Ever wonder what God might have to say to YOU today? Here are things to ponder, and things to receive into your heart. If you have a question, put it in the comments. I respond as much as I can.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Meditation.

The Bible is exceedingly clear about who Jesus is, and if some of the theologians can't get it right ("He's a mythical figure, a popular teacher, a political agitator," etc.), the musicians certainly have done so, and they did it with reference to simple Bible facts, which are themselves quite clear.
The Man who said, "Before Abraham came into existence, I AM!" can no more be categorized as a mere human than a shining star can be classified as a dead asteroid.  Jesus was either telling the truth, and justly classified Himself as the "I AM," or Yahweh, or he was certifiable--and His actions declare that He was not a crazy Man. Is He worth worshipping? Only you can decide, and Jesus Himself said,
"If anyone chooses to do His [God's] will, he will know about the teaching, whether I speak from God or [just] from myself." If you search with all your heart, you WILL find the truth!

Here is a propositional statement about Jesus Christ that describes His Person:

Jesus Christ is God and man. He is completely God, and completely man. Neither the human nature of Jesus, nor His Deity, is reduced in any way, and both exist in perfect harmony in one Person forever.

Here are some popular songs that express Jesus Christ's true nature well.

The Lion and The Lamb
Who is He...The mightiest of all
Who is He...Creation trembles at His call
Who is He...The lowly sacrifice, who paid a victim's price
His name is JESUS
Jesus...From the Father's own right hand
Jesus...Son of God and Son of Man
Jesus...Who died and rose again
Jesus...He's the Lion and the Lamb
Who is He...With the power none can tame
Who is He...That every foe would fear his name
Who is He...Who was humbly led away, to suffer that dark day
His name is JESUS
He's the lamb that was slain
He's the lion that reigns
My savior and King both the same
Who is He...With the eyes that burn like fire
Who is He...Oh the wonder he inspires
Who is He...Who bore the guilt and shame, for those who'd gone astray
His name is JESUS

Mary, Did You Know?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you deliver will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm a storm with his hands?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kissed your little baby,
You kissed the face of God.
Oh, Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear,
The dead will live again;
The meek will lead, the dumb will speak
The praises of a man.
Oh, Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Was Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Was heaven's perfect lamb?
That the sleeping child you're holding
Is the great I Am?

Jesus is declared to be BOTH God and Man in many places in the New Testament.

John 1:1-3, 14, 18.
John 8:58--[Jesus is speaking]: "before Abraham came into existence, I AM."
Philippians 2:5-11  "Let the same attitude that Christ had be yours..."He existed in the form of God, but didn't try to stay in heaven...instead, He humbled Himself, taking on the form of a man, and when he was a man, he submitted to death, even death on the Cross (Paraphrase mine).
I Tim. 3:16 (KJV and NKJV)-- God was manifest in the flesh--The NASB, ESV, NIV and NRSV has "He who was manifest..."
Heb. 1:1-3, 2:14-18.
1 John 3:2 expresses one side of this truth--Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (i. e., He is truly human).
1 John 4:9, 15 express the other side--"confess.. that Jesus is the Son of God... God sent His only begotten Son into the world."
Both of these truths are held in tension. Neither is fully explained (who could do that?), and both are always affirmed to be true, wherever they are considered. Jesus is not "only man," but He is "fully man." He is not "only God," but He is "fully God."
Fortunately for us, God does not attempt an explanation, except to state that it is this way--and indeed, the Scriptures are clear that we cannot fully understand:
Mat 11:27 All things are delivered to me by my Father: and no man knows the Son, except the Father; neither does any man know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.
In other words, knowing the Son is impossible, but you CAN know the Father by revelation. I take this to mean that nobody can understand the Son, because what happened in the Incarnation is unknowable.

Because the Son is who He is, God delights in presenting Him as a series of contrasts:
1. He is the King who enters Jerusalem, not at the head of an army, but with a bunch of palm-wielding peasants. Matthew 21.
2. He is the despised Servant who died, but is the King of Kings, who will receive homage from all other kings. Is. 52:14-53:12.
3. He is the Savior who will save all who come to Him, yet He is the Judge, who will judge all men. John 5.
4. He is the mighty Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but "the Lamb who was slain," Revelation 5.
5. He is the Almighty God, but also a man born of a woman, subject to every human problem and stress, apart from sin (Phil. 2:5-11, Heb. 4:15, Luke 2).
6. He's the "Master and Lord," but the One who humbles Himself to wash our feet, John 13.
7. He is the Eternal God (Micah, 5:2, John 1:1-3), but also a man who could die, John 19:30.
God, in this way, says to us, "This Person is unique--do not try to categorize Him."

He is the "Only Begotten Son," "who is in the bosom of the Father," who "became flesh, and dwelt among us."
He Heals lepers, forgives sins, raises the dead, and death cannot hold Him, but He falls asleep with exhaustion, becomes weary with a journey, weeps at the death of a friend, and loves his mother, even in death.
Truly, "Great is the mystery of godliness..."
God did all this because He loves us with an everlasting love, which no man can measure or comprehend (John 3:16, Rev. 1:5, Eph. 3:16-21, Romans 8:31-39 ): Why He loves us, we do not know. But thank God that He does.

Love was When
Love was when God became a man,
Locked in time and space, without rank or place;
Love was God born of Jewish kin;
Just a carpenter with some fishermen;

Love was when Jesus walked in history,
Lovingly He brought a new life that's free,
Love was God nailed to bleed and die
To reach and love one such as I.

Love was when God became a man,
Down where I could see love that reached to me;
Love was God dying for my sin
And so trapped was I my whole world caved in.

Love was when Jesus met me, now it's real;
Lovingly He came, I can feel He's real!
Love was God, only He would try
To reach and love one such as I.

Holy, righteous, clothed in His shining light, Yahweh, I am, for us was crucified,
This chosen one (this chosen one) is the King of Kings, This spotless lamb (this spotless lamb) is the Lord of Lords!

Thus do the songwriters tell us things that the theologians cannot express...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Strength and Refuge in God.

Psalm 59:16
But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress.
We sing of His power because he lavishes it on us.  Why? The only answer is His lovingkindness. How does His strength come to us?
1. We have to "attend to Him." What I mean by this is, He needs to become your focus. Somehow, you have to turn your eyes from the present, from the situation, to HIM.  That's when His strength can fill you.  It's difficult. Our problems call to us, and we cannot turn our eyes from them. But we must.  We must look to His power and grace. That is the essence of faith.  Look to Him, believe in Him, and don't focus on the situation.
2. It's good to tell Him your situation while doing this, but it's also good to remind yourself of Him when you do it.  Many of the Psalms of affliction begin in a similar way:
1O LORD, I have so many enemies;
so many are against me.
2So many are saying,
“God will never rescue him!”
But they end like this:
5I lay down and slept,
yet I woke up in safety,
for the LORD was watching over me.
6I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
who surround me on every side...
8Victory comes from you, O LORD.

3. In the middle, before any response from God, is always prayer. It may be a prayer of distress, of confidence, of pain, of depression, of sorrow, of lost hope. Normally the prayers move from distress to faith, to praise for God's help:
1My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
2Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
23Praise the LORD, all you who fear him!
Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
24For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.
He has not turned his back on them,
but has listened to their cries for help.
This is a nearly constant pattern in the Psalms that deal with this subject: Pain, suffering, etc. held up to God--then His mighty power understood, and finally His power and grace revealed, and applied to you.
4. This does not mean everything always "works out well." It would be foolish to say this. People die. disasters strike. Men lose their jobs.  Women lose their children to sickness. And so on.  There are enough tears in this world to fill an ocean.  However, things DO work out well, if you look at the promises of God. He never leaves you. He carries you when it's hard.  He loves you. When you pass from this earth, it's to the "better land," as the Christians of another century called it, and there no more sorrow will ever exist.
5. As for you, you must look to Him. Let His presence fill your mind and heart.  Allow Him to speak to you about the future.  He holds your life in His hands; it's not in the hands of your enemies, your circumstances, your finances, your ability to find work, your diseases, anything but Him.  TRUST HIM.

Friday, November 15, 2013

When life takes a turn for the worse

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me. — When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Fear not [says Jesus]; I am the first and the last: I am the One who lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and I have the keys of hell and of death.
No matter what life brings, God can be with you.  We go through the "valley of the shadow of death,"  we do not stay in it.  God and His strength may seem distant, but they never are.  We may seem alone, but that is not true.  We have Him, His guidance, and His care.
The results of life taking a "turn for the worse" may surprise you:
Jesus, dying...Jesus, rising from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the Father...Jesus, holding the keys of hell and death for all mankind.  Including you.  His sufferings meant something. So do yours.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wisdom and you, part 3

Here is how divine wisdom works. This is not the only passage about it, but this passage explains it well:
From 1 Corinthians 2:
But we do speak wisdom among those who are mature: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, who are coming to nothing: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world for our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, No eye has seen, nor have any ears heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, even the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God no man knows, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. these things we also speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but [in words] which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Now the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: in fact, he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But whoever is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Wisdom of this kind is the gift of God.  It's not just the gift of God, you only get it in relationship with God. So it's not like the wisdom Solomon had, which was great, but not revelatory. Solomon could understand things about the world with his wisdom. It's evident, however, from reading Ecclesiastes, that he had a limited (earthly man's) view of the spiritual life and world.  It's easy to contrast Solomon with David--just read some of Ecclesiastes, and some of David's Psalms. David discusses different things, but when Solomon and David coincide in what they discuss, it's apparent that Solomon had no understanding of the spiritual life his father had.  David was a spiritual man, and you can be spiritual as well; with the wisdom you get from God, you can understand Him and His plans--especially the plans He has for you.  This wisdom is communicated internally, by the Spirit of God. It comes only once you have believed in Jesus Christ, and genuinely seek His wisdom. It is a gift, but it does not come without effort, in the sense that you have to want it, ask for it, and listen to it. 

Here are some of the characteristics of this wisdom:
  1. It is above the wisdom of the "princes of this world," meaning that they don't like it, can't understand it, don't want it. They want their own wisdom, not God's. This leads them to seek power and honor rather than God.
  2. It concerns the plan God has put in motion to set mankind free from evil and tragedy through His Son Jesus Christ,leading ultimately to the setting up of God's New World (Revelation 21-22), and the final destruction of death itself.
  3. It must be revealed--no human heart knows it on its own.  God's wisdom is therefore outside the realm of science, and within the realm of revelation. Unless God reveals it to you, it seems as if it does not exist. Therefore experience has little to do with it, unlike human wisdom.
  4. I can't be received by "the natural man"-- someone who has no spiritual life from God.  In fact, God's wisdom seems like foolishness (original, "moronic sayings."). 
  5. God's wisdom is part of the plan He has made, by which He intends to bring us to heaven to be with Him.  God invests you with the mind of Christ once you have believed in Him. What that means, and the depth of it, is discoverable only to those who have received it. If you have it, it gives you abilities to judge, to discern, to understand, that others don't have.  For this reason, they will think your choices odd and unreasonable, but they are often perfectly sensible, if you understand the correct point of view from God's perspective.  This is, for example, why Psalm 23 is a real set of experiences to men and women who are spiritual, and a foreign language to those who are not.  It's why Christians are always talking about "heaven;" they know they are going there. It's why in the midst of disaster Christians will often say things like, "The Lord will take care of me"--when all external evidence is to the contrary, and then He does. It is an understanding that must be received, and cannot be acquired by study, or even experience, unless that experience is primarily "better listening."
To Get this wisdom:
  1. Become a child of God.  It's simple. Believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
  2. Ask for it.
  3. LISTEN!! "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
  4. When it comes, apply it. Don't ignore it. Ignoring God's gifts of wisdom can lead to terrible unintended consequences.
  5. Learn to listen FOR Him.  He has something to say to you.  Don't miss it. Ask Him if you have not heard, and be sure to listen for the answer.
  6. These instructions presuppose you understand that God actually speaks to you internally, and will communicate His wisdom to you in ways you may not expect or even understand (like, "I just know..."), and cannot explain.
  7. Always test what you hear.  He doesn't mind a bit. In fact, He likes it. He doesn't care for skepticism, in the sense you don't believe that He will speak, but He likes it when you say to Him, "Is this really You?" He will tell you, or show you, which is the same thing.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wisdom and you. Part 2

Human wisdom is both good and bad.  It may lead you to great success, to achieve great things, and to become one of the great men or women of your time.  On the other hand, it may destroy you completely. Divine wisdom never does that, because it is tempered with the kindess, love, and mercy of God, and carries with it the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  Divine wisdom operates in two interrelated but separate realms. The first is the human realm--science, business, relationships, friendships (on the human level); wisdom encompasses the "how-to" aspects of life, and it's as much a part of God's world as you are.  So Divine wisdom, on the one hand, teaches us how to relate to the Almighty, and on the other hand, how to fix a car.  Yes, I mean that, because Divine and human wisdom also "cross over."  Here are some thoughts about the kind of Divine wisdom that makes you able to "do things..." create beautiful works. Engineer creatively. Write amazing music.

Exodus 31:3-5:
See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

1 Chron. 28:11-12 (David--I bet you didn't know he was an engineer! This is all about the Temple Solomon built to the LORD:)
Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary--which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the LORD's Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the LORD.

The Psalm titles are ancient, like the Psalms, and go with them. The point is, David wrote the words. Who set them to music?? The Chief Musician, that's who. He created the music to fit the words God gave David.
Psalm 22: To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar (the tune), A Psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
Nehemiah 12:46: For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.

"Do any of you lack wisdom? Let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally..."
The point of all this is that wisdom comes from God, and enables you to do all the things you may need to do in your life.  It may be that you need to code something incredibly complex.  Ask God.  Or perhaps you are fixing a friend's car. Ask God. Possibly you need help with some difficult problem in school.  Ask God.  Perhaps you have a knotty personnel problem at work.  God can give you the wisdom to deal with it.
Ask. Always ask.  And then let Him fill your heart and mind with wisdom.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Wisdom and you. Part 1

There are two kinds of wisdom:
The wisdom of God, and the "wisdom of the world."  These two diverge greatly in the way they work in our lives, and their benefits are completely different.  The wisdom of God comes without any "downside;" the wisdom of the world can have terrible effects on our lives. The wisdom of the world does not provide us with Divine wisdom, and in fact can terribly misdirect us. 
James says that this particular kind of wisdom is "Earthly, sensual, demonic."
A fine example of this is the "wisdom" Hitler exercised on the German people, in subjugating them to attempt to conquer the world and set up a "divine kingdom." 
Another example of "worldly wisdom," although granted by God, is that of Solomon.  He had wisdom to rule, to judge his people, to direct the affairs of the nation of Israel.  This wisdom brought immense riches, mighty power, and incredible influence, but it was all hollow, because Solomon rejected the wisdom of God about the spiritual life, and in his old age, "his wives turned his heart away from the Lord,"  and he rejected the true God and began to worship the idols of the nations around him.  The result of this was sorrow and loss:
12 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised.
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, And what is lacking cannot be numbered.
16 I communed with my heart, saying, "Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge."
17 And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow
The last statement above is only true if one presupposes that wisdom has no eternal benefits--and as a matter of fact, there is a kind of wisdom that not only lacks those benefits, but specifically rejects them, and thus suffers the loss of God's wisdom, which is freely given to those who want it:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world for our glory: None of the princes of this world knew [this wisdom], for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 
Do you want the wisdom of God?? It's a step by step process, laid out in the Bible for you to see and follow:
1. Open your heart.  That is the main thing.  God grants (gives freely) His wisdom to anyone who desires it, and will do His will once he finds what the wisdom of God is.
2. Take Jesus' yoke.  The yoke is the symbol of being bound to Jesus Christ.  He says, "take my yoke, and learn of me..."
3.  LISTEN always.  Jesus said, "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear."  You may have the ear, but not hear, because God is speaking to you and you do not want to listen, or you don't want to listen about that particular thing. The Father and Son will lead you aright. Every time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Not as hard as you think..

Christians are fond of pointing out how difficult the Christian life is--of maximizing its problems, sufferings, struggles.  A lot of that is nonsense--everyone struggles in life. That is what life is. The reality is that God has made, is making, and will make a way for us. He loves us with an infinite intensity, an unfathomable commitment. His requirements are neither overwhelming nor unattainable, despite what you may hear from some Christian teachers, who claim to have "found the secret" to the Christian life. See the verses below.  They do not contain all that's true of the Christian life, but many of the basic principles are embedded there, and as you can see for yourself, the same God who calls you to walk with Him offers His hand to lift you up when you fall, His shoulder to lean on when you stumble, His love to sustain you when you feel forsaken, and His might to strengthen you for every difficulty.  He doesn't promise to lift the load from your shoulders--instead He offers to bear it with you--and by taking His yoke, you'll lighten your own so that you can find rest for your soul.

Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (in case you don't know what this is, it's a question that expects the answer "NO!")
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good!  and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (the elements of a walk with God involve both man and God, and they are not complex.  Just three things--justice, mercy, a humble walk with Him.)

(Jesus spoke the words below, in one of His most famous invitations)
Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (a "yoke" fits around the neck and shoulders of an ox, and is designed to put two oxen together so they can both give their strength to plowing or pulling a cart.)  

This is not the same as saying "life will be easy with Me," rather that His love and kindness will be your strength whatever you face, wherever you are, whenever you need Him, and you will never face anything alone.  Every part of life you live will be with Him, and even in death, He will be there, and carry that greatest burden with you. When you take His yoke, He takes your burden. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

You and God together

A lot of the Bible is spiritual lessons told in stories.  The stories are true, otherwise the lessons would be worthless, but you and I are left to make the application to ourselves.  The story below is like that:

(from 1 Kings 20): The children of Israel pitched [their tents] before [the Syrians] like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country. Thus says the Lord, because the Syrians have said, the Lord is a God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys; therefore I will deliver all this great army into your hands, and you shall know that I am the Lord. And they pitched [their tents] one over against the other [for] seven days; and so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and the children of Israel killed a hundred thousand Syrian infantrymen in one day.

War is terrible.  It's even worse when you have to defend your family and your home on your home turf, and you have no resources.  This is how the Israelites felt when they faced the Syrians (Later translations, "Arameans.").  God sent a prophet to the king, who made the promise above in the name of the LORD.  Because of the power of God, the Israelites could not be defeated, and their enemies were crushed.  Now apply this to yourself, and think of the overwhelming situations you face. You won't always have a prophet visit you, and you won't always have a "special word from God," (you may, though--ask for it and listen for it), but you DO have His general promises in the Scriptures:

Fear not; for I am with you! : Don't be dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.
They shall fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you; for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.  — You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

The power of God is not just "available;" it is constantly exercised on your behalf.  The battles of life are difficult, and many times we have no resources to face them--but God is THE resource, and there is not one thing (or being) in heaven, earth, or hell that can separate you from Him and His love and power.  If He calls you to mighty victory, you cannot be defeated.  If he calls you to difficulty, you can prevail in faithfulness, and you will not lack His might.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death and life...

Death has many faces, but one day, death, like many other things, will itself die and be destroyed. Until then, we all face it.  But never forget that death, like all the other present evils will be swallowed up by indestructible life, and be no more.  
In most places, death is viewed as "the end," as the enemy of life and blessing:
For in death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave who shall give you thanks?
What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to the place of silence; For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.
But elsewhere, we are told that death itself will be destroyed--appropriately enough, in the "second death."
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among mankind, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away." [and God said], Behold, I make all things new.

In that day, 
death will be swallowed up by life! Everlasting life!
which is the "forever promise" of God to you.

God's plan is that there will be no graves.  No tombstones. No cemeteries.  No urns of ashes.  No mass graves from the murders of the innocents. His plan is life. Life forever. Life unadulterated by evil and suffering. Life that is full of joy and blessings and pleasures.  Life that brings a smile to the face, enlightens the eyes, and fills the heart. Life that is like a child skipping and running and playing, like a bride and bridegroom in the first bloom of their love, like a mother holding her dear child. Life. Life indeed. Life abundant. Life eternal. Life that never ends. Irresistible life.  Life!
He will destroy death.  It is His power, His prerogative, His plan.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

It has always been God's plan for you to inherit everlasting life, and with that, all things. He never meant for you to be crushed and destroyed, to die without hope and help.  He meant, and means, for you to find Him, and through Him, everlasting life--life that is abundant now, and infinite later, when you walk with Him in eternity.  Why would you reject Him, when all He wants to do is fill your life with grace and joy now--when His whole being is directed at bringing you into eternity as yourself, a whole person, full of everlasting life that is as infinite as He is?  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Graveyards...are not forever.

Death and dying are a powerful reality. In our culture, we avoid discussing it, and it's the great mystery.  The Bible has a great deal to say about them--both death and dying.  In a wonderful sense, the Bible is optimistic, but very realistic about the processes that are involved.
"We spend our years as a tale that is told. For what is your life? It is just a vapour that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away."
Death is a process.  It starts when you are born, comes to all of us, and culminates in eternity, with everlasting life or eternal disaster.
[God, to Adam]: "Dying, thou shalt die..."
[Multiple times, in Genesis 5]: "and he died."
[Luke 16:19-31]: "The beggar died...The rich man also died..."
death is also a sealing of your destiny.  There are no choices after that, no opportunities to "do better," no chance that things will become better or worse.  Things are very good, or terrible.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;  23 And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus in his bosom. ("Abraham's bosom" was a symbol of Paradise in the New Testament).
There are many surprises in death.  In fact, it's ALL surprise, since we don't know what eternity is really like.  TODAY is the realm of possibility.  TODAY is the time for choice, change, living well, enjoying life--and making the choices that count forever.
[Jesus said]: My sheep hear My voice, and they follow me... and I give them eternal life...
[Jesus said]: He who comes to me I will NEVER cast out.  
[the Scriptures say]: he who does the will of God abides for ever.
You will live forever...somewhere.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Faith and Failure.

This section of Genesis records great blessing and great tragedy.  It's a bit long, but as you read, you'll see the point.  God had promised Abraham a son, who had even been named before the fact. This son of Abraham's was to be the next one in the line that eventually created the Jewish nation, and then the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  It's an important birth. However, even our heroes have faults, and Abraham had a very large one.  It's recorded here, and so is what God did to repair the damage Abraham did.

Genesis 21: Isaac!
1 And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.
2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him --- whom Sarah bore to him --- Isaac.

God fulfilled the promise He made to Abraham, exactly as He said.  This is how God does promises.  When He makes one, He keeps it, and He keeps it AS promised. God fulfilled His promise when Abraham could no longer have naturally sired children, nor Sarah borne them.  It was entirely miraculous, and things were truly wonderful for them.

8 So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. 9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.
10 Therefore she said to Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac." 11 And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham's sight because of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. 13 Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed." 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

It was evidently God who planned the separation of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham's family.  But every time I read this, it strikes a terribly discordant note.  Abraham was a man of faith, a man of God.  Does such a man treat his servant-girl, who bore his son, this way?  Evidently he did. Send her away? Yes, that's the command.  Send her away with a skin of water and a loaf of bread?? I don't think so.  The fact that he had so little regard for his concubine and his son speaks volumes about Abraham's weakness, and little about his faith.  Yes, he was a giant of faith.  He also made some terrible mistakes. Abraham simply refused to "do the right thing" by these two.  He abandoned them. Behaviors like this don't call into question God's work with us as much as they point out that men and women of faith are sinful, and this was a great sin.  This was a woman he had taken, and a son whom she had borne.  I doubt Abraham would have done things this way except for Sarah's influence, but do it he did.  When you are faced with a choice like this, and you can't avoid it, always try to do it right, so that you do not cause unnecessary suffering.  You are responsible for that, even though your faith may be strong.  Always remember that mercy is a command of God, as well as faith. 

15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.
16 Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, "Let me not see the death of the boy." So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, "What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation."
19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.
20 So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

Where Abraham failed, God did not.  In her extremity, God opened a way for Ishmael and Hagar to get the things they needed.  It must have been terribly hard--from a part of a rich family to a poor, beggarly, existence.  And really, she was due the respect (in their culture) of a secondary wife.
We can take some valuable lessons from this. God may direct us to do a thing, but He does not normally call us to abandon needy people in the process. He also never tells us to show no mercy.  It is NOT an act of faith to send someone out "with a waterskin and a loaf of bread." It is an act of abandonment.  Perhaps this has happened to you.  You are going through a horrible time. You've been forsaken, dropped off the face of the earth.  God has a way for you.  He loves you, even if it seems those closest to you have forsaken you and left you to die.  I can't tell you how He will take care of you.  Only you will know, He will show you when you cry out to Him with all your heart.  It was in her extremity that Hagar called out to God, and God responded with just the help she needed, at just the time she needed it.  He will do the same for you. 

Abraham learns from his mistakes, and from his sins: Genesis 25:1-6:
1 Abraham again took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
2 And she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
3 Jokshan begot Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.
4 And the sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.
5 And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac.

6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.

You'll see that Abraham learned. He didn't abandon the sons of Keturah (and apparently other women he took as his concubines)--he provided for them, even though he sent them away from Isaac, who was his true heir.  This final passage is "Abraham doing it right."  God had commanded him to make Isaac his heir, and so he did.  But God never told Abraham to mercilessly abandon any of his children. I am grateful God does not abandon US. He is full of mercy, and always thinks of us.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Greatest faith

Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called,"
19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense...
Genesis 22:1: Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him....
5 And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you. (And so they did.  God stopped this awful event almost at its consummation...)
12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
16 and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son ---
7 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

Many times, the question is not, "Do I believe," but, "How much do I believe?"  Am I certain about God's power, His will, His promises?  For Abraham, the answer was yes.  When you look at this event, the important thing to remember is that this was a TEST.  God did not intend for Abraham to actually take his son's life. God meant for Abraham to be willing to do ANYthing, including the sacrifice of all the promises God had made to him, to follow and obey the LORD, believing that God could and would still fulfill them.  In many ways, this is a crucial event in the Bible.  It is very difficult to discuss.  I can't think that God meant Isaac harm, and I believe that He always intended to protect Isaac.  There are many ministers who discuss these events without picking up the pathos and suffering involved here.
1. Abraham kept all this a complete secret.  The "young men" didn't know.  Isaac didn't know.  Sarah could not have known, because Abraham could never have explained.  So Abraham was utterly alone in this. Faith is always easier when it's exercised in a friendly group of people.  It can be exceedingly difficult when we must exercise it alone. In this case, it wasn't the faith that receives a new blessing we are discussing. It was the faith that says, "Whatever He tells me to do, I will." There is no more difficult faith to exercise than this, because you don't KNOW the outcome.  You may believe that all will be well, but fear and trepidation fill our hearts at times like this. You don't know how God is going to work this all out, and what if you're wrong? What if you have faith in a God who ISN'T there? What if you got the message wrong? At times like these, there's little help.  You stand alone. 
2.  There is no room for error.  If you make a mistake, your son is dead.  Talk about stress! It's almost like defusing a bomb--which wire do you cut? Better not be wrong.  Faith often has this component of immense risk, and you have to be right.  You don't dare to be wrong.  Too much depends on your decision. Abraham didn't hesitate, because he knew God's voice.  As for us, we have to be sure we are absolutely right in these crisis times.
3. Faith may involve other people, even though they don't know it.  Everyone in Abraham's circle was involved in this--Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, all his friends and servants.  What if he was wrong?  Making the wrong decision at this point makes you a murderer--and also makes you the man remembered as the nut who killed his own son because he thought God spoke to him.  
4. Still, when you truly do hear God's voice, it's well to act right away. Don't hesitate, because hesitating creates procrastination, which issues in disobedience, especially if the command is hard to bear or understand.
5.  The result was twofold:
  • Abraham was vindicated and honored, and Isaac (I'm sure) had a new understanding of the depth of his father's commitment.  The fact that Isaac submitted to his father speaks volumes about their relationship, and about Isaac's understanding of God.
  • God made a picture.  Abraham, willing to slay his son to obey God, was like a ripple in the ocean of history, showing that one day God Himself would allow His "only begotten Son" to die for mankind. This picture is more amazing because it's clear that the mountain on which Isaac was almost sacrificed was very near the spot where Jesus died on a Roman cross--perhaps on the very spot.  It's almost like God posted a marker at the beginning of the Hebrew race, saying, "Someday...My own dear Son will die for sinful men."  God spared Abraham's son, but we are told, "He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all..." 

What believing gets you

Abraham became a man of faith, and he never stopped believing. His faith grew by steps, until miracles became commonplace to him:
The first step of faith became the control point for all else:
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Abraham's second step of faith brought him into a relationship with God that transformed his life even more:
Genesis 15:5-6: And the LORD brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you are able to number them: and he said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Abraham's third step of faith was the promise of immediate fulfillment--even though the promise had been long in coming:
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall indeed bear you a son; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him...My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year. And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.

Faith is like a cup that receives the blessing of God. God calls us to exercise our faith--that is, to hold out our empty cups so that he may fill them. When we show Him that we really do want what He has to offer (sometimes by acting, sometimes by just listening and taking what He says to heart), our faith receives the blessing God is so willing to give.  

Genesis 18:9-15:
And they said to him, Where is Sarah your wife? And he said, She is in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return to you according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah your wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I've grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? So the LORD said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh and say, Shall I bear a child, since I am old? Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. Then Sarah denied it, saying, No, I didn't laugh; for she was afraid. And he said, Yes, you did laugh.

And then, there was Sarah. She had to believe.  Even though she laughed at the prospect, her faith HAD to grow strong, like Abraham's, as her body changed back to the way it was during her childbearing years.... Imagine her surprise when she woke up one morning, full of desire for her husband, aware that her body was renewed, ready for his love. However, more than that had to happen She had to, dare to hope and believe that the ONE thing she had always desired, and for which she had completely given up hope, her own child, would one day be hers to hold and love.  And so it was, because Sarah opened her heart to what the LORD said, and to his gentle rebuke at her doubt. So many years of trying. So many years of ancient medicine, and even superstitious practices (Hagar, for example), all for nothing.  And now God called her to believe, just in Him. And so she did.  Sometimes the greatest challenge to faith is the failures of the past--but Sarah was equal to the call that God had given.  Sometimes the thing that awakens faith is just the LORD saying, "Is anything too hard for Me?" 
Always believe. Always trust. Always listen. Never give up hope.  He has a great deal for you that you have not yet received.  Remember the LORD's words:  "Is anything too hard for the LORD?"  It's a rhetorical question, of course.  NOTHING is too hard for Him. What He has promised, He will do. All you have to do is  hold out your empty cup and let Him fill it. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Try a little Laughter!

Some of the best events in life are truly funny--humorous, and unusual:
From Genesis  17, 18, 21:

17:19 Then God said: "...Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.
18:1 Then the LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.
2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground...
9 Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" So he said, "Here, in the tent."
10 And He said, "I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.)
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.
12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"
13 And the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?'
14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son."
15 But Sarah denied it, saying, "I did not laugh," for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh!"
 21: 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him --- whom Sarah bore to him --- Isaac.

This entire account is full of humor and pathos. When you read the full story in Genesis 17-21, you'll find that God named Abraham's heir before Sarah ever heard of him, and He named him "Isaac," which means "Laughter," and there was a great deal of laughter in Abraham's home. Sarah laughed--she no doubt looked down at her body when the LORD was announcing Isaac's birth-to-come, and she cracked up.  "Imagine me (wrinkly me!) with a baby!  We don't even make love any more!! We are too old for this!"  And she kept on chuckling--until the LORD pointed out that He could do anything He wanted.  I may be using too much imagination here, but I think the LORD was amused, and He got a chuckle out of this as well.  He knew what He was about to do, and even though this was a holy moment in history, it was a fun moment.  In just a few days, changes took place in Sarah--wrinkles going away (God's botox?); reproductive organs regenerating.  Desire returning.  In other words, Sarah was rejuvenated, along with Abraham. It's like she got a huge shot of estrogen and progesterone (etc.) in just the right balance, and...suddenly her cycle began again, and she and Abraham became "interested" in each other all over again.  Romance blossomed. Love was in the air.  Youth had returned, and suddenly all the feelings they had missed for years were there.  All this time the LORD was looking down from heaven, grinning, and saying, "See?!! I CAN do anything!" 
It's true today, too.  "NOTHING is too hard for the LORD."  Don't forget that.  Even when it seems like all your dreams have disappeared, hope again, laugh again, and trust Him.  He will do everything He said.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Happened to Me, Part 2

Matthew 8-4: 1When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. 2And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

He told me not to say anything, but of course everyone who knew me "before" knew, and I told everyone. I couldn't help it.  I gradually came to understand why He had said, "Don't tell anyone." 
A while later, He returned to my town, and I decided to follow Him.  I was too late to be one of His 12, or of His 72, but I followed Him until they murdered Him, and then I followed Him after He rose. As I followed and listened to His teaching, I found that miracles of healing and understanding are one.  In other words, there was a reason Jesus could heal me, besides the fact that He was God's own Son (I'm telling you this as a Jewish man, which means I believe He's equal with God, like John says in His teaching).  
The reason is that Jesus represented ME.  He actually took my sicknesses on Himself... 
That's what Isaiah said about Him. 
When He did that (I thought about this later), He should have gotten all the sicknesses He cured (there were thousands besides me), but He didn't.  Then I realized, as I thought about this, that sickness was part of the evil He came to cure--sin, death, sickness,Satan, the whole thing.  He came to "fix things completely," and what I had received was a foretaste of everything that will eventually happen to the folks who believe in Him. No more death. No more sickness.  No more suffering. No poverty. No starvation. No hatred. No anger. No evil of any kind.  When He touched me, I was healed, but He did not get sick.  But He did die, and took all my sickness and weakness to the grave with Him.  And I was well.  Then He rose, and left it all there--for everyone, and when He rose, He broke the back of evil in this world.  You may think, "There's still evil," but there someday won't be, because of Him. Because of Him, all things will be "made new," and no bad thing will survive. And for those of you who think evil is "interesting," I point to my leprosy. Is that interesting?  Good?  To have sick people lying in your streets and homes? Are funerals "interesting?" How about mass murder? or earthquakes? or volcanoes?  If you think those are interesting, it's because you haven't had any of them happen to YOU.
Jesus came to make things right, and for me, that started with me.  He made me right.  First in my body. Then in my soul.  And someday, forever.
It all happened because of a touch. I don't know why so many people resist His touch, but take it from me, you shouldn't.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What happened to me, part 1

Matthew 8: Jesus Cleanses a Leper
1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.
2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean."
3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

I wanted to tell you what happened to me.  You look at me today, and I'm old, but my skin is beautiful, and I'm healthy.  One day, long ago, I heard Jesus preaching.  He was telling people how to live, and He spoke with great power.  I had watched Him heal other people, but, you see, I was a leper.  I was full of leprosy, disfigured, terribly ill, and weak.  I was afraid to come to Him.  I didn't know if His power applied to me.  I know, you think, "how silly!" But you weren't me.  I could never enter society. I was always on the fringes.  I could do nothing with anyone, except other lepers, and I was so ugly, so deformed, so sick that even they would have nothing to do with me.  I could hardly walk, because my feet had literally been eaten away by my disease, and I lived on the outskirts of life, wearing rags and eating scraps that people left for me. I had no pity from anyone. They all thought it was because of something I had done.  
When Jesus came down from the mountain (I had sat where I could barely hear him, and away from the people that always showed up to keep me away from public events), I couldn't help myself.  He just looked so...attracting.  His eyes pulled me to Him, and I could tell He saw me.  So I went up to Him and knelt.  And I said, "You could make me clean, if you wanted." I don't know what came over me.  I knew He could do it when I saw Him.  I had watched Him do so many healings, but I always thought, "That's not for lepers."  I was very afraid.  I thought He might look at me, and say, like everyone else, "Get out of here!" I couldn't have stood that.  
You know what He did?  He took me by the hand, and put His hands on my shoulders, and said, "BE CLEAN!"  Suddenly, I was well.  I can't describe it.  It was like years of sickness and pain were all gone, and I was OK again.  I looked down at my crippled feet, but they were completely whole now.  I could feel things in my hands and fingers.  My face was right again.  Then he said a mysterious thing: "Don't tell anyone!" But how could I keep it a secret?  Everyone who saw me, no longer in rags, would wonder.  So I told them.  I know it brought Him many like me, and a lot of trouble, and I am sorry for that, but I am so happy for what He did for me that I followed Him.  I still do.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wonderful Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.
The Holy Person that shall be born of you [Mary] shall be called the Son of God.
It pleased the [God] the Father that in [Jesus] all fulness should dwell. in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son [Jesus], whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
I and the Father are one.
[Jesus is ] The chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he who believes in him shall not be ashamed. — God ... has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name. —
Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life
I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

Wherever Jesus is spoken of in the New Testament, His greatness shines through.  His disciples worshipped Him.  His enemies hated Him, but they respected Him.  Demons cried out in fear at His presence. Satan fled from Him.  He is not ordinary.  He is more than a king, more than a man.  As the Centurion who watched His Crucifixion said, "Surely this man was the Son of God."  However, the Centurion did not know about the Resurrection, where Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God with power, and was raised from the dead by the power of an indestructible life, and so He conquered Death as well, because He could not be held by it.  
Jesus is worthy of YOUR worship, your allegiance, your response.  Our society makes celebrities of strange people.  It worships actors, actresses, government officials, oddballs, newspapermen, beautiful people, and so on.  
Here is someone to REALLY worship.  He is definitely not a passing fad, and He will return your worship with a love that is mightier than the grave.  He will unite you to Himself with a power that no force in the universe can sever.  He will give you a new life here and in heaven.  
He is worthy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Waiting through the pain:

When you are suffering and alone, it's tough to have faith, but that is THE time you most need it. God WILL NOT abandon you.  When you read the Bible, you find many times that the prophets of God received answers to their prayers, and help from God.  The question is, how did they feel before God answered?  Here's a small sample of  prayers in the midst of waiting:

Jonah 2: (Jonah, crying out from the belly of the fish/whale).
And said, I cried by reason of my affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell I cried, and you heard my voice
The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.
 In other words, Jonah was at the endpoint of his life, completely alone, and in great distress, suffering terribly.

Here's another example, from David's life:
Psalm 13: For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death...

MANY of God's servants have felt abandoned and forgotten in their suffering. Many have felt the complete loss of hope.  This is one of Satan's chief tools against you; at best, he wants to torment you; at worst to get you to take your own life, or live in utter desperation, having given up on God.  However, with God there is no "end," no "final disaster" unless you permanently reject Him, and receiving Him back again (or asking Him to take you back) is a simple choice.  
He's actually waiting for YOU if you are in this situation, and He intends to answer you.  
See Psalm 40
Psalm 40: To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
1 I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.
2 He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth --- Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.
You will sing again.  Wait for Him. Keep praying. Don't give up. God loves you, and He is full of compassion and mercy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sick? Suffering?

Himself took our infirmities, and carried our sicknesses.
Behold! a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and begged him, saying, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. — And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and said to him, I will; be clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.
Now as He approached the gate of the city (of Nain), a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry. Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
He called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness
I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Compassion. Power. Connection with God.  These are the overwhelming realities of Jesus' ministry.  However, we often believe in Jesus as if His power has diminished over time, and the things He did for people "back in the day" don't happen any longer.  This is simply not true, and God, through His Son, does touch human lives physically, spiritually, miraculously.  There are a number of "rules," however, that I've found reliable when I've seen God heal:
1.  Healing may be instant, or happen over time.  Sometimes there is just a gradual strengthening of the body.
2. The goal of healing is health.  Those who live an unhealthy lifestyle must be committed to change it.
3. Healing comes with its own burden: the consciousness that GOD is in control of your life.  If you ask Him to heal you, expect that He will want you to respond back to Him with love.
4. Healing, whether it involves the body or soul, is a spiritual act.  
5. God may choose not to heal (I have had that happen), since He is sovereign.  Even Jesus said once, 
"Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; God is sovereign. He decides. He is also compassionate.
6. There is a special set of spiritual gifts in Christianity, called "gifts of healings," but the majority of healing comes from people praying for each other.
7. This world is not the place of final healing. For that, we await the next world, the new heaven and new earth: If God does not heal you, it will come later, in the new world.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And [God], who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
8. If you are sick, the first thing you should do is ask God for His healing. The Bible discusses a Jewish king, Asa, who was diseased in his feet--but he never got well, because he sought the physicians, but not the LORD. God does not say, "No doctors;" He does say, "Seek me first."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The End

I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. — The heavens and the earth, which are now, ... are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling of it — You shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you not be troubled.
We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. — We ... look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found by him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
The end of all things is at hand.

We don't know when, of course, but many people feel that the world and society are cascading toward a final set of events.  The Bible speaks of this time frequently, without disclosing precisely when. 
It is a time of judgment--and the judgment is final.  From that judgment there is no appeal, no reversal, no pardon. The Book of Revelation is very clear (20:11-15):
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life... The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
It is a time of trouble.  The book of Daniel says, "There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then." 
It is a time of victory, deliverance, closure, finality: Daniel says again: "But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." 
It is a time for you to receive all that God has promised: 
  • The "building of God, the house God has prepared for you...(the house your soul lives in, your body)"
  • The "new heavens and new earth, full of righteousness," where you will live forever.
How do you deal with the coming troubles that precede this time of blessing?  Let God be your refuge and strength.  Don't be troubled.  All these events are designed for one thing, to bring in God's replacement for this sick and tired old world--His new heavens and new earth. Let your life be filled with His grace and righteousness.  Then you will be ready for what is coming, and in the day of judgment, you will find refuge in Him, as He takes you by the hand and leads you into His New heavens and new earth.
All this, of course, is predicated on your faith:  
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
Nobody likes to think about this, and least of all those of us who believe, because we know the implications of NOT believing.  
Prepare for eternity.  It is coming. You will meet God.  Be sure He's your friend, not your enemy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Get Wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right.
for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power.
By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth.
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.
“Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.
Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it.
Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

You can be wise.  You may only have average intelligence. You may be young and inexperienced.  You may come from a culture that doesn't appreciate wise thoughts and words, but you can be wise.  Wisdom is both a gift and a gain--something you work for.  The main ingredients in gaining the gift of wisdom are:
1. Ask God for it.  It comes from Him, and it comes through a series of communications you have from Him. He will show you things.
2. LISTEN.  The greatest wisdom comes from simply listening for wisdom. It almost sounds redundant, but the main reason people have no wisdom is that they haven't learned to listen and then apply the knowledge they already have to the words they hear.  
3. As you listen, also listen to God, because He will  tell you about events as they happen.  
4.  Follow your intuition, if you have seen it proven right in multiple circumstances.  Intuition is something it takes a while to sharpen, but you can learn it.  "I had a bad feeling about that" is a comment I've often heard when people are discussing a mistake they've made.  The "bad feeling" was their intuition telling them, and often that intuition comes from God.
5.  Do what God says, and you will get MORE wisdom.  Don't do it, and the wisdom you have will evaporate, and you will have troubles enough.
6.  Sometimes wisdom doesn't help.  I've been in many situations where others wouldn't listen, and all I could do was wait until the result occurred.
7.  You'll often find that others won't listen, and then you need to immediately take steps to protect yourself, if you're involved with the "nonlisteners."  This often happens in business situations, where people above you make terrible decisions, and you are made a part of  them by default.  If you are in such a situation, take steps for self-protection right away. 
8.  Wisdom is often the result of experience, driven by mistakes that we've made in our own search for wisdom.  One of the main things about getting wisdom is learning from the past.     

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Never give up.

I am cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.
Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget you.
I forgot prosperity. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord. — Awake, why are you sleeping, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. — Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my justice is passed over by my God? — In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance. — We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

It is possible to lose hope and give up on life.  The verses above are just a sampling of the many verses in the Scriptures that show us two facts: first, it's natural to feel like there's no hope--and second, that God always has a plan.  He has not forgotten you, and He is on your side. The reality is, as the verses above tell us, He cannot forget you. You are always in His mind. He will treat you with "everlasting kindness," and show mercy on you.  You will still have reason to praise Him. Troubles come.  They always do. And when they do, we have the strength and help of the Almighty to carry us through those times. Even when we are "terminally depressed," His help has not failed.  Our feelings are variable, changeable.  His mercy and kindness are constant.  God is the great constant, and with Him, there's always the sunrise of a new day.
Never give up.  On Him, on your future with Him, on the possibilities of life.  You do not know how He will come through for you, but He will.  And when it is time to pass over into eternity with Him, He will not forsake you there.  He will lead you through the "valley of the shadow of death," not just into it. So whatever challenge you are facing today, take His hand, and let Him stand by your side and walk with you through it.  You never need to walk a difficult path alone.  
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
He is on your side. Forever. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How much is enough?

A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.
A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. — Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble along with it. — Godliness with contentment is great gain. Having food and clothing, let us be content with those.
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny you, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. — Give us this day our daily bread.
Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing? — When I sent you without a purse, money, and shoes, did you lack anything? And they said, Nothing. — Let your lifestyle be without covetousness: and be content with such things as you have: for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.

One of my friends said to me, "Wherever you go, the Lord has gone there first." That is especially true about money.  Sometimes it's tough to get enough money together just to live, even if you're working hard--but God has promised, "I'll care for you." "I have been young, and now am old, but I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or his children begging bread," say the Psalms. It's true, sometimes people DO fall into great difficulty, and have little--but God is the One who multiplies the little into "enough." He is the one who supplies work when there is no money, a new direction when a job disappears, a new career when the old one fails, a new life when everything comes crashing down.  God does not just love us "in the abstract." He loves us with everlasting love, in our lives today.  It is He who gives us "fruitful seasons," who feeds the young lions their food,who provides us with work so that we may live, who showers us with good things.  James said, "Every good and perfect gift comes from [God], with whom there is no variation..." the point is that God always loves us, always cares for us, never leaves us, and always holds us in His hands and His heart. He cannot forget us, cannot leave us, cannot deny us...we are, as Scripture says, "graven on the palms of His hands."  
Don't be afraid of the future.  He's already there.  To Him it's the present, and he's waiting for you there.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Who are you?

Of his fulness have all we received, and grace upon grace.
This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. — Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
His Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things. — If [we are] children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint‑heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
I and my Father are one. The Father is in me, and I in him. — My Father, and your Father; and ... my God, and your God. — I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one..

It is astounding, but as a believer, a Christian, you participate in God's own nature.  Peter calls us "Partakers of the Divine Nature..." In Greek, the word "nature" is phusis, which paraphrased is, "What a thing is made of."  So Peter is saying, we are made of the same "stuff" as God once we believe.  How this can be is another mystery, but your connection with God that starts when you believe in Jesus Christ alters your very nature.  Yes, you are the same person, but no, you are not only the same person.  Once you believe, you partake of the Divine nature, a "sharer" in what God is.
The morning's verses confirm this: Yes, Jesus is "the Beloved Son;" but so are we the sons of God. Yes, Jesus is the Son, the Christ, the appointed heir of all things; but we are also joint-heirs with Him of all that God has given Him.
Yes, Jesus is one with the Father, and the Father is in Him and He is in the Father, and so are we one with and in Him.
In other words, God has brought us so much through His Son Jesus Christ that we are literally the branches of which He is the tree; we are parts of His body, His flesh, His bones. We are so united with Him once we believe that it is impossible to disconnect us from Him.  This is really the foundation of the doctrine of "eternal security;" it's not that we lose our sinfulness when we become believers, or even that we will not fall away for a time, or that we can't make terrible mistakes.  It is that we are "connected." This connection is just like the parts of a body, and He is determined to have every part of His body complete.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do you have servants?

The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.
There was ... a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But you shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that serves. For who is greater, he who sits down to eat, or he who serves [him]? is it not the one who sits down to eat? but I am among you as him who serves. — Even the Son man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Jesus rose from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel, and put it around himself. After that he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel he was using as a waistband.

Everyone wants servants. We all like people to wait on us, at least sometimes.  In the New Testament era, if you had servants, you were an important person, and deserved special treatment--especially from your servants. However, Jesus turned the entire process on its head.  His question is not "Do you HAVE servants," but "are YOU a servant?"  Jesus presents Himself as the ultimate Servant--the Son of God, who came as the perfect Servant--Servant of God, Servant of mankind, ultimately meeting our greatest need--eternal life through His own death as a ransom.  The final verses illustrate--Jesus is the humble Servant, meeting the needs of His disciples--their needs for comfort, care, release, cleansing.  He is completely able to meet your needs, and in so doing says, "Take My yoke [of service] upon you..." His desire is for us to become like Him in our service, and in our care for the people we know--especially the people of God.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

God's truth?

I delight in the law of God after the inward man.
O how I love your law! it is my meditation all day long. —Your words were found, and I did eat them; and Your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.
I delight to do Your will, O my God: yes, Your law is within my heart. — My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. — Be doers of the word, and not just hearers.

Christians call the Bible the Word of God, or just "the Word," because to them, it speaks with His voice; because it is truth; because you can use it to shape your life and fill it with good things, but most of all because in the Bible are the words of eternal life.  The Word is unique. No other book has been so treasured, so maligned, so loved, so hated, so honored, so despised. Those who "don't believe" think the Bible is full of lies--it's mythical, false, legend.  Those who believe think the Bible is true, that the stories it tells actually happened, and that God literally breathed it out and gave it to human hands to write down.  
Why this difference?  Scholars don't show the same affection or opposition to Plato, for example, or to the history of Alexander the Great.
I believe that the opposition to the Bible is in a way its greatest proof.  More than the prophecies, the miracles, the teachings, the opposition to the Bible tells us that someone hates the spiritual revelations in it, and that it is disturbing to the way people think about life.  What if, for example, the Bible IS true, and the earth and the universe ARE proceeding towards a day of Judgment? Then you are responsible to God Almighty for your life and choices. What if ONLY a relationship with Jesus Christ can shelter you from that awful and mighty judgment? That would be saying that other religious paths cannot do what Christianity can. What if God really IS sovereign, and controls the events of the world?  Then you really don't control your own fate and life--your life is in the hands of God, and even where you live was chosen by the Almighty, and the good things you enjoy are all His gifts.  All these statements and more are in the Bible, and Christians believe them, if they think about it. Most people who are not Christians don't believe any of these things.  They believe in chance, or at least evolution, which is much less probable than chance.  Christians also believe that there is an evil spiritual force (being!) who tries to get unbelievers to hate Christians, Christianity, and the Christian's God without thinking or asking themselves, "Why do I hate this?"  And the Bible's answer goes like this:  "The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not..." Now, if you don't believe, you certainly don't believe that anyone has blinded you. You think you are being totally rational.  But just suppose you are subject to spiritual influences from both sides--God and evil.  If that was true, wouldn't you feel just as you do now?? And then you will say to me, "Well, if you believe, then that's how YOU feel, and this is how I feel."  And my response is this. "Test it."  Try it and see.  Jesus said this:  "Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." Notice how He said this:  the order is, first you decide that you will follow what you find, and second,  you will come to know.  You can't invert those, and say, "I'm interested, and if I find that Christianity is true, I will evaluate whether or not I want to do it..." you must say, "I am willing to do this, if it's true." Then you will know. Jesus doesn't say, "you will know that I am speaking the words of God;" He says, you will know whether I speak from God, or only from myself. So if you make the commitment to follow this path if it's true, and God does not show you that it is really the true way, you have lost nothing, because now you know for sure that Jesus was a liar. Conversely, if you make the same commitment, and find that Jesus' words ARE true, you will gain everlasting life, and with it, everything else.  Test it.  Find out.  See what happens.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Practice Wisdom.

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
Proverbs 3:21-26

Divine wisdom is both a gift and a product of learning and prayer. There are people who believe that if something is a gift, there's no work involved. It's just "there." However, that is not true in life. Athletic skills, a gift of God, must be developed and honed to be fully useful.  A surgeon's hands must have practice, his eye and brain experience, in order to develop his talents completely. God gives us the native ability, but we must learn to use it through practice, and strengthen it through exercise, until it is strong and efficient.  Once we do, amazing things happen. Our lives are beautified by His wisdom. We know how and where to walk through life.  We find safety, freedom, rest, and the presence of the Lord for protection.  This is a wonderful gift in itself, since all of us need this kind of protection from time to time, and when we are surrounded by a minefield of troubles and foes, the LORD will guide us through them without us getting trapped and destroyed, since He walks with us.