Sunday, November 27, 2011

Biting the Hand that Feeds Us

Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 8:46-59

We've all heard that old saying, but what does it mean? Pretty much just as it says. We get to the point of taking for granted what is done for us and, in return we don't appreciate or even sometimes turn against the very source of our livelihood. We heard it said and are probably all a little guilty of it ourselves. We don't like the way a decision goes at the workplace, at school, or at home and we growl a little that we're being picked on or that those in charge just don't have the good sense to run business or a classroom or a household. Usually, we get over our little rants (or we have the good sense to not growl too loudly or to the wrong person) and all returns back to normal and we go about our day. But, once in a great while, someone lets the rant continue a bit too long and while biting the hand that feeds, the feeding ends. Oops!

That very thing was happening as the Israelites continued in their journey across the desert. Once again the grumbling was increasing along with the angry words. This time they went too far. The daily manna, their literal daily bread, was being cursed. This went beyond the usual complaining--this was an out and out insult against God's grace. They bit the hand that fed them. And they paid dearly.

God sent out poisonous snakes throughout the Israelites; many were bitten by the snakes and many of them died from the bites. In a panic, they pleaded with Moses to ask God for relief. Moses prayed to God and God, in his unending patience and love, told Moses to build a pole with a bronze snake on it. Anyone who was bitten could look at the snake on the pole and be healed. God's grace supplied once again to the people.

In the book of Hebrews, we are reminded that many times we tend to "bite the hand that feeds us" by not being eternally humbled by the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each and every one of us. It speaks of the new tabernacle. "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (ch. 9, v.15).  It's a bad habit we have to take this precious gift for granted. No longer do we need to go through the laborious ceremonies of cleanliness in order to even be considered to give sacrifices to honor God. It is all so simple now. Christ made sure of it. We pray to our loving Savior who intervenes on our behalf, time after time, to God. Christ is the new covenant. No more rituals; no more pilgrimages to foreign lands and temples. Just earnest prayer. Yet how many times do we growl, pout, or feel that we're not being treated as we like to be? It's not Jesus doing the mistreating. It is our brothers, sisters, and circumstances of an imperfect world. Christ, during his time on Earth, told the believers as well as the disbelievers that "I tell you the truth. If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death" (John 8:51). All we have to do is believe and have faith.

...and remember not to bite the hand that feeds us with eternal life.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Full Bellies...Starving Souls

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-7, Galatians 4:21-5:1a, John 6:1-15

Come Thursday, we in the United States and Americans throughout the world will celebrate Thanksgiving, a day of eating, visiting with family and friends, and, as the name of the holiday implies, giving thanks for all we have. And we do, even in a down-turned economy, have plenty. At the end of that food-filled day, our bellies will be full. 

But what about our souls?

Our souls have fallen victim to the same fate as our bodies--we feed on "junk food" in our food, drink, as well as what we read, view, and hear. Then we expect our bodies and souls to feel nourished and stay healthy. As we now know, this simply doesn't work. This wasn't the way we were created. God created us in his own image--no junk there. And, we know better; we just don't follow through very well.

In Isaiah, God invites us to come to him to satisfy our thirst and hunger, not just the hunger that makes our bellies growl and our throats dry--God gives direction to fulfill that through our earthly labors--but true hunger and thirst in our souls that needs to be satisfied as well. God asks us to come and listen, to seek him and call on him for guidance. He tells the wicked to forsake their ways and for the evil to turn away from evil thoughts. In other words, lose the "empty calorie" diets of being a part of the world that has lost all spiritual direction. We can regain our spiritual health with a steady diet of His love and guidance. "Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon" (v.7).

In Galatians, we hear the story of Hagar and Sarah, but from a little different perspective this time--the story relates to our lives in a way of gaining freedom from a state of slavery. And not slavery in the conventional way we think of slavery. This type of slavery is where we find ourselves if we're not mindful of keeping our souls on a healthy diet. Before we know it, we're into the "fast food" of falling for every earthy pursuit that keeps us in a tailspin of slavery through seeking earthly gain at the expense of giving up our focus of being  free from these limited pursuits. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery" (Ch. 5, v. 1a). How wonderful when we come to the resolution that what the world offers is not necessarily on our "diet" of spiritual health and we become truly free.

We all remember the words of the third reading today, from John--the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. As the crowds approached, Phillip was asked by Christ (somewhat as a test) "Where shall we buy bread for all of these people to eat?"(v.5) Phillip had no idea, but then saw a young boy with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Christ directed them to divide these up and to start passing them out among the massive group. And, as we recall, there was bread left over after all were fed. As was Jewish custom at the time of not allowing any scraps of bread to remain on the ground in honor of God's giving the gift of bread, Christ had the disciples pick up the extra that had fallen to the ground and, as a result, there was still a basket full after all were fed. Jesus gave the message that day that also fed some of the souls there; unfortunately, many still did not get beyond being physically full and missed the spiritual food that day. They still saw him as a prophet; not the Son of God come to save the world. They left, unbeknownst to themselves, still hungry.

So what do we do to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst? A healthy dose of daily Bible reading is the first course; being in an environment that affords "moral fiber" keeps us spiritually healthy as well. We need to go extra light on the "snacking" when it comes to getting caught up in all the world's worries, judgments, and wants--it doesn't take too many tastes of these to develop a real craving. And although it's virtually impossible to steer clear of these, it is in our best interest to measure every "calorie" of doubt, anger, and resentment we consume. If we don't, we become overloaded and our soul can't resume its healthy lifestyle.

We are truly blessed. We have good food for the body, skills in which to prepare it to serve our bodily health, and a loving Savior with an endless supply of food for the soul. Our bodies are indeed temples--our temples to God's ever-lasting love through his son, Christ our Lord.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't Shoot the Messenger--Just Heed the Message

The term "Don't Shoot the Messenger" dates back to Sophecles in 442 B.C. It has been used repeatedly throughout history and, it seems to be how we sometimes feel as Christians in today's world when sharing the message of Christ. It is a message of unconditional love; it is also a message of strict obedience. Most people embrace the former--it's the later they can do without. Our job as messengers sometimes gets a little dicey with the obedience part.

Jeremiah was told directly by God to be the messenger. And the messages that were given to him were not the type that make a messenger very well liked. "This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord's house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word" (v.2). The words that followed weren't exactly what the people of Judah wanted to hear. "If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants and prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth" (v.4-6).

Poor Jeremiah; I'm guessing he was feeling that familiar phrase at the time of this delivery of God's angry words...don't shoot the messenger. And rightly so; the false prophets and the less than honest priests who had much to gain from the temple staying rich from the citizens' offerings wanted Jeremiah killed for his honest words. With God's protection, cooler and wiser heads prevailed and Jeremiah was spared. And, as time went on, he delivered many more dire messages to the increasingly sinful citizenry. 

In the book of Ephesians Paul is, once again, the quintessential messenger of news that many didn't enjoy hearing. This newly formed group--these Christians--with this noisy and energetic apostle became quite the irritation. Paul was never shot as the messenger, but he did go to his death as a result of his messages of Christ's teachings. Paul reminded Christians to "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (v.1-2). He goes on the say "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (v.6). A pretty stern message for his contemporaries (and us) to heed.

Finally, in Luke, we read the teachings of Christ when he performed yet another miracle and mercifully restored another person's life free from demons. And, as usual, there was a group of doubters who were quick to say that Christ's work was actually that of the devil. Christ's retort to the accusers was, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first'" (v.24-26). Not exactly the message the newly de-demonized man wanted to hear; the messenger gave the message nevertheless. And, it's a message we still need to heed today. Once we are restored, we're not iron-clad; evil will forever try to creep its way in the fabric of our lives. 

It's a tough time presently to be a Christian. If we follow the teachings of the Bible, we are to be the messengers of God's word through thought and deed. We are, as Paul stated, "Children of the Light." Most of the time anymore, it seems that the circle of believers becomes more conditional. I'll follow God if I can have lots of material items; I'll follow God if I can live a lifestyle that I want, regardless of His teachings; I'll follow God if the Ten Commandments can be seen more as 10 suggestions.

I don't think those are the options.

We need to gather our strength and our faith and see where we can do good. The world is constantly looking for a hero--a protector. Guess what? We have one. We just need to step bravely a bit more out of the darkness and a bit closer to the light. And yes, it's very difficult these days to be a messenger; God bless those who choose to do this every day in many different walks of life.

So, the next time a fellow Christian shares a message that might make us be a bit uncomfortable, isn't seen as "politically correct", or steps on the toes of others within earshot, gently remind those listening to not shoot the messenger...and to heed the message.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seeing is Believing

Readings: Exodus 33:12-23, 1Thessalonians 4:1-7
Matthew 15:21-28

As Moses was leading a cantankerous group across the desert in the escape from slavery in Egypt, he had the privilege of speaking with God who gave Moses the beautiful words, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (v. 14).

One day, however, Moses wanted more. He wanted to see God. 

And God complied as a loving Father would; he arranged for Moses to see so he could believe, while making sure that Moses would live through the experience, for "no one may see me and live" (v.20). God told Moses where to stand, and then, with a very loving gesture, He covered Moses with His hand until He passed by so that Moses could see God's back. Moses was given that needed bit of reinforcement in order to carry on with his incredibly difficult task. 

Seeing is believing.

In the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew, we see faith in a different way. In fact, it is the faith alone of the Canaanite woman that allows her to ask Jesus for help for her daughter-in-law who is suffering. In this story, it's the example she and Christ "draw" in their discussion that help the rest of us "see" what gifts we are afforded. As the story goes, the woman's daughter is demon-possessed. The woman approaches Christ and asks for help. Seeing that she is a Canaanite, Jesus says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (v.24). She wouldn't give up in her plea for help, so Jesus then spoke to her directly, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (v.26). She was not Jewish; in her day she was most certainly considered less than others. But she persisted: "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's tables" (v.27). With this, Jesus was pleased. He told her that her faith was strong and that her request was granted. We, as Christians, might not immediately like what we "see" in this story--that in our history we were, as a people, on a level of dogs. However, being this new religion of Christianity, we have taken those "scraps" and with the love and guidance of Christ and his disciples after him, have become eternal beings, through the grace of Christ and our holy Father.

We know how we are to live; we need to ask ourselves how are we perceived by others. 

1Thessalonians gives us straight-forward directions in how to live to please God: "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life" (v.7). In the current times in which we live, we are witness to greater and greater numbers of people who aren't following many of the directives given in these passages. We see more and more sexual immorality across the board. We see a lack of control when it comes to the sanctity of one's body--our temples to the Lord. We see more and more people taking advantage of or wronging one's brother in Christ. All these show that we are straying as a whole; we need to encourage our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves to tread carefully in order not lead others astray. Through our lives, we can be strong examples to others to live a holy life. So, remember...

Seeing is believing.

Peace be with you.