This is the place for meditations on the journey. Comments and thoughts welcomed. Please be 'civil'!

The Wounded

Whenever there is a battle there will be those who are killed and those who are wounded. The kings of Biblical accounts played on the stage of history as the leaders of their people. Judgment of disputes between citizens and leading the army into battle were the two major roles that kings were expected to fulfill. In times of peace, those long periods of planting and harvest and community celebration, the kings organized the leadership and established supplies of food provision and military protection.

The greatest king in the history of Israel was David who demonstrated inspiration and leadership in battle. His leadership was based on his relationship with God. From his earliest youth David composed Psalms of worship and praise even while he was doing the lowly task of tending his father’s sheep. Because of his praise and worship his faith increased as he became more aware of the character of his heavenly Father. God took him from tending the sheep and anointed him to be king of Israel.

In his early encounter with the Philistine giant, Goliath, David depended on “the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel,” rather than sword, spear, and shield. Through worship David came to trust in, rely upon, and have faith in the name of God.

Wounded soldiers are those who have not been able to trust in, rely upon, and have faith in our Heavenly Father. Unfortunately, many of those wounded are the victims of “friendly fire.” There are many in the church, whether as members or leaders, who use rules and doctrines to attack those in our midst who are the most vulnerable. The proper application of mercy is to bandage the wounded, bring them to healing, and then teach them by loving example how to trust in, rely upon, and have faith in the name of God.

When I try to picture the ministry of Jesus, God’s own Son, as portrayed in Scripture, I see someone who always had contact with those considered the lowest in society. In fact, the religious leaders of His day were actually so angry at the mercy He exhibited to the outcasts that they conspired against Him and tortured and crucified Him. He was a threat to their religious practices and their attempts to use rules and regulations to justify their own activities.

In a recent article published in an Italian Jesuit Magazine La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine, the current Pope Francis said: "The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel."

Rather, he said, the Catholic Church must be like a "field hospital after battle," healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away.

"It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!" Francis said. "You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."

"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules," he lamented. "The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all."

I find it amazing that I am quoting the Pope. But God is above all. Could it be that the religious hierarchy of the established church can be torn down and replaced with a sense of mercy and grace that actually helps and heals the wounded among us? May God make it so! May God’s grace be the most important factor in all churches!

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The Club

A few years ago my friend, John, and I spent some time on Manitoulin Island. While we were there we played some golf on two different courses. One course had been build from some fields that probably had been pastures. It was open with only a few hazards such as newly planted trees and bushes and a couple ponds. As we hit our balls around the course they were easy to find in the low rough on either side of the fairways. The other course we played, however, had apparently been constructed from woodland and each fairway was lined on either side with thick forest. Also, the water hazards were more like lakes than ponds. John and I each had a dozen golf balls when we began our game. By the time we got to the lake on the 17th we had only one ball each remaining. The 18th was never played and we left laughing uproariously.

John and I went to seminary together so our infrequent forays of golf are strictly for fun and laughs. We talk about our experiences in life and how God has blessed us so abundantly; even though one of those blessings isn’t skill at golf. Neither of us are members of a golf club and yet we are members of an even more elite organization; but it is not a club. It is a kingdom.

We have been selected by the King, called by Him into His service, and actually adopted by Him as sons. It is a very special privilege. Since the fees for joining the family of the King are rather steep; there are not a lot of members.

Don’t get me wrong. There are actually more than two billion who consider themselves members. But they think they are members of some sort of Club with special privileges for them alone. They are interested in social standing, points for good behavior, looking good in a crowd, being seen with the right people. They feel very sure in their “position” and are also sure there are many who haven’t earned their status. It is difficult for them to even envision joining the family of the King and being adopted as daughters and sons. I am sure they have been called. I am sure the King has spoken very quietly in their innermost being to come to Him. But they don’t think they need to. They think there is nothing wrong with them or their way of life. They can’t join the family of the King because they are members of a much more important Club.

I know golf or skills related to golf have nothing to do with the kingdom of God. Being a member or not a member of a golf club has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. To be adopted as a son or daughter of God one only has to answer the call. To answer the call a person first has to acknowledge that he hears the call. You can’t answer the phone unless you hear it ring. If you let it go to the message machine you won’t answer the call. However, if you hear the voice, choose to answer the call, and recognize that the Person on the line wants an eternal, love relationship with you; adoption into the family of God is a yes.

The entrance fee is steep. Jesus, the Son of God, died to make it possible for you to join. He was willing to exchange His life for yours. If you are willing to give up your life to follow Him; tell Him that you are ready. That is what the water hazard is all about. When my golf ball is baptized into the lake it is lost. When you exchange your life for Jesus’ life baptism in water is the symbol for making that decision. Being submerged in the water represents entering His death. When you come up from the water it represents entering His resurrected life. The eternal exchange of your life for His is a very good deal.

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The very first thing that Holy Spirit did after filling Jesus was to take Him into the wilderness for 40 days.
Jesus had just seen Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove and heard the voice of Heavenly Father say, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” It may seem strange or unusual to us but the express purpose of taking Jesus into the wilderness was to be tempted by the devil. Jesus had heard Father say, “You are my beloved Son;” at the end of 40 days without eating He heard the devil say, “If You are the Son of God command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answer to the devil sets the tone for dealing with our enemy for all time: “It is written, ‘That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Jesus spoke the word of God to defeat the temptations of the devil. In fact, in the Revelation of John He is envisioned with a sharp double-edged sword coming from His mouth.

The newly enlisted soldier is prepared by Holy Spirit to do exactly what Jesus did when faced with temptation. After the soldier is enlisted there is always a period of training in a secure facility. Since we are drawn into a love relationship with Father through Jesus the training we experience is in the use of weapons of a spiritual nature rather than weapons of hate or physical combat. We are immediately shown that our salvation in Christ protects our minds and hearts. There is a sense of rightness with God that gives us a new boldness to pray and relate to Him in a very intimate way. Our sense of faith allows us to face daily encounters with evil in a powerful, overcoming way. At the same time this new relationship with our Commander in Chief is preparing us to speak with excitement and joy about what God has done for us
through His Son, Jesus.  

The familiar Psalm 23 is a compact illustration  of what God does in our lives to prepare us for combat. It may seem strange to think of sheep as warriors but we really are like sheep following a shepherd while simultaneously becoming a mighty army that can overcome the world. In this famous Psalm that is often quoted at funerals because of the theme of overcoming through the, “valley of the shadow of death,” we find that the sheep starts out in a secure location grazing on green grass and drinking still waters. We are in a perfect place, a secure place, a place of peace. This corresponds to our initial faith step of entering into a love relationship with Father through Jesus.

Quickly, however, we are led in “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” We are being led to higher ground because the summer winds will soon dry up the green grass and the still waters. If we are to survive we must be taken to the high pastures on the tablelands or mountain plateaus. In order to get there it is necessary to travel through a mountain pass that has many dangers. We are safe through this, “valley of the shadow of death” because we keep our eye on the shepherd and follow Him closely. He anoints our heads with oil; representative of Holy Spirit, of course; and guides us with discipline and teaching (the rod and staff). We emerge from this dark valley to experience the feast on the high tablelands and enjoy this feast even in the presence of enemies still lurking about. The end of the Psalm is the declaration that we are fully prepared to live eternally with God, the ultimate Good Shepherd.

Our preparation is to become more and more intimately acquainted with God through Jesus Christ in the power of Holy Spirit. The Word of God, the Bible, becomes the love letter from God constantly showing us how much we are loved. The Holy Spirit then takes the words of the Word and causes them to come out of our mouths in answer to the temptations of the enemy. Furthermore, Holy Spirit guides us by bringing the words of Jesus to our minds so that each day we are enabled to live according to the Law of Love. 

 This illustration is taken from Psalm 23 from the Point of View of a Shepherd by W. Phillip Keller.

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The Warrior

Warrior gloved handThe idea of warfare does not immediately come to mind when contemplating the life of Jesus Christ.
However, His life and teaching encompasses the attitude of the warrior in the cause of peace. Not only was Jesus willing to die to establish peace and joy and righteousness; He asked us to be willing to die also. We, too, have been enlisted in a battle that rages around us in an unseen world. Are we prepared to fight?
When a soldier goes into battle he or she is equipped with armor and supplied with the best weapons and material. Communication with the leader of the platoon and division is of paramount importance. The General of the Army is in direct control at all times with all of the affairs of the engagement. During training and preparation the soldier goes through rigorous physical preparation. Furthermore, the education and training of leadership is considered of greatest priority. Military schools have been established to educate future officers. After education these women and men then are promoted into vital positions of leadership because they have exhibited skill, resourcefulness, and potential. Ultimately, this preparation and education produces high ranking officers who are able to successfully lead the troops. 
In the context of the Church, the Christian community, and the kingdom of God we often go into battle with the greatest possible potential for failure that can be imagined. We go into the fight unprepared and uninformed. In fact, most of us in the Church have not even been informed that there is a battle. We have been led to the conclusion that we are to struggle with our personal fears and problems on an emotional and psychological level. Yet, there is a spiritual battle all around us and we are in that battle.
When we become aware of the battle we can then prepare to win the battle. First, we win the battle in our personal lives. Then we are prepared to help others with the battle that they are experiencing. Our Commander in Chief has provided all of the weapons necessary including communications equipment. As we engage in the battle in our own lives and prepare to help others we will learn how to win peace; joy will become second nature in all we do; and a sense of right standing before God will become a reality.

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The JourneyPreparation for camping would involve planning the route; deciding on places that would be good for camping; packing tents, sleeping bags, food, and other supplies; consulting maps of the camping area; and in all ways prepare for a safe, enjoyable trip. To prepare for the spiritual journey of life there needs to be more dilegence than for a camping trip. There are far more obstacles in life than in a camping weekend. Let's look at the preparations necessary to make our spiritual lives successful....

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