Tuesday September 6, 2022 – “Requirements” a part of grace and mercy

What is this blog really about?

Suppose we had eyes to see that some important things in our lives weren’t what they seemed to be.  Things that we thought were fine and good turn out to be not so good – incompatible with whom we want to be.  Some areas of life are much more obvious when it comes to telling the difference – while others much more difficult.

Think about the word “requirement”.  It’s a word that appropriately applies to many aspects of our lives.  What is required to be a student; an employee; a husband; a wife; an employer?  Different things have different requirements – that’s a normal part of life.

But what happens if we misperceive what the requirements truly are of something important in our lives?  We form an understanding of what “normal” is; but that understanding in reality is really sub-normal or contrary to what it should be.

In such situations, what does it take to make us aware that something is amiss in our understanding?  Often it is through encountering information involving that subject that provokes a re-evaluation of our understanding and behavior.  Insights are persuasively presented that often highlight the differences between what our understanding is and what it should be.

Getting back to that word “requirements”, we often don’t associate it with our Christian faith.  We tend to focus more on grace and mercy – particularly with the passing of time.  We often fail to recognize that our salvation experience was just the beginning of God’s work in us, not the “we have arrived” moment.

We’re not talking about earning salvation; nor are we talking about legalism.  We are talking about loving God and all that implies – and the implications are enormously wonderful.  The net results are not culturally acceptable living patterns.

My goal isn’t to hit readers in the side of the head with a 2 x 4 to get them to change.   My goal is to present the glorious truth of the Gospel in such a way that readers hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them and encouraging them to respond to Him.  Consider Paul’s powerful instructions in Romans 12:1-2 (MSG),

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

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Monday September 5, 2022 – Face to face with Satan!

Scripture at the end.

Our son Andrew is a wonderful actor.  He’s also a very busy businessman.  Some years ago he played the role of Satan in The Thorn, a marvelous Easter production in Colorado similar to the Passion of the Christ.  In costume, makeup and mask, he was hideous.  The mask had been made by professional artists and made him appear so very real!

Given his athleticism and gymnastics background, his movements made your skin crawl.  He was able to give the appearance of evil incarnate.  Satan’s greatest moments were those from Jesus’ arrest to his death on the cross.  As Jesus and the cross made their way through the audience to the crucifixion site, Satan was behind him slinking, gloating and celebrating.

Andrew had prayed that the Lord would use him in this vile role of Satan however He would.  Later Andrew discovered just how profoundly the Lord did use him in one young man’s life.  There was a high school student, who was sitting in the front row of an aisle that the procession went through.

This young man had a teacher who happened to be a Christian.  A few days earlier she became aware that he was getting involved in drugs and warned him of the evil he was getting involved with – and he dismissed it.  She then told him that he needed to come “face to face with Satan” in order to recognize the reality of what he was messing with.

It was this same young man, sitting in the front row, watching as Jesus, the soldiers and the cross went by.  Then as Satan and the demons started to go by him, the Lord moved on Andrew to go nose-to-nose with this particular young man!  So Andrew – as Satan – immediately spun, faced him nose-to-nose; and inches apart, let loose a hideous, blood-curdling scream – and then moved on. It was over in an instant, but the young man had come “face to face with Satan”.  This directly resulted in his repentance and salvation!!!

Many of us share a similar type of problem with that young man.  We are dabbling in things we shouldn’t – and we don’t recognize who or what we are messing with, or the consequences of our behavior.  We think we love Jesus – but we live lives that are entwined with the world and its ways.  We too, need to recognize the true reality of our lives.  The Apostle John puts it this way,

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. 

(1 John 2:15-17 The Message)

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Sunday September 4, 2022 – Enter into Jesus’ love

Ephesians 3:17-18  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

The Lord of the Rings is a marvelous trilogy.  In the 1st book, The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a scene where the group encounters the stone entry doors into the ancient land of Moria.  They must enter and get through this vast dwelling place of the dwarves under the Misty Mountains in order to continue their journey.  But in order to get the stone doors to open, they have to figure out a subtle riddle that is inscribed on the doors,  “The doors of Durin, Lord of Moria, speak friend and enter.”

Gandalf spends quite a bit of time speaking every password that he can think of.  Finally, Frodo comes up with the answer:  Mellon, the elvish word for ‘friend’.  It was there right in
front of them.  Gandalf speaks “Mellon” and the stone doors open in the nick of time and they enter this underground world.  Their reality was that they couldn’t enter in until they came up with the key to open the door.

This morning I woke up thinking about Jesus.  I was aware of how everything that we do is about Him.  But more than that is the awareness of His love and sacrifice for me.  Earlier I have written about Donna’s experience when God gave her a vision of Jesus on the cross:

“As she looked on, she noticed blood dripping from His hands.  Suddenly it was personally real to her that Jesus had died for her! She began to weep and couldn’t stop as she realized that Jesus had loved her enough to die for her, not just “the world” but her, personally.”

Jesus is right in front of us.  He is the way we enter in, when we through faith allow Him to enter into us.  How often are we like Gandalf, trying to think of some way in – when the answer is right before us?  When we embrace Jesus, we enter and experience first hand His incredible love for us.

One of my favorite stories is told of Dr. Karl Barth.  He was considered by many scholars to be one of the most brilliant theologians of the 20th Century.  Once when he was lecturing at Princeton Theological Seminary, a student asked him what was the greatest truth he had ever learned. Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: “The greatest truth that I have ever learned was at my mother’s knee, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

It sounds so simple yet it unlocks the most incredible door to love vast as the ocean.  Such is the love of Christ!

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Saturday September 3, 2022 – The “gift” of food appreciation

Matthew 28:19a  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….  Acts 11:26b  The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

I wonder if among God’s gifts, is one of food appreciation.  If there is, I think I have it.  Good food, prepared well is such a joy to eat.  Each bite is a pleasure in itself.  Have you noticed how we especially anticipate a meal where a favorite dish is being served?  Then, when we take the first taste, we evaluate everything about it to see if it measures up.  That might take all of a split second if it is done right.  A friend of ours describes his response to one of Donna’s desserts as a ‘party in his mouth’!

But what if that first taste generates a ‘something is amiss’ response?  Maybe it’s something simple like salt or pepper which can be remedied right there at the table.  But what if it’s overcooked or undercooked; too dry or watered down; or somehow significantly different?  What if it’s not at all the dish we were led to believe was going to be served because the recipe has been changed – it is new and improved!  Unfortunately, it sure isn’t the dish we love.

Three things are at work here: 1) Recognizing that specific dishes are called for, 2) Making those dishes correctly and 3) Being able to recognize the correct dishes when tasted.  A dish might qualify as food, but if it isn’t a required dish or made according to the correct recipe, it’s not acceptable – no matter how well meaning or sincere the cooks are.

You might be asking yourself, where is all this going?  Christians are disciples of Christ.  As Christians we are to be disciples – and are to make disciples.  In today’s illustration, disciples are made according to very specific recipes found in God’s cookbook (Bible). Disciples are NOT simply things that fall into the general category of food.  Contrary to our culture, the term Christian is only correctly applied when it refers to disciples (‘dishes’) made by truly Biblical recipes.

The term ‘Christian’ is being used less and less by many because it has become far too general.  In our food illustration it now refers to anything edible – rather than the specific dishes the Bible requires.  The descriptive terms ‘Christ follower’ and ‘follower of Jesus’ are attempts to bring the focus once again upon the required characteristics of such a life.  God requires us to not only be such people, but to work with Him to produce such people.   He has the recipes and they must be followed in order to be a disciple of Christ or to make them.  His recipes are the only ones that count.

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Friday September 2, 2022 – The impact we can have

Colossians 4:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

This morning I’ve been thinking about the amazement I still have over my experience of becoming a child of God 54 years ago.  The encounter I had on that day where Jesus became my Lord and Savior was so beyond imagining – so radically life changing, that I am still in awe of it.

The thing about it that struck me this morning is that I didn’t see it coming.  I wasn’t aware that I was seeking God or that I was ‘lost’.  The only reason I went to the retreat was to honor my parents.  There was nothing going on at school (Western Michigan), the camp was nearby and I knew it was important to them for me to go.

The message of the evangelist was unlike anything I had ever heard.  I had never heard anyone talk about Jesus like they had met and knew Him.  As I listened, I was struck by the thought that he described Jesus in a way that, if He were real, it was what He would be like.  I had no idea that I was about to meet Him too!  It’s like I was a ripe fruit ready to pick and just didn’t know it.

The question this morning is how many people that we interact with are in a place similar to where I was?  They are going to having a life-changing experience with the Lord but might not even have an idea that they are searching?  God is simply working in their lives to prepare them for that moment.  We need to understand the impact our lives have in that process.  If our lives are Christ-centered it will be positive; if not, we have missed an opportunity – or worse, created an obstacle to be overcome.

Jesus said we are salt and light.  Our very lives are to reveal Him and His love to others.  All of our encounters and interactions in life are opportunities.  When we live our lives wisely we are going to be a significant influence for Christ in the lives of people around us.  God will use His richness in our lives to draw others to Himself – and sometimes we get to be there when it happens!

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Thursday September 1, 2022 – Discovering the way of love

1 Corinthians 14:1a  Follow the way of love

What is the way of love?  If the Lord spoke these words to you, what would your response be?  “How do I find it?”  “Where is it?” or “What is it?”  Following the way of love is different than following a trail that simply leads somewhere.  Instead of trying to find something, this is a course of action wherein we become something.

Remember the wonderful story of the man born blind who was healed by Jesus.  The disciples had asked who had sinned, this man or his parents for him to be born blind.  Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Jesus then spit on the ground and having made some mud with the saliva He put it the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam.  The man did and was healed!  Needless to say this caused quite a commotion with his family, neighbors and those who had seen him begging for years.  Some of the Pharisees had a fit that this miracle was done on the Sabbath.  Others of them wondered how a sinner could do such a miracle.

After the uproar and the man was thrown out by the Pharisees he had a most wonderful encounter with Jesus described in John 9:35-38,

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”  37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”        38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

Ponder a moment about the spirit that characterized this man as he responded to Jesus.  He not only believed – he worshipped Him.  We need to realize that he was an adult who spent his entire life up to that point blind (and begging) so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.  May our lifelong response to our Lord be the same as his described here.

It is in that spirit that we are instructed to follow the way of love – so that the work of God would be displayed in our lives.  The way of love is where our lives become more and more a living display of the love of God – of the grace and goodness of our Lord.  It leads to where everything we do is done in love.  That is how the world knows we are truly His.

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Wednesday August 31, 2022 – A very important and necessary learned skill

Proverbs 3:5, 6  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;  6 think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.

Have you ever considered the idea that ‘trusting the Lord’ is a learned skill?  The more we do it, the better we can become at it.  Trusting the Lord comes through making daily choices as to where will we place our confidence.  It frequently involves outward decision making, such as tithing or giving when finances are tight.  We might be faced with situations that appear to require a ‘small’ inappropriate compromise in order to prevent a larger negative – like loss of a job, or a sale or a relationship.

Doing the right thing is important, but trusting in the Lord offers so much more.  Think of the verse where we are commanded not to be anxious over anything (Phil 4:6).  We can do the right thing while being beside ourselves with anxiety and concern.  The children of Israel could have chosen to enter the land in spite of the giants and the negative report of the 10 spies.  They were frightened but they could have still obeyed the Lord.

A most vital component in this process is the relationship we have with the Lord.  The closer our walk is with Him, the greater is our freedom from anxiety and worry in difficult situations.  Consider the following situations and what you are likely to experience internally in each of them:

  1. You are lost, driving in a city you’ve never been in; you are in an unsavory area and your cell phone is not working; you have an important appointment to keep – if only you can find it.
  2. Same as #1 but your cell phone begins working; so you call your friend you’re meeting with – and get his voice mail.
  3. Same as # 1 but you ask someone for directions and they sound a bit confused as they give them to you.
  4. Same as #1 but you remember you have a GPS.  You plug it in; enter the address of the appointment; push the go button and you immediately know how to get there and how long it will take.

The point isn’t to go out and buy a GPS – but to recognize how different our state of being can be in different situations.  The more we learn to trust in the Lord, the more we are able to have the peaceful heart response of situation #4 while in situations like #1.

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Tuesday August 30, 2022 – Which image comes to mind when you think of Jesus?

Mark 14:61-62  But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.  Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”   62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

When we think of Jesus, what images come to mind?  Depending upon the time of year we might think of the baby of Bethlehem or Jesus upon the Cross.  Possibly we think of Jesus upon a mountain side teaching multitudes or Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a flock of sheep.

We might think of Him driving out the money changers in the temple; walking upon the water; entering Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd; or at the Last Supper with His disciples.  There are many different images that we have of Him from Scripture.  All of them are rich in meaning and present wonderful aspects of our Lord.

This morning I was struck by the image of Jesus as He describes Himself to the high priest.  He is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One.  When He told the high priest that they would see Him as the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven, they would have recognized His description as it appears in Daniel 6:13-14,

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

John describes Jesus as he encountered Him in Revelation 1:12-16,

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. “

What a glorious picture of our Lord!  He reigns on high!  He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings! He is coming again!  No matter what is going on around us; no matter what the enemy of our souls tries to bring against us – Jesus triumphs over all!!

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Monday August 29, 2022 – The Old Testament & the Southern Magnolia tree

Psalm 119:130  The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

An interesting insight occurred to me recently.  It connects the Old Testament to Southern Magnolia trees.  In this insight, the attributes of the tree are reflective of the view that a person has of the Old Testament.  I realize that many of you might not be aware of what a Southern Magnolia looks like, but we’ll get to that.

If the Old Testament is something that we don’t read much, except for some of the Psalms or Proverbs, than the tree that is reflected by our actions is very small with few flowers on it – if any.  We have a misperception of what it is and what the Lord has there for us.  But here is where the other side of the coin comes in to play.  What is the true reality of what Southern Magnolia are?

I thought they were at most trees that could grow to 20’-25’ high and I had never seen one loaded with flowers.  I still remember how stunned I was to see how big these trees can be and to see them in full bloom!  They can grow to 80’– 90’ tall.  In the spring and early summer they are covered with huge flowers that can be over a foot in diameter.  The beauty of these flowers is amazing and their fragrance is incredible.  I never cease to be amazed by seeing the buds grow and turn white and then open into such spectacular flowers.  The Old Testament and what God has there for us is even more stunning!

The Old Testament is not a small flowerless tree.  It is a very large tree, filled with flowers that are open and buds that are about to be.  The Lord is beckoning us to come and look for them.  It is a treasure to be studied just as the New Testament is.  Once we recognize what the Lord has for us there, we spend more time in it – and our perception and appreciation for it grows.

The insights that the Lord gives us are like the flowers that open on the Southern Magnolia.  We can be reading a passage of Scripture and the Lord just unfolds an amazing truth or insight to us, just like the Magnolia blossom opening.  I think of time-lapse photography that shows in seconds what might take hours or days to happen.  We are captured by the beauty and blessing of what we are seeing.

I was so blessed when we lived in Tennessee because these trees were everywhere.  Thinking of them, I am reminded of all the treasure the Lord has in the Old Testament that He wants to bless us with.  Every time we see things in His Word, it is just another magnificent, fragrant flower opening up on this magnificent ‘tree’.

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Sunday August 28, 2022 – Evolution theory contains a fatal flaw

Genesis 1:1   1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

If a person is an atheist, they definitely have a problem with the concept of God creating the world.  Likewise those who might believe in some kind of divine ‘entity’ but hold the view that that ‘entity’ is and has always been uninvolved in this world.  Maybe once upon a time it (the entity) initiated a spark that set a process in motion but that was it.

The Theory of Evolution is about the only thing you’re left with if your foundational assumption (belief) is that God (any divine entity) CANNOT be a part of the process.  (That becomes the starting point.)  Over the past few decades evolution proponents have accomplished moving it from theory to accepted fact – at least in their minds and in academia.  This is their faith venture.

Consider some Evolution terms:  (But note how positive they all are)

Evolve = change, grow, progress, advance, go forward, develop

Evolution = development, growth, progression, advancement

Mutation = change, alteration, transformation, modification

Enter my college Genetics class that I took my senior year – big class with over 500 students in it.  [FYI – The professor happened to be an atheist. I learned that, months later through discussions with him.] I had been a Christian a little over a year and hadn’t given a lot of thought to the evolution / creation issue.  But from earlier college courses, I knew that mutations were the foundation of the Theory of Evolution.  It couldn’t exist without them.

In Genetics class we dealt with the subject of mutations and that provided a stunning eye-opener.  Most mutations are harmful or negative – or at best neutral.  Let’s say that again but in a different way – Most mutations are NOT beneficial or positive!!!  In addition there is the whole issue of dominant and recessive mutations.  The rarest ‘critter’ out there in the world of mutations is the ‘dominant and beneficial mutation’.

Yet, that very ‘critter’ is what the whole evolution house of cards is built upon.  We read and hear how evolution is predicated upon mutations – zillions and zillions of them – and unlimited time for them to occur.  But the theory is based upon the ‘given’ (read fiction) that the mutations are all overwhelmingly positive, beneficial and dominant.  This is the very opposite of the reality.

While this whole experience was helpful, I don’t believe in Scriptural creation because of it.  My belief is settled firmly on the Rock that is Christ:

John 1:1-3  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with  God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

The good news was that the more I experienced the power and wonder of God, it became a no-brainer that God could do anything! – except lie, sin, be unfaithful, be caught off guard, and a few other things.  Experiencing His supernatural power can have a profound impact on a person.

Come to think of it, creation pales in comparison to what was accomplished through Jesus: His life, death, resurrection, freeing us from a life of sin and making us new creatures in Him.   Creating the world and everything in it was not a big deal – maybe the equivalent of God snapping his fingers.

Note:  My atheist Genetics prof felt he was comfortable with his own explanations for describing most of my experiences with Jesus.  BUT – I remember him looking at me and saying with a serious thoughtfulness, “I don’t know what to do with the miracles.”

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