Monday, October 16, 2017

"Black Diamond"

Jeremiah 4.25-26 NLT

“I looked, and all the people were gone. All the birds of the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.”

From the Sermon on the mount by Darlene Slavujac Thau
I indulged myself a few years back. Black Diamond is an old coal mining town south of Seattle and I convinced my family to stop there on our way to see friends in Enumclaw. I was the pastor of the Black Diamond Presbyterian Church from 1978-1985 and wanted to stroll down memory lane at the old church I served over thirty years before.

It was Sunday afternoon and front door was unlocked so we walked in. I was struck by the generally poor condition of the facility. There was deferred maintenance everywhere. God’s house was a mess. It was tired and seemed ready for some serious T.L.C. The building needed paint, repair, cleaning, landscaping, and major de-cluttering.

It hurt my heart to recall the days when this rural church was alive and packed with several hundred enthusiastic people hungry for God. We were a single-minded fellowship of genuine faith and motivated to reach our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember when there was no Christian education wing and the vision and courage it took to build it. I remember the Labor Day parades and mini-Passion plays in the school play ground. I remember the music and fun, the pot-lucks and picnics, the children and programs, the work parties and prayer groups, the worship and joy, the love and dreams we all shared together.

Now “I looked, and all the people were gone... and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.” It was eerie. The space was silent. I found only a few faded mementos of days gone by… a portrait of Jesus hanging in the lobby donated by the artist, the old pulpit I used to preach from, the “state of the art” speakers we hung from the sanctuary ceiling. I felt sadness, even mild remorse. I thought to myself, I have a new life now. A new wife, a new family, a new home, a new career, a new ministry, a new future. But I really missed the wonderful people and experiences of those days. I still do. I cannot recreate this amazing experience, nor should I try. The Bible says...

“Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than
these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”
Ecclesiastes 7.10

Eight years ago I was in Spokane and watched my dear friends Randy and Cherri bury their daughter. Laura Elizabeth (Simon) Quentin was born on June 23, 1981 and went to be with Jesus on October 4, 2009. Exactly thirty-six years ago I gave their precious Laura to the Lord in an infant dedication ceremony at Black Diamond Presbyterian Church. I stood before a cheerful and vibrant congregation while very young parents Randy and Cherri beamed with joy and love and hope for Laura’s days ahead. We were all so fresh and youthful and wrinkle-free and idealistic about the future. That future is now and so much sadder than any of us anticipated. 

Two years and six weeks ago I said good-bye to the love of my life, my precious wife Adonica. How does one embrace a present reality that looks so different than what was imagined three decades ago, before Laura died? Or, even three years ago, before my healthy, vibrant wife was diagnosed with Leukemia? We cannot recapture the past. It’s gone. The realization that what could have been never fully was, is almost too painful to bear.

“I looked, and all the people were gone. All the birds of the sky had flown
away. I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.”

Only those who have lost something very precious can take comfort in Christ’s words...

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Matthew 5. 4
_____________________

The beautiful painting above is entitled "From the Sermon on the mount..." and used by permission of the artist, Darlene Slavujac Thau. It's rendition of Matthew 5.4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" moves me. You may view and purchase Darlene's work at http://www.biblicalartist.net/theythatmourn.html.

Friday, October 13, 2017

"I Am Not Nothing"

Jeremiah 2.5-6 CJB

“Here is what Adonai says: ‘What did your ancestors find wrong with me to make them go so far away from me, to make them go after nothings and become themselves nothings?’ ”

I am not nothing. I’m not better than nothing. Nor am I good for nothing. The Bible says I am something. I have significance by virtue of God’s design for me which He had in mind long before I was conceived. Of me He says…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”
Jeremiah 1.5a NAS

I am called. I have purpose. My destiny is secure. This was God’s intention before He made the world.

I was not created to be nothing. However, I can make nothing of myself. Check out these various versions of the text, Jeremiah 2.5...

If I go after nothing, I become nothing..
“…to make themselves go after nothings and become themselves nothings”
The Complete Jewish Bible

If I pursue that which is worthless, I become worthless.
“went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves”
New Revised Standard Version

If I walk after emptiness, I become empty.
“walked after emptiness and became empty”
New American Standard Bible

If I chase vanity, I become vain.
“walked after vanity, and are become vain”
King James Version

If I engage in useless activities, I become useless.
“worshiped useless idols and became useless themselves.
New Century Version

If I follow after foolish things, I become a fool.
“changed them into fools who worship idols”
The Living Bible

If I act falsely, I become false.
“walking after what is false, have become false”
Bible in Basic English

Apparently, I become what I pursue. The Bible tells me what to pursue: 

“…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
1st Timothy 6.11 NIV

_______________________

Note: The painting above is a water color by Igor Kagan in 2002 and entitled “Monkey reaching for moon.” It humorously reminds me of the futility of pursuits that are nothing more than a reflection of reality.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Have You Taken the Holy Test?"

Isaiah 65.2-3a, 5a KJV


“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; 

 A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face;... 

 Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.

I’ve always wondered where the term “holier than thou” came from. Now I know. It’s found in the King James Version of Isaiah 65.5. There, in bold-faced print, are the words unbelievers have quoted for centuries in their critical assessment of high-minded church folks: “Holier than thou,” 

On this point, the pagans have it right. They and God agree. Self-righteous Christians “continually and blatantly offend” [1] both God and everyone else. The church should be the one place in the world free of the cliques that plague and vertically divide society. The church is a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints. However, some institutional churches are anything but. How sad.

Am I guilty of being “holier than thou”? I am an active church member. I have cultivated a close-knit group of believing friends. I tend to resist circumstances that bring me into contact with new people and activities. Maybe I am one of those I am pointing my finger at. Can one be blinded by his own ‘holier-than-thou-ness’? Am I what I am ashamed to admit? Am I “holier than thou”?

We believers can be blissfully unaware of how we come across to others. We may emit “holier than thou” vibes easier and more often than we think. The opinion of those outside our religious social circles may be surprisingly similar to God’s. Perhaps we should be more concerned for what outsiders think about our portrayal of the faith we have in Christ.

I found interesting quiz on the internet called “The Holy Test ~ Are You Holier Than Thou?” The quiz is sponsored by “Unholier Than Thou” whose mission, it appears, is to “expose hypocrites.” I certainly do not endorse the organization but, while their assessment tool is obviously biased, their point is well taken. Do my “Holy Test” results truthfully expose the image I project to the world outside the church. I hope not, because this is how I scored:

“Your score is 71. You are Holier Than Thou! You must be very proud of yourself. Take a bow, but be careful that your halo doesn’t fall off.”

Ouch. Take the quiz at your own risk. Here’s the link: The Holy Test (By the way, when my wife was alive, she took the test and scored 64. She is less “holier than thou” than me!) I assume Jesus was exactly the opposite of “holier than thou.” He associated with children, fishermen, sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus’ choice of friends enraged pious folks, and it’s no  wonder... He exposed their hypocrisy.

This leads me to the all-important question I must ask myself... “If Jesus came to my town today, would He associate with me or expose me?”
____________________

[1] New English Translation (NET) of Isaiah 65.3.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"It Could Never Get Better Than This"

Isaiah 61.9 ERV

“Their descendants will be known throughout the earth, and... ...everyone will know their children. Whoever sees them will know that the Lord has blessed them.”

Have you ever noticed how even the humblest of people swell with pride when talking about their children? Folks who never consider bragging on themselves can unleash a litany of their offspring’s accomplishments which mimics a rehearsed introduction to a famous public speaker. Parents unashamedly and proudly proclaim the achievements of their kids. 

I’m one of them. I admit to be overly proud of my children for excelling in a variety of venues. I’ve developed short descriptives designed to peak interest in casual conversation and secure an invitation to say more. Here’s a few of my favorite openers…

  • “My oldest is a C.P.A. living in Eugene.”
  • “My daughter is a successful Portland Real Estate broker.”
  • “My son played professional baseball.”
  • “My boy is a published composer.”
  • “My youngest son took first place in the regional Bible Bee.”
  • “My son is a commercial broker with a top-notch firm.”
  • “My youngest is the best setter on her volleyball team.”
  • “My boy is on the national honor society.”
  • “My son has an appointment at the Air Force Academy.”
  • “My little girl is so precious. Want to see a picture?”

I can’t help it. These accolades roll off my tongue. I look for any possible excuse to talk about my children’s successes. They reflect on me and I love the image they cast.

‘Bragging rights’ are instinctive when it comes to children. Something’s at stake. Typical parents do everything in their power to insure the success of their kids and then talk about them to anyone who will listen. As a mother or father grows old, it dawns on them that their personal success becomes much less important than that of their children’s. God made parents this way.

Of all the blessings He bestows, the gift of children is the best. The Lord compares children to arrows and commends the man “whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127.5). The only thing better than having and raising kids is watching them succeed. When Isaiah 61.9 becomes true for me, I might as well die and go to heaven. It could never get better than this...

“Their descendants will be known throughout the earth, and everyone will know their children. Whoever sees them will know that the Lord has blessed them.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Prepare (and Get Out of) the Way"

Isaiah 57.14 NIV

“Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”


I can easily become an obstacle to progress and should occasionally remove myself from the process. When I am the impediment, I must find the humility to admit the truth and step aside. Sometimes I can best “prepare the road” and “remove the obstacles” by getting out of the way.

Jesus said,

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
John 10.27-28

Sheep follow their Shepherd. They know Who and where He is. If they get lost, stuck, or delayed, I may be called to gently try to help fellow-followers back on track. I serve best by identifying and removing barriers to faith in Christ. If I am that barrier, I must remove myself from where I like to be... the center of the action and attention. 

If I wish to “build up” people, sometimes I must prepare the path, then get out of the way. 


Monday, October 09, 2017

"He Looks Worse"

Isaiah 52.14 NAS

“Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so... His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”

Have you ever said anything you wish you hadn’t? The words escaped your mouth before your brain filtered their content. Your listeners, more skilled at word filtering, stared at you blankly and said nothing. You felt like an idiot and thought, “I can’t believe I just said that. How stupid I must appear.” Yes. You made yourself look bad. But things could be worse. They were for Jesus. No matter how bad you look, He looked worse.

“He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, 
nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
Isaiah 53.2b NAS

Jesus relates to everybody, even people whose appearance may astonish some… burn victims, deformed people with facial disfigurements, the scarred, ugly, and overweight, folks with disabilities, hunchbacks, the elderly, the overly freckled, pimpled, blemished, or birth-marked, the disproportioned, and those who avoid a mirror at all costs. However horrible we think we appear, at some point in His life, Jesus looked worse.

“His appearance was marred more than any man,
And His form more than the sons of men.”

The sufferings of Christ transformed Him into a man we could almost not bear to look upon. We’re told by the prophet that “the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53.10). Why? Perhaps that others so crushed, bruised, pierced, and scourged could have a Savior they could relate to.

I once entered church I saw a physically malformed and homely woman in a wheelchair. She appeared to suffer from a mental disability. I did as I often do. I refused to look away but instead, tried to engage her in conversation. I caught her eye, smiled, and said, “Good morning.” She responded with a look of disgust and stuck her tongue at me! I was surprised and felt it best to just keep walking. Apparently this lady could not relate to me. But she has a Savior she can relate to. We do not have (or need) a Savior “who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4.15). 

No matter how foolish or ugly I appear to myself or others, Jesus has looked worse.

“His appearance was marred more than any man,
And His form more than the sons of men.”

_________________

Dan Piraro and Norman Rockwell are two of my favorite artists.

Friday, October 06, 2017

"I'm 46!"

Isaiah 50.4 TEV

“The Sovereign Lord has taught me what to say, so that I can strengthen the weary.

Every morning he makes me eager to hear what he is going to teach me.”

The verse above is contained in one of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”[1] and describes the mission and work of Jesus Christ who was to come 700 years after Isaiah’s prophetic vision. Some scholars hold to a multiple identity of Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant.” John Calvin, for example, thought the “Servant” passages referred to the prophet Isaiah himself, to Christ, and to all servants of God in every age.[2] Others ascribe a mythological character to Isaiah’s “Servant” or consider the “Servant” to be one in the same with the nation of Israel as implied by Isaiah 49.3:

“He said to Me, ‘You are My Servant, Israel,
In Whom I will show My glory.

I agree with John Calvin. Depending on the context, the “Servant of the Lord” may correctly identify Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah, the nation of Israel, or any and all servants of God.

It has been occasionally true that “the Sovereign Lord has taught me what to say.” I can remember precious moments in past times when I was able to “strengthen the weary” with my words. Most days I rise early to read my Bible. In my morning ritual I am often aware of a Divine Presence that “makes me eager to hear what he is going to teach me.” These verses find their historical fulfillment in Jesus Christ and their present relevance in me and countless of others like me.

Today is my birthday. I am now sixty-five years old. My children, in-laws, and grandchildren gathered last week for a little cake and celebration. At sixty-five, birthday parties are no big deal to me, but they are a wonderful excuse to gather together with the people I love the most. My re-birthday, however, is a very big deal. I was born again in August, 1971. That makes me forty-six years old in Christ! I celebrate the reality which is still true for me today, over four decades later...

“Every morning he makes me eager to hear what he is going to teach me.”

_________________

[1] Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” are located at Isaiah 42.1-9, 49.1-6, 50.4-11, and 52.13-53.12.

“The Servant of the Lord not only would encounter and accept suffering in the course of His work, but He also would realize that His vicarious suffering would become the means by which He would give His life as a ransom for others”.

“The New Testament writers are unanimous in stating that the Servant of the Lord is a messianic figure and that Jesus is that Servant.”

(“Servant of the Lord”, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.)

[2] “This passage [Isaiah 50.4] is commonly explained so as to relate to Christ, as if it had not been applicable to the Prophet, because he afterwards says, that he had been beaten with rods, which we nowhere read was done to Isaiah. But there is no great force in this argument; for David complains that his garments were divided, (Ps 22:18,) which applies literally to Christ, (Matt 27:35; John 19:24,) and yet it does not follow that this did not happen to David himself. For my own part, I have no doubt, that Isaiah comes forward as one who represents all the servants of God, not only those who were from the beginning, but those who should come afterwards.”

(Isaiah 50, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 Volume set originally printed by the Calvin Translational Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 1753.)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

"Who is Your Cyrus?"

Isaiah 46.11 NASU

“Calling a bird of prey from the east,

The man of My purpose from a far country.

Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.

I have planned it, surely I will do it.”


Cyrus was “the man of [God’s] purpose from a far country.” God used him to deliver Israel from Babylonian bondage. Cyrus was the pagan king of Persia whom the Lord chose to play a central role in the drama of Jewish history:

“Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed... ‘For the sake of Jacob My servant,
and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name;
I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.’”
Isaiah 45.1, 4 NASU

Around 539 B.C. Persia overthrew Babylon and king Cyrus gave Jewish exiles their freedom to return to Israel after seventy years of Babylonian captivity.

Have you encountered “a bird of prey from the east” or a “man of [God’s] purpose from a far country”? This is the individual called by God to do or say something helpful in your life. He’s the last guy would expect it from. He is not a Christ-follower, yet his wisdom is undeniable and his words are timely. He brings deliverance to you in a time of crisis. He is your Cyrus.

The story of Balaam’s donkey is recorded in Numbers, chapter 22. God opened the mouth of a beast of burden to speak words that saved the prophet’s life. I’m sure Balaam was surprised when his donkey talked. I’m likewise surprised whenever an ass speaks to me, less by the fact that donkeys can talk than by the helpful things they have to say. The king of Persia, Balaam’s donkey, or people who “have not known the Lord... God performs on our behalf in mysterious ways through those we least expect.

Who is your Cyrus? 

---

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

"A Prophet Named Dick"

Isaiah 43.18-19 NASB

Do not call to mind the former things, 
Or ponder things of the past

Behold, I will do something new
Now it will spring forth; 
Will you not be aware of it? 

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, 
Rivers in the desert.

I was a young pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Black Diamond, Washington, when I met Dick Mills. The guy was incredible. I guess you could call Dick a traveling prophet. From the pulpit, he called out specific people in the congregation whom he had neither met nor previously seen. Asking them to stand up, Dick called out Scriptures from a wealth of memorized verses and personalized them for the people he addressed. I watched these folks crumble under the amazing accuracy and power of God’s Word from this servant of the Lord. Some would quiver and cry. Others raised their hands and softly murmured, “Thank you, Jesus.” I’m not the only one who admired this man...

“Dick Mills has one of the most unique ministries of any man of God I know in the world...He has been used of God to bring deep spiritual blessings at crucial times in my own life, and I am sure this is true of tens of thousands of others around the country.” ~ Pat Robertson of the 700 Club

“Dick Mills has been prepared and gifted by God to speak clearly and powerfully prophetic words of truth. He edifies, exhorts, and encourages those who have ‘ears to hear’ the world over.” ~ Dean Jones, actor
For my part, Dick Mills' character, ministry in the Word of God and prophetic gift continue to define the ministry of a prophet to the Body of Christ. ~ Jack Hayford, pastor Church On The Way, Van Nuys, CA
“Dick Mills is a man who has a word from God for people who have been hurt, trampled on, or just seeking direction.” ~ Larry Goshorn, CEO Global Digital Satellite Systems, Inc. 

I invited Mr. Mills to speak at my church somewhere around 1980. After the services I had lunch with Dick and his wife Betty. I casually commented that Dick must get very tired traveling the country on a demanding schedule and ministering with such intensity. “On the contrary,” Dick replied (with words something like), “I never get tired sharing these insights with God’s children. Jesus placed them in my heart and I have to hurry and get them out to as many people as I possibly can.”

Dick died in April, 2012. His legacy live on through his son, David, and grandsons, Judah and Blake. The prophetic word he gave me thirty-eight years ago still rings fresh and meaningful to my heart. I was twenty-seven years old. Dick quoted Isaiah 43 to me. Somehow I knew this Scripture would come true in my life and it has... over and over again. I re-read Isaiah 43.18-19 this morning and smiled as I thought of old prophet Dick. I’ve made many transitions, some of them difficult, but I always knew God would “do something new.” I did not need to “ponder things of the past.” I could always hold my head high and walk confidently on “a roadway in the wilderness” and drink life-giving water from “rivers in the desert.”
____________________

For the latest on Dick Mills Ministry check out www.dmm.org.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

"Real Zeal"

Isaiah 42.13 NIV

“The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.”


How does “a mighty warrior... stir up his zeal?” Does he pour a package of dried zeal in a pot, add boiling water, stir vigorously, and drink it hot? It’s not that easy to be a zealot. A warrior may be muscular, confident, strong, quick, tenacious, and capable. But he must also be zealous. A mighty warrior must get fired up and enthusiastic about his mission or he’ll never win a battle.

How does a person “stir up his zeal”? Is it a matter of concentration and mind over matter? Or, does a guy have to pray hard and fast often? Does he psyche himself up with battle mantras like “Charge!” or “Geronimo!” or “Go Get ‘Em!”? Marching music and the rhythm of drums, mental pep talks, motivational speakers in automobile CD players, rock n’ roll music? All of this may inspire zeal temporarily, but true zeal is more than what I generate from within myself. Whatever excitement I can produce doesn’t last long. I get mentally pumped up after attending a stimulating conference but within a week, the entire event fades to a foggy recollection of a nice time.  

I need a certain level of passion for my activities in life, otherwise they become routine and I get bored. I am an ambassador of Christ. He commands me to “let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.16 NET). I must maintain a positive outlook and show a little enthusiasm for the things I do so others will be attracted to the Source of my inspiration.

Paul commanded his young disciple Timothy “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2nd Timothy 1.6 NIV) and he reminded his followers in Corinth, “your zeal hath stirred up very many” (2nd Corinthians 9.2 ASV). Obviously, zeal is contagious. So is apathy. A lethargic, indifferent, or lackluster attitude will turn anyone off to whatever I offer. That’s why zeal is so crucial.
“Jesus, I do not know how to ‘stir up my zeal’ but I must learn. Others are counting on me. My light is shining but it’s a little dim. I need more spiritual wattage for a brighter bulb. I can’t fake it. I need some real zeal. Pour it in so I’ll have something to stir up.”

Monday, October 02, 2017

"Hit the Wall... Again!"

Isaiah 37.32 NIV

“For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

For several years, Judah and its capital city Jerusalem were under attack by Sennacherib king of Assyria. The siege occurred about 20 years after Judah’s northern neighbor, Israel, was wiped out by Assyrian forces. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, sought prophetic help from God’s spokesman, Isaiah. Many Judeans were already killed or deported to Assyria. Sennacherib’s general, Rabshakeh, taunted the soldiers defending Jerusalem at the city wall. He claimed they were “doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isaiah 36.12). Rabshakeh was a military bully with the armed might to back up his threats. Morale was way down and Judah’s end seemed very near. Isaiah’s words offered promise and hope to the frightened Judeans:

“For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion
a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

Not every Jew would survive the siege. But a “remnant” would. A “band of survivors” would eventually break free from Sennacherib’s strangle hold. They would bust through the wall and liberate themselves. Survivors would go forth from Jerusalem, regain their land, and again establish control of the middle east.

The great Protestant Reformer of the sixteenth century, John Calvin, described the prophetic promise in his commentary on the book of Isaiah…
“He [the prophet Isaiah] alludes to the siege by which a small number of people, who had been left in the city, were shut up as in a prison and reduced to very great straits; he says that they shall now go out, and that the whole country shall be open to them, and that they shall be at liberty to move wherever they please without fear. The going forth is thus contrasted with the narrow limits within which the trembling Jews had been forced by the dread of enemies to confine themselves.”[1]
Are you “shut up in a prison and reduced to very great straits,” “forced by the dread of enemies to confine” yourself to very “narrow limits?” Break through your prison walls! Isaiah’s prophetic word is alive and still carries depth and meaning 2,700 after they were first uttered to Hezekiah. Have you ‘hit the wall’ more than once? Hit it again and break through to achieve Jesus’ plan for your life. Trust His word... “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
_________________

[1] Isaiah 37.32, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 Volume set originally printed by the Calvin Translational Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 1753.

The sculpture above is mounted on a wall in Montmarte district in the north of Paris, France. It represents Monsieur Dutilleul, the main character from the short story Le Passe-Muraille (The Passer through Walls) Marcel Aymé.

Friday, September 29, 2017

"Things Habitual People Hate"

Isaiah 33.20 NET

“Look at Zion, the city where we hold religious festivals! You will see Jerusalem, a peaceful settlement, a tent that stays put; its stakes will never be pulled up; none of its ropes will snap in two.”

I took a three day whitewater rafting trip down the Deschutes River about twelve summers ago with my father-in-law, Ralph, and some buddies from the church. About midnight on our first evening out, a thunderstorm moved in with fierce winds and literally blew our camp apart. I woke up to a loud crash and peeked out the flapping canvas opening of my temporary shelter in the general area of the supply tent. Through the dimness of my flashlight I could see Steve, our rain-drenched river guide, standing in his underwear in a daze. The protective tarp over the mess hall where Steve was sleeping had blown away and the tables with food and equipment were scattered all over the soaked ground. I yelled above the sound of rain, wind, and thunder, “Steve, get in here!” Ralph and I shared a couple of sleeping bags with our river guide and huddled through the miserable night together.

I am a creature of habit and comfort. I gravitate toward the predictable and safe. But things in life never remain the same. Sometimes my precious routines end abruptly and with a loud crash. The fierce winds of change cause serious stress and almost always a little fear. Things are often not as we expect them to be.

Change is good sometimes, but not always. Whatever else it is or isn’t, change lies beyond my reach and outside my control. Habitual people like me hate that. Thankfully, some things never change, like the nature of Jesus and the love of God:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13.8 NIV

“Thou wilt give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham,
Which Thou didst swear to our forefathers from the days of old.”
Micah 7.20 NASB

In our wind-tossed, temporary, and unpredictable existence, it’s comforting to know our permanent heavenly residence will be “a peaceful settlement, a tent that stays put,” an eternal campsite. The stakes of our shelter there “will never be pulled up” and “none of its ropes will snap in two.” We will be at lasting peace, secure under the watchful eye of our capable River Guide Jesus camped along the “river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming down from the throne of God” (Revelation 22.1 NASU). 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Heaven is a No-Excuse Zone"

Isaiah 29.11-12 NKJV

“The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I am not literate.’


Everyone had an excuse. The literate could not crack the Book because the Book was “sealed.” Others could not read Isaiah’s vision because they were “not literate.” Their excuses didn’t work. The illiterate must learn to read and the literate must break the seal.

Nothing should stop me from fulfilling God’s will for me. The same God who helps the illiterate to read and the literate to break the seal can help me perform His purpose. It will not be easy, but “I can’t” is no excuse. 

Luke recorded a parable Jesus told about a man who threw a party and no one wanted to come. The invitees “all alike began to make excuses” (Luke 14.18) and chose not to attend. The offended host promised, “…none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet” (Luke 14.24).

It’s hard to make time and space for Jesus. I easily resist His gracious invitation. There’s ‘no room in the inn.’ I’m too busy, full, or preoccupied to notice the divine opportunity. My excuses seem legitimate, but they are excuses nonetheless. Like the boy in Gary Larson’s 1986 “Far Side” cartoon, I pretend to be ignorant and raise my hand in defiance: “Mr. Osborne, may I be excused? My brain is full.”

If I can’t do it, I must figure it out. “I did not know” is not a valid excuse if I reasonably could have known. If there are obstacles, I must remove them, or at least try to. When I look for excuses instead of opportunities, I find plenty of good reasons to miss God’s best.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Crushed But Not Pulverized"

Isaiah 28.28 NLT

“Grain for bread is easily crushed, so he doesnt keep on pounding it. He threshes it under the wheels of a cart, but he doesnt pulverize it.” 

The crushing weight of life’s hardships is a painful and wonderful thing. Dedicated Jesus followers must prepare to suffer. Harvested wheat is threshed, or crushed, until the outer crust, called chaff or straw, is torn away. Jesus knows me on the inside. The grain of my essence is apparently valuable to Him. The threshed pile of useless matter called “Dave’s way” is thrown to the sky. The process of ‘winnowing’ separates the grains of wheat from the lighter, worthless straw shell which is blown away by the force of a gentle wind.

The farmer is not yet making flour. At this stage, he works only to separate the grains of wheat from the chaff. The process requires beating or crushing. Ancient farmers strapped oxen to carts with heavy wheels and rolled over the wheat on hard threshing surfaces until the separation was complete. The farmer was careful to crush the shell, but not pulverize the grain.

Two years ago, I lost the love of my life. My dear Adonica died of Leukemia on August 30th, 2017. I may still be in the grieving process and unable to offer myself definitive explanations. I was hurt, badly. I felt beaten, pounded, and threshed. Did I grieve as I should, or fall into despair? I hope there is a redemptive purpose in my suffering. Somehow I know I will survive. I felt like dying often, but I didn’t die. I’m still here. The loss of my wife was, and remains to be, painful beyond words, but didn’t kill me. I was crushed and heartbroken, but I was never be pulverized into the dust of nothingness. Farmer Jesus loves me too much for that.

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not
in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed...
2nd Corinthians 4.8-9 Third Millennium Bible


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"Trust We Must"

Isaiah 22.23-25 NIV

Broken Hearts-Shattered DreamsI will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him”.

“In that day,” declares the Lord Almighty, “the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.” 

We depend on each other. I depend on farmers to grow food and grocers to stock it. The president of my company must manage well so I get a paycheck when I deserve one. I am depending on that. I also depend on friends and loved ones to stand by me in desperate times. 

But what happens when it doesn’t work that way, when people who claim their devotion, let you down? They were driven “like a peg into a firm place” in your heart. You hung your hopes and ambitions on their promises to perform. You placed your trust, loyalty, and needs in their capable hands. You thought they had your best interest in mind. You gave them your money and energy, your future and your love. You had a legitimate expectation of a return on your emotional investment. But something happened. It didn’t work out.

The world is full of wounded people whose trust was violated. They innocently hung garments of desire on the broken pegs of false promises. When the peg came loose, so did their dreams. All that was left were old rags on a dirty floor.

What happens when the one you loved and depended on dies? They treated you right but, through no fault of their own, they went away. Now what? Shock and denial may turn to fear, anger, and depression. You might even have feelings of betrayal by God like Jesus did when He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s hard to trust again. But trust we must. We have to depend on each other. Pick up the rags of your torn life. Clean and patch them. Hang them on a new, stronger, and better peg.  

“For the Scriptures tell us that no one
who believes in Christ will ever be disappointed.”
Romans 10:11 The Living Bible
__________________

The oil painting above is called "Broken Hearts - Shattered Dreams" is by an amazing artist Rebecca Graves and used here by permission. You can view and purchase her work at Town and Country Fine Art Center in Kettering, Ohio or online at http://rebeccagraves.fineartstudioonline.com/