I JUST WANT TO BE A SHEEP

Sheep.  They are the animals which our Lord used as the primary illustration of our relationship with Him.  

Sheep in English Countryside
Sheep blocking the road in the English countryside.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9:36 ESV

Shepherding sheep is something that was understood and seen throughout Israel and the Middle East countries: indeed, it still is.  Thousands of years ago, when King David wrote Psalm 23, he presented a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd.

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

The shepherd provides all that the sheep need.  The shepherd leads the flock to green pastures, to fresh grass, to comfortable resting places, things that are sometimes difficult to find along the barren hillside.  The shepherd takes the flock to still waters.  Why still water? Because the shepherd knows that if the water is rushing past, it could kill the sheep if the animal slips and its fleece becomes soaked with water, thereby drowning the poor animal .  Calm water, though, provides welcome refreshment to the flock without danger.

Flocks can be very large as the shepherds combine flocks and they then all take care of the sheep combined together.  But, the shepherd can call his sheep and they will come to him, even if they are part of a large combined flock.  Jesus references this in John chapter 10: 

To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. …

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. … 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:3-4, 14-16,27 ESV 

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep and when He calls them by name, they come to Him and He leads them out of the fold.  He is the Good Shepherd and His flock is one united flock, even though it is comprised of sheep from various sheepfolds.  The sheep Jesus saw before Him were the Israelites in the area; but His sheep come, not only from Israel, but from the Gentile nations of the world.  That is what Jesus is talking about when He said “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”

Girl with sheep
Young girl with grazing sheep.

So, are you one of the sheep in Jesus’ flock?  There is a song that is sometimes sung around the campfire by children and youth, but it expresses the desire to know Jesus and to be one of His sheep.

I just want to be a sheep, I just want to be a sheep. 

I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I just want to be a sheep.

Are you a sheep in His fold?

Lord, thank You for being the Good Shepherd, and I praise Your Name for lovingly bringing me into the fold. I thank You that You know my name, and I pray that I would respond and come to You when You call.

IN CELEBRATION OF THE REFORMATION – part two

In the prior post, we noted that this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an event that began when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The debate that arose out of this action culminated in what is now called the Protestant Reformation.

One of the primary teachings of the Reformation is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Good works do not constitute any basis for our right standing before God; rather, our good works are the result of and the witness to our faith in Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-10.

Justification is a legal term referencing God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness  provided through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

In other words, the Reformation’s clarion call is that the just shall live by faith alone, and that faith must be in Christ alone.

Once we are justified, through faith in Christ, we are to live a Christ-centered life in thankfulness for all that He has done for us and for the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.  Paul says we are new creatures when we have yielded our lives to Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17.

Elaborating on this statement, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that we are to:

“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

What would this look like?   Remember the butterfly? 

USED Butterfly close up (C)
At the Butterfly Farm, Cayman Islands

After the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, it not only can fly into the heavens, it must fly to live a healthy, fulfilled life. They must migrate to other locations, ultimately returning to their place of origin.  But we are not talking going around the block; oh no, we are talking long distances!

The flight of the butterflies is the longest known distance insect migration on Earth – and it’s been occurring for thousands of years. Monarchs sense certain topographical features, avoiding both large bodies of water and tall mountains. Instead, they choose cool valley passes between mountains. 

Several migration routes in central southern Canada lead down through the central U.S. Several others start in western North America and merge with central ones. The majority of Monarchs who survive obstacles and predators manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Del Rio, Texas, and then wind their way to a dozen specific high mountain peaks in central Mexico where they roost. After resting there for several months, the same generation returns north to Texas and other parts of the southern United States, where the females lay hundreds of eggs.  …  

Of course the question automatically pops into your head – How does the butterfly know where to go when they migrate such a long distance and end the trip on a mountain top to which they have never been.  Scientists believe that they now have an answer:

[Scientists] felt confident that they could prove that it was a combination of brain signals sent from the Monarch’s complex compound eyes and antennae that allowed them to track the position of the sun and the time of day (“like an internal GPS”) to navigate during their migration.

Monarchs have specialized body parts to help it navigate and migrate long distances. They orient themselves both in longitude and latitude, a unique ability, and can travel up to a mile high.

To conserve energy, Monarchs ride along prevailing winds and catch rising thermal waves, helping them travel great distances in a single day. They hide from the rain and will die if exposed to freezing temperatures and ice storms

[Information from http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/epic-migrations]

Notice that? The butterfly has been given specialized body part to enable it to migrate such long distances.  And, the butterfly is so strong that it can travel hundreds of miles, even going a mile high, but rain or ice will kill it.

Likewise, once we emerge from the stranglehold of sin through faith in Christ, we too have been given equipment to enable us to walk the pilgrim passageway in strength and confidence.  Read Ephesians 6 to identify all the armor available to us.  We are strong in the Lord, but we are not impervious to peril.  Sin can attack and derail our efforts.  We must persevere and keep looking to our Lord as we live in this world. 

Putting off the old sinful self is hard – it takes struggle and dedication to Christ to accomplish it, even for a moment.  But God’s grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggle because it is His plan to renew us in the likeness of His Son, our Lord.

Praise God that 500 years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel so we would learn that salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thank you, Father, for the provision and protection of your Word and for the work of Martin Luther and other saints of the church who suffered greatly for their proclamation that justification is a matter of faith in Christ alone.  And beautiful butterfly, a daily illustration that difficulties are for a time, and that the end result is worth the struggle as we are growing in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

IN CELEBRATION OF THE REFORMATION – part one

Sometimes important dates come and fly past us and we don’t even recognize that they are gone. You know, the anniversary that passes unnoticed until someone (wife?) looks at the calendar!

I dare say that the anniversary of the Reformation is not something that many in our society think about on a day-to-day basis. 

But whether we think about it or not, this year is an important one in the life of the Christian Church.  It is the 500th anniversary of the day in October, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church in the German town of Wittenberg.  This act, so small and seemingly insignificant, lit the fuse that turned into the flame of the Protestant Reformation. And, that flame burns even today, 500 years later.

In thinking about transformation and reformation, one cannot help consider the example of the butterfly.  Its change from a caterpillar into the butterfly, a creature more beautiful and powerful, symbolizes the soul, reincarnation, and resurrection.

Beautiful butterfly
Beautiful butterfly found in Butterfly Farm in the Cayman Islands.

Butterflies are a type of insect.  They belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera, which means “scaly wings”.  The butterfly’s life cycle is made up of four stages, each of which are unique and very different from each other.  This process is called metamorphosis which means “change of form.”  First, the butterfly starts as an egg.  After about a week, the egg hatches and a tiny caterpillar emerges. 

After 2 to 4 weeks, the full-grown caterpillar transforms itself into a chrysalis/ or pupa.  It hangs from a tree or bush, appearing to be doing nothing, but inside the caterpillar’s body becomes the adult structure of the butterfly.  This stage takes 10 to 15 days.

Then, the former caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

Butterfly close up (C)
Butterfly having some strawberry lunch

But that emergence did not come easily … the insect has to struggle inside the cocoon, pushing against the sides before ultimately breaking through into the sunlight.  It is the struggle to emerge that strengthens the insect’s wings so that it will fly. 

In other words, it is in the struggle itself that strength is born!

So, think about your life.  When did you have a trial, a struggle?  Have you seen strength come from the struggle?

The writer of Hebrews talks about struggles during persecution of believers:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.

Hebrews 10:32-33 ESV. 

Then there are the struggles that come from sin:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrews 12:3-4 ESV

In light of what Jesus did for us, we must persevere and not grow weary during our own struggle against sin.  We know that the struggles we have are strengthening us in our Christian life and that we can be strong in the Lord through the Grace that God grants liberally and freely to those who call on His Name.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

2 Corinthians 9:8-9 ESV

Consider the butterfly and the struggle that it had to endure before it could soar over the fields.  Now, thank the Lord for giving you the ability to soar in spirit to your Heavenly Father, now and for all eternity.

Father, thank You for granting us salvation through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  I praise Your Name for putting me under the protection of the Good Shepherd.  Thank You, too, for the struggles that have come which serve to strengthen me and which allow me to grow through Your Grace and Mercy.

 

REFOCUS ON CONTENTMENT

Have you ever given your young child or grandchild a shiny quarter with their eyes open wide at the wonder of the coin in their hands?  Then, when we are a bit older, we receive our first paycheck.  No matter the work, you remember the first time you see a check with your name on it because we are seeing the fruit of your labor.

Something happens as we move on with our life.  Suddenly we realize that we don’t have that same joy over our situation as we did when we were young.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Rather, it is as old as mankind itself.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 ESV. 

Adam and Eve had everything at their disposal, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Seems like they would be contented, doesn’t it? 

Ozark Mountain River
Mountain River in the Ozarks

But then came the serpent who misquoted God when he asked “Did God really say …?“

Ultimately, Eve’s eyes were refocused:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:1-6 ESV.  They became discontented when they looked at the one thing they could not have and desired it so much that they disobeyed their Creator God to get it.  Of course the result of that disobedience was swift punishment – expulsion from the garden accompanied by hard work and labor.

Contentment.  Why was she not content with what she had?  Because she looked at what she did not have instead of what she had.

Yosemite water fall and downsream 2011 (C)
Yosemite National Park waterfall and downstream.

How much happier would we be if we were content with what God has given us rather than comparing our condition with others, specifically with others who we believe are more wealthy, more healthy, more wise, more … whatever, than we are.

Jesus said:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33 ESV

Think about what the Lord endured for you and for me.  Then look at what He has blessed you with … even the hard things and know that nothing can compare with what He went through.  Praise Him for all things, and you will see that your joy has returned and you are contented in a way that was inconceivable before.

Relax, you know that your Savior and your Heavenly Father know you better than you know yourself!  The Holy Spirit will provide that which you need most.  Seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest will fall into place.

USED Asleep on daddy's lap - snickers
Contentment — Snickers is asleep on Daddy’s lap.

Contentment comes when we focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and rest in Him.   

Father, forgive me when I have focused on things that I don’t have or can’t do rather than focusing on You and giving thanks for all the marvelous blessings You shower upon me each moment of every day.  Refocus my attention on You and away from that which would cause discontent and unrest.  Thank You for Your love, grace and mercy.

PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISON IS HARMFUL– part two

This is part two of a revision and repost of an April 2016 post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee and a visit to the Lane Motor Museum.


Indecision – A breeding ground for inaction and for doubts about God’s sovereignty, your salvation, and a host of other questions that Satan will interject so that your devotion to your Lord will be diverted or, perhaps even, diminished!

This firemen’s vehicle from Cogolin, France seems to be the perfect visual representation of indecision!

Used Lane Motor Museum double car inside.jpg
Close up view of the two front ends of the Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

No matter how it got to Nashville, it seems to me to be a classic representation of indecision.

Previously we looked at James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James in Scripture, when he spoke of indecision and its difficulties.  Specifically, He said:

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:5-8.

The King James Version of this scripture uses the term “wavereth” rather than the term “doubting” in verse 6.   Looking up the meaning of this word in Strong’s Lexicon, you find that one definition given for G1252, diakrinō, the Greek word translated “doubting” in the ESV and “wavereth” in the KJV is “to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt”.

Being at variance with yourself seems to be the quintessential description of indecision!

The reality of indecision, however, is not the point. Rather, James is warning that those who are “at variance with” themselves must not suppose that they “will receive anything from the Lord” in answer to her prayers.

The consequence of indecision is that the Lord will not be responsive to the prayer that is subject of doubt.

Of course, we also must remember that prayers must be made in alignment with God’s will for answers to be received. I am confident that Paul did not doubt when he prayed to be relieved from his physical infirmity. But he did not get the relief that he desired.  Rather, God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

The fact is that fervent, unwavering prayer raised to God’s throne does not equate to the instant resolution that we may envision. Pain is real, but grace is overwhelming and eternal. I have learned that when I am weak, then I am strong because it is God working through me, and that makes all the difference!

Don’t be double minded – be single minded. Have your mind focused on the Trinity: on God, on Jesus Christ, and on His Holy Spirit. Look to the Lord’s way for your life and you will be blessed, even through unexpected answers to your prayers.

Father, forgive me, I pray, when I have prayed while doubting that an answer would come. You are sovereign and I desire to yield to Your guidance and authority in all things. Strengthen me in this, I pray.

PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISON IS HARMFUL– part one

This is a revision and repost of an April 2016 post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee and a visit to the Lane Motor Museum.


Have you ever wondered, considered, fretted, worried, and then wondered again about taking some course of action?   What should I do? Where should I go? Should I change jobs or retire? What medical procedure would be the best? What should I order in a restaurant that I won’t be wearing around my hips 5 years from now? (Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, I concede!)

Indecision – this is the breeding ground for inaction and it is breeding ground for doubts about God’s sovereignty, your salvation, and a host of other questions that Satan will interject so that your devotion to your Lord will be diverted or, perhaps even, diminished!

When we stopped at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, we saw a vehicle that seemed to me to be a visual representation of indecision!

USED Lane Motor Museum double car
Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

My first thought when I saw this vehicle was “This is a pushmi-pullyu!!”

Pushmi-Pullyu was a fictional character from The Story of Doctor Dolittle, written by Hugh Loftling in the 1920s.  The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”) was a “gazelle-unicorn cross” which had a head at each end of its body.

Pushmi-Pullyu-Story-of-Doctor-Dolittle

[Image and information about the book was obtained on April 25, 2016, from http://www.bing.com/images and from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Doctor_Dolittle.]

Although the pushmi-pullyu was fictional, the vehicle in front of me at the museum was not!

I am told, although I am no French expert to be sure, that “Sapeurs-Pompiers” is French for firemen.  Cogolin is a small city in south east France in the French region Provence-Alpes-Cot d’Azur. The town has about 11000 people.   So, this vehicle, with its two steering wheels, two front tires, two front windshields … two working front ends was, apparently, at least at one point in time, a fire vehicle for the town of Cogolin, France.

How it came to be at the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee is unknown to me, but I can attest that it was there!  But, its travel to Tennessee is irrelevant; it seems to me to be a classic representation of the “pushmi-pullyu” conflict that is also known as “indecision”.

James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James in Scripture, speaks of indecision and its difficulties.

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:5-8.

Don’t be a pushmi-pullyu!  Don’t be double minded – be single minded. Have your mind focused on the Trinity: on God, on Jesus Christ, and on His Holy Spirit. Look to the Lord’s way for your life and you will be blessed, even through unexpected answers to your prayers.

Father, forgive me, I pray, when I have prayed while doubting that an answer would come. Forgive me when I have simply failed to yield control of my life to You, in all things.  Strengthen me in this, I pray.

 

 

IMITATION – the way of learning the Way

We all know that children learn by imitating their caregivers, whether it be parents, grandparents, day care workers, or anyone else who provides care and input into their lives.  Indeed, they even imitate what they see and hear on television, a sobering thought to be sure!

JDD playing keyboard

When our grandson was young, he would play the keyboard as if he was playing the piano, something he had seen me do.  Then, too, he would imitate his Papa by using the computer in the home-office, keyboarding with the abandon only a young child can muster!

At the office (C)

But, children need to be discriminating in selecting who they imitate. I recall my Mother’s admonition about imitating people “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?”  In short, we must learn who deserves the high honor of our imitation. 

This is as true in our Christian life as it is in our physical life. We are not to imitate someone who preaches something other than the Gospel of Christ as found in Scripture.  The Apostle John warns:

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.

3 John 1:11a ESV

So who are we to imitate?  First and foremost: Jesus. 

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

John 13:14-15 ESV.  Another time Jesus spoke of imitation related to loving each other:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:12 ESV

Even Jesus’ command that the disciples were to love each other was based on imitating how Jesus had loved them.

In addition to Jesus, Paul says this to the believers in Philippi:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Philippians 3:17 ESV. 

Just think, Paul’s life was so controlled by the Spirit of God that he could safely encourage the believers in the churches to imitate himself, further telling them that they should only follow those who live by the example that he set for them. 

In urging prayer for the leaders in the church, the writer of the book of Hebrews says:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7 ESV

Look at the life that the leader is living; look at the witness, at their honesty, at their integrity, at their fidelity to the Word of God.  Look at the entirety of their way of life and then, and only then, imitate their faith.

G. K. Beale said:

Christians are like pilgrims passing through this world.  As such they are to commit themselves to the revelation of God in the new order so as progressively to reflect and imitate his image and increasingly live according to the values of the new world, not being conformed to the fallen system, its idolatrous images, and associated values.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 175.

Some questions to ruminate upon:

  • Are you imitating someone who is guiding and uplifting you in your Christian pilgrimage through this world?
  • Are they deserving of your imitation, and if so, are you praying that they remain strong in their faith and witness to you and to others? Are you encouraging them in their walk with the Lord?
  • What would happen if someone were to imitate you? Would they grow in their understanding of the Christian walk?
  • Can you say, like Paul, “join in imitating me”? If you cannot say this, what do you need to do to realign your life with Scripture so that you can be the witness that deserves to be imitated by those less mature in the faith?

Father, we know that children learn and imitate us even when we are unaware that they are doing so.  I pray that I would be someone whose life would lead children and adults alike into a life with the Lord Jesus and that I would be a consistent witness for Him.

WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THE HEAT?

I came out onto our porch the other day and noticed the candles that had been removed from the dining room table.  I knew it was warm on the porch, with the summer heat way and all, but I did not expect to see what I saw! 

Candles on porch

One was standing tall, as it had done for many weeks earlier, and the other, well it was bent over, so far that its wick was facing the tabletop.

What would cause the difference in the reaction to the heat on the porch?  One seemed to fold under the heat while the seemed to be untouched by it.

I am not a scientist (as my high school science teachers would readily confirm) but I suspect that one was exposed to more light from the outside while the other had more access to the cooler air from the house.  But, my purpose is not to discuss the scientific melting point of wax candles; rather it is to consider why one Christian can be so unnerved by difficulties while another seems to glide through problems without any apparent negative reaction to them.  

In the twentieth chapter of the second book of Chronicles, we read about Jahaziel’s encouragement to Israel before a battle:

And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.’”

2 Chronicles 20:14-15 ESV.  (I encourage you to read the whole chapter.)

Moses told the same thing to the people of Israel:

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. – Exodus 14:13 ESV

candle standing tallDid you see that?  When we are facing the heat from others because of our stand for the Lord, because of our faith in Christ Jesus, because of our unwavering belief in the truth of the Holy Bible, the Lord says that the battle is His, not ours.  This does not mean that we can ignore the fight, and it is not a guarantee that we will have an easy time of it.  Rather, it means that we will not do battle alone.  He will be with us in the fight; He will strengthen us for the battle; He will encourage us; and we can be assured that the outcome is in His control.  We are to trust and not be afraid.  Stand up straight for Him, even when the heat seems unbearable.

Paul in the letter to the Ephesians says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13 ESV. 

After this exhortation, Paul identifies the armor that God has provided to us in His grace:  the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.  Ephesians 6:13-17.

The Christian who can stand tall in the heat of the cosmic battle between God and Satan is the one who relies on the Word of God, who has his armor on, and who trusts God that we are to stand firm in our faith, no matter what.

Candle folded overJesus, in the parable about the soils, describes this person who cannot withstand the heat:

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

Luke 8:13 ESV

The person who tries to fight the battle in his own strength is the one who, when the heat intensifies, succumbs and folds, the light of his witness is gone and he is incapable of doing what he was created to do.

Stand in the strength of God Almighty.  He is totally sovereign and His purposes will prevail.  Our God is the Creator of the universe and He holds all things, including each and every one of His children, in His hands.  This is the God who is telling you to stand firm.  Obey Him — be strong, and just watch and see what God will do for you today.

Father, forgive me when I have been overcome by the heat of struggle and when I have failed to rely on Your strength.  Give me the grace to trust You as difficulties come and enable me to stand tall, with my witness shining bright even through darkness and testing.  Grant me Your power through the indwelling Holy Spirit, through Christ my Lord.

 

SIGNS AND DIRECTIONS

 When we were in England, we saw several “roundabouts” which delineated the proper route to take at, what we in the United States would call, an intersection.

Road signs in England with two roundabouts
Road sign in England showing connected Roundabouts.

It is important to follow the signs, and this one was one of the more clear-cut signs that we encountered. 

Society sets out these signs to dictate to us how to travel, how to negotiate from one place to another, how to get us where we want to go via the safest route available. 

It is clear that the land planners have concluded that it is appropriate for the proper flow of traffic that vehicles on the highway move in one direction on that part of the road, the vehicles exiting where appropriate to continue with their trip.  While some people may find it offensive to have their direction of travel dictated by “the government”, there can be no real opposition to the concept that the direction of travel at that spot on the highway must conform to the roundabout’s directive or there will be serious mishaps with property damage and potential loss of life. 

Steven Wright, the erudite American scientist and humorist described travel in this way:

“When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.”

While this is certainly true on the highway, his statement could also be speaking of a wider application, such as a consideration of whether your positions and opinions are in the mainstream or in opposition to society.

In thinking about the Christian life, I would submit that Mr. Wright’s comment is spot on.  If we are following the crowd, if we are following the dictates of the culture, if we are joining in with society’s standards, values and positions, everything might be coming our way, but we are in the wrong lane – we are not on the road to righteousness, and we are not on the path of a life with Christ that leads to eternal life. 

Rather than following the crowd, the Christian would do well to remember what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In other words, as Christians we must not presuppose that our culture’s standards, ethics, values and morals are those of the Almighty God.  He is above our finite world and His ways are very different than ours. 

Mark Twain expressed this thought:

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Jesus talked about the majority position and its popularity when He said:

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14.

The fact that our ways are not those of God is highlighted by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus provides a glimpse into what God blesses, and illustrates that God’s ways are counter-cultural to be sure.  Here are just a few of the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 5, and I am using the Amplified Bible for this quotation:

Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever] [Luke 6:20-23]. 

Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent], for they shall be comforted [when the burden of sin is lifted]. [Isaiah 61:2]    

Blessed [inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect] are the meek (or humble, gentle) [the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled], for they shall inherit the earth. [Psalm 37:11] 

Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God], for they shall be [completely] satisfied.

Matthew 5:3-6.

So, what direction are you going?  What path are you following? 

Be counter—cultural.  Follow Jesus.  Take the roundabout that leads to the narrow path, and you will be blessed.  Jesus said it, so you can believe it.

Father, help me to follow You as I live in this world.  May my walk reflect Your ways even if that means it runs totally counter to society’s mandate.  May I have the strength and will to follow You, through the power of the Holy Spirit.