THE BETRAYAL

Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles. My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats. They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down. … Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! [Psalm 55:1-3,6 (NLT)]

mourning dove
Psalm 55 describes a time in David’s life when he was being attacked by his enemies. Crying out to God, he wished for the wings of a dove so he could escape those who were hunting him down. What is unusual in this psalm is that David’s enemies were not adversaries like Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, or Amalekites; the attack came from “my equal, my companion and close friend.” Commentators tend to place this psalm during the rebellion led by Absalom, David’s son. The friend about whom David speaks probably was Ahithophel. Once David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel switched his loyalty to Absalom who was attempting to overthrow David’s kingship.

My brother-in-law was the picture of health until he was betrayed, but not by his best friend. His body betrayed him with Parkinson’s disease. Instead of deceit and arrows, he was attacked by muscle rigidity, poor balance, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, dizziness, urinary problems, trouble standing and walking, fatigue, irregular blood pressure, depression, and finally mental decline. David eventually defeated his adversary; my brother-in-law did not. He surrendered last year as did my sister the previous year when her body overpowered her with the complications of multiple sclerosis. Rather than a child or friend, their bodies attacked them; even so, David’s words could have been theirs.

As I read David’s psalm this morning, I thought of friends who, like David, wish they could run from their troubles and escape to a safe place where their enemy couldn’t follow. Unfortunately, wherever they run their enemy follows because, as with my brother-in-law and sister, the traitor is their body. Recently, a friend with MS was unable to join my husband for coffee because his legs “wouldn’t cooperate” and he couldn’t get into his car! Two of the men with him at coffee have spouses whose bodies have conspired against them with dementia. Sadly, they are not the only ones we know whose bodies are progressively betraying them. Whether it’s MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, COPD, cancer, the aftereffects of a stroke, or some other incapacitating disorder, David’s words could easily have been written by them or anyone else with a chronic condition.

As much as David wanted to escape his troubles and flee, he couldn’t and, as much as people suffering from a debilitating physical condition would like to escape theirs, it can’t be done either. Rather than fleeing from his situation, however, David called God into it and expressed confidence that the Lord would hear his voice. In the end, his prayer of despair became one of faith. Sure that God would sustain him in his trouble, David submitted the situation to the will of God. When faced with insurmountable trouble, prayer is all we have. For a believer, prayer is all that is needed because we know that God already has saved us!

Heavenly Father, we offer prayers for those who are suffering from debilitating ailments. Fortify their faith in the challenging days they face and reassure them of your presence. Give them courage to face their difficult tomorrows, however many or few they may be. When their battle is over, gently carry them to your heavenly place of rest where pain is no longer experienced and bodies are no longer broken.

He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 25:8 (NLT)]

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. [2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (NLT)]

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GOOD INTENTIONS

This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. [2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NLT)]

rocky mountain national parkBritish mystery author Ruth Rendell often received letters from would-be authors who wanted to know how to get started. Her response was simple: “I tell them to stop writing to me and get on with it.” Author Jodi Picoult said when she can’t write a good page, she simply revises a bad one while pointing out, “You can’t edit a blank page.” If we want a page filled with words, we’ve got to sit down and write them.

Even when working for God, we need more than good intentions or even prayer. Ten years ago, I was part of a Christian women’s ministry that hosted a web site for twelve writers all of whom believed they’d been called by God to expand His kingdom through their writing. We were a diverse multi-generational group and the website offered links to our individual blogs. We regularly shared our prayer concerns with one another and rarely a week went by without a prayer request for divine inspiration for someone’s writing. Sadly, the ministry disbanded within two years because only a few of the writers ever wrote anything. Apparently, good intentions and even prayer were no substitute for actually sitting down and doing the work!

By simply leaving things up to God and giving Him the entire responsibility for our work, we yield to the temptation not to take any initiative. While God is the one who enables us and deserves the glory, we are His hands and feet here on earth and the ones who are called to do His work! Remember, the Israelites had to take the initiative by stepping into the Jordan River before God stopped its flow and they were the ones who marched around Jericho for seven days before God made its walls come tumbling down! I believe in the power of prayer but prayer alone didn’t get the Israelites across the river or defeat Jericho; the people had to do the walking and the wielding of the swords. In the same way, prayer alone doesn’t provide us with the words for a devotion, sobriety, a job, health, good grades, a thriving business, a successful marriage, a college degree, or a speaking ministry. God gives us the power, guidance, inspiration, and even victory, but we still have to do the work!

When we’re called by God, He will provide us with the talent, tools, situation, time, assistance, and spiritual gifts necessary for that task. The one thing He won’t provide is the finished product. He expects us to do the labor and, as powerful as prayer is, it is no substitute for work. When Jesus spoke of moving mountains and promised us, “You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it,” He wasn’t offering us a magic wand to capriciously move mountains into the sea. If God really wants that mountain moved, however, He might just provide the shovel and tell us to start digging!

In Eden, God gave man the gift of work and a sense of purpose. After the fall, however, thistles and thorns appeared and man’s work became difficult. Work was still good; it just wasn’t easy. When faced with a garden full of weeds, we can pray those weeds will disappear and wait for divine intervention or, while praying, we can put on our work gloves and start pulling them out!

I consider it an error to trust and hope in any means or efforts in themselves alone; nor do I consider it a safe path to trust the whole matter to God our Lord without desiring to help myself by what he has given me; so that it seems to me in our Lord that I ought to make use of both parts, desiring in all things his greater praise and glory, and nothing else. [St. Ignatius]

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. [Galatians 6:4-5 (NLT)]

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KEEP IT ON THE ISLAND

A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence. [Proverbs 11:13 (NLT)]

aftermath of fireWhile attending a spiritual retreat, three ministers decided to share their gravest ethical lapses with one another. After a little hesitation, Pastor Jones started the ball rolling and confessed to having an affair with his beautiful (and married) church secretary. After admitting to a gambling problem, Pastor Smith owned up to embezzling thousands of dollars from his church. Pastor Brown, however, was reluctant to share his moral failings. Telling him that “confession is good for the soul,” the other two ministers urged him to speak, especially since his transgression couldn’t be any worse than theirs. Nervously, Pastor Brown answered, “I’m sorry to tell you fellows, but I’m a compulsive gossip!”

Because secrets often get shared in faith-based small groups, the church is a dangerous place when it comes to gossip. When two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, God will hear their prayer. When those same people are gathered together, He also might hear some gossip. When we’re asked to pray for someone, we often learn details about their lives that are intensely private. Through prayer requests, small groups, friendships, and counseling, we often gain knowledge of addicted children, attempted suicides, abusive spouses, abortions, adultery, medical conditions, and more—information that is not ours to share with anyone.

As Christians, however, we’ve found a gossip loophole. Instead of telling others about someone, we can ask them to pray for that person by name and then give the juicy details of their problems. Some people seem to think passing along information about the life of someone not present isn’t gossip if a “Bless her/his heart” is added to the end of the conversation. They’re wrong! When requesting prayers, God already knows all the names and particulars so specifics aren’t necessary. When given a person’s deepest secrets, we should treasure them, lock them in a safe place, and toss away the key.

Right now, New Mexico is experiencing the second largest wildfire in their history. For more than a month, firefighters have tried to tame this ferocious megafire but, as of Saturday, the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire stretched across 169,000 acres and was only 20% contained. That fire, however, is only one of six wildfires burning throughout the state. Altogether, over 300,000 acres have burned just this year! More than trees, wildlife, and homes are being destroyed. Not only have those fires claimed lives but they also threaten an Indo-Hispano culture that has endured since long before the United States came into existence. A way of life that has lasted for centuries is being destroyed by those flames.

Whether carelessly or deliberately spoken, the Apostle James likens our words to a spark that can cause another kind of fire. Like New Mexico’s fires, gossip spreads rapidly, is as hard to stop, and can be just as destructive! While buildings will remain, homes may not; trees will survive but reputations probably won’t. People may not die but their lives may be destroyed. Once started, ill-spoken words are as difficult to contain as a megafire and their smoke and ash can darken a life forever.

Years ago, when we vacationed with friends on Grand Cayman, we agreed to keep any personal information we shared “on the island.” We continue to keep things “on the island” whether we’re on an island, in the living room, at small group, praying for someone, or anywhere else. Forgive me for mixing metaphors but it is only by keeping it “on the island” that we can prevent forest fires!

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.  And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. [James 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? … Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. [Psalm 15:1,3 (NLT)]

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JOHN THE BAPTIST – Part 2

On the following day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world! This is the man I meant when I said, ‘A man comes after me who is always in front of me, for he existed before I was born!’ It is true I have not known him, yet it was to make him known to the people of Israel that I came and baptised people with water.” [John 1:29-31 (PHILLIPS)]

mourning doveWe don’t know if John the Baptist recognized Jesus as his distant cousin when the two men met on the banks of the Jordan. Although they were the same age and their mothers were related in some way, with John in the desert and Jesus in Nazareth, it’s not likely they knew one another. If they did, Jesus probably seemed nothing more than an ordinary person to John at the time.

When Jesus walked toward him that day, however, John knew he was seeing someone who was more than a carpenter from Nazareth. In the same way that Elizabeth knew Mary was “the mother of my Lord” when the unborn John leapt in her womb, John recognized Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God. John seemed to have no doubt about Jesus when he testified to seeing the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and, throughout John’s ministry, he continued to point out Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

After Jesus’ baptism, the gospel of John tells us that both John and Jesus carried on baptizing ministries. Perhaps out of jealousy, some of John’s disciples complained that more people were going to Jesus than coming to John. Again, John made it clear that he knew their different roles when he compared himself to the best man and Jesus to the bridegroom. “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” [3:30]

More than a year later, what happened to John’s confidence in Jesus’ identity? The man who once had been so sure about Jesus sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” [Mt 11:3] Languishing in Herod’s dungeon, John probably wondered why the conquering king from David’s line hadn’t released him. Why hadn’t Jesus taken the throne from Herod and Rome? Where was the end-time outpouring of the Spirit, the winnowing fork that would separate the chaff from the wheat, and the one who would burn the chaff with “never-ending fire”?

In truth, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah that John and his disciples were expecting; nevertheless, He was the Messiah! John, however, didn’t understand that Jesus had to teach, heal, suffer, die, resurrect, and ascend before returning a second time and executing final judgment. At first, it seems that Jesus ducks John’s question with a summary of his miracles but John understood. The miracles Jesus listed fulfilled the messianic promises in Isaiah; they were proof that He was the Messiah. Jesus’ final message for John is a beatitude that encouraged the Baptizer (and the rest of us) not to stumble in our faith just because Jesus doesn’t fit our expectations.

While we may not be languishing in a dungeon as was John, we may be in languishing in grief, infertility, depression, illness, addiction, chronic pain, money issues, infidelity, or family problems. Just as Jesus didn’t meet John’s expectations, He doesn’t always meet ours. He didn’t free John from Herod’s prison and He may not free us from ours and, like John, we may have doubts. Faith and doubt, however, are not antonyms and doubt and unbelief are not synonyms! We can be people of faith and still have questions; like John, we never should be afraid to ask those questions. John went to Jesus for the answers and, like him, we should look to the words and works of Jesus Christ for our ours. We’ll discover, as did John, that the Lord’s credentials will hold up to the toughest of questions!

Jesus gave them this reply, “Go and tell John what you see and hear—that blind men are recovering their sight, cripples are walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being brought to life and the good news is being given to those in need. And happy is the man who never loses faith in me.” [Matthew 11:4-6 (PHILLIPS)]

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PRAYING FOR OUR ENEMY

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 sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [Matthew 5:43-45 (ESV)]

Of him that hopes to be forgiven it is indispensably required that he forgive. It is therefore superfluous to urge any other motive. On this great duty eternity is suspended, and to him that refuses to practise it the throne of mercy is inaccessible, and the Saviour of the world has been born in vain. [Samuel Johnson (1751)]

water lilyThe friend said, “I hate to admit it, but every night I pray that Putin will be dead by morning.” As we witness the genocide, violence, and horror in Ukraine on the morning news, I suspect he’s not the only Christian who is saddened to learn that Vladimir Putin didn’t die last night or that bombs didn’t destroy the Kremlin and the entire Russian army!

Like many, I struggle with what and how to pray regarding Russia, Putin, and this horrific war. More than 80 years ago, C.S. Lewis had the same dilemma regarding Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin—the tyrants and murderers of World War II who, like Putin, were Godless merciless dictators who attacked human rights at all levels. The parable of the unforgiving servant, however, reminds us that if we expect God’s mercy and forgiveness, we are to extend that same mercy and forgiveness to others. That’s a hard pill to swallow when it comes to people like Vladimer Putin but Jesus didn’t mince his words when he commanded that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Believing that praying for others was obligatory for a Christian, Lewis wrote the following to his dear friend Dom Bede Griffiths in spring of 1940: “The practical problem about charity (in one’s prayer) is very hard work, isn’t it? When you pray for Hitler and Stalin how do you actually teach yourself to make the prayer real?” After pondering the problem, Lewis wrote to his brother about a month later and began his letter with Samuel Johnson’s words about forgiveness and mercy. After listing Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and three men he considered his nemeses at university, Lewis said he prayed “every night for the people I am most tempted to despise or hate. In the effort to make this real I have had to do a good deal of thinking.”

How do we pray for evil people in the first place let alone make the prayer real, rather than obligatory empty words?

Praying for our enemies doesn’t mean that we pray for their happiness, that we like the kind of people they are, or that we approve or excuse their behavior. As Lewis pointed out in his letters, praying for them is remembering that they are made of the same stuff we are, that Jesus died for them as much as He died for us, and that we are no more deserving of God’s sacrifice, grace, or mercy than are they. Assuming that these evil people can still be rescued, Lewis believed we can and should pray for their salvation.

As much as we hate the actions of evil people, we mustn’t hate the people. Nevertheless, we often do. Lewis admitted to his brother that he “tends to give free reign to hatred and to regard it as virtuous or normal.”  Reflecting on his own moments of cruelty, the theologian pointed out that his inclination to hate “might have blossomed, under different conditions, into something terrible. You and I are not, at bottom, so different from these ghastly creatures.” Indeed, as much as I hate to admit it, I know I’m not!

As we pray for our enemies (whether they’re our nemeses at work or people like Putin), there is no need to tell God what’s wrong with them or instruct God on the way to deal with such people. As for me, after simply asking Him to change the person’s heart, I leave the rest up to Him. In the same way, I can’t presume to know how this tragic situation can be resolved so I simply lift the people of Ukraine and Russia up to God—He already knows their names and their needs.

We must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves— to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not. I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. [C.S. Lewis]

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. … Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:14,19,21 (ESV)]

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SONGS OF VICTORY – MAUNDY THURSDAY 2022

Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever. Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord. For the Lord is high above the nations; his glory is higher than the heavens. [Psalm 113:1-4 (NLT)]

The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. … Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 118:22-24,29 (NLT)

crucifixion - cathedral st. francis - santa feJesus knew that one would betray Him, another deny Him, and all desert Him. He knew the people He’d fed, healed, taught, and loved—the people who just a few days earlier had greeted him like a king with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna”—soon would prefer a thief over Him. Because of His anguished prayers later that evening in Gethsemane, we know that He knew the suffering and torment that lay ahead for him. Nevertheless, he sang with the disciples during their Passover meal that last night and it wasn’t a sorrow-filled psalm of lament.

Because it was a Passover feast, at least twice during the evening they would have paused to sing the traditional Passover hymns commemorating Israel’s escape from slavery. Known as the “Egyptian Hallel” and consisting of Psalms 113 through 118, they are joyful hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Hallel literally means praise and the Hebrew phrase Hallelu Yah, meaning “praise the Lord,” is found frequently in these beautiful psalms. The sages understood that Psalm 118, the climax of the Hallel, was about the Messiah and that night in Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago, the Messiah Himself sang those very words. As the disciples gathered in that upper room celebrating Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt, did they realize they really were celebrating man’s release from bondage to sin?

The following day, after three hours on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” After the praise and thanks of the previous night, did He now doubt God? The question was rhetorical because Jesus knew exactly why He was suffering—He was bearing the weight of the sins of the world. What the gospels don’t include is the rest of Psalm 22, the psalm Jesus probably was reciting. Although the psalm begins with the complaint of unanswered prayers and abandonment by God, it is followed by a statement of confidence in Him. A complaint of being forsaken by men comes next but it also is followed by an expression of trust in the Lord.

Although the psalm was written by David, rather than reflecting his experiences, it prophetically presented the future suffering of the Messiah and the next several stanzas clearly depict the crucifixion of Jesus: people mocked and scorned Him, He was in pain, His strength ebbed, His mouth was dry, His hands and feet were pierced, He was dying, and His clothing was divided and lots cast for it. These lines are followed by a cry for deliverance.

By the psalm’s 22nd verse, however, its tone changes and the plaintive cries turn to praise and words of faithful confidence: “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people. Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!” The praise and promises continue throughout the rest of the psalm. These are not the words of a defeated man but the words of the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, the one who fulfilled the promise made to Abraham in Genesis that, “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Out of what seemed to be defeat came triumph.

The One who’d sung “Hallelu Yah,” the previous night with his disciples again praised the Lord with His last words as He hung on the cross. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

The cross was two pieces of dead wood; and a helpless, unresisting Man was nailed to it; yet it was mightier than the world, and triumphed, and will ever triumph over it. [Augustus William Hare]

I will praise you in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the Lord will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him. All the families of the nations will bow down before him. For royal power belongs to the Lord. He rules all the nations. Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done. [Psalm 22:25-31 (NLT)]

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