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Posts Tagged ‘God’

O Lord, maker of all things, master of the universe: send your Holy Spirit to our brothers and sisters in France this day. May they be comforted and find peace in the midst of such chaos. May the light of your redeeming love through Jesus Christ, our Lord, shine brightly upon the darkness in which they find themselves. Allow your Church to be your mouthpiece, to give words of solace; and may we be your body, that those who mourn may find shelter in our bosom. For those who have died, we ask that you have mercy upon them, and grant them entrance into your eternal kingdom, according to their faith and your will. We cry out to you O Lord, and ask that you forgive those who have perpetrated this evil. For they did not know the truth of their actions. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus, that evil may be chained, and righteousness reign forevermore. Amen.

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I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

  • And of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.

  • He was begotten, not made and is of one essence with the Father.
  • Through him all things were made.
  • Who for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.
  • He was made incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
  • He suffered under Pontius Pilate.
  • He was crucified, died, and was buried.
  • He descended into the place of the dead.
  • He rose from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
  • He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
  • He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
  • His kingdom shall have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

  • Who is the Lord, the Giver of Life.
  • Who spoke through the Prophets.
  • Who with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified.

I believe in one holy Church.

  • Which is universal, and for all peoples.
  • Which is the Communion of Saints.
  • It is timeless and beyond the reach of mortal death.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting.

  • Which is a bodily resurrection.
  • The righteous shall enter the world which is to come.
  • The righteous shall not taste of death again.

Amen.

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Unfortunately the time in which we live is plagued by fear and war. This is nothing new to the human race, and as Ecclesiastes states, there is nothing new under the sun. Every age of man is full of war, plague, and strife. How can it not be? Man has sunken to the depths of its own animus, barely reminding itself that it is greater than beast. For man looks at those who are made in his own likeness and greets them as brothers, yet he despises those who bear even the slightest of differences from his own appearance or behavior. This too, is nothing new. Our ancestors enslaved others who were not their own. Perhaps for speaking a different tongue, or having a different colored skin, or even perhaps a different religion. Man will find any excuse necessary to cause pain, war, and death. It is the way of the world.

But need it be this way? By all accounts the way of the world is full of strife and is generally unpleasant. When evil is done, it requires not only equal payback, but great wrath upon all who stand opposed. It is for this that the law was written, “an eye for an eye”. Not that justice would be certain to be meted out, but to ensure no greater than equal justice was served. For the wrath of mankind is prone to vengeance above and beyond fair and equal measure.

The Christian voice goes above and beyond this fair and equal measure of violence, and dispenses with it altogether. As the apostle Paul says, we battle not against flesh and blood, but against dark forces. Our battle is against the forces of darkness which control the nations of the world, and which daily battle in the heavenly places. For the message of Christ is that we do not retaliate against those who do us harm, but that we conquer evil with love and forgiveness. As our Lord has commanded us to turn the other cheek, we must obey. For he disarmed Peter in the garden, so has he disarmed us.

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I have shared more than a few personal stories, and have tried to somehow relate them to a Gospel message that might be encouraging or insightful.  Sometimes I have tried to make them humorous, but others are simply just facts of life where I have failed or struggled with the God to whom all hearts are open. I guess you can consider the stories confessions of sorts.

Who knows? But what I do know is that one of the things that drives all of these stories – is my inaction. Places where I have failed God by my inability to act upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My most painful experiences as a Christian, are those times in which I did not put physical form to the love of Jesus Christ.

Sure, I have faith. Having faith for me is usually the easy part. I have experienced too many supernatural things for me to so easily discount the ability of God to exist. And logically, throughout all of my searching and wandering, I have yet to find a more compelling case than that of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only as evidenced in the Scriptures, but in my own life as well.

The problem with faith however, is that it is useless all alone. It can no more save a man’s soul, than raise the dead. Faith requires a body to enact it. Every time in the New Testament, when Jesus heals someone, he always says that it is their faith that has made them whole. The thing is, he always requires a physical action to prove that faith.

In James, it is written that we must be doers of the word, and not only hearers. Those who only hear the word, are like people who look in a mirror. They look at themselves, and turn away, only to forget what they are like. But those who study the perfect law, the law of Christ, and put it into practice, those people will be blessed. (James 1)

James continues this in chapter two, where he admonishes those who believe that faith alone will save them. For even the demons believe in God. But faith must be accompanied by action. Who are we to disagree? Time and time again, it is proven that a person of true faith will act out on his faith. They will abide by the Lord’s commands: love God, and love thy neighbor.

How can we love our neighbor if we do not show them our love? If I never speak to my neighbor, can I truly be loving him? How will I show my love if I never offer to mow his yard? Or the widow across the street, how will she know my love for her if I never offer to fix her mailbox that has been smashed by renegade kids?

The Scriptures say that they will know we are Christians by our actions. For a healthy tree bears forth good fruit. But inaction is the sign of a tree that is dying from within. It is the fig tree that the Lord curses and which withers away.

According to Ezekiel, the sin of Sodom was that she was full of pride, and had plenty of food. She was prosperous, but did not aid the poor and the needy. Because of this they were haughty, and did horrible deeds. Inaction is just as sinful as physically committing evil deeds.

The Book of Common Prayer portrays this beautifully in the Confession of Sin: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…” it adds, “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves…” It recognizes that the two go hand in hand.

Faith without works is not only useless, it is dangerous. For it leads to arrogance and pride. Self-righteousness leads to Pharisaism. It wasn’t the faith that the Pharisees had that he opposed – it was the way they approached faith. Their faith did not care for the poor and the oppressed. It had no action behind it.

God does not wish sacrifices of blood and flesh, but sacrifices of justice and mercy. How can we offer those sacrifices if we do not choose to act on our faith? The faith that teaches us to not only love God, but to love our neighbors as ourselves?

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One of my favorite things to do, is to go out dancing. Whether you believe it or not, I’m a fantastic two-stepper (and waltzer). It is one of the things we do down here in Texas. And I’m sure you are all quite jealous of all the fun we get to have because of that.

To go dancing generally requires going to a bar. Because there aren’t many places to go and dance where alcohol isn’t served. Mainly because most men are too chicken to get out and dance without any liquid courage. That’s their loss. (To all the men reading this, take it from me: women love a man who can dance proper).

I love dancing. It allows me to get in my exercise (because dancing is a cardio beast), and when I was single, it allowed me to meet (hopefully) eligible women. (I find churches are usually too pious for something so worldly as dating.)

Now, meeting women at dancehalls is a mixed bag. You have women who are not looking for anything with anyone, you have married women just out with friends, you have married women looking to not be married, you have single women, etc. There may be a room full of a hundred women, and perhaps only ten of them might be single. And that is assuming they even want to dance with you, or find you attractive.

Well, lesser men than I perhaps have had that issue. I can’t really comment on what I haven’t experienced.

I’m just kidding, folks. I’ve been turned down more times than I care to publicly admit. Thanks again for allowing me to relive my humiliation for your benefit.

But…the Gospel is kind of the same way. Jesus talks about a farmer sowing his seed among the field. Some seed landed on the road, where the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil, where there was rock beneath, so it couldn’t grow. Still other seed fell among some thorns, where the weeds choked out the fresh new life. But some seed fell on fertile soil, and it produced greatly, and was worth many times more than what had been originally planted. (Matthew 13)

Spreading the Gospel requires us to take chances. Many times people are not receptive to the Gospel of Christ. It requires a lot, and it doesn’t promise much in return. But spreading the Gospel is a lot like asking a girl to dance. At first you’re trepidatious, worried about what she will say, but totally acting nonchalant about the whole thing. Then, as you get closer, you really decide whether you’re going to go through with it or not. And you either turn away at the very last minute, as if you were on you’re way somewhere else. Or, you come face to face with her. And at first, you may stumble with the words, but eventually you become a bit more sure of yourself. Every time though, you’re worried about whether she will accept your invitation, or decline it.

Being a Christian requires us to be uncomfortable. Rejection is never fun. It always hurts. But we must share the Gospel always. Unto the ends of the earth, and even into the dancehalls. Because you never know where the Gospel will flourish.

Ask the girl to dance. Who knows, maybe she’ll say “yes”.

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I was a pawnbroker for a while. It was a career choice that I honestly do not regret one bit, even as I moved further away from the ethicalness of that particular industry. The job provided me with amazing benefits, I was compensated fairly for my work, and I got to help people every day (albeit in a limited manner).

The job also gave me a lot of stories about folks. I’ve had times when people came into the pawn shop with tears literally streaming down their faces, trying to pay the light bill – or buy formula for their baby. There was an opportunity to help meet a lot of needs for folks. That’s one of the reasons I stuck with it for as long as I did. However, you also become a bit jaded.

I’m reminded of a particular time when these two young (and not unattractive) ladies came into the shop. They were looking at our selection of James Avery jewelry (faith-inspired silver and gold jewelry which is popular in Texas). One of the ladies picked out a ring, but wanted to sell another piece of jewelry to pay for it.

Now, that is not normally an issue. But to sell something to a pawn shop, you have to provide identification so that if it comes up as stolen, the police know who last had it in their possession. When I informed the young lady that I needed her state identification or driver’s license, she responded: “You see, ummm, I’m a prostitute, and I have warrants out for my arrest, and I don’t want the cops getting my information.”

The poor girl was probably only eighteen or nineteen years old, and she was already selling her body on the streets of San Antonio, Texas. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the police already had her address – it was already on their system via the Texas State Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead, her friend (also a prostitute) gave me her identification to use, and so we completed the process and they walked out with a James Avery silver ring.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of a hooker buying a piece of jewelry inspired by Christianity. But looking back, I’m a bit more thoughtful about the encounter. She bought a silver ring with a heart on it, inspired by God’s everlasting love for humanity. There are so many things I wish I had done differently with that encounter. So many things I wish I had thought instead of the self-righteousness that was in my head.

In the Scriptures, Jesus has an encounter with a woman caught up in adultery. The religious teachers and Pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus stops them saying, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” The men all begin to leave, until it is only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked her if anyone had condemned her. She replied to Jesus, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)

I think that day, in that pawn shop in San Antonio, that prostitute knew more about the grace of God than I did. At least, in her heart of hearts. I missed a chance to evidence that love with flesh and blood. In my head, I was condemning her, even though I was not without sin myself. Looking back, I can see that even though she was in a bad place in her life, she had hope in something greater.

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The Gospel of John opens with a declaration that in the beginning was the Word, and that all things were created through the Word, and nothing was made without the Word. In verse fourteen, John specifies that the Word took on flesh in the form of Jesus. This hearkens us back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, where God speaks – and from his Word flows forth all of creation. John not only shows us from where Jesus gets his authority, but he also shows us that the Truth of God has always been made evident through Jesus.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus sets about trying to teach his disciples a new way of looking at the Hebrew Scriptures. As a Jewish rabbi, it was his duty to teach his students his “midrash” or teaching, which the New Testament refers to as his “yoke” (Matthew 11:30). If Jesus were just a rabbi, then his interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures was up for debate – which happened quite often. Anytime Jesus is recorded as speaking with the elders and Pharisees, what is happening is a debate upon the midrash of Jesus. They are questioning his rabbinical credentials. However it becomes clear early on, that the Pharisees cannot match wits with the son of Joseph.

The reason that the midrash of Jesus was so questionable, was because from the very onset, it seemed as if he was contradicting everything that Moses had said. When Jesus spoke about the Law, he challenged the core beliefs of his Jewish brethren. According to the midrash of Jesus, revenge was no longer an option. His interpretation of the Law, was not based upon the text itself, but upon the spirit. And from our perspective today, who would know the spirit of the Law better than the Word that it was spoken through?

Jesus had funny ways about how he observed the Law. He didn’t find it sinful to gather food on the Sabbath, in spite of overwhelming disdain from other teachers who thought it should be a day of total rest. Neither did he allow for the stoning of sinners; for who was perfect according to the letter of the Law? Jesus even ate with tax collectors and sinners, the enemies of all religious Jews. The tax collectors because they had sided with the Roman Empire over their fellow Jews, and sinners because they did not live in accordance with the letter of the Law.

While in many ways the midrash of Jesus was more strict, in all, it was more free. The midrash of Jesus required discipline, but it was tempered with mercy. If someone offended you, you forgave them. According to Jesus, it didn’t matter how grievous the sin, nor how many times you had been sinned against. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

It was a completely radical way of re-interpreting the Law of Moses. But ultimately, it was about re-orienting the people of God back to Shalom. It was about bringing man back into full communion with God. This is the meaning of the Scriptures when Christ tells us that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no man comes unto the Father except through me”. (John 14:6). Paul reiterates this same point later in his Epistle to the Galatians when he says that we are no longer bound under the Law, for we have been set free from the letter of the Law through Christ Jesus. However, if one insists on following the letter of the Law, they must follow it perfectly, for by following the Law they have been severed from Christ. (Galatians 5)

The road we travel isn’t easy. In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus calls the road to reconciliation with God, narrow. It takes a lot of work, and daily prayer. We must re-orientate ourselves back on a consistent basis to the midrash of Jesus. Brushing away cultural normalities, and hearkening back to a voice which cried out long ago, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”(Matthew 3:2)

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