OUT OF BALANCE

Ever have a sense that you are just a little out of whack, a bit off kilter, just a mite out of balance?

We were driving through the Great Smoky Mountains and I spotted this tree, that seems to epitomize that feeling.

Branch to side of tree 100_3446
Tree with branch growing along ground

I really have no idea how this happened, but it appears that the tree grew strong and tall, while a branch at ground level just moved to the right and then began growing alongside the tree.  It is clearly alive and well, just a bit out of kilter.

Then there are the trees that have been traumatized by raging forest fires, but which still remain standing, even though scarred.  Here is an example from Yosemite National Park showing the giant sequoia tree and its fire scar. 

USED Sequoia fire scar through tree (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree burned clear through from forest fire, still growing and healthy notwithstanding the injury received.

This fire scar has burned all the way through the tree so that you can walk through the tree without harming it.  The tree itself is many stories tall!

Trees, that sustain rearrangement or injury, can grow and thrive even after their injury occurred.  Indeed, great swaths of forest undergo fire damage on a routine basis and the result is that the forest regrows, healthier and stronger than it was before.  In fact, some trees, like the giant sequoia trees, require heat from the fire to open their seed pods; the seeds then need cleared ground so they can germinate and grow, something that they would not have but for the forest fire!

My problem is that when I am undergoing something difficult, I tend to think that it is bad, that no one has ever had this type of injury, in other words I go through a pity party of no small stature.  I might not express this outwardly, but inside I am drowning in in it. 

As a Christian, however, this is not the way I am to respond to difficulty.  We know that difficulty comes to everyone.  If persecution attacked our Lord Jesus Christ throughout his ministry, we certainly should not be surprised when hard times come upon us.

Paul admonished Timothy to be aware of these things:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

How should I respond to difficult times?  Not by holding a pity party!  Rather, I should turn to the Scripture because this is the only Source that is profitable for:

Teaching – I will learn from the experience or difficulty

Reproof – Reproof can be said to be criticism for a fault.  It is from reproof that I will learn what should be removed from my life.

Correction – The reproof rightly received will result in correction of the error of my ways, my thoughts, my motives, my desires, etc.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word to correct that which He identifies as being in error.

Training in righteousness – Then, the Holy Spirit will be able to train my in the way of righteousness, because I have learned from the difficulties experienced.

What is the purpose of this teaching, reproof, correction, and training?  Paul tells Timothy what the purpose is … that the man (woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

You see, I may do a great many things that are good to do, but we need the Holy Spirit to prepare us to do good works for the Lord.  If we do good things in our own strength, we are doing them ourselves and they have no heavenly significance.  They may feather our cap in this world, but in the judgment, but earthly treasures are temporal, subject to destruction and theft.   Not so with heavenly treasures!

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Matthew 6:19-20

When we do good works for God through the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than in my own power, they resound in Heaven to the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, when I am upset by circumstances, by some hurtful word uttered against me, or by a slight that brings humiliation, my response should not be a pity-party.  Rather, the response should be a turn to the Word and reliance on the Holy Spirit to teach, reprove, correct. and train me in righteousness.

Don’t be out of whack, a bit off kilter, or a mite out of balance.  Don’t descend into the pit of self-pity.  Rejoice because your Lord and Savior loves you, has forgiven your sins, has brought you into the family of God, and has given you eternal life.  Everything else is, quite simply, irrelevant!

Praise the Lord that He has not left us alone but that He has given us His Word and His Spirit as our comfort, guide, and strength, even in difficult times like the COVID 19 pandemic!

Father, You are the Author and Creator of all things.  You know the end from the beginning.  You know all things, omniscience, You are all powerful, omnipotent, You are everywhere at all times, omnipresent.  Such power is beyond my comprehension, especially when I remember that You sent Your Son to die for my sins.  Such love is also beyond my comprehension.  Forgive me when I drift into self-pity or fear of difficult times.  Remind me to cast all my fears, apprehensions, concerns, problems, difficulties at the foot of the cross because You have borne them for me already.  Then let me praise Your Holy Name and glorify You with my thanksgiving.

Are we walking worthy of God?

During a trip to Oregon, we drove along the coastline and, ultimately, came to the Garibaldi estuary.  That is, we came to the point where the river met the ocean, where fresh water mixed with salt water.

Estuary in Oregon 2009 159 (C)
Garibaldi estuary,, Oregon

The setting was beautiful and the concept mind-numbing.  How does fresh water and saltwater combine while remaining separate and not tainted by contact with each other at the estuary?  Given the mass of the ocean, it is clear that the fresh water is not going to dilute the salt in the ocean.  But the same cannot be said of the fresh water in the river.  Its mass nowhere compares to the ocean so why does the saltwater not taint the river’s fresh water? 

I’m not an expert on watersheds or the movement of rivers, etc., but after doing some reading, I think a simple answer is that the saltwater is much more dense than fresh water.  The result is that saltwater cannot go over the natural barriers that occur in the riverbeds.  While there is some mixing of the two, in various ways depending on the estuary configuration, ultimately the fresh water is not at risk of contamination from the salt of the ocean.  It seems to be impervious to it!

While we were reading in 1 Thessalonians, this week, we read these verses:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. 

Paul uses the illustration of a parent and his child, one we can certainly understand even 2000 years after this was written.  We teach our children how they should behave, how they should be courteous, how they should be kind and assist those who need help, etc.   I recall that, when I would come back from visiting with relatives or friends, my parents would specifically ask if I “behaved myself”, and often a phone call would be made by my mother to confirm the validity of my affirmative response.  She didn’t take my word for it, she checked herself!

This is like what Paul is saying to the Thessalonian Christians.  We exhorted (strongly encouraged or urged) and they charged (entrusted them with a task or responsibility) the people.  Why?  Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.”    

Matthew Henry, writing in the 17th century, asks what our “gospel duty” is regarding our relationship with God. 

What is our great gospel privilege-that God has called us to his kingdom and glory. The gospel calls us into the kingdom and state of grace here and unto the kingdom and state of glory hereafter, to heaven and happiness as our end and to holiness as the way to that end.

What is our great gospel duty-that we walk worthy of God, that the temper of our minds and tenour of our lives be answerable to this call and suitable to this privilege. We should accommodate ourselves to the intention and design of the gospel, and live suitably to our profession and privileges, our hopes and expectations, as becomes those who are called with such a high and holy calling.

A more modern approach is expressed by David Guzik when, in considering these same two verses, he says the following:

It is impressive that Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life

… “How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you … that you would walk worthy of God.”  Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could tell them that they should walk worthy of God because his life and message were consistent.

I suspect that you are asking yourself, “what does our walk with the Lord have to do with an estuary?”

Perhaps nothing in your mind, but in mine, I come up with these questions: Am I mixing salt with fresh?  Am I getting so bogged down in this world that I no longer desire God and His kingdom? Am I so acclimated to the saltwater that I no longer relate to the fresh water of the gospel?  I pondered whether my walk was worthy of God and His kingdom as I flittered from one thing to another, ignoring people in need, taking precious time for frivolous activities, putting Bible time off until I’m too tired to concentrate on what I’m reading.  You get the idea.  

Do I spend so much time doing things, which seem important at the time, with the result that I have no more energy, time or ability to pay attention matters that are of paramount importance, matters that have eternal consequences?

Does this sound familiar to you?

We are to walk through this world although we are citizens of God’s kingdom.  We are to be salt and light to those we come in contact with, but we are not to be so attracted to them that we lose our perspective.  We are to mingle and be Jesus’ representatives to others but we must remember, always, that our citizenship is in God’s kingdom — so we are not attached to the temporary things of this world, rather we look to those things above that are unperishable.  In short, we must walk worthy of God even as we walk through this fallen world. 

Paul reiterated this point in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 where we read:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.

Do I walk, every day, in a manner that is worthy of my citizenship in the kingdom of God?

Do I walk worthy of my calling so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified through me?

Do you?

Father, I read in the Bible tht I should not have an attachment to this world but that I should set my mind on tings above, that I should glorify You through my actions, thoughts and words, that I should walk worthy of my calling that I have received from You.  Oh Holy Spirit, cleanse me and give me Your power to do that which has been commanded so that my life will glorify my God and my Lord.

Disassembling your sin!

We have several beautiful oak trees in our front yard.   They are all many, many years old, and they shade the front of the house.  The squirrels loved the acorns that they dropped, and we raked like crazy in the fall when the leaves dropped from their branches.

Tree before removal began
The oak tree close to the house.

Years earlier we had a cable run to unite the two trunks of the tree closest to the house so that it would not fall on the house if it split at its base.  Recently, we called the experts in to look at the tree after huge limbs were dropped in the yard after a particularly strong storm and damaged the roof.  This is what we were told:  “The tree is disassembling itself.”

I had never heard of this situation, but it certainly seemed to describe what was going on in the front yard with this particular tree.  So, we contracted with a tree service and they brought out a large bucket truck and began taking the tree down, piece by piece.

Tree being disassembled
The branches have been removed and they are now taking down the tree trunk in pieces!

They clearly knew what they were doing.  No huge branches hit the house and no one was injured on the ground.  No branch hit anyone on the ground and the young man in the lift did not fall out!  The limbs came down tethered and they descended to the ground with orchestrated precision. 

Man working on stump showing the last part of the tree trunk laying on ground
The tree trunk is on the ground, the giant has fallen.  It is now “disassembled” entirely.

Two and one-half hours later, the trunk of this over-60-foot-tall oak was the last remaining part of the tree, other than the stump, of course.  The stump reveals the age of the tree, and it gives some indication of all the climactic events in its life.

The stump of our aged tree
The remaining stump of the magnificent tree reveals its history and age.

The front of the house seems bare now that the tree is gone.  I’m glad we will no longer have roof repairs made necessary from branches that pierced the roof when they fell or that upended shingles with the weight of the limb.  Now, however, we will be able to have grass and flowers in the yard that were not possible because of the shade from the tree and because of the amount of water that the tree took out of the ground.  Grass did not have a chance!  Now, it does.

I began to wonder about my life.  The tree was “disassembling” … are there areas in my life that I need to “disassemble”?  Are there things that I have held on to for many years which are hindering my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ?  Are there attitudes or emotions that are preventing me from having the full joy that the Lord desires for me?  Are there things that have occurred which I have refused to forgive?  Do I harbor resentment or ill-will toward another person? 

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,  slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Romans 1:28-31

This catalog of unrighteousness behavior that Paul writes for us in Romans 1 is certainly not the only negative behavior that scripture warns against, but it is comprehensive.  We would surely agree that “murder” and “deceit” are evil and illustrative of unrighteousness.  But I am somewhat more silent when I consider other unrighteous deeds committed by people who are “gossips”, “haughty, boastful”, “foolish” and “heartless”.  Those attitudes and actions hit rather close to home, almost like the limbs of the tree hitting the roof of the house.

In John, chapter 8, men of the town brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery.  They were accusing her and saying that she should be stoned.  You will recall the story that Jesus heard this and wrote in the ground.  Then we read this:

 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:7-11.

Beloved, disassemble those things that hinder your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.   Confess your sin and stop it.  When you fail, confess your sin and stop it.

Ultimately, the Lord will help you conquer that besetting sin.  You will have “disassembled” the tree of unrighteousness and can move forward in your life of faith without the hindrance of besetting sin dogging your trail.

Lord, I confess to you that there are many areas of my life that need to be “disassembled” through Your Word and Your Spirit.  Give me the courage to do that which would enable me to walk according to Your Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

ANTICIPATION!

It has been almost two months since we have been locked down due to COVID-19.   It has been an amazing experience, unlike any that I have ever had to be sure!

Who would have thought that, as we celebrated 2020 on New Year’s Eve, we would have a complete shutdown of life as we knew it.  The economy has tumbled.  Healthcare workers have become heros of our world, and rightfully so!  Families have had “drive by parties” or perhaps “Zoom parties” to celebrate birthdays.  Graduates have been unable to go to prom and have even lost the opportunity to have their families at their graduation ceremony, if they are fortunate enough to have a real commencement ceremony at all.  Businesses and shopping malls are dead zones and Federal Express and UPS are now the people who fulfill our shopping needs by home delivery after we have ordered out goods online.

Anticipation – Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines anticipation as “a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action; the act of looking forward.”  One of the best pictures I have of anticipation is this one, of my young grandchild as he waited for us to present him with a present.

anticipation
Anticipation.

It is that feeling of being sooo ready for something to happen that we can hardly stand it.  The lock-down was good to keep us healthy and to prevent our contracting COVID-19, but it was confining; it stopped our activities; it caused financial hardship that will take a long time to repair.  Anticipation — is it time yet?  Can we open the doors and go to a restaurant?  Can we greet our neighbor without a facemask?  Can we … 

This feeling of anticipation is running rampant throughout our society.  We can taste it — it’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.  It won’t get here soon enough!

Beloved, the end of COVID-19 is not the only thing we should be anticipating! 

In John 14:3, Jesus told His disciples that He would be leaving them, but that He would also be returning, to take those who believed in Him to heaven.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also

Jesus also said that He would be returning in power and great glory.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Luke 21:27 

In Acts 1:6-11 we read of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  After he had disappeared from the disciples’ sight, we read this starting in verse 10: 

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

We don’t know when this will happen, but Jesus’ return is as certain as the rising of the sun in the morning.  Jesus’ first coming was as a baby in humble, dare we say poor, surroundings.  The Creator laid aside His power and came in humiliation to this world.  The second time Jesus comes to this place, it will not be so.

In Luke 17:24 Jesus said:

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.

As Christians we are to be waiting for Jesus’ return.  We are to be in great anticipation of this event.  Paul said: 

And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heavenJesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 [NLT]

Beloved, be excited about our society returning to normal when the lock-down is over.  But, much more importantly, always be in anticipation of the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Be ready for His return.  It is a sure and certain thing, and it could happen even before our lock- down is released.  

Father, I praise Your Name for the majesty of Your creation, for the unfathomable love that has been extended to us through Jesus’ death in atonement for our sins, for the inexpressible gift of eternal life with You through belief in Jesus as the Christ.  Keep us in anticipation of that glorious day when Jesus will return to take His people to heaven.  

Jesus, come quickly!

Happy Birthday!

Birthday party and balloons (C)

Welcome to the party!

This week marks the 5th anniversary since The Ruminant Scribe was first introduced to the blogging world!  Since the blog began, 416 posts have been published.  And, to my amazement, the various posts have been read by individuals in 137 countries around the world.  

The blog was started to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ and to God, our Father Almighty and I pray that it has done so.  I pray also that it has brought blessing, encouragement, and, perhaps, a challenge to those who have taken the time to read it.

In keeping with my tradition, I am reposting the first post published April 15, 2015 entitled VACATIONS AND DIVINE APPOINTMENTS.  I believe the lessons we learned on this vacation are applicable to our days now, with COVID-19 and self-isolation and “stay at home” orders abounding world-wide.  Fear not — God is not absent.  He is with us even in these uncertain, confusing days.  Welcome to the party.  May you be blessed today through our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

************

Sometimes we plan one thing only to find that God’s plan is a bit different than what we had intended. That was our experience when we, and another couple from church,  flew to Anchorage, Alaska for an Alaskan train tour!

Day one of the tour was a train trip to Healy, Alaska where, the next day, we would board a bus for a 13-hour tour of the Denali National Park.

Mt. McKinley from train to Denali National Park
Mt. Denali from the train on the way to Denali National Park. When we were on our trip, the mountain was called Mount McKinley.

God’s handiwork was on display with mountains, streams, lakes, and wild animals that were everywhere to be seen. At lunch, we visited with a family traveling on a mission trip to an Eskimo village. We talked about our faith, churches, missions, and our tour day transformed into a personal time of worship and praise as we thanked the Lord for His goodness and power.

Then it happened – as we were preparing to get back on the bus for the return trip along the 92.5 mile road to exit the park (there is only 1 road in/out) – I fell down three steps onto a wooden deck. Not a long way, but it was far enough to severely break my left ankle. This ended our participation in the tour and it marked the beginning of a marvelous adventure with the Lord and an outpouring of love from Christians we did not know and who, even now, we cannot identify.

Fellow-travelers came up to me as I sat with ice bags on my ankle, and they simply touched my shoulder and said “we’re praying for you”.   The mission family repeatedly said they were praying during the balance of the trip. One man who saw me fall said he was praying for healing and for my back and head, due to the severity of the fall.

The park ranger/EMT arrived and tended to my ankle, getting me into the first of three ambulances I would ride to the Park exit. He was a tender, caring young man, notwithstanding his bulletproof vest and sidearm (the ranger also is the law enforcement officer in the park). We spoke of God’s intervention and protection as it appeared that my back and head were not injured.

Over 5 hours after I fell, we exited the Park only to find that the clinic in Healy had a doctor but no x-ray available for treatment so clinic personnel called for a taxi to take us to the hospital in Anchorage (it was either that or Fairbanks as the closest x-ray facilities), and the office assistant promised to pray for healing.

The taxi driver was a wonderful Christian lady who had moved from San Antonio to Anchorage with her mother and sibling when she was very young. We had an incredible time speaking of the Lord’s hand in her life and in ours. We said we would pray for her children and grandchildren and she said she would pray for healing and successful treatment of my ankle. The 6-hour trip through the night was transformed from a mere taxi ride to a time of praise for our Sovereign God.

We reached the Emergency Room at Anchorage Regional Hospital 12 hours after my fall. The ER was empty and we were met at the door by a nurse with a wheel chair.   They expertly treated my ankle, contacted a trauma orthopedic surgeon and made a doctor’s appointment for Thursday with surgery the following day. There, too, various persons gave encouragement and promised to pray for us during our time in Alaska. The flight home was scheduled for Sunday.

For various reasons we needed much more than merely medical assistance. For example, we had hotel reservations for that evening in Anchorage, but since we were on a train tour, we had reservations at different hotels at the various stops along the tour. It was obvious that our tour was over. Thus, we had no hotel room for the rest of the week before our flight home, and no rooms could be found in the Anchorage hotels since we were there at the height of tourist season. But God was in control.

The nursing supervisor saw us sitting in the hallway and asked if she could help us. She was able to arrange for us to stay at the Alaska House, the 7th floor of the hospital which was available for families of patients who could not get home due to the long distances involved in getting medical care in Alaska. (Remember, 6 hours away from the national park!) When we checked into the Alaska House on August 6, we found out that the program was being eliminated on August 30. God was in control, even over the contractor’s schedule so that the room was available when we needed it!

Multiple people we met offered assistance and said they would pray – the family on a mission trip, a minister friend of our son-in-law’s brother who lived in Anchorage, a young server at a neighborhood restaurant who gave my name to her mother’s prayer circle and then asked permission to do so, the counter clerk at the Subway in the hospital cafeteria, to name just a few.   In short, what started out as a simple vacation turned into a series of “Divine Appointments.”

Surgery was on Friday and the doctor said that I could go on a car ride the next day to “salvage” our vacation. 

So, on Saturday, before our Sunday flight, we drove along the Seward Highway. The sky was overcast and there had been rain along the way. As we rounded a curve, we saw a beautiful landscape rainbow.

Landscape Rainbow
Landscape Rainbow, Alaska

The clouds were above the rainbow and the ground was beneath: it appeared to be hovering over the ground. Bill stopped the car and grabbed the camera, as we looked out the window in awe at the beautiful display of God’s handiwork. He took the picture and it appeared that the rainbow was around the next curve as well. We drove to that spot but it was not visible; and when we returned to the place of this picture, it was gone.

When I saw the rainbow, my spirit soared. It was as if God had sent that bow in the sky to remind me that there is no place that escapes His presence and to also remind me that He was present in my accident, pain and confusion. Further, He was providing an illustration through His creation of His protection for me. Yes, I had fallen and broken my ankle; that is the rain cloud. But, He was between me and the cloud – His protection was covering me so that I did not receive significant back or head injuries. It was yet again further confirmation that He is in control and I am in His care, no matter how the circumstances may appear.

In Luke 12:6-7, Jesus said:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

David says:

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

Psalms 139:4.  If you want to know whether God cares about you, just ruminate on these statements from Scripture! (Even I don’t know every word before it is on my tongue! Oh for the times that I have spoken without thinking of the words I was saying …, but I digress!)

When the rainbow disappeared, it was a reminder that God’s presence is always with us, even though it is not always obvious to us at the time. The rainbow did not need to be stationary for a long time to accomplish God’s purpose – it just needed to be visible when we rounded the corner.

Often we tend to look at our situation in our microcosm of life and our focus is limited to that which we see here and now. We work and are active in our assigned tasks but we do not see what God is doing elsewhere. Praise the Lord – He is alive and well and His church can be found all over the place, even in the “wilds” of Alaska.   Praise the Lord that we had our eyes open to see His visible promise of protection. If we had been drowning in self-pity, we would have missed His beautiful presence. He knows where we are and what we are doing, and He will send His messengers to give comfort and reassurance to us, even if that comes in the form of a rainbow.

What my husband and I saw of Alaska was beautiful; but what we experienced through God’s Divine Appointments was enriching beyond measure. Praise the Lord!

I pray that no matter what you are going through at this moment, you will be encouraged by the knowledge that He will be your strength through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.   Open your eyes, you might just see a rainbow sheltering you from the storm clouds of life!

 

ARE YOU SECURE?

We are still housebound. The Governor has issued a “Stay at Home” order which is stronger than the “Safer at Home” order given previously.  The COVID-19 has overtaken our world and it has changed our activities on a national/ regional/ and individual basis. We are told that the absence of interaction with others outside the house is the secret to keeping healthy and eradicating the virus that has overtaken the world.  Things that have been routine, such as birthday parties, getting together with church friends for lunch on Sunday afternoon, working at jobs and going to stores, have been cut short. Things that normally would provide the security of routine have been eliminated as we are all staying at home.

Arches National Park 1
Arches National Park

When we were at Arches National Park in outside of Moab, Utah and we came across this sight — formations called “Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers”.  They clearly were made over thousands of years as water and wind sculpted the stone.  But they dwarfed the people visiting the site. and they seemed secure.

Another formation was found in the Park and it, too, was the result of centuries of wind and water sculpting its contours, which included a cave-like structure that could have provided respite from the elements.

Arches National Park 2

The permanence of monoliths such as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park give a sense of security, if for no other reason than their size and durability.

Yosemite El Capitan 6-2011 069
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Or, staying in our own house, away from possible contamination by a virus that you can’t see except under a microscope, will provide security from the virus, but is that real security?

Scripture tells us much about security.  Take Psalm 15 for example.  It is short, and it is duplicated here for your reference.

A Psalm of David.

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;  who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;  in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;  who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

Psalm 15:1-5  [ESV]

So, what are we to do to be secure?  Walk blamelessly, do right and speak truth.  Don’t slander with your speech and don’t hurt your neighbor.  Honor and fear the Lord.  Freely look for ways to care for your neighbor, not expecting something to be done for you in return.  Don’t take a bribe so that you will do anything to subvert justice or prosecute the innocent.

Honor God and serve Him and you will not be moved.  You will be secure because you will be in the Lord’s hands.

Matthew Henry says of this psalm’s conclusion:

The psalm concludes with a ratification of this character of the citizen of Zion. He is like Zion-hill itself, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever, Psalm 125:1. Every true living member of the church, like the church itself, is built upon a rock, which the gates of hell cannot prevail against: He that doeth these things shall never be moved; shall not be moved for ever, so the word is. The grace of God shall always be sufficient for him, to preserve him safe and blameless to the heavenly kingdom. Temptations shall not overcome him, troubles shall not overwhelm him, nothing shall rob him of his present peace nor his future bliss.   (Emphasis added)

This Psalm does not relate merely to the Old Testament Israelites.  Rather, it relates to all those who claim the name of Christ as their Redeemer Savior.  The grace of God is sufficient for us, even today, even as we are sequestered in our homes under the government’s “Stay at Home” order.  Discomfort because of inability to see our friends and relatives, unease as we face an Easter at home rather than in communion with our Christian community, concern about finances and whether there is sufficient toilet paper to hold until we can return to normal living.  All these things can rob us of the peace and security that is available in God, if we will only seek Him and allow Him to encourage and assist us fdring these times.

Yes, the formations in Arches National Park took time to become what they are, and in years to come they will likely change.  But for now, they seem secure.  We too have gone through various difficult times in our lives which have formed us into the people that we now are.  Likely, we will change in future years, but we are secure — not in our physical strength or intellectual capabilities, but in the strength that we have through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our strength, and He is our Redeemer Savior.  He is our Lord, and He is our Shepherd.  We are the beloved sheep of His pasture, and we are the ones for whom He gave His blood as our atoning sacrifice.  Additionally, He is the one who is interceding for us, this very minute, before God the Father in heaven.  

That is security in its highest and truest form.

Seek Him and honor Him.  Then, as David said in Psalm 15, we will not be moved.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior and Redeemer.  Thank You Lord for living a perfect life which we could not live, and then dying the horrific death on the cross, bearing our sin so that we do not have to carry it, thereby granting us eternal life with You which we would otherwise not be able to have.  Thank You that we are secure in Your love, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout whatever this world may throw at us.  We are Yours and are secure in Your hands.  

Housebound

Snow Predicted oil on canvas, artist George Lucas from Gaithersburg, Maryland
“Snow Predicted” oil on canvas, painted by George Lucas of Gaithersburg, Maryland

These are troubling days.  We are faced with a worldwide pandemic for the first time in most of our lives, and we don’t really know how to respond.  Yes, we know that we are to practice social distancing, that is we are to remain no closer than 6 feet from other people so that we do not come in contact with the virus from others.  We know that we are not to gather in groups of more than 10 because that creates a risk that someone in the group could be unaware that they are carrying the virus even though they are highly contagious at that point.  We know that we should stock up on food because we could be housebound for a long time.  We know that various businesses are shutting down with their workers facing furlough or unemployment, resulting in the loss of necessary paychecks for the household.  We also know that if we are in the “at risk” category of individuals, we should remain in our homes to avoid contamination by the virus.

In short, there are quite a number of things that we now know which are different than our ordinary experiences had been before this virus hit.  But one thing we see rampant, and that is the loss of toilet paper!  People are hoarding it, taking it by the pallet-full, clutching their toilet paper in the checkout lines as if it were a lifeline.  What’s with that?

Things are anything but routine now, and we are wondering if this is the “new normal”.

I don’t know when the virus will be contained or how long the housebound directive will be in place, but I do know the One who has that information, and He will not let us be housebound for a moment longer than is His plan.

The Psalmist says:

Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

Psalm 4:5

You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.

Psalm 115:11

It is a statement that is repeated in Proverbs:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

And the Prophet Isaiah claims the same thing:

 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:4

Yosemite El Capitan and bridal veil 6-2011 063
Yosemite National Park, El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls

When I think of God as an “everlasting rock”, my mind wanders to the sights we saw in Yosemite National Park.  Specifically, the view of El Capitan.  It is a huge granite monolith that rises almost 910 meter (3,000 foot) vertically from Yosemite Valley.  It’s massive size and strength is apparent when looking at it from across the valley.

But, come closer, and it is both intimidating and comforting.

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A closer view of El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.

More than one climber has tried to scale its height, and a few have succeeded.  Some have turned back, and others have fallen to their death.  It is intimidating and yet when thinking of God as our everlasting rock, it is comforting.  Nothing is going to push El Capitan over.  Nothing is going to move our God out of the way, either.  Indeed, if God were to ordain an earthquake in the Yosemite Valley, El Capitan may well be toppeled, but it would only be at the ordinance of God, the ultimate Rock and the source of our salvation and redemption.

Beloved, if you are housebound, take heart.  You can worship God even in the sanctity of your own home, of your own hospital bed, of your own apartment, of your own heart!  Worship Him, the everlasting Rock and the author of our salvation.  Then, praise Him for the opportunity you have to be housebound, to be able to focus on your relationship with Him rather than on the cares of the world, of work and or school.  And you may want to think Him for giving you the time to clean out that closet, or tidy up the junk drawer in the kitchen, or the linen closet, or … well my entire house, actually!

The point is that we should praise God for all things, because we know that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Father, I thank You for the blessings that are so freely given to all of us, including the freedom from fear of the coronavirus and freedom from anxiety for those who place their trust in You. Help me to be patient during this time of restricted activity, and help me to remember that You are in control of all things, even the most minute of activities by which we can honor You,  

Do YOU sing to the Lord?

Singing.  We hear a lot of singing in our world.  I admit that when I was young, songs had decipherable words with tunes you could hum to even if you didn’t remember the words.  Today, there are still songs like that but there are other songs with screaming and sounds that bear little resemblance to the tunes of my youth.

Singing, whether it is soothing or drum-heavy, whether it is melodic or screaming, is an important part of life.

Indeed, scripture talks of singing often.  Consider these scripture references: 

Singing was part of the worship of God in the house of God.

They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.

1 Chronicles 15:6-7

When Ezra and Nehemiah reconstructed the demolished wall around Jerusalem, singing was part of the celebration upon its completion.

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.

Nehemiah 12:27

David admonishes us to sing before God!

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 100:2

Paul told the Colossian Christians that they should sing and be thankful to God.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:16

So we know that people are to praise God and sing of His glory.  But the scripture also makes note that nature, itself, will praise God and sing.  Consider these scriptures:

The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

Song of Solomon 2:12

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

Isaiah 35:1-2

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12

We hear the leaves on the trees as the wind blows through them, we see the trees wave their branches. We hear the birds call and sing their songs, praising God as they look over their domain from the trees.  We hear the ocean waves as they crash against the shore and then turn to hear the waves sliding along the sand at the beach.  We hear these things, but I suspect that God’s creation sings to Him in ways that we can only imagine. 

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psalm 95:1-2

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Psalm 98:4

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

Psalm 100:1

God’s creation is constantly praising Him.  What a shame that so many of His people feel that they cannot sing to Him.  While some of the singers in the Old Testament were trained to sing, scripture also tells us that we are to make a “joyful noise” to God.

Sing to the Lord – sing with gusto – sing out loud.  You will feel better for doing so and you will be praising the Lord, making His heart glad.

Celtic Thunder Heritage sang a song entitled “A Place in the Choir” in concert several years ago. This song in concert is shown at this YouTube link. 

The music and singing is wonderful.  The following link provides pictures of the various animals referenced and it might make the song more fun to hear, especially for the children and the young at heart!

Keep this quote from Henry Van Dyke in mind:  “Use the talent that you possess, for the woods would be silent if no birds sang but the best!”

Father, I praise You for giving me the ability to sing to You and to give praise and thanks to You for Your marvelous works to the children of men.  May I praise and glorify You throughout my days.

HOLY – WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

As a child, I remember singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” with great gusto in my home church with my mother and father standing by my side. 

Then, as I got older in my faith walk with the Lord, I sang the hymn with less gusto and more meaning as I pondered each of the words while singing them.

Some places just evoke a feeling of sacredness, of being a special place where we feel close to God.     Consider the Canterbury Cathedral, where worship services to God have been conducted for over 1400 years!

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Or, consider Bryce Canyon where we see the majesty and jaw-dropping creativity of our Sovereign God.  The beauty and sheer magnitude of the canyon evokes a feeling of gratitude to God for the beauty of His creation.

Bryce Canyon 1
Bryce Canyon with its “hoodoos” – spires standing up over the base of the canyon!

Or, consider Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and pools of water that exceed the boiling point, spewing steam and sulfur continually from their fissures.

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Yellowstone National Park. The pavement in the parking lot gave way under the pressure of the geyser beneath.  

These things tell us that God is different than we are … that He is far greater than our finite minds can comprehend. 

We say God is holy, that we have the Holy Bible, that Jesus foretold of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we know that are to be holy but: “What is ‘holy’?” 

The Hebrew word for “holy” as found in Strong’s concordance is Strong’s Number H6944 which matches the Hebrew  קֹדֶשׁ  English transliteration “godesh”.  This word occurs 519 times in 382 verses in the Hebrew concordance of the NASB

The word signifies apartness, sacredness, separateness and it is used in relation to God, places and things.  There is a “set-apartness” for that which is holy.  In reading Leviticus we see how the tabernacle and all its furnishings and utensils were “consecrated to God”, another way of saying they were set apart for God’s use, specifically for use in their worship of Him.  The clothing that the priests wore was consecrated for when they were performing their priestly duties.  They were set apart for use in the worship and service of God, taken out of the ordinary and set apart for God.

We remember that when Moses was in the wilderness and saw the burning bush, he walked over to it and, when he approached the bush, God spoke and told him to remove his sandals because the ground where he was standing was holy ground.  Before the bush started burning the ground around it was just regular ground, like all the rest of the wilderness.  But God’s presence, His use of the bush to get Moses’ attention, set the bush and surrounding ground apart from the rest: it became holy. His sandals that were covered in the dust of the ordinary had to be removed because they were contaminating the ground that had become holy.

God directed Moses to tell the people that they were to be holy because He, their God, is holy.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Leviticus 19:1-2

God elaborates upon His relationship with His people in the next chapter:

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

God set apart His people for His own purposes, that they should be His and that they should follow no other god.  He separated them from all the peoples on the earth and they are His.  They are a holy people – not because of their own abilities or value. 

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

God’s people are His because He has chosen them and He is faithful to fulfill all the promises that He made to the patriarchs of old. 

In the New Testament, Peter tells the Christians that they are God’s children and that they are to be “holy” in their conduct!

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

We know, of course, that we cannot be holy on our own – we need the Holy Spirit to bring us the holiness that we need so we can show God’s holiness to the world.  We are sinful creatures and cannot be “holy” in our own right.   Because God is holy, we are to be holy as His children.  Holiness is to be a family trait!

So, what does this have to do with me, or with you?  We need to remember that, as Christians, we have dual citizenship – we are citizens of the place on earth where God has put us for His purposes, and we are citizens of God’s kingdom. As much as we are involved with the workings of our homes, cities, governments, schools, etc., these take second place when we think about our ultimate, eternal citizenship. 

God’s world is a beautiful, magnificent creation that reflects His glory daily.  But Scripture tells us that this world will pass away, but God’s Kingdom will never pass away.

Jesus said that our focus should not be on this world, but rather on heaven.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:19-20

Be holy because God is holy.  Think of the words of the hymn as  you listen to it being sung on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise and Comfort, by Columbia Publishing House.

Father, I know that I cannot be holy other than by Your grace and mercy through the power granted to me by the Holy Spirit.  Enable me to grow in holiness so that others may see You reflected in my life.