Friday, January 29, 2010

tender mercies - part three

Continuing on with the story of Saul, the account in Acts does not mention what immediately followed his conversion and baptism. We read of that from Paul himself in Galations 1:17. He retired to the wilderness in the neighborhood of Damascus, at that time under the control of the king of Arabia, for thought and prayer. it may have been there that he had more visions and revelations of the Lord that he refers to in II Cor 12. When he does return to Damascus, he immediately begins to preach in the synogogue that Jesus is the Son of God. Everyone who heard him was amazed, because they only knew him as the one who had been persecuting the followers of Christ. Here he was speaking of this new Christianity right in the midst of the Jews.

He did this for about three years before the leaders of the Jews began to fear his influence and persuaded the governor to persecute Paul. But their plans to arrest him were known and his disciples, under cover of darkness, let him down over the city wall in a basket so he could escape. He who had come there to hunt Christians, was now being hunted himself.

It can seem puzzling and even upsetting to friends and family members when someone becomes a student of Christian Science and begins to think and act differently. Especially if that person then chooses to leave medicine behind and rely on prayer and Christian Science treatment. If that person had been a firm believer in the power of medicine and seemed to be getting temporary relief, there might be concern about the effects of stopping that. I know this was true in my own experience. But as time passed and I became healthier and happier, it was harder and harder for others to condemn my chosen religion for they could not deny the evidence of their own eyes.

Jesus sometimes told those who he had healed not to talk about it. I used to wonder about that but now I see the wisdom of taking time to study and pray and gain some understanding of how the healing had come about. We might not yet be ready to explain spiritual healing or answer sceptics. It is enough to work on changing our own thinking and beliefs, to begin to see God as all good, and to understand our relationship to Him as His beloved idea, His image and likeness as it is written in Genesis One. No one would expect a kindergartener, who is learning to add, to be able to explain quantum physics. We start with what we can understand and use it and then we are ready to move into more complicated mathematics. So it is with metaphysics.

Paul has barely begun his ministry. He will make several journeys all around the Mediterranian establishing churches. He will write a multitude of letters supporting their growth and advising them. We have many of those letters preserved in our Bible. Those who hate Paul and what he is teaching will continue to try to do him harm. The next part of our Bible Lesson tells of a great adventure when he is shipwrecked.

The Bible is so rich with characters. Paul is of major importance to the spread of Christianity. We should know his story and be familiar with his writings. Mrs. Eddy mentions him in Science and Health. She says: "To misunderstand Paul, was to be ignorant of the divine idea he taught". Get to know him and treasure what God has done through him.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

tender mercies - part two

Continuing on with God's tender mercies and the story of Saul/Paul we saw how he had begun by vengefully hunting down the followers of the Christ only to do a 180' about face after talking with the Master himself. This was such a total change of thought for Saul that he was actually overcome with blindness and had to be led to Damascus. Instead of going to the High Priest in the synogogue for letters of authority to arrest Christians, Saul is forced to sit in a unfamiliar home surrounded by strangers where his reputation has preceded him.

God speaks to Ananias, the leader of the Christians. Jesus had often spoken about a new way to act, loving one's neighbor as one's self. He also taught about forgiveness and the need to love your enemies. In one of the Beatitudes we are told that we will be blessed if we love those who persecute us. Now Ananias will be given an opportunity to prove what the life of a Christian is all about and Ananias is being asked to lead by example. God tells him to go to Saul and heal him of his blindness. Ananias argues with God. Heal the very person who has vowed to hunt down men and women and send them to Rome in chains! He is told to go his way for God has chosen Saul for some very special work. He will bring Christianity to the Gentiles, speak before kings, and work with the children of Israel. What an amazing career awaits him.

Meanwhile Saul sits in darkness, pondering his meeting with Jesus, He must have realized the enormity of his mistakes and the innocent people he had condemned, including Stephen. He also must have wondered just what it was he would be told to do. Will he be arrested and exectured himself? Ananias arrives and puts his hands on his shoulders in friendship and forgiveness, calling him Brother. He tells him that the same Jesus that appeared to him on the way to Damascus had spoken to Ananias, sending him to Saul to heal the blindness so that he can be filled with the Holy Ghost. Immediately, the blindness is healed. The account in Acts, written by Luke the physician, describes it as 'scales' that fell from his eyes.

Saul in then baptized. His new life is about to begin. A whole new direction lies before him and he will have to win over the very people he had come to destroy. But this section of the lesson spoke to me more about Ananias and his own change of heart. I love his human reaction, arguing with God as if God was not aware of who Saul was and what he had been doing. How often do we quesiton God about some situation (or person)? Surely, He does not expect us to love this thing or this person. Surely He does not expect us to work side by side with them in harmony. Good heavens, not that guy (or gal)! And yet, that is exactly what he is being asked to do because God has a special purpose for Saul and God's wisdom is not to be questioned.

The command, love one another, is not to be taken lightly. When John wrote that he meant it. When Jesus preached about that he expected us to follow his example. We are to believe the first two words of his prayer...Our Father. That includes all mankind. That includes the person you don't care for. If we can't love someone we can see, how can we expect to love God who we can't see. This kind of love is divine Love being reflected by His children, those made in His own image and likeness. If we claim that to be who we are, we have to be willing to be that reflection, without exceptions. We are to do the works Jesus did and that means healing. How can you heal if you allow hatred or mistrust or resentment to stay in your heart and your thinking? Which is more important to you? Would you rather hate or heal?

Mrs. Eddy writes: "Working and praying with true motives, your Father will open the way. Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" Don't hinder yourself! Love because that is your true nature and purpose. Even those who don't like. Especially those you don't like.

There's much more to Saul/Paul's story this week. Next he must begin his ministry by winning over those he persecuted right there in Damascus. He will have to rely on God's tender mercies and loving kindnesses. So can we.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

tender mercies

The Bible Lesson this week, Love, continues to explore the seven synonyms Mrs. Eddy gives us for God. Thinking of God as Love expands our view of Him to include what we usually think of as feminine qualities. In Christian Science we think of God as our Father and Mother. In the new supplement to our hymnal is a hymn entitled Tender Mercies. The theme of God's tender mercies and loving kindnesses runs all through the Lesson.

We look at Paul this week. He was called Saul before his conversion and he was an avid hunter and persecutor of those who believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah. These followers of the Christ, or Christians, needed to be rounded up and punished and Saul was on his way to Damascus to get authorization from the High Priest to do just that. In his zeal, he was filled with threats of slaughter, going after men and women. The things people do in the name of religion. This was his highest sense of right at the time and he was determined to see them all killed.

Yet, he had stood by at the trial of Stephen and listened to him speak of this Saviour, the healings he had done and how he was the fulfillment of prophecy. Stephen's words angered the mob who stoned him to death, with Saul standing by. Stephen died with his eyes on heaven. All this made an impression on Saul and he must have thought about it deeply on his way to Damascus for suddenly a light shone around him. The light of Truth surrounded him and he heard a voice. It was the very man Stephen had spoken of, Jesus. Saul dropped to his knees in astonishment. He didn't doubt who this was and he calls him Lord, asking what it is he is to do. Have you ever railed against God, against the circumstances that are making your life dificult? How would you react if suddenly the Christ appeared to you? Wouldn't you instantly know who it was and bow before him? Saul had the humility to ask Jesus 'what would you have me to do?'. Would you be willing to just ask 'Lord, what would you have me to do?'.

He is told to go on to Damascus and await instructions. He who was on his way there to arrest and persecute Christians is about to become one himself. He takes on a new name, Paul, to mark this momentous thing that has happened. He is leaving behind all that he was before that moment and beginning again. He is to have a new mission although he does not yet know what that is. He is physically and spiritually unable to 'see'. Blinded, he must be led to Damascus.

What Saul/Paul was going through was a complete transformation as he changed his mind about Jesus and Christianity. He was going to surrender his own wilful plans and listen for the will of God. His motives and acts would now come from a whole new basis.

What happened next? The story begins in Acts 8. If you aren't familiar with it, take some time to read it. Tomorrow we'll continue on to see how the blindness was removed and what Paul is told to do. This is just one of the stories in the Bible about God's great love for each of His children, His tender mercies. He has this great love for you as well and can be just as powerful a force in your life. Everything can change.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"Reckon it nothing but joy...whenever you find yourself hedged in by the various trials, be assured that the testing of your faith leads to power of endurance." (James 1:2,3)

Are you feeling hedged in? Do you seem surrounded by trials that are closing in? Is it growing, shutting out the light, making it hard to trust in God for answers? God 'hedges' us in as a protection, never as a punishment. The hedge preserves us from harm. Just make sure you are not seeing the wrong type of hedge and misunderstanding this protecting Love.

Thorns do not prick you unless you lean against them. Science and Health opens with the thought that 'to those leaning on the sustaining infinite, today is big with blessings.' Leaning on God never causes us harm. God does not create the thorns, those things that seem to sting and penetrate, causing pain or fear. The words or circumstances that upset or threaten do not come from divine Love and they cannot hurt you.

Mrs. Eddy uses the idea of a hedge in our church Manual when she describes the Manual as 'uniquely adapted to form the budding thought and hedge it about with divine Love.' That presents a picture of protection and nurturing. She also uses that concept when speaking of how she wanted to protect Christian Science. In her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection, on page 52 she writes: "For many successive years I have endeavored to find new ways and means for the promotion and expansion of scientific Mind-healing, seeking to broaden its channels and, if possible, to build a hedge round about it that should shelter its perfections from the contaminating influences of those who have a small portion of its letter and less of its spirit."

Think of yourself as within the protection of a hedge of Love's making. See that any thorns in there are to keep out harm. Trials offer us the opportunity to see God in action on our behalf, especially if there does not appear to be a human solution or way out. Maybe your answer is to see yourself safely within.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Come and dine

What a remarkable scene. Peter and the disciples had seen Jesus following the resurrection but then he had not stayed with them. They were unsure of what was going to happen next. Peter, their leader, had denied Jesus during his trial. He must have been feeling ashamed and confused about what was expected of him. They obviously had more to learn from the Master but would he return to them?

Instead of beginning a ministry and spreading the good news they went fishing. I do not think that was a permenant about-face, just a return to the familiar while they waited for direction and guidance. They didn't have long to wait.

They let down their nets and caught nothing. An interesting parallel to where they saw themselves at that moment. How many of us go through some challenge and when we come out on the other side, we are feeling let down, as if our work or our prayers were unfruitful. No matter how black the night may seem, the sun always comes up again. And as the daylight returned, and the dawn broke, someone is standing on the shore, calling out to them. That would not have unusual, as someone might have been asking to buy their catch. But this was someone who came to bring them something. They called out that they had caught nothing and he told them to let down their nets again and on the right side. They had heard those words before. When they obeyed they could hardly pull them in again. There is profound meaning in all this.

John knows who that is and when it 'dawns' on Peter, he doesn't wait to row to shore, he jumps in and swims there. It is the Master come back to them and with assurance that they will still be successful fishers of men. When they are all back on shore, they find breakfast ready and they are invited to join Jesus. Come and dine. Come sit with me as my beloved companions and students and I will serve you food and fill you up with inspiration. He broke bread with them, as he had done when feeding the multitudes...another symbolic reminder. He gave them fish, although he had not caught those fish in the lake. They had pulled in a large catch, but he was way ahead of them. He had pulled them back in.

Come and dine. That invitation is open to all of us. No matter how we have messed up, no matter how deeply we regret a mistake we have made or an action we have chosen. Come sit with the Christ and see the love in his eyes. Feel forgiven and renewed. Be redeemed and restored in the sight of others, as Peter was. Eat your fill, for you have work to do for God. He will guide you in the work He has prepared for you, just as he is preparing those who will be drawn to you for the loaves and fishes you will share.

And be expecting the opportunity. Hear yourself say....come and dine.