“Highway to Heaven”

I’ve heard many messages about repentance and John the Baptist, but few have been comforting ones. When I heard “Highway to Heaven,” I saw repentance in a new light. It is about coming home to open, loving arms. That beautiful truth makes much more sense than the fearful messages of my past.

Here’s the message by Dr. John Alden Tagliarini Highway to Heaven

You can listen to this and other messages by Dr. John Alden Tagliarini at FBCBC Podcasts

“God for Good!”

Psalm 146:3-10 is a powerful reminder of where to put my trust. God never fails and is God for Good!

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah! (The Message)

The things and people of this world are wonderful, but my trust must be in God. He sees what I cannot and knows His creation better than anyone. Psalm 146 allows me to relax and remember that it is God’s world, and I am His daughter. I don’t have to do anything but love Him and those in my path. That’s more than enough to keep me occupied for as long as I’m here. There is sweet peace in knowing that I don’t have to do what only He can do.

Life gets frustrating when I think I have to do all and be all. God doesn’t need for me to be Him or defend Him, just trust Him and know that He is in charge now and always. He “is God for good!” That gives me hope and makes me want to shout Hallelujah! along with the psalmist who penned this beautiful song.

Fading Fear and Scurrying Sorrow

Isaiah 35:1-10 paints a beautiful image of deserts blooming, fear fading, and sorrow scurrying into the night. Isaiah has a way with words, and I find hope each time a read his words of prophecy. God energizes “limp hands” and “strengthens the rubbery knees” when I find myself lost. The fact that even fools will not find themselves lost on the Holy Road encourages me to stop worrying about being perfect. Fear freezes and sorrow stops me too much of the time, so I love the reassurance I find in these scriptures of hope in Isaiah.

 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
    the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
    a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
    Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
    God awesome, God majestic.

Energize the limp hands,
    strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
    “Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
    on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
    He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

Blind eyes will be opened,
    deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
    the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
    streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
    thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
    and barren grasslands flourish richly.

There will be a highway
    called the Holy Road.
No one rude or rebellious
    is permitted on this road.
It’s for God’s people exclusively—
    impossible to get lost on this road.
    Not even fools can get lost on it.
No lions on this road,
    no dangerous wild animals—
Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening.
    Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed
    will come back on this road.
They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion,
    unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness
    as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night. (The Message)

The journey home should be a joyous one filled with singing because God is waiting to welcome me home with gifts of joy and gladness. Fears, sorrows, and sighs will scurry into the night, and I will be filled completely with a love unlike any I have ever known. I’m so thankful for the glimpses God gives as I make my way home because they give me hope and help me get back on the right path when I allow fear or sorrow to get me off the path.

“Become What You Believe”

When I read Matthew 9:27-30 this morning, the lessons of the week came together in a beautiful way. Listen to the scripture.

As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, “Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!” When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, “Do you really believe I can do this?” They said, “Why, yes, Master!”

He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met. (The Message)

Faith is much more than believing God can do anything. It is also about believing I can become who He made me to be. Often Jesus asked those coming for healing if they wished to be healed. Here, He asked the blind men if they believed He could do it. They not only said yes, they said, “Why, yes, Master!” That’s the equivalent of “Duh!” today. Of course He can heal. I think most everyone would believe that.

The more difficult question is whether or not I could move past my vision of me and embrace God’s. It’s not easy to let go of the negative voices that have shaped my view of myself or rid myself of the hands that hold me back, but the Holy Spirit has helped me believe that Christ not only came to heal; He came to heal me. The first step is for me to change my mind about who I am. That’s the metanoia about which John the Baptist speaks.

Before I can become who Christ knows I can be, I have to be ready to be whole. The blind men in Matthew 9 were ready to be whole, and they could not keep the wonderful news of their healing to themselves. I believe Christ asked them to be quiet about their healing because it was about something so much more than a parlor trick. It was a change that took place within them that allowed God’s healing to come through His beloved Son’s touch. Repentance and healing is very personal, and it isn’t something that comes easily; but when it does come, it causes those who are healed to want to tell everyone they meet about it.

Believing I am God’s beloved hasn’t been an easy process for me. I had to first see the me I believed myself to be and want more than that for myself. I had to want to be healed. Opening my heart to His desires allows me to see and believe I can become who He created me to be, and that is something worth shouting about!

One Part Harmony

Romans 15:4-13 creates the beautiful image of many voices coming together in one part harmony. I know there is no such thing as one part harmony in music, but it describes what I hear when I read these scriptures.

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:

Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!

And this one:

Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!

And again:

People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!

And Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! ( The Message, Eugene Peterson)

According to its definition, “Harmony is often said to refer to the ‘vertical’ aspect of music.” When I saw that definition, I thought of the “vertical” aspect of the singing in Romans 15. Can you imagine the harmony of all our voices lifted in hearty praise to God? It would be amazing.

When we forget ourselves for a moment and raise our voices in unison, “the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit will brim over with hope,” and the world will hear a harmony that is unlike anything they have ever heard before. That one part harmony would reach out in welcome to the world and raise up to heaven as a very sweet sound in God’s ears. I imagine it would be very like the harmony in heaven. There would be no individual voices vying for attention, but rather one voice lifted together to one God.

In a week filled with difficult lessons that cut deeply, “the God of green” has filled my heart with green shoots of joy, peace, energy, and hope. As always, God amazes me with His ways. I’m sure I’ill never understand His ways until I am in His presence. Until then, I plan to sing in one part harmony with those who share my love for God and invite others to join in and sing together in unending praise to God’s glorious name!

Do Not Despair!

God always gives me just what I need, just when I need it. This week’s lessons have been powerful ones that went straight to the core of my heart. Matthew 3:1-12 put John the Baptist in my path. I could not escape his simple message to change my life because God’s kingdom is here. Four years ago, I learned it was possible to walk in God’s Kingdom now. I wish I could say I have been walking in His kingdom since then, but I’m afraid I’ve tried to walk in His kingdom with one foot in my own. Here John the Baptist’s message.

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” (The Message, Eugene Peterson)

Each time I read the story of John the Baptist, I’m struck by his humility. He had folks flocking to him, but he continued to point to the true Messiah and kept his perspective. He heard God’s voice and continues to make the way smooth and straight for us. He says, “It is your life that must change, not your skin!” Appearances are easy to change, and it’s very easy to put on a happy face when your heart is breaking. The repentance John calls for goes much deeper than the surface; it goes all the way to the heart and allows God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in our lives.

In “A Cure for Despair: Matthew 3:1-12,” Barbara Brown Taylor says,

“As scary as John was, it was a pretty great offer. No wonder people walked days to get to him. No wonder they stood around even after their turns were over, just to hear him say it again and again. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What sounds like a threat to us sounded like a promise to them. We hear guilt where they heard pardon, and at least part of the problem, I think, is our resistance to the whole notion of repentance.

The way most of us were taught it, repentance means owning up to how rotten you are. It means saying out loud, if only in the auditorium of your own soul, that you are a selfish, sinful, deeply defective human being who grieves the heart of God and that you are very, very sorry about it. It means dumping all your pride on the ground and stamping on it, since pride—as in ego, arrogance, vainglory—is the root of so much evil.

Only what if it isn’t? What if pride isn’t the problem at all, but its very opposite? What if the main thing most of us need to repent of is not our arrogance but our utter despair—that things will never change for us, that we will never change, that no matter what we say or do we are stuck forever in the mess we have made of our lives, or the mess someone else has made of them, but in any case that there is no hope for us, no beginning again, no chance of new life—? Now that is a problem.

I cannot tell you how many people I know who are all but dead with despair. It doesn’t happen just one way; it happens all kinds of ways. A little girl is abused by her grandfather and forty years later, although he is long dead and gone, his hands are still on her. She has not married. She will not let anyone get close. She is still keeping her forty-year-old promise never to let anyone hurt her like that again.”

I can relate to being dead with despair, but the message of John the Baptist reached deeply into my heart and touched my despair. I’ve had the Bible used to create the feeling she describes and have had my pride dumped on the ground and stomped more times than I can count. Today, I saw the verses in Matthew differently with the help of the Holy Spirit. I see hope and pardon instead of guilt and grief. John’s message was the same as Christ’s. There is hope and a cure for the utter despair in which I find myself.

Like the green shoot in Isaiah, verse ten describes a green and blossoming changed life. Deadwood goes into the fire where it belongs and clears the way for a new life, a kingdom life, a life worth living forever. My heart has been dead with despair for decades, and I still struggle when it comes to love. Letting others in causes deeper hurt and despair each time I open my heart. God made it crystal clear to me today that I am baptized into a changed life. He has the cure for despair, and John the Baptist’s message is as relevant today as it was when he first began crying out in the wilderness. Despair is a dark wilderness, but Christ’s Light offers hope at the end of the tunnel.

The Heart of a True King

Psalm 72 exposes the heart of a true king, very like the one described in Isaiah 11:1-5. In verses 1-7, we hear the fervent plea for wisdom, justice, honor, compassion, longevity, and righteousness from a king crying out to God for help.

“Give the gift of wise rule to the king, O God,
    the gift of just rule to the crown prince.
May he judge your people rightly,
    be honorable to your meek and lowly.
Let the mountains give exuberant witness;
    shape the hills with the contours of right living.
Please stand up for the poor,
    help the children of the needy,
    come down hard on the cruel tyrants.
Outlast the sun, outlive the moon—
    age after age after age.
Be rainfall on cut grass,
    earth-refreshing rain showers.
Let righteousness burst into blossom 

and peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.
Rule from sea to sea,
    from the River to the Rim.” 

Verses 18-20 put his position into perspective and show the importance of humility in a truly wise and just king.

“Blessed God, Israel’s God,
the one and only wonder-working God!
Blessed always his blazing glory!
All earth brims with his glory.
Yes and Yes and Yes.”  (The Message, Eugene Peterson)

When I read Psalm 72, I see Christ. Some scholars argue that it isn’t a Messianic Psalm and worry about why it is where it is. I’m not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know a description of Christ when I see one. Christ was the perfect king, and Psalm 72 is a description of such a king. My favorite line is “Be rainfall on cut grass.” Christ is just that, and I’ve experienced the renewal of His refreshing love on more than one occasion.

Solomon knew the Messiah was coming, and I hear him asking God to help him be the type of king he knew His Son would one day be. I often wonder what it would have been like to live in Old Testament times without having Christ’s precious love available to me. Solomon has a vision of the coming king Who would rule as no other. I look forward to His Second Coming with the same kind of heart I hear in Psalm 72, seeing the earth brimming with His glory and His peace abounding forever.

Solomon was famous for his wisdom, and I hear evidence of that wisdom in Psalm 72. I also hear humility which accompanies all wisdom. Christ was a humble king who knew His Father was the “one and only wonder-working God!” He was, and still is, a king unlike any other the world has ever known. Thanks be to God!

Justice of the Peace

As I read Isaiah 11:1-10, I get a beautiful sense of peace and hope. The poem promises justice and peace to a world filled with injustice and discord. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the verses in The Message.

“A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump,
    from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
    the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
    the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
Fear-of-God
    will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
    render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
    A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
    and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
    the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
    and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
    their calves and cubs grow up together,
    and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
    the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
    a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

 On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.”

I hear a beautiful correlation between justice and peace. When true justice reigns, there is peace such as the image of animals living in harmony and children not knowing fear. It is a reminder of what life was like in the garden before sin entered the scene and brought a terrible discord to God’s world.

Christ’s righteousness and faithfulness changes everything. He is the green Shoot that promises a new world as His justice becomes the instrument through which peace returns. I never thought about Jesus being the Justice of the Peace before reading Isaiah this morning, but it is a fitting title for a king Who is unlike any this world has every known.

Advent is a time of hope that brings with it a promise of peace. When Christ returns, He will bring justice that reveals the living knowledge of God that is deeper and wider than all I can imagine. Until then, I pray we will seek justice for the poor and the needy and love others in a way that brings all of us a little closer to one another and His Son’s precious love.

isaiah_11_6_9

Vision of Peace

Ready to Go

Let me see Your vision

So I can live in peace.

Show me Your ways

So I can be who You made me to be.

Wake me up

So I can see what You are doing.

Hear my cries

So I can bear my heart to You.

Help me see the best

So I can forget the worst.

Let me dwell on the beautiful

So I can let go of the ugly.

Give me the Bread of Life

So I may never know hunger again.

Let me drink of Your Living Water

So I will forget my thirst.

I will sing myself into Your presence.

I will be vigilant as I await Your return. 

I will be who you made me to be.

I will live out Your vision of peace.

Sunset

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-38)

These scriptures truly did work together for my good this week as I let God fill me with His vision of peace.

The First Fruits

The last reading this week comes from the scriptures for Thanksgiving Day and is a vivid reminder that everything I am and have is a gift from God. I give back a portion of all God gives, not because God needs them, but because it is a way of acknowledging His ownership. It is about giving back the material possessions and riches I have, but it is more about returning the fruit of God’s Spirit to Him. Listen to the passage from Deuteronomy 26:1-11.

Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, you are to take some of all the firstfruits of what you grow in the land that God, your God, is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place God, your God, sets apart for you to worship him. At that time, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that he’d give to us.” The priest will take the basket from you and place it on the Altar of God, your God. And there in the Presence of God, your God, you will recite:

A wandering Aramean was my father,

he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
The Egyptians abused and battered us,
in a cruel and savage slavery.
We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers:
He listened to our voice, he saw
our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.
And he brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits
of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God.

Then place it in the Presence of God, your God. Prostrate yourselves in the Presence of God, your God. And rejoice! Celebrate all the good things that God, your God, has given you and your family; you and the Levite and the foreigner who lives with you.

I hear reverence and thanksgiving in these familiar verses, but I also feel God listening to my cries for help and hearing my heart. My heart, like the ground He gives, is, and always will be, His. That’s the beautiful assurance I find in Deuteronomy this morning. He knows my hurt and weeps with me. He knows my joy and celebrates with me. Through His Holy Spirit, I can bear the fruit of His Spirit. God’s love allows joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to grow in my heart (Galatians 5:22 NASB). They choke all those weeds of worry, frustration, impatience, and doubt that flourish when I forget whose I am and Who God is.

God takes my heart out of slavery and abuse and brings it to a land flowing with milk and honey. How can I not offer back to Him a small portion of all He gives with the gratitude of a heart once held captive in a foreign land. Coming into God’s presence causes me to prostrate myself, but it also makes me want to jump for joy in celebration of all He has given me and my family. Sharing that with those He places in my path is what the journey is all about.

%d bloggers like this: