Foreword:

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.

A note for all my readers: I've been experimenting with YouTube videos for Bible teaching for a while, and I'm working through Revelation here. My YouTube videos are currently short studies in Matthew, and at present I'm posting videos on Revelation as well. Both appear on the blog, which is turning into a Vlog. I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for better coverage.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Faith and the New Year...

[Abraham] went out, not knowing where he went...
That's the new year.  We always "go out, not knowing where we are going," or what will happen.  It's new, and God has not provided us with a map that goes beyond today.  We are like Abraham, and we are making the same journey, for we seek the City "whose builder and maker is God." The path in between our destination and the present is what we worry most about, but we need not.  Every single one  of our days is in His hands, planned, as the Psalmist writes, "before ever one of them came to be" (Ps. 139:16, NKJV, NASB, NIV, but not the KJV).
The thing that vexes us most is the loss of control. We cannot determine what people will do, nor can we control the events that shape our lives. Instead, we are in God's hands.  However, we often forget to ask ourselves, "Where would I rather be?" If this year brings prosperity, we will thank God. If it brings poverty, we will trust God. If it brings health and joy, we will praise Him, and if it brings suffering, we will call out to Him for relief.
This worldview is simply not shared by people who don't know Him, because the universe to them is a box from which there is neither escape nor alteration.  It's a closed system, and what happens happens, either because of chaos or fate--or sometimes both.
The worldview that does not allow God is incredibly incomplete, no matter what the naysayers believe, since those of us who believe in God also see evidence of His hand everywhere, and these beliefs are not manufactured fantasies. We believe, as the opening verse of Hebrews 11 say, based on our conviction and assurance that God is in charge, that the world is trending toward a final day, and that believers shall be secured from all evil in that day.
We should face the new year in the same way we receive the promises of our final future, and of heaven.  We accept those, deeming them to be true, since our relationship with God is real to us, and we have opened ourselves to His promises of a life forever with Him. However, it's not nearly as easy to believe in the immediate future He has for us in the next year.
I would recommend on this, the next to final day of 2014, that you read Hebrews 11, and on to the opening verses of Hebrews 12. This passage describes how to meet our future--listen for God as Noah and Abraham did; Act on His word as Jacob did; live in faith as all the Old Testament worthies did; allow yourself a peek at your final future, and trust God for the time in between.
May God bless your journey this year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking forward to the New Year, #1

One of the most encouraging passages in the New Testament is Mark 3:28:
Truly I say to you, All sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they blaspheme....
This is a great concept for those of us who believe in Christ to take with us into the new year.  It enables us to leave the past behind, and look forward to the future, because it offers us three promises:
1.  All sins:  Not one left out. This enables us to leave all the issues, problems, and evils of the year behind us.
2. Shall be forgiven: In Greek, the word "forgive" literally means, "send away." Forgiveness in the New Testament involves separating you and your sin forever, so that it is "remembered no more forever."
3. The sons of men: In other words, YOU.  In the Bible, "sons of men" is used to mean "mankind," "humans," and includes EVERYone. There are no exclusions.
You can look to the new year, and leave the old year behind. Nothing need stay with you into the next year.
Saint Paul said as much, when he said, "I forget those things which are behind, and I press forward toward what is ahead..."
Don't look back. Look ahead.  God has dealt with your past.  Let it lie.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day Meditation

You "shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."
This was what the angel told Joseph, Jesus' stepdad.  It's quite amazing, because it's so all encompassing.  Think about it with me for just a few moments:
1. Paul says, "Sin entered the world, and death through sin...
2. Paul also says that when Jesus came, He came because mankind was full of hate, being hated, and hating one another, and Jesus came to cure that.
3. And lastly, Paul says that before Jesus came, we were "without hope, and without God in the world."
4. Now set this beside the words of John the Baptist, so very long ago, when he was walking with two men who were to become some of Jesus' first followers:
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
TAKES AWAY.
All the terrible evil men and women do to each other.  All the sickness and pain and heartache. All the death and suffering.  All the anger and hatred and rage and murder.  All the separation we feel toward our fellow humans. All the pain and sorrow and tears.
TAKES AWAY.
This is what the implication is when we consider that Jesus' arrival on earth signified a complete change in the future of mankind, and that while it's still future, we have hope of eternal life, a home in heaven, and joy forever.
He takes the evil and replaces it with good, without our deserving it in any way.  He says, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us...so that being made righteous by His grace (kindness), we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life..."
He does that for you, for me, and for anyone else who wants it.
What about you? This is for you, if you want it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Meditation

Christmas Eve is a time of anticipation. It's a time when we worship God through His Son, and await the retelling of the Christmas story in all its beauty and power.
Who could have thought that the King of all Creation would come as a lowly peasant child, born to poor parents in difficult and humiliating circumstances?  How could Mary have known the year before she got pregnant (at 15?) that the following year she would undertake the most frightening journey of her life, to bear the Messiah?  How could Joseph have known that his hopes and dreams for a family with Mary would be dashed to pieces, only to be resurrected by the words of an angel? How could the shepherds have known that tomorrow morning, very early, the host of heaven would appear to them and announce the birth of the Messiah?  How could the Magi have known that their lives would change forever with the appearance of a certain Star?
I remember very well my first Christmas morning after becoming a Christian.  I went to church for an early Christmas service at 5 AM, and everything seemed different.  It was as if I had been transported into a world I had never known, populated by angels and God and the entire spiritual world, which I felt I could see with my mind's eye. It was as if a new consciousness, a new reality had opened up to me, and everything was the same, but different--as if I now understood that there was a parallel universe with all these beings in it that I had not known before. I remember getting out of the car, walking through the parking lot in the pre-dawn darkness, thinking how different everything was.  It was the same, really.  I was different. I had experienced contact with the living God, and He had accepted me.  I knew there were angels, God, the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, all present in that moment, surrounding the parking lot, and it was as if I was one of the shepherds who heard those first words of announcement with the accompanying songs: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!"
It was completely real, yet not something I could ever communicate (see how feebly I do it even now!)--the world I had always wondered about, the universe God inhabits, was real, and I could sense it.
I don't want to get all mystical on you, but the fact is that this world is real to every Christian, and the corollary is that it is exceedingly hard to communicate this to people who are not Christians.  Atheists haven't the tools to grasp these things, so they say that they're not real, because they can't experience them from their vantage point.
Other religions speak of some glorious state of transformation, when one comes into contact with the Divine, but that is an "achievement" that comes from many years of study and dedication.  Here I was, 18 years old, a Christian for almost exactly one month, standing on an asphalt parking lot, looking at the pre-dawn sky, feeling the presence of God as truly as I can tell that this is a warm day in a San Diego winter. I didn't study and meditate my way to that experience, either.  It was a gift. An indescribable, beautiful, real, powerful gift, which came to me the moment I decided to follow Jesus Christ and have Him in my life as my Savior.
I was later to find that other people just "didn't get it," and it was very frustrating.  When you're young, you somehow think that your experiences are shared, that everyone who says, "I'm Christian" has an experience like yours.  I found, of course, that many did.  I also found that some people had intellectualized being Christian, as if you could "prove" that Christianity is true and right, and others had rejected the reality of Christianity for some reason I couldn't understand, and now everything was mechanical, and of course I found that people who were not Christians really didn't get it.  It was as if they didn't have that sensory organ, the one that enables you to experience the spiritual world.
Thing is, I couldn't deny it. It was too real.  As real as the first taste of ice cream.  As real as a sunset. As real as a lover's arms around you.  As real as the house I lived in with my Mom and Dad. REAL.
That's my problem when someone who doesn't believe starts talking about how Christianity can't be true, that it doesn't make sense. I try to explain it, and it's like trying to tell a blind man about a sunset.  It's like trying to describe how it feels to hold your child in your arms to a robot.
Christianity cannot be proved to the satisfaction of atheists, of agnostics, of folk in other religions, but it CAN be experienced in such a way that you cannot go back.  It's too real.
Come with me. You won't be like me, you'll have your own experiences, but you will never regret following Jesus Christ.
He is forever.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Meditation #3: Jesus and the Organized Church

I recently read in Stephen King's book On Writing (yes, THAT Stephen King) that he's "always believed in God, but has no use for organized religion," and that his childhood room contained all kinds of awards for Bible memorization.
I think that this pretty much describes many folks' approach to the church as a whole.  As children, they were taken to church by parents or other relatives, and they believe.  As adults, they reject the idea of organized religion, church, and the like, but retain their belief systems and have some sort of relationship with God.
I have wondered about this many times over the years.  After all, I spent about a third of my life as a Pastor, I taught in Seminary, and have gone to church most of my life. Why don't people like it?
What's wrong with it? Is there something wrong with the spiritual aspects of the religion itself, as the atheists tell us? Is God maybe not real, and therefore all the worship us idiots give Him is pointless?
Well, remember that most of the folks who say they've "left the church" still do retain their faith.  In other words, they still believe in God, even though "church" has some pretty bad connotations for them. Some do not, of course, and I am truly sad about that.
Thinking back to when I was a pastor, and thinking back to what folks told me when they said they had left other churches, here are my thoughts:
1.  People leave churches because they are hurt by them.  It doesn't have to be as significant as what recently happened in so many Roman Catholic churches--they were molested by people who should have protected them, but there are many ways churches hurt people.  They hurt people by using them. They hurt people by intentionally acting against them, such as when someone makes a bad life-decision (in the minister's eyes), and they exercise "Church Discipline." Churches are often unfair in the exercise of this so-called discipline, and they discipline the weak and those unable to defend themselves. So you've found a sinner in church.  Don't get so overheated.  You're a sinner yourself. You will both answer to God, not the minister, and the minister himself will stand there with you, not to accuse you, but as a fellow sinner.
2. People leave churches because they are "used up." They are volunteered out, tapped out, and empty of resources. When the leadership of any given church sees this, they usually exhort the person who's suffering this weariness to give more--resources, time, energy. Finally the man or woman leaves, bitter, tired, disillusioned.
3. People leave churches because they are tired of the evil in them. So many times, evil is misidentified.  Evil is not the single mother who made a series of life choices that ruined her.  Evil is power used to crush the small. Evil is bowing to money. Evil is the leadership wrecking someone else's life / emotional life in order to assert itself over that person. Evil is looking at people as "giving units."
4. People leave churches because they see that the leadership is unfair. The money in a church leads to power in the organization, and that power conveys favorable treatment. This is terrible, but it is disgustingly common.
Thing is, Jesus taught against every one of these things (for his blistering sermon on evils in the religion of his day, "written on asbestos and delivered in a tin envelope," see Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 23)
He forgave and encouraged the Woman taken in adultery. He alone saw how she felt, and lifted her up.
He spoke against the use of ostentation in religion as a mask for fraud and theft ("Woe to you, Pharisees, who take widows' houses, and make long prayers...Stop making my Father's house a robber's den").
He denounced the use of power in religion as a means of social prominence. And so on.  Read the four Gospels.  You'll see what I mean.
He spoke openly about the evils in the religion of His day, and the power brokers killed Him for it.
In other words, Jesus didn't have much use for organized religion, either.  However, He always went to the Synagogue.  He worshipped according to the Jewish religion (He was "born under the Law" and followed it). He didn't give approval to the evil, but He applauded the good. He wasn't "in tune" with the religious power brokers of His day at all, and He focused on the people who believed in God, or who would believe in Him, whether they were rich or poor--those whose hearts were "honest and good," and those who wanted something real.
He really came for this.  To make things real for us, and to get us away from the forms of religion that were dying, since nobody much liked them anyway.  This was such a fresh breath of air everyone who desired the real, since what Jesus did was simply replace the worship of old with a true relationship with God (or at least the offer of it--he wasn't selling anything, and He didn't force anything on anyone).
This is what Christmas really started, since the birth of Jesus was intended to begin something new in the story of mankind.  You see, the devil takes things over.  He has his willing sidekicks, men and women who will do his bidding, and many of these are in churches now.  They were in the Synagogues then, in religious leadership in Palestine, kings and princes of the religion.
So I think that Jesus is saying to all of us,
"Worship God. Believe in Me. I'm not so sure I have much use for organized religion Myself, but don't reject the good because you are angry with the bad. Go to church.  I went to the synagogue and the temple, but I replaced it with something intended to be far different.  It was. It can be again. Don't let the evil in religion get you down.  Make it better. Be on My side.  I'm on yours.  If you are hurting and need help, I'm here.  I will never reject you." (He specifically said this: "Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out.")
So let's give Him a Christmas present.  Let's devote ourselves to Him alone. Let's learn to love again--to love people with His grace and love.  Church? Maybe. But certainly Him.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Meditation #2: Does Jesus Matter?

He certainly does.
While there are those who insist that Christianity is merely an ancient superstition, with no basis in reality, uncounted millions of people disagree with them, and worship God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Why do they do that? Why is He so important to so many?
To the true Christian, Jesus is of the greatest importance because
He is not merely the "Founder / Leader of a great religion;"
He is not only the Teacher who is followed (at least in lip-service) by millions,
He is not just the Miracle-Worker whose works ring powerfully through the annals of history;
He is not just "The Way and the Truth and the Life;"
Nor is He only "The Shepherd of the Sheep, the Good Shepherd,"
And He's not merely the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
He is all these things, but with the true Christian, it's personal.
He's MY Good Shepherd
He's MY Leader.
He's MY way to God.
In other words, with the true Christian, believing in Christ is a very personal matter that brings him into a relationship that transcends religious behaviors and observances. It's stunningly simple, easy to do, but resisted and forgotten by many among us.
I wish I could somehow communicate this to the atheist--that to me, Jesus is as real as my own breath, as real to me as my body, and it's all because of Him actually entering into a relationship with Me that I had no right to hope for, not in a million years.
I think that if I could communicate this to people who don't believe in Him, they might seek Him and find Him for themselves, and experience the reality of God's own dear Son.
Christianity is not about the mistakes Christians make, the sins they commit, the failures they have, the evil they do; all of these, it is true, have been used as arguments against Christianity, and they are valid to some extent, in that they say "Christians fail."
My response to that is, "So what?" Jesus never said His followers would be perfect.  In fact, His commands and teachings assume they won't be.  Even His twelve Apostles got yelled at from time to time--for their lack of faith, their lack of commitment, their lack of understanding, and quite a few other things.
That does not invalidate their relationship with Him, nor does it invalidate my relationship with Him, or yours.
All it says is, "Christians are sinners."
Well, Duh!
If they weren't sinners, why would they need a Savior? If I wasn't a sinner, I could go to heaven all on my own. It's my sin that makes me "fall short of the glory of God," and I NEED a Savior.  That Savior has to be one who can give God reason to forgive me for my sins, one who can pick me up and lead me into a better life than I could have chosen for myself, one who can pick me up, dust me off, and send me back on the true path after I've really fallen, or the whole thing--the whole Christian thing--is no good. If I can't be sure I'll get to eternal life after this, why bother to believe?
So I do believe, and perhaps you do as well, not because someone smarter than you or me told us it was the thing to do, but because we've both partaken of the personal miracle that started when we believed in through His Son, Jesus.
Please don't ask me to explain.  Explaining what happened to me at my conversion would be like me asking you to explain the origin of the universe, or like me asking you to explain why the stars are fusion powered, or where the oil we use to produce gasoline in our cars really comes from.  You cannot do any of these things, because you can't go back in time and watch it happen, so you don't really KNOW.  Same with conversion.  Even though it happened to me, and it's the "real-est" thing I've ever experienced, and even though He's been real in my life ever since, I cannot tell you what happened. I know I entered a permanent relationship with Him.  That I do know. The theologians (and I am one of those) tell you all kinds of fine words that supposedly explain it all, but they don't.  It's kind of like being alive.  You know you're alive, and you can see that other people are alive, but you really don't know what "alive" is.  You are there. You are conscious. You feel, and think, and love, and hate, and hurt, and cry.  You have children (some of you), and you rejoice that they are alive, devastated if they die, but what is life?  We don't really understand it.
In the same way, I can't understand my eternal life, my relationship with God, but I for sure know it's real.  It's as real to me as any other part of my life, and more real than some.
I know I was forgiven of my sins.  I could FEEL God's acceptance so many years ago.  I could tell that I was / am different.
Am I still a sinner? Yes.  In spades.  For me, sin is an inescapable reality, and I know I'm not perfect. So what?  I try, and will keep doing so until He takes me Home.
Christmas is what started all this.  When Jesus came, He changed everything.  He filled all the ancient prophecies with reality.  He made my life--the spiritual life--possible.
For that, I am grateful every day, and often every hour, because He is so dang REAL.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Meditation #1

Christmas is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus is God in human form. He is God and man, united in one Person forever.  He is the deepest expression of God’s love for all mankind.

The Bible says:
God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16
Jesus Himself said:
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Nobody comes to the Father except through Me."
John 14:6

The two most important holidays for more than 2 billion people on the planet are Christmas and Easter. Easter is about Jesus rising from the dead, and Christmas is about Jesus’ arrival on earth. There is no Easter without Christmas, and there is no point in Christmas without Easter, because at Easter, Jesus defeated the greatest enemy of all, death. He showed us this by rising from the dead Himself, and in His resurrection is promised ours.  All that Jesus meant to accomplish when He came to earth is bound up in Christmas, when He came, and Easter, when He rose..
Here’s a brief summary of who Jesus is, and what He can do for you:
He is the “Word Made flesh” (John 1:14)--that is, He is GOD who became man (see John 1:1-3); because of that,
He is the only one who can explain God to us (John 1:18);
He is the only one who can give us everlasting life (John 3:16, 18, 36)
Believing in Him means that we will never face condemnation, John 5:24;
Coming to Him means that we will never die spiritually (John 11:23-25);
He is the only way to the Father, John 14:6
He will save His people from their sins, Matt. 1:21
Believing in Him means we will rise from the dead as He did, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.
He truly came to earth to do these things for us, Matthew 2, Luke 2.  
Christmas is a holiday rooted in history, with everything that mankind  ever hoped for wrapped up in it, and everything we ever feared banished forever.

Here are some thoughts from the songwriters:

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 delivered will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
That when you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?
The blind will see, The deaf will hear, The dead will live again
The lame will leap, The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is 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 is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great I Am.

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.

The Love of God:
  • The love of God is greater far
  • Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
  • It goes beyond the highest star,
  • And reaches to the lowest hell;
  • The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  • God gave His Son to win;
  • His erring child He reconciled,
  • And pardoned from his sin.
    • Refrain:
    • Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
    • How measureless and strong!
    • It shall forevermore endure—
    • The saints’ and angels’ song.
  • When hoary time shall pass away,
  • And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
  • When men who here refuse to pray,
  • On rocks and hills and mountains call,
  • God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
  • All measureless and strong;
  • Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
  • The saints’ and angels’ song.
  • Could we with ink the ocean fill,
  • And were the skies of parchment made,
  • Were every stalk on earth a quill,
  • And every man a scribe by trade;
  • To write the love of God above
  • Would drain the ocean dry;
  • Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
  • Though stretched from sky to sky.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Scarlet Sin...(Hint: Not what you think it is)

In the Bible, the worst sin of all, against another human, is taking someone's life.

Here's a partial synopsis, and what it includes:

Stealing another human: If a man is found stealing any of his brothers of the children of Israel, and enslaves, or sells him; then that thief shall die; and you shall put the evil away from among you.
So theft for sale, or enslavement, of a "brother" (and sister, and neighbor, presumably) is a sin punishable by death. This shows what God thinks of the sex trafficking industry (lots more on this in the prophets) and other similar types of enslavement. It also shows how these things will be treated on judgment day. 

Destroying someone by withholding wages (or paying wages so low that the wagearner can't live): 

James 5:1,4: Come now,  you wealthy! weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you!
....
Behold, your workers' wages ... which you have kept back by fraud, cries out: and the cries of your workers  entered the ears of the Lord of Armies
Stealing someone's livelihood is a form of murder.  You prevent him from taking care of himself by means of your theft, and reduce him to nothing.  

Direct Murder: 
Numbers 5:31: Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 
Murder is the scarlet sin.  It is destruction of another human being, directly or indirectly, and God commands punishment for it.
The original murderer was the devil, whom Jesus said "was a murderer from the beginning, and did not remain in the truth;" apparently, Jesus regarded Satan as ultimately responsible for Adam's sin, and calls him a murderer for causing Adam and Eve to be subject to dying and death.

What I'm getting at is this:
"Taking a life" includes lots more than we might think: it includes such things as stealing a person's livelihood so that they can no longer provide for themselves.  It includes sex trafficking, and kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit crimes against other humans.  This law is administered by the King of the Universe, who really doesn't care how important someone thinks he is.  To Him, all are the same.
There are many potential murderers, because:
It's easy to steal from the weak.  They are, after all, weak.
It's easy to rationalize enslaving people for little money, so that they cannot live.
It's easy to take advantage of people who don't know what they are doing in a given situation because you're lying to them (Bernie Madoff comes to mind).
It's easy to think of what you do as "OK," but our actions need to be examined in the cold light of reality.  What are we really doing?
So here's a brief compendium of things to avoid / things to do if you want to give life rather than take it:
1. Help the weak.  Don't hurt them or take advantage of them.
2. If you're going to be an "activist," be sure that your cause is really just, the need of the moment, and not just inspired by media insanity or rage.
3. Don't lie to people about money. Ever.
4. If you are the owner of a business, give your employees "what is fair and just."  Don't rationalize that "the job is only worth" $$, when you KNOW that you will have to pay them $$$$ for them to survive and do well financially.  When you employ them, they ARE your responsibility.
5. Be a friend.  All true friends affirm life.  They are reluctant to condemn, because they know they will face the same God in judgment as their neighbors. Let God be the judge, not you.
6. Don't gossip / tell lies about other people.  The lie murders in ways that sometimes even a knife cannot.
7.  If you are in a position of religious authority, practice kindness, especially with those whom your prejudices tell you are not worth it.  They are.  God placed within them the same divine spark that He placed within you, and he also is made in the image of God, same as you.  Treat him like God made him as well as you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

He'll Never See it...

When I was in my 20's, I worked for a contractor (who shall remain nameless); one of his favorite comments, when he produced something low-quality, was, "They'll never see it;" I've often thought of him when I read Psalm 10, where in verse 11, David puts the following words in the mouth of the wicked man:
"He says in his heart, 'God has forgotten; he will never see it."
In this case, the wicked man says, "I can hurt whomever I want; God doesn't care." Not true.  When an evil person destroys someone else's life (it's usually for money, or to gain power), God DOES see it. He may not act right now, but He sees.
Ecclesiastes tells us, "Because judgment against an evil act is not executed swiftly, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil"--the Old Testament's version of giving people enough rope to hang themselves.
That is exactly what God has planned. He's waiting.  That's why we don't see judgment and justice in the world we live in; we don't see righteousness lifted up, and evil condemned, unless it's politically correct, or suits those in power.
The Bible is pretty a-political, but it is pro-righteousness.  When you read through the Old Testament, you find that justice is a major theme, and a just society is a main goal.  Rulers are constantly taken to task for the way they treat people without power, and prophets die because they refuse to be silenced about evil in society.
The Psalms discuss the plight of widows and orphans in detail, and point out that many evil people see them as objects to use for profit.
God will judge these things.  He doesn't care if you're a president, congressman, dictator, general, policeman, politician, "activist," or whatever. He will judge.  He will judge YOU.  He is bigger than anyone, and he doesn't care who you think you are.
So listen up.
He saw you.  He didn't forget.  He's just waiting.  He calls you to justice and righteousness (and not as defined by "churches." As He defines it.)
Read the book.  See what He really says.  Don't trust other people to tell you how good or bad it is, or interpret it for you.
Read the book.  You'll save yourself a lot of problems in the future.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blessed sleep, part 2--or, "let's get some rest."

It's worth mentioning that God Himself ordained a day of rest for Himself, and His people (yes, we know God doesn't get tired!), and that rest is one of the gifts of the Creation.
Many things happen during our sleep times, and the physiologists are just now discovering the importance of sleep (for a summary of this from a natural health perspective, see the following links:

Dr. Mercola's Articles on Sleep (you may have to register on the site to read the articles, so be warned).

GreenMedInfo on sleep

Modern research places sleep as one of the great health and immune system strengtheners, and it's been known for decades that insomnia shortens life.

However, sleep also has a component that for me is particularly helpful.  When I am in fellowship with God, I think when I sleep.  I actually produce as I sleep, and many times my subconscious (??) solves problems and strengthens me spiritually as I rest.  I also find that I pray better when I rest properly, and many of my real breakthroughs with the Lord come when I am in that "space between waking and sleeping," where my intellect is not impacted by all sorts of outside influences.  In other words, rest has been very important to my spiritual life.  It enhances my meditation, and fills me with a deeper understanding of the Lord, and of my spiritual life.
So when David says,

Psalm 4:4  Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. 
and
4:8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

It means a lot more to me than just "going to sleep;" it's a spiritual exercise that refreshes, strengthens, and prepares me.
Sleep is a wonderful gift, as is rest. For those of us who are partial insomniacs (I've been there), it's a precious and infrequent blessing, like water in a desert land.
You can develop a spiritual approach to sleep, in which your life with God is extended and strengthened even to your periods of rest (see the first verse I quoted for a hint of this).  I'll talk about that later.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blessed Sleep...

One of the things I have had the most trouble with is sleeping.  I'm naturally a light sleeper, and unfamiliar sounds wake me.
I've had even greater problems with loss of sleep during periods of intense stress and trouble.  I remember falling asleep at 2 AM and waking at 4 or 4:30, unable to sleep any longer, dragging myself to work, and repeating the process the following night, and then again the next night, and so on.  Sometimes, as I said, it's stress that produces the sleep loss.  Other times, it's fear of the future. Other times, it's an unsolvable problem, one that worries me so that I can't get my rest.

However, I realized just a short time ago that I don't need to miss my rest, and that God actually has a plan to help me sleep.  It's found in Psalm 3 :

Psalm 3: A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
1 LORD, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
2 Many there be who say of my soul, "There is no help for him in God."
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
4 I cried to the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy mountain.
5 I laid myself down and slept; I awoke; for the LORD sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, who have set themselves against me round about.
7 Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for you have smitten all my enemies on their cheek bones; you have broken the teeth of the ungodly.
8 Salvation belongs to the LORD: your blessing is upon your people.

It seems like David had a lot of the same troubles I did.  He couldn't sleep.  He was under intense pressure (more than I have ever been, that's for sure--your own son chasing him with an army, planning to kill him); even his friends were saying, "You're done for, David! God is not going to help you any more!"

But God answered him, and helped him rest and feel refreshed.  How?  David prayed, remembered that God was his shield and strength, and God strengthened him.  Pretty simple, but often disregarded.
It does work.  I know.  I have fallen asleep many times recently praying, asking God for strength and help, and it arrives with the calming effects of sleep.
There are other strategies, of course: exercise, eating right, not eating too late, not watching television too late (or sometimes, at all), but what seems to have the most effect is that evening call to God for His help--and as He comes to strengthen and comfort, rest arrives with Him, so that when the morning comes, I awake refreshed.
It's really too bad that I took so long to learn this, but I'm passing it on to you so that you can try it as well.  It works.
Remember, though, that this is founded on relationship.  It's hard to communicate with God unless you have established a relationship with Him.  So if this makes little sense to you, it could be that you need to go back to the first step, and that's establishing a relationship with Him as your Father and Lord, and then start with the prayers for His help.
I can't say that He won't help you before you do this because He is good to all, but as your Father, He comes to you personally and meets you wherever you are, and cares for you.  If your own human father was not so good, the image of a father isn't going to ring true, and so think of Him then as "The Friend who stays closer than a brother."  He is truly the best.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Still Thankful?

Really, you should be.  As I recently indicated, "thankfulness" doesn't really work when we are in the midst of a Psalm 22 moment ("Why have You forsaken me?"), but most other times, lack of gratefulness comes from a failing we all have--we just don't look at what God is doing for us right now, and we don't include the right things.  We focus on all the things that hurt, all the things that bother us, all the negative things. Why? Because they are the things that impact our thinking the most.  They are the things that "poke at us."
Sunlight is hard to focus on. Fresh air doesn't hit us like losing our job, or not being able to afford food.
The common things of life--they are the things that are always there, but which we don't appreciate when they show up, since they are so common.
Here's a couple things to think about:
1. If sleep comes, that is a HUGE gift: (Psalm 3:5) I laid down and slept; I awakened; for the LORD sustained me. Sometimes the worst curse is the inability to rest, because you are terrified about the future, and that, in turn leads to terrible depression.  Let Him give your heart rest. Things will work out, in the end.
2. You actually CAN trust God for your "stuff": Matt. 6:33: Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things (all the stuff you need) shall be added unto you."
3. God is worthy of your trust.  Many times when we lose the ability to give thanks, the root of that is our failure of faith.  It's understandable, but not at all useful to you. Trusting God costs you nothing, and gets you everything.  Just believe in Him, no matter what your circumstances are, and even if you know the present and immediate future are bleak, because (see #4): The final future is truly wonderful.
4. Your future is bright, believe it or not: (Ps. 16:11) You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
God has good plans for you.  Maybe later, maybe now.  They will come to pass.
He says, "I know the plans I have for you. Plans of welfare, and not of calamity, to give you a future and a hope."
May God bless you in this Christmas season.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How to be thankful

This is a tough task, and nobody can do it all the time.  I know that there are many ministers who say things like, "be thankful for everything."  I just heard one say this morning that we ought to be thankful for everything, all the time, no matter what. This doesn't correspond with the reality that all of us experience. There are, after all, things that threaten to tear our insides out, so that we feel like we are losing not only our strength, but our very souls.  Must we deny our basic feelings?  I doubt it.
However, it does bring up a real issue:
How do we move from being broken over the afflictions we face (sickness, job loss, loss of relationship, false accusations, gossip, rejection, persecution, and so on) to being grateful for the blessings we DO have, and believing that God is still on our side?
Well, there are a couple things that we can glean from the Scriptures:
1.  Sometimes pain just doesn't go away, whether it's physical or emotional.  Death is in store for all of us.  It's for real, and we can't escape it. Sickness is the same.  Permanent poverty is the same way.  It can break you. For that reason, the future has to be our focus when we face this type of thing. John says to us, in the book of Revelation, that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes--there are sorrows we cannot get over in this life--but God will replace them with joy
(Revelation 21:4): And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 
The tears come from the past, and we are promised that the future shall be as different as day is from night. We live in the midnight hour, but morning is coming.
It's as the Psalmist says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning"--especially the morning of our eternal future.
And for this we can be thankful.  Sometimes the present is pretty awful, but the future is ours, and it is wonderful.

2. Sometimes we can gain a thankful heart by simply praying. It's amazing how it works.  James says, "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray."  There is good reason for this, because the Psalms detail what happens when we pray, and keep praying.  For example, in Psalm 3, David recounts how he's being chased by his son Absalom, who has taken over David's kingdom in a coup.  He's running. He has no security.  His son will kill him if he finds him. David prays.  God answers, but first he comforts David, and encourages his heart.  David knows God has heard him (this is a common experience among those who pray--we sense God has heard, and our fear changes to faith).  Many times, we know God has already sent the answer, and we are moved to thanks because we anticipate what He's going to do.

3. We can also gain a thankful heart by thinking of the things we have, not the things we've lost or the things that are denied to us.  How much did you lose?  Everything?  NEVER.  If you are a believer, you cannot lose it all.  You will still have the Lord after you lose all your "stuff;" that's not to say you should be grateful for such a loss--but it's always better to look on life with a heart that counts the blessings you have, rather than the things you lost, or were denied.

4. And of course, when God does do things for us (doesn't He always?), we  be must learn to be thankful.  Jesus once healed 10 lepers.  Lepers!! Talk about huge. Leprosy was terrible! ONE of them returned to give thanks. ONE!! Jesus was actually surprised, and He said, "Where are the nine?"  Be the one, not one of the nine.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

When God says, "Yeah, Right!"

Psalm 2:1: Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves [against God], and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his Anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their chains, and cast away their ropes from us.
4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision ["you gotta be kidding!"]
5 Then shall he speak to them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

It's amazing that people who don't believe in the God of the Bible think that their unbelief makes Him nonexistent, and that they will never give account to Him.
Psalm 2 gives the lie to this, and points out that God is there, He can't be avoided or evaded, and He requires not only that I acknowledge Him, but that I follow and honor Him.
All the peoples of the world, Psalm 2 tells us, gather together against the LORD, and against His anointed, and say:
"Let's get rid of God! Let's get rid of His Son!" Like that's going to work. You can fight Him, but you won't win.
God's response:  "I have STILL set my King on my holy mount Zion (location, Jerusalem).  In other words, all the efforts to dislodge God as the Creator of the Universe and the Son as His King will fail. It can't happen.
God has promised the Son that He will rule over the kingdoms of the earth:
"Ask of me [says God], and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the furthest regions of the earth for your possession."
All the rulers of the earth get divine counsel:
"Be wise, therefore, you kings, be instructed, you judges (powerful people) of the earth: serve the LORD, and rejoice--tremble at His presence."
And finally, "Kiss the Son [do homage, like kissing a ruler's ring], lest he become angry, and you perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little."
There is no question but that God expects our obedience and worship.  I realize that in the greater world of devotional writings, this is not a subject that often comes up, but it is true nonetheless--God calls the mighty of the earth to obey, and says they will not escape if they reject Him--that His King is already seated, and ready to take over, so how much more do us common folk have to listen, to follow, to serve Him?
The conclusion:
"Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him."  That is a wonderful word for all who already follow Him, since when you voluntarily follow Him, the blessings are multiplied, while if you are forced to submit, your survival is questionable.
I hope you follow Him.  He not only asks, He demands it.  And you face the Creator-God when you refuse.
That cannot end well.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Delight...

I was thinking about Psalm 1 today, and I recalled that it says, "his delight is in the Law of the LORD." The meaning, of course, is that the godly man rejects the counsel of evil men, and responds instead to the "Law of the LORD."  By this the writer means more than the 10 commandments--he means the "Torah," the written message of God for that time.
However, my focus moved instantly to the word "Delight," because, strange as it may seem, I had never really thought about just that word in this context.
So.  Delight.  He delights in the message of God.  He enjoys it, it gives him pleasure, and he finds it beautiful.  But why?
Well, because we live in a world full of confusion, especially as to how to live. The godly man knows that the counsel of evil men is not for him, but what should he use in its place as the direction for his life?  He has the answer--the "Law of the LORD." It directs him, strengthens his character and resolve, and makes him aware of how to live, even in an age full of hatred, evil, confusion.  It makes him like a tree that never goes dry, like a fruit tree in a perpetual summer.
His delight in the Law is based on the effects God's message has on his life.  He starts by knowing it's right, that it has qualities no other words do. He continues by allowing the teachings God gives him flow into his spirit, enlighten his mind, and direct his life.  This is definitely not about "church," or religion.  It's about God speaking to your soul, telling you things that are only yours, from His message.
God's message to you strengthens you, gives life, gives blessing, makes you productive, makes you continually prosper, wherever you are, whatever you do.
It takes time, though.  A tree doesn't grow up overnight become fruitful and productive, no matter what the conditions.
So the lessons I'm taking away from this for myself are these:
1. Keep reading God's message.
2. Find what's specific for me.
3. Focus on details as well as the big picture. Sometimes it's just a word that gives you His teaching for you today.
4. Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," so I always need to have my ears attuned to Him.  He speaks often.  This morning it was when I was making coffee.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thank You, Lord!

God deserves our thanks.  He does.  Despite the evil in the world we live in, there is so much to enjoy, so many things for which to be grateful.
So here are some of my own "thanksgivings":
I (at least apparently) have been gifted with good health.  I was able to go out on my bike for a while before Thanksgiving dinner, and the day was really beautiful.
Thank you Lord.

I had a very good Thanksgiving meal, and I didn't over-eat.  For those who know me, this was an achievement, but some time ago I pledged to myself and to the Lord to enjoy the quality of my food rather than the quantity.  He's certainly helped with this.

I enjoyed the company of good friends, and good conversation.  I am now enjoying a comfortable chair, and reflecting on the year gone by, with its challenges, problems, and blessings. The blessings have definitely outnumbered the problems and challenges.

Nobody knows what the future holds, but the best thing of all is that I know my life will not end, because I belong to the Lord.  My body, like everyone else's, will not last forever, but I am His and He is mine--forever.

Here are some thoughts on gratefulness by a health doc whom I read with some regularity.  While it is apparent that he and I don't share faith, his thoughts are still very good, and the article is worth a read:

Dr. Mercola's Thanksgiving thoughts


What are YOU thankful for today?  Are you angry inside, full of stress and pain?  Is there something troubling you?  Perhaps it's time to recognize that God has blessed you, and is still doing so.  Put on some praise music.  Read the 23rd Psalm.  Smile.  Remember that if the immediate future isn't so bright, the ultimate future (if you know the Lord) is spectacular. If you're depressed and completely stressed out, think of all the things God has done for you.  If you're at all like me, there is a mountain of blessing, and a molehill of trouble.
Bless God, and He will bless you...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Past, the Present, the Future.

Titus 3:3 For we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.

4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewal by the Holy Spirit;
6 Whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;

7 So that, being justified by his grace, we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Our past is summarized in Titus 3:3.  It's a terrible reality.  Life may have seemed good, but it was full of evil and pain, with no future except more of the same.  How would you like to have no hope that things could ever be different?  This is what the writer's telling us--that until the Son of God, Jesus Christ, nothing could be different, because we were our own worst enemies. Happiness is never part of the equation that includes malice and envy, being hateful and hating each other. It's like acid burning in your heart--you hate.  You are hated.  And that lasts as long as life. 

But then, God poured out His love on us, and His love has the power to wash away all the evil we formerly endured and committed. Think of it! No more rage against each other.  No more walls between people. Nobody wishing you were dead, or using words to destroy you, or wrecking your life with evil they do to you.  And you--no more hatred.  No more venom.  A complete change, yours if you want it, and it's not something you do--it's something that God does for you, through His Son and His Spirit.  Transformation.  Regeneration (although, instead of growing a lost arm or leg, you grow a new heart and spirit). Renewal, so that your life is made over.  And it's abundant, not miserly, offered through Jesus Christ, all for the mere price of allegiance to Him.  Can you imagine a greater gift? It's a gift with the power to change the one thing you can never alter--you. It's the gift that makes enemies into friends, the gift that transforms life into a thing of beauty, the gift that gives for all eternity.

And that's the final point:  This is not a gift that God gives, and then removes.  It is a gift that's eternal, an everlasting offering, a new inheritance, in which you are an heir of the most precious thing ever offered mankind, a solution to the unsolvable problem--an answer to death itself. Once you believe in Christ, you are "an heir according to the hope of eternal life." Want your life changed? Want that changed life to last forever?  
God offers that to you, without price or payment--just for the simple act of faith.  Yours today, if you want it. And it's free.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Power of Right Thinking, Part 3

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure."
In my last post, I discussed the fact that God works.  It's really up to us to work with Him.  Today, I want to consider the first clause in that passage, and specifically the command to work out your own salvation. This is a clear statement that we are responsible for our own Christian life, not for the lives of others.  It's important to understand this, since we are inundated with competing commands (not antithetical) that say things like, "bear one another's burdens," and "if someone is overtaken in a fault [sin], you spiritual ones restore him," and many have taken passages like these to mean that they ought to run other people's lives for them. That's not true.
In addition, if we compare these passages, we see that they are really saying different things, and don't contradict each other at all.
First, we are always responsible for ourselves.  Jesus says this in so many words when He says, "First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Secondly, we are only responsible for others in the sense that sometimes people need our help to "get over" a rough patch in their lives. We can help, but we can't do the work that must go on between them and God.  Ultimately, they are responsible for themselves, and sometimes their desire for "help" is really them saying, "take responsibility for me." You can't do that. God has called them to take responsibility for themselves.
Thirdly, the Scriptures specifically warn us about taking responsibility for the lives of other people: James says, "Let not many of you be teachers, knowing that we shall receive stricter judgment." Many interpreters have taken this to mean, "We will be more strictly judged for our own actions, because we know better." That is a true statement, but it is far more likely that James means we will be judged for the way we taught and guided our brothers and sisters.  In other words, if you take responsibility for someone, then the results of such a decision are at least partly on you, because you advised them.  It's wise to be careful with advice, and not "lord it over people," because that sort of behavior is exactly what gets you stricter judgment. I used to believe that folks who tell you what to do with your life had some sort of special relationship with God.  Sometimes they do, but often they do not. It's important to test the advice that people give you, and make your own decision, since you will ultimately be responsible for that decision and its outcome.
You need to let God guide you, and also use common sense (common sense is often God speaking through the events of your life).  You also need to accept ultimate responsibility for your life, regardless of what people tell you.  I can't even calculate the number of times people have advised me to do/not do something (and I often did it / didn't do it on their advice), and the result was far different than they predicted.  I have found that "working out my own salvation,"is better than letting somebody else decide for me. I am responsible and must take responsibility for myself. As Paul says, "each person must bear his own burden."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Power of Right Thinking, Part 2

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
This verse says that you CAN. You can fail if you choose to do so, but you CAN succeed.  God is in you.  He works in you, for you, and with you. The verse does NOT say, "He can work in you...it says, "He [does] work in you." When you become a Christian, God starts to work.  You can stop Him, but to do so, you have to ignore Him, refuse His power and His help, and reject His will.  It takes effort. You have to try.  On the other hand, if you decide that you want His help, then you will work out your salvation--which means the opposite of "work up to your salvation," as if you did not actually already possess it.  You do already have your salvation, once you believe in Christ.  It's yours.  Your task is to take what God has already given you, and actualize it. Enjoy its opportunities.  Listen to Him as He directs and empowers you. Don't give up on yourself.
This is really all about attitude.  If you think, "I can't do it!" You won't.  If you think, "I don't want to do it," you won't.  However, if you think, "What a great opportunity!" you will get all the help you need, all the direction you want, and all the affirmation you can handle.
It really is your attitude that rules, since God is right there to help you when you let Him.