Monday, June 1, 2020

The World


The World

In the book of Romans, Paul writes, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" 8:22.

We only have to look at the news to see that the whole of creation -- the whole world -- is groaning daily.  As I write this, there are riots flaring up all around the world.  Senseless violence and destruction, true anarchy is spreading, spurred on by wicked people with selfish agendas.  We shake our heads, hardly able to believe such craziness is happening on the heels of the world's worst pandemic.

Never before has the whole world ground to a halt as it has in the past three months, all because of a nearly invisible virus that has wrecked havoc among nations big and small.  With over six million cases, no one has been immune to the ravages of this disease.  Many people have died and many more are suffering in a number of ways.  The whole phenomenon has changed the way people view life like nothing else has since WWII.

Besides riots and a viral pandemic, many countries are battling the worst Desert Locust infestation in 70 years.  The upsurge remains critical in East Africa, Yemen and Southwest Asia, and also countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Indo-Pakistan, and the Sudan.  One news agency wrote, "East Africa is in the midst of a crisis that sounds like something out of the Book of Exodus: A plague of locusts is spreading across the region, threatening the food supply of tens of millions. City-sized swarms of the dreaded pests are wreaking havoc as they descend on crops and pasturelands, devouring everything in a matter of hours. The scale of the locust outbreak, which now affects seven East African countries, is like nothing in recent memory."


Just two weeks ago, massive hailstones fell in parts of Texas.  The news reported, "There’s hail, there’s big hail, and then there’s what fell on Burkburnett, Texas, about 10 miles north of Wichita Falls, on Friday afternoon. Hail topping five inches in diameter crashed like meteors on the town, punching holes through home roofs and leaving craters in the ground."

Why am I reciting all of these recent deadly events going on throughout our world?  I'll answer that with a quote from Sarah Young's devotional, Jesus Calling.  It's as if Jesus is saying to us, "Because the world is in a fallen condition, things always seem to be unraveling around the edges.  Expect to find trouble in this day.  At the same time, trust that My way is perfect, even in the midst of such messy imperfection."

The verse, so symbolically wrapped around the globe in the top picture, makes it plain:  "In this world, you will have trouble.  Take heart, I have overcome the world.  I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace" John 16:33.  

Ah, peace -- something we all long for.  Something that can only be found in God Almighty.  When we see the world around us groaning, our best response is to lay our distress and fears at the feet of Jesus.  He gave us a promise in the book of John, saying, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" 14:27.


Not only does Jesus promise to give us Peace, but He is also the giver of Joy.  He says to us, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" John 15:11.  What better gifts of grace can we ask for than these that our Lord freely offers to His children.

In this chaotic world we are living in, praise God He is with us every step of the way, with liberal doses of peace and joy to sustain us on our journey.




Saturday, May 30, 2020

Dry Bones


DRY BONES

         There's an interesting story in the Old Testament where God is giving a message to His prophet Ezekiel and He uses a valley of dry bones to illustrate His truth.  The photo above is a collection of real skulls from various kinds of people, some of whom lived centuries ago.  They are dry bones in a museum in Rostock, Germany.
          The skeleton below looks like a set of dry bones from a once-living person, but instead it's a manufactured skeleton that's in the Children's Museum in Portsmouth, Virginia.  Still, it gives us a good picture of what a real set of dry bones looks like.



          In the book of Ezekiel 37, the prophet has a vision where God places him in a valley filled with dry bones.  Then God asks the prophet a strange question: "Son of man, can these dry bones live?"
          Ezekiel wisely answered, "O Lord God, you know."
          How often do you and I look out at what appears to be a mess around us and we shake our heads, saying, "Not even God can fix this mess!"  Oh, we may not actually say the words, but deep inside that's what we're thinking.
          It would be much better to take the attitude of Ezekiel and realize that God can do anything and everything - beyond our wildest imaginations.
         Certainly, raising up a valley of dry bones and building them into a living breathing army of men is beyond imagination.  Yet, that's exactly what God did, right there -- in a matter of minutes.
         I bet it was exciting for Ezekiel to watch -- and possibly a bit scary!
       
         As with everything God does, He had a purpose for this amazing scene.  God was offering Ezekiel -- and all of us -- a visual picture of how He was going to raise up the nation of Israel and His people the Jews, from a dead nation into a living breathing, strong nation.  That He was going to bring them back into their land and that they would once again be His people.
          This prophecy about the rebirth of Israel was given over 2,600 years ago.  It came to pass on May 14, 1948 -- 72 years ago.  It's just one of many prophecies given to us about the rebirth of Israel and we've been watching them come to pass over the past seven decades.
           It's exciting to live in a time where ancient prophecy is being fulfilled and we are watching events unfold in ways that our ancestors could never have imagined.

       

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Puzzle Pieces


PUZZLES

       During this season of Stay-at-Home orders and attempts to combat an invisible viral enemy, many people have turned to jigsaw puzzles to pass the time.  Here's a picture of Larry proudly displaying a scene of dolphins and sea creatures that he completed. 
        After he broke the picture apart, I took a picture of the pieces laying on the table (below). 


         To me, that scattered mass of unrecognizable puzzle pieces is more interesting than the picture it had been.  The pieces remind me of some of life's unanswered questions, as well as representing things we search for in our lives, working to put them together to make a pleasing picture.  You can find a lot of deeper meaning in that jumble of puzzle pieces.
          Just this morning, I completed the final lesson in The Quest, a Bible study by Beth Moore. Near the end, I came upon a paragraph she'd written that is so applicable to this picture and the thought of jigsaw puzzles.  Beth wrote:
      "Those of us with quest in our blood will hunt the Word and world for thousands of scattered puzzle pieces.  We'll shout praise to God for every discovery and exult over each handful of pieces that fit together."
        I agree with Beth.  Each time I discover something new to me in God's Word or in this world He created, I get excited and grin from ear to ear.  It's a joyous feeling.  There's nothing quite like it and I love it!

        Still, as I've discovered in life events, there are some puzzle pieces that will never fit on this side of eternity.  We try to fit them together, but it seems there's always something missing.  That's what happened in my life when a senseless tragic event tore into our family.  I tried to put the puzzle pieces together, but they just didn't mesh.  It was frustrating and hard to deal with.
        After a year of futilely trying to make the pieces fit, I handed it over to God.  I gave up trying to make them fit and to understand.  It was a process, but once I accepted that I would never understand and the pieces would never fit, I found liberating peace.  I let it go and God's grace has filled the void.  
         I love the verse in Proverbs:  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path" 3:5-6. 

         If you've been struggling to find answers to some unanswerable, sorrowful event in your life, bring your questions to the feet of Jesus and leave them there.  If He wants you to know an answer, He'll give it to you.  But, in many cases, there will be no answers.  Freedom can only be found in letting go, accepting what is, and trusting the One Who is in control.

      Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13, that there will always be things on this earth that we cannot make sense of, but someday in heaven, all our questions will be answered and the puzzle pieces will fit together in a beautiful picture of God's grace and His will for our lives.  "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" verse 12.




Sunday, May 3, 2020

Parable of the Sower


Parable of the Sower

We're going to visit this handsome Gothic church in Dorset, England and see beautiful stained glass windows that illustrate the Parable of the Sower, found in three of the gospels, Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8.  St. Edward, King and Martyr Church, the parish Church of Corfe Castle, was originally built in the 13th century.  This massive tower is all that remains of the original church, the remainder was built in 1859.  The stained glass windows inside are unique and special.


We'll start with a panorama look at the three lovely windows which make up the whole of the Parable of the Sower before we see a close-up of each panel that illustrates the story.  I've chosen Luke's version in chapter 8 for this post.  Jesus shared this story/parable with a great multitude of people who had gathered to listen to Him:


"A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it.


Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.


And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.


But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.  Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

Jesus then explained the parable to His listeners, saying that the seed is the word of God that is sown into the hearts of men and women.  In the Wayside picture, the devil comes and takes away the word from a person's heart, lest they should believe and be saved.

The Rock picture represents people receiving the word with joy, but without root.  They believe for a little while, but soon fall away because of temptation.

Seed that falls among thorns show us people who hear the truth, but they are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life.  They bring no fruit to maturity.

Jesus said, "But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience."


The Sower is illustrated here by Jesus Christ who sowed the Word of God to many during His lifetime here on earth, and still offers the wonderful Word to any who have ears to hear.

We obviously want to be "good ground" and bear much fruit for our Master.  Galatians 5:22 gives us a glimpse of some of that good fruit we want to produce, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

Now, that's a fruit bowl I'm sure we would all love to have sitting on the table of our lives!


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ladders


LADDERS

       The town of Grand Junction, Colorado is a mecca of community artwork.  Their main street is dotted by over a hundred creative pieces of art.  The bronze sculpture above can be interpreted in various ways.  The artist probably meant for it to represent "climbing the ladder of success." 
       I see it differently.  When I read my devotional in Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, yesterday, I was reminded of this picture of a ladder that I took many years ago. Imagine Jesus saying to us, "If you encounter a problem with no immediate solution, your response to that situation will take you either up or down.  You can lash out at the difficulty, resenting it and feeling sorry for yourself.  This will take you down into a pit of self-pity.  Alternatively, the problem can be a ladder, enabling you to climb up and see your life from My perspective.  Viewed from above, the obstacle that frustrated you is only a light and momentary trouble."

       A second picture featuring a ladder shows me climbing up a ladder out of an Indian kiva in Mesa Verde, Utah.  I'm looking happy and relieved to be climbing out of the small, dark underground kiva.


       This reminds me of the verses David wrote in Psalm 40:  "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.  He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.  He has put a new song in my mouth - praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord" verses 1-3.

       Being pulled up or climbing out of any kind of pit is cause for celebration and praise to almighty God.  Yet, as we're reminded throughout scripture, experiencing a stopover in a pit is part of our growth process.  The key is to learn the lesson as quickly as possible and climb out of that pit by the power of the Lord.  And don't forget to use the ladder to climb up and see what you've gone through from heaven's view.  Nothing happens by accident -- not even pits along our pathway.

     Finally, I'm reminded of one more ladder picture I took in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Church of the Spilled Blood.  This mosaic shows the angels in the dream Jacob had on his journey to Haran.
 

       Here's what the Bible tells us about Jacob's dream:  "...and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it..." Genesis 28:12.
       In spite of Jacob's less than stellar character (he was a deceiver and usurper), God blessed him in that place and promised to make he and his offspring a great nation.  
       God's grace showered on such a flawed man as Jacob gives us great hope, knowing that no matter how flawed we may be, God can and will use us to do great and mighty things in His name and in His strength.
       His amazing grace is like a ladder into heaven, lifting us beyond the ordinary and into the wondrous presence of Holy God.


Friday, April 24, 2020

Idols




IDOLS

The picture above shows the goddess Artemis, a cult figure in ancient Ephesus, and the ruins of one of the temples where she was worshiped.  Artemis is just one of many false gods/idols that have been worshiped over the ages.  Sadly, idol worship is still happening today.  The Bible has much to say about idol worship.

The very first command in the Ten Commandments is, "You shall have no other gods before me" Exodus 20:3.  Because it is so important, the second command follows suit:  "You shall not make for yourself a carved image - any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them."

What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” Habakkuk 2:18-20

Idol worship does not only consist of worshiping a false god.  We are to be very careful not to put love of anything before our love for God.  The song writer William Cowper captured that timeless message in his song, “Oh, For a Closer Walk with Thee,” (in 1772).

        The dearest idol I have known,
        whate'er that idol be,
        help me to tear it from Thy throne
        and worship only Thee.

You and I are not likely to bow down to a statue of Artemis or Buddha, or any such carved image, but how often do we put people, activities or even dreams before our worship and obedience to God?  We need to always remember to place God on the throne of our hearts.

"You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created" Revelation 4:11.



Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Rapture



THE RAPTURE

          As soon as I saw this picture on a Facebook post (thanks, Steve B), I immediately thought "Rapture!"  To me, it is a wonderful illustration of what it will look like and feel like to be Raptured up into heaven when Jesus calls His children home.  Imagine that this ten-year old boy accepted Christ as Savior a couple years earlier.  He is wheelchair-bound, but when he hears a trumpet sounding in the sky and sees Christ in the clouds above, he is drawn upward by the power of God, along with all other Christians, as we meet the Lord in the air and rise up to heaven together.
           The boy is happy and eager, with legs that are suddenly strong as he reaches toward Jesus, and freedom and joy everlasting.  What an absolutely beautiful picture!!

            The reality of this picture is that it's the memorial and grave for a ten-year old boy named Matthew Stanford Robison, located in Salt Lake City.  I borrowed the picture from a touching article written about the boy.  Matthew was born in September 1988 and he died in February 1999.  His was a challenging, but much loved-life.  Due to a lack of oxygen during birth, he was severely disabled, blind and partially paralyzed.  His family has a deep faith in God.  They created this sculpture to show him "free of his earthly burdens."

             Although it does not appear that the Robison family intended for this statue to represent their son being Raptured, that is what I see and that's what thrills my heart when I look at this picture.
             I'm reminded of the verse, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words" 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.


             I took this picture some years ago when we were in Red Rock Park, Nevada.  It looks as if a couple of people have just been Raptured up to heaven during their climb on the rocks, and all that remains are their shoes and clothes.  It's the kind of scene that gives me chills.  Someday, that scene will be repeated all over the world a million times over.  It will be a strange sight to those who remain.
             The key is to be sure you aren't among those who will be left behind.  Jesus said, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" Matthew 24:44.
              Being ready is as simple as asking Jesus to save you.  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" Acts 16:31.
              There's a poignant song called, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready."  That's my wish as well.  Please, make sure that you are ready for that day so that we can all rise with joy and power together - just like the little boy in the picture.  What a glorious day it will be!!