Sunday, September 17, 2017
Rev. 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
This is the concluding vision of the city of God and it looks surprisingly like the paradise of Eden. While there was an earthly river flowing through paradise, now there is the eternal flow of the Holy Spirit in and through God’s people and the church. This Spirit runs through the center of paradise, feeding the tree of life which has been hidden since the fall of humanity. Now the tree perpetually produces fruit, providing for every need and/or taste. The leaves of the tree are taken and used as a medicinal balm to bring about healing for the nations. This is paradise restored where the effects of the curse are now completely overcome.
This beautiful description of the new Jerusalem is an inspiration. This vision of the beauty of paradise is a little glimpse of the kingdom of God which is already present, but not yet a complete reality. We are privileged to be invited into citizenship in this kingdom and to already become partakers of eternal life because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Once we breathe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit we already begin to experience victory over sin and death. No longer are we destined to die in our sins, but we are already participating in life eternal and partaking of paradise restored.
How is this possible if it has not all yet come to completion? As we step into the flow of the river, the Holy Spirit begins to work on us. The Holy Trinity invites us into the flow of holy love found in koinonia with God and humanity. We have already partaken of the tree of life and the healing effects of salvation are constantly at work, setting aright the corruption found because of sin. It is a healing for the individual but for all of humanity. Death is no longer victorious but life is being restored. Paradise is little by little coming back to life as the kingdom continues to grow and expand in the here and now.
The fruit of the tree may be seen in the fruit of the Spirit. What flow is love and joy, bubbling out of the new city. Where there have been tears, they are wiped away and joy fills our hearts. Peace rules the day as God’s people live in patient obedience, filled with kindness and goodness. There is no desire to turn back or leave paradise restored. The fruits are sweet to the tongue and therefore one lives in faithful fidelity to this holy relationship with God. Finally, gentleness and self-control are visible signs of this fruit. Month after month these fruits continue to be produced in the lives of those who are being watered by the streams of God.
The people of paradise restored become agents of healing in the world. The leaves of the tree become tools for God’s people to go forth as ambassadors of peace and healing to a world in great need of the living water.
We don’t have to live in the fallenness of the world. The effects of the fall of humanity have already been reversed in the works of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to step into that paradise restored and begin to enjoy what that means for all of us. We can begin now and remain in the garden until the restoration has come to perfection. Why wait?
Lord, there are times that I keep myself from your restored paradise. Please, help me to dwell in that sacred space. Amen.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Psalm 145:18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
The great and beautiful promise of the Lord is nearness. We are invited into a beautiful space of intimacy with our holy God. We are responsible to come to the Lord and call on him in truth.
Often we may feel alone, even when we are in the midst of many people. The noise, hustle and bustle of this world will not satisfy our deep longing for relationship. We are created for fellowship which is satisfied by drawing near to our Lord.
These days I have the joy of spending time with our two adorable granddaughters. However, I also have to spend quite a bit of my time in travel and away from home. On those days I will FaceTime with the girls. The little one, Alice, doesn’t really pay any attention but I like seeing her. Mackenzie, the two-year-old knows that it’s me and will smile and laugh and try and tell me things. It’s a joy to hear their voices and see what new things they have learned.
While all of that is fun, it’s nothing like getting to be with these little girls in person. When I’m home Mackenzie runs up to me, throws her arms around my neck and holds onto me tight. In the mornings she comes down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and climbs in the big chair next to me and just snuggles. It is wonderful to be right there next to these little ones, having one on your lap and the other one sliding up close. There is great joy and comfort being together in person.
We are all invited into this kind of a personal relationship with God. Our Abba, Daddy, Father - invites us to snuggle in close and sit on his lap and talk about what’s going on in life. We can shed tears, share joys or simply quietly enjoy the calming presence of our Lord.
We can only experience this intimacy when we come to the Lord in truth. As long as we try to fake our way through our relationship with God, or with the church we will feel lonely. The Lord will not be near because our own lies will become barriers to the love of God reaching out to us. God never gives up on us, but our lies are obstacles to love. We may have a virtual type of relationship but it will never sustain the way in which a real, face to face, nearness will.
Grab onto the promise of nearness and call upon the Lord with a sincere heart. Then, rest in the protective arms of a loving Father.
Lord, please help me live in your promise. Amen.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Rev. 18:11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
This is a vision of the end times when there is large-scale destruction. The sad news is that the kings are lamenting their loss of power and the merchants are lamenting their loss of revenue. Along the way it seems that no one is bemoaning the loss of life. All that can be see is the loss of their fortunes and the market that will purchase their cargo. The items within the holds are listed, which include very precious things of this world. Sadly, nothing else mattered to them and they were left weeping and mourning over the fact that they couldn’t sell their goods.
The profits mattered more than the people to the merchants. They bemoaned the loss of the things of this world, but they had no sensitivity regarding the lives of the people that had been lost. They didn’t care about the people, they only cared about themselves.
Jesus comes as the Savior of this world and helps to put everything into perspective. Eternal things matter so much more than cargo holds filled with fancy goods! People matter so much more than stuff. The lives of our family, loved ones and others matter more than all the junk that we can collect!
This past weekend I was in the Houston, Texas area which had just suffered massive flooding as a result of Hurricane Harvey. As I drove down the streets which had been flooded piles of peoples’ goods were in the front yard. For many, all of their earthly belongings had been destroyed after sitting in sewage-filled water for days on end. There was nothing to do but remove it, pull up the floors and take the walls down to the studs. The things of this world lay strewn across front yards, sometimes as far as the eye could see.
There was a great sense of loss for these people — a loss which should not be taken lightly. At the same time, none of the people I encountered had a loss of life, and in this they rejoiced. Person after person spoke of the temporary nature of the “things” that they had lost but I never heard them focusing on the loss, instead on that which had been saved. I was amazed at their positivity and resilience.
I don’t want to belittle the loss at all, but at the same time, I’m overcome by the focus on the positive. When the things of this world have too tight of a hold on us; when getting more stuff becomes the driving force of our lives; then we will end up bemoaning the loss of the things of this world. When we begin to see the world through the eyes of our Savior, we will begin to have an eternal view, or perspective in mind. God is at work in the new kingdom, one in which the things of the world will seem like nothing. Eventually we will wonder why we put so much stock in the the temporal.
We must live our lives holding very loosely to the things of this world. Hold tight to your loved ones, and to the One who gave his all for us.
Lord, please help me to live loosely connected to the things of the world. Amen.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Dan. 3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
This passage reveals to us the egocentric character of Nebuchadnezzar. In the previous chapter we read about the way in which Daniel interpreted the king’s dream and saved the lives of all the magicians. Now, those people turned against the Israelites and found a way in which to inspire Nebuchadnezzar to bring to a climax his hostility against the citizens of Jerusalem. He is so furious that his face is distorted. Rage overcomes his senses as he considers the fact that he has not completely won a victory over these Israelites.
The three young men are whisked off to the overheated oven while dressed in their festive garb. The detailed description of their tunics, trousers, hats and others garments provide an opportunity for witnessing a miracle in which they would be able to celebrate the true God, and not the false one which was placed before them. These young men had no fear of Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, they feared nothing but offending God. Therefore, they were willing to suffer at his hands, and were thrown in the furnace.
We know the end of the story, for they are never harmed. Their festive clothing is not even singed! They became symbolic of God’s people who would put worship of other gods behind them. They learned to fear no other king, but the LORD alone.
Fear can be immobilizing. So many things in life can hold us in a vice-grip of anguish until we are unable to engage in the normal activities of life. What we learn from the Israelite men is that we should fear nothing but standing against God. When I speak of fear, I mean a healthy respect. God’s desire is to go with us through life and lead us to a place of eternal rest in a place of peace with God. Therefore, anything that blocks our pathway to that peace is gaining more of our respect, than God.
We don’t like to believe that there may be idols in our lives. Surely we are living our lives in complete service to God, and yet, fear is a very real issue these days. A recent article, “Prozac Nation is Now the United States of Xanax” talks about how anxiety is the new depression. Somehow our fast-paced and device-ridden world has created high levels of anxiety that are making life almost unbearable. This new disease is attacking people at a rapid rate and experts are trying to determine how we may tackle the problems.
What if fearing God might help with the problem? Respect for the laws of God and leading a Christian life just may create enough boundaries that they may stave off some of the anxiety. Putting down our mobile devices for hours at a time may help to change everything. Sending the children to play outside may reduce anxiety for a new generation. Spending time with people in face to face relationships may become transformational. Even more so, spending quiet time alone with God where we can cast all our anxiety on the Lord may relieve more stress than we could ever imagine.
In his first inaugural address Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The fears of this world will be paralyzing, but a healthy respect of God will be freeing. We don’t have to fear the things of this world — success in business, material wealth, political power, but we do need to fear God and walk humbly before our God.
Offending God, by not giving God first place in our lives, is the thing we ought to fear. All the rest needs to be set aside as we seek to faithfully serve the Master.
Lord, may your peace wash over any anxiety which may begin to bubble up within my own heart and soul. Amen.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Dan. 2:12 Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. 13 The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. 14 Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; 15 he asked Arioch, the royal official, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.
The Babylonian wise men had been called before the king where they had been asked to do the impossible. They were supposed to not only interpret the king’s dream, but to tell him what it was that he did dream. Evidently Daniel had not attended this meeting, and it may have been his desire to keep himself pure and not to be associated with the typical magicians of his day. He was not one who practiced magic, but one who completely depended on God.
Suddenly Daniel found himself being rounded up by the executioner because of the failed responses of the other wise men of the kingdom. Now we begin to see some of Daniel’s character revealed. Not only is this a man who relies upon God, but he reflects a wisdom and grace beyond his years. We are told that he responds with “prudence and discretion” to the executioner. The end result is that he saves his own life as well as the lives of all the magicians.
Learning how to respond in difficult situations is not always an easy lesson in life. Far too often our emotions get the best of us and we want to tell people what we really think. Just imagine if that had been the way in which Daniel had responded? More than likely he, along with hundreds of other people, would have lost their lives. Daniel’s entire life reflected the way in which he served God. His spiritual disciplines included prayer, study and physical fitness. Now, that discipline carried over into his interactions with others. He took the time to be prudent and to have discretion.
Prudence meant that he had foresight. He could see where all of this was going and the end result was not good. I don’t think that it is a surprise to Daniel that all the magicians’ lives are saved for he would have thought through the situation. He didn’t return to the king just to save his own neck, but his prudence meant that he was willing to cautiously think through the situation and determine the best outcome for all. Just think about the relationships that he was building for the future and this would affect his ability to be a leader in the kingdom! His thoughtful action saved the lives of many.
Daniel was very careful not to embarrass anyone in this situation. He used discretion, working hard not to offend anyone. Daniel did not make fun of the other magicians and their inability to do what the king asked. He actually lumped himself together with all of them and told the king that he couldn’t do what the king asked either. However, what he did do was affirm the power of God to be able to do what the king wanted. He used the opportunity to declare solidarity, or unity with the other magicians, and to place all glory and trust in God. That is a great example of discernment.
Everyday we are confronted with situations in which we must choose how we will respond. Before responding we must act with prudence. Think about the desired outcome. Often speaking what first comes to our mind will not be the solution to the problem, but slowing down and taking time to see the real issue will help. Daniel could have simply focused on the order for his execution without finding out the details behind that order. He could have fought the executioner, but instead he chose to calmly find out the what had really happened. Once he did that, he was able to work on a genuine solution.
Discretion is not something that is always practiced. Not all of our dirty laundry needs to be aired! Not everyone has to suffer punishment for what has happened. There is no need to embarrass others because of a difficult situation. Discretion means we look for a win-win.
Daniel had learned to spend much time in prayer with God. He had been transformed and became more and more like God in his actions and reactions. Prudence and discretion don’t just happen naturally but are a learned discipline. We begin by spending time with God and then slowing down and taking a deep breath before we react. We may just save our live — and the lives of many others!
Lord, thank you for the role models which you have placed before us in your word. Amen.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
A Time to Lament
Cry aloud to the Lord!
O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!
Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.
Look, O Lord, and consider!
To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord?
The young and the old are lying
on the ground in the streets;
my young women and my young men
have fallen by the sword;
in the day of your anger you have killed them,
slaughtering without mercy.
The people of Jerusalem are instructed to cry out to God. They have tried far too long to make it on their own and it has simply brought them destruction. Now the prophet weeps for the city and invites them into this lament. Everything that they have known has been destroyed and they are overcome with grief.
God instructs them to cry out in their pain and to let the tears flow. They are to share from their hearts the depth of their pain and suffering. The mothers of Jerusalem are invited to intercede on behalf of their children, for they are starving.
The people respond to God and in this we see what they are dealing with. Life in Jerusalem has become unbearable. The enemies have attacked them until nothing is left but rubble. In a rhetorical response they describe the horrors of trying to survive in Jerusalem. There is not enough food -- and therefore they asked God, should mothers have to eat their own children? This statement is horrific, and is meant to be. It is an expression of the utter hopelessness of the people as they look around at the destruction. They are crying out to God regarding the devastation and now they bring another question before God. Is this so awful that even God's holy people, the priests might be killed in God's very sanctuary?
The pain of the people culminates by blaming God and charging that God is the one who has slaughtered without mercy. God quietly and patiently listens to their cries, for this is what God has encouraged them to do. While the people had been warned long before that there would be consequences of their infidelity, God doesn't point a finger at this time. Instead, the people are invited into a lament, a way to cope with the pain which they are suffering.
Far too often we think we have to keep a stiff upper lip in the midst of trauma if we are a "good" follower of Christ. The reality is that life will bring us pain and suffering. We live in a fallen world and we see the results every single day. Horrific storms and wildfires, devastating illness, accidents and death touch people's lives nearly every single day. These can take us to a place where we cannot even begin to describe our pain. That's when we begin to use over the top language for what we are experiencing. "Hey God, don't you know how bad it is? Are you wanting us to eat our own children?" Of course that is NOT what God wants. God wants the people to cry out to him, and is patient and willing to listen to the hyperbole because God knows that lament is like a healing balm for the people.
In the midst of our pain we are encouraged to cry out day and night. It's okay...God will listen. We are to intercede for those who are suffering. Be willing to pray through the night hours when your mind won't stop thinking about all that is happening. Bring the needs before God and then don't be afraid to express what you are feeling! God is able to take our anger, frustration and hyperbole! God would rather receive all of that, than nothing. Our silent refusal to turn toward God in our pain results in open, gaping wounds, that will not heal.
I don't understand, nor can I explain the suffering in our world today. There are times when I need to cry out to God in anger and frustration. There is a time to lament and today may be the day that we need to enter that space.
Lord, hear our cries. Amen.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
Stiff necks and Hard hearts
2 Chronicles 36:11-14
Reign of Zedekiah
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before the prophet Jeremiah who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God; he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel. All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem.
The comments about Zedekiah reflected the attitude of those who lived in Jerusalem. They had no regard for God, or the things of God. Zedekiah refused to listen to the words of the prophets and chose to do his own thing. He didn't seem to care that he was taking many people with him as he led them down the road of destruction.
Not only did Zedekiah refuse to listen to God, his divine leader, but he rebelled against the most powerful military force in his world. What we read is that Nebuchadnezzar had more respect for God than did God's people. At least Nebuchadnezzar thought that if you took an oath before God it actually meant something!
Refusing to listen or take advice from anyone, Zedekiah then dug in and continued to go in his own direction. He stiffened his neck, unwilling to be turned in any other direction and intentionally hardened his heart. He knew the right thing to do but would not do it. He became a role model for the priests and other leaders who followed him right into abomination and complete desecration of the house of God.
I hear people complain that when reading the Old Testament God doesn't appear to be all that compassionate, and seems bent on destruction. I would like to suggest that when we react in this way we are focusing on the wrong thing. If you read today's passage closely you discover an exceedingly patient and loving God who put up with horribly disobedient people for a long time. This was a covenantal relationship in which both sides had promised fidelity. The Israelites openly flaunted their infidelity, breaking the heart of God.
This is a story of stiff necks and hard hearts, and sadly more chapters continue to be written today. Our loving heavenly Father continually reaches out to us, trying to draw us back into a covenantal relationship where the image of God will be restored in our lives. Sadly, just like Zedekiah, we can become stubborn. No one has said that it's easy to humble yourself before God, but that is the call. Jesus was the ultimate role model, the exact opposite of Zedekiah. He bowed his head and with a tender heart gave up everything for the sake of us all. Refusal to submit to God's leading only hurts us. When God speaks and we don't listen, we will suffer the consequences. God, in love, is trying to lead us to a generous place in which we can thrive.
What is it that God may be asking us to do, and we are choosing not to listen? Every facet of our lives should be lived out in complete submission to the holy love of God. It is only then that we begin to understand the Apostle Paul when he says to follow him as he follows Christ. It is Spirit-transformed individuals who reveal to us the antithesis of Zedekiah and therein we find great hope. We don't have to be stiff necked. We can humbly bow our heads in loving service to God and others. It is in this place that we will discover the incredible compassion of a Messiah who continues to offer redemption for his bride.
Lord, I want to continually seek your face. Please, gently remind me when my neck begins to stiffen and my heart harden. Amen.