A PICTURE OF GOD’S GOODNESS

Scripture talks about God’s goodness to us in multiple places, but Psalm 65 is particularly detailed.  David, the shepherd boy who became King and was beloved by God, describes God’s care for His creation like this in Psalm 65:9-13:

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65:9-13
Farm with mountains in the background

The picture above is the very essence of peace and tranquility.  The field is prepared and is surrounded by beautiful trees with the mountains in the distance, and the unseen farmer waits for the rain to fall, to water his field and to bring forth the harvest.

Sheep in a field adjacent to Stonehenge in England

Flocks filling up the fields and meadows indicate blessing and abundance from God.  According to the Psalm, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks!

Rapeseed fields in bloom in England

We were in England when the rapeseed plants were in full bloom.  The “yellow fields” were beautiful, especially from higher elevations when the scope of the fields were apparent.  The beauty of these fields spoke of the beauty that God gives to us if we only were to open our eyes to see it.  They also foretold of the anticipated harvest when the plants would potentially become a cash crop for the farmer.

In God’s eyes, these things are all blessings from Him to us.  Where would we be without the freshwater of rainfall?  Where would we be without the sunshine causing growth in the grain?  Where would we be without God’s unfailing love and watchfulness over us?

Beloved, don’t keep your eyes focused on the pavement beneath your feet!  Don’t keep your thoughts trained upon yourself and the problems that confront you.  Step out of the problems and hardships and drink of the peace and comfort God provides to you.  I don’t mean that all the hard things will disappear, but I can say, speaking from experience, that God’s comfort and blessing will overshadow the difficulties that you are experiencing. 

Remember Psalm 65 – the valleys and fields, the meadows and pastures, all God’s creation shouts and sings for joy.  What about joining them in the symphony of love to the Lord?!

Father, forgive me when I am so focused on my own problems that I forget to praise You.  Through the Lord Jesus Christ You have given me all that I need, on earth and in heaven.  Salvation through faith in Christ, forgiveness of my sins, fellowship with other believers through the Church, resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.  On top of all those blessings, You provide comfort and Your Holy Spirit for guidance and a sure guarantee of salvation.  Father, thank You for blessing me so very much!

PEACE – WHERE IS IT?

Peace is hard to find in our 24/7 world today. But, thankfully, there are places that just seem to facilitate the sense of PEACE! Stay awhile, enjoy the scene, relax, rest, be at peace with yourself and with your God. This river and mountain view in Alaska was one of the peaceful moments in a crazy, stress-filled week.

Peace is a difficult word to define. For some, it is the absence of conflict, a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.. For others, it is akin to rest, where there is tranquility and calm. The Hebrew word for “peace” is , šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē. It has a broad semantic range of meaning, including the concept of completeness or the totality of something. It also connotes success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Scripture says this about peace:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4

It is interesting to note that these words from the prophet Isaiah came while he was issuing oracles against the people because of their transgressions and failure to follow the commandments of God. In fact, in chapter 24 the prophet, speaking the words of God, pronounces judgment on the whole earth. In the midst of these judgments, we find words that promise peace.

Jesus frequently addressed the disciples in thisohn way. For example:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” … Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20: 19, 21

The Apostle Paul opened most of his letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

The Apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment when he wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.: 2 Peter 1:2

Peace — it is something that most of us long for and something that very few possess. We know that during the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions are at fever pitch. Many of us are out of work. Many of us have lost our income and we don’t have enough funds to feed the family, or cover the rent. Many of us see no way out of the problems that loom over us each moment of every day.

Jesus never said that His disciples would have an easy time of things. Indeed, we know that each one of the Apostles endured extreme hardship, most of them being killed in gruesome ways. Yet, even in those horrendous days of hardship and torture, they had peace. An inspiring example is found in the pages of Scripture describing the first martyr for Jesus – Stephen. In Acts 6, we are told that Stephen was doing wonders and signs among the people, and that he was a a man who was full of grace and power.

This was too much for the establishment. They wanted rid of Stephen. Acts 6:10. Stephen detailed the message of God to the Hebrews through the centuries and he ended his statement with condemnation of the very people who were charging him. Here is the end of Acts 7 beginning with Stephen’s statement and then the response of the people, Acts 7:52-60.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:52-60

Stephen had peace – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for each of His children. Stephen’s peace was so great that he forgave the very men who were stoning him, including one Saul who was a young man guarding the coats of the men executing Stephen.

Peace can also be found in the security of mountains, the strength of the granite rocks, the beauty of God’s creation.

Characterizing God as a Rock is common in the Old Testament. The clear symbolism is that God cannot be moved, He is strong, He is the Source of all comfort and assurance. David says it this way in Psalm 18:2:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Beloved, don’t depend on your own strength, your own resources, your own understanding to get through these times. Look to God, the God who is above all gods, the God who is the Almighty Father and the One who desires to become your Rock, your Fortress, your Stronghold in days of trouble.

Father, forgive me when I run ahead and try to take care of things my own way! Help me to stop and look to You as the author of my salvation and as the lover of my soul. Enable me to see Your Hand in my situation and to rely on You even when things are dark and difficult.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!

Sign in South Dakota.

When we were on our western adventure we saw this sign in South Dakota, and it brought quite a few chuckles for several days. “My winter fat is gone; now I have Spring rolls!”

Dead End sign across the road from the Cemetery

While a Dead End sign is not unique, its placement across the street from a cemetery caused us to stop and think.  Yes, the cemetery really is the ultimate dead end, at least until the Lord returns!

Grand Junction, Colorado, one way sign with sheep in the foreground.

When we were in Grand Junction, Colorado, we found a lovely scene with sheep on the grassy field in a cul-de-sac with a “one way” sign showing the direction of traffic.  I thought to my self, “yes, there is only one way and that is to become a sheep in the Lord’s flock.”

Words – they sometimes say something silly, sometimes something profound.  They can be misunderstood and they can be clarifying. But words always have an affect on the hearer.

Jesus understood this well.  In Matthew we read this about the Pharisees who were taunting Jesus:

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.  And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

Matthew 22:15-16

What followed after these two verses was the question about marriage in heaven, specifically about the man who died and his wife was the wife of his six brothers, all without children.  So, whose wife was she in heaven?

The point for this post, however, is not the question nor the response Jesus gave.  It is what the Pharisees said as a preface to their question:

“we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”

When we speak of our Lord, do we do what the Pharisees said Jesus did?  Are we true in our dealings with others?  Do we teach others of God truthfully and without shading our teaching to be sure we don’t offend or run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  Are we swayed by appearances? 

I cannot answer these questions for you.  I can only say that I have to repent and ask the Holy Spirit to give me the confidence, compassion and conviction to speak of the Lord without shading the truth, without adjusting the message to the audience seeking approval of man rather than approval of God.

I certainly do not mean that we should speak without consideration of the difficulties others are experiencing or without consideration of where others are in their faith journey.  Being rude and callous is not the way of our Lord.  Seeking to shock others is not the way of the Lord.  He was humble and filled with compassion for others.  When He answered the Pharisees it was to expose their hypocrisy – they were after all trying to entrap Him in His own words.

So, how do you speak?  What do you say?  Are you truthful when you speak?  Are you oblivious to the station, rank or wealth of the person to whom you are speaking? 

Does our speech reflect our Lord and Savior?  And if not, why not!

Father, so often I try to make my point by focusing on the minutiae rather than on You.  Let me hear the Holy Spirit and let me be guided by His words so that what people hear when I speak is You.  Enable me to be more and more like Jesus in my walk and especially in my speech. 

FAMINE FOR GOD!

Famine for God!

Badlands, South Dakota. Note sign warning to “Beware … Rattlesnakes”.

When we visited the Western United States, we saw much that exhibited the glory of God in creation.  Numerous national parks that boasted of incredible scenery, each of which were beautiful in their own way.  But the Badlands prompted us to wonder what the pioneers thought when they were traversing such inhospitable terrain.

Desolation – the breeding ground for rattlesnakes – the harshness of the terrain and the intense heat of the summer with the horrible freezing temperatures of the winter. Much of the area boasts no grass or tree coverage … just harsh rock.  Nothing warm and wonderful here – only hardship and difficult living conditions.

The prophet Amos had difficult living conditions too.  It was his lot to forecast the future to the people of Israel, to tell them of the coming discipline from God, to tell them of captivity and hardship.  Not something people wanted to hear.  Not the “good news” that would make everyone happy.

Indeed, in the Book of Amos we read:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land– not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.

Amos 8:11

The Lord, the God of gods and Lord of lords, the Creator of heaven and earth, is telling the people that, in the coming days, there would be a famine of “hearing the words of the LORD.” 

There would be no more prophets, no more preachers.  There would be no more reading of the scrolls or of the scriptures.  There  would be no congregations for ministers to preach to.  The word of the Lord will be precious and scarce.  There will be Bibles to read but no minister to preach the Word and provide application for daily life.  It is as if there is water in the well but no way to draw the water up so that you can drink of it. 

Matthew Henry says:

“it was a common saying among the Puritans that brown bread and the gospel are good fare. But it is here a threatening that on the contrary they should have plenty enough of bread and water, and yet their teachers should be removed. … This was a token of God’s highest displeasure against them. Surely He was angry indeed with them when He would no more speak to them as He had done, and had abandoned them to ruin when He would no more afford them the means of bringing them to repentance.”

Matthew Henry Commentary

Why did this punishment come upon them?  Because they went after the gods of the surrounding nations and considered those gods to be better than the Almighty God.  The result is described by Matthew Henry in this way:

“Those who thus give that honour to idols which is due to God alone will find that the God they affront is thereby made their enemy, so that they shall fall and the gods they serve cannot stand their friends, so that they shall never rise again. They will find that God is jealous and will resent the indignity done Him, and that He will be victorious and it is to no purpose to contend with Him.”

Matthew Henry Commentary

I realize that Amos prophesied millennia ago.  But, the God who spoke in the Old Testament is the same God that speaks today.  His attributes are infinite and unchanging.  Thus, if He is angry about people giving honor to gods that should be given to Him, that anger is still justified and the effect of it will still be felt. 

God’s grace and His patience stop the awful wrath that will come at the end of time.    But His holiness demands that the indignity of running after other gods must be dealt with.  God has frequently said that He is a jealous God. 

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me,

Exodus 20:5

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 4:24

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

Joshua 24:19

They have made Me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

Deuteronomy 32:21

In these difficult days, turn to the Lord, the God of gods and Lord of lords.  Read the Bible, study the Scriptures, listen to preachers who are true to the Scriptures.  Saturate yourself in the Word and let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and paths in what is right and holy. 

Scripture is clear that the time for turning to the Lord is now, not at some time in the future.  No one knows how many days or hours we have on this earth.  God knows, but we do not.   At some point in time, God will send a famine on the world, not for food but for the Word of the Lord. 

Don’t find yourself in the “Badlands” without “water”. 

Don’t wait until you cannot hear the Word of God due to the coming famine.

Listen to the Word and learn. 

Listen to the Word and repent. 

Listen to the Word and rejoice in your salvation.

Lord, Your word says that there will be a day when the word of the Lord is not heard in the land.  I pray that Your grace, patience, compassion and mercy would be upon us.  We have gone after the gods of worldliness, of power, of money, of greed, of arrogance, of self-satisfaction, all of which are unworthy of You.  In Your mercy, cleanse us and turn our eyes to You and Your Word.

Are we angry or submissive?

We were reading the book of Jonah in the Old Testament recently, and I was convicted about attitudes.  

Ocean waves (C)
Atlantic Ocean Waves

We all know the story of Jonah, the recalcitrant prophet.  God told him to go to the city of Nineveh to tell of God’s glory and mercy.  Nineveh was an enemy of Israel, so Jonah took the boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh.  Of course, he ultimately did get to Nineveh via the great fish that vomited him up onto its shores.  

At this point, he proclaimed the word that the Lord had given him and then he left.  The king and all the people repented of their sin and the Lord had mercy and did not destroy them, as He was going to do.  Jonah succeeded!  Now, read the concluding chapter of the book: 

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” [“Is it right for you to be angry?” NKJV]

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.

When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:1-11 (ESV)

Jonah was angry with God because the people of Nineveh were going to be given mercy since they repented of their sin and humbled themselves before God.  His message was received and the people appropriately reacted to it.  But Jonah was angry.  He didn’t want “those people” forgiven.  He didn’t want “those people” to receive God’s mercy.   He didn’t want “those people” to survive God’s wrath!  He was angry.  He was so angry, he asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

Then God addressed the ultimate issue for Jonah, by sending a tree and a worm.  The plant grew up and gave Jonah shade in the hot sun, and Jonah was happy.  Then a worm attacked the plant and it withered, so when the sun was high in the heaven and scorching heat was upon Jonah, he was angry, again.  So angry, he once again asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

God pointed out that Jonah had pity on the plant which was here today and gone tomorrow.  Then God got to the crux of the issue — “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons”.  

What is the point of the story for us in 2020?  We are in the same position as Jonah.  We don’t know God’s plan for us or for our world.  We understand that ultimately Jesus will return and claim His people and His kingdom, but that is at the end.  We are in the middle.  In Isaiah we read:

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

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

God had mercy on Nineveh even though they were enemies of Jonah and the Israelites.  Jonah had to learn the lesson of submission.  He didn’t know why God granted mercy to Nineveh.  We don’t know why we are going through the difficult times facing us, individually, as families, as communities, as a nation, and as the world.  But, we know that God is in control.  He is fully aware of the trials that each one has, and He wants us to be submissive, to call upon Him, to submit to the tasks that He outlines for us.  He wants us to do His will, even while we are stuck in the COVID19 morass.

Are you angry?  Or are you submissive?  Does God need to put you in the belly of the great fish to calm you down so that you can do what He has asked?  Are you angry even when you have succeeded in the task?

James writes:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

James 4:7. 10 (NKJV)

Rather than being angry, submit to God, Beloved.  He will lift you up!

Father, forgive me when I have been so entrenched in my own agenda that I have been unable to see what You want me to do.  Forgive me when I have run in the opposite direction from the direction You wanted me to go.  Forgive me when I have become angry at Your direction.  Cleanse my heart and let me see Your working in my life and in the world around me.  May I submit to Your will even when I don’t understand it.  You are my God and I am Your child.

Joy and Sorrow

In the book of Isaiah we hear God telling the prophet how He is different than the humans He created:

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 [New Living Translation]

It will be no surprise when I say that we live in a world beset with difficulties, anxiety, fear, and sorrow.  There are people who are frustrated and tired of being in lock-down status in their own homes.  There are people who are terrified of contracting COVID-19, many for good reasons if they suffer from compromised respiratory issues, and other health maladies.   There are people who are grieving  the death of loved ones from the virus, and there are family members whose grief is aggravated by the fact that they could not have a funeral during lock=down days.  There are many who have become unemployed as businesses shut down and terminate or furlough employees.  No paychecks mean hard times for the finances in the household.

Sorrows and fears, anxiety and frustration.  Many people are suffering, and the writer of Ecclesiastes understands this.   We read in Ecclesiastes 7:14: 

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.  [ESV]

Here is this verse in the New King James Translation:

In the day of prosperity be joyful,
But in the day of adversity consider:
Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,
So that man can find out nothing that will come after him. [NKJV]

And here it is in the New Living Translation:

Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.  [NLT]

I tend to accept joy and will completely immerse myself in the enjoyment of happiness, often forgetting to thank the Lord for the blessing of joyful events.  

Cruise -Raft captain and river flora
Rafting down the Martha Brae River in Jamaica with beautiful flora all along the riverbank

But, then there are times when I feel like I am being inexorably pulled to the precipice and am certain to go over the edge, plummeting down the waterfall.  Rather like this video from Canada and Horseshoe Falls in Ontario.

When those hard times hit, i am the first one to ask God why this has happened to me.  What is the purpose of this, why did you allow this?   

I am ashamed to admit that often this questioning is tinged with anger and accusatory finger-pointing toward God.  

Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:43-45 [ESV]

The blessing and the difficulty — the writer of Ecclesiastes is spot on when he says that God sends them both.   Both the evil and the good receive the benefit of God’s sun shining down on them.  Both the just and the unjust receive the rain that God sends to the earth.  Likewise,  the pandemic the world is experiencing does not distinguish between the just and the unjust.

The difference, Beloved, is that those who are in the Lord Jesus Christ are assured that, whatever difficulties we experience here, we will be united with our Savior for all eternity.  This is not wishful thinking; rather it is a Biblical certainty.  Jesus said that His disciples would be with Him in heaven, and He was not just talking about those in the room at that moment!  

In the book of Revelation we read: 

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,

Revelation 5:9 [ESV]

Jesus ransomed His people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”  

So, lean on Jesus.  Come to Him through faith and keep your focus on Him, rather than on the problems of the day.  He is powerful enough to save you to eternal life.  The problems here are temporal, temporary and virtually irrelevant.  Look to Jesus!

Father, I pray that I will keep my eyes focused on You rather than on what is going on around me in this trouble ridden world.  I praise Your Name for the gift of salvation through JEsus Christ, Your Son.  And I look forward to being with people who love you from every tribe, language, people and nation.  Praise Your Holy Name.

OUT OF BALANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul admonished Timothy to be aware of these things:

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

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

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

Teaching – I will learn from the experience or difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

Are we walking worthy of God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound familiar to you?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you?

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

Disassembling your sin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 1:28-31

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

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

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

John 8:7-11.

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

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

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