Keep on keeping on

Or, God’s timetable isn’t like ours…

Luke Chapter 1 tells the story of an old man named Zecharias. He was married to an old woman named Elizabeth who was a relative of the Virgin Mary. They lived in the hill country of Judah, exact location unknown.

Both were of the priestly line. They had no children – Elizabeth was barren, and in their culture barrenness was considered a punishment for sin. Yet both were righteous in God’s eyes, and to the best of their ability they continued to worship Him, keeping the law.

Zecharias (and no doubt Elizabeth) had long prayed for a son. But, he was old and she was barren, so it was now impossible. So, was he still praying? He was still faithful to do his job, in any case.

One supposedly ordinary day Zecharias was going about his business, doing his ordinary priestly job. This soon became an other than ordinary day for him, however…

“Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” (Luke 1:8, 9)

It was his turn to minister before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, possibly for the first time in his priestly service. With so many priests serving in the Temple, entering the Holy Place and kindling the incense upon the golden altar was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing to the right of the altar of incense. The angel gave him an extraordinary message, on this extraordinary day. His prayers had been answered; he and Elizabeth would have a child. And not just an ordinary child, an extraordinary son. He was to give him the name John. Read the chapter for yourself.

Some thoughts about Zecharias:

  • He was old. So was his wife.
  • He was childless, thought by the culture to be a punishment for sin.
  • He was considered by God to be righteous, however. Blameless.
  • He had prayed for a son, starting in the days when having a child was still possible, biologically speaking.
  • He was faithful to his job, his calling, despite that disappointment.
  • He was granted favor, mercy, compassion; an answer to his prayer.
  • His prayer wasn’t answered in an ordinary way, in an ordinary location – an angel came to his job site, while he was doing his job; being faithful to do his job.
  • He was human; he doubted the angel’s message. Considering his age and the length of time he had been praying, that was a quite understandable response.
  • He was corrected but not condemned for his doubt.
  • He wasn’t removed from his ordinary job, or replaced in his extraordinary new job: being a parent. A very old parent!
  • He was granted a device to help him assuage his doubt: silence until the baby was born.

How long have we prayed the same prayer, over, and over, and over? How often have we decided to give up, quit doing this job, quit worshiping, quit praying, quit believing? Until it will take a supernatural, extraordinary miracle for it to happen?

But those do still happen. Zecharias and Elizabeth were just two of many people who received miraculous answers to prayer.

Never quit being faithful to your current assignment. Never quit praying. Never quit believing.

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It’s tempting…

  • That lovely slice of pecan pie, the last one left in the pan, the one you’re supposed to be saving for somebody else.
  • That gorgeous outfit on sale “One Day Only,” so absolutely right for you but not for your budget, sale or no sale. Or those cute earrings, nobody’s watching, the store can afford it, it’s not all that bad to shoplift those cheap little things, is it?
  • That temper tantrum against your children or your spouse, the one you’ve been resisting but now feel absolutely justified in throwing, “I’ve had it, they’re really going to get it!”
  • Those ugly, fuming thoughts and words, turning into ugly, fuming deeds because after all you’re right and they’re wrong, people who had the audacity to question your – (fill in the blank, your truthfulness, your honesty, your integrity, your motives, your actions. Even your faith.)

We’ve all been tempted to think, say and act in ways (minor and major) we’ll be ashamed of later. Haven’t we? “You know better than that!” my mother would say. “You weren’t raised like that!”

Did you think such temptations would miraculously fade away and vanish as you grew older, more mature, more “Christ-like?” They don’t. They still come, more serious and sometimes more frequent.

Why? What is the purpose of temptations / trials? Think of it like strength training. Spiritual resistance training. Exercising our faith muscles, our trust muscles. Our prayer muscles.

Remember John 10:10? The enemy comes. His goal is to steal, kill and destroy, and one of his primary targets is our faith; to ruin it, nullify our testimony; hinder our prayers.

The enemy uses trials and temptations (same word in the original language, by the way) to discourage and distract us, to prevent us from living by faith or from praying in faith.

But God can and does use them to prove that our faith is real, strong, and supernatural, since it originates with Him. He uses them to make us stronger, more effective.

Matthew 4 and Luke 4 describe the temptation of Jesus in the Judean desert. Most of my life I had a mental image of that desert as being mostly sand dunes, rocks and lizards. One day, out of curiosity I decided to check out that wilderness, where it was, what was in it, what it was like at that time.

I wondered, what was there out there that could tempt Jesus? During the 40 days before Satan showed up, that is. Here’s some of what I learned:

East and south of Jerusalem, it’s one of the smallest deserts in the world, much of it lying adjacent and west of the Dead Sea. Craggy and rough, it’s hilly and mountainous with steep cliffs and deep ravines. It was difficult but not impossible to traverse on the well-used paths and trails that criss-crossed the area.

 

There are streams and many wadis, some containing pools of water in shaded areas; and also beautiful oases. The most famous oasis in the Judean Desert is in Ein Gedi near the northern part of the Dead Sea, called David’s Waterfall.

There are also many fruit trees and other vegetation (see the section on trees below).

Sparsely inhabited but not empty, the desert contained several small villages on its edges. Bethlehem was one, a place where many of Jesus’ relatives lived.

Bedouin encampments the size of small towns (the Bedouin were and still are very hospitable people to visitors) plus camels, sheep, goats, and donkeys.

Leopards and other wild animals also inhabited the area, although leopards are scarce today.

 

Herodium today seen from the side.

The spectacular Herod’s Palace (Herodium) south of Jerusalem may contain his burial site (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodium and http://allaboutjerusalem.com/attraction/herodion-national-park).

This palace complex was atop an artificial hill built by Herod the Great, the site of several archeological digs through recent years. After his death this opulent summer “resort” was used by many Roman officials.

Also in the desert is the fortress of Masada which overlooks the Dead Sea, captured and built up by Herod the Great as a military base. Both Herodium and Masada were occupied by Roman officials and solders who regularly traveled to and from those sites. Both are Israeli National Parks and popular tourist attractions today.

Many fruit or nut trees occupy wadis and oases, including date palms, pistachios, wild figs, carob and acacia:

Carob / Locust trees bear fruit that is edible green or dried; the dried fruit is used in candy and other foods as a substitute for chocolate. The sweet, soft flesh of the green fruit is called “honey.”

Carob and acacia (below) are legumes, members of the pea and bean family.

Acacia is a “rain tree,” so-called because its leaves fold together in rain or high humidity. Edible and primarily used as animal fodder, it provides helpful gum and has many medical applications also. The Tabernacle and Ark were made of acacia wood.

Considering everything there was for him to see and do in that wilderness, what was Jesus tempted with?

Food, people, animals, a magnificent natural environment and impressive man-made structures — a better question might be, what wasn’t Jesus tempted with?

Anything and everything that human beings today are tempted with, including distractions, tempted Jesus in that desert. Think he doesn’t understand your situation? He does.

I Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV)

And Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”

What’s in a face?

I was reading 2 Chronicles 7:14 one day, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

A phrase in the middle sort of “lit up” from the rest and stopped my reading. I thought I knew that verse by heart – after all, I often referred to it when asking the Lord to forgive our nation and send revival.

But that little phrase in the middle, how had I missed that? What did it mean exactly, “Seek my face?” I soon found several other verses containing that phrase:

  • “Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually.”  (1 Chron. 16:11)
  • “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” (Psalm 27:8)
  • “Seek the LORD, and his strength: seek his face evermore.”  (Psalm 105:4)

Other passages came to mind. Face to face is how God spoke to Moses, although cloaked in the pillar of cloud. The face of God is always on his people and his ears are always open to their prayers. The eyes of God run to and fro through the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are right towards him.

The meanings of the root words are pretty basic and easy to understand. Seek is from the Hebrew word darash, meaning “to resort to, seek, seek with care, inquire, require.” Face is from paniym, “face, presence, sight, countenance; i.e. the front of something, or in front of something. The surface.”

Since that day I’ve given that phrase a lot of thought. What is a face? What’s in a face? Here’s what I have thought, so far.

A way to communicate, one type of body language
Expressive; shows or hides emotions and physical feelings
Thoughts show on your face
Attentiveness, inattentiveness
Interest, boredom, curiosity
Attraction, repugnance, horror
Startle, surprise, fear, fright, terror
Concentration, determination, frustration, irritation, distraction
Meditation, thoughtfulness
Shyness, boldness
Embarrassment, shame
Anger, rage, wrath, anxiety, worry
Slyness

The mouth, ears, eyes, jaw, cheeks and nose; all the face is involved in expression, including the skin
Skin color changes, blushes, blanches
Eyebrows askew
Eyes wide open or squinting
Eyelids blinking; winking
Looking past, up, down, or direct; indicates attention level
Stare, ogle, glare
Wrinkled brow, raised brow
Wrinkled, raised nose
Pursed lips
Open mouth, closed mouth
Clinched teeth, clinched jaw
Smile, grin, or no smile
Frown, grimace
Twitching, tics

Indicates or hides direction of attention or focus
Eyes show focus of view, near or far; into the distance while meditating
Facade, fake face hiding real one
Intelligence personnel are trained to keep a stony face; comedians can tell jokes with a “straight” face

Slang terms / idioms in common usage
Face the facts
Face up to your responsibilities
Face up to it
Face it like a man
Face your fears
Face value
Face the consequences
On the face of it
Just a pretty face

So, “Seek my face.” What do you mean by that? I asked the Lord another night, after meditating on it a while. Here’s what he said:

My presence, my opinion, my feelings, my directions, my conversation, my fellowship, my purpose, my interests, my purposes, aims and goals.

My affection, my forgiveness, my mercy, my teaching, my training, my correction, my advice, my attention, my ear, my assistance, my mentoring, my example.

My face is not like your face. Vision, for instance, like X-ray vision. MRI. Ultrasound. Sonar. Infrared. Not bound by space or time or physics. Multidimensional, physical and/or spiritual, either or both at once.

He stopped speaking at that point and I started thinking about it again then, and often since then. Some of those thoughts, in no particular order, include

  • God has senses… well, of course he does.
  • Humans were created in his image; so were their senses, their computing and feeling abilities.
  • Any senses we have, God had first.
  • Sometimes there is a sweet smell like perfume, the aroma of his presence when you’ve been worshiping and praising him.
  • God has physical and spiritual hearing. Even the deepest thoughts of men are discerned by him.
  • The face of our thoughts is the surface of our soul.
  • But thoughts are not all on the surface. Thoughts are many levels deep, God’s and mine; they are similar in that way.
  • But God’s thoughts are countless levels deep and wide, not bound by time or distance.

There’s much more to learn, I know. More to search for, more to find. The Holy Spirit wants us all involved in that kind of search, I know. I don’t think we’ll ever finish finding out more about his face, his presence, his person.

The Prince of Peace painting is by Akiane Kramarik. It can be downloaded free of charge from https://art-soulworks.com/collections/prince-of-peace. 

Have you forgotten?

Symptoms of a “persecution complex” continue to pop up here and there on social media platforms, even affecting some believers who should know better.

Don’t they know what real persecution is? (Torture? Beheading? Bombings? Destruction of homes, whole communities, houses of worship? Murder of children?)

Differences of opinion and criticism simply don’t qualify. Yes, we should stand firm for what we believe. No, we shouldn’t react with drama, outrage, smart alecky or vile responses. A few reminders are needed, I suspect:

  • “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12 NIV)
  • “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
  • “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:24-25 NASB)
  • “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23 NIV)
  • “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:26-28)
  • “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)
  • “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
  • “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12)
  • “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”  (I Peter 4:12-14)

Praying for rain?

Several Middle Eastern nations have been asking their people, especially their religious leaders, to pray for rain recently, including Iran, Syria, and Israel.

Iran’s drought continues, although it is suffering a worsening rain of discontent and violent protests in the last few days.

http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-iran-water-20140928-story.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42529576

Syria is also asking their people to pray.

https://www.wthr.com/article/syria-prays-for-rain-at-president-assads-request

Meanwhile, following prayer, Israel has had a downpour of rain and snow.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/thousands-pray-at-western-wall-for-rain-to-break-drought/

“Rain and snow cover Israel as cold front sweeps in – Israel News, Dec 25, 2017: Snow fell on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights and the first real rain of the winter season swept over Israel Sunday and on Monday morning. Central and northern Israel received between 30 to 50 millimeters of rain, according to the Water Authority, adding that rain even fell in the northern Negev.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.831066

Hmm. Do you think it may depend on whose God those prayers go to?

Remember the Three R’s?

Remember the 3 R’s? Reading, wRiting and aRithemetic?

Here are a few other R’s, some that I use when praying for other people, and even when praying for myself.

You may think of a few more…

Father, please —

  • Reveal – who You are, creator, Savior, Father, empowerer, healer, provider, lover of my soul, comforter, guide, teacher
  • Restore – what the enemy stole, including health, job, reputation, finances
  • Recover – what was lost, self-esteem, sense of your presence, confidence, life itself
  • Repair – what was damaged, broken relationships, any cell in the body no matter where it is, bones, blood vessels, organs
  • Remove – what shouldn’t be there, such as tumors, cysts, infections, parasites, even splinters; also doubt, fear and unbelief
  • Replace – what shouldn’t have been removed, such as broken friendships, relationships, even physical items in the home
  • Recreate – what is missing, whether natural or supernatural, body parts, brain function, healthy emotions
  • Renew – what is worn or fatigued, such as strength, energy, stamina, clear thinking, good memory
  • Refresh – the joy of my salvation, faith in your promises, your word, your mercy, your patience, your power
  • Remind me of your grace! Your love!

Speak the word only

Prayers unanswered?

One reason Christians don’t get answers to their prayers may be that they are only praying and not “speaking the word.”

In Matthew 8, Jesus commended a Roman centurion for his faith. Why? The centurion recognized authority when he saw it.  He acknowledged Jesus’ authority over sickness and disease and he knew the enemy – disease in this case – would also.

He said to Jesus, “speak the word only and my servant will be healed.” So he did – Jesus said “Go, it will be done just as you believed it would.” And it was – “his servant was healed at that very hour.”

James 5:17-18 recounts the story of Elijah, Ahab, drought and rain. These verses talk about prayer and faith. But take look at the original story in I Kings chapters 17 and 18. This shows something unexpected: Elijah didn’t pray for God to stop the rain or to re-start it.

He himself spoke the words that stopped the rain, and three years later re-started it. He said to Ahab “As the Lord God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (17:1) And there wasn’t.

Well then, did Elijah pray at all? Obviously he did, but I think his prayer went something like this: “Oh God, what can I do!” (About the evil king Ahab.)

God answered with a set of odd instructions:  Go see  Ahab.  Speak to him about rain…

Odd or not, Elijah obeyed. Now, did it take a lot of faith to go tell King Ahab there would be no rain – or even dew – for several years, unless he himself, Elijah, said so?

I don’t know about a lot of faith, but it would sure take guts!

Yet James 5:17 says Elijah was a man just like us. Human, not superhuman. His faith was demonstrated by his obedience; by the words that he spoke.

Matthew 28:18-20 is the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ instructions to the apostles to make disciples of all nations. Not just converts – disciples. Students. Followers. Obeyers.  And verse 19 is very specific:  “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

What does everything include? Look at Matthew 10, Mark 6 and Luke 9:  (1) Preach the kingdom. (2) Heal the sick. (3) Raise the dead. (4) Cleanse the lepers. (5) Cast out demons.

Okay, how were they supposed to do all that? He had already showed them how. For three years they had been observing him do those things.  Seventy disciples already had practice (Luke 10).

So they obeyed Jesus and followed his example in doing so.

No matter what else they did, when confronted with people in need they “spoke the word.” They did not ask God to do what Jesus had plainly told them to do. See these examples:

  • Acts 3:6 –  Peter spoke to the crippled man,  commanding him to walk, and he did.
  • Acts 9:34 – Peter spoke to the paralyzed man, commanding him to get up, and he did.
  • Acts 9:40 – Peter spoke to the dead girl, commanding her to get up, and she did.
  • Acts 13:11 – Paul spoke to the sorcerer, saying “you are going to be blind,” and he was.
  • Acts 14:10 – Paul spoke to the lame man, commanding him to stand up, and he did.
  • Acts 28:8 – Paul prayed first, then laid hands on the sick man and healed him.

Many extraordinary signs, wonders and miracles were done when the apostles and disciples obeyed Jesus.  (Stephen – Acts 6:4, Paul and Barnabas  – Acts 15:12.)

Now, we are instructed to pray and most of us have no problem with that – we do pray. But sometimes we only pray about situations when we should also “speak the word.”