Jesus had fed the 5,000, had healed the sick, had cast out demons, yet the Pharisees demanded to see more signs, more miracles — show us a sign and we will believe! Matthew 12:38. It as if they thought that Jesus would deliver a sign upon demand! How foolish of them, we say; how arrogant could they be, we say; how could they treat the Son of God like that, we say!
Are we not like them? We demand that God would resolve our financial difficulties, perhaps by God letting us win the lottery. We demand that God would miraculously take the disease away, on our immediate timetable, of course. We demand that God intervene and solve all our problems when we try to buy a new house or car, although we have not financially prepared for the purchase. Just one more sign!
Our God can do these things, of course. He is omnipotent so there is nothing that He is powerless to accomplish. But we miss out on His presence if we simply look for Him in a massive display of His power on our behalf. We forget that He has given the believer in Jesus the gift of life, both here and for all eternity, through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord. Talk about massive display of His power! We forget that He is with us, in fact He is in us through His beloved Holy Spirit.
We see evidences of God’s presence everywhere we look, if only we use our heart’s eyes. A beautiful array of flowers, a stunning scene along the lake, an encouraging word from a friend that comes just when we needed it, a gentle rain or glittering rainbow, or provision He makes for our needs when we cannot see any possibility ahead of us.
The Pharisees did not need to see additional signs as evidence for them to believe in Him – Jesus had provided sufficient evidence that He was who He said He was. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, responded to questions in ways too deep for these “thinkers” to understand.
They didn’t need additional signs, and neither do we. In short, we don’t need to seek spectacular displays of God’s work to know that He is the Savior. The most spectacular display possible occurred 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ died the death that was rightfully ours and then when God raised Him from the dead.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV
He is with us today, we don’t have to wait for Christmastime to realize this.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
2 Timothy 1:13-14 ESV
Oh that we would know that the Holy Spirit is resident within us, and that we would realize that we have “God With Us” in a way that those who lived prior to Pentecost could not imagine. We don’t have to wonder where He is, nor do we have to go to a specific church or place to pray. He is with us 24/7 and there is nowhere we can go that is outside His reach.
Read Psalm 139 as you ruminate on how all-embracing God’s knowledge of you is.
We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.
A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)
I pray that each of us will have open eyes to see His presence in our lives each day.
Father, You are Lord of the Universe, King of Kings, Creator of All, and You are the Lover of my soul. Forgive, I pray, when I am so besieged by the difficulties, trials and concerns of the day that I fail to see Your hand, active and working in each of those situations. Forgive, when I expect spectacular evidence of Your involvement in my life even though I ignore Your Word or the reminders that You provide in the chirp of a bird, in the sound of the wind, in the rustling of the leaves, in the antics of woodland creatures or the family pets. Thank you Father for Your constant presence through the Holy Spirit. May I be more sensitive to hearing Your call as You work in my life today.
Love is a hot topic in our world every day. We speak of “falling in love” or “having lost my love” as if love is something that just happens, whether we want it to or not. While the concept of marriage is under incredible attack in today’s world, love is still a hot topic.
We read in the tabloids of love between two people and then, one paragraph later, we read of the separation of two others. We celebrate the many years of marriage of one couple while we are hurting for another couple going through separation and dissolution of their marriage
Then, too, as parents, we love our children. And, as adults, we love our children and their children, and we love our parents, and miss them when they are gone.
And, if we look carefully, there even are times when our children love each other!
While the children may not be as demonstrative as they get older, loving sibling relationships are precious.
We say that we love flowers.
We love food.
We love to travel and take vacations, like a cruise going to faraway places in style.
And, it goes without saying, we love our pets.
And now we have our two canine MinPin daughters, Snickers and Cuddles.
Our love for people, animals, objects and activities is a love that is conditioned on various factors. We love those related to us in a different way than we do our generalized acquaintances. We love some flowers and not others, and some like to eat lobster and others wouldn’t touch it! In other words, there is self-motivated volition involved in our love of things and others.
In stark contrast, this is not how we are to love our God. We are COMMANDED to love the Lord our God, and not just a little bit or for a limited time!
In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
That essentially covers everything! It is repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament, for example: Deuteronomy 11:1 and 13:3, and Joshua 22:5.
We cannot shrug our shoulders and mumble, “Yeah, but that was okay thousands of years ago, not for us 2016!” Rather, Jesus reiterated that this was still a commandment for us in Matthew 22:37 when He repeated these exact words. But Jesus didn’t stop there — not only are we to follow the command in Deuteronomy, Jesus expanded it in Mark 12:29-31 by commanding us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Jesus takes love out of the mental/spiritual world and puts it into the physical/material world. This turns love into action, not just thought or emotion. We see our neighbor and we are to love him/her.
Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves means to serve others as Jesus Christ exampled for us, as He lived, and as He died in complete obedience to His Father. We surely cannot live a sinless life and comply with God’s will in all things as He did, but we can keep His commands on a day to day basis as we are enabled by the Spirit. We can love God; we can read His Word; we can meet with fellow believers and worship Him regularly; we can love others, if for no other reason than because He tells us to do so.
Note that our obligation to love our neighbor does not depend on whether the neighbor is either lovely or loveable – it is a command to Jesus’ followers that has no qualification as to the one being loved. It is between us and the Lord. “If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15.
There is no wriggle room. It is an “if … then” statement. If you love me, then you will keep my commands. Or, stated another way, if you do not keep my commands, then you do not love me.
This is not optional – it is not a suggestion. It is a direct command that indicates whether
I do or do not love my Lord and Savior,
I will or will not allow His Spirit to guide my steps through the day,
I will or will not follow His direction.
If I say that I am His, do my actions support my statement or do they undermine it?
What about you? Prayerfully consider these questions and seek the Lord’s face as you look at your life, your speech, your actions, your thoughts, your motives, etc.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” Am I one of His disciples or not? Are you?
Everything depends on the answer to that question!
Father, I pray that the meditation of my heart is acceptable to you this day. I pray that your Word would be used by the Spirit to illuminate the hearts of those who do not know You. I pray that you would forgive me when I have failed to love You with my whole heart, soul and might. Thank you for calling me to Yourself through the atoning work of your Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Christmas Season. A time marked by packages to buy, wrap and send; cards to sign and post; food to prepare for the family and food to take to gatherings of friends; church events to attend; civic concerts of beautiful music hear. Anyone remember the Babe in the manger?
When the world’s focus is on giving and “doing good” during this season, we can even become arrogant in boasting about our busyness; the calls that we have upon our time, talents and finances; and what we have done for others.
Humility has, from the beginning, been difficult to find among mortal men. Adam and Eve turned their back on humility and sinned when they ate the forbidden fruit in their attempt to “be like God”. Genesis 3:5.
But Scripture reveals that we have no basis to be proud or arrogant.
O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
According to Scripture, we are temporal, finite, sinners who have absolutely no standing with God. While we may look good to other sinners here on earth, we have no basis to stand puffed up before God. Anyone remember the Babe in the manger?
When I have forgotten the priority of humility, I have to confess, seek forgiveness, and then refocus on the right attitude before God. For me, the best way to remember just who I am is to look at God’s creation and to read His Word. • The majesty of the mountains.
• The strength of the hummingbird. Beauty with wings fluttering going so fast we can’t see them with the naked eye!
• The vastness of the ocean.
• The incredible variety of creatures that inhabit the seas.
• The detail in a flower.
• The beauty of the newborn baby. All the parts of an adult but in miniature.
God is at work in His creation and in my life on a moment by moment basis. He is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (all over, everywhere), and He has extended His grace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, and our Savior.
What is the response to this powerful, present Creator God? It certainly is not strutting our stuff before Him, as if we could accomplish anything without Him!
Rather, it should be the response that Abram had when God told him that He was making a covenant with him. Genesis 17:3 says:
Then Abram fell on his face.
When the people of Israel were standing outside Jericho and Joshua, their leader after Moses’ death, was looking for guidance from the Lord:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
It should be the response that Ezekiel had when he had a vision of the Lord in His heaven.
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
When confronted with the holiness of God, we come face to face with the reality that we are sinners and the magnitude of our unrighteousness is directly before us. There is no puffing or grandstanding before God – we bend the knee, we bow our head, we prostrate ourselves and we submit to Him.
We should have the same attitude that Mary expressed to the angel after being told that she would be the mother of Jesus.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Of course, the ultimate example of humility is found in our own Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Babe in the manger grew up into our Savior. In His teaching, Jesus said:
The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Anyone remember the Babe in the manger?
The one who left heaven to come to earth, not as a king or mighty ruler but as a baby, was found in a manger, the rough feeding trough for the animals. It was not the sterile, washed and well-padded baby bed that we find necessary for our newborn children. It is this Babe that Paul is talking about in Philippians 2 when he exhorted the Christian believers to have the same attitude as Jesus Christ had when He came to earth … humility.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
May this Christmas find us with an attitude of humble thanksgiving for the grace and mercy God has showered upon us through Jesus Christ His Son. The Babe in the manger became the Lamb on the cross who was crucified for our sins and transgressions. The Babe in the manger then rose from the dead and became our resurrected Lord and Savior. Salvation is possible because of that Babe’s obedience to the will of our Sovereign God and Father, and we receive that salvation through faith and trust in that Babe whose name is Jesus Christ.
Let your Christmas be blessed by our Lord as we serve Him with His heart of humility and peace. Humility is the mark of our Lord on His children, and it creates beautiful lives lived in His Spirit for His glory and honor, this Christmas as well as each day that He grants us life. Father, I pray that I would live my life in humble obedience to your will, as exhibited by Mary upon the angel’s announcement to her. I pray that you would empower me to do that which you direct, and that you would receive honor and glory as we celebrate our Lord’s birth and your work in human history on Christmas Day.
We were getting ready for breakfast when my beloved said that he felt like having waffles.
Now, in our home, we never have waffles – I no longer have a waffle iron and when I did have one, the waffles were almost inedible because they either were burned to a crisp or stuck on the cooking surface so when you opened the waffle iron to retrieve the food, you had to scrape the stuff off onto the plate in a clump … not particularly waffle-like!
But, in looking through the freezer, I found a box of waffles that I had purchased for breakfast when the grandchildren were with us. Not exactly sure how long they had been under the vegetables in the freezer, but I got at least one “wife point” for having waffles when they were requested!
After I toasted them, I put them on the plate along with the syrup and apple butter and we were ready for breakfast.
One taste was all it took to know that these were not going to get a blue ribbon in the waffle baking competition. As we were eating them in silence, I looked at my beloved and said “at least the grandchildren like ‘em!”
His response was
“They like ‘em because they don’t know any better!”
That prompted me to remember the Lord’s Word when describing how often human-kind satisfies itself with something less than the best.
Scripture tells us that the Israelites in the wilderness did exactly this … they exchanged their relationship with the Holy God for idols of their own creation. Having never been to the Holy Land, when I think of the wilderness, I picture the terrain we saw as we approached Albuquerque, New Mexico. [I don’t know if this looks like what the Israelites experienced, but it gives me a visual image that helps when I read the Word.]
This incident is recorded in Exodus 32 where the people were tired of waiting for Moses who had gone up the mountain to speak with God. The people asked Aaron to make a god for them to worship, and he took their gold and made the calf.
And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.
And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
God, of course, saw this and told Moses to go down the mountain and speak to the people before he destroyed them in his fury. Moses pleaded with God and total destruction was averted, but turning their backs on God to follow a man-made god is a pattern that repeated itself throughout the Old Testament.
In Psalm 106:20 we read:
“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”
We read this and think “How in the world could they do that? They had direct experience with the power of God as they were lead away from Pharaoh and as they wandered through the wilderness with ample provision of food and water. God lead them with the pillars of cloud and fire and His presence was resident in the tabernacle. How could they ignore all that and turn to idols that they, themselves, had created?”
But before we point fingers, we need to look at ourselves. We may not have seen God’s hand as they did, but Paul tells us that all people have knowledge of God and His power just by looking at creation. This is called general revelation. Some examples of the variety of our God’s creative powers can be seen here:
The exquisite detail of a butterfly.
The human newborn baby, a complete adult in miniature.
In Romans 1:20 we read:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The detail found in the myriad of beautiful flora and fauna in our world.
The majesty of mountain peaks, covered in snow even in June.
The ocean, peaceful power waiting to be unleashed.
Then, Paul tells what people have done, despite God’s creative general revelation that is available to all people.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
This exchange of the immortal for that which is mortal, finite and of minimal power is what was forbidden in Exodus 20:3-6 which are the first two of the Ten Commandments. We are to have no other gods and we are not to make any carved image to bow down to it or serve it.
Stonehenge in England is thought to be an ancient site for burial and for processions related to the sun.
In Isaiah, the prophet quotes the message that God has for the people and in Isaiah 42 and 43 there is the repeated statement that God is the LORD. See for example,
Isaiah 43 verses 11 through 13 assert:
“I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”
Isaiah 42 verses 5 and 8 tell us:
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: … “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
While the grandchildren might be satisfied with old, frozen waffles because they have never had the fresh, hot and steaming with goodness real thing, we cannot say that our turning to idols is because we never had any knowledge of The Real Thing. God has given us every breath we take – God has created our universe and all that is in it. Each person, in their heart of hearts, knows that God is but this is a far cry from worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Even people in our 21st century who are too urbane to believe in God, have decided that our world was created by “an intelligent being”.
Idols that man creates for himself may be wood or stone, but, in this day and time, they are probably a bit more intangible:
Success in business
Big house, boat, car, whatever
Big bank account
Independence from anyone or anything
In comparison, the Living God who demands our worship:
is the one who created.
is the one who saves.
is the one who provides life.
is the one who is the Living God.
is the one who loves us with an everlasting love.
is the one who sent his Son to be our propitiation, our savior and our Lord.
is the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God, and there is no other god before him.
When we worship our own gods, we are robbing God of what is rightfully his. We are unilaterally transferring honor, praise and glory to something far less than God. When we worship gods that cannot save or even reply, that cannot move or act on our behalf, that have no power over fire, wind or evil, we are guilty of sin against the Holy God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Let us repent and praise God for his grace, mercy and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Father, forgive me when I have traded my relationship with you for worshiping gods of my own making. When I have acted as though I am god, forgive me. When I have created gods of my own choosing, or when I am unintentionally worshiping something other than you, forgive me and point out my sin so that I may repent and be restored to a right relationship with you. I praise you and honor you, my Creator, my Savior, and my God.
Have you ever felt like something picked you up and plunked you down somewhere else, much like tornado does when it swirls through a town? Have you ever just been lost and not sure where you are or how you got there? (As noted in a prior post entitled “The Elongated Trip”, my being somewhat lost is not unusual, at least in terms of directions and routes. But that’s not really what I am thinking about today.)
I am thinking about how events, people, trials and blessings all worked together to put me where I am even though there were upheavals in every sense of the word during the process. I guess the question becomes “What am I to do after an upheaval has created chaos and made a mess of my plans for my life?”
Our house has never been the garden spot in the neighborhood. If we ever had the “best garden” award in the front yard, it would be because someone swiped it from the deserving house and got tired of carrying it, so he plopped it down at our house to get rid of the load. We did have some tulips in the dirt below the picture window and a few of them would pop up in the spring, but it hardly deserved the title of landscaping. Along the street, the yard was barren due to the surplus of leaves that pile up in the fall, killing the grass beneath.
We finally decided that we would do something about it. A bobcat was brought in and we dug up and hauled off the old dirt, rocks, dried up bushes, etc.
New soil and new bushes and shrubs were brought in for a coordinated landscaping effort. A new sidewalk was installed. No rock was unturned and no plant remained. In a matter of weeks, we had a landscaped yard!
Next spring, we looked out the window to see the new plants with their spring foliage, and there they were! Tulips ‐‐ a “leftover” from the plantings that had languished in the dirt for decades below the front window. These delightful red tulips were in full bloom with the new shrubs as their backdrop. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be there … they just did their thing – they bloomed where they had been planted.
How could they possibly still be there? The bobcat did all in its power to scoop out every bit of the dead dirt and roots of shrubs and flowers. It hauled off multiple scoops of debris from that, loosely described, “flower bed.” But somehow, the scoop missed the tulip bulbs.
Somehow the bobcat’s tines missed the flowers’ roots and they held tight, embedded so they could bloom in the spring. Somehow the new shrubbery did not overwhelm the simple tulips that had survived the onslaught of redesign.
Out of place? Perhaps. They are the only “flowers” not attached to a shrub, but I am not moving them! Does God care that the tulips were attacked by a mechanical bobcat and did God put His hand on the little bulbs for protection so they would bloom again? I guess theologians and academics could debate that question.
Scripture teaches, and I personally believe, that
God knows the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30 ),
He remembers the sparrows (Luke 12:6) and
He called the plants good (Genesis 1:11-12).
Given these absolutes, I believe that He protected the tulips for His purposes. Perhaps they were saved from destruction so that He could remind me that I, too, need to bloom where I find myself — even if it is the result of what I perceive to be an upheaval and is a long way from where I started and from what I thought I would be doing.
Upheaval in our lives can come in many different forms ‐‐ a loved one’s death, divorce, cancer, loss of employment, disappointment, forces of nature, declining health due to aging, downturn in finances ‐‐ but no matter what the occurrence or how long it persists, the end result is that we are in a different situation or surrounding.
Scripture says that God is sovereign and all-powerful – He knows us and what will happen during each of our days, evenbeforewewereborn!(Psalm 139:16) (I love Psalm 139!)
So, while the result of upheaval in my life may make me feel uncomfortable because, as a result I am in an unfamiliar situation, it cannot be something of which God is unaware. Our circumstance does not take Him by surprise, nor does it present a problem or situation which He cannot handle. Think about the “upheaval” that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced in the fiery furnace. God not only protected them, He walked in the furnace with them. Daniel 3:25.
No matter where we find ourselves when the dust of upheaval finally settles, you will find that God is still in control and that He was in the situation with you even when you could not see Him. If you find upheaval distressing you, remember the steadfast tulips; they are beautiful in front of the shrubbery backdrop that God provided for them.
By God’s grace, you too will beautify your new circumstance with His love shining out to those around you! Praise the Lord and bloom where you are planted … even if you are the only one, you will still be a witness to God’s love, providence, grace and sovereignty!
Father, forgive me when I rebelled and struggled against Your bobcat as You were rearranging my life for Your purposes. Forgive me when I was unable to comprehend any good coming from the pain of the situation. Forgive me when I griped at the circumstance and refused to look to You for wisdom. Thank you for Your grace, patience and unrelenting love. Thank you for being present with me in the upheaval even though I did not recognize it, and thank You for changing my world, and me, even if it took a spiritual bobcat to accomplish the task.