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.

 

P1030250

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!

A simple solution for a worn out world

There will be regular rains, the land will give you bumper crops, trees will be loaded with fruit long after the normal time and you will have as much to eat as you want and live out your days in peace.

Wow!  Regular rain, year after year of success in gardens and farms, plenty to eat and a peaceful world without fear.  Who doesn’t want that?  Who among us would say he or she wouldn’t want that?  Is it too boring to have peace and safety?  Is it too mundane to have bumper crops year in and year out?  So, what’s the catch?  Isn’t there always a catch?

Yes, there is a catch, but it’s not expensive, nor is it egregious.  All you have to do is to love God your Father who provides these things freely to his obedient children.  You have to obey his commandments.  You have to love your fellow man who is your brother and your sister, who also a child of God.

The first paragraph above comes from the book of Leviticus, chapter 26.  The Old Testament is filled with rules and regulations.  Jesus boiled all of them down to two.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”  If you obey these laws, all those other ones fall into place.  You won’t steal from someone that you love as much as yourself because you don’t like to have things stolen from you.  You won’t punch him, kill him, hate him, lie to him, lie about him, take his wife or do other mean things to him because you don’t like those things either.

Our world is falling apart fast.  The daily headlines are enough to fill our hearts with terror.  We need to take hope and make that hope the anchor of our lives.  There are solutions but the ultimate solution always comes back to those two commandments spoken by Jesus.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”  Jesus said it best.  You can’t improve on that.

Verses and a verse: Courage

butterflies-are-free

 

**Sandinista Avioncitos

The little airplanes of the heart

with their brave little propellers

What can they do

against the winds of darkness

even as butterflies are beaten back

by hurricanes

yet do not die

They lie in wait wherever

they can hide and hang

their fine wings folded

and when the killer-wind dies

they flutter forth again

into the new-blown light

live as leaves

–Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

These are difficult days that we are experiencing.  Sometimes, it feels as if we are buffeted by the winds of the hurricanes that have recently traversed our world or by the flames that scorch our west coast.  We need to take heart in the Scriptures that uphold the righteousness that God has planted in us.  We need to surely know that righteous lives soften the paths that others must follow in the future.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

** Although this title seems negative to me because of the reference to Sandinistas, I have chosen to leave it in so that the poem can be properly identified.  The poem itself is very sweet.

There is only one way out.

one way sign

There is something fundamentally wrong with us.  In what country does someone just nonchalantly walk into a church and shoot up men, women and children?  We don’t need terrorists.  We have our own nutcases and they are armed with assault rifles.

There is only one way out of this plague of shooters and victims.  Scripture tells us that if the country which is called by God’s name will repent and turn from its wicked ways, He will repent Himself of the evil and stop it and heal that nation.  We need repentance now.  We have become a violent society.  Why does our country continue churning out violent movie after violent movie and violent computer game after violent computer game?  Many of our young people are addicted to violence and others among us are becoming desensitized to it.

Years ago, if someone wanted to see violence or pornography, they had to get up and go somewhere to see it.  Nowadays, they just turn on their computers and it’s all available right in their living rooms.  Violence and lust will not beget anything but violence and lust.  We allow our children to fill up their brains on a continuous stream of this junk without making a peep.  Do we then expect them to turn out to be kind and caring individuals?

I am heartbroken.  Why does another mother have to bury her young daughter?  A newlywed bury her husband?  Or a baby lose its mother?  How can one family lose eight of its members in one instant?  How many more will we tolerate being slaughtered in their pews?  Or in their restaurants?  Or on their bus?  Simply living a quiet life.  One minute they’re here and the next they are taken out of this life by some angry or demented soul.  Why do we continue to allow it?

We need to turn this around.  We can do it as a society if we forego focusing on our differences and instead unify in our repentance. We can change.  We can stop future mass shootings.  They are not inevitable.  However, there is only one way out.  We have to find the violence, the anger, the hate inside of ourselves and eliminate it.  Cast it out.  Refuse to give in to it even when people make it so enticing for us to hate.  Do the opposite in our daily lives.  Live with conviction in love with God and with our fellow man.

Jesus said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:37 – 40

 

 

Life is an allegory of something bigger

 

My garden is my place of quiet and peacefulness.  Yesterday I brought in the top of a lettuce plant that had gone to seed and this morning I was taking off the tiny flowers and opening them up.  The tiny seeds inside fell into the paper bag.  Soon there were enough seeds in the little bag to plant plenty of lettuce in next summer’s garden.

One lettuce plant produces enough seeds to create ten future gardens.  Imagine how many gardens could be created with all of the seeds from all of the plants in the garden!  God is amazing.  He put enough seeds in one plant to create an abundance of new plants.  It’s a miracle.

Think of a maple tree.  Each maple has thousands of tiny helicopters on it that will float down to earth and potentially become more maple trees.  He gave us enough seed to make up for all the possibilities.  Seeds falling on rocks.  Seeds being eaten by squirrels.  Seeds being washed away by rain.  Even with all of the destruction that can happen to each maple seed, in the spring we find our yard filled with tiny maple seedlings after a few spring rains.  And no matter how I clean up my garden, in the spring I find random lettuce plants growing here or there, tiny tomato seedlings sprouting where I don’t want them any more.  About fifteen years ago, I planted some mustard green seeds.  Every year those mustard greens still show up.  They never sprout in exactly the same place, but they faithfully make an appearance wherever the wind has blown them.

As I open each miniature seed pod and scrape out the seeds, it is impossible not to realize that these seeds represent hope.  They are the hope of a successful garden, not this year, but next.  They are the hope of the return of spring even before winter has arrived.  They are the hope of new life, of all things good, of things even bigger and better than this year.  Thank God for hope.  Thank God for the tiny seeds that anchor us in the faith and knowledge that life will go on.  Winter does not last forever.  Hardships will cease. Spring will come.

Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature – his eternal power and divine character – have been clearly perceptible through what he has made.  (Romans 1:19)

Doers of the Word

 

IMG_1543[4633]

 

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.

Waiting for the world to change??!

This morning I heard a song on the radio.  “I’m waiting for the world to change.”  Really?  Is that like waiting for the cows to come home of their own accord?  And what if the world does change?  Where would that leave me?  Unchanged?  Left out?  There is no assurance that the world will change.  The only thing we can do in this world is change ourselves.  Jesus left us the template.  We need to change whatever doesn’t fit into that template.  God will not give us too much to do at once.  As we walk along life’s path, He brings just the right thing along that can be changed today. We can change that one thing today.  Tomorrow there will be another thing, but that can wait for tomorrow.

Two days ago God gave me one thing to change.  I was getting onto a flight to return home from a trip.  As I walked down the aisle, I realised my assigned seat was next to an enormous man.  Yes, I was in the middle seat, sandwiched between the rap man (music playing into his earphones so loudly that I could hear the words) and the fat man (who was actually using up a quarter of the space that I had paid for).  I was irritated and feeling nearly nauseous and definitely claustrophobic.  God was very merciful because it was less than a two hour flight.  However, I didn’t start thinking until well into the flight that instead of being annoyed at him and wondering whether I could be allowed to request a refund of 1/4 of my ticket price, I should be praying for both him and the rapper fellow.  In my heart, I was hating him because he was overweight and yet that was the only thing that I even knew about his life.  That was one thing that I could change that day.  I could stop the anger and irritation and just pray and it didn’t cost me anything. I feel bad that it didn’t occur to me at once, but that’s the way life is.  Something comes our way out of the blue.  We have a reaction and our reaction points us towards what we can change.

Let’s not wait for the world to change.  Let’s change the one thing that God brings into our lives today.

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!

cropped-dsc003911.jpg

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!