Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Golden Gate and the King Who Will Walk Through

This picture was used with yesterday's blog. It was taken on my Israel trip while standing on the Mount of Olives. Since someone asked about it, I thought I'd explain.

The gate you see in the center of the photo is known as the Golden Gate, located in the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. This, of course, is not the original gate, as the walls around the city of Jerusalem were torn down, but it is the rebuilt gate, thought to be in the exact location of the original Golden Gate. (Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in the 16th century.)

This is the gate through which Jesus entered Jerusalem on the donkey for his Triumphant Entry. As you likely remember, people lined the street with palm branches as he passed inside and shouted loud Hosannas. (John 12:9-16) 

He began Holy Week with the praises of the people. Just a few days later, those praises had turned to cries of "Crucify Him!" and He met death on the cross. He died, was buried, and He rose again, conquering sin and death. 

A lot happened the last time Jesus came through that gate.

This is also the gate through which He will enter Jerusalem on His return. Even more exciting things will happen when Jesus enters His city again.

As you can see from the picture, the gate has been walled up, just as Ezekiel said it would be. (Ezekiel 44:1-3) The story is told that the gate was sealed by Suleiman to prevent Jesus from coming through the gate and fulfilling prophecy. 

To ensure that The Anointed One, King Jesus, will not be able to enter through that gate, a Muslim cemetery was built just in front of the gate. The assumption was that a Jewish holy man would not be able to walk through the cemetery because it would make him unclean. If He couldn't walk through the cemetery, He couldn't enter the gate, nor Jerusalem, and Jesus would be unable to retake His rightful throne.

As if a cemetery would stop Jesus, who touched lepers and healed them, the cemetery is still in place today, and I have seen it. 

Ezekiel wrote that the glory of the Lord would enter "by the way of the gate which faces toward the east". (Ezekiel 43:4) 

Jesus said He will return, and He will. It will be at just the right time to fulfill all prophecy, just as His birth, His triumphal entry, His death, and His resurrection exactly fulfilled prophecy. He'll open the gates that have been sealed for more than one thousand years in a vain attempt to keep Him out, and He will rule on earth again.

You'll see photos of the Golden Gate in my blog posts quite a bit. That's because Jesus rode through them in triumph more than 2000 years ago, and He will pass through them in triumph again. There is nothing that can keep Him out. 

When He does return and go through those gates, all the sorrow and trouble of this world will come to end, for King Jesus will be on His throne. Forever.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” 
Revelation 21:2-5 NIV

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Quick Work of God
In case you want to read more about the Golden Gate, here's an interesting article:

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Quick Work of God

It always surprises me that I can read the same passage of Scripture dozens of times, yet still find something new. That's what happened with the story of Hezekiah today. 

He became king when he was 29 years old. His daddy had been king before him, and he was terrible. He had closed the temple and cut up the temple utensils. 

Hezekiah, from the very start, was a king much like David. He reopened the temple and called the priests and Levites back.

When Hezekiah had assembled them, he told them an interesting thing. God had chosen them to stand before Him, minister to Him, to be His ministers, and to burn incense. In their "to do" list from God, standing before Him and ministering to Him came first. 

I immediately wondered what it meant to minister to God, so I looked at what these men did. First, they consecrated themselves. After they were consecrated, they cleansed the House of God of all the uncleanness. They removed the idols and prepared the temple for services. There was a good bit of repair work to do after Hezekiah's daddy's reign of sin. Then, the sweet work of ministering to God began. They sang praises with joy, bowed down, and worshipped Him.

If we are to be ministers (and, because of the priesthood of all believers, we are all ministers) we will begin with getting the sin out of our own lives. When that's accomplished, we'll be ready for the sweet work. Singing with joy. Praising Him. Bowing before Him. Worshipping.

That's the kind of ministry God wants first.

When that was done, the Levites and priests led the way in helping the people with their own sacrifices and worship.

Here's what's so astounding about all this. Scripture says: 

"And all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly." 2 Chronicles 29:46 nasb

Until today, I thought the "thing" that came about suddenly was the reopening of the temple.

This morning, I finally realized what God had prepared. It was astounding.

God put it in Hezekiah's heart to reinstitute the Passover and to bring all His people back to Him. By this point, many of the people from the ten Northern tribes had been taken into captivity by Assyria because of their terrible idolatry.

Hezekiah sent couriers throughout both Judah and Israel, inviting them to the Passover. He begged them to return to the Lord, and told them that their repentance could have a positive effect on those in captivity.

Most of the people in Israel mocked the couriers, but not all of them did.

"Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manassah, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem." 2 Chronicles 30:11 nasb

Spoiler alert: Here's the good part...

"The hand of God was on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord." 2 Chronicles 30:12 nasb

What God gave the people so quickly was two-fold: one more chance and a unified heart.

They had a chance to repent and return to Him, but they also had a chance to restore the kingdom. He also gave the people of Judah a heart of unity that welcomed the rest of the nation back into the fold. 

For a moment, consider the father of the prodigal son, waiting at the end of the road, watching every day for His wayward boy to return. That's what God had done for Israel (and for wayward Judah). For a season, He also gave all the people of Judah the kind of heart He had toward His prodigals. There were no "older brother" hearts in Judah. They were ready to worship together and willing to welcome their wayward brothers home.

Just imagine what our churches would be like if we prepared for ministering to God by consecrating ourselves. Imagine what it would be like if God gave the body of Christ a united heart for worship and the welcoming of prodigals, just like Jesus prayed in John 17:21.

And He has. Jesus' prayer for unity was clearly within the will of God, so we can count that heart of unity already given. The only thing lacking is for us to receive it.

Today, let's begin to do the work of ministering to God by consecrating ourselves. 

Let's invite God to show us our sin and remove it. 

Let's embrace a heart of unity with all the body of Christ and make our churches a warm and welcoming place for those who've wandered away.

We, too, can rejoice over what God has prepared for His people. 

Because of His unfailing grace, He's given us another chance to be salt and light. 

Another chance to bring in the harvest. 

Another chance to honor Him.


In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Prayers for Istanbul

#disciple #workofGod #Hezekiah #unity

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Prayers for Istanbul

Sam arrived for morning coffee yesterday and was full of news. "Did you hear about all them people getting blowed up?" 

I had not. 

"It was in one of them places where we fought a war, I think. You know, you can't really fight somebody who don't mind blowing themselves up."

I pulled out my cell phone and opened the news app. Sam was right. There had been a bombing in Istanbul's airport.

42 dead. 239 wounded. 128 of the wounded are still hospitalized. 

The attacks were coordinated, much like the attacks in Paris. One of the bombers was shot, fell to the ground, and detonated his suicide bomb after he fell.

If the bombs are like those used in Paris, they were concentrated hydrogen peroxide bombs. The explosives are so volatile that a detonator is not needed. The friction of falling to the ground can cause the bomb to detonate. 

As Sam said, how do you fight something like this? People like this?

In 2016, Turkey has had eight terrorist attacks with 146 dead and at least 363 wounded already. ISIS has not claimed responsibility for these attacks, but is considered the most likely culprit.

Today, the families of 42 people will make preparations for funerals and burials. The families of 239 people will watch and wait as their loved ones attempt to recover from their injuries, both physical and psychological. 

A city will struggle to maintain the tourist trade after this attack. Istanbul's citizens will fear being in a crowd. Watch every person with a big jacket or a backpack. Look at people missing fingers and wonder if they are a bomb maker. 

Life has changed for the 14 million residents of Istanbul, and it won't likely be the same again.

Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is a beautiful city and an international tourist attraction. It was a Christian city until after the Ottoman invasion. Now, it's Muslim, yet ISIS still attacks.

Theirs is not a war of religion, no matter what they say. Theirs is a war of terror, designed to gain power and territory.

I'm so tired of war and killing and hate. 

As I read about the attacks, I wondered when it will end. I knew the answer already. It won't. Not until Jesus comes back and calls us home.

We are broken people, marred by sin, and evil in all our ways. It is only the love of God than constrains us. ISIS shows us what we, too, could be, if not for the Judeo-Christian ethic that has been so much a part of our culture. ISIS shows us the extreme result of the devaluing of human life.

Scripture is clear that our first breath comes from God, and every breath after is a gift from God. It doesn't matter if we are Turkish, American, French, Muslim, or Christian, or any other persuasion. 

Life is a precious gift from God, whether we believe it or not. 

All lives matter. The taking of life matters, too. Whether we believe it or not.

We should be as enraged by the deaths in Turkey as we were by the deaths in Paris, but I fear we are becoming numb to the terror. Worn out by our outrage. 

A response is not optional. If good is to come from this terrible evil, God's people must respond with an outpouring of prayer and concern. We must be salt and light in this dark world. 

Today, let's pray that God will bring good from evil. I'm not sure how He'll do that, but I know He can. Pray that His name will be lifted up in honor and people will be drawn to Him in their pain and suffering. 

Pray that the Christians living in Istanbul can be salt and light to their fellow citizens. Pray for their safety.

I've prayed countless prayers for the warriors of ISIS to come to Him, and I'm still praying that, but, today, I'm praying God brings their reign of terror to an end. And quickly.

There will be peace one day, but only when Jesus reigns supreme. Until then, we carry on, and pray that His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58 niv
picture above is of a bombed-out house in Israel.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Showing the Inside on the Outside

#Istanbul #ISIS #prayforistanbul #disciple

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Facial Expressions: Showing the Inside on the Outside

I was slicing up potatoes to make Breakfast Skillet recently. This particular potato had a bad spot. It was so small that I assumed I could cut away the bad place and use the rest.

I was wrong. When my knife touched the potato, it felt firm, but I quickly hit a softer spot that worsened as the knife plunged through the skin. The rot was almost all the way through. 

That tiny spot on the outside was an outward manifestation of what was inside.

Isaiah wrote that our facial expressions do the same thing for us. 

"The expression of their faces bears witness against them." Isaiah 3:9 nasb

I hate to admit this, but, yesterday, I saw a candid group picture taken several years ago. I was clearly visible at the edge of the photo. My expression made me cringe. It was obvious from my face that I was bored and unhappy. The "expression of my face" bore witness against me. (I apologize to those who were with me. There was no excuse for my bad attitude.)

As I encounter people on my trek through life, I often gauge my response to them based on their facial expression. For the most part, Isaiah's words hold true. The expression of their face gives a pretty good idea of what's inside.

Yesterday, I realized anew that my facial expression tells quite a bit about what's inside me

If people gauge their response based on my facial expression, I need to be careful about what's on the outside, but even more careful about what's on the inside. 

It's in our unguarded moments that our faces reveal the truth.

Today, let's take note of the expressions we encounter. Do those faces reveal sorrow? Anger? Pain? Let's look past the words and facial expressions to the need inside. 

Love first. Then respond.

Let's also take note of our own expressions and the truth they reveal about our hearts, our attitudes, our needs. What do we uncover in our unguarded moments? 

Rather than fake a happy expression, let's use our honest appraisal to drive us to Our Lord, who will comfort us in our sorrow, rejoice with us in our good times, soothe every anxiety, and heal every hurt we encounter.

It's what's inside that matters most. Let's be sure it's worth showing the world.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Value of a Life
#facialexpression #disciple 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Value of a Life

Ole Lou is 15 years old, and he's been a great dog. Someone had found a dozen puppies in a big blue rubbermaid box at the dump and carried them to the animal shelter. I was at the shelter when they came in, looking for a puppy, and I took him straight from the dump box. We adopted him from the pound the same day. He was so little that he rode in my jacket pocket. 

We'd only had him a few days when he started coughing and vomiting. He had Parvo. Two weeks in puppy ICU and lots of good vet care brought him through. He's been a trooper ever since.

Lou's big and imposing, with a deep, intimidating bark, but the sweetest dog you'll ever meet. He's gentle with children and other animals, loves me, and loves his human, Ryan.

At 15, his health has declined dramatically. His teeth aren't in good shape, he won't eat well most of the time, and he wheezes when he exerts himself. He's dying and it's obvious to anyone who looks at him.

I intended to "put him down". I've already dug his grave and have his shroud (the sheet he slept on for years) ready. The sensible thing to do, in my foolish mind, was to "take care of it" while Ryan was home. 

Lou is still too big for me to carry, so the Hired Hand came to help. He looked at Lou for a long moment, then back at me. "I don't see how you can put down a dog that's smiling and wagging his tail."

His words stunned me, and I looked past the frail body to Lou's face. He was right. Lou's eyes were still bright. His tail was still wagging. He still looked at me with all the trust and love he's ever shown.

"His life still has value," The Hired Hand said, and I was cut to the core.

I, who have been an advocate for life for decades, had looked at this life and devalued it. I was ready to end his life before it was over, and shame flooded through me. I repented on the spot.

It was not just about suffering; it was also about inconvenience. I had crawled on my belly through the azaleas with a spoon in one hand and a can of dog food in another until I couldn't stand it any more. I wanted the crawling and the dying to be done.

I looked at Ryan and shook my head. "He's right. Lou's life still has value. All life has value."

"But he's suffering, Mom."

"I know. He's suffering some, but he's still enjoying life some, too. Life and death are issues best left in God's hands, not mine."

"He looks bad."

"Yeah. But look at those eyes. Look at his wagging tail. Suffering's not all bad, Ryan." I knew that from experience. Some of the hardest times in my life had been used to change me in ways I never expected. Lou's hard times are changing me, too.

In the midst of his poor health, Lou still finds joy every day. He still gives joy. He still wags his tail and smiles in a way only he can do.

There may be a time when we end his suffering, but it is not today. 

I'm still feeding him with a spoon, but Lou and I have reached a compromise. He's coming out from his cool resting place at least twice a day. He still walks with me, if I don't walk far. He still wags his tail. We still love each other.

When Ryan looks back on Lou's poor health, I want him to remember that Lou's life had value all the way to the end. I know some people will say, "He's just a dog. Why let him suffer?" I've felt that way, too. 

But... life is precious in all its forms. The breath of life comes straight from God for all His creatures, even dogs. 

One day, I'll be the one who's old and frail and suffering. One day, Physician Assisted Suicide, already becoming acceptable in a few states, may be acceptable here. Years from now, I want Ryan to remember that all life has value, no matter how difficult it might be. 

That's why we carried Sam down the Tanglefoot Trail in a wheelchair. He could've walked a few feet, but not the entire way. His life, though frail, has infinite value.

That's why I stop writing at 4:00 to throw bread to the fish with Sam. It's one of his favorite things to do, and the joy he has in that simple pleasure matters.

We've not more valuable to God when we're young and strong. Every day of our life matters to Him. Even when we're old, and frail, and dying.

If God values our most difficult days, so should we. No matter how hard it is, let's do more than live like we're dying. Let's live until we die, with all the fervor and enthusiasm we can muster, even on the hardest days. In that same way, let's celebrate the value of all life, no matter how difficult.

"Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written they days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." Psalm 139:16 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Soil Samples

#life #alllivesmatter #disciple

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Soil Samples

Because of an unusual series of events, I ended up leading the Sunday School class yesterday. 

The passage was from Mark 4, the story of the Sower and The Seed. As I studied to prepare, I realized the story is not as much about the soil on which I "sow my seed" as it is about the state of the soil in my heart. 

The picture of the soil in my garden flashed in my mind. I took three canning jars and went to the garden. Black, rich potting soil went in one jar. The dry, rocky dirt from my failed garden went in the second jar. 

In the third jar, I put a layer of the dry, rocky, weed-laden soil, and covered it with a layer of potting soil, because my heart is seldom completely fertile soil. I wish it always were, but I'm not all God desires me to be. Yet.

If we're honest, we all have a mixture of heart-soil that probably fluctuates from one time to another. Sometimes we have rocky heart-soil, sometimes weed-laden soil, sometimes rich, fertile soil. Most of the time, we have a mixture.

As I carried my soil samples back to the house, I considered the actual soil samples I'd collected and sent to the Extension Service a few days earlier. In a week or so, I'll receive a report that tells me what to add to the soil to enrich it. If I want rich, fertile soil, I'll have to do something to the ground to have it.

In that same way, we can have rich, fertile heart-soil if we are willing to make the changes needed to have it.  We can have optimum receptivity to the word of God. If we want it. 

Just as I'll add lime and fertilizer, potash and other enrichments, to my actual garden, so we need to add those things that make our hearts more receptive to God. The best place to begin is with the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit. That flashing Sword can cut through the rockiest of soil, pulverizing the stony places in our heart. 

It aerates and loosens the clods, reveals the weeds (cares of this world and the busy-ness of our lives), and helps us to remove those things choking out the growth God desires.

Repentance and humility are essential, but the Word of God is where we start.

We passed around the soil samples yesterday, and I was impressed all over again about the importance of tending the soil, in our literal gardens and in the garden of our hearts. I want fertile soil, in both gardens, not because I prefer rich soil, but because rich soil is the best way to produce a harvest. 

God isn't looking for rich soil to serve as fallow ground. He wants rich soil to produce a harvest. The better the soil, the bigger the harvest.

As it turns out, I have some work to do. In both my literal and my heart gardens. Maybe you do, too.

Take a look at the soil samples above. Which one best represents your heart? Is it the kind of soil you meant to have? If not, what "enhancements" are needed to change it?

"And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold." Mark 4:20 nasb

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Wheelchair Hike
#soil #goodsoil #soilsamples #harvest #disciple #Jesus

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Wheelchair Hike

Ryan was home for a visit recently. His 15-year-old dog is dying, his thirty-year-old horse is losing weight and slowing down, and Sam is increasingly frail. Ryan wanted to visit, but he also came to say some good-byes. Ole Lou will be gone before he returns, and Toby (his horse) may be, too.

More important, Sam's health is precarious. Ryan wanted some quality time while he could still have it. We packed an incredible array of activities with Sam into those few days. 

One of the activities we had planned was a trek on the Tanglefoot Trail. "We could take Sam if you want," I suggested.

"He'd like that, but how could he walk that far?"

"Take him in the wheelchair." 

Ryan didn't hesitate. "That's a great idea. I'll push him."

We walked a 5K route. Ryan pushed Sam in the wheelchair the entire way. They both loved it. Afterward, we were sweaty and tired, so we stopped for coffee before driving to the blueberry farm in Pontotoc. We picked three buckets of berries and laughed the entire time about Sam, his double vision, and how to decide which of the double-vision berries to pick. 

It was a wonderful day. We laughed, and reminisced, and enjoyed the time together. 

Later that evening, Sam called. "I sure had a good day today. Thank you for including me." 

"It wouldn't have been as much fun without you." I said it because I meant it. Sam rounded out the day's events in a way that made the entire experience richer and sweeter.

It was harder to do the trail pushing a wheelchair, but Ryan never complained. It was slower to pick the berries and watch out for Sam, but no one minded. He's family and greatly loved. 

"When I'm Sam's age and you're picking berries and hiking trails, I hope you put me in a wheelchair and drag me along, too," I told Ryan the next day.

He laughed and hugged me. "Don't worry. I will."

Time is short. We tried to make the most of the days we have left together. It's the way we're meant to live, regardless of how frail our bodies or how long our life expectancy.

Love while you can. Laugh while there's time. Hug and smile and enjoy each other, for life can end in an instant and regrets can last a long time.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
John 15:12 esv
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Teacakes That Changed the World 
#loveoneanother #disciple #SamWiley #love