SCARS

When I was a young teenager I went to a friend’s house while her parents were away for the weekend. Other friends joined in the ‘party’. We raided the liquor cabinet and proceeded to become inebriated which is a euphemism for ‘drunk’. Yep, we were having a good time until….I decided to do something foolish which is another word for just plain stupid. I pretended my bike was my horse and I was going to run with it and jump on. I jumped. I missed. I fell onto the hard asphalt road. And to this day I have a scar on my knee. I have other scars, some of which I don’t want to reveal in public but suffice it to say that each scar reveals a teaching moment, a healing moment, and a grace moment.

Scars can be teaching moments. You see the scar. You remember the event and what you learned perhaps through your own foolish ways or as the object of someone else’s foibles.

Scars evidence healing for many people be it physical or emotional. Sometimes the wound isn’t forgotten, isn’t healed and the scar has yet to make its appearance. It takes a long time for many people.

I believe that God has the incredible loving power to restore that wounded body or soul to wholeness and to cover it with a scar of his loving-kindness. Wounds have a God-given restorative power, even the emotional ones.

I’m remembering the apostle Peter who almost drowned through his foolishness. The greater wound was that he betrayed his loyalty to Jesus. That wound went deep, plunging Peter’s soul into the darkness of tears and sorrow. But Jesus later healed the wound, gently caressing that soul and restoring Peter’s place in the fold. Peter would always remember the wrong he did but even more, he would recall the grace of his Lord.

We need to help one another clean the wounds and allow the scars to form. The scar is God’s grace. Yeah, we can see the scar as a remembrance but more so as the Spirit’s work of restoration, reconciliation.

And yes there are times when God, by his word or spirit, comes to us like a skilled surgeon to cut deep into our lives to reveal something that is harmful to us; and as the divine surgeon, he lovingly cuts with precision to allow the healing to begin. That would be the loving caring discipline of God, not the abusing punishment of a mean vindictive creator.

Above all let scars be reminders of what God’s love has done or will do. And don’t forget the scars in the hands of Jesus, reminders to the world of the healing love of God.

WHAT I AM LEARNING ABOUT GOD

Some people say that God’s ways are unknowable, mysterious beyond our small minds’ comprehension but I say we CAN know God and his ways. Maybe not everything about God but certainly more than many people think is possible.

Let’s look at a verse that some suggest demonstrates our inability to know God.

Isaiah 55:8  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Here’s the context for these words. God is speaking about his own mercy and how he will abundantly pardon the people for their transgressions. So I learn that God wants us to know his love and how he will reconcile us. That surprises a lot of people who have learned only a judgmental and punishing side of God.

I am learning that God’s essence is love and that love is never changing but that God’s experience changes as God relates to the creation and especially to you and me as God’s beloved.  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Some use the first part of that verse to say God is immutable, never changing. It’s God’s love that never changes. Read the story of Israel and see how God accommodates the people at every turn. Read how Moses changed God’s mind about the destruction of the Israelites. (Exodus 32:14)

I am learning that God’s power is not coercive control but rather a loving, persuading influence on the creation.

I am learning that God wants to partner with us as God did with Adam and Eve and Abraham. Let me put it this way. God needs us and looks for us. Read Genesis 3:8,9  “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” No matter how you look at the verse it is plain that God looks for us as the father did for the prodigal son. (See Luke 15) As the shepherd searching for the one sheep or the lady for one coin so God longs to bring us back to God’s love.

I am learning that God weeps and suffers with us. God has emotions. And don’t worry about God’s emotions getting the best of him. God can be trusted with those emotions. God suffers with us. That’s clear in Jesus. And in the Old Testament, we read from Isaiah 63:9, “In all their distress he (God) too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.”

Now let’s go to 1Corinthians 13 and I am using the Voice version to give what I believe is an accurate interpretation of verse 12 “For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal. I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. In that day, I will fully know just as I have been wholly known by God.”

Paul is writing about the selfless nature of love for the community at Corinth and such love is so magnificent that we cannot understand it fully but one day we will when we see Jesus face to face. To me that incomprehensibility is clear. (I’ll give us all time to figure out that last sentence.) Paul wants the church to know that love is the essence of who we are as the Body of Christ.

More to come.

Grace and Peace

IF YOU BELIEVE IN SOMETHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND (PART I)

Some of you may recall lyrics from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”:

When you believe in things that you don’t understand

Then you suffer

Superstition ain’t the way

I am trying to understand more and more of the mind and ways of God, especially the extent of God’s love for God’s creation. I think our beliefs need to make sense. Relationships make sense, for the most part, when one tries hard to understand the heart and mind of the other.

God is a relationship when you consider the Trinity. God is relational, loving us from God’s essence, which is love. I want to understand that love more fully and some people tell me that one just cannot and they point to a couple scriptures that I will take up in PART II.

I believe God wants us to understand God. The Bible isn’t an instruction manual or a blueprint. It’s a love story about the relentless pursuit of the loving God who wants to live with us, enjoy us, and partner with us for all eternity. You might need to read THE SHACK to get the full import of that relationship if the Bible isn’t clear on it.

Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians:

“I ask the God of our Master Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers…” (1:18)

And we know this is what God wants, for God sent the Son into our world and lives.

(See Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15)

As I read the Scriptures in 2022 I want to come to understand God more fully. I don’t want my faith to be superstitious. Rather I want to grasp how deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18). I want the solid ground to stand upon as I follow my Lord.

Next time I will share a couple of scriptures where it ‘seems’ that God’s ways are beyond our understanding. It’s surprising.

FORGIVENESS: HOW GOD’S KINGDOM COMES

The Bible certainly contains scriptures that speak about repenting and confessing before we are forgiven. 1 John 1: “If we claim to be without 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 purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But there is also a sense, a reading of scripture, that God forgives humanity before we ask. Take Isaiah 44:22: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you.” (NIV); in Jeremiah 31:34 God announces the New Covenant saying he will remember sins no more.

One of the clearest passages is in Colossians 2 in which Paul writes to the Gentile church, “13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (ESV)

In Colossians 1: 20 we read that God made peace with his creation through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Paul also writes that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2Cor. 5:19). I don’t think God could approach us without first making peace with humanity

This all has implications for why we forgive others their transgressions against us even if they have not asked for forgiveness. This is the miracle of God’s grace and love at work in the cosmos. We are acting as children of our heavenly Father. In Matthew 5 Jesus tells his disciples to love even their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. (Matthew 5:44)

When we forgive another we die to ourselves, our egos, and trust any judgment to God. That’s how the Kingdom works. We are not told to forgive others for psychological or even emotional reasons. (Though it wouldn’t hurt in that regard.) We are invited to enlarge our own hearts for more of God’s grace to take up residence within us. That is life in the Kingdom.

Recall how Jesus unconditionally forgave others from the cross. He forgave Peter even before their meeting on the beach. That’s how love works. That’s how our lives best work even though it goes against the grain of our own defense mechanisms.

Christmas might be an appropriate time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action. It’s a good time to say, ‘yes’ to God who in Christ loves us so much that his Son was willing to die for us. It’s a good time for us to ‘be like our heavenly Father’ and let go of the sins of others. There may be consequences for their sin but those are not ours to choose. Our choice is to love as God has loved us.

A Blessed Christmas to all.

FEELING DOWN???

On the Sunday after a parishioner had seen me taking a walk earlier in the week down one of the country roads in our village she commented, “I saw you walking with your head down and you didn’t look very cheery.” “Huh,” I thought, “so now I have to be careful where I walk lest someone see me on a bad day.”

Even pastors have down days, depressing and sad days, and even hopeless days. I believe my wife thinks I might have too many of them at this point in my life. To be ‘down’ doesn’t have to mean you’ve lost your faith. It means that sometimes our mindsets and emotions negatively impact our lives. Even the Christian life isn’t all ‘hallelujah’ and ‘victory chants’. I think of the Apostle Peter walking on water, when his common sense took over and he saw the waves and began to sink. He was feeling down about that time and his only prayer was, ‘Help me.’

Last night a friend said to me that maybe Christians need to show their weakness more so that others can see we are frail humans who still trust in the goodness of God. If Christians are so upbeat all the time maybe others will judge themselves for being less ‘victorious’ in life.

Paul the Apostle had his own weaknesses, and life sometimes got him ‘down’ but not ‘out’, as the saying goes. We can be emotionally and even psychologically ‘down’ but our will can take us forward. The grace of God can empower our ‘will’ to move when our emotions aren’t enough. Faith is knowing that it’s going to get better because Jesus went there first, before us, to suffer and identify with us.

Unlike the parishioner who looked down on me, Jesus would say, ‘Hey, George, do you mind if I walk with you a while?’ That’s what Jesus did for the guys on the road to Emmaus and over the supper they shared, Jesus reminded them that it was going to be ok.

Paul once said, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2Cor. 12) Maybe his admission of weakness was his cry from underwater for the help he was to receive. Read the Psalms. These were honest to God people who knew how to be ‘down’ and express it,  sometimes relentlessly, on their way to hopefulness and a better day.

We need to walk with one another and encourage one another. Sometimes we even need to have faith on behalf of others whose faith is faltering, standing in for them in their weakness.

I wrote this today because I was out walking with my head down, hoping someone who knows me and that I am a Christian wouldn’t judge me. So far so good. So consider this note as me standing in for some of you today. God bless.

GOD’S COSMIC PROJECT

In our men’s Bible group we are studying the Lord’s Prayer. One of the petitions to God is ‘thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6).

People often ask, what exactly is the Kingdom of God? One great definition I found is that the Kingdom is the restoration and reconciliation of all creation. It is where the will of God is effective. It is the presence of Jesus which inaugurates that Kingdom, the reign of God’s love over and in all.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem to face his crucifixion, he was declared King by the welcoming crowd (Luke 19). Upon the cross, his ‘throne’, he wore a crown of thorns with a sign above his head that read  ‘King of the Jews’.  There was no doubt that Jesus came to bring God’s decision against sin, Satan and death. Satan was cast outside of the Kingdom. While Satan might be called Prince of the world he is not King. The devil is now under the sovereign rule of God. And when we see the healings and exorcisms of Jesus we see the Kingdom doing the restoration and reconciliation, a work to which the church, the community of believers, is called today. That is the Good News.

There is no dichotomy between the spiritual and earthly Kingdom. God never ceased his work on earth. God has always had a plan, a witness, a people, and prophets willing to go forward to see this Kingdom come. When Jesus tells Pilate that the Kingdom is not of this world, he is saying that the rule of the creation does not come from the will of humans or the strength of humanity nor does it take its character from the sinful way that this world operates. But make no mistake, God has always been in this created world moving God’s plan forth. As Jesus said, “Not even hell itself can stop the progress of the Kingdom, represented in the church”(Matthew 16:18).

And that brings us to now. Where is this Kingdom? What does it look like? Well, it is always a matter of action, which might begin as personal salvation, and includes all of our lives, the words we speak and the actions we take. The Trinity is now our King. In the Book of Revelation when John turns to see the Lion on the throne, what he sees is a Lamb, bloodied and bruised from suffering for us.

And so, whenever and wherever we act in the name of Christ, in the image of Christ, we are announcing the restoration and reconciliation of God for God’s creation. It’s happening wherever the will of God is being done. It will cost us much to be part of this Kingdom work. But never doubt that what you or I may do for God is part of what will end up being the full restoration and reconciliation of earth.

Yes, salvation matters, as a lifelong process begun by God through Jesus and to be absolutely completed at the coming of Christ. (See Philippians 1) Salvation includes taking care of the most needy in this world. In his inauguration speech Jesus said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (freedom).” (NRSV Luke 4:18,19)

This is what Jesus came to do and what he calls us to do, following his life and words. (See Matthew 7)

The rules of the Kingdom are simple: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. God and our neighbor are in everyone we encounter. We dare not denigrate the image of God in others even if that ‘other’ doesn’t realize that they bear the image. (See Acts 17)

Advent and Christmas is the season to become more aware that our King, though born in a cave, went on to be Sovereign Ruler. I love this line from the song “Mary Did You Know”:  “This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.” That’s the Christ in our lives, our suffering Lord who promises that no matter what trouble we face in this world, we can trust our Lord for deliverance… for us, for others and even for this material world.

I conclude with words from the book “Kingdom Ethics” by Stassen and Gushee: “God’s cosmic project is the reclamation of God’s entire creation.” (p.18)

Some call Christmas the birthday of the King. Let’s live like it really is. I’m going to try my best.

WAITING WITH FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE

Advent is a season of waiting. It reminds us of the importance of waiting. And we are reminded of how much we don’t like to wait. It is a season of, in Paul’s great triad, faith, hope, and love.

There is light to break forth upon those who sit in darkness. That’s God’s promise in the coming of the Messiah; by faith, we are assured of it. And hope is our inner sight of seeing things that have not yet come. Love? Love is the way we live in the meantime, caring for the ‘other’, no matter who they are.

And these three, faith, hope, and love tell me that God in God’s goodness will, through the Son and the Spirit, accomplish God’s Kingdom and that Kingdom will gather ground. It will encroach on the enemy territory through God’s people. It is both here and yet to come in fullness. “The Kingdom of God is here”, said Jesus.

Covid, cancer, and other diseases will be eradicated. Political rivals will learn to get along for the good of the nation and the world. Life in Haiti will improve. The lame will walk. The blind will see. Immigrants will find a path to citizenship. People of all colors, genders, and ethnicities will be treated as brothers and sisters. The good news will be preached. You can add your own personal hopes to the list. And yes, the lamb and the lion will lie down together; and one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

Faith believes and trusts the God who promises. Hope sees it. And love will make it happen.

In the meantime, we wait….

SADNESS FOR HAITI ….AND AMERICA

I have been involved with Haiti for over 35 years and have become good friends with many people there, most of them brothers and sisters in Christ. Others and myself have witnessed love, faith, great works and ministry in the country and through the churches there. And now once more we have seen devastation, not from an earthquake but at our border.

Today a very good friend wrote me and I will let his words speak for themselves. There is nothing I can add that would do justice to the words that come from the heart, and the pain of this man I love like a brother. He is broken and his people are broken.

“My brother,

I gat tear when I saw what  happen to the Haitian people, I was really disappointed 

That situation remind me slavery period

Haitian are very angry, I know two Haitians who destroy their passport with American visas.

we all know ,Haitians helped America to fight  in order  to get his freedom , so we are part of America.

it’s inhuman when you hear testimony from people they send back to Haiti. 

We know that, American people are not happy with what’s happening at the border.

But , why Haitians ? 

Haitians love Haiti, they run away from Haiti because of kidnaping , killing, insecurity , violence and misery , we are not safe. ( nobody)

Haiti is one hour from America,  why America does not come to help with the gangs , insecurity and so one .

Today , I hear   Daniel Foot the  special ambassador for Haiti is resigned  because of what’ happening at the border and Haiti,

Past George, when you hear and see what is Happening in Haiti right  now is two different things. Haiti looks like hell, no body wants to stay.

Last week only at least 4 ships leave La Gonave Island.

George, 50 American  soldiers are good enough to help us with the gangs , we are at 1hre 30 minutes  from America.

Let ‘ us pray for Haiti.

God bless.”

The question for us is ‘What can and will we do?’ That is the question asked by our Lord, I believe.

I will write more but for today, let us pray for Haiti and ask wisdom for the leaders of our nation and world.

george

MORE TRAGEDY IN HAITI

The news today tells of yet one more catastrophe in a country so close to our shores, a country with which I am familiar after many years of visits and ministry by our church.

A friend from Haiti wrote this morning and said, “We can’t take anymore.” But they will because the news tells us of an approaching hurricane ironically called ‘Grace’. Our friends there are becoming more hopeless.

I read an online comment this morning where someone wrote, “There but for the grace of God go we.” Not helpful and not correct. It sounds like God specially favors us because God spared us and not them.

My question is, “Where IS God in the midst of the calamities in Haiti?” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a prison cell before his execution, “Who is Christ, actually?”. He was asking what about the Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis. The same question could be asked for our Haitian friends. Does it mean the salvation of their souls as their homes tumble down on them and their children die of disease and hunger? That’s not God’s will. That’s evil against which Christ fought and for which he died. And it’s a battle to which we are called.

We are the hands and feet of Christ to reach out to those in dire straits. We are his body and we must show that to the world. There once was a leader who called Haiti a  _____hole. But Christ calls them his beloved and God’s word says that the Lord is close to the needy and broken. And yes, of course that means anyone, anywhere. And I believe that our supernatural God takes every one of those souls into his eternal care, doing for them what we have not been able to do to give them life.

At this moment all I can do is offer my sympathy and prayer for those who suffer there and in so many parts of our world. And I know that Jesus weeps with everyone of those who hurt. He suffers with them. He dies with them. May we all offer ourselves to God in these moments.

When I first heard the song below, my heart broke. I wept.

Who Will Save The Children (Randy Stonehill)

Cry for all the innocent ones born into a world that’s lost its heart,
For those who never learn to dream because their hope is crushed before they can start,
And we shake our fists at the air and say, “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one, yet we have forgotten how to give,
It seems that we don’t want to face all the hungry and homeless who struggle to live,
But Heaven is watching tonight, tugging at our hearts to do what’s right.

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Save the children.

As we observe them through our TV screens, they seem so distant and unreal, but they bleed like we bleed and they feel what we feel.

Oh, save the children,
Oh, save the children,
Save the children.

Now we decide that nothing can change and throw up our hands in numb despair,
And we lose a piece of our souls by teaching ourselves just how not to care,
But Christ would have gone to the cross just to save one child from being lost.

And we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
It must be now; there’s no time to waste,
It must be you; no one can take your place,
Can’t you see that only we can save the children?

READING THE BIBLE WITH GRACE-FILLED EYES

The violent character of God as presented in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, has always troubled me.  I grew up having been taught that the whole Bible is the word of God without any errors. This idea of inerrancy became sort of a doctrine one had to subscribe to within the evangelical church.

Some people raised in more fundamentalist homes and churches were taught the Bible says it and I believe it, only to discover how untenable some of that ancient stuff really is. So when God commands the slaughter of people, well we just know that God had his reasons. He was purifying the world by getting rid of the bad people. Some say that God’s ways are mysterious and we can’t know God’s will. We just accept the printed word.

People leave the faith because of answers like that. I believe we CAN understand the violence in the Old Testament but it will require a certain grace to read the scriptures differently than what we might have been taught.

Let me write this cautiously because some will be offended even though they might not know why: Not every biblical event in those ancient times was specifically from God. Much that was written interpreting God’s intent and actions was actually the way a tribal society amidst other tribal societies interpreted what God was saying and doing through them.

I know that ‘all scriptures are inspired by God,’ but not all of them are accurate portrayals of God’s character. How do we know God’s character? Through Jesus, the Christ. He was the very WORD made flesh so that we can know God. Jesus himself says at one point, ‘if you see me, you see the Father’.

So I came to a conclusion late in life that if I see something from the old stories that don’t conform to what I know about God in Jesus then at the very least I say now that the old stories are problematic and probably not accurate. I feel under no pressure to believe differently now because I have come to know the living eternal God through Christ. God’s character never changes. He is love, once and for all time. The cross is the place where love and justice meet in Christ. Our God is a merciful and forgiving God. Christ shows us that time and time again in his acts of forgiveness, healing and Godly love.

 As one evangelical writer put it, “Some biblical writers got the message wrong.” Jesus even corrects some old sayings when he speaks what we now call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,6, and 7. (C.S. Cowles) For example: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” – ( Leviticus 19:18) But Jesus goes on to say, “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 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.” ESV.

Or take Saul, for another example. (1Samuel 16) The Bible says that God sent an evil spirit into Saul. Then look at Jesus…. He never put evil spirits in anyone he encountered but rather removed them.

So I am not troubled any more by the misunderstandings I read. Although I must be forthright and say that many churches wouldn’t want such an evangelical as me. But I want to be honest to God and I want to seek truth. And the only one who really had the truth was Jesus who himself said that he WAS the truth.

So I am reading the Scriptures with grace-filled eyes these days so I can model my life on the God I know in Jesus who gave me life and life eternal. On the Mount of Transfiguration God said to Moses and Elijah, about Jesus, “This one is my son. Listen to him.” That’s who directs my ways these days.

One more thought. A man approached a monk one day and asked, “Why does the Bible contain so many bizarre, offensive and un-Christlike depictions of God?” The monk replied, “Because God let his children tell the story.”

And so it was. The children continued to tell the story progressively until the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us and we now get to behold his glory.

So, enjoy the Scriptures. We learn much about God. And when your friends tell you they can’t believe some of the violence in the Old Testament, feel free to say, “It’s ok, I have the same trouble with it.” Then get to Jesus.