Why Do We Love Gifts?

Well, another blessed Christmas has come and gone and I truly hope yours was filled with joy and the love of family and friends…ours certainly was. That is, by far, my favorite part of Christmas….being able to spend time with my greatest blessings….my family. And this year, again, we were able to do that. It was wonderful. Thank you, Lord!!!!

But one of the things that crossed my mind, maybe more this year than in years past (not sure why), is the question…”Why do kids of all ages (from 2 to 92) love receiving gifts so much?” I mean, honestly, who does not enjoy receiving gifts…especially when they come from someone who loves you very much? Whether it is your birthday, an anniversary, maybe you are retiring, getting married, having a baby…or last but not least, at Christmas time…gifts rock!! C’mon, admit it, we all love getting gifts. And yes, most of us enjoy giving great gifts to those we love, as well, hence the phrase…”It is better to give than to receive.” 

But that makes my point even greater. Why do love to give great gifts, too? I say it’s because we love seeing how happy it makes the people we care about, when we nail it and give them something they really want and will greatly enjoy.  It is all part of it…giving and receiving gifts…it truly is an expression of love. In fact, there are some people who have a hard time expressing love other ways…so they try to make up for it by giving really great gifts and that is fine too. Some of us are better at showing love than others…so if telling someone you love them by buying and giving them a nice gift is what works best for you…I’d say it is better than not showing love at all. Go for it!!!

For the sake of this post, however, I want to look at WHY we all seem to enjoy getting gifts so much. What is it, deep inside of us, that whether we are old or young, male or female, rich or poor, whether you live in China, Ireland, Australia, Uganda…or right here in the good ol’ US of A…getting a great gift from someone we love (or sometimes even from someone we don’t know) truly warms our hearts and brings a smile to our faces…both for the giver and the receiver.  I mean it certainly is not something we have to be taught..or learn.  It really comes quite naturally. So, there must be a reason, right?

To start with, I want to look at what may be the most obvious reason we all love getting great gifts and I would say that it is because we all recognize that when someone gives us a gift, it means they care about us, think about us often and they want us to know we are special to them.  That is also why when someone gives us a gift, and we are not convinced that they love us (and we think they are just going through the motions…or trying to buy our love), their gift does not carry the same weight. Even if it is a really expensive gift, if there is no love behind it, it just will not fill us with joy or warm our hearts like a gift given out of love will.

Speaking of the price of a gift, I would like to tell you a story about what I consider one of the best Christmas presents I ever received. It was from my daughter…and I do not believe it cost her much of anything to give it (except time, talent and effort) and I could not care less. You see, ever since our kids were small, they knew my favorite Christmas song is “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters. It is a lovely song, with a beautiful arrangement…and with Karen Carpernter’s velvety voice as the frosting on the cake…c’mon now…what says “Christmas” better than that? Nothing..in my book. 

I would always tell my kids, “For me, it is not Christmas until I hear ‘Merry Christmas, Darling’ on the radio or somewhere.” It would not count if I played the record myself. No, I had to hear it elsewhere. So for years, we had this standing ritual….my kids would ask me, “Hey, Dad, is it Christmas yet?” If I had not heard the song yet, my answer would be “Nope, not yet?” But if I did hear the song on the radio or wherever, I would call them and say…”Guess what…it is officially Christmas time!!!” 

So a few years back, as we were exchanging gifts, my daughter (who is a very talented musician and singer) hands me this gift…and just by the size and packaging I thought, “Oh, cool, she bought me a CD.” When I unwrapped it, I discovered it was not a store bought CD, but rather a CD of a song she recorded herself…”Merry Christmas, Darling.” As the story goes…at the time she was dating a young man who owned and operated a recording studio. And she got him to help her do this up right (Thanks, Dave) while she played all the instruments and sang all the vocal parts herself (yes, she even did all those lush Carpenters harmonies all by herself, overdubbing each part separately). Yes, I am being a proud father, here, but she did a wonderful job (and I am not easily pleased when someone tries to do their own take on the Carpenters…just sayin’). If you would like to hear her rendition for yourself…you can go YouTube and just search for “Merry Christmas Darling” by Bobbi Jean. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was!!!

There you have it, a story about a very special Christmas gift given to me by someone who cares about me and wanted to do something special, something that would really touch my heart. And, it was something that did not cost her a lot of money. It was a very personal and thoughtful gift, given out of love, and one I will surely never forget.

So far, we have established that we all enjoy getting good gifts because…1) they show us that the giver cares about…and 2) that the giver wants us to be happy and to know how much they love us. All of that is great, but I am wondering if there is something more. There must be some reason that we all pretty much react to gifts the same way, no matter who we are or what our background is. What I mean is, is it something inherent, something we are born with…or dare I say…something God-given?

Well, let’s see…the Bible actually talks quite a bit about gifts….both the giving of and receiving. We know the original Christmas story, recorded in the Bible, included the giving of gifts:

When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. [Matthew 2:10-11 CSB]

Ok, I realize those gifts were not hover boards, cell phones or video game systems…but in those days…the gifts the wisemen brought Him were very special, indeed. 

Later on Jesus, Himself, talked about a very special gift with His disciples:

“And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” [Luke 24:49 CSB]

And Luke even when on to reemphasize the importance of this promise of a gift from on high in his writings about what happened after Jesus died and was resurrected in the Acts of the Apostles:

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4-5 NIV]

So, I think we can safely say that the concept of “giving gifts to those we love” is not purely a human thing, something we conceived all by ourselves. Rather, it is something that God not only apparently loved to do Himself, but He wanted it to be an important part of our human experiences, as well.

In my first book, “Unlocking Creation,” I talked a great deal about how I believe God revealed many aspects of His own divine nature through the things He created. Obviously, mankind is a big part of that as we were told that God intently chose to make man in His image and, as I talked about last week, I do not believe that meant in physical appearance only. I believe much of what we do, as people, are reflections of His divine nature, too.  He breathes, we breathe. He sees, we see. He hears, we hear. He smiles, we smile and it even says He grieves, so it is not surprising that, at times, we grieve. These are all attributes of God’s nature and He has apparently chosen to make them all parts of who we are, as people, as well. So I would not think it is “a bridge too far” for us to conclude that just as God loves to give gifts to those He loves, that He intended for us to be generous “gift givers” and thankful “gift receivers,” as well.

And let me not forget what the Apostle Paul shared regarding what is probably the greatest gift mankind has ever received, a gift with eternal significance and one that has been made available to everyone who has ever lived (if only they would choose to receive it). Think about that for a moment…God the Father chose to offer His own Son, who would die for our sins on a cross, as a gift motivated by His love for us…His children. Talk about sacrificial love. Here is how Paul explained it:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23 NASB]

In closing, I would like to include one more portion of Scripture, this one from our Lord Jesus and His famous Sermon on the Mount. If there remains any doubt that God chose to impart to us the desire to bless those we love with good things…this should clinch it:

“If you then, who are evil (sinners) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” [Matthew 7:11 CSB]

Yes, I believe God is the ultimate “gift giver” and we were designed to be like Him in many ways. Just as we have been created to pass on many of our own personality traits to our children, He chose to impart many of His to us, as well. Thank you, Lord!!!

Besides, who among us would be able to give anyone a gift, in the first place, had God not enabled us and blessed us with the wherewithal to do so. 

So let’s see…God chose to give us gifts out of His love for us..that we might have the ability to give gifts to others out of our love for them. 

I think I am beginning to see it all a little clearer now.

He gives to us…so we may be givers, too.

THANK YOU…..LORD!!!!

MAY YOU ALL HAVE A SAFE…BLESSED AND JOYOUS 2018!!!

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

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What Child Was…But Almost Wasn’t?

This past week I recorded a short version of the beloved Christmas carol, “What Child Is This” (which was set to the tune of the folk classic “Greensleeves”). It was fun putting my own musical twist on it…and I used it to get out a quick Christmas message to my friends and family…etc. As I was working on this song I started asking myself, “What if?”  And some of you may be thinking, “What if, what?”  That is a really good question….btw.

About a year ago, I read an eye-opening book called “The Cosmic Chess Match” by well-know prophecy expert and biblical archaeologist, L. A. Marzulli. The book goes into great detail about the moves and countermoves of God and His adversary, Satan, that have been going on behind the scenes ever since the beginning of time as we know it. It seems that it did not take long, after Lucifer (aka Satan) rebelled against God and one-third of the angels in Heaven rebelled with him, for the primary focus of their efforts to center around two things: 1) causing these new creations of God, human beings, to rebel against God too, so they could not receive God’s eternal promises…and 2) once mankind became tarnished by sin and were headed for eternal judgement, do everything possible to prevent God’s plan of redemption through His Son, Jesus, from materializing. And as we will see, the Bible is full of examples of the evil one’s attempts to make sure this particular baby was never born, in the first place. And once Satan failed at that, his efforts to keep Christ from fulfilling His mission on the Cross jumped into “the crosshairs”….pardon my pun…please.

Let’s take a look at a few of these stories, if we can, to see if that gives us a greater appreciation for just how active and involved God Almighty was from Day One to insure that this special baby was not only born, but that He would accomplish all that the Father had sent Him to do on behalf of His children….Thank You, Lord.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’” “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. [Genesis 3:1-4 CSB]

Here we see the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, living in this beautiful garden with plenty of food to eat, no wild beasts who are ready to eat them….and apparently no need to worry about keeping up with the latest fashion trends. They were both naked and unashamed because sin had not yet entered the picture. Things were going along just fine until one day this serpent shows up and tries to get them to disobey God. You see, God had told them there was one special tree that they were not permitted to eat from…and if they did, they would die (which is interesting because they were designed to live forever…death was not part of God’s original concept for them). So here comes this serpent and what does he do? He lies and tells them, “Go ahead. You can eat from that tree. You will not die.” The serpent (who was being used by Satan) knew that if they ate of that tree, all of mankind would be tarnished by sin and headed for judgement. Satan’s job would be a whole lot easier. Now he only had to stop one man, a Savior, from ever showing up. The chess match had begun and now he would be going after the opponent’s king.    

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. [Genesis 6:5-6, 8-9 NKJV]

About 1000 years after Satan’s first swipe at humanity, another major punch was thrown and this one was meant to be a knockout. If you casually read through Genesis 6, you might not pick up on how this all unfolded because the enemy was very clever in masking this attack. But if you look closely, you will see there were fallen angels who had come to earth, had relations with human women and impregnated many of them. They, then, gave birth to children infected by the demon seed. Is it any wonder that it says God looked down and saw that “all flesh had been corrupted.” It appeared that Satan had won, because if all flesh was corrupted, the bloodline that would eventually bring forth the Savior was now tainted and there could be no Messiah. But God’s countermove was a master stroke. He managed to keep one family pure and uncorrupted. A man named Noah found favor with God and it says he was “perfect in his generations,” which I believe means his family’s bloodline was not infected. Therefore, Noah was chosen to build the ark and his family were the only people spared from the flood. They also became the ones who would get to restart humanity. So you see…we are one big family, afterall.

After Jesse presented seven of his sons to him, Samuel told Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.” Samuel asked him, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest (David),” he answered, “but right now he’s tending the sheep.” Samuel told Jesse, “Send for him. We won’t sit down to eat until he gets here.” So Jesse sent for him. He had beautiful eyes and a healthy, handsome appearance. Then the Lord said, “Anoint him, for he is the one.” [1 Samuel 16:10-12 CSB]

In this one, the devil’s handiwork was a bit more obvious. The prophet Samuel was instructed by God to go to Bethlehem and find a man named Jesse, who had many sons and one of them was to be the next king after Saul. But when Samuel comes, Jesse only showed him seven of his sons. He had eight sons, but Jesse did not think that David, the youngest and smallest of them, fit the bill. He was wrong. David was exactly who God had in mind. Call me crazy, but I cannot help but think it was Satan who filled Jesse’s head with such doubts. He knew David would be a great king and a man after God’s own heart, so he was hoping Samuel would pick one of the others. But the Lord was not about to let that happen. There was yet another great king to come and he had to be a descendant of David. Another subtle effort by the enemy was foiled. Plus, it was important that the prophecies regarding the coming Messiah be fulfilled precisely so those who would be looking for Him would find Him.

David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged by him; your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” Your servant has killed lions and bears; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” Then David said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.” [1 Samuel 17:32,36-37 CSB]

Fast forward a bit…and Israel and King Saul have a problem. The Philisitines had this “giant of a man” named Goliath (remember the Nephilim from Genesis 6 who were called “mighty men or renown?”…they’re back). He was said to be nearly ten feet tall and he was taunting and tormenting the Israelites. He would challenge them to send out their best, so he could fight them and most likely kill them. As luck would have it (and I do not believe in luck) most of the Israelites, including David’s three brothers, we’re not willing to take this guy on. But David volunteered. King Saul pointed out that David was just a youth and had not even been trained for battle. Yet he stepped up and said, “God saved me from the lion and the bear, He will give me the victory over this Philistine.” And God did just that, as we know, leaving His adversary’s efforts trashed again. Hence, the Messiah would rightly be called the Son of David and trust me, the evil one was not happy about that.

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. [Matthew 2:13-14 CSB]

Now, about a thousand years later, the enemy had to change his strategy completely. The “Promised One” had been born. So now, instead of trying to corrupt the bloodline, the evil one had to figure out a way to take Him out before He has the chance to do what He was sent here to do….save the world from their sin. But God sends an angel to warn Joseph to flee, with Jesus and Mary, to Egypt until Herod dies and the baby is safe. God wins again.

So he took him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. And Jesus answered him, “It is said: Do not test the Lord your God.” After the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. [Luke 4:9,12-13 CSB]

About thirty years later, the “Promised One” is now an adult, He has received the Father’s call to action (when He was being baptized by John the Baptist and a voice rang out from the heavens saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”) and headed out to the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights, when the enemy appeared to confront the Son of God directly. Isn’t it amazing that after four thousand years since he first tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and listen to him (which they did), he is using the same worn out ploys…1) first he tempts Jesus with food (this time bread..not fruit)…2) secondly with power and authority (compared with wisdom the last time in Eden)…and 3) and lastly, the enemy tries to trick Jesus into “testing death” (hoping that it would lead to death..sound familiar?). Anyway, unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus was not fooled. His eyes were on the prize, yet He knew temptations would come to take the easy way out. But, He was God Incarnate and the one also referred to as Immanuel (which means “God with us”). He was able to see right through the enemy’s schemes. And to make matters worse for the bad guys, Satan’s time was about to run out. Game. Set. Match. 

Jesus would go on to fulfill His mission. Like the Bible teaches, greater is the power that was in Jesus (and now is in us who believe..the Holy Spirit)…than the power that is in the one who is in the world (God’s adversary…the devil). The promise was never really in danger at all. God Almighty was way ahead of His enemy every step of the way. And that has not changed..even today. God is still way ahead of His enemies. What He said He will do, He will do.

So this year, as we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, we should also realize that this was not just about a baby, albeit a very special baby born in Bethlehem. It is about a promise kept. 

Satan may have thought he won, when humanity fell victim to temptation. But our Lord is a very good chess player. He knows that sometimes you have to sacrifice a few pieces, here and there, to protect the king and ultimately defeat your opponent.

But in the end, it will all be worth it because finally, those who trust in Him will be able to eat of that Tree Of Life..forever.

Afterall… “This, this is Christ the King…whom shepherds guard and of whom angels sing.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

Love Me Do

I have been a follower of Jesus and a student of the Bible, now, for almost four decades. And the farther down that road I go, the more I am amazed at how so many people base their decision on whether to believe in God or the Bible, or not, on second-hand opinions or false pretenses. Sure, I can sympathize with them and understand how they can trod through life, year after year, without sensing the need to dig deeper to make sure they have sufficient evidence to choose wisely (afterall..we are only here for seventy or eighty years if we are lucky…eternity is a pretty long time, comparatively). Honestly, I was no different for the first twenty-five years of my life. I had dreams and aspirations…I was going places and Heaven or Hell was not on my list of destination choices at that time. So yeah, I get it.

But as I said, so many times when I talk to people about God, I hear many of the same objections and criticisms that would no longer hold water if they merely read the book they are so quick to dismiss. One thing I have found to be true with so many people I have talked to about the Lord, both believers and unbelievers, is that the more they have read the Bible and studied the Christian faith, they more likely they are to believe. You might think it would be the other way around. You know, the closer you look, the more fallacies or inconsistencies you might be able to find. But that is just not the case. At least, that has not been my experience. 

What I wanted to talk about today, specifically, is one of those commons errors or misconceptions that I hear all the time. It seems that many people think of God as being egotistical or “stuck on Himeslf”…because He requires obedience, desires us to be thankful, and most of all….seemingly needs to be loved by us. And to be fair, there does seem to be some logic in that thinking. I mean, if God is all-powerful, all-knowing and totally sufficient in and of Himself, why would He need anything from us. Frankly, isn’t it we humans that need His love and grace? He needs nothing. It reminds me of the old joke we’d make about trying to buy Christmas presents for my Dad….”What do you get for a man who has everything?” 

When I read the words of King David from Psalm 8, I tend to think he was feeling the same way:

“Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is your name throughout the earth! You have covered the heavens with your majesty. When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?” [Psalm 8:1,3-4 CSB]

Surely, if Almighty God was able create the universe and all that is in it and keep things working like a fine clock for thousands or millions of years without our help, what could we possibly offer Him, who apparently lacks nothing? And if all of that is true, getting back the original issue at hand here, is God truly self-centered and uber-demanding….or is there a better explanation to be found (for those who care enough to seek the truth)?  Maybe, for starters, we should get back to the basics:

So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. [Genesis 1:27 CSB]

Ok, God made us in His own image, but as we talked about last week, was that just in appearance only. Or, did He also impart some of His divine nature to us? He breathes…we breathe. He loves…we have the ability to love. He laughs and He cries….ditto here. And He apparently had the desire to produce creatures who are “like Him” (as we do) and He is obviously pleased when we do and think as He would. For those of you who have children, does any of this sound familiar? We can look to Jesus, who was not only our Lord and Savior, but a Son (and a perfect one at that), to see how He might view these things. Here is what He told His disciples:

Jesus said, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” [John 8:28-29 NASB]

I do not think it is coincidental that, within the Godhead, we are clearly shown a loving relationship between a Father and a Son.  My first book, “Unlocking Creation,” talks a lot about how God used the things He made to reveal His divine nature to his children, often with the hope that we would choose to follow His lead. But Jesus did not come to Earth only as the Son of God. Let’s take a look at how the Apostle Paul described Him:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. [Colossians 1:15,19 CSB]

Paul is saying this Son was also the “spittin’ image” of His Father, not just in looks but through and through…the “image of the invisible God.”  Ok…fine…but you may be wondering why I am stressing the example of Jesus, as God’s Son, so hard. My answer is…because Jesus became our example in many ways.

The point I wanted to make in this post, first and foremost, is that God does not need our love or obedience. No, He would be perfectly fine without. But like any good father or mother, love and obedience from His children is greatly desired and the best way to produce that kind of behavior from our children is to lead by example, to not just tell them to do something, but rather show them how to do it. And the Father gave us Jesus, the perfect example of His grace, mercy and love…not to mention obedience. Jesus was obedient all the way to the Cross…all praise and thanks to Him forever and ever.

You see, God does not expect anything of us that He does not do Himself. It is not egotistical or self-centered when you lead by example and set the tone…that others may follow. The Apostle John may have said it best:

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. We love because He first loved us. [1 John 4:10-11,19 CSB]

OK….that seems simple enough. If God loved us first, it is not egotistical or arrogant to hope to be loved in return. Makes sense, right?

Let me switch gears, for a moment, if I may. Have you ever noticed that, as humans, we can also be fairly self-serving at times. What I mean by that is we tend to like or love people who are nice to us, or go out of their way to show kindness to us first. Let’s face it, isn’t easier to love someone who displays the ability and desire to be kind or loving towards you, than say….someone who is standoff-ish or has not taken an interest in you or extended a hand of goodness or friendliness in some way? We rarely reach out or try to make a connection with people who have not in some way opened themselves up to us first. Maybe it is just a smile, a kind word….or in some cases, a person might do something we perceive as “above and beyond the call of duty”…something that makes us feel special or appreciated. Have you ever noticed how a person’s face lights up, when someone says really nice things about them or does something really nice for them? Well, you may be surprised to find out that those things are actually evidence of God’s goodness or as I call it, divine nature, within us. He designed us that way. 

I believe God imbedded software into the DNA of each and everyone of us that not only equips us to perceive when someone is being nice to us or showing kindness or love, and I believe He also gave us the basic ability to show kindness or compassion to others, as well. In fact, sometimes we feel led to initiate this type of goodness or grace towards others, without an expectation of it being shown to us in return. We call that type of love…mercy or charity. That is a special kind of love, for sure, but I believe that ability comes from God, too. And yes, I am sure you would agree….some folks have more of that than others, at least they act on it more often. But, then, some might say…”Ok, if God did in fact make the first move by showing us love and mercy, it would seem only fair that He would want us to show him love in return. But what proof do we have?” I am so glad you asked. The Apostle Paul answered that question very clearly, I believe:

“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8 CSB]

Well, that sums it up quite nicely I’d say, but in closing, I would like to give you another picture, something we can all relate to, of how this all fits together…marriage.

In the Bible, one of the most common threads that runs all the way through it, is this idea that our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is to be like a marriage between a man and a woman. It is to be a covenant relationship (which means enduring or without end…one based on an oath or a promise). So let’s take a look at a few aspects of marriage and see if we can wrap it up and put a bow on this thing:

1) How does a relationship that leads to marriage generally start? One of the people usually starts by showing kindness or doing something nice for the other. And if the other person likes that person, too, they will likely do something nice in return. Isn’t that right?

2) Then, once the relationship progresses to the point where things get pretty serious, the man will take a big step by proposing to the woman. At this point, the man is offering his love and devotion in a more permanent way. But, now the woman has a choice. She is not forced to say “Yes”…she still has the option (or free will) to say “No.” I am thinking you are starting to see where this is going.

3) So the man has taken the first step, in demonstrating his love for the woman. But, he is not forcing her to be joined to him. He is asking her to be his bride. Of course, he wants her to say “Yes.” But He does not violate her right to choose for herself, because should she say “Yes”…should would be agreeing to take that oath and enter into a covenant relationship which comes with a promise….it’s a big deal…one that should not be entered into lightly.

So, do you see the connections between marriage and what we are talking about here?  God is like the groom (actually, in the Bible, Jesus is called the bridegroom, the church is called the bride). He blesses us with many things and tries to woo us to Himself? And by sending His Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, He is offering us the chance to be joined to Him, forever. But, He does not violate our free will, we can still choose to reject His offer. But the first step has been taken, His love towards us has been demonstrated.

This is why I do not believe that God is egotistical or self-serving. He showed His love for us first, many times and in many ways.

That is why I chose to name this blog post after the classic Beatles song (if you read my first book, you know that as a lifelong musician, I love to use classic song titles for names of chapters…etc). God is not forcing us to love Him. Not at all. He demonstrated His love for us first, and He is offering us the chance to be joined to Him, forever, by choosing to love Him in return….or as John, Paul, George and Ringo taught us:

“Love, love me do…you know I love you…I’ll always be true…so ple..ee..ee..eez….Love me do…yeah…love me do”

So simple, so plain, yet so direct. God says, “I choose you…now the choice is yours.”

How will you respond?

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

Blowin’ In The Wind

For those of you who do not know me, I was born and raised…and still live in Northeast Ohio…near the shores of Lake Erie. I know Chicago is called “the Windy City,” and rightly so. But there are plenty of times where those of us who live in and around Cleveland would likely say we could give Chicago a run for their money in that category. And I will say this, over the last two weeks or so, the winds have been whipping here almost everyday. I don’t know if I can remember a time where the wind was that strong for that long…and that got me thinking.

Over the last few months, we have seen wildfires in Northern California, up in Montana and now down in Southern California…all driven by high winds. So it seems pretty obvious that wind can make fires spread rapidly. But wind can also make things much colder than they would otherwise be. Up here in Ohio, we know all about “wind chill” and “lake effect.” Those winter winds can really get moving, as they come across a chilly or frozen lake. As a good friend of mine would often say, “It’s cold enough to make a snowman order up a hot chocolate.” And trust me, he has a point.

Like I said earlier, all this talk about wind and the good and bad things it can bring, it got me thinking. In each and every one of these instances mentioned above, apart from the wind, these places and people were just fine. Buildings, utilities, roads and bridges, forests,  animals and of course, humans can go from being “safe and secure” to “severely threatened” in a matter of minutes when the winds turn wild. The results can not only be destructive, but very deadly, as well, as we saw with the recent wildfires and, of course, the hurricanes that devastated the good folks in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In fairness, wind is not always a bad thing. We can harness it to lift planes into the air, propel watercraft, produce electricity and need I say that on a sizzling hot afternoon, a bit of a breeze can be very welcome. But once again, in these situations, the presence of wind changes things…from a plane sitting on a tarmac…to a sailboat sitting in the middle of the lake…without the wind no one gets where they want to go. Wind makes a huge difference on virtually everything it touches, that much we know for sure.

In 2016, I wrote my first book called “Unlocking Creation.” The basic premise of the book was that when we look at the things God has made, if we look close enough, we often see aspects of His nature woven into the fabric of those created things. For instance, light vs dark is often used as a metaphor for good and evil. Hot and cold often points to when things go to the extremes, beyond that which is comfortable, and how would God have us respond to that. How about male and female? We are taught that God made man in His own image, so I guess He could have made only one gender that was self-sufficient and could even reproduce on it’s own, if He chose to do that. But, of course He did not, and I believe that was because He wanted to show us how much value He places on relationships. He wanted us to understand that being human is meant to be a team sport, more like curling than golf, let’s say.

So in the same way, especially with all the wind related events happening around us, I though it would be fun to ask the question…”Why wind, Lord?” What was He revealing to us about Himself, through the creation of wind and how should we apply what we learn from wind to our lives, both physically and spiritually. As usual, I can think of no better place to begin this study than the Bible. Afterall, it is God’s Word. It’s always good to go to the source, I believe. So let’s go back to the very beginning, the Book of Genesis, when God made Adam, the very first human.

Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. [Genesis 2:7 CSB]

First of all, I would point out that the Hebrew word for wind is “ruach” and the Greek word for wind is “pneuma”…and those are the same Greek and Hebrew words for “breath” and “spirit.” So it should be no surprise, just as with the other things we talked about, that before God applied moving air, here, or breath or wind or what have you….Adam was merely a lifeless pile of dust formed into the shape and size of a man. But once God breathed into his nostrils, all that was changed dramatically for Adam and everyone who came after him. They became living creatures. And wind-powered ones, at that, not unlike that sailboat. So it appears God did not just want to make us in His own image, in appearance only. No, that would be a statue, basically. He desired that we should be “made alive” and He used the movement of air to accompish that. Pretty interesting, right?

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as he commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army. [Ezekiel 37:9-10 CSB]

Here in the Book of Ezekiel, God is telling Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath” and that this breath would enter the dry, lifeless bones of the slain and that they would spring to life, stand on their feet and become a vast army. Pneuma…ruach…wind does it again. Are we beginning to see a pattern here? I’d say so. But wind can not only make people alive, it can cause them to die, too, as we see below in the story of Jesus calming the raging seas.

They came and woke him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who then is this? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey him!” [Luke 8:24-25 CSB]

This one is very interesting,  because we get to see both sides of the coin. First, we see the storms are raging and the disciples were very afraid. Remember, some of these men were fishermen. They knew the equation…strong winds + a larger body of water = danger (maybe even death). So they wake Jesus up and He simply commands the winds and waves to stop, and what do you know, they do just that.  So this Jesus, who the Bible tells us is the Son of God, was with God in the beginning and the One who created all things including the wind, tells it to stop and it does. So in some cases, we see the Lord applying wind to  bring about a positive change to things that were otherwise lifeless. And in this case we see the Creator turning off the wind to keep other people from dying. Mind-boggling…to say the least.  But in the Bible, wind is not just something that can either bring a lifeless creature to life…or cause a living one to die. Apparently, it can also be something that either blows someone onto the path that leads to truth or off of it, as the Apostle Paul describes below.

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…” [Ephesians 4:14 NASB]

Like Bob Dylan wrote many years ago, “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind…the answer is blowin’ in the wind”  (those of you who read my book “Unlocking Creation”, you know that as a long-time musician and songwriter, myself, I often like to refer to classic songs in my writing…it is kinda my thing). It is true, not only with physical things, but in the spiritual realm. You might refer to it as “inspiration”…and so it is. But keep in mind that in the Greek and the Hebrew…..wind, breath and spirit are all synonomous.  When we are inspired, or when we feel that tug or nudge to do something good (or maybe not so good), it is a spiritual breeze, of sorts, that I believe is “tossing us here or there” as Paul puts it. He was saying that if you are grounded in Christ and in God’s Word, you will be able to withstand those “winds of change” that try to blow us off course. 

“The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8 CSB]

And I will close with this verse from one of my favorite chapters in the Bible…John 3. It is the chapter where we get so many priceless quotes from our Lord as He has this memorable discussion with a Jewish Priest named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in secret to find out what message this man from Nazareth was preaching. Nicodemus realized that Jesus was sent from God, and he came wanting to know more, even though most of the other Jews saw Him as a threat.  Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” He told him that we are born once of the water (physically), but if we want to find the Kingdom of God, we must be born of the Spirit…in other words…God must breathe life into us, spiritually, by empowering us with the wind of God….the Holy Spirit.

Once again, the breath of God…the ruach…the pneuma must come upon us and change us from being “lifeless” (spiritually speaking), to being “made alive” by a wind that we “know not where it comes from or where it is going,” as Jesus told Nicodemus. 

Now one might ask, “Why would God want to empower us with a Spirit that we know not where it comes from or where it is going?” My answer would be, “We do not need to worry about where we have been in the past or where we shall go in the future. Jesus simply asks His disciples to follow Him. He is fully able to get us where we need to go, now and in the future. Have faith and do not fear, His wind will carry us there, if we are willing to let Him.

So then, only one obvious question remains..”How can a person receive or become empowered by this miraculous wind of God that Jesus referred to as the Helper (John 14:26) or the Holy Spirit.” Well, He actually tells us how in Chapter 11 of Luke’s Gospel:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” [Luke 11:13 CSB]

There’s our answer…just “ask Him”…ask your Heavenly Father. He is a “Good, Good  Father,” as the song says. He loves to give good gifts to His children.

BOB PALUMBO                                                                                                                                           

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

The Truth Meter

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Sin Scale” and it brought a lot of interesting comments. As always, I really enjoyed hearing your responses. Keep ’em coming. So this week, I thought I would take a look at the other side of the coin…truth (since it is believeing a lie that most often leads to more sin, in the first place).

Back in the early days of television, long before my time of course, there was a very popular show called “To Tell The Truth” (OK…since this post is about truth…I probably should not start off with a fib. I was two years old when the show debuted in December of 1956 and I do remember watching it many times). The show featured four celebrity panelists and three “challengers” (two who were lying and one who was telling the truth…what a concept, huh?). The one challenger who was telling the truth usually had some unique talent or had accomplished something pretty incredible. The panelists got to question these three challengers and then had to vote on who was telling the truth. Prize money was divided among the three challengers, so they often did work together somewhat to advance the ruse. It actually was an entertaining show and stayed on the air for many years. It even has surfaced more recently for few brief runs.

But I have to tell the truth (you knew I would go there sooner or later), as I watch the news these days or even just look at the world around us, it often feels like we are living in one big episode of “To Tell The Truth.” There seems to be a lot more liars than “truth-tellers” and those who are not telling the truth (intentionally or otherwise), for some reason, end up being the ones who are believed more often than not. In fact, you just might say, “Truth is hard to find…and rarely believed.” Pretty strange, huh?

You know, though, we really should not be all that surprised as the Apostle Paul talked a lot about the problem of disappearing truth even back in his day:

They (we) exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. [Romans 1:25 CSB]

It seems Paul was suggesting that we, as humans, made a choice. Truth was available, but mankind traded it for a lie. Of course, this is really nothing new either. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did, essentially, when the serpent offered them the forbidden fruit? They abandoned the truth that God had told them…and by desiring something created by God instead, they bought into a lie. And that has been happening ever since.

The interesting thing about this is that the Bible teaches that when we start rejecting the truth that God offers us, we gradually become desensitized to the lies and eventually we are no longer able to see the truth, even when it is right in front of our noses. Here is how Paul explained it:

And because they (we) did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, He delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. [Romans 1:28 CSB]

But there is a very important point to be made here. Just because we may have wandered so far off the path that our eyes can no longer see it or even find our way back to it, that does not mean the path no longer exists. Oh, it is still there. It is just as real as it ever was. The problem lies not with the path. The problem has more to do with our eyes, or in this case more specifically with our hearts. The eyes are just the camera. It is our hearts that decides what to see or not see. And not surprisingly, it is our hearts that decide whether to believe the lie or to embrace the truth.  As King David describes it, again, we are given a choice. If we decide to seek God and His unchangeable truths, it usually becomes much easier to follow through with that decision. If we decide not to, it becomes increasingly harder.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. [Psalm 119:30 NIV]

In the verse above, David bring’s it all into focus by reminding us that it all starts with a decision to place God on the throne of our lives, removing ourselves as the final authority. If we are willing to put our trust in God rather than ourselves, as with a doctor or a surgeon, we are signing the release form that allows Him to do the necessary work that gives us the best chance at being whole…and restored to health again. 

Many people do not realize this, but the fact that God gave us “free will” means He will not intrude into our lives without our permission. As with the doctor when we are sick, we must give Him permission to treat us. Only then can we truly be well. 

It all comes down to who are you going to believe? A choice. A decision. It’s your call. No one else can make it for you. But this is not a “follow the crowd” type of thing. Quite the opposite it true, actually, as Paul explains further:

Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar, as it is written: That you may be justified in your words and triumph when you judge. [Romans 3:4 CSB]

Take a look at the story of Noah. God told him it was going to rain and there was going to be a great flood (which is interesting, because up until then, it had never rained). But, everybody and their brother told him he was nuts and mocked and taunted him constantly. 

Oh sure, he could have chimed in with the crowd after many years of seeing the rains had not come saying, “Maybe you’re right? Maybe I am only kidding myself. It never has rained before. Why now?” But what did he do?  He hung on to that which he knew to be true, inspite of tons of people telling him otherwise.

All of that is fine and good, of course, provided we are able to determine that which is really true and that which is not. If we are unable to do that, we are just “grasping at straws”.  It is important that we be able to find “true North” (to describe absolute truth another way). Our moral compass needs something stable and constant to lock on to, if we are going to be able to make good and decent decisions in a day and age where truth seems to have become whatever people want it to be. King Solomon talked about this many, many years ago when he wrote, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). How true is that, today?  But where do we find this real, unchanging truth?

For starters, earlier Paul told us to “let God be true,” which is fine if you know God and have a relationship with Him. But what if you don’t, what then? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a “truth meter” that we could use sort of like a Geiger counter that would sniff out the truth and point us to it?  

King David had a pretty good idea of where to find it:

“For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” [Psalm 33:4 NIV]

Then, the Apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to his disciple, Timothy:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV]

And last but not least Jesus, Himself, believed God’s words were absolutely true:

“Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” [John 17:17 NIV]

So it seems pretty clear that all through the Scriptures, there is evidence that the people who knew God intimately were thoroughly convinced that His every word was completely true and worthy of their trust. The Apostle John certainly did. He talked about truth a lot.

But while we are talking about John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (as he sometimes referred to himself rather than calling himself by name), I want to take this discussion one step further, if I may. John started off his Gospel with a truly amazing revelation. He taught us that Jesus was the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:1,14 NIV]

So, long before the world was created and long before God inspired holy men to write down the words that have now become the Bible, “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” But then, at the appropriate time, God allowed His Word to take on human form in the body of Jesus Christ and just as John wrote, He dwelt among us. God’s truth came down to us from Heaven and was revealed in His Son, just as Jesus, Himself, confirmed a bit later in the Gospel of John:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [John 14:6-7 NIV]

So you see…absolute, unchanging and trustworthy truth is available to us, today, in this crazy world where “truth is hard to find…and rarely believed.” It is readily available to us, both through His written word, the Bible…and by having an intimate relationship with “the Living Word,” God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you still need a little more icing on this “truth cake” I am baking, here, I would suggest we turn to the final book of the Bible, also written by John, the Book of Revelation. It contains the instructions as to how this world will end, at the sounding of the last trumpet and how Christ will return to take His children home. As John sees one of the final visions, the one where he first sees the Returning King appearing in the clouds upon His white horse, we should not be surprised by the name this rider is given:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True…He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. [Revelation 19:11,13 NIV]

Yes…we do have a “truth meter” by which we can measure the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of the things we see and hear around us…the Word of God…Faithful and True.

Whether it is the written form or through the Living Word, Christ our Savior, it is unchanging, trustworthy and most of all…TRUE.

Take heart, my friends. Truth is not dead. It’s just no longer fashionable.

But, hey…I was never one to follow the latest fashion trends, anyway.

BOB PALUMBO

(Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

The Sin Scale

It seems, today, we cannot turn on a TV or hop on the Internet (I would have said “pick up a newspaper”…but it seems that those have become a thing of the past for many people nowadays) without hearing about the latest sex scandal to hit Hollywood or Washington D.C. Of course, those are not the only two places these things happen. They are all around us wherever we are, these days. But those are the two places that seem to get the most attention, thanks to the 24/7 media that talks about this stuff endlessly as if they have these stories on a constant loop. While I realize these types of scandals are really nothing new, if my perception is right, they seem to be accelerating at a staggering pace. But what is most troubling to me, is that there apparently is a “domino effect” with this type of behavior. The more immorality we tolerate, as a society, the more it produces. My guess is if we want this downward spiral to stop, we need to draw the line somewhere, do we not?

I remember a friend of mine (who was not a believer in God…btw) telling me, “Listen, Bob, you can’t legislate morality. People are going to do what people are going to do.” While I understood the point he was making, immorality has been around since the beginning or time and it is not likely to stop anytime soon, just because we pass a few new laws. My response was, “I hear you, but if we, as a society do not set moral guidelines for people to live by, we are actually legislating immorality.” When we tolerate (or even encourage) immoral behavior, we become desensitized to it and that only leads to further desensitization down the road. I tend to think that if one form of immorality does not offend us today…even greater immoralities will likely not offend us tomorrow. It’s a slippery slope, if you ask me.

Just look at the last 100 years or so. We’ve seen a slow but steady “moving back of the fences” for what offends us morally. For example, just look at how morality in movies has changed over the last century. Wow. And it has pretty much gotten to the point where not much shocks us anymore. We are now almost at a point of no return, where “anything goes” and there is no such thing as “absolute right” and “absolute wrong.” It has all become relative….right and wrong is what each person or group now perceives it to be in their own eyes. And for the entertainment industry, I’d say whatever sells tickets or gets good ratings is, in their eyes, morally acceptable. They don’t cross the line much anymore, well, because there really is no line. That is what happens when people decide for themselves what is right…..or wrong.

Welcome, my friends, to “the sin scale.”


A long time ago, I heard a story that within the prison system, there was sort of this hierarchy of wrongdoing…that what each prisoner saw as bad behavior was measured against their own crime, with it either being not as bad or worse than their own (again in their own eyes). For instance, a person who robbed a bank (and did not harm anyone in the process, let’s say) would view someone who molested a child or committed rape as being really bad, but they did not view what they did as being quite as bad because no one was harmed. I think you get the picture.

And if we look around us, I think most of us see examples of that in our everyday lives with people we know and love. One person might be rude or disrespectful to others, but that is not as bad as the alcoholic and that might not be as bad as the drug addict. Then, the drug addict might not be looked upon as being as bad as someone who commits adultery and the adulterer may not be considered as bad as the man who physically abuses his wife. More examples of “the sin scale”. Whatever is worse than what you or society is willing to tolerate becomes the new “bad behavior.” And where does it all end? Ask the Romans.

We human beings have always had a habit of grading “wrongdoing,” with some things being less wrong and others being more wrong, based on our own experiences. Those may be born out of our family relationships, religious upbringing (or not) or just by how we have evaluated the world around us as we were growing up. Most of us tend to be much more influenced by what happens around us than we would likely admit. This tendency is often referred to as “the herd mentality.” In other words, if everyone else seems to be fine with something, it must be OK. The opposite is also true, if the majority thinks something is wrong, it must be.

But there is a problem with using the opinions of the majority to form our own opinions, the majority is often wrong. Jesus said it this way:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” [Matthew 7:13-14 NASB]

There you have it. And it was this same principle behind the thinking of our Founding Fathers when they decided to make our nation a “representative republic” instead of a true democracy. It is precisely because of the power and dangers of the “herd mentality” that true democracies tend to fail. It is easy for a handful of persuasive individuals to fire up a crowd to the point where they want to overthrow those in power. But usually that does not end well. It tends to only benefit the persuasive few who started the ruckus and it usually only lasts until the next handful of troublemakers come along and get the crowd fired up again.

Many years ago, I heard a great story about tuning pianos. If you had the job of tuning 100 pianos, what would work better…tuning the first one, then tuning the second one to the first, then the third one to the second and the fourth to the third…etc..etc.? Or would it be better to tune the first one first…then to tune the other 99 pianos to the first one?  Most would say, and I believe it is correct, that the second method would work best. It is the only way to maintain consistency between all the pianos. If you did it the other way, even if you were only off by the slightest variance from one piano to the next, by the time you got to the last piano, you could be pretty far off.

This is why so many people these days, especially those who believe in God, speak out about their belief in the need for an absolute, unchanging and unwavering standard of right and wrong. If the standard is not fixed and unchangeable, it becomes a tool in the hand of whatever person or group seizes power at any point in time. You probably have heard this referred to as “moving the goalposts,” a football analogy that suggests whoever has the ball (or power) can, at their own discretion, move the posts in such a way to make it easier for their team to score. How convenient, right?

That is why God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to give us an “Owner’s Manual” quite early in human history to make sure the goalposts we call “right and wrong” were dug deep enough and firmly cemented in place so that they could not be moved around to benefit whatever tyrant was in power at the time.

Now, I do want to stop for a second and make one point really clear because it is something I get hit with all the time whenever I talk to folks about this stuff. In no way am I suggesting that we should desire to change our nation into a theocracy (where a society decides to adopt God’s Laws as the “law of the land”) or am I saying we should set up a “state religion,” where everyone would be expected to accept the tenets of that religion or face punishment. Absolutely not and may it never be (at least until Christ returns and sets up His Kingdom on Earth…but that is a different story altogether).

God, Himself, the ultimate law-giver, does not force us to obey His commandments. Rather, He has given His children free will. Yes, there are clearly consequences for those who obey and for those who choose to disobey (and those consequences were clearly stated far in advance, no moving goalposts here), but the decision to believe in God or not is our own decision. So, I believe it should be no different with an earthly government or religion. They can set their standards of right and wrong and clearly state the consequences of non-adherence. But the decision to comply, or not, should ultimately left up to the individual. “Pick your own poison”…as they say. 

Besides, it is important to note that the way that God looks at wrongdoing or sin is completely different than the way most humans look at it. As I said earlier, we humans have this thing called “the sin scale” to help us determine the wrongness or rightness of a particular action or deed. God looks at it completely differently, in a much more binary manner, if you will. Something is either sin…or it is not sin. Pretty simple really.

Let’s take a look at what the Apostle James (the half-brother of Jesus) had to say:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. [James 2:10 NASB]

“So wait,” I hear you saying,” you mean if I only tell one little white lie in my life, in God’s view of things, I am just as bad as someone like Hilter or the Boston Strangler? That doesn’t seem fair.”  Ok, I hear you. But let me ask you this, have you ever taken or heard of a test that is graded only as either “pass” or “fail?” Well, it is sort of like that.

Since God is holy, He is unable to stand in the presence of sin…period. So, whether we have committed one sin or ten thousand, we are unable to enter into His presence. It is either we are “sinners or sinless”…..”pass or fail”….the exact score or number of infractions does not matter. God does not have a “sin scale” and most certainly not a sliding one.

But the Good News, of course, is this is precisely why Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth and became the payment for all of mankind’s sin. Here is how the Apostle Paul explained it:

He (the Father) made Him (the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. [2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB]

Hopefully, then, what seemed to be extremely unfair before…now seems completely fair once we see the bigger picture. God is always more interested in redemption than judgement. So like the Bible says..keeping score…or “keeping a record of wrongs” is really not His thing.

But God knew it would take one who had truly earned a passing grade, Jesus Christ, to be able intervene on our behalf causing our failing grade to be changed to “pass”…but not based on what we have done, but rather what He has done.

And it is purely because of Christ’s willingness to step in for us and take the punishment we deserved upon Himself, eternally speaking here, that the “sin scale” will one day go the way of the newspaper and become a thing of the past….THANK YOU LORD!!

All that will matter on Judgement Day is “In Christ” or “Not In Christ.”

Pass or fail…there will be no scale of varying degrees of right or wrong.

And for that….I am eternally grateful.

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

God of the Valleys?

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a three day Men’s Retreat based on the eye-opening book by John Eldredge called “Wild At Heart” (which is why I was unable to put up a new post last Sunday…so I apologize for that…I was busy “refilling my tank”). It was mostly about helping men to get in touch with the man that God created us to be. You probably have noticed (I know I have) that the world around us and modern society has created these false concepts of manhood and masculinity.  The results of all this societal pressure has been like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways, as so many men have not only had a hard time living up to these skewed images of manhood, but whenever they did try to fit into these more modern male images, it felt a lot like wearing a straight jacket. It probably made other folks happy to see it on…just not the one wearing it.

Needless to say, it was refreshing to hear that we don’t have to be Captain America or Captain Kangaroo….or anyone else for that matter. We just have to discover who God made us to be, as individuals, and do our best to walk in those shoes and we will be just fine. But enough about all of that. That was last week. I really wanted to talk about something a little different this week….mountains and valleys. 

Say what? Mountains and valleys? I know…but there really is a connection. Trust me.

So, every morning I take one chapter out of the Bible and I choose a portion of it and make a post on our Men’s Group Facebook page….and make a few comments about it….sort of like a casual online Bible study for the guys at our church. It has been a blast…I have really enjoyed it and I have learned so much by doing that on a daily basis….it has been amazing.

Right now, we are going through the Book of 1 Kings, which was written by the prophet Jeremiah. We were in Chapter 20, one day this week, and I came across this amazing passage. It was amazing because, at first, it did not seem to make any sense. But the more I studied it and pondered it…I began to see something that I think is pretty darn cool. Here is the passage:

At the turn of the year, Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “ The Lord is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord .’” [1 Kings 20:26,28 NASB]

So there was this king of Aram. His name was Ben-hadad and he was going around to all the little tribes and nations around him….just “kicking butts and taking names”.  He was the “bully on the block”, you could say. And he was lookin’ to go after Israel next. He even sent a messenge to the king of Israel that they were coming to take their gold and silver, and their women and children too. And at first, it seemed that the king of Israel was going to agree to it (I’m guessing out of fear…since he saw what happened to all those other tribes and nations).  But when he took it to the council of elders, they loudly objected. So he agreed that they would fight Ben-hadad’s armies and God actually gave them the victory.

After that battle, Ben-hadad’s officers came to him and said, “Israel’s God is a god of the mountains. We cannot beat them there. We need to draw them out to the plains, away from their God. Then we will be able to defeat them.” So, they did try again and this time they were defeated even more decisively. Then, they decided to go and see if Ahab, the King of Israel, would be willing to make a peace deal with them and let King Ben-hadad live. And believe it or not, Ahab agreed and made a covenant with Ben-hadad and let him live.

What happens next is pretty bizarre (as if what has been happening up until now has been routine or normal). A prophet shows up and concocts this elaborate scheme to show Ahab the error of his ways….and Ahab walks right into it.

As it turned out, God was prepared to make Ben-hadad pay the ultimate price for saying the God of Israel was only a “god of the mountains”…and not the valleys, too.  So God was not pleased that Ahab was ready to make peace with an enemy of Israel, one that God was ready to judge for his unbelief. It turns out that Ahab, then, would be the one to be judged…and he knew it. After all, it says that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than any of the other kings (and most of them were no peaches, either). Plus, we know Ahab was married to Jezebel…and she was no Mother Teresa, herself.

But it raised a question, at least in my mind. Why was it so important to the Lord to be recognized as both the “God of the mountains and the God of the valleys?”

Well, for starters, let’s see what King David had to say about the subject:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]

It seems pretty obvious that King David, a man who was said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” saw the Lord as much more than just a “god of the mountains.” He actually believed (and so do I) that the whole world and everything in it belongs to God, including all the creatures and all the people who have ever lived here. So, it seems that at the very least, the Arameans view that God was just a “god of the mountains” was an attempt at doing what so many still try to do today…to minimize who God is or cut him down to size and make us all, as the famous movie title suggests, “Children Of A Lesser God.”

If a person has spent anytime in church or reading the Bible, it probably did not take them long to begin to understand that God is not big on compromising who He is or “going along just to get along.” No, He is pretty firm on the whole “Lord of all or not at all” line of thinking.  But there is another facet of this whole “mountain and valley thingy” that I really want to touch on, if I may.

It has often been said that it is easy to praise God when you are on the mountaintop (when things are going good…let’s say).  But it is not always easy to do that when life drags you down into the “valley of death” (as David called it)…and it seems you are all alone in your pain and there is no end in sight.

Some have referred to this as the “dark night of the soul” and those who have experienced it might tend to agree with King Ben-hadad and the Arameans by saying, “God might exist on the top of the mountain, but He is nowhere to be found down here in the valleys of life.” Based on my experiences, interacting with God over the years, I would have to strongly disagree with that view. When I was going through the most difficult times in my life, I found that if I would quiet myself and listen, God was not only there with me, He was speaking to me quite clearly in His gentle and comforting voice. I was definitely not alone. That much I know for sure.

Another portion of Scripture from 1 Kings confirms this, as well:

So He said, “ Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord ; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” [1 Kings 19:11-13 NASB]

You see, God was not speaking to Elijah through the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to Elijah through the “gentle blowing” and it says Elijah heard it and went out of the cave. God provided him with that “light at the end of the tunnel.” He did not leave him alone in his time of trouble and the Lord does not abandon us then, either.

While it is true, it may be harder to see Him or hear His voice when those strong winds are blowing or the ground is shaking beneath our feet, but He is right there working on our behalf every bit as much as when we are rejoicing on that mountaintop. I have no doubt.

Those who know me, know that I have a fondness for many of those classic, traditional hymns of days gone by.  The words and messages of those old hymns were so clear and so powerful, they never fail to touch my heart or, sometimes, even bring a tear to my eye.

One of those is a beloved song made famous by the gospel group, The McKameys, and has been sung by just about every other traditional gospel artist or group since. It is a song called “God On The Mountain.” I recently saw a documentary on this classic hymn and I was not surprised to find that the songwriter, Tracy Dartt, was in a pretty dark and deep valley in his life when God woke him up in the middle of the night and gave him the words to this amazing song in about twenty minutes, start to finish. Here are the words to the chorus of this famous hymn:

God on the mountain, is still God in the valley

When things go wrong, he’ll make them right

And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times

The God of the day, is still God in the night

How’s that for putting a little icing on this cake. Now I can’t say for sure, but I would not be surprised to find that Tracy had been reading 1 Kings Chapter 20 around the time that these beautiful words to this hymn were penned. 

Isn’t that just like the Lord, who sometimes allows His children to go through a valley, so that they may come to know Him better and He can lead them back to the mountaintop, if they will only put their trust in Him?  I can confidently say from experience…yes..it is.

So how does this relate to the things we learned at the Men’s Retreat last weekend?  Oh yes, thanks for reminding me.

We heard from dozens of men, down there, who had spent much of their life “in the valley.” Poverty, bad neighborhoods, abusive parents (especially fathers), you name it. We heard it all. Some had spent their entire childhood there, feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight. But God continued to love them (even if they did not know it at the time) and eventually He reached out to them and opened their eyes so they could follow Him out of the darkness and into the light.

And now that they know the truth, they have absolutely no doubt He was with them every step of the way.

They know first hand, He is certainly “God of the valleys,” every bit as much as He is “God of the mountains.”  But they had to go through the valley first, to see it.

BOB PALUMBO

Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”