The Unshakable Kingdom

Something that captured my imagination when I was 11 years old was when a scientist predicted that there would be a major seismic event along the New Madrid Fault on December 3, 1990.  (In the winter of 1811-12, the New Madrid Fault along the confluence of Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Tennessee, produced a series of earthquakes that were the strongest ever recorded in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains – toppling chimneys over 350 miles away in Cincinnati and ringing church bells in Boston.) All the talk in 1990 was what would happen if the predicted earthquake came to fruition: if it registered so much on the Richter Scale, plaster would fall from the ceiling; so much more, and bookshelves might fall over; a certain magnitude, and buildings could topple.  It was all quite scary for a child.  But December 3rd came and went, and the fault stayed silent.

Major earthquakes take place every year around the globe, bringing destruction, suffering, and death.  The awesome power of these events reminds us that no matter how much of the natural world we seem to master, there is still so much that is out of our control.

The Old Testament tells us in several places that the Lord’s voice and His anger could shake the earth (Exodus 19:18, Psalm 46:6, Isaiah 5:25, Jeremiah 10:10, Joel 3:16).  In Haggai 2:6, the Lord says, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.”  The writer to the Hebrews interprets that prophecy from Haggai as indicating that there is a day coming when everything that can be shaken will pass away, and only that which cannot be shaken will remain (Hebrews 12:26-27).

There is good news in this prophecy of coming destruction: in Hebrews 12:28 the writer testifies that “we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken”.  This covenant of which we have partaken, this kingdom where we have filed our citizenship – these things cannot be shaken!  In light of that great news, we should not hold on to things that are going to be shaken into oblivion, but rather to those things that will not pass away – the unshakable Kingdom of God.

The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say, “our God is a consuming fire” (12:29).  He is going to consume what is temporal, and all that will remain is that which is eternal.  Each of us has a choice before us: we can align ourselves with that which is temporary, or we can align ourselves with that which is eternal.

There is coming a day when everything that is temporal will be shaken into oblivion, and only that which is unshakable will remain. If we are wise, if we would claim our citizenship in the Unshakable Kingdom, we should hold loosely to those things that are shakable, and prioritize those that are eternal.

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

Flowers Fade

My wife loves cut flowers. She delights in arranging them and prominently displaying them to add beauty and fragrance to the room. For a short period of time, they brighten our home and cheer our hearts. I think it is impossible to gaze at a beautiful flower and not see God’s handiwork. Martin Luther said, “God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”

Although the splendor of a flower may be limited in its duration, a part of its charm is that for the passing moment it fulfills its created purpose. In many respects, the lives of people we love are like flowers. The Psalmist says, “As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, To those who keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them(Psalm 103:14-18).

Family and friends add beauty and fragrance to our lives. Loved ones brighten our days, warm our hearts, and add purpose to our time on earth. We realize that our days with our loved ones may indeed be temporal, but for believers God’s word promises eternal life. “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”  (Isaiah 40:8, NKJV).

Peter’s Epistle provides a wonderful affirmation of God’s promise, For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25, NIV). While the physical ‘flower’ of our life may fade, that is not the end. God’s word says, “But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die – but we are all going to be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, MSG). The bloom of our earthly existence will surely fall away, but we shall burst forth in full bloom in heaven as God originally intended. “The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious” (1 Corinthians 15:43-45, MSG).

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the beautiful flowers that brighten our pilgrimage here. In faith, let us move forward with excitement, “because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:2).

~ Brother Roy

Joyful in Hope

Many of us have had periods in our lives that brought major changes. Sometimes these changes were positive and uplifting. At others times, they may have seemed disruptive and negative. The last few years have brought a period of major changes to my wife and me.

Advancing years and declining health both helped precipitate numerous decisions that we had to make about our future. These decisions resulted in extensive life changes. We sold the home we had built with our own hands forty three years earlier. My antique business was put up for auction. More than fifty years of accumulated family heirlooms, pictures, and other assorted treasures that filled our large two-level home had to go. Downsizing to the approximately one thousand square feet in our Patio Home in a retirement community was difficult and traumatic.  

The expression, ‘Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be,’ encapsulated our approach to these seismic shifts. I believe that all truth is God’s truth wherever it is found. The three divisions of the aforementioned phrase each have strong scriptural foundations.

  • Accept what is:  “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11, NIV).
  • Let go of what was: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).
  • Have faith in what will be: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

My wife and I have also found great comfort in the following scriptures:

  • “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4, NIV).
  • “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isaiah 32:18, NIV).
  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in adversity, and faithful in pray” (Romans 12:12, NIV).

Prayer: Lord, as our days unfold, may we “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV).

~ Brother Roy

A Toad Strangler

Recently, a severe summer storm dropped five inches of rain in a short time on a small town not far from where we live in Kentucky. The mountain folks where I grew up would call that kind of downpour a ‘toad strangler’ – meaning even a frog would have a hard time surviving such a torrent. Needless to say, houses, personal property, and businesses in low lying areas were flooded. The newspaper headlines read, “Heavy rains that led to flash flooding overnight has left one person dead and a county devastated”.

Because of the hilly terrain in the area, building sites are at a premium. By necessity, many buildings were located on a flood plain. The choice to utilize low lying areas can come at a high price because of possible flooding. Two thoughts come to mind concerning storms and floods in our personal lives.

  • First, we all have choices in life. If we choose to follow the teachings of Jesus and build on higher ground, we can stand when the storms of adversity come. Not so with people who choose to ignore the Lord. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:26-27, NKJV).
  • Second, floods will come into our lives. God’s word doesn’t say if floods come, but when they come. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you…” (Isaiah 43:2, NKJV). If we walk with the Lord, the storms will not overwhelm us.

We need to be prepared for life’s storms in the physical realm. We need to make wise decisions and follow sound principles for health and well-being. There are things and situations in our daily lives that may be physically damaging. We need to avoid such things. Many of life’s crises can be avoided if we walk with the Lord.

Spiritual preparation for turbulent times is even more important. When we abide in the Holy Spirit and follow scriptural teachings, we can keep our souls safe and not be afraid of storms. God’s word says, Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NKJV).

With Jesus you can survive the storms – even ‘toad stranglers’!

~ Brother Roy

Not Like the Recruitment Video

The son of a friend recently graduated from high school and joined the Army. After very limited communication opportunities during the early days of boot camp, he was finally able to have a phone conversation with his parents. When asked how it was going, he gave a classic reply: “It’s not like the recruitment video!”

That was a real learning experience for the young man. Most of us have had similar incidents across a wide range of situations. Advertising and recruiting ‘pitches’ often fall far short of the actual situation or product they are promoting. Not only do these short-comings appear in many of life‘s regular situations, but they also occur in the spiritual dimension of our lives.  

The first recruiting pitch is found in Genesis 3. The serpent assured Eve that if she took the forbidden fruit she would not surely die. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:4-6). We all know how that worked out. No matter how appealing, the ‘pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:12) at best prove to be fleeting and shallow.

The Word of God has much to say to us about ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ (Hebrews 3:13). The evil that is sin will do all it can to persuade you to taste its wares, to embrace its offers, and to sit at its table and eat its food. Jesus said of the devil: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Jesus warns, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NIV).

It is sad to be taken in by deceptive and misleading advertising for goods and services in our worldly lives.  It is far more tragic to be deluded by sin in the spiritual areas of life. This can have eternal consequences. Jesus admonishes us to, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

PRAYER: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).

~ Brother Roy

Buried Like a Donkey

A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to plan and prepay for our funerals. Picking our caskets, vaults, and other arrangements was both surreal and sobering. Although death is inevitable, it’s still a somber event to design your own gravestone.

A recent Sunday School lesson caused me to reflect on these pre-planned arrangements. Our class was studying the Book of Jeremiah. As we reviewed chapter 22, a verse captured my attention. It was Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning King Jehoiakim: “He will be buried like a dead donkey” (Jeremiah 22:19, NLT). The Bible tells the whole truth and speaks candidly about death.

Two contrasting images of funerals immerge in the teachings of Jesus in Luke 16. Jesus shares what many believe to be a parable about the death of two men, while other Bible scholars conjecture that this may have been an account of actual people known to the Master. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he (the rich man) was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:1923)

Lazarus’s body was likely unceremoniously disposed of in the city dump. But, his real ‘funeral’ was one that anyone of us would desire. The pallbearers of Lazarus’s spirit were angels who bore him into Paradise, by Abraham’s side.

It seems likely that the rich man’s body was buried with all the ‘pomp and circumstance’ attendant to his status. However, the rich man (some Bible scholars think it may have been Caiaphas the High Priest) found his grave to be a trapdoor to Hades and torment. No matter how elaborate the casket, how prestigious the burial plot, or how great a host of paid mourners, who would want to be in his place?

The Prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy of the funeral of the wealthy, powerful King Jehoiakim is much like the rich man of whom Jesus spoke. Jeremiah said, “He will be buried like a dead donkey —dragged out of Jerusalem and dumped outside the gates” (Jeremiah 22:19, NLT).  On the other hand, a poor, bedraggled, dying thief heard Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV). In each situation, we might ask the same question as Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV).

As we plan for our own funerals, may I suggest we spend less time on caskets, burial plots, and temporal arrangements, and more time on things of eternal significance. Better to be buried in a paupers’ field with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (Psalm 24:3-4) than to have a grand funeral and be lost.

Conclusion: Pray to have a funeral like Lazarus, not one like King Jehoiakim.

~ Brother Roy

Pareidolia: What Do You See?

Have you ever been watching clouds drift by and hear someone  say, “What do you see when you look at those clouds?” There is a phenomena called pareidolia. The technical definition is: the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern, or meaning known to the observer; the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations. A  person may see a familiar shape in any numbers of media such as a face in a potato or a religious figure in rock formation.

Pareidolia was at one time considered a symptom of psychosis, but it is now seen as a normal human tendency.  These pareidolic images may lead some people to see trouble when there is no trouble. Some people see the devil behind every bush or see the presence of malevolent forces causing all of their troubles. There are people who see spiritual significance where there is none, and yet others miss seeing God’s hand when it is there. To see spiritual significance when it is absent may lead to inappropriate action, but it is of even greater consequence to fail to see God’s presence when He is there.  

The Biblical account in 2 Kings 6 concerning Elisha and his servant is revealing. One sees trouble, and the other sees God’s provision. “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17, ESV).

What do you see when you look toward the future? When you consider people and circumstances, does tomorrow seem foreboding? Or maybe you are unrealistically optimistic by reacting to incorrect perceptions. While pareidolia can lead us to see things that are not really there, a right relationship with the Lord can help us see things as they truly are. With the Lord’s help, we can look at the world through the person of Jesus as revealed in scripture. He can help us clear away clouds and distortions of reality. We can see clearly.

The words of the wonderful hymn “Open My Eyes” by Clara H. Scott (1841-1897) express the desire of my heart:

Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free. 

Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit Divine!”

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit Divine!

~ Brother Roy

Spiritual Splitters

New Hope International Ministries helps with the operation of the Abiding Hope Food Pantry at Bear Pen Worship Center in Eastern Kentucky. Approximately 350 families are served by this vital ministry.

To preserve the food in the pantry, it is necessary to maintain both cool temperatures in the summer and above freezing temperatures in winter. Our traditional system was old and inefficient, and utilities costs weighed heavy on the budget. A friend told us of a relatively inexpensive system that would meet our needs and be less expensive to operate. He introduced us to the ‘Mini-Split’ unit. Mini-Split heating and cooling systems are comprised of a small outdoor/indoor unit that requires nothing more than mounting capabilities and access to electricity. It resembles a window mount air conditioner unit and can move efficiently between heating and cooling. The Mini-Split units helped solve our problem.

In the physical world, a unit like the Mini-Split that alternates between cooling and heating can be the answer. Not so much in the spiritual world. Blowing both hot and cold is not a virtue to be cultivated in Christ’s kingdom here on earth:

  • “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:14-16).
  • “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, NIV).

Are you a lukewarm Christian? Scripture says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). The following are some indicators of a lukewarm Christian:

  • No true confession of personal sin, no repentance, no sorrow, and no lasting change
  • Only wants to be a Christian because of fear of hell
  • Only comes to God when there is a problem
  • Goes to church on Sunday, is self-centered the other six days of the week
  • Believes Christianity is about God doing things for them and making them happy
  • Doesn’t obey the Word of God and may even try to twist Scripture to justify sin
  • Compromises with the world because it’s the popular choice and everybody’s doing it
  • Spends little time in God’s word and prayer
  • Gives little time to reaching out to those in need
  • Loves to say things like, “I’m only human;” “Everybody sins every day in thought, word, and deed;” “Nobody is perfect;” “Do not judge;” “It’s not my fault”
  • Is unwilling to make sacrifices
  • Any sacrifices made are small and won’t affect lifestyle

Do you find items on the above list to be characteristics of your spiritual life? Would the Savior say of you, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot” (Revelation 3:15, KJV)?

Don’t Be A Spiritual Splitter!

Finding the Path

I often hear Christians lamenting the increasing secularity of the modern world – that people more and more are seeking avenues other than God for fulfillment and meaning.  While it may be true that our culture is not as saturated by religion as it once was, I would argue that “looking elsewhere” has been a dominant theme of humanity since the Garden of Eden.  Even in Paradise, Adam and Eve sought a shortcut to enlightenment that would leave God out of the equation. 

We could trace that theme further throughout scripture – the Tower of Babel, the Hebrews in the wilderness, idolatrous kings, the rich young ruler, and on and on across human history.  No matter the place, no matter the time, there have always been restless men and women who, instead of seeking God, looked to other sources for fulfillment.  Some have placed their hope in philosophies or political systems.  Some have pursued selfish pleasure.  Some have even sought enlightenment in a chemical-induced high or a psychedelic trip.  Some have tried a form of Christianity that rejects God’s commands and prioritizes happiness over holiness.  None of these alternate routes will lead to the inner peace that the human soul craves.

When the Lord was warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, He offered this advice to the people through the prophet Jeremiah:  “This is what the Lord says:  ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find a resting place for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16, NASB).  God was giving a roadmap to His people, imploring them to seek “the ancient paths, where the good way is”.  And if they traveled that way, God promised their souls would find rest.  But the people, Jeremiah informs us, tragically replied, “We will not walk in it” (6:16b).  Their refusal would lead to their destruction.

The prophet Isaiah, prophesying of a return to Jerusalem after exile, also called his people to travel a certain path:  “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.  The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.  No lion will be there, nor will any vicious animal go up on it; they will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, and the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with joyful shouting, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:8-10, NASB).  Isaiah promised that those who traveled that way – the way of holiness, the way of the redeemed – would “obtain gladness and joy” and that “sorrow and sighing will flee away”.

The default state of fallen humanity is restlessness and longing.  Where we look to address that condition will determine whether we find peace and fulfillment or emptiness and frustration.

In Robert Frost’s most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he describes a traveler who is faced with two possible paths.  The traveler could not discern much difference between the two, but faced with the choice, he took the road that appeared less used.  And the traveler notes that one day he will look back on this choice, as inconsequential as it seemed at the time, and realize his life was indelibly marked by that choice.  When you are faced with diverging paths, follow the advice of Jeremiah:  “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find a resting place for your souls.” The path you choose will make all of the difference.

Perhaps, like Thomas, we would ask, “Lord…how do we know the way?” (John 14:5, NASB).  Jesus replied, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6). He says to all of us looking for the path to fulfillment, Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NASB).

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair

A New Acronym

There are so many new acronyms surfacing day by day, I can’t keep up. Trying to negotiate the internet is especially challenging. I have been informed that “BYOB, OMG, LOL and FYI are just soooo…yesterday”. New abbreviations pop up on social media every second, so it’s normal to feel lost and confused about the origin and correct usage of letters like “JIC” (just in case).

A new one came to my attention recently while visiting a sick friend. ‘HAI’ came up in the conversation about the person’s illness. My blank stare must have signaled my confusion. I was informed that HAI refers to a Hospital Acquired Infection. It’s a scary phenomenon. My wife was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack and suffered a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) which was an HAI. Unfortunately, it seems hospitals are places where it is common for one to acquire an infection.

I have decided to create my own acronym. It’s germane to my calling as a minister of the gospel. The acronym is CAD, or Church Acquired Disease. Just as hospitals can be an unexpected place to acquire an infection, churches may be an unexpected place catch a disease. ‘CAD’ can taint or tarnish a believer’s understanding of a true follower of Jesus Christ. In the context of a church, a person can experience hurtful words or unkind treatment. A cold reception is not an uncommon experience in some churches. As hard as it is to believe, a person may encounter bitterness, critical spirits, and self-serving attitudes among members of a congregation. The Epistle of James says, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3.10, NKJV).

There has never been a time when the Church, the ‘Bride of Christ’, needs to be “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless(Ephesians 5:27, NIV). As members of His Church, we must have clean hands and a pure heart if we are going to be a ‘spiritual hospital’ for needy people. We need to take every precaution not to contribute to CAD*.

Prayer: Lord, may we “be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Tim. 4:12 KJV).

*PS: Dictionary definition of word ‘cad’: an unprincipled person; one who behaves dishonorably.

~ Brother Roy