Sunrise illuminating cloud behind title: Staying in Right Relation to God

 

One morning a while back, I sat for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. It was an especially brilliant one.

After a few minutes, the pinks and oranges and yellows faded away as they always do.

That particular morning, something caught my eye. Two or three clouds still glowed brightly. While all the clouds above, below, and beside these two or three clouds had lost their glorious hues, those two or three had not.

The sight left me wondering. Why didn’t they fade as well?

It took a few moments of pondering to conclude that those two or three clouds were likely closer to the earth than the ones that, from my perspective, surrounded them. The sunrise rays of the sun no longer reached the further clouds, but still lit up the lower ones.

Then I wondered if there’s a lesson to be learned from these clouds. It didn’t take long to realize that there is.

Whether or not the cloud still shone was to do with the cloud’s relation to the sun. There was no way that cloud could shine on its own. It had no light in itself. Only when it was in right relationship with the sun, could it shine.

In Matthew 5:16, I am told to shine so that people would glorify God.

How can I shine? Is it of my own accord? Do I muster up the light myself?

No. It is the light that Jesus gives. I must be in right relation to Jesus so that His light may shine through me.

Interestingly, shortly after the sun had risen, I opened my Bible for my morning devotional time. I’d been reading through Numbers recently. That morning I was at Numbers 25.

As I began reading, the theme of right relation to God, or being tuned into Him, continued.

In case you haven’t read Number 25 recently, let me re-cap the story for you.

Israel was approaching the Promised Land. God had warned them not to get too friendly with the enemy nations in the area. He knew these nations would draw the Israelites’ hearts away from Himself.

Nonetheless, in chapter 25 we find the Israelites prostituting themselves with the women of those nations and going after their idols.

God was furious! Yet again, His chosen nation had sharply turned their back on Him. The people had been so out of touch with God, that they did the very thing that most inspired His righteous jealousy!

But wait. It gets worse.

As many of the Israelites gathered to grieve what their nation had done, an Israelite man, Zimri, passed by with a woman from an enemy nation. He publicly and unashamedly took her into his tent.

Zimri’s timing was terrible. He was completely out of touch with what was going on. Why were all those people gathered at the Tabernacle? To grieve over and take action against the very sin he was publicly committing.

Zimri’s actions earned him capital punishment. 

Now, that story is an extreme example. Thankfully we are no longer under the Law but are under grace.

Regardless, as I read that story, I couldn’t help but blatantly see how very critical it is for me to be in right relation with God.

When I am walking rightly with God, not only will I be a light for Him, but I will know what pleases or angers Him. Only then can I live a life fully pleasing to God.

No, it is not that I must earn my salvation, but out of thankfulness for God’s great mercy on me, I desire to please Him. As a Christian, God has instructed me how I ought to live – in right relationship with Him. He knows that such a life is the very best possible thing for me.

So, like those two or three clouds, may I make it my goal to live in right relation to God.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 NASB

 

A freshly cut onion with the title: Onion Layers

 

Examining Onion Layers

I glance at the clock. Time to start making supper. As I close my computer and head toward the kitchen, I decide that stroganoff would make a tasty meal tonight.

At the pantry, I reach for onions. Since this batch of onions was starting to go bad, I’m glad the bag is nearly finished. I make a mental note to put them on the shopping list.Red onions

Pulling out two onions, I glance at them. One is large and decently healthy looking. The other is small and covered in rot.

I place the cutting board on the counter and begin peeling the larger onion. That done, I locate my favourite knife and slice the onion in half.

I frown at what I see inside.

Although the large onion appeared healthy, the center has a rotting section. With a sigh I dissect it, discarding what’s bad.

I eye the smaller onion. If the onion that had appeared considerably healthier on the outside was rotten at the core, what chance did this miserable looking onion have of containing anything good at all?

Maybe I should just throw it out.

I glance at the pile on my cutting board of chopped good onion. It’s not as big as I want it to be for the meal. I could grab another onion from the bag and out-right discard the bad one. However, I wasn’t planning to shop for groceries for a few more days. With the onion bag so low, perhaps it was worth checking to see if the smaller onion had anything worth keeping.

Resigning myself to the unpleasant task, I gingerly reach for the smaller onion. I’ll give it a try.

I slice the onion open.

To my astonishment, the rot on this onion only went two or three layers deep. Once I peeled away the outside, I had a crisp juicy looking onion. Incredibly, the good parts of this onion looked far healthier than the good parts of the larger onion.

Chopped onion in bowlThe good part of the large healthy onion appeared fine and passable, but the good part of the small rotten onion appeared fresh and delicious.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve long known that onions go bad more or less in layers. Peel away the bad layers and you’ll likely find good usable onion within. This particular bag of onions, however, had thus far contained several onions that appeared mostly healthy on the outside, but had a bad section at their core. How amazing to find that the one onion that looked the worst was actually the best inside.

As I toss the chopped onions into the frying pan and turn on the heat, I find myself thinking about how people can have layers as well.

The Sunday School Lesson

Perhaps the most well-known verse to go with this thought is 1 Samuel 16:7b – a verse I memorized as a child.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV2011)

When did God say these words? God spoke them through His prophet Samuel when choosing a new king for the nation of Israel. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best looking. He chose David, a young shepherd boy at the time.

Here’s another translation of the verse: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b CSB)

Just like with the onions, I cannot see what is inside those around me, but God can.

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you’ve probably heard this principle many times. I know I have. It’s an important reminder from time to time, yet as I pondered the onion allegory, I wondered if there was something more for me to learn here.

A Further Onion Allegory

Then I recalled another passage of Scripture – a rather convicting one.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was pointing out the errors of the religious leaders of the day. He said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. … You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV2011)

For now, the lesson for me to consider has to do with my own core. What are my thoughts like and how do I behave when no one is there to see me? Am I rotten in these private unseen parts of my life?

It is so easy to do as the Pharisees did and focus on making the outside of my life look good.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus had said: “Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:5a NIV2011)

So how am I doing? Am I seeking God with all my heart or is it all for show? Am I giving Him room to work in the hidden areas of my life to be transforming me into His image? Or do I need to repent of selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and wickedness?

Will I be like the religious leaders who prompted Jesus’ cry at the end of Matthew 23?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV2011)

Or do I pray as David did?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Christmas Dinner behind title "The Full Feast"

Do I have a full-feast relationship with Jesus?

With Christmas day quickly approaching, many of us have food on our minds. Whether it is the new dessert you want to try, the classic Christmas turkey, or whatever your Christmas food entails, it seems appropriate for this post to talk about food, and the reminder our Christmas dinner can be to pause for a moment and think.

Generally speaking, a large feast has several courses or dishes. These include the appetizer, the main dish, side dishes such as salad, and dessert.

First, we start with the appetizer. It is typically small but tasty. It takes the edge off our hunger, yet if we ended the meal there, most of us would still be hungry.

Then follows the main course and side dishes. The main course is where the sustenance of the meal is. It quenches our appetite, gives us good nutrients, and strengthens us for whatever tasks lay ahead.

Side dishes can take many forms, but for now, I’ll mention only a side dish salad. While this isn’t the case for me, stereotypically there are many people who eat salads begrudgingly. The only reason they eat it is because they know it is good for their health. However, if they could reasonably do so, they’d skip salads all together.

Finally, all the dishes are cleared away, and then comes the part so many of us eagerly await: dessert! Dessert is sweet and delightful. It is sugary and designed to bring a smile to our faces. The reward of dessert, however, is short-lived. Why? Because dessert gives primarily short term energy – a sugary high that soon fades. Indeed, too much dessert adds unwanted weight that makes the rest of life less pleasant. Still, in reasonable proportions, dessert is a delightful and good addition to the meal.

Okay, sure, but what does that have to do with Jesus?Turkey dinner on a plate

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve found myself thinking recently about how people can have a side dish relationship with Jesus.

Let me explain. Remember what I said about salad side dishes? In a similar way to how some people approach salad side dishes, some people approach God. They go to church and pray begrudgingly as something they have to do, not something they want to do. They acknowledge that Jesus is important, but He holds merely a side dish position in their life.

I thought to myself, I want to have a main dish relationship with Jesus. The main dish is the core of the meal. Likewise, I want my relationship with Jesus to be at the core of my life. That relationship with Jesus is what sustains me and gives me endurance when the going gets hard. Just as how a meal without a main dish would be lacking, likewise, my life without Jesus would have a hole in it.

Yet as I thought about it some more, something didn’t add up. What about the appetizer and dessert? Are they separate from my walk with Jesus?

What in my life do I treat as the appetizer? What is that thing that I run to first? What takes that edge off my hunger… or hurt, or fear, or anxiety? Do I run to Jesus first? Unfortunately, the answer is not always yes.

And what of dessert? What do I do when I just want to have fun? Is Jesus a part of that? Or is that type of fun something He would disapprove of? Is it simply an “okay” thing to do, or is it the best?

Having thought about these questions, I realized that I don’t want to only have a main dish relationship with Jesus. No, I want Jesus to be not only at the core of who I am, but a key part of everything I am and everything I do. 

“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” Rom. 11:36 NASB

What does that look like practically? There is no one answer. In every season of my life having a full-feast relationship with Jesus might look different. It probably will.

Sometimes it will be serving at church. Sometimes it may mean taking cookies to a hurting neighbour. Sometimes, or perhaps often, it includes washing the dishes and making the meals along with all the other small tasks that make up a day.

Regardless, my relationship with God is to shape every aspect of my life.

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Col. 3:17 NASB

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people…” Col. 3:23 NASB

Whatever exactly it looks like, I am confident that having a full-feast relationship with Jesus is what will bring me the most joy and peace (Ps. 16:11, Ph. 4:6-7). Jesus is the reason that we sing about “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” His coming made that possible.

Therefore, as I help prepare a Christmas feast, I want to keep seeking to grow toward that full-feast sort of relationship with Jesus. He is worth it.

Person sitting on snowy brick wall holding Bible behind title: "Oh The Irony of It"

What to do when we have doubts about God

Have you ever noticed how many things in our lives are ironic?

What got me thinking about this? A walk I went on not too long ago. Well, it wasn’t actually the walk that got me thinking, but rather, what happened on my walk.

You see, we had some winter weather come through the night before. The following day, I headed out for my usual walk around the block. Some of the sidewalks were snow-covered, but they didn’t have ice underneath, so I stepped confidently. When I reached the road, however, I didn’t think to change my stride to account for the black ice hidden beneath the thin layer of snow. Suddenly I slipped! I landed hard on my elbow and hip. Quickly I picked myself up. Nothing was broken, but I knew I’d be sore. Sheepishly I brushed the telltale snow off my pants and jacket while I glanced around. No one was in sight to have noticed my tumble. More cautiously, I finished my walk without further incident.

Once home, my elbow and hip were starting to burn. So what did I do? I put ice on the injury ice had caused. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony!

(It has been several weeks, and multiple new layers of snow, since the incident. I can assure you that the bruising is gone and I am fine. Also, I have adjusted my walking into winter mode, and thus have not fallen again.)

This incident got me thinking. What other ironies exist in life that we typically don’t stop to think about?

Here are some I have thought of. If you think of others, feel free to share them in the comments below.

One way of fighting a wildfire is by using fire – a backfire or controlled burn. That is, when the firefighters work ahead of a fire that is out of control, they pre-burn a section in a controlled way. By doing so, when the out of control fire arrives, it has no fuel to continue forwards.Two skunks

When learning ways to keep a skunk away, I laughed when I discovered that the answer includes using smell! I am not an expert in this, but apparently they dislike the smell of ammonia, mothballs, and citrus. Who would have guessed that I can use smells to chase away the very creature renowned for its bad smell?

Then there’s the question of how to get more physically fit and in shape. If the person is otherwise healthy, the best way to gain more energy is by using more energy.

There’s also the idea that one of the best ways to learn something new is by teaching it to someone else. More often than not, teachers learn more about a topic than those they are teaching.

The Christian life is full of ironies as well. Here are a couple of them:

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24 NKJV)

And:

“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-9 NIV)

If you try, I’m sure you’ll think of more.

One last irony I want to close with is an important reminder for us all.

When I have doubts about God, the very best thing to do with those doubts is to take them to God in prayer.

It is easy for me to fear that perhaps God will be displeased by my doubts so I should try to hide them from Him (as if hiding anything from God were possible). At times like that, I must remind myself of Jesus’ response to Thomas and to John the Baptist. At one point or another, they each faced doubts about God.

“Now Thomas… one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’

A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.’

Thomas said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:24-28 NKJV)

Jesus was not angry, but patient in His response to Thomas’ doubt. I like how Spurgeon puts it.

“[Jesus] takes Thomas on his own ground, considers his infirmities, and meets them precisely as they are, without a single word of rebuke until the close—and even then He puts it very lovingly. The whole conversation was, indeed, a rebuke, but so veiled with love that Thomas could scarcely think it so. He speaks to him as if nothing had occurred to give any cause of offense…” (C. H. Spurgeon – A Memorable Interview)

Then I look at Jesus’ response to John the Baptist. John was in prison. Evidently, he was feeling doubts about Jesus, the One whom he had earlier boldly declared to be the Lamb of God (John 1). Thankfully, John the Baptist knew what to do with his doubts. Since he couldn’t go to Jesus himself, he sent two of his disciples with this question: “‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'” (Matt. 11:3b NKJV)

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” (Matt. 11: 4-6 NKJV)

Yet again, Jesus didn’t rebuke John’s doubts. Rather, He gave him just the reassurance he needed.

On the days when I have doubts about God, may I have enough faith to do the ironic thing by taking my doubts about God straight to God.

Flowers, Bible, and title: "God is with me"

 

For many months, or perhaps even a year or two, I had a piece of paper on my wall on which I’d written the verse, “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

I had scribbled the words across the paper using crayon while teaching a Sunday school class. I debated throwing it out when the class ended. Instead, I folded it and slipped it into my bag. When I got home, I decided to stick the verse on my bedroom wall. I used a little sticky-tack to do so.

Over the following months, that verse was often a refreshing reminder and a needed encouragement. God was with me. When things got challenging, I wasn’t alone. He would help me. What an important reminder.

Gradually over time, the little piece of sticky-tack began to lose its stickiness. Then one day, I bumped the paper. It fell behind a desk and bedside table. I could not reach the paper to put it back up without moving the furniture and everything on top. Deeming that too much work, I left the paper where it was, knowing that one day I would find it again.

Several months went by.

The little piece of sticky-tack remained on the wall, reminding me of the absence of the paper. 

With the paper no longer there, I wasn’t frequently reminded of that beautiful verse: “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

As is often the case, life got busy and I became accustomed to not seeing the verse.

Then one day, as I sat in my room typing, I looked over at that little piece of Isaiah 41:10 written on yellow papersticky-tack and realized that I hadn’t thought of that verse for quite some time. Indeed, that very day I had been feeling a need to be reminded that God is with me.

This led me to ponder how sometimes in life, I easily and unintentionally slide from a place of closeness with God. I come to the point where I rarely remember to think of Him throughout the day. I forget that God is with me.

Sure I may still go to church on Sundays and read my Bible and pray, but I’m not mindful of His presence with me. My mind doesn’t keep jumping back to the things above. Songs of praise are rarely spontaneously on my lips.

Somewhere along the line, the frequent reminder of God’s presence with me slipped out of sight and I wasn’t intentional to put in the effort to bring it back. Like the paper, I let it slide and then, in the busyness of life, forgot about it.

Oh, that my heart would be inclined toward God and that my thoughts would often run to things above.

As Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (ESV)

Today I dug out that paper and put it back up. This time I put it in a frame so it’ll be less likely to fall again. I want to keep in mind that God is with me. He has not left me alone. He will help me, and I am His.

“Fear not, for I am with you…”