Relationships, Experiences and Returning

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How do you avoid appearing in the shame hall of fame?  

In the Church’s history, we have had at least eight popes who were murderers, adulterers, gluttons or thieves.   Even during the Apostle Paul’s day, he knew of “so called” men of faith who lived as though they hated the cross.  Instead of seeking sainthood, they had starring roles in the spiritual version of Shameless.   Today’s readings offer us three ways to avoid the shame hall of fame:

First,  A Relationship with God is Everything.

If you are blessed with a great mind and are a genius of the will, a man or woman can do anything “in the name of God”.    Unfortunately, members of the hall of shame don’t have a  relationship with the living God.   In Genesis 15,  God asks Abraham to “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”Abram put his faith in the LORD,  who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”    James refers to Abraham as God’s friend (cf. James 2:21-23).  As friends will do, Abraham and God spent hundreds of hours with each other.

Second, Experiences are Crucial.

You don’t have to be a King David to pray, “Your presence, O LORD, I seek” (cf. Psalm 27:13-14).   Praying the Psalms is one way to change a theological relationship God to a personal relationship.   Praying the Psalms changes our disordered affections as we experience God’s affections.

You don’t have to experience the glory of the transfiguration to be a member of God’s family but if you want lead God’s people, it’s important that you have an experience with God.  Luke records an unforgettable one in his Gospel (9:28-36).  My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle John. who spent 50 years in the Baptist ministry, said as a teenager,  “he fell into a trance and God gave him a glimpse of his future ministry that spanned decades”.  Catherine of Sienna (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380) experienced regular visitations of Jesus, Peter, James and John beginning at age seven.  Because of her intimate relationship with God, she could write:  “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  Throughout church history, God gives men and women prophetic dreams or vision of their future ministry.    Abraham and Peter both experienced ecstatic trances:

  1. “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram,  and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.”   (Genesis 15:12)
  2. “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.” (Acts 10)

Third, Always Be Returning. 

Peter reflects on his experience in 2 Peter 1:19:  “And we ourselves heard this voice from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. We also have the message of the prophets, which has been confirmed beyond doubt. And you will do well to pay attention to this message, as to a lamp shining in dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation.…”

Peter encourages his reader to always return to Scripture for it is like the spiritual sun, rising in our hearts every morning.   If you are in a dark place, the best way out of it is through a fresh encounter with God’s word.  He also cautions us that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation.…” Peter, the future rock of the Church, misunderstood the meaning of the Transfiguration.    After his initial comments missed the mark, Peter “fell silent.”

People who are called to ministry, experience periods of silence (cf. Moses, Joseph, Paul).   Silence is God’s way of clarifying our relationship with Him.   John asked the Ephesians to “return to their first love”(Rev. 2:4)  Sound advice for all of us.   At the end of the day, we are all prodigals in need of returning home to our Father.

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