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Posts Tagged ‘God’

I have put off reading John’s account of the Revelation, because quite frankly, there is just so much that I have never been able to understand. He is writing to show us “what must soon take place”, and with all that is taking place today, I thought it would be good to give it another try. I had hoped this time, I would understand more.

Well, after reading through it twice and now beginning my third time, I have concluded that there is still a lot that I may never understand, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking. Jesus told John to “write what he saw”, so I have decided to do the same – to not worry about what I don’t see – to write about what I do see.

Though John is writing this to the ‘seven churches’, we can read it today as it is to us. I like one of his introductory comments; “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins”. In times past, I would have interpreted the word “freed” as forgiven. It is one thing to believe that we have and will be forgiven for conduct that stems from our sin nature – quite another to understand that he has freed us from the power of that nature.

That is not to say that there will never be a slip now and then . . . but slipping now and then is a far cry from being bound. When Jesus cursed the fig tree . . . was that not a bit of a slip? He was hungry. The tree had no fruit. It wasn’t supposed to have fruit because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit. Nevertheless He got agitated and cursed it.

When you’ve been bound by evil desires as long as I was bound by them, it is not a stretch for me to see that Jesus could have a flicker of anger without losing His sinless status. But that is just me. You may disagree; and that is fine. But like I said earlier, I will write what I see.

I had one other thought from this first chapter. John referred to himself as a “companion” to those to whom he was writing. He was a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”. He was stuck on the island of Patmos. No tropical drinks by the beach there; it was a desolate, rocky place. And yet somehow, while he was suffering in this hard place, we find him “in the spirit”.

As I write this, Israel is in the beginning stages of what could escalate into an all out war. In our own nation, we are wrestling out our differences. Hard places are plentiful these days. It is more important than ever that we make sure that we are “in the spirit” as John was.

In this kingdom that is ours, we shouldn’t have the misconception that we are promised protection from suffering. We are promised the gift of patient endurance in our suffering. There is no promise of protection from the hard places in life; just the promise of peace in them. Lord give us peace in these hard places.

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I will start with a thought I had yesterday:

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, onlookers watched. “He saved others, but can He save Himself.” Our nation is hanging on a cross today. Onlookers are watching. “They saved others, but can they save themselves.”

My prayer this morning is that the right group of people will come out in droves to vote to signify the first shot fired at a government that is out of control. That we would send Romney to Washington with the clear sense that ‘We the People’ have had enough. That it would be the first shout of our voices that will not be able to be ignored. And then . . . that we would keep shouting so that we might save our great nation while there is still a chance.

(This is a portion of my most recent article which I have posted on my new blog site.)

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I don’t know how it is in your house, but in ours there is one that tries a little harder than the other to patch up offenses. A blogging friend of mine just posted a story about one such attempt that involved a dozen roses presented on bended knee. It’s the perfect example of the extent to which the offender will often go – bending over backwards – to make things right with the offended.

My wife and I just got back from an anniversary trip. She has wanted, for quite some time, to browse through a certain store. Knowing the store was in the city we were going to be in, we decided to take part of a day to walk through and see what all they had. The store is huge; in fact it was a bit overwhelming.

Now you might think you know where this is going – the husband gets aggravated for being drug through a store that big while on vacation and then has to patch things up with his wife for ruining something she had looked forward to for so long. Guess again.

For once, knowing how much she had looked forward to it, I was good with it all. I put mental energy into making sure I was good with it all. But then the unexpected happened; because of the size, my wife got a little too tired before we finished making it all the way through. This time, I was the offended and she the offender.

Pretty soon after we got in the car, she apologized for becoming irritable. That should have been enough . . . but I wanted a dozen roses presented on bended knee. I kept waiting for more apology – more acknowledgement that I had done well to make her day enjoyable – more apology for not enjoying it as much as she thought she would. The longer it went, the quieter things got.

I thought I was doing good to bring it up later that evening. I didn’t want the ‘sun to go down on our wrath’. Add to the mix that the next day was actually our anniversary; I wanted us to get back on track.

I’ve decided to leave out the details of what happened next. I’ll let you fill in with what you think happened. But the next morning I got up and decided to read 1 Corinthians 13 to see what I might learn about love. I ended up reading 4-8a over and over and over. There was a phrase that kept standing out; ‘love keeps no record of wrong’.

Leave it to God to show you something you’ve never thought of. I had the frame of mind that thought it was the obligation of the offender to patch things up with the offended; and there is definitely a place for that in the patching process. But . . . ‘keeping no record of wrong’ – that changes things.

What if I had kept no record of my wife’s wrong? What if I had overlooked it? What if, instead of me wanting to see her bend over backwards to patch things, I bent over backwards to make sure there was nothing to patch? From a history of normally being the offender, I know there is a part in the effort to patch that is trying to relieve ourselves of guilt. What if, instead of wanting to see the offender bend over backwards to relieve themselves of guilt, we bend over backwards to relieve them of it?

It turns out, looking back, that is exactly what I should have done. She got tired and I took it personally. Had I loved like I should have, there would’ve been no wrong to keep record of.

And totally separate from this personal story, is the parallel of us with God. Don’t we, in an attempt to relieve ourselves of guilt, bend over backwards to patch things with Him. Don’t we do and do and do in an attempt to patch our wrong. Would He tell us to do something that He is not willing Himself to do? I have a new appreciation for the thought now, that we are the record keepers, not Him.

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The Gift of Grace

The party was just days away,
it would have been her first;
and now to us the gift of grace
helps us through the worst.

This ripping hole so few can know,
yet You who lost a Son;
will help us by the gift of grace
until our days are done.

We’ll long to see our little girl –
there’ll never be a day
that we won’t need the gift of grace
to help along the way.

Enjoy her Lord, as we sure did,
now she is in Your care.
Bestow in her the gift of grace
until we both get there.

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One of Webster’s definitions of the word ‘welfare’ is the ‘organized efforts to improve the living conditions of needy persons’. 2000 years ago there was one such effort. Matthew, in the 11th chapter and 36th verse of his gospel, records this about Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.

Jesus didn’t just have compassion on them; He did something to make their living conditions better. When a person finds themselves in a helpless state, assistance can give them hope that they will see better days. And so this is what He did; He offered assistance.

In the movie, ‘Cinderella Man’, much of which takes place during the depression, we see, maybe for the first time, government assistance. People who lived through that period of our nation’s history, were definitely a needy people. They were used to working, but work ran out. And when work ran out, food ran out. Heat ran out. The organized efforts of our government to improve the living conditions of our people, was much needed.

But what began as a much needed effort to temporarily assist a needy people, has now grown to an ever expanding group of people who believe it is our governments duty to provide assistance perpetually. What began as the organized temporary assistance to help a needy people through to better days, and to a people who gratefully, yet with reluctance accepted it, has now spread to a much larger group who insists they are entitled.

Have we as Christians, to some extent, done the same thing? Have we who were provided the much needed assistance of forgiveness – given to help us through to better days – settled instead for the assistance?

Are we as stuck in a Christian welfare state as many today are with our government? Some undoubtedly are. It is really no different today than it was in the days when the disciples and apostles were preaching and writing to the believers of their day. The writer of the letter which we know today as ‘Hebrews’, was making this same point when he said the following:

“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” The writers point is that we should not become dependent on the assistance of forgiveness. Instead we are expected in time to move on to maturity, able to ‘distinguish’ and choose ‘between good and evil’.

It was never intended for us to be stuck there. It was intended that after this initial assistance that we should go on to maturity. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives a clue as to how this is to happen. The same power that God used to raise Jesus from His physical death, he said God will use to ‘transform our lowly bodies’.

I especially like the way Peter puts it in his second letter. ‘He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.’

Like with people today who receive government assistance, some really need it. But some just choose it. Some have the ability to work their way into better days but instead they choose the easier path of assistance. Likewise with some Christians, some really need the assistance of forgiveness. But some who have received it continue to choose its easier path. They have not taken advantage of what the assistance was intended to do for them.

It is at least a little like the nation of Israel when God brought them out of Egypt. He gave them assistance to help them on to better days. It would require that they believe and follow as He led into battle. Instead they doubted and followed as He led them through 40 years of wandering.

He didn’t lead them into something they could do themselves; He led them into something they couldn’t do without Him. Similarly today, He did not offer us something that we could do for ourselves; He offered us something that we could not do – that we could not have – without Him and His help

There’s some fighting that has to be done. After 40 years of wandering, Israel was ready to do some fighting. They had had enough wandering. I was a lot smarter than they were; I only wandered for 30 years. For any today who have had enough – who are ready to do a little spiritual fighting – there are some improved living conditions to be gained.

It is not easy breaking out of a pattern that has developed over years; what takes years to do, takes a little while to undo. His forgiveness doesn’t wipe away all that our bad choices have caused, it is an invitation to follow Him out of all they have caused. There may be a fair amount to undo, but if we engage in the following He will lead us to the better living He intended for us to have. No matter how bad the pattern or how deep the hole, He knows how to lead us out. He wants to lead us out.

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A friend of ours owns a nursing home. Her main job is finding workers to fill the schedule that is necessary to meet the needs of the facility. To begin with, there is an overall shortage of qualified workers. So from the beginning, her work is cut out for her. From a limited number of workers, she must fill the shifts.

It would be one thing if the arranged schedule could be reliable; but it really isn’t even expected to be. For an endless number of reasons workers will call in to say they can’t make it. With an already short list of available workers, you can imagine the logistical strain this creates.

You would think that with the economy being the way it is that there would be more workers than necessary for the available work. But for some reason, it is just the opposite. There is much work but few who want to do it.

Sometime in the night last night – during one of my awake times – I made the connection. Isn’t that exactly the strain that Jesus must be under? There is much work and many are actually on an arranged schedule. But for an endless number of reasons, many who are scheduled call in to say they can’t make it.

In relation to these thoughts, I thought of a verse that many are familiar with. “The harvest is indeed plentiful but the workers are few”. There was a time when I questioned that. “Everybody has heard”, I thought. “There is no need of me telling them again”. So that became my excuse for not working – the reason I gave for not being able to make it.

But the truth is there is a need of telling them again. We all will get distracted from what we know to be true if we are not reminded of what is true. A patient in a nursing home doesn’t receive care once; they receive it on a regular basis. They must receive it on a regular basis. And so it is with people and their believing. They must be reminded on a regular basis of what they are supposed to be believing; otherwise they will get sidetracked in their believing.

I like the other part of that verse; “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest”. I think it is good for us to ask God to show us what we can do. Not just once or twice, but to ask until He shows us. We’re already on the schedule. He wants to show us where we fit in. But at the same time He wants us to be dependable.

I know the owner is thankful for a few who are very dependable. They have settled the issue. They know there is work that needs to be done. They understand their role. And I think that is part of it. We need to understand our role. We need to know the work He has called us to. And then we simply need to become faithful in doing it.

So ask and don’t quit asking. If you ask and don’t quit asking, you prove your determination to work; and why, when ‘the harvest is indeed plentiful’, would He not be all over you to show you where He has you scheduled.

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Have you ever wondered if there was another reason that God had to forsake Jesus during His final hours?  I’ve wondered lately if He simply couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to His Son.  If it had been my son, I couldn’t have watched.   

 

I wondered at what point God had to ‘forsake’ Him; at what point He could no longer bear to watch.  Was it while Jesus was being beaten?  Was it while He was carrying His cross?  While He fell beneath the weight of it?  Was it when they laid Him out on it?  Did He make it all the way to the nails? 

 

I’ve heard preachers over the years say the reason God had to ‘forsake’ Jesus, was that He could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself.  Maybe that was part of it, but I also believe God might have had to ‘forsake’ Him for the same reason I would have; He just simply could not bear to watch.

 

Sin effects people in varying degrees; some slip now and then while others are consumed, driven and destroyed by it.  Jesus could have stopped everything after a few lashes of the whip.  That would have been good enough for those who slip up now and then, but He went all the way to the nails.  He made sure He covered those who were destroyed by it.

 

Jesus knows how destructive sin can be – how it can beat on you till you can’t take it any more.  He knows what it’s like to be laid out by it . . . just laying there waiting on the nails to finish you off.  God didn’t bring Jesus back to life after a few lashes of the whip; He brought Him back from the worst.  By going all the way to the nails, He proved that no matter how far down sin has beat you, He can bring you back to life.

 

There was a point when Jesus was hanging on the cross that He said, “Enough! It is finished.”  I think part of what He was saying was that the price has been paid, but I also think He was saying, “I have covered the worst”. 

 

You have to reach the point where you say ‘enough’.  Whether you have just felt the sting of sin’s whip, or it has beat you down, or laid you out.  Maybe you’ve even seen the nails coming to finish you off and you’re just laying there waiting.  At any point you can say, ‘Enough!  It is finished.  That is all I will let sin do to me’.  Say it and He will forgive you.  Mean it and He will bring you back to life.   

 

  

 

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This was the first line in a note a guy handed me one night. “Pray for me to keep my oath with God.” It was exactly what I had been working on in my writing. What is it that will help us keep the oath we make to God? What is it that will keep us from easing up on the commitments we make? What is that will keep us from eventually forgetting God altogether?

It’s not so much that one day we are passionate for God and the next day we are passionate for the pleasures of the world, it is more that one day we are passionate and the next we’re a little less so; until we wake up one day and realize that we have forgot God.

So, how do we go about not forgetting? How do we insure that we will keep the oaths we make?

When God delivered the nation of Israel from Egypt, even though they saw Him do some pretty cool stuff . . . they forgot. And what did God do . . . He sentenced them to years of wandering. There are some things with some of us that can only be worked out of and in to us over time. And at the end of that period of time – at the end of the wandering – we finally come to a place where we are ready to not forget.

At the end of Israel’s wandering, they were ready. They were camped on the edge of what God had planned for them all along. Caleb and Joshua saw it 40 years ago. But the rest . . . it took a little time. And in Joshua chapter 1, once again, just outside what God had for them; they declare this oath; “Whatever you have commanded us we will do and wherever you send us we will go.”

I don’t know why it takes some of us years of wandering to reach this point of resolve when others reach it so much sooner, but I’m glad that God does not wash His hands of us. He knew how to get Israel to this place to where they could make and keep such an oath; He knows too how to get us there. Listen to part of a poem I wrote awhile back.

He alone knows where I’m bound
and how to get me there;
to follow close and listen well,
this my only care.

He knows how to get us to the place where we are willing to follow close and listen well. While we are carrying out our sentence of wandering, we follow sort of and listen a little. There’s a lot of ‘us’ that has to be worked out of us – the confidence we have in our own ability and the doubt we have in God’s; all that has to be worked out. So, to get us to this place . . . that is His goal.

I always had passion for God; but I allowed that passion to cool. I justified the cooling . . . all the way to it being just plain cold. But at the end of my wandering, I quit justifying it. I learned how important it was to guard it. When I sense that it is cooling, I take steps to rekindle it. If you can guard against it cooling for a day, you can be assured that it won’t eventually get cold.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His answer puts it all about as simply as it can be put. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” If you are Loving God with all your heart you will have passion for Him; and if you have that passion, be careful to not let it slip.

Maintaining passion for God will guard against distractions from God. Passion will help us keep the oaths we make. Passion will keep us from easing up on our commitments. Passion will keep us from eventually forgetting altogether. When we have passion, we can, as Peter puts it, “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”.

It’s not about concentrating on the elimination of our evil desires; you can’t do it. There is a nature that rolls and crushes everything in its path. God has set us up that way. He has, as Paul puts it, “bound all men over to disobedience”. Until the end of our wandering, try as we may, still we are bound.

But at the end of it all, when we’ve proven to ourselves without a doubt that we can’t do it, when we simply just come to God; He does for us what we could never do for ourselves – He changes our nature. As we come and continue to come, He changes us. Little by little, the tentacles of hell are cut. As He takes up more and more space in our heart, He rids it of all that is set against Him.

Our part is just to come. To come and not quit coming – to not let up on our coming – to let Him do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is without a doubt, the difference.

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When Tina sang that, she was saying she could do without it. I wonder how many people, influenced by the words of this song, have come to the same conclusion – have hardened themselves with this same belief. It’s easier to just quit trying than to work until you find it.

And that really is what we do, if we haven’t quit. We work ourselves to the bone to love and win the love of others. It’s disappointing when it doesn’t work, but because of the value we place on it, we try and try and try. It’s cool when it pays off, when the motives are right and the labor is rewarded. It makes it all worth it.

I wonder how many times God, tried and tried and tried with me. What’s love got to do with it . . . I’d hate to think of where I’d be if it weren’t for it. I think of all the things I tried to do to win it and all the miserable failures along the way when my enemy convinced me that I didn’t have it. Mark Hall (Casting Crowns) has a line in one of his songs that says, “I feel I am just one mistake away from seeing You walk away”. If it weren’t for love, wouldn’t He have?

I know when Paul wrote this line that he wrote it as a statement of something that had literally just happened. But think of it in relation to you right now – I did this morning. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us”. “God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners (while we were on miserable failure number ____), Christ died for us.” At just the right time, while we were still powerless, God demonstrated His love for us.

If we quit and walk away, we miss what could’ve been. I could have quit and walked away. God could have quit and walked away. But love, because it has everything to do with it, endures all things. God, the perfect example of love, endured all things with me; and at just the right time, when I was still powerless, He demonstrated it. That kind of love transforms. What does that kind of love not have to do with it?

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I work with guys who, as a result of some bad decisions, have ended up in jail. One is in for the first time because he didn’t control his drinking. Another is in for making and selling meth. Some are in for a short time while others await longer sentences.

I get to work with the ones who have turned to God. One who was in for drinking commented that he couldn’t believe how far off track he had gotten. He was a new person. Soon after getting out though, he is back to uncontrolled drinking.

The one who was in for selling meth, was in at least once before for 2 months. He said while he was in he was on fire for God. Within 4 hours of his release he was making meth again. So here he was, in again, telling his story.

I realize as they tell their stories, that they are not unique. We all struggle to keep from going astray; they just have more trouble with it than some of us who have gained in the fight. They have dug some deep holes for themselves and it will take resolve like never before to break the cycle that grips them.

God is doing His best to help them break it. Psalm 78 says, “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths.” I can relate to that.

Is there not that same cycle with all of us to one extent or the other? We forget God; He slays us; we turn back to Him; He helps us. Then we start the cycle over by forgetting Him again.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately. I’m amazed at the going astray he dealt with. His entire ministry was about sharing the gospel, people coming to God with sincere devotion, then falling away after he moved on. His letters addressed the issues.

I like the way he puts in 2 Corinthians 11:3. It reflects not only the potential for the Corinthian people to go astray, but Paul’s concern for it. “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

It troubles me when I see the guys sincere and pure devotion to God, knowing they will soon be thrown to the wolves and be deceived by the serpent’s cunning. Most of them don’t have the roots to stand strong. I have struggled enough in my own life to know the cycle very well. I tell the guys this one thing that has helped me.

Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples. He was getting ready to pass the baton off to them. The gospel would be on their shoulders. He knew they would need what He was getting ready to give them. Even He depended on it.

At the beginning of John 16, Jesus makes this statement. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” The ‘all this’ was the importance of ‘staying connected’ that He spent most of John 15 telling them about. When I look back on my walk with God, I see times I was connected and times that I was not. When I was, I was on fire for God. When I wasn’t, I went astray. This will be true if you’re in jail or out, if behind the pulpit or in the pew; there is no easy road. Staying connected is the only way I’ve found to break the cycle of going astray.

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