Monday, November 25, 2013

Live by a King

Women of Faith:

“Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.  He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God,  ….He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church. ….  For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven” Col 1: 12-20
Yesterday we celebrated “Christ the King” Sunday. The readings point to what it takes to be a great king, with a great kingdom, and why we should want to seek these same “kingly” characteristics and follow such a king.

The kings examples make us ‘fit to share in their inheritance’ (make us feel like them), they ‘deliver us from darkness’ (give us wisdom), and they ‘are the head of all:’ bringing fulfillment, reconciliation, peace and unity.
Many of the Old and New Testament readings are drawn as parallels—so that we can learn to be better Christians by their contrasts, their examples and the outcomes of each.

“In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said: "Here we are, your bone and your flesh.  In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.  And the LORD said to you, 'You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.'"  When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD, and they anointed him king of Israel”. 2 Sam 5: 1-3
King David formed a covenant with God. And because of this covenant God protected him and the people, allowing a great military to be built, the tribes to be unified, and the economy to thrive. They were “one nation, under God.”

King David was a great king because he knew WHO to promise his life and livelihood to (covenant), WHO to trust and WHO to obey. And under his reign He did not stray from the important principals of trusting and obeying God, and he was allowed to bring the people under his authority to that same trust and obedience.
Unfortunately, the kings who followed David weren’t as trusting or obedient. They thought they knew better than David so they formed their own gods, made themselves gods by the creation of idols, and created their own sets of rules. They neither fully obeyed, nor fully trusted God. And eventually the holdings of the Promised Land which King David had unified were divided and reduced to fragments of their former greatness.

“The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God."  Even the soldiers jeered at him.  As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself."  Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us."  The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Lk 23: 35-43
Because of God’s mercy He then sacrificed His son, Jesus Christ, to save and unify us by forming the Church to guide us.

And Christ showed us a new example of obedience and trust: not by saving himself but by being mocked, ridiculed, and even dying on the cross for our sins. His new way was not like the power and authority of King David, but in the service of self giving love. His death on the cross returned to us not the promised land (physical), but the promise of Paradise (eternal).
Both Kings made their people FEEL like Kings. Both trusted that they had the power of God behind them. Both obeyed God’s laws and did not take the power and control into their own hands as they were tempted. Both gave up their lives in service to God.

And in turn both received back from God: unification of the Promised Land, unification of the people (the Church) and resurrection to the Promised Eternal and unified Paradise.
Am I willing to trust and obey to the same extent? Is the promise to be unified with God as awe inspiring today as it was then? Or am I tempted by the world’s promises of riches and materialism?

Remarkably I see a similar parallel to King David’s time in the formation of the United States which was built into a powerful and great country because of our forefathers (the Kings) who had a desire to trust and obey God’s commandments and protect our faith beliefs ( the freedom of religion.)
We became a country of people UNDER GOD (our Constitution), who trusted and cared for the exiled (formed by the acceptance of immigrants) and who’s economy and wealth was built by serving each other using our talents and treasures wisely and obediently (think of the first Thanksgiving.)

And unfortunately I would say that the division in our country and the world is a repetition of history: dysfunction caused by a similar disobedience and lack of trust in God’s plan. We are either a part of the problem (to become our own law), or a part of the solution (to be UNDER God.) We cannot be both.
Heavenly Father, King of All, You have promised us a share of Your inheritance. Help me to trust in the hope of Your promises and guided by Your examples of Kingship. Give me patience and tolerance in seeking to understand and grow in the knowledge of Your Church. May I find unity with You through obedience of your commandments. And protect and guard me from being led astray by the kings of the principalities and powers who tempt me with the fleeting happiness of worldly righteousness. Amen.

Do I love and serve others as Jesus commanded and am I willing to give up my life without regard to my own comfort, trusting that God will provide for and protect me? Will I courageously stand to protect my freedom to practice my faith under God?
Live by the King’s rule,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

First Credit

Friends of Faith:
Last week I wrote about being blessed, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, it seemed somewhat natural to write about being thankful…

And then this article about the Illinois tornadoes caught my attention: the headline stated that the reason so few people were killed was that they were in church…..  but then it went on  to give credit to the “connectivity” of cell phones that provided instant messages during the service; to “forecasters” for predicting the path of the storm; and to the “technology” that is used in observing weather.
So the fact that most of the town’s people were attending church, in God’s presence and protected by God became merely a “setting,” a publicity stunt for the newspaper, rather than the heart of the story.

In fact, the media did not even mention God’s name. And when the final credits were given, despite the stories attention grabbing first line, “saved because of church,” NO credit was given to God!
No credit was given to THE GOD who has given us life, originally…THE God who saved our lives, mercifully… or even THE God who we would call on to protect us, eternally.

“One day he got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, “Let us cross to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A squall blew over the lake, and they were taking in water and were in danger. They came and woke him saying, “Master, master, we are perishing!” He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was a calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” But they were filled with awe and amazed and said to one another, “Who then is this, who commands even the winds and the sea, and they obey him?” Lk 8: 22-25
How big is my faith?

And does my faith remind me to give the first credit, where credit is due—to the Creator, to the Protector, to the Commander of life; by the amount of time, the amount of money, and the amount of effort I spend honoring and obeying him, or is God just an afterthought, a nicety, a convenience when I am in need?
Like the media do I have more faith and reliance on man’s technology and connectivity and give the credit to “man” instead of to the person to whom it is really due—to God?

Do I honor God by spending as much of my time in His house as I do honoring celebrities at houses built by man (entertainment venues)?
Do I use as many of my gifts to take care of God’s people (donations to charitable organizations which help widows, orphans, the homeless or the hungry) as I do rewarding  myself (shopping, vacations, entertainment, eating out)?

Do I set my alarm and mark off time on my calendar to celebrate God as I would to wake up for work or to plan for a vacation or to enjoy a night out with friends?
And is my freedom to worship God less important than, just as important, or more important than, the equality and the freedom to work, live, and play with whomever I want?

Heavenly Father, You are the Creator, the Lord, the Master and Majesty of all. You are the one who gave us the power to subdue Your earth (Gen 1: 28). Help us never to abuse the power you have given us. Help me to always remember to give First Credit where it is due by saying Thank You to You. Thank you for all I am, all that I have and all that you have blessed me to do for you. Amen.
Don’t make God an afterthought – give God the honor of the First Credit (thankfulness), the respect of obedience and profit of your first fruit.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Finding Blessings on the Journey

Women of Faith:

I’m a little late this week because I know that life is a journey and unless I look for the blessings on the journey, getting to the end of the journey will have no meaning. So I have been taking the opportunities of enjoying the blessings as they have been presented.

“Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops; What if Your healing comes through tears? And what if a thousand sleepless nights; are what it takes to know You're near? What if my greatest disappointments; Or the aching of this life; Is the revealing of a greater thirst; This world can't satisfy? And what if trials of this life; The rain, the storms, the hardest nights; Are Your mercies in disguise?” Blessing by Laura Story

Occasionally life’s circumstances become a gentle reminder to remember to look for the blessings around every turn, especially when it seems as if life isn’t going exactly as planned.

Blessings were found when I spent extra time with my mom after knee replacement surgery. The gift of a mom (who, for most, is their child’s first hero) is often overlooked especially as we get busy with our own lives and families.
Blessings were found, not only for myself but for many around, in renewed friendships with family and friends who shared grief, comfort, and memories at the funerals of those we loved and shared with each other.
Blessings were found as we became reacquainted with friends at chance meetings in “foreign” places.

Blessings were found in the “timeless” enjoyment of children and grandchildren where common frustrations of daily life, laughter of silly occurrences, and a babies babbling could all be shared without interference of the outside world.

Blessings were found in prayers, caring words, and acts of kindness for family and friends who are undergoing sufferings, struggles and family pain and grief—knowing that we could lighten their burden and share their pain made them a blessing for us, and we a blessing for them.
“And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Lk 17: 15-19

Each of these struggles, each of these burdens and pains is a blessing in disguise. Will we see the blessings? Do we look for and thank God for the little (and big) things in life that by God’s design are meant to be a blessing?

And do we remember to give thanks as the Samaritan did, or do we walk away as if the gifts we have received were something we deserved?
“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s…. As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Rom 14: 7-8, 12

Will we be saved by our perseverance in faith? And will we accept the “muck” of our own choices, and the happenings that God allows, so that we are saved because in faith we can find the blessings and enjoy the journey with the knowledge that God is always at our side?
Heavenly Father, It is for your glory that I live. Help everyone who is experiencing some sorrow, some suffering, or some pain, to be able to see beyond, to accept their burdens and their grief and to find comfort in the blessings you are constantly placing in our lives. May I search not for gold, but for the silver lining of your blessings. Thank you for giving me the faith to enjoy the journey. Amen.

Recommit yourself to finding the blessings in the relationships you share. And in taking the opportunity to enjoy the journey with each relationship you are given.
Life is a journey. Be blessed by it!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Climbing High

Friendsof Faith:

This week I was asked to pray for friends yearning to climb to the top of a mountain, something they understood would be difficult to achieve, something that would take strength and courage, patience and perseverance.
Someone is waiting for a response to arms held open in love; someone wants healing rather than just feeling better; and someone is seeking true understanding of their purpose in life—more than just acceptance of their being. They all have a desire for a mountain top experience—to reach for God’s perfection, to be completely healed, and to be completely loved.
“Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." Lk 19: 2-6

Zacchaeus could see the obstacles ahead of him, he understood how small he was, both physically and spiritually, and he knew there were others who would follow the laws and be in a better place to receive Jesus’ attention.
But Zacchaeus made his desire to see Christ his priority. He resolved to do whatever it would take to get a share in Christ’s presence; he went beyond the easy, he climbed above the crowds, he did everything possible just to get a glimpse of Jesus. And in his expectation to receive nothing he received everything.
And there were those around Zacchaeus who grumbled (in jealously) because they thought they had done more to deserve Christ’s attention. They thought that just by doing enough they would get Jesus to “pick them.” And even though they had the opportunity to see Jesus without the obstacles, they didn’t appreciate him as much as Zacchaeus did in his challenges.
Even Jesus and the prophets had to sacrifice on their climbs up to the famous biblical mountain tops: It took Moses 40 days and nights to reach the top of Mt. Horeb to receive the Ten Commandments; Jesus went up the mountain to deliver his most famous sermon; and of course he climbed the ultimate path of sacrifice up Mt. Calvary, carrying the burdens of the cross of OUR sins (not his) in order to save US (not him.)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying … Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Mt 5: 1-2, 11-1
The reward at the top of these mountains: the face of God, heaven, and unending forgiveness and mercy for mankind—PERFECTION!
Often times, reaching the top seems to take a little longer and be harder work than anticipated, including what I might think are “undue” sacrifices and sufferings.
Jesus told the apostles: You (I/we) will have to suffer insults and persecution to be blessed—to get the ultimate reward in heaven. Climbing high, reaching the top, is, and will be, hard work.
A climb high to the top requires the graces of patience, perseverance, and true selfless love (charity, empathy, compassion and/or service) to achieve the end result. I continuously remind myself to accept both the consequences and the sacrifices required during the climb to reach the mountain top: to look beyond the current obstacle, to enjoy the journey, and for the opportunity to look down and back from each peak when it is reached.
And even in the knowledge of God’s love and desires for me and what is at the ultimate top, I still sometimes find myself hesitate, balk or even stop on the way up. Because the walk, the talk, even the day to day experiences, seem to mean putting behind happiness, pleasures and my own wants and desires. I can remember times when I even tried to pass off my climb (duty) to someone else (“you tell them the truth—I don’t want to be the bad guy”) or have said “why me, why now.”
Heavenly Father, you have promised me a glorious view at the top of the climb. I rejoice at each opportunity for a new peak on the journey. Help me to remain faithful, to have the persistence and the patience to keep going, even when I seem to be in an endless valley or the terrain is rugged and the climb is steep. Thank you for your assurance and the knowledge you have given me of your presence—both at the top and along each step of the way. Amen.
It takes a power beyond ourselves especially during the most difficult of climbs. The terrain is often beyond our control. But the promise of the view at the top is too intriguing, too inviting, to take the chance that it might be missed.
Climb high, there may be valleys, but in order to have a valley, there must be a peak somewhere nearby. And, in the words of the late Zig Ziglar, “And I’ll see you at the top”
Blessings on your climb,