Common Faith Network

Common Faith Network

Morning Companion

How or whether you vote is no business of mine, but ...

How or whether you vote is no business of mine. But how you pray is important to me. Quoting from I Timothy 2:1-2:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (NIV)
Regardless of who wins the election, whether you like the results or not, we have a duty to pray for them. And, according to these two verses at least, we are really praying for ourselves, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." Human rulers have tremendous power over our lives, more than what we might like, so it would behoove us to ask God to keep them out of our hair and to keep the nation out of conflicts so that we can do the work we are called to do. 

It's like the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof, when asked if he had a blessing for the Czar, replied in the affirmative: "My God bless and keep the Czar -- far away from us."

Yet there is more to the story than our interest in ourselves. Look at the context provided by verses 3 - 4:
This is good and pleasant to God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)
In the context of praying for governmental leaders, Paul sees fit to place this great nugget of truth, reminding us that God wants them to come to know him. This was quite a statement given that the emperor at that time was Nero, a vile ruler in a long line of vile rulers.

Yet of all people, Paul knew the grace that God can give. As Saul of Tarsus he was a vengeful persecutor of Christians, but he experienced his own awakening and hoped for the same for the corrupt rulers of Rome.

Paul tells us that God wants to see everyone come to a knowledge of the truth, even Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump. It's no business of mine who you vote for or whether you vote at all. But I do care that you pray for them.



Church of God International


by Brian G. Bettes

The Day of Atonement is rich with symbolism. As we approach that day, my mind turns to one of the more significant meanings it offers. The word atonement has significant meaning in Scripture. In the vast majority of cases, both in the Hebrew and the Greek, the word translated into the English as atonement can be synonymous with the words reconcile or reconciliation. Whether in the singular or the plural, Hebrew or Greek, the vast majority of the time these words are interchangeable in meaning.

Why is this so important?

Why, during the fall festival season in the period between celebrating the return of Jesus Christ, which includes our victory as the resurrected or changed Children of God, and the celebration of Him establishing His 1000-year reign, does God have us focus on reconciliation again? I mean didn’t we already focus heavily on being reconciled to God, and to one another, through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ during Passover and Unleavened Bread? Why does God have us turn our attention to this subject once again at this time?

Checking the definition of the word reconcile with Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we find that it means:

To bring about a friendly relationship between disputing people or groups; to solve a dispute or end a quarrel; to return to a friendly relationship after a dispute or estrangement.

There is a relationship that was broken in the Garden of Eden that has not been repaired since. Mankind has been estranged from God since he had a “dispute” with Him over who should be allowed to rule man’s mind—him or God. That relationship is still broken.

Though the path to forgiveness for sin and living a renewed (resurrected) life for God, which equates to reconciliation to our Father, has been made possible on an individual personal basis through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the consequences of sin (death) still continue to plague those who live in this world, including us. Individuals who have been called to a relationship with Jesus by the Father have been able to be reconciled with Him. On the other hand, the rest of the world, even the creation itself, has moved, and will continue to move, in the direction of death. Again, this is due to the broken relationship that occurred in Eden. While the spring holydays focus more on the restoration of the individual and personal relationship with our Father, the fall holydays appear to zero-in on the restoration of all people and things, the creation included, to God. How so?

Scripture shows that the being we know as Jesus, originally simply called Logos, or “The Word,” created all things (John 1:1-2). The creation that He made was very good (Genesis 1:31). Since man was given the responsibility to take care of that creation (Genesis 2:15), it has always been assumed that, had mankind not sinned against God, the beauty that was extant in the Garden of Eden would have eventually been spread around the entire world.

Mankind was not the only thing that was affected by the sin that occurred that fateful day in Eden. Man was forced out of a magnificently blessed environment to till the ground outside of that environment. The indication is that even the earth that Adam had to work with thereafter was not quite the same as in the Garden.

Romans 8:19-22 talks about the whole creation currently groaning in labor pains, awaiting the birth of the God’s Children, so it can be delivered from the futility it has been subjected to.

One of the representations of the Day of Atonement that the Church of God has traditionally held is that Satan and his influence will be removed—chained and locked away—for the period of the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ (compare Leviticus 16:20-22 with Revelation 20:1-3). If this representation is accurate, then what we see is that the Day of Atonement symbolizes the removal of the source of the broken relationship that started in the Garden of Eden.

Even if the dirt, or earth, that Adam had to work with outside of Eden were not different than inside, since that time mankind’s decisions regarding how to manage, or “dress and keep,” the earth have been very hard on the planet at best, and outright devastatingly destructive at worst. 

Of course I am not talking about the significance of Atonement being about the earth being returned to its right state as if that was the all-important factor here. What I am talking about is that, once Satan and his influence no longer have sway over the minds of humans, it is then that all of creation, mankind, animal kind, plant kind—all creation—can then start to be reconciled to God. All things cannot be reconciled to the Father until the source of death and destruction is removed. That is one of the significant symbolisms of the Day of Atonement.

With us personally, Jesus and the Father help us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) while we continue to exist within a system that is still broken. As the advanced leadership team to reign with Christ for 1,000 years, this is for our growth and development. Jesus will not do that during His millennial reign. He will show what incredible things can be done, how mankind and all created things will work together and complement one another as it was intended to be before Eden’s broken relationship (Isaiah 11:6-9). Atonement is about reconciling all peoples and all things back to the Father through Jesus. That is done, in part by removing Satan and his influence, replacing it with God’s influence as waters cover the seas (Isaiah 6:9).

Jesus Christ, the second Adam, will then be able to do what the first Adam did not do. He will be able, during the next 1,000 years, to build a society that will spread around the world where all things are done in righteousness. I am always excited about the significance of Atonement as it relates to the fixing of a broken relationship between God, mankind, and all of creation; it is the reconciliation of all things back to our Father. 

Atonement presents a reset button that takes everything back to the beginning when all things were righteous, beautiful, innocent, holy, and pure. What is really cool about Atonement for me is that it is a return to Eden.



Morning Companion

Jonah and Atonement

In Jewish tradition, the twin High Days of Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur symbolize the time that God writes the names of the righteous into the book of life. Yom Kippur seals that verdict in a final judgment sort of way. It doesn't take much imagination to see a message of Christian eschatology in this.

But the Day of Atonement also incorporates the tradition of reading the Book of Jonah. Is there a significance in that? Is it because the King of Nineveh commands his subjects to fast (3:7) as the Israelites were commanded to do (Leviticus 23:29)? Surely that's part of it, but I believe that the key to this link is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In speaking of the Day of Atonement, we read this:
... the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle performing services. But into the second part the priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:6-7 NKJV)
Two key words in this passage: "people" and "ignorance".

"People" refers to the nation. Look at Leviticus 16, which has a detailed explanation of the rituals surrounding Yom Kippur in the days of the tabernacle and the Temple. You'll see references to the "congregation", "the people", "assembly of Israel", and so forth. That indicates that this is a day for national atonement and reconciliation to God.

"Ignorance" implies that the people commit sins because they don't know better. One of the sacrifices made on Atonement was a "sin offering". Leviticus 4:1-2 tells us that a sin offering was to be made for unintentional sins.

This is where we find a clue regarding the significance of the Book of Jonah to the Day of Atonement.  At the preaching of Jonah the people of Nineveh in a move of great national repentance come to God for mercy. "Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish?" (Jonah 3:9)

Later, God explains to Jonah why he forgave the nation after they reached out to him: "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and left -- and much livestock?" (Jonah 4:11)

It obvious that God showed them mercy because they didn't know better (they "cannot discern between their right hand and left"). 

ot only does this day picture God's great mercy toward me, but also his willingness to forgive the sins of an entire nation. This is truly a national day of prayer and fasting. So when you fast on this day, fast not just for yourself, but also for your people and for the sins they are committing in ignorance. But unlike Jonah, who resented the sinners, show them grace. Our people could use a good dose of both prayer and grace.



Return to The Lord

Have you ever felt like your relationship with God wasn’t what it should be? I think if we’re honest, we’ve all had seasons in our lives where we knew we weren’t quite right with God. Some of us are going through that right now. Sometimes we know what put that distance in our relationship with […]



Walking In The Spirit: God’s Character In Us

One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and […]



Morning Companion

The Pine Tree and the Guys from 61st Street

Hopefully these reminiscences won't sound like the patter of an old codger. What I say here will not be the sanitized memories of "The Good Old Days" because history should teach us that there were no such things as the good old days. But I can't help remembering with some fondness the guys from 61st Street. We were sons by and large of blue collar, hard-working World War II veterans who loved this country and did the best they knew how to support their families.

Imagine, if you will, thirty or so boys all within a relatively narrow age range spending as much time as possible out of doors, running through the neighborhood, playing and inventing every boyhood game imaginable. The most trouble any of us ever caused was blowing up anthills with contraband fireworks.

A few short years ago I was talking with one of the few remaining neighbor ladies from those days. She remarked about how little trouble any of us ever caused. The police never had to come to our neighborhood, and we spent most of our time playing ball or mowing the lawn. 

I am going to refrain from talking about the self-umpired sandlot baseball games, tackle football in the mud (Mom was appalled by the 1/4" of mud caked on my shirt and jeans), street hockey in the winter, placing pennies on the railroad tracks, petty squabbles and fistfights that we settled on our own, and later, watching some of the older neighborhood cohort get shipped off to Vietnam.

Instead I want to tell you about the Pine Tree.

The Pine Tree was the neighborhood corner tavern. Harry Clark, one of the dads in the neighborhood, quit his job at a local factory and bought the place.

If you think of the stereotype of a neighborhood bar, you will get a good sense of the Pine Tree. A couple of pinball machines, a dart board, a bar with two kinds of draft beer that tasted exactly the same, both of which were cold and only 20 cents per draw (maybe those really were The Good Old Days!), and cheap liquor of various kinds. If you were hungry, you could order what to this day were the best steakburgers on that side of the Mississippi. And there was a jukebox with all the great hits from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Did I mention that I frequented the place (often) when I was only 18?  And therein lies the story that I want to tell.

Being in a bar at the age of 18 in the State of New York in those days was no big deal because that was the legal drinking age in the early 1970s. I had my first beer at the Pine Tree the year I turned 18. It wasn't because I had become legal and wanted some cultural rite of passage. It was an after game beer with my team mates that would not have happened without the goodness of Harry's heart.

Let me explain.

As kids we spent countless hours together playing sandlot baseball. As we got older and we assessed ourselves, we realized we were pretty good ballplayers for being merely a ragtag group. One of the leaders in our neighborhood gang approached Harry about sponsoring us as a real league-entering ball team. We could represent his establishment! Think of the advertising we could bring him! If he paid our entry fee, after each game we would all come back to the neighborhood (win or lose) and spend some time afterwards buying those 20 cent draws and drop quarters in the jukebox and pinball machines.

Harry agreed, but with one condition. Everyone on the team had to be of legal age, which in those days was 18. I was in!

Harry was good to "his team". Not only did he sponsor us for many years, he bought us complete uniforms (caps, pants, socks, and snappy jerseys with our names and numbers on the back). We dressed sharp! And after every game we showed up at his bar, most often with a win under our belts, and the first thing Harry would do was to put a few pitchers of beer on the table for which he refused payment.

Those summers were some of the best ball-playing times I enjoyed before moving to Kansas City, and in some ways even Kansas City couldn't match it.

Here's the thing. Harry would not have been as accommodating as he was if we weren't the type of young men that we were and that we had been since we were small. He knew we would not embarrass him or his establishment, and good-hearted soul that he was, he was willing to give us a hand.

I said earlier that even the ball teams I played on in Kansas City couldn't match the specialness of the old neighborhood team. These were guys I knew since as far back as memory will take me, and that's something special.

In January of this year, a family matter required my presence back in my boyhood hometown. While there I came across a couple of guys from the old neighborhood who informed me that the next morning was a special day of the month. Every first Tuesday the guys from the old neighborhood would gather an Denny's for breakfast. Nothing was going to keep me away from Denny's that day. I walked into the place, and seated were about 20 old farts drinking coffee and eating eggs. Some of them were actually recognizable. Two words describe my thoughts: "I'm home."

That is as it should be. The roots, the values of that old neighborhood are as much a part of who I am as my foray into the Texas milieu and my eventual migration and assimilation into eastern Jackson County, Missouri. All I am and ever will be has its roots with the guys from 61st Street.



Perseverance In Spiritual Growth

Hebrews 11 shows that it’s possible to live a life of faith by reminding us of people who’ve done just that. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Rahab, and scores of people there’s no time to name all walked by faith. They compass us about as a great “cloud of witnesses” inspiring us to “run with endurance the […]



Morning Companion

What? Me Worry?

As an adolescent I found the snarky humor of Mad Magazine to be the highest form of satire. Today I have a doubt or two about that, but the 35 cents (Cheap!) that I expended monthly in those youthful years provided a welcome diversion during the troubled 1960s.

Every issue during those mad times had an encouraging message blazoned around the picture of one Alfred E. Neuman: "What? Me worry?" And for the duration of the time it took to read the magazine, I wasn't worrying about the craziness filling the earth, but was laughing in the devil's face. As Thomas More wrote, “The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.”

A wise man once pointed out to me that 99% of the things we worry about never happen, to which I in a rare moment of quick thinking retorted, "Don't you see? That proves that worry really works!" But to the wise man's excellent point, Jesus would have had something to add.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 5:23 - 34 NRSV)

It is understandable when people who do not know God and his goodness find themselves engulfed in worry. But Jesus says that those of us who do know the Father should understand him as a Father. Fathers don't let their children go naked and hungry, although often good parents will back off and allow their children to learn by a few hard knocks.

Clearly a discussion of faith and and its related virtue of hope would be in order here. But my purpose today is to acknowledge the real struggle we all have in living up to the standard that Jesus set. It's tough, if not well nigh impossible, for us on our own to have the strength to let go and just let God be God. While we struggle with this, it might be good to remember that Mad Magazine was probably on to something. Mock the idiocy and expose it for what it is. Don't worry about the devil because the forces of good will have the last laugh.