Overcoming

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“It doesn’t make sense that we can admit powerlessness

and still find the power to go on.”  Anonymous

 These words were scrawled in gold-colored ink across the top of a page in The Life Recovery Devotional I had ordered used from the Internet. I am sure of one thing, that the former owner who wrote these words was making a discovery that was going to save their life.  This overcoming awareness is fragile and can only be sustained in a moment to moment mindfulness of being present.  There must be a recognition of our powerlessness and complete submission of will.  “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Deut. 30:19-20 still applies today.  Choosing life is overcoming. 

The rest of the Scripture tells us how to choose life.  “. . . loving the Lord your God, obeying him, holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” 

“Ally was always overweight as a child and teenager.  Her weight was a sore subject in her family, but food was her main comfort for anxiety and depression.  She never felt as though she fit in with others, and her friends seemed to be untrustworthy and two-faced.  Food became her comfort, companion, excitement and recreation.  Over the years, her weight continued to climb until she was hopeless about the possibility of having a slim body.  She would have fleeting periods of weight loss but was never able to make a lasting difference.  Years of self-hatred and feeling marginalized by life made her disbelieve that God could or would help her with her food and eating problems. She struggled for self-esteem and tried many self-help strategies for learning to like herself despite the extra pounds.  When she walked into Overeaters Anonymous, a Twelve Step group for compulsive eaters, she knew that she was powerless over food.  Step One was obvious to her.  But Step Two was to gain enough faith to believe that God could accomplish what she could never do.  As with all of us, Ally’s faith had to grow as she opened her mind to the possibility that God could actually help her with her specific problems.  By talking to a sponsor and other people in the program, she learned to simply believe that God’s power was there and that he was really interested in her food issues.  She began with hesitant faith to ask God to remove this insanity – the obsessive thoughts about food, the time spent bingeing, the negative thoughts about self, and the damaging effects on her body. 

Over time, her trust and belief in God grew as she learned to let go of food one day at a time, follow a food plan, and trust God to help her act sanely around food even when she didn’t feel like it.  By surrendering daily, Ally felt closer to God without the ‘food fog’.  She regained wholeness and sanity around food.”  Taken from “The Life Recovery Workbook” written by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop.

Who of us has not had something to overcome?  At some point, we reach a point that we just relinquish our dreams and hopes and accept a life that’s less than we once hoped for.  When Job in the Old Testament went through the extreme tragedies in one day that’s reported in the account of his life, he couldn’t imagine how God could make his life even better than it was before.  And, when the disciple, Peter, denied knowing Jesus his Lord three times – couldn’t have possibly imagined himself as Apostle Peter serving his Lord to the end of his life with an incorruptible passion and integrity.  If you read any Twelve Step recovery book, you will discover that the whole premise of this extremely successful program is built upon the fact that you cannot overcome the giants in your life without supernatural help –without the help of a higher power.  I have found that having a giant in my life to overcome, shines a much brighter light of awareness on my need for God.   The giants we need to overcome could be seen as a blessing in retrospect.  There is always the possibility, that, dealing with them will bring us, at last, into an awareness and a miraculous relationship with our heavenly Father – our Creator.    Many people will go a lifetime and never understand a dependence on a higher power.  They will never feel the stirring within them of the joy and satisfaction that comes with finally filling the hole in their heart and spirit with the one necessary element that is missing – the God who created them and longs for a place in their life.  Tapping into that greater Mind of awareness is beyond describing with words. It’s like going from seeing a grayscale rainbow to full-on Technicolor!!! 

“Overcoming” is being written for the purpose of recognizing the giants that have literally broken us and have taken us to our knees, laid our souls bare in that absolutely desperate moment of submission.  This is referred to as reaching “the bottom” – or critical mass.  

We come back to the handwritten words “It doesn’t make sense that we can admit powerlessness and still find the power to go on.” Here is where the “letting go” must happen.  Here is where we become a child again, back when we trusted Mom and Dad (or whomever in our life that filled that role) for everything while we played with our cars and dolls and obeyed the rules they gave us to follow because we knew they loved us and we loved them.  At this point, it’s no different reaching out to our earthly parents than to the Parent who already does more for us than we can imagine and has a much better idea for our life especially beyond the desperate moment we’re in.

John 3:16 KJV “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  God has already gone that extra mile for us.

I experienced this “letting go” after my divorce from a 25 year marriage.  Child custody issues were becoming one of the many giants in my life. I went day to day, month to month, not knowing when the next court struggle would occur about whom the children will live with and who will have visitation rights.  Five times the court was involved in deciding issues around our four children.  At one point, after their father was awarded physical custody, in what must have been a hopeless state of desperation, I decided that if I was no longer living, our children wouldn’t have to be a part of this ongoing toxic struggle between their parents.  As wrong as it may sound to me today, I made a plan to take my own life.

I went to church the Sunday before I was to planning on taking this final action of my life, and one of my good sisters in the church came up to me and told me: “I know what you’re planning to do and God wants you to know that he has a plan for your life and he will get you through this difficult time”.  This admonition saved my life.  That night as I lay in bed listening to my sixteen year old daughter driving around on icy streets late in the night with her dad’s old pickup, I gave my children to God.  My submission wasn’t because I was giving up but that after that experience of knowing only God could have made my friend aware of what was actually about to go down, I realized how desperate and defeated I had become to be making such risky decisions about life and death for myself.  I knew that I was powerless and that God loved my children more than I could possibly imagine and that he would take care of them better than I could.

 

Everything changed after that.  I approached life in a different way, like a child letting go, with a lot fewer worries because I knew God was taking care of the things over which I had no controlThis Scripture made a lot more sense to me following that difficult time.   He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” Matt. 18:2-4 NIV

I had a book of daily devotions called “God Calling” that I would read daily and feel the Holy Spirit.  “Believe that I am with you, and controlling all. When My Word has gone forth, all are powerless against it.  Be calm.  Never fear. You have much to learn.  Go on until you can take the most crowded day with a song.  ‘Sing unto the Lord.’ The finest accompaniment to a Song of Praise to Me is a very crowded day.  Let Love be the motif running through all.  Be glad all the time. Rejoice exceedingly.  Joy in Me. Rest in Me.  Never be afraid.  Pray more.  Do not get worried. I am thy Helper. ‘Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.’ You cannot get below that. Rest in them, as a tired child rests.”  January 21, “God Calling”. 

Today, it scares me a little realizing how serious and distraught I was that I would have carried out my suicide plan if God hadn’t intervened.  Normally, that is absolutely not who I am but I now appreciate how devastating the giants in our life can become – to the point of taking our own life.  To this day, I trust God for my grown children’s lives and I enjoy a strong loving relationship with each one of them, respecting their rights to choose who they are but still placing them continually in God’s hands for his direction and protection.  I have found the power to go on because I see the living God working in my life, a life I have fully given over to his will and direction.  I could not possibly have dreamed of the life I have today, with a great husband and family and wonderful friends and doing God’s work with more satisfaction than I can find words to describe.  Yes, he did have a wonderful purpose for my life, one I never would have dreamed of.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

 

“Jesus looked at them and said,  “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  John 3:16-21 NIV

 

The Life Recovery Devotional states this about will-power under step one which is “We admitted that we were powerless over our dependencies and that our lives had become unmanageable”: “There’s a struggle going on inside of us – a fight for control.  Our will-power fails us repeatedly.  Where can we turn when we realize that we can’t control ourselves? The apostle Paul says, ‘Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil (an act counter to our best life – rlf) which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. . . ‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’. Gal 5:16-17, 22-23.  Self-control is not will power.  It’s not something we get by gritting our teeth and forcing ourselves to ‘just say no’. Self-control is called a fruit.  Fruit doesn’t instantly pop out on the tree.  As the tree grows and seasons pass, the fruit naturally develops.  As we continue to follow God’s guidance, taking one step at a time, our self-control will naturally grow.” Taken from The Life Recovery Devotional written by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop.

 

Jesus Christ didn’t come to earth and sacrifice His life to redeem us and restore us back to God our Creator so that “giants” could come into our lives and strip us of the abundant life He has planned for us. He has assured us that He has overcome the world – our giants. 

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 NIV

 

We were created for a relationship with God.  If you’re not sure about that, read in Genesis about God walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve and conversing with them face to face – a great beginning.  When we choose out of love and joy to glorify him through our lives we at last have freedom.  God’s glory and our freedom are intricately connected.

 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (freedom). But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 

II Cor. 3:17-18

 

God is not glorified by our lives if we allow “giants” to dwarf or diminish us in any way and strip us of our freedom.  These giants can be drugs, alcohol, pornography, food addiction, not controlling our anger and emotionally and physically hurting the ones we love, gossip and drama that is destructive to others as well as ourselves, fear, anxiety and pride.  Overcoming giants is the most important and meaningful part of our journey back to God. 

The American buffalo or bison, an amazing creature that once roamed our plains 50 million strong, can teach us much about life.

 

On the website “Friends of Animals”, we find this quote:

The buffalo’s sense of community is astounding. When they travel through deep snow they often walk in single file, the lead buffalo taking on the exhausting work of breaking trail while those in the rear having an easier time walking in the hoof-steps of their herd-mates. When the lead buffalo grows tired he or she will step to the side of the trail allowing a new buffalo to assume the lead and then falling in behind his or her herd-mates on the easier to walk and well established trail through the snow.

When being pursued by wolves a mixed herd of buffalo will form a circle with the stronger and larger bulls facing outward around the outer rim, facing the predators. Calves and weaker, injured, and older members of the herds will be near the center of the circle, protected by the outer rim of outward facing bulls.

Like elephants, buffalo show signs of mourning.   . . . we have witnessed them circling up around a fallen member of the herd and even nudging their heads under and trying to lift the fallen one back onto his feet. On at least one instance we have seen a group of buffalo gather in a circle around the bones of a buffalo that had died in that spot a year earlier. These ‘ceremonies’ are fairly common and are one of many examples of the buffalo’s social structure.” Fighting For Home Where the Yellowstone Buffalo Roam.

 

The American Bison also has instinctive “overcoming” attributes: “In winter the buffalo faces the storms, instead of turning tail and ‘drifting’ before the storm helplessly, as domestic cattle do.”  As an intelligent animal, the buffalo must realize that he can pass through and out of the storm quicker this way rather than being driven by it’s intensity for a much longer period of time.  Facing the storm – or facing our giants – can take an entire emotional and spiritual overhaul of who we are and how we cope with adversity.  Unfortunately, the adversities we deal with can become giants that hang around if we avoid dealing with them due to fear or denial.  Like the storm, they can drive us relentlessly causing us to feel helpless, lost and alone.

In the book of Nehemiah, in the account of the Israelite exiles returning from captivity in Babylon, we read that they were a new generation descended from those who originally were taken captive. They had grown up in captivity. Jeremiah prophesied this for them: So there is hope for your descendants,”declares the Lord. Your children will return to their own land.”  Free now, and living in Jerusalem, they applied the discipline of gratitude that they had learned from their parents in captivity. 

In Nehemiah 9, we read:

“On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. 2Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. 3They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.”

This may sound extreme to us, but evidently they had been taught to place God highly in their lives through disciplined devotion. Most likely they were raised in a climate of remorseful humility by parents who had the rest of their life to accept the consequences of forsaking their God. They grew up knowing why they were being held captive in Babylon and how their ancestors had chosen idols to worship instead of the One Living God who loved and cared for them.  The discipline of gratitude to which they were adhering in their lives at that time was their way of controlling their tendencies to wander away from God like their ancestors had done and had paid a terrible price for the next generation. 

Step four of the Twelve Steps is: “We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves”.  In other words, “with the help of our higher power we faced the storm”.

 

One woman I know, was going through a divorce from a long marriage of abuse.  The divorce was as extreme and emotionally abusive as the marriage had been.  Her “giants” of stress were literally killing her.  One day, she decided to hang up a sign for her and her teenage son to live by.  This is the sign in part:

In this house . . . There is quiet. Love.  Compassion.  Acceptance.  Understanding. Helping Each Other.  This comes with carrying out our responsibilities we know we have without being reminded by:  Not making others responsible for what we should be capable of doing.  Showing compassion and manners.  Acceptance and understanding of others if we want those feelings reflected on us.  God is the energy in this house, feel it and pass it on by being supportive, kind and always loving.”

 She told me how much it had helped to keep them focused on God and his control over the chaos when they didn’t have any. 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

James 1:21,25 NIV

 

 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 NIV

According to this Scripture, our good works have already been prepared before hand, the rest is up to us. “Choose life”. 

There are lives in our community who are in peril.  If we could learn to respond the way the buffalo instinctively respond, we would gather around our broken brothers and sisters placing them in the center and we who are stronger would stand looking outward helping them face down their giants. You can rally members of your family to intervene for an imperiled child or other relative with a symbolic circle of love to give support and seek solutions.

A young woman shared her “family intervention” story with me.  She had taken her three children to Christmas dinner with her family.  Her parents took the children for an outing. After they left, her loving aunts and uncles gathered around her and confronted her about her drug use and her “out of control” life.  Because of their love, and tears and prayers she recognized her powerlessness over the drugs and went to a faith-based rehab program where she was able to deal with her giants and return to a drug-free life.  At the time of this writing, she is stable, clean from drugs and waiting for her children to be restored back into her care.  This family’s love through the Holy Spirit carried the day for this young woman.

 

God bless your efforts to help yourself and others. Apostle Paul said: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14 NIV

It is Finished: Restoring Eden

God’s original Plan changed in the Garden. This chapter of Sweetwater Journey lays out through Scriptures and quoted references some of the important events that led up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and God’s intended impact on us.

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“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:31-32 NIV

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them’.” Matthew 13:10-11 NIV

Matthew begins to unfold the events surrounding the change Jesus had began making in his teaching style.  These events would inevitably lead to the cross.  It began with the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of religious leaders, over the Sabbath.

In Genesis 2:1-3 we find God’s words about the seventh day which later was called the Sabbath:  Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” 

Then, in Exodus, the commandment for keeping the seventh day holy is given to the Israelites in the wilderness through the Ten Commandments:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

God was teaching his creation to honor him with a special day of rest – a day without distraction and unnecessary work for everyone: “neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns”.  God sanctified this day for us to rest in him.  Anything we seek to do that honors and glorifies God, also honors and glorifies us as we are at our best when we put him first.

By the time Jesus was born, the religious leaders had made so many rules to observe on the seventh day as to make it an “oppressive inconvenience” according to writer John Macarthur in his book “Parables”.  Macarthur writes: “The main fight they chose to pick had to do with the proper observance of the Sabbath – the symbol of their legalistic system.  The Pharisees fancied themselves specialists and law enforcement officers when it came to strict observance of the Sabbath.  They had overlaid the inspired Old Testament statutes with a long list of petty, manmade restrictions.  They made this their signature issue and they were militant in their attempts to impose an extremely rigorous brand of Sabbatarianism on the whole nation.”

The following Old Testament references focus on the fact that God’s followers tend to keep the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law- which supplants the reason for the law – to transform us to mature spiritually and become more and more like our Creator. This is what is intended by any commandment God gives us.

Isaiah 1:11-17

“’The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ’I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals ;I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me;  I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,  I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.”

Then, God tells them what he wants them to do:

“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 29:13

“13 The Lord says: ’These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’”

Also read Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6.

The following examples of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law are taken from the New Testament during the time of Jesus Christ. Only part of the reference is presented:

Matthew 12:1-14

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.’  But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, . . .’”

Matthew 23:1-33

“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.. .’”

Luke 11:37-52

“Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. . .’”

Luke 14:1-6

“It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ .. .”

From “Parables”:    “When God finished his creative work, he rested – not because he needed relief or recovery, but because his work was finished.  He then declared the Sabbath holy – as a favor to humanity.  Work is drudgery.  That is a result of the curse humanity’s sin brought upon all creation.  Furthermore, a man left to himself will discover there is no end to all work, and all humanity is urged to enter into the Lord’s rest.  This truth was first pictured in the Lord’s own rest on the last day of creation week. But the full glory of the Sabbath was finally unveiled in the finished work of Christ. (John 19:30)” John Macarthur.

It is important that we understand what worship had gradually become, centered in the life of the Temple – a powerful financial and political machine.  From the complex specifications God had given them in the wilderness for the creation of the tabernacle they moved around for 40 years, came the temple they would build later in the Promised Land.  It was this entrenched institution in the Jewish culture that would be most impacted when Christ came to fulfill the law.

17 “’Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’”  Matthew 5:17-18

During Holy Week, in an act of overflowing rage, Jesus Christ demonstrated his revulsion of what was happening in His House in Matthew 21:12-13:

12 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’  he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’”

By the end of that week, everything would change.  The law and prophecies would be fulfilled.  He could then establish the new covenant with His people and set up His church on earth centered in a personal relationship with God through Him. To understand further what is meant by “It Is Finished”, we need to grasp the immensity of this religious institution that had so much power and control that even the Roman Empire protected it.

The Temple

The first temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon had been destroyed by the Babylonians around 600BC.  It was rebuilt 70 years later by Israel’s descendants of the Babylonian conquest who had been taken into captivity. Then, after hundreds of years and it had fallen into decay, King Herod rebuilt the temple, completing it just before Christ’s coming. The Temple area at that time was increased to a size of about thirty-five acres.  Around the Temple were double colonnades, a series of pillars 36’ high set at regular intervals to support a roof. Each pillar was hewn from a single stone of white marble.  This created what was called cloisters around the perimeter and were 44’ in breadth. The colonnade that encompassed the Temple was ¾ of mile long.

“There were eight gates leading into the temple. There were the two Huldah Gates or “mole” Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch. To the east was the Gate of Susa, still visible as the Golden Gate which was walled up by the Byzantines. In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty. Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4). Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor, to which Mary had brought the child (Jesus) at the time of his presentation; this led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze. Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. (Sources stated that it was around 60 feet high with a 4” thick curtain or veil from top to bottom that divided it. RLF)  A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther.  It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every Sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and then only on the Day of Atonement. (Another source stated that a rope was tied to the ankle of the High Priest that entered the Holy of Holies on that day in case he was not worthy to stand in the presence of God.  They could then pull his body out with the rope. RLF)  A stone designated the place where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon’s Porch the boy argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers. He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last found him he said to her enigmatically: ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49). It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for the first time as ‘avi’ (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the Son of God. Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the ancient walls of Herod’s Temple;” Taken from “The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.” 

It was the Jewish belief that this temple replicated the Temple in Heaven so it is easy to understand why it held such deep spiritual ties to their one true living God. This was the majestic yet looming edifice that was at the center of the Jewish culture in Jerusalem.

A day at the Temple began at daybreak.  A priest on the highest pinnacle was on watch and gave the signal for beginning of services. A three-fold blast from silver trumpets by the priests awakened the city.  The priests were required to be Levites from the tribe of Levi- descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons.  The Jews kept strict lineage records over hundreds of years.  The patriarch of the family was expected to memorize their lineage from Abraham.

The massive Temple gates began to slowly swing open.  “At some time previously, unknown to those who waited for the morning – whether at cockcrowing, or a little earlier or later, the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had ‘washed,’ according to the ordinance.  There must have been each day about fifty priests on duty.  Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of the Temple courts by torchlight. . . It was scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the ‘lot’, (casting lots- RLF) which designated those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the golden candlestick, and make ready the altar incense with the Holy Place.  And now morn had broken, and nothing remained before the admission of worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure  of its fitness for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic fashion – as tradition described the binding of Isaac – on the north side of the altar, with its face to the west.  All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed.  While the sacrifice was prepared for the altar, the priest, whose lot it was, had made ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day’s service was to take place – that  of offering the incense, which symbolized Israel’s accepted prayers.  Again, was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him who was to be honored with this highest mediatorial act.  Only once in a lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege.  Henceforth he was called ‘rich’ and must leave to his brethren the hope of the distinction which had been granted him.  It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be preceded by prayer and confession of their faith on the part of the assembled priests.”  Taken from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” written by Alfred Edersheim

This culture was all-consuming in the way it wrapped the people into its layers of strict rules and hierarchal levels.  To stand against this institution meant being ex-communicated.  This was unthinkable at that time.  The following is a quote to help us understand how humiliating and devastating it was:

“Excommunication was commonly referred to in the Torah as ‘herem’.  The Biblical form of excommunicating indicates any person or thing that was removed from the community, because it was made sacred by God perceived as a disgrace before God . . . The Talmud forbids coming within six feet of a person who has been excommunicated.  During medieval times the laws of excommunication could be extended to the family of the person who was convicted of a crime.  Additionally, there existed a weaker form of excommunication, called ‘niddui’ that was applied for only thirty days.  Even the threat of being excommunicated was employed to guarantee the acceptance and submission of the laws.  The rituals surrounding the excommunication of an individual were quite astounding.  The act was first announced by the blowing of the shofar in front of an open ark.  The community would lament, holding black candles as if in mourning.  The congregational leader would proceed to shout Biblical curses at the person being sentenced to ‘herem’ or excommunication.  Finally, a public warning was decreed forbidding all to associate with the convict as the community symbolically smothered the candles.” Taken from “Jewish Virtual Library” website.

A perfect example dealing with this issue is found in John 9:1-41 where the man blind at birth was healed and what happened next when his healing came to the knowledge of the Jewish leaders. 

“13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. ‘He put mud on my eyes’, the man replied, ‘and I washed, and now I see’

16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’

But others asked, ‘How can a sinner perform such signs?’ So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, ‘What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’

The man replied, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 ‘Is this your son?’  they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?’

20 ‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, ‘and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God by telling the truth,’ they said. ‘We know this man is a sinner.’

25 He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’

26 Then they asked him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’

27 He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’

28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’

30 The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

36 ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’

37 Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’

38 Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’

41 Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”

One morning as I was writing this chapter, I was brought to tears seeing in my mind Jesus walking into Jerusalem and upon catching sight of the grand Temple glistening in the sun, how in His human heart and stomach, He felt that sinking feeling of going up against this symbol of human pride and arrogance and how it was going to play out for Him.  I knew with a surety that only God alone as the Son of God could have gone through what was required to rescue us.

The Mosaic Law

In the wilderness, when God gave the first law to Moses on the mount, Deuteronomy 9, that law may have been much closer to what we had in Eden where we walked and talked to God face to face.  But when Moses came down the mountain and found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, everything changed.  The first stone tablets were smashed against the rocks.  The law had to be more of a strict schoolmaster version.  He tells us in Jeremiah 31 what his eventual plan would be when we are ready: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them”.

God then gave them the specifications to build the Tabernacle where he could reside with them. The Tabernacle was built with strict rules and observances for them to follow in worship so there were clear guidelines set for them to follow like children. Of course, the detailed rituals that God established were shadows and types of the coming of the Messiah that would at last bring salvation through the shedding of His blood.

The Holy of Holies in the tabernacle/temple interior had a distinct purpose of humbling them and keeping before them the knowledge that God’s holiness was pure and separate, unlike their best efforts to be holy or worthy. Entering the Holy of Holies was entering the very presence of God.  The veil represented the barrier between humanity and God, showing us that the holiness of God could not be trivialized or trifled with and that his eyes were too pure to look upon evil or tolerate sin.  The veil represented that divide that separated us from God since Eden.  It also represented God’s love for us and how he protected us from coming into his presence until we had been redeemed by his Son. What the veil symbolized is very important to the story of our salvation.

If Jesus had not begun changing his manner of teaching by using parables, He might have been killed long before His mission was accomplished.  To fulfill the Mosaic Law, He needed to go through Holy Week and the events of the Passover.

These events were unfolding into the final action being taken by the Creator whose hopes for his creation had been totally waylaid by sin. To us, it would feel a little like the prodigal son’s father who had lost his son temporarily to the world and all of its distractions that could have ended up destroying the child and later, weeping with joy, took his son into his arms and welcomed him home.

The Curse

Jesus’ act of sacrifice was the first step of restoring Eden.  Let us revisit what happened there in Genesis to understand:

“15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest  freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’

18 And the Lord God said,’It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’.

19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” Gen 2 KJV

According to the Scriptural timeline, then, Eve was created. After Adam and Eve broke the one commandment that God gave them, God, who could see the big picture, in his infinite wisdom, which few of us understand, forced them out of Eden before they ate of the Tree of Life and lived forever in their fallen state shut out from his presence.  What a wonderful loving Father he is!  After they left the garden, he placed a curse on them that would extend up until Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to wipe away the curse, free us and bring us back into God’s presence.

Genesis 3:13-19 KJV

13 “And the Lord God said unto the woman, ‘What is this that thou hast done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat’.

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, ‘Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’.

17 And unto Adam he said, ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’”

Richard T. Ritenbaugh writes: “The Bible’s first prophecy contains three major curses, one each upon Satan, women, and men. Or does it? The answer depends on one’s perspective and time reference. Certainly, the curse on Satan seems a mixed bag! Men have either been subject to his deceptions or fiercely waging war with him for six thousand years. Yet it is the struggle of the fight that prepares our character to inherit eternal life. We live in hope and faith that God will see the curse through to its end, the total humiliation and imprisonment of the Adversary. To a woman in labor or to a man sweating out in a field under the sun, God’s pronouncements surely feel like curses. Yet, maybe only moments later, the satisfaction and joy in seeing a healthy baby or a job well done can make it all seem worthwhile. We feel grateful that God has given us such blessings. If nothing else, this should make us think about the “curses” and “blessings” in our lives. Could something terrible turn out for the best? Could seeing “our ship come in” prove our ruin? There is much more to God’s gifts and judgments than meets the eye.”  Bible Tools

It Is Finished

25 “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NIV

“33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).Mark 15:33-34 NIV 

It is these disturbing last words that give us pause now to really know our amazing Savior.  Some say that Christ said these words because He felt His Father had abandoned Him as He was being shut out from His father’s presence because He had become the world’s sin in order that it might be destroyed.  The Scriptures counter this observation.

According to Adam Hamilton in his video-talk series titled “Final Words From the Cross” Jesus was actually in prayer, worshipping God with a well-known hymn – especially well known to all the Jews who were standing within earshot of Him on the cross.  Jesus was lifting this catastrophe, His impending death, from a place of darkness into a place of light through prayer and worship.

These words are found in Psalm 22 which actually is an Israelite hymn written by the psalmist David. It is presented here in part.  I hope you will look it up and read it in its entirety.

Psalm 22:1-8 For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;  you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax;  it has melted within me.My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.17 All my bones are on display;  people stare and gloat over me.18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.  You are my strength; come quickly to help me.20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.”

Some of the Jews within earshot of Jesus speaking these words must have been taken aback when they remember the rest of this hymn and how closely it fit what was taking place before their own eyes.

Further on in verse 22-25 we read that the Father would not turn his face from us in our time of dire need: “’I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;  before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows’.”

Our Savior was glorifying God in His tribulation just as He inspired Apostle Paul to write later in Romans 5:3-5: “ Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

28 “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  John 19:28-30

The Curse on us for the original sin had finally been broken.  The 4-inch thick veil  that hung in the temple in the doorway of the Holy of Holies where only a single worthy High Priest was allowed to go annually upon the Day of Atonement for the forgiveness of sins, instantaneously  at the time of His death, split from top to bottom.  This was symbolic of God’s work that was finished.  Once more God’s creation had been restored into his presence as the price had been paid. We could return to God ourselves in the new covenant relationship that had been restored to earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. The long dark night of the curse was over.  All aspects of the curse from God’s point of view were erased and the Mosaic Law fulfilled.  And when Jesus arose from the grave the first day of the week, the act of redemption was complete. Death no longer had a grip on us.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”  Gal 3:13

Jesus became a curse for us so we could escape the curse of the law, which is death. He became something he was not, so that we could become something we were not. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 3:13    “He became sin for us, so that we might be declared righteous through him. Because he suffered what we deserved, he redeemed us from the curse of the law. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”  I Cor 5:21   Because he suffered death, we can enjoy peace with God.

Restoring Eden through the New Covenant

This was the dawning of a new era on earth.  What God had planned in the very beginning had been restored – walking with us in the Garden and sharing our everyday life with him.  Walking in the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

In the upper room, the night before His death, He instituted the New Covenant:  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’.” Luke 22:19-20

Because Jesus had fulfilled the Mosaic Law, the blood offerings of the Temple rituals were no longer necessary.  No more need for massive doors swinging open at daybreak and a veil that takes 300 workers to move around. Jesus Christ is the High Priest who advocates for us now. No more need for a Holy of Holies. His new covenant can be summed up in this quote:  “We are on the threshold of a dispensation to which faith is the only entrance.” (Alfred Edersheim)

The Church that Jesus Christ established during His ministry and is still available to us today, has no walls and has all the aspects of a restored Garden of Eden.  The Early Church reflected this New Covenant:

Acts 4:32-35

“32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” 

Walking with God in the Garden once more, there would be no more worries because Jesus had overcome the world.  Trouble would come but because we have an overcoming Savior, He will be there to help us through it, helping us become more like Him every day. The Scriptures are full of guidance on how He will help us if we just trust Him.

The apostles of the new covenant wrote inspired guidance so that we can transform our lives through the Holy Spirit who is “God with us”. The column of fire by night and the cloud by day that went before God’s people now lives within us.

Romans 7:4-6

4 “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

Romans 8:1-11 NIV

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Hebrews 6:13-20

1”3 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants’.   15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

If you have read the Genesis description of the original curse, you will see that it still exists today, woven throughout the fabric of our culture in spite of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to do away with it.  This is because God cannot force us to change because we have our own agency.

“The fact that there is a judgment means that God has respect for us and our decisions.  The act of judgment tells us about the character of God and what he expects of us.  It means that our lives, the decisions we make are truly meaningful.” Richard Rupe “Their Ears Were Dull of Hearing” sermon

“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 1:17-20

We can live in the spiritually restored Eden today. God offers that to us. Isaiah 1:17-20 tells us how. Jesus told us that we have the Kingdom within us.  We are called to live our faith journey in a way that we are declaring to the world that “It Is Finished”.  If we have ears to hear and eyes to see we can find the way back to the Garden.  Imagine yourself running up the Garden lane returning home and you see your Father in the distance with his arms open to you and joyful tears running down his face.  He’s waiting for you and “yes,” there will be a celebration.

“He provided redemption for his people;  he ordained his covenant forever—
holy and awesome is his name.”  Psalm 111:9

Glory

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”      ~ Abraham Lincoln

 Recognizing God’s glory and his irrefutable claim on the ultimate place in our hearts can be a deal breaker for many when it comes to believing or not. I have personally experienced seeing this in people and the inevitable negative fallout that ensues for everyone around them as they continue down a path of unbelief. If they had to share their accomplishments with God, recognize their weaknesses before God or give him any credit for the smallest good thing that they feel only they had accomplished, then they would completely reject the thought of believing in God.

 If we are unable to imagine or think in spiritual terms, we can’t possibly give God his rightful place in our hearts.  “. . . where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21   If we don’t have this spiritual knowing, this supernatural awareness, then, it’s easy to reject even the notion of God.  Having a spiritual comprehension of an entity beyond ourselves that we cannot see, is a gift from God that we receive if we seek him with a faith that can be as small as a grain of mustard seed. This mustard seed of faith can result from receiving a miracle or witnessing God’s love and respect for others in someone’s life.

Writing a chapter about God’s glory is daunting in its scope.  I would want the person who doesn’t believe to at least entertain the possibility that as you look back over your life and can trace a pattern of good events – life altering events – that it could be the evidence of an unseen Force who knows you better than you know yourself to place in your life an even better course of action than the original one you were pursuing. These are miracles. Belief in miracles takes a spiritual consciousness that comes from God when we exercise our faith. It is then up to us what we will do with this awareness. Will we nurture it and allow it to grow or just let it die so we don’t have to be accountable to anyone or anything beyond ourselves. 

The prophet Isaiah, believed in God but he couldn’t possibly imagine the immensity of the living God who called into being, sustained and guided his nation, Israel, till one day during a time of dark uncertainty in his life.  His king, Uzziah had just died of a terrible disease – leprosy- during the final years of his reign. King Uzziah was anointed the king as a youth of 16. He started out well enough in his faithfulness to God and because of that God helped him.  He did many great things for his people and became famous. In II Chronicles 26 we find this recorded about him: “In Jerusalem, he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.”  Toward the end of his reign as it descended into ruin, the people had become more and more rebellious against God.  Their land was glutted with idols as they worshipped the deities they made with their own hands. The year was 742BC.  Isaiah was a young man who was faithful to God and as he stood on the threshold of his life’s work, God gifted him with a vision beyond breathtaking, that changed his life: 

Isaiah 6:1-4

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ’Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” 

The following quote helps us understand the impact this experience had on Isaiah’s ministry:

“The vision of the Lord enthroned in glory stamps an indelible character on Isaiah’s ministry and provides a key to the understanding of his message.  The majesty, holiness and glory of the Lord took possession of his spirit and, at the same time, he gained a new awareness of human pettiness and sinfulness.  The enormous abyss between God’s sovereign holiness and human sinfulness overwhelmed the prophet.  Only the purifying coal of the seraphim could cleanse his lips and prepare him for acceptance of the call: ’Here I am, send me!’ . . . (verses 5-6) For Isaiah, the vision of God’s majesty was so overwhelming that military and political power faded into insignificance. He constantly called his people back to reliance on God’s promises and away from vain attempts to find security in human plans and intrigues.  This vision also led him to insist on the ethical behavior that was required of human beings who wished to live in the presence of such a holy God.”  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Another case in point would be Saul of Tarsus in the book of Acts.  He was known as a religious, educated man, yet according to Scripture, God had to forcefully get his attention through an extreme experience and cause him to be blind for three days.  

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’  ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. 11 The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ 13 ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.”  Acts 9:1-22 NIV

The non-believer would see this as a vengeful God who would make someone blind in order to force them to believe.  When the Scriptures talk about darkness into light, not-believing to believing in a miraculous moment, it can be difficult to understand for many who lack spiritual awareness.  The Holy Spirit must be a part of this process.  When you read the scriptures that Paul wrote after that experience, it is obvious that there was a re-born newness of life that Saul experienced to be able to see with new eyes and a new spiritual consciousness. It was through the Apostle Paul and the other apostles that Jesus Christ established His church and the absolute life-giving pattern for us to follow today. 

God’s full impact on our life is beyond our human awareness.  We are unable to imagine the extent of him. 

In 2016, a documentary about the beginnings of the internet was produced by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.  In the 50’s and 60’s a government security program was created.  The computer was the outcome.  In the beginning it filled a room with its size.  Today we can hold that technology in our hands.  The first message sent from one computer to another one 400 miles away was “LO” because the computer system attempting to send the message “LOGIN” crashed before it could be completed.  “Lo and Behold” is the logical name given to this documentary which is in itself a prophetic sign of what was to come.

The Internet’s takeover of the global communication landscape was almost instant in historical terms: it only communicated 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in the year 1993, already 51% by 2000, and more than 97% of the telecommunicated information by 2007. Today the Internet continues to grow, driven by ever greater amounts of online information, commerce, entertainment, and social networking.”  Wikipedia   

The earliest internet directory which had subscribers listed twice, once for their name and once for their address, was around an inch thick. Today, a directory of everyone on the internet would be 72 miles thick.  No one could have possibly imagined something like we have today in the computer and internet and the way it has brought the world together.   

Just as this communication technology has skyrocketed in immensity beyond our imaginations, there are spiritual truths in existence that are incrementally coming into our awareness that we couldn’t possibly imagine with our finite minds, subject to limitations.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot grasp the miraculous concepts that God wants to share with us.  I believe that I have only scratched the surface of understanding what and who God truly is. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.  More than anything, God is a loving parent.  He brings us along gently and slowly so that we can absorb all the “ah-hah” and “light bulb” moments he has in store for those who seek to know him and worship him.  If we closely look at the almost invisible world around us that sustains our physical existence, we will find undeniable evidence of kingdoms within kingdoms that have order and are connected to one another through a common Creator.   Even God’s special family, Israel, after all they had seen with their own eyes of their living God, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, he had to plead with them to recognize and choose him:

19  “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV

Not just the unbelievers, but God’s own followers have problems with their belief in all things. 

In the last part of “Lo and Behold” Herzog spoke of the possibility and even the next step of the internet was for it to become invisible as it embeds our lives.  The examples that were given were walking into a room and instantly the light, temperature and mood would change to our personal specifications – a futuristic world.  The Amazon Echo that connects you to “Alexa Voice Service” online is one form of the beginnings of that capability.  Toward the end of the documentary, Herzog queried the experts he was interviewing to consider that the world-wide web could dream of itself and the possibility of it having its own consciousness, its own set of rules, something called Artificial Intelligence, something you would long for in an idol you created.  

 I immediately thought of the connection I have with God through his Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, invisible to the physical eye but real with the capacity to give me everything that I need to make me happy and feel fulfilled in ways that are uniquely meaningful to me. 

“. . . my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:19 NIV

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” I Chronicles 29:11 NIV

“You’ve been created by God.  And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve also been created for Him.  As a result, there’s an internal homing device riveted deep within your soul that perpetually longs for your Maker: An internal, Godward magnet pulling your being toward Him.  Stamped in God’s image, we know that there’s something we attach to, something we fit with, someone we belong to, somewhere called home. That’s why we come from the womb equipped for connectivity with God, prewired to praise.  And that’s why, from the youngest age we begin to worship.   We arrive in this world as objects of divine affection, miraculous receptors designed to bring him pleasure.  If only everyone could know we’ve been created by and for God!  If only we could all comprehend that we’re precious to Him, housing mirrored souls designed to reflect His glory.” Taken from “The Air I Breathe” Louie Giglio.

When we talk about glorifying God with our lives it’s important that we understand the Hebrew meaning of “glory”.

Steven C. Hawthorne has a blog online and has written “The Story of His Glory”.  I would recommend that you find it online and read it.  He offers the Hebrew understanding of “glory”:

“Don’t be thrown off by the religious-sounding word ‘glory’. Glory is the relational beauty that every person’s heart yearns to behold and even to enter.  The word ‘glory’ in scripture refers to the essential worth, beauty and value of people, created things and, of course the Creator Himself.  The Hebrew word for glory is a word meaning weight, substance, and at the same time, brilliance or radiant beauty.  To glorify someone is to recognize their intrinsic worth and beauty, and to speak of the feature in a public way. To glorify God is to praise or to speak of Him openly and truthfully.  Glory is at the heart of true worship throughout the Scriptures: ‘All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord; and they shall glorify your name.’ Psalm 86:9.. . When we look at it all from God’s viewpoint, the grand love story finally makes sense: God is not just loving people.  He is transforming them to become people who can fully love Him.  God is drawing people as worshipers to offer freely to Him their love-inspired glory.  God can be loved only when He is known. That’s why the story of the Bible is the story of God revealing Himself in order to draw to Himself obedient worship, or glory, from the nations.  With God’s passionate love at the core, the Bible is truly the story of His glory. . . The rationale for mission seems simple enough: Since God is supreme, every creature should bow down in subjection.  But can this really be the logic at the center of the universe?  Our hearts won’t buy it.  There is something more.  The Scriptures are loud about the truth that God is love.  God calls people to love Him with all that they are.  Where is God’s love, and ours, in response?”   Hawthorne

In this writing, Hawthorne makes the point about our ultimate salvation – that it is not to be seen in terms of what we are saved “from” rather what we are saved “for” that really matters. 

Some people still get hung up on God being a “jealous” God.  “ Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24 NIV    “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  Isaiah 42:8 NIV 

There is an interesting story in the book of I Samuel 5 that dramatically demonstrates these references. “After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.” I Samuel 5:1-5

God will not share his glory with the idols we create to take his place.  Every plague in the Exodus story of Moses was meant to fly in the face of every god that Egypt had created with their own hands to worship.  1. Water into blood – “Hapi” – god of the Nile; 2. Frogs – “Heket” – god who looked like a frog was their god of fertility;  3. Lice –  “Geb” – Egyptian god over the dust of the earth; 3 & 4 Flies and gnats – “Khepri”- Egyptian God of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth, had the head of a fly and “Sekmet” goddess of power over disease. 5. Death of cattle and livestock – “Hathor”-Egyptian Goddess of Love and Protection, usually depicted with the head of a cow; .6. Boils and sores on livestock and Egyptian people – “Isis”- Egyptian Goddess of Medicine and Peace Egyptian Plague; 7. Hail and fire – “Nut” Egyptian Goddess of the Sky; 8. Locusts from the sky – “Seth” god of storms and disorder and “Osiris” god of crops and fertility;  9. Three days of complete darkness – “Re” The Sun god – the pharaoh was considered to be the son of “Re”;  10. Death of the Egyptian first born – “Min” – god of reproduction and “Isis” goddess who protected children.  Again, God will not share his glory with the idols we create to take his place.

Now, we ask the important question -Does God share His glory with us? Internet  blogger Jeremy Penwarden offers this answer:

“God has said, ‘I will not give My glory to another’. This scripture is taken by many and twisted out of its context to make many other scriptures a lie. I recently saw the following quote which prompted my writing of this blog: ‘Now get this clear: the vessel never becomes the liquid, nor the liquid the vessel. I add this because we humans are so proud that there creeps into us the idea that we can be deified. That is blasphemy. There is no such thing as self-deification, except that of Satan, the pseudo-God, and what we share with him. The divine can dwell in the human, but forever the human is the human and the divine the divine. God has said, “I will not give My glory to another. That is the vital importance of the vessel illustration: we are forever the container; He is that which we contain. That relationship never changes.’  Norman Grubb –The Key to Everything.  (Penwarden’s response) Moses’ face shone so bright with the glory of God that he had to wear a veil [Ex 34:29-34]. God seems to be happy to share his glory with Moses. Then we have John 17:22. ‘The glory that you have given me I have given to them’.  Jesus (God) giving His glory to us. What is the verse quoted above? Isaiah 48:11. But what is the context? From verse 1 God is talking about the things he did. Then he says in verse 5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ So here the contrast is between saying God did it or my idol did it. Clearly the idol is the ‘another’ God will not give his glory to.  Now consider Isaiah 60:2: ’For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.’ God’s glory will be seen upon us – maybe it’s just lent to us and not given? Another scripture to consider is Rom 8:16-17 ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be GLORIFIED with him.’  Now let’s consider if we remain mere human. John 1:12 those who believe are given the right to become sons of God, NOT born of flesh but of Spirit. . . .And not a mere container separate from the content – 1 Cor 6:17 ‘But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.’ So we are in Christ – 2 Cor 5:17 again calls us IN Christ – so He is the container and we are the contained, yet Col 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  So He is in us, we’re in Him and we’ve so joined with him that the two can never be separated.  And yet again, we have Christ in US our hope of glory – clearly the glory of God being given to us – unless we claim that the Christ in us has first been stripped of His glory!!!  2 Cor 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another – for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Here Paul is remembering Moses’ face shining with the glory of God. It comes from the Lord, so God is doing this – transforming us into the image of the glory of God in an increasing way. I am NOT forever a container – I am forever a son of God.”  Jeremy Penwarden

The Scriptures are clear that God has created us with a purpose to not only glorify him with our lives but to be endowed with his glory as we transform into the new creatures spoken of in II Corinthians 5:17 NIV “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Especially, throughout the Old Testament, God makes it quite clear about how he feels about his creation especially in his interaction with Israel.  For a better understanding, read about his love for Israel, and how they were intended to display to the world who he truly is and draw the world to him through their faithful living.  Isaiah 43:1–7:

“But now, this is what the Lord says—  he who created you, Jacob,

 he who formed you, Israel: ’Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you;  I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, ‘It is true’ ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” Isaiah 43:1-10 NIV

 “Glory” has been written for many purposes but one important one is to raise the spiritual intelligence by dispelling the fear message of hell-fire and brimstone, a God of anger and vengeance, a God who wants to use shame, guilt and fear to keep us under control and on the right path.  When John the Baptist called everyone to repent – repent and be baptized- we need to consider what he meant by this.  In his time the Greek definition of “repent” or “metanoia” the Greek word, had a much deeper meaning than just turning from your sins.  “It doesn’t mean just being sorry for doing bad things, it means to “go beyond the mind into a larger mind – the heart and mind of God.”    These are the words that Reverend Maggie Kramer at the Raymondville UMC used to present this concept and further stated that “God is inviting you to a new way of feeling, seeing and hearing”.  When Christ was baptized, the heavens opened and God’s Spirit descended like a dove to show the world that “Here I am, coming into your life so you can become the new creation that I created you to become, filled with my Spirit, no longer looking back at the old life weighed down with guilt, regret and shame but co-creating with me and sharing my glory.”  Only the message of the unmerited grace of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can reach the heart that cannot see and has not felt the quickening of the Spirit.  That message is most powerful when it is witnessed in our lives for the unbeliever to see and experience.  That is when it becomes real. “Each of us is connected in the inner man (being) to a vast sea of consciousness – the Spirit – it is called.  We were in the beginning with the Father, that which is Spirit. From beneath the deeps in this vast sea of consciousness by which we are connected to every other human being –whether we are conscious of it for not – our connection with every other human being comes to our consciousness only when we are born again and when we see clearly our relationship with our heavenly Father, which in turn induces an understanding of our essential relationship and involvement with our fellow man.” Arthur Oakman, author and minister.

 “Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he;  I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,  and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together . . .  “Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.”And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his Spirit. This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before me.” Isaiah 43:11-19 NIV

The life and words of Jesus Christ have transformative power for the seeker because Jesus has a heart for that person who feels misunderstood, unfairly treated and is a victim of those who abuse their power to be lifted up in the eyes of the world, many times in the name of religion. Jesus says “But many [that are] first shall be last; and the last first.”  Mark 10:31 NIV

In John 17, in Jesus’ prayer to His Heavenly Father regarding his disciples then and now, He clearly states God’s intention for His creation:

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  John 17:16-23 NIV

It is my prayer that we will be the message of glory and unmerited grace for everyone in our life – our family, our co-workers and our community as we live out daily the kingdom of God that has been placed in us.  It is the only Way. 

“1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King. Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”  Psalm 98 NIV

This is He . . .

On the last Thursday in 2016, when my friend Carol and I approached Wing 2 at the Texas County Jail, we could hear voices from inside the wing’s common area announcing our arrival.  Sixteen women poured out from the cells with Bibles in hand and smiles all around anticipating the ministry that we would share together but none of us realized the degree of the Spirit that would attend this gathering.  Five of the women were there from Wright County Jail due to overcrowding.  They were already enjoying their new home and especially the spiritual quality of new friends they were making since their arrival. We watched a video presentation about “Hope: When Life Hurts Most” by Louie Giglio.  The follow-up response from the group was raw in its brokenness and need for the touch of the living Spirit of Christ.  God delivered, as some of the women bore their testimonies of the ways he had moved in their lives since coming to jail.  One talked about sitting on the floor with a small group of women in a dank hallway in another jail where there was no air moving but the page in her Bible all of a sudden turned to the next page as if an air current had turned it.  The others noticed it as well, as it happened twice.  The next morning, she took the time to read the reference on that page and wept as the Spirit poured over her. I John 5, starting in verse 6: “This is He that came by water and blood. . .”  Another woman testified that she had been placed in lockdown with a cellmate who was not interested in reading Scriptures or saying prayers.  At the end of that lockdown period, her cellmate admitted to her that now she was praying too.  She realized that God had taken something meant for punishment and had turned it into something good for her and her cellmate.  “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:27-28   The shared testimonies of the few were now given to all as their testimony to believe and share even if they hadn’t seen or experienced it firsthand.  “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’.” John 20:29 We talked about the Scripture “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world” and how that could be a mantra to repeat over and over when they are tempted to give into the choices that repeatedly brings them back to this place.  In our closing circle, with grasped hands, spread out in the brightness of day under the skylight, we further felt the outpouring of the Spirit in the intercessory prayer for the women and their families, the jail personnel and system of justice in Texas County.  There were requests for Life Recovery Bibles on this day.  On my follow-up the next day when I brought the Bibles and a pair of reading glasses someone requested, I was also able to arrange for a representative of the On Time/Cornerstone Ministry to come and work with one of the women who needed that resource.  This ministry specializes in providing housing and restorative programs for victims of human sex trafficking.  She was accepted into that program.  

I John 5 is a beautiful chapter and worthy of the “page turning” miracle the women experienced.  The following is I John 5:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but Godʼs testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

 God’s Scriptures are beautiful and reassuring for every circumstance in which we find ourselves.  There is so much in this chapter that is nothing short of miraculous as we take these spiritual truths into our lives.  We could read this chapter at the start of every day and be reminded at every turn that  ”we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life”. NIV 

 The miracles that the inmates experience are like a fragile green shoot that is just starting to break through the soil.  At first, they can’t even believe that God would give them a miracle so the Spirit has that barrier trying to get through to reach them.  They can’t keep this green shoot alive on their own.  They need a community of believers who will be there for them upon release and who will help nurture this new life.  If you are doing well, it’s most likely that you have a family who believes in you and loves and respects you.  It’s just by the grace of God that you were born into that family and in that community who provides so much for you.  Many do not experience that.  We glorify God by sharing our well-being with others who God puts in our path and by the way we live out our faith in loving community for all.  The brother or sister in front of you who seeks your help is very much a part of your salvation.  God has sent them to you to give you an opportunity to respond to his Spirit and fill that needs of which we are able. 

 “ I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” Ecclesiastes 3:10-14 NIV

 One morning in Women Rising, one of the inmates who had been in and out of jail more than once during the time I have been going there, had written this Ecclesiastes 3 reference down on a yellow writing pad.  She was so pleased to share it with me, but it caused me great sorrow to know that so much was missing in her life and her self-belief system that she was unable to take it in and allow it to take hold in her life.  She was not strong enough to stand against what was destroying her – mental illness, drug addiction, dysfunctional family members, abusive associations and worst of all – a destructive childhood. What do you say to this person who is so broken in her spirit that these beautiful words have no real power to reach or rescue her?  The only thing I could do was respond in a loving way to reassure her that the Spirit had made her aware of the beauty of this reference as a gift to her.  Personalizing God’s ministry to each seeker is very important toward the God/child connection that plants that mustard seed of faith and hope. 

The devastation in the lives of the inmates are greatly in part a symptom of the failure of the greater community to be able to live out the true calling of Christ to protect our children, love one another and pay forward the blessings God has given us.  The addiction and violence will never stop until we respond to that flesh and blood calling.   If we believe that in fact, God has planted eternity within us as the Scriptures say, then we will live with that far-reaching perspective, above our personal wants and needs.  We are co-creators with God, helping him give someone a better chance to live out the purpose for which they were created.  

“Have you heard the story about Mr Jones, who dies and goes to heaven? When he arrives, St Peter is waiting at the Pearly Gates and takes Mr Jones on a tour of heaven. Mr Jones is awestruck. The streets are paved with gold, beautiful mansions glisten in the sunshine, choirs of angels sing the most beautiful songs. Partway through his tour of heaven Mr Jones’ eye is drawn to an odd looking building, an enormous warehouse with no windows and just one door. What an odd structure for heaven! ‘You don’t really want to see what’s in there,’  says St Peter. ‘But I do, I do’ says Mr Jones. He races across the lawn and pushes open the door to discover rows and rows of shelves, floor to ceiling. Stacked on the shelves are thousands of white boxes. The boxes all have names on them. ‘Is there one with my name on it?’ asks Mr Jones as he rushes to the J aisle. He finds the box with his name on it and opens it up. His mouth drops, his pulse quickens, and finally he says to Peter, ‘What are all these wonderful things inside my box? Are they the good things in store for me now I’ve reached heaven?’. ‘No’ replies St Peter. ‘They’re all the blessings God wanted to give you while you were alive on earth, but which you never received.’ A sad look came over Mr Jones. He looked into the box, to St Peter and then back to the box. ‘Why?’ he asked St Peter. ‘Why did I miss out on all these blessings?’ ‘Well, that’s a long story…’ replied St Peter.”  Story adapted from Bruce Wilkerson,    Stories for preaching.com

 This work can be so daunting in the face of the need but then we remember, in an unlikely place the page that turned where there were no air currents and the words on the page came alive “This is He. . .” and we remember we are not alone.  Jesus came to reassure us that He is with us and will never leave us.  He just wants us to have hearts where He can live. “Come Jesus, Come.”

Peace in Conflict

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

There are two opposing views about what peace is:  “peace is the absence of conflict” or “peace is the acceptance of conflict”.  In this context, it is important that we understand some of the definitions of conflict: an armed conflict such as a battle or war; competitive or opposing action of incompatibles which can be divergent ideas, interests, or persons. It can also be a mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives or wishes.

In the opening reference, Christ makes it quite clear that even if we are his followers, we are not going to have a life without conflict: “In this world you will have trouble. . .”   We live in a world of opposites where light is made more visible when it is contrasted with dark.  Even though we pray for a good day which generally implies we don’t want “trouble” or conflict to come our way, unfortunately, Christ has told us that He cannot promise that and that we should anticipate that trouble will come our way.  Then, in the same sentence of John 16:33, just after the comma, he rallies us with “but take heart” which means – be hopeful, let your faith carry you through if something happens, trust Me, stand unshakable even when things look the worst, continue on with integrity, remember the last time I came through for you because “I have overcome the world”.   The world IS “trouble”. The world IS conflict. That’s why Jesus Christ came and sacrificed His life so that He could overcome the world for us.  He is our Peace in conflict.  He is ours!

David, the young shepherd boy who was chosen by God to become King of Israel, demonstrates how to take action with God’s help when facing conflict. In the book of Samuel, at this time, historians believe that he was between twelve and fifteen years old.  As an important back story, when David was younger, he was faced with life and death scenarios (i.e. a lion and a bear) in which he was forced to trust God and take action or his sheep and perhaps himself could have been killed.  David gradually gained a level of confidence, even an inner peace, in these incidents that prepared him for the one signature event of his life that would go down in history and stand as an example for us all when we are facing immovable giant-sized conflicts in our life that paralyze us with fear and inaction.  As faithful believers, if there’s conflict in our life, God is allowing it. Conflict is God’s way of stirring us to spiritual change and awakening.  Jesus Christ is our peace in that conflict.

When Jesse, David’s father sent him to the valley of Elah to take food to his brothers, he was walking into a situation where the Israelites were just trying to keep the status quo, where nothing was happening, as the possible outcomes were not that good.  We do this in our own lives when dealing with trouble and conflict, and by not moving out in faith and letting Jesus Christ do the right thing and remove it, it only gets worse.  Because we accept this “giant” in our life, more giants could follow.

The Israelite army was facing the Philistines who wanted to defeat them and bring them under their control.  This was becoming a particular situation that was made for someone who had this sustaining peace and faith in the Living God and this was to be young David.  Goliath, the Philistine giant who was nine foot six inches tall was terrorizing everyone to inaction.  The challenge was that if Goliath could be defeated by a single Israelite, then, the Philistine army would serve the Israelites and vice versa.  Every morning for 40 days Goliath would make his boast and challenge and every morning, there would be no challenger to respond.  The Israelites were a people of the living God who they knew had protected them in other dire circumstances when they were faithful. Their faith in God had always won the day, but now, they were dealing with paralyzing fear, waiting for something to happen to take this challenger down.  The daily morning war cry when the army was trying to build adrenalin-filled courage to move out against this enemy warrior just wasn’t working.

It’s interesting that the number 40 in the Scriptures represents a shadow and type of a period of time that challenges the complacency and comfort in our old way of thinking through trial and then deliverance through rebirth when we see with new eyes. On the fortieth day, the Israelites in that valley were about to see this unimaginable rebirth because of a faithful young shepherd boy who wasn’t afraid.  He wasn’t afraid because he was at peace in conflict to know what God could do and what God had done in his young life to help him protect the sheep in his care.  He knew that it wasn’t him going forward to battle but God who battles for us.  Of ourselves, we can do nothing but we have this promise:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13   As you read the I Samuel:17 reference in verses 26 and 45, note that David’s true motivation to move out and act was to restore God’s honor and glorify his name.

This is how this amazing story goes down:

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry.21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” (Keep in mind how angry Eliab is that he wasn’t chosen to be king as was his right as the oldest son of the family for such an honor.)

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?”

Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.”

56 The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.”

57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.

58 “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him.

David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.” I Sam 17 NIV

David was at peace in the midst of conflict as we read what he wrote in the Psalms:

“Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!  Many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.  I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.”   Psalm 3 KJV

If God has allowed stress into your life from your job, your health, family issues or some other vulnerable area, then because of your faith and peace in conflict, he will see you through it – and in the process you can learn and also demonstrate to everyone around you that your God is big enough to handle anything that comes  and that whatever the outcome, it will be within his purpose for your life.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-8 NIV

“There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize? The King chose the second picture. Do you know why?’Because’ explained the King, ‘peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.’

Author Unknown,  taken from “A Gift of Inspiration” website

Jack E. Dawson’s painting “Peace in the Midst of the Storm” can be viewed online at Bittersweet Gallery.  Dawson states some of the representations of his painting:

“The hidden images in this painting help us see that just as the little bird found a hiding place in the cleft of the rock we have a refuge in Jesus Christ, our Rock. His cross was a sacrifice for our sins, and his empty tomb a promise of our resurrection. Yet we are not promised a life without storms. In fact we know that there is always the presence of evil in the world. Through the cross, we can overcome ‘because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’.  1 John 4:4   Only in Christ, can we have ‘Peace in the Midst of the Storm’.”   Jack E. Dawson

When you view this painting, notice the rock formation that has the profile of the renditions of Jesus Christ with which we are familiar. Especially, find the mother bird sitting on her nest near the waterfall.

Where and when Light comes to spiritual darkness, there will be conflict otherwise the spiritual darkness would consume that which is Light and it will if we don’t defend the truth we are each given.  We are called to diligently declare what is spiritual truth and to live that truth in our lives.  Truth is the Light that is within us.  When Jesus Christ declared to His fellow Jews that He was the Son of God, they flared up in such a rage that they blindly raced to find stones so they could kill Him right there on the spot.  But it wasn’t His time and He slipped away to safety.  He was the fulfillment of their prophecies for a Messiah but when it came time for it to be fulfilled, they were lost in their own teachings, the precepts of men – precepts that were devised to allow personal power over others and  ways to be raised up in the eyes of the world.  That was not at all who Christ was when He came.   At this juncture in Christ’s life is where the conflict began as you will note in verse 48 in John 11, where Jesus challenges the status quo and the cultural and political power of the religious leaders.

“47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life. 54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea.”  John 11:47-54 NIV

The Hebrew meaning for peace or “shalom” is far more complex than what we understand it to be.

“Commonly translated as ‘peace’ and used as both a greeting and farewell, shalom has rich meaning in Hebrew. ‘Peace’ is an accurate translation of the term, but shalom implies more than lack of conflict. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, shalom means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.’ It is translated ‘success’ and used as part of an inspired blessing in 1Chronicles 12:18.  . .  In part, God promises, ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you. . . . All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.’

True shalom comes only from God. Paul explains, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’  (Romans 5:1–3, 8–10).  ‘We are no longer God’s enemies, but He has made peace with us through the blood of Christ. Even more, in God we are made complete.’  Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’  First Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.’ Philippians 1:6 assures us, ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ As we await that final completion, we can trust God for our welfare. Jesus encouraged His disciples, ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’.(John 16:33).” GotQuestions.org

We are promised perfect peace as long as we maintain a right relationship with God and are motivated by bringing glory to God. Peace isn’t going along to get along, it’s standing firm when God’s truth in you is being assailed on all sides to conform to the world.

Here are some Scripture references and quotes to help us further understand peace in conflict:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:1-2 NIV

“God as the Source of Peace. God alone is the source of peace, for he is ‘Yahweh Shalom’ (see Judges 6:24 ). The Lord came to sinful humankind, historically first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, desiring to enter into a relationship with them. He established with them a covenant of peace, which was sealed with his presence (see Num 6:24-26 ). Participants were given perfect peace so long as they maintained a right relationship with the Lord ( Isa 26:3; 2 Thess 3:16). The Old Testament anticipated, and the New Testament confirmed, that God’s peace would be mediated through a messiah (see Isa 9:6-7; Micah 5:4-5). Peace with God came through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:14-17; Col 1:19-20; Heb 13:20). Peter declared to Cornelius: ‘You know now the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:36).The Relationship of Righteousness to Peace. The Lord established a covenant, which resulted in the participants receiving his shalom in abundance, ‘like a river’ (see Isa 48:18).  However, peace could be disturbed if one did not live before the Lord and others in righteousness; in fact, peace is one of the fruits of righteousness (Isa 32:17-18).”  Glenn E. Schaefer. Taken from My Jewish Learning website

“ ’By three things the world is preserved, by justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace’ (JT Ta’anit 4:2 the Jewish Talmud). Here, not only is peace made among men, but also the competing values are reconciled.” By Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky  Pursuing Peace, or Shalom.

“David in Saul’s armor carrying Saul’s shield and sword was man’s plan.  God, fighting for David with a slingshot and five stones was God’s plan.”  “Goliath Must Fall” by Louie Giglio.   Many times when God’s special family, the Israelites, failed it was because they didn’t consult with God about what to do.   If you want to be successful, make sure you and God are on the same page about the plans you are making for your life.

The God of peace be with you, and protect the truth he has given you – the Sweetwater alone that satisfies and quenches thirst.

Mary’s Song

marysepia

Prologue 

 Based on my perspective as a Christian, I believe that we are living in exciting times even though the latest Pew Research Report clearly documents the decline of Christianity all over the world.

On Sojourners website, Stephen Mattson writes:

“For Christians, the most worrying aspect about the Pew Research Report shouldn’t be that Christianity is declining, but that the population of those claiming to be Christian hasn’t historically affected the nation in a very Christ-like way.  For a faith based upon following the example of Jesus — who brought healing, restoration, empowerment, peace, forgiveness, justice, and love wherever he went — the statistics for when Christianity had the largest majority of the population within the U.S. unfortunately correlates with some of our country’s most racist, unfair, violent, and inhumane moments. So before we lament the decrease of “Christianity” and mourn its death within America, maybe we should be hopeful that this is an opportunity for followers of Christ to actually act like Jesus — becoming a Christian nation for possibly the very first time.” 

      I have written “Mary’s Song” to fan the embers of our awareness   to God’s Perfect Plan for us since the beginning, centered in the coming of Jesus Christ and how we can trace it down through history.  God is bigger than we can even imagine, yet he shapes the smallest details of our lives if we ask him, to give us the best most fulfilling life we could ever have. We can’t possibly understand our connection to God the Father unless we right-size him in our perspectives. Even at this very moment, God continues making a universe that we don’t have telescopes strong enough to measure his size.  If you were to lay a quarter on the ground, it’s comparison in relative size to the North American continent would be like comparing the size of our solar system to the Milky Way Galaxy, our home, which is only one of billions of galaxies. We don’t have microscopes powerful enough to see how infinitesimally small his identity in creation can go.  Wrapping our minds around this helps us appreciate even more the magnitude of this God who only wants our praise and to be the center of our love and devotion as we are the center of his love.  

 I hope that this writing will reaffirm your faith and belief in the impact of the timeless story of the nativity of God’s unfathomable love for us and that God is faithful and keeps all his promises.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Rita Foster

Mary’s Song

The infant’s first cries pierced the cold night heralding at long last the arrival of hope, of redemptive grace and yes, spiritual revolution.  Nothing would ever be the same again. The stars overhead gave witness to this long anticipated event that came in a hidden moment, away from the public eye.  This cry would break the silence of 400 years with no prophets – not a written word from the One true living God. Joseph gave a sigh of relief that mother and son were now resting and quiet.  The moment of water and blood had come and gone without mishap.  Mary brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 

 The true Light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”   From Matthew and John

 Immanuel – God with us – looked up into his mother’s young face searching to know her as newborns do, soothed by the warmth of her faded into sleep.   Here was the infant prophesied by all the great prophets. Micah spoke of Him having origins from ancient times.  Yet here He was – nothing ancient about this sweet boy in her arms.  Here was this child that just months prior had been foretold by a heavenly messenger that she would be given. 

She recalled with wonder the visit she had made to her cousin Elizabeth as the Holy Spirit had moved upon her and Elizabeth. In a loud voice she (Elizabeth) exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

 “And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.”  Luke 1:42-54NIV

Mary’s pondering of the prophets’ words, the song the Holy Spirit had given to her and the compelling events of the hours, days and months to follow would be a gradual knowing of the one signature purpose to come at the closing of her son’s short life on earth.  But for now, she too could sleep to the soft “wuffling” sound of love and assurance another mother was making to her calf nearby. In this setting that had been foretold for the flesh and blood birth of God, all of creation could return to its original intent where human and creature resided in peace together communing with God. God had come for us crossing that insurmountable divide because we could not save ourselves.

Jesus’ physical origins had to be implanted in Mary by the Holy Spirit.  Had He been conceived in the human, natural way, He would have been born under the same condemnation as all of us because of the original sin.  He would have had to be redeemed from the fall like the rest of us.    Jesus’ coming fulfills prophecies on a continuum of ordained preparation from the beginning.  Nothing was left to chance.   God is faithful. God is intentional. “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’.”  Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV

 

The back story of Christ’s birth is remarkable in its magnitude of impossibility and at the same time the possibility for the details of prophecy to take place reassuring us that God is always in control of his Plan for us.  The Roman Empire at that time included an expansive area with the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Euphrates River on the east, the Danube and Rhine on the north and the African desert on the south. The Roman Empire ruled over a third of the earth’s population at that time. One historian suggested the population of the empire to be around 100 million people.  It was also recorded that the most fertile parts of the known world at that time were under Roman rule. By now in this pagan culture the Jews were an occupied people, many sunk in sensuality and superstition with some exceptions as Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zacharias who had remained true to the living God of Israel.

Three hundred years prior, the Old Testament had been translated into Greek so it was known in the Empire mostly among the elite intellectuals.   Even at this time the Jews were scattered over the earth. Now, Israel, more than ever, waited for the coming Messiah and the liberation from Roman bondage that they anticipated would take place for them as God’s chosen people and the prophecies that declared it would happen.    

Many prophecies were in play. The time was right. The Scriptures referred to this as the “fullness of time” when people were living in spiritual darkness on a broad scale. It’s important that we understand what was meant by this term. It was the fullness of time when the rich and intellectuals across the Empire who set the trends in any culture were worshiping philosophy and recreational pursuits contributing to the contextual backdrop of the heaven-on-earth intervention that was about to take place.  The inclusion of so many cultures within the empire provided a way for the spreading of the gospel of redemption that was coming through this long awaited Messiah. The Roman Empire was well known for its gigantic system of roads, another asset to the spreading of the Good News.

 Evidence of the splendor and affluence of the Roman Empire was just a few miles away from Jesus’ birthplace.  Bethlehem lay in the shadow of one of King Herod the Great’s palaces called The Herodian.  It had 90 ft walls with elaborate halls, guest rooms and a 1000 ft long terrace.

“At the time of the birth of our Lord even the Jews had sunk into a state of the grossest degeneracy. They were now divided into sects, two of which, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, are frequently mentioned in the New Testament. The Pharisees were the leading denomination, being by far the most numerous and powerful. By adding to the written law a mass of absurd or frivolous traditions, which, as they foolishly alleged, were handed down from Moses, they completely subverted the authority of the sacred record, and changed the religion of the patriarchs and prophets into a wearisome parade of superstitious observances. The Sadducees were comparatively few, but as a large proportion of them were persons of rank and wealth, they possessed a much greater amount of influence than their mere numbers would have enabled them to command. It has been said that they admitted the divine authority only of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), and though it may be doubted whether they openly ventured to deny the claims of all the other books of the Old Testament, it is certain that they discarded the doctrine of the immortality of the soul (eternal life), and that they were disposed to self-indulgence and to skepticism.”  William Dool Killen “The Ancient Church”.

Indicated in Genesis 49:10 was that the Messiah had to come before another event that would soon take place:  “The scepter shall not depart from Judah. . . until Shiloh comes. . .”  Jewish rabbis recognized the term “Shiloh” as a Messianic title.  The “scepter” refers to the judicial power of the nation of Israel.  After King Herod the Great’s death in 7AD, all of Israel’s judicial power was removed from Judah. Because God is faithful, Jesus had been born by then.

 Now that the scepter had been removed, the Romans could pronounce the death penalty on the Jews which would have included crucifixion.  Adopted by the Romans during the first century B.C., crucifixion was applied mostly to slaves, criminals and disgraced soldiers because of its brutal and shameful nature.

Throughout the empire there were censuses being taken for the purpose of taxation but the area of Palestine was the only area where the population had to return to the city of origin because of the compunction the Jews had for lineage.  At that time, Roman law, in deference to Jewish customs and prejudices, stated that the census would be undertaken based on the city from which a person’s ancestral family belonged.  Because Joseph traced his lineage back to King David who was born in Bethlehem, he had to go to that city 80 miles away to register.

This decree for census was carried out according to the Jewish custom after the fall harvest when the Jews had money, maximizing the tax collected. The weather in autumn also made this possible. God used Rome’s greedy penchant to collect as much money as possible and the Jew’s fascination with their ancestry to fulfill the amazing prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem.  According to one reference in my prophecy research about the birth of Christ, it states in Micah 5:2 that because there would be two cities named Bethlehem, the Prophet Micah used the term “Ephrathah” which means “fruitful” to indicate precisely which Bethlehem.  Micah’s prophecy occurred 500 years earlier.

One of the issues that Christ highlighted in his ministry was the prideful way that the Pharisees used their lineage to feel superior to others. God can even use human pride to fulfill his promises and prophecies. 

It was impossible at this time for many Jews to attend the celebration of the Feasts in Jerusalem three times in a year as they were spread out in the empire. The trip to Bethlehem after the harvest could have been at the same time of the Feast of Tabernacles, Israel’s most joyous feast held for the purpose of thanksgiving, where Joseph could observe this event with his family in Bethlehem. It occurred every year in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar just after the harvest, around September or October on our calendars.  “Thou shalt observe the feast of the tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine; and thou shalt rejoice in thy feast.” Deut. 16:13-14  This is the feast that theology historians believe will also be the timing and fulfilling of  Christ’s return to dwell on earth to set up His kingdom.

The last three feasts celebrated in the year all had a special message that was connected to the coming of Jesus.  Rosh HaShannah teaches repentance; Yom Kippur teaches redemption and Sukkot or Tabernacles teaches rejoicing.  After the harvest, Israel gathered together to worship in thanksgiving for God’s blessing and lived in temporary shelters for seven days.  The shelters reminded them of when Israel lived for forty years in the desert.  In John 1:14 we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”  The Greek word for “dwelt” is “skenoo” which literally means “tabernacle”.  Christ came to tabernacle with us. What would be a more temporary dwelling for a baby than a stable? 

The timing of Christ’s birth fulfilled the purpose of this feast as He fulfilled the purpose, shadows and types of every Mosaic feast. Jesus’ coming fulfills this feast in the joy and thanksgiving we feel when we walk out of the darkness and our eyes are open to the awareness of Christ our Savior.  Our God is a faithful God who keeps his promises to the smallest detail.

“The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.” Lam 3:22-23

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”   

Numbers 23:19 NIV

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”  II Timothy 2:13NIV

 At the time of the birth of John the Baptist, his father Zecharias also was given a song.  Within the song, he sang these prophetic words about the birth of Christ: ”Because of the tender mercy of our God. . . the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:78-79 

Simeon, a righteous priest in the temple in Jerusalem was promised by God that he would not die before he would see the Messiah.  When Jesus was forty days old, His parents brought Him to the temple for Simeon to speak the prayer of dedication over Him.  Simeon spoke these words: “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples – a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel”. Luke 2:30-32

When I was a child, my parents took care of any preparation that was needed to be done ahead of time so that certain events could happen in a timely manner and provide a stability I really didn’t give much thought about. It was just a continuous rhythm in my life that made me feel secure and loved. I certainly benefited from it.  That’s what God, our heavenly parent, has done down through history.  He has taken care of all the preparations and planning needed beyond our awareness so that however history unfolded because of our freedom of choice, God could still keep his promises to us “to a thousand generations” it is written.  God’s Plan will still prevail regardless of what we choose or even if we’re non-believers.  Children don’t understand the reasoning behind what their parents are doing, because they don’t see the big picture the parents see, and parents do what they do out of love for us.

“. . . the greatest possible manifestation of love already manifested on our planet –  God putting himself in our place.  And so there is no greater love you could ever know.  When you feel it and when you don’t, it doesn’t matter – it doesn’t change anything. Nothing you do can alter this love.  No good work can increase it.  And no sin can lessen it.  When you feel it and when you don’t, it’s there nonetheless.  We cannot change it – we can only receive it and be changed by it.  We can only let it change us.  For the greatest possible love has already been manifested.  God has come down.  It is only for us to receive and do likewise.”  Jonathan Cahn “The Book of Mysteries”

 On her last day on earth, Mary reread the words of the song of praise she had written down and cherished throughout her life remembering that long ago moment in her youth when the Spirit spoke through her:   “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. . .” 

She, the humble servant, had bore the Son of God on the earth.  With God’s help, she had honorably raised Him to perfection. Her son had performed mighty deeds and scattered the proud. She saw firsthand his mercy upon the humble and hungry. He was homeless throughout his ministry and never attained any success in the world’s eyes, yet no one has ever lived in history that has had a greater impact on the soul and spirit of humanity than Jesus Christ. 

Mary didn’t say many words in the Scriptures but we recall at the special wedding when she admonished the servant to respond to her son: “Do whatever He tells you”. This is an admonition for all of us.

She accepted that God did not spare his own Son – her son-  but gave Him up for us all. 

Mary’s song is our song, and our song today, in our time, is to resonate with Mary that our God’s faithfulness is still sure, true and boundless and that “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.”

“’To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He, who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’?  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’” Isaiah 40:25-31 NIV

 It is my hope that as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, with burning acclamation, we will sing our own song of joyful praise in not only words but also redemptive ways in which we live each day to be a blessing to God for his never ending faithfulness.

 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,

good will toward men!”

 Blessings of Community

large flock of canada geese flying in silhouette at twilight, vertical frame

Geese teach us a lot about the blessings of living in community. There are aspects of their flying in a “V” formation that teaches us simple principles of caring for one another.  Because life started in a garden, I believe that nature was meant to teach us what God wants us to know about this important part of living.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. “Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. “Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”  Job 12:7-10 NIV

Community is the Kingdom life that’s described throughout the Scriptures. I learn more every year about the importance of giving others emotional and spiritual support for their best life.

 

This is what we should learn about community from geese: 

As each goose flaps its wings it creates uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘V’ formation the whole flock adds 71 percent extra to the flying range.   By helping one another, each goose can achieve its goals. When a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. It isn’t easy to try to make it without positive feedback and support.  We can achieve our goals in a village that will share the load. 

 

When a goose tires of flying up front it drops back into formation and another goose flies to the point position.  When a goose gets sick, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to the ground to help and protect it.  In community, we should protect each other.

 

The last important lesson that geese teach us is about encouraging one another.  Geese flying in formation ‘HONK’ to encourage those up front to keep up with their speed.  If you are already practicing these principles in your school, your church, your family and your community in general, then, you are a rich blessing to everyone around you. 

There is a new and interesting project developing in the small town of Hartville, Missouri that embodies these principles.  It’s called The Community Betterment Foundation.  “Our mission is to unite community organizations and leaders to create opportunities, make improvements to our communities, create programs that promote growth and leadership, provide advocacy, and encourage and inspire others.”  The Foundation has two major components: The Resource Center and Hope Landing Women’s Emergency Shelter and Recovery Center.

They offer business counseling/assistance, family advocacy, referrals to area resources, free classes & workshops, job-seeking assistance, private meeting space, and incubator office space.  Their program has step incentives to provide structure and help get individuals and families back on their feet so they can be a contributing part of the support network.  One family I’m working with is part of that network.  The mobile home they just moved into was surrounded by junk from the last several renters and so, supporters of the foundation were going to come in and help this family clean up the property to get it ready for the couple to reunify with their children who are in state custody. Families that are decimated with drugs and the bad choices that typically follow need ongoing assistance for a longer period of time while they get re-established.  Both parents of this family now have jobs and are becoming viable members of the community in which they live. Unoccupied buildings including a church were donated to this project by local people to get it started.  For more information about this project you can find it at: 

http://www.hartvilleareacc.com/community-resource-center.html

A project like this in a small community can only grow as others want to be a part of something that is making a difference in people’s lives.

Right now, you will see the Red Kettles around the area.  Your generosity in sharing how richly God has blessed you will help families all next year.  85% of the funds are kept here locally. If you would like to ring the bells, check with your local Salvation Army representative.  There will be lots of slots needing to be filled.  Keep in mind that programs that serve families need help throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

 

Thanksgiving is about being thankful and finding ways to express that as much as possible in our families and our communities. Because we believe that God can keep misfortunes from happening a.k.a answered prayers, possibly the purpose of them when they do happen is God giving us an opportunity to respond to the leading of his Spirit to be their answered prayer.  Our redemption is directly connected to acts of kindness. 

 “A rich landowner named Carl often rode around his vast estate so he could congratulate himself on his great wealth. One day while riding around his estate on his favorite horse, he saw Hans, an old tenant farmer. Hans was sitting under a tree when Carl rode by.  Hans said, ‘I was just thanking God for my food.’  Carl protested, ‘If that is all I had to eat, I wouldn’t feel like giving thanks.’ 

Hans replied, ‘God has given me everything I need, and I am thankful for it.’ 

The old farmer added, ‘It is strange you should come by today because I had a dream last night. In my dream a voice told me, ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’ I don’t know what it means, but I thought I ought to tell you.’  Carl snorted, ‘Dreams are nonsense,’ and galloped away, but he could not forget Hans’ words: ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’ He was obviously the richest man in the valley, so he invited his doctor to his house that evening. Carl told the doctor what Hans had said. After a thorough examination, the doctor told the wealthy landowner, ‘Carl, you are as strong and healthy as a horse. There is no way you are going to die tonight.’ Nevertheless, for assurance, the doctor stayed with Carl, and they played cards through the night. The doctor left the next morning and Carl apologized for becoming so upset over the old man’s dream. At about nine o’clock, a messenger arrived at Carl’s door. ‘What is it?’ Carl demanded. The messenger explained, ‘It’s about old Hans. He died last night in his sleep.’”    Author Unknown

 

 “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”  II Cor 9:11-12 NIV

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Published in the Thanksgiving issue of the Mountain Grove News Jo

Passionate Disciple

 “. . .the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16.7 NIV

 “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises!”

Psalm 47:6 NIV

“I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.
17 You are my strength, I sing praise to you;  you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.  

Psalm 59:16-17 NIV

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you,
they sing the praises of your name.” Psalm 66:1-4 NIV

In each of these Scriptures, the writer is passionately crying out to God because he remembers what God has done for him in the past. The psalmist says
“I
remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works
and
consider what your hands have done.” Ps 143:5 NIV

This believer spends time just thinking about what God has done, and praising Him for His goodness. He is spending deliberate time thanking God for His mighty works, especially the ones God has done for him.
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G. Campbell Morgan provides this anecdote: “There is a tale told of that great English actor Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: ‘I wish you would explain to me something’. ‘Well, what is it? I don’t know that I can explain anything to a preacher.’   ‘What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.’  Macready’s answer was this: ‘This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.’”  G. Campbell Morgan, SermonSearch.com

It was a Thursday morning and we sat in our circle at the jail for Women Rising, one young woman spoke in anguish about the struggles in her life and how she couldn’t make any lasting change. She had been in this place many times. Her parents were guardians over her daughter which was the source of her deepest hurt and because of her choices for drugs and criminal behavior; she was not allowed to see her. Her passionate plea was recognized around the circle with many citing the same feelings.  Everyone present was struggling with the same challenges to making lasting change.  They all wanted something different but didn’t know how to get it.  They had been reading the Scriptures and wanted to have Christ in their life fully.  He represented everything they were looking for but they didn’t have a starting place on how to do that.  “As the deer pants for water so my soul pants for You.”  Psalm 42:1  “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2 “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” Psalm 143:6  “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.”  Isaiah 26:9   These writers knew about the yearning in the spirit.

To them, each Scripture reference rang true and ministered to their thirsting spirits.  They were clean from the drugs and wanted to stay that way.  Their addictions were not only to the drugs but unhealthy, abusive partners who they enabled and took care of, thinking that they could fix them and that that was the only kind of love they could get.  In that moment, I prayed for the Spirit to give me the right words.  I felt that communicating just words to them to describe what I knew about Jesus Christ and walking in the spirit would be like me trying to describe the brilliant colors of the rainbow to someone who only saw in black and white. It must be experienced.  Words just aren’t enough.  I felt led to tell them that they couldn’t change anything on their own.  From that moment on, they would have to let go of everything they were struggling with and just be silent before God, their Father in Heaven, accepting that, of themselves they could do nothing. Even with the ministry that is offered in the jail throughout the week showing them the important steps to take, they were struggling with the manifestation of miraculous change they wanted in their lives.  There was one woman who was really trying to feel a spiritual renewal and we talked about all the years of abuse she had endured since childhood and how her self-truths about who she is had been distorted so someone else could control and dominate her for their benefit.  Even the smallest evidence of the Spirit leading her was being denied and pushed away because she didn’t believe that God loved her personally or even knew she existed.  This is where Satan, the power of this world and the Father of lies, can get the upper hand on someone who is trying to crawl out of the hole they’re in.  Satan’s only power is deception, so our distorted self-image because of the lies we believe about ourselves, can really do the harm by us hopelessly continuing down a path of self-destruction.  When I went back the next week, there had begun a visible change in her as she had begun to allow in the little miracles and leading of the Spirit she was beginning to see and experience. 

In his book, Mere Christianity, author C. S. Lewis writes, “God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He, Himself, is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.  There is no other.”

 It must begin within us, seeing God’s truth about us with new eyes. The redefining of who we are must come about on God’s terms, not ours.  Teaching the inmates to trust in this concept is very difficult as they have had every boundary violated since childhood by those whom they have trusted. Dan Kroesen in his writing titled “Prayer” tells us: “While prayer is a passionate search for God and the deliverance which He can offer, it reminds us that we are not in control.  Through prayer, we are provided an opportunity to explore the will of God if we are willing to truly seek and willing to surrender.  Mark 14:36 KJV records the words of Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. ‘Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.’ Christ didn’t pray, ‘God, if you’re able to take this from me. . .’ He affirmed that ‘all things are possible,’ and then prayed, ‘God, if it is in your best interest to remove this suffering, please do so. But if it fulfills your purpose, that is what I want, too.’  This level of surrender does not come easily.  Genuine surrender says, ‘Father, if this problem, pain, sickness, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another’s, please do so.’”  Published in “The Witness” Spring, 2016

With situations like this, the Recovery Bibles with the Twelve-Step programs help so much.  These are instances where this program is a champion of the lost.  It gives them a place to start.  It helps them to focus on one step at a time and begin to trust their Higher Power for everything.  Listed here are the twelve steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous program:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps can apply to any area in our life that is out of control.

One of the women told about her experiences praying with the inmates before they were discharged. Another woman told about reaching the bottom and not wanting to live any longer.  She lived alone, isolated in a remote location but as she began to carry out the suicide with drug overdose and then slitting her wrists, somehow she was discovered before it was too late and taken to the hospital.  “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.  You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm of David, 139:1-10 (read the other 10 verses, they too, are excellent.)

We talked about her miracle and the message God was sending her through that remarkable experience.  By the time I returned the next week, she had been discharged.  I hope I will hear from her again.  Something I hear over and over is how they are treated in church, where they feel they are continually judged and then abandoned.  We have opportunities to help others just in the way we treat them.  This may be one of the few windows of opportunity for them to be reached.  I praise the church communities who are an oasis for the parched of spirit with life-giving water flowing from one to another.

Their thirsting and hunger for change and renewal – for resurrection was palpable.  I discovered there to be more passion in their throes of anguish and regret than is probably in most of our church services of praise music and fervent sermons.

That morning, there was an extraordinary group of women before me. The love my assistant and I felt toward them spilled out in emotional expressions of hope and support to each one individually. Our singing was amazing, rising up freely beyond the concrete barriers: “Letting all those that put their trust in thee rejoice; letting them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them, letting all those who love thy name be joyful in thee, For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favor wilt thou compass (them) with a shield.” Psalm 5:11-12. 

Wikipedia states: “Christianity, the Passion (from Latin: passionem “suffering, enduring”) is the short final period in the life of Jesus covering his entrance visit to Jerusalem and leading to his crucifixion on Mount Calvary, defining the climactic event central to Christian doctrine of Salvation History.”   During the Passion period we see visceral hate from its lowest depths to love of the highest degree – Jesus, loving us when we were least loveable and laying down His life for us when it was beyond human understanding.  Today, we only understand this love because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. 

“15 I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. 16 So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of My mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.…” Revelations 3:15-17

God would rather we were one or the other, hot or cold.  Remember Saul of Tarsus who became known as Paul.  Read about his passion starting in the book of Acts.

 In the Scriptures . . . a teacher of the law, asks Jesus this question “Which of the commandments of God is first of all?”  And Jesus responds: “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength – and — you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

 Pastor J. Jeffrey Smead writes about passion:

“He (the teacher of the law) may have lacked something in his understanding of God’s law, in God’s will.  Perhaps there was too much duty and routine in his life of obedience and not enough eagerness, not enough passion.  Perhaps a bit too much holiness – and not enough compassion- not enough empathy.  Whatever it is, there is a distance … a separation between the scribe and the Kingdom of God. The distance is enough for the Scribe, and for us, to hear the words “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.  What causes this Passion to be implanted in our souls? What causes us to strive to be conformed to the image of Jesus?  I have shared this story with some of you before. To me it sheds a light on why mature followers in the faith have a lifelong passion for Christ.  One day, a young disciple of Christ desirous of wanting to become all that God has for him visited the home of an elderly Christian. He had heard that this old man over all the years had never lost his first love for Christ. The elderly man was sitting on the porch with his dog taking in a beautiful sunset. The young man posed this question: ‘Why is it, sir, that most Christians zealously chase after God during the first year or two after their conversion, but then fall into a complacent ritual of church once or twice a week and end up not looking any different than their neighbors who are not even Christians?  I have heard you are not like that. I have been told that you have fervently sought after God throughout all these years. People see something in you that they do not see in most other people. What makes you different?’  The old man smiled and replied, ‘Let me tell you a story: One day I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a large white rabbit ran across the yard right in front of us.  Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after that big rabbit. He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion. Soon, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. What a sight it was, as the pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up the stony embankments through thickets and through the thorns!  Gradually, however, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit.  In that story, young man, lies the answer to your question.’  The young man sat in confused silence.  Finally, he said, ‘Sir, I do not understand.  What is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?’  ‘You fail to understand,” answered the well-seasoned old man, ‘because you failed to ask the obvious question.  And that is ‘Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase?’ The answer to that question is. . ., they had not seen the rabbit.

 Unless you see the prize, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to continue the chase.” You shall love.  Beloved, how can we not love?  How can we who have encountered the risen Christ do anything else but love and follow him! Only those who have encountered the Christ, who have seen the risen Lord have the commitment to continue the chase.  Only then, will you passionately Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.’”   End of quote by J. Jeffrey Smead


 John 2:15-16 – Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  

 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”     “For I, says the Lord, will be a wall of fire around you and I will be the glory in your midst.” Zech 2:5

Have you seen the “Rabbit”?  

There is a River

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place

where the Most High dwells.” Psalm 46:4

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 In April of this year (2016), John and I visited friends in Huntsville, Texas who are from the Norwood area.  We stayed in a lodge on the campgrounds of the Carolina Creek Christian Camp program.  One of our friends is a director at the camp.  As you are exiting the main gathering area of the lodge, there is writing above the door, Psalm 4:64 in part.  “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Our room was on the side of the lodge that faced the Carolina Creek, a large offshoot of the Trinity River. There was a small balcony where we could sit and enjoy watching the wildlife.  In the early morning a grey heron would land on the bank to watch the surface of the water and feed when the opportunity presented itself. Peace and tranquility was present in that setting, the very thing we all seek when we can get away. There is renewal in change of scenery and pace. 

 In a spiritual sense, the river that flows into the city of God could be the believers who are gathered out from the world to enter the city.  Ezekiel 20:40-41 KJV states:

40 For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.

41 I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered ; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.

 In this reference, we find that in the believers, God is sanctified.  God is proven holy.  The Scriptures tell us further that: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  John 7:38 NIV

“And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there

will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”  Ezekiel 47:9 NIV

 Sweetwater Journey has always only been about the power God has given to the believer who is the river through the Holy Spirit, to bless the world with God’s presence and the presence of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh.  God is sanctified through the believer, and wherever we go, every creature will live and the collective service we give will become like the sea refreshing the earth.

 In Martha Kilpatrick’s book “Adoration” we find these words:

 “God became a person. God indwelling his own creation! He who made us, walking around as one of us. . . Amazing! Since we could not unite with him – born dead by Adam’s fall – he constricted himself to our realm. . . .to be discovered.”

There is a story in the Old Testament that tells about the discovery of God the Israelites made and how it spiritually renewed their lives.  Around 500 BCE, after 70 years in Babylonian captivity, Israel was allowed to return to their homeland.  Most of them were born in Babylon and had never seen Jerusalem.  In the Sweetwater Journey chapter “Even When”  I focused on this key historical event and the Scripture reference in Jeremiah 29 that is so applicable in times of crisis.  For the sake of recap, in 2015, following the tragic car crash death of Christos House Advocate, Amber Brignole, I dedicated “Even When” to her memory.  It was focused around the events that come out of left field – the ones we least expect.  Amber had an amazing future of victim’s advocacy ahead of her but her life was tragically cut short by a negligent, distracted driver who crossed the center line and maimed and nearly took the life of a motorcyclist in his path and ended Amber’s life in the car that was directly behind the motorcycle.  The following is a quote from “Even When”:

“If we are going to blame God for an outcome that in our thinking has devastated us, then we must search and understand how God works.  We need to read the contexts in which the Scriptures are written so that we know that not everyone was promised what they believed to be the perfect outcome.  God’s outcome may not be what we wanted at the time or imagined.”

Being taken captive, was not a good outcome for Israel. The following is the often used Scriptural quote from Jeremiah 29 in its entire context:

 A Letter to the Exiles:

“This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:1-14

 More from Even When: “The Israelites who were captive in Babylon had been duly warned about what would happen if they didn’t shape up and come back to the Living God instead of worshiping idols.  Even when life isn’t fair, we are supposed to live in the moment with trust that God will reward change and devotion in his own time and his own way that is beyond our understanding.  He told his special family the Israelites that they should bloom where they were planted; build houses, plant gardens and eat your own produce.  Psalm 137 describes the condition of the Israelite’s hearts at this difficult time: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.  We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.  For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’  How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? “ Psalm 137:1-3 KJV   They didn’t feel like building houses and planting gardens. Especially they didn’t feel like blooming where they were planted. Even when life isn’t fair, we are called to live with faith and integrity, even when we can’t see the big picture.  God says “Just trust me, my plan is to bless you in this life and the next, beyond anything you can imagine”.  In Job 23:10 we find this insight about God and his bigger plan for us: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job 23:10 NIV (end of quote from “Even When”)

Our story picks up after the seventy years of exile in Babylon under several pagan kings – some good and some not so good.  At last, God, who made the promise to rescue them from captivity, kept his word as he always does, but in his own time and in his own way, moves upon King Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and release the captives to return home. The Israelites didn’t all leave Babylon at once. There were three main groups who traveled the 800 mile trip back to the homeland in Jerusalem.  Ezra, a scribe who later becomes a priest leads the second group.  He is a major player in this exodus, also called a second Moses.  The people who were born in captivity were no longer herders or most of the other occupations their ancestors were engaged in prior to coming to Babylon on a forced march in restraints.  They had become primarily merchants and knew very little about their religion. In the book of Ezra, it lists the names of families that are returning to Jerusalem and the number of each.  In the sermon “Meet Me at the River” Pastor Jim Drake tells this story about the discovery of God the Israelites made.  It starts with them leaving Babylon to traverse the 800 miles of uncertain and hidden calamity.  They were carrying treasure for the temple that was being rebuilt by the first group who had left years earlier.  They were uncertain but with an open heart to trust this God they were learning about and also Ezra:   

 21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.

22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, namely, Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers,

. (The book of Nehemiah runs parallel with this story.)

NEHEMIAH 9:5-6

5 And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. ” “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”.

Pastor Jim Drake continues: “ The verses we just read are the beginning of a chapter-long song of praise and confession before the Lord. It came as the result of the experience of true revival in Israel. Ezra had led the people through a series of revival meetings. Those meetings were incredible. They were incredible because they were real. They weren’t artificially ginned up fits of emotional frenzy. There is no precedent for anything like that being from God in the Bible. Contrary to what most people think, that’s not revival. Revival is renewal. It only comes from the solid exposition of the Word of God and always results in repentance and renewal of relationship with God. It is God-started, God-centered and God-sustained. It comes from the preaching of God’s Word, continues with the study of God’s Word, and carries on with the proclamation of God’s Word to everyone we meet.

 

Pastor Drake continues:

Let me describe to you one of Ezra’s revival meetings: NEHEMIAH 8:1-8

‘1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.’

Where was the music? Where were the quartets and the groups and the special guest singers? If they didn’t have any good singing, how did Ezra work up their emotions? He read to them. As a matter of fact, he read a lot to them. . . what was the people’s reaction? Look back at verse 6. 6Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. 9Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’  11The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

All that emotion just from reading the Book. But he didn’t just stop at reading the Book. Verse 8 says that they read it, interpreted it, explained it, and told them how it applied to their lives—they gave the sense of it. That was their revival meetings. Earlier we saw the result of those meetings. But what got them ready for it? Those people weren’t really that much different than we are. . .  What got them to that place? That place where they were that eager to hear the Word of God? That place where they were that ready for revival? That place where they weren’t looking to be entertained, but were looking for the manifest presence of God in His holy Word? To find that out, we have to go back to Ezra 8:

 1’ On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.

2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors.

3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.’

 Remember where we are in history. Ezra was leading the second group of Jews who were returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. Before heading out on the four-month long journey to Jerusalem, he gathered the exiles at the river of Ahava for a time of preparation for what God had in store for them. There, by that river, Ezra laid the foundation for the wonderful revival that was to come. I want you to picture what that revival looked like. Picture the meetings where everyone was so eager to hear God’s Word that they stood in anticipation. Picture the spontaneous and heart-felt responses to the teaching. Picture the true, God-honoring, Christ-centered revival that broke out. Now picture that for us, here. That’s what I want for us here. I want us to experience true revival. . .. Not some sort of emotional man-centered ecstatic event. But a true, God given, Holy Spirit-driven, sin-confessing, life-changing, world-altering revival. But in order for that to happen, we have to prepare ourselves the way Ezra prepared the people there on the banks of the Ahava river.” End of Quote. Taken from “Meet Me at the River” by Pastor Jim Drake.

The Israelites found God because of God’s promise to them in Jeremiah 29: “’12 then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity’.”    

Pastor/revivalist Terry Sisney inspires us further with his words:

“The Holy Ghost is here with the purpose. He came to empower us to carry on the Jesus ministry.He came to anoint us the same as he anointed Jesus to destroy the works of the devil. He came to set us on fire:
Heb. 1:7 ‘Who maketh his angels ministering spirits and his ministers flames of fire.’
He came to set us free: where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.
He came to reveal Jesus to us.
This river had miracle transforming power, it had saving and healing power.
This river brought life, healing, restoration, wherever it went.
That same river was in Jesus
That same river is in you by the power of the Holy Ghost.
There may be some dead dry places in your life today it may be sickness, it may be your finances, it may be your marriage, or it may be your spiritual life.
You need the river of God to break loose not only to you but in you And through you.
Paul said stir up the gift that is in you.” End of Quote by Pastor Sisney.

 There is a river. . . and it is us!  Imagine this river of believers, you and I, seeking daily spiritual renewal with all our hearts and living this out in service to others in our area.

God bless your sweetwater journey.

Sweetwater Networks

Whoever believes in me . . ., rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:38 NIV

Today, with 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to imagine the traditional Passover in Jesus’ day and what it had become by the time of the very hour it was to be finally fulfilled in the actual death and sacrifice of the true Lamb.  The Hebrew Passover was instituted by God around 1300BCE when the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt.  Everything about the celebration denotes types and shadows of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ around 33AD.   It is written of that day and I quote from God’s Plan of Salvation written by author, Richard Rupe:  “Jesus the Lamb of God, was crucified on the day of Passover.  At 9 o’clock that morning as lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then at 3 o’clock as the people are singing praises to God that echo throughout the hills of Jerusalem, the lambs are being slaughtered.  At the same moment, as the shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise ye the Lord’ ring out on the hill called Calvary, Jesus died.”

Today, as we wait for Christ’s return, it is important that we sort out what we have become spiritually.  Are we like the loyal Jews, preoccupied with the symbolic “slaughtering lambs and preparing the Passover meal” according to our beliefs and not realizing that our praise and preparations have become empty without any true personal depth or principle? And as we go through the motions of “church” are we aware that somewhere in our community by our sins of looking the other way, Christ is being crucified over and over again, never resurrecting, always in a state of dying?  It is interesting to note here that as part of the Passover tradition, the Hebrews were required to bring the lamb that was going to be slaughtered into their homes to live with them for three days before the actual day of the slaughter.  It appears that a feeling of personal loss was meant to be experienced when the lamb died at their hands, as it was no longer just another animal to be butchered from the flock.  

I observe this state of spiritual dying in our communities every day among the disenfranchised due to poverty, mental illness and drugs.  Sometimes when I am working with the inmates at the jail, I feel so helpless to bring them anything that will make a lasting change in the system of justice and for them personally.  One woman lifted my spirits one day by saying, “You are helping us, you give us encouragement.” 

Sometimes I forget how powerful the sweetwater is that flows from those who believe and seek Jesus among the suffering to offer its healing properties.  This living sweetwater that I have been writing about since July, 2013 is everything.  When Christ came, He didn’t destroy corrupt systems that exploit the vulnerable or make everyone rich and in perfect health, He blessed those who came to Him and sought Him out.  He gave them living sweetwater that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice for us and gave His life that we might have that sweetwater forever. 

 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Revelation 21:6 NIV

What is conditional is that the sweetwater must flow from a true believer to the seeker in order for it to have the powerful living properties it takes to heal and resurrect those who thirst after it.

This is how God intended for it to work.  That we would take on the image of Christ and that the living water that comes from Him would flow from each of us to benefit those who were seeking it.   This water flows from those who are loving, caring people who share their testimonies and are without thought of their discomfort or social status or concern for what others who protect and maintain the status quo might think of them.  They are the ones who follow Jesus into the places where only He would go to share the living sweetwater and lift others up and yes, be Him.

 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jer. 2:13 NIV

God continually had this problem with the Israelites.  The prophet Jeremiah uses a common image in that time of the cistern to help them realize the difference.  Today, we know about the catch pond that is not spring-fed.  Most farms in the Ozarks have one or two of them.  They are full to the brim in the rainy season and are dried up in the dry season with no ongoing living source of water to keep them replenished.

Right now, in the spring of 2016, we are in a very difficult time with the presidential election going on.  It appears that many are giving up on being and doing the right thing as Christ taught us to do.  Many are angry and no longer see the results of working together for the common good.  Many are rising up in anger and dropping civil proprieties. Many are thinking only about what they want and how they want it to be to serve themselves.  Divisive rhetoric and acts of hate are on the rise, visibly unchecked, stirring up the selfish side of our egos.  This climate of hate, prejudice and selfishness that is erupting in violence and division that we are hearing and seeing now on our TVs everyday, unfortunately always exists.  It isn’t just now occurring.  What we are seeing is the dark side of our dual nature. Everyone has a dual nature.  It is part of the sinful nature that is within each of us.  In the Native American tradition, there is a proverb that defines this duality as two wolves inside us and the one that lives is the one we feed.  As followers of Christ it is up to us to ask Jesus for help in controlling it for the sake of the common good and eventually rising above it as we spiritually transform.  It has no place in God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal with opportunities for every gift of talents that God has given to his creation.  Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but again, if we hear leaders tell us it’s okay to hate and be prejudiced and take action accordingly, what else can we expect but to act that way. There are many important Scriptures that teach us about the side of our nature we are meant to transform through our belief in Jesus Christ. And there are many references that tell us that the wrong that is done in secret will be brought into the light for all to see.

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

 

 

Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

Ps 139:7,11-12 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me…” the night will shine like day….

Jer 23:24 (NIV) “Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Jer 16:17 (NIV) “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”

Mat 10:26-27 (NIV) “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.”

Mark 4:22  “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light.”

1 Cor 4:5 He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.

We are in times now that are spoken of in the Scriptures as fulfillment of prophecy.  Jesus’ voice is still crying out “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink;” John 7:37, but his voice is being drowned out by other voices appealing to our sinful natures to hate and get what you want at the cost of others well-being.

In the midst of this toxic national climate that is gripping our attention and making us, like Peter, feel like we are sinking and lost as we become afraid of the crashing waves and storm all around us, there are many good things happening.  Jesus is still working among us to teach us to love one another and to become constantly more creative about ways to help each other.  In fact, this positive climate is growing in spite of what’s happening among the masses all over.  Love is so powerful.  I see it in action everyday.  It is love that transforms everything.  Every outcome that is influenced by love will be different than anything you can possibly imagine.  Bring love to bear on every circumstance for the right outcome.

As a representative for Christos House, I am blessed to attend two interagency meetings, one in Texas and one in Wright counties every month.  The comradery that we enjoy when we come together is inspiring.  Our time together is up before we know it.  In fact, in Texas County, we have set the meeting to start earlier so we have more time.  These groups are the basis for Sweetwater Networks.  Each group comes to the table to talk about their programs that are available at that time and how to access them for the community members of our counties.  Sweetwater Networks will focus on the positive that’s happening around us. 

Remember, as time moves closer to Christ’s coming, the Scriptures promise that our choices will become more black and white.  Everything that once was bad will be good.  Everything that once was good is now bad.  Even the political climate right now is serving that purpose.  What once was said and done in secret, we now hear and see blatantly out in the open uncontrolled.  With knowledge and assurance of what Jesus Christ is about, we will weather this and our work of loving acts will be more powerful than ever for those who are seeking transformation in their lives. 

Hate and prejudice takes a terrible toll on one’s spirit.  There is no living water as a source within that condition.  Their source comes from cisterns of stagnant water.

I almost don’t know where to start in sharing with you all the good things that are happening in our counties.  It is important for us to start with the state of Missouri as it relates to the rest of the nation.  In the latest Kids Count statistics, there is ratings for each state in the nation in four domains of well being for children.  Missouri rates 24th for Economic; 30th for Education; 27th for Health; and 29th for Family and Community.  In 2015, Missouri ranked number 50, which is last, for welfare reform. Rising above this rating in our state congress will take a will  and understanding that when everyone has opportunities, our communities thrive.  The God we serve uses words like “abundance” and “generosity”.  

II Corinthians 9:13

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,”


I Timothy 6:17-19 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Proverbs 11:24

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”


There are statistics readily available online, that tells a story of great need in Texas and Wright Counties.

The first one will probably be enough to create the picture as it truly is.  Texas County Food Pantry served nearly 700,000 pounds of donated and purchased food and USDA commodities in 2015. This number is nearly double for all of the food distributed from food banks in Texas County in the 2013 Report from the Missouri Hunger Atlas. 24.7% of families with children in Texas County have food uncertainty.  There were 783 monthly participants in the Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provided by the county health departments in 2013. In Wright County, 25.8% of the families with children have food uncertainty with 849 monthly participants in WIC. Changes in federal and state welfare laws taking effect April 1 will cut off food stamp benefits to 30,000 Missourians and is expected to deepen poverty and hunger.  Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri is concerned that there will be an even greater dependency on food pantries already strapped.  Mott Oxford also stated that Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of people without enough food to eat. (Reported in the Houston Herald- March 31, 2016 issue)

In 2015, the Pantry also provided over $130,000 in emergency assistance for housing and utility bills to both Texas and to Wright (which began later in the year).  Emergency assistance is just an immediate band aid to keep the crisis in check for that day or month.  That’s all.  It doesn’t do enough to change people’s future or how they manage their lives.  The directors of the Pantry that I have known in the last 12 years continue to lament that they would like to do more about permanent life-style changes in those who they serve, but for some of their patrons, if the Pantry wasn’t’ there as an immediate safety net, their situation would become far worse.  Due to the donations during the holidays to the red kettles in Texas County, the Pantry has discretionary funds that can be targeted to more specific needs that can make permanent changes in people’s lives. Other statistics  that give us a better picture of the need I observe in our communities are:   Texas County has $17,868 per capita which is arrived at by dividing the total income of all people 15 years old and up in the county by the total population in that area. Texas County has 21.4% below poverty level.  Wright County has $14,752 per capita with 27.5% below poverty level. In my experience with the nearly 200 families Christos House served in Texas and Wright in 2015, single parent/single income families with a parent and two teenagers, 15 and over, are not making $44K or $53K per year.  These figures show the vast disparity between those who are in poverty and those who are not. 

At one of the interagency meetings, a Division of Family Services’ representative agreed that poverty is one of the main underlying causes in most of the cases where children are removed from the home.

I have begun meeting with a “think tank” of concerned community members of the wePRAY Ladies in Texas County, who come together to help create a path forward for one person, one family at a time.  At one meeting, I expressed that one of the residents who I was working with from the Christos House Shelter was in need of a computer as she had an interest in working with E-Bay as a possible business.  One of our group sitting next to me, stated that she had a computer she didn’t need as she had just purchased a new one.  The client who received the computer, came to the think tank meeting the next month to express her appreciation and talk a little about what she was already accomplishing by having it.  She was working on learning the E-Bay process of selling online and had gotten approved for government grants and loans so she could attend an online college for a social work degree. The members of the group were able to ask for her opinions about certain ideas we were considering with which to help a family.   

Our latest endeavor is to help a young woman with the tuition she needs to be enrolled in the Church Army rehab program in Branson, now called The CORE for a heroin addiction she has had for all of her adult life, since her teens.  CORE stands for Communities of Recovery Experiences. When I was at the jail for the Women Rising group, at some point a corrections’ officer came and got her to meet with her lawyer.  She grabbed up the letter of support I had written for her to be presented to the court suggesting the option of The CORE as an appropriate sentence and ran out with a beautiful smile filled with hope.  The court may or may not accept this option but we felt she deserved the chance that we had within our grasp to give her.  Four donors gave $32.50 each to put with the Pantry donation for the $330 it would take for the tuition for one in this valuable program.

Our interagency meetings are exciting in the ways we can share what our programs do for the people who really want to change their lives.  When you are faced with daunting caseloads as so many of the agencies are, it is best to focus on what you are doing in the individual lives of those who are successfully using your services. 

Children’s Division has a new program called Family Centered Services where they are working with families who are hotlined – reported to the abuse line.  Even if the abuse is not substantiated there may be a need for services to keep the family intact.  They are providing a caseworker for an intervention that will help keep the family intact.  This is a change in their policy and a new future direction which is greatly needed.

CASA of Southwest Missouri (Court Appointed Special Advocates) motto is “ordinary people doing extraordinary work”. The CASA volunteer coordinator, Leigh Ann Sigman, has trained 45 CASA volunteers since 2014.  At the time of this writing, in the 25th Judicial District which includes four counties, there are 330 children needing advocates, one per child. As this program grows and more people become involved in these children’s lives and see the need as the statistics reflect, there will be gradual change. 

I compare the work we do to a glacier.  It may move only a few inches forward per year but nothing can stop it.  As it moves, it changes and reshapes the overall landscape, leaving behind something new and different. 

At the Texas County Food Pantry, Dana McGuire and Anita Collins from the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program provide nutrition information for the patrons who come to pick up food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dana and Anita also provide nutrition programs in the schools and to groups who make requests.

I’m working with the Pregnancy Resource Center and Newborns in Need currently in Wright County for a young woman who needs everything in preparation for the coming of her baby this year.  This is definitely an area where anyone who is Pro-Life can actively be a part of helping meet this need.  There are so many agencies in the Sweetwater Networks that I work with, it is impossible to name everyone who is working hard to make a difference.  

Right now the annual project called Project Homeless Connect is building momentum at our meetings.

 

 

The following is a quote from the project’s website:  

“Project Homeless Connect is being planned for (Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, along with Missouri Housing Development Commission, has selected Howell County as the 2016 Project Homeless Connect host community. The Project Homeless Connect committee of the GCEH will specifically be organizing Howell County’s first Project Homeless Connect event, which will take place sometime in 2016. The event will serve as a single access point on one day for homeless individuals and families to receive assistance and services including access to shelter/housing, dental/medical check-ups, access to obtaining photo identification/birth certificates, food, clothing, access to mainstream benefits, and other quality of life services. West Plains and Howell County will be the eighth host city for the committee since the PHC’s inception in 2008. Group officials say Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that has been planned and proven effective in cities throughout the United States.”

There will be a great need for volunteers on that day and transportation for homeless individuals who could take advantage of this opportunity for services.  Churches will be an important asset with volunteers and church vans to transport individuals.  Check out the Facebook page for this project to be held on September 27, 2016 at the Civic Center in West Plains.

The Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains presented their program in February in Houston at the TEAM meeting.  Director Penny Alverson is dedicated to keeping this program viable.  The Center does random drug tests to make sure their residents are complying with the rules.  Right now, she is part of the group spearheading the 2016 Project Homeless Connect in West Plains. 

Also in regular attendance to our meetings are long-time programs like Houston Lion’s Club, who are celebrating their 75th year in 2016; Ozark Action – CAP (Community Action Program), Ozark Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, our county health departments and hospice programs, again, to name a few. 

Currently, in Texas County another area pregnancy resource center will be opening this spring called Southwest Pregnancy Resource Center.  The Center in Mountain Grove that has been in operation since 2009 reports that in 2015 they served 200 clients: 73 enrolled in classes for parenting and Bible study to mention a few of their offerings; 26 babies were born in 2015 to the ongoing family base they serve.  To date since ’09 they have served 715 clients.  I am privileged to lead classes from time to time on codependence, boundaries, domestic abuse and parenting, etc. with an occasional fun craft project.   

Christos House works with many agencies for social change. Just this week, Carla Johnson, Director at the Cabool Housing Authority, and I sat down with a client to help her put together a plan forward for her and her family which included finishing college and finding needed resources that would help her to eventually become totally independent.  Carla in Cabool, Anita Kennedy in Houston and Becky Friend in Mountain Grove who are excellent in providing care and on occasion tough love with residents who need direction and support.

What feels like a trickle of sweetwater, the living water that Jesus Christ spoke of, can become a deluge of needed change if we tenaciously focus on the one to one approach in a climate of extreme need.  There are many other programs that I’m aware of that are not being mentioned in this writing, but the representatives who attend our Team meetings are very committed to making a difference in our communities.  It is my prayer that we can increase our volunteer pool through sharing the good news of all the advances being made by people spreading sweetwater as professionals and average citizens in each community. If you feel like you are being called to do something in your community, make it a matter of daily prayer.  Take action led by the Spirit that resides in each of us, to share the sweetwater you are being given.  The Source is endless.  The need is endless.  We welcome you to attend the interagency meetings and become acquainted with the opportunities there are to serve.  It can be on any level you want for time and specific terms of commitment.  You can check with Jen Russell at the Texas County Health Department and Karla Meiser at Hospice Compassus in Mountain Grove for meeting times.

I am happy to report that the court did approve of the option of The CORE for the woman who is a recovering heroin addict, and tomorrow, March 31, John and I are picking her up in Springfield to take her to the facility in Branson. This is only her next step forward in a long journey ahead for a lifetime of sobriety.  I recommend the recovery programs that are being offered throughout our counties. I can always use recovery Bibles to offer inmates who I presently serve.

I work closely with the Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and jail administrator, Pam Tripp and her staff to improve the lives of the inmates who are seeking ways to change the destructive patterns. 

 If you have a project going on that you’re involved in that is meeting a community need, I would like to hear about it.  Love through community service is the most powerful force we have to change the unchangeable. God bless the individuals, civic groups, social agencies and churches who are meeting the challenges through the love of Jesus Christ.

 

 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2 NIV