Monday, August 31, 2015

And The World Asks "Why?" - Part 3 (Revisit)

“Stormy Land”.  It’s a powerful image taken by Saija Lehtonen.  And reminds me of the stormy atmosphere of today’s world, making our surroundings less inviting than they should be.  There are several reasons for that.

Last time we mentioned that it was quoted on the news that there have been 37 incidents like Sandy Hook, Aurora and the DC Sniper since 1974.  At the time, another newscaster said it was 75 incidents since the mid ‘90s.  And yet a third said there were 20 incidents a year.  None of these bothered to cite their sources, so it’s impossible to determine which (if any of these) is accurate.  But it’s pretty safe to go back through our history and note that the more we removed standards, the more a lot of wrong things occurred in society.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

And The World Asks "Why?" - Part 2 (Revisit)

Again, the picture is what I’ve titled “Stormy Land”, by Saija Lehtonen.  It inspired this series because it demonstrates a truth.  The storm clouds bring a sense of impending gloom and doom.  The landscape no longer has the same inviting look that it would on a bright, sunny day.  That’s true for our intellectual and emotional state, as well.  Bring in a bad economy or a situation like the Sandy Hook shootings and our outlook is closer to gloom and doom than bright cheerfulness.  Last time, we did a brief survey of US history up to the ‘60s.  So far, we’re not seeing signs of much evolutionary improvement.  But there’s still some 40-50 years to go.

Monday, August 24, 2015

And The World Asks "Why?" - Part 1 (Revisit)

We had originally planned editing and resharing this series in a couple of weeks.  We certainly didn't intend two images in a row from the same photographer.  This series came out of Saija Lehtonen’s image, which I’ve titled Stormy Land to go with today’s discussion.  It highlights the emotional state we were all in after the shooting at Sandy Hook, CT.  And again after the recent incident on the train to Paris.  

Storm laden clouds darkening what appears to be possibly dangerous flatlands.  For me, this is the toughest post I’ve had to write and edit.  Once again, we experienced another attempt at a mass shooting, this time on a train.  The series originally came out of the shooting at a K-4 elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT. There were 28 dead, with 20 of those being students at the school, and one more related killing. Our heart and prayers are continually with the survivors and the families of all involved in any of the shootings.  And the world asks, “Why?”.  They don’t have an answer.

The rationale for the public killings seems unfathomable to most people, understandably.  Until we look at US and world history and how our world has changed through the decades.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Run For Your Life! (Revisit)

Saija Lehtonen is one of the great photographers I follow on Google+.  She does a wide variety of subject matter, from hummingbirds, to macro flower shots, to sunsets and sunrises, to vast naturescapes like this one.  As we revisit the thoughts inspired by this image, several years ago, don't forget to give her Google+ profile and Facebook page a visit.  Her pictures will bless you.  This one got me thinking about what we perceive as good and bad, and how we deal with it.

Let’s start by looking at the picture.  It’s raining.  Something that’s good for the parched land.  We’re obviously in a desert.  The land is definitely dry.  And the clouds are very foreboding.  Threatening heavy downpours.  All of that got me thinking about the potential scenario.

Very often, in the old West, you didn’t want to get caught in the middle of the desert in a torrential downpour.  The heavy rain would come down too fast for the dry ground to absorb it.  As a result, the ground didn’t get very much benefit from the rain.  And places that normally were safe might become raging rivers with enough power to take down horse and rider, possibly drowning both.  What should have been a blessing could become a curse.  And yet, there’s vegetation that does stay alive only because of those storms.

The thought of those storms and avoiding the torrents created a mental image of me hightailing it to high ground as the rain poured down.  When I get to someplace safe and out of the torrential downpour, I look more like a soggy rag draped over a horse than a human being sitting tall in the saddle.  But I’m safe and out of the rain.  Our natural instinct is to avoid uncomfortable and painful situations.  Comfortable is good, uncomfortable is bad.  Painless is good, painful is bad.  All of those thoughts are natural.  But are they God’s thoughts?

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, in Exodus 33, God responded, “But, He said, You can not see My face, for no man shall see Me and live.  And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place beside Me, and you shall stand upon the rock, And while My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away My hand and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” 

God was protecting Moses, much like my imagined run for covered high ground in the rain storm, from too much blessing.  Remember that 23 chapters earlier Moses had been in God’s presence. And needed to wear a veil over his face because of the transferred glory, just from having been in God’s presence.  Moses glowed like radium coated clock hands.  Now it was God protecting Moses by only partially allowing his request.  But, let’s look at some others.

There’s Joseph, in the Old Testament.  As we read Genesis 37-47, he goes through a series of negative situations.  He’s thrown in a pit, sold into slavery in another land, then his master’s wife tries to seduce him, and she accuses him of seducing her so he can’t accuse her.  That landed him in prison.  Those are pretty negative circumstances.  But, without those circumstances, there wouldn’t have been the correct interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream.  Which got Joseph elevated to second in command to Pharaoh, over all of Egypt.  And ultimately, reconciliation with his family.  Along with being able to ensure that they were able to live and eat comfortably in the midst of a famine.  None of it could have happened had Joseph avoided the pit and the jail.

Where would we be without Jesus going through all He went through.  Too much to go into, here.  But without the trials and the Cross, our flesh would have denied us the possibility of spending eternity with God.  Jesus certainly could have gotten Himself out of all that turmoil.  But the end result would have been worse.  The Father’s desire for all men to be with Him in eternity would have been fully denied.

There are modern day martyrs, like Richard Wurmbrand, who will vouch for the fact that their relationship with God would have been diminished by living an easy Christianity.  And what about ourselves?  We’ve each had negative circumstances in our lives.  Some more compelling than others.  Would we be the same without them?  Would our relationship with the Lord be as rich if we had it easy?  I can think of situations in my life that seemed horrendous, at the time.  Yet, my closeness with God would have been much shallower without them.

How are you converting those bad experiences to spiritual gold by growing closer to God?

Monday, August 17, 2015

What's Your Poison? (Revisit)



The above graphic was shared on Facebook by GodVine and it hits on part of our subject matter, today.  Back when I worked in broadcasting, there were a few jazz clubs that I’d go to for interviews with some of the musicians.  One had a bartender whose regular question was, “What’s your poison?”.  This year, I attended my second Grace Conference at the Quentin Road Baptist Church, north of Chicago, At the first one I attended, Pastor Jim Scudder Jr gave a great illustration that fits right in with that.  And with the thought behind the graphic.

Picture having a freshly opened bottle of water.  Ice cold, inviting, refreshing.  Any one of us would be happy to twist off the top and take a swallow.  But, next to it, is a small vial of another liquid with a dropper.  And someone puts a few drops from the vial into the water bottle.  Suddenly, that bottle of water isn’t so tempting or attractive.  Why?  Because we don’t know if that liquid in the vial is safe.  Will it make us ill?  Will it kill us?  How potent is the vial of liquid?  That vial may be perfectly safe, but the possibility that it’s not stops us in our tracks.  Spiritually, that’s not always the case.

There are a couple of passages with a similar analogy.  When we read 1Corinthians 5:6, it says, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”.  Or there’s Galatians 5:7-9, which reads, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?  This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.  A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”.  Just like the liquid drops added to the bottle of water, the leaven (yeast) spreads throughout the lump of dough.  But in the moral and spiritual realms, we don’t find it so easy to push away trouble.  At least it would seem that way or God wouldn’t need to warn us about it.  Let’s look a little closer.

The verse in 1Corinthians follows a passage reproving the church for immorality and allowing incest.  And yet they gloried in their supposed spirituality.  Paul was concerned with the immorality, but even more that sin had infected the church.  As any drug addict will tell you, the start of an addiction is very small.  But, over time, the need and the quantity are ever increasing till the addict reaches a level just shy of killing themselves. 

Actively condoning our own sin works the same way as addiction.  We may start with a little lie, or looking at “safe” but risque pictures, or using things from work for our personal use.  And our sin becomes comfortable.  We like it.  It’s an OK sin, compared to other sins.  Whatever level of sinning becomes acceptable in our eyes opens the door to do just a little more the next time.  Some describe it as a “slippery slope”.  That’s a pretty fair assessment.  It usually calls for exactly the issue described in the graphic that starts this post.  That allows hanging onto our own sin, because it’s different from what we’re condemning.

Galatians 5 deals with what seems like a slightly different issue with similar results.  Diluted doctrine.  The Galatians started with the Grace of God, then added other requirements.  Remember that graphic at the top of the post?  It fits even more for this.  What the Galatians did was take the Word of God, then superimpose their own thoughts on Biblical Truth, changing it to Grace plus something.  The something can be doing something extra to please God or it can be doing something to avoid a certain area of sin – as long as it’s not our area of sin.  Sounds like the Corinthians, doesn’t it?  And maybe us?

If we want unleavened bread, we don’t put yeast in.  And, if we want pure water, we don’t drink any that’s had something added from that other vial.  No matter how little.  But we seem to forget that when it comes to living our lives for God or otherwise.  If we avoid some sin, even if we have a laundry list of others, we’ll be OK.  Or we can accept the Grace of God, but add some requirement – maybe ceremony, maybe ritual, maybe doctrine taking away something God says He gave us. 

There’s another analogy that may better illustrate the problem more clearly.  Imagine being out on the plains somewhere in a wagon, going on a trip.  But, out of 360 degrees, we’re just 1 degree off our course.  While we’re close to our starting point, that 1 degree doesn’t seem like much.  The wagon may be moving over both lines of travel.  But 50 miles later we find ourselves at a location very different from where we intended to be.  And we may be far enough off that we can’t see where we ought to be.  That sounds pretty final, but it’s not.

God continually tells us that our failures never have to be the final result.  Continuing in the Word, regularly confessing to God and repenting, continual prayer all give us open lines of communication between ourselves and God.  And options to do things His way instead of our way.  Are you ready to do that, today?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This Will I Do (Revisit)

barnsunset


Luke 12:18  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

Neil Camara took the above picture and holds its copyright.  Our thanks for permission to use it. It’s titled “The Burning Skies of Illinois”.  Seeing the picture brought to mind the passage that includes the above verse.  Think with me as we read further.

Monday, August 10, 2015

In the Moment (Revisit)

time_flies-Luke_Griffin

James 4:14b For what is your life? For it is a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then disappears.

When I saw that copyrighted picture by Luke Griffin, the first thing I noticed was the clouds.  They look like they’re rushing towards the horizon.  It made me think of that point in future history when everything moves from time into eternity.  We never know when that will be, but all of time is rushing toward it.  That needs to be kept in mind.  And it highlights a precious reality.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Heaven's Gate (Revisit)

Heavens-gate_Mike-Shaw
"You do not have to believe in a god or life after death to believe that there is something greater than yourself. You only have to look up at sunset and realise that you are stood on a rock that has all that you need to live, circulating around another rock that keeps you warm. Its then you realise that you are in fact stood on heaven's gate." -- Mike Shaw.

The image and the quote are both by Mike Shaw.  Both are used here, by permission, but he holds the copyrights to both.  Great image, but the thought behind it made me think, once again, of how different perspectives will always lead to different conclusions.  And it could be that those two perspectives seem alike, but they may be farther apart than the viewpoints that are openly different.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Afar Off - Part 1 (Revisited)


Our booklet Afar Off began life as a series of posts, here on the blog, taking us from Palm Sunday through the Resurrection.  And highlighting how God made Resurrection Life accessible to us.  Once again, that was inspired by a photo.  That’s titled “Sunrise in My Backyard” and was taken by my friend John Vincent.  He holds the copyright.  

There’s a great sense of serenity and peacefulness in the picture.  But what really caught me with this one is the light coming from the horizon.  Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  That verse speaks of the “heroes of the faith”, but it could be us.  The light on the horizon got me thinking about the phrase I highlighted, “afar off”.  We'll look at the first part of the series.  The easiest way to follow the whole magilla is to get the Kindle book on Amazon.  It's only $.99 US.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Connections (Revisit)

apologySometimes, it's a graphic instead of a picture that triggers a thought.  I found that one on one of the social networking sites, shared it on another, but I don’t recall who originally posted it.  I include it here because it indirectly points toward our concept for the day.  Pastor Tom Schaller (my pastor) shared a two part message, one Sunday, about Jonathan and David.  When the morning service was over, the one word that summed up my own thoughts was “relationship”.