Nothing Else Matters

LUKE 15:11-32
In the grand scheme of written material, we have only a few words that Jesus actually said. Because they are so few, they are all the more precious and meaningful. Jesus often taught using parables – short, easy to remember stories that teach an important lesson in faith. Without exception, these stories are portraits of grace that stir our minds and hearts. They are forever relevant keys to growth in kingdom living that challenge our natural inclinations to prejudice, selfishness, judgementalism, misplaced priorities, and self-righteousness. They teach us that when we do acts of mercy, love, and compassion we are truly living in the kingdom of God. Parables teach us that grace is a gift of God to be passed on to all we meet, that forgiveness is not an option, that each person is of equal yet priceless value, and that knowing God is the only treasure that matters. They give us insights to the nature of the Father through the stories of the son.

One of my favorite parables is the Prodigal Son, or more accurately the Gracious Father. The central truth of this story is the Father’s eager forgiveness and unconditional restoration of his wayward child. He had lived so long with the awful gnawing fear that his son was dead. He had relived countless memories of when he was a little boy. He had remembered in detail the funny, sweet things the boy had done. He had imagined his smile and the way laughter just bubbled out of him when he played. He had thought about how he looked when he was asleep and the times he had held him when he was hurt or afraid. Now he was here! He was alive and he was home! Nothing else mattered!

The image of the Father running down the road to meet his son with open arms of love and acceptance takes my breath away. That image stays with me in one of my most precious memories.

Our son returned to Fort Hood, Texas, after a year-long deployment to Iraq. When his battalion came marching across the parade ground, I spotted him in formation just by the way he walks. When the welcome home speeches were made and the ropes holding back the families were removed, I took off in an all-out sprint! For so long I had lived with the awful fear that I would never see him again. In that year, I had recalled hundreds of sweet memories: the way he smiles, his first steps, stitches in his foot, rocking him to sleep. Now he was here! He was alive and he was home! Nothing else mattered!

So, it is with God the Father. He anguishes over our hurts and our loneliness, our rejection and our sins. But, we are reconciled to Him, because He RUNS to us with open arms of understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. We are home! Nothing else matters!

Reflection – When has the Father run to you with forgiveness, acceptance and hope?


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An Introduction to Advent

Advent comes from the Latin meaning “a coming” or “arrival.” The season begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30th aAdvent Prayer Partners - Deadline to Signup! - The Church of Saint Clarencend ends on Christmas Eve. Advent begins our new church year as Christ comes to us again with that peace and joy needed to take us through another year.

During the season of Advent, the church celebrates two comings of Christ. First, we remember his incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, the world’s Savior. Second, we look forward to the second and final coming as reigning Lord and Judge. We thank him for His first Advent, prepare for his Second Advent, and celebrate His Presence through the Holy Spirit. It is a unique time when the past, the present, and the future realities of God are combined.

Advent gives voice to the joy and hope that the Christ Child brought to the earth and the expectation of the total restoration of God’s Kingdom. The Church looks forward to the completion of our salvation and the end of the world’s suffering when Christ comes again. The season forces spirituality into an increasingly secular Christmas and enriches our relationship to God, to each other, and those who have come before us.

The earliest recorded observances of Advent are from the fourth century. Monks set aside approximately six weeks before Christ’s Mass as a time of penitence and devotion and fasting. Advent became a time when new Christians prepared for baptism. For almost 2000 years, the church has set aside a four week period to recover Christmas as a holy time of expectation and preparation.

Today in the midst of so much despair Advent offers HOPE – the hope of the church, the hope of the restoration of creation to completeness upon Christ’s return, the hope of the salvation Christ brings. In the midst of so much war and death, Advent offers PEACE – the peace beyond our understanding, the peace that is more than the absence of conflict, the peace of Christ. In the midst of so much prejudice and hate, Advent offers LOVE – the perfect love of God, a way to love one another, the yearning to love His church. In the midst of so much sadness and loneliness, Advent offers JOY – the joy of salvation, the joy of life, the joy of heaven.

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The Source

There is no question that we battle evil at all times. Some choose to see evil as some sort of devil or demon that haunts us. Others choose to see evil as a state that has persisted on the earth since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. No matter how you define the presence of evil on earth, we can defeat it. Ironically, we can only do this by admitting, as the desert monk did, that it is more powerful than we can ever imagine.

After we come to this admission, we can say as the Psalmist does, “I will lift UP my eyes – from where my help comes.” When we find ourselves in a situation that we are powerless to control or defeat, we must call upon our God because He has the power to defeat ALL enemies. We are so tempted to believe that we can do it on our own.

When my son Jeremy was about two years old his mother always stressed to him how important it was to hold his hand when he crossed the street. Our oldest was always a very resourceful person so he decided that he could hold his own hand. When it came time to cross the street or to walk in the mall he would clasp both hands together and say, “ I hold my own hand.” That didn’t work too well. He did not realize that holding his own hand defeated the very purpose of holding hands. His mother held his hand to protect him, not to control. In the mind of a two year old, holding his hand was control and he didn’t want it. Most of us are more than two years old, and yet we still don’t want to be controlled. Like the commercial where the man is doing all kinds of crazy things saying, “I got this,” but really he doesn’t have anything. He’s just simply out of control. We cannot control the sources of evil on this earth without looking to the source of our blessing, of our hope, and our power.

The source of our power is found when we humbly cry out, I can’t do this on my own. The psalmist even goes further and plainly admits that the source of power comes from above and not from within himself. I fear that today, as we face the tensions and difficulties of our time, we are looking so deeply inside of ourselves that we are forgetting the source of all healing, peace, understanding, and that life really is from above. This does not mean that we should not do our best and muster together all of the resources that God has blessed us with to defeat this plague that has beset us. However, as we do it we should never forget that all that we are and all we will ever be comes from God. He is our TRUE source of ALL.

In these times we must put our trust in our Source. We should do all that we can with the knowledge that we have to fight this situation, but in the end we must lean on the strength of God. He will see us through to the end. The times that lie ahead may be difficult, but God will be with us.

LORD, we acknowledge you as the source that guides us and sustains us. In these difficult times we ask you to guide us to put ourselves aside and allow you to steer our course. Forgive us Lord for trying to be our own gods, and convict us to follow your guidance so that we may find the ultimate source of our victory.

Amen

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The True Commands of God

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Once the order was given at Scetis, ‘Fast the week.’ Now it happened that some brothers came from Egypt to visit Abba Moses and he cooked something for them. Seeing some smoke, the neighbors said to the ministers, ‘Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.’ The ministers said, ‘When he comes, we will speak to him ourselves.’

When the Saturday came, since they knew Abba Moses’ remarkable way of life, the ministers said to him in front of everyone, ‘O Abba Moses, you did not keep the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment of God.’

—-Sayings of the Desert



It is a difficult thing to discern sometimes whether we are acting out of religious piety or truly following the commands of God. Our community, like the community of Scetis, can confuse the two. Men have a way of making so many rules, and often these rules are just a pretense of following God. The practice of His presence is far greater than keeping the commands of a church, a class, or a community. God’s commands are made for the good of His creation. Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” The commands of God are not meant to burden, punish or diminish our value, but to allow us to know God’s love and mercy and share it with the world.



PRAYER

Lord, help me discern the true commands that you have revealed. Prevent me from wasting my life in superficial piety and guide me by your spirit to true service and obedience. Let me see that true obedience lifts burdens from my life. Your commands are the key to abundant life in the here and now.

Amen

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Musings #6 – H0pe

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Do you remember the story of Pandora’s Box? The lovely Pandora was sent by Zeus to be the bride of Epimetheus. One of Pandora’s more endearing charms was her curiosity, but that quality also proved to nearly be her undoing. One day Mercury, the messenger, sent a box to the young couple. It was meant for them to enjoy, but under no circumstances were they to open it. Well, of course, it is the old story of the forbidden fruit. Told that she could not do it, it became the thing that she desired to do the most. So, one day she pried it open and peeked inside. Suddenly out flew swarms of insects that began attacking them. Both lovers were stung with the poison of suspicion, hatred, fear, and malice. Now the once happy couple began to argue. Epimetheus became bitter and Pandora wept with a broken heart. But amid the quarreling, they heard a tiny voice cry out: Let me out, to soothe your pain. Fearfully they opened the box again, and this time a beautiful butterfly flew out. It touched the couple and miraculously their pain was healed, and they were happy again. The butterfly we are told was hope. It is hope that sustains us; it is hope that soothes our pain.

We live in a world of pessimists who want to rob us of our hope. They would prefer that we all be forlorn and dreadful, but God one has better in mind for us. He sends out butterflies in the darkest of times, and I just know that there is out flying right now one with your name on it. All we must do is open our eyes and look for it. Let us hold on to the hope that is in our faith and know that it will guide us through.

Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.

—– Christopher Reeve

We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.

—-Martin Luther King Jr

Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.

—–Martin Luther

I dwell in possibility.

—–Emily Dickinson

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.

—-Nelson Mandela

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every

disappointment.

—-Henry David Thoreau

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

—-Desmond Tutu

Hope is a waking dream.

—-Aristotle

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.

—-G.K. Chesterton

I find hope in the darkest of days and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.

—–Dalai Lama

While there’s life, there’s hope.

—-Marcus Tullius Cicero

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

~~~Jeremiah 29:11

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.

~~~I Peter 1:13

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

~~~Hebrews 10:23

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

~~~Psalm 33:22

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.

~~~Psalm 71:14

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

~~~Romans 15:13

Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

~~~Proverbs 24:14

LORD, because of you I know there is always hope -

Hope for today

Hope of a better day tomorrow

Hope that my pain will end

Hope that joy will return

Help me to have enough faith to live a life full of hope. Restore my hope in days when it seems to fade. Strengthen my hope today. Amen

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Living in the NOW

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The biggest downer in life is to never enjoy the day. That temptation is one of the devil’s best tools. We spend our lives fretting about what comes next and never relishing what is now. Take some time to live in the moment God have given



Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:34 ESV



Carpe Diem

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Self Discovery

Musings #5





Merton challenges us to look inside of ourselves with great introspection that allows us to see ourselves as God and others see us. Many times we are shocked by the comment of a loved one or friend about something we have said or done. Our first reaction may be to say that we are misunderstood, but we will never really understand until we pause and take a deep look at ourselves. God sees in us what we cannot see in ourselves. The creator made us in his image and likeness with the knowledge that we would never live up to our full potential. Too often we hide behind our accomplishments and never take that voyage to the most difficult destination of all – our true self. Merton reminds us of this, but how do we begin that scary voyage?

Let me suggest a few possibilities.

These three possibilities are not a silver bullet to finding our true selves but some tools that will drive us deeper into that uncharted territory that lies within all of us. As we venture deeper into ourselves, God will give us the wisdom and courage to confront the bad and the joy of the discovery of the good. Remember, the image of God is imprinted in our DNA, and it is the desire of God that it comes out. Spend some time today pondering the possibility that that image can emerge and I know God will bless you.

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The Path to Full Devotion

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A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Abba Anthony. When he told him this, the old man said to him, ‘If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like that.’ The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh.  When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said,

‘Those who renounce  the  world  but  want  to  keep  something  for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them’

—-Sayings of the Desert


At face value, this saying seems to be unreasonable. Meat, birds, dogs, torn flesh what a revolting picture. The real story is conditional commitment is no commitment at all. Abba Anthony is trying to tell us that a monk must fully commit himself to his calling. This same thinking applies to us who seek to be followers of Christ. The goal is to become fully devoted to the Christian journey and to hold nothing back from this way of life. As Christians, we promise to give our all to our savior. In the holding back, we invite temptation and evil to come into our lives. These forces keep us from the high calling that we have received and limit the power of the gospel that lives within us.


PRAYER

Lord, let me realize that you have given me unlimited strength to live for you. Please keep my mind focused on your strength and away from my frailties.

Amen

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THIS WEEK- SUFFERING

Suffering- the bearing of undergoing pain, hardship or distress. 

(Oxford Dictionary)



We live our lives surrounded by suffering and pain. Our time seems to be loaded with many and diverse situations that cause suffering and pain. Some of the pain is physical and much of it is emotional. We are faced with difficult decisions, and we must decide how to react to suffering. Wars, sickness and strife are now regarded as things that just happen. It seems that we are backed into a corner and just must bear the pain.

That is true ,but suffering can be used for our benefit. We all know that Jesus suffered and died for us. His suffering had a great and noble purpose. He offered himself freely for that purpose. Heaven forbid we think that we can accomplish with our suffering what Jesus did with his. Our suffering can, however, have a purpose. We are all called to be followers of Jesus, and perhaps we should consider that our sufferings are a way we follow him. The scripture says, “That suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

When I was a boy and something unfortunate happened that caused me pain or stress, I was to “offer it up.” This practice is known as redemptive suffering. Simply put, redemptive suffering is taking our misfortunes and pains and allowing them to be an avenue to identify with the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

How does that look?

  • We see our pain as redemption.
  • We know that our suffering is rooted in the world and not God.
  • We know that suffering brings growth.
  • We acknowledge that it will end.
  • We offer our pain as a prayer.

There are those who have decided that to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus we must put ourselves through self-inflicted suffering. There is nothing further from the truth. Redemptive suffering is our way to take the evil that the world casts upon us and turn to God with our faith. We must thank him for the suffering that Jesus experienced and continue to have faith in him in our most difficult times.

This week we will all experience some level of suffering. Those trails can defeat us and drag us down to reject God and feel that we can do better ourselves, or it can make us stronger and more determined to follow him. Let us “offer it up” and become stronger and more faithful.

The reward of suffering is experience.

~~~Harry S. Truman

To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.

~~~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed.

~~~Edgar Allan Poe

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

~~~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.

~~~Helen Keller

Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, which is the parent of instruction and the schoolmaster of life.

~~~Horace

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

~~~Friedrich Nietzsche

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.

~~~Khalil Gibran

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.

~~~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Wisdom comes alone through suffering.

~~~Aeschylus

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

~~~Helen Keller

God has been good to me. My faith has been good to me in the moments of deepest suffering, doubt and fear.

~~~Pierce Brosnan

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

~~~1 Peter 5:10

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

~~~Romans 5:3-4

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

~~~Romans 8:18

He was despised and rejected by others;

  a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces

  he was despised, and we held him of no account.

~~~Isaiah 53:3

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

~~~Job 1:20-21

Surely he has borne our infirmities

  and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,

  struck down by God, and afflicted.

~~~Isaiah 53:4

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

~~~James 1:12

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

  but the Lord rescues them from them all.

~~~Psalm 34:19

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

~~~Romans 8:35

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account

~~~Matthew 5:10-11

This is my comfort in my distress,

  that your promise gives me life.

~~Psalm 119:50

For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—

~~~Philippians 1:29

LORD, I pray that you will comfort me in my suffering and allow it to strengthen and teach me. Help me to overcome the pain that I bear this moment and allow me to offer it to you as a part of my faith journey. Let me be tempered as the iron is tempered by the heat of the fire. I will then go forward stronger and more resolved to be your servant.

Amen

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What Can We Gain ?

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.

— Thomas Merton

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