New Year’s Resolution: To Be Heaven Here On Earth

You are given the option for immortality. Do you take it or do you decline?

Mom eagerly shared with me this thought from the writer’s app called 1000+ Writing Prompts.  “This is the question we face every day.  God has given us the option for immortality, and it’s up to us to take it.”

It’s a good thought to begin the new year with.  You are given the option for immortality.  To choose Jesus Christ is to choose eternal life.  To deny Him is to decline the option for immortality.  Or more accurately, to accept a harsh damnation as your eternal fate.

“But because of your callous stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are [deliberately] storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will pay back to each person according to his deeds [justly, as his deeds deserve]: to those who by persistence in doing good seek [unseen but certain heavenly] glory, honor, and immortality, [He will give the gift of] eternal life. But for those who are selfishly ambitious and self-seeking and disobedient to the truth but responsive to wickedness, [there will be] wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and anguish [torturing confinement] for every human soul who does [or permits] evil, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, but glory and honor and inner peace [will be given] to everyone who habitually does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For God shows no partiality [no arbitrary favoritism; with Him one person is not more important than another]… on that day when, as my gospel proclaims, God will judge the secrets [all the hidden thoughts and concealed sins] of men through Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:5-11, 16 (AMP)

Eternal life is a mystery to a mortal’s mind.  Humans are born, they live, and they die.  It’s common knowledge that people can only dream of defying.  It is impossible to accurately imagine what eternity will be like.

“Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.

“You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

“This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!

“…I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don’t in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very “nature” is to die, so how could they “naturally” end up in the Life kingdom?” 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, 50 (MSG)

Like a seed planted into the ground, the seed dies and is shed away as the plant begins to grow; that is how Paul describes our mortal bodies.  After we die, our spirit will be given a new heavenly body.  Our new selves will shine with splendor possibly even greater than the sun, moon, and stars.    And definitely much greater than our own weak and sinful earthly bodies.

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” 2 Corinthians 1-10 (NLT)

In a common belief among many Christians, heaven is explained in the last chapters of the book of Revelation (chapters 21 & 22), but allow me to correct that belief with an awesome thought.  Or maybe I’m not correcting; more just expounding on the idea.  Try to imagine it like this…

WE are the description of heaven. Christ’s church is the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

Let me try to explain it for you:

When the book of Revelation (chapter 21) explains the new heaven and earth, it says “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.’”  (vs. 2-4, NIV)  The description of the new heaven and new earth that John saw sounds exactly like something that Paul wrote to the letter to the church in Corinth, when he wrote “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2, NIV)  As Christians we-the church-are the bride of Christ, brought to Him in godly splendor because of the blood that He has shed for us.  And now, because we have the Holy Spirit, God can dwell in us and give us peace and comfort.  We no longer have to fear the destructive nature of death, because Jesus has redeemed us and reconciled us to God.

The explanation of New Jerusalem, found in Revelation 21, also points to our salvation through Jesus Christ.  The city is described with the language of the prophets: 12 gates, which the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, like the 12 tribes of Israel; the walls of the city has 12 foundations, each with the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb, broadening God’s holy people to not only the Israelites, but also the children of the new covenant, which is everyone who accepts Christ as Savior. Each of the four walls of the Holy City has 3 gates on it- 3 is the number of God, the Trinity, and explains that there is no obstacle stopping anyone from entering into God’s presence. An angel measures the city and finds it to be 12,000 stadia in length, width and height- 12,000 is a multiplier of both 12 and 10.  The number 10 is, like the number of fingers and toes you have, the number of completion.   So by putting 12 and 10 together, it means that the city is made up of all of God’s people, not just some of them.  No one is left out.  The wall of the city was also measured and found to be 144 cubits thick, which is another use of the number of God’s people, since 144 squared is 12.  The measurements, the gates, and the brilliantly shining stones of the Holy City explains to us how precious Christ’s church is.  The church is literally heaven on Earth.  All people are welcomed into it, and once a citizen of God’s Holy City, New Jerusalem, we will inherit God’s promise.

In chapter 22 John tells “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down to the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse…” (v.1-3, NIV)  The city’s street leads to the tree of life, which brings healing for the nations and bears fruit all year round.  That’s what we as Christ’s church, the Lamb’s  bride, the Holy City needs to be doing. We need to be healing the nations.  We need to be bearing the fruits of the Spirit.  We need to be examples of God to the people around us so that they can see His glory: wiping the tears of the mournful and ministering to those suffering from pain.  That’s what God does.  It’s also what we should be doing.

We are also told that in the Holy City, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”  (v.5, NIV) Talk about being the city on a hill!  That’s exactly what Jesus called us when He spoke in the sermon on the mount: “You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (AMP)

The explanation of the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, and the new Eden that’s explained in the final pages of the Bible is not describing how heaven will look like.  There’s no way we can fathom the greatness of God’s dwelling.  Much like the royal Priesthood spoken of in Hebrews,  we are meant to think of the description as a shadow of what heaven will be like.  In fact, we as Christians are called to be the foreshadow of Heaven.

 “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.” Revelations 21:5-8

Returning to the writing prompt, we are offered a choice of immortality. Will you accept or decline the offer? If  you choose to accept, then you must, in turn, share the offer to others as well.  For 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says:

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (NLT)

As we begin 2018, let’s consider our role here in the physical life.  Why not make a new year’s resolution to be heaven on earth to all the people around you?  You may even snatch a life from the fiery fate of Hell.

"But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!" 1 Corinthians 15: 51-57 (MSG)
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To Infinity and Beyond! (From Abstract to Absolute)

You must have felt, the air is chilly, when that craving for hot, steamy satisfying tea appears, where you crave that comfortable heat to fill your body, your hands, your head, your heart; you don’t want to freeze, so you want hot tea. Your favorite flavor may be zesty lemon, fresh mint, or spicy cinnamon. “Ahhh” would be a natural reaction your lungs have when steam fills yours nostrils, cheeks begin to rosy up, and your nose gets runny.

That’s how I feel when I get tea. You?

At least with the leading brands like Yogi, tearing back the paper and pulling out the stringed teabag lately brings the reading of a wise proverb. One tea stated,

“Love without trust is like a river without water”.

I like that one. Another tea stated,

“The gate to happiness is self-compassion”.

(What is happiness? …self-compassion?)

Wise sayings like these are usually harmless. Mostly they hold some truth, take them as they are. However, the second message (about self-compassion) can be interpreted both to harm and not to harm, due to its abstractness. For example:

A mother’s interpretation might be: “I should care about me this weekend. I’ll soak in a long bath while the hubby’s home.” Mostly harmless.

A painter’s interpretation: “Heed not the family business. Instead, do what makes me happy and go to art school.” Maybe harmful, maybe not.

But then a troubling interpretation from an angry teen: “To protect myself, I should get rid of the bullies. Tomorrow the gun goes in my backpack.” Mostly harmful!

Do you see where I’m going?

There’s no need to blame the teabags for sinister influence. These sayings are far too short and vague for the granting of ill intentions, and it’s entirely the responsibility of each person how he thinks, how he plots, or how he reacts. Right?

With that said, what concerns my writing today is the manner in which we consume abstract thoughts like these – even if each person is responsible for their own living and own behavior, it is the responsibility of a society, or a community, to provide the ambience needed for people to produce good thoughts each on their own.

It is a matter of how we habitually think and live. If we make a habit of consuming messages that are vague and abstract, our lives will be lived in the same abstractness. Our lives will be lived for the general purposes of “happiness”, “wellness”, or “productivity”; that is, the persons that we are will become bounded to the finite. The predictable. The limited. The temporary. Without the eventual consumption of that which is deep, unlimited, and endless, we will never find the absolute truth that sets us free.

As I have taught from week to week for more than a year now on my blog, I teach again: we can find that absolute truth by reading the entire Bible. It allows us to live a life boundless and free, unpredictable, unimaginable, and everlasting. Partly the purpose of my blog has always been to discuss again and again the Scriptures so you will come to know the Bible without having to read it alone and in cold, hard truth. I pray you come to see the burdens-lifting message of the gospel.

The inspiration of my writing today came from a teabag message I have not yet shared with you. I believe it is my favorite, because it brings to my mind the entirety of Christ. Quote:

“Love is an experience of infinity.”

What Yogi meant by putting it on its product I don’t know. Maybe,

God is love.

Love at its fullest mends all hurts.

Love shared by two people has an out of this world feeling.

Lovers are metaphorically stargazers who will never see every star no matter how long they gaze.

Love literally does not stop when completely unconditional.

Love has no ending of explanations.

Christ, however, reveals the quote much less abstractly, in fact, as Paul states it, there was a mystery and that mystery is now seen in Christ. All that was abstract is now absolute in our Lord and King who reigns on heaven and in earth. Read this passage in Ephesians 3:14-21 to get a true taste of infinity!

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

 

Multifaceted Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

The world is full of people who are self-driven: as long as they aren’t in pain or in some sort of discomfort, their lives are just fine.  Their own happiness, reputation, and enjoyment are what’s important. They would rather watch and laugh at other people’s misfortunes instead of lending a hand.

"The earth, O Lord, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes." Psalm 119:64 (MEV)
"This is what the Lord Almighty says... show mercy and compassion to one another..." Zechariah 7:9 (NIV)

We are to show mercy… but what is mercy? It’s surely not something that comes naturally for us, because it’s a trait of God Almighty, but it’s a trait that all Christians must learn to imitate.  It’s part of God’s statutes.

"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For he who has shown no mercy will have judgment without mercy, for mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13 (MEV)

Showing mercy is… being able to cry in another person’s skin; it’s feeling their pain, being concerned about their wellbeing, and having a strong desire to do something to help out.  We were put on this earth to show God’s mercy to the people around us.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Showing mercy is… realizing that we are no different than our neighbor, and reaching out to show kindness to them.  Before receiving God’s grace, we were the same as those who aren’t saved.  It’s only by God’s mercy (the same mercy that we are required to imitate) that we are set apart.

"...you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," Ephesians 2:1-5 (MEV)
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns to you, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 (MEV)

It has been said that the difference between grace and mercy is that grace is giving us what we don’t deserve, while mercy is not giving us what we do deserve. That’s true, but only partially true.  Actually, the difference is that grace takes away our faults, while mercy takes away our pain.

Showing mercy is… knowing when to rebuke a person who is wrong and when to allow the person to have the final word; it’s also knowing how stern or soft to make the rebuke, when you are called to give one.

"But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned." Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)
"Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galations 6:1-2 (MEV)

Showing mercy does NOT… always follow the moral standards of the rest of the world. Worldly common sense would tell you to give a homeless man a 20 dollar bill to pay for his meal. But mercy would tell you not to buy him a meal. Rather, teach a man how to work and then he can feed himself.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'  

"We hear that some  among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  

"Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)

Sometimes showing mercy must take an extreme stance: it may require to dis-fellowship a brother or sister in Christ who does not try to follow God’s laws.

"Now if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, then take with you one or two others, that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [or pagan] and a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 (MEV)
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.  So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case  you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.' " 1 Corinthians 5:2-23 (NIV)

Most of all, showing mercy calls us to… pray for those who we see living in sin, because “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. So if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have whatever we asked of Him.” 1 John 5:13-15 (MEV)  

As long as we continue to pray for the people we know, God won’t give up trying to reach them to save and to grant them eternal life.

Girls with Swords, Week 8

(All of the following Scripture is taken from the New International Version Holy Bible.)

God is love.

“Do not those who plot evil go astray?  But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” (Proverbs 14:22) ~ “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3) ~ “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12) ~ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) ~ “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21) ~

God Loves you.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so,  but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:1-8) ~ “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5) ~ “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) ~

Love all people.

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) ~ “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is a fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10) ~ “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) ~ “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) ~

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8)

 

Lisa Bevere’s workbook, the Fencing Manual, made the statement: “For far too long the Word has been interpreted rather than proclaimed.” Then it asked the question: “What is the difference?” Lacy’s written reply was,
“Interpreting Scripture is when someone tries to grasp its meaning, with bias that overcomes willingness, and so the Scripture is read with the bias as absolute truth, rather than God’s word and meaning.  Contrastingly, proclaiming is when Scripture is read in context, read cover to cover, and shared.” -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

“The language of God is LOVE.  That needs no words at all.  Wouldn’t it be something if the church just… stopped talking for a change and just… ACTED on love, instead of speaking?” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual

Girls With Swords, Week 4

“Now by the laws of war, better than defeating a country by fire and the sword, is to take it without strife.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

As Christians, we are not called to fight a war with earthly weapons; the battles that are fought are actually in the spiritual realm.  Instead, we are called to show kindness to all people.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11 (NIV)

My Task, hymn lyrics by Maude Louise Ray

“To love someone more dearly every day, to help a wandering child to find his way, to ponder o’er a noble thought and pray, and smile when evening falls: This is my task.

“To follow truth as blind men long for light, to do my best from dawn of day til night, to keep my heart fit for His holy sight, and answer when He calls: This is my task.”

Being equipped with the armor of the Lord and the Sword of the Spirit, we are a part of the army of the Lord.  Take heart, you are not alone!  There are Christians all over the world, and they are going through similar battles.  That’s why we need to encourage one another and help strengthen them.  I liked a quote that I read in the Art of War, which says “Skillful soldiers make defeat impossible, and further render the enemy incapable of victory.”

Let’s be skillful in our task, and help others become skillful in their tasks too, so that we may render Satan incapable of victory.

“Division weakens the Church. As long as people are focused on their squabbles and disagreements, they cannot further the kingdom of God.” -quote from Kat’s fencing manual

“The Unity Creed: To create peace and unity, I must work hard. I must observe the world around me. I must minister in time of need. I must listen actively all the time. I must remember all that I can. Then when I need help, if no one gives it, I must pray to God, giver of all things.” -quote from Lacy’s fencing manual

 

Some Things Never Change

Cloud Paradise

Back when I was in high school, there was a guy from Mississippi who owned an online forum, cheshil.com. He was about 15 years old; with a mission to create a website for his high school, a place where everyone could come and feel accepted and loved no matter what.

I was the oddball homeschooler from Texas who got invited by my pen pal to join. Members chatted about topics ranging from books, religion, music, and video games. The atmosphere was kind of like Hogwarts… where everything was fun and imaginative and goofy.

I was a huge gamer: fan of Final Fantasy, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and anything JRPG. One day, owner Cheshil asked for people to write video game reviews, to make his forums not only a fun place, but a hub for research and recommendations. I agreed to write about my favorite video games, telling others what I did or didn’t like about the game, and what could have made it better.

My evaluations, as I called them, got positive feedback. The only problem some members had was they were too lengthy, being over 1000 words, but it felt great having others compliment me and tell me I helped them decide whether to buy a game or not.

Time passed… Everyone graduated and moved on, and the online forum was left behind, due to the grown-up world hitting us. We were all urged to come out of our shells and realize our potential, find out who we’d become and what career path we’d take. Amazingly, Cheshil is a doctor today with a Master’s, another one of the members live in Japan raising her family, yet another is an actor and production stage manager – the world is our stage!

I attest the wisdom: though success is in front of us and our lives are ready to conquer, we all still need to feel love and accepted, and that’s something that will never change.

Prayer of the Faithful

A prayer with the words of Albert B. Simpson (Hymn: What will you do with Jesus?) , Eliza E. Hewitt (Hymn: Who will follow Jesus?), and King David (Psalms 25 and 26).

Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall, Friendless, forsaken, betrayed  by all; Hearken! What meaneth the sudden call? What will you do with Jesus?

Jesus is standing on trial still, You can be false to Him if you will, You can be faithful through good or ill: What will you do with Jesus?  (Simpson)

O Lord, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. (Psalms 25:1-3, NLT)

Who will follow Jesus, standing for the right, holding up His banner in the thickest fight?  Listening for His orders, ready to obey, who will follow Jesus, serving Him today? (Hewitt)

Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.  Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.  All day long I put my hope in you.  Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.  Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.  Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, grapes
O Lord. (Psalms 25:4-7, NLT)

Who will follow Jesus, in life’s busy ways, working for the Master, giving Him the
praise; Earnest in His vineyard, honoring His laws, faithful to His counsel, watchful for His cause? (Hewitt)

The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray.  He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.  The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. (Psalm 25:8-10, NLT)

Will you evade Him as Pilate tried?  Or will you choose Him, whate’er betide?  Vainly you struggle from Him to hide: What will you do with Jesus?

Will you, like Peter, your Lord deny? Or will you scorn from His foes to fly, Daring for Jesus to live or die?  What will you do with Jesus? (Simpson)

For the honor of your name, O Lord, forgive my many, many sins.  Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose.  They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the land. The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.  He teaches them his covenant.  My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.  (Psalms 25:11-15, NLT)

Who will follow Jesus when the tempter charms? Fleeing then, for safety, to the Savior’s arms; trusting in His mercy, trusting in His power, seeking fresh renewals of His grace every hour? (Hewitt)

Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all! Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins.  See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take my refuge.  May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you.  (Psalm 25: 16-21, NLT)

Who will follow Jesus, in His work of love, leading others to Him, lifting prayers above?  Courage, faithful servant! In His word we see, on our side forever will this Savior be. (Hewitt)

Declare me innocent, O Lord, for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.  Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.  Test my motives and my heart. For I am always aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth. (Psalms 26:1-3, NLT)

Who will follow Jesus? Who will make reply, I am on the Lord’s side; Master here am I?(Hewitt)

Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners. Don’t condemn me along with murderers.  Their hands are dirty with evil schemes, and they constantly take bribes.  But I am not like that; I live with integrity.  So redeem me and show me mercy.  Now I stand on solid ground, and I will publicly praise the Lord. (Psalms 26:9-12, NLT)

“Jesus, I give Thee my heart today! Jesus, I’ll follow Thee all the way, Gladly obeying Thee!” will you say: “This I will do with Jesus!”  (Simpson)

Patience is a Coconut

I’ll admit. I did not want to write this week’s devotional on patience. I wanted Kat to do it because she’s more patient, the one that’s slow to talk and keeps calm when a problem arises. So when the cards were dealt randomly, and I was the one who got the task to write about patience, I panicked and brought my fear to God. “Lord,” I asked, “how can I teach patience when I have yet to decipher how it works in my own life? I’m too young! I’m still IN the waiting process. I haven’t reached the destination. I can’t ‘live to tell the tale’. My testimony isn’t powerful.”

See, I have a chaotic life. I had dreams I wanted to see through to the end; they seem buried or dead, and for all I know, may never amount to a hill o’ beans, as Southern people say. My dreams may never come true. At this point, I don’t know.

Or maybe my dreams will happen, but not the way I thought. Perhaps I will simply influence others to have dreams and they will carry out “the beautiful life” while I am left to study, research, and philosophize.

Or maybe my dreams will only become reality after my lifetime is over. Like Picasso and Van Gogh, artists who become famous after their death, or Edgar Allan Poe who became famous post-mortem, too.

Maybe, right? I constantly find myself waiting for the “easy part” to get here. I wait for God to bless me with a stable job, friends, independence, customers, or could God have a chosen alternative? Just something! Anything! Don’t hold me in suspense. “Let thy will be done” is me relinquishing my will to him every day of my life in 2017, and yet, last year wasn’t any different, or any year that I can remember since I graduated high school, so how can I expect next year to change? Have I ever done anything, so far, that’s worthy of praise? Can anyone be proud of me?

There’s good news if you’re like me. This journey of questioning, wondering, and waiting is exactly how we learn how to be patient, the way the Holy Spirit intends us to! Sure, like me, you might know someone who exhibits outstanding qualities, and they appear calm and enduring, while meanwhile, you see yourself as hyper, anxious, or impulsive. It may seem like you can’t be patient, but…

God’s patience is for everyone. God’s patience isn’t the skill of twiddling your thumbs or the art of sitting still! It is the ability to trust God, even when your bully brain tells you He doesn’t care; you trust Him anyway. It is the plan to keep trying to do what is right even when your anger is ready to burst. It’s the idea that you will keep forgiving and loving someone who has already wronged you a bazillion times. When you never see an end to struggling, yet you keep praying for and loving people anyway, that’s patience.

You are a coconut and God is the hammer, the knife, and the hands that hold you, break you, shape you, and make you. You are the coconut that becomes a basket, broom, rope, sweet pie, healing lotion, clothing, shampoo, dangly earring, carpet, candy, or pina colada, or anything God wants you to be. You drop off the tree and roll into the sand, where the tide pulls you into the waves, and the waves take you all the way to new land, but only after days and days of bobbing. Then you might grow big into a palm tree, or maybe you are found by the hammer and cracked open and used as a tool or food or medicine. You do not know where your journey will take you, but never will your journey take you the same place as other coconuts. It may hurt, it might be long and tumultuous, but in the end, you will do mighty little things. You are a tiny bit extraordinary, and a very big part of God’s plan of salvation for everyone.

Patience is you, when you let God in.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

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Kindness is a Pear

Have you ever taken a bite out of a pear and held the sweet, soft taste on your tongue? Of course, dozens of pear types bless the world around, all different: in the USA and Europe, a pear may look red and feel soft on the tongue, while in Asia, a round golden pear has a gritty outside skin with a crunchy, less juicy flesh. Amidst all the differences, though, pears always classify as pyrus species from the Rosaceae family. It’s incredible.

Kindness is like pears in the same way: every person has a unique way of showing kindness, and each kind deed can be done in different settings, for different occasions, yet it’s always the same class of spiritual fruit. No matter how different kindness looks on the outside, it can still be called kindness. Just like pears,  it’s always sweet and nice, no matter what. God loves when people are kind, and he is kind to them in return.

Witness the simultaneous balance of the kindness and severity of our God. Severity is directed at the fallen branches withering without faith. Yet kindness is directed at you. So live in the kindness of God or else prepare to be cut off yourselves.” Romans 11:22 (VOICE)

3 examples of kindness:

  1. Antonin always comes home from school hungry, so his mom started making a healthy snack for him, to keep him from being uncomfortable.
  2. Flossie, a lady who owns a ranch, knows how much her new friend Lucia likes horses, so she invites her over one weekend to ride the friendliest American Quarter Horse, Birch.
  3.  The owner of a corner store notices his young customer is short a dollar for the spicy chips he picked out. The customer’s about to go put it back on the shelf when the owner says, “Go on… keep it.” No explanations why he let the guy keep the chips, but the customer goes away happy.

Everyone will show kindness in their own ways. That’s why it is valuable for us to accept each other, each person as he or she is, to truly appreciate a kind act when it is done. For example, imagine a wife asks a husband to build a front porch on their home, so that the steps come out away from the door, and a sitting area is available for guests; the husband is glad to do it, but it doesn’t look the way she wanted it to. Sure, she may be frustrated at him because he did it wrong, and complain about the flaws for days, but that doesn’t make his act any less kind.

Let’s go a little further into the pear analogy before we conclude. You know how when a pear isn’t quite ripe enough, and you try to eat it, it’s hard to bite? Well, sometimes God gives us the chance of a lifetime, to do an act of extreme kindness, something that is (like an unripe pear) hard to bite into. An act of extreme kindness will always be life-changing, either for yourself or another, and it may also require self-sacrifice.

The three examples mentioned above are kindness, but they are not really toilsome in nature. It can be fun to be a good friend or pay for someone’s chips, because you usually get to see a person smile or feel good about what you did, and that makes it “worth it” in your mind. With extreme kindness, however, nothing is gained from what you did, or perhaps you will not be able to see the person’s reaction, or even the person may not want it, but it will undoubtedly help that person.

The Bible is an effective source for examples of extreme kindness. Here are 5:

  1. In 1 Samuel chapter 24, David had a chance to kill Saul, his pursuer, in the Rocks of the Wild Goats. Saul was plotting to kill him, chasing after him with a deep vengeance, yet David did nothing more than cut his cloak while he was vulnerable (unable to fight back), and he even felt sorry for doing that! David’s extreme act of kindness was life-changing for Saul and completely at his own expense. Saul didn’t want it, he didn’t ask for it, but afterwards, he was blessed.
  2. In Genesis 13, Abraham bestowed kindness on his nephew Lot when he gave him the choice of land in front of them, as they both decided to part ways, since their herds were getting too large to continue intermingling. The kindness was extreme because Lot decided to choose the lush, fertile land for himself, leaving Abraham with the drier, less convenient spot.
  3. In Luke 21, we see a touching incident where Jesus looks up and sees a poor woman putting two small coins into the tithing box. She was being extremely kind to give all that she had – in the Scripture it says she literally gave “what she needed for her own living.” In this case, the house of God could have said “Who cares?” since she gave very little in proportion to the richer folk… but Jesus recognized her worth.
  4. In Acts 9, a Christian man named Ananias was directed, by a dream from God, to go meet Saul (not the same man from David story) in order to help recover his health and learn more about the gospel. Ananias was scared to death. Saul was famous for killing Christians like himself! However, he trusted God and helped Saul, despite his personal safety, proving his kindness.
  5. We cannot ignore the ultimate gift of kindness Jesus Christ did for us all by dying on the cross. He didn’t want to do it, but he did because it was right, and because he was born for that very reason. You can read about his days on the cross in whichever gospel: Matthew 27, Mark 14-15, and Luke 23.

“But God, the One Who saves, showed how kind He was and how He loved us by saving us from the punishment of sin. It was not because we worked to be right with God. It was because of His loving-kindness that He washed our sins away. At the same time He gave us new life when the Holy Spirit came into our lives.  God gave the Holy Spirit to fill our lives through Jesus Christ, the One Who saves.  Because of this, we are made right with God by His loving-favor. Now we can have life that lasts forever as He has promised.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLV)

As Christians, God does not always require extreme kindness. Most days, making our friends and family smile is enough. But if in your life you feel a dire need to show kindness, like, there’s something you must do that only you can do, and the Spirit urges you to act, probably for someone else’s safety or their salvation, be comforted as you decide whether to do it; if you choose yes, God will forever remember you; He will thank and reward you personally when you come into heaven, and on that day, so glorious and bright, the heavenly hosts will be overflowing with kindness, and the God-of-Angel-armies will celebrate with you; on that day, you will understand the meaning of all the kind acts you did, both soft and hard, casual and extreme – let that be the reason to choose yes!

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Love is a Strawberry

There was this time, a few years ago, when my mom was gardening and she saw her new strawberry plant had a tiny fruit on it. It was the teeniest thing, about the size of a Tic Tac. She wanted to taste it so much. Knowing plants, there was a chance no more berries would grow that year, because it was only a baby plant. However, that didn’t stopped Mom from acting in love: instead of enjoying the berry herself, which would have been easy to do being the first to see it, she brought that little fruit inside the house to show it to Kat and me. She cut it into two small specks, giving me one piece, Kat the other.

“Try it!” We did indeed. She wanted to know what it tasted like. Tart and juicy, it was good like unsweetened jam. So good! But the taste wasn’t as good as the love Mom shared by sacrificing the only taste that plant would give us that year.

Of course, next year the strawberry bush grew three berries instead of one. One was an inch big, the other two smaller. Mom let us half the bigger strawberry, she tasted the smaller one, and left the last one for the birds. Still, she was thinking of others besides herself, even the birds.

Some call the love Mom showed us “a mother’s love”. It is the same type of love that agape (a Greek word for “love”) is, which the Bible speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13. However, agape love acts this way for everyone, all kinds of people, no matter what age, gender, color, race, or person they are. If a person acted in agape love, an enemy could be gifted the same way as a family member or friend.

Agape is the love Jesus acted on when He died on the cross to save the world.

Three Scriptures which express agape love:

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Someone might say that a person who loves is like a strawberry plant. The love-bearer begins as a baby plant, producing only one berry, or one act of love, but as the plant grows the fruits produce more and more. By starting small, thinking big, and acquiring more knowledge of God, you can fall deeper “in love” with Christ, meaning gain understanding of who he is and how to imitate him, and then the love in your heart will grow more each year. As love grows, you will begin to know how, more each day, Christ would want you to treat others, therefore, you will become a vessel of agape love.

  1. Start small.
  2. Think big.
  3. Learn who Christ is.
  4. Watch love grow!
  5. Slowly begin to love others.

Sure, there will be hardships. It’s not easy to love endlessly. We’re not robots; we’re beings, created to produce thoughts, feelings, and opinions. So yes, it may be that you give a strawberry away and a person doesn’t receive it well – for example, the strawberry (your act of love) is placed on the counter, forgotten, and fuzzes, and is no longer enjoyable – but it didn’t start out ruined; your intention was never for your love to ruin. But it happens, sometimes.

No matter what, continue to love, continue to produce fruits, and even if some of your acts of love are not taken by the receiver the way you want them to be, remember, it’s not your power to keep the love fresh once it’s been given away. Your power is in the production.

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