Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don’t Stop Thinkin About Tomorrow

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.  Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”“ – Hebrews 10:35-38

It’s funny the things that stick in your memory.  It was a Sunday morning and I was getting ready to go to church alone.  I was running late on time, and the dress was black.  I don’t remember the pendant on the necklace so much.  All I remember is the gigantic knot in the chain.  I’d gotten dressed and wanted to wear the necklace with the dress, which was really more like wearing the dress with the necklace (women will understand).  But when I pulled it out of my jewelry box it was tangled up with other necklaces into what I am certain was some sort of sailors knot, because it sure made me want to cuss like one!

Running closer and closer to out-the-door time, I finally had to make a decision.  I was either going to 1) have to change, 2) pick another necklace, or 3) go without one.  Which did I choose?  Option 4. I chose to stay home.  I sat there crying like a baby over a stupid knot in the chain, spent too much time trying to unravel it, and messed up my makeup and stayed home from church.  I’ll never know what the message was that day, how it might have affected my life, and what changes in me it could have made.  That’s not the only Sunday I’ve ever missed, but I’ve often wondered about that one.  Did I miss out on some key to life, some divine revelation that would have made my future easier?  It’s possible.

Hebrews 10:35-38 is part of a passage that begins by saying For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.  To receive God’s salvation, and ignore it as if it was free and without cost to anyone is a sin.  It’s taking it for granted, being ungrateful.  I had one of those ungrateful moments that day, and it ruined the day. I invited myself to a pity party, and I attended with all my tears and complaints!  

I think we all have those once in a while, days when we choose not to follow, not to endure what’s set in front of us.  Whether it’s a knotted necklace or an argument with someone we love, car trouble, financial crisis, or one of those lasting hurts received from church folks, there are two ways to see it.  It’ll either be a stumbling block, or a stepping stone. You choose.  It either causes us to fall, or we decide to just get over it. 

We sometimes allow the things of this life to overwhelm us and take us down, to make us stumbled in our Christian walk.  The passage in Hebrews 10 goes on to say “do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise”.  Endurance, through the fuel of confidence in who we are in Christ (Children of Almighty God!), should win out over the world.  When it doesn’t, it’s our own decision not to let it win.  No day is written in stone.  We do have the opportunity to change it.  I could have tossed that stupid chain in the trash and not let it win!         

The writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about the reward, and says “For yet a little while,
and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.  Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
  He’s not saying your salvation is at stake, but that God has no pleasure in those who receive salvation and live as if they haven’t. He says that these have trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace”.  Read that part again!  When we choose to not live for Christ, we have trampled, walked on, stomped on Jesus. We have made His blood a common thing, disregarding the divine gift of that blood to covers all our sins.  We have insulted the “Spirit of grace”, which is the Holy Spirit, by living as if He was not dwelling in us.  And in doing so, we have displeased our Lord, and our Father God.    

It is hard to live for Christ some days.  On those days when your buttons are pushed, your last nerve is standing on end doing the cha-cha on your emotions, and when you feel like giving up - DON’T! Endure! Step over it!  We are stronger than anything thrown at us with the Helper within! When the car breaks down, the bills pile up, there seems to be no hope for that reward in sight – keep on keeping on!  Jesus is a promise keeper!

There’s an old Fleetwood Mac song that says “Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow. Don't stop, it'll soon be here.  It'll be, better than before. Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.  Why not think about times to come, and not about the things that you've done.  If your life was bad to you, just think what tomorrow will do!”  Jesus came to give us hope, hope for a better life.  And He will deliver what He promised in due time.  When we have one of those messed up necklace kinds of days, we have to look past it and move on.  When you have those other events in life that seem to knot things up, toss them away and move on.  Use them as a stepping stone to get to where God wants you to be – and walk with Him.    

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reaching the Rejected

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—  not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.” – Ezekiel 3:4-11 (ESV)

It’s easy to witness and invite those that are like us to church.  It’s easy to talk with those that we can relate to about Jesus Christ and God’s word.  But there comes a time when Jesus asks us to be who He was, Friend of Sinners.  He asks us to offer Him to those that are stubborn, hard to believe, and the ones we would be “dismayed at their looks for they are a rebellious house”.  He asks us to go to those that have been rejected by other churches.  Yes, there are those churches that reject people who are not “churchy”.

But these are the ones Jesus would have gone to first.  He hung out with stinky fishermen (Simon, Peter, Andrew, James, John), and tax collectors (Matthew), which was a profession known to cheat people.  He chose as His closest friends those that others would have shunned.  I wonder how many of those people that wouldn’t sit at the table with these men because of who they were in the world later lived out their lives in regret having discovered who they became in Christ.  I’d personally have loved to sit across from Matthew and hear him tell of his travels with Jesus, or listen to John explain why he felt he was the “beloved” disciple. 

We never know what God will do with a life that’s beat down and looks to be headed down the wrong road.  But we do know that He has said that those that are forgiven of much love Him even more (Luke 7:47).  If you want your church to be revived, to be consumed with the worship of God from hearts filled with love for Him, seek out those who will love much.  Seek out those that have a lot to be forgiven of.  It seems to make sense to me that this is where God gets the greatest glory!

Ezekiel was sent to the house of Israel to deliver God’s message.  God told him in advance that they wouldn’t listen, that they were stubborn and hard hearted.  But what they were like didn’t change Ezekiel’s calling.  He was to GO, and God equipped him to go, saying “I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.” God will equip us to do the work He plans for us.   

Look around you today.  Who has God equipped you to reach?  Who is He showing you that needs Him most?  Isn’t it time we looked at those around us through the eyes of Christ?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pity Party

And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.  Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down.  So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.” – Numbers 11:1-4

When you’ve felt how good life can be, it can be easy to feel down and out when the bad times come.  We get so spoiled to God’s loving grace and favor that when He removes it, even for a short time, we want to ball up in the corner, cry, whine, complain, and pitch ourselves a pity party.  At the time, the pity party feels right – it feels deserved.  But sometimes when you look at something from the outside, even a pity party, you can see clearly the problem. 

The children of Israel threw themselves a pity party when they had been released from slavery in Egypt.  Setting out for the Promised Land, they had the cloud of the Lord over them by day, and fire by night.  He was with them, daily, minute-by-minute.  Yet even with Him present, their whining and complaining began quickly!  They didn’t like manna – they wanted meat.  They missed the foods of Egypt.  It was a long walk to the Promised Land.  “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” was the cry from the children of Israel.  And how did God feel about their whining and complaining?

God’s word says that “His anger was kindled” when He heard them. Complaining shows ungratefulness, mistrust, impatience, rebellion, and just the worst your heart can cough up!  God was so angered the fire of Him killed some of them! That’s right! They died due to complaining.

God knows our every need, and “shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).  He is gracious over all things in the good times and the bad.   When bad times come, we just have to trust Him.  He has said that all things will work to the good of those that love Him, and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Either we believe it, and look expectantly for the good to arrive, or we don’t, and are found without faith, unpleasing to God.

There’s an old gospel song that says “But when I look around and think things over, all of my good days outweigh my bad days.  I won’t complain.”  If only that song could become our anthem!  If when times get tough with our health, our money, our family, our friends, or just the rut of life, we could only sing this out from the heart, I think we’d all realize that just like the children of Israel…we have nothing to complain about.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Glory of The Lord in Ezekiel and Revelation

I’m in awe of the description of the Glory of the Lord, the “aura” around Him, looks like.  Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 tell of two visions in which the same four headed creatures were at the throne, and what He that sits on the throne looks like.  Yet they are slightly different.
Ezekiel was written before Jesus was born, and Revelation after His birth, death, and resurrection. The difference, if you catch it, is enough to flood the heart of the child of God with joy!  I can tell you this.  I no longer will look at a red sky, or the green of the northern lights with the same thoughts.  Praise God for His undying love!

Ezekiel 1:26-28

And above the firmament [cloud] over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone [deep bluish purple, representing royalty]; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it.  Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it [golden yellow]; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day [covenant forgiveness Gen.9:8-16], so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

Revelation 4:2:8

“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper [RED] and a sardius stone [known as carnelian, BLOOD-RED in color] in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne[covenant forgiveness], in appearance like an emerald [green, symbolizes life]. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes [purity]; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God [Wisdom, Understanding, Council, Might, Knowledge, and Fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2)].
Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal [diffuses light into many colors, like a rainbow]. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.  The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:


1 Peter 1:6-9 comes to mind:
In this you GREATLY REJOICE, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,  that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to PRAISE, HONOR, and GLORY at the revelation of Jesus Christ,  whom HAVING NOT SEEN, YOU LOVE. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with JOY INEXPRESSABLE and full of glory,  receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Amen! Amen! Amen!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Woe and Well Being

“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely He has turned His hand against me Time and time again throughout the day.  He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy.  Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer. He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.  He has been to me a bear lying in wait, like a lion in ambush. He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate.  He has bent His bow and set me up as a target for the arrow.” 
“Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed?” (Lamentations 3:1-12, 38-39)

In the Dominican Republic, God allowed me to see up close how the people live.  The majority don’t have many of the luxuries we have such as air conditioning, cars, brick houses, walk-in closets, immediate health care, and food without end.  They live in small houses with openings for windows, bathrooms in a separate building from the one they live in, and grow almost everything they eat.  They work hard all day with their hands doing jobs like raking the beaches, farming, and cleaning hotel rooms.  Yet if I had to describe them in one word, it would be “Happy”.  In spite of what we would see as poverty, they are extremely happy people.  Their priorities are different because they don’t know the wealth our nation has, and what they have is enough.
While laying their on the beach one day watching three young men raking the beach, talking, and laughing, God spoke to me.  It’s a question I haven’t forgotten.  He said “Would you be poor for me?  Would you be poor if that’s what it took to make you who I need you to be?”  Consider that for a minute.  It nearly took my breath away.  I’ve grown very fond of my blessings.

The people of the Dominican Republic are 90% Christian believers in Jesus Christ of one denomination or another.  These are God’s children.  Yet, He has chosen to bless them differently.  They live without care of car payments, house payments, or how to shuffle their busy schedules to get Johnny to soccer and Jane to dance class while still having date night with their hubby.  They don’t have to decide what they’ll eat because the answer is what is in their garden.  They don’t take an hour to decide what to wear to church because clothing is limited. Yes, they are blessed differently.
In Lamentations 3 we read the testimony of the Prophet Jeremiah, one of God’s chosen mouth pieces.  Here’s a man that God used time and time again to bring His words to the people.  God told Jeremiah that He had known him since he was in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5).  And just as God does for us, He had a plan and a purpose for His life (Jeremiah 29:11).  Was God’s plan full of blessings? Was Jeremiah’s life painless because He was a man of God? No! 

In fact, Jeremiah credits God for aging his flesh, breaking his bones, surrounding him with bitterness and woe, and providing no escape.  He says God “hedged me in” as if he were under siege.  He says that God shut out his prayers, made the burdens he had heavy, and he became the ridicule of people. He goes on to say that God moves his very soul far from peace until he said “My strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.”(Lamentations 3:18).
But after all the persecution that Jeremiah endured, he finds understanding.  God must have given him insight to the trials placed in his life.  He says in verses 22-24 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”” He does not relent, to think this was his own doing, because he understands that all things are in God’s power.  He goes on to say in verse 39, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed?”.

We don’t know what God has in store for us.  It may be showers of blessings, and it may be poverty and sickness.  What we do know is that God works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Every event, every burden, every celebration, acts as a cog in the grand machine of life.  The hard ones God turns, and the easy ones God turns. Sometimes He may have to tear away from us the things we hold dear, such as the walk-in closet of clothes, the car, or the brick house.  Things have a way of getting in the way of our dependence on God.  Sometimes He may decide that we are more likely to server Him if we have less, or more likely to serve Him if we have more. 
Only God knows our hearts, and knows them even better than we know ourselves.  He can see the future as the past.  He knows when we need a little “woe” and when we need a little “well-being” and distributes those to us in perfect proportions to cause our spiritual growth at the rate He determines we need it.  Yet, His compassions never fail.  All things He gives, burdens and blessings, are for our good.  Though we do not understand His ways or His thoughts, we can understand His love.