Is This Our Year?

I’ve been thinking for awhile about a story from the Bible and the warning Jesus gave to the people of his day. It was on my mind again this morning, then when I saw the Word of the Day ChallengeWARNING – well, this is the perfect prompt for sharing my thought!

In Luke Chapter 12 + 13 Jesus gives various signs of “the end,” and tells the disciples they need to be ready, watching, and doing the will of their heavenly Father when the Master of the house returns. Then he tells them this parable of the fig tree:

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

Luke 13: 6-9

The owner of the vineyard took note of this tree that wasn’t bearing fruit in its season. In fact, it hadn’t given any fruit at all for three years. So he said, in effect, “This tree is taking moisture and minerals from the soil, plus the time we’ve already spent on it, and giving us nothing in return. Chop the thing down and let’s use the space for a tree that will be more profitable.”

However, the caretaker was loathe to do something that drastic. Perhaps he felt some pity for the tree, having tended it and fussed over it from its days as a promising sapling. “Let me try what I can with aeration and fertilizer for one more year. Then if it doesn’t bear fruit, okay, we’ll cut it down.”

When I read these verses recently, it occurred to me that “this year” Jesus talked about represented the time of his ministry on earth. The few years he spent teaching and preaching to the people, calling them to repent and come back to God. This was Israel’s “year.” This was the time for the Jewish nation to bear fruit. Would they received his message? Would they repent and turn back to God –the One who had delivered them so many times before. God was giving them this one last chance to bear the fruit He wanted to see.

The Apostle John writes that Jesus came to his own, the Jewish people, and “his own received him not.” History records that the Jewish leaders and the mob they stirred up finally had him put to death because they hated his message. And God rejected them; not very many years later He allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and the Jews carried away as captives, ultimately scattered to the four winds.

Another fig tree scene happened not long before Jesus was crucified. Mark 11:13-21 tells of how Jesus passed by a fig tree, stopped to look for fruit, and there was no fruit on it. So he said to the tree, “Let no man get any figs off this tree ever again.”
The next day, as they passed this tree again, it was in sad shape. Peter, recalling what Jesus had said the day before, pointed out the shriveling tree. “Master, there’s the fig tree you cursed. It’s withered away.”
I doubt his disciples caught the symbolism of the fig tree to the nation of Israel until after the events of the crucifixion and the day of Pentecost. Then they would have understood.

Another comparison came to my mind. I’ll write it and hope that it speaks to you. I’ve been thinking about this last year when COVID has stalked the earth and menaced people all over the globe. A lot of us have had to leave our pursuits – jobs, schooling, arts and entertainment, sports events, even going to the polls – and return to our homes. We’ve written about 2020 as “A year we’re glad to see the end of.” We’re looking forward to a time when Covid-19 has been conquered. When most everyone’s been vaccinated, this giant has been laid low, and we can go back to our normal lives.

But what if this was our “year” to respond to the voice of God. What if this Covid “season” we’re in is that “one more year” God is giving our world, the time we should stop, think about him and his word, think about “the end” when the Master returns?

Think of the great issues of our day. Environmental, financial, political, justice, personal. How they fill our minds and cause us no end of worry. But what if this really was our last year? Not that we can just stop caring, drop every concern, let everything slide. But there’s a bigger picture here we need to consider: are we concerned about, and prepared to face, the most important event in the world?

“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.”

Revelation 10:5-6

Jesus tells us to prepare, to watch and be ready. Just in case this is our Year.

A Few Tears Shed…

Yesterday I wrote about my own health issues and the uncertainty of life. Today I’m shedding a few tears, and yet rejoicing, for a man who’s bravely faced over twenty-four years of uncertainty.

With one last puff, a flickering candle has blown out in this world. We all knew the end was near for blogger Bill Sweeney; he told us that in his last post. Now this morning, With A Heavy Heart, his wife Mary informs us that he’s passed away.

When he was first diagnosed, the doctors gave him about five years. Now, after over twenty-four years of battle with ALS — aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease — this warrior has been called home from the battlefield.

“O Death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?”
I Corinthians 15:55

When he first entered the battle against this foe, he reached out for the hand of God and grasped it, and found it firm to the end. Though Bill slowly lost his physical abilities and was finally completely paralyzed, still he carried on faithfully doing what he could. Via the internet, using a computer program that tracked his eye movements, he continued to share the good news of God’s love and encourage people around the globe.

He inspired us all to be more serious about our beliefs and more faithful to our Lord. All those who’ve read his posts will miss his sensible and gracious thoughts.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

II Timothy 4:7-8

Morning Musing on Religion

Every morning when I turn on my browser, I’m offered a selection of interesting articles from various sources, “Recommended by Pocket.” Yesterday a headline in one of these boxes caught my eye, and I see it again this morning. (Click here to read it.)

Why Religion Is Not Going Away and Science Will Not Destroy It

A very interesting question indeed! It’s bound to stir up some thoughts in most readers. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth.

Seeing this headline, my first thought was on the spiritual side. Our Creator, heavenly Father, the One we call God, the Eternal One. Science can’t make him disappear. So my answer is:
“As long as our Creator keeps reaching out to us, his creation, and touching our lives – often in miraculous ways – there will still be believers. Those of us who have heard his voice, felt his touch – yes, some have even seen him – can never deny the reality of his presence.” I’ve heard thousands of examples!

This morning when the question popped up again, I looked at the world RELIGION and thought:
“Religion won’t ever go away because religion divides people, and people like to be divided.”

Specifically, people like to be divided by “I’m on the RIGHT side and you’re on the WRONG side.”

Read history. Any factor that can divide people into two groups has been very popular. And religion is so very versatile. Add doctrines, interpretations, attitudes…”And of course God thinks like I do!” Voilà, you have a whole new group that’s righter than all the others. The Southern Believers versus the Central Believers versus the Eastern Believers versus the Western Believers. This sect versus that sect, etc.

Color, gender, family, money, style, ethnicity, nationality, politics, religion. Just introduce any of these factors and you’re apt to get some division. This is the downside of our human nature: feeling that people who don’t think like we do are wrong. Then throw in the media. Propaganda. “We are RIGHT and they are WRONG. We are the faithful; they are the infidels. We’re the ones who want law & order; they are the rebels.” Give both sides guns and they’ll likely start shooting each other.

People won’t soon give up their Rightness for impersonal science.

Our Creator has not designed us to be at each other’s throats; these attitudes don’t please him. When we come to him, and focus on him, we can lose these divisions with their respective animosities. As the Bible states:

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:27-28

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

– Colossians 3: 9 – 14

John Lennon wrote in his famous song, “Imagine there are no countries, no religion, no possessions…” (One might add, no drugs — another thing people fight over.)

Sounds so idealistic in a song, but would you really want to live in a world like that? And where would we put our human nature, that “being” within us that wants our own space, our own place, our own roots, our own understanding? If it all were wiped out tomorrow, give us a month and we’d have a whole new set of separations.

Removing the spiritual side of us would take out of this world the only thing that can moderate human nature. The only voice that does speak for compassion and peace. Most religions, not matter how off-course or fanatic their followers may get, do hold up kindness and respect as an ideal in relating to fellow human beings. Religion – focusing together in a sincere worship of our Father-Creator – has the best chance of uniting us.

The original article, published in September 2017 on Aeon, was written by Peter Harrison, an Australian Laureate Fellow and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.

I didn’t read the article in great detail, but he starts with intellectuals once believing that science would eventually displace religion. However, this hasn’t proved true; religion is alive and well today. (I might throw in the fact here that in recent years a lot of scientists have admitted to some sort of “intelligent design” behind our world.)

He ends his article with an interesting conclusion: If science opposes religion, science will be the loser. So, advocates of science should quit making an “it’s him or me” enemy of religion.

Agreed! The One who created the world with all its marvelous synchronized workings should never be pitted against his creation as “one or the other.” They are in harmony.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12: 6-7

A Y2K Sort of Day

Good morning everyone. I was up at 6:00 am — in time to see the clear night sky with the almost-full moon glowing down on us. I saw Mars glowing huge and brilliant last night, now Venus is taking its turn, rising in the eastern sky as bright as a headlight in the darkness.

Thinking about the situation in the US as voters go to the poll today, I feel as apprehensive as I did on Dec 31, 1999. Remember how we all held our breath, wondering if all our systems would still work on Jan 1, 2000 — or if those dire predictions about a technological crash would come to pass? Remember all the warnings? Computer systems and banking systems all over the world would crash; we’d lose all our data, all our money.

Today we’re wondering what changes this day will bring to our American friends and families? We’re all watching with anticipation — perhaps apprehension. It looks like our daily prompters are of the same mind.

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is TENTERHOOKS. According to Lexico, refers to a state of suspense or agitation because of uncertainty about a future event. A great description of how millions of people are feeling today. And Fandango’s One-Word Challenge is ANTICIPATE. Just as we all anticipated life would go on normally on 01/01/2000, so we anticipate the furor will fizzle and the US will carry on tomorrow.

Through the marvels of technology I was able to listen by phone to an hour of singing yesterday evening. A group from one of our Kansas congregations inspired us listeners with their hymns, well chosen for the hour. Songs to remind us that, come what may, we can put our trust in our Heavenly Father. One of the brethren there closed the evening with a prayer, especially asking God to guide their nation today. He prayed that all believers would be good and compliant citizens regardless of the political situation.

Here’s a Bible verse to encourage believers in troubled times:

Original image: Engin Akyurt — Pixabay

“The Powers That Be”

We had an interesting sermon on Sunday morning; it seemed so appropriate for these troubled times, so I thought I’d share a bit of it with you. The initial thoughts were about our current pandemic and the rules and regulations that have sprung up in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The caution we need to exercise, the masks, the social distancing.

So what position should we take as Christians with regard to these new rules and regulations? Pastor Con B quoted from Romans Chapter 13, which starts out with “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers…” and went on to explain that these new requirements are not violating any principles of our faith, so we should submit to the law without fussing, as we’re instructed in different places in the New Testament.

For interest sake I’m going to do a little paraphrase, trying to catch the spirit of verses 1-10 and our Sunday morning sermon. Please take time to read these verses for yourselves, but here’s my version:

Verse one encourages us to submit to the government of the land, because these “powers that be” are ordained of God. No, He doesn’t elect them or choose every law the government enacts, but God is behind the whole principle of law and order. Yes, even if our Leader’s a Nero. We may not be able to support every law, but nowhere does the New Testament give Christians an okay to get involved in sedition. This is the example Jesus left us. He could have called ten thousand angels to deal with this injustice, but He submitted to the Roman authority, even to accepting a death sentence.

Verse 2-3: Whoever resists the power (government of the land) resists the ordinance of God. And any of those who resist (engage in sedition, verbal or literal) will receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not to be feared if you are doing good works, but those who do evil have good cause to fear the laws of the land. If you do that which is right and good, the rulers will rather respect you and be thankful for you as citizens. “Thou shalt have praise of the same.”

Verse 4: The rulers are God’s means of administering law and order; by and large God does use the laws of the land and a stable government to protect you from criminals. But if you do that which is evil, commit crimes and defy authority, you need to be afraid of the law. It’s there for a reason and God will use the laws of the land to punish you. Every sin will receive a just punishment – in this world or the next.

Verse 5: So you should be subject to the law, not only because you fear the punishment for breaking the law but to keep your conscience free. You want to do God’s will in this life and it’s God’s will that you submit to authority. If you fuss about the laws, you’re ultimately fussing about God’s plan.

Verse 6: Pay your taxes – they exist for a reason, for the good of the country – and follow all the laws as much as possible. God is using the people who carry out these duties to fulfill his plan for your land, and ultimately for your own benefit.

Verse 7-8: So pay what you need to pay to your country and give everyone the respect due to their position. It is God’s will that you treat all people, and every authority, with proper respect. Those you should fear, fear them; those you should show honour to, honour them properly. Don’t be debtors in this regard, but you need to demonstrate love and respect one for another, for all of you who show love toward others is fulfilling the law of God.

Verse 9: Remember his commandments, “Thou shall not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet.” And if there be any other commandments given, they can be summed up (in the words of our Lord Jesus): “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Verse 10: Love is kind and patient; love doesn’t envy or speak evil of others; love works no ill to his neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law of God. (See I Corinthians Ch 13)

The teachings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles contain many similar instructions to Christians: Honor the laws of the land and give due respect to your rulers. What they require of you, do it – unless you’re asked to do something that truly violates your Christian beliefs. And don’t try to stretch “violates my beliefs” until it covers “I don’t want to.”

Moreover, with all the elections this fall, it’s vital to realize that “I don’t like the party in power now,” is no excuse, either. Sneering at those in authority grieves our heavenly Father.

“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”
— II Peter 2: 9-10