Freedom?

Every day in the news recently, we see some people who are choosing not to wear masks and choosing to flout social distancing rules.  They are usually the loudest ones,  honking horns at the state capital, screaming in the faces of law enforcement officers and even congregating at large pool parties.  I saw the comment of one such person on a blog about wearing masks.  “I woke up this morning a free person.”  By that, I assume that he believes that he can do whatsoever he wants with no thought of anyone else.  That is not freedom.  That is selfishness.

If I am truly free, I can maintain the essence of my life no matter what is happening outside of me.  A selfish person cannot ever be free because his/her one great longing is to fulfill his/her selfish desires.  That totally depends on the outside circumstances.  A rebellious person can never be free either.  That person is always going to do the opposite of what anyone asks him or her to do.  Therefore, if a rebellious person is imprisoned or confined in some way, the confinement will always impinge on his/her ability to behave rebelliously.  Even a religious person in the sense of loving the outward manifestations of religion, can never truly be free.  That person’s religiosity will always desire those traditions and will always feel limited and somehow less holy if he/she cannot have a physical presence in the church or with religious articles such as rosary beads.  True freedom can only mean being free from Satan’s kingdom.  Know the truth and the truth SHALL make you free.  In other words, if you don’t know the truth, you are not free.  It cannot be both ways.  You are either serving God or the other guy.

Jesus always spoke in parables.  Ministers and teachers love to use parables to teach us a lesson.  Parables are stories that help us to see an important point.  What if God also loves parables and what if our whole lives are parables?  This whole pandemic is a parable.  The whole world is stuck inside.  We are all in a kind of prison.  Why?  This strange new parable is showing us how captured we are, but we are all reacting differently to this quarantine.  If I feel stuck and in prison because of the restrictions of the quarantine or of social distancing or wearing a mask, then I am captured.  However, if I’m free in God, no one and no thing can take my freedom away.  If I’m wearing a mask, I am still free.  If I’m staying in my house, I’m still free.  No matter my outward circumstances, I am still free to love, free to serve and free to pray always.  That is what is happening inside.  No one can take that away.  My mind and heart are always free to speak to God, to worship Him or to pray to Him.  If I am confined, my inner life’s freedom continues on.  Wearing a mask cannot stop me from loving God and my neighbor.  Standing six feet away from a person cannot stop me from praying for him/her.

Though we may all still be captured to varying degrees, if we watch our reactions to this confinement and recognize that we are reacting negatively for a reason, we can learn from this situation, and we can yet be made free on that point because recognizing our negativity leads us towards the solution.  That is the first step on the path to knowing the truth.  That path will always lead us to the truth which will make us truly free.  Only then we be free indeed.

That is why Jesus is my hero.  Satan had nothing in him.  For that reason, he could stand tall, look Pilate calmly in the eye and say, “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given to you from above.”  (John 19:11)  He was completely free even in the face of the man who apparently had the power to put him to death.  Even in the face of that possibility, he had total faith and trust that nothing could happen to him unless God the Father allowed it.  Because he experienced the best and the worst of this earth and yet maintained his integrity, he is well able to help us reach that place as well.

The Earth gets a rest

And on the seventh day, God rested.  I wonder what God did when He rested!  Here on earth we always think about doing.  Most of the time we “do” stuff even when we’re resting.  We’re reading or watching TV or out walking.  Maybe God just watched His creation for a while.  Sometimes we do that after we’ve made something, but we have a really hard time just resting.  There is always something going on in our world – traffic flowing, airplanes buzzing, jackhammers pounding, cement trucks rumbling, drills drilling, etc.

Scientists are reporting that because people are required to quarantine throughout most of the world, human activity has come to such a great halt that the earth’s crust is not shaking as much as normal.  It is quiet.  I never even knew that human activity could cause the earth’s crust to shake, just never even thought about it.  So, in spite of the increasing misery among humans, the earth is getting a rest.  Imagine that.  The earth is resting.  She has needed a rest for a long time.  God is always so kind.  He considered the earth in His early messages to mankind.  He provided for a rest for our earth every seven years.  Wow, when was the last time that happened?  Well, it’s happening to a very large extent now.

What does the earth do while it is resting?  It recovers.  It recovers from us and all of our non-stop activity.  Think of all the things that are recovering.  Apparently there is much less pollution throughout our earth.  The canals in Venice have cleared up.  Because fewer planes are in the air and fewer factories are producing smoke, there is much less air pollution.  There is less noise pollution in our cities and because there are fewer boats (think cruise ships!), the oceans are quieter.  Think of how happy that must make the dolphins, whales and other fish!  Maybe while we are stressing and praying, the earth is rejoicing.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-earth-pollution-noise/609316/

https://www.ecowatch.com/coronavirus-earth-shaking-less-2645628570.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

So, as we continue our social distancing from one another and as we continue praying for health and safety for our loved ones and our nations, let’s consider the earth.  Pray for her.  Let her rest and recover for a time.  And when our quarantine is over, let’s be kinder, not only to each other, but to one of God’s greatest gifts to us: our earth that we live on.  Stay well.

Hope, Spring and Resurrection!

With one grim news story after another, it has been hard to keep negativity at bay.  This afternoon, I was looking out my kitchen window while washing my hands for the umpteenth time.  The woodpeckers were pecking at the suet, a gentle spring rain was cleansing the landscape and a patch of bright yellow daffodils were lightly dancing in the gentle breeze.  Wow! I thought.  It’s spring!  Why did God allow all this to happen in the spring?

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God is always looking for a closer relationship with each and every one of us.  We have forgotten Him and put Him in second (or third or last) place in our lives.  He wants to be first.  Is that selfish of Him?  Absolutely not.  When He is first in our lives, He can lead us in the way we should go.  He can show us the right way.  We do have free will, but our free will should guide us to choose the right way.  There is a right way and a wrong way.  The wrong way always leads us into trouble.  He wants the best for us, but individually and collectively, we have let Him down.  He’s not allowed in very many places at all any more.

People are fond of quoting this Scripture: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)  It’s one thing to quote it and shove it into people’s faces, kind of raw and self righteous, but it’s another thing to take it to myself.  Looking at myself, having a serious talk with God my Father and admitting my own issues.  I can be sure, 100% sure, that when I do the first part of this Scripture, God will always keep His promise and do the second part.  He is over the top reliable and dependable.

Sooo, why is this happening in spring?  Spring is the season of so many hopes.  The hope of warm weather.  The hope of a great garden this year.  The hope of quiet evenings out on the deck or afternoon picnics in the park.  We have a spiritual hope as well.  He will never leave us without hope.  “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.”  (Matthew 12:20)  This is also the season of resurrection.  We can resurrect our connection with our Father.  He is always there to encourage and sustain us.  When we do the self reflection, the repentance, the restoration, He will absolutely hear from heaven, forgive us, and heal our land, both the personal “land” of our hearts and the land of our nation.  Let’s not take this time in quarantine lightly. Let’s use it to reconnect with Him.  We can resurrect His life in us.  Sincere best wishes for a fruitful (and healthy!) time of quarantine and a peaceful season of resurrection.

Rippling Effects

Most of us think that as long as our actions don’t bother anyone else, we can do whatever we want.  I hear people saying that.  “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”  Hmmm.  Or does it?!

We have a huge example staring the world in the face right now.  Although it’s not certain as to how the novel 19 coronavirus got started, some believe it jumped to humans when someone or some people ate a certain type of unclean creature.  You know what, God is waaaayy smarter than us, and He told us not to eat certain creatures.  I guess He had a terrific reason for saying that.  In any case, once that happened, that disease has affected the entire world in one way or another.  Businesses, schools, hospitals, travel disruptions, events cancelled, governments, mounting hysteria and a growing number of deaths.  The ripples just spread further and further out.

There are so many more examples.  One person discards a cigarette in a dry forest.  One person decides to clear all the trees off of his/her property.  Another person, too lazy to follow correct disposal protocol, pours his bottle of chemicals in a local stream.  It all ripples out.  Our actions, large and small, some even apparently insignificant, do affect others.  We are all one family with common DNA.  We are all affected.

Consider something so small as a smile.  One person smiles at another.  That person leaves feeling a little better and smiles at someone else and that person goes to work humming, which in turn affects the whole atmosphere of the workplace.  Because of the warm welcome a visiting businessman receives, the company gets a new contract with a company in India and then more people in that country are smiling because they have jobs.  It all ripples out.

If my actions are going to affect people that I have never even heard of in a far distant place, wouldn’t it behoove me to mediate my behavior to make sure that I am benefiting my distant brothers and sisters?  We are all responsible for our actions.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Just think of how that will ripple out through our world!

Take heart in 2020

Daniel was a much beloved man of God.  In the book that bears his name, the mighty king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a strange dream.  In it he saw a large statue with a head of gold, the upper torso of silver, the lower torso of bronze, its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.  What potter would try to make a statue with feet of iron and clay?  How can those two materials adhere to one another?  As Nebuchadnezzar watched, a stone was cut out of a mountain without any hand doing it and it began to roll down the hill, gaining speed as it went.  It reached those feet and smashed them into pieces.  This brought down the whole statue and it was all completely broken in pieces.  It says that the pieces of it were like the chaff of a summer threshing floor and it all blew away in the wind so that no trace of it could be found.  However, that stone grew and became a great mountain and filled up the entire earth.

We can clearly see that the Scriptures show that this supernatural stone will begin rolling during a time when there is a kingdom in power that does not adhere to itself.  It is one part this and one part that, a divided kingdom, partly strong, partly brittle.  We know from the gospels that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  The kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision will be blown away so completely that there will be no traces left of it.  You can imagine the stone gathering momentum as it rolls down the mountain until it smashes into the divided kingdom and destroys every single aspect of it.  It is also not hard to see that there is so much turbulence in our world today.  We see it everyday in the news.  No one can agree about anything.  Politics has become very personal with each side calling the other “haters.”  Around the world, political opponents are not getting anything done because they are completely divided; they cannot agree on even the smallest detail.

Those of us who love the Lord need to take heart.  If we are already living in the time of the iron and clay feet, then we should know that the stone is also either being cut out of the mountain or it is already rolling down the hill, ready to smash into those toes and destroy them.  Despite this vision of complete destruction, it is not a vision to create despair.  Nebuchadnezzar’s dream does not end in despair, does it.  In the end, Daniel describes the kingdom of the stone that grew as a kingdom set up by God Himself that will never be destroyed nor will it be left to another people.  If we love God, we’re going to love His kingdom.  It’s beautiful.  People get along in it.  They love one another and never want to see their brothers or sisters hurt.

God’s kingdom is coming.  Is today the day?  We don’t know the answer to the question of when our physical world will change.  It is not given to a man to know the times and seasons.  Only God knows that.  However, every single day that stone is crashing into my kingdom.  It’s destroying what I thought was gold, but is in reality just dross.  God’s kingdom is destroying all of the idols that I once held dear.  It is smashing all of the pieces of my life that don’t adhere with God’s life.  Just like in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, there will be no trace found of those former parts of my life.  His Spirit will blow them all away.  I have not really lost anything because in the place of those things, that living stone, Jesus, is creating within me a kingdom that is pure and ready to be filled with love for all that belongs to God.  Each one of us has to allow that process to happen to us.  God is kind and doesn’t smash everything at once.  He leads us one step at a time to tear down the old life, remove the sins and build up his life.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within and when we allow Him to create His kingdom within us, we are getting ready to live with Him in that beautiful kingdom that will never be destroyed.  What we need to do as this process churns in our lives is to maintain our love, faith and trust in the one, true, living God.  He is above all and yet in all.

I wish you a very happy new year and may you grow in God this year and may His Kingdom grow to be strong in your lives, a strength that will never be destroyed or given to another.

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.

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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