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, and now I'm working my way through the New Testament. I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel for better coverage. I'm still writing, of course, and my written posts appear here.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Fury and Kindness In Is. 63:

Isaiah 63 begins with fury. For you who think that God is only a God of mercy, this is a confusing chapter, until you get to verse 7.
Nobody likes judgment. We all want to escape it. So when the Bible says this,

"It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment," everyone gets a chill or two--because we are included in that judgment, and we secretly wonder, "How will I fare?" Isaiah 63 is like that. It focuses first on the terrible fury of God, how His Messiah is not all sunlight and roses, but tough judgment as well:
Is. 63:1-6:
1   Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? "It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save."
2 Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press?
3 "I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment.
4 "For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come.
5 "I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me, And My wrath upheld Me.
6 "I trod down the peoples in My anger And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth."

Here we see, at the beginning of the chapter, that God (His Messiah), comes in "righteousness, mighty to save." First, however, is utter destruction to His enemies, with no mercy, no pity. It's easy to think that God has changed His mind about His mercy, but the point is that there are always two classes of people: People to whom God shows mercy, and people to whom He shows His judgment and fury. These two classes are self-determining, in the sense that they decide who they are, and you are in one class or the other. There is NO third class of people who "may" get mercy, or "may" get judgment. It's always just the two.

So here's how God looks at the second class of people:
Is. 63:7-9:
7 I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.
8 For He said, "Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely." So He became their Savior.
9 In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.

He wanted to save them. He DID save them. In Egypt. In the days of the judges. With King David, and many more times. However, these same people managed to move themselves from God's mercy to God's judgment, because they rejected Him:

Is. 63:10:
10 But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them...

And then, of course, when they all saw the judgment arrive, they wanted to get rid of that terrible experience, so they turned back to God, but still they were plagued with the suffering they caused themselves, the consequences of their deeds:

Is. 63:11-19:

11 Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them,
12 Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name,
13 Who led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble;
14 As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So You led Your people, To make for Yourself a glorious name.
"You Are Our Father" 
15 Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me.
16 For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us And Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.
17 Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.
18 Your holy people possessed Your sanctuary for a little while, Our adversaries have trodden it down.
19 We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, Like those who were not called by Your name.

This is an awful result--longing for mercy, compassion and grace, but unable to find it, because the suffering is not over; God has not returned. This is a pattern for many of us. We find Him. We serve Him. We fail Him. We repent. The consequences of our foolishness are still with us. It happens. The answer, of course, is that we have to "wait it out," sometimes till we meet Him face to face, other times He reverses His judgments and we gain relief from the consequences of our deeds.

It is especially difficult when we are in situations like this to be honest with ourselves, and say, "These things happened because of ME." in Isaiah's case, he's referring to the national tragedy that literally destroyed their nation--their attachment to idols and the practices related to them. It would take me hours to describe all these evils, but here's a small quote: "Even their sons and their daughters have they burned in the fire..." The practices of idolatry, as a later writer tells us, are Satanic in nature, and pollute and destroy the people who do them. God, in His wise and righteous judgment, will not let this continue, and punishes the people who worship these false gods. In the same way, when we obsess over something, and let it rule our lives, it becomes a "spiritual idol," which Satan then uses against us. We think we are "OK," just like the drunk or drug addict who believes he's all right and "can control his habit." Of course we are not "OK." We are in the process of destroying ourselves with this "thing," or things.
What's especially tragic is that we often justify this behavior ("I have to have those drugs to keep me going;" "I need this sexual experience;" "Money is good...")
The truth is that ANY thing that becomes an idol is BAD. It destroys you, and the consequences you experience will override whatever you get from that "thing."
The answer, of course, is still to repent, and then wait. God shows His mercy right away, gives you back His love and compassion, but you may, as Israel did, find that your daily experiences come as the result of your past sins. You will often have to wait for Him to let these things work their way out of your life.
They will. It may take time--even all the way to your final hours and your meeting with Him at the Throne of God, but there you will receive His full mercy, the days of your pain will end, and He will wipe away all the tears from your eyes.
Sometimes it just takes time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Life WITH God.

I  assume that  many who read this blog, or watch the videos, are Christian. So today I'm writing directly to you, but indirectly to anyone who wants to seek God and have His presence fill their lives from day to day.
Christians don't all have a "Life with God." Every Christian CAN, of course, but not all do. The question is "Why?" Of course, the first question is, "What is that "life with God" that you're writing about?" and the answer is that it's the life you were intended to have by the Almighty, in full and constant communication with Him at all times--but something has gone wrong. A life with God can be defined as one in which God is always consciously present in our spirits, and where He is able to communicate with us as He desires (He IS always present, but sometimes we miss Him, and sometimes badly.). In other words, from our side, "we have our ears on," and we are ready to hear what He has to say and follow the directions He has to give.

Here are some thoughts on the "how" of gaining and maintaining communication with the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ:

  1. The Problem: We may not actually want to hear what He has to say. Lots of things hurt our ability to communicate with Him: guilt, fear, anger, envy, sexual desire, unrequited love, greed, and so forth. When these things, or any of them, rule our lives, they are like terrible smells that prevent us from smelling the roses in our gardens. In the same way, God's Spirit is always seeking to communicate with us, but if our attention is elsewhere (that cool guy, that pretty girl, how much money), we don't hear. His voice is muted. Of course, it's good to want someone in your life, and you have to have money, but I'm talking about focus at this point. Sometimes we have only one thing in focus in our lives, and we miss everything else (which is why Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and Money," Matt. 6:24). However, here's the way to prevent messing up the life we can have life with Him, and still enjoy the good things in the world around us--our temporal life:
  2. Don't make this thing you want an idol. You may love him or her, you may want that job, that car, that vacation, but you have to allow your desire to be subject to your desire for God and His will ("Delight yourself in the LORD, and HE will give you the desires of your heart"--Ps. 37:4). It's not the easiest thing, but you can do it, and the way is to maintain communication with Him. Of course, there's the added benefit: Putting Him first (delighting in Him) gets you more of what you want than making the "thing" your goal. How to do this? On your side, it's two things: Let Him be first, and listen to Him. That's not always easy, especially if there is something you really want, or you feel overwhelming guilt over some issue in your life. However, you can do it, if you practice. Here's the thing. The spiritual life IS mostly practice. It involves paying attention to the truly important, and minimizing your attention on the less important. What's important? First, the things that are forever. That's MOST important. Then, things that last a lifetime. That's second. Finally, the stuff that changes.
  3. Most of us invert the order above--we pay attention to the stuff that matters least, and focus on those things, rather than paying attention to the most important things and focusing on them. The only thing it takes to change this is refocusing once you find that your focus has changed, and the MOST important takes a back seat. I have a couple tools to help you with that:
  4. First off, read your Bible. You will get God's perspective on life, the world, yourself, your spouse, girlfriend, children, money, your job, everything. Note that I did NOT say "go to church." You should, but the most important thing in your life is to allow God to speak to you personally. He does that through both His Word (the Bible) and His Spirit, but when you read you can consciously eliminate your focus on all else and pay attention to Him alone. He speaks to us through His Spirit, but there are lots of deceiving influences around, and the Bible puts our minds right--it "fixes us," so to speak. Of course, you have to be listening to get anything out of it, so listen.
  5. Next, listen for the promptings of His Spirit. I can't tell you exactly how this works, and after over a half century as a Christian, I can tell you that I don't do it as well as I should, but listening to Him and doing what He says will benefit you more in the long run than anything else you do. Of course, you shouldn't exclude the Bible from your listening times, because sometimes God seems to speak directly to us through His Word. Other times, we are gathering information and help for the future.
  6. Most times, prayer helps as much as anything. Many times I awaken at night, exercised about something(s), and I pray until I fall back asleep. God has sustained me and answered me many times this way. You ought always to be close enough to God to pray about anything He lays on your heart (speaks to you about), and respond to Him when He speaks further
The single most important thing I can say about these 6 things is PRACTICE. Practice makes possible things you thought you could never do--and one of the main ones is to be a truly spiritual person in the world we live in, difficult as it is. 
You can do it. You will not fail, if only you apply yourself and practice.