Friday, January 26, 2018

Mountains and Valleys

Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” – Isaiah 40:4-5

Our lives are filled with highs and lows.  Lately all around me there seem to be lows.  There are sick friends, children fighting horrible diseases, destruction of strong families, financial struggles, and the list goes on and on.  As I drove home yesterday God showed me something.  As I drove in the dark, which is something I don’t often do because I can’t see well at night, I was following Don’s tail lights.  But if he went down a hill before I did, I couldn’t see him.  I’d have to just follow in faith – and then a few seconds later, there he would be. 

Going through life is much like that.  We are sometimes in such a low that we cannot see over the mountains that surround us.  Or we’re on such a high mountain top, with everything right in our little world that we don’t see what’s coming up the mountain to drag us back down. 

Today, regardless of where you are – a mountain or a valley – realize these three things, and find your joy and hope.

First, God is never taken by surprise.  Isaiah 46:9-10 says that God has declared the end from the beginning.  He is omniscient, knowing all actualities and possibilities.  We walk through this life not knowing what the next moment will bring, much like my driving in the dark.  But we can all have faith that God has seen them already, and is leading us to them, and through them. 

Secondly, realize God has a plan for your entire life filled with mountain highs and desperate valleys – and it’s a good plan!  Jeremiah 29:11 says that His plan for us are for good, not evil, and they offer us a future and hope.  He knew us before we were even formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), every cell of our body was part of His perfect construction plan.  Every moment, every single day is designed for you with a purpose that only the plan maker can fully grasp.   He will complete that plan, as stated in Philippians 1:6 “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.  Look at the paths of people like Moses, David, Joseph, and Jacob in the Bible.  Their lives overflowed with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  But they became great because they leaned on God in the difficult times, and continued to follow him. 

Lastly, find hope in knowing that one day, God has promised to raise the valleys, lower the mountains,  make the crooked times in your life straight, and the rough places smooth.  One day you will see and know why your life plan was filled with potholes and ditches, as well as elevated days (Isaiah 40:4-5).  The glory of God will be revealed in your life if you continue to follow His lead.    

Looking back at my ride home last night, I’m grateful to have had Don’s tail lights to follow.  His vision is clear, and he drives home at night all week long.  He’s experienced at handling the dark, and knows where the hills are and the valleys, and the curves and crooks, the entire way home.  Likewise, God knows where we’re going to hit a bump and a curve will come out of nowhere.  Those are good reasons to follow Him closely.  What better guide can you have through this life than to follow the one who holds the blueprinted plan of your life?  Lean on Him in prayer in the tough times and praise Him in the good times.



Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Can We Be Holy?


“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16

I didn’t get far in my Bible study this morning.  I got to the opening page of BibleGateway.Com, and this was the verse of the day.  I’ve read it many times, but what does Holy REALLY mean?  I looked it up.  According to Strong’s Concordance (G40), it means to be “pure, sinless, upright, holy”.  Reading further it states that it means “distinctly of God pre-eminently”, “such as a kiss is a sign of the purest love”.  
But can we mere mortals be holy?  The answer, simply put is YES.  We have the ability in our own bodies to be holy.  Look at Enoch, who walked so closely with God that he didn’t experience death (Hebrews 11:5), but was taken up with God.  Look at Job, who is said to have been “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  These real human beings, just like we are.  They lived lives in this world just like we do with daily chores and jobs, health issues, problems of all kinds, and they were “pure, sinless, upright, holy”, and demonstrated in their lives that they were distinctly of God.

I also do not believe we would have been commanded to be holy if it were not possible.  God’s words in this verse first appear in Leviticus 11: 44-45, when God himself says: “For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”  
Consecrate yourselves, setting yourselves apart, is what God desires of us.  He desires that “you shall be holy for I am holy”.

I believe as a people we have chosen to believe this is impossible rather than defining the source of the problem.  We do not want to fully obey God.  Obedience, at 100%, would be holiness.  But in our own wills lies those seeds of sin that we haven’t pulled out of the garden where we grow.  We choose to act out on our anger.  We choose to be greedy.  We choose to be prideful.  We choose to slander.  In all our sins, we have a choice, and we choose sin.

Sanctification is a word we rarely hear.  It means to be “set apart for Holy purpose”.  The Christian life of growth is supposed to occur in phases.  Just as humans we go through the phases of newborn, childhood, and adulthood, we are to go through the spiritual growth stages.  We’re to move from justification (being made right with God by Christ, 1 John 3:1), to Sanctification (obeying God’s will and being set apart for Him, 1 John 3:3) to Glorification (face to face with God, 1 John 3:2). What occurs is we receive Christ’s justification, but somewhere along the way we stop in the path of sanctification, choosing our own sinful will over God’s.  Grace steps in and allows us to remain His, for we are saved by Grace and not by our works (2 Timothy 1:9).  But our growth, like children who are never given proper foods to grow strong and healthy, stops. 

Friends, let’s all examine ourselves.  Are we growing?  Or are we frail and unhealthy children?  If we’re not growing holier by applying His Holy Word and His Will to our lives, then we’re not becoming holy.  While the command may sound impossible, we need to remember that with God…all things… are possible.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Tree of Life

“And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” – Genesis 2:9 

I was going through my personal email this morning, which is usually filled with store ads.  One had a necklace called the “Tree of Life”.  It was a pretty thing, with a gemstone wrapped in wire in the shape of a tree.  On the back the wire was wrapped in an endless circle.  God speaks through my email, I supposeJ, because he had a lot to say about this.

For many, the tree of life fades into the background of what they know of trees in the Garden of Eden.  There were two significant trees in the original home of mankind.  The Tree of Life showed God’s love to us, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil shows our love of God. 

Our love of God should have made us obedient.  But as we all know, we failed that test – big time!  When Eve and Adam rebelled against God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they brought evil into the world.  In a perfect world that was sin free - except for satan and his demons - they started a rebellion against God’s will. 

The Tree of Life still stood in the Garden of Eden after they rebelled.  In fact, it’s the reason they were forced out of the garden.  This tree provided eternal health.  In Genesis 3:22-24 God says “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”,  therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

On the surface, that may not look like a tree that shows God’s love to us.  But consider what would have happened if we had lived forever with sin.  Eating of the Tree of Life would have given us the ability to “live forever”.  But – we would have lived with sin – and sin would have abounded!  Since God has no fellowship with sin, we would have lived without God. 

Imagine a world where we were all left to our own sin, a world where depravity and evil reign freely.  A world where justice, mercy, and love were nowhere to be found.  Friends, the world is a sinful place today, but we cannot even grasp what it would be like without God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The Tree of Life was taken from us out of God’s endless love for us. He placed a flames around it to keep us from the tree so that we would have the ability to die, and not live forever.  But God did not stop there.  Through Jesus, He gives us back the ability to live forever.  John 3:16 clearly states how that can happen to you:  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.   Believe in Him.  It’s not just a vocal belief, or an “I’ll try anything once” kind of belief.  It’s faith.  As my grandmother said to me, “Pray to God and tell Him you believe Jesus was His Son, and that if you die, you want Him to take you to Heaven.”  Full faith in God doesn’t happen overnight.  We all grow in faith as we walk with Him.  But it all starts with that simple prayer and a simple belief in Christ as His Son, sent to save us.

The Tree of Life is given back to those that believe in Christ and accept Him as their Savior.  One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is about this tree in Revelation 22: 1-5:

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”

For those of us that have accepted Christ as our Savior, our eternity has already begun.  Like the endless circle on the back of that neckless, our live is endless – eternal – as John 3:16 says.  While our bodies will die, our soul will never experience death.  But for those that have not received Him, the clock is ticking.  Jesus says in Revelation 22:10-11 “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”  There’s a time coming when Christ will return and there will be no more choice of Jesus given to those that have failed to receive Him.  The righteous, those who have received his atonement for sin, will remain righteous.  But those that are unjust, will never be justified.  Friends, you have no promise of tomorrow.  This just may be the last chance you have to make a choice to receive Christ.  Your eternity could begin today.

And yes, I bought the necklace.  It’ll be a nice birthday present for someone.  J