HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you, and you, and me and IT!

“Happy birthday” was heard repeatedly in our family over the last few days.  In the month of April, we have four birthdays for three generations to celebrate, all within a span of 5 days.  I am the eldest, marking 7 decades of wonders and heartaches as life rolled on in its relentless migration toward the moniker of “senior citizen”. 

My son celebrated his birthday, which happens to be the day after my birthday.  He graciously waited until “my day” was over before he entered this world. 

The third generation was the celebration of the birth of one of my grandsons.  This was a special celebration since, the day before his actual birthday, he was baptized after testifying that the Lord Jesus was his Savior upon whom he trusted for eternal life, now and forevermore.  What a celebration.

The fourth birthday in the month was that of the blog site The Ruminant Scribe, Snapshots of God’s World and Word, which celebrated turning three years old.

Ruminant scribe logo

The first post to the site was dated April 15, 2015 and 316 posts followed thereafter.  It has been my pleasure and privilege to write the posts, and I thank the Lord for His guidance and leading in so doing.  I, also, thank God for my husband, Bill, who has been my faithful editor and proof-reader. 

What has been a total surprise to me is the reach of the blog.  I am certainly not as experienced as many, and I do not have many followers, but that is fine with me.  I am confident that the people who read the blog are those God directs to the site.  Moreover, I appreciate and am humbled by each one of the men and women who have spent time with the posts that I wrote.  And I truly appreciate those who have provided comments or who liked what they read and rated the posts for additional feedback.  Thank you so much.

In reviewing the reach of the blog, I have been amazed at the countries identified as places from which various readers have come.  Today, for example, in addition to people from the United States, visitors to The Ruminant Scribe have come from India, Slovakia, and Canada.   The blog has now been read, at least in part, in over 100 countries. 

The concept that people from around the world have read something that I have written, even if they didn’t read the whole post, is amazing and humbling, and it prompts me to give my best as I represent my King and Savior to others. 

I thank the Lord that in His providence He is providing the readership that He wants the blog to have.  For that reason, I pray that each post is encouraging people in their spiritual walk with the Lord, no matter where they live.

All in all, it is to God that I give the credit for the idea of the blog in the first place, as well as for the scope and breadth of the blog.  It is to God that I give all thanks for the desire to do this work and to reach out to others in this way.  It is to the Holy Spirit that I seek counsel and direction in writing the blog and in preparing the posts each week.  And it is to my Lord and Savior that I dedicate this blog with the prayer that His name will be glorified throughout the earth.

So, happy birthday to each of my family members, and happy birthday to The Ruminant Scribe.  May God shower His blessings on each of us this coming year and may we praise His Glorious Name as we seek to glorify Him in all our life activities, whether we are young or old. 

Father, I praise Your Name and thank You for the privilege of seeing my children and grandchildren as they grow and mature.  I thank You too for the growth and perseverance of The Ruminant Scribe for the past three years.  Father, I pray that Your Spirit would continue to guide and enlighten Your Word as we study and prepare the posts for the blogsite.  I thank You for allowing me to participate in using this technology to spread the witness of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank You Lord.

 

MIRRORS AND REFLECTIONS

Did you ever go to the circus or perhaps an arcade “fun house” when you were a child, or perhaps you took your children or grandchildren?  If so, you may have seen the mirrors that you walk past which create a deformed reflection of yourself.  Remember?

One wavy mirror reflected a very T A L L you, while the next wavy mirror reflected a very short you.  The next mirror, the one that I hated, reflected a chubbier version of yourself.  As a child, I understood that I did not look like what the mirrors showed, and I also understood that I would not change my shape that fast.  But, there was always a little something tugging at my self-image – what if the mirror really showed me how I looked to others?

Mirrors are fun.  I recall our grandson making faces in the mirror when he was a small child.

mirror

Mirrors can confuse your pets as well.  When we first introduced Cuddles to our home, she barked at each window and mirror, apparently thinking that there was another dog in the house.

Cuddles frightened by reflection in mirror

If you look at the picture carefully, you will see her eyes reflected in the center of and at the bottom of the dresser’s center section of the mirror.  Even today, several years after coming to the house, she will look in a mirror and stare, cocking her head and watching that the dog in the mirror does the same thing.  Funny to us, but sometimes scary to her.

Mirrors are not the only things that provide reflective images. 

USED Mirror lake (C)
I love this picture of Mirror Lake, taken with a sepia tone filter.

We can see ourselves reflected in the still waters of a lake or pond.  But, while rivers have the same water that is found in the lake, the river is running, and the surface of the water is not calm, so the reflection is not visible.

Scripture talks about images and reflections.  We say that we want to know what God is like, but we cannot see Him because He is Spirit.  But, we have seen what God is like.  We have seen Him in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In speaking of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for [our] sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Hebrews 1:3

Jesus is the visible, earthly presence of the holy God, Father Almighty.  He, Jesus, holds all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and He is our Savior.  The mirror of Jesus Christ is not wavy nor is it fuzzy.  Jesus is the exact imprint of God in physical, visible, touchable form. 

Our problem is that we are mortal, made of dust.  But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has enabled us to be transformed into His image. 

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

1 Corinthians 15:49

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

Romans 8:29

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:18

This transformation does not occur all at one time … we still bear our carnal, earthly nature even after we have been saved from our sin by the gracious love of our Lord and Savior.  For example, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 [New Living Translation]

Our growth in Christ and our transformation into His image takes place as we study His Word, as we worship with other believers, as we hear His Gospel proclaimed, as we obey His voice, as we pray and intercede for others, as we live a life in conformity to the commands of our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How do I know that this will take place?  Scripture tells me that I need to be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

James 1:23-25

So Beloved, do you look into the mirror of Scripture and see what it says, then going home and forgetting what you have seen?  Or, do you look into the mirror of Scripture and persevere as you do that which you have seen and heard, as you serve the Lord in humility and in love, as you praise Jesus Christ and His Father for your salvation and for your life in grace, as you praise the Holy Spirit for His presence in your life and for His guidance as you are transformed into the likeness of Christ?

Mirror clock

Now is the time to repent and be justified by your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Look into the mirror of His Word and allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from the man/woman of dust into the man/woman in the image of Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that Your Spirit would transform me into the image of Your Beloved Son, so that I can be a witness to others of His love and mercy, of His atoning sacrifice, of His serving nature as He did all that You asked of Him.  I pray that I would look into the mirror of Your Word and see where I am lacking, and then do that which Your Word directs so that I will grow into the likeness of my Lord.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

When the television commercials come into view, all sorts of merchandise are marketed, almost often for $19.99.  The marketing spiel extols the virtues of the product and all its features, with videos of people using the product, smiling all the while.  At the end of the advertisement, the spokesman for the product says something to the effect that all this can be yours for only $19.99 (or whatever the price may be). 

Then there is the kicker – BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  At that point, the spokesman says that if you call within a certain number of minutes, you can receive two of the products for the price of one.

I don’t need to tell you about these commercials, but I did want to say, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!” at the conclusion of Friday’s blog about the significance of the words that we use in our daily life.

The speech that we have, the words that we use, the content of our conversation is something that is of supreme importance to our Lord.  Not only does Scripture contain guidance about proper speech, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!”  Jesus is explicit in His teaching about the speech that His followers should have and what it should not be like.

For example, Jesus taught:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

“And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;””

Mark 7:6 

So, who were the “hypocrites” who came under such severe description by our Lord?

According to Strong’s concordance, the Greek word used, when Scripture renders the English word “hypocrites”, means an actor, stage player, a dissembler, pretender, or an interpreter.

Theater Masks on towel

We use the theater masks illustrating comedy and tragedy to depict that which the actor does.  Whatever the part calls for, that is what the actor will present to the audience.  He pretends to be that which he is called.  It matters not whether the actor believes what he is saying or that his words are consistent with his worldview.  The actor presents a false front, a mask, to the audience. 

As a profession, the ability to be credible in any kind of role is admirable. But, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, when it comes to your place in society, when it comes to your truthfulness with others, hiding behind a mask is being hypocritical and is condemned by our Lord. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

Matthew 23:27

So, what do we as Christians say?  We are to be truthful.  We all know that one of the Ten Commandments is:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16

That means, don’t lie.  Don’t speak an untruth.

James says it this way:

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

James 5:12

We don’t have to say, “But wait, there’s more”.  All we must do is to be truthful, let our “yes” be yes and our “no” be no.  Give our testimony of Jesus Christ and His saving atoning work on the cross, His resurrection and His intercession for us before the Father.  It is OUR testimony.  No one can take it from us.  They can mock, they can slander, but they can’t take our own testimony away from us.

Here are The Centurymen singing “Who’ll Be a Witness for My Lord?” from their Silver Anniversary collection.  Listen for references to Joshua, Ezekiel, Moses, Jacob and David.  The implicit question raised by this song is clear: will your name be added to the list of witnesses for our Lord?

Be honest in all you do and bring glory to your Father in heaven.  It’s simple to say, but difficult to do in various circumstances.  But, our Lord is with us and His Spirit will guide our mouths so that we don’t sin with our words.  May we pray for His help as we daily seek to do His will.

Father, I pray that I would glorify You in my speech and actions as I go throughout the world in the power of Your Spirit.  When my words have harmed my witness, I pray for forgiveness.  May I not be hypocritical, but may I reflect the love and nature of Your Son as I interact with others and as I live out my testimony each day.

WHAT DID I SAY?

The other day I was looking at our table setting and pondered the place mats.  On the front, as I was looking at it, is a border with a paisley design running down the center.

placemat front

The back is the same fabric as the border, uniform and without any extra design. 

placemat back

The place mat performs the same function, no matter which side is up; but the two sides are definitely different.

It made me think of what people say, and how sometimes they say one thing when, immediately thereafter, they say something else.  Or, they may say the same words on two occasions, but the meaning is very different.  For example, consider the words “Bless her heart!”  Said with a loving spirit, the words can be comforting, to be sure.  But, said with a condescending tone (as sometimes occurs in the South!), those same words indicate anything but blessing! 

Scripture says much about our speech.  Indeed, a search for the word “word” reveals hundreds of instances of its use in the text of Scripture.  Here are some illustrations of speech and its ramifications:

Words can bring about thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, such as when Abraham’s servant found Rebekah and she was given to him to take to Isaac as his wife:

“When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD.”

Genesis 24:52

Other words can bring sorrow and strife within the family, as when Esau found out that Jacob, his twin brother, had taken Esau’s birthright blessing.

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!””

Genesis 27:34

The Psalmist wrote of the power of words on multiple occasions.  Here are a couple for consideration:

“And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.”

Psalm 41:6

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. …”

Psalm 59:12

In these verses we see the one who comes and brings platitudes, probably with a smile on his face, but the real purpose of the visit is to gain information, not to bring comfort.  Then, when the visit is over, the phone line lights up with the “dirt” discovered during the “comforting” visit!

There are many references to words in the Book of Proverbs as well.

“The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor.”

Proverbs 22:12

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 29:20

Lest we think only harsh pronouncements are made in Proverbs, we also read:

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

Proverbs 16:24

In today’s American culture, this proverb may not have much meaning to the general reader.  But, I well remember when my own Father would get a jar of honey, which included the honeycomb.  He would relish the sweetness of the honeycomb, including eating it in front of me with his eyes closed and a soft “Mmmmm” sounding from the depths of his being. 

Such is the picture of one uttering gracious words to another who is in need of love and encouragement.

We seem to capitalize on the flippant, hasty word, but such is not the perspective of Scripture.  Indeed, the Lord takes what we say seriously, often more seriously than we take our own words!  This truth is evident in Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:36-37

Considering the number of words that I speak each day, Jesus’ words cause me to stop and contemplate what I have said or what I am in the process of saying.  My prayer is that of David, so long ago, as recorded in Psalm 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14

placemats 2

Father, I speak so carelessly, and there are times that I want to retract what I have said but I cannot put my mouth in reverse!  Forgive me, Lord, when I have spewed forth things that are unloving, unhelpful, or even untrue.  May my words be acceptable to You, my loving Lord and Savior.

 

“YOU SURE LOOK LIKE YOUR FATHER!”

Many years ago, before my biological children were born, we were foster parents for several children who were placed, for a variety of reasons, in a nearby children’s home. 

As an “adventure” one weekend, we took our foster children to a Civil War battlefield, complete with canons and stacks of cannonballs.  It also had a museum and much for the children to interact with as they learned about what happened at the Chickamauga Battlefield so many years earlier. 

When we went to the cashier to pay for our souvenirs, the Park Ranger standing there looked at our family and said to our son, “Boy, you sure look like your Father!” and to our daughter he said “And, you really look like your Mom!”  We smiled at him and paid for our goodies, and then left. 

In the car, we chuckled about the Ranger’s well-meaning comments.  They were especially humorous since both children were in foster care and of no blood relation to us.  Furthermore, they were not brother and sister but were from two separate families. 

Ultimately, I did have two children, a son and daughter, and when they were in preschool, my husband left us and divorce ensued.

Then the Lord brought Bill into our lives and, 31 years later, we are still married and the “children” (now in their 40s) are very much in love with him.   

When Bill had taken our son to the store for some clothing, the cashier looked at the two of them and said “Boy, your sure look like your Father!”   Without correcting the clerk, without discussing step-relationships, and without missing a beat, our son said “Yes, I do.”

Father and son marathon cropped
Father and son running in a marathon.

We were thinking about these comments recently and I wondered if I looked like my Father.  Do you?

We have just concluded consideration of just a few of the attributes of God, the Father, and I thought we should bring those discussion down to earth.  Do we look like our Heavenly Father?

I know that we cannot be like God, we are merely creatures who are sinful and who live in a fallen world.  But some of the attributes that are of God can be found in us if we let Him live in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. 

For example, Eternality is totally outside of our experience, we are time-bound, temporal, finite.   But Mercy is something that we can extend to those who wrong us in some way.

Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence are attributes that no one would ever credit me with having, that’s for sure.  They reside within God and are not communicable to either you or me. 

Holiness is surely one of the attributes that sets God apart from the sinful creation ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.   But, Scripture says that we are to be holy. 

“For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.””

Leviticus 11:45

“but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.””

1 Peter 1:15-16

I cannot be holy on my own nor can I become holy through any effort or action that I take.  I am sinful and will be sinful all my life.  But through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, in the eyes of God, I can be holy.

Justice is another attribute of God that is tied to His Holiness.  God is repeatedly called Just in Scripture and we are told that His actions are always just. 

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-18

While Justice is an attribute of God’s intrinsic nature, it is also something that we are commanded to be.

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

Micah 6:8

Love, the attribute of God’s nature which Jonathan Edwards called “the sum of all Christianity”.  God loved us even when we were sinners and unable to approach Him even in prayer. Through the Holy Spirit, we were made part of God’s family because of His love.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of an olive tree into which branches have been grafted, the tree, rooted in Jesus Christ, is referencing the Jews while the branches that were grafted onto the tree reference the Gentiles. 

Adoption is another image presented in Scripture with respect to God’s love.  The Amplified Holy Bible renders Ephesians 1:4-6 as follows:

Just as [in His love] He chose us in Christ [actually selected us for Himself] [as His own] before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy [that is, consecrated, set apart for Him, purpose-driven] and blameless in His sight.  In love He predestined and lovingly planned for us to be adopted to Himself as [His own] children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the kind intention and good pleasure of His will to the praise of His glorious grace and favor, which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved [His Son, Jesus Christ].

We have been loved by God, through Christ Jesus, and have been adopted into His family.  What does that mean for us here on earth, surrounded by so many who do not know Him?  We are to love each other and are to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ so that men can see Him when looking at us.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

John 15:8-9

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

John 15:12

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:16-17

So, the question hangs in the air – do you look like your Heavenly Father?

          At church on Sunday morning?

          At the supermarket on Tuesday?

          At the work meeting where your project is being criticized?

          When someone cuts you off on the highway?

          When you can’t think because the neighbors’ dogs are barking?

Do you look like your Heavenly Father?  Do I?

 

Father, we so easily call You Father even though we had nothing to do with Your adoption of us.  Your grace in giving us eternal life came at the incredible cost of Your Beloved Son’s atoning death.  Your mercy was extended to us even while we were still wallowing in our sin. Oh, Father.  Your love and compassion is too wonderful for us to comprehend.  All we can do is thank You and pray that we would be transformed through Your Spirit into the image of Your Beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  May we look more and more like Jesus and, thus, more and more like You each day.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – Concluding thoughts

For the past number of weeks, we have considered a number of God’s attributes, looking at scripture and asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand and appreciate our God more and more each day.  I must confess that, while we have thought about 13 attributes, this is clearly not an all encompassing listing.  I would encourage you to do your own study of God’s attributes; I am confident that it will enrich your relationship with your heavenly Father. 

During the time of our study, we have considered:

  • Eternality – the attribute that attests to God’s existence from all eternity past as well as future. In short, God has always existed.  He is outside of time; indeed, He created time for His creation. 
  • Mercy – the attribute which we rely on daily as we come to God in repentance and seek forgiveness for the sins which we so readily commit against Him. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, God extends mercy to us because we are covered by His Son’s precious, atoning blood.
  • Goodness – the attribute which underlies God’s character. God IS good.  We have no way of knowing that which is good apart from what God has revealed to us.  Indeed, scripture teaches that there is no one who is good, “no not one”.  Goodness belongs to God.
  • Omnipotence – the attribute which highlights God’s power. There is nothing that He cannot do.  He has “all – power” – He is omnipotent.  While it seems that He is powerless at times when horrific evil raises its head, God is watching and waiting to take action in His time and for His purposes.  Rest assured, Beloved, God is not powerless – have faith and see what He will do.
  • Holiness – this attribute focuses on the “set apartness” of God. He is holy.  He is set apart from all that is sinful; from all that is unclean.  His holiness is shown in His glory and magnificence.  We are called to be holy as well, but our holiness can only come through Him; it is not intrinsic to our nature or our actions.
  • Omnipresence – the attribute of God which describes his presence in all places. He is all present.  Psalm 139 highlights this attribute beautifully.  There is no place where we can go that we will not be with God.  He cannot lose us because He is omnipresent.  When ask God to be present with us during prayer, we are acknowledging that we desire His presence and it is also a conscious reminder that He is, indeed, with us. 
  • Immanence – the attribute of God which is akin to omnipresence but wonderfully different. Immanence highlights the fact that He not only is present everywhere, He is working even through the minutiae of our lives to produce a love for and enjoyment of His Word and, in fact, of Himself.  God takes an active part in what is going on in His world.
  • Immutability – the attribute of immutability means that God will not change His mind when it comes to His ultimate will for His children’s care and protection.  God does not change – a characteristic that is totally foreign to us.  He is immutable.  He is the same today as He was before creation even existed. Therefore, since God does not change, we have confidence that His character will remain the same and that which He has willed, will, in fact, occur.   
  • Righteousness – this attribute means that God’s character or nature always leads Him to do that which is right.  We know that God is holy — righteousness is His holiness in action. We, too, are called to be righteous, but we cannot do so on our own merit.  Rather, we rely on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 
  • Omniscience – this attribute is the third of the “all” or “omni” attributes and it refers to God’s all-knowledge. He is all-knowing.  There is nothing that takes God by surprise.  He knows each person, and even to the extent of knowing the number of hairs on your head. 
  • Justice – this attribute is tied to God’s holiness.  Disobedience, sin, demands punishment because God is holy.  In His mercy, however, God provided a ransom for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  R. C. Sproul said:

The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross.  If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus, he was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God.  If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross.  Here is where our astonishment should be focused.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 121

  • Sovereignty – God is sovereign over all mankind or anything that mankind worships, nothing compares to our God and Lord. God’s sovereignty is a tremendous comfort to the believer because it enables him to have confidence that he does not need to fear, God is still on His throne and He is still sovereign – in charge – in control, no matter what might be going on in this temporal world.
  • Love – this attribute was called “the sum of all Christianity” by the Puritan Theologian and Pastor, Jonathan Edwards. God’s love, agape love, is total, unconditional and everlasting.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

One final thought.  We have rather dissected God’s attributes, separating them one from another so that we could consider each of them in their fullness.  But, God is not made up of separate parts – these attributes exist in Him and they are all active at the same time, eternally.  Dr. Sproul says it like this:

God’s perfection applies to all of His attributes.  His power is perfect; it has no weaknesses or any possibility of weakness.  His knowledge is not only omniscient but reflects perfect omniscience.  There is nothing that God does not know or that He could possibly learn. … God’s love, His wrath, His mercy – all that He is — is perfect. Not only is He perfect, but He is eternally and immutably so.  There never was a time when God was less than perfect and there is no possibility that in the future He may slip into any kind of imperfection. What has been with God will be so forever.  His perfection is immutable.  It cannot change. 

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 198

Beloved, honor this incredible, majestic, holy God and be in reverent awe of Him and of His power, justice, mercy and love.  Come to Him and remember His attributes and give glory to Him, now and forever more.

Father, we cannot conceive of Your attributes in their fullness and beauty.  We have insufficient words or understanding to comprehend Your nature.  But, we bow in humble submission to You and declare Your greatness.  Forgive us for our unbelief, for our disobedience, for our refusal to help our neighbor.  May we reflect on Your attributes and may we praise Your holy name.

 

GOOD INSTRUCTIONS – BAD RESULTS

Recently we have not been purchasing bread from the grocery; rather, I have been making our bread at home, and I found that I love doing it.  There obviously are a multitude of reasons to make your own bread, if you have the time, including the lack of preservatives, the missing ingredients that we can’t name, and the wonderful smell the kitchen has with home baked bread cooling on the counter.

Today, I realized that we did not have any bread ready to eat, so first thing this morning, I got the flour out and proceeded to make a recipe that I have used many times before.  Rather than having the bread machine bake it, I let it mix the ingredients and then go through a rise cycle before I take it out and put it in a loaf pan for the second rising prior to baking.  This, too, is my normal routine.

When the time came to retrieve the bread from the machine, I opened the top and found something far less than an appealing loaf of bread. 

bad loaf

It was hard, lumpy, not even filling the bread machine, certainly not having risen any, if at all.  I was astonished.  This “loaf” was not worth baking, and it found out what the inside of the kitchen garbage can looked like!

I went back to the drawing board and followed the recipe for bread a second time.  This time, when it came to adding the butter, I had a chill run down my back, and it was not because the butter was cold.  I instantly realized what happened to the first loaf – I had omitted the oil.  A look at the stick of butter waiting in the butter dish confirmed my suspicion.  Rather than missing 2 tablespoons, a whole, untouched, stick of butter stared up at me from its dish.

All this to say, the butter was added to the second loaf and it is rising as it should.

good loaf rising

As I thought about what went wrong, I understood that I missed using one of the ingredients when I prepared the first loaf.  I had the recipe, and I looked at it, but I overlooked that one thing and the result was disastrous, at least it was for that loaf!

Our God provided His instruction book for us, and it is called the Holy Bible.  The Jews understand this as they have the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament, books that specifically identify the statutes and rules that God has laid out for His people to follow.  The New Testament establishes that the law of the Old Testament still contains God’s law, but now there is a new understanding and emphasis.

See what Jesus said:

“”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

Matthew 5:17

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:21-24

You see, Jesus understood the Law that governed the lives of the people.  And He understood that they were not keeping that Law.  He understood that they thought they were keeping the Law because they did not actually murder anyone, but there was hatred in their hearts, and malicious words coming from their mouths.  He took that Law and expanded it to include the status of the heart.  If there is anger, if there are insults, if there is an attitude of condemnation toward others then the Law is broken just as if a dagger had been placed in the chest of the victim.

Jesus further 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

God is merciful toward the just and the unjust, toward the evil and the good.  So, we should not be unmerciful toward others, as we also are sinners and deserving of punishment.

In Matthew 15, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, forcibly pointing out their hypocrisy:

For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God’, he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”

Matthew 15:4-6

Here Jesus is explicitly stating that the commandment pronounced by God in Exodus 20 is to be followed.  But instead, the Pharisees twisted the commandment and said that when a person gave God that which would have been used to care for their parents, there was no need to honor his parents.  Jesus specifically admonished that by their man-made rule, the Pharisees had made God’s word void.

Beloved, the instructions are there in the Book.  The fact that they may be difficult to follow does not nullify their import.  God’s word is true and it endures forever. 

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Isaiah 40:8

When I did not put the butter in the bread, it did not mix well and I did not have a loaf that I could enjoy later in the day.  I didn’t follow the directions, and I paid the consequences.  Likewise, when we don’t follow God’s instructions, things do not go well.  There will be consequences, whether in this life or the next.

” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

John 6:35

Read God’s Word, ruminate on it, and digest its marvelous truths.  Feast on the Bread of Life, and follow the instructions given.  You will enjoy an abundant life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father, I praise Your Name for Your Word that gives us the way to eternal life through our Savior, Jesus Christ.  I thank You too that Your Word provides everything that we need to live a life that is pleasing to You.  Forgive me when I have failed to do so, when I have failed to follow Your instructions.  Let Your Spirit enlighten my heart so that I will be sensitive to Your guidance and then give me the courage to follow Your direction. 

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

We know that there are three primary words for love in the New Testament that enrich its meaning in Scripture beyond what our English translation can provide.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved, and it is the type of love that comes from God.

God loves His creation, and more than the creation generally, God loves His people.  Moses expressed it like this:

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

In other words, God’s love is not dependent on anything that we have or any action that we have taken.  It is not dependent on our position in society or the status of our bank account.  Indeed, we have nothing that God has not given us, and we can give Him nothing that he needs … He loves us because He is love.

The amazing aspect of this attribute is that it is complete, unconditional and everlasting love.  A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) said this about God’s love:

God’s love is measureless.  It is more.  It is boundless.  It has no bounds because it is not a thing but a facet of the essential nature of GodHis love is something He is, and because He is infinite, that love can enfold the whole created world in itself and have room for ten thousand times ten thousand worlds beside.

The Apostle John elaborates on this incredible attribute of our marvelous God when he says:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. … We love because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

And now we come to the crux of the matter.  John said it well – “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”  This week, known by many as Passion Week, we have prepared for Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  It is truly a day of joyous celebration for the Christian. 

But, before we can properly arrive at Sunday’s celebration we need to ruminate upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the Friday night when sin thought it had triumphed over mankind.  This is the supreme example of God’s Agape love.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinnersChrist died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.

We, who were wallowing in our sin and were deserving of nothing but death and judgment from a holy God, were granted righteousness and full pardon from the judgment that our sin surely deserved when Christ died for us.  His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His powerful resurrection from the dead provides us with His righteousness because He took our sin and paid for it with His precious blood on the cross.

That, Beloved, is Agape love.  We don’t have to get clean before God will love us.  We don’t have to do anything before God will love us. The Holy Spirit said it through Paul’s writing: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is the example of divine, Agape, love for a being that can offer nothing … it is supreme love that is contingent not on the person being loved but on the nature of the One doing the loving.

This is the love that our Lord exhibited when He took our place on that cross.  It is the love that is evident when Jesus, suffering mightily on the cross, prayed for the soldiers who, even as He spoke, were dividing His clothing among themselves:

“”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

Luke 23:34

Love is a principle of action rather than of emotion.  It is a purpose of honoring and benefiting the other party.  It is a matter of doing things for people out of compassion for their need, whether or not we feel personal affection for them.

J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 182.

This love that has been extended to us deserves our response in love extended back to God and then to others.

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things.  In the book Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards calls love the “sum of all Christianity”.  And he renders the following exhortation:

A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men, will hinder the exercise of love to God… If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming [to] Christians.  An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian, is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!

May we relish in this glorious attribute of our holy God – Love.  And may we honor and glorify the embodiment of that love in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who endured unimaginable horror on the cross as He absorbed all our sin in Himself so that we could be called the children of God, all on the day we call Good Friday.  And may we live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we glorify God through compassion and loving kindness as we share the good news of Jesus Christ and the glorious message of hope through His resurrection which we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Sovereign God, I praise You and glorify You as only You are worthy of adoration.  Thank You for the love that has been expressed through the sacrifice of Your Son so that my sin has been paid for and my debt extinguished through His righteousness.  I bow in humble obedience to You, my Lord and Master.

NEAR THE CROSS

For the past couple of weeks, a neighborhood church has had the following phrase on their sign: “Jesus keep me near the cross”. 

At first, my mind went directly to the hymn that we used to sing in my home church when I was a little girl.  The hymn, entitled “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” was written by Frances (Fanny) Crosby and was published in 1869.   I loved singing that song and my heart swelled when I thought of it.

Later, however, I started pondering that phrase.  Do we really want to be “near the cross”?  Have we thought about what that entails?

The cross was not a beautiful thing that people wanted to be near.  It certainly was not a symbol that was hung around your neck as a personal decoration!

It was a means of killing people in a most humiliating, vicious, excruciating manner.  It was gory and ugly.  It was meant to be a deterrent to those who would try to copy the wrongdoing that resulted in the criminal being executed.  The cross was a well-known instrument of cruel and ignominious punishment.  It originated with the Phoenicians and was borrowed then by the Greeks and Romans .  The most heinous criminals, especially robbers and the authors and/or abettors of insurrections, were executed in this horrific manner.

Each of the Gospel writers of Scripture record the crucifixion.  For example, Mark records the following just before Judas betrayed Jesus and the soldiers arrived:

“And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” … Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14:27. 29-31

Peter, dear impetuous Peter. This is the same person, please recall, who saw Jesus walking on the water and who got out of the boat to go to Jesus.  “Here I come, Jesus; I’m with you.”  But then when he took his eyes off the Lord and saw he was on water, he sank, screaming for Jesus to help! 

This Peter said “I’ll be with you Jesus, no matter what, I’m your man.  I’ll be there even if all these other disciples run away.  Not me, I’ll stick right by your side!” (my own paraphrase,)   Jesus knew Peter well (just as He knows each of us) and Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny knowing Him.  But dear Peter just clung to his original position – “I’m your man, right by your side, through thick and thin, even if that means death!”

Then Judas and the soldiers arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal kiss was given, and the soldiers seized Jesus.  Then we read these awful, haunting words:

And they all left him and fled.”

Mark 14:50

Suddenly the bravado was gone.  The talk was forgotten.  The three years of listening and learning from The Master was behind them.  In modern terms, when the rubber met the road, they ran.  In clear, heart-rending honesty, Mark records what occurred to a “young man” who many commentators believe was Mark himself:

“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”

Mark 14:51-52

Can’t you see the picture?   Can you imagine the downward spiral?  “We’re with you Jesus, all the way!”  Oh, the soldiers, and clubs, and spears.  We’re out of here.  Oh, they grabbed my clothes, I’ll keep running even if I am naked!

No, Beloved, the cross was not a lovely thing to look at.  It was a place of jeering, of mocking, a place of taunting the criminals and laughing at their predicament.  No one wanted to be considered a friend of the condemned man.  The person who was a friend was also a likely candidate for crucifixion!

So, all of Jesus’ disciples and friends had abandoned him.  He was beaten so viciously that He was unable to carry His cross all the way to Golgotha, the execution site.  No disciple was there to help; instead a man in the crowd was grabbed by the guards and handed the cross to carry for the Lord.

As Jesus was hanging there, there were only a few who were present with sadness and love in their hearts for Him:

“but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

John 19:25-27

Jesus’ mother was standing by the cross, along with several other women.  The disciple John apparently was standing near but not as close as the women. 

Notably, none of the other disciples were mentioned in any of the Gospel narratives.  They had fled and were well outside the scope of the cross and all its ramifications. 

So, would we find ourselves standing near the cross?  Or would we be like the clear majority of folks who had heard Jesus and who loved Him and who declared their undying loyalty until difficulty came and then they ran?

The second verse of the hymn “Near the Cross” says:

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me
;

There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.

I pray that God would give me the grace, mercy and perseverance to stand near the cross; and to stand up for the cross, even when difficulties arise, when persecutions may threaten, when family members criticize, when it is uncomfortable to be a follower of Jesus. 

“but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” 

Matthew 10:33 

 

May we stand firm, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the light of our Lord shines through us when we stand at the foot of His cross.

Please listen to the rendition of Fanny Crosby’s well-known hymn, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, as sung by the Smucker Family with the video by SE Samonte, 2013.

Father, I am afraid that I would have been like the disciples who ran and scattered when Jesus was arrested, who did not stay by His side in support of Him, who hid and trembled in fear before they saw Him resurrected from the grave.  I pray that I would have the grace and strength to stand for You no matter what, as I am kept near the cross through the love of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.