A Stone’s Eye View – A Poem

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Luke 19:40

A little stone, aside near the rubble, lay there in silence, all covered with stubble;

bearing witness to much, in the city’s great days, when the stone was much bigger, more worthy of praise.

“What wonderful buildings” the stone heard some say, “yet these will be broken, none spared on that day”;

thus answered the King as He gazed and He looked, at the grandeur of stones, so carefully put.

The stone was a witness, as the King came its way, royal and lovely, as the crowd cried “hurray”;

“glory in the highest” and “blessed is the King”, the people proclaim as they joyfully sing.

Yet some tried to silence the voices that rose, angry and jealous of the praise that it shows;

so the King made it clear, for all men to hear, that the stones would cry out, though others would sneer.

And the King wept and cried at the city’s wrongdoing; He longed to draw near, the sons who were booing.

So before long, great darkness befell, and the stones heard a cry, while the earth seemed to yell;

the King was crowned, then nailed to a cross, and hope for salvation appeared to be lost.

Yet stones in a garden saw a miracle unfold, the King rose again, beating death as foretold.

And oh, how they’d shout, if only they could, to tell of the story so wonderful and good.

Years went by, and the grand buildings tumbled, the magnificent stone, was now shattered and humbled.

A fire consumed both Temple and city, the city of Gold, was now left without pity. 

Though some stones had fallen, were burnt and in pieces, they were renewed and their splendour increases.

But the small stone remains, still unseen and unheard, with stories to share, for our hearts to be stirred.

If stones could talk and their stories convey, I wonder if we would hear what they say!

© Hannah Kramer

When answers the heart

“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra 7:10

This has got to be one of the busiest months I’ve had in a long time. In addition to my studies and soap business, I’ve been preparing for a community fair where I will have a display table for my soaps. In addition, I have at least one conference every week, sometimes even twoYes, do mean EVERY WEEK this month. And it’s only mid May 🙂

Last weekend, I attended a young people’s conference, where we briefly talked about Nehemiah. I say briefly because this book is so so rich and full of things to learn and talk about, that one day of sermons was not enough. I feel we barely scratched the surface of the treasures this book has to offer. The speakers talked about how we can all be Ezras and Nehemiahs, in that we can all be people who can lead in the placewhere God put us – among believers or among those in the the secular world. Then they asked what we had on our hearts that we would want to see happening in our land.

I don’t believe we are all called to be an “Ezra” or “Nehemiah” in the sense that every person will hold a public, on-the-front-line position. But, I do maintain that each and every believer has a unique role in building the body of Messiah, so that it would a praise to the LordBoth “Ezra” and “Nehemiah” had a heart for their work. But first and foremost, before their work, they had a solid faith in God and belief in what God wanted them to do.

Back to the conference  Thinking about the question that was posed, my initial thought was to see the nation circumcise their hearts (spiritual circumcision), in accordance with various passages in Scripture (for example Deut. 30:6, Jer. 4:4). Then thought about what Ezra and Nehemiah actually did. One of my favourite verses is the one at the top of this post, about Ezra preparing his heart for the Lord. He prepared his heart to seek the Lord. How amazing is that? Thinking about it, I realised one must have his heart circumcised (the preparation) prior to seeking the Lord. This allows for seeking the Lord with all our hearts, which would allow Him to be found by us (Jer. 29:13-14). After all, the matter of the heart is heart of the matter.

There are many gifts in the Body, all meant to build, encourage and strengthen the Body. Some exercise their gifts upfront”, while others do so behind the scenes. The calling to get the work started is something the Lord lays on people’s hearts. Just as He laid it upon the heart of king Cyrus to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, so today God awakens His people. In that sense, we are all called to be an Ezra or Nehemiah and answer God’s call. But, not everyone follows through and completes the work assigned, even after a good start.

Yet, just as Ezra was awakened by God, he also prepared his heart to know the Lord intimately. That is something I wish for myself and I know many others do as well – to prepare to seek the Lord, to do it, to rise to His calling and encourage others to be obedient to Him. And this causes me to wonder: when our hearts are stirred by the Lord, how will we respond?

© Hannah Kramer

Interceding with Compassion

“And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him” Isaiah 59:16

I returned from a two-day youth conference Saturday night. It was such a special time, getting to see people I haven’t seen in a while, as well as meet teens from all over the country.

The theme of the conference was “transparency”, a subject which concerns all of us, but which was particularly applicable to the youth. The speakers exhorted them to be transparent in their walk with the Lord Yeshua, to reflect the light of the Lord and be honest in their spiritual life – with God and others.

As counsellors we noticed that there is an increase in the boldness the teenagers and soldiers have, in sharing their faith. They are not ashamed of what they believe in and actively share their faith with others, knowing well the price they could pay (and some do) for doing so. As some increase in boldness, others still remain hesitant.

Reflecting later on the events of the first day, the verses in Jude 22-23 came to mind: “And have mercy on some, who are doubting, save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh”. While there are many who are bold and courageous in their faith, as counsellors we always emphasize that there are others who need to be pulled out of danger, like a girl I talked to who had a non-believing boyfriend. We talked about the slippery-slope dangers regarding compromise and relationships with non-believers. We continued our conversation the next day and as the conference drew to a close, she expressed a desire to meet together, although it would require travel (she’s from a different city). May that opportunity to meet be soon.

We prayed during our counsellors’ meeting that morning, as we did throughout the conference, for ways to help the youth, without pushing them away and for wisdom in all our conversations with them.

The last message of the conference focused on Isaiah 60, verse 1: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you”. Suddenly I realised the exhortation to arise and shine for your light has [already] come, is a direct continuation from chapter 59, where it says people looked for light yet there was darkness – darkness of deeds, of injustice and lack of truth. Yet, the Lord would save by coming with His glory. Arising and shining must be done in relation to all these things and more and, when doing so, the glory of the Lord reaches us. The person or nation in this case must act because God has already acted and has done His part to shine His glory on the nation.
It seemed relevant to the previous discussion with this girl.

It was a relatively full conference. There were many teens present whose love for the Lord Yeshua was evident. And, there were others there who claimed to be saved, but who had little or no understanding of what it meant to have a relationship with the Lord. As for the latter, the answer for “snatching them from the fire” seemed clear – we needed to intercede for them, to have compassion and mercy on them, while encouraging them to seek the Lord and to draw close to the Throne of Grace.

Many counsellors this past weekend were people of compassion and they were fervently praying for the teens, both during the conference and privately when at home and serving them at their congregations. Yet, there is much work that needs to be done and, sadly, the workers are few. This weighs heavily upon my heart and others as well, and I solicit your prayers for the youth and teens in your own communities. Today’s generation faces a multitude of challenges and temptations in a spiritually dark world. It is becoming harder to live “transparently”. But, it needs to be done.  “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even His enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7). May we extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones and reach out, however we can, to those who are being prepared to carry the mantel of responsibility. And may the Lord help us to be so transparent in our walk with Him that others would see right through us and see Him in us.

A Love Story Written in Heaven

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

“So…how old are you? Oh…ok”; 

“That person just broke the age barrier. Now she’s old” (said of a 30 year old); 

“I’m getting old” (said a 29 year old); 

“And you’re not married yet?!”; 

“Those poor single and old people” (said of those over 25)

I went to a conference two months ago, which discussed the topic: “Being a Godly Man and Woman”. The turnout of people was amazing and the discussions were very good. The topics of being single, yet satisfied, and what it means to be godly, as a single or a married person, were discussed. 

Some of the things that came up for discussion among the young people were sobering; others disturbing. Many expressed despair from being pressured by family, friends, work and generally their surroundings, about getting married. They were in their mid- to late- 20’s, some already in their 30’s, and the pressure for some became unbearable and they resorted to entering into relationships with people from the world who showed interest in them. Some said that if they wouldn’t be married by a certain age (like 30), they would die (meaning, they could not look beyond that age for a meaning in their life and could not see or plan for their future beyond that). 

We should rejoice at every age, not frown upon it. Life itself is a gift from God and every age is one that can be used by God for His glory, if we allow Him do so.

The message in the conference was clear: whether you are single or married, you are special in God’s eyes and He has a unique plan designed for you from before the foundation of the world. Marriage does not make you more or less of a complete person in Messiah Yeshua. 

The expressions at the top of this post have been made by many and heard by many more. I think it’s time we change our lingo. Enough treating unmarried young people (mainly women), as poor, old and miserable creatures for being older than a certain age and single. To those who are unmarried young adults – stop treating yourselves and others like that. It does not build up our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but has a discouraging effectDid you ever think that God might have a different plan for those people than what you may think“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). 

I know people who were married at 19, others who were married at 30 and still others who married close to 40 and even 50. Each one is happy and would not trade a moment in their lives for what God gave them, when He did. 

Two days ago, I turned 28. I have single friends for whom I pray for that God would bring a spouse. And when I see a friend getting married, I rejoice for answered prayer. I didn’t expect to still be single, but I know God has a plan and a purpose for this time. I don’t know what it is, but I do trust Him for it. 

God gave me a loving family for which I am eternally grateful, wonderful friends who, with just a small note or word, can make my day. God wrote my love story and it is still being written. He gave me my prince charming, my Lord Yeshua, who’s love I wouldn’t trade for the world. If He chooses to bring me a husband, I know it will be in His time and place. He is the centre of my life and I am able to rest in His love. 

If you are single and reading this, be encouraged. God is writing your love story, and if you trust Him to complete it the way that He wants, it will have a truly happy ending.

© Hannah Kramer

By His stripes

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)

I have been reading a lot lately about different oils, especially essential oils. It’s been a joy to learn about their different uses, how they are harvested and then produced to make a lovely oil that can be used at home. What caught my attention during this study were two very special oils – Frankincense and Myrrh. These two oils are very well-known for several reasons: First, because they were two of the three gifts (along with gold) given to the Lord Yeshua as a gift by the Magi and Second, they have tremendous health benefits. They were both used as perfume, incense and medicine. In addition, myrrh has analgesic effects. Knowing this, the verse in Mark 15:23 suddenly seemed amazing to me. The Lord Yeshua refused to drink myrrh mixed with wine, a very bitter drink, as he hung on the cross, so as not to dull the pain and his conciousness, demonstrating his willingness to endure the pain of the cross fully, even while He despised the shame (Heb. 12:2). This fulfills the prophecy in Psalm 69:21 “They also gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”. Both oils have been very famous throughout history and at one point, they even surpassed gold by price and value. These two oils, along with gold, were regarded as gifts fit for kings during ancient times. The classic interpretation as to why these particular gifts were chosen to be given is that gold symbolizes kingship, since it is associated with richness; frankincense symbolizes priesthood, since it was used for sweet incense (Exodus 30:34-38) in the Temple and the rising smoke symbolized our prayers ascending to heaven (Rev. 8:3-4), while myrrh was used for a multitude of things, including perfume and for anointing the dead. However, another reasonable interpretation is that frankincense symbolizes worship and myrrh symbolizes priesthood, as it was used to anoint the priests in the temple. The Lord is our eternal High Priest, who “always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25).

Frankincense is a form of gum (secretion) from a very small tree, known as the Boswellia tree. In order to harvest the gum, the tree is either lashed or it’s periderm is cut repeatedly in order to produce a flow of resin from the tree. The resin falls down looking tear shaped, starts out white and then turns a yellow-amber color. The resin cannot be produced during winter, since the Frankincense can be easily damaged by rain. That is why the lashing and cutting of the tree begins at December, and the harvesting reaches its peak in April.

Another interesting fact about the tree is its very unique ability to grow … out of solid rock! Amazing! The tree is able to withstand harsh weathers and environments that are unrelenting, and its attachment to rocks prevents it from being torn away during violent storms.  No one is able to explain how these trees attach themselves to the rock. All they know is that the root of the tree grows to a disk-like shape covering the rock so the rock appears to become part of the tree.

Myrrh is also a gum, but it is produced by the Commiphora tree. Like Frankincense, the Myrrh tree is small and grows in rocky terrain. It is small and has low, thorny shrubs. But, in order to bring out the resin, which like the Frankincense, also is tear-shaped, it must be  struck or bruised repeatedly.

All this “information” seemed  kind of dry at first. But, what fascinated me was the fact that both trees have to be bruised, cut and stripped of their outer bark, so that the inner resin, the gum that is used to make the oils later on, could flow forth. The more they are bruised, the easier the flow of the resin. Knowing this, I thought of the passage at the top of this post. The Lord Yeshua was afflicted, bruised and cut for me and for you. His blood, like the resin of these oils, flowed from his body, to makeatonement for our sins. The resin that those trees produce as they are bruised is sticky. It brings forth not only amazing fragrances, but incredible healing properties. Similarly, The Lord Yehua’s blood covers and cleanses us from all sin. “And by His scourging, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53;5, emphasis added)  The peak-time for the harvesting of the Frankincense is in April, which would be somewhere around Pesach (Passover), the holiday during which The Lord Yeshua was bruised and wounded for our transgressions, then crucified to complete the work which the Father had given to Him. This leaves me at awe at what He has done, being willing to shed His blood for the forgiveness of my sins. Praise the Lord!

“And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). The Lord Yeshua gave Himself as a sweet-smelling savor before God the Father, and “leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place”  (2 corinthians 2:14), and makes us a fragrance to God.

I was also amazed that both trees grow in dry areas, yet are capable of producing such wondrous, healing resins. This reminds me of another verse – “In a dry and weary land where there is no water, thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory” (Psalm 63:1-2). And the Frankincense being attached to a rock! Yet, no one know how that is done. The Lord Yeshua came down to earth as a man, leaving His heavenly form, and being fully God and fully man, was capable of accomplishing the work on the cross. He is our solid rock, and if we cling to Him, making Him “our root”, even the fiercest and most violent storms won’t be able to move us.

I hope this encourages you as it did me. Realizing what the Lord has done for us should keep us thanking Him and desiring to give our best and most precious to Him. Bless the Lord by Whose stripes we are healed!

© Hannah Kramer

Heroes and Pedestals

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1st Corinthians 2:2)

When children are young, they tend to look at their parents as super heroes, who are capable of doing just about everything. Sometimes this image is transferred to older siblings, who are a source of inspiration for the younger ones, and the latter want to do and be just like their older brother or sister. Occasionally, this perfect “image” we have of someone remains long after we grow up. Our childhood heroes, who can pick us up in the air, do everything and know everything, are replaced with a more realistic hero, who is human and, therefore, fallible, like us, yet much better and worth of imitation. For some, our heroes may be a family, or well-known person in society, or even a literary figure. 

We all have people we admire, some more, some less. And, we usually wish we could spend all, or at least much, of our time with them. We try to emulate them, start to like what they like and dislike what they dislike. We try to associate ourselves with people, or the type of people, that they associate with. We attempt to dress and talk like that person and try to think what that person might be thinking. Slowly, but surely, usually without noticing it, we mentally place them on a pedestal, look up to them and, in a sense, worship them. I don’t mean that we actually bow a knee to them, although some might actually do just that, particularly the younger generation with certain pop personalities. I am talking about exalting a person to a place where only one is worthy to be, one who, alone, is worthy to receive all our admiration and esteem, one whom we should aspire to follow and imitate.

As life goes on, we can so easily place others even above the Lord Yeshua, perceiving their words and actions as infallible. We aren’t so different from little children, who may think their parents are perfect and never wrong. Then we grow up and realize that our perceptions were not correct. This could lead to genuine disappointment when we discover that our childhood heroes are not what we believed them to be (see, in this blog, Keep your eyes on God). We can go to extremes trying to compensate and even put ourselves on a pedestal, seeking for others to be like us. There is always the danger of pride taking root and our becoming oblivious to our surroundings and anything that is not related to what is on the pedestal we have created. 

The reason for wanting to be an example needs to be examined. If we act with a wrong motive, it will ultimately be revealed and our example will be affected by it. 

Paul told the believers in Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1st Corinthians 11:1). Did the great apostle really tell others to follow him? The meaning of the word “followers” in Greek (mimētai) means “imitators”. We are to follow earthly teachers and examples only if they follow Christ. How did Paul set an example for others? He did not say, “look at me, look at what I do and imitate it”, but rather “imitate me as I imitate Christ”. The focus is on the Lord Yeshua. We are called to imitate the Lord, and Paul was setting himself as an example for us to look at, of how to do so. Paul tried to be a visible representation of the Lord. Paul could be seen and heard. He was in such a close relationship with the Lord that he could say “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8).

How could Paul tell others to follow him? Paul was so close to the Lord Yeshua, that he was, in fact, imitating him to such an extent that he could tell others to follow his example how to imitate the Lord Yeshua, but not to take His place. This is particularly true for church elders or pastors. They are to be an example for us, yet not exalt themselves so as to replace the Lord Yeshua. Many times I hear people say that they go to “this person’s” congregation, or to “that person’s” congregation, mentioning the elder’s or pastor’ name. Those people are appointed to shepherd the flock that God entrusted to them. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you (Hebrew 13:17). Yet, even the church and flock they are entrusted with, are not theirs, but belong to the Lord Yeshua. So the next time someone says about a church that “It is John Doe’s church”, we can correct them gently and point out that “it is Christ’s church”, for He alone is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). Our terminology matters and our choice of words reveals alot about our attitude.

It is noble to aspire to be good, God-fearing and God-honoring examples for others. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to do just that – “but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1st Timothy 4:12). Timothy is told to be an example in five respects – in speech – the tone and choice of words with which we relate to each other (see, in this blog, about our manner of speech in What’s in a Word?); in conduct – the way we behave towards one other and the way we carry ourselves when with others; in love (see, in this blog, Where has the love gone?); in faith – adherence and profession of the faith; and in purity – chastity in all aspects in life. Timothy and Paul had a “Father – Son” relationship in the Lord, and undoubtedly, Timothy admired Paul very much. But in all things, Paul kept directing Timothy’s attention to the Lord Yeshua, not to himself or his deeds.

If angels did not approve of John bowing down to them (Revelation 19:10; 22:9), saying they are “fellow servants”, we, too, are to esteem others and ourselves as “fellow servants”, nothing more.

It is allright to have someone as an example in your life, or to be an example for someone else. It is even encouraged (Titus 1 and 2). But, when we come across a person whom we could view as an example, we should watch and see if they exhort us as Paul exhorted Timothy, if they set an example worth following and if they do not desire that they themselves be the focus of our attention. If we seek to teach and be a positive example, for the purpose of encouraging others in the Lord, we should keep ourselves alert. Many teachers come and go, yet not all are worth following (read – imitating). May we choose wisely and be careful who we choose to imitate and more so, not to put that person (or ourselves, for others) above the Lord Yeshua.  

Who is on our pedestal today? 

 

No greater love

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)

What an incredible sight it would have been if we were able to see The Lord Yeshua immediately after His transfiguration on the mount.

Think about it. He became whiter than snow, radiating the glory of God, majestic and full of splendor, as a king should look. If others had seen him like that, they probably would have rushed to crown him on the spot as king. After all, people were expecting a king to come and save them, a man who would deliver them from the Roman oppression, just as they sought a king to rescue them during the time of the prophet Samuel. Surely, the Lord Yeshua as he appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration fit the bill for majesty. He chose to reveal Himself at that time only to three of his disciples and to two more men – Elijah and Moses. But, it wasn’t a time to talk about the rule and the reign of the King. The Lord’s discussion with Elijah and Moses focused on His coming death. So often, we want the joy without the sacrifice that enabled it.

But still, it would have been such a sight to see Him in His glory. Even Matthew had a difficult time explaining His radiance and said “His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2). What a privilege it was for Peter, James and John. Yet, The Lord Yeshua chose toforego for a season His heavenly glory to take on the form of His creation and become as a sin offering for us. If he had chosen to end his ministry on earth right then and there, we would have remained dead in our trespasses and sins, with no eternal hope, no certainly of salvation and no intimacy with God, forever.

Such an act, of putting aside His honor and becoming despised, of putting aside His glory as Creator to take on Himself the form and penalty of the sinful creation, all turn enemyship into friendship, a friendship that caused Him to lay down His life for us.

The Lord Yeshua made the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak. His sacrifice on the torture rack of the cross enabled people to become free from slavery to sin. By His stripes we were healed, by His death, we were made alive, when He rose from the dead, we were raised with Him and were seated together with Him in the heavenly places. While He was in His glory, we would have wanted Him to be King over us. Yet, when He was willing to suffer for our sakes as a man, when the crowd was given a chance to free Him, they shouted – “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” They recognized no king except Caesar. Their excuse: “We will not have this man to rule over us.” I tried to imagine the crowd shouting. After everything that He had done up to that point, they chose to reject Him and send Him to the cross. He could have exercised all of His prerogatives of Lordship, but instead, He forgave everyone who called for His death and He went to the cross to die for them … and us.

What could have prompted such a willingness to die for those who hated Him, mocked Him and called for His death? Only His amazing love for the Father and for us. His love was so great that  while people mocked and laughed and challenged Him to come down from the cross, He asked God to forgive them.

The Lord Yeshua’s whiter-than-snow garments were replaced by blood-stained garments, so that you and I will have a way made clean to approach God, personally and intimately. He has clothed us with garments of salvation. How amazing is that?

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is also the Lord of Love, Who has chosen to love me and you despite our actions, despite all we have done and said and even thought. He lifted us from the miry clay, caused us to stand on solid ground, took our filthy garments and replaced them with garments of righteousness.

While reading a biography of Spurgeon, one quote, in particular, stood out and caused me to shudder as I read it. Here is a part of it:

“There was a day, when I was walking, it came to mind, forever engraved upon my memory, where I saw this Friend, my best, my only Friend, murdered. I stooped down in shock, and looked at Him. I saw that His hands had been pierced with rough iron nails, and His feet had been rent in the same way. There was misery in His dead countenance so terrible that I scarcely dared to look upon it. His body was emaciated with hunger, His back was red with bloody scourges, and His brow had a circle of wounds clearly made by thorns… I said within myself, “Where can these traitors live? Who are these that could have smitten such a One as this?… Oh! What jealousy, what revenge I felt! If I might but find these murderers, what would I not do with them!… At last I put my hand upon my breast. ‘I have you now,’ said I, for lo! He was in my own heart; the murderer was hiding within my own bosom, dwelling in the recesses of my inmost soul. Ah! Then I wept indeed, that I, in the very presence of my murdered Master, should be harbouring the murderer; and I felt myself most guilty while I bowed over His corpse”. (Spurgeon C., “Heroes of the Faith” 1997).

The Lord Yeshua was willing to die for us. Are we willing to live for Him? He loves us more than anything. Do we love him more than anything?

He is my king, my “Prince Charming”, who swept me off my feet and lifted me up all the way to heaven, to sit alongside Him. Another human love may follow, but my first and most precious love will always be for my Savior.

 

Dare to be a Gaius

It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it” (3 John 3)

Last week I returned from a visit to a country that is almost half way across the world from here. My friend was getting married and I went there to celebrate with her.

It was a beautiful time, filled with fun and sweet fellowship. I enjoyed spending time with my friends, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time, talking and going out for coffee. The wedding was beautiful. It was a special time

As I prepared to leave, saying “good-bye” was harder than ever. I felt like I was leaving my family behind. When I think about my time there and the way I was welcomed, I thought of Gaius.

The name Gaius was a popular name at the time the letter was written, so it is not easy to say exactly who Gaius was. All that is known for certain is that he was an Elder in a congregation and that the Apostle John loved him. We also know of his character. John addresses the third epistle to Gaius and testifies to his character as well as to Demetrius’ character from what he heard from others.

John wrote that Gaius was faithful to the truth and that he walked in truth. He was faithful to brothers and sisters in the Lord, even to total strangers! John encouraged him to send these brethren on their way in a way that honors God and to show them hospitality.

Gaius was able to walk in the truth, because he was first faithful to it. But. first and foremost, he was faithful to God and to his commands. This, in turn, enabled him to be faithful to others. His actions truly spoke louder than words! He had no need to testify for himself, because others did it for him. Those who came to his congregation, friends, acquaintances and even total strangers  were welcomed in the same manner. He showed hospitality and demonstrated The Lord Yeshua’s love for all. We are reminded of the correct order of things from the believers in Macedonia. “And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5). To the Lord first and then to the brethren. This is foundational and a good principal to apply in our lives. We can serve others, because we have bowed the knees in prayer before the Lord.

I’m sure that we’ve all been to meetings or events where everyone, except us, knew everyone else. We felt awkward and out of place. Have you ever visited a different congregation, where you didn’t know many people? How about a youth group where you are the “new person”, or you were just there for a short while and you probably wouldn’t see those people again? I have. And I’ve seen others in that position as well. Sadly, I’ve seen newcomers sit alone and hardly communicate with anyone, even in a large group. The tendency of most people, myself included, is to greet and socialize with those we know and feel comfortable with. It’s not easy leaving our comfort zone. But Gaius did. He welcomed total strangers, because he saw them as members of his family in God. He “made the effort” to make the brethren feel at home and related to them with brotherly love and kindness. In short, he extended himself to others.

Do we welcome the brethren? Would we welcome a total stranger into our homes and give him/her a place to stay for a while? “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Hospitality is a gift we all can cultivate. It takes a willingness on our side.

In addition to hosting others, we can help others by going an extra mile – delivering food to a family that is sick or needy, driving someone who has no means of transportation to get somewhere, helping someone to move, helping to clean, and the list goes on and on. Going the extra mile is something I am still learning to do. It is a way of showing love for our “neighbour”. Not helping when we can is simply being “self”-ish, which does not reflect Christ’s love. There is, indeed, much that we can learn from Gaius.

But, John emphasises the godliness of his character by comparing it to the character of Diotrephes, who was the complete opposite, who received no one and put people out of the church.

Am I a Gaius? Are you? I truly desire to be. I want to be one whose faithfulness and love reflects the character of God. I want to reach out and greet those who sit alone, aside from the crowd, or in the middle of a crowd. I want to share the Lord Yeshua’s love, so that others would glorify God glory because of his work in me.

The people I stayed with during my trip reminded me of Gaius. They acted out what they said they believed. They showered me with love and warmth and made me feel as part of their home and family.

Lest we get the wrong impression, Gaius was not perfect. None of us are. But we all strive to be like The Lord Yeshua, the perfect One, who is the best example of all. He left his comfort zone, to make complete strangers, even His enemies, his own.

Will we dare to be a Gaius?

© Hannah Kramer

Oh be careful little eyes what you see

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1st Corinthians 10:23)

Have you ever heard this song? “Oh be care little eyes what you see, oh be careful little eyes what you see, for your Father up above is watching down with love, oh be careful little eyes what you see”.

We warn children about what they watch and what they do. We are very careful not to let them watch scary movies or movies with “dirty” words, and we avoid discussing or watching certain things when “little ears” are around. We are concerned that no “junk” or “harmful” matter would enter their eyes or ears.

Why do we warn children, but when we are “all grown up”, it is suddenly okay to watch horror movies or play games that have murder with blood and body parts splatting all over the screen? Are we now less affected because we are “all grown up”?

What we see and hear enters our minds and gets mulled over in our thoughts. Same thing with what we read. I remember reading books that would suck me into the story in such a way that I would try to analyse every thing that happened and I would think about it for days afterwards. Regarding movies. I would think about them and play the scenes through my mind over and over again. If I watched a scary movie, or one that had a lot of violence, I would have a difficult time sleeping. That is why I am very careful now about what I watch.

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1). This verse can apply to both men and women. It is not just about staying away from pornography, but can also mean to be careful about what we watch. It is difficult today to find a movie that does not have profanity, negative connotations about Bible and spiritual matters, violence and sexual content, none of which are honouring to God. We probably would not gaze at a half naked man or woman on the street, but if they are undressed on the screen, somehow it becomes “socially acceptable”. Why? We wouldn’t allow vulgar and coarse language in our home, but when it appears on the t.v., we willingly invite it into our living room. Somehow this, too, becomes an “acceptable norm”. I recall one occasion when my brother and I took our youngest brother and some of his friends to the cinema to watch a “kid’s” movie. I felt uncomfortable almost from the beginning when the actors were mocking God. Within minutes, we decided to leave and to take our youngest brother out with us. We explained to our brother and to his friends why we were leaving, particularly that by remaining and exposing ourselves to the garbage on the screen, we would not be honouring God. We gave his friends the option to stay or leave. They paid for their own tickets and were old enough to decide for themselves. In less than five minutes, they all followed us out. We knew we did the right thing and regretted going to the movie in the first place. Our youngest brother learned from that experience and did the same on his own initiative when he went to a different movie with someone else.

Making “a covenant with our eyes” also has to do with not only how we look at other people, but how we look to other people. Men have a tendency to look where they shouldn’t, while women have a tendency to dress to be seen. Both of these can also apply to the opposite sex. Are we looking lustfully at our brothers or sisters in Christ or are we causing them to look lustfully at us? Each of us is responsible for how we dress, but we all have a responsibility for keeping our eyes pure. We can inadvertently cause our brother to stumble by how we dress. We should try to make sure that our eyes don’t wander off to places they shouldn’t be going.

If we acknowledge that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and we dedicate our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy to God, we need to remember that our eyes are part of the package. I’ve heard some argue, “There is nothing else to watch, because all the movies are like that!”. I believe there are some clean movies that are fun and good. But, if we can’t find any, then maybe we should look for something else to do with our time that will be more honouring to the Lord. Job made a covenant with his eyes! How amazing is that? Are we ready to do the same?

May God help us keep our eyes, our thoughts and our hearts pure, so that our speech and behaviour will follow accordingly.

© Hannah Kramer

What’s in a word?

“Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving”. (Ephesians 5:4)

I love to laugh and hear good jokes, as well as tell them (although they may not always be as funny as I intend them to be). Most people like to laugh, right? But…is there a line when it comes to what we should or should not say? When does a joke become “out of place” and when is it “foolish talk” or “coarse jesting”?

It’s amazing to me that my family and I have been learning relatively similar things throughout the week, each in a different way and through a different set of circumstances. My mom and I discussed Romans 12 this week as she was preparing a lesson for a women’s group. We discussed the first two verses mainly. I had already heard a number of messages about what it means to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice and to be transformed in our mind. But I never gave serious thought about the practical applications…until this week. So what does it mean “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1)?

It is clear we need to give God control of our bodies and many examples can be given for what we should not do, such as: we should not do drugs or get drunk or have relations out of marriage. Inasmuch as these are true, there is so much more to these verses. I have been thinking about the application of this verse to a part of our bodies that we use a lot, sometimes more than we should…our mouths.

There are quite a few verses that talk about the tongue (for example James 1:26, 3:5) and the words we say (Mattew 12:36). The verse at the opening of this post talks about what we should and should not say. Some may interpret this to mean that no jokes or even laughter are allowed. Yet, from what I understand, that is not the case. God created laughter and humor and, therefore, there is nothing wrong with them, by themselves. On the contrary, God wants us to laugh and sing and take pleasure in many things. So then, what is this verse telling us?

I looked up the Greek word for obscenity. It means filthiness, things which are shameful or deformed. The word for foolish talking means that which is senseless, foolish, which is not suited to edify or profit. Coarse joking (or coarse jesting) means using words that can easily be turned to other meanings,double meaning, words that can convey an obscene or offensive meaning, depending upon the context in which they are used. All three of these words in Greek appear only here in the New Testament. In short, we are instructed not to speak words which “are out of place” and, therefore, improper and inappropriate for us as believers.

This verse should be understood not only in the context of all of chapter 5, but the whole book of Ephesians. The first three chapters talk about what The Messiah Yeshua has done for us and our position in Him, being being seated together with The Lord in the heavenly places. Chapter 4 starts the practical part of the epistle: how we should live, walking in unity and walking in purity. The begininig in chapter 5 encourages us to be “followers of God, as dear children”, in that we should continually be imitators of God. We are told to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell” (verse 2). Christ gave Himself in our place and took the punishment we deserved. This is the kind of love we should be showing, a sacrificial type of love, as The Lord Yeshua did for us. Verse 3 starts the contrast of what we should not do. It talks about things that should not be mentioned among those who are saints – all who have been born again and profess their faith in The Lord Yeshua. Things such as fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness are viewed by the world as acceptable, even appropriate, in certain political, social or business settings. Yet, the exhortation here is that things such as these should not exist among us!

The opening verse to this post appears is in the context of things that are unbecoming to believers. Foul words or joking in a manner which can offend or have a double meaning, is dishonoring to God. It is not only improper for us to do, but we should also encourage one another not to be involved with such speech. There is nothing wrong with asking others not to joke improperly in our presence. At first, they may think us strange, but with time, others may come to honor our request.

Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so. It all goes back to the opening verse, being imitators of God. How then should we be speaking? We should be expressly thanks. The idea is to get together for praising God, giving Him thanks for all that He is and all that He has done, is doing and still will do. We should be using our words to edify and build up, rather than for coarse joking, which more often than not results in putting someone else down, rather than building up.

As I thought of the passage in Romans 12:1-2, I realized how often we compromise by what we say. May The Lord, the Holy One of Israel, help us to truly be imitators of God and be a sweet smelling savor to Him, not only by what we do, but also in our speech. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in season” (Proverbs 25:11).
© Hannah Kramer