Thessaloniki

Paul addressed the church he began in Thessalonika with the epistle known as 1 Thessalonians.  This is the same city he was urged to travel to in Acts 16 that was crying out to him through the Holy Spirit.  According to Matthew Henry, this was the first epistle he wrote to any of the churches being written in 51 A.D.  The significance of this being Paul’s first letter of endorsement and encouragement to any of the churches he started and important to understanding his approach to establishing them.
Paul shares from his heart about how the church began and their progress but the enduring, most memorable chapter is the fourth.  My wife and I heard about an acquaintance who is a Christian and who was reacting very badly to the loss of a loved one.   Yes, the Bible says grieve with those who grieve, but in the fourth chapter we find words that describe a faith-filled reaction to the loss of a saint.  There may be instances in these current times of calamity where some may sleep in the Lord.  What will our reaction be?  We are reminded that this situation was not an emergency in Heaven.  The Father was not taken aback by the virus.  


13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

There is no clear reaction by anyone in a loss. When we lost our mother some years ago, my immediate reaction was that of sheer terror and shock.  She was an absolute sainted woman.  Once reality sets in, we have a chance to react knowing we will see our loved ones again!  No one can say what their first reaction to a catastrophic loss will be but in this we have been assured: 

15 For we say this to you by the Lord’s [own] word, that we who are still alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede [into His presence] those [believers] who have fallen asleep [in death]. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the [blast of the] trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain [on the earth] will simultaneously be caught up together with them [the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord! 18 Therefore comfort and encourage one another with these words [concerning our reunion with believers who have died].
If we are not resting in His everlasting arms, are we flailing about on our own?  Are we like these described in James 1:6b Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. 7 Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn’t assume the Lord will rescue them or bring them anything.  [VOICE]

 God is still seated on the throne; we’re going to be alright!

Before You Turn On the News; A Reminder!

With all the coverage about the Corona Virus, there must be people cowering in fear in China, Italy and various places in between. They like the rest of the world need prayer. Prayer for the knowledge to get past this, prayer for those suffering, prayer for those who are helping and prayer for the anxious.

The disciples asked Jesus “What will be the signs of your return? He told them several signs of his pending return.  

See Luke 21:25-26

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
Note carefully that previously in verse 21, He said:  ‘In your patience possess ye your souls‘ [KJV].   Even with the worldwide audience anxious about the Corona virus, the household of faith cannot allow itself to be thrown off balance by signs in the sky or sea.  We are not to be anxious about anything. [Phil. 4:6] as God has made exceedingly great and precious promises for us to hold on to.  For such a moment as this, I place before you dear reader, Psalm 91: verses 1-10 from The Passion Translation:

1 When you sit enthroned under the shadow of Shaddai, you are hidden in the strength of God Most High.

2 He’s the hope that holds me and the Stronghold to shelter me the only God for me, and my great confidence.

3 He will rescue you from every hidden trap of the enemy, and he will protect you from false accusation and any deadly curse.

His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you. You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.

You will never worry about an attack of demonic forces at night nor have to fear a spirit of darkness coming against you.

Don’t fear a thing! Whether by night or by day, demonic danger will not trouble you, nor will the powers of evil launched against you.

Even in a time of disaster, with thousands and thousands being killed, you will remain unscathed and unharmed.

8 you will be a spectator as the wicked perish in judgment, for they will be paid back for what they have done!

9–10 When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High, our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm. How then could evil prevail against us or disease infect us?

When the Cloud Lifts {part 1}

Exodus 13:20-22

21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

We are fortunate to live in a time when there is a great deal of nature programming available that showcases the wonder and beauty of creation in all immense glory and meticulous detail.  One can imagine what it was like when there were fewer people and larger swaths of unspoiled wilderness.  One feature showed an enormous school of anchovies swimming in what is known as a bait bell, swirling as does a storm.  The swirl is huge and as predators look to attack, all they can see is the huge swirl of fish bodies.  The fish swim within the swirl where they are protected by reason of sheer number.  This is the similar behavior of herds of wildebeest.  As long as they are in the flow of the movement, they are following their destiny. Psalm 91 is rich with promises and provisions given to believers.  Verse 1 provides one of the main conditions under which the ensuing promises are met.  “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty”;  that is, as one remains in His presence – presumably close enough to be in His shadow, all of the conditions for the promises will be met. 

Clouds are symbolic of several things in scripture as Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/cloud they are so amazing and beautiful that we must continue this study soon.

Love Unknown . . .

Watching Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series is at once a celebration and glimpse of melancholy.  Reflecting on the CNN series has allowed me to revel in the profound depth of diversity that exists on our planet while I marvel at the commonality we share as humans in a big world that has never been smaller.
Many have written and commented on the life and sudden demise of the popular chef and host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown“.  He was rich, famous and dashing.  He had the world on a string.  Were there signs of depression or hopelessness in those last episodes?  Didn’t his producer or crew see it coming?  Were there no harbingers of hope or purveyors of the gospel near?
Bourdain stands stoically as journalist; the famous CNN reporter asking the hard questions and pushing boundaries.  He frequently looks gaunt and even frail wandering about distant and isolated cities, sometimes looking as if he’s coming off a bender.
He was incredible at aiming fresh eyes at locales and cultures.   He found the features and areas that were off the “beaten path” and described cultures and cultural artifacts in a way that was astute and timely.  His sensibilities were never cliche.  He was not susceptible to trending opinion or easy answers.  His show displayed and proclaimed unique and honest integrity from all corners of the world without preference to colonialist or nationalist persuasion.
His instinct for cuisine and his appetite was open to indigenous and ancient palettes.  It never seemed that he was trying new tastes, it was as if he had sampled everything and knew when he was tasting the best.  As a chef, he was bold and at least on camera would taste anything.
There was an episode where a Brazilian madman was randomly shooting toward a restaurant where he was dining.  His cameraman and producer both dived in to protect him.  He was not impressed, nor did he seem grateful.  This was his real penchant, after all his accomplishment, fame and acclaim, he did not seem hungry for more nor ingratiated by his outcome[s].  In hindsight, he had frequently told his viewers that he traveled 50 weeks a year.
Life lost is always a shame, but when it appears that one has chosen suicide out of desperation it is dreadful.  Considering the pain Bourdain had experienced, made it seem so much worse.  I’m reminded that this life is merely as stage upon which we prepare for eternity.  Even someone who seemingly has it all, felt that life was meaningless.  He was quoted to say that though his father was Jewish, “I have never been in a synagogue . . .  “

Marah

Exodus 15:22-25a
 And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? 25 And he cried unto Jehovah; and Jehovah showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet . . . [ASV]
These verses describe the scene early after the Israelites departed Egypt.  The exhilaration of their escape had faded.  They were far from Egypt and found themselves in a wilderness.  Their water supplies were spent, they were tired, and needed refreshing.
They found water after arriving at Marah, but it couldn’t be consumed because it was too bitter.  They started a complaint campaign against Moses.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to endure the grumbling and complaining of millions of people thirsty and irritated.  They looked at the water and it probably looked inviting but when they tasted it; it was overwhelmingly bitter.   Undoubtedly they bathed in it, but they couldn’t drink it.  After this went on for a while, the complaint campaign escalated in earnest.  Moses then knew he had to talk to God.
Moses had no solution.  Bitterness is impossible to overcome. God had always provided an escape.  Would He do it again this time?  He showed Moses the remedy for the situation.  He showed Moses a tree to be cut down and cast into the water.
This story is a metaphor, I was told years ago.  The waters are a symbol for life in this world.  The waters were bitter and life in this world is bitter for those who do not know Christ.  In the middle of the bitterness, the Israelites cried out to the Lord for a solution.  He is so rich toward us that He always gives us what we need.  He showed Moses a tree that was to be thrown into the water.   The tree is a symbol for Christ.
By obedience, the BITTERNESS was taken from the water making it sweet.   Life in darkness is bitter, no joy, no peace – but God who is rich in mercy, hears us and gave us His son.  What He gave was beyond our comprehension.   He was slain for our good, He is the answer to our prayers.
 

Pretty is . . .

My grandmother had lots of maxims.  Some might call them proverbs or wise sayings.  She shared them with my mother who would then share and explain them to us kids.  We would hear them and they were part of us but we as with all things of value, they needed to stay with us for awhile until we learned their depth and validity. 

I was talking to one of my students, a lovely bright-eyed Latina, and told her “Pretty is, as pretty does”.  She said okay but I could tell that she didn’t really hear it.   I asked her if she understood, she later confessed that she didn’t.  I began explaining about my grandmother’s maxims.  How they were illustrative of greater truth but had to be lived and experienced to bear the fruit of their contained wisdom.  

“Pretty is, as pretty does” literally describes how pretty people (male or female) are only as pretty externally as their behavior matches.  Just because you are appealing to the eye doesn’t make you beautiful.  Your demeanor, personality and actions must align.  Compare with the following proverb:

Proverbs 11:22
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful face on an empty head
[MSG.]

dedicated to the memory of Myrtle Mullens

Conflictual

 
  
 
 
 
 

People who don’t know the Lord lose perspective as they navigate life’s conflicts.  We often conflict with others including bosses, card playing buddies, or even mothers-in-law.  Conflict often arises with circumstances beyond our control with work issues, traffic, the economy or the lack (or overabundance) of rain.  Finally, we face conflict in the daily effort to achieve finances that include the press of competition, access to commodities, and ill will due to greed.

Conflicts face forward and confront obstacles that impede progress.  The world teaches that we should pin our ears back and stare until we beat these obstacles.  Face-to-face confrontation forces us to look at the obstacle and measure up to it.  This is the perspective by which the battles are lost.  Simply put, by looking at the obstacle, it’s easy to be overwhelmed looking squarely at it.  The devil is in the detail as you scan every nuance and distortion seeming amplified and bigger than life.
 
No one feels comfortable confronting their obstacle alone no matter what the old school conquistadors have to say.  There are those who say that seeking help from God is a cheat, the real fighter does battle alone. How ironic does the Apostle Paul appear when he says “ . . . when I am weak, then am I strong (II Cor. 12:10 ) 
 
 
Being aligned and allied with God allows me to see everything from its proper prospective.  I see my boss, mother-in-law, the economy and even the country’s problems in light of the Lord’s ruling presence.  He shows me the people, the bills, the floods and storms of this life and reassures me that even with them all,  He will NEVER leave me alone to deal with them. I am not overwhelmed by circumstances, because I am not alone. 

The Faith of the Magi

I saw the sign today “Wise Men still seek Him” and since I aspire to be wise, I took note.  I did some research on the Magi and one writer says that they may have been inspired by Daniel’s text and even Balaam’s prophesy that a star would come out of Jacob.  “We know that the Magi were astrologers from ‘the East,’most likely Persia, or modern-day Iran. This means the wise men traveled 800 to 900 miles to see the Christ child. Most likely, the Magi knew of the writings of the prophet Daniel, who in time past had been the chief of the court seers in Persia. Daniel 9:24-27 includes a prophecy which gives a timeline for the birth of the Messiah. Also, the magi may have been aware of the prophecy of Balaam (who was from the town of Pethor on the Euphrates River near Persia) in Numbers 24:17. Balaam’s prophecy specifically mentions a “star coming out of Jacob.” 

They were indeed astrologers and students of ancient prophesies. But more importantly, they traveled hundreds of miles by camel or on foot for one reason: to worship this new king.  Matthew’s account of the gospel describes “wise men” coming from the East. Tradition holds that since there were three gifts, three emissaries would carry them.  Their political importance is underlined by their ability to get an audience with the sitting king Herod. The bible records that he and his advisors were astounded to see them and to hear of this new “King of the Jews” born in Israel.


There are several speculations about the gifts given to the Child.  Symbolically speaking the gifts were absolutely appropriate.  They brought Gold a symbol of divinity, Frankinscense, an incense or sweet savor offered and symbolic of purity and righteousness.  Finally, they offered Myrrh, an embalming oil symbolizing the death that he would die.  Some say that the gold alone would have provided for the journey to Egypt that Joseph would soon take. 


The journey of the Magi was not an inexpensive journey either, unlike the depictions in nativity scenes worldwide, the Magi were most certainly accompanied by servants who tended to their animals, guides and armor-bearers. They came to worship the new king but their very action corresponded to their purpose to show the worth of this new king.  The word worship comes from an old English word “worschipe” and its connotation is ´to show the worth of´. The Magi then showed the worth of this King by traveling hundreds of hard dusty miles to an uncertain destination, talking to undesirables [King Herod], but that could not have been compared to the joy of meeting the new King of Kings.  


We are challenged to let our faith live in worship; not the traditional meaning of worship: the singing of hymns, the upward look, the raised hands. Please note: there is NOTHING wrong with any of these gestures! They are traditional but they are also symbolic gestures that in good hope point to the surrendered life and the absolute joy that corresponds with living in relationship with the King.  


May your faith and grace be multiplied as you commune with the KING in this holiest of seasons!


photo from Nativity scene in Managua, Nicaragua

Religious Freedom Reformation in Indiana!!

As an Indiana native I am enthralled by the political nightmare Mike Pence and the Indiana political bureaucracy has created for itself.  The Religious Freedom act was created to protect business-owners from lawsuits against them for providing services to individuals to whom providing such would contradict the providers religious beliefs.  

 
That being said, litigation involving gay couples and vendors refusing to provide services for them is not new.  These matters may not have been called to question in many of Indiana’s rural communities but in the 12th largest metropolitan area in the country, there have been cited instances of conflict beginning in 2010.  
 
These instances were brought up in arguments pro and con the bill in the Indiana Statehouse.  Unfortunately, this being a true red state, the bill passed both houses and went on to the Governor’s desk to be signed without hesitation.  
 
That’s when the proverbial rubber met the road.  People from all over the country [and world] began voicing their opposition to the bill and subsequently voiced their ire toward Indiana for sending civil rights backwards.  
 
As I write this, Governor Pence is working [frantically] to try to re-frame the bill and the message that came with it. The message that they did not want to send was that this was a bill to license and protect discrimination.  
 
To be clear, and to the peril of gay friends and relatives, I believe this legislation was not wrong-headed but there are ALWAYS ways to shrivel up and feign helplessness dealing with uncomfortable issues.  We have to use wisdom rather than fear and human government to reach out in love to different communities.  Not only homosexual communities but differing religions and cultures. 
 
The problem with religion is that it needs freedom but the Bible says “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [freedom]”.  2 Cor. 3:17  How do we love people enough that they see past us to the God in us?  Are we helping by refusing them service?  Do you interpret scriptures as saying isolate and ignore all sinners?  I seem to recall a statement saying “love covers a multitude of sin” 1 Pet. 4:8; and Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Mt. 22:39
 
I have problems with religious people who are so invested in tradition that they cannot see past nonsense that is peddled from conservative radio to political leadership and ultimately and unfortunately to some pulpits.