Steve Macchia Blog

When God Speaks – Part 4

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Cain and Abel were the first brothers to be born of Adam and Eve. You’d think that with so few people on planet earth they’d be able to get along fabulously…not so.

 

Jealous Cain was miffed that the Lord favored Abel’s offering of fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock, with Cain bringing some of the fruits of the soil he worked. Makes sense to the common reader that both would be rather equal. But, the Lord preferred what Abel offered, most likely because of his God-fearing heart.

 

Since sin had encroached at the door of Cain’s heart, he conspired out of anger to attack and kill Abel. Out in the field where no one could see this act of irrational man slaughter, he jealously and vengefully murdered his brother. But, when confronted by the Lord after his dirty deed, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain lied and said, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4: 6-9)

 

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” But the Lord said to him, “Not so;  anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. (Genesis 4:10-15).

What do you notice about the Lord’s treatment of Cain?  He confronted Cain with a simple question about the presence (in reality: absence) of Abel. Then, he confronts Cain with the truth of his vicious murder. And, he sends him out as a restless wanderer, no longer able to work the land he was originally created to do. But, what’s so remarkable is that the Lord spares Cain’s life, guarding him from anyone who would seek to kill him. The mark on Cain would be one of sovereign protection.

 

When God speaks he voices truth at all times. He is fully aware of the activities of his children. He brings about justice and discipline for acts of disobedience. But, he always loves with mercy, kindness and grace. Cain deserved the death penalty for so viciously and violently murdering his brother. When in fact he should have been Abel’s keeper, he instead was Abel’s destroyer. Even then, with such a heinous crime coming from his sinful heart, God in his mercy spares his life.

 

What sin are you most aware of that without God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness you would be much worse off today? And, in what way can you be your “brother’s (or sister’s) keeper” and urge another caringly to remain faithful to the Lord?



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When God Speaks – Part 3

tree of knowledge

 

The third place we find God speaking to his children is in Genesis 3 beginning at verse 9. Here he is calling out to Adam, “Where are you?”  Knowing full well where Adam was located, he wanted Adam to attest to the facts, giving voice to his new reality: I heard you in the garden; I was afraid; I was naked; I hid.

 

And then the interchange between God and man is fascinating to watch unfold. Through the use of questions, God inquires of Adam’s heart. Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat from? And to the woman: What is this you have done? Following their answers, God spells out the consequences with specificity and clarity.

 

The bottom line is that the very first man and woman to walk planet earth chose early on to listen to their tempter’s and one another’s voice rather than God’s voice. God spoke with incredible clarity. There was no mincing words from God to his children, either on the front end of direction or the back end of judgment.

 

Speaking out that which has defiled your heart and tempted your will against the clear voice and commandments of the Lord leads us into sin. We don’t generally like the word sin today; it simply seems too harsh in a non-judgmental world. But, the fact of the matter is “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No one is exempt, for no one since Adam and Eve is living a sinless existence.

 

Therefore, what will be your response to your propensity to sin, even today? Will you own your fear, nakedness, and desire to hide from the ever-present reality of God? Will you choose to give voice to your disobedience and your succumbing to the tempter’s voice instead? Because of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, we no longer have to fear the harsh retribution of God. In Christ, our sins are forgiven, tossed on the dung heap, and remembered no more.

 

May your prayers today be as simple as, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…” and “Create in me a pure heart, O God” so that you can be “forgiven and set free to forgive another” – in Jesus’ name and for his glory. Amen.

 



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When God Speaks – Part 2

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The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2: 15-18).

 

The Scriptures recount the second and third time that God spoke in Genesis 2. Here he invites Adam to not only enjoy, work and care for the Garden of Eden, but to keep his hands off of one select tree, the one designated as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Man’s first job had incredible dignity…the care of God’s abundant creation. Work was to be both meaningful and flourishing; therefore, it would remain untarnished if he kept his hands off that one forbidden tree. One and only one stern warning as he would commence serving as the husbandman of the habitation of paradise.

 

And, it is here that God also promises to provide for his created image bearer a helper suitable to the man he placed in the garden, with empathy of not being left there alone. God’s very specific and remarkable promise showed Adam that working and living in community was the Lord’s priority. How ironic that the tree warning would ultimately be ignored after the suitable helper is provided. How easy it is to convince each other to walk our own path rather than listen and obey the voice of the One who always has our best interests in mind.

 

Since we know “the rest of the story” it’s fascinating that here we find God’s voice spoken with both the clarity of direction and empathy. How true it is for all generations henceforth…when we listen to God’s voice and obey it, we will see firsthand how much the Lord delights to lavish love and empowerment so that we too can fully and meaningfully accomplish his will.
What are the specific ways God has instructed you along the path of life? With whom is God providing accompaniment for you in this journey? How can you help one another to walk the well-ordered way, even in this coming week?



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When God Speaks – Part 1

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“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground‹everything that has the breath of life in it‹I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

 

Genesis 1: 27-30 is the first biblical story of God speaking to his children. In this instance it’s in the midst of the creation account and it’s directly to mankind – male and female who are made in his own image – that he addresses with their first responsibilities and his corresponding promises:

 

1. Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

2. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

3. Every seed-bearing plant and every tree that has fruit with seed in it is yours for food.

 

How generous of God to provide the entire earth for men and women to fruitfully fill and obediently subdue. In addition, he offers them everything they will need for their daily nutrition: family and friends to share the creation, food to sustain their life on earth, and fruitfulness to both sustain and transform them for the long haul.

 

As God speaks to his children, it all begins with an awareness of their basic necessities. How kind, loving and gracious of God!

 

What are the basic-necessity-blessings of your life for which you can thank the Lord today?

 



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Designation or Destination?

 

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Recently our family enjoyed gathering with our extended clan for a celebratory birthday party. In attendance was my nephew, a tall, handsome, well groomed and impeccably dressed young man. I made note of the shirt he was wearing, with a very unique pull-up collar that wrapped around the entirety of his neckline. We ended up bantering back and forth, comparing and contrasting the shirts we were wearing, noting the designer labels in our respective back collars…he was wearing a rather new, hip brand, and I of course (being the old guy) was wearing a more common brand.

 

Was the brand name label the most important issue between my nephew and me, or was it perhaps even more important that we were actually wearing a shirt?! I would suggest the latter…it’s far more significant that we showed up for the party wearing a shirt at all than the shirt’s designer label, style, color, or size.

 

This humorous exchange with my nephew reminded me of the presentation I made to a group of church leaders this week. I asked them, what matters most to you, the designation (denomination/network) of your church or the destination your church is heading toward? So often we banter back and forth about the “designer label” of our church rather than focusing on the importance of simply being the Church. Our “designer label” may be the type of church we’re pursuing…or the denomination we’re aligned with…or the personalities we’re listening to and following the most…or the ethnicity we represent…or…?

 

The destination we’re all called to pursue is Christ and Christlikeness. To waver from wearing that “shirt” and focus instead on comparing and contrasting labels can in fact keep us from what matters most. However, we’ve been doing exactly that for centuries now…to the point that we’ve got over 40,000 different designer labels in the Church today. I’m befuddled at the need for so many designations (also known as denominations or networks) today. It seems like we wear one designer for a time, and when a new designer enters the scene we are quick to make a change…and as a result are tossed and turned by the latest wind or fad in the wardrobe options of Christianity, or until there’s a wardrobe “malfunction” by one of our leaders.

 

The Church is called to be the Church no matter what. Christ is the focus of our worship, relationships, and witness. To be adorned with anything else but Christ is a limitation, a faux faith, or worse yet, no church at all. What is your choice today…focus on wearing your manmade designer’s designation (label) or on your Father’s divine destination in, for and with Christ?

 

 

 

 



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Multi-Sensory Church

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My wife and I delight in the fact that all five of our senses come alive in our weekly worship experience. Our eyes behold the beauty of a thoughtfully designed, God inspired, stained-glass-filled sanctuary. Our ears enjoy the sounds of silence, even the preparatory scuffling around that occurs as people arrive and get settled, as well as the spoken and sung liturgy of prayers, hymns, preaching, and the reading of God’s Word. Our mouths savor the taste of the Lord’s Table when each week we’re reminded of Christ’s amazing sacrifice of love in our behalf. Our hands are touched by others and reach out in return when the gift of peace is extended and gracefully embraced. Our noses delight in the sweet smell of candles and incense as their burning presence reminds us of the Spirit we know as Holy.

 

I’ve often thought about the health of the church after having written and spoken about it for a decade and a half. I’m now convinced that a major marker of health includes the engagement of all five of our senses…not only in our worship, but in our relational fellowship, as well as in sacrificial service to others in Jesus’ name.

 

Consider for a moment how your church experience invites each of your senses to come alive…

 

See – where do your eyes land when you are in worship, in your presence among others, among others in the world, and in your service to the Kingdom? Be grateful for what you see with your physical eyes as well as the eyes of your heart.

 

Hear – what do your ears hear that remind you to pursue godliness in every aspect of your personal and relational life? Be willing to dismiss that which hinders your ability to listen well to that which matters most – the voice of God, directing and empowering you for the abundant life.

 

Taste – how do you savor the gifts that are offered to you in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup of salvation? Be open to receiving the many offerings of faithfulness granted to you in your fellowship with God and one another, perhaps even over a meal or simply a cup of coffee or cold water.

 

Touch – who do you offer your hand to as an expression of your love, and from whom shall you be more open to receive from in return? Be gracious and gentle toward all with whom you come in contact, and prayerfully become the arms of God for another in need.

 

Smell – when do you notice the pleasant odors of perfume within your friendships as well as the perspiration of others who are busy serving and offering their lives before God and those in need? Be observant and in your noticing and give thanks for the scent you notice of the goodness of God.

 

A multi-sensory church is only possible when the people of God are together as the body of Christ in worship, community, and witness. Jesus invites his followers to come close, draw near, and follow him. in turn, the Church needs to be a people who come close, draw near and follow Jesus together in community.

 

Do not give up the habit of meeting together. We are Church and as a result we are only Church when we’re united and loving and strong, loving God with heart, soul, mind and body, in both our strength and our weakness.



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Benedict’s Rule of Life – Part 8

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After Benedict’s seventh chapter on “Humility” the rest of his Rule of Life is filled with many practical items, some which occupy a paragraph or two, and others with a bit more explanation. What’s fascinating about the remainder of the Rule is how specific he becomes about areas of community life and their shared life of prayer.

 

For example, the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh chapter deal with the time for the night office (which is known as Vigils), how many psalms are to be read in the night office, the arrangement of the night office in summer, and how to handle Vigils on Sundays.  His care for the particularities of their life together is a sign of his love for his brothers and his desire for unity and oneness in every aspect of communal living.

 

From the twelfth chapter all the way to the seventy-third (which is the end of the Rule), Benedict spends time articulating even more specifics about how the Rule should remain central to the brothers life with God and each other. Here’s a brief listing of the kinds of things he makes note of in the remainder of the Rule:

 

·         The celebration of Lauds on ordinary days and on the anniversaries of saints

·         The times for saying “Alleluia” and the divine office during the day

·         The number of psalms to be sung and the order in which they are to be sung

·         Reverence in prayer

·         Sleeping arrangements

·         Handling serious faults and excommunication

·         The tools and goods of the monastery

·         Kitchen servers of the week

·         How best to handle sickness of a brother

·         The proper amount of food and drink

·         Tardiness and handling mistakes made by a brother

·         Daily manual labor

·         Observance of Lent

·         Clothing and footwear of the brothers

·         The election of an Abbot

·         The “good zeal” of monks

 

Benedict ends the Rule with a final chapter describing how the Rule was written only as a starting point for those who would live together under such mandates. “So we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginnings of monastic life. With Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that, you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we mentioned above, and under God’s protection you will reach them. Amen.”

 

Benedict’s Rule of Life has been sustained since the early 500’s AD.  I’m amazed at the agility of the Rule to survive multiple generations of Christians who have sought to follow these very specific items in their communal life.  It’s by no means a “perfect” Rule, in fact as Benedict has described it in these final words, it’s written for “beginners” and is kept simple and straight forward in wisdom and godliness.

 

The life God invites us to fulfill is also pretty straight forward, presented to us in his Word. We often stray for the simplicity of his instructions and take matters into our own hands. That’s why it’s important that we too consider our own personal Rule of Life, writing down that which we believe to be true about living our lives fully for God.  Join those who are seeking to do exactly that at www.RuleOfLife.org and consider today how best to articulate your Rule of Life under the loving and guiding hand of Almighty God. Let me know how it goes, ok?

 

 

 

 



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Benedict’s Rule of Life – Part 7

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Chapter 7 of Benedict’s Rule of Life is about “Humility” as introduced in the previous entry. Here we will consider each of the 12 steps of the Ladder of Humility.

 

  1. The first step of humility is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes and never forgets it.
  2. The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord, “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
  3. The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says, “He became obedient even to death.”
  4. The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.
  5. The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.
  6. The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given.
  7. The seventh step of humility is that a man only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, humbling himself in order to learn God’s commandments.
  8. The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by his superiors.
  9. The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, for ‘in a flood of words you will not avoid sinning.’
  10. The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter, for it is written, ‘only a fool raises his voice in laughter.’
  11. The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, as it is written, ‘A wise man is known by his few words.’
  12. The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.

 

For Benedict, ascending all these steps of humility is how the person arrives at the doorstep of perfect love of God, which casts out all fear. What may start out being lives of love performed out of dread, will now become more naturally lives filled with the expressions of good habit and delight in virtue – all out of love for Christ. “All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workman now cleansed of vices and sins.”

 

Imagine for a moment if each of your words, attitudes, actions, and interactions were a reflection of the humility of Christ, expressed through you and for God’s glory. What would be your most dramatic impressions of loving humility shared possibly for the very first time?

 

Consider crafting your own rule of life and join the community of other like hearts and minds at www.RuleOfLife.com

 

 



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Benedict’s Rule of Life – Part 6

 

benedictladder

Of the 73 chapters in Benedict’s Rule of Life, by far the one that’s most important to consider is chapter 7 on “Humility.” His focus of humility is really the apex of the Rule, for to know Benedict is to realize he’s all about this one major theme: humility.

 

He describes humility based on Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14).  He writes that every exaltation is a kind of pride, which must always be shunned. In contrast, if we want to “reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw angels descending and ascending” (Gen. 28:12). And then, “Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility.”

 

Benedict’s Ladder of humility is one that is erected as our life on earth, and if we “humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.”  Therefore, as we hold onto our body and soul with our right and left hands, and discipline them to be our stable front and rear guard in life and vocation, we step up and ascend to heaven one foot at a time.

 

It’s a fascinating concept. The ladder of humility is considered a metaphor for life. Rather than seeing humility as one of descent, which makes more sense to others like Bernard of Clairvaux would write and encourage the downward plunge toward the humus/dirt of humility, Benedict paints the picture of ascent toward heaven. This ascent is only possible through the lens and life of humility. The highest summit is what we’re to live toward, prayerfully, obediently and faithfully…one step and one maturing season of life at a time.

 

Humility is best described in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born humbly in a manger. He lived humbly within the context of his carpentry family. He served humbly after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. He loved humbly, first with his immediate disciples and then with all who crossed his path. He was arrested humbly as he submitted himself to his betrayers and earthly authorities. He suffered and died humbly on the cross he carried to Golgotha, with whip lashes on his back and a thorn-filled crown on his head. He even rose from the dead humbly, without any fanfare, and then appeared to his disciples humbly after his resurrection.

 

Everything Jesus said and lived was out of a humble context of love. He invites us to live the same way…humbly, gently, lovingly. Will you say yes to his invitation and take one step at a time up the ladder of humble ascent toward your eternal home in heaven?

 

Consider crafting your own rule of life and join the community of other like hearts and minds at www.RuleOfLife.com

 



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Benedict’s Rule of Life – Part 5

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Chapter 5 of Benedict’s Rule speaks to the topic of “Obedience” – as a step toward humility and best expressed unhesitatingly. Not the most popular of themes for today. We may speak of the obedience of dogs while being trained by their owner, but among people this gets scant coverage. We live in a world where we’re encouraged to do our own thing and obey what our instincts call us to fulfill, not necessarily obey what others may request of us. This happens in politics, business, education, and even the church and the family.

 

Benedict is pretty straight forward about his convictions about obedience. And, they are based in several Scriptures, such as “No sooner did he hear than he obeyed me” (Psalm 17:45); “Whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Luke 10:16 ); and “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Very specifically, his belief about the priority of obedience comes from the need to listen carefully to the voice and teachings of Christ. Listening is the core discipline that underlies the obedient response. Good listening to God evokes faithful living for God. This translates to the obedience of the voice of authority in disciplined attitudes and actions.

 

And, it is love that impels one to pursue everlasting life. That’s how Benedict promoted obedience and one’s eagerness to take the narrow road that leads to the abundant life.  Here he contrasts a life that “gives in to the whims and appetites” rather than walking according to the judgment of another’s decisions and directions. To choose to obey the leadership of another with a glad heart and without grudge or grumble is what pleases the Lord. To do so in any other way would be to live out of favor with God.  When “grumbling is in his heart” there will be no reward for service of any kind. Benedict promotes the priority of the heart in all matters great and small.

 

It’s interesting to observe that the following chapter in Benedict’s Rule, chapter 6, deals with “Restraint of Speech” and here he reminds his followers to consider the psalmist’s counsel “I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I have put a guard on my mouth. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good works” (Psalm 38: 2,3).  The strong message here: evil speech must be always be curbed and left unsaid silence is often more powerful than even the best of words. Humility and submission trumps any form of vulgarity and gossip, for the former promotes a life of obedience and the latter is all about an independent spirit.

 

Benedict’s Rule is all about a heart of loving obedience first and foremost to God and then faithfully lived out in community. I wonder what life and ministry would look like if we dealt more specifically with the subject of “obedience” especially in our homes and churches. Would we agree on what obedience means both theoretically and practically?

 

Consider crafting your own rule of life and join the community of other like hearts and minds at www.RuleOfLife.com



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