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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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.