In 2016, wildfires erupted in the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee.  Ironically, they started at a location known as Chimney Tops and then, fueled by hurricane strength winds, the fires barreled through the mountains toward Gatlinburg, a beautiful resort town at the entrance to the National Park.

Tennessee had been in significant drought and the woods were tinder dry.  While the Chimney Tops fire was thought to be contained, nature changed that opinion quickly.  We had been on the “quiet side” of the mountains, in Townsend, Tennessee, as a gift from our children for our 30th anniversary.  Going home on November 28, 2016, we could see some smoke in the sky.  When we stopped at a local store, a law enforcement officer was present, so we asked about the status of the fires.  He said that they were not a worry, that they were contained, and he expected them to be extinguished that day or the next.

His expectation was not realized, however. That same afternoon saw winds as high as 87 miles per hour, which blew sparks from the existing fires to new dry tinder over a mile away.  The winds created an additional fire hazard, as its strength blew down dried trees, which resulted in downed power lines that then contributed new sparks to the tinder beneath.  Because of the loss of power and because some of the pumping stations had burned, hydrants went dry the next day. 

Firefighters also were battling nature without the use of their two-way radios when the system failed, also the radios of different emergency agencies were not compatible.  The 911 system could not handle all the calls it received, and the emergency operations center phone system went down completely when it lost power. Moreover, cellular towers were destroyed by the fires, so that cellular coverage became unreliable, thus rendering personal cell phone communications unreliable, at best.

All in all, the fires claimed at least 14 lives and injured 134 others. By December 12, the inferno had burned more than 10,000 acres (15 square miles) inside the national park and over 6,000 acres in surrounding areas outside the park.  At least 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate and over 2000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. 

Voices of Gatlinburg picture
Picture taken by Tennessee-based photographer Jeremy Cowart of Gary and Linda Jackson’s home as featured in Voices of Gatlinburg, December 2016.

In short, it was an horrific sight to watch on television and the stories of terror that fell so swiftly are difficult to hear.  Friends from church were in their cabin, atop one of the hills in the mountains when they smelled smoke.  Thinking it was from their fireplace, the husband went from the bedroom to the front room, just to double-check.  When he looked outside, he saw a wall of flames virtually at their lot line.

The two of them jumped into their car, leaving the other car behind, and headed down the mountain.  Their trip took them along the mountain road with flames on both sides, smoke so heavy that they could not see the edge of the road.  Finding one way blocked by fire equipment, they turned and went down another road.  The trip that normally would take 45 minutes took several harrowing hours. 

God was merciful.  They escaped without harm.  And, weeks after the fire when they were finally allowed to go back to their cabin, they found that their cabin was only minimally harmed by the flames and smoke.  All the other cabins on their cul-de-sac were destroyed, burned down to the block foundation. 

Many of the houses are being rebuilt, however it seems that just as many homes and businesses that were destroyed have not been touched.

Gatlinburg woods 1 year after forest fires
The woods, one year later!

Looking down from the deck of our friend’s cabin, one year after the inferno hit the mountains, it was encouraging as well as amazing to see the forest’s regrowth and reclamation of the land.  God’s creation does not wait for man to hurry in and rebuild.  Rather, His creation goes about the business of regrowth, of rebuilding the nutrients in the earth, of repopulating the animals, birds, and all that had been there before.  They will return in their due time.

I am reminded of Noah and the flood.  He and his family were tucked safely in the ark, along with their closest friends, the animals that were preserved from destruction.  After the rains ended, the ark came to rest, and the humans were anxious to leave their floating residence.  I would likewise have been in a hurry to get onto land after 150 days of rain, but they had to wait for the right time.  God had closed the door to the ark and only He could open it.  Genesis 7:16. 

Noah’s tests to see if the waters had receded sufficiently are described in Genesis 8. 

The point is that God commanded Noah to get into the ark, He commanded the animals to get into the ark, He commanded the waters to come, and He commanded the waters to recede.  When all was sufficient for Noah to live on the earth, God told Noah to leave the ark, commanding him further to take the animals so that they could be fruitful and multiply. 

The Gatlinburg fires caused numerous deaths and an untold amount of property damage.  They caused grief and suffering on a massive scale.  But, there is healing after the inferno.  The forests show that healing in visible real terms.  Other healing is more subtle and difficult to quantify, but it does come because God is leading us to heal.

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Beloved, scripture teaches that healing will come.  We need to follow God’s direction, His mandate, and humble ourselves, praying and turning from our wicked ways.  We need to acknowledge that God is God and His ways are right, then we need to do that which He says.  If we do that, He promises that He will hear us and will forgive us of our sin and heal our land.

The fires were horrible, no doubt about it.  The loss of life was tragic and it sent families reeling in grief and pain, no doubt about it.  But healing does come. 

Seek Him and be healed.

Father, I pray that healing would come to our land, but I realize that first we must confess our sin.  We have failed to follow Your low and we have not done that which Your Son commanded.  We have not loved others more than ourselves; we have not treated the widow and stranger with love; we have not read Your Word and meditated on it day and night; we have …. Father, may we repent and turn to You today, before it is too late for us to do so.



Last week we considered Justice, one of the attributes of God which is difficult to discuss because, inevitably, we know that we have sinned and that when God metes out His justice, we will be found wanting, fully deserving His punishment.

This week we are considering the attribute of Mercy.  Mercy is the flip side of Justice.

Dr. R. C. Sproul contrasts God’s justice and mercy by reference to the land of Canaan when the children of Israel were going to overrun the people and claim the land as their Promised Land from God.

Of the multitudes of women and children living in Canaan, none was innocent.  The conquest of Canaan was an explicit expression of God’s righteous judgment on a wicked nation.  He made that point clear to Israel.  He also made it clear to the people of Israel that they also were not innocent.  It was not as if God destroyed a wicked people for the sake of a righteous people.  To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the Jews God poured out mercy.  He was quick to remind the Jews of that in Deuteronomy 9:4. 

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 119.

The verses referenced by Dr. Sproul are instructive here:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”

Deuteronomy 9:4-6

To the Canaanites God poured out justice.  To the children of Israel God poured out mercy.

This is consistent with God’s character as He revealed Himself throughout scripture.  There is no deviation.

“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

Exodus 33:19

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Proverbs 28:13

Salvation cannot be earned, we cannot work to avoid the consequences of our sin.      

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Paul puts the very granting of the faith to come to Jesus seeking salvation from our sin in the hands of the grace of God.  Our works cannot obtain this salvation, so no one can boast that anything that we did accomplished it.  The grace of God gave us this gift, and that my friend is mercy. 

Mercy results in the withholding of that which is deserved so that the object of mercy is unharmed.

As we saw last week, sin, which is disobedience to God’s law, must result in punishment because God’s justice mandates such a result.  However, when God grants mercy to an individual, that judgment is withdrawn, and His mercy eradicates the infraction which otherwise deserved judgment.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Titus 3:4-5

The result of God’s mercy is that we can come to God as our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior.  The writer of Hebrews says this about the result of God’s mercy:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

We can come to God, with confidence, because He has showered us with His mercy.  Indeed, we can rejoice with Peter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”

1 Peter 1:3

God’s mercy is amazing.  Each person on this planet enjoys God’s mercy when He allows us to live, when He grants rain and sunshine, even though we sin and worship other gods, such as money, family, fame, fortune!  God does not destroy us instantly when we have such idols in front of our eyes, rather than focusing our attention on Him.  Instead, He has chosen to bless all people with His mercy now.  For those in His Son, Christ Jesus, we will receive His mercy both now and forever more.

Father, we are humbled and once again left without words to express our thankfulness and wonder at the gift of mercy that You have given to us.  May we walk in Your mercy and may we express Your love to others so that, by our words and actions, we may point people to Your Son, the giver of life and the sacrifice that atoned for our sin.  We are blessed beyond compare, and we praise Your holy name.


There are many things that come to an end during our life on this whirling planet. 

Babies wearing diapers.  Many a mother thinks that day will never ever, ever, ever come, but it does (unless something horrific intervenes).

The end of the work day.  Again, there are times that even that seems to be far off in the distant future if the assignment you are working on is difficult or unbelievably boring.  But even that day does, in fact end, at the appropriate time.

One thing that occurs like clockwork (please pardon the pun) is the ending of the day. 

Sunset along I 40 4
Driving westbound on Interstate 40

Heading west on I-40, we can see the sun setting behind the mountains with the beautiful colors lighting up the evening sky.   This was the sunset one evening when we visited the family in Virginia.

There are times that God’s creation is simply too beautiful to describe.  Pictures certainly do not do justice to the glory that shines out from God’s world. 

Sunset and clouds 2
Setting sun with clouds

We know that God created the sun and the moon – it says so in Genesis:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  … And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lightsthe greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”

Genesis 1:1, 14-19 

The Psalmist says it this way:

Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.”

Psalm 74:16

Ocean sunset with lighthouse (C)
Ocean with far distant shore

In our world of technology and scientific data, we have analyzed, digitized, and categorized the sun, the clouds, the atmosphere, the solar flares, and all kinds of things that I don’t even know.  We have studied and drawn, recorded and photographed the sun in our effort to understand it, and we have gone a long way from our forebears who pointed and said “bright!”

But in my little corner of the world, at sunset, I look in the sky and see the hand of my Father, painting a particularly beautiful picture for me to see as I head into the evening hours of the day.

Many are so much more scientific and analytical than I am. They can explain so much about things of nature and of our world.  It is my prayer that we all would stop and look at what God has given us, cherish the view, lock the mental picture into our minds, and then thank Him for His unfathomable love and mercy. 

When the day is over and the sun is running its course to the other side of the world, they are awaking to the warmth of its rays.   “Good evening” to you is “Good morning” to someone else!

The end, thus, is really also a beginning!

USED Butterfly caterpillar (C)

I doubt that the little caterpillar in this picture ever would think that he would be transformed into a beautiful butterfly. 

The truth of the matter is, however, that the caterpillar must get into his cocoon and shed the body that had restricted him so that the transformation can take place.  Rather than crawling along in the dirt, the butterfly can soar incredible distances, looking down on the land that he used to call home.  The caterpillar’s end was also its beginning. 

USED Butterfly beauty (C)

For us, when we are relieved of our mortal shell, our physical body, we will be transformed into our eternal bodies, glorious and without blemish.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.””

1 Corinthians 15:51-54

Billy Graham said this in the years prior to his death:

Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead.  don’t you believe a word of it.  i shall be more alive than i am now.  i will just have changed my address.  i will have gone into the presence of God.

The end is not really the end … rather, what we think of as the end is actually just the beginning. 


Father, I thank You for giving us the example of nature in Your marvelous creation.  The setting of the sun where I live is the end of the day, but it is the beginning of a new day elsewhere on this whirling globe.  The “death” of the caterpillar is just the transforming work so that it can be a butterfly.  Our physical death is simply the shedding off of our mortal bodies into the eternal body that You have prepared for us.  Thank You for Your steadfast love and for calling Your children to come to You from every corner of the earth.



Aristotle said:

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

Unfortunately, in our world today, it seems that “the worst” has come to the forefront.  It seems that there is injustice everywhere you turn.  We hear of corrupt politicians, of immoral preachers, of lawless officials, of abuse of innocent children, of hordes of homeless and refuges leaving their homes and all that they have to save their lives.  Injustice has always been with us, but now we have instant access to television and media that can vividly show us the extent of injustice that exists.  No longer is it a line in the newspaper or magazine.  Now it is an image on the television screen, a digital reminder on the cell phone that horror is happening, all over the world.  And it never ends.

We look at the statistics and weep because there seems to be no hope; injustice reigns, and it seems that there is nothing we can do to stop it or avoid it.  Where is justice?  Does it exist anywhere?

Beloved – the Holy God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the Source of justice.  The God who loved us so much that He gave His only Son to be our Savior, is the God of Justice.

God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness.  He never condemns the innocent.  He never clears the guilty.  He never punishes with undue severity.  He never fails to reward righteousness.  His justice is perfect justice.  (Emphasis added)

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 110

Scripture says much about justice, as it is one of the immutable attributes of our Holy God.  For example, when Abraham was arguing with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he focused on God’s justice. 

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

The Psalmist writes:

The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Psalm 99:4

While there is an abundance of injustice in our world, we must remember that true justice will not be rendered in this world.  Those who seem to lie, cheat, steal, and kill with no seeming repercussions will be subject to justice in the true realm, the eternal heavenly realm.  At that time, each man/woman will receive justice at the hands of an immutable God who cannot be persuaded or bribed.

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-18

Elihu, the fourth speaker in the book of Job, gave this comment about God and His justice:

“The Almighty–we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.  Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

Job 37:23-24

Christ will look at each person’s heart, and if it is not covered by His righteousness, that person, not being pure, will receive justice, but it will not be heaven.   Indeed, Saint Augustine said:

“Punishment is justice for the unjust.”

All mankind would receive punishment because all of us fail the test of righteousness because we are all corrupted by sin. 

But, for the believer in Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear God’s justice, rather we are covered by Jesus’ righteousness and we will be received into the presence of God as His child.  Then we will find comfort for all the wrongs done against us and against mankind.

“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

Psalm 33:4-5

After hearing of the judgment that King Solomon rendered when two women both claimed to be the mother of a newborn baby, we read:

“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.”

1 Kings 3:28

In speaking to the Pharisees about their misuse of the Old Testament law, Jesus said the following:

“”But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Luke 11:42

The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross.  If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus, he was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God.  If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross.  Here is where our astonishment should be focused.  …

The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. … With the concentrated load of sin [Jesus] carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father.  God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing.  God’s holy justice perfectly manifest.  Yet it was done for us.  He took what justice demanded from us.  This “for us” aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace.  At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy.  It is too astonishing to fathom.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 121-122

All will be judged and all will receive justice. This is a scary thought for one who truly knows his heart’s deceitfulness and is not a believer in Jesus Christ.  However, “for us”, those who rest in their faith in Christ, our judgment will be sheltered in Christ, and that we will be accepted by God through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice. 

Look to the Lord, the Almighty Holy God.  He will bring justice to all mankind, in His time.  But we can be confident, whether we see justice now or not, that true and correct judgment will ultimately be rendered by our God.  Praise Him for this comfort and for this promise.  Rest in His love, Christian, and don’t be anxious about the injustice you see in the world.  It will pass away because God is victorious!

Next week we will consider the mercy of God, which is also present at the cross of Christ.

Father, I thank You that You execute justice according to Your providence and plan.  Enable me, through Your spirit, to do justice, and to love kindness, and help me to walk humbly before You, I pray, in Jesus name, Amen.



There are some things in this life that are just too beautiful, too incredible, too wonderful that we say: “it takes my breath away”.  What are some of those things for you?

For me, here are a few things that take my breath away.

  • The first look at my son and daughter.

The incredible reality that all their “pieces” were present and in the right place.  The reality that these little babies were born from me, that their lives were, at least in the beginning, in my hands. 

Jonathan 3 monrha
My son at 3 months of age.


“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”


Psalm 127:3

Elizabeth christening 6 weeks old Easter 1978
My daughter at 6 weeks of age with her grandmother.

These two little babies took my breath away, and I cried out to the Lord God in thanksgiving for their little lives, and in prayer for their future.  They took my breath away. 

Now, when I see them as adults with families of their own, I am so blessed.  This, too, takes my breath away.

  • The beauty of the sunset.
Sunset over Annandale VA 2
A Virginia Sunset

The day has been spent in doing many tasks, things that took time and energy, things that were encouraging and sometimes things that were incredibly hard.  But at the end of the day, I can look at the sunset and know that God is in control.

The Levites were commanded to recognize that God alone was responsible for providing the day to them.  David’s instructions included the following:

“And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening,”

1 Chronicles 23:30

God’s watchful care results in praise to Him.  This, too, takes my breath away!

  • Places of worship, such as Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England.
Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

When we visited Canterbury Cathedral, the sign in the entrance way to the church and grounds advised that worship services were held in the Cathedral every day for over 1,400 years.  St. Augustine came to England in 597 A.D. as a missionary and he ultimately became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.  The building was magnificent; the stained-glass windows were beautiful; the soaring vaulted ceiling dwarfed the people inside.  While all that is true, what I found most humbling was the reality that God had met with the people worshiping in this place for more than 1,400 years. 

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Matthew 18:20

I was overwhelmed.  This took my breath away!

  • God’s Word.
Holy Bible
The Holy Bible

When reading God’s Word, often there are passages that speak to me and bring joy to my heart.   His word brings a warmth to my soul, and its truths take my breath away.

Recently, we were studying Psalm 32 where David speaks of his relationship with God and of the damaging effect of his sin toward God. 

“A Maskil of David. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Psalm 32:1-2

Blessed, happy, is the one who, after coming to God in confession and repentance, is forgiven. 

“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah”

Psalm 32:3-4

David understood the heavy weight of unconfessed sin.  His description is not only poetic, it is personal and profound.  

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.  Selah”

Psalm 32:5

David confessed his sin.  He did not try to hide it from God; he understood that God already knew of his sin and what he had to do was to confess and seek forgiveness.  David also expressed that God’s forgiveness meant that his sin was covered and would not be counted against him by God any longer. 

By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.”

Proverbs 16:6

In our age, that of the New Testament covenant, we understand that through Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross, our sin is not only covered but that sin debt is erased, and our account is clean.  Across our ledger page is written the words “Paid in full and covered by Christ’s righteousness.” 

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah”

Psalm 32:7

After David confessed and received forgiveness from his sin, he was secure in God and described this security in verse 7.  The forgiven person is surrounded “with shouts of deliverance.”  When we see pictures of people who were delivered from prison camps or from dangerous situations, such as a mine cave in, the rescued person is not shouting.  They are too stunned, and sometimes too weak from the ordeal, to do much of anything.  The rescuers are the ones who are shouting of deliverance and joy. 

Have you ever thought about heaven surrounding you with shouts of deliverance when you have come to God seeking forgiveness from your sin?

“Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORDBe glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Psalm 32:10-11

The conclusion of the psalm is resounding joy, gladness, shouting for joy. 

This, too, takes my breath away!

God’s love, His provision of the plan of salvation for you, His Son dying on the cross for our sin, not His.  These are all truths that take my breath away.  Why would God, the Almighty Creator, the Holy God who cannot look upon sin, the Righteous Judge of all, why would this God call me to Himself and adopt me as a child of His, clothing me with His Son’s righteousness and taking my filthy rags away. 

Nothing that I have done or ever could do would merit such grace and mercy.  I am a sinner saved by grace.   This reality is overwhelming.  This takes my breath away!  

What about you? 

What takes your breath away?

Father, I pray that these words would resonate with their readers and that You would be glorified.  I pray that I would praise You for Your wonderous love and kindness, Your grace and mercy, Your goodness and righteousness that has covered my sin and canceled my debt, restoring my relationship with You through Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 


Unlike centuries ago, we no longer have many sovereigns in our world today.  When we visited England, we stayed in London and went to Buckingham Palace, one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is in downtown London and it takes up significant acreage with the palace, gardens and grounds.

2011-04 England 139

Looking at Buckingham Palace from across the grounds you can get a glimpse at the magnitude of the Queen’s residence. 

2011-04 England 152

Standing closer, we could see the guard making his route securing the sovereign, as we were on the other side of the gate looking in with a throng of others.  

We in the United States have a hard time with the concept of “sovereignty”.  Our whole corporate psyche is centered on freedom.  We believe that we were born free, to live as and where we choose while doing whatever it is that we want to do.  No caste system.  No one dictating what profession or job we must take.  No one telling us where we can or cannot live.  

Having a person over us who is sovereign is exactly what our forefathers rebelled against and it was the springboard for the Revolutionary War between our country and England.

So, when we come to the attribute of God that is titled “Sovereignty”, we have a hard time comprehending all that such term entails.  It is easy to speak the words that “God is in control of everything.”  But the reality of a Sovereign God is much more far-reaching than a platitude.

In Exodus chapter 18, we have a beautiful vignette of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro:

“And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and [how] the LORD had delivered them. Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, “Blessed [be] the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, [and] who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the LORD [is] greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, [He was] above them.“”

Exodus 18:8-11 NKJV

Jethro was glad for the deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel and, after Moses had described all that God had done in Egypt, Jethro rejoiced and praised the LORD who is sovereign over all.  Nothing that some people may attribute to a god is outside His sovereign control.

The Psalmist says this about God’s sovereignty:

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”

Psalm 115:2-3

God is sovereign over all mankind or anything that he worships, nothing compares to our God and Lord.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Proverbs 21:1

God is sovereign over other monarchs on earth – while the king might be making plans, the Lord God controls that which happens.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Proverbs 16:33

As with kings, even the common man is subject to the sovereignty of God.  Men cast lots and then make their decisions based on that result, but God is the One who controls the decision that the lot mandates.

In fact, God is even sovereign over the actions of animals.

Recall what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31

Now, remember Jonah’s free transportation in the belly of the great fish, and then, at the word of the Lord, his being catapulted from the fish onto dry land.  Jonah 2:10.   Also, remember how God gave Balaam’s donkey the power of speech when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the street, but his master did not.  Numbers 22.

There is nothing outside the control of God’s loving hand.

  • Not the plans of the wicked even if they are dictators or despots.
  • Not the way our physical world works which sometimes seems to be in opposition to mankind such as when there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, or droughts.
  • Not the actions of demons or even Satan, remember how Satan had to get permission to test Job and could only take action within the confines established by God.
  • Not even my own free will. Regarding salvation, we may believe that we accepted Jesus through our own free will, but even then, it is God Who quickens our heart to become aware of our sin and our need of His grace. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:28, 38-39 

God’s sovereignty is a tremendous comfort to the believer because it enables him to have confidence that he does not need to fear, God is still on His throne and He is still sovereign – in charge – in control, no matter what might be going on in this temporal world.

We must remember that when sin entered the world, man had turned himself into a headlong catapult toward sickness, illness, pain, sorrow and death.  God intervened in Genesis 3:15 where we learn of a Redeemer, a Savior Who will pay the price of sin and redeem God’s children for Himself.  We all must die physically because of the curse of sin on our mortal bodies.  But, we don’t have to die spiritually if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.   

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37

Beloved, God’s sovereignty is an attribute that is hard for us to comprehend but it is the basis of God’s providence.  We know that God’s will, His providence, shall prevail because God’s sovereignty mandates it.  Nothing can defeat God’s will.  Praise His Holy Name!

God’s sovereignty + His love for His children


Unassailable confidence and comfort for the believer.


Father, there are no words available to express my praise and love for You and for Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lord, I cannot comprehend Your sovereignty and all that such attribute entails, but I do have confidence in You and Your sovereignty brings comfort to my heart.  Thank You, Lord.


The Speck and the Log

One of the television shows that I have watched, even in reruns during the many years after initial airing of the episodes, is The Andy Griffith Show.  The characters are memorable and the stories all had strong character-building messages.  If you are not familiar with the characters, Andy was the sheriff of Mayberry, a small fictional town in North Carolina, USA, and Barney was his deputy sheriff.  Barney was a man with a good heart, but he had the ability to routinely put his foot in his mouth, and he often made situations far worse because of his misguided actions and his insistence on strict interpretation of the law. 

In an episode entitled “Citizen’s Arrest”, Barney and Gomer, the town’s gas station attendant, came into conflict over a traffic ticket, notwithstanding the fact that they were best friends.  

Barney wrote Gomer a traffic ticket for making an unauthorized U-turn in downtown Mayberry.  After issuing the citation, Barney returned to the squad car and, immediately, made the same U-turn that earned Gomer a ticket.  Gomer stood in the middle of the street and yelled “citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest” resulting in a crowd surrounding him with Gomer shouting that Barney should receive the same fine as imposed on him. 

To defuse the situation and avoid further harsh words, Andy suggested that Barney simply write himself a ticket, pay the $5 fine and get along with his life.  After much cajoling by Andy, Barney wrote the ticket but then announced that he would not pay the $5 fine. Instead he would take the alternative punishment of 5 days in the jail cell, which happened to be in the same room as the Sheriff’s office.

Barney’s problem was that he could not see his own wrongdoing when he was so focused on Gomer’s infraction.

How often we are in the same situation.  Something is alright for me to do but I will criticize you for doing the same thing.  It is human nature, we want to be better than others; even if it means that we ignore our own errors, which often are the more egregious. 

Jesus told a parable about judging others in Matthew 7:1-5.  The parable is likely one that you have heard before.

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:1-5

Interestingly, there are various words for what is in the eye of the accuser: specifically, it is called a beam, a plank, a board, and a log.  Whatever translation you may be using, the truth is the same.  Before advising someone of their own misbehavior, the speck, the accuser must take note of and remove the beam/plank/board/log from their own life.

The parable teaches us how to conduct ourselves with reference to our perceived faults of others.  The story was spoken to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus encountered during His ministry.  But the lesson taught applies to us as well – to those who are rigid and severe, who condemn people around them and who are proud and conceited in justifying their own actions.

Jesus cautions us against judging others.  We are to judge ourselves, our own acts, but we must not judge others.  And, we must not speak evil of others.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. “

James 4:11

We must not judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions – that is God’s prerogative. 

“If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.”

Psalm 44:20-21

Only God knows what is in the heart of man.  Remember, the thieves on the cross were suffering the same punishment as our Lord Jesus Christ.  While on the cross, one received Jesus through faith in Him and the other rejected Him.  God knows who His children are, and He knows when any person will be brought into His family.  We do not have such knowledge.

Why follow Jesus command not to judge?  So that we will not be judged.  In other words, if we presume to judge others, we may expect to be ourselves judged. If we are modest and charitable in our censures of others, and decline judging them, and judge ourselves rather, we shall not be judged.  As God will forgive those that forgive their brothers, the merciful shall find mercy.  Our refusal to judge others is an evidence of humility, charity and deference to God and shall be noted and rewarded by God accordingly.  Romans 14:10

Don’t focus on correcting someone over a small fault while you have a big fault that you are ignoring.  Have you ever noticed that it is common for those who are most sinful themselves, and least sensitive to it, to be the most forward and free in judging and censuring others?

For example, read 2 Samuel 12:1-7 and see the story of the prophet of God, Nathan, confronting King David over his sin with Bathsheba.  David “burned with anger” at the man in Nathan’s story who had taken another man’s little lamb.  It was then that Nathan pointed his finger at the King and said: “You are the man!”. 

Jesus said the right way to interact with others is for me to take the beam out of my eye first.  I must repent and correct my sin first and then I can help my brother or sister. 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Luke 6:37

This is a short part of the episode described above.  To see the entire sequence of events, you can view the longer 5 minute segment of the television show by clicking on the top left box, after this 20 second segment is completed.  Note that viewing the longer segment will take you out of The Ruminant Scribe website.

Father, I pray that I would have the wisdom to see the log in my own eye rather than focusing on the speck in my neighbor’s eye.  Heal me and let me lead a life that is in conformance with the commands of my Lord and Savior, in the Name of Jesus I pray.


We have thought about two of the “omni” attributes of God, omnipotence and omnipresence.  The third such attribute is omniscience.

Like the first two we studied, “omni” means “all”.  According to Merriam Webster, “science” is “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”  So, “omniscience” means that God knows all that there is to know. There is nothing anywhere that is outside the scope of His conception, understanding or attention.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power [that’s “omnipotent”]: his understanding is beyond measure [that’s [omniscience”]”

Psalm 147:5 [with bracketed information added by me]

reading to grandchildren
Papa reading to young grandsons.

We have to study, read and learn lessons; in short, when we are born, we don’t automatically come equipped with all knowledge of our world, culture, society.  Much to the chagrin of our children, we have to be taught either by home schooling or in a school outside the home.

Evans Day 041
Learning sometimes involves detailed investigation!

Not so with God.  He does not study or learn for one simple reason – omniscience.  One cannot increase a knowledge that is already insurmountable.  God knows everything, period. 

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Romans 11:33

Further, with God there is no “maybe”.  Probability does not exist for God.  While we may consider rolling the dice as being an act of chance, such is not the case for God. 

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Proverbs 16:33

This verse in The Message reads:

“Make your motions and cast your votes, but God has the final say.”

God is omniscient.  There is one reality and God knows it in its entirety, as it exists by, through, and for Him.

“And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the LORD: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind.

Ezekiel 11:5

God is neither surprised by the way the world works itself out, nor shocked by the choices we make.

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:13

Because God is omniscient, God can work out His predetermined purpose and plan and His sovereignty will effect that plan.    

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”

Proverbs 21:1

Beloved, the attribute of omniscience is a source of security, strength and of faith, of comfort and of joy.  God knows everything about everyone, everywhere. He will not be surprised by anything that we do because He knows all things.

Such wisdom and knowledge is too much for us to understand or comprehend. Even as I write this post, I am amazed and in awe of our God, and I cannot fully understand or appreciate how vast His nature and knowledge is.  Like the attributes that we have considered previously, the very speaking of the word “omniscience” reveals the incredible majesty of our God, His infinite being and His holiness.  It also demonstrates the vast difference between our God and us. 

Isaiah spoke God’s words which eloquently illustrate this reality:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

Isaiah 55:8

Praise Him for His omniscience.  His love is extended to us every moment of every day.  His omniscience results in God’s executing His providence which will accomplish His fore-ordained plan, including His working all things to the benefit of His children.

The hymn “These Great Things” as sung on the album Glory to the Holy One, captures the marvelous response to God’s wondrous ways toward His children.  In speaking about this hymn, Randall Van Meggelen said the following in an article entitled “For the Church: Singing These Great Things,” dated May 28, 2015:

Occasionally the sheer grandeur and incomprehensibility of God’s wondrous ways leaves the believer in almost speechless awe. “These Great Things,” from Glory to the Holy One, expresses such a state. In pondering “How can it be,” the hymn momentarily hints at the opening textual and musical motifs of the beginning of Charles Wesley’s magnificent hymn, “And Can It Be.” Both hymns assert believing submission in the truth of God’s glorious Word and humble wonder at the “mystery sublime” of God’s great works.

“These Great Things” contemplates Paul’s glorious indicative that, for the called, “all things by His grand design work good for us by love” (Romans 8:28). “No tragedy shall win, no curse for those He calls His friends.” Our good, accomplished through God’s perfect means, is to be called “His friends” and “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29) to the end that we would glorify and enjoy God in eternal communion (Westminster Shorter Catechism 1).

Here are the lyrics to this beautiful hymn.  I pray that you would let the words and wonder fill your heart as you listen and read the lyrics.

How can it be, this truth divine,
Declared by God above
That all things by His grand design
Work good for us by love

Called by our lord in purposed ends
No tragedy shall win
No curse for those He calls His friends
He saved us from our sins


What shall we say to these great things?
Of mystery sublime
That if He is for us we can sing
Now and for all time

Foreknown by Him with
Hearts made new
To His Son we conform
No pow’r on earth can this undo
For those He’s made reborn


First He did choose, and called He then
To surely justify
For those of the faith beyond our ken
He soon will glorify


Father, I come to You and praise You for Your lovingkindness.  Through Your omniscience, You know me fully, and such knowledge is too wonderful and amazing for me to comprehend.  Your power and majesty is above all persons or powers, and yet You stoop to consider and love me.  Thank You Father.


The City of Chicago lies along the coastline of Lake Michigan, the only one of the five Great Lakes that is entirely within the United States.  The other four Great Lakes are shared by the U.S. and Canada.  Several years ago, I received slide pictures that my father had taken over many decades.  After reviewing the slides, I found this picture taken in 1960 of the coastline of Lake Michigan.

Chicago coastline along Lake Michigan circa 1960

Lake Michigan is a huge lake.  It is 118.1 miles wide and has an area of over 20,000 miles.  It’s maximum depth is 923 feet and it contains bowfin, largemouth bass, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and lake trout, to name a few inhabitants.

Many rivers and streams flow into Lake Michigan, with the major tributaries being the Fox-Wolf, the Grand, and the Kalamazoo Rivers.  Lake Michigan is connected to the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois River (from Chicago) and by the Mississippi River. 

Scripture does not mention either the Great Lakes or Lake Michigan.  But it does mention at least two other bodies of water. 

A number of years ago I came across the following in a lesson.  

There are two seas in Palestine, which, in their contrast, preach a most eloquent sermon. 

The first speaks of forsakenness and desolation.  There is no splash of fish; there is no song of birds, no fluttering leaves, no laughter of children. Men call it the Dead Sea, also called the Salt Sea.

We read of the Salt Sea in Joshua 3 where we are told about how the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land:

“So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

Joshua 3:14-17

The other sea is a delightful place with its emerald bays, its cobalt-blue expanses.  Along its shores little children play.  Its waters teem with fish. Songs of birds fill the air; it gleams like a jewel in a setting of superb natural charm.  Men call it the Sea of Galilee.  It is comparable to Lake Michigan, a thriving coastal area which is beautiful and which also is teeming with fish.

The Sea of Galilee is spoken of often in the New Testament, for example:

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.”

Matthew 4:18

What makes the difference in these two neighbor seas?  Not the River Jordan; it empties the same good water into both. 

The difference is this: the Dead Sea has inlets but no outlets; the Sea of Galilee has an outlet for every inlet.  

There are two seas in Palestine.  What each does with the Jordan determines the difference between them. 

There are two kinds of people in the world.  What each does with Christ and in turn with him or herself determines the difference between them.  The one refusing Christ can only keep his/her worldly goods, remaining stagnant, and then leave the accumulated stuff behind when he/she dies. 

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”” …  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Matthew 19:16, 21-22 

The other takes Christ, shares Christ, lives Christ, and finds abundant living through giving

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” –

John 10:9-10 

There are two seas in Palestine; there are two kinds of people in our world.

Jesus understood that the crowds did not necessarily understand who He was.  Luke 9 describes a dialog that Jesus had with His disciples, asking them who the crowds said that He was.  The answer He received reflected the variety of possibilities that the people surmised – John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets of old.

“Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.””

Luke 9:20

You see, it is one thing for the crowd to speculate on Jesus’ nature, but He wanted the disciples to think about Him: “who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus asks this same question to us today, in 2018.  “Who do you say that [He] is?”  Do you answer that with the fumbling response of the crowd or can you say like Peter: “The Christ of God”.  Is He your Savior or just a name from an historical document?  Is He your Lord or is He a mythical character who does not deserve your love, respect and honor? 

If your answer is the same as the crowd, your life, spiritually speaking, is comparable to the Dead Sea.  The Sea with inlets but no outlet. The Sea without life. Do you keep and hoard, so that ultimately you will lose all?

Or is your answer like that of Peter?  If so, your life is, spiritually speaking, comparable to the Sea of Galilee.  You have inlets: the Word of God, feeding on the Scripture, praying to the Lord and living with the Holy Spirit empowering you.  And you have outlets: service to others, worshiping with fellow believers, loving your neighbors, caring for the believers around you and spreading the message of salvation to those who come into your area of influence.  If you are not exercising your life in Christ so that others can see it, I challenge you to pray to the Lord and let Him energize you so that you will be a strong witness for Him.

There are two seas in Palestine.  There are two kinds of people in the world. 

Who do you say that He is?

Father, I pray that these words would encourage and strengthen the believers who read them.  I pray, too, that these words would be a challenge to non-believers to pray for the Lord’s leading them into a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.