The Kingdom of Heaven is within!

I have a relative that lives on an island in the Caribbean.  He has often said that he lives in paradise.  During the night on Tuesday, his paradise was demolished.  He lost everything but his dog and his life.  We are extremely grateful that his life was spared.

Many stories emerged this week that make it abundantly clear that the earthly places that we equate with paradise can be destroyed.  However, the true paradise, the Kingdom of Heaven, will never be destroyed.  If it dwells within you, it is your life and can never be taken from you no matter the circumstances.

It will be like the house built upon the rock.  When wind and storm and rain beat against it, nothing, no storm and no attack from hell, can tear it down.

Doers of the Word

 

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This morning I was walking along and came across this scene.  There is one guy down in the hole working hard at digging the hole deeper.  Five guys, some with clipboards, are watching him work.  There must be a reason why they need five to watch and one to work and yet it seems a little absurd.  To me, this picture illustrates one of the many problems in our society.  We are becoming top heavy.  My mother had a saying stenciled on the wall in front of our kitchen sink.  It is no longer politically correct to use this saying, but when we were children it plainly let us know that there were: “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”  Therefore, we’d better get to work!

It seems that everyone wants to be the boss these days and very few want to do the hard physical work.  The bosses give themselves large raises while maintaining the poverty of those few who are doing the labor for which the bosses are being paid.  It’s true that we need administrative help, but do we need so much of it?  One of my relatives works at a small private high school.  He told me this summer that due to recent hiring practices, his school now has thirteen administrators but only eight teachers.  How is that possible?  No wonder tuition is going up nationwide.

It’s not just a problem in our schools and in our nation.  It’s a spiritual problem as well.  James 1:22 warns us not to be that way.  “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”  This Scripture tells us that if we stand around and do nothing while other people are fulfilling God’s will, we are deceiving our own selves.  God wants people of action.  He doesn’t want people who stand around watching and commenting on what others do.  He wants people who will live their faith and who are not afraid to get their hands dirty.  There probably will be plenty of commentary from the watchers.  “You should have done it this way.  Why did you do that?”  But if our motives are to follow after God’s will for our lives, we will be in the right way.

Just as the man digging in the picture is possibly getting a lower salary than those watching him work, we might never receive any kind of natural benefit in this world for doing God’s will. Even so, God is faithful.  Verse 25 tells us, “a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”  Verily, there is a reward for the righteous.

What is faith?

Does having faith mean that you say, “I believe in Jesus Christ?”  Or does it mean that you live a life in a relationship with God your Father?

Galatians 3:7 says that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham.  So, what kind of person was Abraham?  If we want to live a life of faith, shouldn’t we be like our father Abraham?  Abraham started his walk with God by listening to what God told him.  Genesis 12 tells us that the Lord told Abram to leave his country, his extended family, his father’s house and go to a land that God would show to him.  God added that He would bless Abram for doing those things.  The only thing that we know about the results is that “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him.”

That was just the beginning of a long walk with God.  God spoke and Abraham listened.  He proved his faith in what he heard by obeying.  If Abram hadn’t obeyed, we never would have heard anything more about him.  It was his obedience to what he heard that made him an exemplary standout in the midst of that age and even in the midst of all ages afterwards.  To this day, “the faith of Abraham” defines a flawless walk in God.  It was flawless because he never flagged in his faith.  Flawless doesn’t mean that Abraham didn’t have difficult moments where he wondered if he was hearing God correctly.  It didn’t mean that he lived a life of perfection.  His life was filled with difficulties and misunderstandings on his part about what God might have meant in His communications.  After all, Abraham was flying through the fog just as we are.  No one is born with a clearly defined road map explicitly pointing out the exact way that each of us should go.  There is nothing that points to the exact road that will lead us to our destination with no possibility of detours.

However, we do have the possibility to access the same tools that Abraham had: his intense love for his Father God and a desire to please Him.  God also gave us another resource: the Bible.  It not only teaches us right from wrong, but it also recounts to us the stories of others who have followed this way.  Most precious of all, it gives us the words of Jesus and the example of His life.  Abraham did it all without the benefit of such useful and encouraging tools.

So, what about believing in Jesus?   Jesus himself said, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.  If they were children of faith as was Abraham, they would have believed in Jesus.  If we are children of Abraham, children of faith, our faith will lead us straight to Jesus.

After examining the life of our father Abraham, it is clear that living a life of faith means living without constant confirmation that we are on the right way.  God gives us enough light to see the portion of the path that we are travelling today.  We trust that God is giving us that light and that it is leading us towards a great destination.  We follow His will for us today, knowing that it will lead us to tomorrow where there will be another will for our lives.  And on it goes, a never-ending, spiraling upwards trajectory leading us closer our Father.

Listening!

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At the botanical gardens – quietness enters my soul.  Without the external hustle of this world, God’s Word comes more easily.  Listening.

This morning I was reading a passage from the Psalms.  I like to read a different translation from time to time.  Sometimes it gives me a new perspective on a topic.  The passage was Psalms 81:8 – 16 in the Smith and Goodspeed translation.

“Listen, O my people, while I warn you; if you would but listen to me, O Israel!  There would be no strange god among you; nor would you bow down to a foreign god.  I, the LORD, am your God; he who brought you up from the land of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth that I may fill it.  But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me.  So I gave them over to their own self-will, that they might follow their own devices.  If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would only walk in my ways, I would quickly humble their foes, and turn my hand against their enemies.  Those who hate the LORD would fawn upon him, and terror would be upon them forever; but he would be fed with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock would I satisfy you.”

Self will or God’s will?  It’s either one or the other.  They both cannot exist in the same space.  These two wills are constantly at odds.

It has to be a deliberate choice to stop the self plans and let God lay out his plans.  To get God’s view for this moment or this day or this life, I have to lay aside my self-will.  Forget about it.  Let it go.  See what God has in mind.  Let’s make a deal.  Self will is only going to get us in trouble anyway.  Let’s really listen.

Listening naturally to the world around us, we surrender our own thoughts to hear the sound of birds chirping, little bees buzzing and light breezes passing through.  Such wonderful music for our ears!  Listening spiritually to our Father, we surrender our own will to hear what he has to say.  A reverential symphony for our soul!

Heaven is a choice

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In this photo, there is only one road to choose from to get through Crawford Notch in New Hampshire.  In life, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation with only one way out.  Most of the time, however, we are making choices all the day long.  For example, I go to the store, choose various kinds of food, bring it home and put it all in my pantry.  Of course, what I bought was a choice.  Later on, when I go looking for something to eat, what do I pick out?  If day after day I pick marshmallows and candy bars, pretty soon I’m going to be sick.  In the long run if I continue making the same choices, my body will be depleted of its energy since I have chosen not to give it anything with any trace of nutrients in it.  My body would be running on empty and I would pay the consequences of my choices with ill health, which would in turn lead to my eventual demise.

It’s the same with my choices for both my behavior and my attitude.  When I was young, my parents chose many things for me in their role of guardianship over me.  When I grew up, my boss made some of those choices for me, but it was my choice to submit to them.  Once I am an adult, just as I choose what goes into my mouth, I also choose what my physical body does.  My heart tells my brain what it desires and my brain tells my tongue what to say, and my hands what to do.  That leads me to the main choice that no one can control but me.  It’s my heart’s attitude.  My attitude is entirely my own.  No one can dictate to me how I should look at something.  So, no matter what the situation, I can always choose to look at it as coming from God and know that it is for my good.  I can always choose a good attitude.

Every day my heart is making choices.  Let it choose righteousness, truth and love.  Day by day, as we make our choices in the seemingly small details of our lives, we are choosing heaven.

Different, but working together!

Men have such an amazing ability to focus on one thing at a time.  It is their strength.  I’ve written about it before (1/20/13).  However, at the time I first wrote about it, I didn’t add to it the perspective of how the strength of women is to see all of the potential results of their own actions and the actions of others.  These two very different strengths ought to compliment one another, but sometimes they come into sharp contrast with the troubling result of starting an argument.

What happened around here this morning is a great example of how these abilities could try to divide us.  This morning, my husband and I were going to go to a Bible study meeting.  We usually bring a large pot of coffee along with us for the participants.  Before we left, he wanted to wash up some of the dishes that were in the sink.  However, it was starting to get late and I was thinking of the repercussions of being late.  He was focused on finishing the dishes.  Maybe you’re already seeing where this is headed.  He picked up the rather large filter for the coffee pot and said that he was going to get rid of the grounds.  I asked him not to.  I had two reasons for that, both of which seemed valid to me and both of which seemed difficult to explain to him on the spur of the moment.  I thought that it was getting late and I wanted him to finish with the dishes already so we could leave and also, the grounds were still hot and I didn’t want him to put them on my outdoor plants while they were still hot.

While those thoughts were still percolating in my brain, he was already reacting, complaining that I always tell him not to do this, not to do that.  We carried on in silence for a while until a little light bulb went off revealing what had just happened.  Like a man, he was completely focused on getting those pesky dishes done, convinced that he was making me happy by doing it.  At the same time, my brain was visualizing all of the ramifications of him continuing with the dishes while time was moving on and of what would result from him throwing the hot grounds on my beloved plants.  He was doing what men do best, focusing, and I was thinking like a woman.

Men and women both have their innate strengths.  If we can recognize them for what they are, we can work together and become a stronger couple instead of reacting and resenting one another for being different.  Men need to be able to focus intently on what they’re doing.  It helps them to do a great job.  And women need to be able to think of all the possibilities of what might happen because of their actions.  Their precautionary wisdom keeps us from doing too much damage to ourselves.  Using our talents and working together, we are really strong.  In the case of what happened this morning, once we talked about it, we could each see what the other was doing and laugh at ourselves a bit, all the while appreciating each other for our differences.  Vive la différence!

A simple hike leads to this stunning panorama

I’ve changed the picture at the top of my page.  There is a little story behind the photo.  Recently, my husband and i went camping for a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We love hiking but at the outset of our vacation our hiking legs usually need an upgrade.  On the first day, we went on a lovely and not too demanding hike to the top of Mount Willard.  The view from the top is outstanding and I recommend it highly.  The second day we went to Arethusa Falls.  It was about as demanding as the first day’s hike and the beauty of the falls was incredible.  On the third day, we just began hiking without really knowing our destination, but God knew where we were going.  After about an hour and a half of hiking we had to choose: continue upwards to the summit of Mount Jackson or head downwards to see another falls?  Well, we prefer to do our hard work of upward climbing first, so we headed up.

The description of the “moderately difficult” climb did not prepare us for the rest of the hike up the mountain.  It was NOT moderate, at least not in my definition of the word.  Very near the end, we met a man with a young boy coming down and the man encouraged us to go on because, as he said, “It’s only a few minutes to the top.”  I thought, “If a kid can do it, I can too.”  Hehe.  Those few minutes necessitated scrambling over enormous boulders with only a few small branches on the sides to hang onto.  But then … we reached the top.  John went first and told me to try to make it.  He said it would be worth it.  At the top was a panorama perhaps a hundred times more beautiful than the picture you see at the top of my page.  There were no trees, so you could see 360 degrees around.  Mount Washington rose in the distance and the valley that we had come from meandered much further below us than I had imagined.  We took a lot of pictures and gaped in awe of God’s creation that remains so beautiful in spite of what man has done to it.  The wind began to whistle and the clouds foretold a possible change in the weather and so we had to tear ourselves away from that gorgeous spot.  I think that it will always remain in my mind as the most amazing and beautiful view I have ever seen, the view of a lifetime.

A simple hike on a normal day.  We started out, not knowing where we were going.  Life is like that.  We start out not knowing our path or where it will lead us, but we keep on climbing.  I would like to encourage everyone out there to keep on climbing.  Choose the way up.  It may be difficult, even more difficult than you had anticipated, but when you get to the top, the view will be more beautiful than anything you could have imagined.  God can show you things in this life that will stay with you forever.  Those views will encourage you through the hard times and lead you onward.  Take the risk.  God is so worth it.  He is the summit of all summits, the panorama of all panoramas.