THE POWER OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD

Today we are seeing, once again, the power of the Almighty God as we observe Hurricane Florence pummeling the eastern coast of the United States.  While her winds are “only” 90 miles per hour, she is traveling across the countryside at a mere 5 miles per hour as she pours rain down on thousands of people at a rate of 1 inch per hour. 

Numbers like that are staggering when you consider them for even a little while.  The trees split asunder from the stress caused by the sustained winds and they fall over from the weakening of their root systems in the over-soaked land around them.  All this, plus debris flying through the wind, is downing power lines and causing widespread loss of power to thousands of people.  Reports have been coming in about incredible flooding of their homes both from rain and the storm surge pushing the water inland.

Moreover, the hurricane is forecast to affect people and communities in multiple states, hundreds of miles from the coastline.   Indeed, we are told that the rain and wind from this hurricane will affect us for almost a week … and then comes the aftermath which will have ramifications for many months, if not years.

I’m not a meteorologist and I certainly don’t have any equipment to measure the weather – I am just pointing out what I have read and heard on the news reports of the storm. 

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Mountain view in Alaska

I am, however, a Christian and my Bible tells of a flood in which the rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.  And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

Genesis 7:11-12

Verses 17 – 20 of this chapter continue describing the deluge of water:

The flood continued forty days on the earth.  The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.  The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters.  And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.  The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

By the way, a cubit was about 18 inches or 45 centimeters, so 15 cubits above the mountains would be 270 inches, or 22.5 feet.

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Yosemite half dome scenic view

We should pray for those who are in the path of Hurricane Florence and we should seek God’s providential grace that they be kept safe from harm.  We should pray for the first responders to be given safe passage as they seek to help others, for the news reporters as they try to let us know what is happening to others in our land, and for those who have been displaced by evacuation that they be given comfort and peace even as their lives have been upended by the storm.

While the storm is devastating, we can find peace even in this hard time when we remember that the Almighty God is in control and His purposes will not be thwarted by anything.  He loves His children with a love that is greater and that is stronger than any hurricane or any other power on earth.  Therefore, even in this, or any other, disaster we can praise His Name.

Blessings to you today – and forever more.

Father, there are times when no words can express our concern, our fear, and our awe at the manifestation of Your mighty power.  We tend to think of You in terms of humanity when You are the Creator and Sustainer, the Giver of Life and the Redeemer of our souls.  Your power is unlimited and Your love is unmatched.  I praise You, Father.  Please comfort all those who are going through the hurricane now.  Protect them and may Your perfect will prevail in all things.

UNITY AND THE BODY

Recently I saw a cartoon based on Deuteronomy 27:6 which reads:

“you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, …”

I then found it on a website of funny Christian jokes:

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The drawing presented this scenario:   A family sitting down to dinner, with heads bowed and hands folded.  Mom and Dad at the ends of the table with Junior on the side between them.  This evening, Junior had been asked to pray.  The expression on the faces of his parents reflects horror when he prays:

“We want to thank you Lord for all that you have given us. In return, I hope you like this burnt offering my Mom prepared for all of us …”

The desire to thank the Lord is wonderful.  The burnt offering analogy is a bit harsh and not at all in the context of what Scripture was directing.

We often see this frequently humorous but still misguided effort from children.  But sometimes we see it duplicated in adults as well. Then, it is not quite so humorous.  

You know, the joke that has too much salt in it not to hurt; the backhanded comment that was not intended for the subject to hear, but they did; the criticism that came from a lack of understanding all the circumstances; and the list could go on and on. 

What do we do then?  Frequently we laugh and shrug it off, as if it did not matter.  But it often does.

Many times, the response is for feelings to get hurt, anger to burst into flames, frustrations fester and relationships can be broken, sometimes irrevocably. While this is indeed unfortunate in our social or work environment, it is heartbreaking when something like this divides the Church.  Not only is it heartbreaking, it is unnecessary.

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia established in 1802

As Christians, we have been touched by the Holy Spirit and He lives within us.  It is His work that convicts us of our sin, teaches us of God’s will, enlightens us as to the Word of God, etc.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  He is just as much God as is the Father and as is Jesus Christ, the Son. 

How the Holy Spirit indwells each and every Christian is beyond my understanding, but it is a doctrine that I believe and I have experienced His work in my life.  So, while I don’t understand the “how”, I understand the “fact”.

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Illinois church with cross on their building

Since there is only one Holy Spirit, and since He is within each believer, how come Christians often can’t stand each other?   I submit that it is the natural man coming out … the sin nature that all of us have.  After all, Satan does not want the Church to be successful, to be unified, to be fruitful.  It is his desire that no one hears of Christ, that no one remains resolute in their faith, that no one looks to the Lord on a daily basis. 

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 Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in Roanoke, Virginia

Instead, we need to be mindful of Paul’s exhortation that we be unified as Christians. 

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Ephesians 4:1-7

We as Christians are to be one … one in the spirit, one in the Lord.  But, this does not mean that all are identical.  We are, indeed, all sinners saved by grace.  That is to be sure.  But, we are not clones of each other, although we are all in the process of being transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior.  (See Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18) 

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Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Rather, the Lord has given each of us varying gifts and talents that are for His use in accomplishing His purpose in the world through us.  Just as our body is not composed of one part, like the lung, neither is the Body of Christ composed of one part, all Christians being the same.  So, there will be differences in worship style, in church buildings, in mission efforts … but the fundamentals are identical – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. 

Just as all the churches pictured above look different and have varying worship styles and languages, if they honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, if they teach from His Word, if they praise His Name, if they baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if they praise and glorify God the Father, then we can call them brothers and sisters in the Lord.  The variety of church styles, worship styles, song styles is immaterial as long as the fundamentals are in place.

Don’t let division among Christians cause any to leave the fellowship, cause the church to split, cause brothers and sisters to go against each other in anger.  Through the power of the Spirit, resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Keep the church, the Body of Christ, unified and healthy.

Blessings to each of you as you walk in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that these words will bear fruit for Your Kingdom.  I pray that the Body of Christ will remain strong and vibrant, that it will grow and bear much fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ.  I pray that Satan will be kept away from our churches so that the doctrine will remain pure, so that the parishioners will remain strong, and so that the church’s witness will proceed to go throughout the land untarnished by division or backbiting among its members.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The Arlington International Racecourse is located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  The track officially opened in 1927 with 20,000 people as Jockey Joe Boliero won riding a horse named Luxembourg to victory. 

In 1981 Arlington was the home of the world’s first million-dollar thoroughbred race: The Arlington Million.

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The result of that race is immortalized in bronze at the top of the paddock at Arlington, where a statue shows jockey Bill Shoemaker riding John Henry as the horse charged down the stretch, coming from way back, to catch The Bart at the wire. 

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It was a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the 40 to 1 long shot, and the statue celebrates Thoroughbred racing’s inaugural million dollar race.  The sculpture’s name is “Against  All Odds.”

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The sculpture is captivating; it is mesmerizing.  You can feel the tension, hear the crowd, see the strain and effort of both horse and jockey.  The horse ran the race and, against all odds, became the champion, receiving the victor’s crown at the end.

Running the race is, of course, a paramount objective at Arlington.  It is also a paramount objective of the Christian.  I don’t mean that each of us must go to a race track and run a marathon, sprint, or even a trip around the track’s oval. 

Rather, I am referring to running the race in our witness and daily walk with the Lord.

The Apostle Paul uses the race analogy often in his letters to the churches of his day as an illustration of the dedication and focus the Christian should have in spreading the gospel of Christ.   Consider the following passages:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

2 Timothy 2:5

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Ultimately, Paul says:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

The horses competing in the race rely on the jockey and their training to carry them through at the race.  They only have their own resources to rely upon, and on that day in 1981, John Henry pulled out the stops and won the race, receiving his crown.  It was a perishable crown, but that is not what the Christian race is all about.  The Christian’s crown will be presented by the Lord Jesus Christ and it will be an imperishable crown. In the words of our Lord:

“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.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

Train yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually for the race that is set before you.  Keep running the race even when it is hard and you are tired.  Remember that you have the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, to guide you and to give you the words to speak as you witness to others of Jesus and His love. 

The race we are in as Christians is not one on which to wager.  Our running is secure in Jesus and through His grace, power and might we will, like Paul, fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to finish the race You have set before me.  I pray, too, that I would keep the faith You have given me and that I would persevere to the end as Your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

Long before I moved from my native Illinois to Chattanooga, Tennessee, I saw a barn with its roof painted with the words “See 7 States from Rock City”.  This is a sample of one such barn.  The barns were ubiquitous.  They were not limited to Tennessee or the surrounding states.  I was in Des Moines, Iowa when I looked out the passenger window to see a Rock City barn roof hundreds of miles away from Tennessee.  They often would add the location, “Chattanooga, Tennessee”, or perhaps it would say “atop Lookout Mountain”, but the message was the same.  Rock City was a place where you could see 7 states at the same time.

Rock City barn

While the marketing pitch is a good one, of course, you really can’t see 7 states at one time. The physical reality is that on a very clear day, the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville, about 100 miles away, can be seen.  But, the curvature of the earth’s surface places any of the mountains in Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia below the horizon.  But that is of small concern when you stand at Rock City’s Lover’s Leap and see the compass points aimed at the seven states:  Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  In short, the view from Rock City is extraordinary and one that is worth the stop on your trip around the area, particularly on a clear sunny day.

Since we were from the state with Rock City, while we were on vacation, we headed off to see Idaho’s City of Rocks, a National Park Service Reserve outside Almo, Idaho.  Here we were, two people from Tennessee looking forward to getting to Idaho’s City of Rocks.

The name was the same thing in reverse, but what we found when we arrived at the site was very different from what we were used to in Tennessee.  First, the GPS routed us through miles of country roads with planted fields as far as the eye could see.  The fields gave way to mountains with steep crevices and no guard rails, not to mention the cattle grazing in the “open range” mountain terrain.  And, the road was gravel, rather like driving over a washboard.   After a couple of hours in the fields, there was a sign for City of Rocks.  (In fairness, unbeknownst to us, the GPS routed us to City of Rocks via the “back entrance”.)

We found it ironic that, as we left the City of Rocks, alongside the road to the Visitor’s Center was a souvenir shop named, … wait for it … Rock City!

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While the road to Rock City on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee is not necessarily for the faith-hearted, it is paved and there are well-marked intersections with directions to Rock City.  Further, Rock City has well-defined paths around the cliffs and rocks that define the area with a gift shop at its entrance.  Not so in Idaho.  

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But, we found out that the City of Rocks is a favorite rock-climbing area because it is rough, undeveloped and has huge rocks to clamber over.

Don’t misunderstand me – City of Rocks was beautiful in its own way.  But it was vastly different from Rock City.  The names were exceedingly similar, but the reality was totally different.

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We in our society today face the same kind of scenario when we consider the teaching that we receive in our churches.  We hear people say that they are teaching what the Word of God has to say, and we listen to great oratory and think that we have heard a wonderful sermon.  But, if you read the Bible to see if what they are teaching is what Jesus taught, you will find that it may sound the same, but the reality is totally different. 

For example, it is exciting to hear that if you believe in Jesus, He will give you everything you want in your life.  In short, if you are not rich beyond belief, then you just don’t have enough faith!  The prosperity gospel has many adherents. 

But, Scripture does not support this “gospel”.  Indeed, Jesus said:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Matthew 16:24-26

That doesn’t sound like the prosperity gospel to me!  Taking up your cross … losing your life for Jesus’ sake!  Indeed, Jesus said that His followers would have persecution in their lives, and so they did.  (Read John 15:20)  In fact, after the stoning of Stephen, we read:

“And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Acts 8:1

The City of Rocks and Rock City are very different places.  The message of Jesus Christ as given in the Bible is very different from that which is preached and taught in many of our churches in the 21st century. 

Paul warned the Galatians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Galatians 1:6-9

Paul did not allow for any gospel other than the Good News of Jesus Christ.  No distortion and no changes.  No “almost the same.”  He said they should not listen to any other preaching that is contrary to what they heard from Paul.

So, is a distortion of the gospel of Christ alright for you?  Or do you want to follow Jesus by reading His Word, listening to teaching from His Word, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you discern what is the true and correct doctrine to follow.

Father, enable me to identify what doctrine is false and what is true so that I can know with confidence that I am following Jesus Christ alone.  Give me wisdom and may I listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all things.

IF THOSE WALLS COULD TALK!

Often, when we are driving down the road, I will see an old barn or house, dilapidated and long unused, and I think “what if those walls could talk!”  I wonder what we would learn about the lives lived there, the hopes and dreams that were discussed, the hopes and dreams that were dashed, the laughter of children that rang through the halls, the cries of delight at holidays … what if those walls could talk!

While visiting Vicksburg, Mississippi, we stopped at the Court Square in downtown.  There we saw this plaque which gave the history of the town and its courthouse.  It was as if the walls did talk, at least in very brief terms.

Warren County Courthouse, Court Square plaque Vicksburg MS
Plaque in Court Square, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The plaque reads:

Court Square

When Rev. Newet Vick founded Vicksburg in 1819, he designated this city block as a public square, and after the city was incorporated and became the county seat in 1825, a court house was built on the site: it burned in 1856 and the present structure was erected.  It was here that federal soldiers lowered the confederate flag and raised the union banner on July 4, 1863, and Gen. U. S. Grant reviewed his victorious army.  Many famous Americans have spoken on Court Square, including Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt.  The building was abandoned as a court house in 1939 and became a museum on June 3, 1948, under the leadership of Mrs. Eva Whitaker Davis and the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society.

Court Square, clearly, was pivotal to the community and many significant events occurred there throughout the 100 years of its history.  Now the courthouse is a museum where people, like us, can come and see detailed information about what occurred in the area throughout the years.  

What if the walls could talk!  The monument gives us some insight into what the walls of the courthouse might say, but not everything is provided there.  It is just a sample of the highlights.

The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about the variety of events in one’s life and then warns that we should enjoy those things that God gives us, but we should be aware that there will be a judgment. 

“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

Ecclesiastes 11:8-9

Jesus said:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,”

Matthew 12:36

Some translations of this verse change the word “careless” to “idle” or “empty”.  The meaning is the same, and it is sobering.  We will not hear the highlights of our lives.  Oh no, instead we will hear every careless word that we say … they all will be brought before us when we are being judged before our holy God.  Words that we say in anger, words that we say in jest but which cut like knives, words that we say flippantly without seeing the pain inflicted by the harsh tone, words that we say just to sound important, words spoken about others in the stillness of our home … all the words we speak will be splayed out before God on that day. 

Then, the walls will talk!  Nothing will be hidden … and we will be ashamed.

Praise our Lord and Savior that for those who believe in Jesus through faith in His Word will be covered by His righteousness.  Jesus will, in effect, stand in front of us before God and will blot out those hurtful, wasted words so that we will be unblemished through His righteousness.

Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Rest in His atoning work on the cross of Calvary and in His resurrection from the dead.  Read His Word and confess and repent of your sin, accepting His forgiveness. 

Then, when facing God with our Savior at His side, you will hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Father, I bow in humble thankfulness, gratitude and love, I am in awe of your grace and mercy that was extended to me through Jesus Christ my Savior and Redeemer.  Use these simple words to spread your kingdom in our world, My Lord and my God.

ARE YOU A SOLDIER?

We love to take pictures of courthouses as we travel.  It is understandable since I spent 30 years in the practice of law and was in many courthouses throughout the Southeast United States.

On a visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, we saw the old Warren County Courthouse and decided to look around.  As we were leaving the courthouse, we saw a plaque in honor of the soldiers from Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi, who fought in World War II.  The poem at the top of the granite block is entitled SOLDIERS and it reads:

We were that which others did not want to be, we went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do.  We were … AMERICAN SOLDIERS.

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Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi 

The word “soldier” brings up many different emotions, memories, experiences to people, but I suspect that for the vast majority of people, the word “soldier” encompasses the concept of one who is willing to deny themselves for the benefit of others.  That is certainly what is within the words on the Warren County monument to  Company B of the 106th Engineer (Combat) Battalion, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division of the Mississippi National Guard in the 1940s.  

The Apostle Paul was certainly well acquainted with the role that soldiers had in the Roman world.  He, after all, was imprisoned on more than one occasion, and each time there were soldiers who guarded him who undoubtedly heard Paul’s witness for Christ. 

“And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.”

Acts 28:16

Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul used the analogy of being a soldier when referring to serving Christ Jesus in our walk through this life.  Specifically, in 2 Timothy, Paul told the young preacher:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Being a soldier for Jesus reminds me of a song that I sang as a young child.  It was sung to the tune of The Old Gray Mare and the words went like this: 

I may never march in the infantry;  Ride in the cavalry; .Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy; But I’m in the Lord’s army! 

Yes Sir!  [with a child’s salute]

The concept of being a soldier is especially strong in my heart today as, this past weekend, one of our congregation’s covenant children and a recent high school graduate left our town and flew to the other side of the world so she could work with a mission organization in Asia. 

She will be in a culture totally foreign to her, away from her family, for a year.  She is, in the truest sense of the term, a soldier for Jesus Christ in a foreign land. 

I pray that the Lord will bless her work and will bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of her witness.  I pray that the Lord will give her peace and comfort as she is away from home for such a long time, and I pray that she will be supported through the prayers of the congregation that she left in our town.  [As a parent, I pray too that the Lord will give grace, comfort and peace to her family who will miss her presence daily.]

But, the fact that she left to do her work in the Lord’s army does not mean that there is no such work for me, or for you, to do.  We are all called to be soldiers for Jesus, no matter if it is in a foreign land or across the street.  To paraphrase the Vicksburg granite monument,

We are called to love those who others would not, we will go where others fear to go, and we will give witness even when others fail to do so.   We are … SOLDIERS OF THE KING. 

Listen to my husband’s favorite hymn as presented by 101 Strings on the album Amazing Grace Songs of Faith and Inspiration, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Father, I praise You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Redeemer and King.  I pray that I would be a soldier in your army who operates in accordance with your orders, and that I would be fruitful in my witness as I do your work in my world.

THE WORD OF HIS POWER

The word of His power.  This is a phrase that we don’t hear in our modern speech, but it is wording that is found in Scripture, specifically in the opening of the book of Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  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 sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Hebrews 1:1-3

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Dubois, Wyoming
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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
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Red Canyon, Richfield, Utah

This same creative power was not only extended to Jesus’ work of creation, it also was on display when He was living among us.  The same word “power”, or the Greek word δύναμις which is transliterated as dynamis, was used when people who met Jesus discussed His miraculous works:

“and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Matthew 13:54

“And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!””

Luke 4:36

And it is the same word that Jesus used when He said this to His disciples, as recorded in the first chapter of Acts:

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

Acts 1:8

This same power is available to us when we are doing that which God has told us to do, specifically when we are witnessing of His great love for us as shown through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Praise our God and Father for the work of His Son in creation and in sustaining our universe through the power of His word.  Praise Him also for sending His Son to save us from our sin so that we could have life everlasting with Him.  Silence yourself and worship our God.

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

Psalm 46:10

Father, I thank You for your Son and for His marvelous works in creation.  I thank You, Lord Jesus, for your wondrous love as evidenced by your sacrificial death on the cross, and I thank You, Holy Spirit, for your work in quickening our hearts so that we can believe and have saving faith in our Lord.  I pray that I would silence my fears and concerns so that I can be still before You, as I glorify You, my God and my Redeemer.

TRAVEL IN GOD’S HANDS

We have just returned from a trip that covered over 6,000 miles, through lands that were densely populated and through lands where there was no person or building for hundreds of miles at a time.  We experienced mountains followed by corn fields which were followed by huge ranch areas which had brush, cacti and very few trees.  We were in the desert and going through Monarch Pass which registers over 11,000 feet above sea level.   It was an incredible feeling to be standing at the Continental Divide, ears popping all the while!  

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The variety of the landscape is impossible to describe as we traversed from Tennessee to South Dakota, then to Wyoming, on to Idaho, then to Utah, and Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, ultimately returning to home in East Tennessee.

The trip and the thousands of digital pictures will be subject of many future blog posts, I suspect.  Suffice it to say today that our overwhelming experience was encountering our marvelous God everywhere we looked.  Saint John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

“”Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.””

Revelation 4:11 

This is the song that the twenty-four elders sing to our God, and we echoed that song in our hearts as we saw dramatic scenery that revealed His creative power like we have seldom seen.  Some examples are the Red Canyon outside Richfield, Utah.

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In Indiana we saw the Wabash and Mississinewa Rivers and spent time finding and admiring the Seven Pillars on the river.

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And in Wyoming we saw the Grand Tetons looming over the highway, glorious with their snow covered peaks even in the heat of July.

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And in Yellowstone, the geyser basins were the source of incredible beauty.   The orange surrounding the cobalt blue boiling water is bacteria which thrives in this environment. Watch where you walk, though … the water in these “ponds” is way hotter than the boiling point of water and the ground is very thin.  Boardwalks are the only safe way to experience these vents in the earth’s crust.

As spectacular as all this is, God was not only seen in the grand and glorious scenery splayed out before us.  His providential Hand was experienced first-hand when we were filling the gas tank in the RV in a very small Utah town.  A long-distance truck driver who had been following us for some distance came up to us and said one of the rear coach tires was very low, recommending that we add air as soon as possible.  

We thanked him for his kindness and, when the tank was full, we went to the back of the station where there was a three-bay mechanic’s shop.  The owner came out and looked at the tires, noting that the tread on one was split and four of them were long past their replacement date.  (This clearly was something the mechanic in Tennessee should have told us about, but that’s a different story.)

Needless to say, we replaced four of the six tires on the RV and we were on our way, praising our Lord that He was watching out for us, even when we didn’t know we were in danger.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”

Psalm 143:10 

We have always known God cares for us and is guiding us with His Hand.  But when you can see His Hand working on your behalf, it is overwhelming.  The God who created all this beauty cares about us so much that His immutable love is watching each moment, so that His purpose will be fulfilled in our world and in each of our lives.

Keep your eyes open and see His Hand before you.  Read His Word and let His Spirit speak to your heart and mind.  Bask in the love that our Lord Jesus has for you … He gave His life as a ransom for you.  Praise Him all the day long.

Father, I thank You for the marvelous creation of Your Son.  I thank You that You sustain all things with the power of Your Word, and yet You even know the details of my life as it unfolds before me.  Forgive me when I forget the power of Your Word and when I act as though I am in control.  Take my life, Lord, and make it what You want it to be and may the words of  Scripture bring forth fruit for Your Kingdom. 

THE HOMESTEAD

The term “homestead” means a family’s home, including the house and any other buildings or lands that go with it.  Often, we think of it in terms of a large tract of land, but that is not necessarily required.

However, there is an area in Tennessee, along the Cumberland Plateau, where a New Deal Subsistence Homesteads community was built.  There were about 100 of these communities throughout the country and the Tennessee community is evidence of the ingenuity, hard work and dedication that these folks had.

Of the initial 233 families selected for the Cumberland Homesteads project, 30% were distressed farmers, 30% were unemployed miners, 30% were unemployed textile workers, and 10% were struggling professionals (including teachers, nurses, and a doctor).  Architect William Macy Stanton, who designed a number of buildings in TVA’s planned city of Norris, created the basic design for the homes and other buildings at the Homesteads. The community’s first stone houses were completed in late 1934.  

Although the original purpose of the Homesteads project failed, the community survived, and over half the farms remained in the hands of original homesteaders through the 1950s. Indeed, the homestead house design is still visible if you drive through the area.  There may be some additional rooms added, but the basic homestead house design is still identifiable.

I was speaking with a gentleman who was a child when his parents received a homestead.  He said that they would build the barn first, because that would house the animals that they needed for food and it would hold whatever equipment that they had to use on the farm. 

He laughed and said that, since there was no glass on the barn windows, the rain would come in through the window openings.  That meant that they needed to see which way the wind was blowing so that they could move their hay mattresses and clothing to the other side of the barn so they would not get wet.  This was a vivid memory, and I suspect he could feel the damp hay even as we were speaking.

Homestead water tower

The Homesteads water tower provided a source of water as well as serving as the social headquarters for the community. 

Today, the water tower building is used as a museum recording the existence and perseverance of the community that thrived there almost 100 years ago.  In the museum area, there are hundreds of letters, pictures, and personal items, many of which provide an interesting view of life in the rural Cumberland mountains.

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The typical homestead house was made from the stones that were on the property itself!

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Telephone communication was certainly not something that could fit in your pocket!  In fact, you will notice that the only way to speak into the phone was to put your mouth up at the phone itself.  You would hear by using the ear piece attached by a cord hanging on the side of the phone box.

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This is a picture of a Conlon Zephyr which was a type of ironing machine. Indeed, this was state-of-the-art in the mid-1930s.  The little sign on the fabric reads:

“Flowered feed sacks were welcomed bonuses for the farm wife. She carefully chose her colors and patterns for making dresses, quilts, curtains, etc.”

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The wood stove kept things toasty in the kitchen, likely the area most folks would congregate during the harsh winter on the plateau.

In our world, things always are subject to change.  Today in 2018, we in the United States certainly do not live like they did in the 1930s.  We have electricity and we have cell phones.  Most of us don’t use feed sacks for curtains or clothes.  Some would argue, I suspect, that some of the changes in modern days are not for the better, while other changes have surely made our lives significantly easier.  But like them or not, changes have, and will, come.  Things change.

But there is One who does not change, and I am referring to our God and Father.  Scripture says:

“”For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Malachi 3:6

God, Himself, is saying that He 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. And, He will be the same when time is no more.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

Christ’s divinity and His immutable nature is highlighted by the writer of Hebrews when he says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8  

Praise the Lord that He is unchanging and that His promises are, therefore, secure.  This gives the believer security to know that when we have been adopted into God’s family through faith, we can trust God not to change His mind and “unadopt” us because of something we have done. 

No man can slip through His fingers into the breach of hell if that person is a child of God and has expressed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God neither changes His plan, His covenants, His prophecies, nor His justice. In other words, God is dependable – God is immutable, unchangeable!

While things change in our world, we can be secure in the knowledge and conviction that our God does not change.  His perfect plan for us will be accomplished no matter what the circumstances surrounding us may be.  Thank Him, today, for His wondrous love and mighty strength to keep us in His arms throughout the turmoil and change that we see all around us.

Father, the old hymn says “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” and those words are true.  Christ is the Rock on which I stand when all else around me is tumbling and changing, when the world is rushing to evil and violence, when even Your people are abandoning Your Word.  Father, I pray that my Homestead is in heaven, secure in the grip of Christ my Savior.  I further pray that You would use these thoughts to encourage, challenge and strengthen those who read them. May Your Spirit move in our world, today.