I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the contrast between life and death- not the funeral kind of death but the dead- man- walking- kind of dead- very much alive but on a path leading to death.
All of humanity enters into the world in a spiritually dead state. We are a fallen people by nature, and our sinfulness warrants eternal separation from holy God. Until there is a spiritual rebirth, we are the walking dead. Once awakened by God when the Spirit of Christ dwells within the believer, she is fully alive and receives the security of eternal life- never to know separation from God.
I’ve been thinking also about Jesus’ words to Nicodemus when he used the illustration of wind blowing to explain how the Spirit of God moves to create new life. Perhaps the nor’easter that recently blew all weekend changing the landscape along the East Coast created a fixation on these truths already simmering in my spirit. And, by the way, you can bet God is moving things in the spiritual realm just as certainly as shorelines shifted in a very physical way. May those who have eyes to see and ears to hear perceive what the Spirit is doing within the body of Christ.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6).” The Lord qualified the difference between life and being alive. We are physically alive at the time of conception, but we are spiritually alive at the time of rebirth.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).
In the wake of the storm an observer may say, “There used to be a house there,” or, “There used to be a road there,” and although he didn’t watch the change happen, he can say for sure that something is different.
And so it is for the one who has been made spiritually alive. Something is different. You may not be able to put a finger on how it happened, just like you cannot track the path of the wind; but you know who you were is not who you now have become. In the same way that sand and structures surrender to the force of waves caused by a mighty nor’easter, the human heart surrenders to the truth of who God is and invites him to do a work of recreating. And he does it!
Now is the opportune time to revisit the work of God in giving you new life in Christ. Have you been born again? If uncertain, then know that God wants you to have assurance of his salvation. There should be no question if you have experienced a spiritual birth or not, because the state of transformation is as obvious as an oceanfront home standing one day and washed away by violent surf the next day. In a spiritual sense, the walking dead become fully awake, and you know when that has occurred.
If you believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ making salvation available to all who believe, then state this confession aloud: “Lord Jesus, I believe you came and lived a sinless life and became the complete payment for my sin when you died on the cross. I believe that you resurrected to new life and have returned to the Father in heaven where I also will go when I depart from the earth. Today I leave the path of destruction that leads to eternal death, and I enter into new life with you.”
Do you know what just happened there? You and everyone who prays those words become benefactors of the sole purpose for which Jesus came to the earth. Let’s not get this one confused: Jesus doesn’t make bad people good; he makes dead people alive.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions (Galatians 2:1-2a, 4-5a).
She wasn’t a respectable woman, but she was needed. It felt good to be needed. The love she desired remained elusive. An encounter with a man’s temporary affection would have to do.
Why did the officials find it necessary to publicly shame her when caught? Her self-condemnation cloaked her day in and day out. No matter how many times she told herself tomorrow would be different, the reality was like washing her clothes only to put them on and find them instantly soiled again. Self-loathing became a constant companion.
To stand publicly before the people of her community and know all eyes were on her as the question of her deserving punishment hung in the air was unfathomable, yet it was happening. Nightmares of such a scene chased her down regularly, the kind where you are indecently exposed before a crowd and there’s no way to cover up or hide. You just stand there mortified. Who wants that nightmare realized?
Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?
The one they addressed was Jesus. He often came to this place and taught. Many listened and followed him. There was no doubt that he would speak of her deserving punishment. She hadn’t yet lifted her eyes to see him now looking at her, but she knew his eyes would be full of hate. She was dirty, filthy and unworthy of mercy. Any moment now the judgment would be spoken and the hands of those who surrounded her would be filled.
She quietly prayed in desperate fear of dying. “God, I know I am a sinful woman. I know I have done evil in your eyes. If there is any way you can forgive me and receive my spirit…”
The teacher spoke and she winced expecting words laced with contempt. Stoning… he said something about stoning. She braced herself, feeling every muscle tighten. Her last remaining heartbeats pulsed so loudly that they filled her hearing. If the people were getting loud with shouts of deserving death, she couldn’t hear them. If rocks were scraping against the ground as they were lifted, the sound escaped her. Her brain felt as though it would explode. The stress was going to kill her before fatal blows did.
Any moment now and the rocks would hit and crushing pain would end her life. She was about to depart this earth in sin. Hopelessness filled her. Grief engulfed her.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She lifted her eyes to look at Jesus and pondered his question, noticing the absence of harshness. His eyes. Something about his eyes spoke volumes. She was not condemned. She was not receiving just punishment. She was in shock, and answered, “No one, sir.”
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
(Scripture reference: John 8:1-11, NIV)
God’s compassion compels us to extend mercy, but the kingdom of the world condemns and publicly humiliates. They made her stand before the group…
Something about those seven words hit me deeply. I instantly thought about the nightmare of it all. Real nightmares that haunt us, like the scene of walking naked before people. The exposure is frightening.
But hear this simple and shocking truth. You and I are totally exposed. Our sin is found out, and there’s no place to hide and no way to cover up. God sees and knows all completely, and he has made a way for us to receive complete and perfect forgiveness. Jesus hung on the cross and was publicly shamed as one cursed of God, yet he was sinless. He went to the cross as an act of obedience to his Father in heaven. He died for the just punishment of our sins. Everyone is deserving of eternal death- separation from God as a result of sin. But all who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection are forgiven.
I heard something recently that deserves repeating in light of today’s scripture focus. When Jesus hung on the cross before all who were in the vicinity of Jerusalem, he was stripped, beaten and disfigured. There was no dignity in his dying. None. I feel like we each should ask God for a revelation of his Son’s suffering, but I’m not sure we could handle it.
Jesus knows the deep need for having dignity restored. If you have been sexually victimized as he was in dying naked in public, he can and will restore your dignity. If you have been steeped in sexual sin as the woman written about in John’s gospel, he wants to see you set free and confident in a new identity of being forgiven. Jesus restores dignity to the uttermost, and each of us should partner with God to extend his beautiful mercy and value upon each broken soul we encounter.
It’s Christmas season (my tree is already up and the candles are in the windows), and the world expresses its readiness to capture a childlike sense of wonder. I recently heard a researcher express in a television interview that playing Christmas music at any time of year is actually beneficial because it connects you to good memories from your youth and releases feelings of euphoria to replace heaviness and stress.
Something about that statement grabbed me. I think we might be cheaply using Christmas in the same way an addict goes to his choice substance for a hit and a high. Let me just get a dose of Christmas so I can capture that carefree nature I had as a kid and momentarily escape the harshness of life…
These thoughts swirl in my mind at the same time I’m studying chapters nine and ten of Mark’s gospel. The following are references I found of Jesus relating to children:
- A boy possessed by a spirit is delivered when Jesus rebuked the spirit and told it to come out of him and never enter him again (See Mark 9:14-27).
- “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me” (Mark 9:37).
- “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42).
- “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
But here’s where I started to make a connection that unlocks revelation- In verse 17 of Mark 10, we read about a man who runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. What kind of message does a scene described like this convey to you? Do you imagine the man to be in a desperate state to act in such a way?
Read his request: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Oh yeah. Definitely desperate. Life hangs in the balance, and he needs to grasp onto something certain.
Jesus quickly ascertains that the man on his knees before Him is not presenting himself in worship but in a desperate attempt for a quick fix. He doesn’t call Jesus Son of David as Bartimaeus did in a desperate plea for sight. No, this young man failed to connect the reality of Jesus’ divinity to his need for eternal security. He blindly regarded God’s Son as Good Teacher.
Jesus responds to the man’s request in His typical fashion. He asks a question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good- except God alone.” Translation: God is good. If you knew that I came from God, you would not call me “teacher.” But, okay. Let’s do this. I’ll answer you on your level. You want assurance that all is well with your life and its outcome.
Jesus continued, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother” (Mark 10:19).
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20).
“….since I was a boy.” Childhood. Youth. Trust. Obedience. What happened to this man’s faith to cause him now to be on his knees before the Son of God and calling him by the mere title of teacher?
Get ready. It’s so obvious, but it hits us with fresh amazement. Although the young man began his faith in childhood as one devoted to God in keeping the commandments by honoring God and his fellow man, he abandoned the primary tenent of the faith when he entered into adulthood.
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me'” (Mark 10:21).
Translation: You shall have no other gods before Me.
Jesus, in essence, told the man he is not fit for God’s eternal kingdom because he has forsaken God by breaking the first commandment. He has been faithful from boyhood until now in honoring the commandments dealing with his lateral relationships, but upon entering into adulthood, he discontinued the vertical- the honor of God. It’s true, and Jesus proved it was true. And the poor man, who happened to be materially rich, left the “good teacher’s” presence very downcast, for he loved his wealth more than he loved God the Father (See verses 22-23).
Childhood Wonder= all trust, all hope, all eagerness to please God and family.
Adulthood Desperation= grasping for childlike wonder while maintaining a trust in wealth.
Think about it: Would Jesus really ask you and me to forsake all our wealth and possessions? If we, like the young man, had one thing standing between us and eternal life, yes. He would ask us to surrender it.
Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell…” (Mark 9:43-47).
When we read those desperate words of Jesus, we realize the truly extreme is forsaking all the glory of God’s eternal kingdom for a quick fix of earthly pleasure followed by a never-ending plight of suffering.
Let’s get this one right. We will never inherit the wonder of Christmas, nor will we inherit eternal life with God as long as we superimpose anything of this earth above Him whose name is WONDERFUL. It’s a childlike abandonment to Jesus- a heart that says there is nothing on earth I desire. Only You, King Jesus.
One more beautiful thought: When you encounter the love of Jesus (and I have to believe that the look of love Jesus gave the young man pierced his heart and gave him cause for reflection in the days to follow), you know that He is the treasure your soul has been searching for. Giving up anything that defined your life before Jesus is much easier than it sounds. If He remains a good teacher in your eyes, you probably won’t do a childlike act of total abandonment; but if He looks at you and your heart knows His intense and desperate love for you, you will lay down every “lower-case-g” god you ever esteemed.
The words saints in Psalm 132 drove me to a language study this morning, and one thing I especially love about Hebrew is it always directs you to the heart of God. To call someone a saint, we tend to think he/she has merit- has accomplished something by determination. But a saint would say the basis and the ongoing credit for devotion is wholly due to the unfailing love of God. A saint makes her boast in Christ alone.
I went back to some notes I took last year when Pastor Choco De Jesus addressed thousands of middle and high school students saying, “Everyone and their mother is a Christian, but very few are saints.” So what distinguishes a saint from a Christian? One who is captured by God’s unfailing love toward her in Jesus Christ. The essence of life is defined by this one thing. It’s like comparing a fully clothed woman who is ready for the day to one who only put on earrings. Her Christianity is an accessory, not the main thing.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 13:14).
If you and I want to encounter something unshakeable in this ever-changing and unpredictable world, we will have to look no further than a total surrender to the love of God given to mankind in His Son. God’s love has been demonstrated to us through the cross of Jesus Christ. Through confession of sin and turning from sin and toward God in total surrender of our lives, He forgives us and makes us new. We confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God who came in the flesh, took the punishment of my sin upon Himself, died on the cross and resurrected again. This is not religion and checklists. This is a daily love affair with the lover of our souls. So the saint of God lives in faithful love of God and His ways, because He has first loved her and demonstrates His never-ending love and faithfulness to her.
I stood at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the Spirit whispered, “Why do you like to be here?”
I thought about my answer as I sat down on the beach and replied, “Because it shows me how small I am and I must be reminded of it. Being at the edge of the ocean puts life in proper perspective.”
Do you know what I mean about being drawn to the water, whether it’s an ocean or bay, river or lake? What draws us? Is there a greater connection to life in those places? I look through my Instagram and realize the majority of my pictures include water. Does God intentionally wire us to be attracted to water?
Jesus invites the thirsty to His source of water- living water. To partake of His offer of life means to thirst no more. 1 Coming into communion with your Creator satisfies the soul thirst. The quest for something fulfilling ceases, but the search of His riches only begins when we say yes to life in Christ. God wants us to know the fullness granted us in His Son, and I believe its a lifelong adventure. What awaits us on the other side of the temporal life, I’m not sure. I do know that all who have confessed their sins to God, turned from sin and turned to God through belief upon Jesus for forgiveness, inherit eternal life. Jesus promised us a home in heaven that He Himself is preparing. So, I imagine there will be much cause for wonder, excitement, and joy in the fullness of God’s presence.
Heaven in Hebrew is Samayim. The “s” makes the sound “sh” in this use, and many words in Hebrew have the “sham” root which carries meanings of presence, watching, hearing and obeying. You know the name, Samuel (Shemuel), which speaks to God’s Name and His hearing. Hannah named her son Samuel because God heard her prayers. 2
Interestingly, the latter part of the Hebrew word for heaven is mayim, which means flowing waters. My Bible reference says, “the term [samayim] is used in reference to the originating point of frost (Job 38:29), snow (Isa. 55:10), dust (Deut. 28:24), hail (Jos. 10:11), rain (Gen. 8:2), dew (Deut. 33:13), thunder (1 Sa.2:10), and fire (Ge. 8:2).”
I haven’t researched it thoroughly, but God’s realm and water are connected. It took me back to Genesis 1 this morning. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” God didn’t create the waters as He did the other elements of creation; the waters were present, and He separated them to create sky. I’m not surprised I’m personally drawn to bodies of water, because He truly reveals Himself through everything He created. But, learning the Hebrew word for heaven has me even more fascinated by the way it reveals God’s nature and realm.
The final appearance of water in the written Word of God is found in Revelation 22:1-2.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.
Cover to cover, the Bible speaks to us about life and God being the source of all life for all eternity.
I wanted to put down my thoughts today about God’s realm and water because in my doing a word study of heaven, I encountered many other words in the same part of the Hebrew dictionary that carry meanings of devastation and desolation. For instance, samad means to lay waste. The Old Testament Lexical Aids at the back of my Bible indicates it “usually occurs in the context of a warning of the consequences of forsaking God (Debt. 4:26).”
The paradox of these similar Hebrew terms makes me think about how the same ocean that draws me and refreshes me also can bring utter devastation, as we have seen recently with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Photos of hard hit areas look as though bombs were dropped. There is much suffering as a result of land areas and islands now made desolate. But this suffering, painful as it is, is only temporary.
The same God who has in store for His faithful a heavenly reward where we will enjoy His presence without any limitation, is the One who will mete out justice to those who refused to receive His offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord. Some people say they hope that on the Day of Judgment they will find favor with God. It is important that we who have received eternal life in Christ share God’s truth with them. If you go before God on Judgment Day in your sin, you will be judged a sinner and punished eternally. If you go before God on Judgment Day in the atonement of Christ, meaning, you already had confessed your sins and turned from them, receiving forgiveness through faith in Jesus the Son, you will be saved. 3 The sinner will be separated eternally from God’s presence; the faithful child will be eternally in God’s presence. 4 The former will forever be aware of his thirst and long for a drink of water but never be satisfied; the latter will never thirst again.
The Lord says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.” 5 The choice is yours: either by faith you will know God’s reward, or by denying Him you will know His denying you in response to your choice.
“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life…”(Deut. 30:19-20).
1 See John 7:37-38
2 See 1 Samuel 1:20
3 See Romans 10:9
4 See Matthews 25:26
5 Deuteronomy 30:19
I keep checking on reports coming out of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I’m so concerned for the people and the economy of St. John. The Caribbean is hurricane haven, so islanders are used to destruction caused by storms, but Irma delivered a crippling punch. The rebuilding process will require much patience. For now, the folks that remain are in need of the basic necessities for life. Pray for those who live in these isolated places, because their storm recovery is challenged.
My husband and I honeymooned on a Caribbean cruise and ventured over to St. John from St. Thomas for a day of sailing and snorkeling. We fell in love because the island was so naturally beautiful. In a little over twenty years, we returned five times. Family vacations to St. John for us meant hiking tropical trails in the morning, snorkeling in the afternoon, market shopping in the evening, and grilling while overlooking the most scenic vistas imaginable. Rinse and repeat.
St. John is so imprinted upon our hearts that we characterize a breezy, pink sunrise as an island-style start of the day. Jon and I sometimes compare thoughts about blue skies contrasting against white puffy clouds and realize we both have St. John on our minds. Even as I type there is a low rain cloud blowing past that is typical of their daily tropical weather effects.
I’m trying to process how I would feel if I was on the island. I imagine, though, that the locals have no time for emotional reflection. Perhaps a state of numbness overtakes them while they expend all energy to do what is absolutely necessary. Shock is a powerful and necessary state… But when each one has time later down the road to think on what they have lived through, I hope truth surfaces: this world is fallen and cannot satisfy longterm our desire for pleasure. Anything short of God’s offer of abundant life in Jesus Christ will prove itself imperfect. If a life built upon a marriage with one’s soul mate is the picture of perfection, a later state of widowhood will prove that ideal to be only a temporary pleasure. If the perfect career delivers the much needed sense of value and identity, a later state of joblessness will prove it was a temporary pleasure. If a tropical paradise caters to one’s need for easy living and beautiful surroundings, that too will be stripped bare and revealed as only a temporary pleasure.
Friend, for all who have believed upon Jesus Christ for salvation, this world is not home; our citizenship is in heaven. What we are to be about in the meantime is sharing the good news: Jesus is the hope for all humanity, and all that the soul craves is satisfied in Him. He fills us with joy in His presence, and He has eternal things in store that are too wonderful for the mind to conceive. In these critical times of victims dealing with a displaced hope, we have the treasure they seek. Jesus always has been and always will be the Refuge in the storm.
Wide-scale destruction. Over the course of a week our eyes behold images of the ravaging path of hurricanes, flooding, fires, terrorists… We see so much suffering in our land and in our world.
Unity is a virtue that shines brightly in the aftermath of destruction. Being negatively affected together unites us. The force of bonding is instant and lasting. Watch the videos of the people who have been directly affected come together and find strength in helping one another. Notice the surrounding communities and nation as a whole stepping up to lend a hand in their time of need. Do you hear more the pronoun we in place of I in the days following disaster?
I do not like destroying forces of evil- hear me clearly. But I do love how we treat one another in humility. Things that were sociably acceptable as points of division now have no place upon which to stand. That foundation was removed in the destruction, and now all that remains is the fact that we are human and in need. So there is good to be found in the aftermath of evil. We see with fresh eyes in our present day the reality of what has always been in the history of mankind. At the core of our existence, we are one because our sinful nature and its destructive path leading to hell creates a desperate need for help. That is beautiful humility. Not only does Jesus offer us salvation from sin’s stronghold when we humbly confess, but He also teaches us humility when we walk with Him.
Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).
What’s the big deal about humility, you ask? First, it’s the only way an individual can come to God. To receive His grace-gift of everlasting life, you and I first confess that we have sinned against Him. We bring nothing to the table of agreement except our yes- “Yes, I am a sinner in need of forgiveness,” and “Yes, I receive Jesus, the grace of God to me that I may have new and eternal life.” That action takes humility. Second, we must have Jesus’ nature within to produce the grace that loves and forgives one another in spite of our weaknesses in the flesh. The Spirit within is always willing, but the flesh is weak, and in a weak moment we undoubtedly will hurt one another. In response to hurt caused by another, pride pushes away, but humility embraces. Humility says, “I understand. I have acted out of the weakness of my flesh at times too. I forgive you and know that I may be in need of your forgiveness one day down the road as well.”
Isn’t it prideful to believe you would never do that detestable thing you saw another do? Isn’t it humbling to see yourself in a similar muck of your own making at a later point in life? That’s what I mean. The sin nature is universal. We cannot think ourselves to exist above it. Instead, we can be honest and believe we are just as capable. Remember the old saying, “There but by the grace of God go I?”
The sin nature is universal, and God proves his grace be global. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to depart heaven to become familiar with our suffering in the weakness of flesh. But He did. And He lived a sinless life to fulfill the needed sacrifice for sin- a lamb without spot or blemish. “… Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people…” (Hebrews 9:28).
Friend, the disasters and onslaught of evil are numerous, and we may even see an increase of them in the coming days. Today’s reality of hardship already may have forced you into a humble state, or perhaps you’re realizing anew the call to walk humbly with your God- out of choice. Regardless of the catalyst, may we all see ourselves as one- totally dependent upon the grace of God. And may the grace of God that we have in Jesus Christ shine brightly in the darkness.