God’s Creation Sings the Glory of God

BANG, BANG, BREATHE

When you look around you, no matter where you live, you can see the beauty of nature. You see, the universe in which we exist, and the planet that serves us as home, are equally complex and beautiful, even perfect, in their design. They literally shout out the existence of the Designer.

Psalms 19:1-2 state exactly that fact. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.”

So many things about our home, the earth, shout out the existence of my God. Think about the earth, itself. The size is perfect. If the earth was smaller, it would be impossible to hold an atmosphere. Earth would be more like Mercury. If the earth was larger, free hydrogen would be prevalent in the atmosphere. Earth would be more like Jupiter. Earth is the only known planet, where we find a perfect atmosphere for the preservation of life. The atmosphere of our home planet is composed of the perfect mixture of gases to sustain life.

The earth is located the perfect distance from the sun to insure against freezing or burning up. A longer distance would cause us to freeze, and a closer distance would cause us to burn.

Our moon is also the perfect size and distance from the earth to provide the necessary gravitational pull to move the oceans and keep them from becoming stagnant, while keeping them from flooding across the continents.

Earth is the only object in the universe, on which we know there exists water. Water is an essential ingredient for sustaining life. The earth contains the perfect hydrological system. The salt water of the oceans evaporates, leaving the salt behind. The evaporation forms clouds, which distributes the water content as rainfall over the continents.

On top of these key universal designs, the complexity of the human brain and eyes are a subject well worth studying. Animal life and plant life are both equally complex in design in every phase.

The complexity of DNA is equally amazing. In every cell of our bodies, there exists this complex and detailed instruction code. It is equivalent to a miniature computer program. This code is a program of 3 billion letters, which tells each cell how to act. It is our cellular operational manual.

When you look at just these few things, which I have described, how could such complex designs be the result of chance? Is it even remotely possible that this is all the consequence of some chance explosion, as presented in the big bang theory? Physics tells us that explosions result in chaos, not in orderly creation. Yet, we are bombarded with the opinions of scientists, PhDs, and educators that this grand design is simply an “accidental product of evolution.”

So, to fairly compare the big bang theory to a real life experience, let me present a similar concept. Let’s say that I stand, with you, in front of Mt. Rushmore and declare to you, and to all others within hearing distance, “Isn’t it amazing that this wall of rock has re-created the faces of 4 of our countries presidents, all produced accidently by erosion?” Would you declare me a fool? Science would. Yet, those same scientists present their incredible theory that every bit of perfection found is the result of an accidental explosion.

Psalms 53:1 tells us “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

There is a great book, by Ray Comfort, titled “You Can Lead a Scientist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think!”

A truer title could not have been chosen to discuss atheism.

I choose to accept the reality of my Creator, being my God, not some freak explosion creating order, instead of chaos. I chose to believe that I am made in the image of my God.

Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, written about the time of Abraham, over 2000 years before the birth of Christ, and yet Job has this keen insight into the workings of the major organs of the human body.

Job is beset by a lot of misery, including the death of his 10 children. He loses everything, all of his livestock, and all his valuables, all in a single day. To add to his misery, he becomes enveloped in a plague of boils.

A group of his friends come to console him, but instead they cast accusations about his relationship with God.

In his rebuke of these guys, Job makes some interesting comments. First, he tells them to consult nature, and they will see that God is in control. He tells them that the soul of every living thing and the breath of all mankind, are in the hand of God.

Daniel says a similar thing, when he is rebuking the king for taking sacred items from the Jewish temple and using this to drink and be merry. Daniel said to the king “The God in whose hand your very breath is, you have not glorified”.

Another interesting scripture is found in Leviticus 17:11, where we are told “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.”

In our body we have voluntary and involuntary muscles. The voluntary muscles are attached to the skeleton. They are controlled by the brain.

When my son goes into the gym to keep his muscles so highly developed, he is working the involuntary muscles, attached to the skeleton and controlled by his brain.

Involuntary muscles are not attached to the skeleton and not controlled by the brain.

Your heart is an involuntary muscle. Your lungs are involuntary muscles. You don’t have to think to breath. You don’t have to think to insure your heart pumps your blood.

The lungs provide oxygen to the brain, with which we are able to think. The heart pumps the blood within our bodies, within which is contained the life of the flesh.

All this is controlled by involuntary muscles, over which you and I have no control. They are in the control of God.

Those muscles on which your life depends, God does not put in your control.

God maintains control of every heart and every lung. He alone has the power to allow or remove breath. This is great wisdom.

I would think we would all desire to learn the ways of God, so that we can do those things that are pleasing in His eyes, and discontinue the action to remove Him, and any reference or mention of Him, from every aspect of our lives.

It does not seem to me to be terribly wise to use the breath given by God to speak in opposition to the things of God.

Just my thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Listen and Receive Your Miracle

You can’t pay for your miracle, but you can receive it.

“If you have power on the inside, you don’t need power on the outside.” ~ Steven Grant

You need to hear this message. You need to stop what you’re doing right now and listen to the message presented below. It will literally CHANGE your life.

Take a moment right now, and listen.

“Stop thinking your circumstance limits GOD.” ~Steven Grant

Right now, if you have a need, and you are asking God to fix it… Your circumstance doesn’t matter, but they health of your soul does. Are you right with God? If you’re not, get right with God and then ask again, and BELIEVE.

Click the arrow and listen, now.

This message comes from the heart of one of God’s chosen servants. When he speaks, you can bet your bottom dollar he’s been in the presence of God listening, reading, and hearing God’s voice. The treasure he offers here is insight we often need to remind us that God’s power is within us, and when we accept the gift of salvation, ask God’s forgiveness of our sin, we are the redeemed of the Lord.


Fear – 365 Times, God said, “Fear Not.”

Felt a bit of fear for some friends of mine in Hawaii today (Love you, Troy and family), and decided to post this. Also, with the death of Scotty, I am also posting my thoughts on death. I have posted those thoughts before, but I think these thoughts might be beneficial to some folks who have lost loved ones recently. For those of you I tag on this post, I won’t tag on the Death posting, but if you haven’t read them they will be on my wall. Love you all!

FEAR

The times in which we live seem to get uglier as each day passes. Korea seems to be pushing us on a daily basis, shooting missiles at random, and threatening to destroy our country. On Saturday of this week, there was an actual alert in Hawaii that a missile was headed toward them, and folks were rushing to safe areas in fear of what might be occurring. We have continuous warnings of wars and rumors of wars and, even though our county seems to be heading in the right direction, most of the world is in danger of the financial collapse of the world monetary system. Even the U.S. has quickly surpassed 20 trillion dollars in debt, with no reduction in the budget, seemingly no accountability by our elected leaders. We are finally preparing to tap into our own plentiful petroleum reserves, but we remain dependent on those who hate us. This is all bad, but there is even worse news for many of us.

You see, hatred toward true Christianity is growing, Satan is taking over the pulpits, with teachings about how there are many roads to heaven, and acceptance of sin is now the politically correct sermon being sounded all over the airways. It seems the only thing that is not accepted as “okay” in our current environment is Bible based Christianity. If you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, you are a hate monger. Every other religion is allowed to attack Christianity, but Christians are fast losing the ability to preach the Truth from a Biblical perspective. Most messages in our churches today are watered down in an effort to show tolerance toward those who have chosen to live a sinful life. Over the past several decades, the federal government has been taking more and more control of our lives. On top of all that, murder, theft, adultery, homosexuality, debauchery and all else that God hates is growing at an alarming rate. Even the nation of Israel is in under a constant threat of being squished like a bug by the big boots all around them, except for the God of Israel.


The Bible tells us that, when Israel fell out of the protection of God (13 different occasions in Judges, alone), if was due to the fact that “…….every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” This was true in the days of Noah and in the days of Lot. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it? Folks do what they feel in right, even if it is in direct conflict with Scripture, all in the name of tolerance and political correctness. This is actually being taught in our churches. The problem is that it has always led to God pulling away and letting folks suffer the results of their own choices.

It’s easy to see how that doesn’t work. It’s anarchy. Even when you have a council, it can be an evil council. What Israel did, in each case, was inexcusable, and there is no rational justification for the actions of these people. We have to be guided by the law of God, by principals. Unfortunately, man must have laws and must have proper enforcement of laws, or else there’s a total breakdown in the whole social structure.

There was no king in Israel, everyone was doing right in his own eyes, and we see the results. We see the horrible crimes that were committed against others. The Bible tells us that we should have respect for those who are in authority and have power over us, because God has appointed them.

Man needs to have laws and man needs to have enforcement of those laws. Can you imagine if there was no law enforcement in your community for even a week? None of you would be safe. Driving home tonight would be the most frightening experience of your life, because people are crazy! We need to be protected against ourselves.

We need to be governed by principals. Those who have come to Jesus Christ have become subject to the principals of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Man’s laws are for people with no principals. Paul said that we are to love one another, even as we love ourselves. If you are governed by the principal of love, you need no law. Against such, there is no law. If you have a real love and concern for the person next to you, as much as you have for yourself, you would need no law at all. You don’t need anybody to tell you not to hurt him, or not to take from him. Laws are for the unlawful, and they are a necessary part of our society.

Israel was in bad shape, yet God still owned them as His people. What is true of Israel, is, I’m afraid, true of much of the church. The church is in bad shape. Everybody seems to just do their own thing, what’s right in their own eyes. Oh, how we need to seek God and wait upon Him.

We are in the biggest mess since the days of Noah, and something big is definitely on the horizon. Fear abounds everywhere. We are in deep dung. It becomes increasingly difficult to get up in the morning and make it through the day, for fear of what may come next. I recently heard the comparison of being in a 747 at 40,000 feet, when the engines go out. The only direction available is down.

I have to ask myself, “How can anyone face this world, without a constant and agonizing fear?” Without my faith in Jesus, I know I could not. With my faith, I honestly am a bit excited to see the fruition of my faith.

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In the King James Version of the Bible, the term “fear not” occurs in 144 verses and 63 times exactly as quoted. It would seem to me that God does not want any of His children to have fear in their hearts.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

What it says is that perfect love casts out all fear. This is only certain, when the love of God is within us. With that Truth, the fear of the world diminishes.

Those folks that are my age fear more for what may become of our children and grandchildren. That is a natural fear for what our kids may experience. This world does not now, nor did it ever, offer much. Our only real hope of happy living is found in Jesus Christ. Unless you have it, you won’t understand it, but it’s true. Many of you may read this and laugh, others will get half way through and shrug it off as another one of Don’s nutty rants. But, maybe this scripture will shed some light on where I base my thoughts?

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

The destiny of humanity is on a collision course with this world. We cannot imagine the terror that is ahead. If you think this is bad, judgment is just clearing his throat.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” (John 14:27-29)

Just my Thoughts!
Don D. Stephens

Spiritual Types and Symbols – Article Two

The first part available below. 

In my first article on the symbolism of numbers as used in the Bible, I said this next article would cover how numbers double as letters and what that means when studying the Bible. Before I do that, I thought it helpful to cover more ground on the symbolic use of numbers in the Bible.

Let us begin by studying the Tabernacle of Moses.

II Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

Romans 15:4 says, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope”.

There are other verses, in both Old Testament and in the New, that teach us that the things, everything, in the Old Testament is there for us to be taught and to learn from. Because they do not understand some of the things in the O.T., there are those who teach that it is does not apply to us today. They are wrong. Unless we are specifically told that something in the O.T. does not apply to Believers today, then we must follow those scriptures, like the two above, that tell us that everything in the Bible is there for us to learn from and that it is profitable for us.

1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition.”

What are some of those things and specifically how do numbers relate to them?

One example is in the arrangement of the camp of the Israelites when they camped in the Wilderness during their 40 year journey to the Promised Land.

Why specifically was it a 40 year journey? That is symbolic of the fact that they were being tried and tested and judged on that journey. Forty, remember, is a multiple of four, and four is the number of trial, testing and judgement.

But what of their encampment? When they camped they were commanded by God to place the Tabernacle of Moses in the center of their camp, with three tribes on each side of it. Three remember is the number of God. The tabernacle of course contained, among other things, the tablet with the Ten Commandments on it This table was in the Ark that was carried by the priests. The Ark symbolizes Jesus, for He Himself said that God’s word (the Ten Commandments) was hidden in His heart. The Ark was kept in the center of the camp. This tells us that Jesus is to be the center of our lives, just as the Ark of the Old Covenant was kept in the center of the Israelite encampment. The Ark was surrounded by various other sacred objects, each of which was kept from public view by curtains that surrounded it. Three tribes on each side of the curtained enclosure mean that God – for three is the number of God – surrounds each of us, as a part of His Church, protecting us. We are protected, of course, only as long as we remain in the will of God, staying close to Jesus. Likewise the Israelites were protected only as long as they stayed in their assigned places, both when marching and when settled in their camp.

Since the area of the Tabernacle was longer than it was wide, the Israelite camp was formed in the shape of a cross. The same form was there when they marched in formation. The Tabernacle had three parts, the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. The only entrance to the Tabernacle was on its east side. Remember that Jesus said His return would be like lightening, flashing from east to west? This is typified by the entrance to the Tabernacle being on the side that faced east. The entrance way was through curtains supported by four posts or pillars. One thing the four pillars typify is the four gospels, which point us to Christ, telling us of His birth, His teaching and ministry and of His death in behalf of lost mankind. Since four is the number of judgement, trial, and testing, when we come to Jesus we must admit that God’s judgement on us is true, that like all mankind we have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that we are deserving of eternal damnation. To be saved we must repent of all the times we went our own way and did our own thing, even if it seemed good in our eyes.

Going our own way is God’s definition of sin. As we read in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and (or but) the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. Once we recognize that going our own way is sin, then we must accept that only by giving our life to Jesus can we be saved. He died for us that we might live for Him. Since four is the number of trial and testing, the four pillars are also there to remind us that it is through much tribulation on our part that we enter the kingdom of God. Acts 14:22.

The Outer Court was surrounded by a high curtained fence, as has been said. It was too high for anyone to look over it. This tells us that the secret things of God are hidden from the understanding of the lost. Nor do we learn all the secret things of God upon entering the Outer Court, that is upon being saved. We are saved, but we still have much to learn. The door is open for us to learn and to get closer to God, but whether or not we will is up to us. There are degrees of reward in heaven, and what the reward we get is to be as close in relationship to God in heaven as we were on earth. Unfortunately, most people go no further than a salvation experience. If they go further it is usually due to their own efforts, for the typical church teaches no more than that. The Bible teaches that being born again is only the beginning, but today’s churches typically do not teach that there is anything for us beyond being born again. More unfortunately even than that, some no longer teach that we must be born again. All their emphasis is put upon what God can do for you. Listening to them, if we believed them, we would begin to think that God was our royal bell hop, waiting for us to summon Him and have Him do something for us, waiting for us to call on Him to wait upon us in some way.

It was said that the Tabernacle had three parts. Those parts were the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. Those three parts symbolize the righteousness, peace and joy that Paul tells us of in Romans 14:17, where we read that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. When we enter into the Outer Court, which is only thru the blood of the Lamb, we are then counted righteous, not because of our own goodness, of which we have none, but because of the righteousness of Jesus, who died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, that we might be counted righteous in Him.

Whereas the three sections of the Tabernacle give us righteousness, peace and joy, they also stand for, first, the Way in which we should walk, second, the Truth by which we must live, and lastly the Life that we can have in Jesus. This is stated in John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

In the Outer Court we are forgiven and considered righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus, who died for us, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “He (God the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”. In the Holy Place we gain peace, peace of mind and peace with God. The curtained doorway into the Holy Place is supported by five pillars. If you recall, five is the number of grace. It is the grace, the unearned divine goodness of God that allows us to enter the Holy Place. We enter recognizing the Truth that we stand against the enemy of our souls and against the temptations of the present world system only by the grace and goodness of God. We also enter realizing that we have, through the Holy Spirit, the power to overcome all that the enemy sends against us.

The third part of the Tabernacle is the Holy of Holies. All can enter in to the Holy of Holies, but only a few do. Those who enter find that God has become their very life and that feeling fills them with joy. For the Holy of Holies represents God becoming our very Life, our energizer and our Joy. Those who enter into the Holy of Holies are constantly filled with the joy of believing, the joy of knowing that God has become their all in all.

There are two objects in the Outer Court, these are a bronze altar and after it a bronze laver. The bronze altar of course represents sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus when He willingly died for our sins. After accepting Jesus sacrifice of Himself on our behalf, we next come to the bronze laver. This is a bronze pool filled with water. In the water we see our spiritual reflection. We see ourselves as we are, saved but in need of being changed into the likeness of Christ. We see ourselves as saved but still with sin in our lives. Sinful habits, thoughts, desires, all things that we must allow God to wash away from our lives. We cannot do that ourselves, but it is an easy thing for God to do.

When we enter the Holy Place, we must enter thru a door, and there is only one door into the Holy Place. This typifies Jesus, who said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” In the Holy Place there are again only two objects there. Those are a golden lampstand and a table with loaves of bread upon it. The lampstand represents the light of God which comes to us thru the Bible. Just as the Bible has 66 books, so the lampstand had 66 different parts to it. All of them were illuminated by the lamps, which is to remind us that only thru the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit can the Bible be understood. The Table of Shewbread is what the table with loaves on it was called. This represents the divine food that we get from the Bible thru revelation, the divine food that nourishes us spiritually. Remember that Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”.

Lastly, we enter the Holiest Place of All, or the Holy of Holies. This place has no natural light. It is lit up by the ever present glory of God, the visible glory of God, which is called the Shekinah Glory. Again, there are two visible objects in it. One is called the Altar of Incense, where incense burns continually. The ever burning incense represents the constant praise and worship which we can and should be sending up to God. The second object is the Ark, the box that the Israelites carried with them thru the Wilderness. In it was the stone tablet upon which were engraved the ten commandments, along with Moses rod that sprouted leaves and buds, and also a jar containing manna, the food supernaturally supplied by God, the food that the Israelites ate while journeying thru the Wilderness.

The Ark typifies Jesus. This is shown by the items within it. It has the ten commandments within it and Jesus said “Thy word, oh Lord, have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” It has a jar of manna in it to remind us that Jesus is to be our spiritual food. That He will sustain us when nothing else can or will. In John 6:47-51, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The unbelieving Jews did not understand Jesus. Jesus had to explain even to His own disciples that what He meant was that they could only draw true nourishment thru Him and that it was spiritual nourishment that He meant.

There is more that could be said about the Tabernacle, but this much should suffice for now. Just remember, there is always more to be learned from the Bible.

See Jim’s Book below “Adam and Eve are Real.”


God Created the Heavens & the Earth

In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth.
1) A prayer of David.
Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from YOU;
may YOUR eyes see what is right.
Though YOU probe my heart,
though YOU examine me at night & test me,
YOU will find that I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
through what YOUR lips have commanded.
My steps have held to YOUR paths;
my feet have not stumbled.—Can we make the same claims David did? Are our lips deceitful? Do we hold to HIS path?
2) I call on YOU, my God, for YOU will answer me;
turn YOUR ear to me & hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of YOUR great love,
YOU Who save by YOUR right hand
those who take refuge in YOU from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of YOUR eye;
hide me in the shadow of YOUR wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.
They close up their callous hearts,
& their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.—Ah, the comfort to know that God keeps us as the apple of HIS eye & hides us in the shadow of HIS wings. HE shows us the wonders of HIS love.
3) They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;
with YOUR sword rescue me from the wicked.
By YOUR hand save me from such people, Lord,
from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what YOU have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
may their children gorge themselves on it,
& may there be leftovers for their little ones.
As for me, I will be vindicated & will see YOUR face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing YOUR likeness.—In his 1st letter Peter tells us to be alert because the devil prowls around like s roaring lion. I believe he was referencing this passage in Psalms where David refers to his enemies being like hungry crouching in cover to attack.

Thank YOU, Lord, that you do vindicate us when we cry to YOU. That YOUR sword rescues us from the wicked & YOUR hands saves us. Are we satisfied to see YOUR face?

With Marylou Greene


It is Well with My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul

“It Is Well With My soul” is an old hymn with a famous story. There was a man, Horatio Spafford. He was actually Presbyterian layman, back in the 1800s. He lost everything he had in the Great Chicago Fire and worked very hard to regain it. He and his family were going to go to Europe, partly for a ministry trip with Dwight Moody, a great preacher. He had to remain in Chicago on business a couple of days, so he sent his family on ahead.

The ship his family was on was struck by another ship and it sank. All four of his daughters drowned. His wife cabled back to him this tragic cable with two words, “Saved alone.” He got on the next ship, and when it reached the same point on the ocean where the first ship had sunk, where his daughters were lost, he wrote these words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Today ask yourself the question…is it well with my soul or are there some changes that need to be made?

with Dennis Bradley

New Year Encouragement

How to Face a New Year with Faith and Encouragement

Like every New Year we face, the one ahead of us promises to hold blessings as well as trials and difficulties. LeAnne and I have an extensive prayer list we work through and everyone we know is struggling in some way. I thing we all need a constant reminders of the fact that we are not alone. God is more aware of and more deeply touched by our painful situations than we are.

We are challenged in the scripture to keep our eyes on Jesus. This is important because in our pain we are tempted to keep our eyes on our problems rather than on the problem-solver.

When Paul and Silas we on their mission trip to Lystra, Paul was stoned to the point they thought he was dead. Believe it or not he returned to Lystry not long after that with these words, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:21-22

“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Yep, I’ve got ‘em, you’ve got ‘em, we’ve all got ‘em. Tribulations! Like we are told in Job 5:7 “Yet man is born to trouble,
As the sparks fly upward.”

So how do you deal with it?
Acknowledge God in the midst of it. The God who has the hairs on your head numbered isn’t taken by surprise by your problems. He always has a plan and a purpose.

The most powerful thing we can do is give thanks. Why? Because it shifts the balance of responsibility to solve this from you to God. In fact we are commanded to do this in 1 Peter 5:6-7
6 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Humbling ourselves means we believe we can’t solve our problems without his help. Remember what Jesus said in John 15:5 “without me you can do nothing.”

So for the New Year please grasp this truth:
Cancer doesn’t have the last word
Unemployment doesn’t have the last word
Depression doesn’t have the last word
Illness and injury don’t have the last word
Rejection doesn’t have the last word
Relationship problems don’t have the last word
Death doesn’t have the last word

Jesus has the last word on everything! Keep your eyes on him then you can say with Paul, 2 Cor 7:4 “I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.”

Praying for a New Year filled with the presence of Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him!

Pastor Dennis Bradley


When Geese Fly Over…

Photo and Content by Dennis Bradley

LeAnne and I live just north of Des Moines and where we live just happens to be right in the center of a flyway for migrating geese and ducks. Last week I was coming out of my house to go to church and I could hear the geese flying overhead. I thought about my grandfather Cline Lloyd Bradley and I remembered this little piece I picked up years ago:

Most birds migrate in silence, but not the geese. Whether you are walking down a city street, standing in a suburban back yard or working in a rural wood lot, you know when the geese fly over. First you hear that distant gabble, a faint clamor that seems to echo from the whole sky. You search the sky, and the gabble comes closer. Then you see them, flying high, marking a V almost like a pencil line of dots.

You listen and watch, and the flight is so high it seems almost leisurely. If it is a close V in formation, it is almost certainly Canada geese. If it is a looser V, rippling and waving, or if it is a long line like one leg of the V, it more likely is the less common snow geese. Whichever, the flock’s gabbling is like the voice of restless autumn, and the flight never wavers. On and on, over the hills and the towns and the cities, to the far horizon and still…beyond, southward. And only that restless echo, faint and haunting, remains.

They are footloose as the autumn wind, and they follow the sun. There is something both exhilarating and faintly sad in the echo of their going. Maybe it is the echo of another summer gone. Maybe it is the freedom song of the skies. Whatever, it haunts the earthbound heart.

I will tell you what haunts this earthbound heart. To observe the old grey-headed saints of God like my 98 year old grandpapa, Cline Bradley , who had fought the good fight, kept the faith, and who go off into eternity knowing they will inherit that heavenly country and instantly are present with the lord. I hear the echo of their going as they follow the Son …. I am restless. I yearn to go with them because eternity is in my heart. Heaven is my home. I was made for it. So were you if Jesus is your savior.

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SCREAMING IN THE STREETS

People of Justice Proverbs 29:7, 31:8-9, 16:11, 21:3

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS: People of Justice Proverbs 29:7Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 31:8-9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 16:11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 21:3Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)

The stories we tell as a culture, in many ways, shape the lives that we live. They shape the direction we go, they shape the values that we hold. It shouldn’t be any surprise to you that the same was true for the nation of Israel. The stories that they told and that God commanded them to tell and retell were intended to shape the lives that they lived. One of the most prominent stories that the Israelites told over and over and over again, both through festival and ritual and through direct command from God, was the story of their exodus from slavery. All over the pages of Scripture we find this command “Remember where you came from Israel.” Israel was under the mighty, oppressive hand of the Egyptians for 400 years. They were commanded to make bricks without straw; they were beaten down; they were oppressed, and God miraculously and mightily stepped in….and you may have seen Charlton Heston reenact it….but He stepped in and led them out of Egypt. He parted the Red Sea; they walked through it on dry ground. They wandered around in the desert for 40 years and God shaped them and formed them as a people, then eventually led them into the Promised Land. He gave them this command: Never forget where you’ve come from. Don’t forget what it’s like to be on the bottom as I bless you, God said. You are intended to be a people who bless those around you and don’t forget…don’t forget…don’t forget about the least vulnerable people. Remember, that’s who you were when I took you by the hand and I led you into freedom. In the book of Deuteronomy, it’s not unique and just one passage, we start to see this shine through. Speaking to the nation of Israel, God says: You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner (foreigner or immigrant) or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut. 24:17-18Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) This is a formative narrative for the people of God. Never forget where you’ve come from.

Why does God have to command Israel to remember? Because they’d forget. The same is true for you and me. It’s easy to forget where we’ve come from when we stand where we are. So he says to them, my nation, my people, my voice, my light, will be a people of justice. Not just a people who can serve you back, and not even to people who are part of your nation, but you’re going to be a unique people amongst all the people of the earth, because you’re going to do justice to the sojourner, to the fatherless, to the widowed, to the groups of people that everybody else takes advantage of. You’re going to be unique, Israel. Why? Because you remember what it’s like to be on the bottom. The hard part is….you forget. The hard part is we trend away from justice naturally because it typically doesn’t benefit us.

My oldest son has a strong sense of justice. So when it’s his birthday he expects to get presents….because that’s what’s right. But the thing is, he expects to get presents on everyone’s birthday! He’s going, “Why did Avery get that?” Well, because it’s her birthday. Well, what am I going to get? Why did Avery get to have that friend over? When is my friend coming over? Your friend’s been….he lives at our house, man! {Ethan} has a strong sense of justice through his own lens. Only when it benefits him does he want justice! {Will you look up at me for a second?} We never grow out of this. This is part of what it means to be human. We have this deep longing for justice in our souls. If you disagree with me, explain to me why we have CSI:Lincoln, NE?! We have twelve different versions of CSI…Crime Scene Investigators because we love justice. Nobody’s rooting for the bad guy who murdered all the people to get away. Have you ever wondered why that is? We’re all rooting for the person to get caught, for what’s right to be done. It’s the reason the podcast “Serial” was so compelling. Episode after episode. I’m going, “Well, is Adnan guilty or is he innocent and are you ever going to tell me?” The answer’s no, they’re never going to tell you. Spoiler alert—if you’re in the middle of it, you’re going to be disappointed….because you love justice, just like I do. It’s the same reason “Making a Murder” on Netflix was so wildly popular…because we love justice. We want things to be fair. We want things to be right.

I would consider this to be the image of God that’s stamped on the human soul. We want justice, we want right, because we’re made in the image of God. What sin does to us is it turns us and it fractures us. Instead of seeing justice as it is, we start to see it through our lens. We start to see it through the lens of….what benefits me? What serves me? What God says to his people all throughout the Scriptures is listen: He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner (the immigrant, the wanderer, the person without a country to call their own), giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:18-19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) Don’t forget the story!! Don’t forget the bigger narrative that you’re a part of. I redeemed you, I rescued you, and you are to be a people who do the same.

As we see in this passage, justice is really, really, really important to God, because all people are important to God. That’s why it matters. That’s why it matters to God, that’s why it should matter to us as God’s people. Justice matters to God because all people matter to God. In our time together in the Scriptures this morning, we’re going to ask God to press on us a little bit, because, like I said, we start to see things strictly from our point of view and what benefits us. It’s not because we’re intentionally evil or we’re wrong, it’s because it’s part of our human condition. So let’s just admit this morning that we may have some blind spots. Maybe there are some things in our life that we don’t see, so we’re going to go to the Scriptures and we’re going to ask that God would open our eyes and that justice would matter to us because it matters to God. And that justice would matter to us because people matter to us. So even if it costs us something, let’s be people who pursue justice. [00:09:41]

You may be going, alright, Paulson, that’s great, but what is justice? There’s two words in the Hebrew scriptures that are typically translated ‘justice.’ They’re sort of like two sides of the same coin. The first word is the word “mishpat.” {mish-pawt} It’s used over 200 times in the Hebrew scriptures and it simply means “that which is equitable or fair.” To do what’s right. {So, you have this scale in your bulletin….and I understand that if I put all the good things on one side of the scale, it’s going to be uneven. I get it. The metaphor’s going to break down at some point, so we’re going to stack the justice things on one side and injustice on the other.} Equitability means that things are fair and that’s what mishpat means. But it’s more than just correcting wrongs. It’s both punishing the wrong doer, but more than that, it’s restoring the person who is wrong. All throughout the Scriptures, you see this word mishpat that carries with it this relational component…that the person who was taken advantage of is somehow made right again. That they’re made whole. So sometimes when justice is talked about in the Scriptures, the wrong doer, as it were, gets off, but the wronged is restored and God says that’s justice, that’s mishpat. It’s this idea that the wronged is made right and is restored.

We see this all throughout the Scriptures. It tends to focus, in the Old Testament, around Israel being the kind of people who have mishpat, or have justice, towards the people that everybody else takes advantage of. Deuteronomy 27:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — Cursed by anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and widow. If you add “the poor” in there, what you have is what many people refer to as the quartet of the vulnerable. The people that everybody takes advantage of simply because they can. God says, no, no, not my people. They do justice or they’re right in their dealings with everybody.

The second word is similar. It’s the word “tzadeqah” (tsed-aw-kaw’). It means ‘righteousness.’ It means to treat others the way that you would want to be treated. It’s the type of thing where if everybody lived with tzadeqah, mishpat wouldn’t be necessary because people would be treated right. Here’s what God presses on his people. In fact, early on in the Scriptures, you see the calling over Abraham’s life is this — For I (God) have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness (tzadeqah) and justice (mishpat). (Gen. 18:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) It’s the first time the word ‘justice’ is used in the Scriptures and it’s tied together with this term ‘righteous.’ Living rightly in relationship to the people around you. Justice isn’t just this judicial ‘somebody’s wrong and somebody’s right.’ Justice is this relational ‘somebody’s broken and restored.’ That’s what’s at the heart of God when we talk about justice…..people who are fractured being made whole and being made right. So this righteousness is living in right relationship to God and to everyone around us, and mishpat is God stepping in and saying, “I’m going to right the wrongs and restore the broken and heal the hurting.” God says to you and I, “That’s really important to me and it should be really important to you too as my people.” He doesn’t mince words about this. It’s all over the pages of Scripture.

As I said, in your notes you see a scale. It’s a scale of justice. The book of Proverbs is going to take this idea of God’s justice and put it on the ground for us. The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom literature, of short, little sayings that reflect the way God has designed the world to work. One of the ways that God’s designed and wired the world to work is that it would be fair, that it would be just, that it would be good. As his people, he presses on us and says this is not something you get to pray about. You hear me? We don’t get to pray about whether we want to be people of justice. We get to pray about HOW we’re people of justice, but we don’t get to bring this before the Lord and go, “God, do you want to be just?” He’ll come back, “Have you read my word?” This is something I’ve commanded my people from the beginning of time; that you would reflect my heart for all people. So as a follower of Jesus, this just in, you don’t get to pray about whether you care about justice. God cares about it and therefore, he calls his people to care about it. Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, says: “So often there’s a hole in our gospel when it comes to justice.” There’s a lack. There’s a lack of care, sometimes. There’s a lack of voice, sometimes. As we go to the Scriptures today, let’s go with the heart attitude that maybe, just maybe, there’s something that God may have for us. [00:15:46]

If you’ve been with us over the course of the summer as we’ve looked at the book of Proverbs, you know that after chapter 9, it turns into a potpourri of wisdom sayings. There’s not one single thread per chapter, or per section, there’s a number of themes that the author of Proverbs wants to draw out, but they’re scattered all over the book. We’re going to draw together this theme of justice and see the way it plays out over the course of this book of Proverbs. Proverbs 29:7Open in Logos Bible Software (if available). A righteous (tzadeqah) man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. Other versions say a righteous man remembers the poor. Doesn’t just walk right by.

I was reminded of a story I read a while back — In January 12, 2007, a man by the name of Joshua Bell took his 3.5 million dollar violin and went and sat at the entrance of a subway in Washington, D.C. It was during rush hour and thousands of people walked by him as he played this beautiful instrument, in the way only a professional could, because that’s exactly what he was. He played for 45 minutes, six different pieces by Bach. At the end of the 45 minutes, he had $32 in his case. He had 20 people that had stopped, for just a short period of time. The most compelled was a child, who leaned in. The ironic part about it was that three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out a stadium in Boston to play the same violin, the same songs, for the same amount of time…$100 a seat. Context matters. He had dressed like a homeless man to play the violin in the corner and people just walked right by him. Didn’t even notice him. Just in the background. Just noise.

I started to wonder how many people do I just walk by? How many people are in my background? How many people are just noise? The reason God tells his people to remember the rights of the poor is because it’s easy to forget. It’s easy to forget that if we perceive that people don’t add something to our life they don’t deserve something from us or the people around them, or they don’t hold or have value. But God says that in my kingdom things are different. Instead of ignorance….I don’t mean that in the sense that we are actively ignorant, I mean in the literal sense that we ignore things, we ignore people. Instead of that, God says my people are people of compassion. They see the foreigner, the fatherless, the widowed, and the poor and they care. In a book that is all about the Gospel, the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul slips in there what he longs to and hopes to do as he goes to visit the churches in Galatia. Listen to what he says: Only, they asked us to remember the poor… {In the midst of all this beautiful, marvelous, gospel proclamation….Paul says, the one thing I want to do when I’m on the ground, I need to remember the poor and he says…} …the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal. 2:10Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) His preaching was accompanied by his living.

{Will you look up at me a moment?} I’m not, at least in this section, I’m not making a political statement. In fact, I think it’s way too easy to put our calling as a church on politicians. This is our calling as a people of God, not a politician’s calling. Our calling as a people of God is to remember the poor. Let’s not give somebody else the church’s job. This is our job. I think…..one of the reasons I absolutely love pastoring this church is because I think you guys do it in a real beautiful way. In the course of a given month, did you know that there would be over 425 people that come through our food bank to get food? Seventy to a hundred families every single week. We collect between 3,000 – 3,500 pounds of food every single week. This last year, we’ve hosted Family Promise four different times, because you are a church that says if there’s anything within our power to do, we want to provide a place for homeless people to sleep. We partnered with twelve other churches around the Denver area to open the doors of our church to 21 families, to 69 people, with over 100 volunteers (you guys) saying, “This matters to us.” We’ve been able to provide housing to those people four different times throughout the course of this year, because we believe that all people matter to God and therefore, all people matter to us. [00:21:58]

I love this picture of Jesus….when it would have been so easy for Jesus to be on his “mission” and miss the people, we see that your king is the kind of king who, when he sees the crowds, he doesn’t just walk by and he’s not so busy that he looks passed, but he actually sees them. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)) Maybe the question back to God today is God, are there people in my life that I don’t see because of the position that they have? Are there people in my life that I just walk by that have become background noise? That you want me to see, that you see, God, and that you want me to see differently? Did you pray that prayer today? Did you ask him if there are people that you’re not seeing because of where they’re situated or what they lack? God says that my people are the kind of people who take note of the poor and we’ll see what they do in the light of that.

Proverbs 31:8-9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) give us this next invitation to be people of justice. Open your mouth for the mute, {For people that don’t have a voice. God’s people are designed and intended to be a voice.} ..for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. The tendency throughout all of history is to trend away from the poor, away from the needy, away from the oppressed, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There’s never been a time—-unless people were intentional about saying that’s not who we’re going to be—-that it didn’t happen. So God’s says, “I want my people, when they start to see injustice, to not be people who remain silent, but to be people who raise their voice.” To be people who say something. Who, when they see something, they say something. So, it’s this movement from apathy to advocacy.

Let’s have a quick talk. We cannot raise our voice, if we have not first opened our ears. If we haven’t heard the stories of people who are oppressed and listened without a judgmental attitude. Or, if only you would have pulled up your boot straps. Or, if only you would have done what I’ve done. Listen, if they were in your situation, they may have done what you’ve done. But they’re not, they’re in their situation. Until we start to hear people’s stories and start to actually listen to people’s hearts, we will not be able to stand up and speak on their behalf. So before we speak, we’ve got to first listen. What if the church became known as a community where people listened to the stories of the broken? Instead of deciding whether or not we think that they were right or wrong or what they should have done, what if we opened our heart and listened? The tendency in all of us when we are in a system (and we are) that benefits us, it’s hard to see the way that it hurts others. That’s true of human nature, you guys. When we listen, what we start to do is we start to say there may be a different narrative going on that’s other than my own. You do know that’s possible, right? When we listen, we open ourselves up to go, okay, maybe the systems we’re in have some flaws. This just in—they’re designed by humans, they DO have flaws! They do!

How do we become the kind of people…..all throughout the Scriptures, God gives people power so that they would leverage their power for those who don’t have it. That’s the invitation of our God. You do know that Jesus is not down on power? You do know that Jesus is not down on influence? He’s not down on authority. He’s actually down on people in positions of power using the power to benefit themselves rather than to advocate for the people underneath them. You’re looking like you don’t believe me. Mark 10:42-45Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, {See, Jesus isn’t down on power or greatness, he’s down on people of power using greatness to benefit themselves rather than those around them.} and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. {The narrative came in again—don’t forget where you’ve come from.} For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Silence isn’t an option. Richard Stearns, again, said: “A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance in the world.” Elie Wiesel, Jewish author and concentration camp survivor, said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Let’s be honest, guys, as a Church, capital “C” Church, we’ve got a checkered past. I’m going to be an equal-opportunity offender today. We have a checkered past. In Great Britain in 1787, William Wilberforce and his friends started to speak out about slavery in Great Britain. In 1807, they passed the Slave Trade Act that dramatically limited the way that they were able to not only obtain slaves, but for the rightful treatment of slaves. In 1833, that same group abolished slavery in Great Britain. They were holding their Bible in their hand while they did it. Praise be to God! At the same time, on the other side of the Pond, we had people in the United States going, “No, no, God’s for slavery, God wants slavery…” What happened was people that were greedy and needed a system that would perpetuate itself based on free labor, because they wanted to line their pocketbooks, neglected the invitation from God to value all people. They were blinded and they were greedy and it drove them to do things that we would say were wrong or evil. Oftentimes the Church was silent. That’s what prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to say: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

It got me thinking, what are the issues that need the Church’s voice today? We saw one of them last weekend on full display. The issue of racism needs the Church’s voice. It does. It needs us to say that all people are created equal, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Nobody is better or worse because of the color of their skin. It needs the Church to rise up and say, what happened in Charlottesville is symptomatic of what’s in all of us, not just a unique thing that happened one weekend, because a statue was removed. The removal of a statue didn’t create a monster, it revealed it. As a church we need to go, “No, no, there’s a better way. His name is Jesus.” We need to say something about racism.

Did you know that there’s 45.8 million slaves in the world today? Here’s the deal, you guys. Even as I say that—-I had lunch with Dr. Jeff Brodsky, JOY International, this week—-I’ve got stories in my mind. It’s such a huge number that it feels insurmountable. Will you pray about what you and we can do to say with our voice, THAT’S. NOT. OK! I’m not okay with people being treated like that. We believe that justice matters to God because all people matter to God, and we want to be the kind of church that advocates and says yes, we believe that’s true, not only with our mouths, but with our lives.

The issue of abortion. Talk about someone who has no voice. In a room this size, I know that some of you have walked through abortion, you’ve walked through that pain. One, I want you to know that you are welcomed here and loved here. We want you here. We also need to say that our position is that life begins at conception. God cares about all people and God cares about those babies; the one million babies that are aborted annually here in the United States. How do we become the type of church, the type of community, that says no, no, no, these things MATTER to us? We can’t just turn a blind eye. So we choose advocacy instead of apathy.

Proverbs 16:11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) goes on to describe another scene — A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work. Proverbs 20:23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) — Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good. Here’s the picture — If you were selling goods, before 600 B.C. when they developed coinage, you did it by weights. Some people would have a stone on one side of the scale and then put goods on the other side of the scale, but depending on who they saw coming to their business, they would use a different stone. Ironically, if they saw somebody rich coming, they would use the lighter weight so they could give a better deal if you were buying. WHY? Why would you do that? Because you can. Because the poor people didn’t have a voice to stand up and say hey look, can we remeasure? What about that rock behind your table? All throughout the Scriptures, God talks about his scales; the people who use scales and represent Him and carry His name use equal scales. They don’t have one measure for some people and a different one for others. They operate with tzadeqah, righteousness, rightness. They operate with integrity instead of exploitation.

Exploitation is simply taking advantage of somebody because you can. Because you’re in a position of power or authority where the person underneath you doesn’t have a voice. You can rip them off because they don’t have a place to raise their hand and go, “Hey, are you sure that’s how much I should get for working in this factory all day?” The implications for us as people that value right scales are huge, are they not? I’ll admit it…..ALMOST so big that we don’t know where to start. Here’s the thing, if you start being a person that cares about scales, as it were, you’re going to pay more. It’s going to cost you financially…..because you’re going to go, “I might not be able to shop there anymore, because they don’t pay their workers right.” I might not be able to go there….it’s going to cost you financially. Make no mistake about it, it will! You can find out where your clothes are made, and whether or not the farmers who grew the food that goes onto your table got paid a fair wage. You can find out. One of the changes we’ve made at Solid Grounds is that now we’re working with a direct trade source for our coffee. It’s better than fair trade because fair trade gives a fair wage, but direct trade means that the buyers are in direct contact with the farmers and we KNOW that they are helping women who are downtrodden and in need (especially in Uganda). Are we going to pay a little bit more? Yep. Is it worth it? It is to me. It’ll cost you financially. It’ll cost you relationally because you’re going to have people who stand up and say, “I don’t see it that way. I’m not sure I agree with you.” That has to be between them and the Lord. It’s integrity versus exploitation. [00:37:03]

And finally we’ll land the plane here. The book of Proverbs (21:3) says — To do righteousness and justice (mishpat and tzadeqah) is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Here’s what’s going on. What the author of Proverbs just did is attacked and, in some ways, supplanted an entire religious system that was based around when we offer these sacrifices for sin, when we offer these sacrifices for thanksgiving, when we offer THESE sacrifices we are then in right relationship with God. What the book of Proverbs says is whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it there! If you’re not a type of person who does what’s right (righteousness) to the people around you, and you’re not a person who cares about what’s fair and you don’t advocate for people who don’t have a voice, and you use your power to get up one more rung on the ladder, but you sacrifice……..He goes are you kidding me?!! The prophet Amos (5:21-24) says it more strongly, recording God’s words —- I hate, {and just in case you think I stuttered..} I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. {You get this picture of God up in heaven and as his church gathers to worship and doesn’t care about justice he’s going, “La-la-la-la!” But, but, but……} But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. He’s going listen, if you’re not going to be people who care about the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor then don’t come into my house and sing songs about how great I am. I care about those people and I’ve commissioned my body to be a body who cares about those people. As we look at justice, what we find out is that what God is looking for is surrender not singing. He’s not just looking for people that would go through the motions of ritual, but ignore the people that he says I care about.

Matthew 22:37-39Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and he responds by saying — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. {But he goes, I can’t just leave it at one, lest you think you could come to worship and that that would be the end of the game. Jesus says, no, no, no, no, no, the second is like it. It’s from the same place. It carries the same DNA. It’s of the same origin.} ….You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Look up at me for a moment. God never, never divides, in the Scriptures, loving Him and loving others. It’s always vertical and it’s always horizontal, throughout all of the Scriptures. This is God’s call for God’s people. If you’re going, “Hey, Paulson, sounds like a social gospel to me,” I would say to you if the gospel doesn’t have social implications, it doesn’t sound like the gospel. It doesn’t sound like the gospel Jesus preached and lived. It certainly doesn’t sound like the gospel the apostles preached and lived. It doesn’t sound like the gospel that I read about in our Scriptures where God says absolutely do I care about your soul so much that I’m going to give my own Son that you might be redeemed, that you might be made whole, that you might be forgiven, that you might be made right with God, that you would then therefore be like a city on a hill whose light shines. That you would be a people who do justice, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with your God. The mantra of the church from the very beginning is there is no difference between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but we are all one in Christ. Anybody who comes to Christ comes saying, “I am broken and I am in need!”

The beauty of this all is—-as we see these scales in our bulletin—-the beautiful picture of what the gospel does. It doesn’t extinguish or wipe out the scales; what we see is that the cross overshadows the scales. Here’s what we remember in the cross — that we were in slavery and he’s brought us out. That’s our story too. He’s moved us from darkness into light. In the cross we remember that we are better than absolutely no one. The only way we get in is being broken and destitute and receiving the grace of God that’s ours because of the work of Christ. In the cross we remember that we were loved when we were God’s enemies and we’re given the ability by his Spirit to love ours (enemies). In the cross, what we see is that God’s mercy and his justice kiss. Friends, we are people of that cross. Not in a way that extinguishes the scales of justice, but in a way that empowers us to be people loved deeply by God, knowing that we got more than we deserved, that we’ve been freed, and therefore, we say we’re going to be people who use our voice for the oppressed. We’re going to be people who open our eyes and do our best {please, Lord} not to just walk by. We’re going to say integrity’s important to us. It’s hard in a global economy, but integrity is important to us because it’s important to God. And by no means do we want our worship to end with our singing, but we want it to be demonstrated through our lives.

In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College. In that speech, he began with the story of Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle had climbed up to the top of a mountain and he’d fallen asleep for twenty years. {Sounds sorta good some days, doesn’t it?!} Here’s what Dr. King says — “And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. {He woke up and a different person was in charge.} And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.” Friends, I believe that we’re at a significant point for us as a country. The question for this church, for our church, for God’s Church is are we going to sleep through this revolution or will we join in? Let’s pray.

Good God, we know, we trust, based on your character and based on Scriptures, that justice matters to you because people matter to you. We’re here to say we don’t just want to sing worship songs to you, we want to live lives of worship along with you. That you would empower us to be a voice. That you would empower us to carry your name. That you would empower us to demonstrate your love. That even if we benefit from systems that are wrong, that we would have enough integrity to stand up and say so. That we’d have eyes to see people that maybe we walk pass. That we would have a voice to raise on behalf of people that don’t have a voice for themselves. May we be people who remember our story, and may that story shape the lives that we live. That we’ve been rescued and we want to live it. It’s in your name, Jesus, that we pray. Amen.

This is a reprint from Pastor Ryan Paulson of South Fellowship in Littleton, CO.

Gentle as a DOVE

Matthew 10:16
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

When the Shepherd spoke in parables, the people often heard the story. They understood His words, as if he’d spoken them directly. Today, as we watch events happening around the world, Christians foresee eternity with a different scope.

I remember the night I realized my mother was not going to survive cancer. I’d been working and rushing through my work to spend time with her, and she’d begged me to just stop working and come sit with her.  That moment, the one where I sat down and heard her voice, the glimpse of the future that had washed over me as I sat there holding her hand, reminded me that I am not in control.

There’s a greater being, bigger than me, who controls the universe and as much as I wanted that night to last forever… I knew it was in His hands.

I heard parables that night, about so many things… Many of them I’d heard throughout my lifetime.  But this one, keeps coming back to me.

Like sheep

Psalm 78:52
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.

55 He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.

The story that kept weighing on my heart, and needed desperately to be told, was found in Psalm 78, where God shared parables of dark days to come, and allowed the light to shine through those stories of darkness. His light. Shown forth. Brought glory. In our darkest hour, we’re brought forth to the light, by God’s guiding hand. And God protects us.

That’s what the parable said to me. That’s what God’s word revealed.

I’d hung back, waiting for a message. And it was there all along. I struggled through seven years of not knowing, wishing there was something more that I could cling to… Until there wasn’t. There was nothing I could cling to, and mourning wasn’t my thing. I knew, if I’d known anything at all, that I wasn’t to mourn, but to celebrate the life. I was to celebrate the joy of knowing that Mom’s passing had been directly into the arms of God.

And there it was, in the parable she’d mentioned that night.

I have to share that I don’t believe she shared the parable meaning to tell me anything. She was sharing a story she’d shared with me a million times before, and each time something in the story changed. She’d raised a lamb from birth, because the mother rejected the lamb. Her uncle had given her the lamb, she named Lambie, and she bottle fed that lamb and cared for it until it was old enough to butcher.

Gentle as a DOVE

Doves on my window sill have been a symbol of rightness to me. In every home I’ve lived, a pair of doves lived nearby. I remember moving from the apartment when mom passed away, into a house where my family lived for several years.

It didn’t feel right.

We’d moved in December, and there were no doves. In fact, there were no birds. I remember the first picture I took in the house had an image I couldn’t explain, and for days I felt something was missing. I’d never experienced such a vacancy in my heart before that. I felt as if we’d moved into the wrong house.

In early February, before the snow had stopped falling I’d opened my window for some air, and I heard them… A pair of doves had taken up residence in a tree in front of our home.

He led them on safely…

In the parable mom had shared, she kept talking about safety, and reminding me that we would be cared for. The reason she’d shared the story to begin with had been to reassure me, that her passing wouldn’t be a warning, but rather a reveal of future blessings that would rain down. The parable had many phrases that talked of safety and assurance.

  • The sea overwhelmed their enemies…
  • He brought them to the border of His sanctuary…
  • He’d bought them a mountain…
  • He’d cast out the heathen before them…
  • And He divided them an inheritance…

There was much more in the Psalm, and over the seven years, I’ve experienced much that had little to do with God’s provision, and everything to do with lessons God allows us to learn. But there’s so much more…

Because in the end of the Psalm, the parable reveals that David is chosen, and God feeds them, and provides an inheritance.

In the depths of our pain, in our deepest sorrow, God reveals His promises.

I’m not a preacher. I’m not even really a Bible Scholar. I read the Bible and study it, and I often find wisdom and power in the Word. More often, I find sanctity, sanity, and simple instruction for my Faith in Him. I’m led to His promises.

As I studied today in Matthew 10, I was reminded of the parable, and mom’s gentle as a dove warning to “stay alert” in the days to come. I don’t believe she had any idea what was coming politically in our country. But I do believe the parable she shared is relevant in these times as God’s promises are given for moment such as these.

And I was reminded to be wise as serpents and harmless as a dove.

Listen for the doves, my friends. Listen for the dove.

#DOVE #wisdom #warning