Where is God Not?

When a person calls another person or group names expressing hatred, condemnation, and derision, God is not there.

When a person threatens another person or group with violence or vengeance, God is not there.

When a person attacks another person verbally or physically over their beliefs or opinions, God is not there.

When a person lies, repeats what they hear without checking the facts, or gossips, God is not there.

(Clarification: I know God is everywhere. So when I say “God is not there,” I don’t mean a place outside His presence. What I mean is a place where He chooses not to be involved or to abide. He says in Isaiah 1:15: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” 1 John 4:12 says “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” To me, that implies that if we don’t love one another, He doesn’t abide in us. In other words, He’s not there.)

It doesn’t matter the label:

Republican or Democrat

Conservative, Liberal, or Independent

Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian

Gay, Straight, or Both

Male, Female, or Other

Atheist, Christian, Jew, or Muslim

White, Blue, Pink, or Green Collar

Rich, Poor, or Middle Class

Baby Boomer, Millennium, Generation X, or Z

If there is hatred, bitterness, and intimidation, God is not there.

Watching the news, scrolling through social media, and listening to people as they talk, I can see just how many places God is not in our country today.

Which is understandable with all the non-believers – not excusable, but explanatory.

But it is not understandable or acceptable for those who profess to follow Jesus. 

Jesus said some hard things when He was walking the earth – to people who were living in dangerous times. Like we are today.

Things like…

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matt. 5:9) 

 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt 5:38-41)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48)

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12)

Paul had some more words…

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing.” (Rom 2:1)

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval.” (Rom 1:1-3)

“To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers.” (1 Cor 6:7-8)

Hard words. Very hard words. In our humanness, we cannot do this. But when we professed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, His Spirit came to live in our hearts enabling us to live by the spirit and not by the flesh. Enabling, nor forcing. We have to choose day by day, sometimes moment by moment, to follow His way.

If we profess to believe and follow Jesus – then we need to follow all of what He said, not just what we like or is easy. If we don’t, then how are we different than non-Christians?

Maybe we aren’t really followers at all.

Something to think about.

Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest

Matthew 11:28-29  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I love these verses.

I loved them when I was taking full course loads each semester at a university and working in my spare time to pay for them.

 I loved them when my children were little and I was teaching full time, usually having to put in an hour or two of unpaid overtime each day.

I loved them when I went back to college to pursue my master’s degree while teaching full time, raising two around-teen-age children, and serving leadership roles in several Christian groups.

I loved them when problems piled on top of each other and I saw no way out.

I loved them when the stresses of life weighed down on me while I struggled with strong PMS symptoms each month.

There was just one problem.

They didn’t seem to work for me. Spending time with Jesus didn’t make my work load lessen and I never felt rested for more than a few minutes at a time. Peace, yes. But not rested.  I did make it through – if that counts – but just barely. So I did with this scripture what I did with others I didn’t understand. I filed it under “nice idea, but confusing”, and hoped someday God would explain what He really meant.

Many years went past.

Then today I came across it again. And this time I had a light bulb moment. He’s not talking about our daily life burdens, He’s talking about religious burdens. The kind that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were putting on the people. All the dos and don’ts and rituals and ceremonies. Making sure to follow all the rules was a heavy load to carry. It still is today, if that’s what we’re trying to do.

Jesus came to show us a better way. His focus was on restoring our relationship with the Father, not in adding rituals or ceremonies. He wanted to set us free from religion so that we could enjoy our relationship with our Father. Coming from a very religious upbringing, I can testify that these verses did and still do work exactly as He said.

How did I not see this before?  How could I have read these verses for over 40 years, and never “got it”? It makes me wonder how many other verses I’ve taken out of context over the years. Maybe it’s time to reread the New Testament, this time not skimming past the familiar verses I think I know, but really looking at them in context.

I bet I’ll find enough to write a book.

And maybe I’ll do just that.

Idols by Any Other Name

Sighing, I continued my physical therapy exercises as the You Tube video I was watching was interrupted by yet another ad. Usually I tune out the ads, but something in this one caught my attention. I stopped moving and stared at the tiny screen on my phone.

A young beautiful woman was talking about her abusive past, and that she had found something that helped her overcome it.

Was it Jesus? I had never seen a testimonial ad on You Tube. I continued watching.

She got a good job, was able to save money, and even travel. And she was so thankful. This something had turned her life around.

Was it Jesus? Sure sounded like it. I waited for her to give Him the glory.

Then somehow she lost that something. Everything in her life fell apart. She lost her job, her home, and her happiness. One day a friend led her back to that something, and again her life was restored. And now she wanted to tell the world about it.

About Jesus? I was ready to celebrate with her, but…

Nope. It wasn’t about Jesus at all.

It was about… a bracelet.

A very special bracelet, infused with good energy by specific rituals, and accompanied by clear directions on how to wear it (make sure you touch it frequently to… what?… show it your faith?) and what not to do with it. She attributed all her well-being to this bracelet, and all her problems to having lost it. It even had a name.

I was floored.

Here in America, we don’t worship man-made objects, right? I mean, in this country we can’t just go to the market and buy a god or two. We (Westernized Christians) generally think of idols as pride, wealth, or status. But what if we’re wrong? What if idols actually mean idols? And what if we are as full of them in the Church today as the Israelites were in the Old Testament? As Christ-followers, we have been commanded to seek all our needs from God, to look only to Him. If we seek joy, prosperity, health, wisdom, peace, safety or anything else from anything other than our Father, how is that any different than what the Israelites were doing? And if we are as guilty of idolatry as they were, regardless of what we call our idols (good luck charms, energy stones, and healing crystals, among others), then aren’t we as much in danger of judgment today as the Israelites were back in their day? God is still a jealous God, and will not share His glory with another. We have been warned numerous times.

Let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s be like Josiah, the king in 2 Kings 23. Let’s examine ourselves and our stuff and get rid of any idols we may have, before our Father has to come down here and do it for us. Then we can enjoy his blessings instead of facing his judgment.


Deut 7:25-26 The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take if for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.

2 Kings 23:24-25  Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had found in the house of the LORD. Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

2 Cor 6:16  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will  make my dwelling among them and walk among them and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.

Two Sides

A book has a beginning and an end. Without both, it would be incomplete.

A coin has a front and a back. Without both, it would be valueless.

A house has an inside and an outside. Without both, it couldn’t exist.

A staircase has a top and a bottom. Without both, it would be useless.

A toothbrush is a hard and a soft part. Without both, it wouldn’t be a toothbrush.

Many things have two sides, both equally important.

So does our God Most High.

He is loving, kind, long-suffering, patient, faithful, merciful, and forgiving.

He is also just, jealous, holy, righteous, wrathful, and a consuming fire.

He is God.

He is not a god.

He is the LORD God Most High.

We did not create God.

His character is not open for debate.

Liking or not liking His traits does not negate them.

Understanding or not understanding Him does not change Him.

He is who He is.

He is God.

Focusing on only one side leaves you shortsighted.

Those who focus on the ‘God is love’ side tend to become presumptuous and  complacent, accepting everything, even sin.

Those who focus on the wrathful God tend to become fearful and legalistic, rejecting anything outside their view.

To know God you have to know both sides.

We either accept Him as He is, or we need to find a god more to our liking. Even if that god is us.

The truth is…

God Most High is both loving and jealous.

God Most High is both merciful and wrathful.

God Most High is both forgiving and holy.

God Most High is both faithful and vengeful.

The side you see depends on where you stand.


Exodus 3:14  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Psalm 83:18  That they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 46:9  Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

Exodus 34:6-7  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

2 Chronicles 34:21  “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LOR, to do according to all that is written in this book.”

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

1 Peter 1:15-16  But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all you conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Psalm 11:7 For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 86:5 For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

1 Cor 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us for all unrighteousness.

What If?

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What if all those warnings over the last 40+ years were true –

warnings of a coming darkness?

warnings of God’s wrath?

warnings of judgment because we (Christians) have turned from God?

 

What if you knew those days were here?

How would you live differently? Or would you?

How would it change your prayer life? Or would it?

 

Individually and as a Church,

would we use God’s Word to look within ourselves, to see where we’ve compromised with the world around us?

Because we have compromised.

Would we ask God to reveal our sin; where we’ve strayed?

Because we have strayed.

Would we repent, and pray for God’s mercy?

Because that’s what He wants most of all.

Or would we point our fingers at each other? Or at those outside the Church for bringing this upon us?

 

Each time the Israelites strayed from God’s commands, incorporating pagan lifestyles and beliefs into their own, God sent warnings through His prophets. God gave the people plenty of time to return to Him. Sometimes it was years, sometimes decades, sometimes even centuries. But each time the warnings were ignored. Since the wrath didn’t appear the next day, or the next month, the Israelites believed it wouldn’t happen at all. Instead of turning to God, they turned on the prophets with ridicule, imprisonment, even murder. Until the wrath fell on them.

 

What if we as a Church are no different? What if we have adopted the mind sets and life styles of the world around us? What if we no longer hold God first in our hearts, but  seek after the gods of this world? What if we have been warned repeatedly by courageous modern day prophets, but treated them the same way the Israelite treated the prophets of old? Have we dismissed those who have called out for us to repent? Have we belittled and criticized warning “prophecies”, believing, maybe, that God doesn’t do that anymore? Or that the prophets “got it wrong”? After all, we go to church. We give our money. We try to live good lives. We’re fine, right?

Are we?

 

God told the Israelites to…

worship only Him, and with all their heart,

to follow all His commands which involved their relationship with Him, and with each other,

and to keep His ways, not the ways of the people around them.

 

Didn’t Jesus tell us the same thing?

worship God with all our heart,

love each other, treat each other fairly and justly

obey the Holy Spirit inside us,

and not conform to the world around us

 

God poured out His wrath on the Israelites for straying – wrath that included…

Confusion, frustration

Diseases, afflictions, pestilences, and illnesses

Defeat by their enemies

Oppression and robbery instead of prosperity

Sojourners among them would rise higher and higher while they were brought lower and lower

A nation from far away come against them

Crops consumed by insects

So hungry they end up eating their own children

Be in darkness as if blind

Be left few in number

 

Scary, isn’t it?

What if He did the same with us? What if He’s already doing it? The New Testament warns of a coming wrath. It’s not a matter of IF it will happen, but WHEN it will happen.

 

Yet, God also promised blessings instead of curses if the Israelites turned back to Him…

Set them high among the nations

Defeat their enemies

Establish them as His holy people, causing all other nations to fear them

Prosper them in every way

Send rain in its season

Open to them His good treasury in heaven

They would lend to other nations, and not borrow

 

What if we listened to the prophets this time?

What if we turned back to God with all our hearts?

What if the time was now?

 

 

 


Scriptures:

“For the LORD GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)

“Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the LORD. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention.” (2 Chron 24:19)

 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19)

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom 2:4-6)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has not inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceived you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”” (Eph 5:1-14)

 “ Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:5-6)

“Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

“But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” (Jude 1:17-19)

list of Blessings for Obedience, and Curses for Disobedience (see Deut 28)

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you…  and you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of you cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers… (Deut 30:1-3, 8-9)

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil… therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live…” (Deut 30: 11-15, 19)

“if my people who are called by by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron 7:14)

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your father served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in the land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

 

Fear Buster

Remember Ghost Busters? “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”

Well, I am. If a ghost appeared to me, I would most definitely be afraid. And that’s not the only thing I’m afraid of.

I’m afraid of being criticized.

I’m afraid of small talk.

I’m afraid of extensive dental work.

I’m afraid of hearing God wrong.

I’m afraid of my house never getting fixed.

I’m afraid of running out of money.

I’m afraid of taking chances.

I’m afraid of making wrong decisions.

I’m afraid of growing really old.

I’m afraid of making phone calls.

I’m afraid of alligators.

I’m afraid of disappointing God.

I’m afraid of confrontation.

I’m afraid of letting go of my fears.

I could go on – the list is endless.

But God’s list for overcoming fear is short. Very short. There’s only two things on His list.

Fear is not of God.

Perfect love casts out fear.

 

I didn’t used to understand that, because I didn’t understand love. Or God. But I’m learning.

He taught me how to use His list as a Fear Buster whenever a fear appeared.

This is how it works:

(name your fear) I’m afraid of making wrong decisions.

(remind yourself) Fear is not of God.

(personalize applicable scriptures) Romans 8:28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. Psalm 48:14 That this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. God promises to guide me and to make all things work in my favor. I do not have to worry about which decision I make. Even if I make the wrong one, God will take care of me. He loves me, and is bigger than any mistake I make. He has promised to make everything, even my mistakes, work out in my favor.

(replace the fear with His love) Perfect love casts out fear.

Good-bye fear! I am no longer afraid because I’m trusting God’s Word, and not what I can see, reason, or imagine.

 

Now THAT’S the real, and amazing, Ghost Buster FEAR BUSTER!

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Devastation or Beauty:  Where Does Your Mind Dwell?

As some of you know, my town was hit by Michael, a strong category 4 hurricane, (wind speed just 2 mph less than a category 5) in October. It’s been just over 2 months and devastation is still seen everywhere. Many businesses are still not reopened, and many of those will never reopen leaving many people jobless. Long lines and completely filled parking lots plague the few department and grocery stores that have opened. Contractors and their workers’ vehicles flood the streets so making a quick trip anywhere is no longer possible. Blue tarped roofs are seen everywhere as well as downed and broken trees, debris piles taller than the cars driving past them, and a multitude of damaged buildings. Some areas of town are still without electricity and internet. Many people who lost their homes either had to move away or are living in tents because there is no housing left. Schools have to share facilities since many schools were completely destroyed. There is not one building, one lot, or one person in our town untouched. Instead of concentrating on Christmas, many are exhausted from navigating insurance and contractor paperwork while trying to avoid the many scams that pop up in situations like this, jumping through FEMA hoops, or trying to find a job they can walk to since their cars were damaged along with their homes. Very few Christmas lights can be seen, and parents are desperately trying to seek ways to get some presents to their children. The more fortunate ones compete for the toys still available at Walmart, but many more don’t have the finances and have to stand in lines for many hours to get a chance to pick out some donated toys. Even worse, a good number of people have had to resort to begging strangers for help because they don’t have the transportation or health to even get to the toy distribution sites.

On the other hand…

After most volunteers and relief agencies have left, we are still being surprised with truck loads of toys, blankets, jackets, and other supplies arriving from people living in other towns near and far. More than a few Facebook groups have been created solely for the purpose of providing help to those who need it from insurance and contractor concerns to housing and shopping question. Quite a few people both local and distant have formed networks to ensure every legitimate need is taken care of to the best of their ability. Some people have opened their yards/land to house displaced people living in tents providing them safety, meals and hot showers. Many new friendships have been created and neighbors are watching out for each other now that fences no longer separate them. And the beauty of God’s creation can still be seen from the dazzling night sky (much clearer now since we have fewer street and commercial lights) and the breathtaking sunrises/sunsets (less trees = more view of the sky) to the delicate blooming flowers and the gorgeous beaches.

As I think about the people I’ve met and the people whose Facebook posts I’ve read, I wonder why so many are depressed and angry while many others are hopeful and encouraging. I don’t think in this case the answer can be found solely in their relationship or lack of relationship with God. It’s true that for many Christians, their faith is giving them the strength to keep moving forward. Yet I know just as many strong Christians who are depressed and hurting as non-Christians who are positive and optimistic. No, I think in this situation the answer might lie more in their heads than in their hearts. Where do their minds dwell? The devastation all around that is real and not going away any time soon? Or the beauty that is also real and not going away? Each is just as valid as the other. Yet for some reason it’s way easier to dwell in the devastation than to see past it to the beauty.

Maybe when we pray for people in devastated areas – not just here in Panama City but throughout the world – we could add a short sentence before our amen. It may not seem like much, but it might just make all the difference.

“Father, open their eyes to the beauty that is still around them.”

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Devastated pavilion surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation at St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL, taken on 12/24/18 by Linda Schnepel