Wednesday, August 31, 2016

31 August 2016
“They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:32-36 (NRSV)
“So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” John 8:28-30 (NRSV)
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:26-27 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Thank you for joining me. Today we are setting aside the Sermon on the Mount to consider another important event in Jesus’ life-Gethsemane. We will be focusing on why Jesus asks the Father to take the cup away; why His upcoming death produced such intense anxiety that Luke would say his sweat fell like blood. Now, you’re probably thinking-well, that’s a no-brainer. Jesus is about to be thoroughly humiliated, tortured to a point just short of death, then crucified, an act of unimaginably brutal torture in and of itself. And you are right, all those things are true. But there is something more here, something going on behind the scenes that brings this whole event into sharper focus, which speaks to our need for total transformation that shows us how far off base we really are.
            We begin to understand Gethsemane when we begin to understand the nature of the relationship between Father, son, and Holy Spirit. Now, I realize we are attempting to understand what can never, this side of eternity, be properly understood, to know the unknowable. But God has given us a glimpse; He has hidden clues here and there. We are talking about three distinct persons here; three individuals so perfectly united by love for one another and unity of purpose that they function as one. One does this, one does the other-separately yet united, apart yet together. No need to ask for permission or hold a committee meeting-each one in perfect love holding the other up, putting the other’s interests first. Father, Son, and Spirit acting separately in perfect unison.  Just like marriage, as Paul describes it. I realize this is a most imperfect description and it falls far short of what I am trying to say, but there it is. Perfect unity born from perfect love forming a perfect bond-a perfect relationship for eternity. One would never dream of existing apart from the Others.
            Then comes Gethsemane, and the cross. For the first time One comes face to face with the fact that, for a time, the relationship will be not just broken, torn apart. Violently torn apart. Jesus is about to do two unthinkable things-take on sin and experience divine separation. I am not sure it is possible for us to fully appreciate the seriousness of the first without contemplating the second. To put it another way, Jesus is about to find out firsthand what it means to relate to the Father the way we relate to the Father. Perfection is coming face to face with imperfection. Let’s be clear here-Jesus has a choice. He knows full well what this means and He does it anyway-not my will but yours be done.   
            This helps us put the obedience of Jesus into proper perspective. The writer of Hebrews says “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Italics mine). Listen closely to what the wrier says. He learned obedience through what he suffered. He becomes the source of eternal salvation. We are helpless and clueless to the point that this was required; loved and esteemed worthy enough by our creator that it was done for us.
            I am trying to be as brief as possible here and still get the point across. We are in deep and potentially controversial theological waters, trying to know the unknowable. This is indented to be a starting point, not a defense; food for thought and meditation. We have been looking at Kingdom behavior that demands a regenerated heart. We need to understand the twin importance of how we relate to God and what the basis for our obedience really is. When viewed in this way, the only proper response to God is ‘not my will but yours be done’. Or to fall on our face as though dead. Or both. Not ‘your will as I would like it to be’ or my will which I require you to bless’. The Father’s will. Period.
            This is why we look at the Sermon on the Mount-to learn what the Father’s will is. It is not about laws or rules or regulations but about relating to God, about learning what pleases Him and doing it. Viewed from the cross, none of us has any claim to pride or hubris arrogance or anything else that pits us one against the other. The Creator loves us beyond anything we can ever imagine. He sent His son to bring us home. He continually sends His Spirit to show us the way. It is time to put aside our differences and unite around our God in thanksgiving, praise and worship. It is time to be salt and light. It is time to discover the One True God-three persons, none of whom are us. Amen.

May the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. And every day. JRG

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

30 August 2016
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:7-11 (NRSV)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7 (NRSV)

“For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NRSV)

            Good morning; welcome. Well, we are coming at last to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is about to introduce the final set of instructions and warnings concerning our relationship with others, fidelity to Kingdom teaching, discernment in future things and the importance of actually doing the Father’s will. Before He begins He offers words of encouragement and caution. Be diligent. Keep on asking, keep on searching, keep on knocking. The Father hears and will respond. Jesus is inviting us to follow Him; to continually seek the proper direction, the ancient way, as the prophet put it. He is inviting to ask for the Father’s guidance; seeking to understand His ways, to knock on the door of His heart to be received into His fellowship.
            Note the progression here. First we ask for basic direction-Kingdom principles. Having received something, we search out an application-how can we weave this into the fabric of our lives; how will it work its way out in our daily living. Finally, as we grow in grace and understanding, we have confidence to enter the Father’s presence with Joy and gladness. This is a place where just being with the Father is enough. Then the cycle begins again, an upward spiral of growth and transformation, what theologians call sanctification. This is how we glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as the Catechism says.
            Once again we see Jesus arguing from lesser to greater. If we know how to give good gifts to our children-if we know the difference between a loaf of bread and a stone, between a fish and a snakeskin, how much more will our Father know what to give us? We must be careful here not to misinterpret Jesus’ words. This is not a proof text for a prosperity gospel or a guarantee of personal success. This has to do with seeking the Kingdom first, with searching out the Father’s will.
            It also has to do with perseverance; doing our due diligence. Not just perseverance in prayer, but in all those things which help us understand the Kingdom living. This is us placing ourselves where grace can reach us and transform us; a call to discipleship. Prayer, fasting, study, service, worship-all the disciplines we have discussed and many we have not require perseverance if we are to be properly transformed into Christ-likeness. For sure we will be tested; we will stumble; we will fail. Our failings themselves become occasions for growth. God is with us in our failures and He is with us in our successes.
            So, as we prepare for the final push, try picking one thing or two to diligently peruse. It may be guidance on a particular issue or understanding of a cloudy scripture passage or how to handle a difficult relationship. Stick with it until something comes. Do not be discouraged if nothing comes right away. Perhaps nothing will come at all, just a growing sense that that particular thing should not be pursued, at this time. Share your experiences, whenever you can. After all, we are setting examples here, demonstrating Kingdom behavior. Diligently seek the Father and His Kingdom; whatever you receive, share with others.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. JRG

Monday, August 29, 2016

29 August 2016
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Profaning the Holy
“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Matthew 7:1-6 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Real estate professionals have a saying that location is everything. Applied to the Bible, we could say context is everything. Here for the first time Jesus speaks of judgement, addressing both our attitude towards others and the need for honest self-examen; both equally important. Jesus seems to be making the point that a non-judgmental attitude towards others both requires and flows from of honest self-reflection. We are seeking out our own faults for healing and restoration all around, not judgement and punishment. Removing our logs allow us to see clearly; otherwise we are thrashing about blindly, which is never good.    
            Jesus will elaborate on the principle of reciprocal judgement later on-for example, the Parable of the unforgiving Servant in (Mat.18:23-35) from the negative side and the woman caught in adultery (Jn.8:1-11) from a more positive side. The point to both is that, as we have repeatedly seen, our forgiveness originates in and from God; with much forgiveness should come much love and little judgement (see Luke 7:36-50).
            Getting back to self-examen-clearing out the log-I believe this to be a most worthwhile practice. More than just a quick prayer of confession on Sunday morning (although I believe that to be an important part of worship), examen allows the Holy Spirit to illumine the darkest recesses of our hearts, burning away what does not belong, healing whatever wounds remain, and leading us deeper into God’s restoring presence.
            The Jesuits have practiced this for centuries with their daily examen, developed by Jesuit founder Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius required examen twice a day, at noon and the end of the day (by the way, there’s an app for that-Jesuit Prayer. It’s free.). The goal is to see where God has been present in your day, and review where you have not done as well as you could have, particularly in your dealings with others. Again, we are working towards eliminating a judgmental attitude, and again we are doing it by sneaking in the back door, more or less. I do not think we can simply resolve to be more non-judgmental. But with self examen we may see more clearly how our faults are reflected in others, leading to more compassion and empathy in our relationships with others.
            We now come to verse 6; pearls before swine. Considering this verse in light of what has preceded it-the radical difference between Kingdom living and the culture of the time (and our time), I believe what is holy-the pearls-to be the Kingdom principles and the dogs and swine to be non-believers, both Jews and Gentiles. The main point is this-since we cannot expect unregenerate humankind to act like regenerated humankind, conversion must come first. Only the heart set free by faith in the risen Lord is capable of the inner attitude Jesus requires. Unregenerate humanity will reject most-if not all-principles of Kingdom living; trampling them under foot. A secondary point is the importance of making disciples, which, after all, is the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20.       
            I believe the application here is clear. We are not called to force our moral code on unbelievers-particularly and especially when we ourselves neither properly understand nor practice what we are to be about-the Father’s business. We are called to be salt and light-to preserve Jesus’ teachings and set the example by living out these teachings in our daily lives. Disciples will be made as a result of regenerated hearts, not by the passage laws and regulations.

            So there it is. Follow Paul’s instruction to examine yourselves, to see if you are living in the faith (2 Cor.13:5). The seven penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143) will be helpful here, as well as Psalm 139. Work on setting an example; avoid force of will. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship and guidance of the Holy Spirit be with you in your efforts. JRG

Saturday, August 27, 2016

27 August 2016
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:33-34 (KJV)
"Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 (ESV)
            Good morning, welcome. Today we finish out the week by finishing out chapter 6. In this chapter Jesus has emphasized the heart attitude; the importance of a proper disposition before God. We have seen the folly of piety for show and futility of chasing material possessions; neither of which bring any lasting satisfaction to us or pleasure to God. In point of fact, the heart set on these things is always seeking the approval of others, always anxious-a condition Jesus will now address.
            I’m not usually one to quibble over translations. I use the NRSV because it just feels comfortable to me. In this case, however, I think vs. 34 in the King James most accurately captures the point-take no thought. It personifies the day, picturing each day as something perfectly capable of caring for itself without any help from us (and hints that, perhaps, the morrow already exists somewhere, it just hasn’t come round to us yet). Which it is; or rather, God is capable of ordering our days according to His plans, requiring faithful obedience from us and nothing more.  
            Jesus makes a sort of lesser to greater argument here. If the Father cares for the birds and the lilies-minor things, from a human point of view-if He cares for these, how much more will He care for His children (remember, we have already seen that He provides for all humankind-good and evil). Furthermore, if we are limited in what we can accomplish on our own, God is unlimited in what He can accomplish on our behalf. The promise is this-seek the Kingdom, strive to place ourselves under God’s rule and He will take care of the rest.
            Here we must be careful to note what God is not promising. He is not promising prosperity or abundance of possessions. In fact, we have already seen how easily these things distract us from seeking God. The promise is that God knows what we need. By seeking Him first we receive Him and the other as well. I will say it again, because it is important-God supplies our needs. He is not promising an easy life of riches and luxury-if you are finding yourself going through difficult times it is not because you do not have enough faith. Trial and suffering have a purpose which we may never understand on this side. What Jesus is saying is trust God first, seek Him first, put Him first. And, if, God choses to bless you in abundance, don’t forget to share.
            So how do we do this? Good question. I still, to this day, find myself lying awake at night, giving thought where I ought not to be giving thought. I believe the antidote to worry-giving bad thoughts, anxious thoughts-is to make a habit of giving thought to God. Let this idea of ‘giving thought’ sink in for a few minutes. Giving thought to God is a habit to be developed, a discipline to be cultivated. This is why remembering scripture, memorizing scripture, is so important. Gradually, as we fill up our mind with God’s words-His thoughts, which He gave to us-we learn how to drive worry out by letting God in, giving thought back to Him.
             It is a process and we will not always succeed; we can expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. That’s ok, trust in the unseen doesn’t always come overnight. The more we practice, the more experience we have with God’s reliability, the more trust builds. Brick by brick we build a wall of confidence in the Living God. Remember, we are not looking for easy solutions; we are seeking God’s presence and learning to find assurance there.
             By the way, as Rick Warren says, if you can worry, you can meditate. If you can daydream, you can meditate. Memorizing Bible verses is a form of meditation-focusing the mind on the words, the thoughts. When distracting thoughts come-and they will-simply acknowledge their presence and return to your memory words. Trying to force distractions-or worry-away only serves to focus the mind on what you are trying not to think about or worry about. If you are focusing on God’s thoughts you are not focusing on your thoughts or worries, you are focusing on God. And that, after all, is the goal, right?
            Monday we begin the last chapter in the Sermon on the Mount. We have been pretty much focusing inward for a little while; next week we will get back to reaching out, God willing. Thanks for joining me; have a blessed Sunday. Don’t forget to worship with your brothers and sisters.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. JRG

Friday, August 26, 2016

26 August 1026
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:19-24 (NRSV)
            Good morning, and welcome. Today we look at Jesus’ teaching on earthly treasure verses heavenly treasure. It may be helpful here to keep in mind Jesus’ original audience, and the notion that prosperity was generally considered a sign of God’s blessing. Also keep in mind, Jesus is not condemning wealth as such; but rather an unhealthy attachment to wealth. Actually, today we could substitute ‘stuff’ or ‘possessions’ for treasure and wealth. The points are the same-they are temporary, prone to corruption, and do not offer salvation. Speaking of corruption, the NRSV footnote replaces rust with ‘eating’. The KJV reads ‘corrupt’; the Greek word is defined by Young’s as ‘to cause to disappear, vanish away, perish’. Jesus is saying our stuff will disappear; only what we have done will follow you into the Kingdom (see also 1 Cor.3:15).
            Again, let me stress wealth itself, material goods, ‘stuff’, is not inherently bad. In and of itself things have no moral value-it is the value given them by humanity, what we do to acquire and retain possession, Jesus is warning against. Consider the story of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21, who shows us the vain hope of trusting in our possessions for life and happiness. Or the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23, who shows us how attachment too many possessions may keep us from the full measure of life as God intends. In these stories Jesus is showing us the danger of trusting things for security, and warning us the more we have-the more we become attached to our things-the harder it becomes to become attached to our God. The reverse side is use for stuff wisely; advance the Kingdom; share with those in need.
            Today, rampant consumerism has become a popular worldview. The desire for more and more stuff, the thinking that one more toy or gadget or zero behind our balance will finally satisfy us has indeed become the root of all manner of evil. There is an antidote for this, which we will get to shortly. First, let’s consider the eye as the lamp of the body.
            As a lamp, the eye lets light out-light formed in our hearts. A healthy eye, then, gives off healthy, bright light, the result of a healthy, God-centered attitude towards what it sees-what it turns its attention towards. A healthy eye gives off light by being a Godly example. An unhealthy eye-an eye of darkness-gazes upon things with lust, covetousness, the desire to selfishly possess and keep from others. Sauron in Lord of the Rings had an unhealthy eye, a dark eye. This temptation to darkness goes all the way back to Eden, when Eve saw the fruit was good for food, delightful to the eyes, desirable for knowledge. When Satan tempted Jesus with the worlds kingdoms he was, in part, tempting Jesus to see with a dark eye, to possess these kingdoms for Himself.
            Before we leave the eye, there is another side to consider-the light we take in. Today’s consumer-oriented society bombards our vision-and our minds-with ad upon ad feeding our desire for more stuff. Apple probably does this better than anyone else; generating such hype around each new product announcement people camp out for days just to be the first to get something they probably don’t even need. Black Friday is another example. If you have ever shopped on Amazon and have a Facebook account, chances are you see lots of Amazon adds based on what you have shown an interest in every time you check your news feed. I receive emails every day from places where I have shopped and companies that make and sell things I’m interested in. It’s a pretty slick system-open the email, click on something that looks interesting and suddenly you have to have something that two minutes ago you didn’t know existed, much less that you needed. By the way, Christian retailers use these very same techniques. The moral is, guard your eyes as well as your heart.
            So, what’s the antidote for all the consumeristic stuff-collecting that separates us from God? On a practical level, stop looking at stuff you don’t have and don’t need; it just makes you want more stuff. Another thing to do is de-stuff (de-junk is, I think, the new ‘in ‘phrase); that is, if you don’t use it, give it away. Or donate it, or sell it and donate the money. When my wife and I moved to Florida we left a lot behind-and we could have left a lot more. It is truly amazing how much we accumulate. I’m not talking about things with sentimental value or fond memories attached to them, but, for example, do we really need a new phone every year (you can lease them now, like cars-always be up to date) or all those shoes or handbags or three of the same shirt when one will do. For those of you who like to read, consider library books as an alternative. Library eBooks take up zero space and have the added advantage of not requiring a trip anywhere. On the other hand, libraries are usually friendly places and you never know who you will run into. Either way we become used to the idea of enjoyment without ownership.
            Years ago I read I story lamenting the advent of a throw-away society; this was when Bic lighters and throw-away pens were first becoming popular. This is another side of accumulating stuff. A drawer full of throw-away pens really isn’t necessary when one good one will do. When you do buy something, buy a good something with the idea of keeping it around a while. This may sound paradoxical but there is a difference between buying something to use that will last and buying things for the sake of buying them.

            The bottom line here is heart orientation towards God. We are, in a sense, sneaking in the back door by eliminating what we have and don’t need, refraining from buying what we (don’t) need and don’t have-things that distract us and separate us from God. This is the Discipline of simplicity in action and I have barely scratched the surface. There are-dare I say it-many good books available on simplicity and simple living (check your local library first!). Of course, turning away from stuff doesn’t do much good without turning toward God. Next time you get the urge to buy some unnecessary thing, talk to God about it. Maybe find a charity or help a relative or neighbor instead. Remember, it’s not the money or the stuff, it’s the importance we give it. We will be looking at another side of this tomorrow-seeking God first. Till then, may the Lord Bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Thursday, August 25, 2016

25 august 2016
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
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 6:7-15 (NRSV)

“So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.” 1 Kings 18:26-29 (NRSV)

            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. This morning we will take one final look at prayer; specifically the Lord’s Prayer. As many commentators have noted, this prayer might be more appropriately named the disciples prayer, since it was given by our Lord to the disciples as an example of how to pray. Before we get into the prayer itself, let’s take a quick look at what heaping up empty prayers may have meant.
            Briefly put, the 1 Kings passage is a good example of empty phrases-vain repetitions, as the King James puts it. Notice two things here. First, the texts implies one phrase was repeated, over and over and over-answer us. The focus was on the petitioners. Second, as was their custom, they offered their own blood as a sacrifice as they raved on. Again, the text seems to imply some sort of frenzied activity. The point here is this-these people seemed to be more interested in manipulating their god into responding than engaging in any type of dialogue (actually, that’s exactly what they were doing, as the story makes clear). Roman custom may have been a different in actual practice, but the intent was the same-manipulating their gods to obtain a favorable result. Most commentators agree pagan Romans had a list of gods; they would go down the list of names hoping to get the right god to respond. Jesus says this kind of prayer is not necessary; our Father-the one and only God-already knows what we need (and will not allow Himself to be manipulated).
            Now, the prayer itself has been written about, analyzed and commented on for centuries, so don’t expect any new, earth-shaking revelations here. I would like to make a few brief comments, and offer a couple practical suggestions. The most important thing to see is this prayer is totally God-centered. We acknowledge God is in heaven-a Holy God in His holy place. We ask for His kingdom and His will-His benevolent rule on earth. We are saying God is God and we are not. He is sovereign and will do as He pleases; we trust His goodness in all things at all times.
            Our personal petitions are also God-centered. We ask for his continued blessings day to day because He is the ultimate source for all we have. Jesus promises His hearers God will provide for His children. He is the source of our forgiveness. Of the six petitions, this is the one Jesus focuses on-the one that wraps things up. We are obligated to offer forgiveness to others because God first offered forgiveness to us. Finally, simply put, we are asking for God’s protection. The NRSV translates vs. 13 a little differently from what you might be used to; the footnotes provide an alternate reading.  My practice, whenever an alternate reading is indicated, is to use it along with the primary-not either/or but both. This way, we get the full meaning of the text-which may very well have more than one intended meaning. Here, in either reading there is a hint of things to come here, an active force opposed to God which we cannot resist apart from His help.
            Now, here’s a few things you can do with this prayer which may help keep you oriented towards God in your day to day lives. In the first few minutes after you wake up, before you get out of bed, make it a habit to pray this prayer. This will start you off pointed in the right direction. Another thing you can do is couple the prayer with a meditative breathing technique during the course of your day. A pastor I know recommended this, which combines the prayer with a meditative breathing technique-breath in a line; hold it; breathe out a line. Repeat as often as necessary. I have reminders set on my watch for noon and four pm; when they go off I stop what I’m doing and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Last Friday I was sitting around the table in the church kitchen when the noon reminder went off. I explained what it was, and someone said ‘well, pray’. So we did. However you pray, remember the focus is on God. We are coming under His authority, seeking His presence, His involvement in our lives.

 May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

24 August 2016
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (NIV 1984)

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
my God; in him will I trust.” Psalms 91:1-2 (KJV)
            Good morning, and welcome. Today we will discuss public vs. private piety, and why Jesus says our acts of righteousness should be done in private. The three practices mentioned-almsgiving, prayer, and fasting-were an important part of 1st century Jewish life, three pillars of piety. Jesus warns not to be like the hypocrites who put on a good show, solely to receive public acclaim.
            Hypocrite is an interesting word. It refers to one who pretends to have moral or religious beliefs, or a public attitude, that they do not actually possess. Its root is in a Greek word referring to a stage actor-one pretending to be what he is not. Stage actors in ancient Greece would wear different masks depending on what part they were playing, none of which were their true selves. Once again, Jesus is teaching heart attitudes. He is saying acts of righteousness should be just that-acts of righteousness. These are private transactions; business done between us and our Heavenly Father; whatever reward we receive will be determined and given by Him alone. Speaking of reward, let’s take a minute or two and consider these three piety pillars individually and maybe put this reward business in perspective.
            Alms-giving-helping the poor and needy-was a pretty big deal back then. Remember, there were no social safety nets. If misfortune befell you-if your husband died, or if you were force to sell your land or if it was taken from you unjustly or any number of other things-you were on your own. If you were a widow things were just that much worse. There is another side to alms-giving that has continued to this day-the practice of promoting one’s own self-interest through what we would call ‘charitable donations’.
             Now, this in itself is not necessarily bad. Consider the centurion in Luke 7 who built the synagogue. In the United States alone there is a very long list of wealthy individuals who have funded colleges, universities, medical centers, museums, churches and synagogues and all kinds of good stuff. Jesus is talking about something a little different. The reward sought out by the hypocrites is the only one they get-maybe the only one they really want. On the other hand, those who give out of a sincere heart, thus demonstrating Kingdom life, receive the Father’s blessing both here and in eternity. They are not to be concerned with publicity or positive press.
            The same principle applies to prayer and fasting. Now, there is a time and place in corporate worship for prayer and offerings. Years ago I was a member of a relatively small church that was blessed with an extremely effective prayer ministry. Every Sunday, as part of the regular order of worship, there would be a call for joys and concerns. Prayers were offered, people were healed and all manner of good things were done and seen as these prayers were answered. The person praying was not important-the pastor, a liturgist, a visiting pastor, didn’t matter. When that congregation prayed God listened. Again, we are talking about intent-individual prayers offered as public displays of piety. And again, the verdict is the same. By the way, I personally believe corporate prayer begins with private prayer-being on good speaking terms with God. If you only practice one discipline ever, I believe prayer is the one. One more quick thing about corporate prayer-it is prayer, not another sermon. We are letting our praise and thanksgiving and requests be made known to God, not putting our personal theology or political inclinations or anything else on display. Just sayin.
            Fasting doesn’t get much publicity today. As a discipline, we could practice fasting with any number of things from food to cell phones to TV to Facebook. The underlying idea here, apart from the obvious public display, is fasting should not make us miserable. Giving up some distraction (or food) in order to draw near to God should be a joyful thing that carries its own peacefulness, its own reward.  Fasting is one of those things that is easy to practice at first but grows increasingly more difficult if you try to do it regularly. There’s a ton of literature out there now on fasting-spiritual and medical. If you would like to try it, do some digging first. And don’t tell anyone.
            We’ve been talking about three classic Spiritual Disciplines here-giving (or tithing, if you prefer), prayer, and fasting, tied together by an attitude of humility and meekness. And secrecy. The Renovare Spiritual Bible defines the discipline of secrecy as keeping our good works from being generally known. The benefit is in keeping in check our desire for recognition. So, if you like, pick one of these three disciplines and practice it in conjunction with secrecy. Not necessarily in total secrecy-you might want a partner, maybe your spouse or close friend. Two of you is probably ok, but no more than that. Try it for a week or two or three and pay attention to what happens to your desire to be recognized, to receive the credit you deserve. Pay attention to your inner attitude towards the discipline you are practicing. Spending time alone with God is often its own reward. Tomorrow we look at The Lord’s Prayer.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you in all you do. JRG

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

23 August 2016

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21 (NRSV)
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NRSV)
            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Today we consider retaliation-revenge, if you prefer-and love for enemies. These are not easy verses-not the kind you can skim over, pick up a surface meaning and move on. They have some potential for abuse; we will that as well so as not to be led astray. When considered in this way we will find some practical-if difficult to follow-teaching concerning Kingdom living.
            ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ in v.38 refers to civil law-cases that would be tried in court. It was originally intended to ensure the punishment was proportional to the offense. In vs. 39-42 Jesus, I believe, has in mind individual relationships; principles by which we deal with others on a personal level. The idea is to avoid retaliation when insulted and thus escalate the conflict. Repaying evil for evil will only make matters worse. Be peacemakers. Break the cycle of hostility. Remember Proverbs 15:1-“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Paul, in Romans, makes a couple noteworthy points-leave room for God’s vengeance; do what is noble in the sight of all. Again we see-people are watching, and are very much in need of seeing non-retaliation in action today. Our hostility does not invite people into the Kingdom.
            We also see the idea of doing more than what is required, ‘going the extra mile’. Give generously, beyond what is necessary, whenever you can. Paul tells the Ephesians to work and not steal, that they may have something to share with those in need (4:28). There is a relationship between non-retaliation and giving more than is required, a foundational principle of Kingdom living. It involves putting the needs of others before our own needs, trusting the Father to care for us. This is meekness and humility in action. This is Kingdom living we can practice in our day to day lives; the kind of habitual service that helps us put off the old and put on the new.
             One word of caution is necessary here. Let me be clear-I am not saying it’s ok to be a doormat. There are times when the only safe response is to walk away. If you find yourself in one of those situations, do not use these verses as justification to endure bodily harm. Do not allow anyone else use them as justification for causing you bodily harm, or emotional harm, or any other harm. I understand these verses to be about insults, not physical violence; I think I’m on pretty solid ground here.
            Verse 44 brings us to the conclusion of the matter; the goal of everything we have seen up to this point. Vs.45-48 tell us why. Loving our enemies is probably the most unnatural thing we will ever do. In fact, we simply are not capable of doing it on our own. We need Divine intervention to carry this one out. The important point here, one of the more important teachings in the entire Bible, is we are to love our enemies because God loves our enemies. Jesus reminds us God showers His blessings-His common grace-on the evil and the good. The reason, I believe, this is so fundamental to our understanding is simply this-God desires all humankind to be saved (see, for example, Ezk 18:23; 33:11; Ro 10:8-13; 1 Ti 2:1-4; 2 Pe 3:8-9). Now, at this point I have to say God bestows His grace on whomever He will for reasons known only to Him; He is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases with His creation (as Paul makes quite clear in Romans 9:16-24, see also the Exodus conflict with Pharaoh) . But after reading the above verses, I think you have to at least allow for the possibility that He wants all humankind to be saved, and Mt.5:48 (and 1 Pe 1:15-16) seem to indicate He would like us to imitate Him in this regard.  
            Getting back to praying for our enemies, I might have said this before-I have tried it, and came away noticeably changed (me, that is, not my ‘enemies’). Not that I have any enemies (that I am aware of, anyway) but there are people with whom I strongly disagree. I simply said “God, I am praying for this person but I don’t want to; I am only doing it because You command it”. God is big enough to take prayers like that-He knows it already anyway. This is an easy thing to try for yourselves-keep at it for a while and see what happens. Not necessarily an enemy; maybe an obnoxious neighbor or a hard boss, or a rude post on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe nothing will happen, but then again, maybe something will.
            There is one more aspect to this that I hesitate to bring up; that is praying for people who have abused you in the past, seeking to forgive them. Again, I am not talking about allowing abuse to continue. I am talking about forgiveness, asking God for blessing and restoration on their behalf. Now, I have never been in an abusive relationship. I have been close-intimately close-to a couple people who have, close enough to see the long-term effects. I am not saying this is easy; only that it is what Jesus commands. All forgiveness has its roots in God, who forgives us all our trespasses and who, as I mentioned above, desires all humankind to repent and turn to Him. This kind of forgiveness may be a most effective demonstration of Kingdom living.
            Here is something a little easier. Think about a time or two when you might have profited by ‘turning the other cheek’ but did not. How might the outcome have been different if you had? Read through the Ezekiel, Romans, Timothy and Peter passages. Do they change the way you think about God? About others? Again, this is foundational Kingdom stuff, radical, revolutionary Kingdom stuff. Salt and light stuff.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Monday, August 22, 2016

22 August 2016
“If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Numbers 30:2 (NRSV)
“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not postpone fulfilling it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you would incur guilt. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not incur guilt. Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.” Deuteronomy 23:21-23 (NRSV)
 “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (NRSV)

            Good morning, and thanks again for joining me. Today we will consider oaths, integrity, and the importance of keeping our word. The main passage to keep in mind here is Deuteronomy 32:23: “Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform…” In other words, say what you mean, and do what you say.
            Swearing an oath in Old Testament times was serious business; the principle goes back to the third commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain. Making a vow in the name of the Lord meant putting yourself under in His power, under His authority. Much like today, when we swear to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. Breaking an oath was more than a sign of disrespect. Refusing to honor a commitment was, in a sense, refusing to acknowledge God’s authority. It would be like saying ‘no I’m not, what are you gonna do about it?’ Like using God’s name is good enough to get you what you want, but not enough to obligate you to hold up your end. It is the same principle used in today’s legal contracts, except instead of having the force of the law behind it an oath had the force of God. Breaking an oath was a betrayal, a breach of trust-serious business.
            The religious leaders of Jesus’ time got around this by ‘layering’ their oaths. What this means, basically, is if you swore by heaven, or by the gold of the temple, it was more or less ok to break the oath. So, if, for example, you were a businessman who swore to deliver goods for an agreed upon price, and for whatever reason you realized that price would not give an adequate return, you could get out of the contract by saying ‘well, I only swore by heaven, and that doesn’t count’ and, theoretically at least, you would not be accountable to God. Or Jewish law.
            Now, the Old Testament passages above tell a slightly different story, particularly, as I said, Deuteronomy. This is a matter of personal integrity, lived out before a holy God, who keeps His word and therefore expects His children, as His representatives, to keep theirs. This is also the position Jesus takes. Let your personal integrity, which you have some control over, be such that yes or no is all you need. Say what you mean and do what you say.
            Jesus also hints at another side to the issue, when he says not to swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Sometimes things happen we cannot foresee or control. We are given today, the present moment and that is all. Tomorrow is not guaranteed; for that matter this afternoon is not guaranteed either. Integrity, once established, however, is a different story. Personal integrity is never dependent upon outside circumstances or events beyond our control. It is an inner quality nurtured little by little, line by line, precept by precept, by-here it comes-saying what you mean and doing what you say. Consistently. By the way, for those of you with spouses, or kids, or both, this is one of the single most important characteristics you can develop. You are being watched-you are setting an example whether you intend to or not. The only question is what kind of example are you setting?
            And that, friends, brings us around to our application, our one thing to do for the day. Let us take Jesus’ command to heart and simply let our yes be yes and our no be no. Particularly, when we say ‘yes I will do that’, do it. As soon as possible. Let people know you say what you mean and you will do what you say. Be the example, set the standard. This sounds ridiculously simple, until you start practicing it. When I was first discharged from the Army, one of my two immediate goals was simply this-to be counted on to do what I said I would do, to be where I said I would be when I said I would be there. That worked for a while, then it didn’t. Recovering that sort of integrity was not easy. Better not to lose it in the first place. Don’t forget-people are watching. God is watching.
            By the way, in case I haven’t mentioned it, I welcome your comments. That type of interaction was one of the original intents of blogging in the first place. If you don’t agree, that’s ok. That’s how we grow. More and more I’m realizing many things, including things of the faith, really aren’t either/or. The only condition I ask is to be respectful.
May the Lord bless you and keep you all this day. JRG

Saturday, August 20, 2016

20 August 2016
“[God] does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:10-12 (NRSV)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-9 (NRSV)

            Good morning, and happy Saturday. Hard to believe another week has come and gone so quickly. I’m thinking this might be a good time for us-for me, anyway-to sort of stop and catch our breath; to think about what we have seen so far in terms of the original intent of this blog. What I have found, since I began here, is when I sit down to write the blog takes on a life of its own. After a while I fall into a pattern-a habit, if you prefer. I fear I may be drifting away from my original purpose, which is simply to learn how He would have us be His presence in little spheres of influence. God’s transforming grace is nothing if not practical; there should be one thing we can do every to have some positive impact wherever we find ourselves.
            Our Scriptures today give us a couple important truths to keep in mind as we go about this work of being His presence. The Psalmist reminds us of God’s grace towards us; His total, complete removal of our sins. Keep this thought in mind; we will be coming back to it later on.
Isaiah first reminds us our God desires to be found-and known-by His children. Second-this is important-he reminds us God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. In order to be His presence we must learn to think His thoughts and discover His ways-here is that mind renewal thing again. That is what we are aiming for-renewing our minds, making new habits, becoming disciples. We are learning these things together, on the job training, so to speak.
            That is why we started with the Sermon on the Mount. In it we have Jesus re-interpreting the Law and the Prophets, showing the deeper meaning. We saw, working through the Beatitudes, the heart attitudes God values in His children. Meekness, humility, purity of heart, peacemaking-these are God’s thoughts; God’s ways. These things stand opposed to most of what the world values; then and now. We saw that, as we demonstrate these qualities, we can expect some flack. People will feel threatened; people will resist. We must stand firm. Our efforts will not go unnoticed by God.
            Looking at the deeper meaning of ‘Thou shalt not murder’; ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, we saw a spiritual depth impossible to attain by human effort. Funny thing about that is, once we begin to let God’s grace transform us, those things we found so difficult begin to feel natural, become comfortable. Now, we will all stumble from time to time. Doesn’t matter; Jesus is our constant companion, our spiritual lifeguard. The Psalmist reminds us of the depth of God’s love for us. We receive from His goodness, grace upon grace, as John says, minute upon minute. This is another important point; we rely on His grace more than we will ever know, this side of eternity.
            Ok, so here’s the weekend assignment. Take some time, if you can, to read through the Isaiah 55 (and the servant songs, if you have some extra time), reflecting on the differences between God’s thoughts and ways, and your thoughts and ways. Go through our Matthew passages and see how Jesus fleshes this out. Then spend some time with Psalm 103. Remember
God’s complete removal of our sins? Spend some time letting the Psalmist’s words sink in deep. Give yourself permission to be forgiven, totally and completely; this is the foundation for the grace and forgiveness we extend to others. Then take that grace and forgiveness out and pass it around. Don’t worry too much about how or to whom-God will see to that. Thanks for being here. Don’t forget to worship with your sisters and brothers Sunday. Lord willing, I will see you back here Monday morning.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you this weekend. JRG

Friday, August 19, 2016

19 August 1026
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30 (NRSV)
 “Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Today we will be looking at lust, adultery and divorce. Before we get started, I’d like to take a minute to address marriage; specifically same-gender marriage. I understand this is a hot button topic today, highly divisive in and out of the church. While I have an opinion, I will not be sharing it here. I will simply define marriage as a lifelong covenant relationship between two people; a commitment to love, honor, fidelity and selfless caring for one another. Lust, betrayal, selfishness and the use and disposal of people in are displeasing to God and wholly inappropriate for His children. His warning may be applied to most any relationship.
            The idea of covenant relationship goes, as they say, way back. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is a commonly used word-picture illustrating God’s relationship with His people Israel. Their infidelity in chasing after other gods is commonly portrayed as adultery. Take a minute to let this sink in. In marriage we have-or should have-two people devoted to caring for one another, putting each other’s needs above their own and trusting the other to do the same. It is a whole-hearted giving over of oneself to the other in love and confident trust. We now begin to see the seriousness of lust and adultery.
            Note the progression. Lust opens the door. Lust implies a desire or craving that cannot be controlled or fulfilled, a desire for what you do not have, what may even belong to someone else. Lust seduces with the promise that its object is somehow better, more desirable. Of course, lust doesn’t always begin that way; a casual glance; an unguarded moment; a seed is planted. Desire takes root, and suddenly your spouse doesn’t look quite so good. This might be a good place to slip in a word about pornography. Internet porn, social media porn, sexting-particularly their presence in the church-have been and will continue to be researched and written about at great length. Let me just say this type of lust is particularly dangerous in that it dehumanizes, objectifies and exploits for profit. God prefers-and offers-a more intimate relationship where partners are nurtured and treasured.
            Jesus may have had the unguarded moment in mind in vs.29 & 30. Removing an eye or cutting off an arm sounds a little extreme, but they point to the seriousness of sin, from Jesus’ point of view. Compare the idea of things devoted to destruction (see, for example, Deuteronomy 7:25-26; 13:17-18) in the Old Testament. But they are practical measures as well. Want to avoid lust? Don’t set yourself up to fail. We have control over what we watch, what we do for recreation, how we behave at work and how we present ourselves to others. Once again, the principle applies-set your minds on things above.
            Divorce, evidently, was as popular in Jesus’ day as it is today. It is not God’s preferred method of dealing with marital issues. Divorce violates the covenant made between two people and God himself and is not to be taken lightly. Elsewhere Jesus will say divorce was granted because of the hardness of the human heart, but it is not what God intends. Considered here in view of what Jesus has already said, it is a reminder of the covenantal nature of marriage and the call to fidelity and submission on the part of both partners. We are not demanding our rights, we are surrendering them for the greater good of the other. This in itself is book-length stuff; I will close with the simple reminder that God expects us to love and cherish, not use and discard. Two people growing old together, watching their children develop and seeing bits of themselves in them, is a great and precious gift. Not to mention grandchildren.
            And, of course, one more thing. While divorce is not God’s plan, forgiveness and restoration are always available. Lamentations reminds us God’s lovingkindness is new every morning. If you are divorced, or divorced and remarried you are not nor will you ever be condemned because of it. God’s grace and faithfulness stand. Every day is a new beginning. Speaking of new beginnings, now is a good time to consider, or reconsider, your thought life. What are you allowing to slip in that has no business being there? What might you do to prevent it? Ask God to search your heart-Psalm 139 is a useful guide. Listen for God’s answer; see what He shows you. Above all, guard your heart. It determines the course of your life.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. JRG


Thursday, August 18, 2016

18 August 2016
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24, NRSV)
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that you’re Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, NRSV)
“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15, NRSV)
            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Today we consider reconciliation, the final expression, so to speak, of our discussion on anger. The word Matthew uses for reconciled occurs only here in the New Testament. It has the sense of being thoroughly changed, of ending a useless hostility. Fitting, then, that this would be the result our changed attitudes toward God and one another. My thinking here is this is a very clear statement that Jesus expects us to forgive one another if we are to be forgiven-at the very least, to forgive one another because we have been forgiven. It is the principle of greater to lesser, illustrated in Matthew 18:23-35 (see also Matthew 6:15; Mark 11:25-26; James 2:13; Proverbs 21:13).
            This brings us back to the idea that we are all equal before God, who, as our creator, is the only one qualified to judge any of us. It is, I believe, one of the more radical principles of life in the Kingdom. Paul puts it this way in Romans 14:13 “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” Paul may have been writing to believers, but that statement was preceded by a reminder that we will all be accounted to God. He is echoing Jesus teaching in Matthew 18:6-7: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!”
            The points I am making here, the issues I am trying to press home, are 1) We must be very careful how we act, because people are watching, and we do not want to be the cause of anyone’s rejection of God’s grace shown in Christ and 2) because of that, we need to do everything in our power to maintain peace with our brothers and sisters, as much as it depends on us. This is what the Beatitudes teach. This idea probably wasn’t received so well by those who believed their righteous standing with God put Him squarely on their side.
            There also seems to be another side to Jesus’ teaching here-the idea of settling debts owed. It’s really two sides to the same coin-maintaining right relationships on all fronts. Paul addresses this idea of believers settling their differences in 1 Corinthians 6 and hits the nail on the head in v.7, where he says to have a lawsuit at all is a defeat-why not just be wronged? I think this is probably where Jesus is going here, this idea of surrendering our rights.
            Given the overall state of the country today, I don’t see where this is any less radical now than it was when Jesus first said it. The idea that to be right with God we must first be right with one another-which may very well involve giving up our right to have this thing or do that one; that anger and insults and contempt are the spiritual equivalent of murder-simply does not play well today. And yet this is what we are called to as citizens of the Kingdom.
            By the way, speaking of rights, the bottom line here is Jesus Christ alone is the one who has a legitimate claim on our lives. He has this claim on all humanity, believers and unbelievers alike. When He returns to claim this right, we do not want to be found to have prevented anyone from entering the Kingdom because of our selfish behavior.
            In closing, let me ask you-who might you need to get reconciled with? I’m not necessarily talking about major arguments here. This could be something small-an angry Facebook response (I’ve posted my share of those); an unkind word directed towards a coworker or spouse or child or parent; or simply not listening when one of the above was speaking to you. This is an important point-listening. True listening creates a bond that is not easily broken; blowing people off raises walls hard to tear down. So make a list or two (you knew this was coming, right?). Get started today. The disagreements of today, once reconciled, have the potential to become pleasant memories tomorrow. Think about this. You have the choice-harbor resentment for a lifetime or laugh about the time you argued over how to cook the rice or set the social hall (or who would do the setting) or serve communion. I may have said this before but it bears repeating-God loves to see His children get along.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all today. JRG  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

17 August 2016
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”. (Romans 12:2, NRSV)
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15, NRSV)
“He loved to curse others;
now you curse him.
He never blessed others;
now don’t you bless him.
Cursing is as natural to him as his clothing,
or the water he drinks,
or the rich food he eats.
Now may his curses return and cling to him like clothing;
may they be tied around him like a belt.” (Psalm 109:17-19, NLT)

            Good afternoon, and thanks for joining me. Yesterday we looked at anger as a heart condition. Today we will look briefly at three ways to keep anger from gaining a foothold in our lives-how we think, how we serve, and how to vent when the anger just will not go away.
We will begin with our thought life.
            Yesterday we considered anger as the result, more or less, of the way we see ourselves in relation to others, and to God. Now, I realize this is a huge oversimplification, but how we think about things is something we have some control over, which makes it a good place to start. We begin with the idea of going through life, or most of our life, not being fully aware of the present moment. The idea is we go around in a sort of semi-conscious state, filling our minds with what we need to do, where we need to be, where would like to be and what we would like to be doing there, anything but where we actually are and what we are actually doing at any given moment. We are not so much in reality as we are in our version of reality.
            In Wherever You Go There You Are (1994, MJF Books) Jon Kabat-Zinn relates this concept nicely to the idea of our place in relation to others by encouraging us to ask ourselves if we are really seeing other people, or merely our thoughts about them (p.26). This idea of mindfulness as an antidote to distracted living is not new, nor is it opposed to Christianity or Biblical theology. Think of mindfulness as the careful observation of people and events in our lives, seeing them as they are, not what we think they are or should be.
            Mindfulness requires focus, a centering point to help settle the mind. Scripture memorization is, among other things, a helpful focusing tool, to teaching us to center the mind on God, directing our thoughts toward Him. The repetitive nature of memorization becomes a mental habit, eventually producing the behavior our mind is focused on. This is how, as Paul says, we “…put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NRSV; see also Jer.17:9; Col. 3:8-10; Rom.6:6).
            The common thread here is making new habits, learning to shut out-indeed, discovering that it is in fact possible to shut out-unwanted distractions and false realities, not to mention past sinful behaviors. We are becoming in practical experience new creations, replacing all that old stuff with God’s thoughts, God’s truths, and (hopefully) discovering signs of His presence all around us. We are not frustrated because we cannot manipulate people and events to our liking; rather we are learning work in harmony with God, discovering His active presence in our day to day affairs. This isn’t as difficult or far-fetched as it sounds. It is simply learning a new way to think about and respond to people and events. It works in whatever field you happen to find yourself in. In today’s digital age there is, of course, an app for that. Just be careful not to let the process overtake the result. Remember, we are working on finding and being content with our place in God’s creation, as an antidote to anger.
            Yesterday we mentioned the frustration that comes from not getting our own way as a root cause of anger. There’s a cure for that, and it comes in the form of serving others. In Celebration of Discipline (1988, Harper and Row) Richard Foster makes the important distinction between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. Servanthood (and, by the way, servant leadership) is modeled for us in John 13:1-17. The humility we see here in Jesus is the result of His choosing to be a servant. The difference between serving and servanthood, according to Foster, is being in charge of what you choose to do (serving) verses being available for whatever the need of the moment might be (servanthood; see p.132). It is setting your own terms or being willing to be taken advantage of. My experience has been it is very refreshing to walk into a situation and simply say ‘put me wherever the need is’. It frees me up to enjoy whatever I am doing and whomever I am doing it with. It also markedly increases my tolerance levels.
             Final point. Sometimes anger just will not go away. There’s a way to deal with that too-just take it to God in all its (and your) inglorious spender. God’s people have been doing it for centuries. The Psalmists did it and they made it into the Bible. By the way, the psalms are an excellent place to learn how to vent, to discover-give yourself permission, if you prefer-how to vent to God; how to whine and cry about our circumstances. I guarantee He can take it. In point of fact, He already knows, so why try to hide it? Some theologians will refer to imprecatory Psalms-Psalms that call down curses on our enemies. Others see them as pleas for God’s righteous judgement. Either way works. Remember, the Psalms are our prayer book. Here is a partial list of imprecatory Psalms: 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140. Speaking of the Psalms, I have found it to be good practice to read at least one every day, first thing in the morning whenever possible. Sort of sets the tone for the day.
            I hope you found this helpful. As we move through The Sermon we will find some overlap, as far as attitudes and antidotes go. I have found that practicing the things we talked about produces a subtle change-not that I’m there yet as far as anger management or humility goes, but it does change things for the better.
            One quick word about the books I referenced. I have been reading Richard Foster for the past 25 years. I never realized how deeply he influenced me until I started taking classes at Geneva. If any of you are familiar with his work you will probably see the influence here. Jon Kabat-Zinn is new to me. For years I believed this type of thing-mindfulness meditation-was opposed to Christian teaching, even of the Devil. I no longer believe that to be true. Here’s the reference list.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1994). Wherever You Go There You Are Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday     Life. New York. MJF Press.

Foster, Richard J. (1998). Celebration of Discipline The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco. Harper and Row.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

16 August 2016
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22, NLT)
 “[love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6, NIV)
“for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20, ESV)

            Good morning. Today we begin looking at six examples of Jesus’ deeper interpretations of the Law. Here we see what Kingdom life looks like in our day to day lives. This is where we demonstrate God’s better way. That Jesus begins with anger is no accident. Anger-or more accurately, the heart attitude that produces anger-is the antithesis of the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture has loads of things to say about anger, from one end to the other. This very brief meditation will consider Jesus’ threefold progression of anger to insult to contempt in terms of why they are displeasing to God and what they say about what is pleasing to God.
            A quick Google search of anger reveals that it is often a ‘secondary’ emotion; that is, it is usually brought about by the presence of some other, primary emotion. I should also say here many others claim anger as a primary emotion. This is a matter for psychologists to sort out and way beyond our scope. I mention it because I believe Jesus recognizes anger as an outward sign of an inward condition or attitude of the heart-the primary emotion, if you will-precisely what we have discussed in the Beatitudes.
            The underlying causes for most anger are many and varied: fear, jealousy, envy, pride, arrogance all contribute. We are angry because we did not get our own way. We are angry because our neighbor has something we do not and we have not yet learned to rejoice with him over his good fortune. We are angry because we have been insulted or slandered or falsely accused and we feel the need to defend ourselves, to restore our good name. We are angry because we fear change, we fear being ignored or being irrelevant or misunderstood. We are angry because we fear growing old and losing control or being young and having no control to lose. We are angry because we think God is doing a poor job governing His creation. The list is endless. These are trust issues. We overcome them by knowing God better, by allowing ourselves to be known by Him. We learn trust by learning God.
            Conversely, we set ourselves up as more important than others because we do not understand our place and importance before God. We all bear the Imago Dei; we all owe our very existence, the length of our days, to God alone. If God has gifted one person more or another one less it is His sovereign right to do so; who are we to argue or question? This is the definition of meekness and humility-knowing our place; before God and in His kingdom. Understanding our brother’s place and our sisters’ place too, by the way, and accepting that as coming from God as well. Understanding that God is God and we are not.
            Jesus’ words in v.22 show a progressive deterioration in attitude, from anger to insult to contempt. Insult is bad because it amounts to character assassination, which is the moral equivalent of murder. How many of you have seen a fellow parishioner become angry over some perceived slight or disagreement and engage in a quiet, subtle campaign against the pastor? The underlying idea here is that words carry great and lasting power; they are after all expressions of the heart. Our words reveal how we have set ourselves up as greater, more important, even morally superior to another one who could very well feel the same way about us. To paraphrase James, our insults do not demonstrate God’s point of view.
            Anger leads to insult which leads to contempt. Contempt is the worst, the attitude which promises extreme judgement. Why? Because contempt does the most to tear someone down. Contempt, like character assassination, is the moral equivalent of murder. Contempt goes beyond merely elevating oneself above another; contempt says a person loved by God, made in His image, is worthless and will always be worthless. Contempt goes beyond not seeing the Imago Dei to not seeing at all; short of murder it is the ultimate denial of rights. Contempt does not just say I am superior; contempt says you are nothing and you will always be nothing.  
            One more thing (there is always one more thing). All that we have been discussing here comes down to this-we must learn to think about and treat others the way God thinks about and treats us. God continually seeks us out to redeem us, to continually restore His image in us (because we continually need restored) and to return us to fellowship with Him. God sees what we can become-what we will become when we allow Him to have His way with us. We must strive to do the same with others. Contempt says you are nothing. God says you are glorious, you can be anything you want. Let me show you how. This is how we glorify God.
            I had hoped to go a little (a lot, actually) farther today, but anger seems to have taken on a life of its own. So, tomorrow we will look at how the beatitudes provide the antidote-the proper orientation of the mind and heart-to anger, insult and judgement. Anger, like all emotions, is a follower-it follows what we think. The antidote is to change our thinking-to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul says. Today, one practical step we can take is to make this an Ephesians 4:29 day-“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” This applies especially to Facebook and twitter posts. Let today be a day for building one another up. Let today be the day we strive to recognize the Imago Die in those God sends our way.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and then fellowship of the Holt Spirit be with you all this day. JRG

Monday, August 15, 2016

15 August 2016
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT)
“Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Romans 3:31 (NLT)

            Good morning. I hope you all had a blessed and restful Sunday, as best as you were able. This morning we will take a look at Jesus’ (and our) relationship to the Law; touching briefly on its place in the Kingdom and our lives. Our relationship to God’s Law is a bit complex. Paul writes extensively about it in Romans and Galatians, theologians down through the centuries have written volume upon volume on the subject, so we won’t go too deep here. We are primarily interested in how Jesus fulfills the Law and what that means for us as we demonstrate Kingdom living in our day to day lives.
            We will begin by reviewing the purpose of the Law. Israel was called out of the nations to demonstrate the character and nature of God, how He intends His people to live, and to show His willingness to bless those who obey Him. The Law reveals God’s nature, character, and what He requires of us. The prophets, in addition to calling Israel into account for breach of covenant, look forward to the coming of God’s Messiah-God’s final Word and ultimate blessing; the one who will remove Adam’s curse once for all. In the prophetic sense, Jesus fulfills all the prophets wrote and spoke about Him.
            In regards to the Kingdom, Jesus fulfills the Law in at least three areas. First, He fulfills by example. As fully God, He has divine life; as fully human, He demonstrates that life by example. Second, He teaches the true intent of the Law, which we will see in the next few days. Third, He fulfills the requirements of the Law for us as only one who is fully God and fully human is able to do. Here is Jesus’ three-fold fulfillment-example, intent, requirement.
            What does this mean for us today, practically speaking? Working backward, by fulfilling the requirements of the Law for us, He frees us from the impossible burden of having to do it ourselves, providing the redemption and regeneration we so desperately need. As a result our hearts are opened to receive and accept the true intent of the Law, which He is ever-willing to teach us. By demonstrating the Law in action-the Living Law-He is our example, showing us the way, going first-the founder and perfecter of our faith, as the writer of Hebrews says. Because He was our substitute Jesus can be our example, our teacher, our guide, replacing our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, renewing our minds to discern His will.
            For our part, the important point is this-we are now free to do the same things. We’ve been over this before but I think it bears repeating. We demonstrate for others what He demonstrated for us. We guide and instruct as we are guided and instructed. When we proclaim the Gospel we offer the same freedom we have received. This is us being the salt of the earth, this is us being the light of the world. I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t consider this optional. I’m pretty sure Jesus requires us to go out and interact with each other in whatever way He has gifted us to do. I am positive He intends for us to do this in partnership with Him.
            This requires purposeful thinking-and living-on a daily basis. This is why discipleship-and practicing Spiritual discipline-is so important. We are replacing bed habits with good ones; we are putting off the old, putting on the new. There’s just a ton of stuff out there on the disciplines and spiritual formation; I believe this to be essential to proper Kingdom living. I have a couple favorite resources, if anyone is interested.
            Speaking of intent, starting tomorrow we will look at how Jesus interprets the Law, revealing God’s true intent. This is fascinating-it can be a real eye-opener. Having given us in the Beatitudes the character traits required of Kingdom children, we now get to see how they work themselves out day to day. Are you beginning to see how everything connects? We are catching the tiniest glimpse of what Paul must have been thinking when he exclaimed “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33, NRSV). This is one of those times when words are just profoundly inadequate. I pray God will light a holy fire within your hearts and take you far beyond anything written here.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. JRG