Who Knows The Hour?

Capture

Jesus told a parable of a rich man who had an abundant crop, and seeing that it provided so much promise, tore down his old barns and had bigger ones built (Luke 12:16-21).  The rich man was looking forward to putting Solomon’s maxim from Ecclesiastes 8:15 into practice.  He was going to “to eat and drink and be glad.”  What the man failed to remember was his own mortality, and as Robert Burns so aptly put it, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men Gang aft agley (or more simply plans go awry).  Jesus states this clearly when He relates – “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’(vs 20).”

Almost exactly a year before her passing, my wife Dianne, posted the following reflection on her blog:

The last few days i have written about some of the problems of my situation, but i have discovered there are some unexpected blessings too.

Having a time limit makes my relationship with God more real. I cant afford to be lax with my conscience, put things off, bury my anger etc. I have an approaching appointment with my Lord when accounts will be closed and i have to stand before him and answer for my achievements, my mistakes, my decisions and the level of sin in my life. I cannot afford to harbour resentments, or allow myself to ignore any sin or hurt.

This is a good thing, it keeps me close to God, constantly on guard of my tongue and my actions. Really where we all should be daily.

Perhaps we could all benefit from remembering that none of us know when we could be keeping that appointment, and live as if it is fast approaching, keeping ourselves close.

Ecc 9:12 moreover no one knows when their hour will come.

 

What a great reminder to each of us to be diligent in our walk with God and our relationships with our fellows!  Jesus said that the two great commandments were to love God, and love our neighbours.  To do so, isn’t about “us” but “them.”  We need to avoid the eat, drink and be merry attitude and work on those important relationships.  We need to seek integrity in all things, and give thanks and praise daily for what we have been blessed with.

Remember the only “hour” we have to for sure to do this in is NOW.

Padre

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Many people are aware of, at least in passing, what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It acknowledges the holiness of God, it gives comment on our willingness to accept His will, and then it makes petitions to Him.  Among these is the request that we be not led into temptation.

There are many types of temptation.  Most, if not all, are based in self-indulgence.  it may be material gain, personal glory, or for any easy path in life (Jesus’ own temptations in the desert were of these types).  Some variations of these may be based on gluttony, alcohol, drugs, sex, or a host of other indulgences.  Yet others are then temptations to feel sorry for ourselves, and to bewail the “unfairnesses”of life.  Whatever the variety, most of us fall into them from time to time.

I was flipping through Dianne’s notes and found her reflection on her illness, and how to have a positive attitude in the face of it.  The passage she focused on was 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  

This is a powerful reminder of God’s willingness to support us.   As noted above, Jesus was tempted.  But He overcame each, and in fact did so by referencing scripture.  He did not give in, but trusted in God’s word (and promises).  He is our help in time of trouble, and our example in the face of temptation.  Better still, He will not allow more than we can deal with to be arrayed against us, if we only trust in Him.

Padre

 

In The Face of Grief: Haibun

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image by Dianne 

My wife prepared me for her passing in every way she could.  She told me to keep on writing, and not to wallow in grief.  Her advice was wise and strengthens me.  In taking a moment to collect and recollect these words flow.

Wait, Pause, Take Breath, Breathe
A moment to stop, Collect
Letting Anguish ebb

Padre – in the second of my Dianne postmortem poems

My thanks to Chèvrefeuille for also for us to pause, it was a perfect word for my day.

 

 

Removing the Filters

As Jesus rode into the city, people rushed to find out what the commotion was about. ‘Who is this?’ they asked. – Slide 18

Free Bible Images

In Genesis 1 we are told that we are made in the image of God.  This is not a physical manifestation, but one of nature.  We like Him are creative, we have a moral aspect, we are to oversee the Earth.  “Male and female,” were this made God-like.

We can see as well in Genesis 3:8, that Adam and Eve walked in companionship and relationship with God.

Yet Eve was tempted.  The serpent challenged her to eat from the tree, and she at first objected.   She noted that it was forbidden.

But, Genesis 3: 6 tells us, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

Satan tempted her with the idea that if she ate from the tree she would be more God-like – gaining wisdom.  Eve failed to see she was already in God’s image.  She was already in relationship.  She looked at the situation with several filters.  The practical filter the need for  food, the aesthetic filter of its beauty, but most of all it would “improve” her.

What she actually got was a relationship that was broken.  Sin and corruption entered the world.

But God is a compassionate God,  He opened up a path of return.

Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus is above the angels, and His people are to be served by them as well:  “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (vs 14).

Hebrews 2 goes on to say, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?  You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet (vs 2: 6-8).”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them (us).  And why?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8: 29).   We are once again in relationship, but even more so, we are again in the image of God.

But even with all this on offer, so many of us (like Eve) start putting filters or blinders before us.  Lets look at what happened in Mark 11.  On Sunday:

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it,  some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve (vs. 4-11).

From a earthly point of view “Nothing happened.” Many people, the Zeolots in particular were disappointed.  They wanted an earthly king, someone to save them from the Romans.  But Jesus just departs.  They didn’t get what they wanted.  How many fell away, because they had a filter of political power on their agenda?

On Monday, Jesus returns,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city (vs 15 -19).

Jesus is acting in a righteous manner.  He is seeking to assure the purity of the outer court.  But rather than see their own error, they become angry.  Their own filter of self interest and profit leads Priests, Levites, and merchants fall away.

On Tuesday,

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”  Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things (vs 27 – 33).” 

The Temple authorities and High Priest challenge Him.  They seem to be more interested on “whose turf” it is, than on the Words of God being spoken.  This is an interesting follow up to what happened on one of Jesus’ previous visits in John 7.  Here again the leaders want to silence Him.  They send the guards to arrest Him.  But,

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied (vs. 45 – 46).

The authorities use the filter of privilege, and power.  They thus miss the truth.

Later that day or on Wednesday (the scripture is unclear), there are further confrontations.  The first is about paying the Imperial tax to Caesar.  The Pharisees and Herodians attempt to apply the filter of legalism to silence Jesus.  They fail miserably, and are made to look foolish.

So far Zealots, Merchants, Levites, Priests, Pharisees, and Herodians have cut themselves off from Christ.  Their filtered views of God and righteousness have failed them.

This is next mirrored by the Sadducees.  The use their theological dogmatism as a filter.  They challenge Jesus on the nature of heaven and of an afterlife.  The result of their narrow theological view alienates them from the truth as well.

Sadly even on Thursday Judas, driven by the filter of greed betrays Jesus.  Thirty pieces of silver are more meaningful than his relationship with God, or his own conforming to the image of Christ.

Even sadder is Friday morning.  Peter, his relationship filtered by fear denies he even knows Jesus.

If we look closely we can see that when Jesus spoke uncomfortable truths, people fell away.  The crowds that had praised Him Sunday by Friday were only a handful.  Even most of the Twelve were absent from the cross.

It is a bit like the Parable of Sower.  The Word of God fell on hard, stony. or weedy ground.  Those filters prevented the seed to grow, for true conformity to the image of Christ to manifest itself.  And in so doing relationship was lost.

So what are our personal uncomfortable truths? Is our prayer life what it should be? Is our service dedicated? Do we fall into the wealth and fame trap? Are we conformed to keeping up with  Kardashians rather than being conformed to the image of Christ?

Where are our filters?  Shouldn’t seek the fresh air of the Gospel over any type of filtered air?

Padre

Based on my sermon of 1 Sept 19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Whose Image?

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Michelangelo – Public Domain

Genesis begins with a simple phrase in English: “In the beginning God  . . . .”  How often do we ponder this starting point?  In the biblical narrative it continues on to explain the sequence of creation.  Before all of it, however, God existed.  “At the creation, God created . . .” is one rendering of the Hebrew.  He was pre-existent.

As the Creator, He is the cosmological cause of each of us.  He has made us, not we ourselves.  Most theists (and people of faith more generally) will except this as a obvious truth.  Our physical forms are “inherited” from the long sequence of reproduction which begun with “In the beginning.”

We are not so forthcoming in our “making of ourselves” in spiritual, and social terms.  Think about the term: “self-made man/woman.”  The achievements and accomplishments are attributed to the hard work and talents of the individual, not to some divine plan.  We set our minds on a course, and off we go.  Or do we?

 

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26-27).”    Even is the rule and mastery humanity has shown over the creation, it was tasked to them by god.  It was a destiny set by God, not one of our creation.  So why should it be any less so in our individual lives?

Our purposes have a starting point: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29). We are to be conformed to Jesus’ image.  Put simply to be Christ-like.   Yet Jesus was not one to do His own thing – to fly after any or every fancy.  Nor was he dictated by ego.  John 5:30 says in part, records Jesus’ words, “for I seek not my will, but the will of him that sent me.”  Again at Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Father, all things are possible to thee, take away this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done (Mark 14:36).”  

If we are truly conformed to God’s will – if we are Christ-like, we should be seeking what is good for His purposes, not what strokes our egos.  Let us test our motives.  Are we striving to be in God’s image, or are we trying to force His purposes into our wills.  Are we like some Medieval artist making God in the image of man, not man in the image of God?

 

Padre

Hold the Course

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

At thirteen I was taller than many of my classmates and very much stronger.   I was a shot putter on the track and field team, and was good at sport in general.  Despite my size and strength, I was often bullied, precisely because of those characteristics.  I however held the conviction instilled in me by my mother that it would be wrong for me the harm a smaller child. Therefore, I endured the bullying.

At thirteen, I had teachers who saw me as clever, and some diligently tried to convince me of my non-physical abilities.  But I, whether because of the bullying, or whether I had something to prove to myself, stayed fixedly focused on athletics.

High school was an uncomfortable turning point.  By fifteen I had stopped growing and settled in at five foot – seven.  I still competed in the shot put, but each year my ranking fell, as others first caught up to me in size and then surpassed it.  My response was to practice more, spending long hours with the weights and in the shot put ring.  I remained strong, and especially strong for my size.  My academics, however, were not a priority.  Yes I got mostly A-s, but not consistently so.  My senior year, I even took only the classes I needed to graduate.

Alas, I am no athlete.  I got a job, married, and went to community college, where I got A-s yet again.  Then I joined the forces, where academically I did well even being noted on three occasions as “honor man”  in military schools.

I left the forces, and went to uni, and then into ministry.  I eventually even did graduate study at the University of Cambridge.  I am still no athlete, but I am, as my teachers at age thirteen tried to show me – clever.

So what advice should I give a thirteen year old me?  Give up the sport, you will end up too small?  Hit the books, your future lies there?

No!  The message to the thirteen year old me is:  “Hold the Course.  The path you are on is the one that will make you – you!”

Padre

Haunted Wordsmith Nonfiction Prompt: What is something you would tell your 13-year-old self?

What Are You Made Of?: A Review

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image: Wikipedia

I don’t usually make it a habit to read Christian devotional literature.  The scriptures?Yes.  Theological tomes? Those too.  But not much in the devotional genre.  I generally find them too formulaic and often shallow.

That said, I have recently read Amba Keeble’s What Are You Made Of?, which I found neither shallow nor formulaic.  This devotional work is based on Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, and provides both thoughtful commentary and sincere personal sentiment.

Keeble’s book is rich in analogy and metaphor, and it is written in a very approachable and conversational style.  Her focus question: What are we made of? is a great lens to examine Paul’s letter from.  She humanises this approach to the modern reader by drawing a parallel to reality TV competitions, and the same question as put forward to contestants when they are on the verge of giving up.  What a great Christian parallel!  What are we made of when life is about to “defeat” us?

Sister Amba uses other illustrations which are wonderfully picked as well, such as Russian Stacking Dolls.  She examines these, and how they are constructed from a solid core outwards.  This analogy of a Christ-centred life (a solid core) runs throughout the book.

Popular cultural references as diverse as How the Grinch  Stole Christmas and misaligned shopping trolley wheels engage the reader with familiar modern parables to illustrate the apostle’s timeless words.

Keeble draws her key question together wonderfully in challenging us to live boldly,  live freely,  and to shine forth that which is at our “Russian Doll” cores, in our Christian walk.  I may not be a great fan of devotionals, but this work is one worth reading.

Amba and her husband, Rich are associate pastors at The Abundant Life (AOG) Church in Suffolk.

Padre

 

 

The Elephant in the Room and Such

 

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source: YouTube

The elephant in the room is a modern idiom which suggests that we don’t discuss the big (and often uncomfortable) topics which affect our lives or relationships. But Jesus was not prepared to let these topics be ignored.

The biggest elephant He addressed was sin. And while He didn’t mention pachyderms, He did make full use of camels and logs.

Just like us today, with our tendency to make “small talk” or to skirt issues, so did the “religious” people of Jesus’ day.  They seemed obsessed with the minor or inconsequential matters and often missed the real point of their relationship with God and man.

In Matthew 23: 23-24 Jesus said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

This is not only a direct challenge to the leaders’ religious focus of devotion, but a great play on words as well (something I am sure His audience would find memorable). In Aramaic, gnat is “gamla” and camel is “gamal.”   Jesus was challenging the leaders to sort out their gamlas from their gamals, an effective metaphor for discerning the trivial from the “big issues.”

Jesus didn’t just put the elites on notice, however. He clearly reminded all of his auditors of the need to examine their priorities and perceptions, especially when dealing with others.

In Matthew 7: 3-5 he warns,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

How often do we nitpick while glossing over our own shortcomings?

We as believers have this challenge set by Jesus – to focus on the “big things.” What elephants (camels and planks) do we need to see and deal with? Maybe it is time to get these out of our rooms.

Padre

“Look What I Did!”

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I have written before about the prevalent attitude of entitlement.  Hand in hand with this is the obsession with fame, glory, and celebrity.  Society revels in the Kardashians, “reality” champions, and X Y Zs that “Got Talent.” If we are honest, “Look, they are winners!” and “Look what they achieved;” comments often belie the true desire to be so recognised ourselves.

People often see all gains in life as the result of human effort: “I earned a promotion,” and “Look what I did.” It is bad enough to hear my students say such things like “We won the match,” when not one of them was on the field, much less even on the team. But such flippant self-congratulations are more than just mis-speaking, they are a form of vanity. To be fair, I have done (and do) this as well.  But, are we giving credit where credit is due?

It is refreshing, and informative therefore that in Psalm 44 we find a reality check,

“We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them (verses 1-3).”

The Psalmist rightly notes two key facts.  The first, is that they listened to a true testimony (wow, they listened to their elders, teachers, and priests).  But more importantly, they acknowledged that blessing, and accomplishments were in the hands of God.

In Evan Almighty there is a scene when Evan prays, thanking God for what had been provided.  Good start.  He goes one to thank God for his home, but lapses into the “Kardashian” attitude of “but I picked it out.” Me, Myself, and I; not Thee, Thou, and Thine.

As we look at “what I have done,” let us keep some perspective. Yes, we have made effort.  Yes, we have accomplished tasks. But the blessing is from the Lord.  Even the very talents, skills, beauty, intelligence, etc. that enabled such accomplishments came from Him.  There is no such thing as a “self-made man (woman).”

Let us be hesitant to say “Look at what I did,” and be readily prepared to note “What He has done.”  Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Padre

Key to Life

Key to Life

Pastor Vince gave a passionate presentation this week of the key principles of Christian life, and life more generally. He then expanded this general theme by noting the example and attitude of the Apostle Paul.

Philippians 4: 10f reads, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” A central factor in the key to life, is accepting the circumstances that we are in and making the most of the situation.

Pastor Vince then expanded this with the observation, that each of us has a different ministry, different lives, and different callings.  All too often, we fail to find “the peace beyond understanding,” because we are judging our own lives by the standards, abilities, and callings of others.

Paul had in several places spoken of the different gifts of the Spirit, and of the different parts and functions of parts of the body. We are meant to function corporately. Think in secular terms. Could we function as a society if everyone was a lawyer, or doctor? Who would build our houses or grow our food? We need to find the gift and vocation God has prepared us for, and then be the best at it we can be.  Not spending our time wishing we were something else, someone else, or that things were different.

Luke 22 shows us this.  Jesus told the disciples of trials ahead.  Peter took the view that that can’t be the case. He was after the “making things different than they are” approach. Verses 31 and 32 tell us how Jesus then prophecised, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Essentially it is saying “Peter, you are going to be tested, and tried. The chaff will be blown away, and what is left will be stronger for it.”

Tested, proved, completed. We have examples of this as well, notably in I Samuel 17. Young David had already killed a  lion and a bear before he ever saw Goliath. God had tested him, proved him, and perfected him to the task of facing giants.

We like Paul need to be open to the good and the bad.  We need to grow in the times of want, and to praise in the times of plenty. We need to not seek to accept that we have a role even when times are difficult, and wishing them away is not an option (like Peter had to learn). And we need to take those opportunities to grow and be tempered as Peter and David were.

The key to life, is to trust God who is guiding us, and to take the world for what it is, in the good and the bad.

Padre