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.

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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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Is emotion the guiding force of our lives?

Last week I was listening to the radio.  The talk show host told a story about a Dutch man who is 69 years old.  In spite of his senior status, the man feels much younger and his doctor told him that he has the body of a man 20 years younger than his actual age.  Rather than feeling content about this revelation, the man has decided to sue his government to make them allow him to change his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels rather than reflecting the years that he has spent on this earth.  Absolute insanity.

Principle.  The world has thrown it overboard.  I don’t know when it actually happened, but in the last several decades, there has been an increasing progression towards emphasizing how you feel.  Do you feel like a winner?  Well, then you must be one even though you lost.  Do you feel love for your spouse?  Or have life’s troubles made you lose that initial spark?  Forget the commitment that you made.  Throw the bum out.

My daughter teaches in a school overseas.  As a lead teacher for two middle school grades, she is responsible to deal with problems that arise and with parents that may have questions or problem children.  She has had kids that fight with others, that cut themselves, that bully, and that want to commit suicide.  These children have been thrown under the bus by adults who focus everything on how a person feels.  Middle school children are notoriously emotional.  They feel really up or really down; they feel a little wild or don’t even know how they feel.  They have been given no anchor to their soul, nothing to hold onto in the midst of all this frenzy.  So, of course they turn to things like cutting or total despair.  Their feelings have nothing to hold them in.

In years gone by, many couples weathered severely trying times as a couple, times that threatened to tear them apart.  However, even though their emotions were desperately frayed, they had an anchor.  Their commitment was a vow between them.  They stood on that principle and eventually the storm passed and love returned stronger than ever.  My parents were one such couple.  They weathered many such storms, held on for dear life and grew from their experience.  Their marriage lasted 75 years, the last of which they spent holding hands at one another’s side.

Sometimes we feel as though our world has gone insane.  It has.  An emotion that is left to run wild becomes insane.  Principle holds us.  It keeps our emotions from getting the best of us.  When everything tells us to give up, principle is the anchor of our life.  We hold on for dear life and the eternal principle of faith gets us to the other side of the tumult.

Godly principle holds in emotions that have gone astray.  Godly emotions soften principles that are too hard and fast.  Together they bring a person through the choppy seas of this life.  When we arrive at the far shore, we are stronger, wiser, and kinder.  Our principles have guided our emotions and our emotions have become soft and caring, sweet and wise.  I remember the movie, Parenthood, with Steve Martin.  At the end, the couple is riding a wild roller coaster.  That roller coaster that we call life can bring us safely to the end of its journey, but what if there were nothing to hold it back from flinging us off of its highest peak or one of its most dangerous curves?  Principle holds us to the tracks.  Sometimes we need the sheer force of gravity or the security of seat belts to hold us while our familiar world is being shaken.

We must teach our children principles.  It will give them structure to their lives.  They will have the emotions.  The principles will show them the way and carry them through the trials that they will undoubtedly face.  My age is a fact of life.  No feeling that I allow myself to convince my mind that I am twenty years younger than my actual age will change my actual age.  No matter how much I want to be a bird and fly away, I am still in a human body for the rest of my natural life.  To believe that I am a bird and can fly because I feel like one is just insanity.  Believing that lie will not make me a stronger person.  It will just cause me to try to fly out of a tree and fall on my face.  Emotion without principle is just a wisp in the wind.  The slightest puff of wind will blow it away.

   Matthew 24:35 (NIV) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Isaiah 40:8 (NIV) The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

 

Building the temple of God

1 Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

As Christians, we sometimes neglect to read the Old Testament because we sometimes think either that it is no longer relevant or that Jesus’ life’s work was so overwhelming that we’d rather concentrate on reading about him than delve into those old stories of kings and prophets.  However, the Old Testament stories have so many shadows and prophecies of wonderful things to come that it is sometimes just as overwhelming to read those old stories.

This morning I found myself in just such a situation.  I was listening to a Bible podcast, and the reader was reading from 1 Chr 28.  In this passage, David is at the end of his life, and God has told him that it is not for him to build a house for the Lord, but rather for his son to build it.  David loved the Lord so intensely and had such a passionate desire to build a house for the Lord.  Imagine his disappointment when he could not accomplish it!  Instead, he gathered building materials: gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and precious stones 1 Chr 29: 2).  He gave his son, Solomon, the pattern for the house.  He did everything that he could possibly do to make it easier for his son to build the temple of the Lord.  He encouraged his son and told him to be strong and of good courage (1 Chr 28:20, 21).  Then he prayed to the Lord and asked him to give Solomon a perfect heart to keep all of God’s commandments, testimonies and statutes.  He blessed the congregation as well.

As I was listening to the story, a beautiful picture began to form in my mind.  Just as David provided everything that his son would need to build the temple and to worship the Lord in the temple, so did our Lord and Savior do for us.  Jesus was not able to finish setting up a glorious kingdom of God on earth.  By that, I mean that it didn’t happen naturally in his lifetime.  During his life, he prepared all of the materials that anyone living after him would need in order to build that temple of God in their hearts.  He left words, advice and even commandments for those who love him to follow so that they might also become his disciples in their sojourn on earth.  He left a pattern to follow.  At the end of his life, just as David prayed for his son, Jesus prayed for his disciples and future sons and daughters and left us beautiful verses in the gospel of John so that we too could know that his kingdom is within and that we can live in this world and yet be kept from the evil of it, so that we too could be one with the Father and have His kingdom living in and through us.

Jesus was not exactly like David.  David was a man of war and had killed many men.  Jesus only warred with spirits, but otherwise was a man of great love and wisdom.  At the same time, David had a passionate love for God.  Likewise, God was the all in all for Jesus.  God was his only love and desire.  Everything he did was to bring out God in the lives of those he met.  What a beautiful treasure he left us!  We can grab onto the raw building materials, which are his words and we can live them and build our own temple for the Lord so that he will live in us as well.  We truly are the temple of the living God and the Spirit of God lives in us (1Co 3:16).  May the Lord’s words and deeds live strongly in your life.  Thank you, Jesus!

If you see something, say something

 

Tuesday was a spectacular day, high on blue sky and sunshine, low on humidity.  A perfect ten!  I was taking advantage of such great weather to repaint the steps to both my front and back porch.  By 11:30 am, the front set of steps was finished and already drying.  I moved onto the rear porch steps and began to scrape them.  As I scraped the loose paint off, I noticed a car driving by that had stopped near the top of my drive and a little boy stepped out.  He must have been about nine or ten.  He took out a phone or camera and began taking a picture or sets of pictures of the little woods on the other side of my driveway.  It seemed rather strange to me and I kept my eye on the car as I continued my scraping.  The car did leave and another car quickly stopped in their place.  A woman leaned out the window and began screaming at me.  “Get inside!!!  There’s a really large bear!!!”  She repeated her strong warning again as her words sunk into my brain.  I quickly jumped up, ran inside and looked out the window.  The biggest bear that I have ever seen was ambling down my driveway just a few feet from where I had just been.  He strolled down my driveway and into my back yard where he shuffled around a bit more before heading downhill towards another street.

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The bear – taken from a safe distance!

As I processed the situation, several questions popped into my head.  What was the lady in the first car thinking!  Why did she allow her young child to get out of the car when there was an obviously large bear close by?!  Did she think it was a cute little puppy coming towards her and her son?  And the next thought, why did she fail to warn me?  I do think she saw me because I looked up to see what was going on several times.  Did she think that I would just figure it out as the huge bear got closer?  After those puzzling questions, it struck me about how kind the Lord is. “THANK YOU LORD for the second lady!!”  Thank you Lord for people who care enough about their fellow man to warn them of impending danger.  The bear was not looking to eat me, but who knows what he might have done had I reacted unwisely in my own fright.

I can only guess at the first woman’s motives.  Maybe she was too busy in her life to think about the consequences of her actions.  Maybe she was just ignorant of bear behavior.  Sometimes people are so involved in their own lives that they can’t see the needs of others.  Self involvement creates a total lack of compassion for what others may be feeling or needing.  Am I so self involved that I can’t see the need of another human being?  Would I stand by while my neighbor gets attacked by a bear, either actually or metaphorically?  Would I be the one to leave the Samaritan lying injured by the side of the road?

There are plenty of Scriptures that tell us that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper.  We don’t have to be overbearing about it, but there are many ways to warn, advise, counsel or discuss with our brothers and sisters without acting like we’re somehow superior.  Sometimes, when a threat is immediate, it calls for an immediate and clear trumpet blast.  Watch out!  There’s a cliff!  Don’t go down that road!  Don’t respond to those scammers!  I can’t let you drive when you’re drunk.  Give me the keys.  I’ll take you home.  Whatever it may be.  Of course, other times require a soft approach.  How can I help you?  And even sometimes, just silent prayer.  What we can’t do is just ignore people’s needs.  I am certainly grateful for the woman who observed the situation, took a moment out of her busy day to stop her car and shout her warning.

If you see something, say something.  It’s a good reminder in so many circumstances, both natural and spiritual.