To Tell the Truth

[This is the seventh post in a series about the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ]

To Tell the Truth

Most everyone agrees that truth is vital to any relationship.

So how do we easily fall for flattery and false words? How often do we gravitate toward people who tell us, not the truth, but what we want to hear?

If we’re honest, probably most of the time. 

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That is why Jesus warned his disciples about false prophets. Speaking about the times that would usher in His return, He told them false prophets would be like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

In the Bible, Jeremiah stands as a true prophet of God.

During Jeremiah’s ministry, the mighty Babylonian army had conquered the surrounding nations. He tried to convince the people of Jerusalem that they, too, would feel the sharp blade of Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. He warned them not to stay in the city. If they remained, devastation would follow..

On the contrary, the false prophets told the people what they wanted to hear: Babylon would not conquer them. Things would continue as always. Everything would be as smooth and comfy as sheepskin.

At that time, the people of Jerusalem enjoyed flowing wine and abundant bread. Children played in the streets. Women wore fine sashes and jingled their bracelets. They flaunted their beautifully braided hair. The people wanted to believe the false prophets, so they followed them.

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But while Israel partied, King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies camped right outside the city.

Jeremiah begged them to listen. He told them, “ . . .do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, “you shall not serve the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 27:9 nkjv).

Sadly, they listened to false prophets and became prisoners in their own city. When Babylon invaded, the people trapped in Jerusalem suffered thirst and starvation. They heard their little ones beg for bread. Horrible, unimaginable tragedies ensued.

False prophets are not harmless. Their words and counsel, like the fangs of a wolf, can be devastating.

When it comes to listening to silver-tongued deceivers, it’s best to turn away.

Can we set our egos aside and seek the truth that God has revealed in His word?

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[This is the sixth post in a series about the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ]

Who can forget the iconic Looney Tunes character, Wile E. Coyote? The Coyote repeatedly failed to catch his always-elusive prey, the faster and smarter Roadrunner. The Coyote’s ridiculous contraptions and ill-fated plans always made me wince, then laugh. Instead of capturing his prey, Wile E. ended up eating dirt.

But real wolves are not cartoon characters. There is no comic relief when watching movies like The Grey, where Liam Neeson’s character suffers through the bitter Alaskan cold and fights for his life against a circling pack of unrelenting predators.

Jesus spoke of wolves when He told his disciples to watch for His return. The first sign He told them to look for is false prophets. He described them as not just wolves, but ravenous wolves.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15 nkjv).

Hungry wolves are vicious and powerful. They run down the vulnerable and isolated. Their keen senses scout prey and their sharp fangs devour the innocent. They kill by repeatedly biting their victims on the hands and face. They are predators with unbelievable endurance.

How do ravenous wolves symbolize the false prophets and teachers of our day?

First of all, they pretend to be sheep and are very good at it. They clothe themselves in everything that is outwardly Christian. They may pray, quote well-known verses, and attend church regularly. They sometimes hold positions of teaching and authority. They may even be pastors.

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False prophets may be as pleasant as a vase of Sunday flowers on the outside, but have the stench of dead roses on the inside.

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False teachers often twist Scripture or omit important parts of verses or passages.

So how do we guard against them? Knowing what the Bible actually says is the only way we can discern what is true.

When you study the Word it’s like staying one step ahead of Wile E. Coyote and watching a falling boulder crush his teaching to dust.

I’ll write more about false prophets in the next post.

Meep, meep!

 

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[This is the fifth post in a series about the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ.]

Save the Date?

When thinking about the return of Jesus Christ, many have dreamed of a peaceful Kingdom to come. Yet there is much controversy surrounding end-time events, especially the day of His coming.

Feelings of uncertainty and conflicting emotions are stirred when we think about the summing up of all things. Should God have sent us a “Save the Date” card so we will know exactly when Jesus is coming back?

The internet, media, and movies sizzle with doomsday plots, predictions, and scenarios. Catastrophic weather, mudslides, fires, and false missile alarms have us trembling. While writing this column, I learned an earthquake hit my mother’s small town in Missouri, a community close to the famous New Madrid fault.

We have reasons to be concerned. We have better reasons to search out the truth.

Some fringe groups have set dates for Jesus’s return only to concede later that  “the date” has come and gone with no East to West lightning, no invasion of Jerusalem, no man in the field suddenly missing his companion. And because the date comes and goes without incident, scoffers are lit up with criticism.

Those who have studied the Bible are quick to console us that a date can’t be set. Jesus told his disciples, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only (Matthew 24:36 nkjv).”

So what is it that we can know? The day and hour, no. The season, YES.

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With all the snow we’ve had lately, I look forward to the coming season–SPRING! I may not know the exact day when the temperature will climb to 70, but the first signs are welcomed like a balmy breeze.

When daffodils poke up from the thawing earth, robins hop around in the yard, and the tree limbs have little bumps, I know Spring is coming! My innermost spirit dances. I will happily shed my winter wool coat like a lumbering sheep lined up for shearing.

How can we recognize the season of Christ’s return? The first sign Jesus mentions in Matthew 24 is false teachers that come in His name. Some even claim they are the Messiah. Are such teachers around today? You bet.

True teaching has had opponents and imposters since the beginning. By Genesis chapter 3, the serpent is chiding Adam and Eve, “Did God really say . . .” (Genesis 3:1 niv). He planted doubt in their minds about God’s word and His good, loving intentions.

Since false teachers are wolves in sheep’s clothing, how can we recognize them? I’ll write more about deception and false teaching in the next post.

 

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[This is the fourth post in a series about the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ.]

Not only is Christ coming, but Christians are going!

How can a Christian experience taking off in a jet on a beautiful day and not think about it? When we see peaceful white clouds floating across a perfect blue sky, we are reminded.

The Song of Solomon gives us one of the most romantic pictures of two loved ones being reunited and going away together.

“My beloved spoke, and said to me:

‘Rise up, my love, my fair one,

And come away.

For lo, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of singing has come,

And the voice of the turtledove

Is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth her green figs,

And the vines with the tender grapes

Give a good smell.

Rise up, my love, my fair one,

And come away!”

(Song of Solomon 2:10-13 nkjv)

 

We are going with Him!

It’s hard to wrap our minds around this. The word “rapture” is used by many Christians and the controversy surrounding it has been spun about like an end-over-end football.

Where does word ‘rapture’ come from? The Latin translation of the Bible uses the word “rapiemur” which means “we shall be carried away” or “we shall be snatched” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 lvb).

When this will happen or the exact order of things is a mystery. But one thing is sure, we will be carried away.

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Think of the hard-working grape farmer, just ready to harvest a crop. Grapes and other small fruit are easy pickings for the sharp beaks of birds who will sweep in and devour, ruining the harvest. Our “snatching away” is like the  farmer who quickly takes the smooth, fragrant fruit and hides it away.

Can you remember our mothers saying, “Don’t get carried away?” They often meant “don’t get too excited” or “don’t jump the gun.”  

In thinking about the return of Jesus, it is okay to get excited. And since God, in His providence, is never early or a second too late, we won’t be “jumping the gun.”

 

 

Happy Returns

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[This is the third post in a series about the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ.]

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So how can we think about the Second Coming of Christ without being fearful?

Chapter four of First Thessalonians mentions many things about the return of Christ. Surprisingly, the chapter concludes in this way: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 nkjv).

Wow. We should not fear, but find comfort as we think about the return of Jesus!

A “return” can be a very happy occasion. The first comparison I can think of is when children are separated from their parents.

Can you remember, as a child, when your parents dropped you off at kindergarten? After a few hours of play, did you begin to feel homesick? If you did, maybe you remember being upset and worried that they wouldn’t come back. Remember your relief when a door opened and you saw that loved one? The warm smile of your mother comforted you and the strong arms of your father wrapped you up. What joy! What a relief! There is that familiar face again, you are going home!

Consider newlyweds who are separated because of military service. The time away is long. Thousands of miles separate them. They are haunted by questions for which they are given no answers. Then, an unexpected order is given and the loved one returns and is standing on the threshold. Thousands of miles have been telescoped to a few feet. They are in each other’s arms, reveling in the overpowering love flowing between them.

Returns can be very happy indeed. And the return of Jesus Christ, the happiest of all.

Yet the kindergartner who has pushed classmates, disobeyed the teacher, and messed up the play area won’t be so happy to see the returning parent.

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The child knows he needs to toe the line, apologize, and clean up his mess.

When thoughts of Christ’s return are clouded with uneasy feelings, we need to examine our lives. Do we need to acknowledge we’ve been out of line? Agree with God about our sin and apologize? Clean up our lives?

The clouds are disquieting, but a remedy is given:

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing  may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19 nkjv).

 

 

 

 

 

wood-wooden-decoration-box-5879.jpg[If you are just finding this post, please go back and read Part 1 first]

Jesus is coming back, this is our Blessed Hope!

It is found in the biblical book of Titus: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13 kjv).

What is it that makes us uncomfortable with Christ’s coming? Is it because we prefer to believe we as human beings are in control? We like our comfortable boundaries. It’s as if we live in a scratchy wooden crate and are afraid someone will lift off the top and expose us to the light of a whole new day.

Fear of God is a good thing. It is acknowledgment that we don’t have it all together, that we didn’t create the universe, and that we don’t know what the future holds.

Maybe it’s just me. I have the sensibility of a Christian raised in the 1970’s. The era when fragrant, home-grown flowers adorned the sanctuary. Sunday worship included music flowing from piano keys and humming from organs–songs joyfully proclaiming the Blessed Hope.

“What a Glorious Day,” “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Jesus is Coming Soon,” and ”Do not Pass Me By” were some of my favorites songs.

Messages from the pulpit came from prophetic scripture, passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

These were joyful times, not doom-ridden. It brings to mind the verse, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17 nkjv).

Some have said the reason for our slackness in talking about Christ’s return is that American Christians are more comfortable now than any time in history.

We are blessed with food. We have modern medicine if our children are sick. We have disposable income or credit cards to pay for the Amazon boxes that arrive on our porches daily. Why should we look forward to the coming of a Savior when many believe we really don’t need saving?

The down side of our razor-edged prosperity is the fear of tumbling off into a chaotic world. Political clashes, technological stress, family dissolution, loss of  character, isolation, health care chaos, and Orwellian “free speech” threaten our peace.

At a time when we have more things, opportunities, travel, technology, and money than ever, people are longing for something to depend on.

There is a whisper we can’t ignore. A longing that says there is more than this. It is hope.

Inside our confining boxes, we’re hiding. People are afraid and still longing for real hope. Why aren’t we proclaiming the ultimate good news, the Blessed Hope?

 

pexels-photo-326055.jpegYes, Jesus is definitely coming again!

Yet in many Christian communities, there is little mention of the Blessed Hope–the return of Jesus Christ for believers. It is the Hope that glows as brightly as Sunday morning sunshine streaming through stained glass windows.

Although there may be some misunderstanding among new Christians, generations of Christians from the first century on have eagerly anticipated the event. Our Blessed Hope is the resurrection of those who have passed away in Christ and the “catching away” of Christians who are alive when He returns.

That’s two thousand years and millions of souls whose bodies will one day break through moss-pungent soil and awaken to newness of life amidst sharp rocks and weathered memorials.

Sounds fantastic, I know. Unreal. Like nothing we’ve ever witnessed.

But if we contemplate the lowly caterpillar, the fuzzy pupa that weaves a silk casing around itself and then emerges weeks later as a completely new creature, we have a picture. From a worm, a beautiful butterfly emerges, one that is no longer tedious and earth-bound, but free and soaring to the clouds.

Since the Blessed Hope is closer than ever, why are Christians sleep-walking, seemingly unaware of the events unfolding around us?

Why is it that now, when the fulfillment of prophecy is taking shape, the church is so quiet? Have the teachings of the rapture and the Second Coming been placed in an obscure filing cabinet, tucked away like an awkward folder of dusty memorabilia?

I’d like to brush off that folder and share the good news of the Blessed Hope. It is this: along with newness of life in the here and now, Christianity gives hope for an eternal future.

The urgent times we are living in gives us much to consider. I’ll continue writing about this topic in the next several blog posts. Have a blessed day as you are reflecting upon the Blessed Hope!

 

 

My technology rebellion started on a Tuesday morning.

I’d just settled on the couch with a soothing cup of coffee, awakening to a new day.

My husband came in and switched on the television, intending to check the weather. A horrible news story flashed across the screen. Detailed video showed a home exploding with fire and destruction, the family possibly still inside.

I set down my coffee and trounced out of the family room. I wanted to run to the hills and live in a cave, safe from violence and intrusive technology. I vowed not to turn on the TV or my computer all day.

Because of my vow, I couldn’t vent my frustration via social media, emails, or text messages. So I unplugged.

Instead, I made a strawberry pie.

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I picked up the all the fixings at the grocery store and practically danced as I lifted two quarts of fragrant strawberries into my basket, alongside real butter and pure vanilla.

On arriving back home, I skimmed over the recipe and gathered the necessary ingredients. As I uncapped a bottle of ground cinnamon, a sweet, exotic aroma reminded me of the warm muffins I’d baked for my kids when they were little.

When I measured a cup of flour, a soft, snowy cloud drifted into the air. Sugar added grainy texture to the mix. A tiny measure of dark vanilla had a potent whiff and a tentative taste reminded me of my mother’s buttercream frosting.

I melted butter in a pan until it sizzled. I removed it from the flame and let it cool, then added milk. I sliced a lemon in half, releasing its zesty, fresh fragrance into the kitchen. The smooth rind folded in my hand as I squeezed juice into the mix and felt a trickle flow between my fingers.

I rinsed the ruby-red berries and let the cool water flow over my hands. Memories of a childhood friend and a Sunday afternoon spent eating ice cream and strawberries (fresh from her Mom’s garden) came to me.

The crumb topping called for hand mixing. With clean hands I dove in, squeezing the creamy softness of the butter through my fingers and rolling it around in spiced flour.

Finally, the pie came together–smooth crust, strawberries, filling, and crumb topping.

I opened the oven and warm air surged over my face as I placed the pie on the center rack and closed the door. Soon, a sweet, buttery fragrance drifted through my house and transformed it into a home.

As I set the timer, I glanced at the digital clock. It had taken me almost an hour to put it all together.

But time didn’t seem to matter. I’d actually experienced something REAL. I hadn’t drifted through a two-dimensional existence, like I do when I’m staring at a screen. Instead, I’d been fully alive.

I’d enjoyed all the senses and gifts God has given me–seeing, thinking, feeling, remembering, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing.

I’d come back to my true self.

It felt good to be home.

 

 

 

 

The beautiful celebration of Easter began early for me. I would like to say I’d looked forward to our special Sunday all week, but that is not completely true.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the glorious remembrance of Jesus’ life on earth, His sacrifice, and overwhelming victory. I also love the startling reminder of new life as dogwoods burst into legendary white blooms, azaleas blush in myriad shades of pink, and vines of wisteria mist the air with heavenly fragrance.

All of these things I warmly welcome with open arms. Image

But as I mentioned before, the day started early­­­­–very early. I’d grumbled all week because I dreaded getting up at dawn to attend early services at our church. As a choir member, I’d been asked to sing at both the eight and ten o’clock services, with Sunday school squeezed in between.

I’d wanted my celebration to be smooth and easy. Not hurried and stressed, requiring extra effort on my part.

I awoke on Easter morning right at six. Amazingly, I had time for coffee and a quick breakfast. As I started to dress, I discovered one thing was missing. I couldn’t find my new pantyhose. Had I left the hosiery in the car after I’d returned from the store? I rushed down the stairs from my bedroom and pushed through the squeaky door of our screened-in porch.

The door snapped behind me as I bounded onto the sidewalk. As I moved along the smooth stones, a holy reverence captured me. I slowed, then stopped as I looked around. 

A brilliant sun peeked just above the horizon through the trees next to our home. The light illuminated the early morning mist that shrouded the new growth of tall wildflowers and saplings. Birdsong pierced the quiet morning. I inhaled the scent of dewy emerald grass and flowering trees.

I thought, This is like the first Resurrection morning. 

In the midst of my hurried schedule, God slowed me down. I saw Him in the beauty of the breathtaking day.

I appreciated anew why the country churches of an earlier generation enjoyed sunrise services. I didn’t want to leave that sacred moment, but as I turned to the house I stopped stressing about trivial things.

I never found my pantyhose and decided I didn’t need them. My daughter and her millennial generation believe they are old school, anyway. They don’t need control-top anything. I decided to give up control and my worry, too.

I silenced my grumbling Imageand decided to just enjoy.

Later that morning, our church services unfolded as smoothly and sweetly as ice cream melting on peach cobbler.

The day belonged to God. He had this, and all the other challenges coming into my life. How often does he have to remind me?

 Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

 

Exceeding Abundantly

As September cooled to the refreshing temperatures of fall, I did a little inward jig. Yippee. A kinder, gentler season beckoned me.

A travel brochure I’d received fed my longings. The tour featured Ireland and Scotland, lands of rolling green hills, cool blue lakes, and legends to be pondered deep into the night.

I sighed, set aside the brochure, and locked the images away in my dream box.

A few days later, I learned of a writer’s conference that centered on the craft of writing fiction for kids. Another dream formed in my heart. The Writing for the Ages conference at Glen Eyrie would take place in just two weeks and in a land far, far way—Colorado.

Hoping to find some way to attend, I searched the travel websites so many times I learned the airport code for Colorado Springs by heart: COS. I soon realized I hadn’t made plans soon enough. I didn’t have the funds for the conference and the flight.

This wish, too, I placed in my dream box and closed the latch.

One day, as I readied my grandson for a trip to Nashville, a line of writing caught my eye. Just above his blond head, embroidery spelled out the brand name of his car seat: COSCO. I smiled.

COSCO is the full code name for the Colorado Springs airport in Colorado. Was God opening up the dream I had shut away? I shrugged off the coincidence, but soon, funds for the conference were provided in a way I hadn’t thought possible. My dream opened into reality.

I arrived at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center in Colorado Springs and stepped into another world. The Rocky Mountains towered behind spiraling sandstone sculptures that made me gulp. An emerald valley opened to sapphire-blue skies. Flowers waved over the rolling hills. Rabbits and wild turkeys strolled the grounds. A turn-of –the-century castle nestled close to the lush hillside.

Impressive and grand, yet warm and welcoming, the Scottish-inspired castle blended into the natural surroundings and served as a welcoming sentinel for visitors. I spent three days mingling with other writers and instructors within the castle’s main gathering hall. Our meals were served in the dining room and our classes took place in the rustic, restored carriage house.

Not only had I opened the dream box, I danced inside of it.

Three days and many friendships later, I began the trip home. A friend sent me a text: Did you make it in safely?

As rain pummeled the windows of the airport gate and gray skies darkened the waiting area, I answered: Not yet.

I didn’t relax until our plane zoomed above the dissipating storm. Through the small window next to me, a magical sight caught my eye. God’s original emblem of love stretched below me. A rainbow curved through the skies. There wasn’t a pot of gold, but I’d already received a beautiful gift.

No matter what our dreams, God’s plans are exceeding abundantly above whatever we ask or think.