Joy and Sorrow

In the book of Isaiah we hear God telling the prophet how He is different than the humans He created:

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 [New Living Translation]

It will be no surprise when I say that we live in a world beset with difficulties, anxiety, fear, and sorrow.  There are people who are frustrated and tired of being in lock-down status in their own homes.  There are people who are terrified of contracting COVID-19, many for good reasons if they suffer from compromised respiratory issues, and other health maladies.   There are people who are grieving  the death of loved ones from the virus, and there are family members whose grief is aggravated by the fact that they could not have a funeral during lock=down days.  There are many who have become unemployed as businesses shut down and terminate or furlough employees.  No paychecks mean hard times for the finances in the household.

Sorrows and fears, anxiety and frustration.  Many people are suffering, and the writer of Ecclesiastes understands this.   We read in Ecclesiastes 7:14: 

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.  [ESV]

Here is this verse in the New King James Translation:

In the day of prosperity be joyful,
But in the day of adversity consider:
Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,
So that man can find out nothing that will come after him. [NKJV]

And here it is in the New Living Translation:

Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.  [NLT]

I tend to accept joy and will completely immerse myself in the enjoyment of happiness, often forgetting to thank the Lord for the blessing of joyful events.  

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Rafting down the Martha Brae River in Jamaica with beautiful flora all along the riverbank

But, then there are times when I feel like I am being inexorably pulled to the precipice and am certain to go over the edge, plummeting down the waterfall.  Rather like this video from Canada and Horseshoe Falls in Ontario.

When those hard times hit, i am the first one to ask God why this has happened to me.  What is the purpose of this, why did you allow this?   

I am ashamed to admit that often this questioning is tinged with anger and accusatory finger-pointing toward God.  

Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45 [ESV]

The blessing and the difficulty — the writer of Ecclesiastes is spot on when he says that God sends them both.   Both the evil and the good receive the benefit of God’s sun shining down on them.  Both the just and the unjust receive the rain that God sends to the earth.  Likewise,  the pandemic the world is experiencing does not distinguish between the just and the unjust.

The difference, Beloved, is that those who are in the Lord Jesus Christ are assured that, whatever difficulties we experience here, we will be united with our Savior for all eternity.  This is not wishful thinking; rather it is a Biblical certainty.  Jesus said that His disciples would be with Him in heaven, and He was not just talking about those in the room at that moment!  

In the book of Revelation we read: 

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,

Revelation 5:9 [ESV]

Jesus ransomed His people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”  

So, lean on Jesus.  Come to Him through faith and keep your focus on Him, rather than on the problems of the day.  He is powerful enough to save you to eternal life.  The problems here are temporal, temporary and virtually irrelevant.  Look to Jesus!

Father, I pray that I will keep my eyes focused on You rather than on what is going on around me in this trouble ridden world.  I praise Your Name for the gift of salvation through JEsus Christ, Your Son.  And I look forward to being with people who love you from every tribe, language, people and nation.  Praise Your Holy Name.

SABBATH REST

We enjoy camping.  While our method of camping is certainly not “roughing it”, we do enjoy the retreat into the RV and the varied scenery that we encounter in different campgrounds that we have visited across the U.S. 

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Mississinewa River, Indiana Standing along the shore looking at the 7 pillars of the Miami Nation of Indians near Peru, Indiana

Camping, getting away from the hectic schedule even we retired people have, is a marvelous way to unwind and just relax, contemplate your relationship with the Lord and with the various people in your family, church, work, etc.  And we do just that, but for the vast majority of the time, we relax.  We rest.  We just sit and look at the beautiful scenery, or we walk and get closer to it. 

Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls, Idaho

There usually is no schedule and nothing that would require our attention if we didn’t want to pay attention to it.  And, at least after the campground deadline for “quiet time”, there is the solitude that comes from being in God’s creation, simply soaking in the silence and then the sounds of the evening. Rest for the mind, rest for the body, and rest for the soul.

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Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction, Colorado

God knows that we need rest – He made us and knows us intimately.  He knows that nonstop work is harmful to us, just about as harmful to us as nonstop idleness.  He commanded that we stop work and rest on the 7th day, the Sabbath, the day that He declared to be holy unto the Lord. 

In giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, God said:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

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River in Yellowstone National Park

In the Garden of Eden things were wonderful – Adam and Eve were not subject to the difficulties that sin introduced into the world.  However, once they were banished from the Garden and subject to sin, God had to set out commandments so that His people would know His moral law. 

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts 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 forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.”

Psalm 19:7-9

Consider what the Psalmist says about keeping the law of the Lord.  The soul is revived, the simple become wise, the heart rejoices, the eyes are enlightened, not to mention that the fear (reverence and awe) of the Lord endures forever, and His rules are true and righteous. 

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Badlands National Park, Interior, South Dakota

Needless to say, these commandments are not just for the Old Testament folks!  While the New Testament Christians are not “under the law”, the commandments reflect how our God wants us to live, and we are told of the benefits of following the commands of our God.  Surely, we must obey them even in the 21st century. 

[I realize that there are many in service professions that must work on the weekend, and that includes the day called the “Sabbath” or for the Christian on Sunday, the first day of the week;  but for those folks, there should be another day on which they look to their Savior dedicating their time and energy to Him.]

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Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

God understands that we need that time to recalibrate our lives and to refocus so that we are looking to God as the source of life and all that it has to offer.  Contrary to our world’s culture and Hollywood, we are not the center of the universe, God is.  He is due our reverence, loyalty and love.

Rest is not only a subject of the commandments — Jesus had some poignant words about rest as well.  In one of the most beautiful passages in Matthew, Jesus says:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Rest for your souls.  That, my Beloved, is what our culture is longing for and which they will not find in materialism, philosophies, or any place other than God.  Don’t be deceived by anything that promises joy, comfort and rest without reliance on God, the Father Almighty.  It is in His arms that rest and relief from sin can be achieved.  He is the author of rest and it is only through Him that it can be received.

Father, I praise Your Name for the rest that comes only from You through Jesus Christ, my Savior and Redeemer.  For those who seek this rest, I pray that You would grant them Your Spirit to show them the way, through Christ our Lord, I pray.

WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE?

The City of Chicago lies along the coastline of Lake Michigan, the only one of the five Great Lakes that is entirely within the United States.  The other four Great Lakes are shared by the U.S. and Canada.  Several years ago, I received slide pictures that my father had taken over many decades.  After reviewing the slides, I found this picture taken in 1960 of the coastline of Lake Michigan.

Chicago coastline along Lake Michigan circa 1960

Lake Michigan is a huge lake.  It is 118.1 miles wide and has an area of over 20,000 miles.  It’s maximum depth is 923 feet and it contains bowfin, largemouth bass, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and lake trout, to name a few inhabitants.

Many rivers and streams flow into Lake Michigan, with the major tributaries being the Fox-Wolf, the Grand, and the Kalamazoo Rivers.  Lake Michigan is connected to the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois River (from Chicago) and by the Mississippi River. 

Scripture does not mention either the Great Lakes or Lake Michigan.  But it does mention at least two other bodies of water. 

A number of years ago I came across the following in a lesson.  

There are two seas in Palestine, which, in their contrast, preach a most eloquent sermon. 

The first speaks of forsakenness and desolation.  There is no splash of fish; there is no song of birds, no fluttering leaves, no laughter of children. Men call it the Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea.

We read of the Salt Sea in Joshua 3 where we are told about how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land:

“So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

Joshua 3:14-17

The other sea is a delightful place with its emerald bays, its cobalt-blue expanses.  Along its shores little children play.  Its waters teem with fish. Songs of birds fill the air; it gleams like a jewel in a setting of superb natural charm.  Men call it the Sea of Galilee.  It is comparable to Lake Michigan, a thriving coastal area which is beautiful and which also is teeming with fish.

The Sea of Galilee is spoken of often in the New Testament, for example:

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.”

Matthew 4:18

What makes the difference in these two neighbor seas?  Not the River Jordan; it empties the same good water into both. 

The difference is this: the Dead Sea has inlets but no outlets; the Sea of Galilee has an outlet for every inlet.  

There are two seas in Palestine.  What each does with the Jordan determines the difference between them. 

There are two kinds of people in the world.  What each does with Christ and in turn with him or herself determines the difference between them.  The one refusing Christ can only keep his/her worldly goods, remaining stagnant, and then leave the accumulated stuff behind when he/she dies. 

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”” …  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Matthew 19:16, 21-22 

The other takes Christ, shares Christ, lives Christ, and finds abundant living through giving

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” –

John 10:9-10 

There are two seas in Palestine; there are two kinds of people in our world.

Jesus understood that the crowds did not necessarily understand who He was.  Luke 9 describes a dialog that Jesus had with His disciples, asking them who the crowds said that He was.  The answer He received reflected the variety of possibilities that the people surmised – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets of old.

“Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.””

Luke 9:20

You see, it is one thing for the crowd to speculate on Jesus’ nature, but He wanted the disciples to think about Him: “who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus asks this same question to us today, in 2018.  “Who do you say that [He] is?”  Do you answer that with the fumbling response of the crowd or can you say like Peter: “The Christ of God”.  Is He your Savior or just a name from an historical document?  Is He your Lord or is He a mythical character who does not deserve your love, respect and honor? 

If your answer is the same as the crowd, your life, spiritually speaking, is comparable to the Dead Sea.  The Sea with inlets but no outlet. The Sea without life. Do you keep and hoard, so that ultimately you will lose all?

Or is your answer like that of Peter?  If so, your life is, spiritually speaking, comparable to the Sea of Galilee.  You have inlets: the Word of God, feeding on the Scripture, praying to the Lord and living with the Holy Spirit empowering you.  And you have outlets: service to others, worshiping with fellow believers, loving your neighbors, caring for the believers around you and spreading the message of salvation to those who come into your area of influence.  If you are not exercising your life in Christ so that others can see it, I challenge you to pray to the Lord and let Him energize you so that you will be a strong witness for Him.

There are two seas in Palestine.  There are two kinds of people in the world. 

Who do you say that He is?

Father, I pray that these words would encourage and strengthen the believers who read them.  I pray, too, that these words would be a challenge to non-believers to pray for the Lord’s leading them into a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.