Friday, December 28, 2018

Water



Are you like a tree planted by streams of living water? You might ask what that is or just say so what. However, this is the dominant theme of Psalm 1. This is the whole theme of the Bible. OK, tell me how you came up with that? Do you know what living water is?

“And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so” (Genesis 1:9). And He called it “very good.”  In the beginning God created heaven and earth and His Spirit hovered over the waters wherein He began to create life “teeming in the waters.”  He watered the whole earth and made it vibrant. Then when man disobeyed God used the same water to start over His creation with a flood. Yes, God has control of all life and death. But He is good and brings life back again. God’s Bible references water 617 times. Why? Because without it we and no created thing can live. Wells became the center of civilization around which all peoples dwelled. The biblical story unfolds around water which God controls to save His people from slavery and death. When God’s people were dying of thirst in the desert in the Exodus, God instructed Moses to strike the rock to bring water. Never mind that Moses struck the rock three times, disobeying God, that’s another story.

Throughout Leviticus and Jewish teaching, water is for purifying and is a symbol of holiness and righteousness.  For King David, water was life in his continuously near death experiences with Saul. He wrote about it in his blessed psalms starting in the first psalm concerning the “blessed man.”  “He is like a tree planted in streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose roots do not wither” (Psalm 1:3). Although David may not have written it, we are told the man is blessed because, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v.2). David speaks of God’s magnificent creation in the oceans and our desire for its streams.

Perhaps most coveted is David’s Shepherd Psalm 23. He sets the scene of God making us to lie down in green pastures because we just do not do it willingly. Then he says. “He guides me beside the still (quiet) waters, He restores (refreshes) my soul” (Psalm 23:2). This scene of tranquility and healing is a metaphor for abundant life that God has come through His Son to deliver us into. But so often we won’t have any of it.  It is God’s heart to have relationship with us and bring us to the waters of life.

Living water is God living and loving through you. Jesus said, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 14:4). This He said to the Samaritan woman at the well regarding the source of life. God Himself is the source of life and water is a symbol of life. In our own sinful ways we are in a desert. But God wants to bring us refuge and life, saying, “Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (Isaiah 32:2). He will make the flowers grow and the rivers flow in our valleys if we will trust in Him and lie down beside His quiet waters. Throughout the gospels, water is the symbol of life and life eternal into which we may become baptized through God’s Holy Spirit. It is the scene in the Jordan as John baptizes Jesus into the beginning of His ministry on earth to bring us life.

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, Jesus offers His water, “He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life”  (Revelation 21:6). Come and drink!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Courage

One of the Apostle Paul’s most powerful and encouraging admonitions to the men of Corinth in tough times was, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). He is on a missionary journey and won’t see them for a while so he wants to give his personal words to lift them up until he sees them again, if he ever does. He has just told them to “stand firm always giving yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Death has been conquered in victory through Jesus Christ he entreats the men. Therefore we might say, “don’t worry about tomorrow, because we have life eternal with Christ.”

Does the atmosphere of the presidential campaign and world instability give you a sense of strength or less, perhaps fear?  But we must be alert! Does the persecution of Christians around the world give you pause about speaking out? Then read Paul’s words again and be encouraged. The conditions might not change, but God is with us and will strengthen us for the days to come. In the psalms we are often reminded, “I love you, O Lord my strength” (Psalm 18:1) or “The Lord is my strength and my shield” (Psalm 28:7) and in Psalm 29:11, “The Lord gives strength to His people.” God tells us to arm ourselves with strength and to sing a song of strength in the Lord. We are to praise God and ascribe to Him strength as Psalm 96:7 reminds us. I personally go to the psalms when I need strength or courage. David continually found his courage in the Lord, not men. In Hebrews 3:6 we read, “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to courage and the hope of which we boast.” So as we are told, we should encourage one another until Christ’s soon return. Because Christ has been faithful, we too must hold onto the faith.


I am in the middle of a study on the letters 1-3 John wherein the Apostle continually encourages us to “love one another.” He reminds us that God first loved us so that we can love one another (1 John 4:19). He laid down His life for us that we might love one another. It is the courage of knowing our salvation that brings us courage to stand firm in love for others, even as they don’t love you. Love and courage are indeed related. Our love is the only scripture some may ever see. God describes what love is throughout the Bible. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 13 is the most quoted saying, “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13). Paul calls this “the most excellent way.” He is saying that we must live in love as love lives in us through the Holy Spirit of God in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advent Joy

Joy to The World
The Lord is come!
Let earth proclaim her King!

Advent Joy is filling us who trust in God that on a dark and common, ordinary night God Came near. VERY difficult in pain, but wisdom is born of pain.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to the, ‘“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”’ 
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying,
‘“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rest.”’

We light the pink candle of Joy and passion in the midst of darkness, sadness or fear or faith. Gaudette Sunday Roman Catholic Mass would start quoting Philippians 4:4-5 saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness or moderation be known to all for the Lord is near.”  Great verse, but certainly no easy!

Nehemiah after courageously rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under great duress and assault as well as the hearts, courage and strength of the Israelites called a Sacred Assembly of all the people saying, “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

James, the brother (half) of Jesus in his epistle of practical wisdom writes, 
“Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters when you come into trials of all kinds. Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask of God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it shall be given to him. But he who asks must believe and not doubt… he is double-minded and unstable and will receive nothing”

Yes, we gather in quiet darkness, seeking the light that came and comes again into a dark world. As we do we might know that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. As we wait in the Advent Season of Light in patient expectation let us seek the light while it is near and find it. As we wait for the True Light of Christmas, Christ the Messiah, let us remain, as the Apostle Paul said,
“Joyful in hope; patient in affliction and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). 

The Prophet Habakkuk, 600 years before Messiah’s incarnation wrestled with God yet wrote,
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength!    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Let us now pray for the afflicted, lonely, sad, poor and needy and broken as well  as the up and out through the hopeful JOY of the Advent Light:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing


Friday, December 14, 2018

Overcome

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus overcame the world. He triumphed over the grave and death. He suffered and persevered. He stood fast throughout all persecution and He encourages us as believers to do the same. I thought it would be helpful to review what Jesus has to say about overcoming or not, and the consequences and/or rewards.

In the Old Testament there is considerable description of overcoming the enemy physically. The David and Goliath epic includes, “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us” (1 Samuel 17:9). And David did overcome the giant and conquer the enemy.

The psalms have frequent reference to being overcome and perhaps the most powerful is Psalm 116:3, words that Jesus sang with His disciples in the upper room before His crucifixion, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.”  Yes, He was overcome by the cords of death; even all of humankind’s sin.  Yet in Jeremiah 1:19 we read of victory,They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.”

Moving to the New Testament we find Jesus telling Peter of the church and His overcoming power. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). What or who is the overcomer- Jesus!  We struggle as the church and individuals to deal with the world and strengthen our faith.  Some may exclaim,“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Sometimes, or perhaps always, there are difficult challenges to overcome. We need help to persevere. So where is the answer? “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). Christ has given us overcoming power over our troubles, the world and our enemies.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”  (1 John 1:5).  Jesus Christ has overcome evil for us so as Psalm 27:1 tells us, “The Lord is our light and our salvation whom shall we fear? The Lord is the stronghold of our lives of whom shall we be afraid?”  We should fear no one, but I think we do. At least I’ll say that I fear at times, much less than I used to. Why? Because I am learning through hardship that God is faithful in all circumstances. We will overcome!  The final book of the Bible, Revelation, gives the churches encouragement in times of trouble to persevere and overcome. There were seven churches addressed in Revelation. Many think they represent churches through the ages, including now.  To Ephesus He says, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (heaven)” (Revelation 2:7).  They had forsaken their first love, God, yet Jesus will save them if they overcome.

To the church in Smyrna, which was suffering persecution and poverty, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (v.2:11). If they hold to their faith they will be saved. The church of Pergamum allowed Baal worshippers and sacrifice among them.  He said repent, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it”  (V. 2:17).  The church at Thyatira served with perseverance, but they tolerated Jezebel, the morally worst of all queens. But, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…I will also give him the morning star (Himself)” (v. 2:27).  Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but Christ called them dead. However to the overcomer, “He will walk with me in white” (v. 3:4).

Finally, the only good church, in Philadelphia. They kept God’s commands and endured patiently, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world…Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will He leave it” (vv. 3:10-12).  And then the last church of Laodicea, “you are luke-warm, neither hot nor coId-I am about to spit you out of my mouth…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne” (vv. 3:16,21). 


All of these letters to the churches were warnings on the consequences for ungodly behavior. Each had a reprieve if they were to persevere and overcome. Repentance and change were required and are still required. The church of Laodicea is thought by many commentators to be the Christian church of today. We are luke warm and worldly, having in many cases forsaken God’s biblical admonitions and made our own idols to suit cultural desires. The result, God is saying, is spiritual and possibly physical death. In other words, we have a place in hell for eternity, unless we turn from our wicked ways.   Jesus tells us at the end of the Bible, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God, and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:7). Persecution is increasing for Christians, are we going to stand firm? Jesus is coming soon so be ready.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Complete

Are you complete? The question seems to be a little like asking if we are perfect. Well I suspect you might say no I am not. Yet in the Christian world of faith God addresses this question in Scripture in a way that causes pause in me, and hope.

In Philippians 1:4-6 Paul is addressing his friends in Philippi with joy saying, “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  What an encouragement that Christ is working in believers to mature us and make us complete day by day until He returns.

In the book of 1 John the Apostle writes about living in God saying, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like Him” (1 John 4:16-17). God is the complete love, meaning all aspects of love are perfect in Him.

This spiritual concept is also in the Old Testament speaking of the Israelites celebrating their Feast of Tabernacles commemorating their freedom from slavery in Egypt and passage through the desert to the Promised Land. “For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and you joy will be compete” (Deuteronomy 16:15). I certainly rejoice too at the idea of complete joy. Let’s return to the New Testament and the Book of Acts.

Luke narrates of Paul’s journey saying, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).  Life was not worth living unless Paul completed the work. That should be the goal of every Christian. Jesus speaks in John 15 of life lives in Him and results of obeying His commands, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be compete” (John 15:11). God wants our lives and joy to be complete even in struggles.

James 1:2-4 reminds us of what God is trying to accomplish through difficulties and struggles in our lives. “Consider pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Enduring trials successfully, staying in them until God’s will is completed, will complete us. Paul tells his friend and fellow soldier Archippus, “See to it that you complete the work you have received from the Lord” (Colossians 4:17). He is continuing the theme to stay in and finish the work as a significant part of God’s completion plan.


So are you complete? I don’t know how you answer that question. For me it is in the word completing. After nearly five long decades, I began the work which “God prepared for me in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  God is always working in us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling as Paul says in Philippians 2:12. Life is a journey and process in which God is molding us and making us to be more like Him until we reach completion. When is that? When we see Jesus Christ face to face in heaven. Our choice is to complete the race in His will be believing in and following Him like His original disciples or going our own way which will be a complete failure. Why? Because Jesus will not say, “well done good and faithful servant, but instead, get away from me because I never knew you. The choice is ours and it is pretty clear. The Frank Sinatra theme song, “My Way” will not complete you but will shut out the lights. Take your pick.