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.

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.

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”.

PSALM 8, A PSALM OF DAVID

When we look with wonder into the heavens at night, we connect with the billions of others who have lived on the earth through the centuries.  There is in us a great awe as we survey the vastness of the heavens.  We are inclined to speculate about where it all came from.  For King David there was no doubt that his God had created all that he saw.  And in creation, he saw the glory of his God.  In Psalm 8 he voiced, “How majestic is your name in all the earth.”

In my quest to understand God, King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (See 1 Samuel 13:14), sets a perspective of God that is foundational.  To understand God, I need to see how big he is.  You can’t get any bigger than the creator of heaven and earth.  Everything I know and understand, plus an infinite amount beyond, was created by God.  He’s big!  Yet he allows praise from the mouths of little children to silence his enemies.  God is big, and he is humble.

What draws the attention of this mighty creator?  Human beings are at the center of his creation.  In our original state we were created just a little less than God himself.  We are created in his image.  He made us rulers over all the creature of the earth.  David’s response to these thoughts; “How majestic is your name in all the earth!”

As I look into the night sky, the words of Psalm 8 always bring, from deep in my soul, a resounding praise.  How amazing are you my God that you can create these limitless expanses, yet I am important to you.  Thank you God for loving me, redeeming me, and giving me an eternal future with you.

  THE RETURN TO GOD’S PERFECT LOVE

(Genesis 2:25) Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

(Genesis 3:7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

From the last verse in Genesis chapter 2 to the 7th verse of chapter 3, a significant change came over Adam and Eve.  They began with no awareness of being naked; and then when their eyes were opened, they were ashamed and felt the need to cover themselves.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve only looked through eyes that saw good.  After the fall, their eyes were opened to also see evil.  The events of verses 1-6 in chapter 3 tell of their fall into sin.  With sin came self-awareness. 

Self-awareness has tainted the way we see each other and the way we love each other. Before sin came into the world, we were other focused.  We could love without thinking about ourselves.  Love in the pre-sin world was a pure love, a Godly love.  The kind of love God still gives to us, his perfect love.  But fallen man’s kind of love is infected by self-awareness. 

When we return to God through Jesus our Lord, he gives us his Spirit so we are empowered to fight against the sinful nature, yet it is a continual fight.  Selfishness, judgement, hatred, and unforgiveness get in the way.  We are born with a sinful nature into this world of tainted love.  We are trained by those around us to follow the selfish tainted ways of loving.  Yet there is hope for retuning to God’s perfect way of loving.

 We can trust in the hope of that day when Jesus will come and take us home to a place where perfect love again prevails.  The Apostle Paul speaks of this hope, (1Corinthians 13:8-10) “Love never fails.  But where there are prophesies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears”.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

(James 1:13-15) When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees?  They were the leaders of the Jewish faith.  They were the moral and righteous ones, yet Jesus called them hypocrites because they failed to recognize their hypocrisy.  So I ask myself, “Am I also a hypocrite?”  The answer is painfully, “yes!”  Every time I judge a fellow human, or place myself morally above them, I’m in danger of hypocrisy.  Since I’m a sinner like everyone else, I never have the moral high ground.  I’m as capable as the next guy of sin.  My greatest enemy therefore is my own sinful nature, the enemy within.

I’m amazed at how little impact Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor, pray for them who spitefully use you, judge not less you be judged, take the plank out your own eye so you can then remove the speck from you neighbors eye, etc.”, have upon my daily actions.  Do I think that Jesus was only kidding when he said these things? Actually, I believe he was placing a mirror before my eyes, so I could see my failures and maintain a humble place in my walk with him.

Truth brings reality, and reality should bring humility, which in turn will put me in a right place with God.  Then the words of Jesus can guide me into righteousness; however, there will always be the enemy within working to cloud out the words of Jesus.  Every day I need the light of his words to disperse the clouds and keep me in that humble place.