Christian Protestant Worship Services

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On general Protestant* worship services
I’ve been around the block a few times so I am aware of, have attended, and have even led several styles of Christian worship-ritualistic services. The services generally have been derived from two basic groups, free-thinking and authoritarian. The free-thinking are at liberty to put on whatever type they chose and are flexible. The authoritarian are usually pre-set at the behest of some given authority and generally will be the same from place to place although some minor alterations may be allowed. The latter class can be and traditionally have been referred to as liturgical because they follow a set program of liturgy containing a set pattern of leader-community response order of worship. The free-thinking class has been customarily referred to as non-liturgical because changes occur frequently in the order of service but are in fact liturgical in the normal sense of the word. A more exhaustive analysis can be made but you get the idea.

Here is a list of general types of worship services knowing that there are mixtures:
1. High Church, strict liturgy. It is the same basic format on any given Sunday in any area of the particular church where it is an institutionalized. It will normally contain a brief sermon pre-published by the church institution by which the priest or pastor uses as the standard for the week. The scripture has been pre-selected with some commentary and the priest or pastor may add some remarks, anecdotes, etc. Traditional hymns are sung using an organ accompaniment, with choir.
2. General liturgical. The same as #1, with the pre-set scriptures as per a particular denomination or sect or as used by a number of churches. The sermon may or may not follow the scripture text but will be more or less a topical sermon depending on a pre-set theme of the week of the season. Traditional hymns are sung using an organ and/or a piano as accompaniment, maybe an extra instrument and a choir.
3. Independent liturgical. A set order of worship, the same each Sunday but the pastor chooses his own selection of scripture and sermon topic. Traditional hymn with perhaps a more modern non-tradition song, an organ and/or piano and maybe a small orchestra.
4. Modern, non-traditional service with no printed order or worship. However it is usually the same every week as to the order beginning with praise songs and modern Christian songs with a traditional hymn or two with a piano and/or an orchestra or praise band. All music is non-traditional with a small contingent of voices without choir robes. You will not see many suits and ties if at all. It is very casual and members are free to move about, may check their cell phone messages, shoot pix or videos and even carry own individual conversations.
5. Strictly non-traditional. These are the Pentecostalists and free non-Pentecostalists but with an highly emotional tone, referred to by some as holy-rollers. No set responsorials but congregation members can respond as they see fit at any time with shouts of amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord and sometimes dancing about. The preacher will preach his sermon with fervor, There may be some traditional hymns but mostly choruses and modern praise type songs. The services will be the same each week however as the congregation will be in worship mode as usual. An extended invitational period and/or altar call will end the service, sometimes with the laying on of hands and praying with individuals by the elders. Some churches will have a period of anointing with oil for the healing of the sick and the repentance of the broken hearted. Sometimes the term, revival, is used as the members are revived each week with renewed spiritual energy.
6. Military, hospital, prison, and other institutional services may include one or more of the above depending on the chaplain(s) employed to lead the services. In most cases they are shorter and more subdued depending on the institution.
7. Services for INFPs. The service I fit in and prefer. I’ll let you known when I find one.


(*non-Roman Catholic, Greek & Eastern Orthodox, etc)

© 2018. Chaplain Bob Haines
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Death, A Realistic But Spiritual Perspective

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handling the death of a loved one well is a healthful and healing thing.  that’s why we have friends to wrap their arms around us and just be there for us, and sometimes say things to comfort us, some helpful, some not so helpful but mean well. thank God for friends.

the first major death of my life, my own father at age 35, me at age 15. there is some difference between managing death as a teenager and someone who manages death at, say age 40, 50, 60, 70, and beyond. for example it may be the first or second major death, or the 12th or 13th, a father, mother, spouse, or child.  however, it never gets any easier.

there is ample information on the internet and good books such as Kubler-Ross’, On Death and Dying, so i am not going to go through all that about stages of grief, etc. The only thing i really want to mention here is one spiritual dynamic, to wit, that death is a fact and will happen to all of us and our family members and friends and after a reasonable time period, realize that yes, it is over, and move on to a happy and fulfilled future without your loved one. oh, you say that may be a grotesque, unhealthful, and hateful thing to write, but i say unto you that when we face reality squarely and take the necessary time to understand reality, we can then learn to go forwar with out lives with the memories of our loved one, but not living daily in those memories which prohibit the future happiness.

so, if you have experienced the death of a loved one, and you probably have, whether it be in the distant past or recently, let me assure you as others have, that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life as your life is not over ’til it’s over even though your earthly relationship with you loved one is over. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you both now and forevermore. amen.

“And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 20:34-36)

“And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 12:22-25)

“For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.” Paul of Tarsus (Romans 7:2)

 

© copyright 2014, 2020
Robert A. Haines, Chaplain Haines
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Chaplain’s Tent

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please like and share my new page. thanks.

Go and Sin No More

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There is a meme, in several different forms going around social media that reads, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” Most of the time, it stands alone with simple borders around it, sometimes appears to be a photoshopped church sign, or another image seeking to pitch for a certain audience. I have seen the saying in quotes on two occasions, one attributed to a well-known Christian T.V. personality, the other to a Islamic imam.   I thought that was interesting, but know full well, the creator of those two memes had a particular audience in mind.  Needless to say, it is anonymous, original author unknown.
I’ve seen the meme posted from various web sites and Facebook pages. I do not know where it originated nor do I know the reason why any particular person, group, or organization would post it on their timelines. I do have my suspicion when it is posted by a friend I know, or think I know well, or see its sponsored page from which it was posted.

Now then, the posting of the meme naturally leads me to its subject, to wit, SIN. Next it leads me to the question, “what does my friend, or friend of a friend, believe sin to be?
What exactly do they mean by the word, sin?  That is, what is their definition of sin? Is sin subjective, i.e.. is sin what they, themselves think it is? Or, is there some standard for what sin is? Furthermore, do they think they are sinning in a particular way and are they looking for an excuse to continue to sin? Hey, others sin, so I have an excuse, so don’t judge me for my sin and I won’t judge your for yours. In other words, maybe they are looking for a way not to be judged for their sin at all.

For some people, namely those who grew up in a fundamentalist religious environment but have opted out for a more liberal, live and let live, religious persuasion, maybe they are saying, “it’s okay to sin because everyone does it and if I don’t harm anyone else then it’s okay.” Well, at least they, by using the word, sin, they are recognizing that what they are doing is wrong? All this leads to the opposite of a subjective idea of sin, namely, is there a standard for sin, i.e. a moral code or some statement that defines it. Furthermore, is there a list of sins and even more so, is there a degree of sin by which some are okay and some are unpardonable?  Perhaps sin is, as noted by some Christian theology,  not specific acts, but a way of life, a way of life that separates one from God and, once atoned for sin (not sins), one is forgiven, may do specific sins in the future, but the way of sin, itself, has been forgiven.

As a person who has an academic background in classic philosophy, world religions, and Christian theology, I am aware of many answers to the questions posed above and aware of the many published treatises and commentaries concerning the subject of sin. I am not aware of the current sociological stances concerning (so-called) enlightened Baby Boomers or Millennials in general although, again, I have my suspicions of where they are coming from.

As a proponent of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as portrayed in the traditional four gospels of the New Testament, one specific vignette comes to mind. The recording of the event is found in John 8:2-11 (NIV translation/paraphrase)

At dawn He (Jesus) appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
          But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
          At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin (lit. go and sin no more).”

You can interpret this passage from scripture however you chose. As for me, the first thing I will note is that this is not an inclusive teaching on sin, the consequences of sin, nor to the fact that everyone sins, how to be forgiven or redeemed for sin, and whether or not one is able to be sinless. However it is important to point out that, although Jesus did not condemn this woman, ala the law of Moses, and the standard of punishment for adultery at the time, He did recognize her action, i.e. her way of life, at the time as wrong, and told her in no uncertain way not to do it again, or in other words, “get a life sister.”

Thus, the lesson of this story might be that if you are living a particular way of life that is considered wrong, in this case by Biblical standards, then it’s best to leave it. There’s no excuse that just because others do it, whether condemned by a religious community, or allowed by the civil community, just don’t do it no more because it is sin.*


 

*Sin, or a way of life considered to be sin, perhaps addictive, and depending on the severity of the sin, although forgiven by God when confessed on a religious basis, may be rooted in the psyche for which some degree of psycho-therapy is needed for the cure.


© Copyright May 2016
Robert A. Haines, Chaplain Haines
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

On Prayer

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         © 2014, Chaplain Bob Haines.
All Rights Reserved

On Prayer

Are 20 prayers for the same thing “more effective” than one prayer for the same thing?

I’ve thought about that over the past several years and think about it often whenever i see a Facebook post of someone requesting prayer and scads of people respond with, “praying”, “prayers going up”, and similar phrases.

I know that there are some New Testament passages that speak to continual praying, especially praying by the community. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1.11, “you (plural) must help us by prayer . . . ” He wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3.1, “Finally, brethren, (plural) pray for us, . . . ” In Luke 11, Jesus tells the lesson of a friend asking for bread who is told “no” and replies, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his continually asking, he will rise and give him what he needs”.  So, obviously the church community as well as the individual is encourage to offer prayers often and to keep on praying.

A friend commented, “When I pray I often feel a call to be part of the solution. I know of others that feel this way. Each of us have different ways we can minister to others needs. The more people that pray, and are willing to be involved in the solution, the better.”
Another wrote, “is it that we like to know that we are not alone in coping with our problems and that others care.”
Okay, then, I get the point but like many theological issues, every proof text must be taken in context and according to general principles when all scripture is considered.

I am tempted to take every scripture I can find and give a brief commentary, but since this is a short essay, scriptures mentioned above aside, I want to just give a few brief comments concerning my experience and thoughts on prayer with relationship to it’s effectiveness.

The immediate response comes to mind as to the context of Jesus’ example (and all other examples) is whether to take that alone in it’s context as a standard Biblical principle to apply in all instances or whether to take it in the context of the entire New Covenant ideas as to relationships and freedom via the Holy Spirit, e.g. whether it is necessary for one person to need as many prayers as possible in a given situation, as opposed to another person whose one prayer, or even no prayer, but inner faith is enough to be effective in the outcome of whatever it is one is requesting or needing. As I said, the entire concept of prayer is theologically complex.   It may seem simple enough, but most simple things are in and of themselves very complex when one begins to examine it. How simple the beauty of a tree is, yet so utterly complex.

One day, during Operation Desert Storm, the battalion commanding officer came to me and said that I should go out to where the units were and do as many services as possible as the ground war was about to begin. It was raining. What was i to do? Well, i could have put out the word for as many Christians as possible should come to my tent and have a prayer meeting and pray for the rain to stop, or I could just think within myself, “Lord make this rain stop.” So i just laid down and freed myself of all thoughts. I KNEW, and don’t ask me how, that God was in charge and that the rain would stop, no question about it. I really didn’t even have to say a prayer at all. When I came to, so to speak, the rain stopped and I headed out. That has been my modus operandus ever since. No need for the mechanics, just do it, i.e. have faith. Now, that’s not enough for the children, I suppose, so they may need those countless prayers, but my mission is to help them understand that the mechanics is not what it is all about, but the inner connection between God and the person that counts as effectivity (just coined a new word).

I had major surgery in 2000 in a Navy hospital. I knew that morning that the chaplain would visit because they are required to visit all pre-surgery patients. I was waiting. So, in a while he showed up, made the usual small talk, and then ask if he could pray with me. I said, “no, chaplain, I’m all prayed up.” Let’s get it on and over with (the surgery). Perhaps i should have been kind enough to let him pray, but it was not necessary and who knows, maybe the words of his prayer might have caused undo anxiety to this poor soul. If he’d started speaking in tongues though, that might have helped even more.

As to reference to the Old Testament temple and other Old Testament viewpoints of the “holy”, etc., God is not now, nor has He ever been confined to a “space”. Nevertheless, in the progression of the Faith, for practical purposes, it may have been necessary in those days to identify one place as more holy than other. It may have been necessary to explain things in spatial terms. in my way of thinking, and I always get in trouble with this one, we should take the Old Testament and it’s teachings, precepts, etc., as a foundation to our understanding of Faith, but not be bound to it. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a good starting point for my understanding. In fact, the entire Faith can be summed up in only Two ideas, Love God and love others.  Otherwise, any rules will be follow inasmuch as one is attuned the the Holy Spirit of God.

So, suppose a person needs a kidney transplant. Someone prays that a matched kidney will be found. If the person is a mature person of faith, no actual prayer is needed, only faith that God knows best. God HEARS the prayer, right? God WILL ANSWER the prayer right? “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” So then, why the need for 19 more prayers that a kidney will be found. Don’t you BELIEVE that God heard the first prayer and will answer? Are we trying to make Him hurry up, or do we really, truly trust Him?

Remember, we are children, in relationship to God, so a continual asking, either by an individual or a group, might be in our interest at some point. But as we mature, we learn that a simple childlike faith is all that is needed in any given situation. But the question might be asked, “Is a lot of time wasted in prayer? Yes. No need to bug God about something He has already settled upon. Just go about His business and when the answer comes, it will come, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Let it be.

Here a parable: A kind-hearted and good father is intelligent and knows best for his son. One day the son asks for a certain thing knowing that his father would either grant the wish or not. The important thing was the the son trusted the father’s judgement and would await his decision based on faith that the father would do what is right concerning his request.
Another father, just as wise, knew what was best for his son. By all accounts, this son also trusted that his father always knew best, that he would provide for the sons needs. One day he too asked his father for a certain thing. He kept on asking day after day, week after week.
In another situation, a father had 3 sons and they all felt the need for something. He loved them all the same and only wished the best for each or all of them. On some things, however, the father would never listen to nor respond when only one son requested a response, but the chances improved when all 3 sons asked. It seemed like the effort put forth by the 3 sons didn’t really make more of a different than any one son because sometimes the father would respond and other times he didn’t, regardless of who or how many asked.

 

Why Not The Best?

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© copyright Chaplain Bob Haines

2014.  All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Lt. Jimmy Carter, USN, was interview by Adm. Hyman Rickover concerning his intent to enter nuclear submarine service.  Lt. Carter stated his reason for wanting to enter this elite corps of Naval officers was in the form of a question: “why not the best?” Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia later gave that title to his book.

 

If I had only one message for the church on any given Easter Sunday, it would be to urge it to take a long, extensive look at the New Testament book of Acts. The aim would be to regain the spirit of the early New Testament church.

You want to be the best? Then emulate the best. You want to be the best Lawyer? Find the best and discover the qualities that make him/her the best attorney and seek to obtain those qualities. Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. It depends on your talents and training.
You want to be the best athlete? It’s the same thing. Of course, you have to practice.
You want to be the best church? Look for the best in the quality — the real essence of what a New Testament church should be.
The best church is not necessarily that it has audio-visual capabilities? It is not if the pastor is paid well nor the personalities of the staff.  It is not whether it worships in a modern, architecturally stunning  building. The best is not even the one with a mega-budget or a very large membership.  These things may be successful from the world’s standards or denominational standards. But if you want to be church of Jesus, by Jesus, and for Jesus, then look at the early church as founded during the New Testament era.

There are several places where one can go to look for examples of the early church but for a good church success story, the book of Acts is a place to begin. The book of Acts, itself, is the story of the first church, or churches moving out from a small group of Jesus’ followers to reach the world with the Good News of God’s Kingdom as they knew it, based on the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Take a very quick look at an introduction to Acts and you might find a model that can make your church the best it can be — not by the standards of other churches but by standards inherent in the first church.  The story of Acts tells us that God promises to equip His people for the challenges they face in achieving Christ’s mission and that His people, i.e. His church, will be successful in its endeavors

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What is the story?

 

It is the story of the early Christian church moving out from the Jewish faith and traditions to a universal faith based on the radical teaching of Jesus of Nazareth — successfully. It is the story of a small group of Jesus’ disciples moving to reach a world with the Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom not based on law but grace, not based on punishment, but repentance and forgiveness.

Acts is a follow up narrative to Luke’s first work, the Gospel of Luke. The distinctive features of Luke’s gospel are as follows.  It emphasizes Jesus’ sympathetic attitude toward the poor, lowly, outcast, , Samaritans, publicans, sinners, dying thief, and the like. That is, it emphasizes the pastoral ministry of Jesus.
Luke emphasizes prayer and contains three parables on prayer..
Luke greatly honors women and womanhood. We read about Mary, Elizabeth, Martha, the Daughters of Jerusalem and the widows. One of the distinctive marks of the Christian faith is that everyone is important regardless of gender, age, station in life, etc.

Acts takes up where the gospel of Luke ends. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church, led by its leaders, takes the gospel to the world successfully without hindrance. Acts puts the gospel of Christ into action, through the combined action of human agency, under the power of God’s Spirit.

It is important that we note the purpose of the book of Acts.  There are different ideas as to its purpose(s). 1. The traditional heading of Acts is “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, the words, “of the Apostles” in not in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. There is very little in the book about the Apostles. Matthaias appears only once. John appears early on. Peter is prominent in early chapters. James is in chapter 12. Paul is in the spotlight in 1/2 of the book. Others, not Apostles, are given significant roles in Acts — e.g., Philip, Stephen, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, himself. Clearly, it is not the primary purpose to give an “Acts ‘of the Apostles’.”

2. The second idea as to the purpose of Acts is that it is the story of how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to Rome. This is an old approach and is still listed as the purpose in the introductory remarks to Acts in the Oxford Annotated Bible. This is not the primary purpose of Acts. It is not a record of the geographical expansion of the gospel to Rome. It only tells how Paul got to Rome, not how the gospel did.

3. Thirdly, it is not the “gospel of the Holy Spirit” as some commentators have suggested.  The Holy Spirit is very active and it is a dominant theme of the book. However, the Holy Spirit is hardly mentioned in half of the book and is absent in 11 chapters.

Other reasons have been given as to why Luke wrote Acts.  I believe that he primary purpose of Acts is to record the triumph of Christianity. Acts is a success story.

The early Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who makes no distinction in persons, broke down all barriers such as religiosity, racial, national, etc., with a liberating gospel. The gospel broke through all limitations which men sought to impose on it.

The chief purpose of Acts was to show the victorious progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ to give a spiritual freedom to all who accept the gospel — excluding none. In short it was an unhindered gospel.

 

The first two verses of the book, Acts is related to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus in word and deed. Acts is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, but through His followers. That which is related in Acts has its source in God’s will as made known in and by Jesus.
The acts of the church today must be a continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We need to study afresh the gospels to recollect Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry is our ministry: to proclaim and teach the Kingdom of God; to feed the poor and hungry (which we will have with us always); to care for the needy; to reach out to ALL people everywhere in love.

As per the third verse, Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of the gospel. That is why Easter is the major Christian holiday and not Christmas. This is the Good News – Jesus is Alive! Paul said without the resurrection, our faith is in vain.  We no longer experience the resurrection first-hand, with our own eyes. But, by faith, we experience it as Luke’s first readers did. Christ is risen. That is the good news we proclaim.

Verse 4 of Acts reports that here now is the promise of the Father — the Spirit comes in fullness to each believer to do the spiritual work of the church.  (We should note that the Holy Spirit didn’t originate at Pentecost. The Spirit’s work goes back to Genesis 1:2 and has been manifested in certain individuals as reported throughout the Bible.)

Now, however, the activity of the Holy Spirit becomes presence in EVERY believer. Jesus’ Spirit is in ALL Christians not just a select few. God’s Holy Spirit gives you all the authority and power you need.

In verse 5 ,the baptism (water immersion) of John was completed at Pentecost with the baptism (immersion) by the Holy Spirit.  When one becomes a Christian, he/she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit because he/whe has been born spiritually, i.e. of the Spirit. Though one may not always be totally immersed in the Spirit because of the barrier one often places upon himself/herself when he/she acts on their own power and authority instead of the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

The church today must learn the primary lessons of Acts, the chief one being to allow the Holy Spirit of God to fill it, so as to break down all superficial barriers, so that the gospel can continue to be spread to the uttermost parts of our world.

In the final verse of Acts, 28:31, the final word is the word, unhindered, or without restriction ( Greek, ἀκωλύτως ).

This is the final word in the Greek manuscript of the book of Acts. This word, though overlooked by most commentators, is in my opinion very significant.  The lesson learned is that If the church allows the Holy Spirit of God to be in total control, it will be under the spiritual supervision and management of the God and as a consequence, no man-made barrier will hinder the work or the church.

 

In summary, then the applications of an introduction to the book of Acts leads to the following conclusions

1. The story of today’s church should be a story of the continuation of the Gospel of Christ.

2. The Holy Spirit will move in the lives of the people.

3. The resurrected Christ will be alive.

4. People will hear in their own language as the gospel is shared with those in any area in which it is preached, whether in Judea, Samaria, or to the uttermost parts of the earth. On earth, Christ spoke a universal language. Not everyone can understand a Plato or an Einstein. But all can understand Jesus — the lepers, the blind, the rich, poor, famous, learned, and ignorant. No one needs a commentary to know what Jesus meant when He forgave His enemies while dying on the cross.

 

5. The mission in the life of the church is the mission of Jesus:

* The proclamation of works. His power enables the church to do good works.

* The proclamation of teaching. The world needs to be enlightened with things that pertain to God and His Kingdom.

* Endurance. The church continues to possess a cross to bear, thorns in its side. It may be persecuted as the early church was. But the gospel will be presented no matter the barrier.

 

The firm persuasion of the reality of Christ’s resurrection is the church’s inspiration. He is present in it in the presence of His Spirit giving it power and authority to do the work of God.  It must allow the Spirit of God to break down any walls that would hinder it’s continual progress.

Is It Easter Yet

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© Copyright 2914 Bob Haines
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(Posted my Easter reflections on Facebook yesterday.  Decided to publish it today, since today is just as important as yesterday to reflect on things that matter.)

 

to those of you who celebrate Easter today, Happy Easter.
the liturgical color, of course, is white.

some of you are right now at a Sunrise Service. oh, i remember as a kid having to wake up early and head out. one time we had one at a friend’s place on a small lake and i thought that was neat. i did one on the beach at Mayport one year and the wind was blowing in off the ocean and it was quite cold. the choir decided to just sing one song. i was the speaker and condensed the message down to a basic outline. my poor RPs had to set up.

 

when i was a kid, the custom was to have an easter egg basket when you got out of bed, but the problem was it was hidden and you had to find it. i though that was rather stupid then and i still think it was stupid, but the parents, you know they know what is fun for the kids. just give me my friggin’ basket!!!


we also always got a new easter “outfit”. ahh all the ladies and girls with their new white dresses. i had to wear a necktie. as George Carlin would have said, F – T – S!!! all my red neck friends would call me “preacher”. OMG i hated that with a passion.


it was Easter and later on we would have an Easter Egg Hunt. under the direction of our parents, we would “color” the eggs — that was kinda fun (& messy) because you could be creative.


as a kid, i was, for some reason very sensitive to sermons. don’t know why. and i was always wondering why things in the real world didn’t seem to coincide with what the Bible said and what the preacher said — you know things like racial segregation (love?) and easter eggs (resurrection?).


well thru the years i went along with the status quo, had to make a living, so go with the flow. always have a Christmas kids party and church with Santa Clause. if you piss too many people off, your life becomes miserable because they want to be in charge of your life because anyone making waves would impact their lives and you want everyone to be happy and safe together.


well, thank God, we now have a retirement system that frees the individual to be himself, and i can celebrate the central idea of Easter without having to celebrate it — you know, i can do it the way i want to which means, to me, that everyday is Easter.


now i just hope the Social Security Administration doesn’t declare me dead before i die as they did to one man i saw reported on the news this mornings — not once, but twice!

The Road to Jerusalem, the Road less Traveled

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Palm Sunday: The Road to Jerusalem, the Road less Traveled

Copyright ©1996, 2014 b y Chaplain Bob Haines All Rights Reserved

 

When the days drew near for Him (Jesus) to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.(Luke 9. 5)
. . . . . He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem . . . . . As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

(Luke 19. 28; 37 – 41)

Life is a pilgrimage and a life-long journey of learning, training, positive change, and becoming in the image of God.

In the United States of America and many other parts of the world today, we have more freedom and time to enjoy life than ever before. One of the great realities of this day and age of personal freedom is the ability to choose – to make choices between all sorts of possibilities. I believe that the #1 choice in all of life is to choose to be who you really are and who you should become.
I found in my work as a chaplain in counseling young Sailors and Marines is that many had never really made that choice for themselves. In a sense they had that choice made for them. Many of them were in many ways sort of pushed, so to speak, in that direction by either society, family, friends, or someone else. It’s almost like being compelled to buy something by a commercial advertisement. And, even when they did choose the military as a career, they found that they were still confused as to what or who they really are. The future was unclear which, of course, usually is at that age.

I think that in order to really be satisfied with life, one must be totally in charge of who he/she is with respect to one’s inherent personality (type), sense of purpose, and sense of religion as one’s ultimate concern in life.

To really have a sense of satisfaction in life, one must not only have a sense of who one really is, but one must totally accept one’s Self in that one is congruent, i.e. one’s outer facade is congruous – or compatible with one’s inner Self and one shows to the world one’s true self. Some people, maybe most people, live what may be called a fake life, and live in a dream world that is made up of what they think they are instead of who they really are.

In order for a person to really be free to be oneself, he/she must actively choose the road of reality. One does that by a combination of volitionally (willful) factors.

First, accept one’s self as it has been given to them in life. Accept the hand you have been dealt without cheating by, for example, accepting the following facts:

– Accepting one’s cultural heritage.

– Accepting physiological self, i.e. genetic heritage; physical appearance etc..

– Acceptance of personality traits. For example, if you are an introvert by nature, there is no need in trying to be an extrovert.

-Acceptance of family heritage in all of its fullness. This would include the fact of abuse if it happened. It is also rewarding to research one’s family heritage, genealogy with its family stories.

I’m am often reminded of Jesus adage, “know the truth and the truth will set you free.” To know the truth so that it is internalized in one’s life is to accept the truth about oneself, to own it, and not to be ashamed of it. Take all of the above listed aspects of yourself and then take full responsibility for your future life.

Nurture a trust in a power external to yourself

The second major choice in life is to foster your belief or faith system of the universe outside of yourself. This is what is usually meant by a belief in a power – greater than oneself – or – a religious (spiritual) “system” that is your own. And let me point out some very important here in regard to religion – Make sure your religion is really yours and, not of necessity that of your parents. By that I mean that your salvation, i.e. your religious belief, should not be based on the decision(s) of your parents. It MUST be a religion that at some point in your life you made a definite decision to accept for yourself.

The question I would like to pose for you to answer is: “Are you on the right road?” That is, are you on the road you have chosen for yourself? In answering that question, I offer you the possibility of joining Jesus on the road to Jerusalem of spirituality and spiritual growth.

 

The Choice is Yours

Robert Frost wrote: ” . . . Two roads diverged into a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (Poem, The Road Not Taken).

Taking the road of one’s own choosing is a matter of choice. I want to speak to you in the moments remaining of the idea of choice – first, to review the choices that Jesus made – as an example for us as his disciples; second, to address the issue of your choice to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, no matter the cost.

 

The Choices of Jesus

The choices of Jesus are the choices that each of us must face.

King of Men or Servant of God?

(Remember Jesus’ admonition: “you cannot serve (both) God and mammon.”)

Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, was expected to re-establish the throne of his ancestral father, David. Jesus was supposed to be a kingly figure. His disciples had already urged him in that direction – and they expected to rule with him. The world urges us to follow its way of deception.
When Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem, a perilous fate, his family and friends had urged him to stay in the safety of Galilee. His life would certainly have been spared had he opted for the easier choice and path of life. There is no doubt that Jesus agonized over the pressures of the crowd and the expectations of others versus the purposes of God as seen in the climactic scene in the Garden of Gethsemane . He could have saved his life, but that would have meant the loss of all he had lived for. Rather than accepting the power of a king, he chose instead the role of a suffering servant. He made His choice according to God’s will. Are your choices based on the expectations of others or a higher purpose?

Personal Character Versus Societal Approval

The fantasy of fame is one of the most powerful of all human fantasies. The fantasy or dream of being famous – a popular figure of television – movie, sports, politics, etc is all too real. Perhaps if more church pastors would invite famous personalities to the church, more people would show up. Sounds rather facetious doesn’t it.
It is no secret (or maybe it is) that Billy Graham initially became famous when popular figures were converted at the first large Los Angeles crusade. If you have ever been to or watched his crusades on television, you almost always found a popular person giving his/her Christian testimony. Church sanctuaries generally overflow when popular college coaches or Elvis Presley’s step brother, or a Christian Miss America are the speakers of the hour.

Jesus didn’t come to earth to make a name for himself. He always pointed beyond Himself to His heavenly Father. He didn’t even take credit for His mighty acts but rather gave credit to the glory of God. Jesus possessed what psychologists call “congruence.” A congruent person knows exactly who he is, what he is here for, and where he is going. A congruent person has self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-dignity. He owes nothing to no one else and doesn’t need the approval of any organization of the public.
Congruent persons are those who exemplify the fact that they are their own selves. They do not play mind-games. They don’t need political power for personal prestige.
Few people are really congruent in that they must look to others to confirm their dignity and worth. I want to suggest that you become totally congruent – that you become, if not already, a person of self-worth, dignity, and value because you know you are a child of God.

Service versus Success

(By the way, success, in and of itself, should never be a goal. Success is a by-product of one’s goal(s).)

In the eyes of his contemporaries, Jesus was an utter failure. The dominant motif of Jesus’ life was not earthly success, but service to God and humanity. It is not who we are in life that is important, but what we do.

John Claypool, in his book, The Preaching Event, writes;

“ . . ..We need to hear the gospel down in our guts. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, ‘You are the light of the world.’ He does not say, ‘You have got to be number one in order to get light,’ or ‘You must out-achieve everybody else in order to earn light.’ He says simply, ‘You are light. . . . ”

You can serve God and be His light to world without being on a board, some committee, or personal position of leadership – and you can be on a board and not serve God. Your status and position in life will not ultimately give you real meaning or value. In God’s eyes, you are not what you are by status and position. You are what you do.
It is what you do for others that really counts. True greatness lies in service to God and humanity. The world may assess your greatness by the number of people you command, manage, or lead by your intellectual standing, by your academic excellence, or by your bank balance. But as assessed by Jesus Christ, all these are irrelevant except as they are used for His glory. His assessment is: how many people you have helped in His Name.

Choosing to follow the truth no matter the cost

As they were going along the road, someone said to him (Jesus), “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57 – 62)

You may heard, and rightly so, that salvation is free, i.e. a free gift of God. It is true – “not of works, but by grace.” Yet, salvation did cost – in theological terms, the cost was the sacrifice of God’s Son. Even though, from our viewpoint, personal salvation is free, ironically, it costs something, e.g. the cost of personal repentance.
Repentance, change, is never easy. Now, salvation is one thing, but discipleship is another. Discipleship is the discipline of being a student, or follower. Discipleship is putting one’s life entirely under the tutorship of a master, and for the Christian, the master is none other than Jesus. A Christian, saved solely by the mercy of God is not necessarily a disciple. God’s great grace saves many people, but few are real disciples.

Being a disciple will cost, just as being a football player cost – physical training and practice regimen. Being a military person cost – sacrifices, hard work; family moves, etc., – sometimes war – supreme sacrifice. There are many deaths in peace time as well as in war. In short, it takes total commitment.

As reported by Luke, Jesus made some very strong statements about those who would join his team. There are at least three things to consider in reference to being a committed disciple. One must first, Count the Cost

As the disciples and Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, He took the time to teach them about the cost of following Him and the necessity for continuing to follow in His steps all the way.

People followed Jesus for many reasons – His popularity (charisma) – His miracles – His unique teachings, etc. As the going got rough, it was said that many “followed Him no more.” It must have became apparent that it would be costly. The call to discipleship is a call not only to share in Jesus’ commitment, but in the suffering sometimes inherent in it. We may never become martyrs, may never suffer severe hardships, but it will cost to be a true follower of Jesus because it demands an unconditional love for all people, and sometimes a non-acceptance by some because of the unconditional love for all people..

Another consideration of the cost of service is: never give up, regardless of changing circumstances

In Jewish society in the days of Jesus, the highest duty of a son was to care for his father in his old age and to give him an honorable burial at his death. Jesus strongly contradicted one of the highest and strongest convictions of ancient Jewish customs. Discipleship means that we are under supreme obligation to a higher calling, even when it conflicts with tradition and customs. Loyalty takes precedence over all other claims. The fishermen immediately left their nets (occupation) and their father to follow Jesus. (Matthew 4:19-22) Jesus Himself, gave up His Nazareth home. “Who is my mother, sisters, brothers?” he asked.
Of course, we do have obligations to our family (Honor thy father and mother) and friends. But – the point here, is that we must first be about the business of service, that we proceed with all haste to do what God has called all of us to do. We must not be overly burdened with past family relationships. The work of the kingdom of God is our first priority. Jesus proclaimed as a boy in the temple, “I must be about my father’s business (affairs).” (Luke 2:49).

Finally, to follow a higher calling of service, we are not to look back to the past so as to cling to it.

The problem was not that the man could never see his family again. The problem is that looking back, probably with emotional attachment, meant that he might want to turn back and remain there. But, more important, looking back continually to one’s past means that the future path is likely not to be straight.
We must be decisive and committed ever to the future. “Forward March!”, not, “to the rear.”

 

The Real You on the Road less Traveled

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him (Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” ( Luke 10: 25-28)

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31)

 

The journey to Jerusalem is a life-long road for the disciple. The journey of spiritual growth is a long one. Spiritual growth with its ever-new, ever-expanding concepts of self and mission is a continual quest How many of you ever started a journey, say, to visit relatives, and stopped for the night in a motel for rest and decided you would just remain in the motel for the rest of your lives. Well, that seems to be the way it is with some people on their pilgrimage of service.
You never stay stopped on the journey no matter how far along you are. There certainly may be a time for refreshment, renewal, or self-examination on a side road or roadside park, but don’t get sidetracked and too comfortable that you neglect re-starting your journey.

 

Characteristics of Discipleship Important for Personal Spiritual Growth

Discipline – To Love

The fact is, life is difficult. Life is a series of problems. Discipline is a basic tenant required for life. Discipline takes time with the ordering of priorities around being the servant you are meant to be. My challenge to you today is to live a life of continuous self-examination and contemplation about what and who you are.
The older we get, the more we try and protect ourselves from new challenges. Most of us simply seek relief from life’s hardships. We refuse to see new opportunities for service because we are not open to challenge as a way of life. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Discipline yourself.

How to be disciplined?

If discipline is the means to spiritual growth and discipleship, is there a sure way to truly be disciplined? I believe there is a force that can drive us to discipline. That force is LOVE, God’s Unconditional Love. The motive, the energy for discipline is love, God’s love. That love cannot be truly understood or measured, or even limited within the framework of words alone. In fact, it can’t even be adequately defined. It has to be experienced.
I like Scott Peck’s definition of love: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. That is another way of presenting the teaching of Jesus to love thy neighbor as thyself. To love thy neighbor implies first a love of self, to take care of oneself so as to have the ability to love other..
The New Testament’s idea of love, is not pure emotion or flattery or any such thing as infatuation. It is a deliberate volition, an act of the mind towards the action of extending one’s own life with the view of helping another person grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Love is not a feeling. Genuine love is commitment. Commitment is the cornerstone of a loving relationship. You can’t experience spiritual growth without commitment – to service – and to others. It an alliance of relationships, what the New Testament, particularly Paul’s letters, refer to as fellowship or partnership.

Again, love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love – a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present.

Love is a two-fold process – to love thy neighbor as thy self.

(1) to love one’s self – to nurture oneself, to be dedicated to one’s self-development and spiritual growth. To love oneself with all one’s soul, strength and might as you love God.
(2) secondly, to extend one’s life to another to the end that the other person grows spiritually.

All this is to say, in the words of Jesus, to love self and to love others. Of course, this isn’t easy. The act of loving requires effort. We learn to take the extra step, to go the extra mile, to stick with the person through thick and thin. We never give up in loving others.
Love also involves risk. Because of the risk involved, it takes a lot of courage to love.
The more we love, the more risks we take. We risk not being loved in return, i.e. rejection. Was not Jesus rejected?
Also, we risk the object of our love – the other person – becoming independent through spiritual growth. The relationship changes. We lose the known territory to the unknown. In fact, love means ultimately losing control over the other person, even as love for our children means that, ultimately, they have their own lives to live.

Each of us has our own destinies to fulfill. The ultimate goal of life remains the spiritual growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can be climbed only alone, but while providing fellowship and service to the community of others.

Honesty: Your life as a map of reality truly open for inspection by the public

A life of total dedication and discipleship to Christ is a life of total honesty. (Honestly that is not absolute is not honesty at all.) What this means is that we live life that is a continuous and never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our communications invariably reflect as accurately as humanly possible the truth or reality as we know it.

(A short anecdote: Maxene Andrews of the famous singing trio, The Andrews Sisters, died October 21, 1995. In speaking of her mother, Maxene’s adopted daughter and manger, Lynda Wells spoke of her “wonderful wisdom and her honesty . . . she was probably one of the most frank to a fault people that you would ever meet. You wouldn’t hear anything but the truth from her . . .”)

The reason people lie – and all of us are liars if we admit the truth about ourselves – the reason we lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences. President Nixon’s lying about Watergate was no more sophisticated or different in kind from that of a four-year-old who lies to his or her mother about how the lamp happened to fall off the table and get broken.
It doesn’t matter whether we tell black lies or white lies. Both are destructive. Black lies are statements we make that we know are false. White lies are statements we make that may not be, in themselves false, but leaves out a significant part of the truth. One of the greatest things about Jesus was that he was not a liar. He went into Jerusalem openly, honesty, and fully accepting his mission in life.

Do you really and truly want to be real? If so, I challenge you to open up your life to the Word and the world. Get absolutely honest with yourself and others. Don’t be afraid, as the Epistle of Peter urged, to confess your sins to another. Whatever it takes to do so, do it. It may mean getting some therapy, or long-term counseling. Or it might be that you need to lay yourself openly before the throne of God’s grace. You may need to get rid of a lot of junk in your life.

Turn it all over to the Power higher than yourself. Enter with Him into Jerusalem. Go to the cross with Him. Cast any and all of your manipulative and exploitative self on Him. Let Him orchestrate your life anew with His love. You are free to be you as a disciple.

——————————–

(Some of this material in the first and last parts are biblically based principles integrated with precepts manifested in The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck)

 

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Emmanuel: God With Us

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Copyright © 1997, 2013 Bob Haines

Emmanuel: God With Us*

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name be called Emmanuel'(which means, God with us.”
Matthew 1:23

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of books promoted the theory that in ancient times, our planet had been visited by astronauts from outer space and that these alien visitors had left their marks upon the earth. Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? for instance, says that the stone figures on Easter Island, cave drawings, and temple carvings portray spacemen who landed on earth thousands of year ago. Although I’m not prepared to comment on the plausibility of these theories, I have to admit that it’s a fascinating thesis.
von Daniken and others of his persuasion aren’t really that original, however. The Bible has taught all along that the earth is a visited planet. It received a visitor from another realm of being about 2000 years ago, and it’s still displaying the evidence of that visit. That visit in fact, is the heart of the Christmas message. In the person of Jesus Christ, God visited earth and revealed himself more perfectly than he had ever done before.

It’s not that God had never communicated with earthlings before. The Bible reports, that before the advent of Christ, that God has been revealed through nature.

The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1). Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20).

In addition, God has called special people to be his spokesman. These Old Testament prophets had remarkable insights into the spiritual nature of things. They cut through the ritualism of the day and called people to repent and to live lives of genuine righteousness.

These forms of revelation however, had their limitations. God’s revelation in nature was impersonal and non-directive. His revelation through prophets, although more complete, was limited by the idiosyncrasies of the spokesperson. So finally, after many years of waiting, God communicated to his earth creatures by an entirely new method. As the book of Hebrews says, In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son. (Hebrews 1:1,2).

The Apostle John also speaks of this translation of the eternal into the temporal in the opening chapter of his gospel: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

This phenomenon is also beautifully expressed in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew, speaking primarily to a Jewish audience, uses the Hebrew word Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

What does this mean to us?

The preposition, with, means “alongside,” “close to,” “in the company of,” or “as an associate or companion.” Thus, God’s revelation through Emmanuel is close, homey, complete, full, intimate, face-to-face. By means of a human personality the eternal God was able to communicate to us in a thoroughly understandable and personal way.

THE MESSIAH. In Christ, God translated the melodies of the angelic realms into the Aramaic of the market place Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God expressed the love of the ineffable by means of mudballs applied to a blind man’s eyes and e a lap which welcomed small children. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ God communicated the wisdom of the ages through rustic stories about farmers seeding their fields and a woman sweeping her house. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God expressed the universality oh his concern through dinner parties with outcasts and stories which made heroes out of underdogs. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God expressed his anger with ecclesiastical greed by wielding a whip in the commerce department of the Temple. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God communicated his Oneness with our problems by walking our dusty streets, experiencing our hunger and thirst and weeping at the graves of a friend and a stepfather. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God demonstrated his sacrificial love by submitting to one of the most cruel methods of execution ever devised by mankind. Emmanuel! God with us!

In Christ, God gave a preview o our eventual resurrection by restoring the body of a friend three days dead, and then himself raising from the dead on the third day. Emmanuel! God with us!!!

This revelation of God through Emmanuel has a number of practical implications for us, at least five.

1.) Emmanuel means that if we want to know about God, we must study the life of Jesus Christ. We must listen to his words and we must take note o his deeds. We must go right to the source. We can’t rely on secondhand sources; we must personally study the gospels. Emmanuel! God with us!

2.) Emmanuel means that we don’t need some ectatic spiritual experience in order to be a true believer. We need not seed some beatific vision or some out-of-body experience. We don’t have to be transported up to God in order to experience him, because he came right down here to us. “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he had made him known” (John 1:18). Emmanuel! God with us!

3.) Emmanuel means that a person need not be a theologian or a philosopher to know a lot about God. Jesus spoke in the plainest of words and illustrated his teachings with the commonest of stories. We don’t need a seminary degree, and we don’t have to be able to contrast the teachings of Karl Barth with those of Rudolf Bultmann in order to be intelligent, knowledgeable Christians. Emmanuel!
God with us! — You!

4.) Emmanuel means, further, that we have a model to follow. We have more than instructions and command. We have living illustrations of how God wants us to treat minorities and parents and how God wants us to pray, and how God wants us to deal with a brother who cheats us, and how God wants us to live under a secular government. Emmanuel! God with us!

5.) Lastly, Emmanuel, “God with us,” means that our religious faith can be a personal one. It implies that God cares and loves, that he desires a personal relationship with us. God reached down to communicate with us, and he continues to do so through his Holy Spirit. He invites our conversation, our prayers, our personal devotion. Our proper response to God is more than intellectual assent or ritualistic symbolism. Our proper response to God is a personal acceptance, through faith, of Emmanuel, God with us.

*Matthew 1:18-25

Hope in the Wilderness

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© copyright 1988, 2013

Hope in the Wilderness

In the wilderness prepare the way of the lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God . . . and the glory of the lord shall be revealed.

the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord.

The Gospel begins in the wilderness.

When I was a Navy chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, Everyday in that hospital I saw the wilderness. I saw cancer patients in the first stage of grief with one question on their lips: WHY?! Why is this happening to me? Where is God? What has happened to my faith?
In the wake of death and dying, I say with the Hebrew exiles, how I hunger for good news?  (Oh, how I’m ready for time in the garden, on a hammock strung between two shade trees).”
Can we endure the wilderness? In the wilderness I am out of control. The wilderness is wild, untamed, so unpredictable. Must I surrender all my ordered securities to find hope? Oh, how we order our lives when things are going right that we fail to depend on God – or even experience him.

My question as we continue into the advent season is: Can we drop our defenses, become vulnerable enough to enter into a wilderness so that God can nurture us and prepare us for the true meaning of Christmas? I invite you to enter the wilderness. Advent is a time of silent mediation, to cultivate emptiness. Enter this wilderness as a child’s world, on a child’s terms. For a few moments, surrender the wisdom of adulthood, lose control, be ready for surprise. Now, I know, that this sounds crazy, about as crazy as Isaiah and John the Baptist, but remember, Jesus said, except a man enter the kingdom as (like) a child, he shall not enter it.

The context for Isaiah’s message was one in which the Hebrew people found themself in exile – in a wilderness so to speak. The situation of the community in Babylonian exile was hardly a ground for hope. It was a tough time for God’s people. It was a time for struggle. It was a time of testing of their faith.
Many turn away from God. Isaiah revealed that the exiled community was tempted to interpret it’s covenant life with God as being swept up in the fatalistic natural cycle of life leading to death. Isaiah’s Word of God in the situation is one of urgency – “comfort, speak, cry” – and one of forgiveness.
So, the wilderness setting is a time of proclamation – proclamation of HOPE. God speaks to us most clearly in the wilderness. Just as God met Moses on the mountain, as to Isaiah during the exile, as to John when the people were under Roman bondage, and as to Paul on the road to Damascus and then as he went into the Arabian Desert for guidance – and as God spoke to Paul in prison and to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, He speaks to us in our wilderness.
The image of wilderness weds hardship with God’s grace. The time had once come for Jesus to usher in the time of salvation. Then, in the wilderness for 40 days, He is tempted by Satan. But does Satan have the victory? No! He is empowered by God with The Holy Spirit.
God is once again at work in the wilderness to bring hope to a dying people – God’s people. John the baptist is heralding the advent. Christ will come. Christ did come. As Christ did come and as He will come again, He will surely come to you whenever you are in a wilderness
Preaching on Isaiah 40, the great theologian, Paul Tillich asked, “How shall we interpret these words? Is there a way to unite the heights and depths contrasted in this chapter? Shall we understand the words of consolation and hope as vain promises, never fulfilled in the past and never to be fulfilled in any future? Shall we understand them as an escape from the realization of man’s real situation through mysticism and poetic elevation? If so, what about the proving realism of the prophet’s analysis of the human situation. He saw history as it is, but at the same time He looked beyond history to the ultimate power of meaning and majesty of being. He knew two orders of being: the human, political, historical order, and the divine, eternal order. Because he knew these two orders, he could speak as he did, moving continually between the depth of human nothingness and the great height of divine creativity.
For some, the wilderness has been a traumatic experience; maybe death of a loved one, perhaps a marital breakup; war; overseas isolated duty; sea service deployment; financial breakdown; hospitalization. All of us at some time in our lives, like the Hebrews, like 1st century Israel, are forced into the wilderness.
Each of us face a time where we can depend solely upon God for comfort and hope. Maybe you are in a personal wilderness now – hospitalization; change.
Whatever your situation, like the Hebrews of the exile, like the 1st century Jewish community, God is speaking to you. He is calling you to Himself: first – to recognize Him as creator and giver of Life; second – to repentance – freedom from all guilt and sin; third – to follow Him.
As we continue in this Advent season, may you experience a revival of the Advent Spirit, to expect comfort and to receive hope – hope in the wilderness.

* Isaiah 40:3-5

** Mark 1:3

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