Sunday, December 18, 2011

6 Covenants

Yesterday I wrote about covenants and why they are important to understanding God and His relationship with us. Today I want to write about 6 major covenants and their signs. I think understanding God's plan as it is laid out for us in scripture is very beneficial to understanding our duty as Christians.

First I'd like to list the people involved in those six covenants: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus the Christ.

The Covenant with Adam

The covenant of Adam was one of a marital bond. God told them to be fruitful and multiply. He created a covenant with the mother and father of the entire human race, one that was fulfilled by Christ. In the covenant bond God declared that there would be enmity between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the Serpent. Genesis 3:15. The sign of this covenant was the Sabbath day. For the very first full day of mans existence was spent in the Sabbath.

The other thing to notice is that Adam fulfilled a covenant role. He was the Husband of the covenant under the form of a marriage. We'll talk about the role and form of each of the major covenant men as we go through, they are important to note.

The Noahic Covenant

The covenant between God and Noah occurs after the flood. The only people left on the planet alive are Noah and his family. God promises never to flood the world again to destroy it and then gives the seven laws of Noah (Genesis 9) God declares that the sign of the covenant will be the bow he has placed in the sky after a storm (the rainbow).

Now we see that Noah fulfilled a covenant role as well. He was the father of the family the covenant was made with, the form of the covenant now goes from marriage to household. God made his first covenant with a man and woman, now he makes it with an extended family.

The Abrahmic Covenant

Abraham was called out of his native land and brought with him some of his extended family, his household and servants. We are unsure as to how many people this tribal chieftain brought with him but the numbers were likely in the hundreds at least, but could easily have numbered in the thousands. When God made his covenant with Abraham it included ALL of them. All men, servants included were to be bound by the covenant. (Genesis 17:9-14)

Now we see that we have another covenant where Abraham fulfilled a covenant role. He was the chieftain of a tribe, the form of the covenant now goes from a household to a tribe! We are starting to see a pattern here, where God is starting to include more and more people in his covenant promises.

The Covenant with Moses

Then comes Mount Sinai. God makes a covenant with a people. He declares his words from the mountain top and after hearing just the ten commandments, the people don't want to hear his voice anymore. They are afraid of God. They ask Moses instead to listen to God and then come and tell them the rest of it. So Moses does so. In the end Moses writes down everything God has commanded and it's 612 different commands. The people agree, this 'we will do.' (Exodus 19:8) The sign of this covenant was the passover meal.

Here we see that God has now made a covenant with a nation! 12 tribes have now become a single nation under the 'constitution' of the law of Moses! It's no longer just the family, or just the tribe.. but the entire nation of Israel! Moses again fulfills a role in the covenant, the role of judge.

The Davidic Covenant

The Davidic covenant established a kingdom. This created a situation in which people under the jurisdiction of the king would be coming to visit, to pay taxes etc. This exposed many nations to the ways of the Lord God, and even shows us that God showed himself to the Gentiles and they learned to worship the one true God. God's plan is in motion, and has already changed from one marriage, to a tribe, to a nation to a Kingdom!

God promised a throne that would last forever through David's 'son' and the sign of this covenant is the throne of David! David's role was king.

The New Covenant

The final covenant, the one that fulfilled all others and formed a new and everlasting covenant is the covenant formed by Jesus Christ. Though Jesus Christ salvation was extended to all nations, all peoples, every race and creed! God extended his covenant promises beginning with the just a single man and woman, to include the entire human race! (It was his plan from the beginning!) He fulfilled the covenant promise of the Sabbath by becoming Lord of the Sabbath, and becoming a means of eternal rest and emulation of God. Where as the Sabbath was the way the Isrealites emulated God and gained much needed rest, through Jesus Christ we find a much more perfect way of emulating God while also providing rest and peace to our neighbors and ourselves.
He fulfilled the covenant of Noah by providing a way that mankind will never be destroyed again. By bringing eternal life, by bringing us through the waters of baptism, into a new life. We are no longer under threat of death, but God has seen His rainbow and not only remembered His promise(as if He needed to be reminded) but has provided the way for ALL people to be saved!

The Abrahmic covenant required circumcision for the promises of God, to bring people into God's family. Jesus fulfilled the promise to Abraham by extending the spiritual descendents of Abraham to every nation, thereby fulfilling the promise that Abraham's descendents would be more numerous than the stars! (Genesis 26:4)

Where as the Mosaic covenant required men who broke to be under the curse of death, Jesus himself took that curse and bore it that we might be freed from the law. The law is not done away with, but fulfilled! Fulfilled by God himself!

As a direct descendent of King David, Jesus as a son of David established an eternal throne, just as God promised fulfilling the covenant of David to completion. Now the kingdom has been established with the Heavenly throne and the Son will reign forever!

The New Covenant, which made the old obsolete (Hebrews 8:13) and replaced it with a 'better' one, did not destroy them or make them meaningless. It fulfilled them! It gave us a new sign, a new seal whereby we show our faith in God. We no longer circumcise, but we baptize into the family of God! We no longer celebrate Passover, but instead we participate in communion!

You see Jesus also had a role in the New Covenant, many of them in fact. Not only was He the sacrifice to seal the covenant, but He was the High Priest! Just like the other covenants it extended the scope of God's salvation to the extent that it was original intended. From a marriage, to a family, to a tribe, to a nation, to a kingdom, to the Church. We are under the New Covenant of God, and our sign is Holy Communion, do this in memory of Him! Think about that for a second! The sign of our covenant is in fact the Blood of Jesus Christ!

Now the question becomes, which covenant are you living under? What are some of the other signs that have been 'fulfilled' with new versions, shadows that have been brought to light?

In Christ,

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What is a Covenant anyway?

What is a covenant? A covenant is an agreement with two unequal parties. Covenants were a vital part of the culture in the early times of mankind. The king would make a covenant with his vassal, someone who couldn't give him anything in return, and the king would be bound to keep his promise. God made a covenant with Abraham, and the bible gives us a description of that covenant.

God gives us a vision of the covenant between him and Abraham. Abraham has divided animals in half and placed them opposite each other. Then in his vision he sees a torch and a pot pass between them. This was a binding covenant. God was saying if I break my promise to you, then I shall be torn in half just like these animals. That's a powerful thing! And remember, God had no one more powerful to swear by so He made the promise by Himself! God cannot break this promise. That's the entire concept of the covenant.

Yet it also shows us that there is a blessing AND a curse. If we break the covenant, we will be just like those animals, dead. This is why the wages of sin is death. If we break our promise to God, we deserve death. And the bible tells us ALL have sinned. In fact, if we examine our consciences we know we have sinned. God also made a covenant with Moses at Sinai. This is what most refer to as the Old Covenant. It begins with the ten commandments, and when all is said and done contains 612 different rules and regulations. Imagine that! 612 different things you have to follow to stay in good standing with God!  So what does the old covenant have to do with us?

The Bible tells us that when Jesus was on the cross, He became the curse for us. That doesn't mean that Jesus was the curse. It means that HE took our curse. That is why it tells us that Jesus fulfilled the old covenant. Because we could not keep the sin free life, we deserved the curse, death. So Jesus took it in our place! He died for us that the covenant would be fulfilled.

That is also why Paul says if we go back under the Old Covenant, we have to keep ALL of it. Because if we do not, we are breaking the covenant.. and instead of a blessing we will receive the curse. It's how a covenant works! It doesn't change, it isn't gone.. the law is still there.. but we aren't under the law, we are under the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace.

That doesn't make us free to do whatever we want. We have our own moral codes to try and live by, but if anyone tells you that you have to follow the Old Law to be sealed into God, or that we have to receive a mark that involves the Old Law, and not the New, then if we follow the Old Covenant, we have to follow all 612 commands, not just 10 or 1.

Does that mean the ten commandments are bad? No. They are a beautiful way of judging morality and we should indeed use them in our lives. But we aren't 'under' them. They are not our seal with God. The Bible clearly tells us that the seal of God is the Holy Spirit. So go forth, continue to learn what the New Covenant is, and how the early church formed. Study the early church fathers and their works, and find out what the covenant we are under means to us. It's not free or cheap grace, but it's still a light burdern and easy yoke.

Was Abraham's the only covenant? How many different covenants are there in the old testament? What are some of the 'signs' of those covenants? What is the sign of the Christian covenant?

In Christ,

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent - Which way should I go?

During Advent we often ask ourselves, or should ask ourselves, which way should I go? Life is filled with paths and forks, easy paths and hard, good paths and bad. One of my favorite poems as a child, which inspired me to begin writing my own poetry, was Robert Frosts, "The Road Not Taken". How many of us are at those very same forks in the road? How many of us are looking to find which road we should walk down?

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.1

In the Bible, God is compared many times to a shepherd. How deep that statement is. It seems so simply on the surface but there are so many little pieces of the puzzle that fit together once we begin to look at God not just as the King, the Prophet, the Almighty Creator.. but in the light of a lowly shepherd. What does a shepherd have to do with the above quote?

Shepherds walk behind their flock. As they walk behind them they watch out from their vantage point to make sure everyone is moving the way they should be going. He knows where to take them for the best grass, the water, and to the safety of the rocks or their home. He guides them with his staff and with his voice, calling out direction from behind as they walk forward. His watchful eyes are on all of His sheep, making sure that each one of them gets to the place He knows is best for them.

Isaiah reminds us of this fact. That just like the sheep in this illustration we should be listening for God's voice as we go through our lives. We listen for Him to tell us through our conscience, through our prayers, through the signs He sends us to 'This is the way; walk in it.' All too often we try to be the voice of God, telling others the way. We try to stand in the middle of the pack, yelling out at the other members 'No, not that way!' Instead we should be teaching them instead to listen for the voice of God, to find God's will for themselves. We should be reminding them of the sources they can go to to find God's word, both the written and the living. We should lead them to good shepherds as well that God has appointed, that can help them in their walk.

What are some ways that we can find God's will in our life? What are some ways we can begin to encourage others to listen for that still small voice?

In Christ,

1. Isaiah 30:21

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent - The least of these

As a parent there seems to be an unwritten rule. When someone does something nice for your children, we tend to make a mental note of it and remember to do something nice for that person. We the parent, feel responsible for repaying others when they do things for our children. It's not because those people want to be paid back. In fact, I have many beautiful friends who do wonderful things for our children that I know do it out of the golden hearts they possess. Then again, maybe it's a southern thing? 'When someone does something nice for you, you should do something nice back.' I remember hearing that growing up. Even though that person is doing something nice for your child, we the parents feel it is something nice for us! Being nice to our kids, IS being nice to us; that's how much our children mean to us.

I was just reading the morning paper when I came across an article about a man who came face to face with a homeless woman. It was a startling for the writer of that article to come face to face with a woman he knew. A woman he watched grow up as a child. She disappeared after her fourth child and the parents next door simply began raising their grand kids. Like most 'good' neighbors he never commented on it, simply noticed and walked on. Then one day walking downtown he heard a feeble voice call out for money, and mentioned the name of their home town. He turned and there was the girl. He talked to her for a while about the town, her children, her mom and dad. In the end he gave her all the money in his wallet.

As he walked away he began looking around, trying to see each person as a son or daughter. As a person, not just as a 'homeless beggar.' It touched him. It took seeing someone he actually knew in the face of a beggar to bring his heart to realize they were people. Some have problems yes. Some are drug users, some drunks, some have mental illness. Some are just down on their luck. All of them are someone's child.

You and I as Christians have been charged that 'whatever we do for the least of these, we do for'1 Jesus Christ. How much more prominent does that stick in our mind when we compare it to how we treat our own children? Every person is made in God's image. Every person has that divine image in them. If it pleases us to see others do good for our own children? How much more so does it please God? On the converse, when someone turns their nose up to our children... how much does it break our heart? To see those children hurt?

This Advent, as we prepare for our Christmas gatherings, as we gather with our friends and family to share with one another the blessings that God has given us, as we look for gifts for family and friends; let us also keep in mind those who are less fortunate. Let's look for Jesus in the face of every person we meet. Even if they aren't particularly pleasant. Even if they seem strange and aloof. Let us look for ways to help the widow and the orphan, the prisoner, the homeless. Look for ministries that give, leave a present on the porch of someone you know is having problems, buy a coat for a child whose family can't afford one.

What are some ways that you can help? What are some ways that you can remind yourself that every person you walk by is made in the image of God? Remember, people have entertained angels unaware.

In Christ,

1. Matthew 25:31-46

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent: Our lampstand

I am often reminded of the comment made by Gandhi that is often quoted at Christians by those who disagree with them.

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it's not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time.1

Often this is thrown into the face of someone when the other wants them to realize how hypocritical Christians are. I have to agree. Many of us, myself included, often do not live up to the person that Christ wants us to be. In fact, in my own case, I fall very far short of the mark. Our goal in life should be to be transparent. What do I mean by that? The bible tells us that we are "the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."2

If we are the light of the world we must think of ourselves in terms of that light. In fact, we should consider the light bulb. The light bulb is a simple device, in which you have a light source inside and clear glass outside. The power sources comes in and illuminates the interior, and then the light shines out through the glass. If the glass were opaque, the light would be changed. If it were dark, it would be darkened. If the outside were made of rock, we'd never see the light.

The same is true about us, that is what I mean by being transparent. We are told by John that the "The true light that gives light to everyone"3 was Jesus Christ. In order for us to be true lights, we must share our light to the world.  By allowing our lives to reflect Christ we become transparent like glass. Sometimes we harden our hearts, like rock; at these points the light is trying to shine but we hide it. Other times we let ourselves get in the way. We hear God calling us to do something but we try to change it; we interfere with the light. The light still shines through, but it's being blocked by our opaqueness. When we truly let go and let God, we become transparent and the world will not see us at all.. just the light.

As Gandhi's quote reminds us Jesus said we cannot serve God and Mammon. During this Advent as we prepare for Christmas let us spend more time at the altar of God, emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas. All too often we turn it into a commercial nightmare, seeing who can get the most gifts, decorate the most lights, have the biggest tree. Let us instead let our light shine in every action, including our Christmas celebrations. Do not "light a lamp and put it under a bowl."4  Instead allow God to light your lamp and allow Him to shine through to the world.

In Christ,

1 Attributed to Gandhi by William Rees-Mogg in The Times [London] (4 April 2005)
2 Mathew 5:14-16
3 John 1:9
4 Mathew 5:15

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent: Three Wise Men

Most Christians would agree that we don't know how many wise men there were. Likely there were more than three, but over the years our nativity scenes have included those three men to indicate the number of gifts recorded in specific detail in the nativity story.

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.1

The first lesson we get from the wise men is in how they found Jesus. They watched! It's unclear why they were watching, but they were looking for a sign. They might have known Daniel's prophecy (Daniel 9:24-7) or they could even been aware of the old testament calling for a king of the Jews. Regardless of how they knew, they responded to the signs. They had seen His star in the East, they were watching for it!

Do we respond to the signs in our life that God is active? When we see something or hear something that seems to indicate God is working, and that He is among us do we follow the signs? Do we look for Him? Or do we think "It's but a coincidence." Do we set out on the journey that is laid out before us, looking for the King of Kings? Or do we go back into our homes and ignore Him until Sunday rolls around again?  Are we 'watching?' Jesus said specifically, Watch! Are we watching?

Next, they offered gifts. In each of these gifts they acknowledged Jesus not only as King, but as priest, and as Messiah. They offered gold, a standard gift for a King. They offered frankincense, an offering for one of the priests to God. They offered him Myrrh, a burial ointment.   They acknowledged Him as who He was, and offered it up to Him.

Do we offer ourselves up to God? Acknowledging Him as King, Priest, and Savior? Or do we only acknowledge part of that? Do we realize that as our King He is the rule and guide of our faith? That obedience to His word is necessary? Or do we only see Him as the priest, who did the sacrifice for us, who officiates the offering that clears us of sin? Or do we only see Him as savior, the man who died in on the cross? We as Christians need to acknowledge Him as all three. Both the victim and the victor. Both the King and the servant.

What are some ways that we can offer our lives to Christ as a gift? What can we do to show that we acknowledge Him as our King? What can we do to show that we acknowledge Him as our Priest? What can we do to show we acknowledge Him as the Savior?

In Christ,

1. Mathew 2:11

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent: The Corporation

 There once was a billion dollar corporation which had just opened a new branch in a country that was in the middle of an economic depression. Thousands upon thousands of men and women applied for the jobs, thousands for every single position. In the end there was only three positions left, all with the same title and job duties.

The first person chosen for the job was an experienced person. She had many documents saying she was qualified. She had the training, job experience, and the education necessary to perform the job. They gave her an Employee Manual full of rules and regulations, and expected her to follow it.

The second person chosen for the job had worked hard to get her application noticed. During her interview she quoted the employee manual consistently and verbatim. She knew exactly what the company wanted and how they wanted it done. They still gave her a copy of the Employee Manual and expected her to follow it.

The third person chosen for the job didn't even apply. In fact she didn't deserve the job. She had no qualifications, and she didn't know what to do. She had no idea why they chose her, but in the end she still got the job. They gave her a copy of the Employee Manual and told her to follow it and everything would be fine.

Over the next few years each of them responded in a different way. The first person hired felt she was too good for the job. She felt like the company had come to her, not her to the company. She didn't care what was in the employee manual. She did everything how she felt it should be done, after all, she was good at what she did. In the end she was fired, because she didn't follow the rules.

The second person followed every single rule, just like a robot. She simply did what she had to do, and never anything more or less. She followed every word exactly the way it was written. In the end she too was fired, because she didn't produce for the company. They wanted more than the bare minimum.

The third woman realized that the company had chosen her, not for anything she had done, but out of generosity and heart. She tried her best to follow every single rule, even though she wasn't perfect and failed at times. She went above and beyond making sure the company came first, trying to repay them for the hope they had given her. She talked to others about the company and how generous they were and brought good, hard working, honest men and women to work there as well. All the while sharing as much as she could about the Employee Manual and what she had learned from it. She is still with the company and always will be.

You see the kingdom of Heaven is much like that corporation and the Word of God like the Employee Manual. Do we feel like we deserve Heaven because of all the good things we have done and how good we are? Do we feel sometimes like if we follow the book close enough, doing just exactly what it says and nothing more, then we will have to keep our position? Or are we like the third woman, who realizes we have done nothing to earn it, and likely shouldn't even have it.. but we work hard, try our best, and keep doing what we can to share it with others... that we do what we know we should, and as much as we can on top of that.. not because it gets us the job.. but because we love the One who gave it to us?

 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 1

In Christ,

1. Ephesians 2:1-10

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent: Simeon the Elder

One of the questions I think very apropos to us during Advent, is how do we respond to Jesus in our lives? As we prepare for His return and celebrate His birth; do we often think about the many ways He is right here with us? One of the things we can learn from is the attitude of Simeon the Elder. Simeon we are told by the scriptures was a just and devout man of Jerusalem who had received a promise from God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.

Do we cling to God's promises? Simeon did. He trusted that when God said it would happen, it would. God has promised us many things in our lives. Do we stand firm on His word and promises and believe them? Or do we go through life simply professing but not really hoping on those promises? Simeon in fact lived with the right attitude.

Simeon took the baby in his arms and thanked God.1

The word used in the Greek for took is decomai. This word has an inflection to mean not just 'take' as we say it in English, but also to 'receive' in a warm affectionate way. Simeon received Christ! He not only stood on God's promises, but the moment he saw Jesus he received him loving into his arms, and he thanked God! That's an amazing thing! If God told you that you would live until you saw someone, would you receive that person with joy and gladness? Most of us would run and pretend we didn't see them at all. But Simeon praised God for it! He praised God for the Messiah, for the baby Jesus and said:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”2

Simeon received Christ warmly, with affection and love, then he praised God for what God had done! Then he proceeded to declare that he was ready to die in peace. Do we respond that way when God has provided? "Lord if you let me live through this, I'll never drink again!" "Lord just take away this pain and I'll never ask again", "Lord just let me make it to the place on time, and I'll die a happy man"..... All too often we think of God as an ATM and prayer the pin number. Simeon's testimony reminds us to stand on God's promises, to trust in them, and to thank him for every blessing; and above all to trust that God's plan is the right one.

What are some of the ways you can receive Jesus on a daily basis with open arms? Are we willing to embrace the Christ openly even if it means that our time has come to an end?

In Christ,

1 Luke 2:28
2 Luke 2:29-32

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent, Wheat and Tares

Lolium temulentum. That's a big word there, but it's one we need to understand as Christians. Many people in other countries already know this plant, but it's called by a more common name. Darnel or cockle. It's also called false wheat. Why is this important to us as Christians, and how does this pertain to Advent?

Jesus gave us a parable about the weeds:

Mathew 13:24-30 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

It's really important to understand the spiritual nature behind this simple parable. So many of us are living in a false sense, that God has freed us from any sort of obedience, that we have grace and as such we do not have to produce fruit. While grace is indeed sufficient, if you have truly received grace, you will produce fruit. As James so succinctly put it, Faith without works, is dead. (James 2:17)

What does this have to do with wheat? Well this parable so eloquently describes something that would have been completely apparent to the audience of the time, especially the farmers. When wheat becomes ripe, it's fruit is heavy. It bows down under it's weight. Much like we Christians, bow down in obedience to God! When we produce fruit, spiritual fruit, we are acknowledging God as our Lord. We, like wheat, bow down.

The tares were false wheat, sowed by the enemy. They look like real wheat, they even grow much the same, but when it's time for harvest, their fruit is very light. They stand up tall. Much like many false Christians, try to stand by their own works. They stand up in front of God saying, “I did all this, I should get into heaven!” Instead, our Lord walks through and he picks the tares, which are obvious because they are not bowing down like the wheat. He throws them in the lake of fire.

It's important that we produce fruit, it's important that when we get before God, we do not say “Look at all my fruit!” Instead we say, “Thank you for your work on the Cross, because you first loved me, I have loved you. I have done these things in your name!” We need to produce fruit, and we need to be obedient to our Father. We are free from the law, but we are obedient in Love. We now live in the Law of the Spirit, not the law of the flesh.

Galatians 5:22-26 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

This Advent let us examine ourselves. Let us make sure that we are producing fruit, that we are bowing humbly before the Lord! Let us reaffirm that we are among the wheat, the child of God!

In Christ,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent, Moses, and Pillars

Many times we avoid the Old Testament. What with the begets, the counting of the tribes of Israel, the pain, the seemingly angry and destructive ways of God; many of us just choose not to read it. When we read it in light of the New Testament and the Creed we find some amazing lessons that are just as applicable today as they were more than 2000 years ago. During the season of Advent it's important that we remember many of these very lessons as we await the coming of Christ in His Parousai.

When God called the Egyptians out of slavery in Egypt into the desert, many of them were scared. In fact, many of them quickly fell away forgetting what God had just done. He parted the red sea and immediately after they sang praise to Him. Just a short few days later they were building new gods in the shape of golden cows and having big parties to worship them. These were the same people that witnessed God's plagues on the Egyptians and their 'gods'.

Then God led them to the promised land. Think about that for just a moment. God took them straight to the land He had promised to their people, and they were scared to go in. These are the same people who have seen Egypt put to shame, the very sea itself part at His command, and heard the very voice of God calling from the mountains in lightning and thunder! So they spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. We call it wandering. In fact, they were following God. He 'led' them through the wilderness. He made them follow Him to teach them to trust in the Lord their God.

Exodus 13:21 -By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

How does this apply to us? We as Christians are also on a journey to the promised land. Jesus said as He ascended that He was going to prepare a place for us, He promised us a land! Some of us are in our own self imposed deserts as well. We have the opportunity to experience the promised land in a special way right here on Earth. We even pray that God's will be done here, as it is in Heaven. Many of us see God's promise to be with us as only a future event, but our faith teaches us that God is with us always. He is our pillar of fire, leading us through the desert of the world. God calls us HIS temple. If God is in our hearts, aren't we already in Heaven in a way?

I know, I know! Heaven is a real place and it is a place we will go to later. But we can live with our hearts IN Heaven! Especially when we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives! In the young man who helps the lady across the street. In the poor child who gives up his only toy, for his friend. In the man across the street who is asking for a cup of coffee. In the random stranger who walks up and says exactly what you needed to hear, at the very moment you needed to hear it.  In worship! In communion with God! In the Eucharist!

How many of us are right on the edge of the promised land, looking in and turning back only to wander in the desert of the world? Do we have the faith it takes to stand up against the giants of THIS land, and declare it God's? Or do we simply go on in life longing for Heaven, forgetting that this very morning we prayed 'Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven?"

In Christ,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Simple Changes, Not So Simple Thoughts

Our Parish Priest made the following statement on his Facebook wall, “Tell me what you think of this phrase: "Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." How simple that seems to be, and in fact I thought the answer was clear in front of me. (Which I think is really the purpose of his statement, to make us think.) What does it mean? As a man who is fairly new to the Catholic faith (I'm not even Catholic, yet), it's very interesting to me to consider just such a thing.

How does a change from “Pray brothers and sisters that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the almighty Father” to “my sacrifice and yours” change the tone of the sentence? For me it makes me actually have to think about what the sentence says. The first thing that pops out to me is the word “pray”.

Notice it's not someone asking you to pray, but rather it's in the imperative form. That tells me something important about this sentence, in fact it tells me that the priest, or rather the person speaking at the time, is telling me to pray. Who is speaking? The priest... and yet more. You see the priest is physically speaking yes, but he is reading the liturgy. The liturgy is formed by the church. So the church is speaking. The church is formed by Christ and contains the living Word of God, after all we believe our churches are led by the Holy Spirit. So not only is the priest talking, but the church is talking, which means the Word is talking.. which means.. Christ is talking. Christ is telling me to pray.

That blows me away. (I find myself using this phrase a LOT lately.) Christ commands me directly, Pray that our sacrifice, mine and yours may be acceptable. Now I know Christ's is acceptable. What does that mean? It means we are commanded to pray that our sacrifice will be joined to Christ's. That what we offer will be made worthy, because on it's own, mine is NOT worthy. (We all know this.) So first from this very simple change, I see that while the word “our” conveys a similar concept, the new wording shows us something very deep and special... that Christ's sacrifice and ours, are not the same.. but we can join in the sacrifice and through Christ's sacrifice, ours can be made worthy. Mine AND yours. Mine + yours. If ours is not offered in truth and spirit, can it be joined to Christ's? Can it be made worthy?

Yet, we also have to consider that in fact the priest is talking as well. It reminds us that the priest, while a man like the rest of us, also has a much different calling than we do. As a man who has received Holy Orders he also has taken a vow of chastity. He has given his entire being to serving the church and Christ. He has given a sacrifice that many of us are unable to make. Many of us choose to marry, to take on vocations outside the church, to serve not only God but our families and lives. There is nothing wrong with that. But our sacrifice is not the same one he is making.

It also makes another imperative present. We are to pray for our priest! All too often we are quick to condemn the clergy. To look at their actions and dissect them. “Oh I saw the priest from so and so parish last week, and he was drinking and playing cards!” “I once heard a priest had done something really bad, yet he was at church the next day!” “That Pastor used to be a drunk, I can't believe He is a preacher!” It happens in all religions. We judge people on their actions and forget that though they are men of God, they are also men. They need our prayers. We are to pray that their sacrifice is worthy!

So it reminds us that not only is the sacrifice different, but it's also an imperfect one, just like ours. That our priests can make mistakes, but they also receive grace from God in this simple ceremony. That it's not just we, the people in the audience, who receive grace, but also our men of God. They need grace too.

Then there is another thing that we also have to see. In English it's hard to notice the tone of the word 'your'. Because in English, your can mean both singular and plural. We have to simply take the context and attempt to determine who they are talking to. However, in the original Latin it says vestrum, which is the second person plural for yours. Think about that for a minute. We are not just commanded by Christ to pray for the priest in particular, but for every other person in the room. It is all too easy when we hear “our sacrifice”, combined with all the talk about the 'personal relationship' with God, that we could easily see it as a command to pray for our own personal sacrifice and the priests. Or for everyone's all at once, but no one in particular. This command says that we are supposed to pray for “the priest” and “everyone else in the room”.

That fits in well with the community sense of Christianity. The Jewish sense of faith wasn't just a single person and God, while it was a personal relationship, it was also "we Israel." They took it very seriously when the Torah indicated 'The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said."' I think we often forget that sense of community. That we should be praying for each others sins, as well as those who have gone on before us. How much more so this statement of 'mine and yours' brings us to a similar thought to the process of the Eucharist. After all we are not just offering a percentage of our money, some wine, and bread on the altar; we are being transported in time to the sacrifice of Christ. We are participating in the Heavenly liturgy, which St. John glimpsed in Heaven, when he saw the Lamb of God, standing before the altar as slain. Jesus is our Heavenly minister, offering His sacrifice for all time for each of us. How appropriate is it that we pray that our own meager offerings be joined with His eternal one, that each one of us both priest and laity may be found made worthy through His purification.

Remember, these are my own thoughts and my understanding is likely very flawed. There are many things I don't understand, and faith is a very long learning process. I am very excited though to have an opportunity to learn, to see these changes in action, and to be challenged to learn about a faith which I find fascinating. (If there are any errors, please feel free to email me and let me know.)

In Christ,

Advent, Deer, and King David

This morning as I began to get out of bed to make sure that the kids got off to school, my only intention seemed to be to go back to sleep. After a long night of sickness and distress, my aching and tired body had no desire for prayer or worship. All I could feel in my future was tucking myself back between the covers and drifting back into the luxurious warmth of oblivion. Reluctantly I rose from my bed and pulled out my prayer book and began to read a Psalm. Usually I sing a song, but this morning I skipped it (at first) and decided to rush through and get it over with, so I could crawl back between the covers.

Isn't it just like God to take our hearts and put them back where they belong? My heart was heavy with the burdens of my life, though those burdens are small and light I tend to think of them as the heaviest load, and yet the Father took this mornings Psalm and began to tighten those heart strings until I had to sing praise to Him. I began to read Psalm 42 and my heart was transported through time.

Like a deer that longs for springs of water,
  so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God:
  when shall I come and stand before the face of God?1

As I began to read those words, my mind began to dwell on the Advent season. Here I am immersed in my daily life. Weary from the lack of rest, and sickness that has dwelt in my mind for the past few hours and yet my troubles are so far from where they could be. King David had been forced to flee from the kingdom by Saul and was unable to go back to the tent for worship. This young man, who was blessed by God was unable to go  and worship at all! Though he could worship in his heart, and rightly did; the Ark was in the tent and there with it the very presence of God.

Does our soul long for the living God? Does it thirst like the deer for water? Do we rise in the morning and fill our stomachs with drink and sustenance from a mortal source or the living well that will never leave us thirsty again? For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.2  How much do we think of that very fact? That one day we will see God face to face, even as we see each other? Does our soul thirst for the living God? Who died for us that we might live?

My tears are my food, by day and by night,.... 
I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place
and into the house of God:
the memory melts my soul.3

We often take for granted that we are free to go to our churches almost any hour of the day. While the necessities of our world require many of them to be locked (not to keep people from going in, but to prevent theft and destruction, such a shame); most priests and pastors will gladly open them for worship and praise. Do we remember with longing and tears when we are unable to do so? Do we call out to God asking that He bring us back into fellowship when our hearts are troubled and our spirit weak? How much more did I prefer to the thought of going back to sleep this morning, than the intention of offering up praise and worship! My heart should have rather been on God and His house! The eternal union between man and God!

My Lord and my God, give me a heart that melts when I think of being in your presence! Help my soul to thirst for your Spirit as the deer thirsts for water! Help me to rise in the morning with only you on my mind and my lips! That I might sing praise to you, and worship you without expectation of return! Help me to call out to you as David did, in his distressing times, "Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God!"4 Help us to remember during this season of Advent, that You were born into this world, that You are coming again, and that You are also already here with us! Bring this mystery to the forefront of our minds, that we may live our entire lives in glorious expectation of the day we will see You face to face!

In Christ,


1. Psalm 42:1,2 
2. 1 Corinthians 13:12 
3. Psalm 42:3, 4 
4. Psalm 42:11 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent, Gabriel, and Mary!

During Advent one of the best examples we can find of how to respond to God, is the Virgin Mary. Many people avoid her altogether, and simply relegate her to a roll of just another human in history. It's a sad event for the Bible gives us an entirely different view of this woman of God. Today I want to talk about one of the first events that happened with her, and how it shows her to be very much a special person and a woman of God. I also want to talk about how this event shows us how we should respond to God's will and the news that Christ is coming again.

"And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.

And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."

-Luke 1:26-38

First we see something very important about Mary. Mary was full of grace BEFORE she accepted God's task. This confused the young girl, who was then reassured by the angel that she had found grace with God. She didn't even know about the event that was going to transpire when the Angel declared her full of grace. This is important to note, Mary was different! She was special in God's eyes. She had already found grace with God before the Angel declared she would be the mother of His child.

Next, another very important lesson to learn, is how Mary responded to the information that she would become the theotokos. Many people have been chosen by God over the history of the earth. When God chose Abraham to go into Egypt, Abraham responded by hiding the nature of his relationship with his wife. He failed to trust God. When God chose Moses to deliver his people from Egypt? Moses complained about the fact he couldn't speak well, and over the years made many mistakes.. eventually leading to Moses dying in the desert, never to set foot in the promise land. He failed to trust in God. When God chose Jonah, Jonah ran and eventually had to be taught to follow God. He failed to trust and follow God.

When God chose Mary she said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done according to they word". Mary, though confused, and likely with many more questions, immediately acquiesced to God's will. This is an example for all of us to follow. When God calls us, we may not believe the reasons, we may not understand how He will do things, we may even ask, "How is this possible?"; but we should say let it "be done to me according to they word."

This Advent let us remember to have this same attitude towards the coming of God! Let us humbly submit to His will, and seek out what He wants us to do. Instead of trying to live life by our own decisions, fearing others and 'hiding our wives' as we enter our own Egypt; let us instead trust in God's promises. How can you learn God's will for you? What can you do today to help yourself, and to show others that you are trusting in God?

In Christ,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent, Angels, and Praise!

I've been hearing a lot recently about how we shouldn't celebrate Christmas and many other Holidays. I think everyone has a right to choose for themselves. For me, I find them a time of reminder to bring us out of the stupor of living from day to day. To remind us of certain things that we might forget to do. Not because we shouldn't be doing it everyday, but because sometimes we just get in a rut and go through motions. Advent is just such a season.

It is to remind us of how we should be living every single day of our life. As we wait for the Parousai we should continue to live every day as if it were the season of Advent. Even during our 'ordinary' times, we are still just counting our days until something greater!

Luke 2:7, 13-15 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

What do we learn from above about how we should respond to the news that Jesus is returning? How about the way we should respond when we think about the fact that Jesus is already here among us in very special ways? Well the same way the angels reacted to the fact that He had been born! We should have that same anticipation, joy, excitement, and enthusiasm that others had for the birth of Christ! The angels responded by praising God! Do we do that enough? We should be praising God for having condescended as a man, and as well for promising to return for us again! How great is the promise that Jesus will return to take us to a place that He has prepared for us? Do we give God praise for that daily? In fact, shouldn't our entire life be giving God praise for that? If this life is just a small portion of our entire life, after all what is a mere 100 year span (if we are lucky) compared to eternity? Glory to God!

Secondly, how did the shepherds respond to this good news? They went to seek Him! They didn't just listen and go home to sit and watch TV. Neither did they stay right where they were watching their sheep. In fact, it doesn't say that they took there sheep anywhere or took time to make sure they were safe, they could have brought them with them? They could have even left them in the field. We are not sure! We do know that immediately upon hearing this glorious news, they immediately began searching for Jesus! Do we do that? How many of us upon hearing the gospel go home to search Him out? Or do we just leave the church and go back to our ways. Instead we should be searching Him, in prayer, in study of His Word, in the worlds through others! We can find Him in the face of the homeless, in the widow and orphan, in the prison! Whatever we do for the least of these we do for Him!

Let us use Advent as a time to seek God! A reminder that we should be seeking Him always! Let us make small changes to our life, and develop habits of seeking Him! It is a good time to begin a bible study program, or to volunteer at a shelter, food bank, or even at a prison ministry. What are some other ways you can make a difference while seeking God?

In Christ,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent, Virgins, and Lamps!

In the ancient middle east there was a custom for several young chaste women to be set to watch for the Bridegroom to return to the festivities. The bridegroom had to go and negotiate with the father, prepare the dowry and then come back to the party. The women were to wait for him to light his way. If they didn't show up, or their lamps weren't lit it would bring disgrace not just on her, but she also wouldn't be allowed to participate in the festivities.

Mathew 25:1-13
 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

In the season of Advent we are reminded that we are invited to the wedding, not just as guests and witnesses, but as part of the party! We have a job to do. We are to be prepared to do our job. Just like the young virgins with their lamps, we are supposed to do the tasks set to us by the Gospel and by our Vocation, so that when the Bridegroom comes we will be waiting. Just like the virgins we do not know the hour when the place He is preparing for us will be finished, so we must be ready at any moment to jump up and welcome the Bridegroom. After all, we don't want to be late for the party; in this case he shows us the door will be shut and will not be opened.

So keep your faith strong. Grow in your relationship with Christ, and with your community of fellow believers. Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, body, mind and soul! Love your neighbor as yourself. Fill your lamps with love and faith, and 'get ready, be ready, stay ready!'  Remember, you cannot count on someone else's faith to fill your lamp. The wise virgins couldn't fill the lamp for the others. We have to work out our salvation, it is up to us to fill the lamp!

In Christ,