Thursday, August 29, 2013

In The Stillness

“Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19: 11-13

Elijah was such a strong man of God.  He was full of faith and had an intimate relationship with God.  What he prayed for - he got.  He prayed that it wouldn’t rain for three years, and for three years, not a single drop fell!  Think about that! That’s 1095 days of no rain all because a man like us, Elijah, asked God to withhold it!  No rain for that long affected everyone with drought on crops and gardens, a lack of fresh water, and dust that would fill the air.

On Mount Carmel he challenged evil itself by proving that the 450 prophets of Baal served a god that didn’t exist.  God’s word in 1 Kings 18:27-29 says they cut themselves and cried out all day and their god wouldn’t even send down fire to consume their sacrifice.  Verse 29 says, “But there was no voice, no one answered, no one paid attention.”   And then Elijah, full of his zeal for God, wet his altar with water poured on the stones and sacrifice three times, called on God, and God answered with fire from Heaven.  The fire of God not only consumed the sacrifice, but all of the wood and stone of the altar as well!  How’s that for an answer to prayer!  Elijah then killed the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and prayed and God sent rain, ending the three year drought. 

The death of Queen Jezebel’s prophets quickly earned Elijah a death warrant.  She sent word to Elijah by a messenger in 1 Kings 19:2 “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”

It would seem that a man so filled with faith would take a stand against Jezebel and send back a message to the tune of “Bring it on, sista!”.  But his faith failed him.  He ran for his life! He ran all day, and finding himself exhausted, he sit under a tree and prayed to die.  What did God do for His faithful servant?  He sent him an angel with food and encouraged him to eat.  It was a holy meal that allowed strength in Elijah to go 40 days without another bite, until he came to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God.  This was the same mountain that God had met with Moses on.

How quickly the world can take over and make God seem so far away.  Elijah had run to God in his distress.  And when God showed up, He asked “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  It wasn’t a question of his presence on the mountain, but his absence from what he was supposed to be doing instead.  Elijah’s answer speaks of his fear as he says “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 

Have you ever felt lonely?  “I alone am left”, he said.  He was full of fear, feeling alone, and questioning why this was happening when he had been faithful to God.  Yet God was there the whole time.

God called Elijah out of the cave in the mountain, and yet Elijah didn’t budge!  He sat there in fear, forgetting all the blessings God had given him in answered prayers.  What happened next must have been awesome to see!  There was a strong wind that blew and broke the rocks into pieces and tore into the mountain.  That’s a mighty strong wind to be able to break rock!  Then an earthquake came, shaking the very foundation of the mountain.  And then fire came to the mountain.  In all these things, God doesn’t speak a word.  He waits for Elijah to come to Him.  And then, we read in 1 Kings 19:12 “and after the fire a still small voice.

The voice of God is a still small one, intimate, and as sweet as a whisper.  But life can be hard.  We can feel like those prophets of Baal, who could not hear their god’s voice, felt no answer, and that no one was paying attention.  But our God has said that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  Sometimes we have to push through the noisiness of our problems, and listen for that small voice.  He is our source for strength.    

“Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord” is what He asked of Elijah.  He calls as well to come to Him, and in a soft voice of love.  Elijah went out and stood in the cave opening, and had a talk with God.  God gave him direction, a plan for the remainder of his life. 

Push through all the noise of the world, and listen for that still small voice.  Have a talk with God, an intimate one, and find the stillness that comes from hearing His voice.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The White Stone

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”’ – Revelations 2:17

I believe I have a touch of Magpie bird in me somewhere.  That’s the only way I can explain an overwhelming attraction to shiny objects, such as colored glass dishes, stained glass windows, and gemstones of all colors.  Something makes me want to not only see them, but touch them.  So when I read Revelations 2:17, and found that one day God will give those who overcome the world a white stone, I was excited!  But then I wondered.  Of all that God has in creation that He can give us, why would he give us a rock with a name on it?  And why is it a white rock, and not an emerald or a ruby?  But as is the case in God’s word, imagery has a purpose, and there is a reason that it is white, and a reason for the name on it.
There are 11 white gemstones used in jewelry (, all beautiful in their own right.  One in particular is my favorite -  the white opal.  This white stone diffracts light, which makes it almost appear to light up with all the colors of the rainbow. The Greek word used for “white” in Revelation 2:17 is ‘leuken’, which means light, brightness, and purity.  To me, the opal is what I imagine as this white stone.

In the way that an opal diffracts light, I’ve often wondered if this is what the glory of God looks like, as Revelation 4:3 says that the One sitting on the throne of Heaven was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.  Emeralds are green, but Jasper can be many different colors, including red, yellow, brown, green, and rarely even blue.  Sardius, which we call carnelian, is a blood-red color.  Both are formed from the mineral chalcedony.  Chalcedony is mentioned in Revelation 21:19 as being on the third foundation of the New Jerusalem of Heaven, along with Jasper, Sapphire, and Emeralds on the other foundations.
Another gemstone, Onyx, is formed by the intergrowth of two silica materials, quartz and moganite, which create bands of chalcedony.  The Onyx stone is formed when the materials have been subject to heat and pressure, and is black.  The name Onyx is from the Greek work ὄνυξ, which means fingernail.  Oddly enough, the bands of chalcedony are shaped in an arch like the human nail. 

Onyx is first mentioned in the Bible in an odd sentence we read in Genesis 2:12.  It’s odd because it is in the midst of the explanation of the creation of earth, the universe, man being formed from the dirt of the ground, and the Garden of Eden.  As the writer describes all the trees and plants and rivers and their names, we read the verse, which abruptly says, “And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.”  Gold later becomes a material made into things in the temple, as well as idols.  Bdellium is a gummy resin that comes from trees.  And then we find Onyx, the black gemstone, mentioned. 
Onyx is found in the Bible 11 times.  The first time is in Genesis 2:12, and then 1 Chronicles 29:2 states that onyx stones were to be in the temple. Job describes it as precious in Job 28:16, and Ezekiel 28:13 tells that it was one of the many stones in Satan’s covering.  The other seven times it is used in the instructions of the Ephod for the priest, where it plays an important role.

In Exodus 28:9-12, as the instructions for making the Ephod are given.  The Ephod would be worn by the priest as he offered sacrifices for the sins of the people.  Two onyx stones were to be placed on the shoulders of the Ephod, but these stones, like the white stone of Revelations 2:17, were to be engraved with names.  

God’s Word says “Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel:  six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth.”  The stones were to be engraved “like the engravings of a signet”.  A signet was an engraving found usually on a ring and linked to a person’s identity.  It was a legal representation of that person.  A signet would often be pressed into hot wax to seal a document, in the same way we would use a signature.  The two stones were to be placed on the shoulders, “and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial. God did not need to be reminded of the children of Israel, as He does not need to be reminded of anything.  So the memorial was for the Israelites and the Priest. 

So we have mention of a white stone, and black stones, both engraved with names.  In the Revelation 2:17, the word used for stone is psēphos (G5586) which means a small worn stone or pebble, but also means a vote.  In the ancient courts, a ruling of guilty or not guilty was made by using stones. A jury member placing a white stone would mean an acquittal or innocence, and a black stone would mean guilt. The Greek word used to describe acquittal is 'nikōnti', which is also the word used to in Revelation 2:17 for “overcomes”.  What Jesus promises is that those who are aquitted (overcome through salvation, and are found innocent), will receive hidden manna to eat, and a white stone of innocence which is engraved with a new name, a new identity.
But what about the hidden manna that we are given to eat?  What does that have to do with stones?  In Hebrew tradition, there were stones that would be inscribed between two people who had become intimate friends.  These stones were known as ‘tessera’.  Each person would have a stone with a special inscription, and the stones would be passed down from generation to generation. If one of the ancestors was traveling and needed a place to stay, they would show their tessera stone to the descendants of the friend, and the inscriptions would be matched.  This guaranteed the descendant a place to stay, as well as food and hospitality.  The tessera was a memorial of a special friendship.

Jesus Christ offers us an intimate friendship with Him, and with God, through salvation.  Salvation gives us a new identity as we become a new creation and "the stony heart" we have is exchanged for a heart of flesh, and we are given His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:36).  From that friendship we gain an inheritance in Heaven. 
Ephesians 1: 10-14 says,

“That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have OBTAINED AN INHERITANCE [like the hidden manna and white stone], being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were SEALED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE [like a signet], who is the GUARANTEE OF OUR INHERITANCE [like a tesserae] until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
Lastly, 1 Peter 2:4-8 describes those who believe as “living stones” that are used to build a new temple, a “spiritual house”, and Jesus Christ as either a cornerstone or “a stone of stumbling”.  It says:

“Coming to Him as to a LIVING stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and PRECIOUS, you also, as LIVING STONES, are being built up a spiritual house, A HOLY PRIESTHOOD, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him [Jesus Christ] will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”
To each of us Jesus Christ is either our cornerstone, our very foundation of life and precious as an intimate friend, or a stone of offense and stumbling.  

I encourage you to seek the salvation of Jesus Christ and have the inheritance He offers.  I hope to one day look around Heaven, and see all my friends holding precious white stones, engraved with their own intimate name, and eating of the hidden manna that is for the Children of God.  But today you have a choice to make.  He will either be your “cornerstone”, or He will be your “rock of offense”. 
 Seek the white stone.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Holding On To Old Things

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—  unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.  But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.  Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Sitting less than five feet from me as I write this is a Hope Chest.  It was given to me by my grandfather, and is filled with things that are old, belonging to me, my children when they were babies, or even my grandparents.  They’re just old things, things I can’t seem to part with because they hold memories, even though they are of no true value.  I’m not going to put my baby’s shoes back on their feet today, but I can’t get rid of them.  I’m not going to watch them play with Baby” and “Steve” today, their childhood dolls, but I can’t get rid of them.

Over the years, I did let go of some of those old things.  If I had not, there would not be room for anything new.  It’s a struggle to determine what stays and what goes.  But in the end, the decision is what is of value and what is not.  If I’d never let my kids throw away their sippy cups, they might still need to drink from them today.  But if we’re going to have new things, if we’re going to grow, we have to remove the old to find a place for the new. 

As Christians, we sometimes hold on to old things as well.  We hold on to doctrines that we were raised with and traditions we don’t understand but still follow.   We hold on to past hurts and things that we believe about ourselves because someone once said them.  We hold on to dreams, and broken dreams.  We keep in our firm grasp the very things that keep us from new things that are of greater value.  We hold them in our own chest, our very hearts, as I hold on to my children’s things in my hope chest.

In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, Paul is talking about Moses, and how he veiled his face to hid the glory of God from the children of Israel when he came down the mountain after being in the presence of God.  He veiled it because they couldn’t handle it.  It frightened them because they didn’t understand what had happened and why Moses face was glowing. 

But God had a deeper purpose in the veil that would be revealed later on.  The veil, covering the glory of God was a foreshadowing of the veil that would separate God’s people from the Ark of the Covenant, which was where the priest gave sacrifices for sin.  The veil separated God’s presence at the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant from His people.  It was necessary at the time because they couldn’t come near His glory or they would die, having no righteousness of their own.

But later on, Christ came, and died on the cross to be our one time sacrifice for sin.  When He died, the veil was torn, top to bottom as if by God’s hand from Heaven.  This signified the removal of the old covenant of laws, and the new covenant of Grace whereby we all have access to God through Christ.

Paul says that there were many who still held on to the veil after Christ had died for them.  These were the ones who refused to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and held tight to the old covenant.  These are the ones that did not understand that what was precious now was the glory of God being created in us as we are transformed into His likeness.  He says “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  Through His Holy Spirit living in us, we are changed.  We no longer need the veil.

Understanding the veil is lifted because we have grace is crucial to understanding where the glory of God has moved.  It is no longer on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  His mercy is on us.  His glory is within us, and seen in our transformation. His righteousness has covered us through salvation, and His Holy Spirit within us transforms us, bit by bit, day by day, back into the image in which we were created.  His Holy Spirit working in us changes us.  He causes us to reflect on what we’re holding on to, and determine if it is valuable. 

Sometimes we need to take an inventory of the things we’re holding on to.  When you look in that mirror of transformation, looking at the new creature in Christ that God has created, do you really see yourself as the things people have said about you?  Do you really still see the past faults and failures?  God doesn’t.  God sees a transformed creature, created for His Glory. 

Paul also said in this same passage something we often don’t grasp.  He says in 2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”  Read that again.  The Spirit – capital “S” meaning the person of the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Holy Trinity, is the Lord.  And where the Holy Spirit is – which is living in the souls of those who are saved – there is liberty.  There is freedom from the past!  Freedom from your failures, your broken dreams, your past addictions, your failed marriages, your sins that you won’t forgive yourself for, the words that were painful, and all that was making you into something that God never intended you to be!

Remove the veil!  See the glory of God being created in you!  This is what God sees, and who you are is who He says you are.  No one else knows you as intimately as the Holy Spirit.  In Him we find our value.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Living Water

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” – John 7:37-39

When I was a little girl we had three ponds within walking distance on the farms that surrounded us.  I spent many days walking to them, usually with a fishing pole or two.  But there was one pond that was much closer than the others, and I’d usually stop there first.  But over the years, the pond became scum covered, good for nothing but turtles and tadpoles, and before long the fish in it died out and the water dried up.

But on down the road from where we lived, there was a creek bed.  Now we were told not to go to the creek bed because of snakes and such, but there were times when I didn’t do what I was told.  We would sneak down to the creek bed and always find a spot where the water was not dried up, and still cold and clear.  I’d often cup my hand and drink that ice-cold water from the creek.  And many times we’d roll up our pant legs and wade through the water, take a net and catch minnows for pets, or even find a deep enough spot to jump in for a swim.

There are two kinds of water.  There’s the kind that has rain as its source, and is dependent on getting rain, which was the case with the pond.  Then there’s the kind that’s connected to a greater source, and has continual supply of fresh water.  That was the case with the creek.

In John 7:37-39 Jesus is in Galilee and preaching to the Jews, who still could not discern who He was.  They believed Him to be a prophet or a teacher, but not the Messiah.  His own disciples who followed him from place to place, seeing all the miracles He did still did not believe in Him (John 7:5).  As He spoke to the Jews and His disciples, and also to us who would read the words in this age, He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 

At the time, the Jews had no understanding of the Holy Spirit that would come to dwell in the hearts of believers after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit when He said “living water”.

Many times water is used to describe the Holy Spirit in God’s word.  In Isaiah 44:3-4 God speaks concerning Israel and says “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring”.  But then later in Jeremiah 2:13 God refers to Himself as “the fountain of living waters”, and speaks of Israel’s rebellion.  He said they had turned from Him to drink from cisterns that would not hold water, and of the brook of Egypt, Sihor, whihc no longer exists because it was disconnected from the Nile (Jeremiah 2:18).  He speaks of how they denied their sins saying “I am not polluted”(Jeremiah 2:23) as we would refer to a polluted stream. 

He spoke of this same “living water” when talking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:10, telling her “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  And in Joel 2:28-29 God speaks to the Prophet saying And it shall come to pass afterward that I will POUR OUT My Spirit on all flesh”, speaking of the day of Pentecost when His Holy Spirit was first sent to God’s believers.

Understanding what is meant by “living water” leads to the purpose of the Holy Spirit.  Living water refers to a source with endless supply, continually connected and receiving a fresh supply.  This is the type of water God uses to describe the Holy Spirit given to all believers.  The Holy Spirit is continually supplied by God, from an endless supply of life, joy, peace, and love.  Living water doesn’t grow stagnant or dry up. 

When you have a continual source of water, you will not be thirsty.  We humans long for the filling of our souls, the filling of that emptiness inside.  Many of us have tried several ways to fill that void, including relationships, drugs, possessions, power, and the list goes on.  But the problem is that the emptiness cannot be satisfied with things that are temporary and stagnant.  We aren’t boxes to be filled with things, and satisfying our feelings doesn’t lead to continual satisfaction.  Along the path of “personal fulfillment” we always end with a dried up feeling, nothing left inside to offer us joy and peace.

Our souls were made to be in constant connection to God, who is Spirit.  We were made in His image (Genesis 5:1), with both flesh and spirit, being given our own spirit. Before sin entered, God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8) and they had His fellowship.  The Garden of Eden was a peaceful place where there was no work, no pain, and the constant companionship of God and all His blessings were theirs. 

But our sin broke that fellowship with God.  Yet in Ezekiel 36:26.27 God speaks to the Prophet concerning cleansing us from our sins through faith, and says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” He goes on to talk of the desolate [empty] place, and likens it to the Garden of Eden.  In verses 33-35 He says On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’” God’s intention is to remove the emptiness, and recreate the peacefulness of Eden.

 In John 14 Jesus is explaining the coming of the Holy Spirit to His disciples.  He says in verses 16-17, And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”  He fills the emptiness, and He does so with purpose.  In verses 26-27 Jesus continues by saying, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 

When we become believers, we receive that living water, which is our Helper, our Guide to all Truth, and He brings the Peace of Jesus Christ.  His peace is not the same as the peace that the world can give because the world’s peace isn’t alive, with a continual supply from the Holy Spirit’s connection to God.  The world’s peace is as temporary as daytime.  But the Peace of Jesus Christ given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit fills that emptiness inside, and is eternal. 

David said in Psalms 23 that “He makes me to lie down in green pastures [rest]; He leads me beside the still waters[peace]. He restores my soul [rebuilt, as Eden]; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.[guidance]”  He keeps us from fear, and comforts us, and we know that because He is within us, goodness and mercy do follow us all the days of our lives. 

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” – Psalms 34:8

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dousing Out Gossip

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded,  in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.– Titus 2:6-8

We’re often confronted with people who would rather spread gossip than get the truth.  They would rather give something to tingle someone else’s ear than to say nothing at all.  Paul addresses Titus 2:6-8 to young men, but his words are good for any gender or age that wants to stop a gossiper.  He says to be:

Sober-minded:  In Greek, sōphroneō, which means sound minded, self-control, moderation in all things, curbing any passions that would rule over you.

A Pattern of good works: Pattern in Greek is typos, which means to be that which can be conformed to in order to make something, an example to be imitated.

In doctrine, showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility: Doctrine is the Greek didaskalia, meaning teaching and instruction.  Incorruptibility (uncorruptness) is adiaphthoria, which means soundness, integrity, truth. Reverence is semnotēs, meaning entitled to respect and dignity, honor and purity.  In what you teach, either by speaking or your actions, give the pure truth and someone that can be relied on for the whole truth

Sound speech:  Hygiēs logos, teaching or speaking that does not deviate from the truth. Be honest, completely honest, in all things.

In short, Paul says to have self-control, don’t lie or speak things as truth that you don’t know and understand, and have the characters that others can imitate as a pattern of goodness. 

Don’t add fuel to the enemy’s fire.  Instead, let your character be like a bucket of water, dousing out anything evil they would have to say about you.  People are going to talk, and liars are going to lie.  But your character determines what they are willing to believe.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Forever and Ever

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God FOREVER AND EVER! Amen.” – Revelation 7:11-12

I love to study words, and their origins and deep meanings.  When translating the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek to English, or any other language, subtle meanings can be lost.  Today I stumbled upon the phrase “FOREVER AND EVER”.  Think about it.  Isn’t forever long enough that adding “and ever” would be unnecessary?  Why was it translated this way?  And the phrase appears in God’s word many times:

“The Lord will reign FOREVER AND EVER.” – Exodus 15:18

“Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, FOREVER AND EVER.” – 1 Chronicles 29:10

 Your throne, O God, is FOREVER AND EVER; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” – Psalms 45:6

“For this is God, Our God FOREVER AND EVER; He will be our guide Even to death.” – Psalms 48:14

But Israel shall be saved by the Lord With an everlasting salvation; You shall not be ashamed or disgraced FOREVER AND EVER.” – Isaiah 45:17

“But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even FOREVER AND EVER.’” – Daniel 7:18

“Now to our God and Father be glory FOREVER AND EVER. Amen.” – Philippians 4:20

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory FOREVER AND EVER. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21

There are many, many more places the phrase is used in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. I encourage you to do a keyword search on the phrase “forever and ever” at Biblegateway.Com and read them all.

At the end of prayers, the Jews were taught to say, “Forever, Amen”.  In Hebrew the word forever is “ad olam”, which means an everlasting age.  But because the Sadducces came along and said there was no afterlife or immortality, denying any age to come, they were then instructed to then say “forever and ever, Amen” at the end of prayers.  The extra “ever” changed the Hebrew language to be “min ha-olam, vead ha-olam”.  Translated, it means in this age, and the age to come. 

The Greek translation of forever is much the same, coming from the word “aion” which means age.  This word can refer to the age of a person, or to a span of time that is without end and eternal.  But by adding “and ever”, even the Greeks clarify the phrase with the words “eis aionas aionon”, which means ages of ages.

Sometimes it’s the little things, those words of such great meaning and history, that can change the way you read a verse. 

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory FOREVER AND EVER. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:17



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sunday Clothes


For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:2-4

Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of clothes, which may be one reason I’m such a clothes collector now!  At one time, I remember having three pairs of pants that I wore to school – just three pair.  I had a red pair, a white pair, and a rust orange pair.  We just didn’t have money enough to buy a lot of clothes.  But come Sunday….we put on our “Sunday Clothes”.

Sunday clothes were the finest in the closet.  They were always dresses for me, since that’s what girls were allowed to wear to church.  I mean, God could see me in pants the rest of the week, but come Sunday, for some reason, He wanted me in a dress, or so I was told.  So I would dress in my finest, hair nice and neat, shoes clean, and go to church and sit like a little doll in a display case trying not to mess it up by scratching the scabs on my knees from bike wrecks!  And come special occasions like Easter, where clothes were made the focus of the day, it was hard to concentrate on anything the preacher said because you were consumed with what you had on.    

Yes, church had a dress code.  It wasn’t written, or communicated in any certain way.  But should you show up in anything less than your Sunday best, it was obvious the rules had been broken.  You would either feel the stares and have to figure it out on your own, or in one particular case I remember, you would be told, “and next time, don’t wear jeans to church.”  That young man never made it for a “next time” because he didn’t own anything but jeans.

Sadly, there are still people who practice this quiet discipline of Sunday Clothes.  When you enter the doors of places where people comply to a dress code, you can feel it.  It’s a sizing up with a quick scan of the eyes, which read either acceptable, or unacceptable.  But James says that if you pay honor to the persons wearing fine clothes over the persons that don’t, you’ve become “judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:2-4).  Consider that for a second.  Are you really sitting in a pew trying to worship God while having evil thoughts?  Are you really holding people accountable to your standards in the House of God?  Would it not be best to discard the dress code so that no one feels judged for what they wear, and all can feel welcome in His House?  Would it not be best for you to wear even your very oldest, worn out clothes, so that those who cannot afford better don’t feel as if they are less?

There will be a dress code in Heaven, and only one dress code.  You will be required to wear a borrowed robe, a robe of righteousness.  Isaiah 61:9-11 speaks of the robe and says that God “has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”  These are the only Sunday Clothes you need to wear.  They don’t cost you a thing, and yet make you presentable to the One you should be worshipping in church.  All the clothes on the racks of the best designer stores won’t do that!

If God is looking at your heart, and He is (1 Samuel 16:7), then your Sunday Clothes are not what He’s seeing.  He’s looking at your robe of righteousness. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Naked and Barefoot

“In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it, at the same time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.” And he did so, walking NAKED AND BAREFOOT.  Then the Lord said, “Just as My servant Isaiah has walked NAKED AND BAREFOOT FOR THREE YEARS for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. Then they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation and Egypt their glory. And the inhabitant of this territory will say in that day, ‘Surely such is our expectation, wherever we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20

Sometimes God will ask you to do some strange things!  A faithful follower, like Isaiah, doesn’t question His voice or ask why, but just obeys.
Isaiah was asked to remove his sackcloth, which was a garment made of coarse goat hair.  It was the normal attire for a prophet.  He was also asked to remove his sandals, and then walk!  He did this for three years because God asked him to.  Some think he wore a loincloth to cover his genitals, but the Bible just says “naked”. 

God’s purpose in this was to show Judea the humiliation that would come to the people who joined with Ashdod, discouraging them to become an ally with Egypt.  Perhaps if they had not visually seen what would come of those who did, how they would be led away naked and barefoot, they would have joined.  Ancient carvings show the captives walking naked, just as Isaiah had prophesied.
How faithful was Isaiah to what God asked him to do?  God calls him “My Servant”.  There aren’t a lot of people in the Bible that God called “My Servant”.  To list them, it was Abraham, Moses, Caleb, Job, Eliakim, and Zerrubbabel.  That’s a short list of only seven people including Isaiah.

If God asked you to walk naked and barefoot for three years, could you do it? 


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!


You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” – John 8:44

When I was a little girl, there were many little chants we would say that were childish and meant to hurt the other person.  One of those was “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!”  I’m not sure what it was that would catch those pants on fire, but I’ve seen little girls turn to tears when you called them a liar!  But that was then, and this is now.  I am constantly amazed at what we allow to become acceptable conduct as a society, and how quickly our standards fall.  In my lifetime, one of the greatest falls I have seen is in the value of truth. 
We have accepted lies as part of our political system.  We no longer expect our presidents to tell the truth, and are satisfied wondering if what they are telling us is the full truth.  “Tricky Dick” they called Nixon, because he told so many lies.  “No new taxes” said Bush, and yet it was followed by additional taxes, and was excused.  Al Gore, while running for president, stated the he invented the internet. Yet instead of being rejected, he was excused as he stated that he “misspoke”.  

We’ve allowed Hollywood to make lies acceptable.  Watch any sitcom that is situated around a family, and you’ll soon see spouses encouraged to lie to each other.  Raymond (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) lies to Pam about going to play golf, and the messed up check book.  One of the most popular shows for teen girls today is called “Pretty Little Liars”.  Think back on the episodes of shows like Friends, Home Improvements, Full House, and others.  How many lies have you watched, with each one dulling your senses?
We have even reduced the severity of lies by calling them “little white lies” or “untruths”.  We find it acceptable to say that the dress doesn’t make her look fat, when that is also a lie.  We promise our kids trips to do this and that with no intention of making good on the promise.  We have even stopped teaching our kids that the truth is always the best policy, and taught them that sometimes it’s best to lie.  Think back.  Have you ever told your child, “tell them that…..” and encouraged a lie?  Have you ever crossed your fingers to “ok” telling a lie?

While lying has become an acceptable sin, our hearts grow even more calloused to the conviction of God’s word on the subject.  God’s word says that satan is the father of lies, meaning they are his offspring, created from his spirit (John 8:44), which is also called the spirit of error (1 John 3:24).  Lies are in direct conflict with the Holy Spirit, which is called the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26).  Looking at lying as a spiritual problem, which it is, can we not see the war at hand? 
With each lie you tell, each lie you do not reject, you allow satan a stronger hold on your life.  Other sin and lies go hand in hand.  In the Garden of Eden, satan spewed out the first one saying “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).  Cain followed suit after killing his brother.  When God asked where Abel was, he said “I do not know.”(Genesis 4:9).  Fast forward a few hundred years and you find King David, a man after God’s own heart, being dishonest in his attempts to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba after getting her pregnant.  Move a few more hundred years forward and you find the Jews accusing Jesus in front of Ciaphas, calling him an “evildoer”(John 18:30), while Simon Peter stands outside the courts saying he is not one of Jesus’ followers. And in the new church, find Ananias and Sapphira lying about the land they sold when they brought only a portion of the proceeds to the church (Acts 5:3).  It’s one of those age old questions like the chicken and the egg.  Which came first, the creation of the lie or the sin?

In most cases, lies are a symptom of an even bigger issue. Satan lied to Eve because he wanted to trick her.  Cain lied because he wanted to cover up a murder.  David lied to cover adultery. The Jews lied to cover hatred and fear of Jesus.  And Simon Peter lied to make himself acceptable to others.
Lying is a common problem among all of us, an epidemic in our society.  But its cause is an even greater problem.  The next time you are tempted to tell a lie, investigate your intentions.  Why are you about to lie?  Is it to cover a sin?  Is it to make yourself more acceptable to people?  Is it to harm someone else?  Is it to cover insecurity? Lies are told for a reason.  Find the reason, and uproot the reason for your lies.  If the epidemic is to end, let the end begin with each of us.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Life Is Not a Piece of Cake

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” – 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

In cooking there is a rule regarding ingredients that says that if you want good food from your recipe, you have to use good ingredients.  For example, to make the very best cake you would use whole milk, not skim.  You would use butter, not margarine.  You would use fine, sifted flour.  And, fresh eggs do make a difference in your cake over those that have sit in your refrigerator for weeks.  But life is not a piece of cake!  Life is more like gold, which is purified by being thrown into the fire.

The best lived lives are often filled with events that are painful and bitter.  Such was the case with Horatio Spafford.  Although you may not know his name, you most likely know the words that he penned when he wrote the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul”. 
Horatio was a successful Chicago lawyer with several business interests, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and the father of four daughters.  But in 1871 when the Chicago Fire occurred, it ruined him financially.  Two years later, in 1873, he decided to take his family to Europe and start a new life.  But travel plans changed and he had to send his wife and four daughters on ahead of him.  While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship collided with another and sank.  His wife sent him a two word telegram days later, “Saved alone”.  All four of his daughters had died at sea.  It was on the journey to meet his wife that he crossed the place where his daughters died, and wrote the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul”.  From his sorrow and grief came glory for God.  The song has lifted many heavy hearts as we sing the lyrics that he penned in pain.

But Horatio Stafford’s story doesn’t end there.  He later had two more daughters and a son.  At only four years old his only son died of scarlet fever.  Grieving the loss of his son, his wife and two surviving daughters moved to Israel.  There they founded a group called American Colony, which served the poor by opening hospitals, orphanages, and soup kitchens.  The group continued into the 1950’s, serving countless people in need.
Sometimes we question God’s design of our lives, and why bad things have to happen to good people.  But this is God’s perfect design to make us who He desires us to be.  In the end, it is evident that Horatio Stafford’s miseries lead to a life that had great worth to God and society.  His pain changed who he was, his very character. 

From each of us, God desires a certain heart to complete His plan.  That is the reason why bad things happen to good people.  God takes us through the events of our life to purify us, as fire purifies gold, and create in us the character and heart He desires.
The apostle Paul also suffered many grieves as he followed God’s will and spread the gospel of salvation.  In 1 Corinthians 1 he writes to the church of Corinth, telling them that while they were in Asia they suffered so much that they despaired even life itself, and felt they had received a sentence of death.  But he goes on to say that it was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”. 

God is the purifying fire.  He knows what events to take us through to cause us to rely on Him.  His purpose in the pain is to not take away from us anything we need, but to bring us to a position with Him to see that He is all we need.  And with that comfort that He gives in our pain and suffering, we lose our self-sufficiency, and become reliant on God.  By relying on God we are then equipped to comfort others.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:4 that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  The comfort does not come from ourselves, but from God.  By taking us through the fire, God shares His comfort, and we become His pipelines of comfort.
No, life is not a piece of cake!  Good ingredients don’t make a perfect life!  In fact, in life, it’s the bad things that build our character.  Helen Keller, a woman born blind and deaf, facing odds that few of us will ever endure, perhaps said it best.  She said " Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Lord, thank you for the suffering you put in our lives, for even in the pain, we see your love for us that you provide comfort.  Purify us, and make us what you desire so that we can comfort others.  For we know your plan is the only perfect plan.  Amen.