Potential S.P.A.M.

Romans 1:6 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – December 22, 2019

“Including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

This time of year I get a lot of calls, cell phone calls. For years I’d have no clue who was calling me. These days I have an app on my smart phone that helps identify potential spam calls.[1] I’m learning that many of these phone calls are spam. This has been especially the case over the last few months with so much going on: the elections in November, while trying to sell my home, and then Christmas is here. I’m getting tired of getting called. And then I read this passage in Romans, “you who are called.” Really? Another caller! Well, it may be a bit worse getting calls from the divine. I have no app for the divine S.P.A.M.. This is my acronym for, Spirit Pulling At Me. The Holy Spirit calling me, undetectable by others, much less by an app on my phone. The good news is that the One SPAMing me loves me. I can’t say the same about the caller behind the “Potential Spam” call I get almost daily. The Holy Spirit calling me also loves me. It really is to my good to answer the call and discern my best response. My best response gives glory to God. Are you being called? Are you getting SPAMed by God? I hope so. Of all the calls you too may be getting this season, I hope you hear the calling of God. Christ has a plan for you. The plan depends on you responding to the call. You belong to Jesus Christ. Answer it.

“God doesn’t call the qualified … God qualifies the called.” Anon.

[1] Verizon Wireless Call Filter

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Blind & Deaf Again

Isaiah 35:5 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – December 15, 2019” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

The optometrist told me this morning my eyes are fine. I dropped in for my annual visit, always in December. My prescription glasses are fine. My sight is getting a little weaker but I can still see well without my glasses. All this said, I could still be blind. When the prophet Isaiah wrote these words, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,” he was speaking figuratively. As written by another, “Bodily diseases are taken to symbolize spiritual infirmities.”[1] In my words, we can be blind to seeing the truth in Christ and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. To this point, I once knew a blind man with hearing aids who could certainly see the truth and hear the Spirit. I like that we return to this passage during Advent, as we prepare for the message of the coming Christ child. It calls me to consider the ways I may have once again become spiritually blind and deaf. It happens. It does not mean I have lost my salvation. It does mean I need to be aware of the ways I can develop spiritual infirmities, without hardly a cough or a sneeze. Have you again become blind? Have you again become deaf? Just as I return to the optometrist with discipline, it is good for us all to return to the Scripture with discipline. Just as the optometrist has an eyechart, we Christians have our own standard, the word of God, our Bible, to check on the health of our spirit. 

[Jesus told the disciples of John] “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”Matthew 11:5

[1] MacLaren’s Expositions, 

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No God, No Peace

Romans 15:13 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – December 8, 2019[Paul wrote] “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.”

“Piece be with you,” read the bumper sticker this morning in the rear window of a vehicle speeding by in excess of 70 mph on Virginia’s I-64. In these politically charged times of gun ownership, “piece” could only be a reference to a right to the possession of a gun; perhaps the voice of a conservative Christian. What I take note of is not the advocacy of gun rights, but the fact that politics just sullied my religion. I take offense to any intrusion of politics into my Christianity, especially a bold perversion of the ubiquitous Christian greeting, “Peace be with you!” The Christian intent is an acknowledgement of the powerful impact of Christ in our lives, the Prince of Peace. This morning’s vehicular statement is a denigration of Christianity, reducing our heartfelt blessing to a hollow sound bite. When our Founding Father’s wrote the First Amendment of the Constitution of United States of America, beginning with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” I hear in their great wisdom a distrust of politics in religion. It begs the question, what good can come of that? My response, no good can come of that. Politics sullies Christianity. So, to the driver of this morning’s vehicle, do bear your piece, and encourage others, but do not expect such possessions to instill peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”[1]       

“No God, no peace. Know God, know peace.”  Anonymous

[1] John 14:27 (ESV)

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Attitude of Gratitude

Colossians 1:12 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 24, 2019

[Paul wrote to the faithful in Colossae] “Giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

“Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation … complaining isn’t good for you,”[1] wrote Dr. Travis Bradberry, President, TalentSmart. Bradberry compared the personal impact of complaining to smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch all day watching TV.  In a 2016 post, Bradberry explained the way our neurons rewire themselves when we repeat a behaviour, branching out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it easier to repeat the behavior in the future, whether harmful or helpful. In the opening of Paul’s letter to Christians in Colossae, he encouraged the followers of Christ to develop the good behavior of gratitude, beginning his letter with, “We always thank God.” Do we? I feel comfortable writing that someone reading this may have complained in the last minute. I know I must catch myself because complaining seems the thing to do these days, and I realize how unbecoming it is of a Christian. A popular acronym for prayer is ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (plea), in that order. In other words, before I make my request of the Lord, be grateful to the Lord.  Complaining can easily become our default behaviour.” What is your default behaviour? Let’s practice an attitude of gratitude.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Willie Nelson

[1] www.huffpost.com, 12/26/2016, “How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity”

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People Get Ready

Luke 65:17 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 17, 2019

[Thus says the Lord God,] “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

We live within a changing universe. It is ever expanding and has been since its creation. We have yet to realize a reason for the expansion and have good reasons to believe the expansion is actually increasing, absolutely astounding. What is happening? We don’t know, but we know that every day we have “new heavens and new earth.” At its simplest understanding, everything in the sky and under our feet are moving and changing. Strangely, we humans do not like change. Even if we are miserable in our setting we are reluctant to move to another setting. This may have been the case with the first readers of Isaiah 65, miserable in exile but reluctant to change and move back to Jerusalem. So, through the mouth of Isaiah, the Lord encouraged God’s people to hope in the coming of “new heavens and a new earth.” Terrifying, perhaps, so the Lord described life in those new settings, beginning with, “the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” That seemed to have been enough to encourage some of God’s people to return to Jerusalem.  I believe God is still making for us a new setting, where we “shall not hurt” any longer. Within an everchanging universe, change is also coming. Never let the former things come to mind. Are you hurting? Embrace God’s new heavens and new earth for you, get ready.

“God is change.” Octavia E. Butler, (1947-2006), Science-fiction author 

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You’re Alive

Luke 20:38 (ESV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 10, 2019

[Jesus said to some Sadducees,] “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

“You dead to me,” sings Dierks Bentley. “You broke my heart, that’s history, I’m still alive and you’re dead to me.” Bentley was singing about a girlfriend who broke his heart. Bentley had moved on with no hard feelings. I wonder if Jesus would find these words befitting. I believe we have, we do, and we will continue to break Jesus’ heart. I believe Jesus does move on, “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”[1] We do not always receive Christ’s message of sin & salvation. Jesus just may have been saying to those who reject him, “Shake off the dust … your dead to me.” We would deserve it, but thankfully we worship a loving God, giving us all second chances through forgiveness. Just as in today’s passage, all the husbands of the woman, and the woman had died, and seem to have entered the Kingdom of God, anyway, where God keeps them alive. I do believe we will be kept in the same way, alive to God.

“If you’re reading this … Congratulations, you’re alive. If that’s not something to smile about, then I don’t know what is.” Chad Sugg, from Monsters under Your Head

[1] Luke 9:5 (ESV)

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Dia de los Muertos

Luke 6:21b (NRSV) from the Revised Common Lectionary – Nov. 1, 2019

[Jesus said to his disciples,] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Today, November 1, is Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, in Mexico, Central America, and the United States. This day is a time to remember and honor those loved ones who have died. It is also a day to encourage the artistic expression of the living. Many years ago I arrived in Mexico City on this day. The city streets were filled with people wearing ofrendas, costumes. I was startled by the sight, like being dropped into a parade. My driver kindly explained. My lesson was that death’s sting need not linger. Much as Jesus taught his disciples, our weeping, our mourning, will become laughter, if we believe. To this point, within the sanctuary of the home, many celebrants will set up modest altars topped with pictures of their loved ones now gone, but there is no weeping. The occupants, before the shrine, celebrate the life of their loved ones with foods and mirth. Remembering today’s passage, though they were once weeping with grief they have been encouraged by Jesus to be joyous with laughter. By no means did Jesus want his followers to be consumed with grief over his death or any death. As Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica, “That you may not grieve as others do … the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord.”[1] Who are you willing to celebrate this day?

“As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” Jewish proverb

[1] 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (ESV)

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Listen Up

Luke 16:19-20 (ESV)
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.”

       The rich man is my focus. I know if he wore purple and fine linen he had more money than most men in the streets around biblical Jerusalem. Purple dye came from a labor/time intensive process. Purple dye was expensive. Fine linen came from elsewhere, driving up its cost. To have such ensures the rich man had money. In bible times, money was distributed very unevenly. Money is still distributed unevenly. We live in a wealthy country, but 36% of the world’s population is poor, 1.85 billion. Fifty-one percent of the people in developing countries live on $1.25/day. By world standards most of us reading this note are rich. So listen up. It would behoove us to understand just what the rich man did wrong. I feel his transgression was not that he did nothing at the gate, but that he cared only about himself. In a culture where those with plenty were convinced they were blessed, there is no incentive to care for the poor. Then Jesus came along and said, “Blessed are the poor.” Jesus teachings needs repeating to this day. The same false belief is prevalent in churches today, it is called prosperity gospel, that faithful believers will become wealthy. The irony is that Jesus ministered as a poor Galilean peasant. Are you rich? 

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Squanderers All

Luke 16:1-3(ESV)

1He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 

          William the Conqueror developed the Feudal System, where the king gave out land through grants to nobles, to knights (vassals), to peasants, holding them accountable. For the nobles to receive the land they swore an oath of fealty (fidelity) to the king at all times. The king retained ownership of the land, and the land could be taken back at any time. It reflects the words of Jesus, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48 Today’s passage illustrates what can happen when one who receives his master’s property displeases the master: there comes a time of accounting for actions. The master heard that the manager had been “squandering his property.” We’re not sure of what property Luke is referencing, if that were to matter. What does stand out to me, is the response of the manager. A response highlighting the severity of the master’s demand. The manager takes the command with great seriousness. God will make the same command to us: Give me an accounting of your management. Are you prepared? Consider this: God has given you a precious property, time on earth. What have you done with your time? Though God is gracious, God’s grace does not free us from accountability. Are you prepared to give an accounting?

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Grace Overflowing

1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV) 

“Though formerly I (Paul) was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 

         Peter the Great, 17thcentury czar and emperor of Russia, confronted an officer of the army, a member of a secret society, who had plotted against Peter I. Because of the training of the soldiers in this secret society, though Peter I had him tortured 4 times in an attempt to break the soldier, he would not break. So Peter decided the soldier had been tortured enough, went up to him and kissed him. Peter asked him to confess the love you owe the czar, and he would grant him full pardon. In addition, as a special sign of his mercy he promised to make the man a colonel. The man confessed and was made a colonel. The point, Peter the Great showed pity on the man, but he did not show mercy until he did something to relieve the suffering. Mercy moves from feeling (pity) to action. Mercy is active compassion. Mercy begins with pity and ends with action. Mercy has three elements. First, there is recognition, “I see the need.” Second, there is motivation, “I am moved by the need.” Third, there is action, “I move to meet the need.” Christians are called to be merciful, as God is. Will God show mercy to you? Yes, God will act upon the pity felt when considering your situation, perhaps a miserable condition. Like Peter the Great mercifully acted to relieve the soldier, God mercifully acted to relieve us through Christ.

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