Friday, November 15, 2019

The Embrace of God's Peace





Monday, November 18, 2019

God's Promise of Peace


   

         


I will make peace your leader and righteousness your ruler.  Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end.  Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there.  “No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.  Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down.  For the Lord will be your everlasting light.  Your days of mourning will come to an end.  All your people will be righteous.  They will possess their land forever, for I will plant them there with my own hands in order to bring myself glory.  The smallest family will become a thousand people, and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation.  At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”  Isaiah 60:17b-22

Apostle John Remembers the Promise

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.  The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.  Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.  And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.  Revelation 21:23-26

The picture of an untroubled existence, where there are no mass shootings at malls or schools, and where there is no threat of war or climate catastrophes is more than a welcome thought; it is the longing of people everywhere who possess sanity.  There is no scenario for anyone of good will and conscience that includes conflict, strife, and killing.  For those who follow Christ, He who is named Prince of Peace, this is our focal point of eternity – living in peace and righteousness with our loving God.
For as long as I can remember whenever this subject surfaces, whether in church as a sermon or study…or in a casual conversation…or just a time of private study, my heart goes into longing mode.  That is to say, I get a longing for Beulah Land, that sweet, un-shadowed and restful place where things make sense and the tears have been wiped away.  
And, truth be told, it’s way more than longing; I get impatient.  I think of Grandma Schmidt’s sweet smile, and that starched apron on my cheek when she hugged a three-year-old.  I think of her daughter, my Mom, before I was old enough to go to school, and we would pass afternoons on a rainy-day making cupcakes or reading a story together.  And I think about the family I’ve not yet met, Grandma’s parents and their grandparents…and theirs…and theirs, and how the family came about all the way back to Adam and Eve. 
While nostalgic remembrances like these are part of memory trips and rainy afternoons, they are also the prods to spiritual inventory and reshaping what will happen with our lives tomorrow.  The meaningful ways we remember our lives is what compels us to make that meaning holy in the sight of our Redeemer.  In short, as apostle Paul put it, we respond to the call of God on our life:

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Ephesians 4:1

For You Today
The thoughts of family reunion in glory are wonderful.  But they are only a pale foreshadow of spending the first ten thousand years getting to know the One who died for me, rose so I could too, and is working on my heavenly home right this moment!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com      Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Standing in the Line of Judgment

Friday, November 15, 2019
We have two passages today…both hard to hear, both with questions that leave us wanting answers.  The first lesson is a story from King David’s time of long past sins of Saul that have serious consequences for his children and grandchildren; the other passage is Paul’s New Testament take on the suffering Christians were enduring.

There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it.  And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites.”  So the king summoned the Gibeonites.  They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites.  The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out.  David asked them, “What can I do for you?  How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?”  “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied.  “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.”  “What can I do then?” David asked.  “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”  Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel.  So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.”  “All right,” the king said, “I will do it.”  The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord.  But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah.  The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord.  So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.  Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season.  She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night.  When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan.  (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.)  So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.  Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin.  After that, God ended the famine in the land.                        2 Samuel 21:1-14

And then Paul’s making sense of persecution in the light of someone else’s sin:

Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.  We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering.  And God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering.  In his justice he will pay back those who persecute you.  And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven.…So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call.  May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.  Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.            2 Thessalonians 1:3-7a, 11-12a

For You Today
One day when Christ comes to judge we will have all the answers we ever wondered about.  For this day don’t worry over what you don’t understand; if you wonder, ask again.  He’ll either give you an answer, or peace about letting it rest.  Don’t be distracted from serving Him by what you don’t know; put to use that which you do know; tell others how he saved your soul!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image:  Wikimedia Commons      Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

When GOOD Becomes Enemy of BEST

Thursday, November 14, 2019

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.  Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God.  Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks.  And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like.  As a result, their minds became dark and confused.  Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.  And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.  So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.  As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.  They traded the truth about God for a lie.  So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.  Romans 1:18-25

Favorite sayings become favorites because they open a whole new world of understanding and resonate with truth deep within.  Here’s one of mine:
Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best.[i]
The deep truth of this saying is that even good things, family, friends, opportunities, and material blessings, can become obstacles to our spiritual growth.  Whatever good things God has placed in our hands are never to become more important than the God who gives them.  This was the mistake Paul was holding up to the Roman believers.
There are many areas of life that can become enemies to spiritual health, and sorting-out the wheat and chaff are part of discipleship for the believer. 
For instance:
·      Food is good (trust me on this!), but living to eat instead of eating to live is NOT.
·      Money is useful in many ways; if getting more of it becomes your focus in life it is an enemy!
·      Sex is a God-given blessing and part of the way God has given for our enjoyment and participation in His creative ways, but when it becomes our obsession it can lead to perversion and distort everything good and holy.
·      Friendships are needful, as are the bonds of Family, but these must stand behind allegiance to Almighty God.
·      Work is necessary, and God-ordained that we should be productive.  But when work crowds-out everything, even excluding time for worship, we have let our “work ethic” become our God.
Therein is the sticking point – worshiping the gifts, rather than the Giver of those gifts. In so doing we have not only allowed the good things of God to become enemy to the best God wants for us, we have allowed ourselves, good creations of God, to become enemy of God.
For You Today
Wherever your activities take you on this day, make sure to be aware who or what is ordering those feet of yours…the pathway you take always leads somewhere.  Destinations are achieved one step at a time…for good or best…that is our choice!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com      Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©


[i][i] For another post on this saying see:  Rocky Road Devotion 6-15-19

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fathers, Sons, & Honor

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself.  He does only what he sees the Father doing.  Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing.  In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man.  Then you will truly be astonished.  For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants.  In addition, the Father judges no one.  Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.  “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.  “And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God.  And those who listen will live.  The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son.  And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man.  Don’t be so surprised!  Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again.  Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.  John 5:19-29

My uncle, Marlen Schmidt, was a gifted athlete.  In the 1930’s professional baseball scouts salivated when they saw the lefty pitcher unleash his “hook” – a curve ball that went into hiding when it got near the plate! 
At family gatherings you could always find Uncle Marlen playing with the kids; we loved how he always had time for us, and how he could teach us to do our best.  When he was explaining something, he would check our attention span with a one-word question; he would ask, Catch?  He wanted to know if we were catching-on to his idea.  At pick-up football games he always knew what to do.  In the huddle he’d describe some elaborate play.  The instructions included things like running to the oak tree and cutting over to the old Chevy (awaiting overhaul in the back yard).  Be sure you fake left, he’d warn; don’t let Tommy get in front of you.  I’ll throw you the ball when you zig right – CATCH?   Catch?  Catch what?  Sure, I’ll catch the ball – just – what’s a fake left and a zig right? 
Uncle Marlen would look at those blank stares in our faces; we were like a doe in the headlights.  Then he would say, I’ll do it one time so you can see it.  Just throw me the ball when I holler ‘NOW!’   He would run some intricate pass pattern, gliding with that Jamaica shuffle of his; then he’d yell out, Now - C’mon, hit me.  The plans seldom worked, but we saw with our own eyes the best left fakes and zigs ever!
Jesus was God’s way of saying “catch?”  Jesus showed us The Father.
For You Today
If you’ve ever wondered about connecting with God, knowing what He is really like, watch Jesus in the Gospels, listen to the apostle Paul in his epistles, follow Jesus’ followers around in the book of Acts.  On every page you’ll see the Son of God honoring his Father, and the Father honoring His Son.
If you listen closely as you follow, you’ll hear his voice; that’s what you’ve been looking for, catch?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com      Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

The Rubble of Former Glory

Jerusalem was nothing but rubble.  The city and Solomon’s great temple had been destroyed by Babylonian[2] armies in 586 B.C., and it would be another 30 years before rebuilding would even be started.  The survivors of the 70-year captivity in Babylon had been allowed to start returning home; that is, what was left of their homeland.  What greeted them was the rubble of Jerusalem’s former glory.
I got the sense of what they faced on a couple of occasions.  One such time was many years ago when I attended a denominational conference in Pensacola, Florida.  On one of the afternoons there were no meetings, so I took a drive around the city to take-in the local culture.  As I pulled up to a stoplight in a residential area I saw across the street a set of steps to a front door; except there was no front door.  There was no house either, for that matter.  It was just three crumbling cement steps in an empty lot…three steps of rubble leading to nowhere.


On each of the three steps was a single word written with white paint…CHAPPIE’SFIRSTSTEPS.  I wondered if Chappie was a child, or a paralytic who had received a second chance and gotten out of the wheelchair, or a stray dog that had wandered into the yard and become the family’s pet.  Who, or what Chappie was is something I’ve never found out.  But it must have been something noteworthy in the day.  Somebody took the time to commemorate Chappie’s first steps.  It looked like rubble…someone’s former glory!
The rubble of former glory is part of our human history and wonderment.  We wonder how such Empires as the Babylonians, Egyptians, Rome, and Greece could go out of business.  A few years or a few hundred, even whole civilizations can evaporate into thin air – like the Incas of the 13th century who simply ceased to exist.  The glory days vanished…nothing remains but rubble.
For the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, the Promised Land was now the plundered land, pulverized and picked-over.  Only memories and crumbled walls stirred fading memories of their Kings like David and Solomon, great judges like Deborah and Samson.  Only a strong sense of history instilled in the culture brought back images of Moses and the Exodus, with the presence of God leading the way, a cloud by day, pillar of fire by night.  Theirs was the rubble of former glory, and current despair!
Enter Haggai armed with a fresh message from JHWH, a new word from above of hope for the future.  It changed the course of Israel’s history, and I believe it speaks to us today as well. 
Let’s look at several truths God has for today’s church from the prophet’s message to Jerusalem:
1.  In times of rubble God speaks to a faithful remnant

Then on October 17 of that same year, the Lord sent another message through the prophet Haggai.  “Say this to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of God’s people there in the land:  ‘Does anyone remember this house—this Temple—in its former splendor?  How, in comparison, does it look to you now?  It must seem like nothing at all!  Haggai 1:15b-2:3

It must seem like nothing at all!  What a sad, despairing reality these returning captives faced.  Their world-class city and nation was in ruins, nothing but rubble and destruction.  Amid the spider webs, dry bones, and crumbled buildings were no hope, no glory, no future.  What could rebuild hope in the midst of such great devastation?  They’d gone from hero to zero; what words could heal them?  The answer is in the first sentence of our text, the Lord sent another message.  God was speaking to people who were still His!  Through their national heritage, and a somewhat faded, but unextinguishable faith, the only thing that could give them hope was a word from their God.  God does that!  And He still speaks today!
2.  In times of rubble God speaks words of strength

But now the Lord says:  Be strong, Zerubbabel.  Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Be strong, all you people still left in the land.  Haggai 2:4a

God speaks to the politicians, the religious leaders, and to every last inhabitant of the ancient city in ruins…be strong!  And Lord knows, they would need God’s kind of strength for the task of rebuilding what had been, let alone (to borrow a phrase from our recent political ethos) MAKING JERUSALEM GREAT AGAIN.
But when God speaks words of strength, to people who believe, not people who say they believe, or hope they believe, but people who are willing to stake everything on faith – which is the definition of believing God – there is no room left for timid backing off. 
That’s what the former slaves did in the wilderness.[3]  When finally confronted with the goal of possessing the Promised Land they believed the majority report of the spies that came back from the scouting mission.  As a consequence, not a single adult ever got closer than the wrong side of the Jordan River; the whole nation wandered in circles in the wilderness for the next 40 years while their unbelief died-out.
My friends, if that doesn’t speak to the church today, we might as well pack up our Bibles and head for the bars.  If this church is ever going to stand strong in a Godless culture like that in which we live, it will not be with half-hearted faith or effort…which leads us to the next natural truth God spoke that day:
3.  In times of rubble God speaks words of action

And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Haggai 2:4b

Get to work, for I am with you; He said it just like He said it to Moses:  I AM!
Here’s a good question…which is stronger, the whole earth full of ungodly people…or the armies of Heaven, of which God is the commander?
Truthfully, sometimes it seems like the church has grown fond of losing this spiritual battle, and apologizing to the world for ever trying.  I wonder how long it will take us to develop the courage to speak up a word of testimony for this world to choke on in its’ unbelief?  We’ve been wallowing in our diminishing strength and old fashioned elbow grease for decades; is it any wonder the church is weak and ineffective?
And that’s where the next word God spoke that day appears:
4.  In times of rubble God speaks words of courage

My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt.  So do not be afraid.’  Haggai 2:5

The prophet, speaking God’s words, reminds them of when their ancestors left the bondage of Egypt as slaves.  God’s Spirit was with them, and He was reassuring them, encouraging them, that He was still there, so it was OK to have a backbone and get busy doing God’s bidding.
Did you notice in those words of encouragement God said nothing at all about the Temple buildings that lay in rubble, or their government offices burned to the ground?  Did you notice he mentioned nothing of armies, economies, trade deals, or natural resources?  Did you notice he didn’t talk education, nuclear power, technology advances, or give a State of the Union address directed to the right or left side of the aisle?  Did you notice the only asset God mentions in his encouragement to those in the midst of the rubble upon which most nations and people base their hope and trust, is that God’s own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost of Pentecost and He who brooded over the waters of creation was with them?  They would need no trade deals, power moves, brinksmanship with other world leaders. 
They had everything they needed…and so do you and I!  And because that’s so we can be people of courage; we can have a backbone and march on for the Lord in this place.  There is a reason for all that:
5.  In times of rubble God is still God
It’s hard to miss God’s voice if you’re listening.  At the end of this text God says: 

I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”  Haggai 2:9

And then, besides the words of God, notice what His hand does:

He’s the God who SHAKES the Heavens, Earth, Seas, and Nations

“For this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land.  I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple.  Haggai 2:6,7a

We do not know if this will be within our lifetimes or if Christ will tarry longer.  But, as certainly as the sun came up this morning, God’s promises are going to be completed.  Haggai is a forshadow of the end times, much like most of the Old Testament.  Here there is a hint of what Jesus would say that day outside Jerusalem in his great Olivet discourse:

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’  They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic.  Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.  Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.  “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed.  You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.  And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other.  And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:4-14

He’s going to shake every part of the universe before the end of these days; threats, injunctions, supoenas, persecutions, famines…none of it will deter the Lord of Heaven’s armies from exacting judgment on the earth and all it holds.
The end of time, as we understand time, is in God’s hands.  When God moves time must comply with what He wills.  And here’s what happens finally:

He’s the God who FILLS His temple with glory and the Future with Peace

I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  And in this place I will bring peace. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”  Haggai 2:7b-9

When God makes a promise, it’s a full promise; that means he fulfills it, and it is overflowing, pressed-down, shaken together, running over![4]  God’s promise of peace and turning the rubble of former glory into the kind of peace and glory never before seen is as certain as yesterday’s sundown. 
This is what Bible scholars call prophetic perfect; it is when the prophet talks of a future event as if it’s already in the past.  It is much like when we are so certain of something we say:  you can take that to the bank.  God’s hand on the throttle of time, eternity, and the affairs of humankind is so certain, there is no intelligent choice, but to comply and cooperate….with courage….getting to work….staying strong and faithful.  We are his, and He is God.
Let’s make a Conclusion with Haggai
In Haggai’s day the peace God promised came, but it was temporary, and only a foreshadow of the ultimate peace God gives.  We are going to be celebrating the beginning of that peace-bringing event in the next few weeks as the season changes to Advent. 
The peace God eventually brought was the Prince of Peace in a lowly manger in a place called Bethlehem.  We managed to mess that one up, and as the season changes again to Lenten, we will remember how we hung that prince of peace on a cross.  But just like he did three days later, coming from the tomb in a surprise, there is a coming resurrection we won’t be able to mess up.  And when he comes it is going to be a victory that will never turn into former glory again!  You don’t want to miss that one!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com.    All Scripture from The New Living Translation (unless otherwise stated) 
[2] The Babylonian Empire is the same region as modern-day Iraq
[3] Exodus 13
[4] Luke 6:38