Christmas Day Musing: Christmas Present- Moments of Reflected Love

Today’s thoughts focus on Christmas in the present; the here and now of the celebration. It is the actively taking time to recognize God’s gift of coming to earth, the “God with us.” So, the day is spent celebrating love. We engage in loving others in varied ways as a reflection of God’s gift of love to us. It demonstrates the “we love because he first loved us.” This celebration of love is highly anticipated. How we demonstrate love towards others goes through moments of preparation, anticipation, and then celebration with fellowship. We identify how we are going to bless others in preparation. We love forward both to giving and receiving. Even children look forward to reactions to simple small gifts and parents and family then show love by showing appreciation for the simply things. We want to see others touched by our gifts of love. Then comes the actual moment of giving which comes with celebration and fellowship. We consider others and look forward to seeing how we touch them. Granted, many times we can swing and miss in the connection. Yet, no matter what there are special times in the present moment of Christmas. These moments can display God’s love, for He thought of each of us and gives a gift beyond measure if it that gift is received. We are able to enter in relationship to God rather than continue in the separation due to our own falters and twisted being apart from God’s ways has been repaired and reconciled if agree to accept the gift and let it change you. If not, then these moments are moments and that either gives you a piece of love or builds you up, or fall short. The moments that do touch and precious and each moment forward it is a part of you as it enters from the present into the past. So, this year, in the hustle, the bustle, and the interaction with loved ones. How were you touched with love? How did you touch others? Where did you get a taste of love? For even in the worst of times, the driest of years, God’s love and reflections of love are around. For always in the Christmas present, and every day, God shows His love. He shows by his own interactions, by the loving acts of others, and your loving actions. God takes whatever is now, uses it to draw you closer to Him. So embrace the moment and accept the love. In whatever the season: be it pleasure or pain, planting or harvest, drought or abundance, storm or calm, joy or sorrow. God will use whatever is, in this moment and His love is there to be found for always in Christmas present and beyond God is with us, there is peace on earth and goodwill to mankind.

Rosh Hashanah: Celebration, Rememberance, and Renewal

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets, also known as
the Day of Remembrance. It is the Jewish New Year.  The greeting for the day  was “may you be inscribed for a good year. A
good website for basic information on the Holiday if found at this website: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Rosh_Hashannah/rosh_hashannah.html.

The article has two areas that bring thoughts to me find.
First is the thoughts of remembrance. It is a time to remember who God is and
what he has done.  Two aspects of God are
central for remembering today. It is that of God as creator. Today is thought
of as one that goes back to the “first day.” So, it is a day to reflect on what
God did in creating the world and us.
The second aspect of God to contemplate is that as God as King. Today is
also thought of as a coronation day. It is a day to think of the coming actions
of the King. It is a time to start reflecting on repentance and judgment. It is
the start of the King doing what he does to make things right.

One of the parts of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the
trumpets. The shofar is blown over about a 100 times on that day. The is a
combination of four types of trumpet blows. One type of blast signifies the
King’s coronation. One blast type announces a focus on repentance. A third is
about an awakening of the soul. The fourth time is a long blast that goes until
you cannot blow anymore.

These trumpet blow types signify to me a perspective that
goes well together. We start with God as King. We need to recognize and identity
and submit to what we need to change to be in line with the King’s will and
directive.  We need the basic elements of
who we are before God awakened and revived.  A blast of alarm is what does awaken each of
us if we hear it.  And finally there is a
giving all of self until reach the end of self: a total submission.

It is worth noting that all these elements are what today is
about. It is a time of rest, renewal, and celebration. It is a focus on God and
self. A time of renewing proper alignment and embark on what and he has ahead for
the New Year. So take time today to learn, reflect, and examine. Let God show
you what to remember and what to move forward into change. Celebrate God. Remember Him and His work in your life. Change course from where you left His will and be awakened to what He is directing and calling. For Today is the day. Celebrate. Repent. Awaken. These are the words for today. In this is found renewal.

Musings on the Clash between homosexuality and Christianity

This article will quickly be the most controversial article published on the blog. It will be controversial because what this article is reflecting on is highly controversial, that being the ongoing clash between the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) community and Christianity. The reason for this article is because the clash has been in the news recently, particularly in the Twin Cities. This month of June is now nationally recognized as GLBT pride month.  This weekend the Twin Cities holds an annual Pride Festival.  So the topic is a central one to what is currently transpiring culturally.

The impetus of this article comes from two recent local news items.  One is about evangelist Brian Johnson being allowed by court to give away Bibles at the Twin Cities Pride Festival.  Brian Johnson had run a booth and passed out Bibles and discussed with individuals matters of faith. He had been a vendor at the festival for ten years but last year they no longer let him have a booth because he talked about folks repenting from Homosexuality. He distributed literature instead; an action that they tried to block via court but court indicated was allowed.  Now Brian Johnson did attend the festival and talked to others in a non-disruptive manner. The Star Tribune quoted him as saying “We’re not interested in preaching, and we never were,” Johnson said. “We’re not here for all that stuff in the news. We’re the ones that meet and have honest conversations with people, and we have our own rules that we go by as far as conduct is concerned.” Now there was a person at the Pride Festival that was more disruptive and typical of the kind of actions that can occur in the clash between homosexuality and Christianity.

Another news story is about Pastor Tom Brock of Hope Lutheran Church being outed in the magazine LAVENDER as having same-sex attraction and reporting to a twelve step group that he “fell into temptation in Solvakia.” This again highlights the clash as the Pastor has repeatedly spoken against homosexuality and the ELCA recent decision to allow active homosexual clergy. In order to obtain the information, the magazine reporter joined the twelve step group Pastor Brock was a part of and then wrote about what was said in the confines of the group in a very un-flattering article. Varied articles say that the action was justified because Pastor Brock teaches against homosexuality yet is someone who has same-sex attraction. The response seems to be that the reason Pastor Brock preached about homosexuality as being sinful was because of his own issues as a reaction of his own same sex attraction.  This again highlights the severity of the clash and the divergent views to the point where unethical behavior is justified because of one mans teaching from a Biblical perspective.

In the past couple months Jennifer Knapp made the news as outing herself as a lesbian.  Ray Boltz did the same a few years ago. Recently http://www.downthelinezine.com/  printed a periodical interviewing dUg Pinnock, Sean Doty, and Rick Alba related to matters of homosexuality, God, and the Church.  The articles (note:article is a download) are an interesting read and demonstrate how the clash exists within the church.

Now there are several issues that can be examined here but the point of this article is to really examine essential elements of the clash and how it applies as a whole.  This article is not going to really focus on the development of same-sex attraction nor will it focus on similar controversial issues.  However, before examining the clash it is important to note that this author believes homosexuality to be a sin and immoral.  However, the sin is not rated more sinful then other areas humans fall short of God’s standards. The sin in particular is one of a sexual nature of which there is many other types of sexual immorality that Christians battle daily. In understanding how to love and be salt and light to others, it is important to get an idea of what are the layers of the clash. What really is in conflict?  Why is the issue of homosexuality such a hot issue? The answers to these questions really come down to understanding the heart of the clash.

In examining the issue, the clash between Christianity and homosexuality really has four key components: will, desire, love, and identity. These issues of this clash are not just about this one issue but really are reflective to all clashes of the world and God’s kingdom. So when read the examination of the four components, please recognize that it also reflects other conflicts and areas of immorality. Homosexuality is used to highlight the essential elements of the conflicts in the four key component areas because the clash and conflicts are clearly observable.

The first key component to examine is that of will which really becomes a conflict between self and surrender.  It is about doing what self wants or surrendering to God and His ways.  Jesus stated in Luke 17:33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. In reading articles and trying to understand the clash, it is clear that there is an element of seeking after what is good for self and holding on to it. This stands in contrast to surrendering every part of life to God.  It is a choice to seek after what makes self feel better or being able to give all to God no matter what the apparent cost to self.  In dealing with temptation, including all forms of sexual immorality, Hebrews 12:4 states In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. This suggests that no only is there a battle of the will but that battle is tough and can even be painful. It is often far easier to choose that which feels good or is beneficial to self verses walking in faith and trust and enduring the battle at all costs.  Ultimately it is a matter of looking out for own good or trusting God and following His ways. This clash is very evident with homosexuality for ultimately there is an act of the will to embrace the same-sex attraction or reject it and then choices to act on the attraction or reject it. Now many point to the fact that the attraction is not voluntary or asked for as a reason to minimize the elements of the dynamic of will, but yet ultimately there comes many points of choice, there comes acts of the will. 

 Now the second key component is that of desire which results in a clash between following the heart or following truth. In this day and age there is an increasing focus on that which restrains passion or desire is immoral. The desires of the heart are primary and anyone that would hold back any pleasure from another is evil.  Society is fixated on suffering being the greatest evil and our desires for pleasure are the greatest good.  It is becoming the way of the world but is not the way of truth. When it comes to the things we are attracted to and attach ourselves, this is the function of the heart. The problem with the heart is that it is twisted and not interested in what is true, only in satisfaction. Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) states The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  This verses shows that the core each of us is twisted and polluted and that we can desire things that are not for our benefit. This clearly is the case within homosexuality but is seen in other facets of life including an abused spouse. It is a difficult to break from that which is harmful and is often connected to issues of the heart. So this clash becomes a matter of people who say they did not ask for the desire but it is there and there is pleasure in seeking the desire and pain in resisting. The heart often wins out over the truth.  When the heart does not want what is in line with truth, there is a significant clash.  Going against the desires of the heart is painful. Why the heart desires what it desires is complicated because there are several factors that go into developing attachment and varied desires. The fact is our desires are not truth but sometimes are treated as such.  Now with regards to homosexuality that desire is a loving relationship and attraction to same sex or pleasure obtain from same-sex relationships but that very desire is a twist and leads to distorted views and a clash in perspectives on love.

The third key component of the clash between homosexuality and Christianity is that between perspectives of love.  On one hand is the view of “romantic love” and that everyone should be able to experience love as they see fit. Those teaching the immorality of homosexuality are seen as folks who present an unreasonable barrier to people who simply want to love someone else. Some might even argue that part of the definition of God is that God is love than opposing expressions of love is going contrary to God. Yet, the Bible is quite clear regarding same sex relations as being immoral and against his design, such that He refers to it is called an abomination. However, society today elevates the romantic relational love. It is the be all and end all of society. It serves two purposes that of facilitating pleasure and that of establishing a legacy through children, or in other words pleasing self and creating extensions of self.  The love of the Bible is of a different sort. It is love that gives of self even at great cost. It is a love that would die in the place of another.  It is love that touches the lives of others to build them up and point them to walking in truth. The love of God in fact is not about love without limits and just doing what feels good. The love of God is a perfect balance of caring for others to build them up and pointing them to the path of truth. It is a love that is able to set and point toward limits to keep others from danger. What happens if a parent does not set limits with a child?  The clash here then becomes focus on the Christian perspective one of depriving others do to pointing out behavior that is harmful. And yes, there are indeed harmful consequences in bodily, relational, and spiritual ways yet, even pointing out those consequences becomes a matter of restraining from desire to love.

The last component is that of identity. The clash escalates to the point where it is more than just about will, desire, and love. The clash escalates because the matter has become one of identity. Being gay has become an identity and being all about who you are as a person. It has a complete culture even to go along with the identity. The thing is once it take on a matter of identity, once it become who you are rather than a matter of sexual attraction and behavior it takes on a tone that it is something that is unchangeable.  Now undoing twisted attachment and attraction is not easy and takes deep healing, it is possible. However, if it becomes a matter of identity then it becomes important to not resist, for you are resisting who you are, or some would say who you were created to be. This is part of the negative comments directed at Pastor Tom Brock. He is tempted with same sex attraction, yet he does not accept this as his identity. He works to stand against his temptation, and yes sometimes falters. However, folks comment and engaging in outing him to say a “ha ha you are speaking against who you are and therefore a hypocrite.” It really points to a focus on believing there is an unchangeable matter of identity and rejecting it is rejecting self and you cannot change who you are. Yet, the bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:6-11(ESV) Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  In Jesus, through sanctification it is possible to change. Christianity does teach that change is possible even for the hardest, most vile of people if one dies to self and surrenders to Jesus completely.  It is then that we become a 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  Once we are surrender to Jesus, we have a new identity and we become a new creation. And yes, in the process all of us still walk with day by day choices and have an ongoing process of cleansing and sanctification. It is a completely different mindset than surrendering to an identity because identity cannot change. In Jesus, identity does change.

Now all that being said, there are sincere and true followers of Jesus lost in this clash and fully embracing homosexuality. There are a multiple reasons and really getting down to the heart of the matter is difficult. Yet, there is clear pointing out in scripture that embracing homosexuality is equivalent of exchanging the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25) It is an example of what is to come, people setting aside truth for deception. Now by saying this, not all who are lost in the sin have fully crossed the line of complete exchange but only God knows the heart and whether an exchange of truth for a lie has occurred. Ultimately it will come down to who and what you surrender to and what you honor and uphold: God’s truth or the way of self.  This is true in all battles of sin and self.  Now for people who find themselves like Tom Brock and others, and seeking to grow in truth and overcome sexual sin of any sort, there is a good resource to pursue at www.harvestusa.org.  But know well for each of us there exists a fight and a battle to stand firm and not cross over to the flames of hell.  Recently a good brother stated the enemy is patient and will look for an opportune time. This is a good picture of a roaring lion seeking to devour. A roaring line is one protecting territory, so in order to be devoured you have to enter the place of danger. This fits with proverbs and directions to not even go down the street of one that will seek to seduce you. Homosexuality is no different than any other trap of the devil. Change is possible but above all whoever and wherever you are surrender to the King of Kings, true, deep change is possible to be altered from any identity.

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Personal Reflection: A gift on this day

Today is a day where God saw fit many years ago to bring into this world the person who became my wife and partner.  It is hard to fully put to words the thoughts, yet God created and gave life to my wife, Liz Blake.   God knitted her together in the womb.  Now it is hard to comprehend what God’s thoughts were when he knitted her together. Was I on his mind when he formed her in the womb?  How does the variance of our wills come into play?  These are answers we do not have as get lost in the complicated quagmire in the paradoxes of understanding God.  I know that today, on this day, God brought Liz to this world and she would one day become my wife.  Now we have moments of joy and pain, struggle and ease.  Yet, God has touched me through her, and I believe her through me.  So I thank God today for the gift of my wife, born many years ago on this day.  So today is a day of thanksgiving and blessing.  Even in thinking about God’s blessing of Liz, my thoughts go to my life journey, the ups and down, the moving past defenses and fears to get to the point where we are today.  God knew Liz needed a man like me as her partner and mate, and vice versa.  Please take time today to thank God for Liz, whether you know her or not.  Take time to thank God for the ways he as blessed you, even if times are tough and struggles and grief cloud your views.  For God is love, and he delights in seeing how we respond to love as our stories play out.  Also please take time to pray for Liz and what God has in store for her in the year to come. If you know her, find a way to bless her and wish her a Happy Birthday.

Thanksgiving Day Musing: Three common Thanksgiving elements

First all, may the readers of this article be found to have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day. My thoughts this year are focused on how we celebrate Thanksgiving. It was interesting that currently there are three elements to most Thanksgiving celebrations: Family, Food, and Football. Granted each of those areas have variances but I want to examine each element a little further and close with some thoughts on gratitude.

In terms of thinking of the Holiday, the starting point has to be the element of family. We all are born into a family. These are not people we chose to be with but we love knowing full well their imperfections. Some of the family members we love are folks that we spend time with only on Holiday occasions. They are important to us but not an active part of our lives. We all appreciate being loved and enjoy the relationships around us, even if at sometimes we really cannot stand the actions and choices of family members. Holidays are a time where we get together in love, it is not always easy, but loving each other is important. Taking time to think about how you value your family members is of great benefit, even better if you are able to communicate those thoughts. Now, not all of who we consider as family because so because of our birth. Some folks we consider family are family by choice. Clearly spouses fall into this category but there are friends that fit as well. For those that have entered the Kingdom of God, there is the greater family of the Church as well. Ultimately family is those that we love for good or bad. We do not always agree or even always demonstrate that love, but our families are where the dynamics of love, or sadly at times lack of love is played out.

The other element that is common to all during this Holiday is food. Usually it is the staple meal of Turkey and assorted fixings, but there are some differences there. The element of food and eating together is really about fellowship and celebration. The meal on this day is one that constitutes a feast. We take time to gather and show gratitude and enjoy the company of one another. We take to share a meal and engage in the intimacy of a mutual meal. There is something special about such activity and is something to be enjoyed. In the United States, we have had plenty and the Thanksgiving feasts really celebrate the many blessings. Even as times get tougher or darker, it still is good to celebrate and focus on the good that has transpired.

The last element I want to share thoughts on is that of Football. Now granted not everybody enjoys football. Not everybody even attends to football games. But outside the Super Bowl it is the one day of year where non-football fans tolerate the games. When reflecting on what football represents it comes down to simple relaxation. Something that helps takes mind off of any trouble, sit back and disengage while it is on, and relax. More often than not the Tryptophan in Turkey takes effect and people simply fall asleep. In general any form of entertainment serves to function to bring pleasure, relaxation, and serve as distraction. The same holds true in the American culture with American Football being an apex of entertainment.

Now this day where we love, celebrate, and relax is centered on the concept of giving gratitude. Sadly, gratitude is often easily set aside and the difficulties and sufferings of life attended. Yet, it is important for each of us to be able to express gratitude and be able to be thankful. Now for those not in the Kingdom of God, it is hard for me to understand what direction the gratitude is directed. Certainly can be directed to those that you love, but without relationship and connection or even belief in the Creator of the Universe, it seems gratitude is limited. That a Holiday such as Thanksgiving is limited to that which has benefited self and our own little kingdoms is sad. The most precious thing to me is that fact that I have a relationship with the creator and He cared enough for me to provide a way to reconcile the barriers to such a relationship through Jesus. I love and enjoy time with family, miss those that I do not get to spend time with on such days, but my gratitude is always directed to the most Holy God. Gratitude in and of itself is beneficial but without connection to the true source it is limited and fleeting.

 

The Final Biblical Festival: Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles/Booths)

Yesterday was the start of Sukkot. Sukkot goes for seven days and is followed by a Holy Sabbath day (Shemini Atzeret) on the eight day.  This festival is one of celebration and rejoicing.  It is thought to serve even as a starting point for the Pilgrims celebration of Thanksgiving.

      This festival appears rich with meaning and points both back to Israel’s wandering in the desert and forward to Jesus return and establishing His kingdom on earth and the millennial reign.  It is the festival celebrating the final harvest. 

     The festival emphasizes temporary shelters which points to the temporariness of this life.  It points to far better things ahead. The festival is also one the requires a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  This requirement is a reminder that this world is not our home, and there is greater things ahead. 

      Now according to several articles, the most likely time of Jesus birth was during Sukkot.  So in essence, the biblical festival of Sukkot is also the true celebration of the birth of Yeshua as well as the culmination of the second coming when the final harvest occurs and the marriage with the Bride occurs.  Those of us who have missed in learning and celebrating Sukkot and the other Biblical festivals miss out on a lot that God has designated to point to what is ahead as well as what he has done.  Another interesting not is that Jesus referring to himself being the living water and the light of the world points to ceremonies involved in Sukkot.

      Sukkot is also marked by the performance of seventy sacrifices. Articles point  out that seventy is the number of existing nations at the time of the foundation of Israel.  It is to point to people from all nations and tribes being part of the final harvest and entering into the Kingdom of God.

     There are many, many things to learn from Sukkot. The articles I have examined have been interesting.   Ultimately, we all should be celebrating God’s provision, our redemption, and the coming kingdom of God.  A study of Sukkot make very clear that any who preach the Church needing to take dominion before the return of Yeshua is preaching a different gospel because such a concept does not fit with the imagery God set forth in the Sukkot festival. 

     Also in examining this and the other fall festivals, it is clear that in the modern church with our Celebration of Christmas and Easter and ignorance of the Biblical festivals truly miss out on what God has for us. In this case, Sukkot is essentially a week long party celebrating what God has, is, and will do.

Reference articles:

http://www.bridgesforpeace.com/pics/_TeachSukkot.pdf

http://www.ourfathersfestival.net/about_the_festival

http://followingtheancientpaths.wordpress.com/2006/10/06/sukkot-aka-feast-of-tabernacles/

http://www.messianic.ws/sukkot.htm

http://www.tikkunministries.org/newsletters/mm-oct08.asp

http://www.localaccess.com/Pari/sukkot.htm

http://www.thewatchman.org/en/sukkot.php

http://www.bethhillel.com/sukkot.htm