Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Living on the Edge

blackberry bush: A bicycle leaning against blackberry bush in a field by the sea Stock Photo

I did not take the above photo, nor is my story about a bicycle but it does involve blackberry bushes. Those of you who live where blackberries grow need no description, but just in case you are a city dweller let me explain that blackberry bushes are very prolific and it is impossible to 'bush wack' through them.  Their vines grow fast and tangled and while one of them is supple - though VERY prickly - they are difficult to cut back and quickly grow back again if any root is left.

We used to own acreage in the country and blackberry bushes were quite happy there.  We had a driveway, coming off a cul-de-sac,  that sloped downward to the edge of a very steep ravine - almost completely vertical 300 feet down to a creek. Because of a major land slide we had a few years prior, nothing had yet grown back on this slope except blackberry bushes.

One day my husband decided that he would chain up our older car, that had a dead battery, to our newer car and pull it up the driveway hoping that he could get it to start. I took one look and played out the 'obvious to me' outcome.  "If that chain breaks, that car is going to roll right off the driveway, down the ravine!"
It was one of those husband "I know what I'm doing" times, so I just shook my head, bit my tongue and went into the house.   It was only moments later when my husband came in with a sheepish look on his face.  I knew immediately what had happened.
Yes, indeed, the chain had broken and the car went down the ravine.  I followed him outside and could not even see the car until I walked close to the ravine edge.  Looking down, I could see that the full weight of the car was supported by nothing but blackberry bushes  and the front bumper was just below the ravine edge.

My husband called a wrecker and asked how much he would charge to pull a car out of a ravine. "Oh.. I'll do it for twenty dollars," he replied ..   It wasn't long before he was on our yard and hooked his pulley to the car but he couldn't pull it out ... the angle was too steep.  So he had to call a friend of his who had a hoist on his truck and could lift the car up into the air and then swing it back onto the driveway.
Because he had quoted  $20.00, he stuck by his price, for which we were very grateful... and hoped it was an experience to add to his list of ..."You'll never believe this job that I had .... "  stories.

How often in life we  'live on the edge' of danger, thinking nothing will happen to us. We ignore God's warnings and choose to live according to our own desires, declaring "I know what I'm doing!" God allows us to do things 'our way', even though He knows it will get us in trouble.
Even as we are setting ourselves up for a 'fall', He puts blackberry bushes in place that will not allow us to fall farther than from where He can rescue us.
While my attitude was less than supportive, but rather , 'I told you so... now fix it yourself!", I am so humbled - and grateful -  that God never takes that attitude with us.
When we realize we have messed up, gotten ourselves into trouble and we come 'sheepishly' to Him to ask for help, He is always more than gracious and forgiving and willing to help us get back on track.
And always, His price  is something we can afford - far less than we deserve to pay.

"But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
 My glory and the One who LIFTS UP my head..
 I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me 
from His holy hill."
Psalm 3:3,4

Saturday, April 9, 2016

"I Don't Read You - Its all Greek to Me!"

Για το Θεό τόσο αγαπούσε ο κόσμος
που έδωσε τον μονογενή Υιό Του,
όποιος πιστεύει σ 'Αυτόν δεν πρέπει να χαθεί
αλλά έχουν ποτέ διαρκείας ζωής.

Some time ago our pastor typed out his sermon on his Ipad selecting  a lovely font.  He sent the finished document to the church office requesting the secretary  print  it out ready for his Sunday morning delivery.
Some time later the secretary called him in a panic --  his sermon document printed out - NOT in English, but in GREEK --  no one could read it !
They quickly figured out the problem.   The lovely font so readily offered on the pastor's Ipad did not have a corresponding receptor for that font on the church's computer software.  Unable to read the  incoming document's font,  the church computer made the best of its disability,  chose a 'closest match font' and sent it to the printer.  The font used was - Greek!

In response to the pastor's story, the congregation chuckled, appreciating the fact that they had perhaps narrowly escaped a sermon that, quite literally, was all Greek to them !

I thought of how our knowledge of computers has given us so many insights into clarifying our understanding of God and our relationship with Him.

God's heart desire when He created man was that He would have a relationship with him. Relationship is built on communication, so God had to design man with a built-in ability to 'connect' with his Divine Creator God.
Just like the pastor's Ipad and the church computer had to be 'compatible' with each other to communicate in a meaningful way...  so we also needed to be compatible with God in order to communicate with Him.  God is Spirit and so God also created man to be spirit -  enabling him to receive 'communication' from God - Spirit to spirit.

The incredible 'font' of God's word has to find a corresponding 'font' receptor in us , in order for us to 'read' Him. When we choose Him as our Saviour and are born again, our spiritual eyes are opened to understand Him and in understanding Him learn to trust Him.

In I Corinthians 2:14 we read ... "but the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

note- in case you are curious, the Greek words above are John 3:16


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Doubting Thomas

One of Jesus disciples, by the name of Thomas, is often  delegated to our lower levels of esteem.
Poor Thomas - we tend to look at him sideways almost embarrassed for him that he should have such doubts !

A few posts back I wrote about "Doubt - An Enemy?" .. and want to follow it up with a look at the bible character whose very name is synonymous with doubt. Doubting Thomas.

What if we remove our pre-conceived judgment about him ... and look at him again with a fresh and unbiased eye.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke we only find Thomas mentioned in the list of Jesus' twelve disciples.
It is  in John's account that we glean something of who he was as a man and something of his story, as well as a life-example for us to learn from.

John first refers to him in John 11:16 when Jesus told His disciples that their friend Lazarus had died, and He said "Let us go to him."
John records Thomas' comment to the other disciples. "Let us also go, that we may die with him."  A rather strange thing to say, isn't it ? Does it indicate a tendency of Thomas' to see the 'dark' side of things?  Hopelessness?  Seeing the problem without an answer?   A man who see his glass half full? Or a man who is sensitive to the suffering and sorrow of others?

The next time we see Thomas is in John 14:1-6 where Jesus speaks the words we all know by heart ... "Let not your heart be troubled .....  I go to prepare a place for you .... I will come again ... that where I am , you may be there also.... and the way you know."  
Again, it is Thomas' response that is recorded.  He said, "   "Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?
I believe those questions resonated in all the disciples' minds,but only Thomas had the courage to ask it, the honesty to reveal his lack of understanding.  Those who dare to ask the questions are the ones who seek the answers. Was Thomas a deep thinker? One whose mind absorbed the words of Jesus, thought not only about what the words meant, but also what they meant for him personally?
Jesus does not rebuke him for his question, He patiently gives him the answer! Why? because Thomas asked!

Then we do not hear anything more about Thomas until John 20:19-29.
Jesus, had risen from the dead, and  suddenly appeared to the disciples who had gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus responded to the disciples' joy in seeing Him by extending to them words of peace and a commission.
Missing from this group gathering was Thomas.  Where was he? We don't know, but we know he wasn't 'hiding' with the rest of the disciples. Perhaps he chose to be alone with his thoughts, trying to figure out what had happened, and why?  Grieving that Jesus had died and asking over and over again,"Why?"

The disciples sought him out, eager to tell him that Jesus was alive - they had seen Him !  A miracle had happened!!
Once again we have recorded Thomas' response - the one he is famous for...."Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."   
We are so quick to shake our heads at Thomas and say ... "Oh you of little faith!!!"  but wait -  How many times in bible history do we see people who doubted and were brave enough to express it?

We can look at Abraham, whose faith faltered and he said, "Lord, could my servant not be my heir?  or my son Ishmael?"   and God patiently answered Abraham and assured him that God's promise to him would be fulfilled.  He needed to wait just a little longer.

We can look at Moses who shook his head at God's assignment saying he could not speak, he was not the man God needed - He should choose another.  And God patiently answered Moses and showed him God had indeed called him to deliver God's people.

We can look at Gideon who doubted that God could possibly have meant him - the least of the least family in the least tribe!  In his doubt, he put out a fleece, still doubted and put out another fleece and then when he dared not ask for another sign - God so patiently told Gideon "If you still doubt, go down tonight to the tents of the enemy."

We can look at the desperate father who brought his possessed son to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal him. When Jesus said all things were possible to those who believed, the father reached through his doubt to grab hold of faith. "Lord, I believe! help my unbelief!" 

We can look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, when confronted with the 'impossible' asked... "How can this be?"

I believe God showed us the examples of doubting people in the bible - about whom we we forget their doubts because we focus on what their resulting faith brought about in their lives.
God wants us to voice our doubts, because voicing them puts us in a place where we can conquer our fears, over come them in our seeking for the truth. Having faced our doubts and found the 'faith' answers, we then stand on a solid foundation. We have tested God's word and found it to be sure!

And so we see Thomas, the last time we hear him in scripture, once again asking the question, seeking the answer that will slay his doubt.  Jesus never speaks a word of rebuke to Thomas but comes to him personally.  Jesus stands before him and holds out His hands and shows him His side saying .. "Touch me .. and believe."
And we see Thomas; response ... he worships ... "My Lord, and my God !"  His faith will never again be shaken!
One more reference to Thomas in Acts 1:13 - when the disciples gathered in the upper room to wait the coming of the Holy Spirit, Thomas is not missing from this gathering !

Instead of seeing Thomas as an example of something I don't want to do - feel guilt because I doubt -  I have come to see him as an encouragement.   When I feel the uncertainty of doubt, I don't need to fear asking the questions.
I know that God will acknowledge my doubts, in fact, He invites me to voice them, seeking the answers He is waiting to give me.
Listen to the words of James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom  let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and WITHOUT REPROACH, and it will be given to him."
When my doubt gives way to faith, my response will be like Thomas' -  I will cry out that He is the Answer, He is the way and the truth! - the One true God I love and worship !

**There is an interesting detail provided about Thomas in John 11:16, It tells us that Thomas was also known as Didymus.  Didymus means 'double' or 'twin' - Thomas was a twin.  Is there a 'hint' of  hidden meaning here? Can we infer from Thomas' names   -  that 'doubt' is the twin of 'faith' ?  If we let 'Doubt' ask the question that leads us to truth, do we encounter the other twin, 'Faith' ?


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Greatest Event in History

In John 3:14, Jesus says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." 

We know the old testament story that Jesus is referring to. It is found in Numbers 21:4-9 

           The Israelites had sinned. Discouraged and angry, they grumbled against God and against Moses. God sent fiery serpents to punish them for their sin and the bite of the serpent was fatal. Then, when they cried out to God for deliverance, God commanded Moses to erect a bronze serpent, and everyone who simply ‘looked’ at the bronze serpent lived.
        It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used in verses six and eight in our Numbers passage,  and is  translated into our English ‘bit’ or ‘bitten’, is a word that means ‘to strike with a sting’. Then when we go to I Corinthians 15:56, we see that Paul uses that word ‘sting’ in reference to sin, “the sting of death is sin.”  
     We are familiar with scripture references to Satan being called a serpent; therefore, we can see that the serpents that bit the people represent the sin that bites us and causes our death.  When the serpent bit the people, they died.  When Adam and Eve sinned and brought death upon the whole human race, we all, in turn, are bitten by sin and are condemned to die.  Only when Jesus was lifted up on the cross did salvation come - people could look to Him and live!   
       I used to wonder why Moses was commanded to lift up a bronze serpent - after all, it was the serpent that was responsible for the death of the people. Why was it now commanded by God to be the instrument of giving life?
       Then, I understood.  It was sin that caused us to die, and until our sin was lifted up on the cross of Jesus - placed upon Him - we could not have deliverance. 
Though the bronze serpent had the power to give everyone life, simply lifting it up in the wilderness was not enough.  Every person that was bitten had to look up at the bronze serpent believing that, as Moses had promised, it would give them life.
        To live spiritually, each one of us must look up at the cross of Christ and see our own sin hanging there.  And we must believe that only Jesus, through His supreme sacrifice, can save us - by taking our sin upon Himself and suffering our punishment. Through Him, we have life, now and forever!
        That is the conclusion we see in John 3:15, which follows the verse we began with, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’.

May the Lord bless you, dear reader, this Easter season, 
and as you think on His sacrifice and His resurrection, 
may you remember that "the joy set before Him" 
was YOU!