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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

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Lent

What I Learned about Heaven and Hell from Jesus’ Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who always dressed in the finest clothes and lived in luxury every day. And a very poor man named Lazarus, whose body was covered with sores, was laid at the rich man’s gate. He wanted to eat only the small pieces of food that fell from the rich man’s table. And the dogs would come and lick his sores. Later, Lazarus died, and the angels carried him to the arms of Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. In the place of the dead, he was in much pain. The rich man saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. He called, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering in this fire!’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember when you were alive you had the good things in life, but bad things happened to Lazarus. Now he is comforted here, and you are suffering. Besides, there is a big pit between you and us, so no one can cross over to you, and no one can leave there and come here.’ The rich man said, ‘Father, then please imagesend Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers, and Lazarus could warn them so that they will not come to this place of pain.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets; let them learn from them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham! If someone goes to them from the dead, they would believe and change their hearts and lives.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who comes back from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31 NCV)

Recently, I heard a sermon at a church we were visiting that brought me back to this parable of Jesus. I realized the parable had SO much to tell me about heaven and even more to tell me about hell. Imagine that, there is still capacity to learn at my age and even more that God wants to teach me.

The first part of the parable deals with two men living very different lives on earth. One has money, privilege, he is living in the lap of luxury and whether he simply cannot see the suffering right outside his gate or he simply chooses to ignore it. I don’t know, but what I do know is that the man suffering in poverty and poor health has a name, which gives him greater distinction in Jesus’ story than the rich man. His name is Lazarus.

While the rich man disregards Lazarus, Lazarus sees the rich man and longs not to bring him down to his level, but to merely have crumbs from his table, discarded bits of garbage from the rich man to eat. Street dogs give him more regard than the man with plenty.

BUT, both men die. Jesus tells this part with the matter of fact attitude death deserves in the God’s Grand Scheme. Rich or poor, all flesh eventually fails and dies. Here is where the heaven and hell stuff begin and here is what I learned.

Angels carry Lazarus, not a nameless beggar, but a person whose name God knows to the arms of Abraham (heaven). There he is alive, comforted, and sees only the beauty and grace of God. In hell, on the other hand, the rich man suffers physically, mentally, spiritually.

So much for the attitude that says “I’d rather party in hell than strum a harp in heaven.” The rich man in hell is very aware of heaven. He sees the lavish life Lazarus is living. Like Lazarus once longed for the rich man’s crumbs, he longs for a single drop of the living water of heaven. Imagine the torment in hell as the damned see heaven constantly from the pit. Imagine realizing that the chasm between cannot be crossed after death, but also imagine the rich man’s anguish as he recalls his brothers who are still living on earth without benefit of salvation.

Hell isn’t some good old boy’s club or “Cheers, where everybody knows your name”. In hell you don’t even have a number let alone a name and like the rich man in his torment, no one there wants to see the people they love join them. There is no party! There is loneliness and regret. One may never have cared whether family or friends found Jesus on earth, but based on Jesus parable, in Hell they are begging for their redemption. If we Christians had one ounce of the passion for the lost that the rich man exhibited in hell, we could change the world.

Once in heaven we cannot see the other side. We will not dwell on the citizens of hell, but in hell those citizens see what they rejected, pay the price, and long not to have another person join them. We see glimpses of this desire for others to be saved here on earth…people who have experienced hellish life styles that destroyed themselves and others before finding Christ usually make the most passionate evangelists.

I really don’t like thinking about hell and yet here in this week before Palm Sunday, I realize Jesus thought about it, taught about it and experienced it for ALL Creation, so I cannot ignore it. So today I am praying for the Lost…especially, those who think they have it all together and simply do not need God and for those who think God doesn’t exist and that death is simply switching off the lights.

 

Lenten Reflection: And We Didn’t Even Notice Him

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He was hated and rejected by people. He had much pain and suffering. People would not even look at him. He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him. (Isaiah 53:3 NCV)

Bruised and bullied, crying softly where he lay
Left to suffer by his taunters, battered child, jar of clay
And we didn’t even notice him, we looked the other way
Not a hint of recognition, not a single glance his way.

Wounding words on her Facebook page, No not another day!
Cannot face the ridicule and shame waiting in that hallway!
And we didn’t even notice her, we looked the other way
Not a hint of recognition, not a single glance her way.

Tiny heart beating, tiny product of a night of play
It doesn’t fit, wasn’t planned, just make it go away
And we didn’t even notice them, we looked the other way
Unborn infant, frightened mom, not a glance their way.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the headlines of today
We, too, are battered, bullied, broken jars of clay
The pattern of our brokenness makes us want to look away
But the Savior of the world has something else to say,

“In every tender battered shoot trampled on today
In every broken heart, in every fractured jar of clay
See me, see me, see me where the wounded lay
See me, see me, see me don’t look away.”

For every teardrop, every sin, He died to pave the way
Bloodied, naked on the cross, He didn’t look away
He saw the thief, He saw his mother, He didn’t look away.
Mockers, skeptics, pagan soldiers, all within his sway

And YET He stayed, He didn’t look away.
He didn’t look away! Can I not stay?
Can I not look and see beyond my mirror everyday
And see the suffering, tend a need for other jars of clay.

“In every tender battered shoot trampled on today
In every broken heart, in every fractured jar of clay
See me, see me, see me where the wounded lay
See me, see me, see me don’t look away.”

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Ten Days In, Need a Promise for Lent?

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For those Christians participating in this season of Lent through intentional soul searching, sacrifice, and seeking, frankly, even those who are not, today is the 10th Day of Lent, a quarter of the 40 days leading to Easter.

One beautiful and tragic truth about the calendar and time

It marches forward, there is no going back

Time for those of us in human form marks the days, the hours

And it does so relentlessly

Without any “hitting the pause” button or “rewinding”, without my control

Like the poem, “Into the valley of death marched the six hundred”*

Marching like the Grand Old Duke of York’s men, “up the hill” and “down again” **

Reaching that magical peak of life, younger for some, older for others, before the after,

beginning the downward march or on more days than I care to admit the “SLIDE”

I can look back, but I cannot go back

So forward I go….whether through Lent to Holy Week or through Advent to Epiphany

Season after season of life in this fragile flesh, with a finite mind and limited mastery

Remembering, Reenacting, but not Returning

So it was when the Incarnation occurred, Suddenly God became man

Christ Jesus, The Lord in the form of a baby and grew up to be a man

Came to be trapped by the movement of time

He Who knew the freedom from the calendar chose to be tied to the days and nights

Of human fleshly existence, no going back, no going back

Eyes fixed on a Cross, unlimited power and authority self-limited for those few years,

So that beaten, battered, bullied, the brunt of mockery stinging,

He struggled up the Via Delarosa, up Calvary’s hill bearing my sins

He struggled upward on the downhill side of His life as a man for you and me

In the darkness of despair, with the ugliness of all sin from beginning to end on him

The weight, the ways of the world infusing His dying form, God Left HIM,

Still human, Still divine but briefly separated from the Father

MY GOD, MY GOD, Why have You forsaken me?

He knew it was coming and still he continued…..

So here I am 10 days into Lent, considering the work Christ has done for me, the sacrifices made, the power of the Cross, the power of his resurrection. And then in Philippians I read:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NET)

And I am reassured by the promise. He continues to work in me…to perfect me, to lead me to stand closer to the Cross as He leads me forward in time to that level land.

Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God. May your kind presence lead me into a level land. (Psalms 143:10 NET)

*Charge of the Light Brigade” Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1854
**The Grand Ole (Noble) Duke of York, English Nursery Rhyme

Vanity, Vanity…Giving up a Sense of Entitlement for Lent

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Sense of entitlement – The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace. from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

A fact about Entitlement:

It is a relatively new word; the first known use of this word was in 1942.

The full definition says a lot:
a. the state or condition of being entitled
b. a right to benefits especially by law or contract
c. a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group and the funds supporting the program
d. belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges by reason of birth, family, accomplishments, need or (my words not the dictionary) just because I think I deserve special privileges because I think I do.

While there may be pro and con arguments regarding a-c of the definition, I treasure the rights I have as a citizen of the United States based on the Constitution and I believe that human rights should be defended throughout the world. So here during this Lent season, as I consider the Word of God in Philippians, I know that I must dig out the weeds of vanity, selfish ambition, concern for my own interests which lead to a sense of ENTITLEMENT and I must seek to have the same attitude that Jesus did. I am always moved by these words:

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.

Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but

emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.

He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!

As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 NET)

Even though Jesus existed as fully God, he did not demand EQUALITY. HE gave it ALL up, all the privileges of BEING GOD, took on the form of a slave, human form with all its fleshly needs, all its mental anguish, its heartaches, its fragility.

HE Humbled Himself…and was obedient to the death…death on the most horrific form of execution Crucifixion.

So, giving up Entitlement means that I must take on an attitude that does not demand to be First, or maybe even equal. It means that I need to be concerned for the needs of others and be faithful to carrying my Cross daily without comparing it to anyone else’s.

After all, in Jesus heart He always knew Who he was…He was One with the Father and One with the Spirit. And by His Blood, by my belief, and baptism I am an heir of God.

What more could I ask? “Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me, not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.” (Lyrics and Music by Norman J. Clayton)image

Toe Tapping, Eyes rolling, Horn Blowing…Giving up the Dance of Impatience for Lent.

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Here I am eight days into Lent, continuing to struggle to give up guilt (those gut wrenching flashbacks require constant vigilance), fear, need to please, and envy. Eight days and so many more to go. Why continue on the list of 20 supplied by Pastor Phil? Because these eight have exposed only the tip of an iceberg that keeps me from fullness with Christ. I doubt anyone looks at these internal monsters as sacrifices, but indeed whether I cling to them or they cling to me, they interfere with my relationship with Jesus. If I allow them to continue to hold me captive, I deny the full power of the Cross. I allow them to replace Jesus in my life.

So on this eighth day of Lent, I continue on my journey by giving up that incredibly difficult companion and time waster IMPATIENCE. If I spent the time I waste complaining about being stuck in traffic or in the line at the grocery store where the cashier has to do a price check and cannot reach anyone in that department, if I spent that time connecting with Jesus, praying or lifting the spirits of those others stuck in line with me…If I chose to honor Christ by not letting my thoughts turn stormy when I am delayed by weather. If I chose to allow God’s action to take place rather than plowing into the waiting room of life like a Momma Elephant in charge mode, as in taking “charge” of things left best to God’s timing.

He gives strength to those who are tired; to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy. Even youths get tired and weary; even strong young men clumsily stumble. But those who wait for the Lord ’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired. (Isaiah 40:29-31 NET

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If I choose patience, not toe tapping, eyes rolling, horn blowing impatience, I choose to allow God’s perfect timing. I choose joy in the midst of circumstances I may not understand; I choose waiting with faith in the Christ who always is waiting for me to catch up and catch on to what living a life in Christ really means. He wants to take off my fake chicken wings and exchange them for the wings of eagles…He wants to teach me to fly not to squawk and scratch.  If….Imagine all God could do in my life…or in yours.

“Yet whatever else it may be, Lent should never be morose – an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges.”
– the editors of Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Reflections on the Journey…First Sunday of Lent, 2014

Guilt, Fear, the Need to please everyone, and Envy…quite a chunk to chuck for Lent.

So on this First Sunday of Lent, I am taking time to consider how I am doing on this year’s journey to the Cross. Perhaps as suggested on http://www.shereadstruth.com I need to concentrate on God’s Word, commit it to my heart and memory, so that I can reject guilt, fear, need to please everyone and envy for it is a battle.

From #Shereadstruth:

“We believe that memorizing scripture is one of the best ways to carry the Word of our God with us wherever we go – to have God-breathed truth and instruction and reproof in our hearts and minds as we live unto Him each day.

For our Weekly Truth, we’ve chosen Matthew 4:4. Such an appropriate verse to write on our hearts in this Lenten season, and so relevant to the topic of Scripture memorization in general.”

But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4, ESV

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God’s Word brings life. God’s Word champions over the negative internal battles we fight. God’s Word lets us see Christ, crucified, dead and risen.

No Matter What Your Eye Color Envy Dims Your Light…Giving up Envy for Lent

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“Envy – I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.” from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

When people are tempted, they should not say, “God is tempting me.” Evil cannot tempt God, and God himself does not tempt anyone. But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. (James 1:13, 14 NCV)

The temptation to Envy finds its origins in ungratefulness and dissatisfaction. Writing those two words saddens me because I realize how pathetic they sound. They paint a picture of a “victim of her circumstances” rather than a “beloved child of God” and one who is “more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus” her Lord. Envy denies Christ’s Blessings. Envy says, “You have not given me as much as You have given her.”

Clearly there is a reason why God included “Do not Covet” in His ten basic steps to a full, happy, blessed life. The definition of covet: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others” expands the reasons God knew envy leads to the troubled, angry, resentful state of covetness…and the news is full of tragic outcomes.

Giving up Envy for Lent requires facing the fact that I do envy others. Duh! It also requires facing the fact that Envy isn’t about admiring what someone else has or has accomplished but shouts “WHY NOT ME?” or worse “THAT SHOULD BE MINE!”…Envy throws the blessings of life in Christ in the face of God, like a ungrateful child.

ENVY destroys Love.
ENVY destroys Self.
ENVY destroys Happiness….you name it…ENVY destroys.

Most of all as I continue on this inward journey this Lent, Envy separates me from Christ. image

Instead of Envy, I will practice gratefulness for all the many blessings God has provided and continues to provide as I live abundantly in Him. I want to be more like Paul as he wrote to the Church at Philippi:

I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens. I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NCV)

All I have , all I need is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.

Please, Please…Giving up the NEED to Please Everyone for Lent

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The need to please everyone – I can’t please everyone anyways. There is only one I need to strive to please. from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

Admittedly, I have lived my life trying to please everyone and sadly failing. So here I am on this third day of Lent 2014 giving up “the need to please everyone”. Even writing that causes a little quiver of anxiety…probably giving that up later…because I realize how great a grip “pleasing” has on my life. The roots are deep, so yanking them up is painful.

God reminds me as I write that I am not giving up being pleasing or even pleasing others I am giving up the NEED to please, because it is that need that separates me from Christ. That need implies I am responsible for a myriad of things, other people’s happiness, their attitudes, the flow of traffic, world peace…ok, I know I am exaggerating, but suffice it to say the NEED to please everyone undermines my Faith in God and pleasing Him.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)

My need to please people increases the possibility that I entertain popular cultural and societal shifts that move away from God’s precepts or simply strife to ignore them so as to not appear “intolerant” or a “religious nut.” Clearly, the evil that can permeate culture is not a 21st Century phenomena and giving up the NEED to please, humbling myself, seeking to please God will open up my prayer life and the forgiveness of Christ will wash over me and cannot help but splash on those around me.

if my people, who belong to me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NET)

Giving up the Need to please people, requires that I turn my “pleasing” ways another direction toward the One who Died for me. Relying on Him, rather than relying on what I do or say to please people and maintain homeostasis…I admit my arms are tired of juggling, my heart is weary from failure to please, the weight on my mind over others’ attitude pounds…So Lord Jesus, I lay the NEED at your feet. I have sinned before you by trying to control my world through pleasing others. Work in me to rid the imbedded roots from my life so I can draw closer to you. Amen

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Fear Less, Love More…Giving up Fear for Lent

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“Fear – God is on my side. In him I am more than a conqueror. (see Romans 8)” from “20 Things to Give Up for Lent”, Pastor Phil, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, March 4, 2014

You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world’s perspective and the world listens to them. If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. We love because he loved us first. (1 John 4:4, 5, 15-19 NET)

365 times, one for every day of the normal calendar year, God proclaims in His Word, “Fear Not”, “Don’t be afraid”, or some version of the same. Fear crowds out love. Fear focuses on the temporary. Fear separates us from Christ. And so today on this second day of Lent, with the help of Christ Jesus, my Lord, I cast out fear. I give up the panic over growing old, senile, and feeble, the fear of what non-Christians say about the Church and Christians, the fear of death, the fear….oh, my goodness, I have entertained so many. Know what fear has held me captive long enough.

In 1 John 4, God clearly says, “LOVE drives out fear” and so when tempted to fear, I need to replace that fear with love, first the knowledge of that I am loved by God and then to extend love to others. Nothing can keep me from aging and eventually dying, but LOVE, God’s Love can dispel fear. As Romans 8 reminds us “if God be for us, who can be against us.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Draw me closer to living a life that LOVES as You Love. A Life that draws me out of the shadows, the hiding places and into your light. Help me GIVE up Fear this Lent and extend the grace of a loving life to others and myself. Amen.

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