NOT OF THE LETTER BUT OF THE SPIRIT

Paul the apostle had been trained thoroughly in the Old Testament Scriptures.  As a Pharisee, he had been brought up to believe in a strict interpretation of the Law of God, then as a young man he had been brought to Jerusalem where he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, the teacher of the law.  Being taught day after day at his feet was like going through graduate school in the Old Testament law.  Most likely, of all the writers of the New Testament he was most familiar with the Old Testament and it’s instructions on life and faith.  It was that very devotion to the law that led him to hate the cause of Jesus and to believe that he was an imposter as a messiah.  He was so filled with rage toward Jesus and his followers he was ready to persecution them and even sanctioned the death of Stephen because he preached Jesus.

That background makes the message of 2 Corinthians 3 even more interesting.  In this chapter he is comparing his work with the hucksters who were peddlers of the word of God as he described them at the end of chapter two.  He refers to the Christians in Corinth as an epistle he had written, not with ink but on the fleshly tables of the heart, written by the Spirit of the Living God.  Look at what he said then in verses 4-6, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  What does he mean by the letter and the Spirit?  The letter of the law was to look strictly at the regulation or law that was given and then add all kinds of parameters to that law that made it extremely difficult to follow and often led to attitudes and actions that violated the principles behind the law itself.  One of the best illustrations of this point is Jesus with regard to the Sabbath law of the Old Testament.  Sabbath was valuable.  It was a time of rest, devotion and worship to God.  It was meant to bring rest and reverence to God.  It was for the benefit of mankind that should have made them healthy and able to accomplish the work God gave them.  But the religious leaders had turned the Sabbath law into an accumulation of laws and regulations that lost all view of the benefit of man.  Think about Jesus healing people on the Sabbath that made them completely well.  But the religious leaders hated for Jesus to heal on that day since it violated the law as they understood it.  Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  It was turned into a way to condemn people rather than a way to heal and help them.  Besides that he told them that He was lord of the Sabbath.  When our use of law makes it harmful for the very people it was meant to help we have missed the point entirely.

It is for that reason that Paul refers to the legal aspects of the law as a “Ministry of death, written and engraved on stones.”  It became a ministry of condemnation.  He noted that Old Law was meant to be a ministry of righteousness but it wasn’t fulfilling the plan God had for it at all.  It seemed that every way the Jews of that day turned they found a way of making obedience to the law more difficult and more demanding rather than as a way for peace and glory to God.  Paul said it was like they were reading the law with a veil over their eyes so they could never see the point that was actually being made.  When Moses was read it was like they had a mask over their eyes to keep them from seeing what the real point was anyway.  It is only when one turns to the Lord that the veil is removed.

Notice how he compared the reading of the New Covenant with that of the old.  “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  When the people read the Old Testament without any view of Jesus on their minds all they could see was laws, regulations and restrictions.  Reading on our own may be wonderful and lovely.  But the promise that as we read with the right attitude that the Holy Spirit is helping us and preparing for us an eternal weight of glory is phenomenal.  God’s Spirit is transforming us into the very image of Jesus as we read.

One thing this whole segment points out is that we can read, even Scripture in such a way that we turn it into something that condemns us rather than blesses us.  A proper reading of Scripture always involves seeing God’s word in the way God wants us to see it.  What an absolutely horrible thing happens when a Christian reads and studies Scripture in such a way as to make it condemning rather than blessing.  Open yourself up as you read and study the Bible for the Spirit to work on your heart and transform you into what God wants you to be over and over again.  It will bring such amazing blessings when we yield to the Spirit’s work in us to make us after his image rather than just seeing the Old Testament as a set of rules to be followed.

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HOSPITALITY

Several years ago I was preaching for a church in Mississippi and we had a visiting preacher come in to speak for several days as was quite common at the time.  At the final gathering he was expressing his gratitude for the people and their friendliness to him when he said, “I thoroughly enjoyed being in many of your homes and the outstanding meals that you prepared.  So many of the different foods were really outstanding but the thing I enjoyed the most was the ‘hos-pie.”  He went on to explain that it was the hospitality that had meant the most to him of all that was done.

Hospitality is something everyone appreciates when they are receiving it, but seems to be less common today than in days past.  As we prepare for Thanksgiving holidays it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the topic of hospitality.  In Hebrews 13:1-3 it says, “Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”  When Peter was pointing to some major trial that was coming for the Christians in I Peter 4:7-10 one of the things he said they needed to be certain to continue doing was to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

It is obvious that the church during its early days as described in the Book of Acts was really given to being hospitable.  I think of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke traveling to Philippi to preach the gospel.  They didn’t know anyone there but God had spoken to Paul in a dream by having a man from Macedonia say to him, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  They made the trip to Philippi and on a Sabbath morning went out beside the river to find someone worshiping God that they might be able to talk to them about Jesus.  They found Lydia, a traveling sales person along with her companions.  It was likely servants and fellow workers who were traveling with her.  Paul spoke to them about Jesus and his mission in the world.  God opened her heart to the gospel and she and her household were baptized that day.  Immediately she pleaded with Paul and his friends to come and stay at her house, if they trusted her.  They stayed in her house for the remainder of their time in that city.

Later Paul and his company were traveling to Jerusalem to carry a rather large financial gift from Gentile churches to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  When they entered the city of Caesarea they found Philip and his family.  He was married and he and his wife had four unmarried daughters who were prophets also.  They took Paul and his company into their home and had them stay there until they departed for Jerusalem.

Hospitality mattered deeply in the early church because the inn’s that were in the different places weren’t usually safe or clean places to stay.  They were often places used more for prostitution than for motel accommodations.  So, the evangelist and apostles who travelled about preaching Christ would most often stay in the homes of Christians.  It is interesting that John would later write to the elect lady to warn her about taking in those who were false teachers and treating them with hospitality.  He told her she was encouraging and bidding godspeed to these who were actually “Anti-Christ” in their teaching because they denied that Jesus actually came in the flesh or had a physical body.

Notice that hospitality was fundamentally about “Entertaining strangers.”  It was certainly also tied to showing that care and acceptance for each other especially when the church was facing some difficult times in life as Peter described.  But it is vital for Christians not to simply be hospitable to each other.  The writer of Hebrews reminded the brethren of Abraham who had three visitors to show up at his tent and he showed them special care.  They turned out to be angels and he didn’t know it.  In reality it seems that one of these who came to his house was the Son of God in the way the story plays out.  But the point the writer is making is that when we show hospitality to those we don’t know we may be serving ones sent from God, even angelic beings.  Notice also that he immediately turns to the topic of caring for those in prison as though we were in prison with them.  Now, I’m certain that some of those in prison were people who were there because of their service to Christ.  But it is important to remember that Jesus in picturing the final judgment said that one thing that would come up in judgment would be the care for those in prison.  He noted that when we cared for those in prison we cared for him.

Today, hospitality isn’t often needed because of the lack of motels in our area or that they aren’t fit for good people to stay there.  But the bond of fellowship in a church will never be strong while hospitality is rare.  For people to develop close relationships of love there must be times in one another’s homes, sharing food together and listening, talking and sharing life together.  Such hospitality must reach beyond a few good friends that we have known for most of our lives.  It must reach beyond those who are a lot like me.  Hospitality will mean bringing people into our homes that don’t have as much or have much more.  It means inviting people in that have different color skin and very different backgrounds.  It means bringing people in that are different ages with different interest and different beliefs.  So much of the division and hurt that goes on in the world could be solved if we spent more time around the table with others that see things differently from us.

Be hospitable!  And by all means, don’t grumble about it or you destroy all the good that could have been done.

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SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES

I’ve been reading a new book “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church” by Alan Kreider.  It has been especially interesting to see the discussion on how the church in the first three centuries after Jesus lived on this earth, died on the cross and was raised from the dead grew.  One of the primary points he makes is that evangelism or missions as we tend to think of it, was not a fundamental part of the work of the church during that time.  They continued to grow, even during times of persecution, but it is primarily based on the life of the Christians.  He noted that during the worst of times and treatment the Christians maintained a patient, persistent attitude of devotion to Christ and service to their fellow men.  In times when they were mistreated, rather than retaliating against the Roman authorities or even the local society that were treating them badly, they responded with love, compassion and helpfulness to the ones in trouble.  He noted the fact that there were certain Scriptures both from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings and of the prophesies of the Old Testament that were huge in their thinking, teaching, writing and preaching.

One passage that Kreider said was on the mind and lips of the early teachers and preachers among them was Isaiah 2:1-5 and it’s twin Micah 4:1-5.  Look closely at Isaiah’s words, “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many people shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’  For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many people; and they shall beat theirs swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Isaiah and Micah were anticipating the day when the kingdom of the Lord would be established in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 2.  The word of the Lord went out from Jerusalem.  God’s house was established in the top of the mountains. People came flowing into the kingdom of the Lord. Just as Peter stood on Pentecost to preach to the multitudes about Jesus and how he was delivered by the determined council and foreknowledge of God and they had taken him and by wicked hands had crucified and killed him, people were cut to their heart and cried out what shall we do.  Peter explained to them that the opportunity was for all people.  Everyone was commanded to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise was for them, their children and for all who were afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.  3,000 people that day made the commitment to Jesus and were baptized into Christ and into his church.  As Isaiah foretold people went out from there saying to others “Come, let’s go up to the house of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob, so he can teach us His ways and we will walk in his paths.”  The message spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria to the rest of the world.  Within thirty years Paul would write to the church of the Colossians that the gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven.

But I want to focus on the promise of the change that would be made in people. The history of Israel was one of war.  They had conquered nations and destroyed enemies as God led them as his people.  But the new kingdom Jesus established, over which he would reign as king on David’s throne, was to be different.  It wouldn’t spread it’s borders by conquest.  Instead in this spiritual kingdom we usually refer to as the church it wouldn’t be a war like people any more.  They would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. In our day this passage has been largely applied to the notion of a thousand year reign that is mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6.  But the church in the first centuries after it was established didn’t see it that way.  They understood the passage as referring to the church and how those who come to Christ would live.  Instead of being like Israel to fight and kill their enemies, the house of God would be made up of people who didn’t see war as their way of life anymore.  They instead would spread the message of the kingdom by means of peace.  Their message would be the gospel of peace and the effect of the message on people would be that they would have peace with God and with each other.

They didn’t take it to mean that everyone would be at peace or that people would treat them peacefully all the time.  But they would be at peace with each other and would react to mistreatment with peace.  Compare that thought with Paul’s instruction to Timothy in I Timothy 2:1-5 where he told him to pray for all people, then specifically said to pray for kings and all who were in authority, THAT WE MAY LEAD A QUIET AND PEACEABLE LIFE IN ALL GODLINESS.  He tied the prayer with the fact that God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Nothing in the world turns the hearts of people away from Christ and Christianity quicker than Christians at war with each other and with everyone else.  The appeal of the godly life was to be the peaceful spirit that was in them as was in Jesus.  When he was reviled, he didn’t revile in return.  When he was threatened he returned a blessing on the ones who threatened him.

The church in the first three centuries continued to grow even though they were mostly made up of poor and often rejected people.  But their life was very different from the world around them.  People could see the difference God was making in them.  They cared for, blessed and helped the very people who were mistreating them.  It seems to me that we have a tremendous need to pull Isaiah 2 back out and remind ourselves of the need to beat the swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks and instead of living in fear, to put our trust in the God who made the worlds and all that is in them.  Maybe then people will see the difference God has made in his people and be drawn to take another look at his gospel.  God’s plan for us isn’t in a premillennial reign in Jerusalem.  It is for the Christians to show a habit of life that demonstrates the effects of the Holy Spirit in them.

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MUST I FORGIVE HIM?

Forgiveness is one of the greatest blessings God offers to people.  When I think of things the Bible says about God’s forgiveness of me and others like me, I am totally overwhelmed.  When Jesus was crucified by the howling mob, screaming for his blood, his cry to the Father was, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  The crowd knew they were taking part in the execution of an innocent man.  They knew they were participating in killing one who had gone to all kinds of efforts to heal their sicknesses and diseases, had taught them more clearly the way of God and had been the friend of even the tax collectors and sinners among them.  But, based on their ignorance of who he was as the Son of God living among them as a human being, Jesus pleaded with the Father to forgive them.

It is worth remembering that even though Jesus prayed for their forgiveness based on that ignorance, many of these same people were back in Jerusalem fifty days later for the feast of Pentecost.  On that day God sent the Holy Spirit miraculously on his disciples and people were able to hear them speak in their own languages even though all the speakers were Galileans.  Peter stood before the crowd and preached Jesus to them telling them that they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God.  The people cried out on feeling the guilt of their sins, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?”  Notice, Peter didn’t say to them, “You don’t need to do anything since Jesus has already asked the Father to forgive you because you didn’t know what you were doing.”  Jesus did pray for their forgiveness.  Yet their guilt was still there.  Peter being led by the Holy Spirit told them that everyone of them needed to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of  their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God doesn’t forgive the sins of anyone based on our asking that He forgive them.  To be forgiven of sin by God requires that I be willing through faith in Jesus to turn from that sin to God in repentance and be willing to do what he says to do to have the sins forgiven.  Like, Jesus we need to be forgiving of others who have wronged us and not carry a grudge against them because it will eat away at us all the time.  But my forgiving a person and even asking God to forgive them won’t lead to their forgiveness if they don’t make any changes in their life.  Jesus prayer led to God giving the people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus through which they could be forgiven.  It didn’t lead to their being forgiven while they were still living in rebellion to the Lord.  I’ve heard people say they could never forgive another person for something they did to them that was horrible because they couldn’t let them off the hook.  I need to know that my holding on to the sin and refusal to forgive keeps me on the hook.  My forgiveness of the person releases me from it.  But only God can release the sinner from the guilt of their sin and God doesn’t forgive unless the person is willing to admit the guilt and turn from the sin to him in repentance.

Forgiveness doesn’t make a person crazy or foolish.  A friend was trying to explain why she had such a hard time forgiving a family member who had sexually abused her as a child.  She said, “If I forgave him I would have to forget what he did to me and allow my little girl to be in his company where he might do the same thing to her.”  When I asked her where in the world she got such an idea, she explained that if she forgave she was supposed to forget and if she forgot then she would have to treat the person as if they had never done the wrong.  That is a huge misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches about forgiveness.  If a person has stolen money from me or borrowed money they never repaid and they asked for forgiveness, I am ready to forgive the sin, but it doesn’t make me brain dead so that I would loan them more money.  When God forgives he doesn’t remember it against us anymore.  But even God doesn’t release a person from the consequences of their sin.  When David committed adultery and murder God forgave the sin, but immediately had Nathan the prophet to explain to David that the results of his sin would be that the baby conceived in the immoral relationship would die.  The sword would never depart from his house.  His own wives would be taken in the sight of all Israel as a result of his actions.  Forgiveness meant he was still in a right relationship with God, but it didn’t mean that God took away the consequences of his sin.

When we forgive a person who has wronged us or our family it means that we release them from the sin.  But it doesn’t mean that they are moved right back to where they were before the wrong ever took place.  Forgiveness doesn’t bring trust.  Only time and change in a person can lead to us having trust for them.  We aren’t God and don’t have the ability to put a thing completely out of our mind the way God can and does.  The best we can do is give one a release from the guilt and not act on our memories of wrongs done any longer.

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I AM THE TRUE VINE

Jesus had just celebrated the Passover meal with the Twelve.  When they reclined at the table, no one was there to lay aside their garments, wrap a towel around their waist, fill a basin with water and wash the disciples feet.  They had walked there on the dusty roads wearing sandals, so their feet were dirty, dusty and crusted.  Jesus arose, laid aside his garments, wrapped the towel around his waist and took the basin filled with water from one man to the next, washing their feet and drying them with the towel.  They didn’t understand how Jesus as Lord and Master would take on the role of servant and wash their feet.  It made even less sense that he would say to them that “If I your teacher and Lord have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”  They still hadn’t grasp the notion of his being their example, nor being ours.  Afterward he challenged them to love one another in the same way he had loved them.  He promised them that after he left this world by crucifixion he would be raised from the dead on the third day.  He also promised that when he left them, he would send them ANOTHER HELPER, the Holy Spirit who would be with them and us forever.

Later that evening Jesus and eleven of the twelve apostles were walking from the upper room where they had eaten the last supper to the Mount of Olives.  As they walked along he said to them, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).  It may be that they were walking by a vineyard and Jesus looked over at the vines and grapes as he said, “I am the true vine.”  It may be that they were walking by the temple and he looked up to see the etching of a grape vine molded into the wall of the temple.  With that vine molded into the wall, he said, “I am the true vine.”  Either way he was making it clear that he was the real, the genuine vine of God on which the fruit that mattered was to be born.

If Jesus is the real, genuine vine, what are we?  Jesus said to the disciples, “You are the branches.”  Some have foolishly thought the branches referred to different denominations or religious groups.  Jesus made it clear the branches are the followers of Jesus.  Each member of the body, each part of the vine is a branch or individual Christian.  What is the function of the branch?  The branch has one function.  It is to bear fruit.  Grape vines have all kinds of different branches with the singular purpose of producing grapes, the fruit of the vine.  What possible good would it do if a branch simply produced more branches?  A branch has value when it has fruit on it that can be eaten or from that fruit can be made grape juice, jelly or some kind of pie or cobbler to be eaten.  Now understand, a branch can only produce fruit when it is attached to the vine.  If you cut a branch off from the vine, it will soon dry out, wither and die.  To have life it must be attached to the true vine from which comes the sap that brings life and fruit.

Notice, it is the job of the Father to prune the branches.  Why do you prune the branches?  So that they can produce more fruit.  Otherwise, they become really good at producing lots of branches but little, withered, dried up fruit.  Only the Father is good at pruning the branches.  If we try to prune other branches, we tend to cut away the wrong things and destroy the vine, and the harvest.  But the Father knows where to cut and how much to cut back.  He prunes SO THAT  we may produces more fruit.

Notice, a branch that doesn’t bear fruit is useless.  It isn’t the job of the grapevine to just have pretty blooms.  It is all about fruit.  “Herein is my Father glorified if you bear much fruit and so shall you be my disciples.”  How can a branch be certain that it produces fruit in the vine?  “Abide in my, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered; thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  So, our challenge as branches in the vine, is simple.  It is to ABIDE IN JESUS.  If we stay in him and keep his word in us we will bring forth fruit.  If we attempt anything on our own the result is a withered, fruitless branch.  By the way, it is worth noting that branches in the grape vine always produce the same thing.  Grape vines have grapes on them.  The fruit of a grape vine is a grape, every single time.  Jesus is that true, real, genuine vine and we are branches that abide in him.  By abiding in him we produce fruit, grapes and that brings glory to God.  Never allow anyone or anything to get you away from the vine!

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DRESSED IN HUMILITY

Have you picked out your halloween outfit?  Every year at this time we have Trunk or Treat at the church building for the children and they come with parents in tow from all around.  It is amazing to see both how the children are dressed and how the adults have clothed themselves for the occasion.  It is seldom the case that you see anything scary.  But there are tons of funny outfits all around.  Every year I will get the question from Linda, “Are you going to dress up for tonight?”  As is common, it isn’t something that has really crossed my mind until then and the thought of really preparing to dress in some odd way isn’t very appealing.

But it does bring to mind how many times in the New Testament we are challenged to dress or put on a particular kind of clothing and it has nothing to do with dressing up for either church or any other occasion.  Paul even spoke of our becoming followers of Christ through faith by being baptized into Christ and PUTTING ON CHRIST in Galatians 3:26-27.  He told the disciples in Colossae both to put off clothes like anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk and to put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony “(Colossians 3:12-14).

But one of the strongest challenges about our clothing is found in I Peter 5:5-7.  “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  How would a person look dressed up in humility?  Let’s face it, humility has never been one of the virtues described in Scripture that most people see the need for or even consider as something they ought to be striving to gain more of in life.  Far too often humility is seen as some kind of weakness and something to be avoided if we really long to be successful in life.  It should cause us to step back and take a closer look at the whole theme when we consider the fact that Jesus described himself as lowly or humble of heart in the great invitation when he invited us to come unto him to find rest to our soul (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus certainly wasn’t weak in any way.  He had authority over the demons, over sickness and death and over the waves and storms of the sea.  He later declared that “All authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him.”

So, what does it really mean to be clothed with humility?  Humility is the opposite of pride or arrogance where we tend to think of the whole universe as revolving around us.  Humility doesn’t suffer from “I” disease.  Remember the story of the rich farmer Jesus told of in Luke 12.  His crops came in abundantly and he didn’t have enough space in his old barns to take care of all the harvest.  Listen to his speech to himself.  “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  Did you notice how many times the rich farmer used the words “I” and “My”.  Everything thing was about him and God called him a fool for his arrogant, prideful and egotistical attitude.  What if he had thought instead of how blessed he was and have looked around to see what needs were obvious in the people all around him and declared how he would use some of the abundance God had given him to help others who hadn’t been so blessed?  How would God have reacted to him then?

Humility isn’t about putting ourselves down or having a poor me spirit.  Humility isn’t when we constantly think of all we can’t do.  Instead humility is neither thinking too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves.  Humility is when we don’t think of ourselves but focus on the needs and hurts all around us and willingly risk to help the other person.  Part of what made the Good Samaritan such a powerful example of loving his neighbor was his willingness to risk his own hurt in order to help the man who had been beaten and left for dead beside the road.  When our worries about what could happen to us keep us from opening our hearts and hands to help the one in trouble it is pride that is acting rather than humility.

It is vital for each of us to take a long look into the mirror of our life to see how we are clothed.  Be sure to look closely because we can think we have our humility on when it is actually our pride that is showing all over the place.  It will always be the one dressed in humility that receives the BEST DRESSED AWARD from God.

 

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WHERE IS GOD IN IT ALL?

I watched with a broken heart as scenes of the futility in Haiti were being flashed across the screen after the latest hurricane, Matthew, had devastated the country.  Then to see the flooding in North Carolina and other places in this country and hear of the loss of life was painful.  After such times and all kinds of other natural disasters, one question invariably arises.  “Where is God in all this?”  In some ways it is strange to me that when everything is going great and the sun is shining all around, no one asked, “Where is God in all this?”  Quite frankly, in those times God is usually not mentioned at all.  It is almost as if we look at times of beauty, warmth and flowers blooming and think, “That is as it should be” but when the storms arise and problems are galore, we begin to raise questions about God in it all.

But, if God loves us and wants what is best in our lives, why must there be times of storms, tragedy, hurt, pain and death?  There was a time for humanity when it truly was beauty, flowers, fruit and blessing every day and no storms ever arose.  It was called the Garden of Eden which God planted and placed Adam and Eve in it.  The climate was so good they didn’t even need clothes.  They had no need for locks on doors because the animals were friendly to the humans.  That was the world God wanted for the people that He formed in his own image and likeness and to whom he gave authority over His creation.  Amazingly, in that garden they were told they could freely eat of every tree in the garden.  There was even the tree of life that they could eat of to give them youth and life forever.  There was just one tree in all the garden that God said to them, “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In the day you eat of it you will surely die.”  Why would God put even one such tree in the Garden that would tempt people to sin?  Because people were made in God’s image with the ability to choose right from wrong, good from evil.  If there had been nothing they could have done that demanded a right choice then people would have been nothing more than animals with instinct or robots programed by God to do what he wanted.  He made us with the ability to choose right.  Anytime there is the ability to choose right, of necessity there must also be the ability to choose wrong.  God longed for us to choose to love and serve Him and to have the amazing blessings He offers.  Adam and Eve chose to eat of the one tree in all the garden that God told them not to eat of.  The results were fatal.  They were driven from the garden and death passed on humanity and everything else.  Since then only one person, Jesus, has faced the temptations of life and not given in to sin to follow the pattern set by Adam and Eve.

Now we live in a world of both good and evil.  It is both influenced by God in heaven and Satan in hell.  There are spiritual forces of evil and good that are all about us.  Ultimately, the choices we make in this life where we can clearly see the results of bad choices in the evil of the world and the results of good choices in all the beauty and wonder of the world, will lead to an eternity of either all that is good, beautiful and full of wonder or to an eternity where all is negative, ugly, evil and devastation.  God doesn’t force anyone to go either way.  He so longs for us to choose to live for him now that we may live with Him eternally in glory that He willingly paid the price for our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.  But even with that demonstration of love He made the offer and sent the good news into the world for people to hear of God’s love and grace and decide for themselves if they would live for Him or not.

Today we live in a time and situation where we are shown both through the evil deeds and through natural disaster what sin and evil in the world has produced.  Every act of terror.  Every murder.  Every theft.  Every act of genocide.  Every abuse of a child or a wife.  And every disaster shouts to us that the choice of evil has had devastating results.  In a world that is affected by both evil and good both aspects have to be obvious for people to see the difference and to choose how they will live.  Too often we look at the evil and determine the only way to stand against it is to attack evil with more evil, which never produces good but only multiplies the evil.  With every disaster that takes place in the world, whether natural or from the evil hearts of vengeful people, there also stands an opportunity to demonstrate good and show what God longs to see in all of us.  “If possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, if you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21).

Where is God in it all?  He is all around us.  He is hurting with those who hurt.  He is working through every effort to help the helpless.  He is longing for everyone to see what evil in the hearts and lives of people produce in the world.  He is working to change us for the better.  Our choices in life have effects.  Sin and evil in the world has tragic effects.  In times of despair be one that God uses to help someone else and show some of the beauty that is there all the time.

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