Joy and Sorrow

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

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

Isaiah 55:8-9 [New Living Translation]

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

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

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

Here is this verse in the New King James Translation:

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

And here it is in the New Living Translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said:

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

Matthew 5:43-45 [ESV]

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

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

In the book of Revelation we read: 

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

Revelation 5:9 [ESV]

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

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

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

OUT OF BALANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul admonished Timothy to be aware of these things:

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

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

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

Teaching – I will learn from the experience or difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

SOLID FOOD

We enjoy eating in various restaurants, as our widening girth exhibits.  We travel in a recreational vehicle (RV) for long trips, and we eat “at home” in the RV dining room or outside on the patio.  Occasionally, however, we like to try the local cuisine in a restaurant.

In Wisconsin, for example, we ate at Bullhead’s Restaurant.  Bill had pork ribs and sausage and all its trimmings. 

Pork sausage food
Pork dinner at Bullhead’s Restaurant

I had broasted chicken.

Broasted chicken food
Broasted chicken at Bullhnead’s Restaurant

The meals were delicious and, in fact, the second night we were at that campground, we went to Bullhead’s again and repeated our order from the prior day!

The point, however, is that these meals were solid food. We are adults, way past the age of infancy.  Infants could not enjoy these meals because infants cannot eat solid food.

In Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer of Hebrews chastises the people because they were acting as infants in the Lord, needing milk because they were incapable of eating solid food.

You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Milk is good, I like it and have it often with my breakfast.  But solid food is sooooo much better than just milk. 

How does the writer of Hebrews identify the mature Christian, the one who can, and does, eat solid food?

It is the person who has trained his/her powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. 

And how did they train their ability to be discerning? 

          By constant practice.

We all start this life as infants who can feed only on milk.  We graduate to infant oatmeal and other cereals and then to baby food.  After the infant’s teeth arrive, some solid food is given. 

As Christians, we are born into the family of God as infants who need milk to survive.  But the Christian life is not determined by calendar age.  Someone in their teens may have been a Christian longer and studied the Word more than an individual who came to faith in Christ in their 70s. 

In short, maturity in the Christian is determined by the ability of the individual to eat solid food.  The ability to develop and repeatedly practice his/her discernment so that he/she can tell what is good and what is evil.  The ability to discern when a teaching is leading them away from the straight and narrow road.  The mature Christians do their best to present themselves to God as workers who have “no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  2 Timothy 2:15   

Beloved, don’t be a Christian who is stuck “dining on milk alone”.  Read the Scripture, listen to sound teaching, study the Bible and develop a discerning spirit so that you can identify when teaching is leading you astray. 

In the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan presents a picture of a man named Christian and his journey from being Graceless to his entrance in the Celestial City.  At one point, Christian is walking the road called Salvation.  It is described like this:

Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to travel was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation.  Up this way, therefore, Christian did run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back.

This picture is described in the writing of the prophet Isaiah where God says;

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks.

Isaiah 26:1

Further along in Isaiah’s prophesy he says this:

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

Isaiah 35:8

Jesus spoke of the way of salvation, characterizing it as having a narrow gate that is hard to find but which leads to life eternal.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14

Beloved, develop a discerning spirit that can show you right from wrong.  Don’t walk along the wide road to destruction – follow the straight road of salvation that leads to eternal life.  Don’t be satisfied with milk.  Become mature Christians who can feast on the Word of God, who study so that they will know their God and Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit, and who stay on the narrow road.  It will be hard, but nothing worthwhile is easy!

Blessings to you as you walk along the Way.

Father, thank You for Scripture that tells us how to grow and mature into Christians who are discerning and who refuse to leave the narrow road in favor of the easier one.  I pray that I would have the dedication and purpose to be steadfast in my walk with my Lord.

DAILY PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING

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

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

USED Half dome (C)
Yosemite National Park

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

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

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

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

Paul said:

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

Ephesians 5:4

The writer of Hebrews said this about praise to God:

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

Hebrews 13:15

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

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

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

Psalm 100:4

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

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

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

Do we do this? 

Every day or ever? 

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

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

Even when our spouse has done something that infuriates us? 

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

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

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

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

CLEAN SLATE!

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

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

Shredded Leaves down at the street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119:105

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:16

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

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

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

Psalm 139:1-5, 13, 16

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

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

Acts 1:8

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

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

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

Don’t you do it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 7:23-28

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

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

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

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

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

REFLECTING TREES!

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus said that our light should shine among men:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Paul said this about our light in the dark world:

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

2 Corinthians 4:6.

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

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

Philippians 2:14-15

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

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

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

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

TEACH ME!

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

Milestone - can tie his own shoes

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

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

Taylor school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 6:1, 7   

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

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

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

Psalm 25:4-5

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

Psalm 119:29, 66, 135

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

Psalm 51:6

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

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

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

2 Timothy 2:2

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 31:34  

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

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

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

EATING – LIVE TO EAT OR EAT TO LIVE?

I have heard it said that some people “live to eat” and others “eat to live”.    We have two dogs who represent these two concepts.

Cuddles loves to eat – in fact the trainer who worked with us when the girls were brought home from the animal shelter said, and I quote: “I have never seen a dog that was so food-centric as Cuddles!”  If you want her to do anything, you need to give her a treat, preferably before AND after her obedience.

20190604_143355
Cuddles, in the foreground, LOVES to eat; Snickers, in the background, is pickier!

In this picture of the two of them “sitting pretty”, Cuddles is in the foreground and you can see that she has to sit with her rear legs spread apart to keep her balance. 

On the other hand,  Snickers, despite her candy-bar-name, eats her food but she is not hankering for a treat every time we turn around.  You can see that her rear legs are at right angles to her body.  She does not have to sit “side-saddle” like her younger sister does.

In short, the difference between the girls is that Cuddles lives to eat and Snickers eats to live.

Since both my husband and I are overweight, I am not going to point to us as examples of this concept.  Rather, I want to think about what we consume from Scripture.  Do we eat to live, that is only eat from Scripture a sufficient amount to gain our fire insurance from hell, or do we live to eat, that is feast on the truths of Scripture and come again and again to the Word for more food for our spiritual souls’ growth and development?

The Bible talks about eating in many places.  In the very first book of the Bible God tells Adam that he can eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden, except for one.  (Genesis 2:16-17)  After their disobedience, Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden and they had to work for their food ever after.

In Exodus we read of the meal of unleavened bread and bitter herbs which preceded the visitation from the angel of death.  After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and God sent manna and then quail for them to eat.

David puts God’s provision like this:

Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.  Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.  He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;  he rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas; he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings.  And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.

Psalm 78:23-29

The New Testament talks of food as well. For example, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding feast. (John 2)  Jesus fed thousands as He taught them along the seaside. (Mark 8.)

In 1 Corinthians 6 we find Paul’s instruction regarding eating the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of His death for our sins.  Some call this feast Communion and others Eucharist, but the essence is that we are celebrating the marvelous work of our Lord and His sacrifice for us.

Paul has strong words for the people in the Corinthian church.  He wrote:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

The writer of Hebrews expresses this same idea in this way:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 

Hebrews 5:12-14

We know from our own experience that babies take milk and then, at some point in their infancy, they move up to some diluted cereal such as infant oatmeal.  Then comes soft food and, upon reaching childhood, they can eat regular food, starting with soft meats and them ultimately moving up to steak! Meat comes with maturity. 

What does this solid food look like?  Paul tells us, it is the food in Scripture that we read with our power of discernment trained by constant practice, to do what?  To distinguish good from evil. 

Do you know when the preacher’s doctrine is faulty?  You know it when you have read the Scripture, studied and have discernment from constant exposure to the Word of God.  Then you can tell good teaching from the faulty teaching.

So, beloved, when it comes to spiritual food, are you satisfied with milk?  Or, do you long for solid food, for the meat not just the milk?   Do you read the Word of God for yourself?  Do you study with others so that you can practice your discerning powers and so identify both the good and the bad.  Do you ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thinking and open your eyes and your mind to the truths and riches that are found in the Word of God?

From a spiritual perspective, the question is:  Are you Snickers or Cuddles?  Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat.  Oh, that we would be spiritually overweight with the rich meat of Scripture.

Father, forgive me when I have been satisfied to skim the surface of Your Word, when I have been lazy and have not studied Your Word to uncover the truths and precepts that You want me to have.  Enable me to feast on the meat of Your Word through Your Holy Spirit, I pray.