What Kind of Trough are You? September 14, 2021
Yesterday, I installed a water trough in one of Dad's hill paddocks. The paddock has a trough already but the sheep are too afraid to use it because of a heading dog that sits under a tree nearby. A couple of weeks ago the dog was gone and I noticed the sheep reluctantly making their way towards the trough to get a drink. It was scary for them because they thought the dog might appear at any moment. As soon as they took what they thought they needed they hastily made their retreat. Fortunately they now have a new trough where there are no threats and they can drink the cool, satisfying water in peace and quiet to their hearts content.
Like those sheep, have you ever been thirsty but too scared to drink? In John 7:37 and 38 Jesus says, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." If we are spiritually thirsty, we can come to Jesus and drink. He will always quench our thirst! But more than that - He will come inside and cause a river of living water to flow out of us to those around, making them thirsty and eager to drink as well! So where can these thirsty people go and find Jesus the living water? Fortunately Jesus is only ever one prayer away. But then Jesus leads these people to His water trough called the church. This is where His sheep gather together to drink and get refreshed.
Unfortunately, at times, church can be like that trough under the tree - a scary and threatening place where dangers lurk. Dangers come in all shapes and sizes but here are a few - gossip, judgmental attitudes, erroneous teaching, un-forgiveness, social clicks, abusive attitudes, and the list could go on. Many people have drunk from this trough and they don't want to come back - it's too threatening and painful. Others have never been to this trough under the tree but have been to other troughs that were similar and can't face going again.
Fortunately, church can be another kind of trough. It can be a trough that's out from the shadows and in the Son-light. It can be a place of love, forgiveness, healing, and acceptance - a safe place where Jesus is the focus and His grace flows - not only from heaven downward - but outward, between one another. People look forward to coming to this kind of trough and they invite their friends to come and experience it too. At this trough we are challenged to let go of the past and embrace a bright future where Jesus becomes all and all.
So what kind of trough do you want to drink from? What kind of trough would you like your friends to drink from? Perhaps the more important question we need to ask ourselves is "what kind of trough do I want to be?"
The Value of You - September 7, 2021
You are a very complex creature - did you know that? Take your DNA for example. You have 92 strands of it in each of your approximate 100 trillion cells. If you unraveled one of your cell's DNA it would be 2 metres long. If you were feeling really energetic and unraveled all of your cell's DNA and tied them end to end, your DNA would reach to the sun and back over 600 times. In these over 9 quadrillion strands of DNA is contained the genetic code that makes you human. While we share 99.9% of our DNA with the rest of the human family, a whopping 0.01% is made up of variants that makes you uniquely you! While that may not sound a lot that is still three million differences from your neighbour. These variants give some of us red hair instead of brown, blue eyes instead of green, makes us tall rather than short, and gives each of us a unique set of fingerprints.
Thankfully we are not just cold, biological products of our DNA, but masterpieces knit together by a loving Creator. David said "For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well." Psalm 139:13 and 14. Commenting on our value through the parable of the lost sheep, Ellen White says, "In the parable the shepherd goes out to search for one sheep - the very least that can be numbered. So if there had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for that one." Christ Object Lessons, 187. Imagine that! If you were the only person who wondered away, Jesus would have given up His life for you! That's valuable!
So how should we live knowing that we are masterpieces and of infinite value? Here are some things that come to mind:
Let's value each other and treat each other with the utmost respect. Cherish the time you have with another person, knowing that Jesus would have left Heaven for Earth to save them and spend time with them. Also, never underestimate the value of your own testimony. No one can tell "the Old Old Story" in just the way you can. Jesus wants people to hear the good news from you because you have a unique perspective on God's love that no one on the planet has. And remember to value yourself! The reason why God made you was because He wanted you! He didn't need another Thomas, John, Lisa, or Susan (you insert the name) other wise He would have cloned them. Rather He needed a "you" so that's what He made. So value yourself! Lastly, be careful with yourself. Because of sin we are all damaged. But God is knitting us back together again to something even more precious than what we would have been if we had never sinned. Cooperate with Him and watch Him develop you into your full potential!
The Self-Sacrificing Lamb - 31 August, 2021
Lately, I've been having flashbacks of when our kids were young (all good of course). You see, we have two new babies in our household - at least they think they are - and their names are Bonnie and Bella! But they're not people - they're sheep - Well, lambs to be exact. So, every four hours, Molly and I take turns going to the fridge, shaking up the milk, pouring it into the bottle, boiling up some water, pouring that into a container, plopping the bottle in, and then waiting (and waiting...and waiting) for it to heat up to just the right temperature to satisfy their picky (I mean precious) little appetites! And then, four hours later, it starts all over again. Oh, the joy!
One thing I know about lambs is that they are pretty helpless - you have to do everything for them. Maybe that's why it's so intriguing that Jesus took the "lamb" as a symbol for Himself. So was He really as helpless as a lamb? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that He willingly laid aside His divine attributes and really did become a man. What a gargantuan, humongous, mammoth, colossal...(still can't come up with the word)...downward step. And, no, in the sense that He was still fully God (don't try too hard to understand it all - it might blow your circuitry) and could have exercised His divinity at any moment if He really wanted to.
So why would Jesus willingly place Himself in such a weak and vulnerable position? Because He knew He needed to place Himself right where we were in order to redeem us right where we were - knowing full well the ramifications of doing so would be catastrophic to Himself. Consider some of the ramifications here: "We esteem Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." Isaiah 53:4; "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6; "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth" Isaiah 53:7; "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter" Isaiah 53:7; "As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth." Isaiah 53:7; "For the transgression of My people He was stricken." Isaiah 53:8; and "He poured out His soul unto death." Isaiah 53:12. It's too much to fully comprehend isn't it? No wonder Isaiah warned his readers at the beginning of the same chapter "Who has believed our report?"
But its in this almost unbelievable truth of Jesus perceived weakness, that we see revealed the fullness of His strength! Perhaps Revelation 5 describes it best. When John begins to despair that no one in the Universe is worthy (or strong enough) to open the sealed scroll, he hears one of the Elders say to him: "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals." (Rev. 5:5). "Phew" John thinks to himself, "there is someone strong enough! And he's as strong as a Lion and as mighty as a king!" And, then, when he turns around, full of expectation, what does he see? "And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (7) Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (8) Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (9) And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood." (Rev. 5:6-9).
Wow - In Jesus greatest apparent weakness, was His greatest strength! In the self-sacrificing Lamb was revealed the all-powerful, strength of God - His love!
Perhaps the next time I feed Bonnie and Bella, I'll turn my attention off the inconvenience of preparing the milk, and be thankful for the reminder of how powerful supposed weakness really can be!
The Fog of War - 24 August, 2021
They call it "the fog of war". It's the dizzying confusion troops experience when they first go into war and engage the enemy. When the bullets start flying and bombs begin exploding, no one really knows what's happening - whose winning, whose losing, nor how long it will last. It's not until the "dust settles" that the soldiers actually comprehend what has happened and how they did.
For the past year and a half this planet has been enshrouded, it seems, in the "fog of war." This war has not been against some foreign enemy but against a little virus called Covid -19. For the first several months when we engaged the enemy there were a lot of unknowns. Could it be treated by this medicine or should we use that medicine? Was it better to lock down or let the virus run its course til herd immunity kicked in? Where did it come from - bats or a lab? Everyone you talked to seemed to have a different opinion. Frankly, most of us were just guessing and it seems the authorities were too. Only now is the dust beginning to settle, the fog lift, and the landscape emerge into view. And even now, with our latest lockdown, there are still many unknowns.
So how have you been doing navigating this "fog of war"? Has flicking through the conflicting TV channels, scrolling the endless YouTube videos, and browsing the numerous Facebook comments left you feeling a little shell-shocked? If I am honest I have felt a little dazed at times. Just when I thought I had Covid all sussed out, another video would came along and pull the proverbial rug out from under me, making me feel like I was back at square one again!
If you have felt the above, welcome to the human family! Sometimes things aren't as clear as we would like. Fortunately God is bigger than Covid 19 and He's bigger than any struggle or war zone that may come our way. Jehoshaphat, the Judean king of 2 Chronicles 20, knew this full well. As the clouds of war were gathering on his horizon, he chose to look away from the gathering storm and look to God. He said "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." 2 Chronicles 20:12. As Jehoshaphat looked to God, it brought calm to His soul and clarity to his thinking. His trust in God strengthened him to remember that the battle was not his but God's. His trust in God also gave his ears the ability to hear a clear word from above stating "'You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you." 2 Chronicles 20:17. And in that power, he engaged the enemy, not in the strength of his own army, but with songs of praise from the choir for a battle that had already been won.
As we face another lockdown - and all the uncertainty that goes with it - I want to remind you of the secret to navigating the "fog of war": First, turn your eyes away from yourself and place them firmly on God who is more than able to bring you through. Second, remember His mighty promises of deliverance. And third, show up for battle, not in your own strength, but in His strength, praising Him for the battle that is already won!
The Tipping Point - 10 August, 2021
A tipping point is defined as a small change that tips the balance leading to a massive change! Sometimes these tipping points can lead to good changes and at other times tipping points can lead to catastrophic change. An example of a catastrophic tipping point would be the moment the storm surge, generated by Hurricane Katrina, overflowed the flood banks of New Orleans and inundated the city killing around 3000 people. An example of a positive tipping point came around a decade after Tarana Burke, a social activist, began using the phrase "Me Too" on the Myspace social network to show empathy to women who had suffered sexual abuse. The tipping point came in 2017 when actress Melissa Milano tweeted an invitation for other women who had suffered sexual abuse to respond to her message with a "Me Too". The tweet went viral and began a world-wide movement calling for accountability of those who had perpetrated sexual abuse. Hollywood, large corporations, and government agencies have been shaken as a result and several powerful figures have been criminally charged and jailed.
American biologist and economic researcher Chris Martenson describes a similar phenomenon as "Compounding Geometric Progression" (which we could simply describe as the "law of the exponential"). Martenson illustrates this dramatic law in the following way: Imagine the Boston baseball stadium, Fenway Park, has been made watertight. Next, imagine an eye-dropper dropping one drop of water on the pitcher's mound. Now imagine that water doubling in quantity every minute. How long would it take to fill the stadium? Maybe one month, a week, or perhaps a day? The answer is 49 minutes! Amazingly, after 44 minutes the stadium is still only 10% full of water, but within the next 5 minutes, the stadium goes from 10% to completely full and overflowing! Tipping points and the "law of the exponential" brings sudden and massive change!
So what implications do these seemingly abstract phenomena have for us? I would like to suggest that the Bible predicts both a tipping point and the "law of the exponential" at the end of time. In Matthew 24:8 Jesus describes the signs of the second coming of Christ and end of the world as "sorrows" (which, in the original language, literally mean "birth pains"). Every women who has given birth can tell you that the nine months leading up to the birth can seem like an eternity. Will the baby ever come? But then suddenly the birth pains arrive and they increase in both intensity and frequency and begin a cascading of events (whether the mother is ready or not) that only end in the delivery of the baby! Likewise, the second coming and end of time will happen at the conclusion of events that will suddenly increase in intensity and severity. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 uses the same metaphor when it says: "For when they say, 'Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction comes upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape."
Interestingly, Ellen White describes a similar scenario: "We are living in the time of the end. The fast-fulfilling signs of the times declare that the coming of Christ is near at hand. The days in which we live are solemn and important. The Spirit of God is gradually but surely being withdrawn from the earth. Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God. The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. They forecast approaching events of the greatest magnitude. The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones." Counsels for the Church, p. 37.
So when will we hit the tipping point and enter the "final events"? Only God knows but it doesn't seem far away. More importantly - how should we prepare ourselves for them? Here are a couple of suggestions: Firstly, Jesus said "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." Matthew 24:42. Jesus wants us to watch for the signs and prepare now. Secondly, learn Psalm 91. This beautiful Psalm is geared especially for people living in times of trouble. Its relevant, inspiring and comforting!
So let's not worry about what lies ahead of us but let's prepare! Let's learn now how to keep our eyes on Jesus because He is the only one who can lead us safely home!