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What if We Are Not the One, but One of the Ninety Nine?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Let me ask you this. What would you do if you had a hundred sheep and one of them wandered off? Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go look for the one that had wandered away? 13 I am sure that finding it would make you happier than having the ninety-nine that never wandered off. 14 That’s how it is with your Father in heaven. He doesn’t want any of these little ones to be lost.  Mt.18:12-14  CEV

16 Don’t be a gossip, but never hesitate to speak up in court, especially if your testimony can save someone’s life. 17 Don’t hold grudges. On the other hand, it’s wrong not to correct someone who needs correcting.  Lev. 19:16-17 CEV

The Holy Spirit, however, permits us to censure sin, and prescribes the way in which we are to do it. It must be done by rebuking our brother to his face, not by railing behind his back. This course is manly, brotherly, Christlike, and under God’s blessing will be useful. Does the flesh shrink from it? Then we must lay the greater stress upon our conscience, and keep ourselves to the work, lest by suffering sin upon our friend we become ourselves partakers of it. Hundreds have been saved from gross sins by the timely, wise, affectionate warnings of faithful ministers and brethren.

For most of us, the statement about leaving the 99 is comforting, for most of us know we wander off too frequently.

Put a different face on the 99, and we might have a different reaction.

If it is a person that antagonizes us, we might say good riddance, and let them go.

It is someone who has hurt us, we may pretend we do not notice.

If they are a politician or someone who expresses themselves politically is a way we oppose, we might even pack their bags and give them a map with the fastest way out of town, and try to inflame them enough that they burn bridges behind them.

We should not take those attitudes, but they seem natural to us, and many would cheer us on if we allowed them to wander off.  After all, we didn’t push them away or force them out. We just let them go, off to get what they deserve. (not to mention what we deserve.)

The answer to this sin is not found in forcing our will to do what we don’t want to do. We might be able to subject our will once or twice, and yet, somewhere down deep, resentment will only grow, not just toward the one who offended us, but towards God and those who would encourage reconciliation.

So how do we do the impossible, how do we pray that Jesus is able to rescue this one stray?  Or even more impossible, how do we come to desire that we assist in some small way?

I don’t think it is by focusing on them, or the pain they have caused.

I think it can only be by looking to Jesus, to seeing Him at work in our own lives, bringing about the healing that we need, forgiving the sin we’ve committed, removing the guilt and shame, and indeed the fear of death that comes from knowing we will be judged. To experience the love of God that makes our life new, and free from the power of sin.  In awe of that, with the joy that only knowing we have passed from death to life can bring, is reconciliation with others possible.

For free, and full of joy, we see them out of the corner of our eye, and in awe of Christ’s work, we invite them to share in it. We then find great joy walking with Jesus after the one, because as they share the in the wonder of Christ’s healing them, we see again His healing us, it is made more complete.

Another part of us is healed, when they are cleansed and healed by Christ.

Then the joy of seeing Christ at work becomes greater, as it is shared.

Heavenly Father, help us to see and wonder about the incredible things Christ is doing in our lives. Help us to know He is with us, and as we gaze upon the cross, help us to rejoice as the Spirit brings healing to all our relationships.  AMEN@

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Our Church’s Strategic Plan: Prayer

The Mission:  Briefing #2
Our Strategic Plan:  Prayer

John 12:20-33

 

Jesus, Son and Savior

 

As You look around you, may you realize the great need there is for the grace, the mercy and love that is yours to give, for that is your gift from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

At least we can? Not..

It’s probably a matter of semantics, just the way people phrase things, but I have heard it a lot this week.  It’s been said different ways, but it still sounds the same…

“Pastor, we’ll be praying, but if there is anything we can do….” Or

“Pastor, we know there is probably nothing we can do, but we’ll be praying for you and your family…”

By the way, if you’ve said that, I know that isn’t how we mean it. Or at least I don’t think we think that way.  Or maybe….. we do.

In contrast – today’s epistle reading takes a different tact…


I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.

In our Lutheran Confessions, Melancthon wrote of it this way,

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.[i]

So I repeat Paul’s words – and will more and more today, I urge you, first of all… to pray for all people!

Where is our faith?

       

Whether we realize it, or not, when we set prayer as a secondary action, as a safety valve, we are breaking the first and second commandment.  You heard me, we are sinning, by placing another god in our lives, by not calling upon God in both prayer and praise.
Luther wrote about it this way:

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God?

Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart;

 

For faith is not just about salvation, it’s about deacon Mike’s favorite theological phrase! It’s about that intimate relationship we have with God. It’s about trusting Him in everything – and running to Him first when we don’t know what to do, or how to love and care, all that we know is that He is where we find hope, and comfort, and love.

So Paul urges not just Timothy, but us to pray for all people.  To get God involved in their situation, to deliver them from whatever is oppressing them, especially the sin and unrighteousness of this world.  To pray that God would save them, even as He has saved us.  That His grace, His mercy and love that we know – for that is why we praise Him…would be revealed to them so clearly it would knock them over…like Paul was knocked over on the road to Damascus.

You see that’s how we deal with all people!  Yes – I mean all people.  Pray for those who annoy you, who irritate you, who’ve hurt you, who’ve betrayed you!  Put them in God’s hands, let God help them with their hurts, and your will find yourself healing as well.  For that is what it means that God is our God – that we trust Him with our who heart – even with our bruised and battered hearts…

For He is faithful and He will reconcile us all in His heart.

We have to grasp the heart of God!

That is really what prayer is about, and why it makes so much sense to put those we care for, and those who we struggle to care for, into the very hands of God.  He’s the one who can take care of their burdens, and the burdens and anxieties that they can cause us.

That is why Paul brings in God’s will.  He just does not want everyone to be saved – that is a weak translation there.  The word is desire; it is a word full of passion and zeal.  It is all about His heart yearning to know each and every one of us, to bring healing to us, and you know – that means He has to deal with those we love whose situations break our hearts… and those who simply break our hearts.

For Jesus came and lived and died for each of us, even as we broke the Father’s heart, and occasionally still do. As we get to know God’s heart; as His love is revealed to each of us.

That’s why the great prophecy about baptism in Ezekiel 36 talks about God cleansing us and removing our hard stone hearts and putting in them a heart of flesh and His Spirit – that’s part of the transformation that begins in us when we are baptized, when God gives us His Spirit.

The closer we come to God, the more His love is revealed in our lives, the more we find ourselves trusting in Him enough to give Him our pains and anxieties, which so often include, or are about, or caused by others.

The same “others” that Jesus also hunt on the cross and for whom He died.

That’s what we have to understand, that is what is true – the love of Go, seen as Jesus, the only one who can act  as an intermediary between God and man – does that very thing.

We’ll talk about that more in Bible study – but think about this – the reason Jesus can bring God and man together.. is because He is… God and Man.

His heart is for us, and He brings us into His sacred heart – He brings us into a relationship so clear that the more we spend time in it, the more we heal and our new heart is revealed to be His.


But our first step isn’t to go on a crusade…

        Protos panton

 

That is why our first step is not some crusade to go save the world.  Our first step is to fall on our knees and ask God to bless people, to help them, that’s why we intercede on their behalf.

It’s not something we do as a last resort, or when we can’t think of something else to do.  Paul urges us, literally he comes along side to help us and points out our first step – is to reach out…not to them, but to the Father who will have Jesus intercede in their lives.

This is the strategy of our mission as believers, our mission of the church.

I urge you, first of all to pray for all people.

And Paul repeats the concept – Ask God to help them..

Intercede with Him on their behalf.. even if you don’t like them… ask God to be with them..

Four times in four ways… God asks us this.  It’s called a parallelism.

It’s like when you wife, or your mother, tells you to do something… if she tells you twice..  uhm you better listen…

But if she gets to three…

But this is even more important…we’re talking about our eternity here, and about our relationship with God. Our relationship with God…. Like communion its not an individual thing – but a God pulling us all into Him thing. That’s what He does – that’s why we go to Him, and as Paul says – as Paul urges us, we go to Him first.

 

A last thought:  Why give thanks?

As we chew on this, for the heart of God is something we cannot just academically “get”, as we strive to realize what it means that God wants us all, in Christ, reconciled, as we learn to pray for all men, I would ask one more thing….

Why do we give thanks for them?  Why are we urged by Paul, along with praying for them, to give thanks for them? Even the politicians and bosses and all that oppress and antagonize us?
Because, when we realize God’s heart toward them, our hearts melt as well… and even more..
Because whether positive or negative influences in our lives…when we are urged to bring them and their situation before God.. wefind we are in His presence… and there…

 

There is peace. And may your realize that unexplainable, unsurpassable peace of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!


[i] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Enemies, Adversaries, Irritating Idiots? A Blessing? Are you sure?

 

Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG) 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 

“Think of the good that has been done you throughout your lifetime by those who have injured or attempted to injure you. Others call such people their enemies. You should imitate the saints, at least in this. You are nothing so special that you should have enemies; so call them “benefactors”. Pray to God for them: as a result, you will come to like them”  (1)

As I feel a need to write this blog, I am also a bit wary of it.  Simply put, many of my blogs – almost all of them, are written based in personal reflection and need.

As I sit in my office this morning, haven’t had to deal with any of those people mentioned in the title.  So maybe this blog is for you, and not me?

Even so, if James is right about trials and trauma being beneficial to us, then it logically can be stated that those who are the cause of some of those trials and traumas are likewise blessings and not curses.  That we can view the lesson they teach us, as a gift from God, and rather than get more and more frustrated, we can give thanks and praise for their being in our lives.

What lesson? 

Well – were are you going to find the strength to rise above your own sinful nature and love them – as Jesus asks you to?  How are you going to find the focus to pray for them, not that God would change their habits, or their ability to just tick you off, but instead that God would richly bless them, and reveal His love to them?

There is the lesson…

They aren’t your cross, they simply drive you to it. They are a reminder that you aren’t God, that you can’t walk alone in this world, that you cannot conjure up this transformation in your own soul, in your own heart – on you own.

You need Jesus love, you need the power of the Holy Spirit, you have to know that you dwell in the presence of God – and assured of His presence, His mercy shown to you – then you can love them, then you can pray for their best, then you will realize the blessing that they are…. and give thanks for them.

Pray for me, even as I know within the next month, I will need to come back and remember these words..

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2859-2863). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

How to Deal with Enemies, Adversaries, and Antagonists

We all have them – the people that drive us bonkers, or cause anxiety in our lives, or simply rob us of Christ’s peace.

It may be the politician in the town who wants to restrict what you can do in your own backyard, or the policies of state and federal folk that endanger your livelihood, or even  want to encourage immorality (as if it needed it)
Our enemies may be a neighbor or a relative, or one we counted as a friend.  It might be even someone in your church body, or even closer, a member of your congregation.  Someone who you aren’t sure whether it was intentional or not, but someone who betrayed you, or hurt you,  the pain of which makes you want to cry out for revenge.

Been their done,  that, bear the scars, or at least I think I do.

The writers of the scripture, especially David and the other psalmists  knew pain well, they were threatened.  They knew enemies and adversaries well – not just the kind we deal with in America today – but those who would kill the body as well as try to kill the soul. Their answer to such people was simple – turn them over to God – let Him deal out justice.

Such is Psalm 140,  where the psalmist cries for the LORD (All capitals means it is His name – not His title)  to rescue Him from them – to keep him from the hands of the wicked.  He calls out for justice for those who are wicked – but if you look at it – that which is called out for is that they don’t succeed in their desires, that they plans are foiled, but for what purpose?

Consider Ezekiel’s take on the wicked (by definition – our enemies and adversaries are… aren’t they?)

3:18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Ezekiel 3:18 (ESV)

and

23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?   Ezekiel 18:22-23 (ESV)

If God puts blocks in the way of their schemes, their actions, if He, as promised saves us from the snares of the evil one ( and his minions) then isn’t it possible, even probable, knowing the heart of God, that in their frustration they might determine that they  plans for evil, God will redeem and use for good?  If they grasp that, then they too will be granted repentance, even as we were.  They they will come ot know God’s peace?

In praying that God rescue us, could that rescue be accomplished by making these people His children?  To trust in God for this – yeah – that’s a level of faith we need to cry out that in His mercy – we find ourselves able to trust in Him.

Lord, may we learn to pray, as our forefathers did, that You turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries toward you…

And then may we, having seen your mercy.. your heart, your love.. rejoice.

 

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