May 31, 2017-Reflections and Riddles

What’s your favorite riddle?

According to popular legend this was President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite riddle:

I talk, but I do not speak my mind
I hear words, but I do not listen to thoughts
When I wake, all see me
When I sleep, all hear me
Many heads are on my shoulders
Many hands are at my feet
The strongest steel cannot break my visage
But the softest whisper can destroy me
The quietest whimper can be heard.

Have you guessed the answer yet?  I certainly didn’t–but then I never find it easy to answer riddles. (I’m STILL trying to bury the survivors of a plane crash on the Canadian border!)

Riddles can be a lot of fun. Obviously, I find the best riddles in THE HOBBIT..but that is probably because I love that novel and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkein.

Many things we read in Scripture appear as riddles to our eyes. Debates rage over everything from obscure meanings seen in its prophecy to how God measures time. It is good then, to see Paul’s instruction on how Christians view life as he set down in 1 Corinthians 13. This famous dissertation is often used in wedding ceremonies as it deals with the matter of love…but there is a verse given here that gets to the heart of our maturity in faith.

1 Corinthians 13: 12-For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Our vision of God is a partial one while we are here on earth. Scriptures show us a great deal of His holiness and character–but we are unable to comprehend Him completely for do not have that capacity as imperfect creatures. Only when we are cleansed of our humanity to be in perfect harmony with Him as we first were in creation will we truly ‘know’ God completely. While we gaze at His mighty works and glimpse his perfection here, in heaven His reflection will encompass us so completely that we will KNOW Him so fully that it will be like ‘knowing’ ourselves.

Truly, this boggles my mind. To know love that fully; to understand perfection completely; to see the One who created the sea and stars…

This promise of perfected, completed, and unlimited Divine love will be in us as it is in God. What a riddle! Obviously, our God has a sense of humor about His creation. It is as if he lets us see Him winking slightly…as if to say: “You’ll get there…eventuallly. You can understand me partially on earth…OH, BUT WAIT UNTIL WE MEET IN HEAVEN!

The answer to President Roosevelt’s riddle is: An actor.

The answer God gives us to the riddle of seeing Him…God gave His creation a second chance when they failed Him and chose the way of sin was by allowing us to follow His son Jesus Christ. How magnificent the thought that we will be able to worship and abide with Him in heaven through our claim of salvation due to Jesus’ atoning death for our sake.

 

 

 

May 30, 2017/Looking Beneath the Criticism

My youngest granddaughter has always had a true affinity for animals. It is one of her gifts that can spend hours with various animals and ‘train’ them to do things they might not be thinking about doing! She is also horse…crazy. And I mean CRAZY. If there is any way possible to connect her school work with the equestrian field, she will find it.

Horses and animals are her passion in life. It has become clear to me that her working future will need to have something to do with animals in order for her to be happy.

She has recently begun riding again after first being thrown from a horse and breaking her ankle, and then tripping outside and breaking it again. As expected, mom was a bit ‘fraught’ with worries when she went to her 4-H horse show and it came to jumping. The first show it wasn’t too bad as the jumps were merely two-feet. But, on Saturday, they were only jumping 2-feet and six inches.

Mom said ‘NO’ and a meltdown occurred. (Mom won out.)

While my granddaughter saw this as a challenge that she wanted to experience, my daughter had genuine grounds to call a halt: she hadn’t taken a jumping lesson for some time due to being out twice with injuries, the pony had seriously acted up getting onto the trailer earlier in the day; the jumps were at the top of the pony’s ability; and what is she fell again and re-injured herself?

My granddaughter just wasn’t ready to participate. Mom was correct in her assessment in criticizing my granddaugther’s judgment.

Most of the riders at the show received comments from the judges on why they earned certain standards in different classes and how to fix certain problems (like lead changes) and what to work on for future events. This feedback is an example of the ‘good’ criticism we can experience.

Dealing with criticism, however, is tough.

The last thing Christians want to hear (no matter how much we may pretend we want to accept it…is CRITICISM. In most of the recordings of Jesus’ time on earth, His criticism is wrapped up in parables so that what He is saying doesn’t immediately ‘sting’ his audience. In this passage below, however, as Jesus is about to be taken away right before his audience with the Jewish leaders and Pilate, Jesus has given up such subtly and rebukes his audience in a manner in which should have shamed the ones to whom it was directed.

Matthew 26: 49-55-And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.

Friend.

Jesus knew Judas was not His friend at this point. Judas, intent on betraying Christ wrapped the deed by calling Him, ‘Friend’ and sealed it with a kiss. Although outwardly Jesus’ friend, Judas was covering a heart now so corrupted by Satan that his use of ‘Friend’ is an abomination.

Then Jesus takes on his accusers. This same group that had every chance to listen to His teachings and publically disagree and argue their point, are so afraid of His popularity with the people that they come now to take and drag Him away in the dead of night with as much secrecy as possible?

Jesus is pretty much criticizing Judas and this arresting group as cowards, isn’t He? And He’s done it openly rather than wrapping it up in a story where they might miss His point!

In the midst of this criticism, Christ proclaims two truths for us to ponder:

1. No matter how we long to pick up weapons and fight, true conversion to God comes from the heart and spirit–not physical ‘strength’ of power.
2. Jesus had the ability to rid Himself of this situation. His death was not of His choosing. He could called have called twelve legions of angels to help Him. (Roman legions of soldiers consisted of between 4,000-6,000 soldiers.) So Jesus was proclaiming His ability to call between 48,000-72,000 angels to His side to stand with Him against those who had come to arrest Him! (II pretty much think that if Jesus had commanded that many angels to appear those who were against Him would have taken to their heels.

If we look beneath the surface, we find a deeper meaning that instructs us as His followers. Sometimes, as much as we hate to admit it, other Christians may NOT be our friends. They may proclaim friendship on the surface just as Judas did but become tools through which the devil may work against us.

That is a tough one to swallow. While we would LIKE to believe that we rise above such behavior, here is a warning about looking beneath the surface to the heart of human behavior–even with those we think we should trust. This is the ‘Look at what they do; not just what they say” lesson.

The second is encouraging and discouraging: God’s will will be done. Period. The Scriptures will be fulfilled. Jesus is attesting to this in no uncertain terms. The judgments seen in Matthew, Daniel, and Revelation will happen…just as the Exodus of the Hebrew workers came upon Pharaoh.

Hard times are coming…but God wins in the end.

Criticism can be offered with the best of intentions and the worst. It can benefit us and we may learn from it, or it can be deliberately hurtful. It can be offered with love or from jealousy.

Christians are to be wise and use discernment as they go about their daily lives. Recognize that it is within the heart and spirit that our real battles take place and ensure that we are walking as close to Jesus as possible so that we see those around us as they are so that we guard against the enemy intent on making us fall.

May 29, 2017/Giving Your All

Here in the United States, today marks ‘Decoration’, or as most know it ‘Memorial’ Day. Celebrated for many years on May 30th, this is another day that has fallen prey to the madness of ‘three-day-holiday’ syndrome. The Civil War, a battle that ripped our nation apart was over and the tombs of soldiers on both side lay as a reminder of just how close our nation came to falling. Whatever your chosen side there was, and is, no true ‘winning’ for the families of those who lose loved ones. This, then, is the day chosen to decorate the graves and remember the lost.

I was not involved with my husband during Vietnam. I am, instead, part of the ‘clean up’ crew who deals with nighttime perimeter checks, nightmares, loud noise reactions, etc….not to mention the medical issues.

We can’t go into a store without someone coming up to thank him for his service when he is wearing his Vietnam Veteran hat…which is a mixed blessing. You see, having been spit at when he first returned, now people are trying to give veterans the welcome that the Vietnam veterans missed.

It’s nice but they are missing the point. Those who served in Vietnam were drafted into the military. Those that served today are not. They choose to serve..and, either way, military service is a far different lifestyle than what is portrayed on television or other media. And, while the thanking may be nice, and make both the one giving the thanks and the one accepting it feel good for the moment, it diminishes the true service as ‘serving’ encompasses not simply the soldier but also the parents, siblings, friends, relatives, and lovers who deal with the different, but just as stressful side-effects of the person on alert at all times for battle–wherever they may be stationed.

Men AND women (don’t forget the brave women who served/are serving, please!) SHOULD undertake this duty out of a sense of responsibility for their country–not for politics, heroics, finances, or some yearning to complete a popular ‘mission’. The sole purpose for anyone bent on taking up arms for their country should be an allegiance to protect and support the freedoms most in this country take for granted: freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, petition, and press–along with the others in our Bill of Rights.

As Christians, we possess freedoms. The freedom of grace and mercy with the assurance that our sins do not weigh us down and make us unworthy in God’s sight. Christians have the ability to wipe the slate clean by going to God and claiming the words of the hymn: “Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” as written by Elvina M. Hall and asking for forgiveness.

Revelation 1: 5 & 6-And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Today may be Decoration/Memorial Day in the USA, but those of us who swear our allegiance to Jesus Christ are decorated with His saving blood forever, proclaiming Him in an army around the world that walks by faith rather than by sword–for while we are forgiven and march on here, our true home is not of this earth.

May 27 & 28, 2017/Fools

When I wrote that I believed that the enemy was working to attack my writing the other day, I was immediately confronted by someone who contradicted me. That didn’t bother me so much as this individual’s comment that lauded our earthly enemy who fights against God (note, I refuse to name this entity today!) in no uncertain terms.

I wasn’t so much shocked, as sad. I consoled myself that perhaps this person had stumbled upon my site by what they would consider an ‘accident’ but what I would consider God’s leading.

I don’t expect much from the ‘unknown’ people who read my work. Nor, do I do this for any reason other than to ‘diary’ what God is teaching me in some small way. I have found great satisfaction in visiting some of the sites of others who have ‘liked’ something I have written. Some live far off and it amazes and comforts me that we are joined so easily by our common belief in Christ. It is interesting to see where others are in their life and, perhaps, in their walk with Jesus. We are like a close knit family who have been separated by circumstance, yet long to catch up on what is going on in our lives. The freedom to write from the heart but in anoymity is freeing and allows one to address some of the deeper joys and sorrows that they experience.

It is scary at times to witness the power of the internet…especially when you are endeavoring to be a witness for the Lord. At times, it does tie your hands on what you write. It would be easy to comment on politics or current events–but there are many writers to do that. What’s more, studying God’s word without the benefit of certain classes or an expertise garnered from years of study is also frightening. Yet, perhaps in this we can touch others who would never listen if they met you in person? In any case, I plod onward in hopes that I may not impede the progress of someone in knowing God, but draw them in so that they will consider reading the passages that have touched me to find what God would speak to them.

Because of the response by this unknown individual, I decided to simply end this week with the Psalm that God directed me to after this confrontation. David, one who loved music, witnessed great triumphs and tragedies in his life. As creator of many of the psalms, it is clear that he often relied on music to accompany his words in creating these prayers.

I love music. Always have. And so, it is probably no surprise that I have a large matted plaque that reads: “Bach gave us God’s word. Mozart gave us God’s laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us Music so that we could pray without words.”

David used music AND words in this prayer of warning…

Psalm 53-The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God. There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

There is little to be discussed in this Psalm other than to rejoice that those of us who are Christians KNOW that our salvation has come! It came through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. It came for us. We are not longer in captivity to sin for the sinless Christ took upon Himself our atonement.

The enemy of God cannot win. His battle is lost–though he continues to try to thwart us at every level. He is as foolish as the one he praised whom God threw out of heaven.

Whoever responded to me the other day in praising  the entity of evil, I pray that you come to know the love and peace that God provides through Jesus Christ…

May 26, 2017/Love Is All You Need…or is it?

It is easy to become caught up in the idea that love is all you need. Jesus was so emphatic about how we should love one another that many overlook that this sentiment does not preclude us from our responsibility for our actions. Christ allows us to forgive as He, in turn, forgave others–but the debt for our actions still must be paid.

To understand Biblical truth means that one must examine the entire Bible, not simply the New Testament–for Jesus said in Matthew 5: 17-20-Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The idea of behavior based upon law is pretty much central to the Bible, especially the first five books of the Old Testament which make up the Torah. Here we find the ‘code’ of law, the very heart of what the Jewish Jesus would know, memorize, and meditate upon.

Reading Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament, some mistakenly see Jesus instructions delivered in the Sermon on the Mount as a rejection of ‘law’ in favor of ‘love’..but was this the case?

Not if you see who Jesus was speaking to and why.

Matthew 5: 21 begins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old…” This is the traditional way rabbi’s would teach about the interpretation of a matter. God had given us the written instructions on how we should behave. These were specifically drawn to aid us in how we approached everything fro marriage to work to worship. Jesus, knowing that He has come to fulfill the sacrifical system of a sin offering is not rejecting the Jewish laws so much as attempting to illustrate to His audience that ‘law’ is simply an action which does not take into account the ‘heart’ or thoughts that inspire such actions.

It is not longer enough to simply take sinning for granted and have it covered simply by the standards of given in the Old Testament; now we must look further into the sins commited to see that God’s standards go well beyond law and courts to the very reason of our self-will. We see Christ explain this: Matthew 5: 23 & 24-Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 

Sacrificing is by no means enough if we don’t attempt to put our sinful offense against another put right.

It is for this reason that many Christians confuse the idea that: ‘God is love,’ without the understanding that ‘God is also judge.’

The Beatles had it half-right with their, “All you need is love.”

God expects us to deliver the whole: All you need is love when accepting that Jesus died for your sins–but when praying ensure that your behavior must encompass TRUE acceptance of your responsibility and mindset in asking for forgiveness from God. Our heart and mind should in no case become to true penitence when we come before God…and our thankfulness for the offering Christ gave for us must never become a matter of the ‘routine’ rather than heartfelt.

 

 

May 25, 2017/Where I Am

 

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes the anticipation of planning a vacation. Sometimes, there is more fun in the planning than the actual event. In any case, the very thought of leaving the fast-paced life to spend some ‘down’ time is usually something to soothe those who are stressed by trying to ‘be’ all and ‘do’ all seven days a week.

Often, however, in our effort to slow down and relax, we plan so many activites that we are exhausted when we return from what we describe as a ‘vacation’. (Just ask someone who has returned from Disney.)

Jesus was not going on vacation. He was on His way to endure the greatest of sacrifices. But He had some last minute thoughts to finish in His talk with His Father about ‘where He was’ in His life and ministry right then.

John 17: 24-26- Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

To ‘be with Him where He is’. Obviously, that can not be. We are still stuck down here–running around like lemmings to work, buy, handle our responsibilities here on earth. Why would He even consider this as a possibility? We can’t ‘be with Him where He is’ while we are living here…or can we?

Jesus reminds His Father of their shared love. Before creation this love existed. After all that has happened since that time, our world and its people still don’t get the heart of the God Jesus knows.

God’s love is perfect.

His love is perfected to such a degree that He has refined it to where this love extends beyond self to inestimable holiness.

It is impossible to get your mind around this when you contemplate it. You hear of the horror of children being killed for no reason; of man’s inhumanity to his fellow men/women; of life being snuffed out with careless regard; of prejudice so deep that the skin color, language, culture, or appearance, can cause one to be targeted for death.

And we react.

“They should be shot.”

“They are little more than cowardly animals.”

“Kill them.”

We pass any thought of love on our way to anger…hatred…judgment.

There are many ‘religions’.

Here, however, is the example of the vital difference Jesus Christ makes from all others: THAT THE LOVE WHEREWITH THOU HAS LOVED ME MAY BE IN THEM, AND I IN THEM.

We forget and fail that love. Our highest aspiration. The focal point of our declaration as Christians. An almost insurmountable goal; one which we may mouth but caught up in the reality of life, forget.

Right here, in Christ’s prayer we are shown His absolute commitment to humanity through His acceptance of the death He is about to freely give for our sake..that we may come to know the unbounded perfection of God’s love.

I fall so short.

I utter words of anger calling for justice and death without thinking. I want earthly justice. I forget that the same measure I use will be used against me by God one day.

MY LOVE IN THEM, AND I IN THEM.

We would do well to think on the conclusion of Christ’s intercessory prayer each day. We will never fully process the true measure of God’s love here in earth because we are sinners, yet it is because we are sinners that He gave us His son Jesus that we might begin to understand the true power of that love….

May 24, 2017/Reviewing a Prayer

At first glance, it may seem that John 17 is repetitious. It seems as if Jesus goes over the same territory in this intercessory prayer which causes us to wonder what He was about in praying like this.

As I study this chapter in John, I began to wonder if there was some meaning that I was missing here until I came across a reference in a fictional mystery novel that I was reading that had to do with the celebration of Yom Kipper. That led me to an opinion of why Jesus might have prayed in this manner.

People who are wise search for answers by beginning at the start of a lesson or a story. It is good to begin with the facts of the matter rather than the conclusion. That is one of the reasons why I believe Christians should spend more time learning about the Jewish faith…as Jesus Christ was a Jew. When God made His covenant with Abraham, He gave His children laws to follow and sacrifices to practice until the proper time when He would send His Son.

Studying these laws, practices, and celebrations, open us to an even greater understanding into the heart and mind of God. One of these is the greatest Holy day of the Jewish faith–Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is on this day, once every year, that the high priest enters the inner sanctum of the temple to offer the blood/sin sacrifice for his people so that God will not hold them accountable for their sins.

According to my research (please correct me if I am wrong) when the Jews recite the Al Khet (prayer at Yom Kippur) they gently knock their fists to their chests as each sin is spoken as listed below. These sins are given as plural because according to tradition each Jew feels they bear a measure of responsibility for the actions of their fellows in the Jewish faith.

“For the sin that we have committed under stress or through choice;
For the sin that we have committed in stubbornness or in error;
For the sin that we have committed in the evil meditations of the heart;
For the sin that we have committed by word of mouth;
For the sin that we have committed through abuse of power;
For the sin that we have committed by exploitation of neighbors;
For all these sins, O God of forgiveness, bear with us, pardon us, forgive us!”

You can see how this prayer reenforces the point of the burden sin is casting upon the ones asking for forgiveness and mercy.

John 17: 19-23- And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Jesus has claimed these truths earlier in His prayer, yet He is so bent on praying for His disciples and those who will place their faith and trust in Him, that He is agonizing over leaving us. Just as a Jew agonizes over the sins he/she has committed over the year and begs for mercy, Jesus wants to again entreat His Heavenly Father to remember that He is within us just as God is within Him.

His glory is our glory.

His perfection becomes ours through faith that He will offer His blood to be our sacrificial atonement.

The world has known Him and will, in turn, know us as His.

Christians would do well to copy the Yom Kippur prayer and meditate on it so that they can truly understand how Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father…and the miraculous sacrifice of love, forgiveness, and mercy that Jesus offers us….