Heard From God Lately?

As I’v become older, I have found that my ability to hear certain sounds has diminished.  Even worse, I find it hard to pick up individual voices when there are several people talking or when there are other sounds.  This makes it hard for me to carry on a conversation in the midst of a group or even on the telephone is there is background noise.

Most of us have similar problems when it comes to our spiritual lives.  We have so many things clamoring for our attention.  Concern for our relationship with our spouse, our children, our job, our home, our retirement, our health, and a myriad of other things all make a claim for our attention–and rightly so.  All of these things are important and require prayer and action on our part.

Yet it’s interesting to note that Jesus never taught that we had to earn a lot of money or live in a big house, or drive a new car, or even be healthy all the time.  What He did say was, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

When Isaiah felt beaten down by circumstances, he sought God. And God told him, Go out and stand before me on the mountain.   And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (I Kings 19:11-13)  Then, God told him what to do.

Later, he told the people, Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, He will still be with you to teach you.  You will see your teacher with your own eyes.  Your own ears will hear him.  Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,”  whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:20-21)  Winston Churchill once said, If you’re going through hell, keep going.  Don’t get hung up on the troubles and concerns of this life.  Tune out the noise of this life.  Listen to the still small voice that’s right at your shoulder, telling you which way to go.  He’s always there and He’s never wrong.

The Truck or the Shadow…?

Billy Graham tells the story of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who was an American Presbyterian clergyman.  His first wife died from cancer while still in her thirties.  At the time, all his children were under the age of twelve.  He had such victory over his grief that he decided to preach the funeral sermon himself.

While en route to the funeral, they were overtaken by a large truck, which as it passed by them, cast a large shadow over their car.  He asked on of his children, “Would you rather be run over by that truck or by its shadow?”

“By the shadow, of course!” replied the twelve-year-old daughter.  “A shadow can’t hurt you”

With that answer, Dr. Barnhouse said to his three motherless children, Your mother been overrun not by death, but by the shadow of death.”  At the funeral he spoke on Psalm 23: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.

Our lives here on earth are but a shadow of what is to come.  The past and the present exist to prepare us for what God intended–for us to dwell with Him forever.  For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, ... (1 Chronicles 29:15)  For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, Because our days on earth are as a shadow. (Job 8:9)

I Corinthians 13:12 says, Now we see things imperfectly, like shadowy reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  What now seems so confusing and imperfect, will become perfectly clear and clearly perfect.

The Right Side of Heaven

Billy Graham tells the story of a young girl who was taking a walk with her father one evening.  Looking up at the stars, she exclaimed, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be! 

Many years ago, I heard Pat Boone share his early childhood definition of heaven. It suddenly occurred to him while he was sitting (or was it squirming?) in church, agonizing through one of the pastor’s typically long and boring sermons. Heaven, Pat reasoned, was going to be just like church—one thousand years—ten thousand years—forever. It was almost too much to handle. To Pat, such a state of affairs seemed more like purgatory than perfection.

But the little girl was right.  No matter how beautiful or wonderful things may appear on earth, Heaven will be more beautiful and more wonderful.  Think of all the wonderful and beautiful things we have in this world. The moon and stars reflected across the still water of a lake,…the intricacies of a butterfly,…a field of wild flowers moving gently in the wind, a baby’s fascination with the movement of, well,… anything.  I’m not very poetic, but the beauty and majesty that God has placed us in lends itself to waxing poetic.

How do I know?  Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).  So what we will hear and see is now beyond our current ability to speak of or even imagine.

In John 14:1-3, our Lord spoke of returning to His Father, where He would “prepare a place” for us (cf. also 16:5-7). We naturally tend to think that “going to heaven” (as we often express it) means our going far away to that place which our Lord is preparing; but it is more accurate to think of heaven as coming to us, for the New Jerusalem will come to the (new) earth, according to the scriptures.  So heaven is really closer than we think.

Before we get too wrapped up in making an impossible attempt to physically describe heaven, we need to realize that the most important aspect of heaven is being in the presence of God the Father.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, … (Revelation 21:3).  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

So in a very real sense, we experience a touch of heaven on earth when we get saved and are filled with the Holy Spirit.  That sense of God’s presence can be experienced as long as we maintain that spiritual connection to God.  So, how important is it to try to picture what heaven will be like?  Let me give you an example.  Suppose that you were the wife of a prisoner of war, held captive for many years. You knew your husband was alive and hoped to see him soon. Finally, after many false hopes and setbacks, an agreement was negotiated with the enemy and the release of your husband was at hand. The United States government had made arrangements for you to meet your beloved in Hawaii, where you would be with him for two weeks before returning to this country. Now Hawaii is a very beautiful place, I know, and I am sure that most of us would love to go there. But, for you, the place is very secondary to the person. If you were to meet your husband in the Sahara desert it would be no disappointment. While the right side of heaven is beautiful beyond description, the Person will be our greatest joy.

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20).


Under the Covers

I have always been an avid reader–Christian, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, westerns–even love stories.  If I go to the doctor, I bring my current book.  If I go shopping I bring whatever I am reading.  When I exercise, I read.  When I was younger,  my bedroom was located in central area with my sisters’ and parents’ bedroom and the bathroom off of it. I used to keep a flashlight next to my bed so that I could read well into the night.

Why was I under the covers?  So I wouldn’t get caught.  My parents were more concerned about me getting enough sleep.  When I did get caught, what gave me away?  The light.  When you call for your teenage kids to get up in the morning and switch on their light, where do they hide?  Under the covers and away from the light.

There was a time when Adam and Eve were at home in God’s light.  They were comfortable in His presence.  When they sinned, they tried to hide from the light.  Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after speaking with God and his face shone.  But the Israelites couldn’t stand the light and he had cover his face with a veil.  Saul was blinded by the light of Jesus’ presence on his way to Damascus.  Isaiah and Ezekiel were also overwhelmed by the glory of God.  At the Temple, Jesus said, I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in the darkness, because your will have the light that leads to life. (John 8:12)

God chose to reveal the brightness of His glory through Jesus Christ, but most who saw it were overwhelmed and, like children under the blankets, tried to hide themselves or tried to eliminate the light.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, God caused a darkness that lasted for 3 hours.  He would not allow even natural light to shine over this event caused by men choosing darkness.

But darkness didn’t reign forever.  On the third day, Christ rose again and ascended to heaven.  Only through faith in Him, can we (who have become used to darkness) be made ready for entrance into the light of God’s presence.  As Paul said to the Ephesians, Once your were full of darkness, but now you have the light from the Lord.  Live and rejoice in that light.

A Rose by Any Other Name Still Has Thorns

Roses are beautiful creations.  They may vary in size, color, and even in shape.  But they still have those nasty thorns.  No matter how careful I am when I handle them, I always stick myself.  In Paul’s 2nd letter the Corinthians, he notes, To keep me from being proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. (2 Cor. 12:7)

You might think that a mighty apostle like Paul who was given so much by God to share with the New Testament church would be able to pray away this thorn.  After all, he had already endured 39 lashes five times, been beaten with rods three times, and been stoned once.  He had come through to the other side of each of these times of suffering.

Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn.  With all that he had already suffered, how severe this thorn must have been to cause Paul to beg God for relief.  People have guessed that it might have been malaria, depression, epilepsy, blindness, or an unusually strong temptation.  He never records that God delivered him.  In fact, immediately following his words in verse seven, Paul wrote, Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, My power works best in weakness.  Job, too, endured great suffering at the hand of Satan.  Yet behind Satan’s activity was the sovereign hand of God, who permitted the suffering to bring Job to a greater understanding of his Creator and Redeemer.

There will be times when God does not give us the answer or deliverance we think we need.  But we can be certain that when we seek Him in prayer, He will always give us the grace and strength we need.  So don’t give up on yourself and God because of that one trial or temptation that you can’t seem to overcome.  God is still in control and His grace is still sufficient.  As Job said, I know that my Redeemer lives and in the end He will stand on the earth.  Job 19:25.  What will we learn from our trial or temptation?

* If you’re interested in art or writing, please check out our Activities page to find an online application and rules for our  1st Annual Online Christmas Art Contest.  The deadline for submissions is December 12, at 5:00PM.

How contagious are you?

Picture in your mind this scene from Mark 1:40-45…a man suffering from leprosy is approaching Jesus.  His disease is highly contagious and has left him with skin, muscles and bones simply sloughing off his body.  The treatment of the day was simply to isolate those with the disease.  It’s possible that no one had touched him in years.  Yet Jesus reached out and touched him and healed him.  He was not infected by the man’s leprosy.  Jesus was more “contagious” with the power of God than the leper was contagious with his leprosy.

While no Christian should be surprised by what Jesus did in this story, what we should be asking ourselves is, “Am I that kind of contagious Christian?”  And, if not, why not?  Have I ruled out some people–sure that they would resist the “Good News”?  Can I honestly believe that some are so far from God that there is no hope of salvation for them?  Jesus reached out to tax collectors, lepers, Gentiles–all kinds of sinners that the established religion of the day had given up on.  Romans 10:14 asks, “How can they hear, unless someone tells them?”  Talk to those members of your family, the people you work with, the waitress at your favorite restaurant, the person who cuts your hair, people at your health club, your neighbors.  Talk to them to develop a relationship.  People are more apt to listen to someone who they trust.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus and do what He did–befriend people who don’t know God.  Never rule out anyone.  You never know when their heart will soften or how God’s Spirit will work.  When you extend your hand to someone else, you continue the process begun two thousand years ago by believers who reach out and bring people to Christ.