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Message Received

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One of those things that can be a little irritating for many of us is when we try to connect with someone and we get no response. Fifty years ago we were a bit more patient because we waited on a letter to arrive in the mail. Prior to that we waited on a telegram perhaps. There was no expectation on getting a response right away and we trusted the postal system or telegrapher would be attendant to the job he or she was paid to do.

 

Each decade has brought us more ways to communicate and connect. Answering machines and emails moved us ahead considerably in our ability to connect. But they also made it harder for us when a call wasn’t returned or an email wasn’t answered.  It left us wondering if the person we wanted to reach received the message. Sometimes if an email bounced back noting it wasn’t the right address, we discovered the problem. Many times it didn’t bounce back and yet no response came.

 

As our phones got smarter, our expectations grew with the advent of texting, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and more. Now we had the potential for almost instantaneous communication no matter where we were or what we were doing. That didn’t always result in answers.

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Getting a response has been with us since birth. Before we had words, we cried to get a response from our parents that we were hungry or needed a diaper changed or wanted someone to hold us to know we were not alone.

 

At issue underneath our desire for a response is not just about getting an answer. It’s about knowing we matter, that someone cared enough about us to respond.

 

It’s little wonder that we can be tempted to stumble in our relationship with God when we don’t get an answer we hope for or it is delayed. Some of us can wonder if He is listening or if He heard.

 

When that question nibbles at our faith, an Old Testament verse gives a clear answer:

 

“Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Isaiah 65:24 (NIV)

 

Do we really grasp that God is good?

 

We say we do, but the level to which it permeates our understanding has a great deal to do with whether or not we recognize our own badness apart from his incredible gift of grace born of his goodness.

 

We sometimes wonder if God has gotten the message that we are ill, discouraged, depressed, lonely, angry, disappointed, and fed up with one thing or another. We also wonder if justice will ever come in the midst of a life of inequality and unfairness.

 

There is only one answer.

 

Yes.

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If we grapple with that, consider how often in Revelation 2 and 3 John quotes the Lord saying, “I know…” The statement is in response to seven church bodies that are identified, but represent Christian believers of all types through the ages. I think those two words, “I know,” were meant to both reassure and challenge because what followed was most often commendation and challenge.

 

  • “I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance…” Rev. 2:1a (ESV)

 

  • “I know your tribulation and your poverty…” Rev. 2:9a (ESV)

 

  • “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is…” Rev. 2:13a (ESV)

 

  • “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.” Rev. 2:19 (ESV)

 

  • “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Rev. 3:1c (ESV)

 

  • “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one can shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Rev. 3: 8 (ESV)

 

  • “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” Rev. 3:15 (ESV)

 

Our message to God has been received.

 

The more important question is whether we have received his message to us and responded. It’s a message of love from the One who is love.

 

“Yet love has no weight, or size, or substance. It does not know the barriers of time or space or distance, of life and death. Love travels on the wind. Love is greater than the trials and the suffering of this world. Love endures all things.”

 Lisa Wingate in Good Hope Road

 

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The Dilemma of Boldness

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We might be tempted to think there is a great deal of boldness evident on the scene today as we hear and see so many pontificating on an endless list of topics. Maybe we should start by recognizing much of this is not boldness, but evidences of being brash.

 

If we are brash, we speak and act in a self-assertive, rude, noisy, or overbearing way. It is often more bravado than substance. Often it is a disguise for cowardice because it is noise without action.

 

Boldness requires a willingness to take risks and act in innovative ways, to move in confidence or courage. That is much harder to come by and too often lacking.

 

Because of the confusion between brashness and boldness, we choose to set aside boldness when boldness is called for.

 

I was reminded of that recently as I attended a worship service at our son’s church where this topic was central in the morning’s sermon. The pastor reminded all of us of what was so evident in the life of the believers in Acts after Pentecost − boldness. Peter, John, and the other early disciples were not the educated erudite men of the day, but they had been transformed by the truth and power of the Gospel and they spoke about and into a myriad of concerns that changed not only the culture of that time, but also the culture of Christianity that extends to the present.

 

These early disciples had walked with Jesus and known Him intimately and yet had missed so many key things prior to his death and resurrection. They had been behind the scenes and got to hear the story behind the story and yet missed so much of who Jesus was and who He was calling them to be.

 

That upper room experience changed everything because it engrafted the truth on their hearts indelibly and helped them move past their fear of others at a time when they had much to fear, a time when their very lives were at stake.

 

Could it be that we are continuing to spiral farther away from our calling because it is easier to be brash or condemn such foolishness than to seek to know the Lord more fully and embrace boldness?

 

In some places in the world boldness means putting our lives in jeopardy, but for many of us our fear of what others may think if we speak boldly of the truth we know (not just an opinion) shuts us up and we remain silent when we should speak.

 

No matter what our calling, each of us is called to grow in knowledge, wisdom, and discernment, to know when we should be silent and when we should speak. Brashness never learns the distinction.

 

The other nemesis of being bold when that is what is called for is born from our fear of what everyone else may think of us if we are indeed bold. In this group are some of us who stop before ever risking it, as well as others who try it and then falter when a tidal wave pushes back against the truth we share.

 

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We give so much power to others when we fear what they think of us. It can be easy to forget the One whom we should most fear is the Lord and what He thinks of us.

 

As I was reading in one of Lisa Wingate’s books (Beyond Summer), I found these words:

 

“It’s not God’s fault that I care so much about what everyone thinks. It’s mine. I’ve been letting them define me. I’ve been giving them all the control, but when you get right down to it, what should matter is whether or not you can live with who you are.”

 

Perhaps we must recognize what stirs up boldness to speak when we should speak truth is to spend enough time with the Truth Speaker so we understand and know the whole counsel of scripture and then allow the Holy Spirit to use us if that is his choice.

 

As the contrast between darkness and light grows greater, it will be more difficult for us if we have allowed the fear of others to control us or the popularity of brashness to guide us.

 

Edmund Burke was once attributed with saying a quote most of us have heard. Even though there is now some question as to whom this quote should be given credit, the quote is still significant:

 

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 

The word here that stands out to me is “good.” We may go about doing things in the hope of making this a better world, but unless our motives are pure and our truth everlasting no triumph will come.

 

Why is there a dilemma about boldness?

 

Because we must face the difficult choice between two or more alternatives. Sometimes neither choice is desirable.

 

The content of our character will determine the course we choose and that can only come from the character of the only One who was and is good working within us.

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Re-Union Revisited

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In one moment, with one decision, shadowy death came into paradise and what had been the perfect Garden of Eden. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but the scheme of the serpent to award him a kingdom in this world was granted when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of a tree forbidden to them.

 

The result?

 

Paul expresses it in Colossians 1:21 when he speaks of alienation from God. That wording means Adam and Eve (and also we) were objectively banished from God (not simply the Garden) through the barrier that God’s justice had set against the sin of disunion with Him. This is what caused spiritual death.

 

God had breathed into Adam and Eve “the breath of life” that united them to Him in oneness. The choice they made when they succumbed to the serpent’s guile caused the Spirit to be divorced from the body, the very definition of death.

 

Their one momentary lapse affects every person born on the earth since then. Satan stalks the earth, possessive of his union with man, and determined to assure his kingdom is not diminished. In his arrogance he believed he could seduce the Son of Man, Jesus, when He came to earth. Jesus, one in the Trinity, had left heaven, would He not want the power on the earth Satan believed he could offer Him?

 

But Satan never understood love, that perfect love of God that he abandoned in a bid for power that resulted in what sent him to earth seeking a kingdom of his own.

 

Even when Adam and Eve broke covenant with God on their part for the false promises of Satan, God still loved them.

 

As Dave Hickman writes in Closer Than Close:

 

“…while disunion spreads across the whole earth, God continues to chase after that which He lost at the Fall—union with His bride. Although humans divorced themselves from God, God remained faithful, committed to the union they once shared.”

 

Few passages of scripture describe this so well as the book of Hosea. The story illustrates His faithfulness as He instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute and who then returns to her adulterous lifestyle after the wedding. Hosea, God’s prophet, is instructed to go after her and bring her back to himself.

 

And so God has done that with each of us.

 

His mission? To once again be in union with man.

 

His plan was one Satan could not have imagined or begun to understand. Satan would even believe despite what he saw with Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, and the rest of the patriarchs that union (re-union) was not possible. If God loved them and gave them laws to follow and sacrifices to make, fine! But what He had hoped for in the beginning when He breathed the breath of Life into Adam could not be undone. Of that, Satan was certain.

 

Satan’s pride forever caused him to miss the vibrant living truth of God and the power of His love for His creation.

 

When he did discover the plan, he was determined to upend it. What a preposterous idea! Jesus in perfect union in the Trinity would leave heaven and be planted by the Spirit in the womb of a woman as an infant? Certainly not likely and yet, Satan knew if God pulled it off it would change everything.

 

Jesus would have all power and be carried by a woman just like the one who had betrayed the union and covenant with God in the first place. He could not let anything to chance.

 

Max Lucado depicts the struggle in the heavenlies over the story of the Spirit hovering over the woman, Mary, chosen by God to bear His Son, in exciting images in Cosmic Christmas (later reprinted as The Angel’s Story).

 

 Of course we know the devices of the enemy do not succeed. Jesus is born and all the efforts of Satan through Herod fail completely. But Satan is determined and waits for another chance. He could not comprehend salvation and how it could be possible.

 

I wonder if we truly understand it. In Closer Than Close Dave Hickman states it clearly:

 

“But for salvation to be possible by faith, Jesus had to unite the fullness of humanity with the fullness of divinity within his own person. In order for human sin to be forgiven, an actual human had to die. God’s justice demanded this since it was humans who sinned and not God himself.

 

And yet, only one who was absolutely God could atone for sin! Therefore, Christ had to serve as an atonement (at-one-ment) uniting divinity and humanity within his person. If not, then humanity’s sin could not be divinely forgiven.”

 

Without this, there could be no re-union and there could be no hope for man.

 

What a paradox for us to long to be close or closer to the Lord when He has done everything to be as close as He can possibly be and restore us to Himself.

 

Is it possible Satan has sought to seduce us once again into believing He is not close, even after salvation?

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What’s the Proof?

 

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Are you a skeptic?

 

Most of us would deny that we are or hope that would be the case. After all, the dictionary defines a skeptic as “a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.”  In that broad sense of the meaning, perhaps our denial would be right. That little word “all” in the definition makes all the difference.

 

And yet, most of us might admit that we doubt or are a skeptic about some things or some people. Sometimes we are just fickle in the moment about something we say we believe until the belief is challenged.

 

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Thomas (You remember him probably.) reminds us of that tendency we might also have. He was a disciple and walked with Jesus everywhere during his earthly ministry. He had heard Jesus as a part of that select group who got to see behind the scenes and learn the truths behind the parables Jesus told. He heard Jesus talk about dying at that last supper he attended in the upper room, heard Him say they all knew the way and where He was going.

 

But John 14:5 (ESV) shows Thomas doubts (long before Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead). John records it this way:

 

“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

 

After the crucifixion Thomas has no doubt that Jesus is dead. He’d seen the whole ugly scene with his own eyes. Then he misses a gathering of the other disciples and hears from them that Jesus appeared to them and has risen as He said.

 

Each disciple must have told the story of Christ’s sudden appearance and how it confirmed prophecy and yet Thomas needs proof. He says he needs to see and touch Jesus and suspects the other disciples saw a ghost.

 

We might chuckle at the scene eight days later when Jesus unexpectedly shows up again with Thomas present. Jesus is well aware of the doubts and skepticism in Thomas. He tells him to put his hand in His side where the spear had pierced Him, to look at His nail-scarred hands and feet. Now Thomas believes.

 

But if we are honest, we might see skepticism in our own heart as well. It wasn’t common for people to come back from the dead even when Jesus walked the earth, despite Thomas seeing it happen with Lazarus.

 

This need for proof in humankind runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. From Eden onward doubt has been a companion as well as an enemy.

 

In the New American Commentary on Exodus, Douglas K. Stuart gives us one example from the Old Testament. God tells Moses He will free the enslaved children of Israel from Egypt who had been toiling there in ever-worsening conditions for 400 years.

 

Now Moses arrives on the scene to tell these enslaved Israelites what God told him and that he is the one that is to lead them out. It’s not surprising that might raise eyebrows, cause heads to shake, and tongues to wag. Here is Stuart’s description of the problem:

 

“Trust me that I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. What is the proof? I won’t give you any yet, but when you are out of Egypt and at the place where I will take you as my own people (which any reader understands to be Sinai since Moses wrote Exodus after Sinai), you will be able to look back on what has happened and see that I accomplished everything that I promised you.”

 

They would look in the rearview mirror and see the truth of the Promise Maker and Keeper.

 

Here was God speaking to and through Moses offering them exactly what the children of img_3433Israel most needed and wanted, but they wanted proof. They had suffered for a long time in Egypt. It isn’t hard to imagine how that affected how they thought and what they believed. They were likely pessimistic at best after the pain they experienced day-after-day for so many centuries.

 

It hits closer to home when we need to be rescued from illness, job loss, infertility, divorce, loneliness, abuse, and more. If any of these things go on for a long time despite our prayers, we wonder if God is out there somewhere, if He’s really good, and if He will show up before it’s too late.

 

Doubt and skepticism are the antithesis of faith. Tough times and tough situations that linger can erode our faith and we too, want proof that He cares and will meet us.

 

Jesus has promised He will return for those who receive Him. He’s given the list of things that will point to the nearness of that unannounced hour. Prophets have told us as well, but it’s been a long time now, more centuries than the children of Israel suffered in Egypt.

 

Have we begun to doubt and want proof He will keep that promise?

 

We’ve been told to keep watch and look for Him when those signs He outlined start to happen.

 

Are we paying attention?

 

Do we want proof?

 

God is the ultimate promise keeper. Reading through the Bible confirms that over and over again.

 

What other proof do we need?

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Learning from Redwood Trees

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I am often teased in our family as the person who often shares some random fact. (It’s all in good fun, but some of those facts are pretty obscure.) I love learning new things and it seems God leaves little clues and fingerprints in so many places we miss. When I discover one of them, I can’t resist sharing.

 

A few years ago as my husband and I were vacationing in California, we visited the powerful National Redwood Forest. The trees are stunning in their height and girth, but this week I discovered something about redwood trees that I did not know that provides me with a powerful metaphor to remind me of spiritual principles we seem to have forgotten in this period of time when division is common.

 

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When you see these mighty redwood trees or even photographs of them what you can’t see is the root structure. I would suspect it ran very deep as I consider the oak and maple trees in our own lawn. (I got to observe that firsthand when we needed to have several maple trees removed a few years ago.) But the root system of redwood trees despite their height and girth is actually shallow.

 

It was Francine Rivers who enlightened me in her book Earth Psalms:

 

 “A good wind could blow one over if it were standing alone like an oak tree on a hillside. But because redwoods grow together, the roots are interwoven, adding strength so that when the winds come and the rains pour and soak the soil, these tree stand and continue to grow − some for more than a thousand years.”

 

 Then she adds:

 

“…redwoods’ roots aren’t connected only to the trees on either side of them. They extend up to one hundred feet from the base of the tree in every direction − far enough to connect with scores of other redwoods.”

 

What would happen if we in the body of Christ took this evidence of God’s fingerprint in nature and applied it in our local body of believers and beyond?

 

We live in a period where division is commonplace in every area, but in scripture we are repeatedly reminded of the importance of working together as believers and how vital that is. That would appear very straightforward, but division has infiltrated much of the church body today as well. We see it in headlines and hear whispers of it within our own church communities.

 

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church admonished them on this point at the outset:

 

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV)

 

Paul understood the peril of division within the church to the local body as well as the forest-forest-path-leaves-1112186individuals within it. He knew Satan’s desire was to isolate and separate to undo us all and reduce the power of the Gospel. He not only addressed this issue with the Corinthian church, but to others as well.

 

To the church at Thessalonica:

 

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV)

 

To the church at Colossae:

 

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

 

To the church in Galatia:

 

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2 (NIV)

 

And to the church in Rome:

 

“so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

Romans 12:5 (NIV)

 

James and John also addressed this concern in these two examples:

 

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7 (NIV)

 

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

James 5:16 (NIV)

 

Satan knows that if we were to use this story about how God created the redwoods, we would be nearly unstoppable.

 

Listen to some of Matthew quoting the words of Jesus:

 

“Any kingdom that fights against itself will end up in ruins. And any family or community splintered by strife will fall apart.”

Matthew 12:25 (TPT)

 

Lord, help us to be more like redwoods. Even if our roots are not so deep, let us not be separated so when the winds of hardship, loss, and evil beat against us, we will stand as one.

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