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Who opens the mail?

A lot of my mail doesn’t even get opened. Satellite providers. Car insurance offers. Anything that says, “Occupant.” Just throw it in the trash.

I open anything else, but there’s no one else here to do it. Anything that comes to my mailbox with my name on it, I have the authority to open.

Imagine walking into the oval office, or the governor’s office, picking up a letter opener and opening the mail. You’d probably get into trouble. You’re not authorized to open it.

The president or the governor has the right to open it, or to designate someone else to open it. They’ve earned the right and responsibility to open the mail that comes across their desks. No one else can.

In Revelation 5, a letter needs to be opened. A scroll sealed with seven seals that requires someone in particular to open it.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Revelation 5:1-4).

God, on His throne holds the scroll and seeks a worthy person to open it. It appears that no one has the authority to open the scroll. But then the worthy person is found:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (Revelation 5:5).

When the Lion of the tribe of Judah takes the scroll in His hand, those around the throne proclaim why He is worthy:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).

He is worthy because He was crucified and redeemed His people through His blood. His sacrificial, atoning death makes Him worthy to open this letter, this scroll, that unleashes God’s plan for the end of the ages.

God was not defeated at the cross. The cross is the victory. The pinnacle of God’s redemptive history. His power and majesty are revealed in the despicable death on the cross.

Through the cross Christ ransomed us. Saved us. Delivers us. To be God’s people who will reign with Him forever.

The price He paid to redeem our souls makes Him worthy of our worship now and for all eternity.

 

What if we had to pay?

We’ve all been there. A new gadget. A new tool. A new book. A new car.

It entices us. We begin to justify purchasing it. But then we look at the price.

“I like it, but it’s not worth that.”

“I’d rather spend my money on something else.”

“I’d have to work for six months just to pay for it!”

So then we walk away from the impulse item. Not even feeling guilty for not buying it. Maybe even feeling better that we withstood the temptation.

I wonder what it would be like if we had to pay to be a child of God.

How much would it cost?

What would be the ongoing costs?

Would we be able to handle the burden for the long term?

In my musings I think that most of us would say, “It’s not worth it. I’d never get it paid off. There are too many restrictions.”

And then we’d walk away.

I wonder if that’s why so many people turn away from churches and other religions that give a list of things to do to gain favor with God, or secure a place in heaven.

How would you ever know if you had done enough? Wouldn’t the list just keep getting longer and longer, the more you understood about God and heaven?

And if you can’t ever reach the goal, eventually, you’ll give up.

That’s what makes amazing grace so amazing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:1-19).

The price has been paid in full. There’s nothing you can do to earn it.

Weed-free garden tips

A master gardener told me once that the best way to keep weeds from your garden is to fill the garden with healthy plants. If you keep the flowers and vegetables growing and strong, then there won’t be any room or nutrients for the weeds.

The same is true with our spiritual life.

If we keep our minds full of God’s Word, we won’t have time, energy, or desire to fill them with sinful thoughts.

I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11).

If we keep our hands busy doing good things, we won’t have time, energy, or desire to busy ourselves with sinful actions.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).

If we surround ourselves with godly examples, we won’t have time, energy, or desire to follow others in sinful actions.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

How does your garden look today?

Satisfied? Or Hungry?

Today I went on a road trip. Okay, it was only an hour-and-a-half drive one way. But I took the back roads, crossing the interstate, rather than driving on it. I had a destination and a time frame for the morning, but after that I was on my own.

I also had a dining destination for lunch. Supposedly the best pizza in the state and I could arrange my return trip to get there in time for lunch. I’ve had this place in the back of my mind for a couple of months and when this opportunity arose – well, it had to be!

So for a couple of days, I’ve been hungry for pizza. And I was headed to the best pizza place in the whole state…only to find out that they are only open for supper. There certainly wasn’t enough to explore for four more hours in that area, so the pizza place got put back on the bucket list.

But by now, I was hungry. I googled my options. Nothing without going further out of my way. (Yes, I didn’t have a schedule, but I didn’t want to drive an extra hour out of the way to eat! We’re talking rural Iowa here).

So, I capitulated to getting a sub sandwich and a Snickers Tornado. Meh. But at least I wasn’t hungry for the moment. I decided I would pick up a steak to grill for supper when I got home.

As I was driving, I was listening to an audio book about knowing God. One point he made had to do with having a hunger for God, which should never be satisfied.

We should be delighted with God, but we should always want to know God more.

If we get to the point that we are satisfied with our knowledge of God, or the depth of our relationship with God, or our amazement with God, or our wonder of God, we are dying.

The more time we spend with God in His Word, in prayer, in meditation, in listening to sermons, in fasting, the more we will want.

Psalm 42 starts with this picture:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.

Are you satisfied with your relationship with God? Or are you still hungry?

BTW: It’s time to fire up the grill for that steak!

A quiet heart

We are easily distracted and seem to enjoy it.

Screens cry out for our attention. TV. Theater. Advertising. Laptop. Phone. Kindle.

You rarely see someone out walking, running, or biking without some kind of noise plugged into their ears.

We pay lots of money to be distracted from every day life.

And then there’s the noise of every day life. Phone calls. Chattering children. The rumble of the motor. Music at the mall. Cheers at a game. Conversations with the neighbors.

Add to that the noise that goes on in heads all the time. Errands to run. Problems to solve. Crises to avoid. Guilt. Shame. Worry. Anxiety. Planning. Manipulating. Rehearsing.

All that noise is not bad in itself. We will always have distractions. We will always be thinking. Sounds will always be around us.

But so often we try to avoid silence. It’s scary. It’s lonely. It’s a waste of time. It’s boring.

In those times of anxiety and high stress. we need silence. Not just turning everything off and out, but silence to wait on God.

David wrote in Psalm 62,

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken (vs 1-2 and 5-6).

And he was under a lot of stress. His enemies were attacking him, not in combat, but with lies, slander, false flattery, and accusations. They wanted to knock him down (vs 3-4).

It was during this time that David wrote, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.”

He wasn’t planning his revenge. He wasn’t worried about the attacks. He was waiting in silence for God to act.

He had the confidence that he would not be greatly shaken. “Not greatly shaken” – some shaking would take place. It wasn’t going to be smooth sailing. It wasn’t going to be easy. But David knew that in the end, he would still be held firm in God’s hands.

So in the midst of the storm, he could wait silently on God. He knew God was going to act on his behalf. He didn’t know how, or when. But he was confident that it was going to happen.

So rather than distracting yourself from the issues around you today, take some time to be still before God and wait for Him to act.

Take time to quiet your heart.

His promises to David are the same promises for you.

 

Discipline is good for you

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the topic came up in discussion this week…so I’m sharing it again.

Hebrews 12 is a familiar passage. At least bits and pieces of it are familiar. Put it all together and you will be encouraged.

The chapter is about battling sin, but we often emphasize God’s acts of discipline.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives” (v 5-6).

The following verses compare and contrast the discipline that we receive from our heavenly Father with that which we received from our earthly fathers (v 7-10).

Usually it’s taught that the discipline is a result of sinful actions.

You do something bad, God will punish you.

But if you go to the beginning of the chapter it appears that the topic is not punishment for sin, but victory over sin.

That fits with Romans 8:1 and a host of other passages about the penalty having been paid through the death of Christ.

Look at the commands at the beginning of the chapter:

“Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (v 1-2a).

Laying aside, enduring, looking to Jesus don’t sound like instructions for someone who is living in rebellion, but someone who is struggling with victory over sin.

They want victory, but it’s hard and they are discouraged.

They want to live like the great saints in chapter eleven, but it’s so hard.

To that person comes the chastening of the Lord. or maybe those acts of enduring, laying aside, and looking are aspects of that chastening, the discipline.

The writer is not sending a warning, but encouragement.

If God weren’t correcting you, it would mean He doesn’t love you. You are not His child (v 7-8). Take heart that you are being disciplined. It’s an evidence that you are loved by God.

God disciplines us for our benefit. His goal is our righteousness. He is in control and has a plan (v 9-11). Even though this phase of discipline looks out of control, it’s not.

The writer continues his encouragement by giving instruction to those who are battling sin in the next verses (v 12-15).

  • Don’t get discouraged (v 12-13).
  • Don’t stir up trouble (v 14a).
  • Don’t miss God’s goal (v 14b).
  • Don’t hinder other’s spiritual growth (v 15a).
  • Don’t get bitter (v 15b).

The context of the chapter seems to indicate that discipline should be a frequent part of the Christian’s life. It’s not punishment for sinfulness, but part of the process of sanctification.

“What sins are you battling?” should be a part of our conversations to encourage one another in spiritual growth.

All believers are battling sin.

And we may need to go to Hebrews 12 to encourage one another in the battle.

Demonic diversions

Tonight’s Bible study was about gluttony. We’re working through the book “Killjoys: the Seven Deadly Sins” which I would highly recommend.

Of course, most of the comments prior and during the Bible study had to do with filling the plate too full at the church potluck, or eating an extra brownie, or a second helping of mashed potatoes.

Those may indeed be problems that individuals need to address.

But the author pointed out that gluttony is really the worship of food. It’s not just overeating, though that could be one way that it is evidenced.

If gluttony is worship, then it is taking the place of God. When might that happen?

  • When we eat because we’re angry, and don’t go to God for forgiveness and restoration.
  • When we eat because we’re bored, instead of looking for God and God’s people to fill our time and minds.
  • When we eat because we want to impress people with our culinary expertise, rather than sharing the love of Christ with them.
  • When we don’t eat so that people will like our slender figure, instead of watching what we eat to improve our health and opportunities for service to others.
  • When we are dieting/picky/arrogant so that we can’t enjoy great times around the table with our friends, family and co-workers, encouraging them with what God is doing in our lives.
  • When we talk more about our recipes, diets, kitchen gadgets, cooking shows, and restaurants, than we talk about God.

That’s just a start. You probably can think of more.

The idea that gluttony is just overeating seems to be a demonic distraction. Hit us with guilt about putting gravy on our potatoes, so we don’t concentrate on our own hearts.

And then we make jokes about it.

What about those around us who really are struggling with food-related sins? Or any other addictive sins?

If we’re joking about going through the potluck line a second time, and that’s the biggest sin that we’ve got to talk about, (which it isn’t, by the way), then why would someone who is struggling with anorexia, pornography, alcohol, suicidal thoughts….even want to talk to us?

And isn’t that exactly where Satan loves to see the church? Laughing and joking about the wrong things, so that the church becomes useless in helping others with heart issues?