Worthy is the Lamb

Eschatology_The-Coming-KingAt the beginning of Jesus Christ’s public ministry, Matthew 4:17 states,  From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the two thousand years that have followed since that time, that message has never changed. In fact, in the very last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which speaks of the end times, he stated at the beginning of the book in a message given to the seven churches at that time (see Revelation 2-3) in Rev. 3:19-20, Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” And those words are for the Church at large, too, down through the ages and to all believers in Jesus Christ.

In between those two statements are those of us who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, in today’s society we have soft-peddled that message to the point of being so lukewarm that nobody takes seriously the need to repent of anything. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) made an insightful comment on our easy-believism culture today. A short article titled Evangelism: Modern Salesmanship by Tozer is available at this link. Also, “rebuke” and “discipline” aren’t even in our vocabulary. And we say, “That can’t be true, right? We can do anything we want as long as we’ve said a ‘Jesus’ prayer that clears the way.”

So what do you suppose the Christians living in Iraq and Syria right now did to find themselves in the situation they are currently in? How about the Christians living in China and all the other places on our planet where Christians are severely persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ? If the Americanized version of Christianity is true, why isn’t it true for them, too? Why aren’t they living “the good life” we’ve been sold here in America instead of going through severe persecution which many times includes horrible atrocities and death? It’s because Jesus never preached “the good life” version that we far too frequently hear in America. It’s not about what we can get here and now on this earth. Eternity is forever, not this earth.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” How much do we really know about what Jesus said, and not just from folks we listen to or by reading their bestsellers telling us what they think he said or meant. I’m not implying that some of those authors and books aren’t good, but discernment is sorely lacking in our culture today, and there’s a lot of crap being published, too. If we aren’t reading the Bible as our one true source for what Jesus has to say about knowing and following after him, second hand information even from a very popular source is not going to cut it. If we want to really know who Jesus Christ is and what he requires of us to follow after him, we must read the Bible on a regular basis and pray, believing that he will show us the way.

And he never said it would be easy. Or selfish. Or only looking out for ourselves.

Unfortunately, a lot of folks seem to be saying, preaching, and writing to sell us on “the good life” message nowadays. And they often say we can do it in ten easy steps. Or is it five now? Maybe it’s down to only one. And that message is as old as the serpent’s message was to Eve in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). “You can be like God,” he said (Gen. 3:4-5). And she believed him, and Adam followed (Gen. 3:6). And down through the ages we have followed it, too. It’s called, “the easy way out.” And it the oldest lie on the planet–“Do whatever you want to do and get heaven, too.” And it’s from the pit of hell.

That message won’t save anybody, and it doesn’t change in any way Jesus’ original message. So who are we going to believe? All those folks who peddle an easy type of Christianity? Or Jesus Christ? Our lives and how we live them point clearly to who (or what) we believe in, and it’s often not Jesus although we are sure good at disguising it (or at least we think we are, but the rest of the world is not so easily fooled).

Back on October 24, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, Because the Time is Near.” In that post is a brief description of the seven churches addressed at the beginning of the book of Revelation (Chapters 2-3). Those seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, and they are descriptions of not only literal churches that existed back then, but also types of individuals/churches throughout history right on up through today. Here is a brief description of those churches from Got Questions?org”:

The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today. The first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time. The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/ churches throughout history and instruct them in God’s truth.

A possible third purpose is to use the seven churches to foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church. The problem with this view is that each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history. So, although there may be some truth to the seven churches representing seven eras, there is far too much speculation in this regard. Our focus should be on what message God is giving us through the seven churches. The seven churches are:

(1) Ephesus (Revelation  2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation  2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent  (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) –  the church that had a false prophetess (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation  3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation  3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith  (3:16) [e.g., also known as a church that was wealthy and self-satisfied (3:17)] (quote source here).

We (believers) can all find ourselves somewhere in that list. We need to take seriously the word of Jesus Christ and we need to, as Jesus stated, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Don’t just swallow the lies that are so prevalent on our society without at least investigating the truth. And we can only find that truth in the Bible and by seeking God’s face. Not man’s face, but God’s face.

After the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 is Revelation 4, a picture of the Throne in Heaven with Jesus Christ seated on it. This picture is given to us by the apostle John, who was given this entire book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in a vision to write down for all of us. Let’s read it:

After this I [John] looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.  Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

Holy holy holy Revelation 4v8

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

Stop for a few minutes and really contemplate the picture that John paints for us–Jesus seated on the Throne in Heaven. That’s where he is right now, at the right hand of God. All
powerful, all knowing, worthy to be praised. Holy, holy. holy.

What follows after Chapter 4 is a picture of the seven-year Tribulation period (the last 3 1/2 years of this period are known as the Great Tribulation), a time Jesus described in his last days discourse in Matthew 24 as follows, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21). In Matthew 24:3, Jesus disciples asked him, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And in Matthew 24:4-14:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Read that second paragraph again. This is already happening to Christians in Iraq, Syria, China, Egypt, and all over our planet on a mass scale now. To think that it won’t come to our own shores here in America is a grave misunderstanding on our part. It is already happening as evidence of the clear and rapid changes going on in our culture right now. Jesus clearly stated to his disciples in John 15:18-25:

 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

We (believers) can’t afford to just coast in neutral and look for “the good life” here and now. Real Christianity has never been about seeking after “the good life” or any life apart from Jesus Christ. We can’t afford to miss the boat because we are heading in the wrong direction. Read the three parables immediately following Jesus’ last days discourse (Matthew 24) in Matthew 25. We can–way too easily–be asleep at the switch here in America as there is so much in our culture today that pulls us away from the only secure place we have–our faith and relationship in Jesus Christ.

I’ll end this post with words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1-20:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us “be very careful how we live–not unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” and the time is growing short, too. And let us remember on a daily basis Who it is we really serve . . .

Holy, holy, holy . . .

Is the Lord God Almighty . . .

Who was, and is, and is to come . . . .

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength

and honor and glory and praise!
~Revelation 5:12

I’m including two YouTube Videos below that are relevant to the message above. Let’s move on from the winding road of indecision/lack of commitment in the first song to the Solid Rock in the second song. If we say we are going to follow His lead, then we need to follow it and stop making excuses. And we can find it in the pages of the Bible, so let’s start there.

YouTube Video: “Revelation” by Third Day:


YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Some of the scenes in this video are from the movie,
The Gospel of John,” available at Amazon.com.

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Doing Great Things

Make a differenceWhat comes to mind when I ask what you would do if you could do one really great thing in life and there were no obstacles in your way to achieving it? I’ve heard beauty pageant contestants on TV answer that question with things like, “bring about world peace” but let’s get down to things that are more tangible. After all, we all can’t be President of the United States or come up with a cure for global warming, although some folks have gotten rich propagating the latter which I think to them might have been more important then finding a cure for global warming (which is about as tangible as bringing about world peace).

The issue, of course, is in how we define “great things.” In the several decades that I have been alive our society has changed in astounding ways, especially with the advent of technology. We can now live in a totally surreal world if we choose to do so; however, that world can warp our view of humanity and real life. Take the onslaught of porn, for example. Or the proliferation of violent images and movies where killing others is oftentimes viewed as a sport. Or the fact that technology had made spying on others way too easy for just about anyone who wants to do it. And trust is at an all time low now, too. Also, our world here in America has changed significantly since 9/11 when we learned a very hard fact that terrorism lives in the very midst of our culture and it’s not just on the other side of the world, but then it never was just on the other side of the world, either. That was an illusion we believed until 9/11 took it away. Now we just bury our heads in activities to try to ignore the whole issue.

With that in mind, now let me ask that same question again. What would you do if you could do one really great thing in life and there were no obstacles in your way to achieving it? Getting rid of terrorism, and porn, and violence, and spying would be good, but that’s not tangible. We really can’t change others. We can only change ourselves.

And even changing ourselves isn’t easy . . . .

The other evening I was in a Burger King eating an order of fries and playing around with my smartphone which I had only purchase a few weeks earlier (it is my first smartphone). There were not a lot of folks in the restaurant at the time I was there, and I got lost in what I was doing on my smartphone until a fellow walked up to me and started talking to me. I could tell from his appearance that he was homeless, and while I don’t recall what he actually said to me that caught my attention, he had a nice smile and seemed like a friendly sort of fellow. He was wearing all black and I told him he was wearing my favorite color as I wear mostly black myself–I’m under the illusion that it makes me look smaller as in the “not so fat” category. Of course, a diet would help but that’s a non-topic for a blog post I will never end up writing.

Back to the homeless fellow, in the course of our conversation he mentioned his dog who was outside of the building. I asked if I could see his dog and he said “sure.” So I went outside with him and he took me over to a cart (like a grocery cart) that was loaded full of the only possessions he had left in the world and behind the cart was his dog. The dog was very sweet. As I looked at his cart I realized how fortunate I was to at least have a spare bedroom to go to in a friend’s home. I’ve had a very hard time finding a place to live since losing my apartment at the end of March when new owners bought the house where it was located and raised my rent higher then I could afford to pay as a long-term unemployed person with no income.

His name is Tim, and I don’t recall his dog’s name. One of the things he asked me before we went outside to see his dog was if he could give me a hug. I said sure so we hugged each other. I can imagine he doesn’t get hugs very often, but then neither do I. He was a good hugger, too. When we were outside with his dog I asked him if he was hungry as I would buy him something to eat, so we went back inside and went to the counter. I told him to get whatever he wanted. He ordered a chicken sandwich, and I said he could get more if he wanted to. He said he’d like some onion rings but he seems a bit shy to ask for them. I said that was fine and asked him if he wanted a drink. He said no as he had something to drink already. I paid for the meal and since he walked with a cane, I picked up the meal and walked to a table where he wanted to sit. He continued talking for a while longer and he asked for another hug (he was standing by the table where I placed his food). So we hugged again. I handed him some money so he would have enough to buy some food for the next day and I asked him if his dog was hungry. He said no as he had some dry dog food for him.

He continued talking and I finally mentioned to him that I was afraid his meal was going to get cold if he didn’t eat it soon, but I understood why he kept talking. I imagine his life is quite lonely. I understand that loneliness, too, after spending five plus years unemployed. But at least I’m not homeless like he is. So I listened to him a while longer and then insisted that he eat the meal before it got cold. He asked for one final hug which we gave each other and then I left. As I was leaving I asked one of the employees if he came there often and she said yes. So I plan to turn again to see if I run into him and can buy him another meal.

Acts of kindnessDoing great things . . . it’s not in the “big” things that we think it is. It’s in the small, everyday things that we don’t often see or recognize. It’s in the way that we genuinely help others, especially those who cannot help themselves, like the homeless.

All we have to do is look around. We can talk about making a difference or we can actually make a difference. Opportunities are waiting if we don’t just pass them by or ignore them when they show up. We can’t help everyone who needs help, but we can help some, and in helping even one, we help change the world for the better for them and for us, one person at a time, even if only for a few moments. “Now” is all any of us have anyway.

It reminds of me a song I hear a lot on a local Christian radio station (Z88.3 FM) titled, The Words I Would Say sung by Sidewalk Prophets (see YouTube Video below). Here are the words to that song:

“The Words I Would Say”

It’s Three in the morning
and I’m still awake
so I picked up a pen and a page.
And I started writing
just what I’d say
if we were face to face

I’d tell you just what you mean to me
Tell you these simple truths

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here
Take your time and pray
These are the words I would say

Last time we spoke
you said you were hurting
and I felt your pain in my heart
I want you to know
that I keep on praying
Love will find you where you are

I know ’cause I’ve already been there
So just hear these simple truths

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here
Take your time and pray
These are the words I would say

From one simple life to another
I will say
Come find peace in the Father

Be strong in the Lord and
never give up hope.
You’re gonna do great things
I already know
God’s got his hand on you so
don’t live life in fear
forgive and forget
but don’t forget why you’re here

Take your time and pray
Thank God for each day
His love will find a way
These are the words I would say.

~Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com~

So if you’re looking for something great to do, just look around. It may even come to you, like Tim, the homeless guy. You never know where an opportunity might come from or who you can help. And remember that God’s got his hand on you and we’re here to help each other, so be open and . . . 

Don’t live life in fear . . .

Forgive and forget . . .

But don’t forget why you’re here . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Words I Would Say” by Sidewalk Prophets:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Testify to Love

We are the evidenceWhat is it about love that we just don’t get? Oh sure, we may say we have love for our family (maybe, depending on what kind of family we came from) and friends (depending on if they are just the fair-weather type or if they hang in there for the long haul–and not many appear to be in that category nowadays) and maybe we even have a bit of love for others like us (defined, of course, by us and who we choose to give it to), and maybe even some left over for “them.” You know, the “them” we all love to hate, or judge, or mock, or gossip about behind their backs because they aren’t just like us. Or we want something from them that we don’t have (you know, that whole arena known as envy and/or jealousy). So we throw stones . . . .

First off, we need to admit that we aren’t very good at love. Love really isn’t in our DNA. Selfishness is in our DNA. Our world gets wrapped around our “wants” (that we often excuse off as “needs”). That’s not to say that we don’t have real, genuine and legitimate needs. Food, clothing, shelter, as well as genuine compassion and love are actual needs. But mostly here in America our “wants” (e.g., bigger, better car or house; career success; showcase family; accolades; power, status and money–the list is endless in our prosperous society) cry out to be satisfied because we say we “need” them. No, we don’t. We want them. We are, mostly and unfortunately, egocentric. It’s self first (but we sure know how to disguise it). Just look at the huge number of books in any bookstore found under the title of “Self Help.” And all this “self” stuff can get down right nauseating.

If you’re read this far and you’re now offended, good. If you can lay aside the offense, I’ve got some good news for you, but it’s not about us. However, it has the ability to transform us and that is very good news. The question is whether or not we want to be transformed. And that’s a question only we, on an individual basis, can answer.

One of the things I’ve noticed in the venues of Christianity in America over the past several decades is that we have gone from a salvation that requires genuine repentance and a living and vital relationship with Jesus Christ that can really transform us to a “pseudo-salvation” that coddles us and leaves us where we started in the first place because we’ve been lead to believe that Jesus will understand that it’s just too hard for us to change. Well, of course it is!!! And we can’t do it on our own. But if we spend years living in a swamp of despondence and don’t move on in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who can change us, we won’t change. The change doesn’t come from us, it comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ, and it’s a relationship we should never take for granted. As long as we focus on us and what we can’t do, we will never understand that the power comes from Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and that is where the change comes from. Excuses just don’t cut it, and that’s how we’ve been coddled to believe–that Jesus will understand if we never change.

Do you understand what that kind of thinking is really saying about Jesus Christ? It says that he really isn’t “all-powerful,” and that he really isn’t “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” It brings him down to our level, instead of us being lifted up to where he wants us to be. It is the reason we get this whole “love” thing wrong, because, as J.B. Phillips stated in the title of his book, “Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike” (see blog post titled Where the Wind Blows for reference), we have made God and Jesus Christ out to be way too small and essentially not a whole lot different from us, no matter what the words may say in the worship songs we sing on Sunday morning. In and of ourselves, we can’t change (or even if our modest attempts work temporarily they usually don’t stick) and there is no point in groveling about it for years on end when Jesus Christ has given us the answer through his death and resurrection and his words of life found in the Bible. But we have to read those words, and pray, and develop a relationship with Jesus Christ on a regular basis that goes beyond the “help me” stage. Now, there is nothing wrong with the “help me” stage, but we shouldn’t live there on a permanent basis as the main address we use when we pray to him.

In John 10:10 Jesus states:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I will testify to love“Full” goes beyond our normal sphere of thinking such as material possessions or “things” we can get in this life here on earth (and that doesn’t mean that they might not happen, but they are not nor should they be our focus). “Full” means more than we can think or imagine. It means living life here on earth from an eternal perspectiveGod’s perspective. It means having a relationship with Jesus Christ that sees beyond the obvious of what we as humans tend to focus on to the level where God operates (see 2 Peter 3:9). And that kind of relationship can’t help but change the person to whom Jesus gives this life to that he has promised to give to everyone who follows him. But it requires a living, breathing relationship with him. It requires that we take action. It requires a faith that can’t be seen (see Hebrews 11–also, for an excellent article on faith by Dena Johnson titled, What Does it Mean to Walk by Faith? click here). If we so choose we can ignore him and let everything in this life get in the way and that will leave us totally stunted in our relationship with him. We can wallow in self-pity–a very human trait–for years on end but the time comes when we need to grow up. We can’t stay babies in our relationship with Jesus Christ forever. Well, yes we can, if we so choose, but we will totally miss out on the life he wants us to have–a life unlike any other you’ll find here on this earth. It’s a life of freedom only found in a cross. It’s a life beyond self. And it’s the only way to find and give genuine love . . . to everybody, even our enemies. 

One of the problems in our society today it that we don’t take sin seriously. If we think about what Jesus really did when he died on the cross–and the price he paid which is huge–we’d take the whole sin issue much more seriously. Sin in any form stunts us and keeps us from knowing the full power of living the life Jesus meant for us to live here on earth. We make excuses for our sin instead of repenting of it and asking Jesus to change us. While we can never totally escape our human side as long as we are here on this earth, we cannot excuse off sin as trite or irrelevant. The cross is neither trite nor irrelevant. And coddling folks when they need correction is not helpful to anybody, and it misses the mark by a mile–the consequences of which are eternal.

We can harp on the lack of love there is in this world and within Christian circles and communities and towards each other, too, but the solution has already been given to us through a relationship with Jesus Christ and if we don’t actively partake, all the harping in the world will not change us and make us more loving. The love we give to others can only come through Jesus Christ.

Do you really want to know just how powerful Jesus Christ is? Consider his words to his disciples after his resurrection and right before he returned to Heaven in Matthew 28:18-20:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. Think about that. Do we really think that he can’t change that thing (read that as “sin”) in our lives that we keep stumbling over? Well, he can’t if we won’t let go of it. “Coddling” says to keep at it and excuse it off for as long as possible. “Correction” says to confess it now and let it go. “Go, and sin no more” (see the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-12). And that choice is ours.

If we want genuine love to be the focus of all of our relationships, the kind of love expressed in I Corinthians 13, we can only get it from one Person, and he’s willing to give it to us without measure. It all depends on what we want to hold onto . . . .

And if it’s anything other than Jesus Christ . . .

We lose . . .

And so does love . . . .

Chorus for “Testify to Love” (see YouTube video below):

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I’ll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love

 YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” (2003) by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Where The Wind Blows

I venture to say that many folks in America are familiar with the verse found in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

However, many might not know that this verse was part of a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council (see John 3:1-21). Let’s take a look at the entire dialogue:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Jesus specifically told Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (vv. 5-8).

In John 16, shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus explained to his disciples who this Spirit is (e.g., the Holy Spirit; Spirit of truth) and what his mission is in John 16:12-15:

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

What we learn from these few verses about the Holy Spirit is crucial to our understanding of how God works in the hearts and minds of those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. These key points (from the verses above) are:

  • “He [the Spirit of truth] will guide you into all truth” (v. 13a).
  • “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (v. 13b).
  • “He will glorify me [Jesus] because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (v. 14).

In the first chapter of Acts we learn that after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that he presented himself to them [his apostles/followers] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (see Acts 1:3-4). Also, “on one occasion while he was eating with them he gave them this command” (see vv. 4-11):

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

And down through the ages since that time the mission of every single believer in Jesus Christ is the same as he gave to his first followers back then–to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth” through the power of the Holy Spirit who’s mission is to impart the truth of Jesus to us so that we can tell others about him. And Jesus described the Spirit as the wind, and “the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (see John 3:8).

The wind-who has seen the windOften today it seems as if we (e.g., believers in Jesus Christ) have lost our main focus in the maze of everything that comes our way in our American culture. We coast along in neutral and feed on a weekly sermon from church (if we attend) which may or may not focus on Jesus Christ (which is, by the way, the only reason for the Church in the first place). We associate with other Christians but rarely talk about Jesus Christ to the nonbelievers around us and our lives look remarkably a lot like their lives, too. There is no power in our “witness” to convince them otherwise (or maybe even ourselves) as we’ve lost our power by coasting along in neutral and “going with the flow” instead of depending on “the wind of the Spirit” to show us how to live and where to go. In fact, I dare say we don’t even know what that “wind” feels like most of the time.

In a blog post I wrote back in November 2012 titled, Moving Forward (It’s About Second Chances),” I mentioned a book that was originally published the year I was born titled, Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike,” by J.B. Phillips (1906-1982). The book is available for free in PDF format (92 pages) at this link and is also available for purchase at this link. The book describes a number of ways we put “God in a box” by our own very limited understanding along with our own cultural and/or religious biases. The book is divided into two sections: (1) Destructive–unreal gods, and (2) Constructive–an adequate God. There is a long list in the “Destructive” section that I’m sure many of us can relate to–here’s some of the chapter titles: “Resident Policeman,” “Parental Hangover,” “Grand Old Man,” “Meek-and-Mild,” “Absolute Perfection,” “Heavenly Bosom,” “God-in-a-Box,” “Managing Director,” “Second-hand God,” “Perennial Grievance,” “Pale Galilean,” and “Projected Image.” Several of those titles most likely ring a bell in all of us as to how we personally view God. However, as I stated in my previous blog post, the one that really intrigued me was “God-in-a-Box.”

The chapter titled, “God-in-a-Box” (pp. 22-25 in the PDF download) specifically addresses the difference between “Christianity” and “Churchiness.” In the opening paragraphs, Phillips states:

The man who is outside all organized Christianity may have, and often does have, a certain reverence for God, and a certain genuine respect for Jesus Christ (though he has probably rarely considered Him and His claims with his adult mind). But what sticks in his throat about the Christianity of the Churches is not merely their differences in denomination, but the spirit of “churchiness” which seems to pervade them all. They seem to him to have captured and tamed and trained to their own liking Something that is really far too big ever to be forced into little man-made boxes with neat labels upon them. He may never think of putting it into words, but this is what he thinks and feels.

“If,” the Churches appear to be saying to him, “you will jump through our particular hoop or sign on our particular dotted line, then we will introduce you to God. But if not, then there is no God for you.” This seems to him to be nonsense, and nasty arrogant nonsense at that. “If there is a God at all,” he feels rather angrily, “then He’s here in the home and in the street, here in the pub and in the workshop. And if it’s true that He’s interested in me and wants me to love and serve Him, then He’s available for me and every other Tom, Dick, or Harry, who wants Him, without any interference from the professionals. If God is God, He’s BIG, and generous and magnificent, and I can’t see that anybody can say they’ve made a ‘corner’ in God, or shut Him up in their particular box.”

Of course, it is easy to leap to the defense of the Churches, and point out that every cause must be organized if it is to be effective, that every society must have its rules, that Christ Himself founded a Church, and so on. But if the Churches give the outsider the impression that God works almost exclusively through the machinery they have erected and, what is worse, damns all other machinery which does not bear their label, then they cannot be surprised if he finds their version of God cramped and inadequate and refuses to “join their union.”

There are doubtless many reasons for the degeneration of Christianity into churchiness, and the narrowing of the Gospel for all mankind into a set of approved beliefs; but the chief cause must be the worship of an inadequate god, a cramped and regulated god who is “a good churchman” according to the formulas of the worshipper. For actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.

Read that last line again . . . “For the actual behavior infallibly betrays the real object of man’s worship.” Essentially, what that means is that we don’t really live out what we say we believe and it’s rather obvious to the rest of the culture at large. We look and act just like they do but tell them to come and see how Jesus can change their lives when he really hasn’t changed our lives all that much. And just look at all the infighting going on in the public square via the media regarding who we “accept” and who we “throw away” (for example, see a recent article titled, The Mark Driscoll Controversy: How to Criticize Each Other,” published August 7, 2014, in Crosswalk.com). We sure know how to slander, criticize and/or shun each other but we don’t know how to love very well, or forgive, either. And Jesus was very big on both–love (read The Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:34-39) and forgiveness–(read the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35).

"Hot air" or "The wind of the Spirit"

“Hot air” or “The wind of the Spirit”

If the “wind” we blow most of the time is mostly hot air, don’t think the rest of society hasn’t taken notice. If we spend our time criticizing, gossiping, and/or slandering others, something is missing. And the lack of love found in that kind of behavior is apparent to the whole world, too. Our behaviors betray what we say we believe, so why would anyone else want what we say we have? And what exactly is it that we have if we don’t have love for others . . . and that means all others?

If we want the true “wind of the Spirit” flowing through our lives we have to give up blowing our own hot air, and 1 John 1:5-10 has the solution:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . .” That should give us pause for thought when we start to slander or criticize someone, especially those who don’t fit into our particular mold or “box.” The only folks Jesus ever got angry with were the religious folks of his day, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, and even then the words he spoke to them he said to wake them up (for example, see Matthew 23). And instead of listening they crucified him.

However, his death was not in vain, and, in fact, was ordained from the beginning of time to bring salvation to those who will receive it. He rose from the dead on the third day to give us new life, and he sent his Spirit to live in us, to breathe through us, and to move in us by “the wind of the Spirit.” (See Paul’s statement in Acts 17:28“For in him we live and move and have our being.”) But if we are full of ourselves, that can’t happen.

We need to lay aside our pettiness, our finger-pointing, our need to be right or to condemn others, and we need to be reminded of what the first three verses in I Corinthians 13 state:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

And as the last two verses in I Corinthians 13 state: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain . . .

“Faith, hope and love . . .

“But the greatest of these is love . . .”

Let’s choose love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Second Time Around

2nd time around heartAbout three and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post titled, Don’t Lose Your Soul At the Crossroads,” that was deleted with a bunch of other posts I’d written during my first year of blogging. I started this blog in July 2010 and this particular post was written on March 26, 2011. When I deleted all of the posts I had written up to that point in April 2011, I thought I had permanently lost it, but discovered that for some reason I had saved it and another post I wrote a week earlier on a flash drive. They were two of the last posts I wrote before deactivating my blog site.

When I fired my blog site back up three months later on July 8, 2011, I started it with this post written on March 26, 2011, and a second post I had written on March 19, 2011, titled, Moving Forward.” Now there are over 300 blog posts on this site and it all started from these two posts. As I read through both of them this evening I became very much aware of just how many changes I have gone through in these past three and a half years since I wrote them, yet the message in them is still as simple and true as the day they were written. However, I can feel the weight of the time between when they were first published until now, and I am still unemployed after all this time, too, and at that point back then I had been unemployed a month shy of two years. Now I can feel the very heavy weight of the “waiting” as five years and four months have passed since I lost my job in Houston.

My blog posts have gotten longer at times since then, but the basic message is still the same, and that message is Jesus Christ. So this evening instead of writing a new post, I’ve decided to repost that old post from three and a half years ago (see below). You can also read the original post at this link.

Photo credit here


Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads

This blog post was originally written and posted on March 26, 2011.

When I was a very little girl, my mother told me many stories about Jesus. My family went to church every Sunday, and one day when I was ten a traveling evangelist and his wife came to our church and presented the gospel message. I was sitting in the back of the church when he gave the invitation and I ran to the front of the church to repent of my sins (oh, for the sins of a ten-year-old) and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Over the years, I’ve never forgotten this, and while I have stumbled my way through most of my life, Jesus has never taken His hand off of me. You see, when I accepted Him as Lord and Savior of my life at the very young age of ten, He put something in me (no doubt, the Holy Spirit) that has kept me chained to Him all these years, through all the bad and the good.

Jesus frequently spoke in parables, and the one I’m thinking of right now is “The Parable of the Sower” (Matt. 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). Jesus spoke to a great multitude about a sower who went out to sow his seeds, and as he sowed, some fell on the wayside and was trampled down and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because of a lack of moisture. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it. And some fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded up a crop a hundredfold. When He finished this parable, He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Most who are familiar with the parable know that the seeds represent the Word of God (the Bible), and it is fairly clear that the first two soils found no place to grow either because as soon as they hear, it is forgotten and never takes root; or else when they hear, they at first receive it with joy, but develop no roots and fall away at the first sign of temptation. It is the last two soils I want to address here: the seeds that fell among the thorns; and the seeds that fell on good ground.

Thornswe’ve all been there. We can look back at the day we accepted Jesus Christ at whatever age we were and accepted our new lives in Christ with joy. We made it past the first two soils, and then we hit the thorns. You know, thorns–the cares of this world–running after the money trail or the “prosperity gospel” grabbed your heart, or maybe you just got tired of the struggles that come with life and decided to take in the pleasures of this world, or you did whatever it took to get ahead in your career or profession, figuring your soul would still stay intact, or you lived in fear and doubt most of your life, or pride. We’ve all been there, and many are still living there, but the thorns in life produce no fruit that clearly shows that we are called to live out a different type of life from the rest of the world. And if we stay in this state, at the end of our lives we’ll discover we’ve wasted our lives, and when we stand before Christ to give an account we will have nothing to give to Him, and no amount of excuse-making will work. In fact, I dare say, the shame will be almost unbearable when we realize at the end of our lives we’ve really only lived for ourselves. It’s called wood, hay, and stubble/straw (see I Cor. 3:12-13). And it gets burned up.

I have a lot in my past that will be burned up. In fact, if it wasn’t for what happened to me in Houston, I’d still be mistakenly going in that direction. You see, when I accepted the job in Houston, I thought that maybe, just maybe, some of that “prosperity” stuff was actually true; that perhaps I had it wrong all my life (I am not of the Charismatic persuasion where much of that teaching is taught). I was never so excited about a job in my entire life and I really thought that God was smiling on me big time. The salary was more than I had ever made in my life by a substantial amount, and it was in an environment that I loved–art and creativity abounded. And, I could attend the megachurch of the pastor I had been watching for the past year and a half on TV. Life was good or so I thought.

Well as you know by now, I lost that job in Houston a scant seven months after it began. I lost all of the money I spent to move there, and I lost most of my possessions (including furniture and appliances) and over 1000 books (I love books and that was the hardest thing to lose) because I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida. The prosperity gospel wasn’t so prosperous after all; nor did it ever represent the Gospel.

By now you’re thinking I must have missed God’s will big time when I moved to Houston, right? Not at all, in fact I had never been so right in the middle of God’s will for me in my whole life. You see, Houston was my Crossroad, and God used that experience to wake me up to the fact that my life was filled with thorns, that I had lost my first love (Him), and He used some pretty drastic measures to get my attention. My blog post titled “Moving Forward addresses those issues.

God, in His unfathomable love, reached down to yank me from the thorns and my pitiful spiritual state. Also, I have never been so aware of spiritual warfare in my entire life as during my days in Houston. The adversary is, indeed, a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). I learned a dependence on God in a way that I never would have learned in any other way. I clung to Him, I repented, and He brought me out so I could finally land on good ground.

Good ground… past the thorns that choke out life. In these past two years since I lost my job in Houston He has planted me in good ground; the ground of His Word, the ground of prayer, the ground of fellowship, the ground that softens the heart. It’s ground that is capable of bringing forth good fruit. And while I may be much closer to the date of my death then the date of my birth, and, therefore, not have as many years left to yield a crop of hundredfold as in the parable (and not in the Charismatic way of meaning hundredfold), I know that I can do nothing that bears real fruit without Christ. But, I’m finally in good ground, and the wood, hay and stubble (and thorns) are behind me, thanks to God’s great intervention in my life.

It’s not too late for you to turn your life around if you’re stuck in the thorns. Hopefully, it won’t take as drastic of measures as it did in my life. But no matter what, it’s never too late to leave the thorns behind and move on to good ground. But don’t look to the world for the answers. It has none. Look to God, and give the thorns to Him (it’s called repentance).

You’ll never regret it . . . .

The title for this blog post came from the painting above titled “Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads” by Otis L. Stanley.

Photo credit here

YouTube Video added August 9, 2014: “From the Inside Out” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Tisha B’Av 5774 (2014)

Tisha b'av outoftheshadowsToday is Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall this evening. I wrote about it two years ago, reposted that blog post one year ago, and decided to repost it again today (see below). It is customary to read from the books of Lamentations and Job in the Old Testament on this day known as an official day of mourning and fasting due to a series of catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Here are a few verses from Lamentations to get us started (Lamentations 3:22-26, NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those
whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Photo credit here
Below is my original blog post from 2012 (Tisha B’Av and 9/11):

Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

tisha-bav-the-jewish-911-yeshuatyisrael-comToday is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.

Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of AvTisha B’Av.

So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeksat Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11. Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source no longer available at former website).

The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader. The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7:

“I understood that this [the mourning mentioned in her article] was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.

“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to  mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).

As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, “The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.

The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9:

“Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’

Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.

“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.” Plain and simple.

“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s yeshivishe.’

“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else” (pp. 8-9).

As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentacostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on . . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.

Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?

The choice is ours . . . 

And we need to start making it now . . . .

Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.

Photo credit here

Our True Champion

davidgoliathAs a follow up to yesterday’s blog post–a reblogged post titled “Champions Have Faith Above Fear” by “The Daily Way”–our true Champion is God.

Today’s devotion from “The Daily Way” (see below), follows up on yesterday’s devotion by reminding us just how strong fear can be if we take our eyes off of God. As stated in the opening paragraph, “Fear can paralyze us–leading us to believe that moving in any direction will result in something bad. In fact, we can become afraid to face our fears mostly because we are afraid of facing them alone.”

If we are true believers in God through Jesus Christ, we are never alone, no matter what we may be facing. Deuteronomy 31:6 states:

Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,
for the Lord your God goes with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And in Hebrews 13:5-6 we read the following:

Keep your lives free from the love of money
and be content with what you have,
because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

When we place our faith in anything or anyone other than God, fear can blind and blindside us. David knew this even as a very young man when he faced the giant Goliath with nothing more than a sling shot and a few stones. Because David’s faith was in God and God alone, the size of Goliath did not intimidate him. And he killed the giant Goliath with one smooth stone. (Read the story in I Samuel 17 at this link.)

As the devotion below states, “Despite what seemed to be a one-sided challenge, David knew that he was not alone. . . . While Goliath struck fears in the hearts of many men, David was brave enough to accept his challenge, knowing the Lord would be with him. A true champion knows he never faces any challenge or difficulty alone; God is with him.”

God never leaves us to face any challenge alone, and that is where our faith comes into clear focus. So . . . .

Do we believe?

Or do we let fear take hold?

Step out in faith today . . . .

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

Fear can paralyze us—leading us to believe that moving in any direction will result in something bad. In fact, we can become afraid to face our fears mostly because we are afraid of facing them alone.

As the Israelites faced the daily boasts of Goliath, they cowered at his challenge. He loomed over the Israelite army—standing taller than everyone else in their camp. Day after day, Goliath challenged the Israelites until a man stepped forward, one who was brave enough to stand up to him—even if he was only half Goliath’s size.

David, who refused to use King Saul’s armor, could not believe the boasts of this man. Though Goliath towered over him, David saw no need to hide in fear from this gargantuan mortal.

Despite what seemed to be a one-sided challenge, David knew that he was not alone. As we read his writings in Psalms, we come to…

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Champions Have Faith Above Fear

never-give-upNever retreat . . . .

“Courage is not the absence of fear; rather, it is the conquest of fear” (quote from reblogged post below from The Daily Way). King David faced both fear and death on a regular basis throughout his life and it started long before he was King; however, he did whatever was necessary at any given point in time to conquer his fears, and he totally depended on God to show him the way. His faith was unshakable (though I’m sure his knees wobbled at times) and he never gave up.

Neither should we . . . .

What may look on the surface to others to be a “retreat” isn’t always as it seems. God knows how to guide us, but we have to be willing to listen and then to move on if that is what is required. Jesus instructed his disciples to walk away from a town that wouldn’t accept them (see Matthew 10-11).  That’s not a retreat or a defeat. Sometimes it’s just the only option left, and . . .

It’s simply moving on in a new direction . . . 

And as an old friend of mine often says . . .

You think about that . . . .

YouTube Video: The Gambler (1978) by Kenny Rogers (click here for video).

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

Life’s furious pace can be overwhelming, and the problems we encounter during those days can seem consuming. We scheme to solve our problems, yet they only grow larger and larger. One situation after another arises, and we feel as if we cannot face another trying moment. In fact, we respond by retreating because we are so afraid of another dilemma.

If ever there was a man who had his share of problems, it was David. As a shepherd for his father’s flock, David always seemed to be addressing some sort of problem.

There was the problem of wild animals who wanted to kill his family’s sheep. So, David killed a lion and a bear. Then there was the problem of King Saul, whose fits of rage sometimes resulted in spears being hurled at David while he played the harp.

Courage is not the absence of fear; rather, it is the…

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