Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
"[Just as the Israelites did during the period of the Judges] evidence of the Canaanization of the church are everywhere: our preoccupation with material property, which turns Christianity into a fertility religion (fertility religions are concerned to secure for the worshiper a large family, large flocks and herds, and abundant crops, the ancient equivalent to the modern health and wealth gospel); our syncretistic and aberrant forms of worship; our refusal to obey the Lord's call to separation from the world; our divisiveness and competitiveness; our moral compromises, as a result of which Christians and non-Christians are often indistinguishable; our [male] exploitation of women and children; our reluctance to answer the Lord's call to service, and when we finally go, our tendency to displace "Thy kingdom come" with "My kingdom come"; our eagerness to fight the Lord's battles with the world's resources and strategies; our willingness to stand up and defend perpetrators of evil instead of justice." (Daniel J. Block, The New American Commentary, Judges and Ruth)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
Every August the grapes come in, muscadines and scuppernongs in this part of the country. Strong flavored, thick-skinned, acidic, and seedy, they are best for jelly and juice, though true Floridians enjoy noshing on them as is. With the boys grown now, I go through fewer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so the jelly production has dwindled and the juice making increased, and I have discovered the easiest method for making and canning grape juice.
Put a generous cup or so of clean grapes in each sterilized quart jar. Add some sugar and fill the jars with boiling water. Process and once the lids have sealed, put them on your shelf for at least two months. The liquid and the sugar will leach the goodness right out of those grapes. When you open the jar, strain them out and enjoy what’s left behind. Perhaps not as much fun as jumping into the vat with Lucy and Ethel, but far cleaner and easier.
One day I decided to taste one of those strained-out grapes just to see what was left in it. I should have known—it was duller and several shades paler than its original shiny purple-black, and loose as a deflated balloon. How did it taste? Like sour nothingness. Maybe that’s what happens to us when we steep ourselves in the world.
Is wealth consuming your thoughts? “Just let me have enough,” is a lie we tell ourselves. He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income, Eccl 5:10. If you allow thoughts of riches to flood your life—even if you don’t have them--anything spiritual will be washed out of your heart. Notice the prediction God made about Israel: But [they] waxed fat, and kicked: you have waxed fat, you have grown thick, you are covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation, Deuteronomy 32:15. Their wealth (“fatness”) covered them so that it was all they could think about. Any notion of serving God was completely forgotten. If you think we aren’t at risk, just take a minute and look around. What used to be a God-fearing nation has become a people who worship wealth, power, and celebrity instead.
Other times we allow the pleasures and conveniences of this world to permeate our lives so that the mere thought of sacrificing anything, whether comfort, ease, or even opinion, will be smothered out of us. “Self” will leach the good out of hearts and minds, and leave nothing but the emptiness of indulgence. If your “rights” spring to your lips every time someone crosses you, you have stifled the spiritual character of yielding to others, whether your neighbors, the man in the car in front of you, or the brother who sits next to you on the pew. You have suffocated the spirit of mercy that marks us as His children. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh... For to be carnally minded is death… Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God, Romans 8:5-8.
But sometimes we simply drown in “stuff.” What do you do all day long? Run from this to that to another event, none of which is evil, but none of which is spiritual either. How do you feel at the end of the day? Drained, probably, and maybe even quicker to fall into the sins of impatience and intolerance simply because you are so tired. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful, Matthew 13:22.
What are you floating in today? Will it make you sweet and useful to the Master, or will it leave you an empty, useless hull of a servant, one who will be strained out and thrown away? Let me know if you need a jar of my grape juice to sit on your shelf as a reminder.
My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food…For zeal for your house has consumed me, Job 23:11-12, Psa 69:9.
On May 8, 1902, Mt Pele erupted on the island of Martinique. A few days earlier, birds had fallen from the sky covered in ash and one of the rivers along its slopes rose and fell as if a giant plunger were being used on it. On another day, gigantic centipedes and deadly vipers came slithering down the mountain, disturbed by the rumbling and the tremors. At least 50 people died from those. Yet the citizens were all assured by authorities as high as the governor that St Pierre, the cultural center of the island, which sat about 7 km from the mountain, was safe. In fact, the governor brought his entire family to that town to show his confidence in all the experts.
Then on May 8, a flash like lightning exploded from the mouth of the volcano and a cloud of poisonous gas reaching temperatures estimated at 350-400 degrees Celsius formed and fell on the city of St Pierre so quickly that no one could escape, killing 30,000 in an instant, most from suffocation or scalded lungs. All the expert opinions in the world did not keep them from dying, and it happened in a flash, before they could do anything to save themselves.
For them it was the end of the world, but I doubt it held a candle to the fiery cataclysm in Genesis 19: Jehovah rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah out of heaven, and he overthrew those cities and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and that which grew upon the ground, vv 24,25.
We know how Lot wound up in Sodom, but did you ever wonder where his wife came from? When Lot left Ur with Abraham, Abraham’s wife is mentioned, Lot’s wife is not. Is that because she was not important to the story, or because she wasn’t there yet?
Although Lot moved to the plain of Jordan in Gen 13:11, he was actually living in Sodom by 14:12. We have first mention of “the women” in 14:16, but that could have referred to servants—remember, at one point he had quite a few. Lot’s wife is not specifically mentioned until he is actually living in Sodom. Between 12:4 and 18:10, twenty-four years have elapsed, plenty of time to marry and have marriageable daughters, especially in a day where marrying them off at puberty was the custom. Since Sodom is not actually destroyed until chapter 19, it is quite possible that Lot’s wife was a native of Sodom. It would certainly make her attachment to the city, and her looking back, much more understandable.
Jesus utters the words of the title above when he is warning his followers about the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 17. When the time came, they were to flee, giving no thought to the life they were leaving behind. Any delay caused by the desire for that life would cause them to lose any hope of a future life. The warning, Remember Lot’s wife, also carried with it the idea of regretting what was left behind. As a matter of fact, the next morning Abraham looked at those same cities Lot and his family were told not to look at, Gen 19:27,28, but he did not turn into a pillar of salt. He was not sorry these wicked places were destroyed; he was probably wondering if Lot and his family had made it out alive. Lot’s wife, on the other hand, was looking back like the man who put his hand to the plow and looked back. God wants a real commitment from us, with no lingering attachment to the old way of life.
So no, we do not really know where Lot’s wife came from, but it is safe to assume she loved her life in Sodom. If she came from there, that might explain it—family, friends, and familiar surroundings. But if she did not, she still might be the reason he finally made the actual move into the city. She left only because she was forced to, Gen 19:16, and because she so plainly regretted it, God counted her with the Sodomites and destroyed her too. Being in Sodom was not the crux of the matter, but rather, being like Sodom, and liking that place all too well.
How about me? Do I live the Christian life because I love it, or because I feel forced into it, regretting the loss of my old life and wishing I were there? Do I put my hand to the plow and look back? Do I get along so well with the world that no one sees a difference between me and them? If God were still in the salt business, what would I look like today?
Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful, who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only they who do the same, but who take pleasure in them that do them. Rom 1:28-32
I walked out to turn off the sprinkler the other morning, and Chloe ran up to me as she always does, looking for a pat on the head. I reached down out of habit, but all I felt was a cold, wet nose. That wasn’t enough for her, so she kept right on bumping my leg until I stopped and actually got hold of fur, rubbing her back and chest hard and fast just as she likes.
I chuckled to myself when I realized what that cold, wet nose meant: she was doing fine. A warm, dry nose would have had me stopping in my tracks to check her out, but a cold wet one kept me headed for my destination without a second thought.
Funny the things that signal to us that everything is all right. Out here in the country we lose our power so often that as we near home after a long trip I start looking at the neighbors’ houses to make sure their lights are on. Nothing worse than coming home dog-tired and finding no power and no water. The warmly lighted windows along the highway ease my mind.
Did you ever think what must have been the signal to God that things were not fine in Eden? Yes, God knew it the moment it happened, but for a moment give me a little poetic license. God looks down and what does He see? Fig leaves where there should be nothing. Even Genesis remarks on that first. She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together…
God looked at His children in their perfect home and knew that they were no longer fit to live there—those fig leaves gave them away. “Who told you you were naked?” He asked Adam, and the jig was up. I wonder if now He isn’t saddened by seeing us this way, if the very clothes we wear aren’t a constant reminder of His original intentions for us, and the sin we so willfully brought into this world. Now He sees us and sighs for what could have been.
Even worse, those very clothes that He made to cover the sign of our iniquity, have become objects of sin themselves—apparel that causes men to lust with its lascivious intent, attire that brings division to His Son’s body when the self-righteous try to legislate what is right and wrong to wear in the group worship, more or finer clothing that causes envy in others.
I wonder what God thinks when He looks down on our brimming closets, where we stand moaning that we “have nothing to wear?” Surely when He sees our clothes he must think of what it cost Him and His Son. Surely those piles of shoes remind Him of the piles of sin His children have committed.
Who would have thought that, just like those aprons of fig leaves, the dress I wore Sunday morning, and the suit my husband chose and the tie he so carefully knotted would be a sign that everything is not all right? Dressing every morning should remind us of what we have lost and the price tag attached to those clothes.
How much does that designer label matter to you now?
Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious, 1 Peter 3:3-4.
Over the holidays I finally used up several votive candles. That's "several" as in half a dozen. Now I have six empty little jars, none of which have lids. The budget-conscious woman in me wondered what to do with them. With no lids they are fairly useless, and I have no more shelf space to accommodate them.
So I went looking for Keith. "Can you use these for nails or screws or something?" He looked skeptical but took them with him to the shed anyway.
Very shortly he was back inside with those same jars. "I already have a shelf full of them."
Still it was difficult to make myself throw them away. We are so used to saving and "re-purposing" because we have had to for so long, that it felt like I was being sinfully wasteful to even considerate it. But I took a deep breath and did so.
I wonder if we don't have the same problem with our spirituality. Habits, hobbies, even family traditions can get in the way of the time we need for spiritual things. Those things are not usually wrong. A smattering of them can even be healthy, not just to our bodies, but also to our weary minds. But what goes undone because I just can't let go of a trivial pursuit of mine in order to pursue something not trivial at all?
Perhaps it is time for some careful consideration. How might I rearrange things so that I can spend more time on spiritual endeavors? Sometimes it is as simple as changing the order of things or just getting up 10 minutes early. Can I do those simple things for God, for my relationship with Him, for my spiritual health?
Here's a thought. Family night is important. I would never even consider asking someone to give it up. But maybe once or twice a month you could use that time of togetherness to cook and take a meal to someone who needs it. Or take your children with you to visit at the hospital, then stop for ice cream on the way home. (How do you think they will learn visiting otherwise?) Or spend the first half hour of family night on a devotion and accompanying discussion. It isn't that difficult to figure these things out when you really want to.
Stop saving useless "votive jars" when you already have a shelf full of them. At some point it is no longer good stewardship. At some point, even good things can become sinful.
And that which fell among the thorns, these are they that have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:14)
We hadn’t driven that road in years, a narrow county road I used to jog down every morning. At that time one end was so well wooded that more than once during hunting season I heard bullets whizzing across the road behind me when I jogged. I learned to sing loudly while I ran.
The morning of our drive the sunlight came in exactly as it had all those years ago, slanting rays peeking through the trees from the east, clear and bright where they hit the road, a crisp fall morning, the humidity of summer left behind. Then we came upon them, house after house, places where we had known the people who had lived there, one after the other along the west side of the road, then the south as the road made a ninety degree bend to the left. We named the people as we rode by, and when we finished we looked at one another and realized that every one of them was dead.
Yet there the houses still stood, some with new families, but most empty, houses those people had built themselves, nice homes mine could fit in twice over, carefully landscaped property, barns, sheds, pools, and other outbuildings—empty. I thought of the Preacher’s words: I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees… Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun, Eccl 2:4-6,11.
If ever there was a time I understood Ecclesiastes, it was that morning. All these things people spend their money on, all these things they think will make them happy, none of them really matter because sooner or later you die and leave them behind.
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil, Eccl 2:17-21.
Maybe, though, the writer overreacted a bit. Why hate your life? Why not just change it? When you learn that you control your happiness, that happiness does not lie in circumstances but within yourself, then you change the emphasis of all you do. Why not spend your time making other people’s lives better? Why not spread the good news in whatever way you are still able? Why leave only an empty house behind when you can leave something far more lasting—an example, words of comfort and encouragement, the Word of God taught in whatever way possible to any and all who will pay attention?
After you are gone, what will people say when they drive past what used to be yours? Will they merely say, “That’s where so-and-so used to live?” Or will they say, “Remember that brother and sister? They were such good people.” How are you spending the time God has given you? What will you leave behind? How much better to leave the memories of a life full of joy and service than an empty building no one will care about anyway.
And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:16-21
We had headed out on our trip to Apalachicola in the middle of the week, in late October. Since Keith retired we have discovered the best times for traveling are any time but the week-end. Less traffic, fewer tourists vying for the same sights, food, and lodging. And our own Inn was less expensive midweek, so our gift certificate went further.
We had decided to take US 98 west along the coast. As a born and bred Florida girl it seemed a shame that I had never in my life made that trip, winding around on two lane roads bordering the Gulf, watching the waves through and beneath the stilted beach houses, swaying sea oats, and sand dunes. We prepared ourselves to be relaxed and patient and enjoy the brand new scenery despite miles and miles of bumper to bumper tourist traffic.
So we headed out early, stopping in Branford, a small town on the Suwannee River with a café featuring an excellent breakfast, including the biggest, fluffiest, tastiest biscuits I had eaten in any café anywhere—the Branford Gathering, if you care to know. We took our time there, as well, chatting up the waitress about their lunch and evening meals, asking her favorite dish and the best times to eat each of those meals—just in case.
Then we crossed that fabled river and headed through "Old Florida," not the glitzy Florida of amusement parks, tourist traps, and high end hotels. This was more like the Florida I grew up in, though decidedly more wooded than central Florida. The sun flashed metronomically through pencil thin pine forests. Logging trucks sat rumbling by the side of the road in deep muddy ruts awaiting their load of logs before pulling out on the two lane blacktop. Pickups passed going the opposite direction, some pulling horse trailers, some boats, and others farm equipment. Up ahead we would see a green sign telling us we were entering a town—Cabbage Grove, Scanlon, Newport--only to find a convenience store or a gas station, and little else.
Finally we turned south toward the Gulf, wondering when the traffic would begin. We wondered that for mile after mile, even after we gained sight of the water. We kept trundling along at the speed limit, on cruise control, in fact, never once having to hit the brakes for another vehicle. Somewhere around Carabelle we picked up a car or two ahead of us, but it was probably Eastpoint before we really had any traffic. As a result we arrived about two hours earlier than we expected, and had absolutely no trouble finding our inn. We came across the bridge at the mouth of the Apalachicola River and there it stood.
Apalachicola is a slow, lazy, Southern town. Diagonal street parking, a lone blinking yellow light, more pedestrians than vehicles and not that many of them. After finding our room and unpacking, we went for a hike and quickly found the Visitors' Center. We were the only visitors there. And that may be the first place we came across the nickname of that area of Florida's Big Bend—the Forgotten Coast.
You may be thinking, especially if you are not a Floridian, "Forgotten? Who ever heard of it in the first place?" As it turns out, Apalachicola was once a very important place. Between 1840 and 1860 it was the third busiest cotton port on the Gulf, after New Orleans and Mobile. By 1860 the population was nearly 2000. And now? The population in 2010 was still just over 2200. The railroad no longer runs from Columbus, Georgia, with its tons of cotton, and Apalachicola is suddenly not as important as it used to be. Shrimpers and oystermen still work the waters, supplying 90% of the oysters consumed in the state. But without the railroad, the cotton, and the ships offshore waiting for those bales, the town, even the whole coast, never continued growing. It has become "Forgotten."
When something is no longer an important part of our lives, we tend to "forget" it. Not that we really cannot remember it happening, just that we seldom think about it, and certainly never plan our lives around it. That's what happened to God. His people "forgot" him.
God warned them that might happen. And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deut 6:10-12)
And sure enough, even that warning did them no good. But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. (Hos 13:4-6)
I wonder if we don't need the same warning. We live in prosperous times. Most of us are so wealthy we don't even realize it. "Busyness" has become a status symbol in itself. And so our extra classes die on the vine because no one attends, the older men who offer their help in study sit alone and waiting for all the ones who never show up, and our children complain because doing a Bible lesson is "boring." A very few good women take care of every need among the saints while others have their families, or their careers, or their "me time."
Do we realize how dangerous this is? My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6) When God is no longer the center of our lives, when pleasing him is no longer our purpose, when knowing more and more about him and his Word so we can serve him even better is considered extraneous, when serving his people is the last thing on our lists and therefore usually undone, we are forgetting God just as those people did so long ago.
A God whom the Old Testament describes as one whose "lovingkindness endures forever" again and again, eventually ran out of patience with a people who no longer valued him or his law. Don't think his patience won't run out on us.
I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert. This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, declares the LORD, because you have forgotten me…(Jer 13:24-25)
We recently spent a few lovely days in Apalachicola. Our children pooled their resources and gave us an anniversary gift certificate for a turn of the 20th century inn, Florida cracker style with large windows and wrap-around verandas and white wooden rockers, antique furniture, narrow, steep stairways (no elevators!), and a widow's walk. Our room had a four poster bed with bars for mosquito netting, wooden-slat blinds, a chamber pot (just for decor), a clawfoot iron tub and a pedestal sink. The floors were all original long leaf pine and black cypress, complete with creaks! Despite the authenticity, it was completely comfortable, well, except maybe for Keith having to carry our suitcases up three flights of stairs.
Located in the center of this small fishing town, we were able to park at the inn and simply walk everywhere. One day we went to the Orman house, an old home originally owned by the man who practically put Apalachicola on the map. It is now a "state park" and the ranger was our guide. This place is not just his job, it is his life. He has written books on it, and he knows it like it is his own childhood home. We saw all the furniture, dishes, and even clothes from the original family, up three stories all the way to the locked entrance to the widow's walk. As nice as this home must have been in the 1800s, it amazed us more to find out that it had been the guest house. When the family's main home was destroyed they had moved into this one. Being this family's guests was a privilege indeed.
After we left the house, we began our walk back to the center of town down the residential streets. Most of the houses were beautiful old frame homes in the same style as the inn—large windows, high ceilings, wrap around porches, and widow's walks, with professionally landscaped lawns. Before long we were taking pictures of ordinary peoples' homes instead of those in the historic district.
After a few blocks we came upon the Chestnut Street Cemetery. The cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the town. It is said to have 560 marked graves as well as many unmarked ones. Certainly it appeared full to me as we walked around what looked like a haphazard layout on a rough, uneven path shaded by old live oaks. We had been given a map but it was almost impossible to find some of the graves. It was equally impossible to read some of the gravestones because they were so old. We found at least one grave of a woman born in 1700s.
Our wandering showed us the final resting sites of people who died in their 60s, 50s, 40s, and even 20s and teens. We found Confederate soldiers and Union sympathizers lying not 50 yards apart. We found large plots where the remains of wealthy family members all rested together, and small insignificant stones marking the graves of the poor, among them a marker reading "Rose, a Faithful Servant." Then, not far from another large family enclave, we found the grave of a woman who had cut her husband's throat—and then her own.
We found many, many tiny stones marking the graves of infants, often several from the same family. In one spot we found three names on one marker, a 40 year old father, his 2 year old child, and 6 month old baby, all victims the same year of a yellow fever epidemic.
All this reminded me of the fourth Lamentation. The whole focus of that psalm of lament seems to be that the destruction of Jerusalem did something no reformer ever could—it made all the people equal.
Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, the beauty of their form was like sapphire. Now their face is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets; their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. (Lam 4:7-8). The wealthy among them, who neglected and even mistreated the poor, now looked no different and suffered no differently than the poor they had once looked down upon.
Death does the same thing. The large, ornate markers over the graves we saw were just as difficult to read due to age as the smaller plain markers, and the bodies beneath them would not have looked one bit better had they been dug up.
But death does do this: it separates the righteous from the unrighteous. The final destination of the former is far better than that of the latter. In that they are not equal. And if anything can finally make us realize that all these things we spend our lives on are pointless unless our work and service is directed toward God, perhaps it is that. Unfortunately, too many of us learn this a little bit too late.
If you can find the Chestnut Street cemetery, or one like it, maybe it would do you a world of good to walk through it soon.
One dies in his full vigor, being wholly at ease and secure, his pails full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them. (Job 21:23-26)
It begins in September.
We keep watching the weather for hurricanes, but we also watch it for that first cold front. If it comes too early, it will only be a day or two before the 90s in both temperature and humidity reappear, but at least we get a taste of the fall to come. Here in Florida it is a big deal when the smothering blanket of heat finally lifts after five full months of sweltering, wondering if your makeup will melt before you get into the air conditioned building, trying to find a parking place in the shade so you can bear to sit on the seat and hold the steering wheel when you return, planning your shower around the last time during the day you think you will wind up looking like a dog caught in the rain. Either that or take two or three showers a day.
Then we anxiously keep an eye out in October. Every single day, sometimes two or three times a day, we look at the forecast. It's been known to change from hour to hour in these parts, we say, excusing our obsessive clicking on the NOAA forecast.
We begin looking at our sweaters, planning which to wear next Tuesday, assuming that front comes before then. We paw through the pantry stacking up the tea bags, international coffees, and hot chocolate packets leftover from last year when, in our overconfident glee, we bought way too much. We split some fat lighter for fire starters and set them beside the fire pit along with a fresh stack of firewood. We split another bucketful to sit next to the back door for the wood stove inside. We comb the grocery ads, looking for specials on chili beans and saltines, stew beef and vegetables, and that head of cabbage that we learned long ago was absolutely necessary for an excellent pot of minestrone.
Yes, we get anxious down in these parts. Maybe they do in other places too, but the Deep South has little enough cold, and Florida even less. So we cherish it when it does come, and sigh when the winter is far too warm or leaves too quickly. Yet even then, that first cold front is received with gratefulness and a huge sigh of relief. The long hot summer is finally over.
And that got me to thinking. Is that the way we wait for the Lord? We may not have a forecast to watch, not even a Farmer's Almanac. But are we as anxious for this long hot trial we call life to be over as we are for the summer to disappear? Do we watch for the Lord's return with impatience even, praying as John did, "Lord, come quickly?" (Rev 22:20)
If you have been observant at all about this world, you can see where things are going. It's about to become a harsh place for Christians. We may soon, even in this country, be persecuted for our beliefs to the point of losing our possessions, our jobs, even our freedom. I worry what my children, and especially my grandchildren will have to deal with. Right now, the only relief I can see is the Lord coming to put an end to it all.
If you are young, I know that you want to experience all the things we older folks have—a wedding day, a career, carrying a child and raising it, even seeing your grandchildren. And perhaps we older folks have failed in teaching you to long for his return as we do. After all, we wanted to live longer at your age too. We wanted to do all those things our parents had done—and do it better, we were sure.
So please, as you age, try to teach your children what we may have failed to teach you. Even if the world does not go in the direction I suspect it will, even if it becomes a wonderful place to live after all, it still cannot match the world to come, the one we should be hoping for and praying for every single day.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2Cor 5:1-5)
Last year I read a book that proved by extensive research of ancient writings that mainstream Protestant belief is completely different from the beliefs of the apostles and the first century church. The author wrote page after page quoting men who were companions or students of the apostles, men who knew firsthand what Peter, Paul, John, and the others believed. You would think that by the end of the book the man would have taught himself straight into restoring the New Testament church. But no, he stopped short. In fact, he said it was impossible to restore the real thing, and the doctrines he had chosen to attack were only a few. He never questioned his own desire to keep a few of those “heretical” -isms for himself.
I thought about that this morning and went on a rambling train track of other doctrines. Finally, I hit the premillenial kingdom. Do you realize that no one even heard of that in the first century? In fact, it did not become a popular belief until the 1800s. How can we possibly believe that the men who stood by the Lord as He proclaimed His kingdom and the others who learned directly from them could have missed it? How can it be that everyone in the next 1800 years was wrong?
The problem with that doctrine is the same one the apostles first had. They thought that the kingdom was a physical one, one that included physical armies that would destroy Rome and install a Jewish Messiah on the throne in Jerusalem. Even they should have known better. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that no descendant of Jeconiah (a Davidic king shortly before the captivity) would ever reign in Jerusalem, Jer 22:28-30. That includes the Messiah.
Finally those men got it, and they fought that carnal notion of anything physical, or even future, about the kingdom for the rest of their lives. John made it plain that he was in that kingdom, even while he sat on the isle of Patmos writing the book of Revelation, 1:9. We are in a spiritual kingdom, one where we win victories by overcoming temptation and defeating our selfish desires, one where two natural enemies, like a lion and a lamb, can sit next to each other in peace because we are all “one in Christ Jesus.”
The belief in a physical kingdom here on this earth? Isn’t that a bit like an astronaut candidate stepping out of a training simulation and proclaiming, “I just landed on the moon?” Our inheritance is far better than a physical earth--it is “incorruptible, undefiled, [one] that fades not away, reserved in Heaven,” 1 Pet 1:4. Why should I want something on this earth when I can have that?
But it will be newly created, you say? No, Jesus said my reward is already created, “from the foundation of the world,” Matt 25:34.
It will last a thousand years? Then what? We cease to exist? No, no, no. I was promised “eternal life” Matt 19:29; 25:46; John 3:16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:40; 10:28; Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:23; 1 Tim 6:12, and—well, there are dozens more, but surely that makes the point. No wonder no one in the first 18 centuries after Christ lived believed such a doctrine.
We are supposed to have matured in Christ, to have gone beyond the belief in a material, physical kingdom, just as those apostles finally did. Our kingdom is"not of this world." It may not look like much to the unbeliever, but we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18. We have a kingdom right now far greater than anything a mortal man can dream up. It’s just that only those with spiritual eyesight can see it.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens…Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:22-29.
Dene Ward has taught the Bible for more than forty years, spoken at women’s retreats and lectureships, and has written both devotional books and class materials. She lives in Lake Butler, Florida, with her husband Keith.