Meditating on the Commands of Christ (69): Seeking and Finding So Much More!

It’s easy to ask for something, but it’s a lot more work to search for something, right? Stop for a second and think with me. Is there anything you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to search for it—forever if need be? Last week we talked about asking and receiving. God invites us to ask him for many good things and says he’ll give them to us, such as guidance, grace, and strength to follow him. But, when it comes to apprehending God himself, we are told to “seek” him . . . which is a great deal harder!

Oh, to know God! Even trying to completely understand a spouse takes more than a lifetime. So, it makes perfect sense to me that finding God is not a simple “ask and receive” offer, because understanding the infinite, transcendent God is without a doubt an eternal pursuit. As Einstein posited it: “I want to know God’s thoughts—the rest are details.”  I’m not sure if a love relationship with God is the one goal you’ve been spending your life seeking, but it is definitely the pursuit of my life, and God is THE love of my life!

Why? I guess because I fell in love with him the first time I heard that he loves me (and you . . . and every one of us)! Why? I don’t know! I’m not sure there’s a real answer to “why” someone loves another person . . . true love, that is! We appreciate those who do good things for us or benefit us in some way, but that’s different from loving them! To love someone is to willingly sacrifice ourselves for their benefit. It’s the energizing power to bless them apart from their benefiting us, and there’s no logical “why” to that in my mind. Still, I want to say that although I fell in love with God initially as a response to experiencing his love for me, I have been hugely benefited from his love ever since.

What are some of the blessings that I have experienced and are available to all who are willing to seek the Lord?
*Salvation and faith.For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
*Liberty.I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45).
*Peace.Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
*Hope. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).
*Love. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).
*Joy and strength. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
*Eternal life.And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
*Goodness and other gifts given by the Holy Spirit.But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).  

Is there anybody on this earth who wouldn’t love to experience all these blessings? However, these gifts are given to “those who belong to Christ Jesus [and] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, ESV). Living a life crucified with Christ is a lifelong pursuit of God and his holiness! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s not an easy “ask and receive” fix; it’s a lifelong commitment to seeking God with all our hearts.

Thankfully, we don’t have to do it all on our own, because Jesus is also pursuing us! “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He loves us so much more than we will ever be able to comprehend! Do you know that? Are you responding to his love by daily seeking him with all your heart? “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified” (Psalm 40:16). Amen? Amen!!

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 7:7, “Seek, and ye shall find.” Matthew 7:8, “He that seeketh findeth.” Luke 11:9-10, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Would You Like Answers to Forty Questions About Heaven and Hell?

If so, what questions would you ask?

Alan Gomes has written the most exhaustive and scholarly book about heaven and hell that I’ve ever read, and given the pervasive interest in all things spiritual among people today, I think it’s well worth the hard work to study through it, whether or not you think there is an afterlife (which more than 70% of Americans affirm), and whether or not you think you’re heading straight to heaven after you die (which two-thirds of Americans believe is their destiny) or hell (which only 0.5% of Americans presume). And, what of the 30% who aren’t sure if there’s a heaven or hell—or if it’s even possible to know how to get to heaven if such a place exists . . . or if they’ll go to heaven or hell or nowhere after they die?

If you’d like to know exactly what the Bible has to say about heaven and hell, and how to get there, please read this book! I can’t begin—in a short post—to pass along the wealth of research that Gomes presents, but it was a book I had trouble putting down! (Which is saying a lot for someone who normally falls asleep trying to read a gripping novel. 🙂 )

In a systematic and thoughtful way, Alan Gomes presents the scriptures related to forty of the most commonly asked questions concerning our makeup as spiritual beings and the afterlife, including various theories from the major schools of interpretation. He starts by defining such common terms as “soul,” “spirit,” “heaven,” and “hell,” taking the various Hebrew and Greek words and walking us through how they are used in the Scripture. For instance, what do the various terms “hell,” “sheol,” “hades,” “gehnna” and “the lake of fire” mean and how do they relate? (Later he discusses many other words, such as “eternal” and “everlasting,” and how those terms help us understand the final state of those who have died.) He explains the concepts of “resurrection” and the basis for “eternal life.” He explains what the “universalists” and “annihilationists” believe, and whether or not all dogs (or any dogs) go to heaven. Seriously!

Here is a short list of some of the questions that most interested me:
*What happens to infants who die?
*Is it possible to communicate with the dead?
*Is there such a place as purgatory?
*Does God give people an opportunity for conversion after they die?
*On what is the final judgment based?
*How could a God of love send people to an eternal hell? (Does he?)
*What should we conclude about those who claim to have seen heaven or hell?

I wish I could answer all those questions simply in this post, but the answers are mostly stitched together after a thorough study of all relevant scriptures. Instead, I’ll just urge you to explore the book for yourself. However, I’ll confine this blog to sharing a few thoughts from the book on what heaven is and how to get there.

“Heaven” is not the final home of believers but is rather the abode of God where believers go when they die. “To be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Rather than spending all day as disembodied spirits floating on clouds playing harps, the eternal state (ES) of believers is actually to live with Christ in a literal, physical “new Jerusalem” on a “new earth” with resurrected and glorified bodies that are sinless and immortal. But, this occurs after the Millennial Reign of Christ and the final judgment, not immediately upon death. (All of this is clearly detailed in the book.)

Although my next remark goes beyond the scriptures (and a bit beyond Gomes’ book), it sounds possible to me that we’ll be living life as ever expanding people who worship, fellowship, explore, create, learn, and progress in all things good and beautiful. I do know for sure that everyone will be supremely happy, and all sorrow will be gone: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Is it possible to know we’re going to heaven when we die? If so, how can we know, given that there is to be a “final judgment?” We read in Revelation 20:12 about a vision the Apostle John had concerning the end of the ages: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

But, I thought we are going to be judged according to our faith, isn’t that true? “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20,26). It is through our good works that faith is evident. So, if it’s a matter of good works, and we’re being weighed in the balance, what “good works” will weigh enough to declare us “good enough”? Will we just have to try our hardest and hope for the best when we stand before God at the judgment?

Thankfully, Jesus gives us the answer in John 6:29, “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” It isn’t really our own personal good works that balance the scales or serve as some sort of golden ticket admission pass. It is utter dependence on the good work of Jesus, who died as a propitiation for our sins so that we can be forgiven for our sins and pass from death to life spiritually. Although our body will die, when we repent of our sins and surrender to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, our spirit is “born again” into the eternal life of Christ. At the judgment seat of Christ, when the books are opened, we will be judged as righteous, not based on our good works but on the merit of Christ, who lived a perfect life of good works and whose death was the complete payment for our sins.

So, according to the Bible, there is certainly a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. God made a way for every person in the world to be assured of passing from this life immediately into the presence of God and heaven if they so choose. The vicarious death of Christ for us provides everything we need to be assured of heaven, but we must accept this gift of eternal life. Not everyone will be saved, but everyone is offered the free gift of salvation. It’s as if there is a cure for cancer offered to everyone, but not everyone will be cured, because not everyone will believe the cure will work and will therefore take the cure. Except, it’s not cancer we’re talking about; it’s death. Not everyone needs a cure for cancer, but everyone needs a cure for death. This is it: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

For those who don’t take the cure, then they will be judged according to their own personal works, but the verdict is already out on whether or not anybody will be “good enough” to get to heaven on their own merit. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Who will be condemned? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). However, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Do all dogs go to heaven? Well, you might want to read Gomes’ book to figure that one out, but I will tell you, every person on this earth is invited to go to heaven based on faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Will you believe on Jesus?

Is It Okay to be Gay for Christians?

If I may start at the end and work backward, I’d like to begin this with a quote from the end of Karen Keen’s book on this subject: “The end results surprised me. Rather than a black-and-white answer, I heard God saying ‘freedom.’ Not the kind of freedom that celebrates licentiousness, but the kind of freedom that loves you no matter what, even when you don’t measure up.” In a nutshell, this conclusion resonates in my heart as well.

That being said, let me point out places where I question the logic in Karen’s lines of reasoning in her book, Scripture, Ethics, & The Possibility Of Same-Sex Relationships. It would take hours—possibly even a book—to adequately discuss and counter all her arguments (at least the ones I disagree with, which aren’t all of them, of course! 🙂 ), and I am open to discussing any points or details she’s written about, but for the sake of this post not turning into an alternate doctoral thesis, let me address her four main topics:

1. Attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates
2. Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances
3. Discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy
4. Reflecting on the fall in light of science

1. I agree that the overarching intent of biblical mandates is to provide for the common good of all people, and the law can be summed up in “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:36-40). Where we disagree is in what it actually means to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus expanded on that in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (See also John 14:21 and John 15:10). Our love for God is proven by our keeping his commandments, but in the spirit of love, not without it. (See the beautiful description of what love in action looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.) 1 John 5:3 enlarges on this: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we truly love God with all our hearts and souls, even the terribly difficult things we endure for his sake will not grieve us, because we understand that our self-sacrifices are done out of love for Him and for the good of others . . . which fulfills God’s mandate.

God’s commandments were given to us for our good and for the good of others. God created us; He understands us; He has given us commandments to train us in the way of godliness. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith will naturally follow from the prayerful practice of God’s commandments, and it will also result in knowing what true love for others looks like. True love will persevere through failure, but true love doesn’t condone breaking commandments for the sake of accommodating someone else’s failures. Jesus never broke any of the commandments. He fulfilled the law, although he had compassion on the failures of others. To break any of God’s commandments is a failure to love God and our fellow man, and it comes from a lack of faith. From Genesis through Revelation, God is trying to teach us to trust Him to solve our problems rather than break laws attempting to find our own “better” solutions. He doesn’t want us to take matters into our own hands, like Sarah, to make things “turn out right.” They won’t! When we disobey, we open the door to failure, not success. Compassion unhinged from righteousness creates evil, not good. God calls us to overcome evil with good, not succumb to evil because persevering in good is too hard.

Before moving on to her second point, I do want to applaud Karen for her honesty in reporting: “The Old Testament authors speak only negatively of same-sex relations” (17; see Lev. 18:22;20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). She goes on to explain, “In the New Testament, all mention of same-sex relations is negative” (18; see in particular Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Karen goes on to ask: If both the traditionalists and the progressives agree that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, “then why the debate? Doesn’t that mean the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong?” (19). I would say, “Yes! Preach it, sister! 🙂

However, Keen goes on to suggest that the authors of the biblical books may not have had insight into all forms of same-sex relationships, so they “may not” have been addressing homosexuality generally. To me, that is like saying that the Bible always condemns adultery . . . but it may not have been addressing some of the extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if your spouse has an incurable illness and is no longer sexually available? Based on how difficult it is to be celibate, might the Bible turn a blind eye to the man who seeks to relieve sexual tension and find some comfort with another woman in that devastating situation? Or, what about many single people who have the same sexual urges all of us experience but have not been able to secure a mate? What about the widows and widowers who yearn for sexual release? What about those who are imprisioned and can’t be with their spouse? So far, our society does not make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, and although most Christians would feel compassion, no one would deem such behavior godly or to be celebrated.

2. Our response to the second issue is directly connected to our view of the Bible . . . and man’s first temptation: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The basic issue is whether or not the Bible’s teachings were superintended by an all-knowing God whose precepts were and always shall be an immutable standard for life and conduct, or whether the scriptures were written by various men who were limited in their understanding, bound by cultural issues, and not aware of current scientific theories, rendering their ideas no longer binding or sufficient. Karen feels we can improve on some of them to better meet the needs of modern people.

“Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances,” in common parlance, is suggesting that even that which was ordained at the time of creation—such as God creating male and female as complimentary halves of a marriage unit—is now up for debate and possible reinterpretation. In part, Karen justifies this by saying that science has disproven the Genesis account of creation. For instance: “Instead of Adam and Eve, the data indicates Adams and Eves” (86) and makes the assertion that the scientifically approved “Y-chromosome Adam” [as the progenitor of all living males] “was not the only Homo sapiens alive in his time nor the first. In other words, he is only the father of male lineages that happened to survive to the present” (86).

To me, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the authority of Scripture with someone who no longer believes the biblical accounts are accurate. For instance, Keen claims that “both science and Genesis indicate that bodily decay and evil existed prior to Adam” (87). Evil pre-existed the fall: The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. However, the Bible clearly teaches that “by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). Yes, evil existed, but not the principle of death and decay working within the bodies and spirits of Adam and Eve.

Keen’s theory that same-sex attraction may be simply variation in species development rather than natural fallenness is based on a failure to understand the clear teaching of Genesis. Keen says  Genesis indicates that bodily decay predated the fall because Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden to keep from eating from the tree of life. This is faulty thinking. At the time they were cast out of the garden, they were in the process of decaying, but that is because they had already sinned. The Genesis record is explicit: God said they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree. Death was the result of failing to believe and obey God. Keen can imagine that scientific “evidence” proves death and decay were already present, but there is nothing in the Bible to support her claim. To the contrary, the Bible makes clear that death came as a result of disbelief and disobedience. Also, no ethical scientist would purport to be able to “prove” via any scientific examination of non-existent remains that this woman, named Eve, was predisposed to death before disobeying God. Scientific theory is based on present-day human genetic programming, which according to the Genesis account was changed by the fall rather than predating it. Sending Adam and Eve out of the garden lest their decaying bodies continue to live forever in a state of spiritual death was a mercy! It is only through being born again spiritually that we receive eternal life, and it is only through the process of physical death and resurrection that we will inherit a new, incorruptible body.

The book is filled with hermeneutical inconsistencies. As a couple of examples, she compares homosexual behavior to someone who has Tourette’s. This isn’t even close. Homosexuals make conscious choices to engage in what comes naturally to them. The tics of those with Tourette’s are not controllable by the patient any more than an epileptic can control his seizures. Also, likening people who have a homosexual preference to those who become left-handed as an amoral, natural variation is incompatible with any consistent interpretation of scripture. The 700 elite troops from Benjamin who were left-handed were praised in Judges 20:16, and God used Ehud, who was left-handed, to deliver Israel from the Moabites. Being left-handed is never condemned in the Scripture, whereas homosexual behavior is never approved but always condemned.

3. Okay, let’s have an honest discussion on the feasibility of celibacy. Keen reports: “I came to a greater appreciation that no evidence exists that it’s possible for all people [to remain celibate], I saw that setting a bar that cannot be reached renders the mandate meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” (113). This is the voice of reason apart from faith and the Judeo-Christian moral code, because the God of the Bible does demand perfection in all areas: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The purpose of the law is to make us realize our inability to attain perfection and to bring us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that we can’t keep the law does not “render the mandate meaningless,” however. Instead, it should drive us to Christ for help, as we are taught a few verses later: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:16). To say that we can’t keep the law perfectly makes it “meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” is logical to an unbeliever, but not to a person of faith. Reason without faith is not Christianity. It is agnosticism.

Lest I seem too harsh, I want to stand on record as having a clear recognition that celibacy is nigh unto impossible for most of us. However, it is how we respond to this challenge that will guide us into the paths of life! If you can be celibate, and want to be celibate, by all means do so! Great good can be accomplished by those who are not distracted by mates and family, and we should all honor and help provide community support for those who feel called by God to forgo the joys (and difficulties) of married life in order to serve God unencumbered.

However, for most of us, the awareness of our own need for sexual intimacy drives us to find a mate, and for those of us who believe that sex was created as the uniquely sacred privilege of marriage . . . well, we become driven to marry! Single people who have been unable to find a mate are not off the hook. Again, I’m sure many people feel compassion toward those who end up involved in sexual encounters outside of marriage, but such acts are never condoned in the Scripture. “Fornication,” which is the basket term for sexual immorality, (and if you use the Greek word, “porneía” it’s pretty obvious that pornography would be included) is always condemned.

Personally, my deep conviction that if I left my husband, Alan, I should remain celibate helped keep me in my marriage, because I knew my chances of remaining celibate for the rest of my life were about zippo. 😦 I would recommend that homosexuals who take the Bible seriously consider this point, because I also firmly believe that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you find yourself attracted to the same sex, and same-sex relationships are condemned as wrong in the scripture (which everybody agrees is true), then please keep taking your temptation to the Lord. People have some plasticity and ability to change. I have only known a couple dozen homosexuals well enough to say this, but of the ones I’ve known, all of them have had some interest in the opposite sex at some point in their life. I know that the dopamine rush from homosexual behavior can light up your brain like a Fourth of July fireworks and permanently rearrange and reshape your brain chemistry, but if you sincerely believe there is no way out except by learning to love someone of the opposite sex (and I do mean “learn,” as an act of the will, just the way most of us have to “learn” to love our heterosexual partner), then you may find that you are capable of forming a heterosexual union. And, eventually, I am convinced (by faith) you can find deep and lasting fulfillment with that partner, whether or not it’s the most erotic relationship you could ever imagine with a same-sex partner. Frankly, if people could be honestly polled, my guess would be that most people are married to someone who was not the single most sexually attractive person they ever met! However, I can say from experience, that sexual attraction is not the best indicator of whom will make the best life-time partner or most satisfying mate. The best mates are those most like Christ. Think about it! There is hope beyond celibacy. No one HAS to refuse attempting to develop a satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Be honest, but be willing to try. That is your choice!

4. “Reflecting on the fall in light of science.” For a starter, Keen kind of says it all: “Currently, there is no scientific consensus on why people are gay or lesbian” (91). “Genes do not cause a person to be gay” (93). Fact! To date, scientists cannot explain how people develop an attraction to same sex individuals. Obviously, there are a few (very rare) cases of true hermaphrodites (“intersex”—people born with characteristics of both sexes), but the vast majority of people who self-identify as homosexual have no genetic basis for their orientation (at least, none presently known). Research has been able to find some statistically significant correlations between birth order, sexual abuse, and dysfunctional family life, but so far nobody—including gays—can clearly trace the course of their sexual development. In the few personal histories I’ve known, most of them were abused (or allured) by a homosexual and were caught off guard at first but then “fell in love.” Seduction isn’t the whole answer, though! All sorts of people attempt to seduce others (and by far the greatest number—as reflecting the general population—are heterosexual). What makes one person “fall for it” and another shun the seducer/seductress? Our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven and complex that even we ourselves can’t understand everything that goes on within us!

Despite the “no known reason yet” of science, we are left with the reality that a small percentage of our population definitely experiences same-sex attraction. As a society, how should we respond? Karen’s answer is completely dissatisfying to me! She sees the desire of Christians to see homosexual people become heterosexual as a “lust for perfection” and suggests that we should re-envisioning how we respond. However, Jesus sets the standard at perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the Bible calls us to holiness rather than simply accommodating sins: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible never suggests we give up on our efforts to live godly lives, although it does offer forgiveness for us in our failures and imperfections. The Bible never approves simply accommodating natural fallenness with sinful alternatives. For example, someone who feels like they can’t stop lusting isn’t therefore given a free pass to watch porn without any consequences, because there are always consequences for sinful behaviors. To simply say, “It’s okay to be gay” goes against the uniform guidance of scripture on how to provide for a good and just society, and we would do well to heed the Word of God!

If I may, I would like to end back at the beginning. God does give us freedom to choose how we will live our lives, including with whom we choose to live them. He has definitely gifted us as humans with a great deal of autonomy, and in this life on earth, we are granted the right to be the master of our own fate in many ways. BUT, God has provided a way of wisdom through Jesus Christ, who is “the Word made flesh” and the living “Word of God.” If you are a believer, then “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus set us free—but His desire is that we obey his commands (found in His Word, the Bible) because we love HIM. His commands are for our own good, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

One verse that has really helped me in my own wrestlings with the lusts of my flesh is found in Psalm 16:7, “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The counsels of the Lord in the Bible lead us into the right paths, and his reins (the restrictions that bind us) help us during the times when we are confused and can’t tell clearly which way to go. If you will allow God’s commandments and the reins he puts on us to guide your heart day and night, He will bring you to the place of fullness of joy. As David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). May God bless and guide us into the Light as we seek to walk by faith. I know it’s never easy to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12).

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (67): Pearls for Pigs, Anyone?

“Don’t cast your pearls before swine” conjures up such a provocative image that pretty much everybody’s heard it. However, what did Jesus mean when he first proclaimed it? Perhaps the most common interpretation among Christians today runs something like this: “Share the good news of redemption through Christ (our Great Pearl) with everyone around you, but if they don’t believe you, don’t keep pressuring them. Instead, share the Gospel somewhere else, among those who may gladly receive Christ and the mysteries of the Kingdom of God (also referred to as treasure hid in a field, Matthew 13:44). Everybody deserves to hear the good news, but those who don’t believe and disparage the gift of God will just trample your treasure (eternal life through Christ) underfoot, possibly turning back to harm you as well.” I think this is good advice and a fair interpretation, although perhaps more narrow than Jesus intended.

Here is a more inclusive paraphrase that I believe fits the parameters better: “Don’t cast your pearls (the wisdom found in the Bible) before swine (in this case, anyone—believer or not—who fails to accept and submit to the teachings of God’s Word).” Why? “Lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).

I mentioned last week that there is one other thing repeatedly affirmed as “holy” in the scriptures. It is the Bible. The Bible is described as “his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), “the holy scriptures” (Romans 1:2) that is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15). It was not written simply by various men who were limited by their understanding of the world and locked into the culture of their time period, but rather, “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

Furthermore, the laws given in the Old Testament were not annulled by Christ but fulfilled by him. He took our punishment for failing to obey the law perfectly, but that didn’t end the value of God’s instructions to us! After the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul affirmed their value: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). One of the things we shouldn’t give away is our confidence that God’s Word is holy: “worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness” (Merriam Webster).

Jesus warned us not to give that which is holy to the “dogs” (as a metaphor often used in the Scripture to refer to those who were without moral scruples and unpredictable). “Pigs,” on the other hand, are unclean but very predictable. Pigs are predictably dirty and have one thing in mind: satisfying their own appetites. Since pearls can’t be digested, they would be useless to a pig. In fact, casting pigs some pearls instead of slop might infuriate them. After squealing and stampeding in hopes of getting their pig’s share—only to find that pearls weren’t tasty—pigs might turn against you in anger!

So, dispersing pearls of wisdom to those whose god is their belly is a waste of time and may merit persecution rather than regenerate pigs. Extrapolating from that: God’s wisdom (found in the Word of God) is something that those who have already given up their holiness (and rejected the authority of our Holy God) will not receive. These people have become like pigs. They are intent on satisfying the appetites of their flesh, and inflamed appetites cannot be satisfied by the Words of Life found in the scripture! Falling for Satan’s “Hath God reaaally said???” is a slow process. First a person wants some forbidden fruit. Next, they refuse to accept the obvious truth as stated and try by sleight of tongue to twist God’s Words into something that will allow or (hopefully even) affirm their desires, intentionally suppressing truth (trampling it in the mud). Eventually, they become as incapable of discernment as spiritual pigs who can no longer even digest the truth, and if you offer it to them, they will be angered, preferring to feed on the slop of this world.

Where am I going with all this? It’s a warning to each of us—believers as well as unbelievers. The Bible is full of wisdom about how to live. Both the Old Testament and New Testament have guidelines intended for the good of all people. It’s the “Guidebook on How to Live” written by the One who built every model of humanity that exists and who knows how we work. These pearls of wisdom are like treasure intended to guard us from evil and draw us into the ways of life and peace. If we cast off our personal holiness and reject the authority of the Bible as the true, holy words of God . . . if we have made an idol of one or another of our appetites and don’t believe that God can really meet our need without our breaking some spiritual law, then we have cast away our confidence in God. We have become like spiritual pigs.

If you happen to read this and it makes you furious, then I wish you would pray and ask the Lord to reveal the true Truth to you, whatever it is. I’m totally open to hearing your response. On the other hand, if it makes you furious, but you have even a glimmering sense that this might be right, then I beg you to pray for God to open your eyes and heart to the truth and give you the grace to obediently follow Him, even if it means giving up something you treasure almost more than life itself. God alone is worthy of our worship!

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:34-36).

Text for Today: Matthew 7:6, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

Recently Alan and I had the privilege of listening to the reflections of the surgeon who had operated on Alan 11 years ago. When Brian cared for Alan’s medical needs, he was young— a freshly minted surgeon who had settled in Grand Rapids after graduating from Yale, graduate school and a medical degree from the University of Michigan, and residency at Cleveland Clinic. With both PhD and M.D. degrees, Brian was on the cutting edge of research and technological training. We have been grateful for Brian’s continuing, compassionate care at his office, and we also see him often in passing at our church, where we all attend.

Brian is about the age of our oldest son (45), so we were shocked when we heard that he himself had been diagnosed with cancer, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that we heard more of his story at the January meeting of our local CMDA (Christian Medical and Dental Association). As it turns out, eighteen months ago, Brian was diagnosed with two primary cancers: sarcoma and renal.

The details of his journey are his to tell, but I have asked permission to share some of his reflections on dealing with the cancer in his life and how it has impacted his practice. He was very open about the terror he felt in waiting for further testing to actually understand the extent of his disease and get a feeling for his prognosis. Even as a believer, it’s excruciating to be in the emotional limbo that is inevitable as you wait to hear if you’re going to live or die.

He mentioned crying out to God in deep anguish, not asking to be miraculously healed, but just asking for his testing date to be moved up so he didn’t have to wait so long to know how serious his illness was. During that prayer, his phone rang, and a secretary told him there had been a cancellation so that he could be seen earlier! This answer to his specific prayer gave him a deep sense of peace that God did see and hear him, and that God had everything under control, even though Brian did not! This settled peace allowed Brian to feel secure in God’s love and trust Him, no matter what comes.

It also reminded Brian of the importance of committing our ways to God not just once, but at all times, to daily work at becoming all that God has created us to be, and to be good stewards of the time, talent, and treasure God has given us.

Brian also reflected on the benefits of being a patient. It has made him more compassionate and concerned with the quality of life, not just how long a person has to live. He now understands first-hand the terror of not knowing and how painful it is to wait for testing and results. One of the take-homes for me (as a non-medical person), is simply to be more empathetic with people who are having to deal with all the unknowns of their disease—ultimately, what are the chances for life and risk of death?

During the Q&A afterward, I asked Brian to elaborate more on decision-making styles. He said people fall into three main groups: those who want to make their own decisions based on information the medical system provides; those who want to work closely with the physician to form a treatment plan that seems good to both; and those who ask the physician to make the decision based on the doctor’s best judgment. (“What would YOU do if it were you?”) Brian says the hardest patients are those who make their own decisions, sometimes based on opinions very contrary to the best that medical wisdom can offer. He has never “fired” a patient (refused to care for them), but he says some surgeons will send patients elsewhere if they believe the treatment plan the patient demands will be deleterious to the patient’s health.

This makes me think of the way people respond to the Great Physician, the Lord God Almighty. Some people come to God, crying out for mercy and do find “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) as Brian has done. They are willing to trust God and surrender to His superior wisdom, recognizing his love and knowing that His plans are best, even though they are not what he (we) might have chosen. Some people bargain with God, trying to work out a plan based on God’s input but making their own final decisions. Some people listen to God’s Word but then disregard His teachings and choose their own way. These people are headed for disaster. I don’t think God “fires” anybody either, but He will let us go astray if we want to. Why? Because ultimately, freedom to choose is a litmus test of love and respect. God gives us the gift of freedom because He loves us. Yes, He will intervene if we cry out to him, but He won’t force us to do things HIS way.

Are you struggling to make a good decision about some problem in your life? It might be a medical issue, or it might be one of a thousand other issues, but know that God Almighty is there, and He really does care! If you cry out to him in repentance and faith, He will listen, and He will help. Trust Him! He knows what’s best for each of us, and He is not silent if you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”)

I just finished memorizing Psalm 34, and it is so full of wisdom that I’m going to include the entire psalm. Please read it! You can read it all in under two minutes. Think of it as rubbing healing balm onto your sore soul!

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. 10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. 11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. 20 He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. 21 Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. 22 The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”

Creation with Apparent Age

Is the world really 6024± years old (as Young Earth Creationist Christians believe), or 6000± years old (as estimated by many Muslims), or 5780 years old (according to Jewish calculations), or 4.5 billion (±50 million years old according to current scientific theory)? No matter how people put the evidence together, no one can definitively establish the exact “when” or “how” the earth was created, but I heard a message last Sunday at church which made so much sense to me that I want to share it with you. (If you have time to hear the entire message [“Creation” presented on January 5, 2020], it can be found here: https://calvarygr.org/).

Pastor Jim used the miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine to illustrate several things about creation. In John 2:7-8, Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots with water and take them to the master of ceremonies of the wedding dinner. Within moments, the water had turned into such excellent wine that the M.C. thought it was better than anything else he’d tasted. When did the water turn into wine? Nobody really knows, but it was obviously a miracle, and somehow Jesus accomplished it. Also, the wine was only minutes old, but it appeared to be properly aged (which Jim said in those days would have been between one-two years). Likewise, God could have created the earth with the appearance of age no matter how old it actually is.

Jim also pointed out that the servants didn’t get in a fight with the M.C. over how old the wine was or try to prove anything to him. They recognized the miracle, along with Mary and perhaps a few others, but most of the people at the dinner party—including the man responsible for providing the feast—probably had no idea where the wine came from. If a team of scientists had been summoned to study the situation, they would have concluded that the wine must have been produced over the course of the past several years, because that’s what the evidence would indicate. Humility and prayer—not arrogance and arguments—should characterize Christians.

The age of the earth is not worth fighting about, and those of us who believe that God created the earth are never going to be able to “prove” God created the earth any more than scientists can “prove” that it began with a big bang 13.7 billion years ago. The origin of the universe has been revealed to us as a spiritual truth in the Bible, but God has chosen to leave some of the specifics as a mystery, just as Jesus did not explain how he turned the water into wine. What we can trust as reliable is the Genesis record concerning the process of creation. This can be beautifully harmonized with what scientists are discovering and theorizing about the origins of the universe. (If you’re interested, check out this post on Francis Collins, the head of America’s National Institute of Health: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/do-you-know-the-language-of-god/ ).

As Christians, our job is to believe what the Bible teaches, humbly recognizing that we (I—you—any of us) probably do not have a perfect understanding of what it says today. Let’s not fight about it! When we get to heaven, we will know the Truth completely, but until then, we each have a part of the truth and some blind spots and errors in our thinking. God calls us to peace and grace!

I have no trouble believing the world could have been made in six 24-hour days, but I also know God created light and dark before the sun and moon, and “nights” and “days” were counted before there was a sun to count off 24 hours. So, the “day” and “night” could also indicate the beginning and ending of a period of time, such as “the Day of the Lord” as mentioned in Zacheriah 14:1, which is obviously a time of judgment, not a 24-hour period.

Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” 1511. Public Domain

Imagine if you were God, trying to communicate the origins of the universe to people. How would you explain it? To me, God speaking the world into existence is completely compatible with the “Big Bang,” and the creation of life on various “days” can be perfectly harmonized with the idea of eras of evolutionary development. In Hebrews 11:3 we learn that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The deeper science delves into trying to understand what this world is made of, the more it appears that it’s made out of energy—something that is invisible! “All things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16-17). God, the self-existent one, created and sustains the universe, and nothing scientists find contradicts this fact, although neither can science prove this fact. God is God; we are his beloved creations, and He has ordained that rather than “prove” our way into knowing God, we are to believe, trust, and love our way into knowing God.

Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are all rooted in faith. Faith takes humility. Faith requires us to surrender our hearts to God, accepting the mysterious and trusting Him to enlighten us in His time and way. I hope as we move forward into 2020, we will keep our eyes focused on God . . . looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our created universe, each one of us, and of our faith. Rather than worry about the whens and hows, may we accept the beauty of mystery and put our trust in the everlasting arms of God, so that with the Apostle Paul, we can know “the unsearchable riches of Christ . . . the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-9).

Earth, as seen from Apollo 17, 1972. Public Domain

How Great Thou Art
(Carl Boberg, translated into English and added to by Stuart K. Hine)

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the *worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Refrain:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Refrain

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Refrain

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!

How Great Thou Art, sung by Carrie Underwood

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (63): Forgive and Be Forgiven

As 2019 draws to a close, I can’t think of any commandment more appropriate than Jesus’s teaching on giving and seeking forgiveness: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). What a perfect way to end the year! Some people never reconcile with those who have offended them; some wait until they’re on their deathbed or at the funeral of a mutually beloved family member. But, what a waste! Why not offer and receive forgiveness before the year dies rather than waiting until WE die?!!

There are many diverse opinions out there on what it actually means to forgive, but I believe the one from Wikipedia is right on: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledges offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).”

Here are some wise insights from William P. Young’s The Shack: “Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.”

If you wonder whether or not you’ve really forgiven someone, test yourself with these questions: Do I still erupt in anger when I remember the event(s)? Do I truly hope the offender will recover and become a trustworthy person, or am I more focused on wanting the person to be exposed, brought to justice, and punished? Am I willing to accept their confession and request for forgiveness, or do I refuse to believe they’re sincere?

If you’re struggling to forgive anyone, please understand that God tells us to forgive—not on the basis of the offender’s worthiness or repentance—but based on God’s willingness to forgive us for our sins: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus instructs us to forgive, not only for the sake of the offender but also for our own emotional health and healing. It’s not just the Judeo/Christian heritage that promotes the value of forgiving others either; it’s a part of every major religion! Even among the non-religious, there are literally thousands of quotes about forgiveness, In fact, there are 3012 quotes on Goodreads alone! (Here’s one of my favorites: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”― Mark Twain. Talk about a good, challenging resolution for the New Year!! 🙂 )

Below, I’m sharing seventeen of my favorite quotes on forgiveness. I hope you’ll take time to pray your way through, asking the Lord to help you forgive anyone against whom you are still holding a grudge. Before this year ends, may we all be free from the bondage of unforgiving hearts!

(Photo credit for first photo: “I Will Give You Rest,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com .)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (61): Judge Not

This has been a really challenging post for me to write, because by nature I am a moralist, and as I’m slowly learning—also a legalist. So, to figure out what Jesus was teaching—and is (present tense) expecting from those of us who attempt to be his disciples, I studied every verse in the Bible that talks about judging. . . and there are literally hundreds! From Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is commended as someone who will “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” all the way to Revelation 19:2, where God is worshiped because “true and righteous are his judgments,” the Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of understanding and keeping God’s laws, of living justly, and doing right.

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Luke 6:37 ), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The first thing that struck me from studying is that Jesus doesn’t mean, “Don’t attempt to discern right from wrong.” The entire weight of scripture promotes a life of knowing and keeping the “way of wisdom,” embodied in knowing and keeping God’s laws: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9). Being a moralist and a legalist is not all bad. God wants us to know and do what is just and good. “Mind over matter.” “Do right ’til the stars fall.” “Keep on keeping on.” These aphorisms are right and good! Don’t shove your moral compass (the scriptures) into a back drawer; keep your Bible as the GPS on your dashboard!!

The second thing I learned is to distinguish between discerning good from evil and judging people. I think Jesus is saying, “Judge not [people], that ye be not judged [by other people].” So, the standard is personal purity for ourselves while not assuming responsibility for the actions of other people . . . or passing judgment on them. You can call it a “Double Standard” if you want, and I think that’s almost appropriate, but the double standard puts the burden for purity and uprightness squarely on our own shoulders. It is up to us to do right regardless of what anybody else does.

What does this look like day to day? Jesus didn’t come only as an example to us (He came to die for our sins and become our redeemer), but He is the perfect example for us to follow, and in studying the life of Christ, we have many accounts of how he interacted with people—all of whom had character flaws, and some of whom were characterized by immoral behavior. Jesus never shunned anybody! (If you can correct me, please do, but I haven’t found a single instance.) Jesus rebuked those who confronted him with sinful behavior: “Sin no more” (to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11) and even “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (speaking to his most passionate disciple, Peter, in Mark 8:33). Jesus’s most violent reaction was to the religious leaders who had turned God’s temple into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Jesus was clearly enraged by the spiritual leaders hypocritically oppressing the people, and he cleansed the temple, but he didn’t lay a hand on anyone . . . anyone. If Jesus—who could have called down fire from heaven to devour evil men—never harmed anyone and only rebuked sinful behaviors, then none of the rest of us ever has the right to attempt to take justice into our own hands and repay evil with evil.

How do I know? Because the scriptures are crystal clear on how God intends for judgment and justice to work:

*God is ultimately responsible for judging: “He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

*God, as the creator, ruler, and sustainer of Earth, is the only one with the ultimate right to judge: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

*God is the only one who can judge and execute justice perfectly: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30).

*Furthermore, God does care about good and evil, and He is at work, even though it’s not always obvious to us: “God is angry with the wicked: God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

*God has ordained governments and church leaders to serve as judges in disputes between people: “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). Also: “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:12).

*In situations where we are being personally oppressed, we are free to pray for relief and for God to judge— based on our personal uprightness and innocence: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:12). ” The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).

*Because Jesus did not come to earth to judge, we are relieved of that responsibility at this time also: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

*Our responsibility is to teach the Bible to others so they’ll understand right from wrong, because it is ultimately the Word of God in the Bible by which people will be judged: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

*We are specifically warned against judging other people: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

* We are reminded that we are also not without sin: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).

*Instead of being judgmental, we would do well to pray for those who are trapped in sinful lusts, doing everything we can to help them overcome: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

*Instead of being angry and shunning those who are doing evil, we need to learn to be broken-hearted for them, as they will eventually become miserable, whether or not we can observe it from the outside: “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Romans 2:8-9).

*Lastly, let’s remember that there will ultimately be a judgment for our entire earth, where good will be vindicated and evil punished: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

*Still confused? I am sometimes! But thankfully, if we are believers, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to interact with others, and we can remember that it’s HIS JOB to convict people of their sins, not ours!If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).

If You Think It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way . . .

You’re not the only one! In fact, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered—by Lysa TerKeurst—has become a New York Times bestseller because it speaks so eloquently to broken hearts. Why? Because Lysa shares transparently from her own life-shattering experiences, opening her heart to expose both the pain and the healing she found during her struggle to survive and eventually overcome the unthinkable that happened to her.

For a starter, have you ever heard the old saying that God will never give us more than we can handle? Lysa reminds us that this in not true! God sometimes does give us more than we can handle so we’ll stop trying to do everything on our own. He isn’t being unfair or unkind; rather, He’s at work transforming us into the image of Christ. That may be something you’re resisting, or it may seem impossible to you, but what you now think of as a terrible tragedy may actually be intended by God for your good. Sound unbelievable? Are you willing to surrender to God and see what happens?

Potter working on a wheel made from an old rubber tire in India

Lysa is an artful story teller, and her book is full of fresh insights into the age-old problem of dealing with pain and heartbreak. One of my favorites has to do with the story from Jeremiah 18 of a visit to the potter’s house, where the Lord reminds Jeremiah that we humans are like pottery being crafted by the Master Potter. When Alan and I were in India, we watched with fascination as a potter formed vessels on his wheel, and so the idea of the clay protesting about how it’s being formed made perfect sense. No, we are not mindless clay; God has given us a will, so we can either submit to the will of the potter or try to manage things on our own. But, if we resist the Potter, we will never be as exquisitely beautiful as we can become if we allow God to mold us, paint us, and fire us.

Something I’d never heard before is that broken vessels can be ground up into dust-sized particles that—when added to the clay as “grout”—will actually make a new vessel even stronger and more able to withstand pressure without breaking. Lysa likens us to being intentionally ground to dust sometimes in order to become something new, stronger, and better. I know none of us like pain, but God’s promise to make beauty out of ashes if we’ll let him is very comforting to me.

If you, or anyone you love, is feeling like your world is upside down these days—or completely burned to ashes—consider reading It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. If you live in Grand Rapids, you can buy the book tomorrow at the Kregel’s Parable store (Rivertown Mall) for $5!! (Otherwise, you can always buy it online.) Speaking of great books for Christmas, if you’re on Face Book, the “Kregel Parable Christian Stores” Face Book Page provides many helpful ideas and opportunities for spiritual growth. If you’re not on FB, their catalogues are hosted at www.kregel.com/catalogs. I’ve also subscribed to their mailing list from their homepage (https://www.kregel.com/) so I know ASAP what they’re offering! (No, I’m not on their payroll, but I am prejudiced! 🙂 This particular book is published by Thomas Nelson, but Kregel has the best deal tomorrow!)

But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter;
and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (59): Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Today is December 1—the first day of Advent Season, and as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th, I couldn’t help but think how perfect it is that this is also the week to meditate on Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This has been my son Michael’s life verse, and I think he’s been living it out beautifully, but today I want to share about my dear friend, Sara, who’s been living it out for even many decades longer.

Last Sunday, I flew to Madison, WI to attend a surprise 70th birthday party for Sara. We all parked away from their home so that no cars could be seen.

As we awaited expectantly for her arrival to what she had been told would be a brunch after church with two other couples, we all wondered if she would actually be surprised, since over 60 people were involved. Was it possible that anybody had inadvertently said anything that might tip her off?

In fact, she was completely surprised, and the proof of it was that she’d been very frustrated with her husband, who had hurried her out of church before she’d had a chance to finish meeting the needs she sensed around here there. This is so Sara—always thinking of others and seeking His kingdom before her own pleasure!

Sara wept for joy as she hugged each of her children and grand children, her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, cousins and precious friends.

I think there were nearly thirty of us who met her at the door! Talk about overwhelmed with happiness!

The venue was amazing! The hosting family who opened their home for the celebration live in a gorgeous estate that looks like a resort lodge! The decorations were simply beautiful! As I helped lay out the last of the silverware on the linen table cloths (after hours of work by friends the previous day), it occurred to me that everything was as elegant as a wedding!

Sara’s daughter had been the mastermind, working in conjunction with Sara’s husband, assisted by several other family members and several couples who were friends, some for 30 years!

The Mediterranean cuisine and beautiful cakes were provided by fantastic caterers. It was amazing!

And then, after enjoying a sumptuous feast with her family, a second wave of about thirty more friends arrived to surprise her!

It seemed magical, like a happily-ever-after fairy tale. There was even a game to make everybody laugh and learn more about Sara! But, what I loved the very most was the final surprise. Her daughter, Jessica, had invited all of us to share something to bless her. It was like a fireworks of well deserved praises.

So many people had memories of her untold kindnesses to others over the years that the tap gushing gratefulness finally had to be turned off so there would be a little time to watch a video and end with a time of praying blessings over Sara.

I was one of the “lucky” (blessed) out-of-towners who had the privilege of spending the night with Sara and James afterward, and the afterglow lasted well into the night. In fact, Sara had trouble sleeping, she was so happy!

Sara’s life has not been easy. In fact, in some ways it’s been very challenging. But her life has been wonderfully blessed, and I know (because I’ve know her for fifty years) that it’s because she has always sought to love the Lord with all her heart and to love everyone around her with the love of Christ. She has chosen over and over and over again to seek God’s kingdom first and put the needs of others ahead of her own, and God truly has added everything and more than she’s ever needed.

Yes, there were times when their cupboards were pretty empty, but through the lean times, Sara hungered even more for the Bread of Life and thirsted most of all for the Water of Life. She’s spent her three-score and ten years choosing to serve God over material security. Nevertheless, God has supplied all her needs, spiritually and physically.

To me, Sara is a living example of someone who has lived out this command—to seek God first—and has received the promise: God’s abundant provision for her. God loves us, and He will take care of us if we are willing to obey Him!

So, as we begin this first day of Advent and look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ on Christmas, I hope you are inspired and encouraged by the example of Sara (as I am!) to seek God’s kingdom first, knowing He will supply our needs too!

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is also repeated in Luke 12:31, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”