TUNING TOGETHER IN UNITY

oboe

We went to the symphony the other evening.  It was an incredible performance, featuring a 29 year old pianist from France.  Both of us were mesmerized by her awesome talent and by the way she and the orchestra mixed and matched each other, with their musical lines intertwining into a beautiful tapestry of sound.

Listen here to “Viam Dei” composed and directed by Jeff Lippencott on the album “Glory to the Holy One”.  

You will notice that each instrument plays a critical part in the overall musical score.  None is wasted.  Some are louder to be sure, but even the little triangle can lend its tone to the beautiful message being created by the entire orchestra.

But, although I have been to a number of concerts over the years and have always seen this happen, what struck me the other evening occurred before the conductor stood on the platform and raised her baton.  It even occurred before the conductor was on the stage. 

As the instrumentalists arrived on stage, they warmed up by practicing various points in the music for the evening, each one running through spots that likely caused problems for them.  The result was a cacophony of sound, not a unified melody or harmonic chord.  The Concert Master, the title for the musician in the position of first chair violin, walked onto the stage and the musicians stopped, silence – no sound from the orchestra. 

oboeThe Concert Master pointed to the oboe player and a clear, pure tone was heard wafting over the instrumentalists.  The various instruments were then tuned to the tone of the oboe.

Whether or not that tone was pitch perfect somewhere else was relatively immaterial (although I suspect it would have been on pitch anywhere, given the skill of our musicians).  The point was, it was to be pitch perfect here, at this point in time, so the musicians tuned their instruments to that pitch and that pitch alone. 

No one said “I’m going to use my pitch!  It’s better!.”  If that had been the case, there would have been discord among the instruments.  All of them needed to be tuned to the same pitch so that the resulting musical presentation would be in harmony.

Later, when a piano was rolled onto the stage for the featured instrumentalist to use for her Concerto, the Concert Master played a note on the piano and the orchestra tuned to that instrument.  After all, it would not do to have the instruments tuned to the oboe if the oboe was not in tune with the piano. 

As I was listening to the musical presentation, which was incredible by the way, I was thinking about how each of the instruments blend together to create the glorious music which we were experiencing. 

orchestra

How like the Church, the Body of Christ.  Scripture teaches us that we are to work together.  We all may have different gifts, talents, interests, abilities – but we are all part of the same Body and our role is important.  Remember the triangle – the percussionist who plays it plays a number of other fascinating instruments in the percussion section and the triangle is by no means the most important one.  But, somewhere deep in the midsection of the piece, there were two measures where the triangle was called for.  He stood and the little triangle was held high, struck the appropriate number of times, and then returned to its hook (or whatever it hangs on) until the next time it was needed.

The instruments that required tuning were all tuned to the same pitch.  In the Body of Christ, each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is to be tuned to the same pitch as well. 

  • Each and every one of us is to look to the Word of God, the Holy Bible, as the message we are to proclaim. We read what Jesus said and what we are to do in the Scriptures, so it is imperative that each of us knows the Bible and that we each study it as our guide for living the life God desires.
  • Each and every one of us is to look to the Holy Spirit for our guidance, for our message, for our strength and for a proper understanding of the Scriptures.

Remember that Jesus said He would send the Spirit to be with us:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:26 ESV

How would my life be changed if I tuned myself each day to the Scriptures?  How would my church be changed if each member tuned themselves each day to that which the Holy Spirit directed them to say and do?  Unity of mind and of purpose is desired and of paramount importance throughout the Scripture.

“A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

Psalm 133:1 ESV

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

1 Peter 3:8 ESV

And in Ephesians 4 Paul writes that believers should walk worthy of the calling to which they have been called. 

How is that walk? 

We are to live with humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, because we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:1-6.

oboe

This week, remember the orchestra and the oboe.  Tune yourself with the Scriptures and walk in faith in the unity and bond of peace with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

 

Father, enable me to tune my heart to the tone of the Holy Spirit so that I will reflect the image of my Lord and Savior.  May my life be fueled by the Holy Spirit and may I walk in Your way, today and each day that You give to me.

BLOCKING YOUR OWN WITNESS

The Shenandoah Valley in the distance, taken at an overlook that was not blocked along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Work with me here – use your powers of mental image creation – use your imagination for a moment! 

Picture yourself going along a scenic highway with trees on each side of the road, wishing that you could see beyond the trees to the vista and you expected would be there.  Now, on your mental roadway you come across a sign that says “Scenic Overlook Ahead”.  Excitement wells up in your heart and you expect to see almost to China … well, not that far given the earth’s curvature, but you and confident you will see a long way?

You round the bend and see the sign with the arrow to the overlook.  You park the car in the conveniently placed space and walk to the overlook, complete with sign that headlines VIEW. 

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Scenic Overlook of Fork Mountain on Blue Ridge Parkway

And you see … the trees and shrubs that line the road.  They have totally blocked the “scenic overlook” so that you can only wonder what you would have seen at this spot, but for the trees!   I have no idea what Fork Mountain looks like, but I am sure it is wonderful since it was worth having a sign created along with a parking area, etc.  It’s too bad that we can’t see it for the trees that have grown up and have blocked the view.

Being the die-hard fans of scenic overlooks, we continued our trek and came to another overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway … it reads “View SHENANDOAH VALLEY”. 

overgrown-scenic-view
Overgrown Scenic Overlook of the Shenandoah Valley, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Because we live in East Tennessee and have traveled this route often, we know intellectually that a view of the Shenandoah Valley is, in fact, on the other side of the trees.  But you could not tell it from the overlook view, that’s for sure.

Just down the road a-piece (that’s East Tennessee for a little distance), there was another overlook and, what to my wondering eyes should appear but … the mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley!

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Mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Parkway.

And then, shortly farther down the road, we saw the valley off in the distance.

shenandoah-valley-from-blue-ridge-parkway
The Shenandoah Valley in the distance, taken at an overlook that was not blocked along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Are we like the Fork Mountain overlook?  Do we have a Christian witness to tell to those we come in contact with but they cannot see our witness for all the mess that surrounds us?

Think about a church congregation on Sunday morning.  It is welcoming at the front door and there is all manner of information available to newcomers, including a nice man and woman extending a warm hand in welcome.  The new family walks in to the sanctuary and finds a place in a pew that, unbeknownst to them, “belongs” to one of the premier families in the church.  All of a sudden, tongues begin to wag about the scene that will develop when Mr. and Mrs. So and So come in and THEIR pew is taken by this visiting family.  The ushers even consider asking the visitors to move, but don’t want to upset anything, especially since Mr. and Mrs. So and So have not yet arrived.

So our visitors sit undisturbed until they overhear some church members talking:

“Did you see how tight her skirt is this morning?  I’m surprised her parents let her go out like that!  Oh, she is in foster care?  Well that is no excuse!  And, did you notice the tongue piercing that boy has? Disgraceful!  And he came to church like that!  Oh, his single mother is in the last stages of cancer?  Do you really think that forgives his unwashed and uncombed hair or his clothes that smell a bit used, shall we say!  Anyone can wash!”

“Ms. MNH told me that Ms. XYZ has been sick for weeks.  She said that the Deacons have not even visited her?  They should be ashamed of themselves, aren’t they supposed to care for people in the church?  No, I didn’t check on Ms. XYZ.  Me?  What?  Oh no, I can’t go to her house, I don’t even know where she lives!  I wouldn’t know what to say.  Besides, that’s what Deacons are for!”

“Look at Mr. ASB in the choir!  Who does he think he is!  I’ve heard him sing in the congregation and he can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  Oh, he has had voice lessons? Well I doubt that they would make any different. I think he wants to be up there to be more visible … doesn’t he have a store in the mall.  I hear it is not doing so well … perhaps he is in the choir so people go to his store!  It certainly isn’t because he can sing!  Hahaha!”

What is the impression that this visiting family would have of our imaginary congregation?  Of the individuals in our imaginary congregation?  Is this that they are honoring their Savior, by backbiting, spreading gossip, belittling other believers?

Taking it out of the imaginary … Do we hide our witness with our sins so that we, in reality, have no witness at all because it has been negated by our actions?  Is the overlook of our life free and clear of debris or is it so cluttered with our sins that people can’t see the love we have for our Lord because of the lack of love we have for our neighbors or for other believers? 

Jesus said:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Let your light shine … don’t let the overlook of your life become so overgrown and cluttered that it obscures your witness for your Lord.

 

Father, I pray that my light is not hidden under a bushel of my own making.  I pray that my light is not blown out by my critical nature and my narrow-minded thinking.  I pray that my witness is not undermined by sins for which I am unrepentant.  I pray that my light beams brightly for Jesus Christ through the darkness of our world.  I pray that my witness is clear and that others will be drawn to Jesus, and that I would not push them away from my Lord by any act or word carelessly spoken. I pray that You would send Your Spirit to enable me to glorify You in all things, through the power of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

A CHRISTIAN LIFE – IS IT SOLITARY OR IN COMMUNITY?

There are times when I wonder if I should be a hermit so I could be quiet and introspective.  Then there are other times that I am glad I am in a community of believers where I am nourished and fed spiritually as well as emotionally and socially.

When we were in Colorado we saw the quintessential example of one who apparently preferred their own company to that of others.

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A beautiful cabin in the high mountain woods!

Here, in the high mountains of Colorado, stands a house with a chasm between the roadway and the front door.  It is not a gentle slope that one could walk down and then up to get to the house. Oh no, it is truly a chasm.  It reminded me of the castle of yesteryear with the moat around it and the gate that came down thereby allowing visitors to enter the castle or, conversely, to keep them out!

There was no gate that opened allowing passage over the chasm at this house – rather it had its own bridge.  Look at the picture carefully and you can see the green bridge from the road to the cabin.

When we returned home, Bill found out that this cabin has a name — Thoreau’s Cabin.  A real estate brochure description of the place says this:

FULLY FURNISHED log cabin located along the national “Alpine Loop Scenic Byway”.  …  Spectacular setting in the rugged San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Dramatic Mountain views in every direction; cabin is surrounded by 13,000 foot mountain peaks. … Cabin is located on five private acres at 11,450 foot elevation in Hinsdale County, Colorado.  Cabin borders the 102,000 acre nationally designated “Uncompahgre Wilderness” area. Henson Creek runs through the property with views of multiple scenic waterfalls.  150 foot long suspension bridge over Henson Creek provides access to cabin via private parking area. 

The brochure (that has more pictures) was accessed February 14, 2017 and can be found online at http://lakecitycoloradorealestate.com/15001-County-Road-20-a153865.html

A disclaimer here — I am not making any comment about the people who live there.  I don’t know them and I don’t even know their name.  I can say that I completely appreciate their selection of the view that they have from their home – it is incredible.  I can also say that I would try to insure that I had enough food to last me through the winter because I would not want to be driving that road with the snow and ice that most certainly would come in buckets! And, finally, I would note that someone would have to carry me across that bridge since I suspect my legs would give out at the first step!

However, in all seriousness, I am looking at this view and thinking about those Christians who assert that it is possible to maintain a strong Christian life without associating with other Christians. They build walls around themselves, excluding others from sharing their Christian walk.  They purposefully set themselves apart from others so that they have no, or very limited, interaction with them.  In so doing, they deprive themselves of the encouragement fellow believers could give them.  They preclude others from giving wise counsel so as to prevent error in their doctrine. They miss out on the celebration of joys that others have, and they miss out on the personal joy that comes from helping others in need.  Most of all, they voluntarily extract themselves from the Body of Christ.

Luke, the writer of the book Acts in the Bible, said:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 2:42 ESV

That is the description of the early church.  And each believer, even in 2017, should follow this pattern.  Meet together with other believers for worship, for teaching, for the fellowship, for communion and for prayer.  Don’t try to go it alone.

Each person’s relationship with Jesus is individual and no one, not even your own parents or spouse, can receive Jesus into your heart nor can they put their Christianity over you like a blanket.  That being said, Christianity is not a solitary lifestyle.  It is a life in unity with Christ and with other believers.

Here is a parable that illustrates this point:

The story is told of the man who did not go to church and who lived alone. 

Although he had attended church in the past, that was a long time ago and he did not see any reason to go now. 

The new pastor came to visit him and the man silently opened the door and gave a mute welcome, gesturing to a chair in front of the blazing fire.  The minister entered and sat down.  Both men rocked in front of the fire without any words being exchanged.

Finally, the pastor took the fireplace tongs and grabbed a blazing coal, taking it out of the center of the fire and putting it on the edge of the fireplace.  Still there was no conversation.

After a time, the coal that had been blazing was nothing but a lump of partly burned wood, no blaze, no heat, just some distasteful smoke arose wafting toward the ceiling. 

Silently, the two men looked at the coal for a few moments when the pastor took the tongs and replaced the coal into the fire.  Within moments the coal, that seemed to be dead, was blazing and providing heat and light to the room.

The pastor stood up and, rising slowly, the old man stood:  “I’ll be in church on Sunday morning, Parson.”

A coal cannot continue burning when taken out of the fire. 

The Christian cannot grow in a holy life without corporate worship, prayer and fellowship with other believers.

I pray that you are in communion with other Christians often, that you pray for them and support them with encouragement, assistance and love.  Enjoy peace and quiet but don’t forgo Christian relationships as you study, sing, worship and pray together.

Blessings to you, this day. 

Father, thank You for giving us the Church, the Body of Christ, so that we can worship You and we can grow in our faith, in our understanding of Your Word, and in our transformation into the likeness of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

ARE YOU YOKED?

yoke

 

Although Jesus is not here physically right now to teach us, we are not left to wonder what He said while on this planet.  We have His words recorded in Scripture.  One of His commands is found in Matthew 11:29: 

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””

Matthew 11:29-30 ESV

We in the modernized world are not necessarily familiar with a yoke or being yoked together.  The yoke was the symbol of hard work. Yokes were used to control working animals, and sometimes they were put on the necks of slaves or prisoners.  A yoke could be made for one animal pulling a plow or threshing board alone, but it was often made to link two animals together as they worked.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a yoke as a crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of oxen, mules, or other draft animals working in a team.

yoke

 

You will recall that, prior to His ministry, Jesus was raised with, and presumably worked alongside, His step-father Joseph who, being a good Jewish parent, would have been responsible for teaching his son a trade.  While Scripture does not say that Joseph was a carpenter, we can presume that this was what Joseph did since Scripture says that Jesus did this type work. See Mark 6:3 [ESV] where we read:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? 

Furthermore, it does not stretch the imagination to think that Joseph, and likewise Jesus, made yokes to be used on the animals in the area.  They would most certainly have been familiar with the needs of the farmers and would have taken care to make the yoke strong while at the same time making it smooth so that it would not hurt or injure the animal that was going to be lashed to it.     

When the farmer wanted to train a young ox to pull a plow, he did not put the young animal in a single yoke attached to the plow.  The animal would not know where to go and it would not understand the direction of the farmer.  Nor would he put two untrained animals in the same yoke – they likely would be unmanageable and the field might be ruined. 

Rather, the farmer would yoke the young ox together with an old, experienced ox. The older ox would have had long experience serving the farmer and he would know the voice of his master, obeying the directives being given.  The young ox could feel the authority of the older animal through the yoke that bound them together, and the young ox could, thereby, also learn to obey the commands of the master.

Because He knows His children, He has made the yoke to be the exact size and strength that will be needed for each of us; no man’s yoke is too hurtful or punishing.  And, Jesus is further saying that He is yoked together with us.  He is able to teach us through the yoke.  We cannot go anywhere without Him.  He guides us because we are together with Him.  He prevents us from going astray by nudging us back into the right way.  And, He is ready to keep us from falling because He is yoked to us and His strength will carry us when we cannot do so on our own. 

The believer is working in tandem with Christ in service to our Father, and this is something that only happens in a life of faith.  Being yoked with Christ means being a disciple of Christ and having the mind of obedience that He had. 

The obedient life does not equate to lying on a bed of roses.  No “prosperity gospel” here! Rather, the life to which you are called as a disciple yoked to Jesus may mean missions in a far country; it may mean reaching out to the neighbor beside you.  It may require you to take steps of mercy toward someone who has hurt you in the past, or it may mean an illness, loneliness or some other hard situation to endure. 

When your yoke is difficult, remember Jesus endured humiliation, torture and death on the cross.  He experienced unimaginable horrors not because He deserved them but because we deserved them.  He felt the pain of sin and rejection by God because that is what we would have experienced if it were not for His sacrifice.  But that is not the end of the story, praise the Lord!

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. … But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 ESV

Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and lives, today, in Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Because He lives, we too shall live.  He is the Victor over death and hell.  He has endured so that He could save His people.  This is the One who is yoked with you.  He is able to do all that we need to bring us to God as His children

We often try to serve God in our own strength by doing things our way. On our own we don’t know how to do God’s work.  Rather, we need to learn God’s ways somehow and we can do so by being yoked together with His Son, Jesus Christ.  He will teach us what it means to obey our Master through the direction that the yoke can give to us.  

When we obey Him, the yoke will be easy and the load light.  Then, our soul will be able to rest even while we work for God.

Father, when I try to run off on my own to do what I think is “your work”, please let me feel the pull of the yoke of Jesus Christ to bring me back to Your will.  Enable me to serve You in the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and in accordance with Your direction and Your will.

LEARNING – A LIFE-LONG ACTIVITY

glouster-mass-mariner-58

School has been out four days this week due to illness.  So many teachers and students were ill with the flu/respiratory difficulties that the county school system was simply shut down. 

Although not wanting his friends to be sick, one of our grandsons remarked that it was a good day because the schools were closed.  We talked about that concept and he (being on the cusp of his 11th birthday) said he didn’t really like school.  Being the “older generation,” we responded that school was important for many reasons and that learning continued all through your life.

Learning — in our culture, we tend to think of learning as being confined to a strict educational setting such as a primary school for children.  

2011-04-england-031-watchfield-primary-school
Watchfield Primary School in England.  This is the school our grandchildren attended while living in England.

Some of us consider institutions of higher learning as the place where real education takes place.  While education and learning certainly does occur in colleges and universities, this is not the only place learning can take place. 

At the time of Jesus’ ministry, His disciples did not sit in classrooms to hear what Jesus was going to teach.  They walked the streets and hills with Him and listened as He talked along the way. They sat on the hillside when Jesus taught the thousands of people following Him.  They ate meals with Him and, after spending time in Zacchaeus’ house with Jesus, they heard Zacchaeus respond to Him by saying:

“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Luke 19:8 ESV

 They had, what we could certainly call, “hands on” learning.   Jesus said that He would make them “fishers of men.” 

I am not a fisher[wo]man and my Dad was not a fisherman.  In fact I only started eating fish, already cleaned, filleted, prepared and cooked, as an adult.  So, it was with interest that I visited Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishing is a thriving industry.  In 1925, the town erected this moving, and emotionally charged, monument at the harbor to honor those lost at sea. 

glouster-mass-mariner-58
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, Gloucester, Massachusetts

According to the National Park Service, The Mariner was created to “commemorate Gloucester’s 300th anniversary and to permanently memorialize the thousands of fishermen lost at sea in the first three centuries of Gloucester’s history. In 1879 alone, 249 fishermen and 29 vessels were lost during a terrible storm.”

A plaque on one side of the base reads, “Memorial To The Gloucester Fisherman, August 23, 1923”. A larger panel on the harbor-facing side of the base reads: “They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships 1623-1923”, in bronze letters, citing Psalm 107:23.

Fishing is still a part of Gloucester’s life.  For example, we saw fishermen mending their nets, an activity with which the early disciples would have been intimately familiar inasmuch as they too were fishermen.  Just watching this activity reminded us of the disciples Jesus called to walk with Him.

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Fishermen mending nets in Gloucester, Massachusetts

 “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.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Matthew 4:18-22 ESV

Fishing – it was their business, their trade, and it was what Jesus used to illustrate how He would use them in His kingdom.  He would make them “fishers of men.” 

They learned Jesus’ teachings, His way of life, His relationship with God, His desires for them to be witnesses to others, and much more. 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8 ESV

Jesus put the learning issue front and center when He said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:29 ESV

How do we learn from Jesus today?  He is not here to personally instruct us in what He wants us to do or say on a day-to-day basis.  So, how do we know what we are to do in His service?

Scripture tells us exactly what He wants from His disciples.  

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15 ESV

We are to keep His commandments, and they are found in Scripture.  Matthew 5 begins with the verses we call The Beatitudes – verses that describe the blessings in the kingdom of heaven.  This chapter continues with numerous verses that set out a portion of Jesus’ teaching on how we are to live.  Verses such as:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16 ESV

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22 ESV

If you want to know how you are to live as a disciple of Jesus, read His Word, the Holy Bible and you will find your answer.  The primary commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  Deuteronomy 6:5 and Luke 10:27.  But there are many other commandments that relate to how we are to live and fulfill the primary commandment above.

Learning – we learn in many ways.  I pray that you and I would focus our desires to learn that which pleases our Lord and may we actively take steps to learn His commands so that we can obey His words and please him in our life, actions, words and thoughts.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to seek You and learn of Your ways through Your Holy Word.  Holy Spirit, I pray that You would enlighten my heart so that I can understand and follow my Lord’s commands always.

THE FEAR OF GOD

Yosemite National Park, waterfall and river.

When we were in England, we visited a number of cathedrals and were amazed at the exquisite details in the construction and decoration of each of them.

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Bath Cathedral, Bath, England

The exteriors of the cathedrals had a focal point, upward to the sky as if the very building was praising God in prayer and thanksgiving.

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Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

 

Even the walls of the cathedrals evidenced exquisite workmanship and beautiful detail.

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Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Carved woodwork adorning the walls of the Cathedral.

 

The church in Canterbury was established when Saint Augustine was sent as a missionary in 597 A.D.  In the town of Canterbury, there has been daily worship of God for over 1,400 years.  Just think about that for a moment! 

The original cathedral was rebuilt completely by the Normans in 1070 following a major fire. Although there have been many additions to the building over the last nine hundred years, parts of the Quire or Choir, which is the area between the nave and sanctuary in a cathedral, and some of the windows and their stained glass date from the 12th century.

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Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Stained glass windows. They were removed and sequestered for safety during World War II and reinstalled when the war ended.

See the Canterbury Cathedral’s website for more detailed information on this glorious church.  https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/history/cathedral-history-in-a-nutshell/

We came to the entrance of the cathedral property and walked through this gate.  At first I thought this was the church … then I realized it was “just” the gate to the property.  Even this aspect of the cathedral was designed and constructed with an emphasis on the heavens.

canterbury-the-archway-into-the-church-property
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Arched gate into the Cathedral property.

 

Why go to all this trouble in creating such glorious buildings in which to worship God?  Why do all this incredible craftsmanship during a period of time when people were living in far less sturdy structures?  Why do this at all?

I suggest that these folks had a right understanding of the “fear of the Lord”. 

Scripture has much to say about learning and fearing God.   See for example the following passages in the Old Testament:

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,…”

Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Psalm 111:10 ESV

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

So, what does it mean to fear God?  One definition of “fear” is, of course, to be afraid, to be in terror when we face God.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.  He is just and we are unjust.  This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.  The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge.  We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us.  We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified.  Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147

The justified person, the believer in Jesus Christ, is not afraid of God, rather God is his Father and fear is washed away.  Paul wrote this to his spiritual son, Timothy:

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

But we are still admonished to “fear the Lord”, so if we are justified by Christ, what does it mean?

“Fear” when used in this context references our actions of “reverence” and “worship”.  We are to “be in awe of” Him and we are to “honor” Him.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 1:7 ESV

The note on Proverbs 1:7 in the Reformation Study Bible says, in part:

The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge.  This fear is not distrustful terror of God but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as the Creator, the Savior and the Judge.   

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the majesty of His creation?

yosemite-2011-wrm-126-waterfalls-and-river-c
Yosemite National Park, waterfall and river.

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the detail of the small baby, a child created in the image of God?

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One month old baby girl.

Has your spirit ever soared when entering a place of worship as you anticipate spending time with your Savior and God in worship?

canterbury-cathedral-view-of-the-altar-area
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Interior of Cathedral looking at the altar area of the church.

Have you considered our Savior God who sent His only Son to die for your sins?  Have you thanked Him today, even this moment, for such love, grace and mercy?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten this precept.  We have instead turned to human philosophy and social engineers.  We have created a generation of children who have turned to Hollywood or the Internet for their heroes and role models.  The fantasy world of television and movies, with computer generated special effects, has become the reality that our youth crave.  Young and old alike seek thrills and/or escape by turning to drugs and alcohol.   We kill children without batting an eye, while we worry about the spotted owl or the snail darter fish.  

Scripture does not change – its teachings are true and they are timeless.  Thousands of years ago, God stated that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.   It was true then, and it is true today. 

I believe that those building the cathedrals were honoring God and creating a place of worship that was a physical representation of the glory and magnificence due Him in worship. 

Note that I am not saying that all churches need to be this elaborate.  Nor am I ignoring the role that the Popes or other “leaders” likely played in desiring a place of magnificence for his own benefit. 

What I am saying is that we, even in our “modern” age, need to have a holy fear of our God.  It is a heart issue, not an architectural one.  We should give God the reverence, awe and honor to which He is due.  In short, He is not the “Big Guy in the Sky”.  He is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior … He is our Father and our God.

 

Father, forgive me when I have not given You the reverence that You deserve.  Let my heart sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” throughout the day and let my praise to You be last on my lips as sleep overcomes me.  May I love You and glorify You in all things.

MAINTAIN A GOOD NAME

The community known as Flin Flon in Manitoba, Canada, as seen in 1976.

In the summer of 1976 my parents visited Manitoba, Canada and took a number of pictures of fascinating things and places.  One picture that really tickled my fancy was that of Josiah Flintabbatey Flontain, (Flinty for short) a fictional character for whom the town of Flin Flon was named.  

flintabbatey-flonatin-monument-in-manitoba
The image of Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin graces the community in a monument to the town’s founder..

According to an “official” website, the town began with a prospector’s claim and a dime store novel.  Flinty, was the hero of a science fiction novel that was found in the wilderness by gold prospectors in the early 1900s.  When the prospectors found gold in 1914, they remembered the story of Flinty and called their claim Flin Flon. 

flin-flon-manitoba-canada
The community known as Flin Flon in Manitoba, Canada, as seen in 1976.

The name stuck, and Flin Flon became one of Manitoba’s largest cities. See the town’s website for more information on this unique community to our North.  See http://www.cityofflinflon.ca/tourist-bureau-park-campground-museum 

The name of Flin Flon had its genesis in a fictional character who was much beloved by the people in the area and they were willing to be known by his name.  Names are important.  They say something about who we are.  Names identify us and distinguish us from other people.  (Remember when you first learned of someone else who had “your” first name?  Takes some getting used to when you are a young child!) 

While Flinty was a fictional character, another One whose name we follow was not fictional.  Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and resurrected from the grave.  All this is written in the Holy Bible and is fact, not fiction.  He ascended into heaven where He lives to intercede on behalf of those who claim His name in faith and who have received the gift of salvation. Also fact, not fiction.

The Greek word for Christ is Christos meaning “anointed”, and “The Christ” was the anointed one of God, the Messiah, and the Son of God.  It follows from this that a believer in Jesus Christ would be called Christianos or a “follower of Christ”.  And that is exactly what the first believers were called as noted in the book of Acts:

… And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”

Acts 11:26 ESV

 

They learned Jesus’ teachings, His way of life, His relationship with God, His desires for them to be witnesses to others, and much more.  Jesus is not physically here right now to teach us, but we are not left to wonder what a His disciple should do.  He expressed what discipleship was on many occasions, but in Matthew it is stated as follows:

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. …”  

Matthew 10:24-25 ESV

We as believers carry Christ’s name.  As Christians, we are to be like Him. But, we cannot be like Him if we don’t learn of Him by studying His Word, by worshiping with other believers, by praying and by listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who indwells us and who is charged with the job of growing us into the likeness of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. 

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Romans 8:29 ESV  

Your name is much more than just the moniker that you use to sign checks or the letters you print on the Welcome name tag at a conference.  When someone says “Look, there is [your name]”, they are not speaking of your signature – they are speaking of you and all the aspects of you that they know.  Your name encompasses your life activities, your behavior, your words, your demeanor, your personality, your character and your witness.

That is why, in Proverbs 22:1, we read:

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

The application to believers in Christ is clear.  Your name should be honorable, your conduct should be gracious and there should be none of the debauchery that is so prevalent in today’s fallen, godless world.  A Christian must never rank the approval of man over the truth of God and His Word.

Your name, your personal choice to honor God and live for Him, may be the witness that will be used by the Holy Spirit to draw people to God and His life-giving hope.

Choose a good name above all else – be a Christian disciple, learner, pupil of our Lord and seek Him all your days.  You will be blessed both now and in eternity.

 

Lord, help me to see You in all things.  Where there is anxiety, let me put my head on Your breast and let me hear Your heart of love reminding me that You are in control even when my world is falling apart.  Where there is fear, let me put my hands in Yours and so I can see the scars from the nails where You sacrificed Your life in payment of my sins.  Holy Spirit, guide my steps and my words so that I can be an effective witness for my Lord and Savior.

 

 

PLAN AND GO – OR GO WITH THE FLOW?

I find it interesting when I talk to people about vacations.  Some folks just “go with the flow.”   No need to plan where they are going to stop, “there will be a place somewhere!”   No need to get tickets ahead of time, “there will be a seat available!” 

Others plan every hour and second of their time away from home.  They have hotel and restaurant reservations.  They have tickets, in hand, for various events they want to see or in which they want to participate.  And, they have maps galore including the most up-to-date GPS program available.  

I suspect that most people are a combination of these two extremes, but I am mostly a “planner” while my husband is more of a “go with the flow” guy.  It makes for some interesting times. 

taylor-mcgee-campbell-wisconsin-dormatory
Taylor University, Upland, Indiana — picture of McGee-Campbell-Wisconsin, my dormitory when I was a student in the late 1960s. It had been demolished by the time our daughter graduated from the University in 2000. 

We had two children in college at the same time.  They both were in out-of-state schools, each about 7 hours away from our home but in opposite directions!  This did not create too much of a problem until the year when Parents’ Weekend was held on the same date for both schools.  Normally we do things together, but given the circumstances, I went to our daughter’s school and my husband went to our son’s school.   

vmi-jackson-hall-1996
Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, picture taken in 1998 of Jackson Hall (the dormitory) when our son was a cadet there.

Since we were going in opposite directions, leaving at different times, it never occurred to me to make my husband’s hotel reservations.  He made his own plans when he traveled for work so I didn’t think twice about his plans for this trip, especially since he was going to an area not far from his birthplace. 

I planned my trip and even arranged for an Aunt to meet me in the small Indiana college town as a surprise for our daughter.  I had started loading the car with things that she wanted for her dorm room when my husband asked: “Where am I staying tonight?”    I responded: “I don’t know; where did you make your reservations?”  

The blank look on his face was all the answer I needed.  No reservations.  “Well,” he said, “there are loads of rooms in the area.”  So I headed for Indiana and he headed for Virginia.  He knew the area well, in fact it had been his sales territory for a number of years, so I was not concerned about his ability to find lodging. 

What neither of us knew was that all of the gazillion schools in northern Virginia had Parents’ Weekend at the same time.   What he also did not know, but soon found out, was that no rooms were available in any of the hotels/motels near the VMI campus.

I, on the other hand, was safely booked into my hotel when I tried calling him on his cell phone.  At that point in the day, he told me about all the Parents’ Weekend activities and mentioned that he did not yet have a room.  He was confident that it would be easy to find one; he just had “not really looked”.

Later, he called to tell me that he found lodging – an hour away from the college and in the direction of our home.  He was not in a regular room but in the hotel’s conference room.  I then had a mental picture of a long table with all the chairs pushed in forming a fence with his sleeping form stretched out between the chairs, a book for his pillow. Rather like the Biblical Patriarch Jacob, I thought!   

conference-room-table

While he let me have that delusion for a while, later in the conversation he told me that the room had a sleeper sofa.  There went the Jacob analogy!

Praise the Lord that He is sovereign.  In our arrogance and sin, we think that we have our life all worked out, but we must remember that our life is always under His control, whether we plan and schedule or relax about the details.  Job learned this millennia ago when he said:

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” 

Job 42:1-2

Moving into the New Testament, when Pilate said that he had the power to either free or crucify Jesus, Jesus corrected him:

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” 

John 19:10-11. 

In Proverbs 19:21 the writer says:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.”  

I have to confess that my planning down to the infinite detail is something of which I must repent since it falls in the category of prideful sin.  You know, something along these lines: “I’ve got this, Lord.  You can take care of more important things!” 

I further suspect that Bill’s relaxed attitude is much more like that which our Lord desires.  Rest in His arms and let Him handle the details.  I’m basing this on the teachings in Matthew chapter 6, a chapter which I commend to your reading.

In it, Jesus talked about anxiety and told His disciples, and us, not to worry about our life or what we are going to eat or wear.  God knows what we need and He will work His will through us.  At the end of the chapter, He says:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:33-34 ESV 

Yeah, I believe that this supports my husband’s relaxed attitude about planning, and it is something that I have to cultivate in my own life on a daily basis.

Ultimately, both of us had marvelous times with the children on our respective Parents’ Weekends.   Even when things seem to be hectic, helter-skelter, and going awry, God has even the tiniest details in His hands.  What an incredible, caring and omniscient God we serve.  What a glorious blessing it is to call Him “Father” through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Thank You, Father, for guiding us through the hurdles that we encounter in this world.  Thank You for loving us and sending Your Son to be our Savior.  Thank You for blessing us with Your Spirit as He teaches and encourages us along the way.  Thank You that Your purpose always prevails, even when things seem out of control to our limited way of thinking! 

 

GOOD AND BAD TOGETHER?

Firemen's vehicle, Cogolin, France.

We found this interesting vehicle on display when we visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.  See the post PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISION IS HARMFUL! that was posted April 26, 2016 for more information about our visit to the Museum and this interesting vehicle.

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

At first glance, I thought it was interesting that it seemed to have front headlights on the back end as well as at the front.  Upon a more focused look at the vehicle, I realized that it was two front halves put together.

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

Fairly odd looking, I have to say.  Obviously, this would be impossible to drive if both “front ends” were engaged at the same time.  Yet, on a spiritual basis, this is what we do all the time in connection with the irreconcilable contrast between “good and evil”.

We affirmatively state that God is good.  Indeed, we know that goodness is one of God’s attributes. 

“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 ESV

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!.”

Zechariah 9:17 ESV

The Apostle Paul even notes that goodness is part of the fruit of the Spirit which we are to grow in our own hearts and minds as we allow Him to transform us into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

Galatians 5:22 ESV

The reality for us, however, is that goodness is not what we see on a daily basis in either ourselves or our world.  Rather than goodness, we see evil, selfishness, pride, injustice, violence, hatred, and hurt.  In short, we see sin, disobedience to God’s Word, in both our own life and in the life of our community and the world.

It is the height of arrogance to think that mankind is good.  A review of the daily headlines shows that this is not the case.   That same arrogance produces the thought that we are good at any time … even our best “good deeds” are described in Scripture as “filthy rags”.   Isaiah 64:6 [KJV].

Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign.  It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.  Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo?  What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God.  We are saying “God, Your law is not good.  My judgment is better than Yours.  Your authority does not apply to me.  I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction.  I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” 

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116 (Emphasis is mine)

So, we know that we are not good and that sin and evil abounds in and around us.  But we then argue that if God is good, it would appear that God is not watching, He doesn’t care, or He is incapable of helping us in a world that is so full of evil.  While some feel this way, I suggest that the opposite is true.  Turning to Dr. Sproul’s comments again, he says:

… He [God] is so slow to anger that when His anger does erupt, we are shocked and offended by it.  We forget rather quickly that God’s patience is designed to lead us to repentance, to give us time to be redeemed.  Instead of taking advantage of this patience by coming humbly to Him for forgiveness, we use this grace as an opportunity to become more bold in our sin.  We delude ourselves into thinking that either God doesn’t care about it, or that He is powerless to punish us.  … The supreme folly is that we think we will get away with our revolt.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 117 (Emphasis is mine)

When it appears that God is not working in our world, the reality is that He is waiting.  He is exercising His patience.  He is allowing evil to continue because there are those who have not yet recognized the Spirit’s conviction of sin and who have not yet received the gift of salvation through faith in Christ alone. 

Can evil/sin exist with good/holiness?  The answer to this inquiry is an emphatic “no!”   Sinful mankind cannot appear before the Holy God who is the essence of goodness.  But through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sin and washed in the righteousness of His Son. 

christ-of-the-ozarks-missouri-1968-3
Christ of the Ozarks, Missouri, USA (circa 1965)

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 ESV

If God were to wipe out all evil, those who have not yet received Jesus Christ as their Savior would be lost forever.  Thus, God waits patiently until all His children have come to Him.  .  Paul says in Romans:

“Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4 ESV

For a time, it may appear that people are successful in their revolt against God and His Anointed One.  For a time, it may appear that evil has won the battle and that God is helpless to give aid or comfort to His people. 

Beloved, this is a delusion, a fiction of the highest magnitude.

When God slams down His gavel in judgment of all mankind, there will be no time then for people to confess their sin and to receive the gift of salvation.  The time of God’s mercy will be over.  His patient waiting will be completed.  At that point it will be the time of judgment. 

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

1 John 3:7-8 ESV

Don’t be double minded.  Goodness and evil/righteousness and sin/light and dark cannot coexist.   Look to Jesus Christ, confess your sin, receive His righteousness and live then in goodness and light, through His power alone.

Father, cleanse my heart from its sin and double-mindedness.  Enable me, through Your Spirit, to live my life in dedication to You and to Your will.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, my God and my Redeemer.