Distracted From God.

Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives

I’m having trouble spending as much time as I would like to in seeking God each day. I’m still doing that, but not as much as before. I’ll explain.

My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer around a year ago. We went through a lot together before the diagnosis. She broke her hip, seemed to have dementia, was in a nursing home and then came home to me. I’m so glad she is home.

When she returned, the doctors and I thought that lack of enough Vitamin B12 was the reason for her weakness and dementia. I’ve been giving her shots and she is slowly healing. She couldn’t read or watch TV at first; but that all changed with the shots. She does have short-term memory damage, but I hope it improves. A person can live 10 years with colon cancer and that is what I am hoping for.

For the last months Mom has not wanted to read as much. I think she forgets what she has read so I am ordering magazines. She enjoys those. She does like TV a lot, especially British shows. Most of those are written beautifully and the stories are compelling.

So, we started with Father Brown and Midsummer Murders. I’ve seen those before, so I would read and pray as she watched, or do that after she went to bed. But things started to change for me with Downton Abbey.

I love that show. I’ve seen it years ago so I thought I would not watch. But I’d forgotten a lot of it and couldn’t take my eyes away from it for weeks. Then this week we started Paranoia, a British police mini-series. Well, it is fascinating and the writing and acting are amazing. They certainly know what they are doing in England. My husband watches tons of American cop shows and they are boring so I am not tempted to spend hours watching them.

Last night, after watching a 5-hour marathon of Paranoia, I knew I had to do something! But when Mom got up to go to bed, she said, “Didn’t I used to play a computer game?” I told her she used to play Flipwords. She said, “I’d like to do that again.”  Well, thank God. She can play that for hours and love it. She told me she had had enough of that show. The story is complex and I think she doesn’t know what is going on.

I’m still going to watch the last four episodes. I’m no saint. I’m thinking that after this I can play Yahtzee with her and then she can play computer games. We will see how everything works out. All I know is I want my evenings with God back. I did take time with him after Mom went to bed, but I’m very tired by then.

I remember a woman in a church I went to. She said she had a dream from God. She saw Jesus and asked him why his people were not what they should be. He said one word, “Television.” Then she woke up. She believed or felt that Jesus meant we spend so much time watching TV that we have no time for him.

I can see it. Most people come home from work, make dinner, watch TV and go to bed. Nothing wrong about that, unless the TV shows are full of sex and violence. But we could watch nature shows all evening and it still takes us away from Jesus. The only way to be like Him is to be with Him. The only place for strength to live and power to work is beside him. He alone can make us better people. One thing he cannot do is seek himself for us. That is our job. That alone is, “working out our salvation.”

I need to update this post to say I do have worship with God every morning. But I need more of him. Like Daniel, who prayed morning, noon and evening.

Why We Love Action Movies.

Photo by Marcus Quigmire.

https://www.flickr.com/people/41896843@N00

Many years ago, my husband and I went to see a political thriller at the movie theater. When it was over, the ushers had pen and paper in hand and asked those who were leaving whether they liked the show. I’d never had that happen to me before. I said, “Oh, I hated it!” She asked why and I replied, “Everyone good in the movie died! It was horrible.”

I do remember the closing scenes and being stunned the bad guys won the day by killing everyone who was on the side of right. My reaction was pretty emotional, after all, it was just a movie.

I’ve seen movies where some good people die, but everyone? No.

I was listening to a sermon on a podcast last night and the preacher said, “Why do we go to violent/action movies? It is because we love violence.” Well, I disagree. I think we like these movies because we know the good guys will win in the end. Superman and Batman are not going to die and they will make the world better and safer. The people in Avatar saved their planet. Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible will stop the bad guys in their tracks. We will all win against the murderous aliens.

I think we love these movies because we love to see justice done. We read the papers and see the crime, cruelty and hard-heartedness of people and most of us feel sad. Most of us can’t believe what is going on and what people will do to each other. But for two hours we can see some justice done and it feels good.

I don’t think preachers should say what people’s motives are. They truly don’t know. They sometimes put the worst connotations on why people do what they do.

Why do people take drugs? I think it is that they find life hard or very sad and take drugs to feel good, even though the feeling doesn’t last. I think the deepest desires we have are to be loved and understood and when that doesn’t happen, we will try anything to make ourselves feel better.

Jesus is the answer to those longings, although it took me a life-time to learn that. The Bible says to pour out our hearts to God. This is what I do now when I am discouraged or depressed. I just have to talk with him about the situation and he brings thoughts in my mind that encourage me.

Today I was feeling sad so I talked with God about what was upsetting me. The song, “You Lift Me Up,” came into my mind. Words like, “You lift me up so I can stand on mountains. You lift me up to walk on stormy seas…” I pictured Jesus walking beside me through a stormy sea. Then I remembered what he said to his disciples when they were afraid their boat would sink in a storm and they would die. Jesus said to them, “Why were you afraid? Where is your faith?” 

Oh my, how these thoughts from God comforted and strengthened me! The sadness lifted and I felt like painting, while before I talked with God I wanted to go to bed and put the covers over my head. This is what our God does for us. He is a, “Wonderful Counselor,” as the Bible says.

Faith to Forgive.

Sycamore Tree in Israel.

One of my problems in reading the Bible is that I take many things Jesus said as being literal. The disciples had this problem too. When Jesus said to sell your cloak and buy a sword, it sounded like advice to have a sword in case people persecuted you. But this flies in the face of the other things Jesus said about turning the cheek and loving your enemies.

Most commentators of the Bible say Jesus was not being literal. And I believe they are right since when Peter cut off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest Jesus, Jesus healed the man and told Peter not to use the sword.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary:

 “At the time the apostles understood Christ to mean real weapons, but he spoke only of the weapons of the spiritual warfare. The sword of the Spirit is the sword with which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves.” 

Whenever I would read what Jesus said about moving a mountain into the sea if we had enough faith, I would wonder what he really meant. Then I read someone say the mountain represented difficulties in our lives. They said in the Old Testament, mountains represented difficulties,and that made sense.

Today, I was reading Luke 17 and Jesus spoke about the Sycamore or Mulberry tree. He said, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea and it would obey you.’”

He said this in answer to his disciples who had asked him, “Increase our faith.” And they asked him to do this after he had spoken about forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness they thought impossible for them.

“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn to you, you shall forgive him.”

So, uprooting a sycamore tree is impossible for anyone to do; therefore, if you think it is impossible for you to forgive over and over, you are wrong. Faith in God will make it possible for you.

This is what I read in some commentaries this morning:

Pulpit Commentary

“The Lord signifies that a very slight real faith, which he compares to the mustard seed, that smallest of grains, would be of power sufficient to accomplish what seemed to them impossible. In other words, he says, “If you have any real faith at all, you will be able to win the victory over yourselves necessary for a perpetual loving judgement of others.”

Barne’s Notes on the Bible

“This sycamore is a remarkable tree. It not only bears several crops of figs during the year but these figs grow on short stems along the trunk and large branches, and not at the end of twigs, as in other fruit-bearing trees. The figs are small and of a greenish-yellow color.

It is easily propagated, merely by planting a stout branch in the ground and watering it until it has struck its roots into the soil. This it does with great rapidity and to a vast depth. It was with reference to this latter fact that our Lord selected it to illustrate the power of faith.”

Thinking of all this reminds me of the fires of hell preachers talk about. I believe the fire is symbolic of something else.What would be the point of God burning people who are lost? Punishment? Punishment is supposed to be restorative. Actual, physical burning? I don’t think so. Being burned is very painful, and I think when the wicked realize they are lost,it is like a burning in their soul. A terrible pain in their heart at seeing what they have given up because they loved darkness rather than light.

Hills and Valleys.

carmel

Mt. Carmel: Wikipedia.

I listen to Annie F. Downs who has a podcast called, “That’s Sounds Fun.” I listen to her on Spotify which also has a huge library of music. Sometimes Annie has musicians on her show. When she does, I go listen to some of their songs. I’ve found many beautiful Christian music this way. Listening to songs about God makes my heart soar, and there are always good lessons in the lyrics.

One song I found recently is called, “Hills and Valleys,” sung by Tauren Wells.  It is my favorite song right now. What I find in Christian music is that I can put myself in the lyrics or I think of the people from the Bible. “Hills and Valleys” speaks to the fact we all go through highs and lows in our spiritual lives. I wish I had known that as a young Christian because then I might not have been so despairing in my low times. I thought I was a bad Christian and I just didn’t know how to live the life and have faith like other Christians.

When I first heard this song, I imagined myself on hills and going through valleys. But I’m afraid my hills aren’t very inspiring. With my psychological makeup I have been mostly slogging through valleys. So, I thought about people in the Bible. First there is Moses. He was on the mountaintop with God. He spoke face to face with God. He was given the tablets of the Ten Commandments written with God’s own finger. But then there were his valleys. He spent 40 years travelling around the desert with a bunch of people that kept complaining until he finally lost his temper and God did not appreciate it. Still, like the song says, he kept his eyes on God. He didn’t turn away. And he was a humble man He knew he didn’t get to that mountaintop on his own. It was God who made him what he was, a great man of faith, and when he was in the valley, God himself buried him.

Then there is Elijah. He was on the mountaintop with God on Mt. Carmel. He prayed and fire came down from heaven to prove God was God of the whole world and there was none other. Like the song says, he didn’t get there on his own, but that same day, Elijah became afraid and ran away from Queen Jezebel. He didn’t ask God what to do, he just ran for his life. He was in a valley. He ran for miles and miles and even told God he wanted to die. He was discouraged, but he kept his eyes on God. He ran, but he didn’t run from God and God sent an angel to help him.

Jesus. He was on a few mountaintops. He gave the Sermon on the Mount. He climbed a mountain with Peter, James and John. As he was praying, Moses and Elijah came down from heaven to talk with him about his death. He was transfigured there and became bright as the sun. But very soon after that he walked through the Kidron Valley to the Mt. of Olives, there to go through his greatest suffering. When Jesus was on mountaintops, he didn’t get there on his own either. His Father was with him. He said he did nothing without the Father. And through his valley, he kept praying and keeping his eyes on his Father who sent an angel to strengthen him.

In each of these stories, God took each one to heaven after they had gone through a valley. So, don’t be discouraged if you are going through a valley right now. One day, either here or in heaven, you will be standing on a mountaintop with God.

Fear and Faith.

Calming_of_the_Storm_fresco

Photo by: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Karemin1094&action=edit&redlink=1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Psalm 46:1-3

 Psalm 46 brings comfort to me. There are beautiful, as well as fearful thoughts here. Verses 1-3 remind me of what Jesus said to the disciples in the midst of a terrible storm, when they were in danger of capsizing and drowning. He asks them, “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?”

Jesus was explaining to them that no matter how frightening a situation is, we must have faith (trust) in God. If God allows us to drown, that is fine. If God decides to save us from drowning, that is fine. This is total trust in God’s wisdom and power. The disciples had not learned this kind of trust yet.

In these three verses, the Psalm describes the world in convulsions. Some commentators say these represent the anger of the nations. Some say they represent actual physical events. Some say they represent the storms of life. Some say they represent all three.

Because of the later verses in this chapter, I believe they represent the physical condition of the earth right before Jesus returns. Verses 6-9 say this:

“Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”

About the last plague to come upon mankind, the Book of Revelation says this:

“Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  

“And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.”

“The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.   And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

Revelation 16:15-20

What is so beautiful in this Psalm are the verses that give us hope, peace and courage:

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

As these days draw near, let us pray for God’s courage, faith and peace.

 

Don’t Refuse God’s Comfort.

500px-Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”   Matthew 2:18

This verse is also found in Jeremiah. Matthew says it was the fulfillment of a prophecy of when Herod killed the little children in Bethlehem, after hearing of the birth of Jesus, “the king of the Jews.” He wanted to make sure there was no king but him.

The mothers of these children refused to be comforted.

I don’t remember what book I read where the author quoted this and said they could have been comforted by God, but refused.

I’d never thought about what that verse meant, besides a great sorrow. The author said we must allow God to comfort us because if we don’t, sin will follow. I believe he is right.

Right now, in my family, there is a lot of sorrow and grief. My youngest sister’s friend is dying of cervical cancer, my daughter’s mother-in-law is in the hospital with lung cancer, my older sister’s son committed suicide last fall, my grandson is suffering from depression, my mother has colon cancer, my youngest granddaughter has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is in great mental pain, which is giving her mother deep emotional pain.

If we don’t allow God to comfort us and walk through this with us, we will start asking, “Why us?”  “Why me?”  We could become bitter and angry. We could begin to blame and hate God, who has allowed all this to happen and put us in such a terrible world.

Yesterday, when I heard my granddaughter was feeling worse, I felt so burdened and sad. I remembered this verse and told God I wanted his comfort. I needed his comfort. I receive his comfort by prayer, reading the Psalms and remembering what Jesus suffered.

This I know. God has not asked us to go through anything he has not gone through.

“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  2 Corinthians 1:5

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  Romans 8:17

“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  1 Peter 4:13

“I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”    Philippians 3:10

“…and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”   2 Corinthians 1:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Picture of God.

 

Parable_of_talents

I was reading the story of the 10 talents the other day. It was a story Jesus told. A master of 3 servants gave them each some talents. He told them to use them while he went away. When he came back, the first two servants had used their talents to make more. The master praised them. The third man, however, had buried his talent in the ground. He held it out to the master, but the called him lazy, took the one talent and gave it to the man with 10. The master said the third servant would be thrown out.

Whenever I read about this story in a book or commentary, the authors say the talents represent our abilities and well, talents. In the story the talent is a sum of money. Quite a large sum.

I was meditating on this story and I think the talents represent faith. The man who buried his talent is lost in the end. We are saved through faith and not works, lest any man should boast, the Bible says; any good we do cannot save us.

I think the story points this out in the excuse the man had for why he decided to dig a hole in the ground and throw the money in there. He said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate.”

“I knew you were a harsh man.”  Is God harsh? Does he hover over us waiting for us to mess up so he can keep us out of heaven? No. He is not like that. He is hovering to see how many he can get into heaven. (Right here I could quote hundreds of Bible verses on God’s love, but I hope you will look them up yourself.)

The man said, “I know you reap where you did not sow.” What kind of farmer would expect his crop to grow if he sowed nothing in the field? Hmm, a crazy farmer, that’s for sure. This man seemed to be saying God asked the impossible from people. Is that true? No. God says we can do all things through Christ, who gives us strength. Jesus said, “Nothing will be impossible for you.” And, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This man did not know who God was. And his basic problem is he didn’t try to find out. He put his head in a hole in the ground. He didn’t want to hear the gospel and he didn’t try to seek God. He didn’t ask for God’s strength or for Jesus’ righteousness to cover him.

The Bible says we will find God when we seek him with all our hearts. Jesus said eternal life means knowing him and his Father in heaven. Jesus also said he will say to many at the judgement, “I never knew you.”

There is a reason it is vital to know God; He is the way, the truth and the life. Our picture of God will determine how we act and how we treat others. If we see God as harsh, we may think it is fine for us to be harsh. But if we see God as someone who forgives us 70 x 7 times a day, then we will forgive also.

The best reason to know God is to understand the plan of salvation. We were lost, but through Jesus’ death, we are found. We can never be perfect and sinless; Jesus was perfect and sinless. As a man, he took our place; he stood in the breech between us and God. God’s law says the penalty for sin is death. He could not change his law, but he could die in our place and satisfy the justice his law demands. We are covered by Jesus’ life and death. He is called, “The Lord, our righteousness.”