Thursday, October 15, 2020

READING A STORY BACKWARDS

I think that sometimes when we read the stories of the Bible characters God chose to put in His book as examples for us to learn from, we forget how very HUMAN they were and that they lived their lives out the same as we do --- one day at a time not knowing what the future holds. Too often we read their stories backwards and because hindsight is 20/20 we fail to recognize what it was like for them to live their lives in their own time and it is easy to miss what their life is meant to teach us.

 I would like to use an imaginary neighbour/friend to help us walk through Sarah's life as she walked it forward ...and then look at what we can learn from her. . 

 *** My Friend Sarah..... 
I first got to know Sarah as a neighbour and friend in Hebron when she and Abraham moved there and set up their tent next to mine. I was curious, of course, when I saw that someone was moving next door , and I watched as the tent was being set up hoping that perhaps there would be a woman I could be friends with. When I first saw Sarah I could not stop staring. She was by far the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I expected her to be rather haughty. I was wrong, she was friendly and we soon became good friends.

 She loved to talk and told me all about her and Abraham , how they had left their home country at the command of the Lord. And she told me about how Abram had lied about their relationship when they lived for a time in Egypt because of the famine. I asked her if she had been okay with that -- with Abram lying about her. She looked at me with raised eyebrow and said, "well, of course, do you think I wanted Abraham killed so I could become a concubine of Pharaoh? " 

 Some time later, in another conversation I asked her about why Abraham had lied a second time, when they had experienced God's protection over them the first time. She shrugged and said , "Abraham felt it was safer and I agreed."

 I was curious because although Abraham and Sarah were rather old, she never talked about children so I finally felt comfortable enough to ask her. Her face clouded and with tears in her eyes she shared that she was barren. It was the heart-break of their lives. Even though she and Abram were obviously in love with each other, they had always longed for children believing that God had promised them children! She spoke of the hope they had had when Abraham had understood God would bring a great nation from his descendants ... but .. that hope had long died, she said rather bitterly. She finally stopped expecting to get pregnant and now they were getting very old and God seemed to have forgotten them completely. . 

 Then one day Sarah came to me with great excitement on her face and she said .. "You won't believe this .. but last night Abram out of agony of heart begged God to allow Eliezer to be his heir, since no natural child seemed possible. and God in response to Abram's request made a covenant with him, promising that it would indeed be from his own body that a son would be born from whom will come a multitude of descendants" Her eyes were shining as she shyly shared .. "I have hope again maybe I am pregnant already, there is not much time left before I will surely be too old!"

 The months came and went  and again and again I recognized the slump of Sarah's shoulders that told me yet again she carried the disappointment of not having conceived. She shared her disappointment  her hope once more was crushed.

 Then one day she came to me. She told me how she had not been able to sleep and had come up with a plan. It would work, she was sure of it! She would give her maid-servant, Hagar to Abram and the child that would be born she would take as her very own and it would fulfill God's promises to Abraham.
 I was a little dumbfounded and asked... "But Sarah, are you sure? What will Abraham say about that ? and what about Hagar?"
 "Oh," Sarah brushed me off... "Abraham will do what I ask, and Hagar is my slave, I don't have to ask her."
 I could hardly believe Sarah had been successful in getting what she wanted when she told me with great joy that Hagar was indeed pregnant. 

 At first it all seemed to be okay but then Sarah began to complain about Hagar's changed attitude toward her .. It was like now Hagar was the wife and Sarah the slave. I didn't want to remind Sarah that it HAD been HER plan .. but I really wasn't very surprised that there were problems. Trying to be a good friend, I encouraged Sarah to be patient -- that soon the baby would be born and then she could focus on the child.

 But Sarah did not handle it well , and I heard the harsh words she shouted at Hagar . Then I heard her shouting at Abraham that it was all HIS fault, all the blame was HIS ! I didn't say anything but I wanted to remind her again that it had been HER idea. 
 One day, I heard even louder voices and cries from the tent beside me  and then after things were quiet once again, I heard Sarah outside my tent. She looked worn out .but she told me how when she had lashed out at Abraham, putting the blame of everything at his feet,...he had told her to deal with Hagar as she saw fit . She confessed that she had actually struck her and Hagar had run away. Later in the day I saw Hagar slowly making her way back to Sarah's tent and things seemed to be quieter. 

 Finally, the baby was born - Sarah was delighted and Abraham was so proud of his new son . There was no question baby Ishmael would be loved. The years passed and Ishmael grew. He was about 12 years old when one day I heard footsteps and unfamiliar voices  I looked out of my tent to see that Abram had 3 visitors . I could see right away these were not ordinary men.. and I was curious. 
 I slipped out around the back to join Sarah in her tent. "Who are Abraham's visitors?" I asked. She said, "I'm not sure but Abraham has asked me to make them something to eat." 
 "Let me help," I offered, and soon we were both kneading the dough and making little bread cakes. 
 The voices of the men outside were easy to hear and of course our ears were tuned to hear their words. At one point one of the men asked Abraham where Sarah, his wife, was. Abraham answered that she was in the tent. Then we heard the incredible words that Sarah in 9 months would give birth to a son. Sarah and I locked startled glances  it was impossible, of course, and Sarah could not help a scornful laugh at the unthinkable thought of her becoming pregnant. She was 90 years old - far past the age that was even a possibility. 
 When she heard the man ask  "Why did Sarah laugh?" Sarah, suddenly fearful at having offended, glanced wide-eyed at me and then quickly denied she had laughed and for a second time the man rebuked her... "Oh , but you did laugh!" 

 The word of the Lord was true... and 9 months later, Sarah miraculously gave birth to Isaac. Of course, it didn't take too many years for things to become unbearable. . Sarah often spoke of how she could not stand the thought of Ishmael sharing in Abraham's inheritance or maybe taking it all. Yes, Isaac was younger but he was HER son  not the son of a slave like Ishmael. The tension between Sarah and Hagar was also felt by Ishmael.
I thought of how he had been the only son, basking in the love and favor of Abraham and Sarah and of Hagar.. living with the knowledge that he was Abraham's heir and now suddenly here was this child who was going to take it all from him. Sarah cared only about Isaac, and when Ishmael began acting out his aggression toward Isaac, Sarah could take it no longer . There was no way she was going to stand by and let Isaac be bullied by Ishmael.

 She came by one day and I could see something important was on her mind.. She told me what had happened. She had demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. She would no longer tolerate that boy in her tents. Abraham had argued against it, but Sarah was determined and didn't care where they went as long as they went and what became of them was not her concern.  She would just be glad to be rid of them ! 
 Abraham was very upset, and it grieved him deeply to think of sending them away but Sarah told me with a certain smugness that God had backed her up and told Abraham to listen to her!

 And so Hagar and Ishmael were gone. 
 Sarah too told me, after the fact, of what had transpired on the mountain when God had told Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice . She admitted that had Abraham not left so early in the morning before she knew about it, she would certainly have stopped them from going. Now, she was just thankful that Abraham and Isaac were both home safe and sound  and she no longer had to deal with either Hagar or Ishmael. 
 * ****
 It is really not hard for us to relate to Sarah's struggles and we can identify with her coming up with her own plan when God didn't seem to come through. And we can't blame Sarah for being upset, impatient, demanding, and even harsh dealing with Hagar and Ishmael 
 We can even, if we are honest, admit that we too have blame-shifted under pressure rather than take ownership of our own choices or decisions that went side-ways. So , Sarah was very human, who stumbled and failed like we all do. 

  God's Epitaph for Sarah 
 We could leave Sarah there having formed our own opinion of her  BUT there is a side to her story that we cannot ignore. God's opinion of her We hardly recognize Sarah when we hear God describe her. From a human point of view Sarah was a doubter - no faith at all -  yet, from God's point of view, He declares her a woman of faith ! He includes her in the 'Faith Heroes' list in Heb. 11 where she is praised for her faith ! 
 And in I Peter she is held up as the example for all women to follow in how we should respect our husbands and how we should focus on inner beauty rather than outer adornments. 

 So what can we learn from Sarah ?

1. God judges us by where we end up 
 God did not record Sarah's journey of doubt and self-will. He reserved His judgment of her for where she ended up. Obviously, Sarah learned to trust God, seeing how He kept His promises and was the God of the impossible! 
 If God did that for Sarah then we can trust Him to do the same for us. He is leading us through our life, teaching us, guiding us -- even through our difficulties and doubts --to come to the place where we can declare with Sarah  "Lord, I trust you !!!" 
 Gal. 6:9, James 1:12, James 1:4 

 2. God doesn't hold grudges 
 We have all struggled to forgive someone when it just seems too hard to live with the consequences  and sometimes we struggle to believe we are totally forgiven by God/ 
But then think of Sarah. Her 'sin' in choosing her own way instead of believing God had consequences so far reaching we are still living with them today -- the descendants of Ishmael are still causing problems today.
 Yet ... God never held Sarah's failing up to her. We see this characteristic of God also in the Father welcoming his prodigal son back home. And it is also true for us.  God's patience is beyond human patience.  
 see Heb. 10:17, Heb. 8:12 , Psalm 103:11-14 

 3.. God has a purpose for every one of us 
I wonder how surprised Sarah would have been if God had showed her a fast-forward video of our time. Would she not be shocked to see that, thousands of years later, she was well remembered?... and would she not be shocked to see that she was held up as an example to follow? I'm sure she would have said ... "ME? REALLY?" 
I'm sure Sarah did not think of herself as fulfilling a 'purpose' for her life - beyond God finally giving her finally the child she yearned for. God never spoke to her - He spoke to her husband .. and while the promises God made to Abraham affected her as well, it was only by association and I doubt she had any strong sense of a God-directed purpose. 
Yet God had a purpose for her life --- we certainly see it in hindsight. Therefore we can know that God, who is no respecter of persons, also has a purpose for our life.
 Jer. 29:11, Eph. 2:10 

 4. . It's not about us - its about HIM
We are so often like Sarah .
We are sure we know exactly what needs to happen and we make our plans and ask God to bless them. But God's plans are not our plans. They are His plans, to fulfill His eternal purposes and He alone knows how He has ordained that we should fit into them. 
 It is not our own thoughts, ways or deeds that please Him , but rather that we simply give Him our hearts. 
By recognizing Him and walk in thanksgiving we are doing His will for us.
 I Thess. 5:18 Is. 55:8,9 , Prov. 23:26 4. 
It's not our responsibility to carry out His plan for us. God's purpose for us does not depend on how well we understand His plan and put it into practice. 
Jesus says His yoke is easy and if we look at this analogy of the yoke that helps the ox pull the plow. How much does the ox have to understand about the farmer's plan or purpose? 
 Very little. 
 He just has to yield to the farmer's hand on the reins and his voice commands. The farmer does the rest !
 In Philippians 1:6  WHO is doing the work? who starts it? and who completes it? Our part is to simply trust God and follow His leading day by day and HE will fulfill His purpose in and through us ..
 If God would tell us what He wants to do in or through us, we would run with it making our own plans on how to fulfill it -- and miss it entirely !! 
 God makes us to will and do of HIS good pleasure .Phil. 2:13 

 We see that in Sarah's life -- God told her His purpose for her .. that a nation would come from her / There was NOTHING Sarah could do to 'help' God fulfill His plan . In fact God waited until even the 'natural' function of her body had ceased ! 

 5. God's purposes are not always revealed in our lifetime 
 We live in a purpose-driven society where we demand instant gratification. But in God's Kingdom, we may not see what God's purpose for us was in this lifetime. 
 We see that in Sarah's life. She did not see God's purpose and promises unfold in her life time. She did not even see her only son married let alone hold a grandchild in her arms... yet thousands of years later Sarah is a household name and her 'fulfilled purpose' still inspires others today! 
 Isn't it exciting to think that our life is NOT without purpose ? 
And that we don't even have to know what it is ? And that all God asks of us is to trust Him and walk in daily obedience to His voice. 

 6. We will receive praise from God 
 If we stand strong to the end EACH of us will receive the praise or reward for having fulfilled God's purpose. Just as Sarah did. 
 I think when God smiles His praise upon us, we will be as surprised as I'm sure Sarah was. Look at I Cor. 4:5. Here Paul is expressing how he does not know himself at all and  tells us that we should not judge ourselves or others 'before the time'. 
 But in the end God will reveal our hearts and then EACH ONE'S PRAISE WILL COME FROM GOD ! 
 Praise for what God did in and through us ! HIS work in us. 

 7. God is patient 
It is not in our 'strengths' that God shows Himself strong .. but in our 'weaknesses'. II Cor. 12:7-10
 I think that Sarah was like us, a slow learner -- and she grew in her faith and understanding of God bit by bit the way we do as well. 
 What I find so encouraging about God is that He judges us by where we end up, not by how many times we stumble and fall. I love the verse that defines the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous fall many times but they get up and carry on -- the wicked falls and stays there ! Prov. 24:16 

 God never deals with us as we 'deserve' but rather deals with us according to His infinite mercy, grace and PATIENCE. He focuses not on where we fail but where we give Him room to work! Ps. 145:8, Ex. 34:6 

 Sarah, in the end, trusted God and learned to know and walk in His ways ... and is held up to encourage us as an example. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Death and the Hereafter

footpath in surrounded by trees                                                                                                                                                                                  photo by Alessio Lin

A PERFECT WORLD 

A baby is tucked into a perfect world in his mother's womb. It is warm, comfortable... all needs are met.  His mother's heartbeat is a soothing rhythmic sound,  and his mother's voice becomes familiar. .  No desire or thought of another world to come, enters the baby's mind.. 
But IF the baby in the womb could see and understand the life to come outside the womb, would he be content to stay IN the womb?  Or would he struggle to be born before he was physically ready? 

We are like the baby in the womb.   This earth is our 'womb' and it is difficult to  visualize anything else. We love this earth and the life it offers and so we put off even thinking of a world to come.   Maybe that is a safeguard God built into our DNA so that we would be focused on fulfilling the purpose of our earthly sojourn rather than focusing on where we would rather be !!  The will to live is the strongest instinct God gave us, because this earthly life is important in relationship to the life to come. 

We will all live until we 'die'...Everyone's days are numbered.
Before we were born, our days were already numbered by God.  Our life is in His hand and we can trust God to sustain our life until the 'day' that He calls us home. ( see .. Psalm 139:16 ,  Job 14:5, Psalm 39:4)   

We don't like to talk about death.  And even what comes after is a subject rarely discussed. 
But it is a reality we will all one day face ...
 So ... I have attempted to share  here in this lesson,  some of the  understanding I have gleaned from my study of scripture, and hope that you will be left excited for what is to come for all of us ! 

Avoid the Uncomfortable 
The world has tried to dilute the fear of death and dying by finding new ways to refer to it.  How often I have heard .. "Oh, he is in a better place !" or "He is now playing golf"  Ior instead of referring to someone's death, the common word used today is 'passed' .. 

Even believers have tried to make it less distressing ....   We use terms like 'celebration of life'  or 'memorial' instead of funeral and we have eliminated the coffin from our services.    
While using more uplifting terms may lessen the impact ... it really is only a temporary reprieve in our feelings.   

My husband chuckles when he tells the story of a young girl in his childhood neighbourhood who one day came  running down the road as fast as she could .. shouting as she ran .. "Good news, Good news, my uncle died !!"   We smile because of course no one would call it 'good news' ...  and yet maybe she had it more right than wrong ??? 

We avoid talking about dying because it makes us uncomfortable.  
It makes us uncomfortable because we don't want to leave this earth and our loved ones...  but I think another reason it makes us uncomfortable is because intuitively we know 'dying' is contrary to life.. .  We want to live forever.and do everything we can to preserve our life. 

FOUR MIS-CONCEPTIONS  
 I think there are 4 misconceptions that affect how we think and feel about death and the hereafter. 

1. DEATH   Something to fear ?  
There is an interesting verse found in Hebrews 2:14,15  that explains that Jesus' death for us freed us from the fear of death !  
As believers we need have no fear of it !  Why ?  Because we will never die !  
Oh yes, our bodies will be cast off one day -- as one moves out of an old house into a new one, or as one casts off an old garment and puts on a new..  (see II Peter 1:14, II Cor. 5:14)

The PERSON  that you are will never die !!  Never !  Death is  not something we will CONSCIENTIOUSLY experience! 

We are so attached to our bodies that we strongly identify our PERSON with our body.  
No matter how much we would like a 'body-reno' as we get older, we cling to our bodies as though letting go of our body is letting go of life. And we always refer to someone who 'died' in third person -- HE died, SHE died .... It would be more correct to say ..  His body died, or Her body died, because the Person is very much alive. 

Look at Acts 7 that tells the story of the first martyr.  When Stephen was being stoned ...  he looked up and saw Jesus standing in heaven.  I'm sure for Stephen, time was totally seamless ...  He was in a body that was being stoned - then he simply stepped out of it and was immediately standing with Jesus in glory !   No death ... just 'absent from the body, present with the Lord' .. II Cor. 5:8
And note that it is the SAME person who is absenting from the body to be present with the Lord!  No process, no inbetween experience we call 'death'. 

So 'death' for you and me is not something to fear.  Death only involves the physical body.... and even that is temporary because when Jesus comes back and there is the resurrection,  our bodies will themselves be changed and we will wear them again !  Millenia before our time,   Job already understood this ... He believed he would die and his body decay but it would be resurrected again . (see Job 19:-26)

In the meantime - until the resurrection -  we will not be unclothed ... ( II Cor. 5:4)..... ..  but will have a 'spiritual'  body that will feel solid and comfortable and look like us -  'recognizable' to others who knew us. .   Moses and Elijah when they appeared on the Mt. of Transfiguration were instantly recognized for who they were.(Luke 9:28-36).  When Samual appeared to Saul and the witch of Endor, he was immediately recognized. (I Sam. 28:11,12) The rich man recognized Abraham and Lazarus. (see Luke 16:23)
And the martyrs in Rev. 6:10 identify one with another as a group and also are aware of what is happening on earth.  

When Jesus' rose from the dead in His resurrected body it was exactly like our 'forever' bodies will be. He is our example ...  as He was resurrected so also shall we be !   Our resurrected bodies will be physical flesh and bone. ( of course our bodies will be 'new and improved' with   super-natural abilities like being able to walk through walls , and travel  as fast as thought)   

Jesus conquered all negative aspects of death and we have nothing to fear when we hear the word !     see Heb. 2:15, Matt. 16:21, John 2:18-22, Luke 24:6, I Cor. 15:3-7

NOTE - I know grief is real and we deeply mourn the loss of  our loved ones.   Their gain IS our loss and we feel it ... yet .. we can take comfort knowing that we will join them one day soon.. The parting, though painful, is temporary. And death has lost all power over those who belong to Jesus. ( I Thess. 4:13) 


2, HEAVEN - NOT YET, PLEASE! 
We all use the word 'heaven' to describe where we will go when we step out of our 'tent'.(body) And I'm not saying we need to change that.  But the words we use do colour what we ultimately believe. 
How often have you heard someone say, "Yes, I want to go to heaven but not yet."   And if it was for a reason like the one stated by Paul ( Phillipians 1:23)  that would be commendable but I think if we are honest we have all had a list of what we wanted to experience before we went to heaven -- like get married, have kids, travel, be successful in our career...see our grandchildren... etc.  

So why,  if heaven is as perfect as we say it is, do we put off wanting to go?  I have been with several people before they passed and except for one person, the others - even though they were believers -  were afraid of death and had no idea what to expect after. 

I think there is a very valid reason why we want to put off living in heaven.  

Do you know that not one verse in scripture says that we go to heaven when we die?  
Why?  because we were not created for 'heaven' .  Heaven is where God lives, His throne room.    God created His angels to live in heaven as His servants ... but He created man to live on earth.  
(don't run away -- stay with me ... let me explain) 😊

Last week my husband and I watched a documentary - ( link found here. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMAzchVWTis )  This is the most incredible photography of the undersea world.   It is beauty beyond astonishing... the creatures are unbelievably unique, the plant life stunning .. the colours and total effect is mind blowing!  Words cannot describe the creation of God deep under the ocean. It is like He pulled out all the stops on His creative mind and magnified in detail and design what we could never imagine!  

 And as fascinated as I was,   watching the wonders of the deep sea displayed on our TV screens , as much as I was in awe at its incredible beauty ... as much as my heart lifted in praise and worship to the God who created such wonders....  Would 
I want to live there?  COULD I live there? 
 No, because I was not created to live underground  -- I am not suited for life there.

When God created Adam and Eve, He could have created them in heaven - His Throne-room-  but no , He created an earth that He designed for them. . An environment that they could relate to and be comfortable in. Instead of man 'living' in heaven,  God came down to them ... (Gen. 3:8) 

When God revealed Himself in His glory on Mt Zion, the people were terrified and begged not to have to 'live' in that glory. They could not bear it. 
When Isaiah  -- in vision --saw the throne of God he cried out that he 'was undone'.  (Isaiah 6:1-4)  It was too overwhelming for him. 
I think we instinctively know that we are not 'suited'  to live in 'heaven' which is God's throne-room. 
With an oxygen tank we can for a time go down to the bottom of the sea but we cannot stay there.  I believe it is the same in God's throne room. 

So then where do we go when we die?   
Look at what Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:1-4 -- "I go to prepare a place for you!" 
Surely He did not mean that He had to renovate a corner of God's-heaven. 
"A place for you" ---  a place that was suited to us.  
And what did He say to the thief on the cross?  "You will be in paradise, with me..." Luke 23:43
 Jesus speaks about Paradise waiting for those who overcome..  REv. 2:7, 
 Paul says that he was caught up into Paradise ....  II Cor. 12:4 )

Paradise -- a perfect place prepared for us .. where we will live until the New Earth is created. 

Will we be with Jesus?  Oh yes, of course !!   And we will see God on His throne.  Distance and time are not a hindrance outside of our universe. 

I Cor. 2:9 says that we could not even imagine the wonderful things God has planned for us.  That verse is quoted by Paul from the Old Testament and speaks primarily to the wonders of the New Covenant that Jesus' death made possible for us to partake of,  but it also shows what God is like.  What awaits us when we step out of our physical body will astound, delight, thrill us beyond anything we have ever experienced here on this earth.  
AND it will be 'suited'  to us.   When our bodies die, the PERSON we are does not change at all!  We are who we are -- our mind, our emotions, our personality and character. We will not 'change'. 
We will know as we are known .. I Cor. 13:12.  The veil of our physical body will be gone and we will see and experience all the things that we are 'blinded' to here.  

3. THE NEW EARTH
I find that most people have only a vague idea of what our 'eternity' will be like. 
A lady (Christian , church goer ,all her life) recently commented that we will be ghosts floating around. . 
And yes, I agree, the Bible does not give us too many details of what it will be like.  I think that is because if God DID  give us too many details, we would just give up on this life and do whatever we could to leave this earthly life as quickly as possible !!  

The end of God's Book tells us enough so that we can understand what God has planned for us. 
When He destroys this earth ( II Peter 3:10-13)  He will create a new one.  
What will it be like?   It will be perfect -- I believe it will be like the Garden of Eden that God placed Adam and Eve in... only bigger!  and if possible even better.  
The New Earth will be a 'physical' place  - for lack of a better word -- and by physical I mean that it will be as real as this earth is. We have it backwards.  It is THIS earth that is the mirage and the New Earth the real and solid. ( see II Cor. 4:18)  
God created man to live on the earth that He designed for him !   I get so excited when I think of what it will be like living on the New Earth --  I believe it will be far more 'normal' than we expect!!  And I know we will be busy !!  With what?  I'm not sure but I know it will be fulfilling !   
God will be there with us -- He says He will come down to be with us -- just as He did with Adam and Eve...  
It will be perfect  -- beyond any perfection we might  imagine !  
We all have gifts, talents, passions .. .things we enjoy. That will not change so I believe our New Earth work will also take into consideration our gifts and talents and personality,  in a way that will be totally fulfilling to us! 
Relationships will continue and be important .. God created man to be in families, in friendships, and in fellowship with Him . None of that will change. While there will be no 'marriage' , spouses will be known and loved as they are here. 
Can you imagine the joy we will experience being with the people we have loved on earth, and knowing we will never have to part again?   I'm sure we will also make new friends .. and I am sooooo looking forward to meeting and talking with all the Bible characters. 

And ... this is only my idea ... but I believe that all the books that were written about all God did on this earth will be in a 'library' that we can go and read.... or better still we can watch the heaven-tube videos.   Won't that be so fun?   To be able to watch and see our earth events from God's perspective ?  How He manipulated and intervened and wove together lives and circumstance and details we thought were co-incidental?!  (one of my fav. verses John 21:25) 

4. THIS EARTH-LIFE 
Do we just fumble through this life  as best we can ... hoping that somehow we have done something that God will be pleased with? 
While learning to know God is key ... I think this life is more important than we realize in how it prepares us for an eternity with God. 

I believe that is something we do not consider often enough in terms of who we will be in eternity. 
I remember, as a teen,  trying to envision what I would be like when I was 40.  It was such a foreight concept to me, I thought I would be almost 'another person'  then, someone I could not relate to. 
And then I found to my surprise that I was still that 'teen' person, even when I was 40. 

I think it will be the same for us when we spend that first day in glory!  The biggest surprise will be how 'normal'  we are. And how easily we relate to the things around us. 

God never created us to struggle through life in a sin-destroyed earth.  God created man because He desired beings that would freely worship Hm in relationship with Him and each other in a 'perfect' world. 
But .. in the same way that we cannot achieve any goals in this life without education and maturity, so also we need to 'prepare' ourselves to live forever in perfect communion with God. 
We 'practice' here to learn what we will need to know to live fully in the life to come.  

When I was a child, I believed that when I died I would go sit on a cloud with my harp, praising God, whom I could not see .. nor could I see anyone else because of the cloudy mist around me ...  Where I got that Idea, I do not know, but how totally wrong I was.
Why do we think life will be so very 'different' in eternity ?  In many ways of course it will be - but not in ways that keep us from relating or understanding it. 
 It will be exciting .... And every one will personally be given to do what they are 'suited' to do.  
I know that we are going to be FAR too busy to ever be bored !   The gifting you have will finally be used in its ultimate purpose ....  what you love to do will be your delight !   I don't know exactly how we are going to be occupied but we will be busy !   

Isaiah 65:17 says "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create....."  
"Be remembered or come to mind"  does not mean that it is 'wiped' from our memories, it means that we will never long for it or miss some aspect of it that we would like to experience again.   The new earth will be so incredible, that we will 'forget' this earth like we forget an old worn out garment that we have discarded. 

This life is like the school-years we all experienced.   We were fully engaged in everything that school entailed -- the studying, the exams, the friends,  the teachers, the holidays, the productions, the team sports ... etc.   As much as it was our LIFE .. we looked forward to graduating and entering the 'real world'.   
So also this life -- it is our 'schooling'  for when we step into the 'real world' that we were created for.   II Cor. 4:16-18

We have all packed to go on vacation.  The joke is that some pack everything but the kitchen sink.  The wise packer packs only what they will need at their vacation spot.  The song in our worship today .. "This world is not my home- I'm just a;passing thru".....  If we believe that, what are we packing?  Are we packing only what will be of benefit to us in eternity?  Only those things that have eternal value in God's Kingdom?   Heb. 12:1
And do we hold loosely the things that we need here on this earth only?  
May God give us discerning hearts and eyes that are fixed on things above.  

When we say 'The Best is yet to come !"  it is so very true !!   Nothing in this life can match what we will have in Paradise and on the New Earth .. forever and forever ...  ,  no more sorrow, no grief, no pain, no tears . -  joy unending and  face to face with Jesus !!   

""And I saw a new heaven and a new earth ...... and I heard a voice saying .. 'Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God'."   Rev. 21 1-7


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Is Anyone Unlovable?

woman in black and purple dress sitting on sidewalk during daytime

I had one of those 'God-moments' last week that I will never forget. It changed me . 

The last day we were in Whistler I had a conversation with one of my granddaughters and she expressed her fear that she was not doing enough for God, that she was not making Him her first priority.  She is a very sensitive soul and everything in me wanted to encourage her and give her a stronger sense of security in God. 
 So I talked to her about how God's desire was that every human being should be saved. He grieves over everyone who rejects Him. (II Peter 3:8-10, Ez. 18:23)  And if it is true that God's will is that everyone be saved, we can know that He will always do EVERYTHING He can to draw someone to Himself.. Never will He push anyone away, never will He put someone down or turn away in disgust.(John 6:37)  So I told her that she could trust God that He was always working on her behalf,  helping her to become all that He wanted her to be.   That His focus was always on drawing her closer. 
He understands all  weaknesses, all  failings, all  shortcomings ..  God's focus on every human being He created is to do ALL He can to bring them to Himself. 
He loves everyone ... no matter how far they are from Him. 

A day or two later I was reading our local news and noted the story of the couple walking down a sidewalk in our city. The woman was carrying a large knife.  Someone called the police and they were quickly on scene.  The couple both ran when they saw the police.  The woman got away but the man was tackled and taken into custody with minor injuries. He was known to the police.   The photo revealed a man that I would not care to meet.  His eyes were dead...  My thought was that I was glad he was off the street and in custody!   
Instantly the Lord spoke to me and said ... "What did you just explain to your granddaughter?"
I was convicted  by my hypocrisy... and was immediately overwhelmed emotionally with the deepest compassion and empathy I have ever felt.   I knew it was the Lord's compassion , not my own.  I have not been able to forget that man's face and pray for him whenever I think of him.   Perhaps I am the only person who has ever prayed for him!  

Yes .. God's love is extended to EVERY person, no matter how vile we might think they are.  His grace is enough to forgive and restore every wasted life and EVERYONE is drawn by God's love.   To God's joy some respond to His love with joy .... yet others to His sorrow reject Him.  

A Promise to Abraham that includes you and me !
God made Abraham a promise that we find recorded in Gen. 12:3, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” This promise was not just to Abraham but to all His children. Note the inclusive words "all families of the earth". 
See Gal. 3:7 which tells us that all who put their faith in Jesus are the children of Abraham. 

Not only does God watch over His children,  blessing those who are kind to His children but He also sees those who curse them.  
BUT , His promise also was founded on the fact that God's plan was that His children should bless others !
  God desires that even as He loves the unlovable, so also He looks for His children to do the same.   
He is not looking for an opportunity to 'curse'  anyone.  Even when Jesus was suffering on the cross - having been cruelly treated by those who hated Him -  did He call for God to rain down His curses ?  No ... 
He cried out to His Father.. “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.
 It is never God’s pleasure to curse anyone. God is always looking for an opportunity to show His character of love, kindness, compassion, patience and mercy.    As long as  someone has life .. God is still extending His hand to them. What an incentive for us to pray for those who still do not know Him. 
  Only after death... are men judged for their choices.   (Heb. 9:27, see also John 12:48)
 As God's children we are to be the 'visible' love of God to those that do not know Him...  and I believe God yearns for us to love those that no one else does...  
Like my  local  criminal.   

TWO PHARAOHS 
It can be a bit of a struggle to understand that if God  loves everyone, and it is His will that everyone be saved , then why do people still perish?   

I love the fact that God always gives us examples to show how His principles work out practically. He never leaves anything hanging as a theory. 

 One of the first examples we have in scripture of God acting out the promise of blessing and cursing He gave to Abraham and all who put their faith in Him,  is found in the story of the two Pharaohs. 
Two Pharaohs – one who knew Joseph (Abraham’s great grandson) and one who did not, yet both are identified by their relationship to Joseph. (“Now there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” Ex.1:8) 
Both were judged according to how they treated Joseph or Joseph’s descendants – one Pharaoh was blessed by God and the other one cursed.
 It is interesting that to both men God made Himself known clearly enough that it left the Pharaohs without excuse.  

The Power of God Revealed - that they might know the Lord is God
To both God revealed Himself in supernatural ways. 
To the first Pharaoh, He gave two prophetic dreams which served to turn Pharaoh's heart toward God and His servant Joseph. 
For the  second Pharaoh, dreams would never have been enough, so God gave him ten miraculous signs. . Each miracle revealed to Pharaoh the futility of the gods he worshiped. 

To both God sent a representative of His people. To the first - Joseph, to the second Moses.
 In both cases God had prepared the way to ensure their credibility. Joseph’s ability as a dream interpreter was proclaimed by the testimony of Pharaoh’s butler. 
Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s own house! 
So both Pharaohs were aware that they were dealing with God’s people and their powerful God!
How they would respond was their own choice.  

Humility and Pride 
The Pharaoh who knew Joseph had a humble heart that reacted quickly and positively to God’s voice.  He made Joseph ruler over all his kingdom with full authority in all things, answering to no man other than Pharaoh himself. Always he acted in kindness to Joseph. He even  gave him his own daughter in marriage. He eagerly encouraged Joseph's family to Egypt and made them welcome, generously giving them  land to settle on.  
. As a result of this Pharaoh opening his heart to bless Joseph, he himself was also blessed. He was spared the horror of starvation that would have faced him and his people. Instead, he was blessed with fullness of bread and the opportunity to sell grain to the nations around him. And he enjoyed the grandsons that his daughter gave him. 

The other Pharaoh stands in sharp contrast.  He did not know Joseph but he showed a very contrary heart to his predecessor. 
This Pharaoh was filled with self-pride and from the beginning hardened his heart. He refused to listen to Moses and rebelled against the God that sent him. The very first words we have recorded out of Pharaoh’s mouth were “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice ?” (Ex.5:2)
 Again and again he refused to bend before God. “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go. “ (Ex. 8:32) 
We see God’s patience. Instead of cursing him immediately, God gave him ten chances to change his mind. Ten times he showed Pharaoh His supernatural power proving to him that He was Lord, not the gods of Egypt. 
Only when there was no hope left, did God curse him - drowning him in the middle of the Red Sea. Only a man blinded by his foolish, prideful heart would race his chariot onto a miraculous path that was obviously provided by the hand of a powerful God intent on saving His people.

 Two Pharaohs… two reactions… two consequences – one blessed, one cursed. What can we learn from this scriptural account? Is it simply a story in the history of Israel or is there a lesson for us, even though thousands of years have passed ?
 This is what it teaches me. As a 'child of Abraham' I feel so protected under the watchful eye of my Father God that I need never fear what man may do to me. But it also teaches me I have a responsibility. As I go about in the world I am God's representative to be His voice, His hands and feet to minister to the people I meet. 

Who am I ? 
   Do I present a true picture of who God is to those I meet who do not know Him?   
Do I represent God's heart of love and compassion or do I want the wicked to be under God's curse?
 Do the words out of my mouth and my actions and reactions reflect the character of God?
 Do I extend to others God's heart of compassion and empathy or do I give them cause to harden  their hearts against God? 
When I see people who are ungodly or wicked do I have the heart of Jesus and ask that God give them one more chance to choose Him?  Do I stand in the gap  (Ez. 22:30) for them interceding for them before the throne of mercy and grace or do I walk away thinking they deserve the life-consequences they reaped by their own choices and decisions.. 

Things to think about, are they not?    


PRAYER  "Father, forgive us where we have been so quick to judge, so quick to turn away and ignore the ones who are despised.  We so easily forget that you see beyond what they have become and you see what they can yet be.  And you see them with enough value that you gave your life for them .  Help us  to see with your eyes, to feel with your heart. Help us to recognize the opportunities you give us to love the unlovable. We are so grateful for your love that drew us into your kingdom and may we not flaunt our citizenship as something to be prideful about but rather see it as an opportunity to be your heart to a needy world. 
Thank you that we have been forgiven...  and may we be quick to desire that same forgiveness for others.    As we go from this place open our hearts to love those around us ...not just those who love us !    We pray in Jesus' name ... who is our example and our help... amen."
****

Monday, July 6, 2020

A Wardrobe Check



Blonde woman looks in a closet, dressed in a red dress, stands in an old house, a simple home image.  royalty free stock photo

A Wardrobe Check --  We, as women, i'm sure all identify with the above photo ... We look into our closets and know that it is time to go through our wardrobe....  decide what to keep, what to repair, what to throw out,  what we have outgrown,  or what is simply out of style !  

Did you ever consider doing a spiritual wardrobe check ?  No?  Well,  let's do one together today. 
The bible speaks of several 'garments' that we wear ... some desirable, some not. 

Last week we looked at the Light that we are covered with.  It is a beautiful thing ... but what light does is make us easier to see ... we cannot hide !  Matt. 5:14-16
  
When we meet someone, one of the first things they notice is what we are wearing - our clothes create a  'first impression'.   So also in a spiritual sense,  our 'wardrobe' is more on display than we might be aware of.   People watching us are keenly aware of the 'garments' we are wearing. 
So it behoves us to take care that our spiritual wardrobe is up-to-date and flattering to who we are as daughters of the King!  

Is your spiritual wardrobe in good repair and up to date?
Lets  open our spiritual closets and examine the garments we have hanging there.   


1. . Garment of Salvation -- Is. 61:10 
Aww... the garment of salvation --  That is the first garment we hung in our closet.  It was given to us as a gift  --  a garment of distinction and one that identifies us as belonging to the Kingdom ... marking us as a daughter of the King -- a citizen of God's Kingdom. (Eph. 2:19, I Peter 1:4,5)  In Jesus parable of the wedding feast in Matt. 22:11-14 ,the man who was not wearing the appropriate wedding garment (the garment of salvation) was thrown out into outer darkness.  
So we will keep this garment  in our closet, and will be careful to continue to wear it every day !  

2. Garment of Righteousness  --  Is. 61:10 tells us we have a robe of righteousness. ( see also Job 29;14, Psalm 132:9 )    
A robe protects and covers what is underneath ...  and we are told in Re. 19;8 that our white raiments are our righteousness acts.   We need to take care to wear the 'robe of righteousness' so that  our life -- what we do, what we say -- will reflect the Kingdom we represent. Our robe of righteousness reminds us that we live by the law of love.  What we do with love in our hearts toward God and the people around us will never spot our robes. - I John 1:10 , We need to check our robe of righteousness to make sure it is unspotted and clean - Rev. 3:4 .. 

  If we are out to dinner with a group of people and we look down and notice that we have spilled ketchup down the front of our white blouse we are mortified.  We excuse ourselves and go to the washroom to try to clean it off -- often just making it worse.    
But we have a solution ... 
If we see there is a spot or two on our robe of righteousness, or the hem is dirty from walking where we shouldn't have gone,   we do have a spiritual cleaner ....  I John 1:9 ...  

4. Garment of Shame --   Job 8:22, Ps. 108:29 ,  Oh dear,  how come this garment is still hanging in our closet --  the garment of shame, or guilt or self-condemnation. . 
We try to keep it out of sight but we pull it out to wear when no one is around ... simply because we have had it a long time and it is comfortable like those old comfy pjs. 
But why?   Why should we keep the garment of shame when  Romans 8:1 tells us there is no longer any condemnation for those wearing the garment of salvation.  We are free and forgiven, our past sin will never be sent to us again as an invoice owing!  It is paid !!  in full !! 
Ps. 103:12 tells us we are forgiven -our sins removed far from us !  Eph. 1:7 tells us we are forgiven 'according to the riches of His grace" .  Do you really think you are the one who will out-sin His grace?? Hardly .. and then look at the beautiful passage in Is. 43:25,26 where God says He forgives for HIS sake, not ours ... and it tells us to 'state our case'  -- whatever it is and we will be forgiven !   
Throw this garment of shame out .. it has no place in our closet !!  

5. Garment of Praise -- Isaiah 61:3 --  Aww... this is a 'dress-up'  garment.  The prettiest in our closet.  How beautiful our Bridegroom thinks we are when we come dressed to praise Him !  This garment is made of lovely threads that will never show any wear .. this garment will stay beautiful no matter how often we wear it ...  So let's wear it every day !  Because do we not have much to praise our God for ?  Is He not worthy to be worshipped?  If we are wearing this garment the gates of the throne room are flung open and we are ushered into God's Presence. 
   Psalm 100:4 ... see also Ps. 99:1-5, Ps. 22:3

6. Garment of Sackcloth --  Ps. 69:11  We have all put on this garment at times in our life, have we not?   Sackcloth is the garment of sorrow and grief.  The garment we put on when life seems overwhelming and crushing.  We think of Job ...  we think of Jacob mourning for his 'lost' son Joseph, we think of Daniel wearing sackcloth sorrowing for the sins of his people .... 
I wish we could throw this garment out,  but as long as we are on this earthly sojourn there will be times of sorrow and grief.  But we need not wear this garment without any comfort.  In fact, the Holy Spirit is given to us as our "Comforter". ( John 14:16) 
see.  Psalm 86:17, I Thess. 4:13,  Ps. 119:76,  Ps. 9:9, Ps. 23:4,6 
So, we hang this garment back into our closet, but when we must wear it, let's remember that the comforting arm of God is around our shoulders. 

7. Garment of Violence -  Psalm 73:6   - What is this garment still doing in our closet .. hopefully we have all outgrown it !  What does this  garment look like?  Well,  it has various styles from a quick temper, to unforgiveness, to  hating someone,  to wishing harm on someone, to maybe even include discontent or worry, or impatience.  Colossians 3:8 ...  While this verse lists the features of this garment it also tells us in no uncertain terms what to do with it .... TAKE IT OFF and toss it to the curb !!   
It is not a  becoming garment and it is infested with deadly viruses.  
Matt. 5:43-48 describes a much better way to 'dress'.  
8.  Garment of Humility -  I Peter 5:5 --   Do you know how good you feel when your undergarments are new, and pretty and especially comfortable and make you shapely?   
They  make you feel good in whatever you wear over top, don't they ? 
 So it is with the garment of humility -- it is that inner humble spirit that makes beautiful anything we might 'wear' on the outside ... 
There is no garment more important for us to wear to reflect the image and beauty of Christ than the undergarment of humility ... it gives us that inner glow that is so attractive and invites people to come close. 
see also   I Peter 5:5, James 4:10 , Psalm 25:9,  I Tim. 2:9

9. Garment of Deception -  Zech 13:4 --  Sometimes people dress to give a desired impression but it isn't who they really are.   It is easy to tell if someone is comfortable in their 'garments' .. and so the spiritual garments also project our comfort or discomfort -- our authenticity or our attempt to impress..   
Do you have some garments in your closet that aren't really YOU .. but you have them in your closet anyway because someone else gave them to you, or convinced you to buy them? 
Sometimes deception isn't intentional ...  Sometimes it is simply that we don't want to offend -- we want to fit it .   When in the world we try to 'look' like the world .. when we are with Christians we try to 'look'  spiritual .   
There is an interesting commandment of God in Lev. 19:19,  Deut, 22:11 , Job 38:9 ..  where He forbids His people to wear 'mixed' garments.   Garments made of two kinds of yarn -- linen and wool for example.   Why would He command that ?  Maybe as a picture of the spiritual garments that are mixed -- We cannot serve two masters,  we cannot live in the world and in the Kingdom of God,  we cannot live by two standards,   
We must choose who we will serve ... Elijah challenged the people who were worshipping God on one hand and the gods of  Jersebal on the other. Elijah cried out to the people .. "How long will you halt between two opinions ..."    I Kings 18:21 and Joshua challenged the people of his time with the words ... "choose you this day whom you will serve .. " Joshua 24:14,15 

We need to throw this garment out ...  and exchange it for a 'sincere' garment -- the Greek word translated 'sincere' is the word that means 'without wax' ...  In sculptures if a statue had a flaw or chip they would fill it in with 'wax'  (deception) which of course did not stand the test of time ...  
see .. II Cor. 1:12,  Col 3:22

Okay .. what do you think ?  does your closet look better ?  
 There is  a beautiful verse found in Psalm 45:11 that is written to the woman's heart -- God sees us and desires our beauty ...  why ?  because He loves us !!