Foundations

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Pastor Rich centred the family service on Matthew 7:24-27 this week.  It is well known as the parable of the wise and foolish builders.

‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’

The idea is clear, we need to make the foundations of our lives firm.  All too often people choose the wrong foundation to build their lives on however.  For some (especially in this present age) it is based on fame and prestige.   People seek out their fifteen minutes of fame.  Celebrity is a do all and end all in itself.  For others it is artificial crutches of drugs or alcohol which are seen to be needed “just to get through the day.” And yet for others, who may well look down upon those who build of the values of the world, they themselves often fall into the trap of “self-righteousness.”

But Jesus said there is a firm foundation, beyond the temporal, the artificial, and the self that gives life true meaning.  These are Jesus’  “words of mine  . . . puts  . . . into practice.” I remember a youth minister decades ago saying that each of us has a Christ-shaped vacuum within our lives.  Many of us seek to fill it with the wrong things.  Only Jesus, the true rock of foundation is sufficient to bear us up when “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew.”  

Are your foundations set in the rock of God’s love today, or on the sand of the illusion of stability?  Let us seek to dig deep into the stone of truth, and put the word into practice today.  Let’s be wise builders.

Padre

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Why I Teach

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There are many reasons why people become teachers. For some it is the desire to “make a difference” in the world. For others the motivation is a care and concern for young people.  And for yet others, it is the importance of their subjects, and the concern that knowledge of it endures.  We can add to this a small minority that didn’t know what else to do with their degree. [As an aside, I remember overhearing a conversation between two final year university students on their futures.  One of them said he would do teacher training, “while he worked out what he really wanted to do.”]

Why stay a teacher? Now here is a more interesting concept.  Some – but not all – of the world changers become disillusioned and leave.  Some “kid’s are our futures” types, equally withdraw after seeing the realities of the classroom.  And “preservation of knowledge” advocates become frustrated when their beloved topics fall on disinterested ears.  But the majority persevere. Why, because they come to embrace all of the above, and become educators.

Our little victories drive us onwards. That moment when little Johnny “gets it.”  The realization that these young people are indeed people, and they are developing into wonderful human beings.

I have been an educator for nearly three decades.  I may have started out as a “my subject matters” type, but I have grown!  I really care about the students I teach.  I feel for their hurts, and I really find joy in their triumphs.   I see them as full individuals, not just as recipients of my subject. As a case in point, I love watching the programme on the last day of the year, when those about to leave us make their speeches, share their recollections, and share their talents in music or drama.  I can look then, and take pride that I in some small part helped shape these awesome people.

That is why I teach.  I may not have changed the world, but I have touched the lives that have touched mine.

Padre

12 Great Quotes on Preaching

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Preaching the word of God is a blessing, but also an irksome responsibility. There have been thousands of great proclaimers of the Gospel over the centuries, and I have picked just a few to share their sage advice on preaching.  I hope their words will help use to reflect on our own motivations and practice.

Preparation

“Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.” Richard Baxter

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“Keep up a humble sense of your own faults, and that will make you compassionate to others.”  Richard Baxter

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”  Francis of Assisi

Motivation

“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16

“Don’t preach to make friends or so we will be loved – don’t do that. Preach so God will be loved and souls will be saved” Marshall Keeble

“To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching.” Martin Luther

If a preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.” John Calvin

Execution

“I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.”  Richard Baxter

“You can hit a nail too many times, then you bust the plank. So, don’t keep hitting it, hit it then ease off.” Marshall Keeble

“I would not have preachers torment their hearers, and detain them with long and tedious preaching.” Martin Luther

“If you haven’t struck oil in 20 minutes quit boring.” T. J. Jones (and others)

 

Padre

 

 

 

 

Four Responses to Emmanuel

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Sister Amba presented an excellent message yesterday in which she brought in Christmastide with some reflections on how people reacted to the birth of Jesus in the original nativity story.  Her insights into human responses and how we each react to the coming of Emmanuel in our lives was uplifting as well as challenging.

The first respondent to the annunciation of the coming of the Christ was by Mary.  In Luke 1 we find this young woman confronted with an angelic message, that she was to give birth to Messiah.  Her response is straightforward and thoughtful.  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”  When she is told it is through the power of God she simply, “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled (verse 28).”  Her response was of surrender and obedience.  “Let it be so.” How powerful is that?  No argument, no appeals to the social consequences.  Just acceptance that God’s will be done. Oh, that we could so easily do so in our lives!

The second response was found in the shepherds of Luke 2.

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. . . .”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.”

Amba powerfully showed us that the birth of Jesus “turned the world upside down.”  The first recipients of the news of the birth of “God with us” came not to the mighty, but to the base.  Shepherds in a field are told of the event that would change lives for ever.  Their reactions of fear (at the presence of an angel), to curiosity (“Let’s go see”), turned to praise. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (verse 20).” We to have different reactions to the Son of God.  That message may have been frightening, it may seem alien to our sense and world view, and it may merely have sparked curiosity.  But has it turned to praise and rejoicing?  It should, it has been meant to be that transformational.

The third response Amba cited was that of the Magi.  These learned men of the East came to find a king born in Israel (Matthew 2).  They had seen His star. There is a lot of speculation on this, but many scholars (well it does fit the present response) believe they saw a “new star” or cosmic anomaly within the constellation which was thought to regulate the fate of Israel.   Using this astrological belief that a king had come to that nation, it was only natural for them to seek him out in the palace in Jerusalem.  This would explain their arrival in the capital rather than humble Bethlehem.  What though was the motivation “to come worship?”  Was it intellectual curiosity?  Was it the acknowledgement of “worldly power?”  Or was it just to confirm their own academic conceit? Whatever the reason, the result was that they overjoyed on actually finding the Christ. [It is interesting to speculate on the reasons they came, but the symbolism of their gifts whether intentional (a sign of faith), or ironic (a God given meaning to their intellectual gesture) still give us much to think about].  Is our response to Jesus of the head or of the heart?

The fourth response was that of Herod.  Matthew tells us that he and all his court were disturbed by the news of the Magi of a newborn king.  Herod is known to despise any rival, and was so obsessed with this even had his own children killed.  But, here we have a reaction of jealousy and outright malice.  He calls on all the children two years and under in the region of Bethlehem to be killed.  His reign is to be unopposed, even by a babe.  Amba noted that we can be like that.  We don’t like what Jesus exposes about us, and we sometimes strike out.  Herod did.

Of our four responses, only Herod failed to, in some measure, come to be changed by the coming of the Christ-child.  Whether our response to His coming and call is total surrender, joy, intellectual comfort, or heart-felt rejoicing – He will have made a change in us.  If all we feel is anger, jealousy, and pride, we have a dilemma.  But even in the case of such a rejection remember this – you may reject Him, but He still welcomes you.  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”

I thank Amba for giving the core of this post in her message, and I feel blessed to have heard it, and to have her words prompt me to dig deeper into the four responses.

Padre

 

 

Finding Haven in Virtue and Order

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I often have had discussions with my students as to the purpose for rules.  Are rules arbitrary controls established by authority figures to subjugate their followers? Or are they means by which those who have wisdom attempt to aid and protect those around them?

Okay, in a modern political context, maybe a bit of both. But in Psalm 1 we find the following reflection: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaf that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”

Those who do not associate with people who are laws unto themselves will be blessed.  Those who meditate on the ideals of God with flourish. Verse 2 is interesting as it does not imply “pie in the sky” with a reward will be given later, nor does it promise vast wealth along the lines of the “faithful will be materially abundantly blessed” school.  Rather it is saying, that following the steady God-given course and purpose in life allows for a measure of comfort and fruitfulness.  This is the prosperity of what is needed.

My students at times have said that if we are free moral agents we should then indeed be free to do as we please, and to go after those things we want. Okay, as such a morally-free being you can.  But if the desires of your heart are arbitrary (see here is where the word arbitrary really comes into play), we must suffer the consequences not only of our own “unfettered” actions, but those of other free-agents as well.  What is the result? “Not so the wicked! They are like chaf that the wind blows away.”

This in part is the law of natural and logical consequences.  If you are out in dark alleys in the wee hours, in the company of those who do not value your rights, there seems to be a greater chance of something untoward happening to you, than if you were snugly in bed with a good book.

God’s laws (if followed) offer us protection.  Here we have a potential double fulfillment of the words of verse 6.  We know on the one hand that “every hair on our heads is counted,” and “not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge.”  Herein is His guiding and protecting hand.  But also His laws, guidance, and examples place us in a literal haven as well (as noted above).  Evil, and even merely self-serving actions do lead to destruction in many cases.

We can find virtue in the order that God has established for us.  In that virtue we find care and safety.  Human rules may well be self-serving, but God’s guidance offers sanctuary.

Padre

 

Finding the Shepherd

HITACHI

Stray Sheep

Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

This is a Psalm of comfort and of promise.  The image of God as the the protector and provider prefigures Jesus’ image of Himself as the same in John 10.  It reads, 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” 

The shepherd we are told prepares good pastures, and leads near still waters.  He provides food (and even anoints with oil).  He is prepared to lay down His life for His flock, and knows each individual.  What could be more comforting?

This Psalm was one of my earliest religious/spiritual encounters.  Its promise of safety, and care was and is reassuring.  The passage was recurrent in my youth as a scripture regularly in interfaith contact between Christians and Jews.  The same God, the same promise.

Too often today we gloss the promises of God.  The Psalm passes us by, and in the words of John 10, we start to put our trust into the hirelings.  Those individuals who seem to have authority (political, social, and yes even religious) and yet do not have the same fervour for our well-being as the “True Shepherd.”  No wonder we are so often left feeling let down by failed political promises, social one-up-man-ship, and at times barely veiled indifference.

Let us therefore turn back to the Shepherd today.  Remember, He is known by His own!

Padre

An Attitude of Entitlement

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There has been a lot of discussion on the issue of entitlement of late. Michelle Obama has cited an attitude of entitlement among men, and there have been been blogs on the subject of regional and national attitudes.  It seems though that this concept, that one group of people should assume privilege over another, has been with us far longer than the present debates.  Whether it is British over their imperial subjects, the Party over the “ordinary” Soviets, or any other construction of presumed position.

This was true in the time of Jesus as well.  Luke 16 gives an account of a rich man and a poor man that slept rough at his gates. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 

Here we have a man accustomed to his riches of purple and linen.  He has feasted and not merely dined, and he has a house with gates and not just doors. When he dies he is sent into torment, and seeing the poor man in the presence of Abraham, he calls on the patriarch to send the poor man to comfort him.  His attitude of superiority has not been tempered by his situation.  When it is explained to him that he is beyond help, his concern shifts to his family, but even still he does not see the error of his attitude to Lazarus, for he again calls for him to be sent to serve his (and his family’s) needs.

So what do we do about this assumption of “I am owed” something?  When I was in the forces we owed a symbolic respect to superior officers.  This was manifested with a salute.  Interestingly, we were repeatedly reminded that this rendered courtesy was not directed to the person, but the position: “You salute the uniform, not the man.” There is a check on entitlement, if only but one.

With that aside made, we need to remember that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and as such are “entitled” to the same share of dignity.  Jesus expanded on this when He called on His followers to ” . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these {along with loving God} (Mark 12:31).” He even used a despised Samaritan to illustrate His point (Luke 10).  

First John 4:7-8 provides a great starting point in changing our attitudes to entitlement. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Those who love, share.  Those who love, seek to bless those with whom they are in love.  Those who willingly give, move beyond “self.”  When the self is diminished, “entitlement” fades.

Padre

 

Of Youthful Fervour and Mature Wisdom

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I have been teaching young people ever since I was technically one myself. I have seen amazing things from the young.  There is an enthusiasm in youth which those of us of less tender years can marvel at.  There are some drawbacks to this fervour as well, such as the tendencies to see things only as “black and whites” with little understanding of nuance, and the zeal which makes them at times rush in less than prepared.

There is an interesting case-study of this in John 8: 3-9.  The crowd was in an uproar.  Both old and young, were full of “righteous indignation.”  “ The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” 

Jesus’ charge to have the one without sin cast the first stone, called for reflection.  Jesus’ meaning was therefore picked up upon by those with the most experience first. They could see and understand their own shortcomings.  They could when using their own conduct as the measure, see beyond the “black and white.”

The Apostle Paul seems to have grown in wisdom during his ministry.  He a man a zeal in the early chapters of Acts, was full of his youthful, culturally based “truths” as well.  He persecuted the church because it was “the right thing to do.”  But the Damascus experience turned him in a new direction.  But not without diminishing his fervour (or self-view).  His, maturing is road-mapped in his own writings.

In Galatians 1: 1 (written circa 53 AD), he refers to himself as, “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”  Paul and his office are introduced.  Yet, within a year, he addresses himself as “the least of the apostles” 1 Corinthians 15:9 (circa 53-54 AD).  This gradual diminishing of his self and elevation of “Him crucified” continues in Ephesians 3:8, “I am the least of all the saints…” (circa 62 AD).  Here no longer least of the apostles, but of all Christians.  His journey of Paul chief of sinners 1 Timothy 1:15 (placed by many as circa 64-65)

This should not be surprising.  Job 12:12 reflects, ” Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” This said though, we need to give youthful zeal its do. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (I Timothy 4:12).”  Even the young can show maturity (in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” It was evident in Timothy and in David as Psalm 71:5 “For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.”

Such maturity is not always easy (not even for many of advanced years), but Peter offers a starting point to this attitude of wisdom, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).”  This was the lesson Paul seemed to learn between Galatians and I Timothy.

These musings call each of us to examine our walks.  For the young – are you seeking wisdom and guidance? It is not the place here to seek a dig at “youthful folly” (Proverbs 7:7 and others) but to encourage as Paul and Peter did, the attitudes of maturity that the young are so remarkable in achieving. For those of us who are older (and we pray wiser), do we still hold on to the vision and zeal of our youth (either physically or spiritually)?  And do we show the humility of an aging Paul?  Do we offer our wisdom in a spirit humility with the goal of lifting others and not ourselves?  May God give each of us balance.

Padre

 

 

 

Great Men or Footnotes?

Ancient-Canaanites

Seventy Donkeys of Abdon

There are a few of places in scripture (such as Judges 10 and 12) where references are made to men, with limited or no commentary.  One might ask whether these were “great men of God” or mere footnotes in the biblical narrative.

Ibzan, Elon and Abdon  in Judges 12 for instance,  “After him [Jephthah], Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem. 11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon died and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun 13 After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.”

These were leaders and Judges over Israel. Men in the Bible. But were they men “of” the Bible?  Were they “Great Men” or Footnotes?

The answer to our title question may never be known to us while here of Earth.  But it is sure, it is known to God.  It seems it was not within the Spirit’s inspirational gift to guide the prophets to give the details. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1: 21).”  Whether this was for the humility of the men involved, or whether their tenures while important to the chronology were insignificant in the providing us our spiritual needs, for  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).”  Whatever the verdict, and whatever the reason for the scant detail, God knows!

What about our lives? Whether in limelight, or in obscurity, God knows our stories as well. Psalm 139 notes, “Lord, you have examined me and know all about me. You know when I sit down and when I get up.  You know my thoughts before I think them.  You know where I go and where I lie down.  You know everything I do.  Lord, even before I say a word,  you already know it.  You are all around me—in front and in back—  and have put your hand on me. our knowledge is amazing to me; it is more than I can understand (verses 1-6).”

With this insight of God’s ever present knowledge of our comings and goings, are we living up to our callings?  We who have answered the call of the Gospel are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 21:27). But will we be great men (and women) of God (as found in Hebrews 11)? Or are we mere footnotes? Let’s rise to the challenge today.

Padre

“A Love Beyond”

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Sister Claire recently brought a thoughtful and personal message on the love of God.  She noted that, this Godly love was transforming.  It can provide for a timid, or self doubting individual a relationship, and sphere of protection, that no other love can provide.

Many of us seek such relationships outside of God. We at times put our trust in the “love” of others that may be (at least in some measure) self-seeking, limiting, or even down right abusive.  In fact, some of these “all giving” human loves further limit us, as they thrust us into a dependence which continues to diminish us.

Not so with God.  Claire drew her message from the text of  Romans 5.  It showed the context and the extent of a “love beyond.”  Verses 6 trough 8 read in part, ” . . . when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  We we not only in that state of timidity and self-doubt but actually powerless to do anything about it.  Worse still, we were at odds with God.

He in this “love beyond,” nevertheless demonstrated that love by laying down His vary life for us.  This was that first step in transforming us, and an example that there can be strength in “weakness.” His death was not an end, but a beginning.  ” . . . we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (verses 2-5).”

He has transformed us.  He has freed us.  He did not free us from “all” suffering, but rather from the negative consequences of that suffering.  He did not remove the external forces which at times make us timid or self-doubting, but rather taught us perseverance.  That perseverance developed not a self-serving dependence, but a character of hope.  That hope has transformed us into a Spirit-filled people of God.

“God so loved the world,” and yes us timid, sinful, self doubting people within it, “that He sent His one and only Son,” to transform us through that very act of love.  It has transformed at least one of my “little sisters” from a timid, bullied, and at times abused girl, into an inspiring “woman of God.”  One bold enough to stand before others, and deliver this powerful and moving message.

Padre