FAITH IN OUR GLORIOUS FUTURE

(Hebrews 11:13-16) All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on the earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were looking for a better country–a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Abel, Enoch. Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob are the people referred to in this Scripture.  They are the ones who admitted being foreigners and strangers on the earth.  Do you feel like a foreigner or stranger on the earth?  Maybe not, but think about the reality of our time here.  Our sojourn on the earth is a few short years compared to the eternal existence God has promised us.  In truth, we are simply preparing for the home that lies ahead.

Not to make light of our current lives.  The short period we are here is essential.  There are choices to be made and ministries to be carried out.  The most important choice is choosing Jesus as our savior and recognizing that his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead represent God’s provision for us. Through Jesus, we become sons and daughters of God’s promises.  As sons and daughters, we have an assigned purpose in God’s kingdom while here on the earth.  Like the faithful people of the past, we serve in God’s kingdom fulfilling what he has planned for us.

Looking ahead to what God has promised brings joy to us no matter what our circumstances.  Faith in our glorious future sustains us.  In hard times, we remember that this life is not going to last forever.  Our future lies in a country where there is no pain or sorrow.  Heaven will be filled with God’s love, and we will bask in his presence for eternity.

Love and the Ten Commandments

If you truly love someone you will treat them well.  You will honor them, and you will certainly not murder them.  You will not cheat on them, steal from them, lie about them, or covet what they have.  At least, if you love them, you will surely try. 

To accomplish this, you’ll have to be patient, kind, not envious, and not work to look more important than the person you love.  I can’t imagine that you’d be rude to them or easily angered by them.  When they‘ve wronged you, you’d forgive and forget.  You’d protect them, trust them, and hope the best for them.

You may have guessed that what I’ve done here is to connect the Ten Commandments, found in Deuteronomy 5:7-21, and Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  The Ten Commandments are not just rules to contain us, they are truly about love.  The first four commandments are about loving God.  The remaining six are about loving each other.  The Ten Commandments are about love.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t love God or your fellow humans, why would you even try to adhere to the Ten Commandments?

Jesus summed it up this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”   

GOD WALKING AMONG US

(John 1:1-4) In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all thing were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Imagine that God came and sat down with you and explained how best to live the life he has given you.  What an amazing advantage that would be.  Well this really happened some 2000 years ago, and Matthew recorded the event in his Gospel.  He starts out with these words, (Matthew 5:1&2) “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  Matthew continues on and shares the words Jesus spoke that day found in chapters 5-7.

Probably most of the people there that day did not know they were listening to the one through whom all things were created.  At the end though, Matthew tells us they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching.  They also didn’t know that Jesus was going to die for their sins; he was offering them a fresh start, and an opportunity to live a new life in the way he taught them.

Today, there are still many who don’t recognize that Jesus is God, that he died for their sins, and that he offers them a fresh start.  They may be amazed by Jesus’ teaching, but they don’t realize that to have the power to live by them they must receive him as their savior.  For those of us who do know that Jesus is God, and that he died for our sins, when we receive him, he gives us his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13) to empower us on our quest to live by his teaching.

OBEDIENCE

(John 15:9-12 MSG) “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.  Make yourselves at home in my love.  If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.  That’s what I’ve done – kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.  I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.  This is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you.”

The idea of obedience has always left a bad taste in my mouth.  I am leery of anyone who wants me to “obey” them.  From my earlies years, I have found ways to skirt around obedience.  As I was contemplating my approach to obedience, I was taken aback by the sudden realization that disobedience is what got us humans into trouble from the very beginning.  “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11)  I think it is time for me to reevaluate the concept of obedience. 

In John 15:9-12 Jesus makes a clear connection between love and obedience.  If I keep his commands I’ll remain in his love.  Then the reverse is true.  If I don’t keep his commands, I will separate myself from him and set myself outside of his love.  If I choose disobedience then separation and loss of love is also my choice.  If I want to be like God and love like he loves, Jesus tells me that obedience to his commands is the key.  I then have a love relationship with him that flow out of me to others.

I remind myself that when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, they brought sin and death into the world.  I indulge that devastation when I disobey Jesus’ command to love one another.  Obedience from this vantage point gives me a whole new perspective, and it nurtures in me a true desire to be obedient.  Unfortunately, a change in perspective is only a start, but it’s good to get started.  To change my heart takes the Lord working in me.  He and I have our work cut out for us.

THE SOURCE OF TRUTH

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The Bible is a great source for understanding the world in which we live. These first words from the Bible answer the fundamental question about where did the world we know come from.  There are those who would say this is myth and give you the alternative explanation that it all happened by accident.  I find it hard to except that the intricate details and creativity found in the universe came about by accident, but let’s move on.

The Bible also describes the characteristics of the creator.  We learn to know him as we read about his interactions with his creation, and we find that he loves us.  Through prayer and worship we communicate with him, and he in turn speaks to us.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us many lessons about how we should live.  Life is so much easier and fulfilling when we live this life according to Jesus’ teaching and avoid the ways of the world.  However, we find this hard to do.

The Bible also explains that due to our rebellion against God we have inherited a sinful nature.  This sinful nature resists God’s instructions and wants to live this life without God.  God in his great love for us is constantly working to draw us back to himself.  All of this information is right there in the Bible.  If you desire to know the truth, read this one-of-a-kind book. 

ADVERSITY

(John 16:33) I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Jesus said these words to his disciples as he was getting ready to finish his work and return to the Father.  He knew that they were going to face considerable adversity as they carried the Good News to the world.  His encouragement to them was first that they would have peace in him, and secondly that they would “take heart” because he has overcome the world. 

Take heart is a familiar statement, and most modern translations use the words take heart for this verse.  I wanted to better understand what Jesus was saying, so I did a little digging.  Here’s a definition that I thought explains the term well:  to gain courage or confidence: to begin to feel better and more hopeful.  God put in us great inner strength, but he never meant for us to face adversity alone.  We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.

I stumbled on this scripture from Proverbs when I was going through chemotherapy.  (Proverbs 24:10) If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength?  It caused me to take heart, to rise up and continue to face my adversity.    So I gained courage and confidence, and I began to feel better and more hopeful.  I was strengthened in myself, but I was not strengthened by my own ability.  Through my relationship with God and the guidance of his word, I was encouraged in him.  I was able to rise up and face my adversity, because Jesus was at my side through it all.

OUR LEARNING DISABILITY

(Romans 7:25) Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

When I was working on my teaching credential, I had the opportunity to work in a school that dealt with learning disabilities.  I was assigned to work with a young lady who was struggling with basic math. She was in third grade but still at a beginning first grade math level.  The director explained that though she might seem to learn a lesson, she would not retain the information the next day.  Sure enough, the information I taught her that day was gone the next day.

I gained some very useful information during my time at that school.  Relationship, patience, and repetition were the three most important things I learned.  Patience and repetition go together.  Teaching someone who struggles with learning requires abundant patience, which facilitates repetition.  Say it, see it, touch it, and then do it again.  Sometimes we rhyme it or sing it.  Relationship however is perhaps the most useful.  Developing a relationship with the student insures that they will hear what you say, and they will pay attention to you.  If they don’t understand that you are there for them, and you care about them, information transference will not take place.

I shared all that to first point out that we are all learning disabled.  Our sinful nature, the flesh, is with us until we leave this life.  It constantly interferes with what Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is teaching us. He has a difficult task in bring us along the road to Godliness.

Secondly, note that Jesus is applying these teaching methods to help us overcome our disability. He is building a relationship with us that started with our recognizing that he cared enough to die for us. And have you noticed how patiently he continues to teach us? The lessons are patiently repeated over and over again. 

I know that I have improved from the lessons Jesus taught me over the last 40 some years, but I often find that he needs to repeat even the earliest lessons.  This is when my learning disability confronts me.  I am so happy that Jesus cares for me, and that he is patient with me when I need to review previous lessons.  Jesus is overwhelmingly patient and kind.

WALKING NOT RUNNING WITH GOD

(Micah 6:8) He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite scriptures.  It puts the requirements of walking with God in a nut shell.  It teaches us the basics in a clear and simple way.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the last part of verse 8 in these words, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” 

Notice the word “walk”; this scripture talks about walking with God – not running with God.  This is a “me” thing.  I like to think of my life as a quiet and peaceful walk with God.  I don’t believe that we are asked to be constantly out of breath while running with God. 

Walking humbly with God teaches us how to relate to God.  In our walk with God (not a run), we should assume a humble place.  Remember Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (see Matthew 11:30).  I think it’s acceptable to relax and enjoy our walk with God.  Don’t you think that the work of the Kingdom comes from a relationship born out of our quiet and peaceful walk with the Father God?

Jesus also said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).  Those who have received salvation through Jesus the Christ have become the children of God.  He is always with his children.  When we mess up, and fail to follow his teaching, he is with us.  When we take the wrong path, he is with us.  Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).  He will never abandon his children.

Micah 6:8 gives us clear directions, but we have the handicap of being sinners.  We have a tendency to fail when it comes to following those directions.  Therefore, we always need Jesus.  We need to remember that he is always with us, and he will never leave us.  Jesus is always teaching us, and he is always saving us.  He loves us!  In walking humbly with him, we learn to rely on him.  So, not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking God seriously seems to be good advice. 

REFLECTIONS ON PSALM 86

Psalm 86 is attributed to King David.  This week I’ve been renewing my appreciation of this Psalm.  One of the fascinating features of this psalm is that David reveals his perception of God.  In these verses we see the Attributes of God as David came to know him.

Verse 5: You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.

Verse 8: Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours.

Verse 10: For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.

Verse 13: For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the

realm of the dead.

Verse 15: But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in

love and faithfulness.

So I ask myself, “Is this the God I know?”  I am compelled to answer with an emphatic,” yes”!  During the time I have walk with the Lord; I have found David’s words increasingly describe who God is to me.  David asked God to teach him; so that he might understand his ways (see verse 11).  God has taught me much over the years, and I have grown in my understanding of his ways. 

David has left us with a carrot of expectation.  If we want to know God as he did, we just have to call on the Lord.   As he said in verse 5, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you”.

HOPE

(Ephesians 1:18) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.

Where I live the summers are very hot.  Often we have weeks where the temperature is more than a hundred degrees every day, and it barely cools off over night.  Last week we had a break.  The day time highs were in the mid-nineties, and the overnight temperatures descended into the low sixties.  However, the heat is back.  The hundred plus days have returned.

Hope supports us through the summer months.  We know that cooler weather is coming.  It cooled down last year, so in hope we trust that the pattern will continue.  Meanwhile, we do our best to patiently deal with the heat.    

Isn’t life in Christ just like that?  We live in a world full of sin, and we personally deal with the sin within us.  Sometimes we have days full of love and peace.  Other times the battle is on, and we struggle through the hard times.  Yet we have great hope that the struggle will someday end, and we’ll be in the presence of the Lord forever.

Hope is the best way to navigate life.  Hope fills us with joy and gives us the strength to be patient in times of affliction.   Prayer keeps us in touch with our eternal Father so we can live our days anticipating our eternal future.  Our hope is in him who has promised us an eternal life basking in his love.  When we arrive at our final destination hope will no longer be necessary. It will have fulfilled its purpose.  Till then, hope will be there to encourage us along life’s path.