As you have loved me without condition, assist me in understanding and appreciating this human vessel you have come to save and fashion. Help me to come to a heart knowledge of you as I discover new things about myself. May I get to the bottom of things in my life and in my world. Amen
The message for this Sunday comes in remembering the recent confusion of a very smart and able gentleman who was surprised I would draw a remarkable distinction between the terms "religion" and the term "faith" and connect them up with the term "form" and the term "substance". One term deals with what we are able to observe in terms of human conduct and the other deals with the amazing undeserved love of God and how He works in our lives to bring about confidence in times of doubt and assurance in terms of our daily lives on earth and our eternal destiny in heaven.
Some distinction in terms of words seems important as you consider what brought about the message for today. I would put that distinction this way. Let me introduce the word, "form"...that's the way things appear to be...and the word "substance"...the thing that is essential for our being and well-being...
Way back when, indeed, years ago, when I was younger, I was looking for a way to express in words a concept of mind. I kind of knew what it was...what seemed to be like a door which needed to be opened, but remained closed. I thought I wanted to determine the difference between what is normally routine, work-a-day, and yet, necessary...and on the other hand...that which is essential, at the very heart of things...not only important to consider...but essential.
I really hate to admit it, but for a number of reasons, I spent a good deal of my life focusing in on "form" and much less, unfortunately, on "substance". I sense this is a problem for many, not only for me. It's easy for us to observe things with our eyes and hear them with our ears, but it's tricky most of the time to be able to conceptualize and visualize the reality of things unseen and and unheard.
Why was it that I wasn't able to identify what seemed "at the heart of things" for me? I seemed to be wasting away trying to figure things out. It was embarrassing for me. I thought I was smart enough. What was going on in my life that I couldn't come to terms with what I needed to know and be able to adequately communicate to others and for others?
At times I would say to myself, what is it I want to express about some distinction between one kind of emphasis in life and another. Finally it came to me. Form, rather than substance, had been controlling too much of my life...good hygiene...eat properly...go to work...you've got to rest when you get exhausted... all necessary things...but not all there is to life and well-being. Something was missed. Something essential.
I wanted to put my thumb on what it could be...I knew what was needed...a clarification of some distinct sort.
Yes. I came down gently and mightily on the term. Substance.
The "form" aspect in life is necessary...things one can see...the obvious things in life we have to do...but it cannot be the ultimate focus to tie the various components of abundant life together...
I finally put my finger on the answer...the notion of the "substance" of things had really always there... [taken for granted...an adopted child placed in a loving, Christian family...privileged...spoiled rotten...] having been provided by my family background...but I hadn't identified what it was...it was the foundation.
The Scripture came to mind...
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen..." (the profound definition of faith) Hebrews 11:1
Okay...the word "substance" in some translations does appear...that helped a great deal...I must have faith...but what about religion. Isn't faith and religion the same thing? Not really. One is based upon the notion that we trust the only Being worthy of being fully trusted...that is, God...we don't earn the things in life we hope for. We ask in order that we might receive...trusting in God's promise that He is worthy of trust. On the other hand, our best definition of religion we find in Micah 6:8, "And what does the Lord require of you? ...to act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God..."
Good spiritual stuff...but...
In religion, obviously, you must earn merit...do this...do that...don't do this...don't do that...in one sense faith and religion are opposites...though they connect up...nonetheless...religion is form...faith is substance...
Even though it is absolutely necessary, don't get caught up and focus only on "form"... what you can see...what is obvious...make it the point of your life to seek after "substance" in the midst of the "forms" and not get lost in them...use the "forms" (building, flowers, robes) but concentrate upon the "substance" of faith, the Lord! Form without the substance is a rabbit-hole...a great abyss...[Some extraordinary church folks are stuck there.]
Jesus suggested this as the most important verse in the Bible:
"...hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength and with all your might..." Deut. 6:4-5
This verse embodies the very essence of substance...everything else pales in the splendor of this verse.
In terms of spiritual matters, "form" can choke the life out of the "substance" of what we call, faith. Faith in this regard is the essential thing. Mere religion as well as the other important things of life, is still form, and needs to be brought to life, through radical focus upon substance, a personal relationship with God. Let the church building, the candles, the robes and gowns, the flowers, the altar area be...LET THEM BE...let them serve their purpose...but leave them where they lie in order to participate and bloom in substance...a personal relationship with the Almighty. Form is necessary, but not the heart of things. We need to have a church building, church property, church social occasions. So how would certain utilizations of form restrict the access to substance. One Bible notion of restriction to access would be worshipping images of God instead of appealing directly to God without the visual aids.
These days I have become greatly concerned, and maybe wrongfully so, with such focus in church life on who is going to be the next leader of the denomination, fighting to determine what kind of candles should be used on the altar, or who's going to provide napkins for the social hour. Let Christ Jesus be the leader. Let's see if we can use the old candles or do without candles for one Sunday. I'm going to commit to have coffee and donuts without napkins...and choose to focus on what we've learned from a good biblical sermon...
Now...don't get me wrong! Form gives us a place to begin. But we often stay there and don't move on. For all too many occasions, form has been the substitute for substance.
The train, the Gospel train, is faith. We achieve God's acceptance, not when we (in all circumstances) prove to be perfect, but when we "put on" the righteousness of God, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
So what's the difference. Again, religion is connected with "do this" and "don't do that". Religion is connected with being good, being worthy of trust, and seeing that you don't live for yourself...essentially being a good person. We all strive for that, of course. The problem is...you and I are not perfect. We can try to live a perfect and ethical life, but we will fall short. (So we all try to do our very best to be the most ethical and compassionate person we can be...) I am so glad as I affirm that the essence of Christianity is that no perfect people will go to heaven. Now, how can I know that...? Because there are no perfect people! Thank you, Lord, for your provision of forgiveness for us...the greater the offense, the greater the mercy...and the assurance of an eternal home, not based on human perfection, but on trusting God's love.
My point is this. It's a tragedy when followers of God cannot discern the difference between form and substance when it comes to spiritual matters. It has brought about the Crusades instead of the profound example of Saint Francis and William Penn. It has brought about the "witch hunts" of the 16th Century rather than a profound sense of the Divine Community in Christ (Massachusetts). I thought today would be a great time to just share some thoughts out loud that I've kept inside. I want to thank the openness of the gentleman that I mentioned at the beginning who can figure out everything and anything, but this concept really had him confused and befuddled. Sorry if I bent your ear a bit today. Have a superb Sunday!
God bless you!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...dedicated to Warren, Jan, Jim, Anna and Mike in recovery...Kelly and Chad, Patricia in their loss...
"...but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial and sincere...peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness..." James 3:17
"...we love because He first loved us...if anyone says "I love God", yet hates his brother or sister, that person is a liar...because anyone who doesn't love his brother or his sister, whom that person has seen, cannot love God, whom that person has not seen...and He has given us this command: whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister..." 1 John 4:19-21
"...there will be terrible times in the last days...people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having the form of Godliness but denying its power..." 2 Timothy 3:1-5
"...like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Him, the living Stone---rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to Him---you also, like living stones, are
being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ..." 1 Peter 2:2-5
Okay, Lord, I praise you. I love you...I know you are there! I sense your presence and, yes, I love you, but yet...today I'm feeling alone as a human being among other human beings, and I am reaching out to you...
I'm fed up with artificial human relationships. I'm tired of hiding. Give me the courage to reveal who I really am, as you have revealed who you really are to me. I want the satisfaction of others knowing the "real me", and yet, loving me, and wanting fellowship with me. I sense you have called me to this hour...
Thank you for your Church and true believers who are committed to embrace imperfect human beings
like me...Lord, aren't we all the same? Understanding who we really are? ...and afraid to open up...?
Motivated, I'm starting out again today...risking disclosing who I really am to at least one person with whom
I feel safe...I'm letting go of my protective devices and risk being vulnerable---even though I've been taught and encouraged differently---even though I've taught myself to hide. I'm going to disclose who I am in a way that reflects Christian directness, self-responsibility, honesty, and self-love bestowed upon me by Christ.
We will know, Lord, our local church community will be stronger and more influential because we do so.
God...help me let go of my fears in regard to other human beings. Help me accept who I am, and help me let go of my need to be who other people want me to be. I know you will. I know that once I am committed to remaining pliable---I can remember that you, Lord, are the Potter and I am the clay. This decision will make me happier and make me feel genuine.
Thank you, Jesus, for loving me as I am. Amen.
The inspiration for this message is the result of a conversation recently with a dear friend I have known for years. I've shared one significant experience after the next with her over many years. We have been good friends and creditable ministers together. Recently she chose to tell me information about herself that she had kept from me for decades...and I understand why. I wasn't astounded by knowledge of the information she shared, nor was I shocked by her story. I felt so rewarded and so gratified that she had trusted me with the information. It was as if I had succeeded in fulfilling my intention decades ago of being accepting of others without condition. I call that empathy. In addition, I appreciation of her openness. It is the courage of genuine person wanting me to know. Isn't life just great? As I accepted her disclosure, I felt accepted.
Learning to gently reveal who we are is how we open ourselves up to love and intimacy in our everyday relationships. Many of us have hidden under a protective shell that prevents others from hurting us. It is so true. But, No! All too often we don't want to be that vulnerable. We don't want to expose our thoughts, our feelings, our fears, our weaknesses, and sometimes (even often) our strengths to others. Might I add, these days, when people will reject us discovering that we are meat-eaters or vegetarians, Californians or from the State of Utah (suspecting that we just might be Mormons), Republicans or Democrats, Roman Catholics or Protestants, Evangelicals or Jews, we can very readily hide within ourselves with good reason...
What can we do to break down the walls we ourselves have built?
We are often afraid others will judge us, that they will go away, or not like us---that they will cut us short.
We ourselves may be uncertain that...who we are...is okay. We don't really know how much of ourselves we should reveal to others. It is seemingly more difficult to vulnerable these days than ten years ago.
I've been there...and you have, too...being vulnerable can be outright frightening, especially, if and when
we have lived with persons who have abused, mistreated, or manipulated us...or didn't really appreciate who we are, giving us no sense of their self-esteem. Slowly...one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time, one year at a time...we can learn how important it is to take the risk of revealing ourselves, and begin to disclose who we are---our inner self---by bits and pieces. Sometimes in the past or recent past, out of reasonable fear, we've withheld information about ourselves, thinking it would help a relationship here and there...or would help others to like us more...and as we recall...
It proved to be a false supposition. The notion of self-fulfillment as we hide proves to be an illusion.
...GROW UP IN YOUR SALVATION... (Saint Peter---above) [...now what could that possibly mean...]
Yes, withholding who we are...doesn't help us...withholding is behavior that backfires on us. For true closeness to exist and flourish we need to be known for who we are. For us to love others unconditionally...to be reasonably content in a nurturing relationship we need to risk exposure with wisdom from above. We need to disclose who we are and let the chips fall where they may.
Our faces are nice to look at...our hearts are a treasure to embrace by others.
That doesn't mean---without having common-sense wisdom---we can tell everything to everyone all at once. I've had opportunity to notice that this particular approach to openness is self-defeating.
My response...just be yourself...there will be ample appropriate opportunities to "open-up"...and...it will be a double blessing, especially in the church setting...to others to know they don't need to hide...and often the opportunity for ourselves to open up.
So, we can learn to trust ourselves about who to tell, when to tell, where to tell, and how much to tell. I am so glad to be in my present church community this "openness" has been a blessing over the decades. That's one of the reasons we exist.
To trust that people will love us...and like us...exactly as we are...is a goal worthy of the pursuit. We can become frightened to reveal ourselves at times, but this will not be the case once we get into the habit of self-examination and healthy, balanced exposure. In any case it's the only way we can experience what we aspire to in relationships. To let go of our need to control others...their opinions...their feelings about us...is one essential key. The opportunity to share the truth about ourselves will come at just the right time. We will readily recognize it. God's timing is perfect. Our timing will become likened to the Lord's. We need to commit to come clean with ourselves and others. Authenticity. Transparency. I am ready. Are you?
What is the key to starting? What is the winning presupposition underneath becoming known to others?
TO LOVE GOD SO MUCH YOU WE ARE NOT SO CONCERNED ABOUT OURSELVES THAT WE LIVE IN CONSTANT FEAR OF BEING EXPOSED OR GET THE IDEA THAT WE ARE NOT WORTH THE EFFORT
Deuteronomy 6:4,5 --- The "Sha'ma" (I gave my youngest daughter this name.)
"Here, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one...
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength."
[Jesus of Nazareth (4 BC-29 AD) identified this verse as the greatest commandment in the Mosaic Law, the greatest verse, if you will, in the Bible. Why is this? What are you saying---I thought John 3:16 was. In a sense it is, but please note that John 3:16 wasn't yet written by the Apostle John until decades after Jesus' death and resurrection...we'd have to wait until about 85-90 A.D. for this verse to eventually appear.]
This is not a "religious verse", per se. You cannot step up to the level of this Spiritual wellness by being ethical and by doing good. This deep spiritual teaching goes beyond the ethical dimension of a religion of "do this" and "don't do that".
It's really not all about me hiding in the shadows of spiritual health and well-being anymore. Herein we establish our priority in life that will ultimately set us free to be authentic and known to all who come into our life.
Remarkably, like a plant which develops a blossom, we start to bloom and we learn to open up because the desire to do so rises up within us. Jesus is pulling for us mightily in the process. We prosper when the brilliant orb shines into our darkness and there is warmth that comes with exposure to the Son...
May this Sunday be especially good for you and those you love!
In many ways, we are so very blessed to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. The City of San Francisco was named after "Poverello"...the poor little man...none other than, Saint Francis (1182-1226). He was a man born into great luxury and wealth. He forsook everything to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in poverty and obedience to the Word. His father was not pleased. He brought Francis before the Bishop of Assisi to straighten him out. Francis took off the last remnant of symbolic wealth provided by his father, his clothing, and stood before the bishop naked. Looking toward his father he said, "Until now I have called you my father on earth. But henceforth I can truly say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven...'" The bishop provided a humble robe to Francis and he went on his way...wholeheartedly to serve Christ Jesus.
In this time period around 1205, Francis had a vision...it is recorded that the Lord spoke to Francis,
"Go, Francis, and repair my house,
which as you can see, is well-nigh in ruins."
The fabulous story of what God had done in Christ Jesus with yet another unlikely human being, touched with the power of the the Holy Spirit, boggles the mind. Francis, with incredible affluence and wealth, would have literally by comparison wasted his life in luxury. As it were, in forty-four years, with Christ working within him through the Holy Spirit, he was able to change the world. He is, as if alive, with us today...
Last night I had the privilege of talking on the telephone with a very Protestant, well-educated, well-endowed and also well-known friend of at least twenty years. He was concerned about receiving a book as a gift from his church upon the occasion of recovery from a fall. His concern to some degree was that Saint Francis was a Roman Catholic. I reminded him that there was no Protestant Reformation yet at the time, and that Francis, to me, was in the same category as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, Jan Hus, John and Charles Wesley and John Knox. I think that impressed him. I hope this pertinent thought may impress you.
When Priscilla and I were serving at the Union Church of Lima in Miraflores, Peru, in the 1990s, those were the days of "Sundero Illuminoso" and great national upheaval, death, and destruction. Despite the enforced restriction imposed upon American citizens not to venture into Old Lima, I used to love to visit the Monastery of Saint Francis (circa 1540) right next to the plaza where Francisco Pizzaro, as matador, fought the first "Bull-Fight" in the New World. In the monastery, the first formal library in the New World was established in about 1542. Also featured are priceless works of fine art, classic paintings of Native-South American (Andean) masters (having been schooled by Spanish masters deployed to Peru in those days), fine sculptures, and priceless art objects, pottery, and such.
Among those works of art is a sculpture carved out of pure Nicaraguan cedar by one of the friars, a Native-American master. This masterpiece is located on the northeast corner of the second floor of the monastery. He had heard the story of Francis and the Pope. He decided, evidently, to make a statement in his artistic masterpiece. Now imagine this in your mind. He carved a relief of thousands of heavenly faces and angel wings in the background with a ragged human figure in the front sitting on a throne. There was another figure carved out at the bottom of the piece dressed elaborately in obviously fine robes with a clerical miter on his head crawling before the ragged figure and kissing his feet. This friar wanted to let
well-endowed representatives of the earthly church know what it would be like in heaven. Things would be turned completely around. The figure in fine robes was meant to be the pope. The ragged figure was meant to be Saint Francis in heaven surrounded by the heavenly host. The masterpiece, largely unheralded in our post-modern world, is one of the most meaningful pieces of fine art I have ever experienced. Many times in those years I'd marveled at the work, and thought of the outrageous sense of humor, as well as the tenacity and spiritual insight of this Native-American master. His work...a product of the sixteenth century...sending a definite message to all Christians in our twenty-first century Church...
Some Quotable Insights of Saint Francis [with insights]
"...all the darkness in the world can't extinguish the light from a single candle..."
[YOUR CONTRIBUTION MAY SEEM INSIGNIFICANT...IT DOES MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE...ALL WORK IN CHRIST IS REWARDED]
"...if you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men..."
[THE PERSONS WHO MISTREAT ANIMALS AND VIOLATE GOD'S CREATION WILL EVENTUALLY MISTREAT YOU]
"...the deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today..."
[BE JESUS IN WHAT YOU DO - AND IF IT BECOMES NECESSARY - TELL SOMEBODY ABOUT HIM]
"...vi volglio tutti in paradiso..."
(literally in English) [I WISH THAT EVERYBODY WOULD GO TO HEAVEN]
"...above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to His beloveds is that of overcoming self..."
[THE GREATEST GIFT WE CAN RECEIVE FROM GOD IS TO STOP CODDLING OURSELVES]
"...when we pray to God we must be seeking nothing---nothing..."
[WHY IS IT THAT WHEN WE ASK THE LORD FOR THE INCREDIBLE JOB WITH THE GREAT
SALARY, THE FANTASTIC, ATTRACTIVE PARTNER IN LIFE...AND NEW CAR...HE DOESN'T
SEEM TO LISTEN TO US...??? THIS RELIGION THING JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO WORK FOR US.]
"...we should seek not so much to pray...but to become prayer..."
[I'LL LET YOU CHEW ON THIS ONE FOR YOURSELF AND COME UP WITH AN IDEA OR TWO]
I am so glad for the conversion, the life, the deeds and the legacy of Saint Francis, touched by the
power of the Holy Spirit, to live a genuine life in Christ...a life of willful denial...a life of Godly love...
a life of personal acts and insights that cause us...(as true, genuine believers in the 21st Century to
live freely, modestly, compassionately, and confidently even during a time of pandemic and widespread abuse and upheaval of every kind in our world)...to follow the Lord Jesus and really live.
Let me close with a quote from Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians 10:3-5...
"...for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does...the weapons we fight
with are not the weapons of the world...on the contrary...they have divine power to demolish strongholds...we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the
knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ..."
Have a terrific day and a fabulous week. Delight yourself in your relationship with the Lord and He will
give you the desire of your heart. Remember. There is no failure in the Lord. Trust Jesus!
We need the faith to know that things will get better, but nonetheless, we will still affirm that we willingly walk through that "valley" in confidence. Keep us from panic and fear. Keep us from despair. You are our redemption, and therefore you have become our song. We remember those in desperate times who proceeded us --- women and men of faith who trusted you --- and were uplifted in the midst of their struggles...and eventually blessed in a remarkable way. We therefore commend ourselves into your tender care and rest secure in your precious love. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Introduction to the Message
Today it's my purpose to go a bit beyond a regular Bible Study to what may well be called, "exegesis".
It's one thing to know your Bible and yet another thing to understand it with insight. Exegesis is the interpretation of any given text in the Bible. Some years back I heard a rather remarkable sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-21. The sermon was presented by a rather well-known preacher and the thing that impressed me was the fact that the preacher had very little insight into the meaning of the bible passage. I was astounded and somewhat outraged. Today I would like to go into this particular portion of the Bible and demonstrate the power of the insight...as we "Unlock the Bible Narrative Timeline", starting with 1 Samuel.
For the time being, let us focus in on the importance of Samuel for any student of the Bible.
The text of 1 Samuel reads as follows, "The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare, there were not many visions..." (1000 BC)
We need to focus in on the phrase, "...the word of the Lord was rare..." and hold on to that statement.
This whole lesson will attempt to make clear what the phrase means and how we are enabled to interpret the events of the history of Israel...and even...go so far as to say...here...we are not talking about Jewish history...yet! I will explain that as we go along. At any rate..."the word of the Lord was rare".
For the time being...
Approximately the 16th Century before the Common Era...
"The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain, so Moses went up (Exodus 19:20)...and God spoke all these words...'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Eygpt, out of the land of slavery'..." (Exodus 20:1,2) [This is the giving of the the Ten Commandments.]
About a thousand years before the Common Era...
1 Samuel 3:2 --- "One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place..." Good: but then..."The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was..."
Samuel was the assistant to the High Priest, Eli...and yet...1 Samuel 3:7 says, "Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him..." Surely living daily with the High Priest Eli, Samuel would have been very thoroughly grounded in the Bible, at that point, in the Five Books of Moses. He would have known more about the Lord. Not so. At the end of the chapter, we discover that Samuel receives "revelation" from the Lord and not exposure to the written word. In 1 Samuel 3:20, we note "...and all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord..."
The prophets from the time of Samuel will then say directly, "Thus saith the Lord..."
It should seem strange to us that Samuel is not exposed to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) in his relationship to the God of Israel, but rather, Samuel receives "direct revelation"...and the Office of the
Formal Prophet is established in Israel. Where is the Torah? Where are the Five Books of Moses?
In the Eighteenth Year of the Reign of King Josiah --- 622 BC...
We read in 2 Kings 22:8, the High Priest at the time, Hilkiah (note Jeremiah 1:1) informed King Josiah's secretary, Shaphan, "...I've found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord..." Eventually Shaphan
read from the book in the presence of King Josiah. The date is precisely 622 BC. [...meanwhile...remember the narrative of Samuel in the temple, approximately 1000 BC...] We are beginning to get what had actually happened....Israel somehow had misplaced the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. We still need to find out when and how this could have possibly happened. Anyway, the narrative continues, at verse 11, "...when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes." The king continued, "Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book...they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."
Now that he knows about it, King Josiah gives the order for all Israel to celebrate the Passover.
So...this gives us a clear idea of what portion of the Scriptures were first discovered in 622 BC. Formerly, it was determined that the text was Deuteronomy, chapters 5 through 11, because this section deals with the Ten Commandments in chapter 5, the "Shama" in chapter 6 (verses 4,5) quoted eventually by Jesus as the most important verse in the bible, and "the Jewel of the Talmud" in chapter 10 (verses 12-22).
This would be incorrect. Why? Because Josiah gave the order to celebrate the Passover...that is found in the section under Deuteronomy, chapters 12 through 26. The Passover "details" are found in chapter 16.
The other reforms of King Josiah are covered in that same section, Deuteronomy 12 through 26.
How long had the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, been lost? ...for approximately eight hundred years...
We turn to 2 Kings 23:22-23 to read the astonishing passage, "Not since the days of the Judges (16th Century) who led Israel (Othniel through Samuel), nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah (622 BC) this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem."
The exception was the brief time of Reform under King Josiah. It was in Babylon, from 586-516 BC, that a new faith-form developed within Israel, wherein a new religion developed (same God) named Judaism. One of the new establishments of this faith-form was the synagogue. During this same period of time, a new name came into being for a Hebrew person...Jew... appearing in Scripture in Jeremiah 32:12...for the first time..586 BC...the beginning of "Jewish" history...
[As a sideline, let us consider who the Holy Bible thinks was the greatest king --- Was it David? --- Solomon?
2 Kings 23:25: "Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did --- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses."]
So what can we learn from this attempt at exegesis in the Hebrew Bible...
First of all, it's important for each and every Bible student, every person of bible-faith, not only to know the Bible, but also to know how to interpret the Bible...the best way to do that...is to study the Bible with others at church, or in fellowship, around a table, hopefully with a cup of coffee. There are too many ways to go wrong in interpreting without others to help keep things straight and correct...I like the commitment of our church denomination to have the guidance and the leadership of men and women ordained and called by God, who receive the extensive education to present an accurate exposition of Scripture.
Second of all, it's important to recognize that our Enemy, Satan, is much more knowledgeable about the Bible than any of us mortal humans, so we need to see the importance of an obvious commitment to the Lord, from the heart. James, the brother of Jesus, says, "You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that...and that's what makes them tremble." James 2:19. So, the point here is, we need to consider that Satan and his demons believe in God as well as sound, well-established Christians or Jews. The difference is we have a heartfelt commitment to the Lord. We not only need to have a knowledge of the Scriptures, but be fully committed to be on God's side. Obviously, from this quote from James, bible knowledge is not enough.
In the third place, the lesson for today regarding the careers of Samuel and Josiah alert us to the huge difference between religious organization, on one hand, and a true, solid, informed, heartfelt faith on the other hand. One designation is "form", the other is "essence". We can very easily get caught up in the elements of spirituality that we see with our eyes. The church building. The preacher. The robes and other dress. The music. The fervent people. The impressive television worship service. It is yet another thing to establish in our heart and mind the things we don't see as being more real to us than that which is visible.
Also, the lesson from bible history is that religious traditions all too often have the habit of "going through the motions" rather than making our spiritual concerns essential to our existence...putting Christ first...
I'm talking about a profound sense of God's presence and person without any form or image to assist our spirituality. A moral compass that allows us to be just and merciful even being pressed hard by the world and surrounded by corruption. Divine Order in the midst of chaos. Seeing the divine complexion of God on a smiling human face. Taking to heart the commission Saint Francis of Assisi to his Franciscan monks to "...preach the Gospel constantly...and sometimes...open your mouth to speak..."
Often people confuse the essence of faith with the form of religion...the two come together and touch at times...but we need to set our heart upon "the unseen essence" and visualize it with the inner eye of faith...
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
just a touch of humor as we get started...
"...do not hate your brother in your heart...do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your
people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord!" Leviticus 19:17a,18
"...if the light within you is darkness, it is, indeed, a most profound darkness..." (Jesus). Matt. 6:23 b
"...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..." (Jesus). Matthew 6:12
"...but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere..." James 3:17
"Dear God, please make all bad people good...and all good people nice...Amen!". (a little girl's prayer)
Today --- I will be as angry as I need to be, with a goal of taking care of my unfinished business with others, especially those who have sorely offended me. Once I have released the hurt and anger I feel, I am going to strive for healthy forgiveness...that is...forgiveness with boundaries. I have come to understand that boundaries, coupled with deep-riven forgiveness and the compassion poured down upon me by the Holy Spirit will move me forward. I thank you for the divine wisdom that truly frees me from feelings that used to imprison me. Continue to teach me your ways, so that I may overcome in all things, and live your truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.
"...there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us--that--it behooves none of
us to say anything evil about the rest of us..." (Anonymous)
No matter how long we've been a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ...no matter how solid our Spiritual grounding may be...it's my hunch, not only as a pastor, but as a human being, we still feel an overwhelming desire to punish, or get even, with the very person who's offended us.
Even otherwise extremely sophisticated individuals fall into inappropriate behavior, sometimes to the extreme, because they have not been exposed to the freeing nature of God's Word and the teaching regarding anger and revenge.
I've been working at a "faith life" for seventy-seven years, and I hate to say it, but it is true...we want to see the other person hurt the way he or she has hurt us. We want to see circumstances deal that person their just rewards. In fact, we'd like to "help" those circumstances out. We not only want somebody to be punished...we want to assist in dealing out the judgement.
O, I get it...you're just not that way at all...but I do admit that I've had those feelings...and I know...thanks to God's Word and the Holy Spirit...I have been freed to have wisdom about what hangs many people up in life...and that it is not necessary.
Unfortunately anger and the need for revenge are normal feelings. The thing is...we don't need to act on them. Ah, so then...we get it...it's perfectly normal to have such feelings, but it's not okay to act out on them. The question may be, how do we get to the point where we have mastered this technique.
(I'd like to call it a spiritual discipline.)
Everybody gets angry. Everybody. Even Jesus got angry - John 2:13-16 - and we affirm that Jesus was without sin...interesting! How freeing it is to understand this principle of human nature. In order to control anger, we need to accept it as one of the necessary realities of life and note that the Bible provides a way, once we have come to a point of acceptance about anger, that we can finally get a handle on it.
As matter of fact, the Bible teaches us "to get angry", but not to sin - Ephesians 4:26. Now how do we get to that...how do we accomplish that and put it into practice. Isn't this simply "bible double-talk"? The answer is...No. We allow ourselves to feel the anger and accept it without having to act out on it.
We pause...rather than act upon it with one of those automated responses.
We take time to reflect on what has happened.
The goal we strive for is to release the feeling --- by feeling it --- and be finished with it. In the process, God teaches us and we know better and much clearer, because He knows us inside and out, and would never give us anything that was unnecessary for us. Often it is indeed a hard lesson to learn. Once we admit and accept what is happening to us, being brought from darkness into the light through Scripture, we can simply let it go.
Take whatever time is necessary to do so. How refreshing it is to know that God understands and is guiding us with divine insight. We've been given the wisdom that anger is not a sin --- that is...not a sin...unless --- we act out on what we are feeling. Indeed, there is a direct connection between anger & wanting revenge.
This complex feeling...the connection between anger and revenge...is something we all experience, whether believers or not. Just because Dad or Mom may be a psychiatrist, it doesn't mean we automatically have a competitive edge in dealing with the "give-and-take" of life and what is natural for us as human beings.
The point is, it is not our job to deal out justice to those who have offended us. We need to learn that. We need to learn that it is natural to be angry, it is natural to seek revenge...and it is supernatural and attainable to know how to master it.
Note the process of dealing with offenses in Matthew 18:15-17: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
Yes, we need to hold the other person accountable and responsible. At the same time, once again, it is not our responsibility to be judge and jury. Actively seeking revenge won't help us. It will eventually "block us up" and "lock us up" so we end up in our own unique style of straight-jacket. It will eventually make us strangers to our most intimate circle of close friends...and set us apart from our family members.
After settling into what another person's offense has done to us, put what has offended us in writing, and/or, go directly to the person who has offended us and reasonably explain what has happened. Please now refer back to the teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. Often we gain a new, reliable, understanding friend. Nonetheless, we need to be prepared for any kind of reaction...
In any case...
Walk away from confrontation. Let "game-time" take place on Saturday afternoon at the football stadium. Unhook. Learn a valuable lesson from the situation. In your mind, thank the offender for having taught you something valuable...and...be finished with it! Put it behind you as you keep that learning experience intact.
What have I learned about anger and the alternative to revenge? How has Jesus helped me?
Acceptance, to me, is essential. We need to rejoice in our victories in life, and we need to accept what has befallen us. What has been helpful to me through the years is Saint Paul's reflection:
"...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28
It's not like the foreign notion of "karma" which teaches, "...you get what you deserve..." What I have come to understand from the Judeo-Christian tradition is --- we don't get what we may deserve from our loving, understanding, wise God...the Lord only provides good for us. We don't deserve it, but we get it anyway.
The difference between those who know this...and those who live in the darkness of spiritual ignorance...is that those who trust in the goodness of God in their lives don't have to question whether what is happening to them is either good or bad. Whether the circumstance in life is pleasant or unpleasant, they know it's all part of God's plan of remarkable goodness for their lives. It appears at times that we seem to be punished by those unpleasant and sometimes overwhelming circumstances, but when we take Saint Paul's verse to heart, trusting the Lord God in the midst of the unpleasantness, He will provide unexpected blessing to flow from the suffering and He will provide full understanding. The higher the barrier in terms of attempting to understand, the greater the amazement and marvel to our human mind and spirit in the final analysis.
"...even though He were to slay me, yet will I praise Him..." Job 13:15
This verse from the classic text of the Job narrative is a bottom-line in the experience of genuine faith.
Are you at a point in your life where you can make the same affirmation as Job in the Old Testament?
It determines the difference between the experience of mere religion and the edification of genuine faith!
Whether or not we deserve to be punished is not the question. When we trust in God despite our fallen humanity, we can always know God will only provide good for us. Sorry --- for those attempting to earn God's love and salvation by all those good deeds --- God loves those who trust in Him and those who love Him...we are saved always by His grace Ephesians 2:8-9. Sorry --- for those who are depending on God for exemption from the difficult, confusing, dangerous, uncomfortable and tragic things of life...
"..though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials...these have come so that your faith --- of greater worth than gold --- which perishes even refined by fire, may be proved to be genuine.." 1 Peter 1:6-7
Forgiveness, also, is essential. When I say this I don't mean the kind of forgiveness that will invite the offender to use us again. It is a forgiveness that releases the other person and sets him or her free to take another path. In the meantime, it releases our anger and resentment. This sets us fee to walk our own path without a residue of negativity to weigh us down and cause us to be less than joyful and at peace.
Saint James writes, "Remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his or her way will save that person from death and cover over a multitude of sins." James 5:20
Conflict and offense are unavoidable. They will always be with us,no matter who we are. We have the pleasure of receiving the great spiritual message that it is no sin to be angry or to have thoughts of revenge. The offense comes in acting upon those feelings. I am so glad that Jesus got angry, and in of all places, the temple. I am relieved to know that when feelings of anger and revenge come upon me, I have a clear option to do the right thing, to do things God's way, and to eventually experience resolution and blessing, where without God's help, I would always do the wrong thing, and end up imprisoning myself by my words, by my actions, and by my eventual feelings of guilt over what I had said and done.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Just a little bit of humor as we start...
Over the last several weeks and months we have been dealing with the attitudes and perspectives that "people of faith" develop in order to truly enjoy the "new life" (Galatians 2:20-21) we have in Christ. I enjoy this kind of ministry, because, although we are saved by God's grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, it's really good and proper to examine those aspects of living that eventually give us ease (as well as elbow-room) to be able to live our lives extravagantly and thereby, make choices we need to, in accord with God's will. We always need to "work on" the faith aspect of our lives. As James Joyce would suggest, "Knock your 'sconce' (head) up against it, but go easy..."
Some folks have suggested these weekly messages should mainline "focus" upon some of the pressing American and international issues, such as:
We really enjoy the fellowship we have with those who have come to faith recently---those who have begun to live their lives in God. These folks try very hard to live a good life, free from addictive and negative attitudes. Yet, they struggle at times because as people of faith we live a faith-centered, alternative life-style. Being a genuine Christian makes us essentially different, and yet, nonetheless, attractive to others. Therein lies the rub. We need Often, it may not be noticed at first, but eventually, others are able to recognize that "soul" regenerated by Jesus.
We don't live or hope the way others do. In addition, we prefer to live in the presence of those who inspire us by their graciousness, their knowledge of the interpretation of Scripture, their ability to fellowship graciously, and their seemingly natural good habits in life. We envy them and choose freely to emulate them. Trust me, those who have these qualities have worked on them. These qualities are supernatural, and yet, we, as a fallen humanity, can attain to them. The people who know Jesus don't actively seek, per se, to become richer or better than others. They know they are living the most rewarding life a person can ever live. It has nothing to do with how much money you make, or where you live, or what you own.
It is interesting to me that some church fellowships these days offer alternative incentives for participation. They teach a "good news" foreign to genuine Christianity. Authentic followers in Christ Jesus surrender themselves to Him unconditionally. As Christ gave himself for us unconditionally on the cross, we surrender our lives to him, and accept the life (and fullness thereof) He has promises to give to us. I have learned that, in Jesus, things only get better. The genuine Christian has an understanding.
Saint Paul expresses it this way,
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I 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 things through Him who gives me strength and God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:12-13, 19)
This is the understanding...
As we turn further into the text of the New Testament, Saint Paul makes a comment that is as shocking as it is life-giving. At least, it certainly changed my life:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20.
LIVE WITH DIVINE ASSURANCE
Finally, I got it...the life I could've been living...no matter how desirable by worldly standards...was not meant for me...I now have a higher calling for my life...
This is has become a theology for my life and yours that is named "a theology of the cross". Within that understanding, I live a normal life, but that life is sufficient for me. It isn't necessarily easier or more glamorous. It may at times seem downright miserable for others as they look upon me. (Here I am thinking about Job!). However, I know this is the life that God has ordained for me. It is satisfactory for me. I am who I should and need to be. I have put the former life I've lived...behind me...for the one I now cherish. I have died to the compulsion of those human impulses that would give me false hope, false security, and unhealthy, inappropriate standards in life. I agree with Saint Paul Romans 8:28 "..all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.."
Let's go back to Job to take a "Spiritual Barometer Reading" at this point. Are you simply a mere religious person impressed only by the way the church building looks, or by the way the choir sings, or by the way the pastor of the church preaches...or are you obviously a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ possessing a genuine mindset of faith. Can you say with Job (Job 13:15) "...even though He were to slay me, yet I will praise Him..."
This is the bottom line of faith...all else is fluff...[and it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen to you or me that way].
This past week I came across an article in a well-known magazine that listed fifty mega-church evangelists in the United States who, according to the article, preach what is called "a theology of glory". The suggestion is...if you give generously to the ministry of the mega-church...God will bless you with extraordinary "things" (items) in life you normally wouldn't have, if you didn't give. Among these well-known evangelists, one of the most wealthy earns a mere $150,000,000 a year...another is worth $760,000,000. You probably know who they are. None of these fifty preachers have earned less than (on the average) $20,000,000. [Charles Stanley and John MacArthur are not included in this list...Praise God!] Many members of these churches discover that even though they "give and give", they still don't see that Lexus on the horizon....and for that reason...figure that Christianity is not meant for them. I'm going to pass (reluctantly) on judging these fifty evangelists, but I want to emphasize what the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ is and what our commitment to Him must be. On the surface, for many, the true Gospel is not attractive, or attractive enough, but I'm going to be Calvinist enough to say, that Yahweh, our Lord God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a very jealous God and He will single out the person He wants for His Eternal Kingdom. That person is you. How much the Father loves and wants only the very best for you, because you are so dear to him.
God sees you as a person of extremely great value and He wants you to be completely forgiven of all your sins and to live forever. When He knocks on the door of your heart be sure to recognize Him and let Him come in---to bless you---and grant to you the great promises of Christ!
PRAY IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOD ALWAYS ANSWERS PRAYER
God always answers prayer. Sometimes He says, "Yes". Sometimes He says, "No". Sometimes He says, "Let's Do My Way".
If you happen to be "a person with a mindset of faith---who has been worrying about a loved one, or another who has been living a miserable life, sick or otherwise, or living a destructive life-style---and you have been feeling powerless to be able to intervene in a constructive way---Please stop worrying---Please stop being overly concerned. Do not be burdened, except for the light burden we've been given to do God's will by taking all concerns to God in prayer. Remember, the Lord loves it when we call upon his name. He is faithful. He is just. He is trustworthy.
Please seriously consider the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 14:12,14: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing...I will do whatever you ask in my name...you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
LEARN ANEW HOW TO PRAY
Pray for that person without ceasing. Pray with assurance---not "IF it be thy will"---rather, be certain that his will is going to be done...and yet...you are making the request in Jesus' name. Rest in that assurance. Trust that Jesus will be good for his word. Pray that that special person will be saved from discouragement and despair...and given new and abundant life...
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
1 Corinthians 1:20
"Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
"...and so God condemned sin in sinful men..." (i.e., God didn't condemn sinful men)
1 Corinthians 1:25, 27
"...for the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of god is stronger than man's strength...God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong..."
Dear Lord, this morning we would like to praise you for those in our midst who have put themselves "on the line" for the our benefit and the benefit of others, many times, at the risk of their own lives and their individual welfare.
In the midst of selfishness, greed, and self-interest, we want to thank you for your servants who just go ahead and literally become your divine hands, your feet, your heart, and your intellect. May we learn from their sacrifice in that Christ-like presence of mind and purpose...to follow suit...to be more compassionate, more willing to help, more dedicated to be there for those in need. Thank you for your message in the Holy Scriptures that free people like us from guilt regarding our shortcomings and encourage us to know we are loved and valued by you. We are your grateful people. Guide us and encourage us today. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Is there anybody out there feeling the way I am feeling today? We are in the midst of the greatest pandemic of our life-time. We have been confined to our homes for over half a year.
The so-called prophet of the Old Testament, Habakkuk (approximately 605 BC) is a source of wisdom...or rather, should I say "shock"...and as well, insight for us as he writes in Habakkuk 3:17-19, "...though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls...yet...I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God, my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer...He enables me to go on the high-places..."
What is about to happen to Habakkuk? He doesn't know what will actually will happen to him, but he is going to know eventually how he will react. History tells us --- he will be prepared for the worst to come in the best
possible way. Let us journey with Habakkuk as we find out...
The quote is from the very end of this book in the Holy Scriptures. There is a Spiritual journey that is necessary for Habakkuk to take in order to make his affirmation. It is not an easy journey for Habakkuk. Initially Habakkuk is a proud, intelligent young man. He thinks he can figure out anything by himself. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, he is "a rock and an island". He's going to deal with things on his terms. Indeed, the Book of Habakkuk is not really a book of divine prophesy, but rather, a book about the "making of a prophet", or a spokesman for God. It is my purpose today to share with you the journey of Habakkuk, because it is the journey of a person who spiritually exemplifies the majority of our people in the twenty-first century of our present era...
"...the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned..."
1 Corinthians 2:14
At the beginning of Habakkuk's journey we find that he is a "skeptic" about life, in general, and the existence of God, in particular. In the first chapter he asks three classic questions...these are questions I hear every single week in counseling or in conversation with those in trouble who contact me. The questions are:
How long is it that I have to cry out to God, but He does seem to listen? WHY is this? (Habakkuk 1:2)
Habakkuk not only questions God and His wisdom, but kind of "Sticks it to the Lord" with outright sarcasm...
As we used to say in the Marine Corps, he not only stuck the bayonet in, but also twisted it a quarter-turn...
WHY is it that You are silent as those who are bad swallow up those who that live righteous lives?
Well, we can all understand these questions. The key point that we get to later in the text...is that we can continue to ask the question WHY --- and we will get nowhere! It's kind of like knocking your head up against a brick wall in order to get what you want. Who or what wins...your head or the wall? There are no given answers for the most pertinent questions. Yet, those questions are often quite reasonable. With some of the great questions in life, it is important to rise beyond "reason" in order to gain understanding and then overcome. The answer is found, not in the pursuit of reason, but rather in adopting a "mindset of faith"...
As we get into the book of Habakkuk we discover an astounding fact. You know, in fifty years of ministry, I have never heard any preacher, Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical, speak on the content of the book of Habakkuk. Nonetheless, note that the entire thrust of the theology of the New Testament is based upon one single verse found in Habakkuk. Let me share that verse with you. In Habakkuk 2:4, Habakkuk writes, "...but the righteous will live by faith..." On this verse alone, the 16th Century Reformation took place and became the cornerstone of the restoration of solid bible scholarship and Christian vision. I am fascinated at how important Habakkuk was to Saint Paul, as he reviewed what he had learned prior, now as a Christian.
In short, the primary focus of the follower of Jesus Christ is not upon the demands of divine law, but rather upon trusting in God above all things. Hebrews 11:1 makes clear what faith is, "...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..." This does not dismiss the Ten Commandments or any other ordinance God has given us. It does mean we do not focus upon our self. Whether we have been a good person and have a great reputation, or whether we have been less than perfect (making a fool out of ourselves and putting other people out), we neither focus upon our righteousness (apart from God) nor upon our guilt, shame, and regrets. Focus upon "self" is out. We take care of ourselves for sure, but we do not dwell upon ourselves. We don't "pat ourselves on the back" nor do we cower in the shadows of former life.
I like Saint Paul's affirmation in 2 Corinthians 5:16, "...so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view...therefore...if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come..." We don't dwell upon ourselves, but we do celebrate "life" as extravagantly as possible.
Returning to Habakkuk, we turn to the second chapter. Habakkuk can't find answers from his neighbors, so he seeks out beyond the world he knows. In a sense, he reaches out to his "Higher Power" as a member of a 12-Step group would. He stands at the "Watchtower" peering out beyond the city walls. Habakkuk stops talking about God philosophically and starts talking to God...and he gets a response. Hmm!?
Will wonders never cease?!
God (Yahweh) tells Habakkuk to write down the insights he gets and the experiences he will have. Indeed, he will in truth receive answers (revelations, in fact) for his inquiry. He consequently receives the revelation that becomes the cornerstone of what will become Christian theology, "...the righteous will live by faith..." Habakkuk 2:4b
[Note the influence this will have upon Saint Paul six centuries later...Romans 1:17, Romans 3:28...wherein
Saint Paul credits Habakkuk, a spokesman for God. ["...just as it is written..."]
In the second chapter, Habakkuk starts to give God praise for His mighty works instead of questioning the person and efficacy of the Almighty. What is happening here? What happens with Saint Augustine later happens to Habakkuk in the text...a softening of the heart...an understanding...an open door to God...
"...for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God...the Lord is in His holy temple. let all the earth be silent before Him..." Habakkuk 2:14, 20
Finally, we arrive at the third chapter. Habakkuk has changed. God (Yahweh) has become very real to him. In his new-found knowledge and awareness of God, Habakkuk has become respectful. It may well be true that Habakkuk thinks this present relatedness is all there is in the Spiritual life with the Living God. He has another lesson to learn. He has one more thing to experience. That experience finally occurs in the third chapter at the sixteenth verse, related as follows:
"...I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound...decay crept into my bones...and my legs trembled..."
Regarding this verse, Jesus, six hundred years later, in John 3:3, 3:6, will say, "...I tell you the truth...no one can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again...flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit..." Indeed, Habakkuk in the Old Testament became "born again" in same sense as Jesus will have come to mean it in the New Testament. Habakkuk indeed had been an "inquirer" and a "speculator" in spiritual matters...and now...he had become a spokesman for God, a Prophet. He had acquired a personal relationship with God. He has received the "mindset of faith". Now he is ready anticipate all and to allow anything that might happen to happen willingly in his life...and yet...praise God for the circumstances.
Saint Paul, reflecting upon the spiritual insight of Habakkuk through the Holy Spirit, wrote, "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose..." Romans 8:28
In addition Saint Paul also writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident unto all. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7
Saint John writes, "...perfect love casts out fear..." When our hearts have been conquered by the love of Christ, we do not become fearful as others do. We are in God's loving, caring hands. Although it doesn't always seem that way, the Lord is involved in the give-and-take of events of life. All situations have their divine purpose and we volunteer to become involved in its eventual goodness. That is the practical basis of true faith. Mere religion is different. Bad things happen to punish us. We will pay for what we have done... God is our righteous judge. He will give us what we deserve. This kind of ideology does not fit into the life of a genuine Christian.
It doesn't come from the latest "catch-all fad" or from mere religion...but from the God grounded in our reality through Christ...with the message that we are more than conquerors through Him who has loved us Romans 8:37.
As we "...walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." Psalm 23 with the Covid-19 pandemic...a crushed economy...concerned about basic security and providing for our family...dealing with issues of justice and equality...and very much aware of impending disaster with local wild-fires next door...we remain mindful of the experience of Habakkuk.
We understand his ascendency to faith in God, and not depending upon reason alone. We take on the challenges of the realities about us, but nonetheless, we have the assurance that God will make things right for us---and those we are concerned about---and we will participate fully in God's plan to demonstrate His love for all of us, not in spite of, but because of the scary things that keep us on our toes. We are in the world, but we are not of the world...we don't turn our backs to the facts, but are graciously given the human courage to face the difficult times, because the Lord would not allow it, unless it were part of His perfect plan for this world that He loves.
God bless you and yours. Cordially, Tom
Romans 7:15, 22
"I don't not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate about myself, I do...
for in my inner being I delight in the God's law...but I find another principle at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind...making me a prisoner of the n principle at work in my members..."
"...so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...strengthened with all power, according to His glorious
might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience...joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light."
Dear Lord, today I'm going to acknowledge you as a great God of grace, a God of undeserved favor. In a powerful way I can feel your unconditional love for me. You have been faithful in answering my prayers. I don't deserve your kindness, your consideration, and your forgiveness. I don't understand why you are so faithful in dealing with me in view of my lack of faithfulness in return. I thank you for your grace because I simply need it. I'm just not that well-put-together. However, through the confidence I have in the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I'm really going to put my best foot forward. Help me to be compassionate, understanding, and productive. In Jesus' name. Amen.
A few more funnies like last week...the winner from last week was the Darth Vader line...
"Never give yourself permission to hide behind grace as a cover for disobedience." Chuck Swindoll
"You belong to the power which you choose to obey." J B Phillips
God grants you and I grace...
We can choose Him to have mastery over us, or we can go back and choose to be lawless and without principle. J B Phillips was definitely right when he wrote, "You belong to the power which you choose to obey." The idea is simple. With every moment of every day we have the power to choose whom we are pleased to follow. If it is Jesus, the benefits are manifold. If we choose our own way, the consequences are destructive and miserable.
You belong to the power which you choose to obey...
Literally, sin is falling short of the target, and sin (in terms of our human intention and conduct) is falling short of God's standard for our lives. Falling short...
Don't fall short! Aim for the Bulls-eye and hit it! ...that Bulls-Eye is God's intention for our lives...
I've got some good news for you...and...I've got some bad news for you. You know something! I wish I could actually guarantee all of us freedom from sin for three-hundred and sixty-five days out of each and every year. But, sadly, I cannot do so. Not for me. Not for you. That's the bad news. The good news is that...we don't have to sin in a constant, day-after-day basis. Grace gives us the strength to be freed to obey Christ. With each and every choice we make in life, we either move closer to God or we go further away.
Some fellow Christians would say it's a gradual thing. I say, No! It's a decision by decision progression.
The Lord could intervene in our lives, but rather, He permits us the freedom to make a choice. When we fail to see the errors of our ways, the promptings of God's Spirit are ignored and disobedience becomes a lifestyle. God will allow that to happen...because we must "choose" Christ...and the His ways. The alternative for us is terrible...it involves mental anguish, a guilty conscience, hurting and offending others and finally bringing reproach upon the name of Jesus. The scars of bad decisions mark us for life. We are told that the Lord (indeed) will forgive us, but the scars we retain cannot be erased.
Let me tell you something! God is a gentleman and He is not going to force religion or good behavior on any of us. We must choose to accept His undeserved grace and act accordingly. The Holy Spirit will give us the means and the strength to live our lives in a Godly way, so that life is a blessing for us and we are richly rewarded. It starts simply with one decision, one act, to obey. God never means to communicate to us we're free in Him to live any way we want to live, whatever the circumstances. Life doesn't work that way.
Grace in this regard means I don't force or manipulate or judge or attempt to control others in that accountability, nor should others try to control me. In a unique and workable way --- personal growth in Christ --- involves breathing room, deliberately "letting go" of attempts to control (so very tempting for the deeply religious) so that each person can grow and learn on his or her own. Letting go of control can be painful...It's so hard to watch others falter along the way...we want so badly to shape others in our mold. We need to release our tendency to control, to be in charge, as though the touch of the Master is not sufficient enough...
Therefore, being a Christian who takes God's grace seriously, this anonymous poem is so very helpful:
To let go doesn't means to stop caring, it means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off, it's the realization that I can't control another person.
To let go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another, I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging outcomes, but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective, it is to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny, but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone, but to try to become what dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow an live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.
"...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin an death..." Romans 8:1-2
The very next time you and I are tempted to yield to the "old master" we will need to remember this. God's grace always invites us to return and find forgiveness and healing and wholeness. The scars along the way are the earmarks of our eventual victory in Christ. They show us the price the journey has cost us. There is a great and powerful truth released to us through the gospel we have received in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no more perfect way to live and find true reconciliation in our lives. If there were "a religious way" or "a way of wisdom" that dealt with truth the way "life in Christ" does --- I have not found it. Underneath the lure of other spiritual ways there are always "good works" at its base, not grace. It's an open-door for all of us to find perfect peace and joy meant for imperfect people, like me, and maybe you, also. I'd like to ask... receive that great peace and joy in your life today, especially if this has been a special time of struggle for you in these challenging times. There is hope for you today. There is reconciliation. There is abundant life.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...just a touch of humor as we start...
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:11
"You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."
We want to thank you for the gift of life. We want to thank you for a certain fullness in life that is much more than just existing...or living in constant fear...or living without loving or being loved...or living as one in bondage . We thank you for the freedom to make decisions for ourselves and those we are responsible for. We acknowledge your leadership in guiding us. You are molding us day by day. Teach us your ways, that we may say YES to the good things of life, and NO to the harmful things of life. We trust that you will continue to guide us into the completeness that Jesus promised for us. Amen.
1 Peter 2:19
"You are a slave to whatever has mastery over you..."
2 Corinthians 1:17-20
"...do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, YES, YES and NO, NO ? ... but as surely as God is faithful our message to you is not YES and NO...for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy was not YES and NO, but in Him it's always been YES...no matter how many promises God has made, they are YES in Christ."
"...for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say NO to ungodliness and worldly passions...and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope---the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..."
"...and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds..."
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we have told you, so that your daily life may win respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody."
There is the story of the man traveling from Washington City (Washington, D.C.) to the State of Virginia in the Spring of 1805. Between Washington and Virginia there is an insignificant stream which becomes a raging river---late in the Spring---most difficult to traverse on foot, if indeed, not impossible. The man came to the "stream become raging river" thinking he had not expected this to happen. He threw up his hands in complete frustration. He knew he could never get across without some kind of help. And where might that come from...He paused there...trying to figure out what to do...
He then noticed five horsemen who had come up over the crest of the hill behind him. He thought, maybe they're considering crossing the river themselves, on horseback. They came down from the hill and assessed the situation before them, hardly noticing the man...
The man walked up to one of the horsemen and asked if he could hop on the back of the man's horse and use the horse to wade across the raging river. The horseman told him to hop on the back of his horse. The horseman and the man traversed the river with the other four horsemen.
On the other side of the raging river, one of the other horsemen came up to the man and asked the question,
"How did you have the nerve to ask President Thomas Jefferson if you could ride across the river on the back of his horse?" The man was a bit astonished, looked up at the President of the United States of America in amazement. He turned to the other horseman, and said, "I really didn't know he was President Jefferson...I just looked at all five of your faces, and I picked out the gentleman who had the YES face."
Do you have a YES face? Do others know instinctively that you are the "go to person" for counsel, for help, for support, for friendship? And, on the other hand, how do you know you are being the YES person to really help out...Or could it be that people take advantage of you because you are a "soft touch"...Could it be that you need to help out because you feel you will be abandoned if you don't help out. It's good thing to be confident in knowing when you are truly helpful and when you are actually condoning some situation or behavior that makes it impossible for a healthy person to say, NO!...I think Jesus would want each of us to become confident (maybe "wise" is a better term) when if comes to the necessity of saying "Yes" or "No".
You and I are afraid people won't like us, especially those whom we love, or we want to impress. We sometimes feel guilty saying NO! We may even believe that a good person, especially a person of faith, never says NO! The problem is, if we don't take "the bull by the horns" and finally learn to say NO, we stop liking ourselves, and indeed, we stop liking the people we are always trying to please. Some experts tell us that we may even punish others out of resentment.
When do we say...NO? How can we confidently proceed to know when the word NO is appropriate. The answer is quite simple! It is...when NO is what we really mean! It needs to be said. When we learn to say NO we stop lying to ourselves. No wonder it finally feels good to come to terms with what we've struggled with for decades. The people in our lives may not like our new assertiveness, but they will come around, because now, people know they can really trust us in terms of where we are coming from, and in addition, we can trust ourselves, to be who we are. How refreshing, especially in Christ's Church!
All sorts of good things can happen when we say what we mean.
If we are still afraid to say NO, we can work on it in our heart and mind. It isn't always automatic. We can think it over. We can rehearse in front of the mirror. We can practice it. It's probably good for us not to think that NO is always combined with some sort of the emotional explosion. Just say NO if you mean it.
In addition---extremely important to keep in mind..We don't have to offer all kinds of long explanations for the decisions we make. I don't know if you are in the habit of doing this...I know I am...but when people finally understand that when we say NO---we mean it---they will no longer question us, and we will no longer think we need to explain. I love the expression, "What part of NO is it that you don't understand?"
We can learn to say YES asking for help. We need to surround ourselves with others who are willing to say YES. We can learn to say YES to healthy relationships, to say YES to people and activities that are good for us. After all, it is one of the purposes of the church, to provide friends and ministry partners in our lives who are YES people...people who have the same kind of face as Thomas Jefferson had, a YES face. People instinctively knew they could count on him. That's probably why Mr. Jefferson was elected the President.
We can learn to say YES to ourselves---to what we want and need---as well as saying YES to the direct leading of our God. I look forward to the testimonies of those who finally decided that it was...YES...okay to allow the Lord to direct their lives day by day...and trust Him for their future. What if the Lord were to present you with a missionary call to serve in Outer Mongolia, would you at all be inclined to say YES? Indeed, what is the Lord saying to you today? It may not be to Outer Mongolia...what is the Lord calling you to do and be today in you life? No matter what other plans may have been there for you...would you say YES?
We can learn to say YES to our "intuition" and "instinct". There is what we know for one thing...and what we sense on the other. One of the great shortcomings of Christians in the post-modern era is the lack of "Spiritual Imagination". Often, there is a void of concern and care devoted to the sensitivities, that is, the creative humanity of the women and men (and girls and boys) touched by the Spirit who are part of the fellowship of a local congregation. We pray (perfectly correct liturgical) prayers. We live out our lives all too often as "cookie-cutter Christians". We think we have nothing more to add to God's story of salvation here on earth. We think we need to do everything "by-the-book", and I guess that's okay, if that book is the Holy Bible.
I question the inspiration of a lot of Christian literature available these days. At times I get the notion that if the Holy Spirit were to peek His head into many our church buildings, it would cause great offense to many folks, even though the Spirit would bring a sense of freshness and vitality. The Spirit would say NO to the lack of uniqueness and enthusiasm...and YES to the power and grace of the living presence of God providing creativity not only Sunday worship, but the daily life in the local congregation.
We can learn to say YES when it feels right to help someone. We can learn to say YES to our feelings. We can learn to identify when we need to take a walk in the woods, take a nap, have our back rubbed, or to buy ourselves some flowers or pick up a bag of shelled peanuts.
There are a multitude of such questions we could ask that would get us to clear YES and NO conclusions helping to make our lives better, more productive, and more fulfilling.
Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life, and that you may have it more abundantly" John 10:10
We can learn to say YES to all that will nurture and nourish us. We can learn to say YES to the best that life and love can to offer to us. It is so very important that the Lord Jesus made this promise for us...
Today we will release the power that you have granted us to allow the Son (sun) to shine in our sometimes darkened vision of what we see before us. We are informed by your transforming Word that we have an important step to take in our faith lives, to give thanks, no matter what our circumstances. At times, that is difficult for us, because it is not natural for us. Understand, Lord, that we need to practice, and keep at it, until we have brought order and confidence into our daily living. We trust you, Lord, and we will proceed knowing this is the way we need to live in order to prosper. Amen.
Making the most of what we have turns it into being more. The Bible encourages us to give thanks no matter the circumstances. It sort of goes against our human nature, and therefore is properly called "supernatural". Say thank you...until your mean it. Our football coach in college used to say, "...fake it until you make it..." Get good at a skill because your practice that skill. Thank God...be grateful for the gift of life...and for the world...and the whole world...for everyone...and everything sent your way.
Gratitude turns denial into acceptance. We are actually much more healthy if we can accept and love the person that we are...with all our faults. We are more able to come to terms with our shortcomings and more able to love others despite the shortcomings they have, especially when it gets to the point where they disappoint and offend us.
Gratitude turns chaos into order. We get confused when difficult-to-comprehend information comes our way about human conduct in a very cruel and unmindful world. When we take to heart the ideology of Romans 8:28 (see below) we can cope and deal with any situation without withdrawing from the world. It is such a practical, liveable,
realistic, and profound way to live. We are in the world, but we are not of the world.
Gratitude turns confusion into clarity. I keep thinking about prehistoric humanity and how religious belief allowed humankind to contend with an overwhelming world all about ...the question then being..."How can I remain sane...and yet survive in such a dangerous place always making me afraid...and unable to function. The purpose of faith in our lives in a postmodern world remains the same as in ancient times...to encourage us to find meaning in life...to give us confidence to know that life is reasonably safe...worthwhile, rewarding and meaningful...keeping us free from fear and able to function efficiently.
Gratitude is a delight...but one needs to practice it in the heat of the day...every day! After all, it can turn a regular meal into a virtual feast. I have often thought lunch with a friend is not so much about the food as it is the richness of the fellowship. It can turn a house into a home. It can turn a complete stranger into a friend. It speaks to a deep part of ourselves that tells us...we are not alone...we are valued by some one we hold dear. Yet, another reason to be grateful. Loneliness is the great bringer of despair...
Gratitude can turn problems into gifts. It can turn failures into success. It is said that Abraham Lincoln failed at major things in his life sixteen times, but those failures were considered learning experiences, eventually leading him into the White House. If you think that Lincoln figured this out for himself, you just may be wrong. President Abraham Lincoln was an outstanding student of the Holy Bible. He took what he read to heart. To Lincoln the Holy Bible was a very practical book. To Lincoln the Holy Bible was a very sacred, holy book. His language is laced with biblical images.
It is most evident to us, not on account of those who wrote about him, but by his own writings. It is possible that practicing gratitude and praying often got him through the American Civil War. Indeed, it was the Civil War that brought him to his knees. He was the only person in the nation who consistently pressed for the absolute union of the United States of America without compromise and without slavery.
Because of Lincoln we are the nation we are. I acknowledge his attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude can turn disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Situations come up for me as when I've felt so irritated that things were not going my way I was ready to give up. Darn! ...but wait a minute... I can remember letting go in the midst of things to discover that the Lord had His hand in those issues of the day. It wasn't up to me to fuss about it, although I was a part of the solution to take care of those issues. Gratitude can turn the unexpected into "perfect timing". It can turn mistakes into important events. In the final analysis it was discovered what part I needed to play, knowing that the Lord was at work, even though, I didn't have control.
Gratitude as appreciation can make opposition knell in your behalf. Gratitude for the ability to see goodness in the negative things of life can make you successful...
During the Second World War, General George Patton continued making tragic mistakes in his series of skirmishes and battles with German general --- Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in North Africa. Patton ended up reading Rommel's "classic" on battle logistics in German, realized the mistakes he was making, and planned using Rommel's logistics on Rommel. In the Battle of El Guettar in Tunisia, Patton routed Rommel's forces using Rommel's logistics. General Patton didn't give up because he was getting his pants beaten off of him...he used researching his defeats to finally defeat his enemy.
My father, as a football coach, always watched the films of his team, not to extol their strengths, but rather, to note weaknesses of his team's efforts, and improve on the mistakes, to consistently improve the team effort eventually during upcoming games. Patton was a spiritual man, and my father was a spiritual man...their mindset was biblical...and that paved the way for their success. At the heart of their efforts was an attitude. Good! These things happen for a purpose. Can we learn anything from this?
Gratitude can turn just existing into a real life, filled with "good things" and "excellent things". The verses noted above (Philippians 4:4-8) are accompanied by yet another powerful verse (Philippians 4:8): "...finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think of such things..." Often in this postmodern age, we get engaged in popular and attractive items...breaking news...for one thing...movies and magazines of questionable value...other things of curiosity that may not have any value whatsoever... We need to be on our guard! Those activities may just upset a delicate balance in terms of the way we view our lives and what seems worthy of our attention and time.
Gratitude makes sense of our past. It brings that deep personal biblical peace...shalom
...into the "actual time" of each day. You and I have heard people we know talking about what might have been in their lives. We may have also thought and communicated likewise.
I have learned that things past have always turned out the best, no matter what. It is useless to try to re-configure our past. We all know the expression, "to cry over spilled milk". It doesn't do any good, but we waste time trying to do so, all too often.
Gratitude makes things right. Saint Paul writes (Romans 8:28), "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose..." God has His ways. God's timing is perfect. God is wise. That wisdom surpasses our understanding and vision of what is, what could be, what has happened, and what meaning - the events of our lives have and will be. There is no failure with God. Trust Him...don't place so much trust in the latest round-up of world and local news and what the news is supposed to mean for our lives or the world. Give Him praise and thanks for what is happening...in the process...let Him know you know He is in control.
Finally, gratitude turns negative energy into positive energy. There is no circumstance or situation so small or so large that it is not susceptible to the power you and I have of being grateful. We can start with who we are...and what we have today...apply that good measure of gratitude, and then let it work - its great work - in our lives.
Think and say "Thank you", until you mean it. If you say it long enough, it'll become the only acceptable truth for you. Your life...what's outside and what's inside you...will be transformed and you will notice it first when others will say of you, "She's changed...He's changed...and it is really good!" You will have moved from mere religion into the mindset of faith. There is nothing like it to make our lives completely worthwhile and ultimately encouraging and meaningful. What an affirmation in a time of pandemic!
"I have come that you may have life, and that you may have life more abundantly." John 10:10
I am convinced, as I am sure Saint Paul was convinced, that the Lord Jesus was talking about, not only the forgiveness of our sins and the assurance of eternal life, but also, trusting in Him...so profoundly...we don't need to worry about complicated international issues. We don't need to get all tangled up in the difficult affairs of our lives. We have the knowledge to know (despite appearances) that everything is going to work out. We have the foresight to know the future lies in God's good hands and we will benefit and thrive. I am reminded of a great truth that says a lot about what effective faith is...
"...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..." Hebrews 11:1
Do you really have that assurance? Do you really believe this?
Is this what a perfect God has in store for imperfect people who trust in Him?
Such assurance comes to us when we live our lives with a bold attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is a great presupposition of Christian faith. So many followers of Christ Jesus get caught up in the attractive aspects of religion, the beauty of the sanctuary, the music and hymn melodies, the robes and wall-hangings, the pastor's comforting words, the great choir, the lunch fellowship after worship...all great, encouraging and lovely things to look forward to...but nothing without the basics...a grateful response to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the Cross, His tragic death and His victorious resurrection...forgiveness for my sins and all those like me who are sinners...the assurance of eternal life, based not upon my accomplishments, my personal charm, or my good looks...but based upon gratefully trusting in His purpose in my life presently and the unfailing assurance of everlasting life in the time to come.
Gratefully and cordially, Tom
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Grace and peace to you through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen! You can trust in Him to bring you forth! Be confident in the Lord! Play it real safe! Be well!
So very nice of you to join me in sharing the Lord's trustworthy provision for today.
Lord God, today we will continue our personal journey to persistently work on our faith concerns, that is, to truly love others without condition, and to accept ourselves as the person we are, even though -- at first -- it doesn't always seem natural for us to do so. Forgive us, Lord, when we say, sometimes we need to "fake it before we make it", that is, make it a real thing for us.
We're going to force ourselves to go through the motions. We're going to work at loving others genuinely and accepting the persons we are, up until we have fulfilled our goal of being an apostle of love. Sustain us in that strategy for living --- Lord, in a time of tragic pandemic and civil unrest, we are convinced we are on the right path to bring sustained justice and mercy into our world.
Be with those who have contracted Covid-19 and those who have lost loved-ones to this virus. Protect all in our community and our nation and our world. Thank you, Jesus, for granting your wisdom to us. Amen.
Don't give up! Keep up the daily struggle toward being a vessel of divine love in your home, community and world -- but like James Joyce -- go easy...don't bump your head up against a stone wall...rather...let the side of your head rest upon your pillow...
"...let us not become weary in doing good...for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up...
therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers..." (Galatians 6:9-10)
It's like physically going to the gym to keep in shape. Keep working at it. Keep practicing it. Often it doesn't seem natural. Often it is uncomfortable. Many good people, even seasoned Christians become hardened by the journey. Don't let it happen to you. Remain strong and confident in He who gives you strength and hope!
It literally takes years for heartfelt faith concerns to move from our mind to make their way into our heart and soul. We need to work (but ever so gently) to behave with diligence, effort and repeated practice to force out practices that created behaviors that brought us personal shame and self-hatred. We need to force ourselves to do things even when they don't feel natural. We need to tell ourselves that we care about our attitudes toward others and also the negative attitude we have about ourselves. We need to tell ourselves we care about others and ourselves even when we don't believe what we are saying. We need to work on it again, and again, and again...without being discouraged, or saying to our selves...that we'll never make it.
It is unreasonable to expect the new way of life in Christ Jesus to sink in overnight.
Yes...we may have to "act as if" for days, months, and years...until Christ-like behaviors become ingrained and natural. I keep thinking about treasured relationships with extended family members and also revered members of my home church in Wisconsin, thinking to myself...how am I ever going to become like one of these folks. One of the reasons I am a Christian today is because of my pastor and the laypeople of my church family in town --- who seemed to me so advanced in faith attitudes and actions. I have learned, it didn't come naturally to them. With the assurance of the faith, they became the outstanding people they were.
Even after years, we may find ourselves in times of great need, in times of stress, in times of loss...or great misfortune...reverting back to old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. We may have layers of feelings we just aren't ready to acknowledge until years...indeed, decades...into our first coming into a life of faith in Christ. Now I'm not talking today about some fake show of religious piety here. I am talking about the genuine nature of true faith borne out like Saint Peter's "fire of faith" making the believer like a gorgeous piece of pottery refined into a state of beauty and uniqueness. The journey is not easy. Often we fall short. Don't give up. Your world needs you.
Guess what? It's okay. The Lord's got a grip on us. He's aware of what's going on in our lives. So, don't sweat it! It's going to come around. In the Scriptures, Saint Paul suggests that we are becoming what we already are...what a concept! Chew on that powerful notion for a couple of minutes. In Jesus we are becoming what we already are.
In terms of the profound nature of your spiritual journey...Don't give up! It takes a lot of time to get "Christ-centeredness" into the core of our being. Note! The victory is ours in advance. All our goals of being good to others, of accepting ourselves, of finding satisfaction in our lives, of being able to forgive and to be forgiven, of experiencing completeness in the Lord...all are guarantees in this life of faith. There is no failure in God. Nonetheless, keep practicing. Don't give up when you temporarily fall short. It's okay! Just keep working at it. But --- Go gentle. Jesus says, one day at a time.
In our faith in Jesus, we are...what we are becoming...good, truly humble, supremely valued, strong, consistently genuine, reliable, trustworthy, efficient, and great to be with. Sometimes we lose track of the value of these characteristics. Keep working at it. Be gentle with yourself...the result will be that you are gentle with others. Through this process of gentleness and patience, you will be sanctified and also those you care for.
This is the "joy" component of true faith. We are fully human...the Lord knows us inside and out. Through the down-to-earth component of faith, we are able to accept ourselves and grow in true faith at a pace -- that "includes us" -- so that the guarantees of faith in Christ are guarantees for us, too...even though obviously we are "fully" human.
Then...just when we think we've arrived, we find we have more to learn. This is the joy of living our lives in the Lord Jesus. We look better to those around us, but we see a need for improvement in ourselves, but nonetheless, we are confident and we know we are loved, just as we are. I never thought the pastor of my youth who I looked up to with all my heart...saw himself as one who needed personal improvement. I'm sure now my boyhood pastor continued to keep becoming a good example to others.
Keep on...no matter what! Keep on plugging away at those unacceptable behaviors, one day at a time. "...seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well...therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself...Each day has enough trouble of its own..." (Jesus of Nazareth - Matthew 6:33-34)
Take things one day at a time. Accept the premise that you will be successful. Keep on loving God, loving others, and loving yourself and your efforts, even when it doesn't seem natural, or productive. Keep on...no matter what!
One day, it will happen. You will wake up and find that what you've been struggling with and working so hard at, and forcing yourself to do, finally fits and feels comfortable. Your soul will have been refined by trusting in the Lord...and you will have participated in faith.
Then, you go on to learn something new, and exciting, and better. There is no failure with God. The Lord is worthy of our trust. The Word of the Lord is sufficient to cover all of our needs. It's time for all of us to let go, and to let God create something of beauty.
I'd like to close with an anonymous written piece called "The High Calling"
"If God has called you to be really like Jesus in all of your spirit, He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put on you such demands of obedience, that He will not allow you to follow other Christians, and in many ways, He will seem to let other good people do things He will not let you do...The Lord will let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hid in obscurity, because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade...Now when you are possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit in your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven."
May the good Lord bless you in these trying times. May you be encouraged to know that you are loved with an everlasting, gracious, and powerful love in Christ Jesus! May you live out these days in great confidence to know that victory is yours in the Lord! Amen!
Have a great Sunday! Make it a joyous celebration! Peace, joy, and love are yours!
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Good morning Lord,
Starting today, I will let go of unhealthy endurance and survival skills. I will choose the new way of living granted me by the Lord Jesus---as "the Way, the Truth, the Life" (John 14:6). I will be open to negotiating conflicts with other folks in my life that I don't relate with well, or others that I disagree with. I'm going to work for balance in my life without being too submissive or too demanding. I will be motivated to demonstrate appropriate flexibility in my efforts to solve all problems in my life. I know with you by my side, Lord...with you guiding my thoughts and ways...even conflict will be something I can anticipate without dread. I acknowledge and recognize that conflict is inevitable, and now, with your help, I will be wise, patient, and forbearing. I will allow myself to truly be alive and enjoy the journey. I pray in your name, Lord Jesus, Amen.
Author Dr. Scott Peck started out in the book, entitled, "The Road Less Traveled" and "People of the Lie", with the startling discovery that ... "Life is difficult" ... What a revelation? Why didn't I think of that?
Wealthy. Poor. Successful. Unsuccessful. America. Pakistan. Peru. Life is difficult no matter what. Dr. Scott Peck and the Scriptures suggest that I accept it!
In terms of my church background, it was "the way of the cross" rather than "the way of glory". The way of the cross was self-sacrifice and acceptance of pain. That's the way Jesus took. The way of glory was the new Lexus you got if you joined the church and did good. You always got rewarded in this way. Being less than the wisest person I could think of, it still seemed to me for some reason the way of the cross was the way to personal victory and success in life. In this way I felt affirmed by Dr. Peck's affirmation. It was this affirmation that led this psychiatrist to Christ despite rejection by many peers.
Look---there is no trouble-free way to carry on in life!
There is no journey without accepting the difficulty involved. Problems and conflicts are a part of life for all of us -- with friends, with family, and at work. Peck's notion is that there is no escape, no matter who you think you are, no matter how well you've planned, there will be difficulty. Plan for it. Simply, life is not trouble-free. Don't be overcome.
Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve on with time. Don't be surprised when problems come up despite extensive, "fool-proof" planning. The last thing I always say to the bride and groom at the end of a wedding preparation counseling series is..."Friends, you have planned as extensively as any couple and family I can recall for your marriage ceremony...Now accept the fact in advance that 'What will happen...Will happen!' ...ride with it when something or other unexpected and unpleasant happens --- years from now you will laugh about it."
In terms of relationships, not being willing to tackle and solve problems leads to angry feelings, terminated relationships, and "power plays" that intensify the dynamics--and end up being a waste of time and energy. It follows that anticipating problems in advance (not always knowing when or where they will show up), and accepting their probability, is a point of supreme wisdom. Things happen. Expect the unexpected.
Not being willing to face our problems means that we may run into that same problem or similar problems again and again.
Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have and there is no room to negotiate.
You've been there. I've been there. Surely my family has been there. In situations like this, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and figure out what the "bottom line" is...for us. However, I've discovered something. When we have knowledge that nothing which befalls us, just happens, but is part of a larger picture that we cannot see...I am suggesting what Saint Paul writes helps greatly in dealing with difficulty gracefully, "...and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called by His purpose..." (Romans 8:28)
Our survival skills had served us well. They got us through difficult times. Our ability to freeze feelings, deny problems, deprive ourselves and cope with stress had helped us to get to where we find ourselves today. But now, we can accept the unexpected problems, the difficulties, and even the tragedies we face, because we have come to the great awareness that life is difficult...and we'll come to terms with this as reality.
In Christ we are big enough to face what is "real" and "awesome" in our lives. As followers of Jesus, we are grateful that our God is not above having experienced the same things that we experience, no matter how difficult. Through Christ, God empathizes with us and our condition. And this...is the genius of the Christian faith. Our God is not above it all... unable to grasp the challenge of being human. For this reason in Jesus' life, He experienced rejection, loneliness (even among His friends), innocent suffering, despair, and the prospect of an early death. John 11:35 says that "Jesus wept". He had the feelings we have and He experienced all the negative things of life we experience. It was this aspect of Jesus' life that impressed Dr. Peck in his Spiritual journey.
Through Christ we are learning to do more than just survive. We can actually let go of survival behaviors. Through the Lord's intervention in our lives we can continue to learn new ways of protecting and caring for ourselves and others. We are free to feel our feelings, and yet, act nonetheless. We are ready to identify, acknowledge, and solve our problems---and in the process---give ourselves and others our very best.
So, let the sun shine in. Let the Son shine in. It is through Jesus, and His Lordship, that we become free to open up and truly come alive. We accept His forgiveness, His invitation to wholeness, and more importantly, His peace and joy in the fullness of what this life offers.
We will not be discouraged. We will be "disillusioned", that is, removed from the "illusion" that we can be destroyed by the challenges God places before us. He doesn't cause the evil that befalls us at times, but He will allow it to happen for His purpose and our good. So we take on our feelings, acknowledge them, and yet proceed to overcome in our lives with God's help. Amidst the challenges of life, there is no failure with God. Whatever befalls us we can know that the Lord will work wonders in the most disparaging situations of life. It's the wisdom of faith that gives beauty to our existence. It is the power bestowed upon us that makes life worthwhile.
P.S. Please be kind and leave your important reaction to this message at pacficalocal news.com
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Editor: Tom humbly invites you to comment on his message in the Pacifica Tribune. He says Thank You in advance to anyone posting comments.
How about a little bit of humor...
A man called up a lawyer and said, "How much would you charge to answer three questions?" The lawyer said, "...four hundred dollars..." The man said, "...that's a lot of money, isn't it? The lawyer said, "I guess so...So what's your third question?"
Mark Twain is reputed to have said "...by trying we can easily learn to endure adversity, that is---that of another person...".
W.C.Fields is quoted as saying "...if at first you don't succeed, try and try again...and then quit...".
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1 What faith is...
"He has shown you, O Man, what is good---And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love
mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8 What religion is... What ethical behavior is...
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. That person will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son
may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:12-14
"...they claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him..." Titus 1:16 Are we praying with a mindset of faith?
"...the feeblest among them will be like David and house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord going before them." Zechariah 11:8 Do we know how empowered we are by God to live out our lives?
"...for a person is a slave to whatever has mastered him or her..." 2 Peter 2:19 --- Are you bound by the your issues?
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us..and if we know that He hears us---whatever we ask---we know that we have what we asked of Him." 1 John 5:14-15
"God, today I will forthrightly ask you for what I want and what I need. Now, Lord...I'm not going to demand of you --- I will respectfully ask. I'm not focused upon incredible wealth nor upon expensive toys to entertain myself. I am really focused in on my essential wants and needs, especially those to benefit others near and dear to me---then, Lord, I will let go. I will trust in your Word. In faith, I will pray once only. Or, in faith, I will pray constantly whenever I think of what it is I want or need. In the process, I ask for that which will make me a more effective servant of yours and a more useful citizen of your eternal kingdom. Boldly, I pray confidently, in Jesus' name. Amen."
Today I will boldly proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus...without condition. I will encourage you to bring any request you have to the Lord. I want you to understand that no request is too large. There is no request that is too small. There is no request that is insignificant to the Lord. He just loves to hear us call upon His name. He loves to hear from us when we are in need. He is waiting to hear from us. He is waiting to prove He is worthy of our trust, where other resources are unable to fully guarantee.
I remember a woman in great need, a lady who recently had come to the Lord...with a rather insistent personality -- tell me, "God is not listening...I'm hurting!" I replied, "May I ask, how did you make your request?" She said, "I want what I want, and I want it now!!!" I went on to assure her that God would fulfill her desire within His perfect timing. I suggested that sometimes God comes through for us immediately. At other times, it's done in a way that things needed...fall in place together. His timing is always perfect.
I remember, years ago, a financial prayer request of a lady in my neighborhood. Shortly after that prayer, an unexpected gentleman drove up in a Jaguar automobile, came into my office, laid that same amount of money she had prayed for, into my hands. He felt called by the Lord to give the money away. The man did so...and she received that large amount of money within the half-hour. Years later she moved out of town. After many years I heard from her just this last week. She has remained strong in the Lord...never quite able to forget the extraordinary way God had ministered to her need.
Another lady who I had known as a teenager, got involved in a drug habit, and through the years was severely addicted for decades. A year ago a good-looking lady in her forties came up to me in the presence of Priscilla, my wife, and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. She said, "Pastor, do you remember me?" I replied, after a moment's pause looking into her face, "Well...No. I don't..." She said, "I'm so-and-so...You have prayed for me for thirty years...when everybody else gave up on me...you still prayed on...that the Lord would preserve me and save me from my addiction. And so, here I am, free of drugs for three years, and in addition, I have turned my life over to Jesus!" Sometimes the Lord fulfills a prayer request immediately. Other prayers are answered much later.
God always listens to our prayers. God always answers prayers. Rev Martin, the old Southern Baptist preacher, from my days in Alabama, used to say, "God always answer prayer --- it's like sometimes He says Yes --- sometimes He just says No. Sometimes He says Maybe --- and sometimes He says Later".
We forfeit a great deal of personal victory in our life when we don't exercise our mindset of faith. We experience a great deal of personal pain --- totally unnecesary pain --- when we don't put a merciful, purposeful God in the midst of our suffering. We forfeit a great deal of peace by not trusting in God. Recently a dear friend was suffering overwhelming pain in the hospital. While I was visiting, he cried out to me, "Pastor, help me with this killing pain of mine!" I opened my mouth without thinking and the Holy Spirit filled it with His grace, "As a follower of Jesus, when you suffer, you share with Him - His suffering -for the redemption of the world..." My friend paused. Within a half-hour he was asleep...
How often we think we need to limit God...supposing we will be disappointed and lose confidence in Him if we boldly reach out, stretching ourselves way beyond the ordinary, allowing the Lord to fulfill His promise to us personally, through the words of Jesus in John 14:12-14. I keep thinking to myself, what if God does things like He does only if my human conduct was perfect and without blemish. There would be little point in being a follower of Jesus...no assurance of heaven...no answers to life-and-death issues...no confidence to live our lives with a multitude of earthly assurances along the way.
Once again, mere "do-and-don't" religion and human doubt bounce back into the divine place of faith. Faith is not about what we deserve. It's not about the so-called limitations of what we can accomplish as human beings alone. It is about, what we call in theological circles, the manifestation of God's undeserved grace and His ability to make any and all things requested happen. Trust me, no perfect people are going to heaven.
In the faith we have in Christ Jesus we can ask for it --- and if it is really something we want and need --- we will receive it. Make up your mind (John 14:12-14). Jesus is either telling the truth or He is lying. I made up my mind twenty-five years ago that Jesus was telling the truth. Doors were opened to me in ministry and my life that were sealed shut before. I have been criticized for this conviction. Other ordained clergy have actually addressed me by saying, "...bad things just happen...you can't do anything about it..."
Either Jesus Christ was telling the truth, or He was lying. I have made up my mind. Jesus was telling the truth. It was good for the time He had said it. It is good for today.
Turn your life anew into God's hands. Put your request in God's hands. Trust that you have been heard. After that, let it go in faith. Leave the decision in God's hands.
This is the way to care for your innermost being. Have the renewed assurance that God in Christ Jesus really does care for you. He loves to hear you when you call upon His name. He deeply cares that we, through faith in Him receive what we want and need.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
July is underway. I pray this note finds you well, and everyone is staying cool during the warm afternoons. Blessings on your work, and may you be finding time to enjoy the summer season while tending to your work and caring for your families and yourselves. You are in our prayers. Please let us know if there is a need we might be able to help with. You are loved and held.
Scripture: Isaiah 55:12-13
Yes, you will go out with celebration and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
In place of the thorn the cypress will grow in place of the nettle the myrtle will grow.
This will attest to the Lord’s stature, an enduring reminder that won’t be removed.
Aren't these beautiful images? I wish I were a painter. I would paint dancing trees, emerald green hills, and a beautiful river. I would include all kinds of flowers, and yes, the blooming myrtle. I just read that the myrtle is the Hebrew symbol for marriage. God is declaring that his relationship with us will endure the test of time. We belong to God and to one another forever.
We are often impatient for our time of exile to be over. However, in chapter 55:8, we hear God telling us that our ways and not God's ways. What I am hearing is that God is telling us to be patient, and to let God be God. We are often tempted to plead and demand our case with God. We feel we know exactly what we need. Yet, it is not God's way to always give us what we think we need right when we think we need it. That is the way of a child. We may be fussy now, but we will be brought back in peace. Let us not waste time in doubt and worry, but rather in prayer and preparation for the time when all will be revealed in song and celebration. Let us have the courage to believe these wonderful words of life.
Holy Eternal God, we thank you that you speak to us of encouragement. You know at times we struggle with patience, even to the point where our faith begins to fray. We thank you for your forgiveness, and your steadfast love that never lets us go. Holy One, continue to stir our hearts in this time. We thank you for those who tend to our care. May we remember that we all wait together. Yet in this waiting, you give us the bread of life and the cup of salvation. You offer us reconciliation at the table of Christ that is always set before us. May we be content, knowing that your vast love is unlimited, and such love can fill our hearts to overflowing if we say yes to the invitation to rest and trust completely in your love. In Christ we gratefully pray, Amen.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough
Associate Pastor, San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
SpiritCare Ministry to Seniors
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
A number of years ago I attended a synod pastoral retreat of rostered persons from all over Northern California and Northern Nevada. The invitation was given for Holy Communion on the south shore of the Monterey Bay at a certain beach where we were to meet at 5:00 a.m. I arrived on time. The bishop had not assigned a person to share the morning prayer. He asked me on the beach to lead the group in prayer. It was early in the morning, and I have sort of a cornball approach to worship at such an hour...so being called on during the service I prayed.
Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am. Amen!
In a true spirit of congeniality the Bishop kind-of liked the prayer, and said, "You know I've never heard that particular wording in a prayer before. I don't know what the occasion may be, but I'm going to use that one myself sometime."
I thought of those who had died and continue to give their lives for the freedom I now have to listen to those fireworks knowing that our republic is secure and safe. Then, I reflected on demonstrations, and coronavirus, and unemployment, and politics, and the awesome fact that we are as divided as a nation as we were in 1861.
In a time of pandemic and intolerance and great uncertainty in multiple areas of our lives as Americans...I paused...and I thought to myself... I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, ONE NATION, UNDER GOD with liberty and justice for all...again, once again...thankful for the wisdom of Walt Whitman and President Abraham Lincoln who reminded me...in trying times to keep my focus clear...striving as an American to keep the vision focused upon "our better angels" to provide increasing "a more perfect union".
We have a great nation, I thought. As we honor God -- God will honor us...in addition to being a citizen of the United States of America, I was glad to be considered a citizen of the Kingdom of God in Christ knowing that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I re-committed my life to humble service...at that moment...as I had back in July of 1956 receiving the Pro Deo et Patria (for God and Country) scouting award.
Dear Lord, today, I will remember that I don't have to hide behind being right all the time. I don't have to justify what I want and need with saying something is "right" or "wrong". I can let myself be who I am...having a sound mind and a solid knowledge of the Scriptures to form and guide me. Amen.
The life of faith is not about "being right about everything under the sun". It's not about making oneself dominant over others who may have a different slant on things, even in the Spiritual realm. That means however that we need to have "our ducks in order" and have a firm foundation in Spiritual matters and other issues of life. That is the reason I have always put a great deal of emphasis upon Bible Study in church life, rather than placing priorities upon the latest book on the secular market to talk about during church events and schedules...or something else which substituted for God's Word. The Old Testament suggests, "...my people perish for lack of knowledge..." I've learned that I need to be faithful to Scripture to be faithful to myself and to others. That may seem strange to say for some, but it really has proven true and pragmatic for me.
When we come into a life of faith, we do not become "cookie-cutter" Christians. I have known so many of them. I remember a man who was brought to Christ through our fellowship, but yet, chose a more "dynamic" church to live out his life of faith. He set up an appointment, and during that appointment, he complained, "They won't let me do the things I want in my life. I feel like I'm losing myself, rather than finding myself..."
His complaints I thought were well founded. You don't give up everything good in your life because you choose to follow Jesus. A life of true faith is about allowing ourselves to be who we are. It is, nevertheless, understanding what it means to have balance in our life. It is also understanding that others -- as myself -- have heart and mind. We are all fully human. I like the notion of Dr. Martin Luther of being "simultaneously saint and sinner". It is about examining the validity of that sense of balance. At the times of being with Dr Billy Graham, he used to say so often, "The Christian life is a matter of two steps forward and one back."
Often we can test our concept of what truth is in our dialogue with others. Another important aspect of truth is the notion not only of transparency, individuality, and sense of personal taste, but also within the context of belonging to a trustworthy community of faith.
The corollary to this wisdom is that "abundant life" is about accepting others as they are also and being tolerant (to a fault)...but nevertheless...being able to bear testimony while embracing biblical truth, without seeming to be superior in dialogue. It is such a shortcoming with so many religious folk to have all that good biblical truth and not have the common sense of chewing on it, digesting it, and being able to share it in a congenial way with others.
You don't have to be German Lutheran theologian, Dr Wolfhart Pannenberg, to embrace truth and share it. Do what you can do. Be yourself. There is room in the universe for what you have to say...how you chose to live...how you provide room in the universe for others.
One important way we love others who differ from us is to hear them out. The Lord Jesus Christ, in this regard, suggests, "Love the Lord our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself...All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
The way to love others who may or may not agree with us is to embrace them and their experience of life. Unlike many religious persons in our midst, the way of Jesus was to get on the same level as His hearers -- to embrace and love those wanting to dialogue with Him. Not only to hear them out, but to allow the dialogue to be a positive experience -- and --make the commitment to have it be so.
Now why am I talking about this? Because, so very often, you and I are inclined to be intolerant of others and their beliefs, and in the process, we build walls instead of building bridges. I'm not talking in this regard to encourage a radical surrender of Scriptural principles...a so-called liberal approach to faith dialogue. I am conservative in this regard. However, I have learned you can catch more bears with honey than with vinegar.
We may come in contact with a Muslim man or woman, for instance. Often, we think to ourselves, this person's thinking is foreign to mine. No. Look at the person's humanity. Embrace them for the moment. Embrace them hopefully for the dialogue. Be sure you have embraced God's Word beforehand. Relax. Be yourself. God doesn't want you to tell that person you are "right" and they are "wrong". Don't be so religious. Be yourself. Know your point-of-view. Do the loving thing in dialogue. The Scriptures suggest that when you open your mouth the Holy Spirit will fill it with divine grace and truth.
Having swallowed and digested truth, and allowing the weight of that truth to magnify our our personal experience of life, we absolutely need to be exposed to knowledgeable dialogue with others. One of the greatest little books I have ever read is a book by Reuel L. Howe, entitled, The Miracle of Dialogue. It arrived in my life at just right time. The suggestion of Dr Howe's book is that it is not only important to be ourselves and have a truth we own, but we need to be able to articulate it in such a way that what is on the inside shows on the outside. You don't need to be Saint Peter or Saint Paul. Just be yourself. There is a place in the universe for what you have to contribute. But let me say -- you need to chew, swallow, and digest those things the Lord places before you. You say you don't have your PhD in Systematic Theology from Oxford or Harvard! There is a specific need in the Kingdom of God for your particular knowledge and wisdom to share.
One important aspect of being ourselves and being able to express "what's inside" is personal openness. I love to return to Romans 7:15-25 to observe the great transparency of Saint Paul, as he expresses, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do ---I do not do --- but what I do --- I hate to do. And if do what I not want to do I agree that (God's) law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself that do it, but it is sin persistantly living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me --- that is --- in my sinful nature....because I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot seem to carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do...NO! ...the bad things I do not want to do...this is what I keep on doing! Now...if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living within me that does it. So I find this to be a principle at work. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. In my inner being, I delight in God's law, but I find another principle at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law in my mind and making me a prisoner..."
It would be a sad thing if the story for Paul ended there. After a powerful confession, Paul resolves this issue of truth in his life with this understanding of undeserved favor from God through Christ (Romans 7:24) "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God --- through Jesus Christ our Lord."
It is not the weakness of others that I focus upon, but upon my own weakness and insufficiency, as Saint Paul would say, that Christ Jesus would rescue me...and make me His tool to bring about peace, and joy, and love (as respect at times) in others' lives.
After a person discovers truth for herself and himself...and I encourage the backbone of truth to be a firm knowledge of sacred Scriptures...that element of self-knowledge provides a powerful sense of "being on solid ground" in conversation with others...and of course with one's self, the so-called "inner conversation".
In this regard, the Lord suggests in the Old Testament, "My people perish for lack of knowledge". First of all, we try hopelessly to work out the difficulties of our lives by trying to figure out things for ourselves, and failing miserably, rather than grabbing on to the "good stuff" (also known as the "God stuff")...that is...the wisdom of God's Word.
Now I mean that in a very profound personal sense. This is not the preacher in me speaking out. It is the testimony of an imperfect man who has been saved by the blood of the Lamb, so to speak, but also by the power of the wisdom of God's Word. I have a quotable-magnet attached to my refrigerator which proclaims, "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." I could not have come this far without the influence of a Christ-centered, Bible-based influence in my life. I would recommend it to anyone. That being said, I am confident in saying that it would not have happened without the community of faith and those who loved me...and as well...those who didn't like me very much...that reflected the transparency of Saint Paul's confession in that passage from the Philippians letter.
This concept can be difficult for many of us if we have lived in communities which function on the "right-wrong" justice scale. That is --- the person who is right is okay... the person who is wrong is shamed...all value and worth depends on being right...to be wrong means annihilation of self and self-esteem. I got an earful last week from a lady who had been raised in a conservative Christian denomination. Get this! She had converted from that denomination to Judaism claiming, and I quote, "I had to go this direction because this synagogue reflected the teaching of Jesus more clearly and in a more straightforward way than the church I had attended." In my lifetime I never thought this sort of transition could happen. I had thought that only the opposite could. I'm telling you, we're going to held accountable by God! That statement caused me to re-think this whole business of faith in our lives and also the business of personal witness.
In the focused life of faith we learn how to strive for love in our relationships, not superiority over others. Indeed, we may need to make decisions about people's behavior from time to time. If somebody is hurting us, we need to stand up for ourselves. We have a responsibility to set boundaries and take care of ourselves. However, we do not need to justify taking care of ourselves by condemning somebody else. We can avoid the trap of focusing on others...instead of focusing on ourselves.
In the life of faith we learn that -- what we do -- needs to be right only for us. What others do is their business and needs to be right only for them. It is tempting to rest in the superiority of being right...and in analyzing other people's motives and actions, but it's really more rewarding to just go ahead and look deeper...at times...together.
Some people say, a person cannot be a solidly-grounded human being these days and live in a diverse population and make an impact when it comes to sharing one's faith. You know, I disagree with that. The bottom line in coming to terms with this issue has to do with sticking around long enough with a person who really has no faith, or as I have noticed, a person who is into religion that they think is faith --- who are from a Christian background or not --- and allowing the Holy Spirit to give just the right encouragement, insight, or solution --- that will draw them into a closer relationship with the Living God.