“HELLO… I’m RIGHT .. HERE ..” – Luke 24:15-16

 

Did you ever find yourself talking to someone who is looking for someone that you soon realize is you? Maybe it’s not “you” particularly by name, rather it’s you the manager, or the supervisor, or the person who does the hiring, or handles the advertising. You’ve been trying to get the message across to them that you, in fact, are that person they’re looking for, but for some unknown reason, they’re not hearing it. I’m not sure why, but Christians tend to be that way with Jesus quite often.

In these days approaching Easter, certain passages of scripture comes to mind whereby different ones were in the presence of Jesus and yet, “did not realize” it to be Him. In John 20:13-15, Mary Magdalene is outside the tomb crying. As she looks inside the tomb, she encounters two angels. 14At this, she turns around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Again, in John 21:4 Jesus appears on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as His disciples are fishing not far off shore. 4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

In Matthew 28:17 the eleven disciples went, as they were told, to Galilee where Jesus had told the women to instruct them to meet Him. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

And in Luke 24:15-16, two disciples, or followers of Jesus, traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus and talking as they went. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing Him.

In addition to the fact that in each case the people didn’t recognize Jesus, the common denominator is that they all certainly should have. They were all disciples; followers, worshipers of Jesus. They had heard His voice so often, gazed into His eyes. It was akin to running into your recently deceased friend or relative you had been close to and not recognizing them?  Yet, don’t we so often have the same problem with seeing Jesus ourselves? We get in these places in life where we’re just so sure we’re all alone. Jesus has abandoned us! He’s nowhere to be found! We can’t see Him anywhere! At least…it seems that way.

I mean, we know Jesus. We’re Christians! We know what it’s like to see Him answer prayer, to comfort us in time of trouble, and though we know intellectually, “He’s always with us. He hears our pleas”, none the less we find ourselves praying, ‘O how I wish I knew where to find Him!’  We have at our fingertips, access to the very word of God, that never changes. It verifies and confirms truths that remain truths whether they “seem” to be truth or not. Jesus can always be found there, always be heard there.

Jesus is accustomed to walk through the glades of Scripture, and to commune with His people, as the Father did with Adam in the cool of the day, and yet you are in the garden of Scripture, but cannot see him, though He is always there. And why do we not see Him? It must be ascribed in our case, as in the disciples’, to unbelief. They evidently did not expect to see Jesus, and therefore they did not know Him. To a great extent in spiritual things we get what we expect of the Lord. Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus.

Charles H. Spurgeon

And when the two men invited Jesus to stay with them for the evening He agreed and they broke bread together. 30When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight.

The direct influence of the Holy Spirit through God’s word makes everything clear and recognizable for us what was formerly dark and confusing. Jesus is always there for us, whether we see or feel Him or not.

Open my eyes that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see;

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Let’s eat! John 21:12

 

The sense of smell is one of the most powerful of our five senses. A person can be deeply engrossed in thought, focused on a particular task, when all it takes is strong aroma to completely capture the attention and redirect focus. You’re walking through a shopping mall focused on those last few Christmas gifts you need to pick up for your wife and kids. And then it hits you; like a sucker punch you weren’t expecting! The sweet, warm, delicious aroma of cinnamon rolls! Oh you’ve smelled it before…you’ve tasted it before! And they are so, so, good!! I suppose someone could say, ‘You’ve already experienced a cinnamon roll. You know what they taste like. You should be satisfied.’

 

But that’s not how it works. 1 Peter 2:2-3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. It’s kind of like the old Lays Potato Chip commercial where the catch line was, “Lays. Betcha can’t eat just one!”  When we partake of something that truly satisfies our yearning, it leaves you longing for even more. Each bite is satisfying…. but you want more!

 

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, we say that He “lives within our hearts”, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus desires a nearness with us that can only best be described as consumed or eaten.

 

In John 21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  The King James says, “Come and dine.  In any case, He says, ‘Come and fellowship with me. I want you to come and dine with me, dine on me!’ Earlier in John 6, Jesus had been teaching that He was the “Bread of life”. Everything they needed for eternal life was in Him, not in some loaf of pumpernickel.

John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

In the true context, “Come and dine”; Jesus is inviting His disciples to a breakfast of freshly caught fish, cooked over a campfire on the beach. But in a deeper sense, His words imply a holy nearness, a loving togetherness; the same table, same menu, sitting side by side, reclining together. So we see that Jesus’ simple invitation teaches us union with Jesus, as we feast upon Him (“dwelleth in me, and I in him”), as well as fellowship with the saints, because the nearer you get to Jesus, the nearer you’ll find yourself to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

The apostles were 12 different men with 12 different personalities, many of them with different occupations, from different walks of life. They most likely had varying opinions and views about many things, and like Christian believers today, they probably disagreed about many things. But one thing they, and we, have in common is we all have the same spiritual craving for Jesus. He is what makes us all one. Jesus is what makes our table common. His broken body and shed blood saved us all…and we just can’t seem to get enough of it!

 

“To look at Christ is to live, but for strength to serve Him you must “come and dine”.

                                                                                    Charles H. Spurgeon

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   Matthew 4:4

 

In Christ,

Rick

Humility – Proverbs 21:31

 

In just a few days we will be experiencing the excitement and pageantry of yet another Winter Olympics games! It’s a grand opportunity for so many countries on a world stage with all the pageantry and national pride. Athletic contingents are representing their countries, many of which a large portion of the viewing audience don’t even realize that they exist (as nations).  But there they are, all decked out in their indigenous colors; the cameras don’t miss a thing. Their facial expressions of nervousness, anxiety, anticipation, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s all there – nothing missed. In fact, in the 2012 Summer Olympics, one couldn’t help noticing (correction; the camera made certain that we didn’t help noticing) a tattoo on the back of one athlete’s hand. It simply said, “Proverbs 21:31”; that’s all. Naturally, the media wouldn’t go to the trouble of telling the audience what the verse said. They might have to explain it, and what a “sticky wicket” that could turn into, huh?  Well, to my reading audience, let me be so bold as to venture where the media would not.  Proverbs 21:31 says this, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”  Now what do you suppose they mean by that?  Equally as important, what do you suppose the athlete means by displaying such a verse in such a tremendously public forum?

In the midst of all this national pride and, as it narrows down to the individual athlete’s personal pride, there beams a ray of humility. My thoughts go back to my years in the residential real estate business. As a real estate sales associate, I would spend hours interviewing potential purchasers to try and narrow down their likes and dislikes, their needs and their wants, how much they could afford and how much they wanted to spend.  All those factors certainly were important to successfully matching up a purchaser with the property they not only approved of, but were also capable of purchasing.  All too often a customer would be shown house after house, appointments would be made, hours of research and scheduling and touring… only to have them reject everything they inspect. That’s no fun!  It wasn’t till I sat down one day with my father, the broker and owner of our company, that I learned some important advice.  Dad said, “You have to be sure you’re asking the right questions, and that you’re asking the right person.  There are “contributors”, and there are “decision makers”. You have to determine who the decision makers are.  “Daddy” can tell you what his wants are all day long, but in most cases, “Momma’s” the decision maker. If Momma’s not happy, Daddy’s not going to be happy.”  All my preparation goes for naught if I’m not in tune with the one who can “make or break” the sale.  I might look like the super salesman, but I don’t sell the house. The “decision maker” makes the sale possible.

You can scrub that horse, comb his mane glossy smooth, put on his armor, “prepare him for the day of battle”, but the victory, (the sale), rests with (the decision maker;) with the Lord.  This is an athlete that realizes that all the hard work and preparation, the grueling hours of preparation that comes down to this moment, the Olympics, is not what will ultimately deliver the victory. It is the one who blessed them with the physical body, the skills, with which to be developed who will provide the victory.  And this athlete recognizes and acknowledges their dependence upon God in their endeavors. We can really get wrapped up in our successes. In fact, success can be to our disadvantage.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses instructs the Israelites as they prepare to go in and take the Promised Land; the land that God had promised through Abraham. He tells them not to forget who it is that provided this land; when they prosper, who it is that makes it all possible. Remain humble and give thanks to your provider, otherwise, 17You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

As a minister, after an uplifting and relevant sermon, it can be tempting to accept compliments and praise as a ‘reward for all my study and hard work’, to soak it all up as if I had earned it somehow. But I have on my desk a 3”x 5” note-card with the words of the apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 which says, 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.  I have that passage on a note-card holder where I can see it all the time I’m working. The study, the hard work are all necessary, but it’s the Lord that gives the victory. He’s the one that gives the message relevance to those who hear. “It is He who gives the ability”.  And God doesn’t mind providing for His children, in fact, He desires for us to depend upon Him and His leading.  Just be humble, and remember “from where your help comes from”. Psalm 121:1

 

In Christ,

Rick

Psalm 136:1-4, 23-26 Thanks for What?

 

Here we are, just around the corner from another Thanksgiving holiday feast. Families getting together for food and football and food and togetherness and more food and maybe some table games …and did I mention food? Well, does dessert count as food? Loosen that belt, and maybe even, think about some things that you’re thankful for. I realize for many that kind of question tends to put us on the spot. Especially when we decide to go around the table and make everyone recite something for which they’re thankful. Even as Christians we sometimes struggle with being thankful. We tend to think we need to wait for something specific to occur, a ‘wish to come true’ (but we don’t call it that, right?) before we’re officially “thankful”.

 

I’ve caught myself squirming a bit at times when I’ve come across Ephesians 5:20, …always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…, or 1 Thessalonians 5:18, …give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And then it’s like every other verse in the New Testament is like …do this…and give thanks. …do that…and give thanks. And I’d be like, ‘I’m thankful that Jesus saved me, but what else is it God wants me to be thankful for?’ ‘What exactly is the “everything” Paul’s talking about?’

But as time went on I began to realize that it was the old me, the me that only saw things inwardly, as they pertained to me; ‘what’s been done for me lately’, that was having such a difficult time recognizing all the thanksgiving God deserved. God deserves our gratitude all the time, in all circumstances, first and foremost for the mercy and grace that He has shown to us in sending His Son Jesus Christ to earth to shed His blood to pay for our sins; i.e. our redemption, eternal life with Him, bought and paid for. For that, I’m thankful every second of my life. But I’m thankful that my Heavenly Father is mighty and above all others. He is sovereign. As I read God’s word and learn about His attributes and virtues, He is perfect in all ways and He is making me more like Him every minute of every day.

 

Does my life continue to have hardships and difficulties even though I’m a Christian and follow Him daily? Yes, but I no longer encounter those difficulties alone with only my own strength and abilities to get me through. The Lord is with me every step of the way, in sunshine or storm, in good times and in tragedy. And I always know that no matter what occurs in my life, it’s only temporal. What’s in my heart is eternal and true. It’s like the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can change in the blink of an eye. Joy never changes.

 

When we realize the goodness and faithfulness of God, it’s no longer difficult to praise Him always, in every circumstance, all the time. Because it stops being all about you and what’s been done for you and your wish list lately. And then, you’ll start noticing just how much He truly has been doing for you that you never thought to ask Him for.

 

This Thanksgiving, and every single day, let’s give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. He has blessed us all so very much. He is great and greatly to be praised!

 

In Christ,

Rick

Two Kinds of Sorrow – 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

 

Did you ever make a decision about something, a choice favoring one option above other  options? And then someone reviewing such a choice wants to confirm it by asking you; ‘No regrets?’  Or maybe the question is in retrospect, concerning a choice that was made in the past, as if to say, ‘Would you make the same choice today? Do you “regret” the choice you made?’ Our successes and failures often cause us to reassess what we did or did not do to bring about such a result – to that person’s credit, it is a wise person who evaluates the results of the decisions of his or her life. But does simple evaluation really do anything? Or, is there something more to it than that?

When the result of our decisions yields good, positive things we often chalk it up to “good luck”, or, upon closer assessment, we might even give more credit to the choice than is actually due. The baseball pitcher who wins a couple games in a row decides he’s not going to change this pair of socks again. That’s superstition, I know, but the point is we think that whatever we did prior to the event is what caused the outcome. On the flip side, when bad things happen to us we immediately think, “What could I have done differently? Why, oh why, did I do that?! If I had it to do again, I would never do that again!”  This is regret. It doesn’t have to be a tragic event. But the harsher the reality, the more likely you are to turn that “regret” into “change”.

One form of “regret” is “sorrow”. If you regret something to a high degree, it becomes “sorrow”. We can be sorrowful over a choice that we made, yet, if the same situation arose again, you very well might make the same choice. Much like the thief that gets caught in the act of robbery. He is most sorrowful as he’s being taken away to jail! But the question is, is he sorrowful that he chose to do what he did? Sorrowful enough that he is repentant of his actions and desires never to do the same again? Or, is he sorrowful that he got caught?

The Apostle Paul talks about two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7; Godly sorrow, and worldly sorrow. What’s the difference? Worldly sorrow seeks to make no change. And so, it will lead to the same result…actually, the result, or penalty, escalates as the wrong continues without sorrow. It becomes easier and easier to do. The remorse becomes less and less, and eventually, either physically or spiritually, leads to death.

Godly sorrow is genuine contrition. You are sad, remorseful at your poor choice…to the extent that you are repentant. And, Paul continues, “repentance leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” 

Jeroboam, king of the Northern kingdom of Israel, was given a great opportunity to lead Israel following God’s commands and following His direction. But, he chose instead to do things his own way, “building shrines on high places and appointing priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.” 1 Kings 12:31. In 1 Kings 13 God sent a prophet from Judah to prophecy against his ungodly actions. Jeroboam was incensed at the prophet’s message “he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back.” 13:4.  Then it says he asked the man of God to, “Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” I guess you would say Jeroboam was “sorrowful” for what he had done. But was he truly repentant?

The man of God (prophet) did, in fact, intercede with the Lord on Jeroboam’s behalf and his hand was restored. But like so many people today, his plea was heard by God but he did not change his ways.

1 Kings 13:33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places.

Jeroboam was only sorrowful for the moment…that he got caught. Had he expressed “Godly sorrow” that brings about repentance, it would have led to salvation and God’s favor.

2 Corinthians 7:10-11 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

If you’re “sorrowful” without repentance, you’re just plain “sorry”!

 

In Christ,

Rick

Fear Your Heavenly Father – Ephesians 1:5; Deut. 10:12-13

In his book The Great Awakening, Chuck Swindoll recalls the sense of freedom and independence he felt when as a teenager he received his first driver’s license. His father rewarded him.

“Tell you what, son… you can have the car for two hours, all on your own.” Only four words, but how wonderful those four words: “All on your own.” Wow!

I thanked him….. My pulse rate must have shot up to 180 as I backed out of the driveway and roared off. While cruising along “all on my own,” I began to think wild stuff – like, ‘This car can probably do 100 miles an hour. I could go to Galveston and back twice in two hours if I averaged 100 miles an hour. I can fly down the Golf Freeway and even run a few lights. After all, nobody’s here to say “Don’t!”’ We’re talking dangerous, crazy thoughts! But you know what? I didn’t do any of them. I don’t believe I drove above the speed limit. In fact, I distinctly remember turning into the driveway early….I had my dad’s car all to myself with a full gas tank in a context of total privacy and freedom, but I didn’t go crazy. Why? My relationship with my dad and my grandad was so strong that I couldn’t, even though I had a license and nobody was in the car to restrain me. Over a period of time, there had developed a sense of trust, a deep love relationship that held me in restraint.

Similarly, our love relationship for our heavenly Father keeps us from abusing the freedom He gives us. Recently, I was teaching on the subject of adoption, as Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5 In love 5He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – The question was asked, ‘When you call God your “Father”, how do you picture Him? Is it a title of respect, or of love, or of power?’ Most viewed it as a combination of the three as most of them had a similar, loving relationship with their own fathers and respected him and his instruction. Along with that respect was a healthy recognition of power. Not everyone has a positive, loving relationship with a father figure. The view we have, positive or negative, or non-existent, of our fathers will reflect in some manor, in our view of God as our “Father”. For some, “father” brings remembrances of a domineering, ‘do as I say or else’, tyrant figure with no sense of love. For some, a “father” was pretty much invisible, offering no boundaries at all, no direction, no involvement… and no relationship. Where there is no discipline, no consequence, there is no teaching, no caring, no love.

For the adolescent that resents the discipline of their father, they need to understand that the opposite would allow them grow up not knowing right from wrong, and that there are consequences for doing wrong; whether they come from him or from society. But preceding discipline there must be love; a love relationship that displays the “why” of the discipline.

Fathers, avoiding the conflict that discipline brings, doing your best to win your child’s favor no matter what, is not the definition of love. Loving your child with all your being is only a one sided love. A love relationship extends that love that you feel, to a love that is applied. A love that wants only what is best for the other; to teach, instruct, and keep them from harm.

Throughout scripture we are told to “fear the Lord”. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” How interesting it is that the “all of the above” answer that was given earlier, is precisely what is meant to “fear the Lord”; to love the Lord, to respect the Lord, to acknowledge and “fear” His great power. But know this; although God is not looking for an opportunity to punish you for stepping out of line, sin comes with severe consequences. God cannot, will not, coexist with sin. Know also that God genuinely loves you, not just with words. He loves you enough that he warns you about sin – stay away from it. It comes at a great cost! Everything God does for us is because of His great love. He sent His only Son to die for us – to justify and reconcile us to Himself.

God set us free from sin. He loved us first, and now He wants us to love Him back by honoring Him, fearing Him. We follow His direction, His commands; we fear Him because we love and respect our Father.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13  12And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

In Christ,

Rick

Procrastination is a matter of urgency! Ecclesiastes 11:3-4; Matthew 8:21-22

Procrastination can be harmless enough that we notice our guilt of such and then tell ourselves it’s something we’ve got to stop doing – but, even that becomes procrastination.  The point is, we are devoid of urgency.  I remember a time many years ago when I was leaning to scuba dive. I was diving with friends (our “open-water exam”) in Little Traverse Bay in Petoskey, Michigan.  At about 80 feet of depth, engrossed in the beauty of my underwater surroundings, I ran my air tank dry.  One breath was there…the next wasn’t. that’ll get your attention! That was a pretty good word picture of “Urgency”.  It’s also a pretty good antonym for “Procrastination”!

At that moment I cared little about whether I had money enough for my next car payment, whether the right candidate would be elected president, or if all my yard work was done at home.  Praise God! My scuba instructor was right there with me, saw the terror in my eyes and offered me his octopus (spare regulator). I seem to remember pretty vividly that it didn’t take me long to decide to accept his invitation! There was no, “listen, I appreciate the offer but let me check with some of the other drivers in the area to see if maybe they have more air to spare. I’ll get back to ya!’, or, ‘I think I can squeeze out another few breaths. I’ll get around to that in a couple more minutes.  But thanks anyway.’  At that moment, there was nothing in this life that was more important to me!

Unfortunately, we don’t always treat our opportunities or assignments with the same zeal or urgency. Dad tells us he’d like to have the garage cleaned out.  We concur. ‘I’ll get on to that’, we say with our mouth.  But, in our minds, our hearts, it’s, ‘…right after I finish my video game I’m playing’, or ‘…when I get around to it.’   Those “round to-its” are in short supply.  We never seem to be able to find those.  Then we realize it’s Friday and we’d really like to borrow the car tonight to take Suzy to the movies. So we hustle out to clean that garage…only to find that Dad got tired of waiting, so he cleaned it himself. Oops! ‘Dad! I was going to do that! I just got busy with other important things!’

Some things aren’t nearly so excusable.  We’re given an opportunity or assignment and it isn’t taken seriously, urgently, there’s no second chance.  Sometimes…there’s no “round to-it” to be had.  The assignment is for “now”. When God calls on us, the Holy Spirit puts it on our heart, to do something, you best believe it’s a serious matter. There’s no maybe about it.  It needs to be done “now”, not at our convenience.  Sometimes the lessons God teaches us are hard to swallow.  Like we say, ‘the truth hurts’.

The Bible warns us against procrastination and waiting for that perfect time to arrive.  Getting your life straight, your relationship right with the Lord is a matter of utmost urgency.  It’s not something to wait for that perfect sunny day or till you’re in that right spiritual mood.  When that still soft voice calls you, convicts you…it’s time to act.  One writer paraphrases Ecclesiastes 11:4 in this way; “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant, if they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”

Deuteronomy 23:21 If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.

All too often people put off giving their life to Jesus, surrendering their will to His will in repentance and baptism, saying, “I need to do that…one of these days.”  As if they have a set amount of time with which to work.  James 4:14 says, Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

In Matthew 8 certain well-meaning disciples wanted to follow after Jesus, but not urgently enough to take top priority.  21 “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

The opportunities God gives us are urgent. Act on them and don’t procrastinate.

In Christ,

Rick

The kingdom of God – Luke 17:20-21

All that glitters is not gold. I’m not really sure who to credit with that quote, but it certainly does carry with it a great impact. The condition, consistency, makeup, or appearance of the exterior doesn’t necessarily define the content of the interior.

 

Another anonymous quote that helps to drive home such a point is, ‘A man can make a suit, but the suit don’t make the man!  By nature, we are visually oriented creatures. We tend to relate what we “see” to “truth”, or reality. Conversely, we try to act like or “dress ourselves up” to be something that we’re not. Doesn’t mean we couldn’t become that character we so desperately try to mimic, rather, true conversion requires something more than outward appearance. “Conversion”, is not acting. Conversion, is transformation. Something occurs within the heart of a person that alters their thinking, their values, their persona, to where they are no longer the person they were before. A caterpillar that enters his cocoon in the fall doesn’t merely put on a costume to look like a butterfly. When he emerges from that cocoon in the springtime, he is indeed, a transformed creature.

 

Someone dear to me was taken from their mother at a young age. After a time living in an orphanage / children’s home, she was adopted by a man and woman who also had two adult children of their own. It wasn’t long till the man and his wife were divorced and she spent time living with each of the adult children, neither of which realized the level of responsibility and commitment that being a parent required. Her “step-father” had a sister and brother-in-law who were unable to have children and they graciously took her into their home and would raise her as their own. They weren’t wealthy by any means, but they had a farm and a Christian environment and they raised her and loved her as their own, only child. After a while, they wanted more than anything to adopt her, but the process would prove to be financially difficult. One day, when the little girl and her new mother were home alone, she said to her mother with a maturity beyond her years, “Please don’t feel like you need to adopt me. You’re my mom and dad whether I’m adopted or not. We don’t need a piece of paper to say so.”

 

So it is with us all in our relationship with God. We live in the world, but as part of God’s kingdom, or family, we are to live according to his kingdom’s standards and values. What does it take to be part of God’s kingdom? To be a Christian; is it a list of do’s and don’ts, our nationality, how we dress or what we say?

 

The bible talks a lot about “the kingdom of God”. In Matthew 6, Jesus’ followers had asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus prays the model prayer we refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer” and it begins, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Last Sunday night I asked, “What does that mean? What is God’s kingdom? Does that refer to the second coming of Jesus? So, the kingdom of God is not currently here on earth; it’s something we’re still waiting for, like the Jews of Jesus’ time awaited the coming Messiah?”

Here’s how Jesus explained the kingdom of God to the Pharisee’s of His day. Luke 17:20-21       20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.

 

The kingdom of God refers to salvation and those who have believed and trusted in Jesus Christ to redeem them. Those who have surrendered themselves and accept His death, burial, and resurrection as payment for their sins, have been added to the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is not a place, nor any kind of outward appearance. It’s an internal transformation that makes us into citizens of His kingdom.

 

His kingdom is a dynamic kingdom. It’s constantly moving toward His righteousness, His perfect will. As believers in Jesus Christ, He accepts us as we are, where we are; but He doesn’t intend for us to stay that way. As we earnestly seek Him, love Him, and honor Him we progress toward being like Him.

Notice in the Lord’s prayer it says, “your kingdom come, your will be done…”.  Also in Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”, in other words, His will. Believe in God’s Son and be baptized, and progress according to His will.  Be changed, transformed creatures.

In John 3:1-7, Jesus explained to Nicodemus to same concept using “rebirth”, being “born again” as the metaphor for a transformed life.  3 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

 

The kingdom of God is here and now and growing by the hour. The Jews thought they would be citizens of this earthly kingdom by virtue of their heritage, their nationality. Many today think their ticket to God’s kingdom is about being at church every Sunday and giving a prescribed amount of money, how they dress, what they eat or drink… These are only costumes, excuses for the real thing. You want to be part of the kingdom of God? You need to be changed from the inside, out. “You must be born again.”

 

In Christ,

Rick

Expect the Miraculous! Hebrews 11:6

Thought to ponder: Why is it that I always seem to find what I’m looking for in the very last place I look? But perhaps the more important question would be; why do I so often “overlook” things of great importance? It’s like the story of the guy that was down on all fours, under a street light at night, searching frantically for something. A passerby asks him what he’s looking for. He answers, “I’ve lost my watch.” The passerby begins to help him look, but to no avail.

Finally the passerby asks the man, “Are you sure it was in this area that you lost it?”

“Oh, no.” the man says. “I lost it in that ally over there.”

“So, why are we looking here?”

“Because the light’s so much better.” He answered.

We miss things, overlook things, because we’re not actively seeking them. We predetermine where to look or how it will look. It’s like going online to order something, paying for it, and waiting for a reply but never checking our mailbox. In our Christmas series, God’s Christmas Messages to You, the first message was “Prepare for the Miraculous”. God sent His angel, Gabriel with a message to Zechariah that his prayers were about to be answered; his barren wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to a son. Not only that, but a son full of the Holy Spirit who would be the forerunner to the long awaited Messiah (Luke 1:13-20). In spite of Zechariah’s prayers to God, he was not prepared for the miraculous. Gabriel caught him off guard – to the extent that he wouldn’t take Gabriel at his word, at God’s word. In Luke 1:20 Gabriel says, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

You don’t generally “seek after” something, or someone, you don’t believe in. Another miracle that God promised was the coming of a deliverer, the Messiah; God incarnate. This was prophesied to Israel centuries beforehand. But Israel had either ceased to “earnestly seek him” or they had formulated their own preconceived idea of what he should look like. Either way, he went unrecognized. That’s what happens when we become unprepared for the miraculous. It appears right there before us and, because we’re looking for something different than God’s word promised, we miss it. John 1:10-11 says, 10“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Max Lucado describes the manger scene and those who sought their long awaited savior, in a very pragmatic, unpretentious way:

The stable stinks like all stables do…A more lowly place of birth could not exist.

Off to one side sit a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor; perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him – so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds (Lk 2:8-15).

Max Lucado, God Came Near   

God had entered the world in a humble form, helpless and vulnerable. Born in a stable with no fanfare or celebration aside from the heavenly host. That’s what happens when we decide how, when, and in what form the miraculous should be…when we fail to “earnestly seek him”.

How often do we completely overlook the miraculous, the obvious? The fact is that we overlook most anything that we aren’t emphatically seeking. Let us seek after Him with all our hearts, by His direction not our own.

Luke 12:40 “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Our God is an awesome God! Let’s expect the miraculous, this Christmas season and always!

 

In Christ,

Rick

Don’t Worry About It! Matthew 6:25-27

 

With advent of the new year upon us, there is much to think about, to consider about 2017. Our feelings range from nostalgia for the year gone by; what we could have done better, what we accomplished, the happy moments and the not so happy moments, loved ones who are no longer with us, and the new additions to our families; to excitement for the intended resolutions we make for an improved life in the new year. But one thing remains constant with regard to the new year as we peer forward; uncertainty. And the baggage that uncertainty brings is worry.

 

When we are uncertain about an outcome it can go one of two ways: the way we’d like it to go, the way we envision as ideal, but if not…then our minds explode with every variation of negative outcomes. That is fear. Fear of the unknown. Anxiety.

 

We recently went through a presidential election. If that wasn’t worrisome enough, we now have the anticipation of a brand new administration taking office in January. What will life be like with a new president? Will the concerns we had before be alleviated? Will the new administration do all the things they promised before the election? Will life be better…or worse? What about health care? What about foreign affairs? Will be more, or less vulnerable to terrorism? Will our economy be better, or worse? The answer to these and countless other “worries” that we have, is, ‘we don’t know’, it’s all uncertain.

 

Worry comes about from the unknown, but that’s because we have no control over the outcome. We have no way of knowing if what we want to come about, will actually “come about”, and in that there’s worry. In addition to the new President, there are a number of other things we really have no control over, things that add to our worries. Even the things we think we have control over, we worry that the control might not be sustained.

What may change in the new year? Will I be able to keep my job? Will I make enough money to keep up with rising costs of living? Will I be able to meet all my obligations?

 

What about my health or the health of my family? I’m not getting any younger, will I get sick, be hospitalized? Will I be able to afford health insurance?

There’s the mental stress from work. Family worries; children in school, grown children, their jobs, their families, grandchildren. Relationship worries…and on and on and on it goes. The fact is, we control precious little. The majority of life is uncertain….to us.

 

There’s a difference between what we control, and what He controls. Even those things that we start to think we’re in control of, we need to understand, even that was given to us from our heavenly Father. God controls all things present and future. We need to place our full faith and trust in Him to care for us, provide for us.

Jesus addressed this issue of worrying quite directly in the Sermon on the Mount.

 

Matthew 6:25-27 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

On the contrary, anxiety may very well shorten your life.

This new year that we embark upon is a blank slate. One that can be a beautiful portrait, one more beautiful than you or I could possibly imagine. But our worry must be converted to trust, faith in God that He loves us and cares for us in our distresses and adversities. We need to entrust each and every day to His provision and care, praying that His perfect will be done. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

As far as the new year is concerned…Don’t worry about it! Jesus commands us not to!

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

 

In Christ,

Rick