Life is full of purpose

This morning’s reading in a daily Bible podcast was from Ecclesiastes.  In chapters four through six, Solomon repeats many times that everything is just vanity.  He seems to say that there is no purpose to life on earth.  Solomon was for most of his life a very wise man.  In fact, in the same chapters there are many very wise sayings, but he was a naturally minded man.  He did not have the faith of his father, David.  It would be easy to find fault with Solomon and dismiss much of the book of Ecclesiastes, but perhaps the greatest lesson in this book is its warning to me.  How many times do I say, “What’s the use?”  “What’s the point of continuing in this job?”  Or, “why bother?”  When I think like that, I am thinking like Solomon, a naturally minded human being.

The second reading this morning came from 2 Corinthians 6.  It says that we should separate ourselves from unbelievers because we are the temple of God Almighty and He will live in us, walk in us and be our God and we will be His people.  Connecting that idea to the lessons in Ecclesiastes, if I’m a naturally minded person, I will stay home and separate myself from anyone who doesn’t believe the same as me.  However, the most important separation needs to be inside of me.  We should all separate out of us whatever thinks as Solomon did and banish those thoughts that believe that there is no point.  Is there no purpose in our lives?  Are we just natural human beings?  Or does God direct us and have a purpose in every person we meet, in every situation we encounter every single day?

Let’s remember, think on these things and have faith that we are the temple of the living God and that all the things that happen to us in our daily lives are working together for good because we do love God and are called according to his purpose in our lives.  (Romans 8:28)  He is constantly directing our paths and doing His best to bring us into a higher light.  Life is very full of purpose.  If we can’t see it, we have only to ask Him.

Strong families – a crucial need in troubled times

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Violence wracks our nation.  Each time we collectively experience another mass shooting, we all grieve the loss of life, of innocence and of liberty.  We search for answers.  The newspapers search for motives.  The police search the shooter’s home, computer and affiliations.  Where and how did he/she get the gun?  Was he/she bullied?  We blame guns, mental illness, video games or the ease of finding extremist ideas on the internet.

Perhaps there is not just one answer, but we can all do something.  Whether we believe in gun control or greater protection, we can still change something in our lives to create a better society.  Parenthood.  Many of us have lost the art of parenthood.  While our lives have gotten busier, we have willingly handed over the authority over our children to “the experts.”  Who are these experts?  Teachers?  Counselors?  Therapists?  Teachers are responsible for teaching children. Parents are responsible for raising their children.

We need TRUCES!  Children who are the beneficiaries of these following qualities do not go out and shoot up strangers at a mall or a public event.

Time – If a family is to become a true family, it requires time together on a daily basis – breakfasts, dinners, conversation, true communication on what’s happening in each person’s life.  Put down the cell phones.  Remove the earbuds.  Turn off the TV.  Talk!  Smile at one another.  Forget the stresses of the outside world and enjoy each other’s company.  Most importantly, we have to give them our time persistently, especially when they negotiate the turbulent teenage years.

Respect – We should never call our children by derogatory names (I have heard parents call their children snot face, butt head, dumb bell, etc), but we should honor the life of God in them.  Respect what is good in them.  Observe your children and discover what they are good at.  Commend them for those things and if necessary, help them develop the gifts and abilities that you  see.

Unconditional Love – We must always love them with a feelable love, even when they’ve done something to test our patience.  Unconditional love wants the best for each child but it does not give them everything they want.  It makes decisions based on the best interests of the child.  Unconditional love is forever, even when children become teens and test everything that we stand for.

Consistency – We need to give them the rules, rules that will guide them in life, and let them know what will happen when they break those rules.  Then we need to maintain our integrity by applying the appropriate discipline.  When we’re consistent with discipline in whatever form we choose, they get the message.  Children who have a certain discipline in their lives (without an overabundance of rigidity) are happy and more secure.  They can hang on when the emotional teenage years bombard them with unhealthy and even dangerous choices.  Consistency is dauntless and yet not entirely without compassion.

Energy – We must find a way to renew our strength and energy either daily or at least weekly – either with prayer, meditation or time to reflect on what’s happening in our lives.  If we are frayed at all of our edges, we cannot keep up with the pace and responsibilities of parenthood.

Sacrifice – We have to be willing to give up a lot for the benefit of our children.  Sometimes it means the sacrifice of what we wanted to do with our time.  It could be giving up something financially so that we can offer our children extra lessons in piano, sports, art or ballet.  It most often personally means that I have to give up what I want to do at this moment because my child has a need that must be met.  I have to put down my phone and listen or, more important yet, I have to start the conversation with my child by asking a few focused questions.  Sacrifice is always important, but it may become more compelling as lives get busier and the children get older.

We need to understand that all parents make mistakes.  When it happens, we should own up to it and be ready and willing to change our behavior.

We as a nation need a re-education, a re-involvement and a renewed respect of parenthood.  Parents have lost the tools with which they used to raise responsible children.  Maybe some of those old tools were flawed.  Okay, but let’s not throw everything overboard.  Let’s create new tools within the new framework.  Do new parents need an app to show them how to deal with discipline, tantrums and responsibility?  Then let someone with gifts in creating apps create something together with someone who understands the needs of children.  Do parents need a new awareness of their own responsibilities?  Then let’s have a national program (or many local ones!) or an outreach to raise such awareness – never to usurp parents’ authority, but to enhance it and protect it.

It may take a village, but most of all, it takes parents who are there and who are engaged in this lifelong process called parenthood.

 

 

An Encouraging Springtime Thought

Isaiah 61-11

Creator: Thomas_A_Clark
Copyright: TAC. Photography
No copyright infringement is intended

This morning I was looking for encouraging scriptures for a daughter who is having a rough time right now.  I found this beautiful photo with Isaiah 61:11 in it.  This Scripture encourages me so much.

Every year, I make a little garden.  I plant the seeds, add compost or composted manure and water them faithfully.  Sometimes it seems as if they will never come up.  I wait.  Sometimes, I water more and wait some more.  Then suddenly, one day, perhaps even when all hope for my little seeds was nearly lost, up pops a tiny shoot.  That tiny shoot, the fulfillment of my hope, reaches for the sun and soaks up all the nutrients it needs to become a mature plant.

Is there a year when spring fails to come?  When the buds fail to come out of their winter hiding place?  When leaves don’t unfurl themselves at the appointed time?  Spring is our hope come alive.  It arrives every year without fail, whether at the time we had wished for or a bit later.  I think that we don’t appreciate spring’s reliability enough.  We anticipate it and love it when it comes, but how thankful are we for the dependableness of spring?  In all of my years, there has never been a spring that did not arrive.  That is amazing!  Thank God!

Well, as assuredly as the little plant bursts out of its seed cocoon, as assuredly as spring arrives each year, so will a time come when all creation will praise God, when God will cause righteousness and praise to bloom before every nation.  It will happen!  Let’s pray for that.  Let’s thank God for that day as much as we thank Him for the beautiful spring days that we enjoy.  We have so much to look forward to and to be thankful for!

Isaiah 61:11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

They fell for the miracles; they didn’t fall for the truth.

Motivation.  No one does anything without it.  We all need motivation to get up in the morning, motivation to go to school or work, motivation to turn off the TV and get up off the sofa.  It has never been otherwise.

When Jesus, the king of heaven, was walking here on earth, the people that ran into him had many different motivations for seeking him out.  There were probably as many motivations as there were people.

  • For some it was the miracles.  John 12:9 says that “Much people” found out that he was in Bethany.  Perhaps we could say today that hoards of people found out that he was in Bethany and came “not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead.”  So, it wasn’t really for the truth, but because of the stupendous miracle that Jesus had done.
  • For others it was the food that he provided.  John 6:26 says that the people did not look for him because of the miracles, but because of the bread that he had given them.  They were hungry and the bread had filled them up for a few hours.
  • For Judas, it was the money.  He appeared to be concerned with the poor, but the apostle John noted that, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein (John 12:6).”
  • For a very few, it was the truth.  Jesus told a crowd of people that he was the living bread and that they had to eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood or they would have no life in them.  (John 6:53)  Some people thought he was a nut case and said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Even his disciples had no idea what he was talking about.  The spiritual correspondence flew completely over their heads, but Peter, in spite of his confusion, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”  Here’s a guy that was there for the truth, nothing else.

It’s clear from these examples that the majority of the people in Jesus’ day were not motivated to find Jesus for the truth’s sake.  What is motivating our lives?  Sometimes we deceive ourselves about our motivations.  It takes a careful, clear and objective view of our lives to find out why we do the things that we do.  Are we looking for approval?  Do we want a lot of “likes” on social media?  Is our reputation the main focus of our lives?  Is money the reason we head into the office in the morning?  We all do need money to live, but is that the only reason we go?  Some are looking for power and others for control.  Every one of these reasons is a sham.

If every shred of natural, material motivations are taken from us, if our religious or spiritual life does nothing to improve our outward natural life in any way, would we still love Jesus just for his truth alone?  The Scriptures below make it abundantly clear that it’s the truth that needs to be the focus of our lives.

Truth image

Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Jeremiah 45:5 And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not:

The Scriptures say that it is the love of the truth that saves us.  2 Thessalonians 2:10 “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”

John 8:32  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

TRUTH

My kingdom is not of this world

 

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was led into the wilderness and was tempted there for forty days.  In one of the temptations, the devil took him up to a high mountain and offered him to have power over all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5 – 8).  Now, we know that Jesus wasn’t into a power trip, but could the temptation for him have been, well Jesus, look at how you could influence the world!  You could do so much good if you ruled all of the kingdoms in the world!  Just think of it, Jesus!  Satan is slick.  He always makes things look and feel so glorious and enticing.  Jesus did not flinch.  He refused the offer and rebuked the devil.  Through tremendous personal sacrifice, he maintained the vision God had given him of the work he had to do.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, his friend Lazarus died.  Jesus went and raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days.  People from miles around heard of it and came to Jerusalem.  They broke off branches from palm trees and went off to meet him and shouted, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”  (John 12:9 – 13)  This moment could have turned into a groundswell movement to make Jesus the King of Israel.  Again, Jesus could have been tempted with the thought of how much good he could do if he were king.  Think of it.  Put yourself in his place.  What would you do?  He could end Roman rule over Israel.  He could bring in a natural kingdom of heaven on earth.  He had power to heal people.  He could have changed the natural situation of Israel.

What did Jesus do?  He found a donkey to sit on.  This is not exactly a golden throne fit for a king.  Shortly afterwards when foreigners from Greece came to see him, Jesus said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.”  And what did he mean by that?  Was it a splendid kingly glory?  Glorified sounds like something spectacular.  He continued on, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”  (Jo 12:24)  He knew that in spite of the people’s apparently spectacular acceptance of him at that moment, he would soon die an agonizing death.  Once again he never flinched.  He knew that his was not a natural kingdom.  The glory was not a natural glory.   “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”  (Luke 17:21)

We look around ourselves these days and it’s hard to see the Kingdom of God some days.  We watch the news and read about what is going on in the world and there is precious little of God’s kingdom described there.  However, the Kingdom of God does not come by observation.  How does it come then?  It comes when we put God’s truth into practice a little more day by day.  It comes when we do our best to keep not only the Ten Commandments, but also Jesus’ commandments.  We only have to read Matthew five and six to know that Jesus had commandments.  Think of a world where Christians are living epistles of Matthew five and six!  Amazing!

Jesus did not come to be a natural king with a natural kingdom.  He came to bear witness to the truth and everyone that is of the truth hears his voice.  (John 18:37)  If we live his truth, we are bringing the Kingdom of God more and more into ourselves and therefore into this world.  It makes a path for others to follow.  It makes it easier for others to see what God can do and to desire to follow that same path.  It inspires people.  It doesn’t inspire everyone, but it inspires people who are of the truth.  We don’t seek great things in this world; we just live the truth and leave the rest up to God.

 

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Is there any time in our lives when God is NOT with us?

“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”  (Matthew 28:20)  God is with us in the high times and in the low.

In the course of his life, Jesus had remarkably wonderful high times, times of mighty miracles, of walking on water, walking with his disciples, and sharing meals with people searching for truth.  The Scriptures do not record Jesus’ feelings about those events.  We can, however, imagine that they were times for joy as he watched the seed of God’s kingdom come alive in people’s lives.  During his short life, he also had incredibly low times.  After he was told about John the Baptist’s death, he went away for a while into a desert place.  (Matthew 14:13)  We can only wonder about his feelings about his cousin’s death.  It must have been a time of great reflection for him.  There were also other times when he had to go off into the wilderness by himself to pray, a time when he sweat as it were great drops of blood and a time when he even seemed to wonder if God were still with him as he was dying on the cross.  (Matthew 27:46)

It’s easy to believe that God was with him when he multiplied the loaves of bread and the fish and when the people were praising God after he raised Lazarus from the dead, but God was also with him in his times of temptation.  He was with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was with him on the cross when all but a few of his disciples and his mother had left him.  He must have felt so alone.  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

There are days for us when we feel incredibly close to God, and life makes it easy for us to be kind and generous.  Everything we do seems to bring forth fruit.  Then there are those other days, days when we question whether we even love God at all.  Where did all the love disappear to?  We hang on by faith that those high times were real and that they will return as suddenly as they disappeared.  It was so kind of Jesus to experience all of these feelings, even in a greater magnitude, so that he could leave an example for us when we feel alone and separated from God.  Along with his sterling examples, he left us the encouraging words to uplift us.  “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

After all of the ups and downs we finally learn that life is not about always being on a high.  It’s about learning from our low times and overcoming them through faith that God is with us even in those depths.  It’s about the grace of God that brings us back to the high times and the remembering of how it feels so that it will increase our faith in preparation for the next time that loneliness and doubt creep in.  The knowledge that He is there continues to grow and strengthen His life in us, His kingdom coming alive in us and that makes all the difference.

Lo, I am with you alway.

 

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Youth Activism for a New Generation

sky earth galaxy universe

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

SAVE OUR EARTH!

On the Ides of March this year, young people around the world held climate strikes to protest what is happening to our environment on our beautiful planet.  It’s wonderful that today’s young people want to step up and do something to improve our beloved earth.  Certainly, our weary earth could use a little support together with some positive changes.  Along with the protests, I heard a few short clips of young people talking about why they were protesting.  Some of them said that climate change is the biggest current threat to human life.  One young lady was lamenting the condition of the world and her future.  She laid the blame on older generations and she said something to the tune of “We just want a world like you had.”

Her words struck me as (at best) uninformed.  Really?  You want the world that we had?  We had the Cuyahoga River filled with so much debris and pollution that it caught on fire.  We had so much air pollution that the skies over Detroit and many other major cities were red.  What we did not have was recycling programs or trash to energy plants.  We had Three Mile Island and superfund sites.  In our youth, we had rampant discrimination against blacks and lynchings.  We had Emmett Till, the Mississippi Burning civil rights murders, and the Birmingham Baptist Church murders.  Then we had the civil rights demonstrations where people were tear gassed and water cannoned.  We had the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X.

We should never desire to go back in time or wish that we could have something other than our current situation.  Our generation made it possible for the new generation to worry about single use plastic bags, bottles, cups and boxes.  Our generation created recycling programs and trash to energy plants and closed down many nuclear power plants.  We demonstrated for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.  Although some of us embraced chemical fertilizers and GMO crops, others of us began organic gardening, seed saving and the Environmental Protection agency.  So, quit blaming the preceding generations.  Now it’s time for you to step up to the plate.

Your generation has awesome ideas.  Put all of your boundless energy to a positive use.  Many of your generation are creating ways to clean up the oceans, end the use of plastic bags in grocery stores.  Do some research.  Find out what the problems really are and create solutions that will not only work, but also add something positive to our earth.  Remember that you too will leave a legacy.  Leave one that you will feel proud of one day, and when your children reach their age of maturity, don’t let them tell you that they wish that they could have what you had.  Remind them that you had issues too and that you dealt with those issues and that they should not look back, but look forward and use their energy to solve the problems of their day.

Check out Regeneration International, a group that is not just going organic but is trying to leave the earth BETTER than it was before.  (https://regenerationinternational.org/)  We don’t have to continue to hack down our forests and destroy the earth with mountains of chemical fertilizers.  We can improve.  We can go one step further than previous generations.  You can.  You can do it, but don’t waste your precious energy blaming generations before you. They did their best.  They didn’t know what you now know about plastics.  Create something better.  It’s all inside you.  Let it grow.