Tuesday, April 21, 2015

CUBA, CASTRO, COMMUNISM and GOD



I could add the word 'cars' to the title of this blog. When you go to Cuba, you can't miss the Cubans love for the American classic cars. I'm sitting in a 1956 Ford Fairlane, I think. I'm not good with cars, old or new. One evening our tour group was getting ready to go for dinner. The twenty-four of us expected to get into our bus, but not tonight. As we stood in front of our hotel, we watched six classic cars drive up. Some took photos and we all wondered why they were there. Soon we discovered they were there for us! What fun, we hopped into the cars and cruised the Malecon for several miles, wind blowing through our hair, waving, laughing, and tooting the crazy horns. In short, re-living our teenage years. Many of us had driven cars like these, or had parents that drove one like it. It's a pleasure to engage in nostalgia, and it feels good to be a kid again! Life is too serious most of the time. I know the Lord wants His children to enjoy themselves. I think in Bible verses so will share some with you.

"A man can do nothing better than eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" Ecclesiastes 2:24 - 25.
"I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. . .this is God's gift." Ecclesiastes 3:12 - 13.

I do appreciate the Lord sending me to Cuba; I've wanted to do this for many years. I will describe Cuba with a few 'C' words, in no special order. It is colorful, cultured, a Caribbean Island, creative, Castro-ized, cigars, coffee, complex, calm and colonial. It was a sad day when Castro took control after the Revolution in 1959. The country soon fell into Communism. The government took away people's businesses, land and often their home. It is difficult for an American to comprehend a government taking what doesn't belong to them. Well, come to think of it, we do have a little of that in my country, and if we're not careful who we vote for, we may have a lot more. Communist Russia supported the Cuban economy for several years, then pulled out as their own country fell apart and their economy was in trouble.

I traveled with the Road Scholar program called a "People-to-People Cultural Exchange". Our group consisted of Americans from all over the country. We were all eager to learn about the Cuban people and have the opportunity to know them personally. We found that we were accepted even though ties between our two countries were severed long ago when the Communist government came to power and there was a build up of nuclear weapons just ninety miles off our shore. So many Cubans have family in the U.S. and I'm sure they get news from them via letters. They don't have access to the internet.

Cubans are able to get a college education without any payment. However, they must work for the government for four years to re-pay their education. Our wonderful Cuban guide was a teacher. She was paid by the government, also by Road Scholar. The man who 
drove the classic car I road in was a medical doctor. We asked why he was driving a 'cab'. "I make $60.00 a month as a doctor. I can make so much more taking people for a ride in my car", was his answer.


The money taken by Castro's government was supposed to be distributed to the people, but the majority of the people are desperately poor and live on an average monthly income of $20 U.S. dollars. It's reported that the Castro brothers have many millions of dollars stashed away. We stayed in nice hotels that are owned by the government, and often ate in government - owned restaurants. Free-enterprise can't be entirely suppressed, so we were able to eat in 'Paladars', non-government owned cafe's and restaurants, and were told that there are now privately owned Bed & Breakfast type lodging available. In fact we visited one in the Colonial town of Trinidad. Old Havana has some nice 'boutique' hotels.

Several lectures were included in our program. The first one was about Cuba's religion. The woman who presented, a university professor, painted a picture of a country that had no real interest in religion. "Cuba is not religious", she said several times.  This lovely island was originally occupied by Spain having been 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus. The Catholic church was prominent and Christianity was their religious belief. We visited an amazing cemetery where 2.5 million are buried. The statuary made of fine marble was so impressive. Figures of Jesus, crosses, even replicas of the Pieta were displayed. As many groups moved to the island they brought other beliefs with them and were free to practice those beliefs. Cuba imported slaves from Africa, Ireland and China. I believe they worked in the sugar cane and tobacco fields. Most every country at some point has had a history of slavery.

When Castro came to power, he closed the churches. Communism and Christianity don't mix. Only the government is to be 'worshipped', not God. But just like you are unable to stifle free-enterprise completely, spirituality cannot be taken away from people. The Christians simply went 'underground'. The lecturer did not say this, maybe she didn't know, but I know because I've talked to Christian missionaries who've brought in Bibles and taught classes to those gathered secretly in homes. God will always make His presence known! David wrote this in Psalm 139:7. . .

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?"

I was thrilled to visit the home of Ernest Hemingway; a delightful place. I remember the 'Bay of Pigs' as a young student and was excited to be able to wade in the warm water along the shore. How different life would have been for the Cuban people if the Cuban rebels, armed and trained by the U.S., had been successful.  I don't doubt that God's plan will ultimately prove 'perfect'. Faith is believing in what you can't see.

** Note about my book, Blogging God's Word. I recently was informed that the publisher, CrossBooks, would not continue to publish. I guess they couldn't compete with so many other publishers. The book will be available until April 30, 2015. Then, it will be unavailable for about two months while I get it re-published.

Thank you Lord for allowing me this pleasant time in a country I've wanted to visit for so long. I trust You to bring about good things as these wonderful, cheerful, bright people look to You to provide change and give them hope for a better tomorrow.



 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

A HAPPY ENDING

 
On the day we call, 'Good Friday', we mourn the death of Jesus Christ. Sunday morning, we celebrate His resurrection. I wrote the 
following poem using words from Scripture.
 
 
REDEEMED
 
John 1, Matthew 27, Isaiah 52:14, Psalm 22
 
 
In the beginning was the word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
 
Through Him all things were made;
without Him nothing was made
that has been made.  He
became flesh and lived among us.
 
In Him was life, and that life
was the light of men.
The light shines in darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.
 
At the appointed time in history
told by prophets of old
a bloodied and beaten body,
marred beyond human likeness
was nailed to a cross.
 
The mid-day sun was replaced by
darkness over all the land.
He was heard to cry out;
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Then, He gave up His Spirit.
 
At that very moment the curtain of the temple
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The law had been fulfilled
providing free access
to God the Father through
the Living Word, Jesus Christ.
 
The earth shook that day, the rocks split,
tombs broke open and
 bodies were raised to new life.
Those present exclaimed,
"Surely, this is the Son of God!"
 
It is finished.
I've been redeemed.
To God be the glory.
 
 
Poem by Bobbe Van Hise
Resurrection Sunday, March 2008

 
 


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

HAPPY EASTER

I made plans many weeks ago to go to Cuba with a relative. Later we realized that we'd be gone on Easter. Easter, unlike most holidays is not celebrated on the same date every year. There is a precise formula used - the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

What is the most important thing about Easter to you? I hope you have good memories of coloring eggs, searching for candy to fill a special Easter basket, going to church with your family, having a special dinner, often lamb, reminding us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself so we may live eternally in heaven.

If Jesus had died a cruel death on a cross, was buried and that was the end of the story, there wouldn't be anything special about this day or about this man. Everyone dies eventually. But Jesus rose again on the third day. I Corinthians 15 tells us that He first appeared to His disciples, and after that appeared to more than five hundred people. The apostle Paul said that if Christ had not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is our faith.

Job wrote hundreds of years before the death and resurrection of Christ. . .

"I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - "
Job 19: 25 - 27

All those who saw the risen Jesus will give witness to the fact that our bodies also will be raised to new life after death. When Jesus comes to earth again, it won't be as a baby lying in a manger, or a beaten man nailed to a cross. He will come as the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, our Redeemer and Savior. And do you know what will happen?

It is written: "As surely as I live says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God."
Romans 14:11

Everyone will then know who He is and bow down before Him.

Scripture says that each one of us will give an account of ourselves to God. In other words, we'll stand before God and be judged. Do you know how God will judge us? Only one thing will matter at this point. . .do we know Jesus as Lord? Those of us who have a personal relationship with Jesus had all of our sinful ways die on the cross with Him. We've been washed clean, not because we were 'good' or religious' but because Jesus loved us and paid the penalty for all the wrong we've done. He entered heaven to appear for us in God's presence. Hebrews 9:24. God sees His Son in us, forgiven, and able to live eternally in heaven.

That most famous and oft repeated verse, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" comes alive and penetrates our hearts as we celebrate Resurrection Sunday. 

I'll be writing about how the Cubans celebrate Easter in a couple of weeks. I wish you all many blessings in this most holy season.

Lord, I pray that everyone who reads these words has a new understanding of who You are and what You've done for those who believe in You. We know that our human intellect fails us when it comes to spiritual truth. We are dependent on you to reveal truth to us - that You Lord  are the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father accept through you. (John 14:6)  


 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A PORTRAIT OF JESUS

 

It's the time of year when even those who are not Christians give pause and reflect on who Jesus is. Most of us can come up with many 'titles' that have been assigned to Him. . .Son of God, Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Savior, King of Kings, Lord of Lords...and so on. Can you add a few of your own?

I've discovered that many believers are not able to Biblically describe the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the heart of our faith; without Him, we have no faith, no hope.

I've discovered how important it is to learn a few verses that will make Him come alive to you and others. The Bible does not give a
vague description; it gives us one that is precise and detailed. The following quotes are from the NIV Bible.

John 1 - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of men." vs. 1 - 4

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
John 1:14

These verses clearly state that Jesus was with God in the beginning and He is a part of the triune God. . .Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and most significant, He became "flesh" and dwelled here on earth.

Colossians 1:15 - "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."

When we look at ourselves in a mirror, what we see is our image; that's you. This passage goes on to teach that all things were created by Him and for Him, and in Him all things hold together. These words can only describe God; no one else can fit this description.

Hebrews 1:3 - "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."

Note these words, "the exact representation of his being." This means Jesus and God are One in the same.

Philippians 2:6 - 7 "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."

We learn from this passage that He had the appearance of a man and humbled Himself - even to dying on the cross. Do you know that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord?

Learn where these verses are in your Bible. You don't need to memorize them, just remember - John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1 and Philippians 2.

I hope you will be blessed during this most holy of holidays and that Jesus, God in the flesh, will be the focus of your celebration.

Thank you Lord for coming to earth as a man, dying on a cross to pay for my sins and to make me acceptable to God the Father with whom I will dwell eternally in heaven, my real home.








Tuesday, March 17, 2015

AN IRISH CELEBRATION


March 17th is the day the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Many who have no Irish heritage will join the fun. They will dress in green clothing, buy Shamrock plants, go to parades, make special food and drink green beer. The Chicago River will turn a bright green and some pubs will have little green mice running around the bar tops.

In order to understand why this day is so celebrated, we need to study the history of the beautiful country of Ireland, often called the Emerald Isle because of its lush green grasses. At one time this land was occupied by pagans who worshipped their pagan gods. But God had a different plan for this country and as always, what He has been planned will happen -  Ephesians 1:11.

God choose a boy named Patrick, who wasn't even born in Ireland, to come to their rescue, like a savior. He was born in Great Britain 385 AD (in the year of our Lord). At this time Britain was under Roman control. As a sixteen year old boy, Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland and spent six years as a shepherd. This is significant as it ties in so beautifully with the Biblical theme of the shepherd and the sheep.

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. . .I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
John 10: 14, 15, 28 - 30

Patrick escaped and went back to Britain where he received an education and studied Scripture. After some ten years or so, he traveled back to Ireland as a missionary to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had been deceived and believed in pagan gods. He often used the Shamrock, a three-leafed clover unique to this area, to describe the Trinity; God in three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Eventually Patrick became known as the 'Apostle of Ireland' and was the first bishop there. We often hear that he was the Patron Saint of Ireland because he drove out all the snakes. Truth be known, Ireland didn't have any snakes, at least not after the post-glacial period.

In the Bible, snake and serpent are the same. In order to understand the allegorical nature of this story, we need to take a look at the first mention of the serpent in the Bible, which is a picture of Satan.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God made."  
Genesis 3:1

The serpent came to deceive Eve and even today, Satan stays true to who he is - the great deceiver. Pagans often worship a serpent symbol, not because they love and honor it, but because they are fearful of it. So when we hear of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland this is symbolic for driving out pagan gods and bringing in the truth of the gospel. He died in the year 457, or thereabouts. The year seems to be more uncertain than the day - March 17th.

 Here we are hundreds of years later paying tribute to this humble man. What we do for the Lord is lasting. I wonder how many people who are out celebrating this special day know what and who they are celebrating. Maybe you can share this information.

Lord, we thank you for always having a good plan in place. We know that heaven is your throne and the earth your footstool.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

POWER FROM GOD

Try New Things
Keep You Promises
Be Yourself
Learn from Mistakes
Laugh Every Day
Listen to Your Parents
Hug a Lot
Respect Each Other
Embrace Differences
Be Thankful
Be Kind With Your Words
Always Tell the Truth
Do Your Best
                  Have a Sense of Humor
                  Be Grateful
                  Show Compassion
                  Never Give Up
                  Love Each Other

Shortly before our family reunion last November,  I saw this plaque in a store. I read each word and knew that we had the same values, hopes and dreams for our family. I bought it and hung it on a wall. What we value in life tells a lot about who we are and how we think. I look at these 'values' as individual pieces of a puzzle spread out on a table. One piece, the most important piece, is missing however. Jesus said,

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."   Matthew 22:37

I find it interesting that Jesus mentions three different ways we are to love Him. With our heart, which pumps life sustaining blood throughout the body and is the core of our feelings and emotions. With our soul, the spiritual part of us that yearns for the love of our Creator. With our mind which is our intellect and enables us to reason. This is a three-dimensional love the Lord speaks of, and needs to be the centerpiece in the puzzle of life.  

You can't just sit down and decide that you are going to love God. It doesn't work that way.

"God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."
Romans 5:5

In other words, it is God who pours out His love into our heart by His Holy Spirit. I have a friend who says, "If God doesn't pour it, we don't have it." We need to ask Him to fill our heart with His love. He will.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He stayed here on earth for another forty days, Acts 1:3. When He ascended into heaven, He did not leave us alone and powerless. He left us with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. Without  it, we are not drawn to love the Lord. All believers have been given the Holy Spirit, and this is how we are able and willing to love God and be empowered to live life with joy and in peace. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12: 3,

". . .no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."

We therefore can't condemn anyone who doesn't believe. We can share what we know to be true; the rest is up to God. Don't try and convince people of what they can't understand, accept that this is God's business and just be loving toward them.

Think of an electric fan, or vacuum cleaner or a car without an engine. If there is no source of power, these things are worthless. We too need a power source that will allow us to accept God's love and give us the desire to live a righteous  life. A 'righteous life', is pretty much impossible for any of us to attain on our own. God never expected us to. Jesus said,

"My grace (getting something we don't deserve) is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  II Corinthians 12: 9

In this same passage, Paul went on to write. . .

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." II Corinthians 12: 9 -10

None of us enjoy hardship and difficulties. But it does appear to be a part of the process of bringing us into a relationship with God. He doesn't want us to struggle, so let go of that burden you carry around, just give it up. Rather than feeling weak, you will feel empowered and discover a new freedom.

I remember the first time I had my car washed, so many years ago. I stayed in the car. It was hooked up to some device that pulled it through a tunnel-like building. It got all soaped up, rinsed off and I had a clean car. I was told not to touch the steering wheel. It was so hard for me to sit in the driver's seat behind the wheel and not touch it. I wanted to be in control and guide the car. Isn't this how most of us feel about our life? We want to be in control. Trouble is, we have no power. In fact, we don't really know what is 'right'; we can only guess and hope for the best. God knows.

There is such peace in 'letting go', not being snagged by the past or  obsessed with the future. God loves you and has a plan that will ultimately bring joy and peace to your life as you begin to trust Him and walk in faith. This is how we can achieve victory over a world that is often full of pain - yes, try new things, learn from mistakes, respect each other, laugh, hug, be grateful and show compassion. You may not think you have the best parents in the world, but they are the ones God has chosen for you, so out of love for Him, honor them and if they are wise parents, listen to them.

"This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
Psalm 118: 24

Thank you Lord for your wisdom and daily guidance. Help us to grow in faith trusting Your plan for our life.




 

                   

Friday, February 13, 2015

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

My cousin sent me an e-mail with precious, sometimes profound beyond their years, comments young children have made about 'marriage'. This is my favorite. . .

"No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you're stuck with."   Kristen, age 10

The boys also had their say.  I like this one. . .

"Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck."
Ricky, age 10

It will soon be Valentine's Day when we are focused on love, things of the heart, spending money on flowers, candy and maybe a special dinner with our sweetheart. We've pretty much dropped the 'Saint', but this special day was named after a real person, Saint Valentine, who was a third century Christian martyr.  

A red heart has come to symbolize love, thus you see a lot of hearts this time of year. Christians will often make the statement that they've invited Jesus into their 'heart'. One day someone, not a believer, said to me, "That's absurd, the heart is a muscle!" Yes, the heart is a hollow muscular organ that contracts and acts as a pump to maintain circulation of the blood in our body. If we do not have blood circulating through our body, we have no life. The heart is our source of life, no heart beat, no life.

The word 'heart' is also used to describe the whole personality of a person, including emotional and intellectual functions; courage - 'He has a courageous heart' or a 'kind heart'. We use this word to fetter out what is really important - getting to the 'heart' of the matter, or the central part, as in 'the heart of town'.

The Bible mentions the human heart nearly 300 times and describes it as the spiritual part of us where our emotions and desires dwell.

"My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart. . .Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:20-21, 23

You will discover that the Scripture says so much about our hearts. We love and trust with our heart, our desires come from the heart, and if you are a believer, God's law has been written in your heart. The Lord doesn't look at our outward appearance - getting all dressed up and acting 'nice' doesn't fool Him at all; He looks at our heart. In fact David wrote in Psalms 44:21 that God knows "the secrets of our heart."

God has a heart too! God declared that David was a man after His own heart. He said in I Samuel 2:35 that he will raise up a faithful priest "who will do according to what is in my heart and mind". God can 'soften' a heart and reveal who He is, or He can 'harden' a heart as in the case of the Egyptian Pharaoh. We can trust that God's plan is good and His heart is pure;  but, ours is not. The Bible tells us that from within, out of men's hearts come evil thoughts - Mark 7:21. Romans 3:10 says "There is no one righteous, not even one. . ."

I think you can see the problem here; we're in big trouble and need to have our heart rejuvenated, healed and changed into the heart God wants us to have. This is an internal problem, it comes from inside of us. We all have that dreaded heart disease. Every one of us! God is faithful to His promises and He has told us if we come and ask Him to change our heart, He will. In fact He'll give us a new heart. This is a promise God has made -

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees. . ." Ezekiel 36:26-28

We can't do this ourselves, we need to trust God to do this for us. All we need to do is come to Him and ask that He change our heart. With this new heart will come new thoughts, new desire, new wisdom and the capacity to forgive and love others. We will still walk around in a body of flesh and our new heart may not always be visible to others, but God will see it. Flesh sins. We're stuck with this body and in this less-than-perfect world  until the Lord gives us a new body so that we can live with Him eternally with a purity this world can never know.

My heart hurts for those who feel  lonely, unloved, insecure, lost and without hope - especially on Valentines Day when there is so much talk of love. If you are one of these people, know this. . .God never turns away anyone who comes to Him and asks to be forgiven and accepted as His child. Just ask, He will hear you. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16

Thank you Lord that you have come to fix our diseased hearts. Thank you for suffering for us so we can live eternally with a pure heart.