One and Done Refuted

“The righteous cannot live by virtue of (his former righteousness), once he starts sinning.  So if, after I tell the righteous person that he will surely live, he begins trusting in his own (former) righteousness and starts committing crimes; then none of his (former) righteous actions will be remembered; on the contrary, he will die for the evil deeds he has committed” (Ezk. 33:12c-13 CEB).

The question of whether one remains a believer all of their lives, regardless of their actions, is a topic with which many people struggle.  For some faiths the answer is a no-brainer, if you confess and believe in a moment, you will be saved forever.  Other religious traditions respond quite differently than their counterparts; that a “one and done” kind of commitment does not ensure anyone of a lifetime of pardon by the Almighty God.  We must surrender our will over to the care of God, 24/7.

As a true Wesleyan, I believe that the grace offered to us by the Holy One, transforms and radically changes our lives.  The Divine’s offering of grace is the only thing that can save us.  If we could save ourselves, then why would we need Holy help?  God and God alone liberates our souls from bondage.  Our actions do not count when grace comes to live in us.  Holy-hands fashioned our hearts to embrace the calling of the One, who created us in Divine likeness, without human help.

Our part comes when we have a profession of our faith, a realization that Christ is doing something for us that we cannot do ourselves.  We embrace the gift of grace, and in so doing our entire life is changed.  Paul talks about a “circumcision of the heart” (Rom. 2:25-29), a total conversion of faith. People discover the gospel (good news) within us by our actions, demonstrating a new way of life. What we say and do tells the world, “Hey, I am not the same person anymore. I live in the rich gift of God.”

And now to call back my Weslayan heritage, when one confesses, one is expected to live in a life that reflects a change of heart.  Failure to show Christ’s love through our actions results in a turning away from our commitment to God, and our religious communities.  Our works must reflect a new way of existing in the world.  Wesley would challenge a person about the authenticity of their conversion experience if actions did not change after the commitment to Divine leadership.

I want to come back to the text from Ezekiel and hold up this very tough passage.  We see many examples of a call to holy living throughout the entire New Testament.  Perhaps our notions of salvation begin right here, in this passage from the Hebrew Bible.  Grace is given by God, but it is up to humanity to reflect the change.

This is hard stuff because the underlying message is to think through your actions. If you are a true believer, you carry God’s love and message with you into a world that needs to witness the transformative power of the Holy-One.  I hope that we all can embrace the idea that our confession is not the end of the story.  Taking Jesus’ lead, we take the Gospel to the world by demonstrating the love of God and neighbors.  We will show the way to the Father by our kindness and understanding.

Praise be to our Amazing God, who saves us and writes a new way of existing in the world onto our hearts and minds!

From Bad to Worse

This week we finished reading Jeremiah and began the Book of Ezekiel. I thought the former reading grew horribly depressing, but the prophet Ezekiel takes God’s wrath to a whole new level. I never imagined that I would yearn for Jeremiah. While Jeremiah’s writings focused on the people’s actions and about how they fell from God’s grace, Ezekiel discussed God’s wrath in ways that are horrifying at best.

So far, I struggle with God’s actions, which appear vengeful and lack grace. I understand the need to correct bad behavior, but slaughtering innocent children? Really? Why destroy the entire Hebrew race? True, the Hebrew people broke the covenant, but forgiveness, redemption, and love are nowhere around.

So, this is the paragraph that I wanted to bring hope into the conversation, but I can’t. It is as if the people appear trapped in a horrific storm with no end in sight. We know the end will arrive, but when and at what cost?  How many lives must be sacrificed before God’s fury subsides?

Perhaps we are meant to deal with the fury of the divine storm. We hunker down and Endure the raging seas. Some people remain lost in the debris, while others are not. We try to keep those we love safe through the stormy blast.

Most of us know what it is like to feel ravaged and abandoned. The darkness of hopelessness is overpowering. When we cry out in our deepest sorrows, we feel isolated, cut off from the

Divine Healer. It is not a good place, and we find ourselves frightened, unsure of where to go and what to do next. In our brokenness, the only thing we can do is offer this phrase, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

We all experience a season of advent; the time that we lay in wait for God’s presence. “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and ransom us from our torment.” And in this very sullen place, the seeds of hope find their way to solid ground. While we cannot see the bloom immediately, our faith (God with us) will rise out of the dirt and into our lives. Praise be to God that advent ends and a new life begins.

A New Covenant

Devastation and heartbreak surrounded Jerusalem. Disaster followed the Hebrew people. God officially claimed that due to the constant disobedience of the favored nation, the covenant broke. And for the first time in the nation’s history, Divine favor did not exist. No one saved the children of Israel; they submitted to the Babylonians and became exiles in a foreign land. Such proved the plight of the chosen seed of God.

I know what it feels like to be abandoned by God.  I look at some of the many struggles in my life and can’t help but wonder, “I should have made a better choice.”  My actions led to God’s overwhelming silence.  Equipped with sorrow, I push God away.  I say, “Forget about a new covenant, I want a new soul.”  I yearn for a way to start all over again while maintaining the lessons I learned.  I cry out, “I want a do-over, God!”

But wait, through the most horrific part of the story, the Holy-One prepares for another covenant, a new way. God did more than speak through a prophet, the Divine burned within the people an opportunity to follow the road of light. Humanity’s innermost part of their spiritual DNA points to a compass leading to God.

Praise be to the One, who gives us the strength to face the struggles of each day. Every morning we can follow our minds and souls to the very throne of God. Let us serve the world, equipped with heavenly guidance. Make this day count by staying on the path of Divine holiness.

Jeremiah and Our Worst Nightmare!

Poor Jeremiah. His words are harsh and very painful to hear, much less speak. Many times in the narrative, Jeremiah pleads with God to find another prophet; the words are too terrible to speak. How could he, a prophet of the Most-High God, tell his community that Israel was no longer the chosen society. Divine favor no longer existed.
There is nothing worse than to feel cold-shouldered by God. Faith is no longer a part of our daily life, and the one in whom we believed turns His face from us. Who will be our deliverer? We are in complete spiritual darkness, and it is so black that we cannot see our hands right before our faces. We find ourselves in the pit of despair. This is our darkest nightmare.
Praise be to God that we can wake up, realizing that our Lord still watches over us. The awful dream is over, and we move down the road, secure in the strength that we are a reconciled people. Our relationship with the Almighty is healthy and vital. We wake up and rediscover the beauty of rejuvenation.
Perhaps the greatest lesson taken from Jeremiah is that the nightmares could be a reality without God’s protection. This absence of light is the fear of the Lord. We must face the world alone. The feeling of abandonment is overpowering, but God’s favor redeems us. Hear the Good News; we are children of the Most-High! The nightmare is over. We continue on our journey to serve the one who led us to the pathway. So, we share the hope that comes from experiencing the darkest of times to embracing the light.

Isaiah, Accountability, and Hope

Today marks the last reading from the Book of Isaiah. God restores the promise after sharing with Isaiah the many ways that the people of Israel chipped away at the covenant until the commitment made between them snapped. God’s wrath poured down over the nation, and in a moment of righteous anger, the Divine arms of safety no longer protected the Hebrews. In their vulnerability, foreign invaders entered the exposed land and took the “chosen” people hostage.

We hear the cries of the Israelites as they were forced out of the promised land and onto distant soil. “What have we done God? Take us back home. This is too much! We promise that we will be faithful, so please don’t abandon us. Have mercy on your people.”

In the end. God reestablished the covenant, but He took the time to repair the fractured relationship.  The Divine would not play the role of the enabler. The Deuteronomic theme (people stop worshipping, God stopped protecting the nation, people lost battles, they cry out to God, He restores the relationship, repeat) would not last. The Divine wanted a relationship built on honesty and trust.

Isaiah is not an easy book to read as God lays out the many ways hope led to betrayal.  It did not happen as a result of one event, but occurred over a series of time: Promises unkept one-by-one, until trust gave way to unfaithfulness. This became a pattern that broke the covenant between humanity and the Creator. The first step in reparation was to admit the times that they failed to be an obedient church.

Isaiah ends with a reminder from God that the covenant was repaired and will never be declared broken by the Holy One. The new establishment of the relationship between the Divine and the Holy One suggests a change in God’s protection to include personal and communal salvation.

May our Isaiah stories hold us accountable for the sins that we commit against one another and God. May the confession of our sins lead us to full restoration. Praise be to God for the chance to remain in the unwavering love of God. Let us continue forward in faith with a renewed sense of identity as children of our amazing God.

Two Questions Answered

Last week we finished the Book of Ecclesiastes. After reading, I think that the author stressed important ideas regarding humanity and its relationship to the Divine. The first is the idea that “To everything, there is a season and I time and purpose for everything under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Life is full of twists and turns, and there is no way to avoid change as it makes its way into our lives.
Many times, a tornado rushes in, and we wonder how we may overcome the wreckage in our lives. We cry out, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” The answer is we did not deserve hate, anger, or shame. Awful situations happen. Perhaps the best question may be, “Since this happened, how have I sought recovery? Who may I turn to in my darkest moments?” True faith is measured not in our blame, but our actions. Can we rise above our circumstances?  Do we hold fast to our belief that God will carry us through times of darkness?
Sometimes change can be positive. Perhaps there is something that wakes out of a spiritual coma, and we dive into uncharted land. Maybe the Holy Spirit furthers us along with a gentle breath so that we may live wholly and fully. There are times that I need a nudge to remind me that I am not to remain comfortable. God spoke to Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy by saying to the great Hebrew leader, “You have circled this mountain long enough, head North” (Deut. ).
The other issue that the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes addresses is God’s creation (I mean everything, good and bad) begins and ends at the same source. The rain that falls on evil people also falls on the righteous. Our indignities directed towards God reflect our lack of appreciation as God caring for all humanity. “We should punish our enemies,” we cry. And so begins our discord into the world of resentment and overwhelming anger. Hear the good news; the Most-High God loves us.
Punishment is not our responsibility. We are designed to find blessings in life and to share the incredible love that God has for all creation. Yes, I wrote the word all. I realize that there are things that happen in life that brings us heartache, but God does not want us to be overwhelmed by such catastrophes. Our work is to walk through the fire to get to the other side. Only then, with holy help, we step out of the shadows and into the warmth of the light.
Praise be to God that we are designed for rich sacred work so that we may live into the graciousness of the Holy One. Through the week stop and look at your life. How might you stop circling the mountain, and head North? Take one step in the direction where your heart leads you, and you will be changed. Trust the Spirit to move in you by taking your mind off of the things that hold you back from engaging in holy worship.

Wisdom Was in the Beginning

We are currently in the Book of Proverbs, and immediately, there is a power I find when reading complete chapters.  My experience with Proverbs remained limited to cherry picking a verse here, or a verse there.  Experiencing the power and meaning of the written word in context provides richer meaning to my favorite passages.  One understands why and what circumstances pressed the author to write in a certain way with particular words and phrases.

Proverbs says that wisdom itself was the first of God’s creation. “ADONAI made me as the beginning of his way, the first of his ancient works.  I was appointed before the world, before the start, before the earth’s beginnings” (Pr. 8:22-23 CJSB).  The importance of a process that was not built on randomness, but at its very core, began with a grand design full of thought and purpose.  The creation of the world started with wisdom a central helper in the construction of the world.

The Book of Proverbs reminds me that nothing established by God is accidental, but at the very center of its being or purpose, is well-intentioned creation, giving light to the world.  As another wisdom writing states, “For everything there is a season, a right time for every intention under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1 CJSB).  Randomness remains in chaos, while order births meaning.  Our journey, while not always predictable, always has a purpose that enfolds out of our experiences.

Praise be to our God, who restores us to our right path.  Our Great Creator, who designed wisdom to be placed in our very DNA.  I hope that we may embrace the gift given to us.  We may listen to the spirit, and with discerning hearts, follow the path set before us by our amazing Savior.

Our Songs of Ascent

Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.

Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done.  While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance.  Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai!  Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful.  The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).

This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives.  What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns?  Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response.  Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.

From Song to Song

Today’s reading passed the 100 mark (we actually finished Psalm 101). In many ways, I feel like I am doing a disservice to the power of the mighty songs of God. Reading three to four Psalms per day is like taking a hymnal and simply reading the words of three to four songs each day. There is no melody to emphasize the beauty of the phrase, nor are there people with whom to raise my voice. Silence does not capture one ounce of the beautiful music of God.

 I know there is power in proclaiming the Word. As a doctoral student (boy that sounds nice) my emphasis was proclamation and worship. I learned techniques and ways to best express the meaning of content and honor the beauty of the language of God. Psalms is the ancients Jew’s hymnal. We experience songs of praise, songs of protection, and songs of absolute sadness. Our complete DNA exists within all 150 songs. Each one pleads for God’s presence in all times; happy and sad. Sing to God, who can handle anything. Praise be to God!

Maybe next year, I can reflect on the Psalms by slowing down and taking each hymn much slower than I can right now. My hope is to sing each one, and feel the presence of the Spirit as expressed in the Psalmists’ eternal devotion to their God. May we take a moment to Lift up our eyes to the hills. From where does our help come? It comes from the Lord (Ps. 121:1-2 ESV). Let us take time to raise our voices in song, united in the goodness of our God.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

A Psalm of Joy for “MacDonald the Older” – Happy Birthday

I praise you, oh God, for out of the chaos of my life, You step over the darkness of my soul and create. Where once I believed there would be no new life, now there is an everlasting presence of a new creation. My son came into the world, and since the very moment of His birth, I have never stopped giving thanks for your gift.

I stand in wonder at your deeds, oh God. This young man, who shares my DNA most amazingly. His expression of music is quite amazing. I knew that he had the gift when he came from his mother’s womb. I gathered him in my arms as he screamed and cried. Softly, I began to sing a song, and he stopped and listened to my voice. I knew we had an instant connection.

How vast are the depths of emotions, oh God, how great is the love of a father lavished upon the son? Thank you for the joy of finding purpose in a world where nothing else makes sense. This little one, wrapped in a blanket of holy love between his mother and father. Bonds that fashioned a home together with a precious glue that holds us together in the most difficult of circumstances.

I thank you, oh God. All that I have, all that I am, is because of You. We are called to be present at Your table and continue to be grateful for all that You give to us. May we continue to walk in Your path forever. Amen!

christopherjoiner

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