BEING AN INSTRUMENT

tiger swallowtail butterflyBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NIV)]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

We’ve come to know this prayer as “The Prayer of St. Francis” and usually attribute it to Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the founder of the Franciscan religious orders. The patron saint of ecology and animals, Francis often is portrayed surrounded by animals. Stories first recorded by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century tell of the gentle man taming a wolf that had been terrorizing the town and preaching to the birds, rabbits, and fish (who both listened and obeyed).

Francis, however, was much more than a man who loved animals; he loved Jesus above all things, preached a gospel of simplicity, repentance, and radical obedience to Christ’s teaching, and put into practice the gospel life he preached. His contemporaries claimed that Francis lived out the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone other than the One who originally spoke those words. It’s easy to see how this prayer might have been penned by this godly man who endeavored to have the mind of Christ, but its origins are more recent.

Originally written in French and titled “A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass,” the prayer was published anonymously in 1912 in a small French Catholic magazine. In 1915, a French marquis sent the prayer to Pope Benedict XV and, in 1916, it appeared in Italian in L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s daily newspaper). In 1920, titled “Prayer for Peace,” its original French translation was printed on the back of a prayer card bearing the image of St. Francis. The prayer circulated through Europe and, in 1927, it was attributed to St. Francis in print by French Protestants. Translated into English in 1936, the prayer was widely disseminated and, wherever it went, the name of St. Francis went with it.

This peace prayer became popular in an era not much different from ours. We may be able to travel from New York to London in seven hours rather than five days but we still are without peace! In spite of advances in technology, science, communication, medicine, and transportation we continue to have wars, financial disparity, social inequality, prejudice, injustice, unemployment, poverty, and even a global pandemic. We desperately need to pray for peace today as much as they did a century ago!

The author of this prayer asked to be an instrument—a tool, implement, or conduit—of peace. He continued with the actions of sowing (not gathering) love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. Rather than receiving consolation, understanding and love, he sought to console, understand, and love others and then finished with the acts of giving and pardoning. His prayer reminds us that it is the peace makers, not the peace experiencers, Jesus said would be called the children of God! Being a peace maker takes us out of our comfort zones and into the territory of conflict resolution, relationship restoration, and change. Yet, we can’t resolve, restore or change anything if we are part of the problem! What seeds are we sowing? Are we seeking to console, understand, and love? Are we willing to give and forgive? Let us be peace makers and instruments of peace!

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14 (NIV)]

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. [Hebrews 12:14a (NIV)]

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LIVING WATER (John 4:1-42 – Part 1)

“Everyone who drinks this water,” Jesus replied, “will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.” … The woman said, “Give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty any more, and I won’t have to come here to draw from the well.” [John 4:13-15 (NTE)]

Taos NMJesus was never one to follow man-made rules and, when He spoke with the woman at the well, He broke several. Jewish tradition considered it beneath any man’s dignity to publicly speak with a woman. Rabbinical writing taught: “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife.” That a rabbi like Jesus did such a thing was scandalous. Those same writings considered women incapable of religious instruction with these words: “Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to women.” Jesus speaking of God with a Samaritan woman just made it more outrageous! But, we know from His interactions with women like Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene that Jesus wasn’t much for rabbinic tradition so His speaking with this Samaritan woman shouldn’t surprise us.

There’s one thing, however, that seems unlike Jesus in his encounter with this woman when, knowing she’s unmarried, He asks her to get her husband. She admits to having no husband but that’s not the whole truth. Jesus exposes her five previous marriages and her living with a man not her husband. The woman had to have been mortified that a stranger knew of her sordid history. While it’s possible she’d been widowed five times and was living with her brother, that seems highly unlikely. A Jewish man could divorce his wife with the slightest provocation but five marriages reflect badly on her character as do her living arrangements. Since she was drawing water at the hottest part of the day rather than the cool evening (when the village women normally would), she appears to be an outcast who’s gone from one man to another. Jesus never shamed the woman caught in adultery so why would He put this nameless woman on the spot when He knew her disgraceful history?

Prior to being asked about her husband, the woman told Jesus she wanted the living water about which He spoke. Her request was for earthly convenience rather than eternal life. It was then that Jesus inquired about her husband. His knowledge of her secrets established His credibility as a prophet and ultimately identified Him as the Messiah. Recognizing Jesus only as a prophet, she asked Him to clarify the dispute between Judah and Samaria as to the right place to worship. Jesus answered that the time had come when the location didn’t matter because true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. She then realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the source of the living water she so desperately sought.

Jesus asked the woman about her husband so she would face her sins and own up to her immorality. It is only with a humble heart that we can come to Jesus and His question was the woman’s moment of humility. Salvation comes to those who confess and repent of their sins, but the woman had to acknowledge those sins before she could repent. The living water only comes to those who know they are spiritually thirsty and salvation only comes to those who see the need for a Savior!

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 (NTE)]

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IT’S A PROMISE!

Jenny Lake - Grand TetonsIf we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. [2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)]

When I first read the above verse in a daily meditation book, I felt reassured; even if I’m unfaithful to Jesus, He’ll remain faithful to me. Wondering if my interpretation was correct and suspecting the verse might have been taken out of context, I looked at the preceding lines: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us.” [2:11-12] Probably part of an early Christian hymn emphasizing the believer’s union with Christ, when put in context with, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is,” we have a different meaning. Paul was echoing Jesus’ own words of warning: “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” [Matthew 10:33] Jesus cannot deny who He is; if we deny Him, He will remain faithful to His word and deny us.

But what of Peter? He denied Jesus three times and Jesus certainly didn’t deny him! Again I looked to the context: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” Rather than speaking of Christ followers who may have a temporary failing like that of Peter, Paul is speaking of those who have rejected Jesus and denied Him, as did Judas. When Peter denied knowing Jesus that night so long ago, he hadn’t stopped loving the Lord or having faith in Him. Yes, he failed Jesus but let us remember that God’s grace is greater than our human weaknesses. We all have unwavering faith until it is tested and, like Peter, we may fail when it is sorely tested. God, in His mercy forgave Peter, and He will forgive us.

Rather than words of cheer, Paul’s words are a serious warning for those who reject Jesus as Lord! Jesus can’t be false to himself. For the unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word; no matter their works or virtue, if people have denied Him, He will deny them. Just as Jesus makes good on all of his promises, He’ll follow through on his threats, as well. Not so comforting a thought after all!

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief. [John Calvin]

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16 (NLT)]

Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33 (NLT)]

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THE “TERRIBLE PETITION”

Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves. [Matthew 5:7 (NTE)]

Yes: if you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.’ [Matthew 6:14-15 (NTE)]

large striped swordtail butterflyWhen our pastor did a sermon series on “Dangerous Prayers,” he didn’t mention one many of us pray regularly: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After giving the disciples “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus elaborated on this single petition by categorically stating, “If you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.”  The parable of the unforgiving debtor told in Matthew 18 leaves no room for ambiguity on this point. After the servant refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the angry king rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving man and sends him to be tortured in prison until the debt is paid. His debt (equivalent to several billion dollars today) was insurmountable and that torture would never end. Jesus warned his listeners that the same thing would happen to them if they withheld forgiveness.

Asking God to forgive us in the same way we extend forgiveness to others is dangerous. We are asking God to forgive us by the standard that we set—to deal with us as we deal with others! Called the “terrible petition” by St. Augustine, we’re actually asking God not to forgive us if we harbor any unforgiveness in our hearts! For some of us, could these words be a petition for condemnation rather than salvation, ones for death rather than everlasting life? If we’re unwilling to forgive, I suppose they are!

Paul’s words to the Ephesians tell us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, and harsh words and to “forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the king.” [4:31-32] Without a doubt, forgiveness is a difficult process and time is needed between our being hurt and our ability to forgive. The struggle to forgive, however, isn’t the sin; it’s the decision not to forgive, to hold onto our bitterness, that is!

Fortunately, forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit! Jesus said that good trees produce good fruit and that every tree failing to produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. Clarifying that people are identified by their actions, Jesus warned that only those who actually did the will of the Father would enter the kingdom of heaven! From His words, it seems that profession of faith alone does not equal salvation. While salvation is not earned by works, our faith is evidenced by them: by our willingness to do the Father’s will! Can there be an unforgiven Christian? I don’t think so. But, if we refuse to forgive, are we true disciples of Christ or merely hypocrites who say we are?

No part of His teaching is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything or that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own. [C.S. Lewis]

Actually, good trees can’t produce bad fruit, nor can bad ones produce good fruit! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. So: you must recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Master, Master” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only people who do the will of my father in heaven. [Matthew 7:18-21 (NTE)]

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CLEAN GARMENTS

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. [Romans 8:31-34 (NLT)]

star jasmine

Around 520 BC, the prophet Zechariah revealed God’s future deliverance through the Messiah to the Jews who had just returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah’s fourth vision, the high priest Jeshua stood before an angel of the Lord. Instead of being attired in the spotless white linen robe and turban of a priest, Jeshua’s clothing was filthy (the Hebrew word used was tsow’ and referred to the filth of excrement). Standing to the angel’s right, in a court prosecutor’s position, was Satan. The Hebrew word śāṭān means “accuser” or “adversary” and Satan was living up to his name by making accusations that the unclean priest was unworthy of standing before the Lord. Calling the priest “a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire,” the Lord rejected the accuser’s charges.

In Zechariah’s vision, Jeshua symbolized the nation of Israel, his foul clothing the sins of the people, and his rescue from the coals the nation’s release from their Babylonian exile. Satan, of course, had a vested interest in his accusations; if he could get God to reject Israel, God’s plan of redemption would be thwarted. It wasn’t as if God didn’t recognize Israel’s sin; they’d been punished with seventy years of captivity. God, however, hadn’t turned from His people because of their sins; having delivered them back to Jerusalem, they were still His people.

After the angels around Jeshua took off his filthy garments, the priest was told that his sins were removed and he was given new clothes and a clean turban. On the front of the priest’s turban would have been a medallion with the words “Holy to the Lord.” Just as Jeshua was reinstated as a priest with his clean priestly attire, the nation of Israel was cleansed and restored as a priestly nation and made holy to the Lord! What an amazing image this is. The filthy robe of sins was removed and replaced with garments of God’s righteousness.

What followed was a Messianic vision in which the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised the coming of a servant called “the Branch,” the removal of all the land’s sins in a single day, and an era of peace and blessings when “each of you will invite your neighbor to sit with you peacefully under your own grapevine and fig tree.” [3:10]

What do Zachariah’s words from over 2,500 years ago mean to us? God’s chosen servant was Jesus; He was the promised Branch stemming from Adam, Abraham, and David. The day Jesus died on the cross was the single day when all our sins were removed! Although Satan continues to accuse us, Jesus is now at God’s right hand and, instead of indicting us, He is pleading for us!

Just as God didn’t reject Israel, He hasn’t rejected us. Because of God’s grace, like Jeshua, we can hand off our sin-covered garments to the Lord and have robes of righteousness returned. Our robes, however, are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Social distancing may have kept us from sitting under a tree with our neighbors, but that promised day of peace and plenty will happen when Jesus returns and reigns as King.

God will not lightly or easily lose His people. He has provided well for us: blood to wash us in; a Priest to pray for us, that we may be made to persevere; and, in case we foully fall, an Advocate to plead our cause. [John Bunyan]

They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” [Revelation 7:14,16-17 (NLT)]

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ALLELON – ONE ANOTHER

So if our shared life in the king brings you any comfort; if love still has the power to make you cheerful; if we really do have a partnership in the spirit; if your hearts are at all moved with affection and sympathy – then make my joy complete! Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. [Philippians 2:1-4 (NTE)]

gulls - clam passYesterday, I wrote about koinonia or what I called the art of Christian community. Writing about Christian fellowship, however, can be easier than actually living in it. Just as a family has a vast array of different personalities, temperaments, and gifts, so does the church. In fact, with our sheltering in place, social distancing, working from home, having children home all day, and parks, playgrounds, gyms, and beaches all closed, some of us might be having more difficulty maintaining a spirit of fellowship with one another in our own homes than in our churches!

The Greek word used for “one another” was allelon, meaning reciprocally or mutually. Often translated as “one another,” “themselves,” “mutually,” “yourselves together,” or “each other,” allelon is used 101 times in the New Testament. 59 of those occurrences are found in specific commands teaching us how we are to relate (or not to relate) to one another. It is in those 59 commands that we learn how to have true koinonia in both church and home.

Sixteen of those allelon commands are to love one another which, at times, can be easier said than done. The other forty-three allelon commands show us what that Christian love looks like. Many have to do with empathy, compassion, and understanding. While rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep isn’t technically a “one another” command, it is followed by one that tells us to be like minded with one another. Often translated as “live in harmony,” Paul isn’t saying we all have to agree on everything; he’s telling us to adjust to one another. While we don’t have to sing the same note everyone else is singing, our song should harmonize with theirs! Along this same line, we’re told to care for and encourage one another, be kind and tender-hearted, and bear one another’s burdens.

Several allelon commands have to do with controlling our emotions. We’re told to be patient with one another, bind ourselves together in peace, warned not to grumble about one another, and cautioned to beware of destroying one another. Of course, to do that we need to overlook what we don’t like and focus on what we do. Cautioning us not to pass judgment, we’re told to bear with one another, which means treating one another with kindness and grace. Rather than demanding perfection, we are to endure the quirks and peculiarities of others. Along with the many commands about forgiving, we are told to be humble, serve one another, take delight in honoring each other, and clothe ourselves with humility. While most of us find it easy to pray for one another, confessing to one another is a bit harder; none of us want to admit being wrong and yet we often are!

“We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another,” wrote Thomas Merton, but he prefaced that statement with the words, “We are obliged to love one another.” Whether it’s getting along with our church family or our own family, we may not like everyone, but we can love them and seek the best for them. Rather than a warm fuzzy feeling, the love we have for one another is a lifestyle and a choice. It comes down to what Jesus said was the essence of the Law and the Prophets: loving God and loving one another. Try as we may, we can’t do it on our own strength—only through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can share it with one another. In the spirit of true Christian fellowship, let us love one another!

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake. [D.A. Carson]

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the sacrifice that would atone for our sins. Beloved, if that’s how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. Nobody has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is completed in us. [1 John 4:10-12 (NTE)]

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