Tuesday, August 17, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 22, 2010 - 21st

Dear Renewed People--
The readings this week will shake some of us up, but others of us will be comforted. For "narrow is the gate", and few will find it. The rest will be wailing and gnashing their teeth. Why? Because no one told them the way? Because they were tricked in to believing something false? No. Because they thought they knew better than God and considered the restrictions on entrance into Heaven as too... well, restrictive. They lobbied for looser criteria. But the border guards at the boundaries of Heaven are unerring in their accuracy. NO ONE gets in except by Narrow Gate!

This is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read the following on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/082210.shtml, or in your Bible in:

Isaiah 66.18-21
Psalm 117.1, 2 (with Mark 16.15 as the response)
Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13
Luke 13.22-30

The First Reading has some very far-reaching implications. The references to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan (Is. 66.19) give the impression of far distant and very foreign lands. God will send "fugitives" or missionaries to those places and win converts. The missionaries will bring the converts to "Jerusalem, my holy mountain" (v. 20). I take this to mean these far-flung people will learn of God and be brought into his Family. That is the unique thing about Judaism... the God of Israel is not just a tribal God. He is God of all nations and every language. He hears and understands prayers made in Hebrew, English, Greek, Arabic, Farsi, Thai, Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese... Wycliffe Bible Translators has figures on the number of spoken languages on this planet. There are upwards of 5000 last time I checked. And God is fluent in every one of them!

The Responsorial Psalm is a short one, only two verses. But it embodies the underlying message in the other three readings. The Lord's love for us is strong and he's forever faithful (Ps 117.2). And not just to us, but to all nations! (v. 1).

But is this gathering at the holy mountain of the Lord going to be just a big party where everybody can bring their own beliefs? their own baggage? their own gods? No. The Second Reading tells us that whom the Lord loves, he chastens (Heb. 12.6). We are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews not to treat the Lord's discipline lightly. That is, we must learn from it (v. 7). We must learn that there is One God who allows no other gods in the hearts of his children. This chastening may seem painful to bear at the time it is being administered (v. 11), but God knows what he's doing, and he doesn't inflict us with anything that he didn't already inflict upon his own Son. Therefore, "Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees!" (v. 12). Physical therapy is good for an injured muscle... spiritual therapy is good for an injured soul.

And, according to the Gospel Reading, we dare not dilly-dally! The door to the Lord's holy mountain won't stay open forever, and even while it's open, it's narrow. We're not going to wander into God's house by accident. Jesus says, "Strive to enter in at the narrow gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." (Luke 13.24). Then there will come a time when the door is closed. It'll be too late then. People will knock and it won't be opened, because the Master will say, "I don't know who you are. Go away!" (v. 27).

So, yes, God invites all people to his house. He offers to personally make us worthy to enter into his presence. And we must RSVP by the deadline. But when is the deadline? No one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24.42). It'll sneak up on you like a thief in the night (2 Peter 3.10). No one knows the Day of the Lord, but NOW is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6.2). The good news is, once you're inside, you'll never be kicked out, no matter what (John 10.28).

So why wait? Introduce yourself to God now and be sure he knows who you are. Come to the mountain of the Lord and start getting better acquainted. And have a great week! :-)

Randy Jones
Those who cannot take discipline say the rules are bad!

Monday, August 9, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 15, 2010 - Assumption of Mary

Hi, folks--
Every year on August 15, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. Many people, I’ve discovered, think of Mary's Assumption in terms of Jesus's Ascension, where he was taken living into Heaven. However, it is recorded that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles between 3 and 15 years after the Ascension. It was about 400 years after that, according to John Damascene (St. John of Damascus), that the Emperor Marcian desired to possess the body of the Blessed Mother and sought out her tomb. When the tomb was opened, it was found to be empty. God had invited Mary to the Resurrection early, before the rest of us living and dead join them.

The readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are found on the web at:
http://www.usccb.org/nab/081510a.shtml and in your Bible at:

Revelation 11.19a; 12.1-6a, 10ab (It won't hurt to read through from 11.19 to 12.10)
Psalm 45.10, 11, 12, 16
1 Corinthians 15.20-27
Luke 1.39-56

The First Reading would make little sense without our knowledge of Mary. A glorious woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, a twelve-star crown on her head is about to give birth (Rev 12.1). A terrible monster awaits the birth to destroy the babe, but God intervenes when the Lady gives birth to a son, and saves the child (vs. 12.4-5). Later, this very Son conquers the monster (v. 10). When this passage is read with Mary and her Son Jesus in mind, it makes perfect sense.

The Responsorial Psalm is a love song, a "nuptial ode for the messianic king". The Queen stands at the right hand of God (Ps 45.10). She is to be wed to the Messiah. Tradition holds that this refers to the Bride of Christ, or us, the Church. Thus we take part in the royal feast and become part of the Heavenly Family of God.

The Second Reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians paints a picture of this Wedding Feast. Christ at last will "put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15.25), and the last enemy to be destroyed is Death itself (v. 26). When that happens our life together with God begins, and it will not be "till death do us part". No, it will be forever!

The Gospel Reading is filled with familiar words. Mary, with the Messiah Child already being knit together in her womb, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child, a little farther along. Because Elizabeth's son starts dancing in her womb when Elizabeth hears Mary's voice, she knows that a very special event is coming. "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" she sings (Luke 1.42). It's all becoming clear now to Mary and she sings her timeless hymn. "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed" (vs. 46-48).

We do indeed call Mary blessed, and have for these countless generations; and will for all generations to come. She is a type of God's love. A lowly handmaiden raised to the level of Queen of Heaven, not through her own merit, but through God's favor. Through this same favor and mercy of God, we too, who have put our faith in Christ, will be raised to the level of "relatives of the Boss", that is members of the Holy Family, brothers and sisters of Christ himself, heirs of the Living God.

With a perspective on the future like that, how can anything on this earth shake our faith? If things get tense or scary this week, remember what it says in the Bible.... "And it came to pass..." It didn't come to stay -- it came to pass!

Randy Jones
Those who cannot look ahead say the enemy is gaining on us!

Monday, August 2, 2010

RENEWsletter for August 8, 2010 - 19th

Dear Friends of Renewal--
The theme this time seems to be one of choices and promises. God has made a choice. He has chosen us. We can respond by choosing him... or not. By faith we can believe that God will keep his promise, or we can choose to doubt. Sometimes it’s a tough choice to keep believing. But it couldn’t be much tougher than it was for Abraham. He’d been promised that his descendents would become a multitude, yet Sarah had reached and passed menopause, and when she did conceive and bear Isaac, God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. Start all over again? At Abraham’s age? That was a very tough choice.

The readings for this coming Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found on the Web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/080810.shtml, and are in your Bible in:

Wisdom 18.6-9
Psalm 33.1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11.1-2, 8-19
Luke 12.32-48

The First Reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks of God summoning his people through the Passover (Wis 18.8). They responded by following the instructions for being spared the loss of their firstborn. Even in one captivity after another some continued choosing to follow God's instructions. In secret they were offering sacrifices and keeping the law (v. 9), waiting for the salvation of the just (v. 7).

In spite of the hardships and setbacks those Hebrews faced and endured, the psalmist of the Responsorial Psalm still can sing, "Blessed are the people the Lord has chosen to be his own" (Ps. 33.12). These chosen people of God have put their hope in the LORD (vs. 18, 22). And he delivers them from death and famine (v. 19), helping and shielding them (v. 20).

The Second Reading from Hebrews carries this idea a little deeper. God chose Abraham to make a promise to (Heb 11.9). But Abraham had the choice of obeying God to claim the promise. And to obey, guess what Abraham had to have. Faith (vs. 8, 9, 11, 13, 17)! He had to believe in order to receive God's promise. Does this mean we have to earn our salvation? No, God chose us first. (See John 15.16.) But it means we have to believe. Believe that God will keep his promise, choose to obey his word, have faith.

The Gospel Reading in Luke makes this concept plain. Jesus says, "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (v. 32). There's the promise. What do we have to do? Obediently collect treasures in heaven (v. 33). And how do we do that? By making sure our heart is in the right place (v. 34). In other words, by having faith.

But faith falters, obliterating obedience, precluding promises. What if we're not ready when the "bridegroom" returns, or when the "thief" comes? Well, that's why Jesus came. He was perfectly obedient, had perfect faith, and God kept his promise and raised him from the dead. Because of Jesus' obedience, we are healed of our faithlessness, we are washed of our disobedience, and we become beneficiaries of the promise of eternal life.

A good way to stay close to God and ready for his coming is to talk with him every day. Here's an easily memorizable pattern for prayer based on the first letters of the days of the week. See what you think of this....

Monday: pray for Ministries and Missionaries
Tuesday: pray for people in Trouble
Wednesday: just Worship God
Thursday: give Thanks for all your blessings
Friday: pray for Family and Friends
Saturday: pray for the Sick and Sinners
Sunday: pray for yourSelf

Of course, urgent needs get prayer anytime regardless of what letter the day starts with! But remember, God is unbounded by time. He forgave all our sins 2000 years ago, and we hadn't yet committed our first one! He can answer prayers in arrears as easily. So pray, even when it's "too late." If you forget or miss a day, don't worry... what day is it? Pray for the corresponding item. Keep doing it. Pretty soon it'll become habitual.

Randy Jones
Those who cannot believe say the promise is bad!