Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Time Eraser

                                                                                     street in ancient Laodicea
 

If I wrote a note to a friend commenting that I was so tired of this isolation, I would not have to add that I was talking about the Covid restrictions - she would immediately know. 
 BUT .. if for some reason my note was preserved for a thousand years and someone found it so many years later, they would be rather confused about  the isolation  that I referred to and might wonder if I was in a prison cell sentenced to solitary confinement. 

Time often erases information that at the time it is shared needs no explanation. 

We sometimes struggle in understanding some Bible passages for exactly the same reason. The scriptures were written  to people who understood what the writer was referring to without needing detailed clarification. But for us in another time, another culture, another language we can easily miss the intended meaning of certain scriptures. 

In recent times knowledge has greatly increased regarding details of ancient history, credit largely going to the discoveries of modern archeologists. Those uncovered details now allow us to fill in some of  the cultural  gap in our understanding. 

For example .... We now have a fresh understanding  of  what Jesus was talking about in his letter  to the church in Laodicea.  He comments in Rev. 3:15,16 --  "I wish you were either hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth."   That statement would have immediately resonated with the Laodiceans as they read it, but to us it has been  a blank statement that we have grappled with to understand.  

Laodicea was a rich and prosperous city on a major trade route. It had a thriving textile production and had was admired for its finances and banking.  But there was one thing they could not control - access to good drinking water. 

Some miles away was the city of Colossae that enjoyed the cold, clear, pure water from mountain streams.  In the other direction were the hot springs of Hieropolis, known for their healing minerals. The Laodiceans were very familiar with these two cities and I'm sure envied them.     

Since they however had no fresh source of water , water had to be brought in by viaducts.  Not only was the incoming water lukewarm but it was also full of sediment.   It was not pleasant to drink  -- and  it would have been a shock to them that Jesus would compare them to this despicable water !  Unthinkable!!
 Jesus put His finger on the problem in a way they could not miss His meaning. 
Of course Jesus would rather they were like cold pure water, that satisfied thirst or like the hot healing water.   But the lukewarm gritty water was not desirable at all and neither were the Laodiceans. 

There is another analogy in Jesus' comparison to gritty, lukewarm water.   When we 'hew our own cisterns of water "  (Jer. 2:13)  we forsake the fountain of living water.  And when we compromise with the world, seeking its pleasures more than Christ,  we find that the resulting 'water' is gritty and disgustingly  lukewarm in its ability to satisfy.   

Only the Fountain of Living Water can satisfy - that springs up within us  into eternal life! If we drink from this water, we will never be lukewarm or in danger of Jesus spewing us out !!  

"Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.
 But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water
springing up into everlasting life." 
John 4:14

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A New Year - 2021

I  wish you all a very special, God-blessed NEW YEAR !!! . 


Today is the last day of 2020, a year we would never have believed had we been told last December. It has truly been an unprecedented year ! and one I hope we never have to repeat. 
But it is the eve of 2021 and a new year is at the dorr,  a new beginning ...  

Are you not thankful that our God is a God of new beginnings?

I remember how I loved the beginning of the  new school year when all my notebooks were blank. I always resolved to fill the book with my neatest printing from the first page to the last ... but every year the story was the same.  With each filled page my printing became more hurried and the pages messier.   

God knows we can never live up to our own highest standards, let alone attain HIS standards of righteousness , so He so encouragingly gives us each day as a blank slate - We get a new beginning every morning !!! 
"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not, They are NEW EVERY MORNING .
Great is Your faithfulness !!"
Lam. 3:22,23 

Before my daughter left home, I loved that when I cooked, she cleaned up after me !  
Are you not thankful that God cleans up after us ? 
We too often drag our feet in the past, feeling the guilt and the sting of failures .. but God tells us not to look back but to look forward and He will work our 'messes' out for good. 
I John 1:9, Phil. 3:12-14, Rom. 8:28, 

May 2021 be a year of new beginnings when once again we can enjoy the blessings of 'togetherness' !!! 
May it be a new beginning, where the Lord takes the 'messes' of 2020 and works them into the good He has planned for 2021!

  A wonderful word from the Lord to encourage us as a new year dawns is found in Is. 43.  
"Do not remember the former things, 
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth. 
Shall you not know it?
 I will even make a road in the wilderness, and rivers in the dessert"
   Is. 43:18,19   

May this be our hope and our prayer for the coming year ..
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Sunday, November 15, 2020

Two Sides To Every Story

 

                                                                                                                                         Sam Shooler

I think all of us are at times guilty of judging too quickly.  
There is a verse in Proverbs 18:17 that warns about judging when we do not not the whole story. 
"The first one to plead his cause seems right, 
Until his neighbor comes and examines him." 
I remember the first time this really hit home to me.  I had a dressmaking business and there seems to be an unwritten rule that seamstresses and hairdressers are safe people to share personal  details with. 
One day one of my customer shared her emotional story of a  broken family relationship.  My heart went out to her and I was horrified at how she had been treated. 

Some time later I was chatting with another customer and she started to tell me a heart-wrenching story. My sympathies were stirred up and I totally commiserated with her in how deeply she had been hurt. 
Then, one of her comments suddenly jolted my mind and arrested my emotions.
The details  she shared triggered the memory of the story I had been told earlier and I  realized they were both talking about the same relational situation -- from two totally different perspectives.   

So much of our earthly life involves having to judge when we only see in part.  More often than not we do not know the whole story.  We only know the part that we have been given, or have been allowed to see. 

There is a beautiful example of two totally different perspectives in our scriptures. 

In Acts 1 we have the story of Jesus' ascension. 
The disciples are standing with Jesus, who to their great joy had risen from the dead and is with them again., 
They are intently listening to His words.  Then, to their wondering eyes,  He begins to rise, until He is standing on the clouds and to their stunned amazement , as they stare into the sky He continues to rise until He is out of sight.   They continue to stare, trying to comprehend what this means. They are still staring into the sky when the angel appears and tells them that Jesus will one day return.   

I can imagine their conversation. 
"Did you see that ?  What does it mean?  Where did Jesus go?  He is coming back?  When do you think He'll come back?"
I  am sure they had far more questions in their minds than answers. 
And had some one told them that Jesus would still not have returned 2000 years later, they would surely have been very discouraged!  

What if instead of standing on earth watching Jesus go UP with the cloud,  you could have stood on the other side watching Jesus COME up with the cloud? 

Actually , we are told what that looked like.  Listen to how Daniel describes the scene. 

"I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man, 
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days, 
And they brought Him near before Him. 
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. 
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, 
Which shall not pass away, 
And His kingdom , the on 
Which shall not be destroyed."
Dan. 7:13,14 


Yes, we are still gazing into the sky waiting for Jesus to return .. but though we wait our hope is strong because we know His promises are sure.  
One day .. and one day soon, we will look up and see the fulfillment of the angel's words...
"This same Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven!"  Acts 1:11b

So though our feet are still on this earth,  and we only see one side of our story, we have His promise that one day we will see and understand both sides clearly. 
"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. 
Now I know in part, but then I shall know, just as I also am known."  
I Cor. 13:12,12
 

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.