Red lights and the Sabbath

I was out for a walk. I think it was a Tuesday. I had so much to do that it was really weighing on me. In Nehemiah it says “the people had a mind to work.” (Nehemiah 4:6)  I guess I’m like that sometimes. I have so many things that I feel I need to do and they all seem to be within God’s will and the way He is leading.

But sometimes I don’t take a break. Or I have to make a conscious effort to do so. Also, I am not one who is really feeling bound in a legal sense to “keep the Sabbath”. Paul said “One man esteems one day above the other, another esteems ever day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

So I don’t have a real big thing about not working on Sundays. And I had worked the rest of the afternoon Sunday after I got back from church. But I wasn’t feeling really good. I just couldn’t understand why. I was thinking about all I had to do as I was walking down the sidewalk towards the park.

Red ball in yard-smallI finally just shot a quick prayer up to the Lord to please help me and give me some hint or nudge as to what was wrong. Immediately my attention was drawn to a bright red lawn ornament in a yard I was passing. It was the only thing red in the whole scene I could see.

I didn’t get it. So I “thought” to the Lord, “What does that mean?” Again immediately He turned my attention a different direction and down at the end of the street was a bright red stop sign.Stop-Sign-Front

“Stop.”

“Oh. I get it. You want me to stop. You don’t want me to keep putting my shoulder to the bolder, to take up my cross, to lay down my life and to keep sacrificing and getting things done for You. You want me to take a day off. It doesn’t matter if a bunch of stuff doesn’t get done today. I can do it tomorrow. Maybe I could have even just taken the day off on Sunday like You were talking about on the mountain with Moses. OK, I get it. Yes sir; good idea.”

 

And this has happened before. I’m one of those who don’t believe we are still under the Laws of Moses. If you want some real controversy, start getting into that subject. This may mean I’m an Antinominalist. But I’ll need to do some more theology reading before I’m sure about that.

But what I’ve found is that there are all kinds of good reasons and wisdom in the Old Testament law. Yes, I eat pig. But I sure want to know it’s been overseen by government regulations or I might get trichinosis. Pig was considered unclean in the Mosaic Law and there were oodles of requirements and commandments which all had a huge amount of wisdom and reason to them. So many of them were quite scientific as well, even though back at that time they might not have had the knowledge that we do now.

I’ve learned though experience that “if you don’t make an offering, sometimes God takes a collection”. If I don’t just take a day off once a week, I end up really getting run down and tired in the next few days. When the Communists took over Russia, they tried to institute a 10 day working week, instead of 7, just to get more labor out of everyone. But it didn’t work. We just seem to have some kind of inward clock that says we need to knock it off after around 7 days. Even if we are no longer under the binding legalism of the Mosaic Law, we ignore its wisdom at our peril.

Well, thank the Lord for the operation of His Holy Spirit. On that walk, the Spirit was there to answer my prayer and even use the only red things that I could see, first the lawn ornament and then the stop sign, to get through to me that it was time for a day off.

If you’re feeling you are no longer under the law of Moses and you’re a “free man” now, you’d still better watch out if you ignore the wisdom and will of God. You’re safest if you are operating with the directions of the Holy Spirit. Then you may still be able to be guided by the Lord. And that’s really what it’s all about. “If you be led of the Spirit, then are you not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18)

Everything means something

caterpillar2There was a funny song years ago by Simon and Garfunkel which was called, “At the zoo”. It went through all the animals at the zoo and with things like “Zebras are reactionaries, antelopes are missionaries”, things like that.

But then, strangely, the Bible does say that everything means something. Paul said “The invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Romans 1:20) Jesus is called in one place “the Sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). Satan is called the Serpent and Dragon. We are God’s sheep. And on and on.

So this morning when I was out in the park, something happened and I knew that it probably was significant or had some meaning but I didn’t get it right away.

I was sitting there on the bench and then right in front of me was this worm or caterpillar, seemingly suspended in the air. Then it moved downward a little. Then again. And I realized it had some kind of thread like a spider that was suspending it in the air that had been attached to a branch of a tree above me. The caterpillar kept lowering itself to the ground and final reached it. I of course couldn’t see the thread that had been coming out of the caterpillar as it was so thin and transparent so that it was almost impossible to see. The caterpillar crawled off. So I was sitting there and I asked the Lord, “What does that all mean?”

Most people probably don’t have thoughts like that. But through experience I’ve learned that often you can get some significance from things like that. I wrote a story a while back about “Hawks and Doves” where these two birds almost flew into me on a walk. That happened about 100 yards away from where this did.

So I asked the Lord to please show me what, if any, significance could be there for this caterpillar with the invisible thread coming out of him as he lowered himself to the ground.

Here are the thoughts that came to me. We are like that caterpillar. Isaiah 41:14 talks about “you worm, Jacob”. That invisible thread that gets us across great gulfs, from the tree branch to the ground and seems to suspend us miraculously in thin air is the Lord. He’s in us and as we let Him out, we are swept along His thread. It’s strong to hold us but it’s also so tiny and mostly invisible. But also it’s sticky and it just kept coming out of that caterpillar effortlessly and enough till he got to his destination.

cocoonBut then I thought, at the end of the caterpillar’s life on earth, eventually that same thread is what will be wrapped around the caterpillar and form it’s cocoon. It will be his casket, binding him to his death. But then, out of that cocoon which the caterpillar made from that thread that had helped him all his life, it will burst forth at the end of winter into a butterfly or a moth. From the death of being a caterpillar or wrapped within a cocoon, butterflyit will appear suddenly as a new and totally different life. But the silver thread that was there for the caterpillar during its life was also there at its death, to envelope it and provide a casket of darkness and protection where the miracle of transformation takes place and it comes out as a butterfly.

We who have the Lord have that thread within us, helping us bridge impossible gaps when we need it, helping us travel places we otherwise couldn’t. Or even seemingly suspending us in mid air.  It’s inside of us. We don’t understand it all, as certainly that caterpillar didn’t understand it. I wonder if that caterpillar had to do something like “yield” in order to continue to let itself descend lower and lower to the ground, by continuing to let out that magic thread within it?

Like Simon and Garfunkel said, “something tells me it’s all happening at the zoo.” Or at the park. Or anywhere you have your spiritual antenna up and your eyes opened to all the wonderful world of truth and beauty that’s all around us and in a sense speaking to us. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day it utters truth and night unto night it shows knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19: 1-3)

Fear God

god-creates-man-sistine-chapel

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

Fear is a fascinating subject. In modern times, almost everyone, if asked, will say that fear is bad. But then if you look in the Bible, it says we should “fear God”. So then some people think we should have this paralyzing, morbid, terrifying, debilitating fear of this awesome monster of a God who’s just licking His lips at the potential of sending us all to hell.

A real favorite verse of mine from the Bible is “the fear of the Lord is clean” (Psalm 19:9). But then an opposite thought to that is “The fear of man is a snare (or a trap)” (Proverbs 29:25). I’ve certainly had my share of horrible, soul-sapping fear in my lifetime. But also I’ve had experiences where that verse, “the fear of the Lord is clean” has really proven true.

One time when I was a young Christian, I was at a training camp for missionaries. I’d recently come out of a life of spiritual darkness and I was really new and raw to the things of the Lord. One morning I woke up before dawn and felt a strong urge to go out into the nature to pray. I’d read verses about “seeking the Lord with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13) so I was down on my knees in prayer at dawn, crying out vehemently to God. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up and saw the elder of the camp sternly looking down at me. He’d tapped me with his cane on my shoulder.

He said, “Son, you don’t have to yell at God. God can hear you. God’s not deaf. You’re waking up the whole camp.”

“Oh my God! That Christian elder hit you with his cane! What a monster! It must have just scared you to death and scarred you for eternity!”

No, actually it didn’t. Before I became a Christian I’d experienced dominating, bullying, brutish people and I knew what fear that can generate. But this was totally different. What this elder said was totally right. He wasn’t yelling at me or belittling me or threatening me; he was sternly but loving me telling me the truth. I’ve always marked that experience with the verse, “the fear of the Lord is clean”. That experience changed my life and I needed it. It changed my relationship with God and certainly it changed my prayer life.

And it showed me that there is a good fear. The fear of God is a good fear. Because He means to do well for you. Solomon said “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

Certainly one of Satan’s greatest tools is fear. That’s the kind of fear that’s talked about when it says, “Fear has torment” (I John 4:18). But that’s totally different from the fear we should have for God. Agosto-06The fear of God involves respect and a recognition that He knows what’s right and best for us, better than we do. So we fear Him because we want to stay close to Him, not only for His sake but, frankly, for ours as well.

I guess it’s almost a selfish thing. When you realize you are what Jesus called His people, sheep, then you realize you need a shepherd. You’re not as smart or tough or invincible as you’d like to think. You are a little bit dumb at times and weaker than you’d like to be and you just need the help, wisdom, power and blessing of God. So you fear getting out of His will or out of close communications with Him. And if He has to take sometimes a bit of a drastic action to get you in line, that’s just what’s needed. Maybe that’s why King David said to the Lord, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” in that most famous of Psalms, Psalms 23.

I surely don’t recommend you go around taping folks on their shoulder with your cane. That was certainly an exception. But it was an amazing experience for me that taught me a lot and helped me to get to know my heavenly Father a lot better and to know His loving ways. The fear of man is a trap and brings torment. But the fear of the Lord is clean.

Is there not a cause?

david and brothers flat 2One of the most touching and stirring verses in the Bible to me is what David said when he was probably just a young teenager, “Is there not a cause?” (I Samuel 17:29) I’ve never read anything written about that verse by anyone so I’ll tell you about it.

You don’t have to believe in God to have heard about David and Goliath. David, a young teenage shepherd boy, killed the leading fighter of the enemies of David’s people. The 9 foot tall giant, Goliath, had a spear and armor; David just had some rocks and a simple sling. And in the power and will of God, David slew Goliath. But David had to fight a tremendous spiritual battle with his own family before he ever faced Goliath.

King-SaulGoliath’s people, the Philistines, had been overlords and oppressors of the Jewish people for generations. But changes were in the air. God had raised up a very devout and faithful high priest, Samuel. And God had led Samuel to anoint a king for the first time in Israel, Saul.

goliathaThe Philistines and the Israelites were again about to clash. But when it came time for battle, the Israeli fighters were in fear and awe of the champion warrior of the Philistines, Goliath. In modern times the tallest any person has been known to be is around 8½ feet tall. But the Bible says that in those times 3000 years ago there were giants and they were taller than any people are today.

David, who later became Israel’s most famous and Godly king, was the youngest of 8 brothers. His father had him tending flocks of sheep on the countryside outside his hometown of Bethlehem while his three oldest brothers were away as combatants in Saul’s army which was facing Goliath and the Philistine army.

David goesDavid’s father told his son to go to the army camp of Saul to take food to his brothers and to see how things were going. So David left the sheep in the care of a servant and journeyed to Saul’s camp. While David was there, he heard the bellowing taunts of Goliath from across the battle lines, challenging any of the soldiers of Saul to meet him in single combat.

And this is where things get almost weird. Remember, David at that time was probably around the age of a modern day 7th grader or 8th grader. When David found that no fighter of Saul was ready to meet Goliath in battle, he told the ones there that he would face Goliath in combat. At length, King Saul gave David permission to go out to face Goliath.

But before David faced Goliath, he had to overcome an unexpected confrontation with his own brother. You’d think his brothers would rejoice to hear of David’s incredible faith and conviction. But sadly, as the human condition so often is, he was harassed vehemently. In I Samuel 17:28, when David’s oldest brother heard of his little brother’s faith and conviction, he had this to say to him:

“Why have you come here? Who did you leave the sheep with? I know your pride and the naughtiness of your heart! You’ve just come here to see the battle.

I know your pride flatSo did David collapse under his big brother’s withering accusations and condemnations? Did he loose heart and head back home in defeat and confusion? No. Before he faced the physical battle with Goliath the giant, he had to first withstand the spiritual attacks from his own flesh and blood family and “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10), Satan speaking through his own brother. And David answered his brother,

Is there not a cause?” ( I Samuel 17:29)

What vision, what conviction, what determination. “Is there not a cause?” Is there not an utterly valid reason? Isn’t this worth fighting for? So David had to stand alone, not only on the battlefield with Goliath but before that, with his own family and people. He had nothing but the hand of God on him and virtually crazy faith that gave him the courage to do the humanly impossible.

your cause is just merged down flatHave you ever had to make that kind of stand of faith? Have you had a vision or cause that burned in you so strongly that you not only were ready to risk your life for it, you were willing to suffer the mocking slanders of those you were closest to? It’s that kind of vision in a higher cause, a purpose and noble endeavor that’s captured men’s hearts and souls to go beyond the normal and mundane, to right wrongs, to champion the defeated, “to march into hell for a heavenly cause”.

david-and-goliathSometimes “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:36). Jesus said so. In David’s case, he stood up to his brother and then went out to win the most unlikely victory in the history of all battles. Because of David’s faith and certainty in the faithfulness of God to help him win a just battle against all odds, he not only slew Goliath, he went on to be Israel’s greatest king. And his words in the Psalms in the Bible have given hope and courage to countless millions for 30 centuries.

Do you have a cause? Do you have a burning vision in your heart?  A glorious quest? A calling from God that you know is just and worth living your life for? If so, don’t let anyone dissuade you, even those you’re closest to. “Is there not a cause?”

The end of the world?

A Russian friend of mine has had many people asking him about “the end of the world”. He asked if I could write a small tract on this subject which he could give to others. Here’s what I sent him.

EndoftheWorldart-flattenedHave you heard people talking about the end of the world? Lots of people said it was supposed to happen on December 21, 2012. It had something to do with the calendar of some South American Indians, the Mayas. But then nothing happened. So there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Well, if you look at the world today, politically, economically or environmentally, there certainly seems to be a lot to be concerned about, even to seriously worry about. But, really, “the end of the world?”

If you have faith in the God of Abraham — the God of the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims — then you can know from the prophets that God doesn’t say there’s going to really be an “end of the world” in the way some people say or the way some movies portray it.

On the other hand, the Bible certainly predicts a future awesome ending of this age that will bring in the Kingdom of God on earth. And from the way the Bible describes those events, it could certainly almost seem like the end of the world. Because, as Jesus Himself and the prophet Daniel described that future time, it will be “a time of trouble such as was not since the beginning of the world.” Matthew 24:21, Daniel 12:1.

It will be a time of great, even horrific trouble. But it won’t be the end of the earth and mankind. That’s what the Bible prophets have predicted for the end of this age. And, strangely, the Koran has similar things to say about a future time like this.

To go into all the details right here is not possible. But of the many specific signs that are predicted to happen just before this mighty change, there are a couple of things that you could look out for. The New Testament says that in the last 3½ years before the return of Jesus to rule the earth, a demon possessed dictator will come to power who will attempt to rule the whole world. In the last 100 years we’ve seen some of the most powerful, deadly dictators in all history. These men have savagely ruled empires and been responsible for the deaths of 10’s of millions of people. But this dictator to come will be worse than them all and will ultimately demand that all the people of the world worship him. See II Thessalonians 2:3&4, Revelation 13:5-8

Another thing is clearly predicted. In the final days before the return of Jesus, this world dictator, that the Bible calls the AntiChrist, will bring in a new world political and economic order. Part of this will have to do with an economic system requiring some kind of implant or chip that links all people into a central system of control. The Bible predicts that “no man could buy or sell unless they have this mark in their hand or forehead.” See Revelations 13:16 & 17.

But this time of “great tribulation” that will last 3½ years will be followed by the return of Jesus to separate those who believe in Him from those who’ve followed the satanic AntiChrist. The Bible says that God will pour out for a brief time His wrath on the earth to cleanse it and to destroy the evil and decadence that has been so built up. But after that, Jesus and His followers will establish His kingdom on earth and rule over those who survived on earth into this heavenly time.

What about you? You might think like so many do, “Aw, everything’s going to be ok. That’s not going to happen in my lifetime.” Maybe so, maybe not. There are so many signs right now and things could easily move into these very final days almost at any time.

But the truly safest and wisest thing to do, no matter what happens, is to have a personal relationship with the One who God sent to save us from whatever happens in our lifetimes. That of course is Jesus of Nazareth who came to earth as a man, even though He was the Son of God who’d been with God from all eternity. His death and resurrection made it so that we can be restored to fellowship with God and with Jesus.

You may not understand it all but you can experience it by praying a short prayer right now. “Dear Jesus. I need your love and power within me. Please come into my heart, forgive me of my sins and give me the new life you promised you would give to those who call on You.”

If you prayed that, He promised He would answer. He said “If any man hear My voice and open the door (to your heart) I will come in to them.” Revelation 3:20. It’s the beginning of a new life, an eternal life. So whatever may come on this earth, you’ll be one of God’s children and He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

 

A Powerpoint of “So You Have To Go Home”

naomiRecently I posted an article called “So You Have To Go Home”. This was about the experiences of Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament and how some of us in these times can find significance in how things worked out for them when they had to “go home.”

Some dear missionary friends of mine in Ukraine took this story and turned it into a Powerpoint presentation to use with folks they minster to and have classes with. I thought to add it in here as they’ve found ways to illustrate it all very well and it could be a blessing to some of you.

Here it is:    So You Have to Go Home