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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Has Forgiveness been murdered by political correctness?

Political correctness has claimed another victim.  So many of us recognize that as soon as someone says one thing a shade off (and sometimes more than a shade off), the news media jumps on its collective bandwagon and is screaming for that person’s head.  Pretty soon, sure enough, the perpetrator becomes a persona non grata and often is fired, excoriated in the press or worse.  Even though political correctness is vilified by many, it just keeps on rolling.

The latest person is Liam Neeson.  Yesterday a news show on the radio was talking about him and it occurred to me that Mr. Neeson was very brave to come forward with his struggles.  He is not brave because of what he did (many years ago by the way).  He is brave for recognizing his fault, dealing with it, overcoming it and being honest about it.

Are we at fault for the way we grew up?  Are we at fault for the ideas of the past?  In some ways, yes because we inherited or learned from our parents, who learned from their parents, and on and on.  However, we are most at fault if we let those ways continue.  Mr. Neeson understood that his reaction was not proper.  He understood with his mind, but he needed to bring the rest of his life into union with his understanding.  He did that.  He has already shown his disgust today for his actions in the past.  What more do people want from him?  Perhaps a pound of flesh?

Over the course of my working life, I have met people from all over the world on a constant basis.  I have had so very many situations in my life in conjunction with many different ethnicities that brought out reactions that were not stellar.  Every time it was only because of my reaction that I could see the false ideas or feelings that I had about that situation.  Thank God for bringing those situations to me.  The alternative would be to continue being blind to those areas of my life.  Dealing with so many people and learning to love all kinds people has been the treasure of my life.

We all love the loving words of Jesus when he forgives us for what we have done.  Why can we not be forgiving towards our brother?  Do we have to punish people for opening up a conversation about racism that could help and enlighten many?  There is latent racism in many of us, no matter what our race or ethnicity.  We may never even be aware of it until God is kind enough to create a situation in our lives to raise it to the surface.  Something happens and we react.  God, in His infinite kindness, allowed that to happen so that we could see our reaction, recognize the problem, and deal with it.  He let it happen so that we could change and get that out of our lives.

Should we condemn others because that process happened to them and they admitted it?  Or should we learn from it and pray that we are also able to see our own faults when situations bring them out in the open?

Didn’t Jesus also say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  Jesus was without sin and yet he did not cast his stone.  He could have.  He chose to forgive.