LOUD VS. STILL

It seems that in our modern culture, there is an emphasis on volume.  Music is no longer melodic and soothing (I’m old school, sure enough), but rather it is ear-splitting loud with lyrics that are almost unintelligible to the listener.   Even country music has transformed from the acoustic guitar to electronics along with bands and a variety of drums. 

Sounds, loud sounds, are found in nature as this world was created by our Almighty God.  Indeed, Scripture frequently references God using thunder to get his message across, and anyone who has been in a thunderstorm, with the cloud above their house, knows the fierce sound and shaking that occurs with thunder.   Consider these verses:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

Exodus 9:23

And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 19:19

David, a man who tended sheep and was a warrior, who was outside and saw the handiwork of God often, said this:

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Psalm 77:17-18

We understand thunder and loud crashes and sometimes it terrifies us.  But there is a flip side to God’s loud creation, and that is Silence.

Currently, we are in the midst of a show shower.  Likely, it won’t amount to much accumulation, but it is positively beautiful to watch as it falls from the sky and covers the ground. 

Snowy tranquility (C)
Snowy tranquility in the backyard.

This blessing, in the form of small white flakes, comes, not with blasting thunder, but in silent beauty descending from the sky.

Snowy branches
Snowy branches up close and personal

In First Kings, we have the record of God speaking with Elijah who had just confronted King Ahab and Jezebel.  God understood that Elijah was exhausted and deflated from his work, and God came to him.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV

God came to Elijah in a still, small voice.  Oh yes, God can shout louder than our ears could withstand, but He comes to His servants, often, in a still small voice.  A voice which we will miss if we only pay attention to the cacophony of sound constantly around us.  We must retreat and be quiet, be still!

God has even directed His people to be silent before Him.  In Exodus, Moses told the people to be silent and watch as God brought about their salvation from the Egyptians.

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.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:13-14

David understood this concept of being still before God.  In Psalm 46:10, God tells him:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Be still – know that God is with you.  Be still – know that God loves you.  Be still  — know that God will fight for you.  Be still – hear His still small voice in your heart, mind and soul. 

The command to “be still” is not the same as “do nothing.”  The command does not mean that we sit down in a comfy chair and just relax while God does everything.  He is not your manservant nor is He going to do that which He has called you to do. 

Remember, God’s Son, Jesus, left heaven and His eternal relationship with the Father to come to earth and do that which we could not do, save us from our sin.  Jesus did not come to earth, do some miracles and then just rest on his laurels … “I healed the leper so I don’t have to do anything else today!”  No, He was busy doing God’s will, all of it, every day and every moment.  Even when He was a youth, He went into the temple “to do His Father’s business.”  Luke 2:49.

Beloved, let the beauty of falling snow remind you that there is beauty in silence.  Be silent before the Lord and let Him fill you with His voice and His love, with His direction and His grace.  Be silent and know that He is God.

Father, I too often run around “doing good things for You” and forget that I need to send time listening to You, hearing Your still small voice.  Forgive me when I don’t block out the loud sounds of materialism, commercialism, greed, consumerism, violence, entertainment media seeking my attention, distractions from the cell phone … everything that takes the place of listening to Your voice.  Calm my heart and help me hear You.

WHY SHOULD WE PRAISE GOD?

Bald eagle, Moores' pix cropped

When we were in Alaska, we had occasion to see eagles soaring high overhead and one of them was flying along the river, likely anticipating the taste of the duck that we saw flying just ahead of it.   The eagle was beautiful, sleek and fast.  Its talons were strong and its beak was sharp.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Our traveling companions snapped this picture of a bald eagle while they were on an excursion along the glaciers.

Eagles are referenced in the Holy Bible for various reasons.  One is as a warning for disobedience.  See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:49:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand,  …

The picture is clear.  If the people are disobedient to the commands of God, a nation will come against the disobedient Israelites bringing swift destruction.

Like an eagle!

But, Deuteronomy not only warns us by using an eagle as an illustration, the book also tells of God’s love for is people, again using the eagle as an illustration. 

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12  

Of this passage, Matthew Henry makes the following comments:

The eagle is observed to have a strong affection for her young, and to show it, not only as other creatures by protecting them and making provision for them, but by educating them and teaching them to fly. For this purpose she stirs them out of the nest where they lie dozing, flutters over them, to show them how they must use their wings, and then accustoms them to fly upon her wings till they have learnt to fly upon their own. This, by the way, is an example to parents to train up their children to business, and not to indulge them in idleness and the love of ease. God did thus by Israel; when they were in love with their slavery, and loth to leave it, God, by Moses, stirred them up to aspire after liberty, and many a time kept them from returning to the house of bondage. He carried them out of Egypt, led them into the wilderness, and now at length had led them through it.  The Lord alone did lead him. God needed not any assistance, nor did he take any to be partner with him in the achievement, which was a good reason why they should serve the Lord only and no other, so much as in partnership, much less in rivalship with him. There was no strange god with him to contribute to Israel’s salvation, and therefore there should be none to share in Israel’s homage and adoration, Ps. 81:9.

The eagle teaches her young to arise and to be industrious.  She teaches them to fly, at times carrying them on her own wings until they can do it on their own.  God worked alone in accomplishing Israel’s release from bondage and, thus, God is to be praised and worshiped.  There is no other god beside Him.

In Psalm 103, David is praising God for the numerous benefits given to His People.  I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here are the first five verses:

1 Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The theme of the psalm is our blessing of the Lord.  Blessing, here, refers to one who kneels or gives humble adoration – it is absolute praise of the one who is to be blessed.

David knows that we would forget to bless the Lord given our natural tendencies.  It is for this reason that he exhorts us to bless the Lord with all that is within us … all that we are, our thoughts, words, actions, feelings, desires … all that is within us should praise the Lord. 

He then goes on to remind us that the reason we should be compelled to bless the Lord is the remembrance of all the benefits that come with following our Lord. 

            Forgiveness of our sins

            Healing of our diseases, both of mind and body

            Redemption from hell

            Crowns us with steadfast love and mercy

            Satisfies us with good

            Renews our youth like the eagle’s

That last one, renewing our youth like the eagle’s, threw me for a loop.  What does that mean?  So, I consulted Matthew Henry, again.

The eagle is long-lived, and, as naturalists say, when she is nearly 100 years old, casts all her feathers (as indeed she changes them in a great measure every year at moulting time) and fresh ones come, so that she becomes young again.  When God, by the graces and comforts of His Spirit, recovers His people from their decays, and fills them with new life and joy, which is to them an earnest of eternal life and joy, then they may be said to return to the days of their youth.  Job 33:25.

Matthew Henry was born in 1662 and died in 1714.  I don’t know how long eagles would live in our day, and it may not be the 100 years that he referenced.  But, the explanation of molting I do understand.   And, I also understand the new life and joy that comes to the believer when God, by His grace and mercy, because of their faith in Christ alone, adopts them into His family. 

Why should we bless the Lord?   The reasons as too numerous to count.  They are as the grains of sand on the seashore, or as the number of stars in the heavens.

Pick your reason to praise the Lord for today! 

Then, praise Him frequently throughout the day.  Don’t skimp … praise when you feel joyful, and when you are grumpy!  Praise Him when things go well, and when they are not so hot!  Praise Him when you want to, and even when you don’t. 

Father, I praise You for the gift of life and I praise You for your loving kindness, patience, mercy and grace extended to me each day, moment-by-moment.

DAILY PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING

The Holy Spirit has been impressing upon me the privilege of praising the Lord and giving thanks to the Father, not just when something good (in our way of thinking) happens, but regularly, multiple times per day.  It has been said that gratitude should be our modus operandi. 

When we went to the western United States, we found ourselves praising God multiple times per day as we saw His beautiful creation spread out before us.

USED Half dome (C)
Yosemite National Park

The natural beauty of Yosemite National Park prompted us to praise Him and give thanks to Him for the glory of His creation.  Half-Dome standing like a sentry over the mountains and valleys reminded us of the Lord’s watchfulness over His people, and of His omnipotence.  The sure and certain knowledge that He is in control and His purposes will not be thwarted by anything that man can conjure up!

Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska
Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska

The Landscape Rainbow that became visible as we were driving to Seward, Alaska reminded us of God’s unfailing promises. We saw this rainbow the day after I had surgery to repair my broken ankle, a sure-fire way to cut vacation travel short!  But the Lord was with us even in those difficult days thousands of miles from home, when He sent numerous people to minister to us, helping us get through the trial of no place to stay, of surgery, etc.   His people surrounded us, even in the hospital corridor.  The rainbow was a visual reminder that He had not lost track of us, and He would not do so, ever!  And, in response, we uttered a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Him for sending this beautiful reminder of His presence.

Praise and thanksgiving should be ever present in the life of a Christian, even when things are not what we expected, when they are difficult and painful, when they are overwhelming and frustrating.  Praise and thanksgiving are appropriate at all these times because God is teaching us to be more like His Son, our Lord and Savior.

Paul said:

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

The writer of Hebrews said this about praise to God:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Hebrews 13:15

This is not just a New Testament command – it is referenced multiple times in the Old Testament as well.

David referenced praise and thanksgiving numerous times in his writings, and here is one of them:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

In fact, the Israelites were told to practice daily praise and thanksgiving.  With regard to the obligations of the priests, we read in 1 Chronicles 23:30:

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

The command is to begin and end the day with praise and thanks to the Lord God.  Notice, God didn’t say that this was required on those days that were easy, or when they were encamped and not fighting anyone, or that they were exempted from this requirement when it was too hot!  Every morning and every evening — come rain or shine, home hard times or easy ones, come plague or famine, come ease or comfort.  Praise and thanksgiving were to be their standard daily.

Do we do this? 

Every day or ever? 

Even on those days that are so frustrating and maddening that we want to scream? 

Even when the children are fighting and we can’t hear ourselves think? 

Even when our spouse has done something that infuriates us? 

Praise and thanksgiving when illness hits or an unexpected death occurs?

Yes, we should!  Daily praise and thanksgiving.  At times it is difficult but calling on the Name of the Lord and giving Him praise and thanksgiving for His presence and comfort, for His guidance and leading, always is music to our Lord’s ears.  It is glorifying to God the Father and it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  I’m not saying that we will understand the reason behind what happens to us, that is God’s area of expertise!  I am saying that the Christian’s response to these things should be humble acknowledgement that we are hurt and that we don’t understand why this bad thing occurred; but, we have confidence in God and His wisdom and we praise His name and give thanksgiving to Him for his faithfulness and His abiding presence with us that gives comfort and peace even in difficult circumstances. 

What a difference daily, moment by moment, praise and thanksgiving would make in our lives!  Glorifying God, giving Him praise and thanksgiving, even at your deepest hour will bring peace and comfort, even when nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. 

Father, forgive us for failing to give You praise and thanksgiving on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.  Enable us to see even difficult days of suffering and loss as times to give You praise as You execute Your purposes for us and for the world.  Give us strength and wisdom as we live our lives and lead us to give You the praise and thanksgiving that You rightfully deserve, every moment of every day. 

CLEAN SLATE!

I believe that I have commented, at least once in this site, that we live in a heavily wooded area, and we have LEAVES to rake up in the fall.  Actually, we pull a leaf vacuum behind our lawn tractor and it shreds the leaves into little pieces which we then take to the street for the city to pick up.

The leaves in the front yard are handled that way.  The leaves in the backyard, however, are mulched in the same way but they are put into the woods in the back yard rather than trucking them down to the street.

Shredded Leaves down at the street

This year was somewhat unique because virtually all of the leaves hanging from the trees fell before the pickup date.  Also, we had very little rain so the leaves were not wet making their removal less difficult. The result was this huge pile of shredded leaves.

In short, this year we had a bumper crop of leaves, a condition which is testified to by the size of the pile along the street.

Yard without leavesThis year, therefore, was also unique insofar as I resulted in a situation seldom seen by us — a “leaf-free” yard.

(Please, if you are a horticulturalist, don’t inspect the yard too closely!  It is, in many areas, also a “grass-free” zone!  That’s probably fodder for a future post!)

The point of the story is a simple one – the ability to have all of the leaves removed from the yard provides us with an opportunity to have a clean slate in the front yard.  Now, we can do what is needed to improve the grass quality, to plant flowers for the spring, to do many things that the plethora of leaves prevented us from doing in the past.

This new year also provides us with a clean slate.  A new year and a new decade – 2020.  If the Lord wills, we will have 365 days ahead of us to do things differently than we have done before.  I’m not necessarily talking about making resolutions –those things are extremely fragile and I usually break them within the first couple of weeks of the new year.

I’m talking about making new habits that will bring spiritual growth, that will increase our love for our Lord and Savior.  We can use this new year to check on our heart … so, how is yours?

Lisa Allen in her devotion 4 Habits of a Healthy Heart, dated September 15, 2014, suggests these habits that will produce a healthy heart:

  1. We should develop a heart for God.
  2. We should develop heart to heart relationships with other Christians.
  3. We should open the eyes of our heart as we go through our day.
  4. We should appreciate the uniqueness of our heart.

First, when we develop a heart for God, we will make time to read His Word daily.  I’m not talking about reading the single verse in the Upper Room and then ignoring scripture the rest of the day.  I’m talking about spending time with God and meditating on the truths found in His Word.  This will give us godly wisdom and will prepare us to meet the hazards and challenges of daily life.  David said:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

David says scripture is a light for us. But, it spreads no light if our Bible is only on our nightstand or shut up on a shelf without being read!

Second, we should develop heart to heart relationships with others in the Christian community.  We can develop this when we worship with people weekly, when we fellowship with them in small group Bible studies or Sunday School, when we eat together at the communion table or at a potluck meal.  We read in Acts 2:42:

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

At our church, every other month we have a specific women’s ministry event, such as a game night, craft event, a church-wide picnic, spring and fall retreats and a Christmas brunch.  Participation in these activities enable women to meet each other in an informal, fun way so that we can develop healthy relationships that can encourage our spiritual growth.  We can’t pray for other’s needs if we don’t know them!  Be sure not to get so busy that you don’t have time to worship with others, to fellowship with others and to pray for others!

Third, allow God to open the eyes of your heart to see others as God sees them.  When we spend time with God each day, we begin to see others through God’s eyes.  We will notice their gifts and talents, their passions and their fears.

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

We can encourage others as they develop their gifts and their strengths.  This will allow us to reach out to the world, and not limit our interaction with the Christians we see in church on Sunday!

Fourth, recognize that you are a unique creation by God.  Just as there are no two identical snowflakes, there is no one else just like you.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. … 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. … 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:1-5, 13, 16

God knows you intimately because He created you with a unique heart, mind and soul. You are a creation by God with skills and abilities that you should put to use in God’s kingdom work.  Yes, nurture your marriage and care for the family, but also take time to invest in activities that reflect your own passion and ability.  If you are a leader, volunteer to lead a Sunday School class or Bible study.  If you want to learn to do something, take a course at a nearby school or take a class on-line.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Don’t forget that a necessary component of having a healthy heart for the Lord is to find ways to express your own gifts.  God created you for His purposes and He gave you the abilities to do His work through His Holy Spirit.  Be God’s hands and feet in this world by ministering as Jesus did. Take your focus off of yourself and your problems by redirecting your focus to serving others!

Make 2020 a new year with a clean slate and work toward developing a healthy heart.  The clutter of the old year and its leaves have been removed … the new year is here with a clean slate on which you need to put your imprint.  Make it one that glorifies our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Father, I pray that I would take this time to develop a heart for You by reading Your Word faithfully, not out of a sense of obligation but out of love for Your Word.  I pray that I would take this year and fellowship with other Christians so that I can encourage them and receive strength from them as well.  I pray that I would see others as You see them, people who are lost in sin and need a Savior, and I pray that I would introduce them to Jesus through the power of Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for making me a unique individual, with gifts and talents granted by You for use in Your kingdom.  May I use whatever gifts you have given me so that Your name will be glorified throughout the world.

Don’t you do it!

We have two miniature pincher dogs in our home, Cuddles and Snickers, and they are frequently subject of posts on this blog site because of their continued antics.

On guard through the window
Two MinPins dutifully standing guard at the window!

We love them and think of them as our canine children.  And, like our human children and grandchildren, they push the limits at times and we have to say “don’t you do it!”

This morning was an example of what happens in our home at mealtime.  When we eat at the dining room table, the dogs, also known as “the girls”, are to be in their “place”. That is to say, they are to be sitting or laying down on the living room sofa until we finish our meal.  Then, we say: “You’re through,” and they come bounding off the sofa for their good girl treats.

This morning, Snickers didn’t want to wait for the magic words; rather, she was impatient and jumped down off the sofa.  She does this softly, anticipating that I would not notice and I probably would not except for one thing. 

My place at the table faces the sofa.  So, I can see her every movement.  The routine is this:  she jumps down, I say “Uh, uh, don’t you do it,” she trots in a loop around the coffee table, and jumps back up on the sofa.  She may remain there until we say the magic words that lead to the jump off the sofa and the treat, or she may not.  If not, I can see her and I repeat my admonition “Uh, uh, don’t you do it”.

This morning, when I said those words, I thought of God’s Word.  God instructs us how to live and how to behave in our world, in accordance with His desires for us to be obedient children, but there are many times that He has to say (in essence): “Uh, uh, don’t you do it!:. 

In Genesis 2:16-17, God gave this admonition:

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.”

Can’t you just hear:  “Don’t you do it.”  We know that God’s command was summarily ignored after the serpent successfully tempted Adam and Eve to sin.  Genesis chapter 3.

In Exodus we read of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3-,5, 7, 13-17, and we see that they are a series of admonishments from God that are to be followed and most have “you shall not:” appended to them. 

3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them…  7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain… 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet … anything that is your neighbor’s.”

God is clearly telling us “Don’t you do it!” 

The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words from the Lord God warning that the people had not obeyed His words and punishment would be the result:

“But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’  But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.  From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.  Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.  So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.  And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.’”

Jeremiah 7:23-28

There are consequences to disobeying God’s commands.  Rest assured, you may not see the consequence immediately after your disobedience, but it will eventually catch up with you, either in this life or the next.  Judgment will come, it will be swift, and its result will be non-negotiable. 

Just as I see the “girls’” movements on the sofa, God sees us every moment of every day.  He is omniscient and omnipresent.  We can’t fool God; He knows our heart’s motive and what we re going to say even before we day it. Psalm 139. 

“Uh, uh, don’t do it!” is a warning for us to heed. Sometimes the warning comes when we are reading God’s Word.  Sometimes He speaks to us in that still small voice that is our Shepherd’s trustworthy voice. Indeed, Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and follow Him. John 10:27.  Sometimes it is our conscience telling us to avoid that misstep, that sin, that trap.  Sometimes the warning comes in the form of godly advice from a Christian brother or sister, pastor or elder. 

God issues the warning and desires that we should heed it.  Obedience brings rich rewards, and the discipline of obedience is worthy of our continued effort to grow in maturity as we seek to be transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior.  Make obedience a priority in this new year!

Father, I thank You that we receive warnings when we are about to go astray against your commandment. Train my ear to hear Your warnings so that I do not go against Your will. Good Shepherd, l pray that I would have me the strength and will to be an obedient sheep.

REFLECTING TREES!

This Christmas we have placed our big Christmas tree on the porch rather than in front of the picture window in the living room.  There were several reasons for this switch, the primary one being that no one was around to move the sofa onto the porch! 

Christmas tree on porch from yard
The view of the tree on the porch while standing in the back yard.

 

But there was a beautiful surprise when we looked at the completed tree on the porch.  It was reflected in the windows around the porch. 

 

There was only one tree, but the reflection made it appear as if there were multiple trees, all identical and all lit up, shining out into the yard.

Christ tree on porch with reflections
Reflections seen in the windows.

This prompted a number of thoughts as I observed this surprise reflection.  The tree was put up to celebrate Christmas, the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  He was born of a virgin, placed in a manger in Bethlehem and the star identified the place where He was laying.  The angels announced His birth with vast chorus of joyful singing in the heavens, as they looked in amazement at this small child who was Lord of all.

Christmas is a celebration of miracles, the miracle of the virgin birth, the miracle of the Son of God coming to a sinful world and proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to those around Him by performing miracles of healing and declaring that the person’s sin had been removed, something the religious leaders could not stomach! 

The miracles continued as He was crucified on the cross, taking the punishment that sinful men deserved so that He could give His people relief from their sin debt to God and eternal life with Him and the believers who form the Body of Christ from all nations, tribes and tongues.

This Babe was way more than a little baby.  This Babe was the King of Kings and Lord of Lord who had legions of angels at His disposal and yet He deigned to live and walk in this sin-filled world so that He could redeem His people from their sin. 

What does this have to do with the tree on the porch? 

I suggest that it is not so much the tree itself as the reflection that is occupying my mind today.  The Body of Christ should be the reflection of Jesus Christ.  We are not yet sanctified (big word for being sin-free), but we are working on living our lives as Jesus did, trusting God for forgiveness and confessing our sin when we err, knowing that He is faithful and Just to forgive us those sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9)

Jesus said that our light should shine among men:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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 5:14-16

Paul said this about our light in the dark world:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6.

Paul also said that we should shine as lights in the world:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Philippians 2:14-15

The challenge, therefore, is for us to be lights this Christmas season and every day that God gives us to live on this planet.  We should reflect Jesus Christ to the world around us.  We should multiple our light as we go about our daily business, loving others, doing good to those who are in need, spreading the gospel in word and deed, and giving spiritual refreshment to those we meet.

So, the question is:  are you on the porch, reflecting light to others, or are you in the corner of the room?  Are you in the picture window so people can see your light, or are you hiding your light in a closet, or under a basket?  When you walk down the street, are you reflecting the light of your Lord, or not?  Only you can answer, and only you can decide to let your light shine for Jesus!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2020.  Blessings to you as you shine your light to those you come in contact with today and throughout the new year.

Father, I pray that I would reflect my love for Jesus as I go through my life.  I pray that I would not hide my witness but that it would blaze and be clear light to draw others to Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

IS IT REAL OR ARTIFICIAL?

When I was a child, we always had real Christmas trees.  Since I lived in Chicago, we did not have forests or woods to run to so that we could chop down our tree; rather, we purchased them from tree lots in neighborhoods.  Tying the tree to the top of the car, we drove home with just the right tree, then having to cut the tree down because it was almost always too tall for the room.

aRTIFICIAL SILVER CHRISTMAS TREE

My Great Aunt and Great Uncle, however, purchased an artificial tree … it was quite costly because it was the new trend.  It was silver and came with a multicolored light wheel that turned so that the tree was any of a number of colors, including, of course, silver.  The silver tree is still sold today, as I found this picture of one for sale this week.

Now, there was no way that anyone could have been fooled into thinking that the silver tree was a real tree.  Of course, there are no totally silver metal trees in the wild!  My mother thought that the silver tree was absurd; while I thought it was unique and rather cool.  But even as a young child I knew it was not a real tree!

20181224_113350

Now, in our own home, we have an artificial Christmas tree (actually two artificial trees).  It is much easier to decorate and its cost is amortized over numerous years, making it a much more fixed-income friendly tree than a real tree would be.  And, the artificial trees of today look much more like the real thing than did those of yesteryear, at least as long as you don’t get too close to inspect the “needles” or the “tree’s” branches. 

From a distance it looks like the real thing, but it is not.

The same thing can be said about our spiritual lives, our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and our Savior.  People can look good,  do nice things and can even say the right words, but their relationship with the Lord may not be the real thing … they may be an imposter, a silver tree among the green.

This is not a new phenomenon – in the Old Testament God warns about people who seem like they are believers but who, in fact, worship false gods.  Consider these words:

But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,

Jeremiah 18:15

For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

Zechariah 10:2

Jesus spoke of false prophets, warning the people to beware of them.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 7:15

The Apostle Paul issued the same warning that Christ gave:

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15

The Apostle Peter also gave a warning about false prophets and those who preach heresies rather than the true gospel.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:1-3

Finally, the Apostle John also warned against false prophets who teach heresies, admonishing the people to test what people are saying to be sure that they are teaching God’s word and not a distorted message.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

This Christmas time be vigilant, Christian.  Test what you are hearing.  Read the Scripture and pray for wisdom and understanding.  Don’t fall prey to false teachers whose heresies sound rather like the gospel but are actually false teachings that distort and dilute the power of the Gospel of Christ. 

Don’t be fooled by artificial trees that look real, but are not!

Father, I pray that I would have wisdom to separate the truth from the falsehood; that the Holy Spirit would help me avoid the pit of heresy; that I would be granted pastors and teachers who love Your Word and who preach the truth without apology, and that I would take that truth and live it out before others, to honor and glorify You, my Lord. my Redeemer and my King.

TEACH ME!

Have you ever heard those words?  “Teach me”, says the young child who wants to do a new and exciting task, perhaps tying his shoes.  Here’s a note that one of the grandchildren wrote to his Mom – you can feel the excitement as he passed this milestone of childhood.

Milestone - can tie his own shoes

“Teach me”, says the adolescent who desperately wants to learn to drive the family car.

“Teach me”, says the college student when learning in a career path, hoping to find his/her way in the world after graduation.

Taylor school

“Teach me”, says the new employee who is faced with something that is both daunting and exciting.

“Teach me”, says the newly wed wife to her husband, when she is trying to make his favorite meal that his mother made for him all the time.

“Teach me”, says the husband who wants to know how to help and comfort his wife as they learn to be man and wife.

“Teach me”, says the older woman to her grandchild when she is faced with a smart phone and doesn’t know how to use it.

We often say those words, and usually they stem from a significant desire to learn, or possibly from a need to do something unfamiliar.

There are things that we need to learn in our everyday lives but there are also things that we should be learning about our spiritual life, specifically about our God, His Son and His Holy Spirit.   Indeed, our hearts should cry “Teach me!” to the Lord so we will know what God desires.

1 “Now this is the commandment–the statutes and the rules–that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, … 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6:1, 7   

Note that we are not to just learn God’s commandments for ourselves but we are to teach them to others, specifically to our children.  The command is not just for when we are in “school” but when we sit in the house, when we walk along the way, when we are traveling in the car, when se are seated around the table, when we lie down and when we rise.  God’s Word should be on our lips throughout the day, not just a few designated times in the week!

David repeats “Teach me” in numerous psalms.  Here are just a few examples;

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

Psalm 25:4-5

29 Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! … 66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. … 135 Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.

Psalm 119:29, 66, 135

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

So, what does God teach us?  His paths, His truth, His salvation, His law, His good judgment, His statutes, and His wisdom, just to name a few things!

The New Testament does not ignore teaching.  Rather, Paul says this – teach people what I have taught you so that they can teach others the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:2

We don’t “go it alone” when we teach others, rather Jesus has given us His Holy Spirit to guide and teach us as we live our lives in Him.  See John 14:26 for this great promise:

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.

At the end of time, Scripture tells us that all will know God and will serve Him.  We read in Jeremiah the following:

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34  

What a blessing!  Can you imagine this? At some point in the future, we won’t need to teach others of the Lord Jesus, all will know Him.  Praise His Holy Name!

“Teach me” should be our heart cry every morning and every evening.  Then, when some difficulty arises, don’t be surprised.  God is answering your prayer and is teaching you something that you need to learn as you grow in the likeness of His Son.   Until the time Jeremiah foretells, let us continue to ask God to teach us so that we will become the image of our Savior, Redeemer, Lord, Jesus Christ.

Father, help me to grow in the likeness of Jesus.  Help me reflect His nature and His love to those around me.  Enable me to see what needs to be done and then give me the ability and wisdom to accomplish the task You have laid before me.  In dark times, help me to remember that all things are in Your Hand and that trials are lessons masked in difficulty, sometimes painful, but always working good for me and for others.

FRIENDS AT THANKSGIVING

A number of years ago, my daughter answered the telephone and took a message for me when I returned home from work. It was from a childhood friend, who found me and reconnected after several decades. We picked up our conversation as if we had been together all along. We subsequently have visited together several times and have laughed and shared experiences. What a joy to have such a friend.

More recently, we were shopping this past week and I heard my name called, only to see a young lady who had worked with me many years previously when she was just starting out on her work career. She has gone on to have a very successful career and I am very proud of what she has done.

As we were speaking, she thanked me for the training that she had received from my partner and me, asserting that her career reflected the work ethic that she received during her time with us at the office. I began thinking of those who I have worked with through the years, and of those who I have taught and ministered to in church and other organizations.

Am I a good teacher for others to learn of my Lord?

Can others say that they saw Christ in me as I lived my life before them even if it is not specifically “church” activities?

Do I give thanks for the people with whom I have worked, for those who encouraged me and taught me, and then for those to whom I passed on those lessons as they too were struggling?

Paul said this in Philippians 4:9:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Friendship is a beautiful gift. We are admonished to cherish it and to let it grow. Sometimes circumstances will bring distance between friends, but the relationship still is special and of importance to us. Feed friendship just as you feed your body. And then give encouragement and comfort, show constancy and kindness even in pressurized situations.

Live your life so that you, like Paul, can encourage others to practice what you have taught them. Then, give thanks for their life and witness.

Perhaps, as you go through the store, you may be surprised when someone taps your arm and bears testimony as to your influence on their life. Give thanks then too!

Happy Thanksgiving — may gratitude grace your life daily as you seek to show other, even your friends, the love or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Father, may I live my life, every day, so that those who are watching me will see You, will see commitment to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and will see evidence of Your love and care in all my actions and in my conversation. And, may I always give thanks to You for the people you place in my world. Enable me to love them as you have loved me. I ask this in Jesus’ Name.