Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blessed River

“The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.” (Ezekiel 47:1-2)

When the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel saw this vision, his nation was in exile because they had forsaken the Lord beyond His patience to withhold judgment. There would be degrees of restoration in the future, and ultimately complete restoration.

“As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’ Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.” (Ezekiel 47:3-7)

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, and completely lifeless because of extraordinarily high concentrations of salts and other minerals. Fed by the Jordan River and other streams, the Dead Sea has no outlet but evaporates rapidly in the desert heat, leaving heavy, caustic, mineral-laden water behind. Fish that flow in with the fresh water instantly perish. People enjoy floating effortlessly on the surface, but must immediately and thoroughly rinse away the corrosives. Mounds of salt line the shores of the Dead Sea, and a nearby pillar is named for Lot’s wife.

“He said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Great Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:8-12)

Recently, the Lord has impressed upon me the principles of Ezekiel 47 – which we may now receive by faith and later witness by sight when Jesus returns. He promised springs and streams of living water to the woman at the well, and to the celebrants in the temple, and “By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” (John 7: 39a)

Each of us is surrounded by Dead Sea people. And – if we are honest – we recognize that we ourselves are much more briny than the fresh flowing water that gives life. This is no way to live, no way to serve in these last days. Yet we have a better hope that comes by faith. The Lord on His throne is ready to answer even one person’s humble, earnest, faith-filled prayer for revival.

“‘Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:12)

I do believe He is ready. And you?

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blessed By Susan Boyle

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-35)

On the same Resurrection Sunday that the brave, self-sacrificing American captain of a benevolence ship was rescued from the pirates, the attention of all nations turned to a humble Scottish maiden with a heavenly voice.

Four weeks and 200,000,000 global internet views later, tearful observers worldwide are still moved to express their reactions to Susan Boyle. Prominent among the comments are words like these: God-given, voice of an angel, sent by God, God bless you, and hope.

Across the Atlantic in Russian Jewish Brooklyn, the Russian-language media have devoted much attention to Miss Boyle, and the tears flow past the language barrier. Like many of us, immigrants embrace her heart-rending courage to confide her dream and offer her gift to mockers. They rejoice in her vindication and hope for their own. And somehow, through this simple story with a deeper meaning, they begin to believe that there is a Living God Who really cares, Who really gives new life out of the grave.

“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’” (Luke 15:1-4)

Jesus told parables that pierced the hearts and minds of listeners, imparting vital truth about God, His character and His Kingdom. What a paradox, that Jesus should use the mundane as His best way to teach the transcendent principles of the Holy One. But even twenty centuries later, even in closed countries (including the Former Soviet Union in its time), parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are known by people who know little else of the Living God or the Bible. And these parables instill a yearning for Someone to fulfill them.

More and more people worldwide are now sensing a finality, and somehow a spiritual quality, to much that is happening. Events and individuals seem to illustrate something more, something significant beyond themselves. That the unpretentious life-weary Susan Boyle should emerge from her village to seize control of the global internet (while not even owning a computer or cell phone) leads many to consider that God is profoundly at work to win hearts, that multitudes may know in a moment, even through the merest of instruments – even through Last Days parables.

“‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’” (Luke 15:20b-24a)

We deeply appreciate your prayers and steady support as we reach out each month to hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews, Muslims, Russians and others through our English/Bible classes, computer, citizenship and sewing classes, home school support, Shabbat and holy day celebrations, media and street evangelism, and other Gospel-saturated works – along with our partner ministries. Please pray for many to enter in to His story for all time, through faith in Jesus. Do pray also for Susan Boyle and others like her, that He will bless them with fullness of joy.

“‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’” (Luke 15:10)

Susan Boyle, I Dreamed A Dream

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blessed Enemies

“‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?’” (Matthew 5:43-46)

Many people who read these words of Jesus refer immediately to Hitler or Osama bin Laden and think, “It’s impossible and irrational, thus I am completely exempt from the command to love my enemies.” But God is not necessarily asking us to start at the post-graduate level. He is willing for us to start in kindergarten, loving close ones that might occasionally feel like “enemies” – family members, friends, church members, coworkers, neighbors – people who hurt us, disappoint us, insult us, ungratefully use us, disrespect us or upset us in various ways that leave us feeling wounded, angry, bitter, unforgiving and not very loving at all.

Even as believers in Jesus, our natural response to “enemies” is a negative emotion combined with Scriptural principles showing how wrong they are, accompanied by thoughts or even prayers that they should be punished and we should be vindicated for their violations, possibly followed by words or actions, later followed by bitter mental replays, perhaps eventually followed by forgiveness and loving feelings again. Until the next time.

There is a better way.

Without counseling about all situations and proper responses, let me offer Jesus’ command as a before, during and after approach in every case. He has been teaching me how He works through this command, and although I am a very slow learner I can attest that He is faithful.

Perhaps this will motivate you as it has me:

“‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’” (Matthew 5:7-9)

My vastly most important relationship is with Him. I want to experience the two-way love relationship that He desires. I want His blessing and mercy even though I am weak. I want to know what is in His thoughts toward me. I want a pure heart so I can see Him more and more clearly, understanding and delighting in His ways and being astonished at His power in my life. I want peace in my heart and, as much as possible, peace in my circumstances. I want to be radiant as a child of God reflecting His character. I stumble, but I want to keep looking up and knowing that He is near.

This intimacy with Him is possible only because He first loved me while I was still His enemy. Christ even willingly died to remove the sin barrier and bring me into a love relationship with Him. His grace drew me in (more like knocked out and dragged, in my case). His sacrifice for me was also for my enemies.

More and more, I am coming to understand how my failure to immediately love and bless and kindly pray for my enemies actually burdens my relationship with the Lord. So, even if they are truly bad and never change for the better, I must be willing to live out Jesus’ command and trust Him to work supernaturally in surprising ways that I could never achieve through the other pattern. He wants me to be pure in heart so I can see Him.

Blessing and praying for my enemies with His love becomes an act of lifting them up to the cross upon which He already died as the sufficient blood sacrifice for them, placing them in His care, tenderly asking for His grace and mercy to be operative in their lives, freeing them from bondage that they cannot escape in any other way. By committing to love and bless and pray like this, trusting Him, and trying though failing and trying again, I have seen Him work – really work.

I suspect that He was always willing to work in the case of my enemies, but the hard part was my own heart.

“‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’” (Matthew 5:5)