REFLECTIONS

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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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First as a Lamb, Second as a Lion

When Jesus came the first time, his purpose was to deal with the problem of sin.  His ultimate goal was to save humanity from the clutches of sin, and to give every person the chance to make his or her life right by accepting his grace and following his example.

The example he set was profound on many, many levels, but two seem most obvious.  First, his example is one of self-sacrifice and submission. Jesus stepped out of the purity and heights of heaven to walk in the dark and disease ridden sin pits of mankind. If you are a middle class American, it might be a little bit (and only a little bit) like leaving clean and wealthy suburbia to live, eat, and sleep among the people in the sewers of some fourth world country.  In that example, his submission to God is so complete, and his self-sacrifice so supreme, that he willfully allows himself to be murdered by the people he came to save.

Secondly, the example of Jesus is one of meekness.  Meekness is not weakness, but instead, it is the power to restrain oneself in the face of evil and difficulty.  A meek man, in the biblical sense, will withhold himself from violence, retribution, or retaliation even when he has the ability, the right, or the authority to exercise force or strength. When Peter cut off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10) after Jesus was betrayed, he was not being meek.  Jesus, however was a perfect example of meekness when he said in the wake of Peter’s violence, “shall I not drink the cup the father has given me (John 18:11)?” Jesus, as part of the Godhead, could have exercised his authority and called down heaven at that moment to save himself from the betrayal of Judas (Matthew 26:53). Instead, he was meek and trusted in God’s plan.

In contrast, his second coming will not be as a sacrificial lamb exercising the strength of meekness.  When he comes again it will be as a lion to set things right, and it will be with the strength of armies, and he will make war on those who have hated God (Revelation 19:11-16, Jude 1:14-16). But because he is a good king, he doesn’t want anyone to perish in that battle (2 Peter 3:9).  In advance of that battle he has sent you (if you are part of his family) to be a minister of reconciliation so that others will not have to face his wrath (2 Peter 5:18-21).

Signs and Seasons

A year on our planet is divided into four seasons of about 3 months each.  Each season is its own period of time with its own unique environmental signs, so that each season is easily discernible from the others.  Knowing the signs of the seasons will keep you oriented even if you don’t have a calendar. In Florida, summer is marked by hot temperatures, strong thunderstorms, and breathtaking humidity.  Winter is marked by cold mornings, mild afternoons, and clear skies. Autumn is marked by not-as-hot-as-summer temperatures, cool evenings, golden colors, and dry weather. And spring is marked by rains, an explosion of yellow pollen, and vibrant foliage.

This idea of distinguishable periods of time is common throughout scripture. In one of the most famous verses in the bible, Solomon eloquently speaks to that idea when he proclaims, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22).

One of those matters that exist under heaven is the putting right of everything wrong on Earth. There will come a time when God will separate evil people who belong to Satan from the people who belong to him (Matthew 25:31-46). These will be the last days of humanity as we now know it. And it will be a terrible time. Using the season metaphor, Jesus tells us how we can be aware of when those times are approaching.  He compares human history to a fig tree, and tells us that like how the budding of the fig tree shows us when summer is approaching, the budding of prophecy can make us aware of when his coming is drawing near (Matthew 24:32-33).

Matthew 24:3-14 gives us a glimpse of the signs of that season.  It’s there that Jesus tells us about how those times will be marked by lawlessness, false prophets, a growing lack of love, and terrible difficulties for those who follow him.

In recent weeks, we’ve learned that Christians are the  most persecuted group on the planet — often violently so . For those awake, it is difficult to miss the many men and women “shepherds” who parade around as if they are true Christians, but who are more interested in advancing their own kingdoms than they are a kingdom of truth. Our politicians are having difficulty following the laws they’ve written, and in those places where lawlessness reigns, many people have become callous. There is much evidence that the final season is beginning, and since this evidence grows stronger each year, we must hasten our efforts to share the saving good news with those who don’t know it.

A Prayer for Mothers

Dear God in Heaven

Thank you for mothers and how you have expressed yourself through them.  You are love (1 John 4:8), and you have made women to be like love by making them into mothers. They carry us inside of them for nine months knowing the whole time that we will cause pain as we leave their bodies, yet they still love us – even before we loved them (1 John 4:19).  They raise us for 18 years (and sometimes many more) as we cause them pain with our bad decisions, our selfishness, our ignorance, and sometimes our arrogance. And they love us still (Romans 5:8).

Dear Lord, you have made them nurturing and caring and committed to our growth. It may be our fathers who lay out the law with words, and who model those words for us to see, but it is our mothers who patiently teach us how to follow those words and models while our fathers protect and provide.  

Lord, I ask that you give each young mother who knows you the courage, strength, knowledge and wisdom to model for their sons how a woman should be, so that when those sons choose a woman for themselves, they’ll have a good template in their minds from which to pick a good mother to nurture the next generation. Lord, I ask that you give each young mother who knows you the courage, strength, knowledge and wisdom to model for their daughters how a woman should be, so that when those daughters choose a man for themselves, they will pick one that values you, because such a man will by necessity also value them, and by extension their children and their communities.

Lord, I ask that you give each older mother who knows you the courage, strength, knowledge and wisdom to train those mothers who are coming behind them in the ways of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control so that the gospel can nurture future generations.

Lord, I ask that you bless all mothers who know you. I ask that you lift them up in your presence, and make it evident to all how they are expressions and examples of your love.  I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

A Fishing Lesson from From Jesus and Peter

When Peter (sometimes called Simon) first begins his ministry work with Jesus, it’s in a fishing boat (Luke 5:1-11).  After speaking to some crowds from Peter’s boat, Jesus commands him to take the boat to deeper waters, and there challenges him to cast his nets for fish. Having tried all and caught nothing, Peter is skeptical at first.  But he receives the challenge and casts his net. He and his partners hauled in so many fish that the boat began to sink! Jesus had performed a miracle. It stunned Peter, James and John. Peter’s response sums up their shock well.  “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Of course, Jesus ignores that command, and tells Peter to follow him, and that he will become a fisher of men. Peter obeys.

Whenever we receive a challenge from God, we may at first be doubtful, but if we follow through with it, we will find the miraculous — perhaps in shocking ways — and we will be entered into new fields of work.  After that miracle, Peter left his fishing job and followed Jesus. It changed the world forever. It is fair to say that there is not a major aspect of your life — regardless of whether or not you are a Christian — that has not been impacted in some way by Peter’s obedience to the direction of Jesus.

Later, after Jesus has been crucified, buried and resurrected, he appears to Peter again (John 21:1-14).  And again Peter is in a boat with other disciples. But this time Jesus is on shore. And once again, Peter works all night to catch fish, but fails.  They don’t recognize Jesus early the next morning as he calls from the shore, “Friends, have you any fish?” When they answer, “no,” he challenges them to cast it on the right side of the boat.  They try this, and the load of fish is so heavy they are unable to haul it in! At that moment, Jesus is recognized, and Peter jumps in the water fully clothed and swims to shore. Jesus reminded Peter and his fellow disciples of the truth that they are to continue with their duties to him by hearkening back to the original miracle. In an interesting metaphor that points to our status in Heaven, they dine with Jesus on the shore, away from their work, with a meal that he has prepared for them! When we accept the challenges of Jesus, then we begin to serve him as our master, and he serves us as his family. Those challenges also grow us. Later in the text, Jesus gives Peter an even greater duty – to disciple his followers (John 21:15-17). Peter will become a teacher himself!

What challenges has God extended to you, and how are you meeting them?

Lessons from Mary Magdalene

After Jesus was crucified, he rose from the dead — an event widely known as the resurrection. The first person to see Jesus after his resurrection was Mary Magdalene.  She had begun following Jesus after he had cast seven demons out of her. This drew her into his inner circles, which allowed her to witness his trial, his beatings, his sentencing, and his crucifixion. Jesus gave her the honor of alerting the disciples of his victory over the cross (John 20:11-18).  The whole exchange between Jesus and Mary is both interesting and profound. There are at least three things we can learn from it.

For instance, consider how Mary is crying while at the tomb of Jesus. She is so focused on his death – and her apparent loss – that she doesn’t even realize that she is talking to two angelic beings, nor does she recognize the voice of Jesus when he speaks to her from behind. Instead, she mistakes him for the gardener (John 20:11-15).  It is only after Jesus says “Mary” that she sees the supernatural, and realizes that her living Lord just validated the personal nature of their relationship by calling her name (John 20:16). While it is essential to remember the death and pain and temporary loss that occurred at the cross, it is more important to remember and trust God’s promise to save us through a sacrificial savior — a savior that knows us by name.  If we become too focused on our problems and past events, and not God’s power and personal love for us, then we’ll fail to experience that love and power when it is being demonstrated in the midst of that pain right in front of us.

In the next portion of the exchange, Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him and explains that he still has work to do. He must ascend to the father and God. He tells her that his father is also her father, and his God is also her God (John 20:17). Jesus is reminding her that the moment was fleeting and not to cling on to it. Instead, he gives her something better and more permanent to hold on to.  He tells her that they are now of the same family because they share the same father. Implied in this is that she will get to see him again under more lasting circumstances. He cements that point in the final part of their brief conversation. He commands her to tell the disciples that he is going to ascend. But he doesn’t call them disciples or servants or friends as he had in the past. He calls them brothers (John 20:17). Mary was given the honor of bringing to us a clear statement of our status as sons, daughters, and children of God (Romans 8:14-17, Romans 8:29, Galatians 3:26-27, Ephesians 1:5, Hebrews 2:10-13).

Are you allowing pains and difficulties to obscure the sight of the power and love of God from your eyes? Are you willing to accept your status and live your life as a child of God?

Forsaken and Abandoned

To forsake something is to to abandon that thing entirely. It sometimes means removing that thing completely from your presence. But more often, it means to remove yourself completely from its presence, and to no longer care about it, or even to be aware of it. It is an acutely harsh action, and it’s harshness lives almost entirely in its deliberateness.  It is impossible to accidentally forsake a person, place or thing. When you abandon ship, for instance, you make an intentional choice to forsake that ship and do nothing to try and save it from whatever demise it faces.

People experience abandonment all of the time. Soldiers sometimes feel forsaken by their country. Wives feel forsaken by their husbands, and husbands by their wives. Tragically, children feel forsaken by parents, and perhaps even more tragically, parents by their children.  If you are reading this, you have either experienced it, or you have tasted something close enough to it that you can imagine it well enough to understand that to be forsaken is a terrible thing.

One of the strangest moments in the bible is when Jesus is dying on the cross and utters to God “why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:45-46).” It’s strange because Jesus was holy, had done nothing wrong, and was being abused by evil men who had not only done many wrong things, but who likely possessed hardened and evil hearts. It seems odd that God would forsake a holy and pure man, who is now known to be his very son. But it isn’t so strange when you consider God’s love for the human race (John 3:16) along with his need to mete out wrath upon the race which had voluntarily destroyed his perfect creation (Romans 5:12, Colossians 3:25). Since God is both holy and just, a consequence must be given for sin and evil to satisfy that justice. The human race deserved that punishment.  But God put that punishment on himself by allowing his son to represent the human race and to receive in our stead the consequence we deserved. God forsook Jesus so that we will never have to experience being forsaken by him. Ever. With full intent and the purest love, God abandoned Jesus to die on the cross and to receive the shame, abuse, and spurning that was due to us. Then Jesus rose again to prove to us that we were not forsaken, and to give us assurance that we will also live, even if our bodies die.

City Lights and Diamond Nights

As a teenaged boy, I spent many nights lying in the middle of a suburban street outside of Houston, Texas, staring at the sky. My best friend at the time would often join me.  We’d imagine building spaceships and one day taking them to far away solar systems — a dream I still at times wistfully entertain. Often, we would sit in my driveway, and using my paper star charts, we’d try find some distant celestial object. Frequently, we would attempt to train my telescope on the furthest heavenly body we could find. This proved to be very difficult because in the Houston sky stars are sparse, and distant stars are faint. City lights are so numerous, and so bright that their noise drowns out the glimmer and twinkle of all but the brightest stars. In Houston, the night sky is mostly an unwrinkled sheet of drab charcoal gray punctuated by dim, flickering points here and there.

But oh my goodness! When you go to the top of a mountain in Colorado, the view is different. There are no city lights blaring out an unrelenting whitewash to cover uncountable glinting shards and sparkling diamonds set in black velvet or midnight blue. The beauty cannot be described. It can only be experienced.  And the only way that you can experience it is to separate yourself from the city. Ironically, this isn’t because the city lights are brighter than the stars. The stars are millions of times brighter than the city lights. You can see some of those stars from your city, but you would not be able to see any of your city lights from those stars. It isn’t that the city lights are bigger than the stars. The stars are many, many times bigger than our planet. It isn’t that city lights are more beautiful than the stars. A trip to the top of the mountain proves it.  Its your proximity to the city lights that keeps you from seeing the stars. The closer you are to the city, the more engulfed in its light you become.

This is partly why we as followers of Christ are called to be separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17). When we are part of the world, it’s harder for us to see God’s light. We are so close to the wrong light source, that we are no longer able to see the narrow path that God is lighting before our feet (Psalm 119:105), and we begin to follow instead the broad path that our city might want us to follow (Matthew 7:13-14).  And if our light is drowned out by the city light around us, then we cannot be the lighted city on a hill for others to see and find that we have been called to be (Matthew 5:14-16).

A Bipolar World

These days when we hear the word “bipolar” we usually think of it in clinical terms.  The first thing that might come to a person’s mind is someone diagnosed with a manic depressive disorder whose mood cycles between opposite poles of elation and sadness. Clinicians chose that term because it was easy to understand, and aptly described the condition. The word simply means “two poles.”  A lot of things in our universe are bipolar. The planet we live on is bipolar. It has a north pole and a south pole. And unless something goes terribly wrong, the north pole will never sit side by side with the south pole. Magnets also have two poles. In fact, there’s a really interesting quality to magnets. If you put the north pole of a magnet next to the south pole of another magnet, the two will strongly attract each other. But if you put a the north pole of a magnet next to the north pole of another, the two will scoot away from each other. They must be in proper alignment for the attraction to occur.

Your spiritual life is a little bit like those bipolar magnets. If you have something in your life called sin, then a repellant force will cause you to scoot away from God whenever he comes near. But unlike those magnets, there will be a repellant force between your south pole (that is, any sin in your life) and God’s north pole (his holiness and virtue). Also unlike those magnets, God will not move away from you. It will always be you who moves away from God. Because he finds sin to be disgusting, this is an amazing character trait of God, and an evidence of his love for you.  The prophet Isaiah likens sin to open wounds (Isaiah 1:4-6) as well as to a stain (Isaiah 1:18). Paul compares sin to a defilement or contamination (2 Corinthians 7:1). Jesus argues that sin pollutes a person (Mark 7:20-23). Despite all of these befoulments, God loves you enough to send his spotless and unpolluted son into your polluted world to clean you up (John 3:16). Unfortunately, just as God finds sin disgusting, a sinner tends to be repelled by holiness. Because of that repellant force, sin causes people to move away from God. Your sin hides God’s face (Isaiah 59:2), and it keeps good from you (Jeremiah 5:25).  Your sin pushes you away from God. When Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God when they heard him walking in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). Sin is opposed to God. It is at the opposite end of the spiritual pole.

If we allow God to cleanse us, then we become more like God, more attracted to God, and more useful for his purposes. We become new creatures attracted to a new pole (2 Timothy 2:21 and 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Where is Your Altar, and What Have You Sacrificed There?

An altar is a place of devotion because it is a place of sacrifice and consecration. It is central to worship. In old testament times, an animal would be sacrificed on an altar. This was done for many reasons — sometimes to cover a person’s sins, and sometimes to declare something holy, and sometimes to consecrate or set apart something for special use.  It was always done as a recognition of God’s sovereignty over man, as well as a symbolism of man’s devotion to God. The sacrifice on the altar always had to be with something of worth. One time Israel came under the judgement of God partly because of the sin of King David. When David realized his offense, he wanted to build an altar and make sacrifices to remove his sin and stay the hand of God (2 Samuel 24:10-15). A man named Araunah freely offered his property, supplies, and livestock for the purpose of David’s sacrifice. David refused the free offer and instead purchased those things from Araunah, famously declaring that he would not make sacrifices that cost him nothing (2 Kings 24:24).

Occasionally, an altar would fall into disrepair because the people were not using it. And sometimes, an altar would sadly be torn down in favor of another god’s altar. During Elijah’s time, the people of God began to worship the Baals, and began to sacrifice to those gods. They tore down God’s altar. Before defeating the 450 prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel, Elijah repaired it. He chose twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and used those stones to build a new altar (1 Kings 18:30-40). Perhaps he was trying to symbolically unify his people around a sacrificial altar and properly center their hearts for return to true worship.  

Of course, the costliest sacrifice was made by God, when he sacrificed his perfect son on the altar of the cross. This allowed us to never have to make physical sacrifices again (Hebrews 10:10).

Today we sacrifice at the altar terrible things that we have valued.  We lay down our sins there. We lay down portions of our lives at the altar that displease God. We even lay down good things that we have valued more than God. We do all of this to consecrate ourselves to his service, and so that his image in us can be restored. Where is your altar? Does it have a central place in your worship?  What have you sacrificed on it?

Are You as Temporary as the Stories in Your Facebook News Feed?

Almost everything in the world in which you live is as fleeting as the stories in your Facebook news feed. Trends and fads are here today and gone tomorrow. The fastest, best, most fascinating technology dies this afternoon because faster, better and more fascinating technology was born this morning. The winds of change are always blowing, and they don’t limit themselves to fads and things. Those winds are as indifferent to people as they are to trends and widgets. If you are fired from your job tomorrow, next month there will be many who will have forgotten that you were ever there. Even great men who did great things, and had statues or cities named after them are no longer remembered by the majority of the people who live in those cities or daily walk by those statues. This is a sad truth affixed to our existence.

David, the chief psalmist, recognizes this truth with a powerful word picture in Psalm 103:15-16.  It’s there that he compares a person’s life to grass or to a flower that springs up and flourishes for a time, but then withers away so quickly and so completely, that the ground it was growing from doesn’t remember it anymore. David is arguing that we are completely temporary, and that we have no permanent impact upon the ground on which we grow and stand.  It all seems rather bleak, and a bit out of place if you lift only those verses from their larger context in this psalm of praise. But it isn’t so bleak when you see the next verses. In Psalm 103:17-18, David sings that God’s love for those people who fear him, love him and obey his commandments is eternal. If those people wither away from existence like flowers or grass, then God’s love for them couldn’t be eternal. For instance, if you had a house that you cherished, and it burned completely to the ground, you wouldn’t be able to say, “I love my house.”  You would only be able to say, “I loved my house.” God loves forever the people who love him. And if he loves them forever, that means that he will keep them alive and in existence under his care forever.

Interestingly, David argues in his song that people who love God and follow his ways, transfer righteousness throughout the generations that follow them as long as those generations continue to obey. So unlike the flower and the grass who leave no lasting mark, God’s people, who are not like ordinary people, have the ability to leave long lasting marks of good on the world in which they live.

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