Closer to Thee, Lord

2f3abf49c62b1a7aef6c4ffc1a9b42d7
I liked this image of these ladies leaping in joy and excitement…it reminded me of John leaping in the womb at the nearness of Jesus also in the womb!

Psalm 84:2 My soul longeth yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

Psalm 84  This is a prayer for closeness to God.  The person is acknowledging that those who are close to God are blessed and joyful and strong.  In verse 2 the musician states that his soul is faint with longing for God.

Prayer is a way to grow closer to God and understand His plans for your life, you should not only pray to have closeness to God for yourself, you should also prayer for others to grow closer to God so that they can have the joy of knowing Him.

Read Luke 1:5-25  This is the story of Zacharias the priest and Elizabeth his wife and the promise of their coming child who is to be John the Baptist.   God’s angel comes and tells Zacharias that his prayers have been heard.  This is a good lesson on waiting for answered prayer that even when we have prayed for years and don’t see the answer that God has heard us and will answer our prayers.

Luke 1:5-25  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (NIV)  

If you want to know more about the priestly divisions read 1 Chronicles 23 and 24.  The main thing to note about the priestly relationship of Zacharias is that the priestly division of Abijah was directly descended from Aaron, Mose’s brother, through his son Ithamar.  So was Elizabeth, Zacharias’ wife.  It is stated in Luke that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous and blameless in the sight of the Lord; that they kept God’s commands and decrees. Now the fact that they kept his decrees does not mean that they never sinned, it is just that they were in their daily life and in their hearts devoted to God and doing everything that was required of them by law to the best of their abilities.  Blameless and righteous does not mean perfect and sinless.  God considered them righteous due to their faith, the same way that he considered Abraham righteous.  It was that they had a heart for God.

Now in the worldly view of things these people had no blessing of children and they were old.  This would have made the people of their world look down on them with pity, as carrying on the family name was of the utmost importance.  It was so important that when a man was married and died childless, his brother (if he had one) was commanded to marry the widow and raise up a child as if it were his brother’s child.  Apparently, Zacharias and Elizabeth were used to the idea that they were not going to have any children…after all they were old..they were probably resigned to the fact.  Most people would be when that much time had passed, wouldn’t they?!!

Yet, they continued to follow God in their daily lives.  Their faithfulness was not based on what God could do for them.  It was on the idea that, well, “God was God, and if he wanted them to have children he would make it happen, and if not then God was God; it wasn’t meant to be”

Their attitude of faith stood them in good stead and God recognized it and sent an angel to tell Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would be having a son.  Now, here is a hiccup for you…Zacharias didn’t actually believe the angel…he could not get past the idea that he and Elizabeth were too old to biologically have a child.  His doubt cost him.  He was struck dumb until the child was born and it was time for the naming of the baby.  Now, it doesn’t seem that he was deafened, as it says that he made signs to them, but that he could not speak.  The rest of the story is that he was not allowed to speak until the time came to name the baby and he said, “His name is John.”

John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus the Christ…there is a lot more to this story.  As the story says John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, and that Holy Spirit recognized Jesus in the womb when Mary came to visit his Mother, Elizabeth right after she was told that she would bear a child….John the Baptist  “leaped in the womb.”  In other words, he was excited to see and be near Jesus even though neither of them had been born yet.  I find this to be a pretty awesome thing!  Holiness recognizing Holiness.

That is what we are to be to God, someone who can recognize him whenever we are around him or his people.  Someone who gets excited by being around and involved with God; by being in conversation and worship with him.  Just like John the Baptist in the womb recognizing Christ…we should endeavor to draw so close to God that we can recognize him by instinct before we even can work it out in our conscious thought processes.  We can know what God is asking of us and know that it is he who is speaking to us.

Advertisements

God’s still small voice…rest for your souls

IMG_1339Matthew Chapter 11 (NIV)

 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciplesto ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Woe on Unrepentant Towns

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

The Father Revealed in the Son

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (NIV)

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods,is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

When I was in church this morning Matthew 11 was the text and what caught my attention at the time was verse 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

There are many ways to look at this verse, but another translation of it is to say, “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully moving forward”.  It is rather hard to wrap my mind around the Kingdom of heaven being “subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it”  after all, the Kingdom of heaven is in heaven, right?!!

However, if you look at it from the standpoint of it “forcefully moving forward” that gives a different idea, at least in the mind of the Pastor who was preaching this morning’s message, and also I can see and understand that what he is saying may be a way to look at it.  It gives the idea of God’s will be done by passionately intense people who have subjected themselves to God and the spreading of his word.  The following of his plan.  The Pastor this morning spoke about the idea that God does not want people to stand still in their faith.  He wants people to passionately reach out to others in love and compassion to show them the character of God.

What happens if all you need to do is accept Jesus and be baptized?  Then why bother with going to church, or praying or anything else? After all, “you” have been saved, so why bother with anything else?  You are not going to be any “more” saved by going to church are you?  You are not going to be any “more” saved by doing good works!  Jesus did it all and all you have to do is accept it and do nothing the rest of your life, right?!!

While it is true you are “saved” simply by accepting Jesus, you cannot just accept part of Jesus and be saved.  Jesus was/is looking for people who accept all of Him, and all of what he says.  People who are willing to give “all” of themselves to God’s service.

 Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

People who give all of themselves to God are people who are also concerned for obeying God here on earth while they are living, not just concerned for their afterlife.  They are also not just concerned for their own salvation, but are concerned for the salvation of others.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

This doesn’t mean that God is asking everyone to become ministers or pastors or give up their families and communities and run off across the world to be a missionary!  There are some people whom he asks that of, but for most people your missionary field is in your own backyard, neighborhood, place of work, people you meet!

This also doesn’t mean that you have to jump on everyone you meet and beat them over the head with God and God’s word as you know it!  God speaks in a still small voice, so that is the example he gives us in dealing with others. Gentleness, not being wishy washy, but being non-condemning and gentile in your explanation of who God is and what he is looking to bring into their lives!

1Kings 19:11-13  And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but theLord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

 

I remember when I was in high school and my band was doing a car wash fund raiser.  There was a woman there who got right up in my little 9th grade face and said, “Have you been born again!!!”  The way she said it actually made me feel like I had done something wrong..it felt threatening, especially because at that point I had never heard of the idea of being born again.  I looked at her really scared like and nervous, and said that I didn’t know what she meant.  She again pounced on me and said that you had to be born again to go to heaven and that if I wasn’t born again then I wasn’t going to heaven!  Now, I was not a big church goer as a child because we moved a lot, and my family didn’t go to church.  I usually went with one of my Great Aunts when I was around her and really loved going with her.  I was especially enamored with the felt board and how those little figures would stick to it was mesmerizing!  I loved Bible stories and read them a lot in the children’s Bible.  I had prayed that Jesus was going to live in my heart when I was about 4 years old, and I knew who Jesus was and trusted him.  However, the Jesus I knew was not a person who would yell in someone’s face that the needed to get born again to go to heaven.

The Jesus that I knew called to people out of trees and told them that he was going to have lunch with them.  He called to people who were fishing and told them to come along that he would make them a different kind of fisherman.  Sometimes, Jesus spoke in riddles that I didn’t understand as well as I thought I should, but he was gentle and loving with people who were trying to understand the kingdom of God, and trying to follow him.

Now Jesus was very tough on those who weren’t going to follow him, or who misused God’s word to make other people’s lives harder.  He was really tough and very direct if people who were supposed to be representing God to his people were misrepresenting God to them.

I am sure that this woman, who never got around to explaining anything about being born again to me…because I saw a car that desperately needed my attention to wash right then…had the best of intentions and was very passionate about her faith, and really wanted to share it with me.  The problem was that she was literally ferocious in her approach!  When she was talking to me, it felt violent!

There is a fine line between being passionate and sharing what you know with all the joy in your heart, and literally pouncing on an unsuspecting person and beating them over the head with the Word of God!  With most people it is much more productive to share things with a sentence here or there, in relation to a comment they have made about something than it is to just pounce out there out of the blue with the word of God.

Ex.  Someone says to you something like, “hi! How have you been today?” and it happens to be Sunday, and you have gone to church.  You can respond, “Oh, I am having a great day so far, I went to church this morning and we talked about… and this is how I feel about it or what I got out of it…” then wait for their response, you will either hear, “Oh, that’s nice! and they will change the subject…at which point that means that you give it up and move on to another conversation…or as Jesus tells us, “shake off your sandals and move on out of town.”

You may also hear another response, such as, “Oh, that’s interesting….I went to church also and we talked about thus and so today…” or “Oh, really, so I have been looking for a church around here, what is your church like…”  or “Oh, I really don’t know much about God, but I always thought that….”

There are so many responses, or so many openings and you just have to calmly carry on a conversation with the person…get them to asking questions about God and talking about what they believe, then gently tell them what your beliefs are and why you believe what you do.  Sometimes they are under the impression that “churches are filled with hypocrites” or “I am trying to fix myself up to be better before I go to church…I need to get right with God”.

The truth is that churches are filled with people who have been “saved” they have been “born again” meaning they have taken on a new life through their belief in Jesus Christ.  Churches are also filled with sinners who have yet to be saved..people who are there for different reasons than to worship God.  Churches are filled with all types of people, but there is one type of person who you will never find in a church….not til Jesus comes back, and then there will be no need for churches as he will be here…that person whom you will never find in a church is…wait for it…here it comes…”the perfect person!”  There are no perfect people in churches anywhere…there are no perfect people out of churches either.  Churches are full of all kinds of people, but there are no perfect ones…the perfect person doesn’t exist except in the body of Jesus Christ.

Face it, all of us would like to be “perfect” and if all it took to make people perfect was for them to attend church, then there would be lines of people around the block outside of churches all over the world waiting to get in so that they could be perfect too!  The fact that there are not tells us that the people in the church are only different in the fact of their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior, right?!!  So what does this mean?

Jesus tells us to be Romans 12:2 people who live in the world, but are not part of the world.  This means that we should be noticeably different from the non-Christian in our character and our way of life.  We cannot help but be living in the world…and God doesn’t want us to sequester ourselves away from the world.  After all, how can we reach out if we don’t interact with it?

We are told that Romans 5:7-9 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If God loved us while we were yet sinners, doesn’t that mean he loves others who are still sinners and who have not yet accepted salvation through Christ?!! Of course it does!  Our participation in God’s kingdom is to passionately proclaim his word to others…being passionate does not mean yelling at people or getting in their face.  What it means to be passionate is that we love God, and we love his Word, and we cannot get enough of talking about God to others and sharing our joy!  If you look at Jesus’ disciples that is what we see over and over with them.  They loved God and it showed in every fiber of their being…they gave all of themselves over to God to use in bringing others to know who God is and what he did for them by way of his Son, Jesus Christ!

The line in Matthew 11 that most caught my attention is this:  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”  I asked myself how does one stumble on account of Jesus?  The answer seems rather obvious….if you hear about him and you refuse to accept him, then you have stumbled!  Or if someone misleads you about who Jesus is, then you can stumble.  The nice thing about stumbling is that it isn’t a fall…that means that sometimes you can catch yourself, or someone else can catch you before you fall.Operation Unified Response

That leads to my favorite verses in Matthew 11:28-30  28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)