over the brink into the plunge pool below.  The water comes from the river or stream above as a continuous source. In that moment, you experience something stirring within yourself that connects you to the Great Sacred- God.   Not many experiences in nature provide the same breathtaking intrusion a waterfall does for us.  It’s fluid rushing and shrouding mist, a prism of light for grand displays of rainbows, thrills the spirit.  On September 5th, I opened my daughter, Robin’s text:  “Mom, the gorge is burning.  All the waterfalls, the lodge tunnel, all of the old bridges.  It’s terrible.  There’s ash over Portland.  We can’t go outside.  Some teenager with fireworks. They are trying to protect Multnomah Lodge.  It’s such a huge loss.  Millions animals/creatures dead.  17 miles. . . The photos are horrible. The air quality here is poor. It was my church. The fire is 25 miles away raining ash.  It’s so incredibly sad.  Such a beautiful place!” 

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Our daughter Robin regularly hikes to waterfalls in that gorge along the Columbia River in Oregon.  I understood what she said about it being her “church”. I understood how it was affecting her to know that this beautiful area could be destroyed, changed forever.  Her time there, seeking in part what one would seek in a church, was always rewarding.  We have a plethora of selfies of her with the waterfalls in the background, her face filled with childlike joy and complete satisfaction. She took us to her special places when we visited her a few years ago.  The Eagle Creek fire covered 32,000 acres devouring the underbrush and anything else in its path.  In our imagination we stare at the blackness in its wake with a grateful heart for the places left untouched. 

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The familiar waterfall is still plunging and misting and roaring into the pool below. The stark white contrasts with the black charred earth and trees around it. Rushing, life-giving water becomes the sound of hope as it does the only thing it can – fall and rejuvenate.  Even now, green sprouts are coming through earth around it’s edges.  Pine cones have popped from the searing heat and there are seeds taking root in the rich soil below the black layer. Everywhere – a rising up. Life cannot be staunched even by fire. This is God, the Great Sacred.  “How could you be so lost from me when I am everywhere.” Journey by RF   This landscape is now even more alive as it heals and restores itself through the resurrecting properties it carries in its DNA. This is Sacred.

In south China, the sub-tropical region that is the flood plain of the Yangtze River gets rain 250 days a year.  The swampy ground is perfect for raising rice.  For 8000 years, the cultivation of rice has transformed the landscape of this region. Thousands of stacked terraces down the mountainside were carved out by hand using basic tools. These terraces are among the oldest human structures in China.  In south Yunnan a region eight times the size of the U.K., an aerial view is like looking at a giant mirror with black curving lines distinguishing the water-filled terraced rice paddies. The local farmers are still using the same cultivation practices as their oldest ancestors used.  Their connection to the earth is the core and substance of their culture. The Song family featured in the documentary “Wild China” is consistent with all the other Miao (Me-ow) families in the Guizhou Province.  Their wooden house is built on the non-productive land on the steepest side of a mountain. In the rafters of their living room like their neighbors is the nest of a very special bird – a red-rumped swallow. The nest was built and is tended by a pair of the swallows that mate for life.  The family’s livelihood, totally dependent on the rice crop, regards the timing of the swallows’ return in early spring to be central to the timing of the planting of the rice. If the swallows return late, then the elders of the village decide to plant the rice a little later.  In the Song’s living room there are windows that provide an amazing view of the rice paddies below.  They always leave one of the windows open so the swallows can come and go.  This is a sacred relationship between the Miao and God’s creation.  Their lives follow a rhythm that has been continuous for hundreds of generations.

Chinese-Rice-Fields

 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In [the Lord’s] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” Job 12:7-10

 

“And God said, “Behold, I  have given  you  every plant  yielding  seed  that  is  on  the  face  of all the earth, and every  tree  with  seed  in  its  fruit. You  shall  have  them  for  food.” Genesis 1:29

 

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”  Deut 8:10

 

“O Lord, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. …These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104:24-28

 

“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!  Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green…”

Joel 2:21 

 

“The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.” Deut. 28:12

 

 “[Christ] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together … and through him God was pleased to reconcile to [God-self] all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  Colossians 1:17,20

 

“’The earth is the Lord’s!’ (Psalm 24:1) Simple self-interest is one reason to care for creation.  As creatures ourselves, our lives are dependent upon our fellow creatures and upon a properly functioning eco-system.  But Christians have a reason beyond self-interest for caring for creation.  The earth is not ours; it belongs to God.  We love and care for creation because of our love for the Creator. Praise God all creatures here below!  ‘Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!’ sings the Psalmist (Psalm 150:6).  From the music of the planets spinning deep in space, to the calls of the humpback whales deep in the oceans to the trills of the thrushes deep in the forests, all creation praises the maker.  When we sing the doxology, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise God all creatures here below!’ we join our human voices to the whole chorus of creation that is already singing its praises to God.  We care for fellow creatures so that they, with us, can continue to sing God’s praises.” Earth Ministry website

 

Creation communes with us when we seek that communion because we are all made of the same stuff – the same stuff as the stars, as a beautiful waterfall or a pair of faithful swallows because everything that is came from God.  Even our blood has the same concentration of salt as the seawater in the ocean. Writer and minister Arthur A. Oakman takes us to a deeper understanding of creation made sacred: “The Eternal God communicates himself.  Such communication – which is his mind in self-expression – is his word which itself is ‘God the Word’. One form of that self-expression is the created universe – the actualization of the divine mind. He spoke and the worlds were made. . . His mind is expressed in the rising sun in the morning, in the radiation of light, in the bloom of flowers and the song of birds.  His Word has never been uttered ‘once for all.’ He continually expresses his will by the Word of his power and in this continual expression the material universe finds its being, its place and its destiny. Within the universe are creatures of his creation, beings he has fashioned to satisfy his own nature, who are in his image.  The motive for the creation of these his children is also eternally in him.  He seeks, as every creative mind seeks, that response from his creation which will be in harmony with his own nature.  This motive we call ‘love divine’.  He looks for himself in us and comes to his own to find it.  So God is love.  Love and creation are both of God.  Still he looks on his creation and calls it ‘good’. To him it has infinite value.  He prizes it still.”  Arthur Oakman Resurrection and Eternal Life  

In a group I was working with at the jail, one young man’s Sacred was being perched on a stack of hay bales at night looking up at a star-filled sky.  Another was looking into the face of his child. We are sacred in God’s eyes or he wouldn’t be making continuous plans to help us find our way back to him.   “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11) These words were given to the prophet Jeremiah while the Israelites, his people, were in Babylonian captivity and would be there for 70 years. And God was true to his word.

 

 I believe that we each have our own unique connection with the Sacred.  One of the definitions of “sacred” is “connected with God”.  Oakman writes further: “The most significant thing a human being can do is to have communion with his Creator! Prayer, or worship is the supreme goal of all human endeavor, indeed of all existence so far as we know. . .Communion with God, the creative spirit of the whole. . . is the aim of all existence, the purpose of all existence.  In prayer, all our nature is blessed.  We hold communion with our Father.  He is the author of science.  He makes the stars and suns to sing his praise, and composes the music of the spheres.  He is the author and finisher of the tremendous drama of human history.  But only the pure in heart can see him as he is.  Only love enters the holy of holies.  Only by longing ‘as the hart pants after the water brooks’ do (we) become pure in heart.  Only by practicing virtue do (we) become holy.  Only by his own impulse do (we) long for him.  Only by obedience to his own law do (we) practice virtue.  Worship, the crowning achievement of the human race and the activity by which alone through (us) can the ‘whole might of nature’ be redeemed, is correspondence with God’s own impulse to draw us to himself.  We are made to share in the divine life.  God has purposed a community, a people, who have in them his own life – life immortal – life eternal. . . .Because he creates and sustains all, he is in all, in the same way that a man is in his acts and actions.  This means, of course that the only ultimate value the created universe has to offer – indeed, the only ultimate value God himself has to offer – is fellowship with him.  God cannot give men what there is not.  He can only give them what there is to give; ultimately worthwhile and eternal only as a fruitage of fellowship with God.  God is God.  He is ultimate.  You cannot get beyond what is ultimate.  God is Love.” A. Oakman

 

For a time, I became discouraged working with people who experienced such grinding poverty and want – people who were in and out of jail, when one warrant led to a plethora of others and a spiraling down of their lives. I was having a faith crisis.  I saw the powerful and well off as stacking the odds against the oppressed of ever having a chance.  This is true to a degree but I began to realize that abundance comes in many forms.  It’s not always money in the bank for security or being in a powerful position, its finding the sacred in your day and being content with whoever you are, wherever you are.  This discovery can come at any time; it doesn’t have to wait until everything is perfect and equal. 

 

The ultimate sacred is us communing with God all day long.  When we can make the routine day ahead our church, our altar, then, we have arrived.  If we can accept that whatever we have in that moment is all we need and stop looking around making comparisons at what others have and excuse our lack of trying and communing because of something we don’t have.  You might be poor financially, but you may be spiritually rich, endowed with blessings and talents of which you are still unaware.  It’s really difficult with the inmates when I hear the stories of lost opportunity and hopelessness, and I see what their choices have done to them physically, but I have to remind them that if they are exercising their faith and trusting God then in that moment, they have everything they need to change the future.  “The challenges you face right now are the building blocks of your character for the future.” Henrietta Mukai “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” Rumi  

 

Jesus stated that “we would always have the poor with us”, yes, I agree because of sin and greed, but it would never be God’s intention for the marginalized poor to be left unloved without hope.  Those who may appear helpless have access to the same abundance as everyone else, but it may have a spiritual purpose.  Everything in our life has a spiritual purpose.  Abundance doesn’t always equal an overflowing bank account; it can be in the depth we commune with God.  If we can “be the soul” of the place wherever we are, that’s a rich abundance of power and grace and can transform the lives of others.

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“The sacred is in the ordinary. . . it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s own backyard. . . travel may be a flight from confronting the sacred – this lesson can be easily lost.  To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” Abraham Maslow

The Psalmist David spent much of his young life caring for the sheep.  Perhaps the book of Psalms would never have been written if he hadn’t sought the sacred in place and moment.  We have beautiful verses that lift our spirits above the moment in which we find ourselves – verses that speak to us and increase our hope in something greater, something beyond ourselves.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8   These words aren’t just for when your life is perfect, everything in its place, it’s for when you are shaken to the core because nothing is even close to perfect or seems to be in its place.  It’s for the communing moment when sacred rises up to greet you and distract you from the starkness of life.

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy,   and with my song I praise him.The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”

Psalm 28:6-9

 

David sang these verses as he accompanied himself on the stringed lyre. The words given to him by the Spirit delight and comfort us today thousands of years later.  He continuously looked for the sacred in his daily life. He expected this because of his faith in the Lord. When we read the Psalms, we can be aware of that distinction and apply it to our own life, making our lives sacred first in our own hearts and spirit then manifested in our lives.    

 

 

 

During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific Island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.

Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.

As he waited, he prayed, ‘Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. Whatever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen.’

After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, ‘Well, I guess the Lord isn’t going to help me out of this one’. Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave.

As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave.

‘Ha’, he thought. ‘What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor.’

As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while. ‘Lord, forgive me,’ prayed the young man. ‘I had forgotten that in you a spider’s web is stronger than a brick wall.’

We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget the victories that God would work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways. As the great leader, Nehemiah, reminded the people of Israel when they faced the task of rebuilding Jerusalem, ‘In God we will have success!’ Nehemiah 2:20

Remember: Whatever is happening in your life, with God, a mere spider’s web can become a brick wall of protection. Believe He is with you always. Just speak His name through Jesus His son, and you will see His great power and love for you.” “God and the Spider” Creative Bible Study online; Source Unknown 

 

Robin texted us the next morning. You could sense the excitement and joy in her words: “They saved Multnomah Falls and Lodge!!!!”  followed by lots of happy emogees.

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

His temple is the waterfall; his temple may be a cell with bars. It is wherever you are.  His temple is you. Be the soul, the temple wherever you are.

“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.  Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear (respect) him, and he delivers them.  Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.  The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”

Psalm 34:1-11 NIV

 

The daily ordinary life of our communities is filled with possibilities that can happen in sacred moments if we can see each other with spiritual eyes to see what God sees in each of us.  I pr

The Table

And the Table Will Be Wide

 And the table will be wide.  And the welcome will be wide.

And the arms will open wide to gather us in.  And our hearts will open wide to receive.

And we will come as children who will trust there is enough.

And we will come unhindered and free.  And our aching will be met with bread.

And our sorrow will be met with wine.

And we will open our hands to the feast without shame.

And we will turn toward each other without fear.

And we will give up our appetite for despair.

And we will taste and know of delight.

And we will become bread for a hungering world.

And we will become drink for those who thirst.

And the blessed will be the blessing.  And everywhere will be the feast.

Jan L. Richardson.   janrichardson.com 

On August 21, 2017, an estimated 100 million Americans came to a very special Table where their full attention was on the heavens to observe an astronomical event of major proportions – a full solar eclipse.  For many, along the path of totality, it was a spiritual experience as they watched the sun move behind the moon, causing near pitch darkness in places.  In this writing, it is not important that I present in depth the scientific explanation of why and how but it is important we recognize that this event brought so many together for a singular purpose.  Later, as testimonies became public in the news and social media, it was very clear that each viewer of this phenomenon felt its impact personally and was awakened to a deeper sense of awe to something beyond them, “resensitized” to the living heavens where creation continues without end and beyond our notice. If in truth, it caused us to feel in a very short span of time our own mortality, then a scientifically predicted event became a spiritual explosion to our awareness of God, turning our full attention toward him.  Today is August 22.  As the sun rises, and we return to our daily routine, this event will have left its mark. For now, our senses for many are more acute than before the experience.  The Table was God’s heaven and the effect of the sun’s dramatic journey from the rare perspective we were given here on this speck of dust in the vast universe, held our attention, our gaze, our breath and then, at last, our spirit.

“And we will turn toward each other without fear.

And we will give up our appetite for despair.

And we will taste and know of delight.

And we will become bread for a hungering world.

And we will become drink for those who thirst.”

 For years and months for many and the rest a few short days leading up to this amazing prediction, preparations and travel plans were being made.  Whether you were along the path of totality in Oregon where they were planning for one million visitors or off the coast of Charleston, SC on the USS Yorktown where in shock and awe they experienced lightning and thunder at the moment of totality, you stood with millions of others looking up at a phenomenon that drew us together in a spirit of “oneness” more than in the spirit we normally come together for a global event – guarded islands and exclusively aware to distance ourselves into classes with cultural boundaries, haves and have-nots.  The event was free to everyone to watch and take from that which we needed most, which I believe for many, was the God element.  As a world, we starve for it.  We want it more than anything.  We need more “knock your sox off” moments where we can peer behind the screen and see God.   Look inward. God is causing a stirring within you to process a little deeper what you saw and experienced on August 21.   

 Job 36:15,16, 22-33 NIV But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. ’God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’? Remember to extol his work, which people have praised in song.  All humanity has seen it; mortals gaze on it from afar. How great is God—beyond our understanding!  The number of his years is past finding out. ‘He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion?  See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea. This is the way he governs the nations and provides food in abundance.  He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark.  His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach.’”

 Find and read the Scriptures that tell about this amazing Creator who is so much more than a phenomena-maker.   He lives. He loves. He loves us.   He longs to live in us and through us. 

 How do we become spirit? –  how do we become hope for a dying world? How can our life become the supernatural phenomenon that ministers to our family and our friends and coworkers? How can our life become the Table where others gather with wonder and come to be quenched and satisfied? 

 The hope that people need is so simple and it is based in love. Living out Philippians 2:1-5! In part it states simply “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  Just telling someone about the hope that is in you is not enough, it needs to come from a heart of love – a heart that has been transformed as we are told in the last few verses: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus;”

 The opening prose written by Richardson is referring to the Table where we all come together with our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the physical manifestation of God on earth for us to see and experience through the Holy Spirit.  He stands at the Table waiting for us with bread and wine that has been bought and provided for each of us through His blood and sacrifice. We can become so busy in the day to day machinations of our lives that we forget how to keep sacred and alive the hope that is in us.  We even block being thrilled by this very personal hope we have been given.  The Philippians 2 reference helps us to keep ourselves in check as we come to this Table daily.  We can meet every day life at this Table. The discipline of this mindset must come from our effort yoked with Christ.  Believing that, builds our resolve.  We are called to be bread and wine to the world, the holy sacrament that restores us to a life of mindful purpose.  The daily news grips us with many emotions that distract us with a herd mentality and we begin to lose sight of the beauty around us, especially the beauty within each other.  We are not like the animal creatures God created.  We don’t just instinctually glorify God with our life here on earth, we must choose to do it intentionally and purposefully.  A beautiful designed life is created through partnership with Christ. It doesn’t just happen.  It’s easy to lose our distinctiveness and awareness of the unseen spiritual network of support that gets us through each moment of each day. It is at this Table where we find ourselves again and resolve to do better. 

 One Table that comes to mind was on the side of a Galilean lake where thousands gathered to hear the stirring words of hope coming from the Creator of hope who did and said everything in love giving the words the power to transform the heart of the listener.   Here is that experience:

 John 6:1-14 NIV:

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee that is, the Sea of Tiberias, and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

10 Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’”

It was a child who came forward that day with all he had – five loaves of bread and two fishes to lay on this Table.  A child who was humble and forthcoming offered all he had for the benefit of others. From this child’s offering, possibly 15,000 -20,000 were fed if we include the women and children in the crowd who were not counted in the reference because Jesus can magnify every positive act.  Jesus tells us that we must become as a little child to have the Kingdom.  Could Jesus be telling us with this story that we need to willingly bring everything we have to the Table where He waits to feed the world including us?

“And the table will be wide.  And the welcome will be wide.

And the arms will open wide to gather us in. 

And our hearts will open wide to receive.

And we will come as children who will trust there is enough.

And we will come unhindered and free. . .”

 When Jesus asked His disciples about feeding the crowd, Phillip stated: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  This sounds like us being our rational selves – seeing the glass half empty instead of half full, not realizing in that moment that the Man who changed water into wine could have an amazing solution for this problem as well. 

God has promised a phenomenal new world that is coming.  It won’t just be a two to three minute occurrence. It will be beyond anything we can imagine.  The prophet Joel describes the day of deliverance when all loose ends will be tied up, wrongs made right and promises kept. The second chapter of Joel is filled with startling images but it is also clear beginning in verse twelve that God wants us to come to him and respond to the call he has given each of us to be the hope and spirit to this world now, not wait for the next shock and awe moment when we are briefly shaken from our despondency.

 Joel 2 NIV in part.

“Blow the trumpet in Zion;  sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains  a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,  behind them, a desert waste—nothing escapes them.

They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry.With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle. At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course.They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks.They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses;  like thieves they enter through the windows.10 Before them the earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.11 The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it? 12 ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God. 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Surely the Lord has done great things! . . .  22Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.23 Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. 24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust,  the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.

26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. 27 Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. 28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams,  your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens

and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.

 I hope you will read Joel 2 in its entirety.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus’ return after the war of good and evil is fought will be the ultimate coming together for the whole earth as we look to the heavens:

Matthew  24:3-14 NIV

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’

Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

‘Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’”

 “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:27

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Matthew 24:27. – As the lightning…east…west. That is, shines from one end of heaven to the other. St. Chrysostom’s comment explains the similitude: ‘How, then, shineth the lightning? It needs not one to talk of it, it needs not a herald, but even to them in chambers it shows itself in an instant of time throughout the whole world. So shall that coming be, showing itself at once everywhere by reason of the shining forth of his glory.’ We are told, ‘every eye shall see him.’ His advent shall be sudden, universal, unmistakable; in a moment he shall be present, visible in all his power and glory. From the language of this verse probably has been derived the orientation of churches, and the mode adopted of depositing the bodies of deceased Christians, so that they may at the resurrection face the Lord when he comes from the east.”

 In Revelations, Apostle John writes about His final coming:

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev 1:4-8 NIV

 This Revelations’ reference describes beautifully the amazing events to come when God comes to live with us in community on earth:

 Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’

Revelations 21:1-7 NIV

 “. . . And we will turn toward each other without fear.

And we will give up our appetite for despair.

And we will taste and know of delight. . .”

 From Psalm 78 NIV

”My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”

 “And we will become bread for a hungering world.

And we will become drink for those who thirst.

And the blessed will be the blessing.  And everywhere will be the feast.”