Sunday, September 10, 2017

Mr. Joel (song)

           The Hebrew name Joel means "Yahweh is God" and the son of Pethuel sure lived up to proclaiming the meaning of his name through the Bible book named after him. A recurring phrase in the book of Joel is "The LORD your God", which does literally translate to "Yahweh is God", as "The LORD" is the Name rendered as Yahweh or Jehovah in Hebrew. And Joel was calling Israel to return to The Lord our God and repent of sin because the day of The Lord was coming to punish Israel as well as all nations that sinned against Him. And in Joel 2, we are given prophecy about the coming of The Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we see fulfilled in Acts 2. God filled His people with His Spirit to empower them to go out and preach the Gospel. The day of The Lord is coming for us as it did in Joel's time and ravaged the land. While Mr. Jones might be busy counting crows, Joel could have been busy counting locusts as they wreaked destruction on Israel. But God promised that He would restore what the locusts destroyed. Of course, if we don't want to be eating crows, we need to repent of our pride and unfaithfulness as well and return to God Who sent the abundant latter rain to heal Israel just as He does for us through Christ's completed work on the cross and in the empty tomb. So read Ephesians 1-2 for more on the work Jesus did for us, read Acts 2 to see how God's Spirit works through us to share the Good News with others and then turn to Mr. Joel and read!

 Mr. Joel
(parody of "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows; copyright by Nathan Ludwick 5/20/2017)
(The book of Joel, Acts 2)

Sha, la, la, la, la, la, la
Uh huh

It is found in the New Testament
There- 2 Acts, this fellow shared Joel
Peter zones in on their declarations
In 2 Acts- there fulfilled Joel chapter 2
Holy Ghost landing- sons and daughters prophesiers
They're suddenly multilingual
"They're all on something-alcohol"
It's 9 AM- not drunk on alcohol

He's enhanced us- The Spirit- down through God's pouring

Shalom, Hola, Bonjour, Hi ya!
Uh huh

Come on now, Peter
Show us some of that Arabic and Egyptian
Turn in your Bible to (the) book of Joel
(And) get reading
Can you believe this locust scene?
Call a fast and weep- Joel 1- it just pleads

Mr. Joel- read
Tell sons and daughters grisly tale
As you stare and view destruction
The locusts have chewed
Now no food! The locusts did eat
Crying 'cause the crops died
Coming through in sackcloth
Lamenting priests of God- dude!
Look, man, it's near- The Lord's Day

Joel is gonna paint a picture
Look yourself in 2- moon's red, sun's black- Great Day!
All of the dutiful dreamers know it's very, very meaningful
Yeah, well The Lord's Day comes with signs and wonders
Literal or symbolic- it'll be plain
Go review Revelation
You would find 6:12 just says much of the same

Mr. Joel- read!
Look into the future
Don't despair at the total destruction
Verse 2:32
Romans 10 quotes
Go look in 13
Acts 2:21 writes
And God Himself will save us all
For all who on His Name call
Call a solemn assembly
Let's all return to The Lord please
Rend our hearts and not our garments- see

Blow the trumpet in Zion
Ah, everybody declare a holy fast
Oh, return to Me with all your heart
Says The Lord God- what locusts've eaten- I'll pay back
Rejoice in Me- 'cause you can believe I'll send the rain
And I- I want all peeps to come to Me and believe
So believe and receive- yeah

Mr. Joel- read! Judging's due- 3rd. chapter- yo!
So prepare for the Doomsday, all nations
Hey Egypt- you're through
Man, you've got to read in Joel 3:19
You're a goner, Edom- called it
In there Joel chapter 3, there's comeuppance all given out swiftly
For every violence you do
Sidon, Tyre- turnabout is fair play- as you will see
Mr. Joel- read! Pay Me back? Thus says The Lord
What are you to Me, Philistia?
If you're paying Me, it's coming right back to thee
Beat your pruning hooks into spears
'Cause we both know why that you folks're going down
And there is nobody like Me
You're gonna see just that now when My people are redeemed
Pictured in Joel- end scenes- (well) God and His peeps are victorious!


Monday, August 7, 2017

Re: Gifted

       Have you ever had that experience, usually at Christmas, where you get a present that you honestly don't want? And then the gift winds up being given to someone else who promptly gives it to someone else. (Stereotypically, this item tends to be a fruitcake. ;-) Humorously, this is also a common feeling for a lot of Christian singles regarding what 1 Corinthians 7 refers to as "the gift of singleness". In relation to an earlier post I put regarding the topic of singleness, I wanted to offer this follow-up piece that is a reaction to a discussion with fellow Christian friends and singles who differ on how we regard singleness.
      To begin with, Genesis certainly teaches, through the example of God's own observation that it wasn't good for Adam to be alone (thus the creation of Eve), the general principle that humans are not meant to be alone. And marriage is one avenue for fulfilling that need- but it's not the only one and it shouldn't be the primary one. Ultimately, we should find completeness not in a spouse, but in Christ. That's our first and foremost relationship and that one informs and shapes all our other relationships. We also can find togetherness in community with the body of believers- our brothers and sisters in Christ in the church. And of course we also have our blood families as well and friends. The Eros (romantic) aspect of love is the one that we usually hear about and it generally overshadows the Philia (friendship) part of love. (Along with storge [familial] and agape [selfless; charity] For a good explanation of these ancient Greco-Christian terms, I highly recommend "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis. Of course, I also highly recommend everything else he wrote. :-))  
"To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it". - Lewis in "The Four Loves"
        There are two points others have raised about how to regard singleness that I would disagree with though, at least to some degree. While I can understand where some others are coming from who would argue this view, I'm not sure I would term "singleness" as a consequence of living in a fallen world. In a sense that could be true as the relationship we were meant to have with God is broken and we are cut off from that without the intervention of Jesus. Because of His death and Resurrection and our faith in Him, we can have a renewed relationship with God in the here and now and we will experience that fully as God originally intended at the Wedding Supper of The Lamb in Heaven, as described in Revelation 21-22. However, I would have to staunchly disagree with a notion that singleness is part of the curse of sin in the fall. I believe that would go against Christ's words in Matthew 19, where He says there are to whom being a eunuch is given and some make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. I can't see part of the curse of sin jibing with doing something for the kingdom of Heaven.
                I know for singles we don't really like hearing the oft-repeated phrase that "singleness is a gift". I know it sure doesn't feel like one many times. (See this for proof. :-) To go back to my earlier analogy about Christmas gifts, sometimes it feels like that Christmas gift you've been waiting all year to get- and then in the midst of opening presents, you get that traditional gift of underwear. (At least as a kid, this was a tradition at my house. lol :-)) It's one of those things you never really appreciate much as a kid, but at least as you get older you can say, "Thank you" more and acknowledge that it is a necessary thing and it is still a gift, even if it's not really the fun gift you wanted. (When you get old enough to be on your own, you get really thankful for practical gifts like that because you find out how much stuff costs!)
         If I may, I wanted to offer my take on 1 Corinthians 7:7. When I read the verse in the larger context of the chapter, it reads to me that Paul is describing how some have the gift of marriage and some have the gift of singleness. If we acknowledge that God The Father makes some to be fit for marriage and some for singleness, then this would fit well with James 1:17 that tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above, from The Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
        Even if we don't particularly desire to be single and don't really see it as much of a gift (like the aforementioned underwear at Christmas gift), we can appreciate it more as we get older sometimes [Both physically and spiritually in The Lord]. And we have to trust God with all of our lives and if that's where He has us for now, we can trust that He has a good plan in mind, even if we don't understand it. (Acts 17:26, Psalms 138 [especially verse 8]) We might also consider it like how some are gifted with different talents- whether it's drawing or singing (two of which I don't feel too gifted on- lol ;-) Not that it stops me from doing either one)- but both are good gifts regardless.
         This all may sound like cold comfort, but I do believe God has a good plan in mind for everyone and He has a purpose for all of us- and that includes our marital status. For me, I've never really been super worried about the whole dating and marriage thing until well into my late 20s or so- and it was around then that I started seeing (seemingly) all my siblings and cousins and friends getting married and so it felt like I should be doing likewise soon enough. But I had to come to a point where I told God that if He wants me to get married- cool. If He doesn't want me to get married- cool. I'm good either way. I still would like to get married if God leads me to the right woman, but I'll be alright if it doesn't happen too. God uses all of His people for His glory and we can bring glory to Him through both our singleness and our marriage- whichever status He brings us to in His time. And I do think there are advantages and drawbacks to both, as the rest of 1 Corinthians 7 outlines. (And don't get me wrong, because marriage is indeed awesome! Plenty of Bible verses attest to that- Proverbs 18:22, Ephesians 5, Proverbs 5:18, Proverbs 12:4, Proverbs 19:14, Ecclesiastes 9:9, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and others.) But marriage is temporary (Mark 12:18-27) and it's not going to solve all your problems and make your life totally happy all the time. There is the idolatry of marriage there we do need to be careful of falling into as well.
        In the end, we must accept whatever lot God has for us and learn to be content in all circumstances, as Philippians 4:10-20 counsels. (We can do [i.e. endure] all things through Christ who strengthens us. - as verse 13 famously says. Thus, let's do this!) And in all things, whether in word or deed, we must do it all for God's glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31) Of course, we can pray and ask God for a spouse and trust that He may choose to give us that heart's desire. (ala Psalms 37:1-4, as we continue to delight in Him first and trust whatever He gives us.) And whether it happens or not, as Jesus consoles us, for everyone who's left house, land, brothers, sisters, father, mother and even wife/husband and children- for His sake and for The Gospel's sake- (see Matthew 19 and Mark 10 in the KJV), they will receive a hundredfold now in this time-with persecutions- and in the age to come eternal life.
          If you have the time, you may enjoy checking out this sermon from David Platt on this topic. It's very powerful and well worth the watch- He speaks a lot of great points on the topic of marriage and singleness (focusing on singleness, by the way). I found it very helpful and encouraging.
          Whatever your marital status may be, I hope you will be encouraged to continue to seek God's glory above all in singleness or marriage and that God would grant you strength to endure the hardships that come with both and the peace to enjoy the benefits that come with both as well. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Rapture (song)

Note: (This is another entry from the archives. I do hope to eventually have all my previous writings (as much as possible) archived on this blog. That's still a work in progress.)

Given one of the recent topics of this blog, I thought this parody was only appropriate to post. I hope it doesn’t have a jagged edge for my Anglican friends (and any other Christian denominations that don’t believe in the Rapture as Southern Baptists particularly are famous for holding to.) I have tried to only mention what The Bible says about the end times events here- read the passages for yourself and let the Holy Spirit lead you as you read for understanding. I know some folks believe in pre-tribulation Rapture, some in mid-tribulation Rapture, some in post-tribulation Rapture and some who don’t believe in it at all. Regardless of what people believe regarding the timing of events, here’s what is clear from Scripture. Jesus will return one day! One day we who have put our faith in Christ will enjoy eternity with Him in Heaven. Those who have rejected Him will have to face God’s judgment and wrath in Hell. (And we’ll either get to either location through either our deaths or His return and judgment.) The only way I know to soften the blow of those truths is simply this- God loves us all so much that He sent Jesus to die for us and rise again- to endure God’s wrath for all of us so that we never have to. God wants everyone to trust in Jesus so they can avoid Hell and go to Heaven instead! And we don’t know when we’ll die or when Jesus will return. So don’t waste any time- today is the day of salvation! Trust Jesus in faith today! :-)

“The Rapture”
(parody of “The Rapper” by The Jaggerz)
(parody by Nathan Ludwick 11/8/2013)
(Hebrews 9:27-28, John 3:16-17, Matthew 24-25, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and 5:23-24, Acts 1:1-11, 2 Peter 3, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Revelation 3:20)

Hey world, Christ left but He’s coming back to get us!
He’ll find you unaware if Jesus has been barred ‘cause you won’t make Him Lord!
You’ll stay excluded, having to live through wrath of The Lord!

(Chorus 1)
Rap-a-rap-a-rap- we call it The Rapture
Rap, rap, rap- caught up to hereafter

So read 1st. Corinthians- Go in 15- translation!
Christ says there’ll be two work companions- one’s gone; one gets left, dude
He waits such (a) long time- He wants no one (to) be lost, dude

(Chorus 2)
Rap-a-rap-a-rap- He calls at The Rapture
Rap, rap, rap- Noah’s days encore

He’s made restitution- with His death and Resurrection
“Come up to My place,” Christ is calling, “By faith- on Me.”
He loves you and He wants you- World, you gotta face reality!

(Chorus 3)
Rap-a-rap-a-rap- Don’t know when’s The Rapture
Rap, rap, rap- nobody but Father!

Rap, rap, rap- Christ calls- what’s your answer?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Season for the Reason: Free At Last (The Scriptures, Slavery and The Saviour)

       The Bible includes passages to govern a number of things that at first glance might seem weird and disconcerting to a modern sense of justice. One such scenario includes a number of Old Testament and New Testament verses where The Bible seems to endorse slavery. Read Exodus 21, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15, 1 Corinthians 7 and others in The Bible and you will find a lot of verses that deal with this topic.  I admit that to a Western mode of thinking, specifically an American mode of thinking, some of those Bible verses might sound indeed like an endorsement of slavery. However, there are some things we should remember in reading those passages.
         First of all, there is this question to consider. Did God create slavery or did sin create slavery? In those verses and all the others in The Bible regarding slavery, I don't see any where God is commanding the institution of slavery as Americans know it from the very sad history of American colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. However, The Lord God does lay out rules to the Israelites regulating how they must operate within the slavery system that already existed. Laying out rules to govern an institution is not the same as instituting it. (A good example for comparison here is when Israel decided they wanted to have a king like other nations, rather than the theocracy already in place with God as their King and Master. It was not God's desire to have this in place- He directly warned them what would happen with an earthly king, but they chose to do it anyway- and so He allowed them to have a king- and they got Saul. And then David and Solomon and then the kingdom split in two. [see 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel and 1 Kings and 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles for the history on that.] God gave Saul instructions on what to do in his role as king, but this doesn't mean God initiated the kingship rule in Israel- He clearly gave that choice to the people.) Sin led the Israelites to reject God as their ultimate King and choose an earthly ruler instead just as sin led people to take others against their will into slavery.
        Secondly, there are Bible passages that condemn slavery. (see Exodus 21:16 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 for some.) When we read The Bible, we must take the totality of Scripture into account. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting and rebuking. How does the view of God allowing slavery and even encouraging it square up with all the rest of Scripture where God clearly condemns slave-trading in some verses as I just mentioned and makes clear that we are to "Do unto others as we would have done unto us"? (Jesus says this in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31) Remember also that God repeatedly reminds Israel how He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Surely Israelites of all people would know the misery and horrible injustice of unjustly forced servitude and would not look to inflict such pain on someone else. That would go against the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, both those who are of our family and those who are strangers, as Leviticus 19:18 and Leviticus 19:33-34 show.
          Thirdly, we must also consider that The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic and it was written primarily to Jews. Thus, it's important to read The Bible in that context and read it in the mindset of Jewish people from thousands of years back. We need to understand the history, geography and culture of the people the Bible books were written to in contemplating its meaning. And it's important in this case to consider the customs of surrounding pagan nations as well. Israel was a stark contrast to the prevailing ideas and customs of its day in that time. What exactly is meant by the word "slave" in The Bible? The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament passages mentioned at the start of this piece is "eved ivri", which had two categories- a robber paying off his crimes and someone selling himself into slavery out of desperation and destitution.
          The reasons for slavery were different than ones Americans might readily think of, in regards to forced servitude against one's will for reasons of pure cruelty and sin. (Something The Bible condemns in Exodus 21:16) It is also significant to note that there is a continual theme in The Bible, moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, in pushing for freedom from slavery; however, such movements don't happen overnight, but rather over the course of time. (See Leviticus 25, which outlines The Lord's commands for the Year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free in the seventh year of servitude. For a beautiful spiritual comparison, see Romans 6, which talks about being freed from being slaves to sin and becoming slaves to righteousness- slaves to Christ- instead. And then see the book of Philemon where these two concepts- physical and spiritual- come together in the person of Onesimus and Paul's pleadings to Philemon to accept him as a brother in The Lord and no longer as a bondservant- so that he might be both free spiritually and physically. And of course, as Galatians 3:28 tells us, there is no slave or free [or Jew or Greek or male or female]- but we are all one in Christ.)
        This redemptive story of setting physical slaves free reflects the heart of the Gospel in setting spiritual slaves free. We are either slaves to Jesus or slaves to sin. Jesus Christ Himself became as a slave for us, as Philippians 2 says. Though He was God He made Himself nothing and became a slave and humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross! (It's significant to note this because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 and Galatians 3 both say that a hanged man on a tree is cursed. Christ became the curse of sin for us- see also 2 Corinthians 5:21.) For this reason, God has highly exalted Him and given Him the Name above all names that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. God raised Jesus back up from the dead, as Romans 10:9 says. And by our faith in His completed work of righteousness, He saves us from all our sins and will raise us up from the dead as well to be forever with Him in Heaven instead of hell as we deserve. Praise God for His love! His love reaches to all and desires to save all us slaves from the hopelessness of our own sins and set us all free instead to be forever in His presence in eternal joy in Heaven praising Him! And, as John 8:36 says, He who the Son sets free is free indeed! :-)

(See also these excellent articles that I drew some of the above points from for this writing. This article offers a Jewish perspective on the topic of slavery in The Old Testament. It's from the "Jewish Bible Quarterly" and authored by Dr. Shimon Bakon, Editor Emeritus of the magazine.

Here is also a Christian perspective on this question from Andrew Schmidt, a writer for "The Bearing", a leading Australian evangelical publication for over 20 years from Matthias Media.)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Signs and Times

            Since the time Jesus ascended into Heaven, people have been thinking His return and the end of time is imminent. Eschatology (the study of end time events) continues to be a hot topic today. It seems every few years or so, I hear various predictions for the end, even in a vague manner. For instance, here is one such article discussing the possibility of signs in the heavens and their meaning for us with the total solar eclipse coming up in August.
            It's certainly very interesting. And I certainly can't deny that it sure looks like a lot of signs of the end times prophecies are being fulfilled. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, people in past generations all the way to the days of the early church believed that the signs of the end times were being fulfilled and that Christ's return was imminent. I understand that we can look at the signs of things happening in the Heavens, but I have a big problem with anyone making predictions of specific dates. Matthew 24:36 states very clearly that no one but God The Father Himself knows the date of The Lord's return. The Bible tells us more than once that Jesus will come like a thief in the night- He will come suddenly at a time when people do not expect Him.
            I'm not denying that we very well may be seeing the fulfillment of some of The Bible's prophecies for the end. But ultimately, all I can say is I don't care to venture a guess because I don't know for sure. God is in control of everything- including the end times- and He will work all those details out in His time. If anything, I hope such speculation would emphasize the need to tell people about Jesus- that should definitely be what eschatology drives us to do more than anything. However, I don't think we need to share with people about these astronomical signs that may or may not be the fulfillment of prophecies. Rather, we need to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people and let the Holy Spirit work to bring them to salvation. While Jesus does tell us to "watch and pray" in Luke 21:25-36, He also said it is "not for us to know the times and dates The Father has set by His own authority." (see Acts 1:6-8) In that same passage, Jesus tells us what we should do instead. It's not for us to know the times and dates. Jesus then juxtaposes this with saying, "But you will receive power when The Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." There's our mission there- in fact, our Great Commission (as Matthew 28:18-20 issues.)
            Look also at what Titus 3:4-9 says. In verse 8, we are told to stress the Gospel to people- how Jesus saved us through His death and Resurrection. And we are to do it so that those who have trusted in God will be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. Verse 9 tells us what's unprofitable and useless- the first thing on the list is foolish controversies (along with genealogies and arguments and quarrels about The Law.) I would say arguing about when the end times events will take place would count as foolish controversies. Jesus clearly said in Matthew 24 that there would be a number of false prophets saying that "Christ is here" or "Christ is there", etc. He clearly said if they tell you to rush out to the desert because Christ is there- don't believe them! 1 Timothy 6:20-21 also speaks to this. (But of course, Jesus also gave us numerous parables and warning about the end and told us to watch and pray- and we must balance that as well. However, the distinction I'm making here is getting caught up with predictions about the end to the extent that it's causing division in the church [which Titus 3 talks about] or that we become so Heavenly-minded that we're no earthly good, as the saying goes. [The converse is true as well- we can be so earthly-minded that we're no Heavenly good as well.] For further reference on this, just look at 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 2 Thessalonians 3 in particular. We have clear commands against being idle and on how to live with the knowledge that Jesus will return one day and we must be ready- but even more so- we must make sure others are ready by sharing the Gospel with them! [See also 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and 7:1 and 2 Peter 3- particularly verse 14. And Romans 13:8-14 and I'm sure there are others still.]
           And of course, Ecclesiastes 3 is also applicable. To everything- including the end times events- there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven.) I also like to look at John 21:15-25. Here we have the scene where Jesus reinstates Peter and tells him very clearly, "Follow Me." And Peter notices John following them and asks, "Lord, what about him?" And I love Jesus' answer- in effect, He says, "What about him? If I want to be alive until I return- what's that to you? It's not your concern. I repeat- Follow Me." (my paraphrase there.) I think this passage can apply for us following Jesus now. And it's what I've been trying to get at here. I just think it's funny how much time and effort people put into trying to figure out exactly what Jesus told us we are not going to figure out- in fact, what Jesus told us is not for us to know. And He also told us what our focus should be- yes, keep a watchful eye out for signs of His return. Keep watching and praying. When you see these signs, lift up your head for your redemption draweth nigh! (see Luke 21). Keep meeting together in church, keep spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, keep persevering and living by faith. (see Hebrews 10:19-39). Jude 1:17-25 is another great call to persevere. And of course, 2 Timothy 3 and 4. Wow- that says it really well. Preach The Word- be ready in season and out of season. [Also see 1 Corinthians 9:16]
            So what if it looks like signs are coming together for the end times? They are going to do that just as God has prescribed and we really can't do anything about it other than to pray that God continues to extend His long-suffering and patience as He did for Nineveh, because The Lord's patience means salvation! (Don't forget that Jesus gave the sign of Jonah in Luke 11:29-32. But though the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah's preaching- unfortunately, there is also a sequel to Jonah- the book of Nahum. And Nineveh does get destroyed at that time because they fell back into sin.) God will not stay His hand forever. He will judge everyone in righteousness in His due time. And the Gospel of Christ is the only way of salvation for all who will believe on Him. One last thing I was reminded about today just shortly after seeing this email. "But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God." (Acts 20:24 NLT) And- "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ... Therefore, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” [see Philippians 3:7-8 and Job 1:20-22- some of my favorite verses.]
            And another quote I've heard says it well, "...there is great security when God is not just number one, but everything in your life." Sometimes I honestly get scared seeing some of the world events and some of these predictions or reading of the horrible judgments the world will face in Revelation. But I also remember one of the most repeated commands in The Bible- "Fear not." I know God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) And I know that I have (repeatedly :-)) put my faith in Jesus and asked Him to be my Savior and trust that He is faithful to do what He said He would do. I think there is still a human tendency to feel some fright at what we don't know and what we can't control- and the whole idea of experiencing things so different from what we've known. And I know there are a number of verses that talk about longing for the return of The Lord (2 Timothy 4:8; Philippians 1, Revelation 22:16-21 and others). And I remember when I first read Revelation 18 and really understood it- how evil the world system of Babylon is and how much it needs to fall- there are times when I do feel the longing to see Christ return and set right all wrongs. At the same time, there are things I'd like to accomplish in life that I don't know if they will ever happen for me. I'd like to find the right girl and get married and be a husband and a father. I'd like to find myself in the right place where I can do more writing and maybe get something published. I'd like to see more places around the world and continue to visit and connect with old and new friends. And I know all these hopes and dreams are in God's hands too. (Psalms 37:3-11 and Psalms 90:12 and Psalms 139).
           And I know I have to wait on The Lord's timing and trust Him. (Psalms 40). But I also know He must be my greatest desire above all else- as the deer panteth for the water, so my soul pants after Thee, O God. (Psalms 42). I think that's true sometimes- I know it's not true all the time and I know it needs to be true all the time. And that gets me back to the verses I quoted above. Ultimately- for me to live is Christ and to die is gain. That's what my status must be. I know I don't always feel that and I know I don't always live like that- but that's what it must be. Luke 9:23 says that if I want to come after Christ, I must deny myself and take up my cross daily and follow Him. Count the cost! I want my desire to be knowing Christ above all else and counting all else but dung, as Philippians 3:8 says. Because Job 1:21 is also true- naked I came into the world and naked I will depart. I didn't bring anything in and I can't take anything out. May The Name of The Lord be praised!
          Help me, God, to want You and nothing else. Help me to keep trusting You above all else. Even if that means I may never see these things I'd like to see happen come to pass, help me to trust that You have a good plan in mind for me- thoughts of good to prosper me and not to harm me- to give me a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) And to remember that Your thoughts and ways are higher and better than mine. (Isaiah 55:8-11) And help me to remember the truth of Isaiah 57:1-2. Help me to remember that even though no one will marry or be given in marriage at the Resurrection (Matthew 22), no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for You and The Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (see Mark 10:17-31). Like Martha, I'm worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Help me to be like Mary who chose what is better and that will not be taken away from her. Help me to seek Your kingdom first and trust that You will add all that I need unto me. Help me to keep my treasure in Heaven and not on earth. Help me to trust You with everything and let You be my everything. God is in control. All will be done in His time. And He is making all things new! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Heavenly Streets?

       [Note: This is a favorite entry from the archives. It's a treatise of Sesame Street theology! (And yes, Sesame Street is still one of the best shows on television today. :-) There are a lot of things from childhood that still resonate with us and that are common in our experience, no matter the age level. I try to explore that in this blog. As one of my Christian heroes said, "The child is in me still and sometimes not so still." (That's a Mister Rogers quote! :-)) May you enjoy some sunny days where everything's A-okay this week as the Son shines in your life.]

       And because, as I’ve heard it said before, “Everything is theology”, I wanted to share some musings about an unusual place to find theology perhaps- but it’s definitely a great place to learn new things- like ABCs and 123s. You still know how to get there, don’t you?
Nonetheless, lest we forget, can you tell me how to get- how to get to Sesame Street? :-)
       I was thinking on this a while back- there are a number of songs on Sesame Street that may speak to simple themes, but also in some ways point to a much bigger picture. The name of the show itself is taken from a phrase from the “Arabian Nights”- “Open Sesame” is the phrase Ali Baba learns that the 40 thieves use to open the door to their cave of (stolen) treasures. Sesame Street as a TV show strives to be an open cave full of treasure as well- the treasure of knowledge; the path of wisdom. And is that not the longing we hear expressed even in the very theme song- “Sunny days- sweeping the clouds away; on my way to where the air is sweet- Can you tell me how to get- how to get to Sesame Street? Come and play- everything’s A-okay. Family, neighbors, friends- that’s where we meet. Can you tell me how to get- to get to Sesame Street? It’s a magic carpet ride- every door will open wide for happy people like you. Happy people like… What a glorious- Sunny day sweeping the clouds away- on my way to where the air is sweet- can you tell me how to get- how to get to Sesame Street?”……… Sunny days- where the air is sweet and where the clouds are swept away- that description sounds fairly similar to Heaven where God gives us endless happy days with Him for those who trust Him as Savior- and He wipes away all our tears.  And we meet family, neighbors and friends who have trusted Christ as Savior too. It is certainly glorious there- (Revelation 21-22) And isn’t this the end goal everyone wants to get to- yet everyone is asking everyone else, “Can you tell me how to get there?” And of course, as we seek this wisdom- we seek the right path to God- The Bible tells us that we could never know the way on our own- and that’s why God revealed it to us through Jesus- He is The Way, The Truth and The Life- No man comes to The Father but by Him. Proverbs 8 gives us a whole chapter of Wisdom crying out to us and imploring us to seek her and find her. And Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of The Holy One is understanding.” And as we are on this quest, God has given us knowledge of Himself through revelation both in creation and in His Word- and in The Living Word- Jesus Himself. (John 1:1-14) Some of the other songs on the show reveal to me some other theological themes, whether intended or not. These are metaphors that talk of some of the simplest childhood desires and pleasures- but they also reveal something of the “eternity in our hearts” that God has placed in all of us. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
        One of my favorite songs on the show really drives this point home- “Somebody Come and Play”. What a simple invitation but isn’t this the longing we all have within us, both as children and teenagers and adults? “Somebody come and play, somebody come and play today- Somebody come and smile the smiles and sing the songs- it won’t take long. Somebody come and play today. Somebody come and play; somebody come and play my way- Somebody come and rhyme the rhymes and laugh the laughs- it won’t take time. Somebody come and play today. Somebody come with me and see the pleasure in the wind- Somebody see the time is getting late to begin. Somebody come and play, somebody come and play today- Somebody come and be my friend- and watch the sun until it rains again. Somebody come and play today. (La la la la la la……..etc.) Somebody come with me and see the pleasure in the wind- Somebody see the time is getting late to begin. Somebody come and play, somebody come and play today- Somebody come and be my friend- and watch the sun until it rains again. Somebody come and play today.” I hear this song and just think of Ecclesiastes 2:17-26, which talks of how meaningless toil on this earth is and how a man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. But of course, this too is from the hand of God- we really find no enjoyment without Him. As Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 tells us, even when Solomon denied himself no pleasure, he still found that in all that he had done and toiled to achieve- it was all meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Of course, while Ecclesiastes 3 speaks of a time and place for everything, the entire book reminds us of how futile our efforts at pleasure and work and all that we do on Earth really are- outside of God. The full duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments- He’s the only One who brings any fulfillment in life. We all desire somebody to come and play and be our friend because we all have a longing for companionship. Adam felt it in the Garden of Eden when he realized that none of the trees and plants or animals would do it- thus, God created Eve for Adam because He saw it was not good for man to be alone. (Genesis 1:18)
          And while The Bible definitely tells us that he who finds a wife finds a good thing and a blessing from The Lord- and this is certainly a great way that God has provided for that need in our lives- but we also can’t find full satisfaction in any human being. We are all fallible and we all let each other down. God Himself is the only One who never does that and who is always faithful, loving us with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) And ultimately, He is the One we must look to first and foremost to be our faithful, forever Friend and Father. (Psalms 73:24-28)
           What about yet another simple statement that also carries such profound ideas behind it? As Cookie Monster famously sang, “C is for Cookie”- and that’s good enough for me.
Yes, “C” is for cookie. “C” is also for Calvary’s cross and covenant and ultimately Christ- and that’s good enough for me. And He’s good enough for me. Christ is my only righteousness, as I have none of my own. (Which numerous passages make clear- Romans 3:10, Psalms 14:3, Psalms 53:3, Romans 3:23, Isaiah 64:6). This is another incredible idea in God’s Word that we can’t fully understand- but we trust and rest in it- and that is good enough for us. Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us that we are saved by grace alone. Hebrews 9:12-14 says that through Christ’s death and Resurrection, our consciences are cleared when we trust in Him. His righteousness is imputed to us! God no longer sees our sin when He then looks at us- He sees the righteousness of Christ instead! (Romans 5:12-21 explains this beautifully!)
         And then when we realize that gift that God has given us in Jesus and we recognize the life that He has called us to- He should truly become our magnificent obsession, much as Cookie Monster has for cookies. As Colossians 3:1-4 tells us, we have died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. Therefore, we must set our minds on things above, not on things below. Ultimately, we must set our minds on Christ and let Him become our only gain- and count everything else a loss. (Philippians 3- particularly verse 8.) This is a picture of the desire and love we should have for Jesus Christ. As Cookie Monster says- who cares about anything else? C is for Christ- and He’s good enough for me. And what should follow next but naturally a song of praise and thanks to God for being “my very Best Friend- it’s true.” And I can’t think of a song that better espouses this on Sesame Street than Ernie’s classic ode to “Rubber Duckie”. Indeed, Lord Jesus- You’re The One. You make everything so much fun. You are The Meaning and The Inspiration and The Only One who makes something out of my life and life in general. Thank You for giving us life eternal and life abundant. (John 10:10) I’m awfully fond of You, to say the least. (Psalms 73)- Lord, sometimes You aren’t the most overwhelming desire in my life as You should be. Forgive me for those times. Help me to keep You on a pedestal above all else- nothing else in life matters more than You. How could I ever settle for the emptiness of life apart from You? I can’t do anything without You (John 15:5)- I need You, Lord Jesus- every hour I need You, most gracious Lord. Thank You for always being there. But sometimes in this life of faith, that old ugly man of sin rears his head again. It’s a sobering thing when I realize “The Monster in the Mirror” is me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror- I’m asking him to change his ways. But, much as I appreciate Michael Jackson’s directive to start with myself and work on my own plankeye before I try to get the speck out of my brother’s eye, I can’t do it on my own. It is me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer. (Of course, we all are, really though- but before I look to criticize my brother and sister in The Lord- I’m going to ask You to cleanse me first.) (Psalms 139:23-24).
         That struggle between the old nature of sin and new nature in Christ rages on- and I am no one to judge anyone else because I do the same things! (Romans 2 and Romans 14). As Romans 7 says, what a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this cycle of sin I keep getting caught in? Thanks be to God- He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
           And before we judge others, let’s seek to do unto them as we would have them do unto us. (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25- Those that we are quick, like Grover, to “wubba” because they “wubba”ed us first- we must learn to love and learn to do good things unto them. We must love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. And maybe we’ll come to realize that the people of low position we look down on in life- all the ones we would never want to associate with- the ones perhaps we would think of as monsters…. We are no better than them- we are the same- all in the same boat. (James 2:10) We’ve all fallen and are in no place to judge. (Matthew 7:1-3) Rather, speak the Truth in Love (Ephesians 4:15) and love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul was one of the greatest missionaries ever and a powerful man of God- but he never forgot his past as a murderous enemy of God and persecutor of Jesus- just see 1 Timothy 1:15-17 for evidence. But God redeemed even the chief of sinners- and He can redeem any who come to trust in Him. And He has the power to keep us from stumbling (Jude 1:24-25) and keep us from temptation and deliver us from the evil one- we have to trust Him for that and let Him pick us back up when we do fall down. (Matthew 9:6-15 and 1 Corinthians 10:13) The saints are just the sinners who fall down- and God picks back up.
      And perhaps one of the most poignant songs ever recorded on Sesame Street (and of course, it has been performed on The Muppet Show and numerous other places)- Kermit’s swan song. (okay- frog song, I guess. :-)). No, it’s not easy “Bein’ Green”- sometimes I do think it might be nicer being red or yellow or gold- or something colorful like that. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things and people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re not standing out from everyone else…. But green’s the color of spring- and green can be cool and friendly-like. And green can be big like a mountain or important like a river or tall like a tree. When green is all there is to be- it could make you wonder why- but why wonder? Why wonder? I’m green- and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful- and I think it’s what I want to be.
       Ultimately, this song speaks to me about being the person that God made us to be. We are all made in His image (Genesis 1:26)- every man and woman. And we are all made to be exactly the person God made us to be. When we can learn to be happy with who God has made us to be, we can learn how to love others better. It is then that we are not comparing ourselves with others and making ourselves jealous and envious of others- rather, we learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:9-21). We learn to see The Divine in each other (by this, I don’t mean in a New Age sense). Rather, I mean like what Matthew 25:40 says- when we’ve done any kindness unto the least of Christ’s brethren- we’ve done it unto Him. Feed the poor, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, invite in the stranger, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. When we can accept ourselves as wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s image (Psalms 139) and know that we are eternally loved by Him (Jeremiah 31:3, Hosea 11, Hosea 2:19-20, John 3:16-17, Romans 5:8) – we are set free to love others with that same kind of Yahweh love that Isaiah 53 demonstrates.
            And even if we do get lonely in loving and serving Jesus, we know that first of all- He said we would get ostracized by the world because we don’t belong to the world- we will be hated by the world; but remember- it hated Him first. (John 15:18-27, Matthew 24:9) And those who reject us aren’t really rejecting us anyway- we’re just the messengers. It’s Christ they’re rejecting ultimately. But God has called us to be separate in Christ.
(1 Peter 1:13-21 and 1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 13:11-14, Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, 2 Corinthians 7:1) He’s also called us to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
And of course, the color green is the color of growth- and we are continually growing in The Lord until the day of completion and perfection in Heaven. (Philippians 1:6) Be praised for all Your tenderness, Lord, by these works of Your hands. Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land. Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise! I’m happy to be who You made me to be. Keep making me the person You want me to be. Thank You for always working in me and never giving up on me and never leaving me. (Hebrews 13:5)
        And another one of my all time favorite Sesame Street songs really wraps up the ultimate longing we all have inside of us- the longing for Home. And of course, for those who know Christ as Savior, our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and we eagerly await the Savior from there to come back for us- The Lord Jesus Christ. One day He will return and will restore all things to what they should be. “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) And I think this tender lullaby from Ernie brings out this idea well- ultimately, I want to be Home- and that’s in Heaven with God. No matter where else I might go to try to fill this longing- it doesn’t really satisfy. And that’s why “I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon”.
As C.S. Lewis once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing some here)- If I discover a longing inside myself that can’t be filled by anything in this world, the most probable and logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
      Sure, I’d like to visit the moon and dance on a moonbeam there- I’d like to travel under the sea and meet all the fish everywhere… I’d like to visit the jungle and hear the lions roar- I’d like to go back and time and meet a dinosaur….there are so many strange places I’d like to be, but none of them permanently…. But ultimately, I’d miss all the people and places I love- none of these places are really Home…….. So if I should visit the moon, I’ll dance on a moonbeam and then- I will make a wish on a star (The Bright and Morning Star- Revelation 22:16)- and I’ll wish I was Home once again.
       This is the longing that Christ will fulfill for all eternity in Revelation 21-22. And that truly is the end of all the stories- the term is over and the holidays have begun. The dream is over- this is the morning! :-) And that’s where The Story truly begins- The One that goes on for eternity- and every page is better than the one before!
         And until we reach Heaven’s gates, the most appropriate response I can think of, in gratitude to Jesus for all He’s done for us and continues to do for us and will do for us- is the simple exhortation to “Sing”. Sing. Sing a song-sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things- not bad. Sing of happy- not sad. Sing- sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear-sing- sing a song! La la la la la la! :-)
Sing a song of praise to God! (Psalms 95:1-2, Psalms 100, Psalms 101:1)
My life will be a song of praise to You, Lord Jesus. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14)
(And one other cool thing to note about this song- it’s sung in both English and Spanish. What a cool reminder that one day we who know Christ as Savior will be among a great cloud of witnesses- a multitude from every tribe, language, race and tongue and all praising God together forever in eternity! – Revelation 7:9-17 gives us this beautiful picture.) Amen! Praise The Lord! Soli Deo Gloria!