FAMILIES

I am an only child.  Therefore, my family is quite small … my Father, Mother and me and my dog Tippy.  (The picture was taken before we obtained Tippy!)   While I have several cousins, we probably couldn’t fill up a large SUV! 

We have some friends in our church who have 10 grandchildren, all in one family.  The eldest granddaughter recently married a man who also was from a family of 10 children, and they are already expecting their first child.  I simply cannot comprehend that large a family!

Families are complex entities, subject at any moment to be loving and forgiving and then turning on a dime to be condemning and hateful.  Since I don’t have any siblings, I can’t emphasize with those who have struggles with their siblings.  I certainly know that such difficulties exist, however.

One thing I do understand — the church family.  The people my parents worshipped with at the time I was born prayed for me, as I weighed only 3 pounds 10 ounces, not a survivable weight in the 1940s.  But my Father called the church and they prayed for both me and my Mother.

I contracted polio and required experimental back surgery when I was 9, a surgery that required being in a body cast for a year.  The church family surrounded me with love, prayers and well-wishes, their helping gestures were too numerous for me to comprehend.

Years later, when I was a single parent attending law school, a different church family came to my rescue on numerous occasions as they took care of my young children, brought food, and prayed for me, among other things.

Now my children have children of their own and my husband and I enjoy the marvels of a loving family as we gather to celebrate various occasions, such as my husband’s birthday yesterday. 

But our nuclear family is not the only family the Christian has — the obligation to participate in the church family’s health and safety looms large as we remember Jesus’s admonition to care for each other.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:34-36

The Apostle Paul, writing in the book of Romans, said this about our love for each other:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Romans 12:10

In John’s first epistle, he reiterated the place that love should have in our lives.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 

1 John 4:7

The church family – it is much like our earthly families.  There are those we love to get together with and there are some we would more than likely shy away from.   Some folks are easy to get along with and others are more difficult.  Then there are those who are beset with dementia, and other mental disorders, and they often are unaware of the difficulties that they create on a daily basis.

But, we are called to love and care for them. 

Why? 

Because we are just as unlovely as the other folks in the church family.

Why?

Because God loves us and gave His Son for us. 

Why? 

Jesus commanded us to love each other.

Showing kindness and mercy is hard when we are pressed about with other things that call for our attention.  Showing love is hard when the person to whom it is extended does not want it or will not remember it moments later.   But that is exactly what Jesus commands that we do.  Further, it is what He did when He died on the cross for us.  He gave us love when we did not deserve it and when we didn’t even know it existed. 

Praise His holy name for all the wondrous works that He has blessed us with on a moment-by-moment basis!

Even if your family is not exactly as you would have wanted, love them.  Show Christ’s love to them.   And extend that same love to those who are in your church family.  We are called to do so.  Don’t ignore a command of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Follow Him and He will give you the grace and patience, the wisdom and courage to undertake the task, even if it is difficult.  After all, He promises that He will be with you all the way!

Lord, there are often times when I don’t think I can do it.  Help me to remember that my family and my church family both need my care and concern for them.  They may need food and clothing, a ride to the doctor or an appointment for a haircut.  Help me to be sensitive to their needs as we go through the days waiting for Your return.

Doggie Nose Smudges

If you follow The Ruminant Scribe regularly, you are probably tired of hearing about our two miniature pinschers, Cuddles and Snickers.  Their antics are legendary, well, not legendary but to us they are terribly funny! 

At times other than during the Christmas season, we have a sofa that is in the living room under the picture window.  The “girls” love to sit on the top of the sofa and look out the window, scanning the street for anyone who would dare walk in front of the house.  Indeed, one of the things we love is coming up the drive and into the carport while we see their faces watching for us from the back of the sofa. Of course, they are barking little dogs.  Thus, they sit on their perch and bark like banshees when someone walks along the road, only to be quiet when the person is out of their view.  

While we are eating in the dining room, we have this view of them!  It is humorous because they are always in the same relative position.  Cuddles on the left and Snickers on the right.

The last couple of days, however, we have had rain and extreme fog.  So much so that we could not even see the house across the street, and the canine banter was severely hampered (praise the Lord)!  They still watched outside but they couldn’t see anything!

This morning, however, the girls were, again, sitting on the sofa while we were having breakfast and the sun was shining outside.  All at once I saw it.

!!!! Doggie Nose Smudges !!!!

Their nose marks were all across the front window.  As long as the fog and clouds were around, I did not notice them.  But when the sun hit the window, the smudges were clearly in view.

That started me thinking. 

When we are not walking in the Lord’s will, when we have intentionally failed to help others, when we ignored the cries of the widow, or when we have stubbornly refused to share our funds with those less fortunate than we, we are tempted to think that God is not paying attention.  Or, perhaps we think that God does not see what we are doing.  Or, perhaps we think we are immune to such actions because we pay our money to the church!

But, when the light of His Word shines in our heart’s window, we see clearly and it is not a pretty picture.  We see the ugly, sinful smudges we have made on the window of our heart, and we need to repent and confess our sin. 

Jesus said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:37-39

Do we do this?  Do we honor God and love Him with all our heart, mind and soul?  Do we love our neighbor as ourselves?  What would our life look like if we obeyed these two commandments?

Regarding the ten Commandments, do we follow them?  I dare say that most of us have not committed adultery or murdered anyone.  But what about worshipping anything other than God?  Have we made money, fame, family, status, profession, … more important than God?  Have we become our own idol, putting ourselves in the place of God?  All these idols can supplant the place appropriately reserved for God, the Father Almighty.

Or consider coveting.  That is not a term that is in high use and demand these days, and probably for an amazingly simple reason – it is not something we want to be condemned for.  We lust after other people, we crave attention, we covet the possessions others have that we do not.  Coveting is something that is so common in our society that we don’t recognize it, but it is pervasive and it is sin.

What about the Sabbath day?   I remember when the blue laws prohibited the sale of anything on Sunday; not so now. Everything can be sold on Sunday. Or what about taking the name of the Lord in vain? I remember when there were certain words that were banned from music and television, not so now.  Anything goes, even to the point where many of us blush and change channels because of the language, sex and violence portrayed.

Does the Christian have to follow these “old” laws?  I answer that question with a question – Does the character of God change from age to age? 

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

Psalm 90:4

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Perhaps we need to refocus and remember that the Old Testament is the basis for the New Testament.  We may be in the post-resurrection period of time, but what God detests in the Old Testament He still detests today.  His character does not change. 

I hasten to add that we are in the season of grace because of the salvation we have been given through Christ’s death on the cross.  Forgiveness for sins is available to us in a way that the Old Testament folks could not imagine.  But, sin is still sin and we must confess it and repent.

Jesus said:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

Be guided by the Good Shepherd and follow Him all your days.  Confess where we have gone astray, ask for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, and redirect your attention to what God says in both the Testaments of the Bible. 

Ask God to cleanse the smudges from your heart and rejoice again in the clear, clean joy of God’s salvation. 

Father, I pray that You would forgive me when I have disobeyed Your commands.  Increase my love for You Lord and guide me all my days.

SPEAK NOW!

We have had several deaths in our church family recently, and their absence from our presence is a heavy burden.  I realize that they no longer have pain and they no longer are suffering from a variety of illnesses and ailments.  I also realize that, as Christians, they are in the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  What glorious blessings they are experiencing every moment.

David said in Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  While we may grieve the loss of friends and family, we have to remember that we are not designed for this world … our death and transfer from this world to the next is precious in the Lord’s sight. 

But, in the here and now, God is with us and leads us as we seek out His will and as we are obedient to His direction.  David said it this way in Psalm 71:17-20:

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.  Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?   You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

Psalm 71:17-20

David says that God taught him from his youth, and that he is still proclaiming God’s wondrous deeds.  Even when he is old and has gray hair, David is asking God not to forsake him but, rather, to let him tell the next generation about God’s power and the wondrous deeds that He has done.

In Psalm 30, David speaks of death and the reality that one cannot praise God on this earth if they have died.

“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?”

Psalm 30:9

Of course, the answer to David’s question is “No!”  The time for praise and telling others of God’s faithfulness is NOW. 

We should make this a focal point of our lives, telling others of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God.  Telling others of the wondrous love of the Lord and His sacrifice for us, while we were sinners and His enemies!  Telling others of the salvation that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, and of the marvelous relief from the power of sin that this salvation works in us. 

Do this in such a way that it is embedded in your actions and speech.  You don’t need to give a sermon!  Fly a kite with your grandson and tell Him of the God that sends the wind at His word.    

Flying a kite, Grandfather and Grandson.

Take care of the animals and tell how God has taken care of you through the years.

Interact with the grandchildren and weave the story of your walk with the Lord into the conversation.  Let your life do the talking and then be ready to answer questions that may arise.

Have gray hair?  Are you aged?  Remember all the times that God preserved your during your youth.  Remember the times that God led you even when you had no idea where you were going.  Remember the times He protected you, aided you, healed you, loved you!  Remember the years gone by, and then thank Him for His faithfulness to you.  Do this by telling others of His great power and love, grace and mercy, and do it NOW!

Father, we get distracted by things in the world and we lose sight of what is truly important.  Help me to tell others of the mighty works that You have done in my life as I tell of Your glory and majesty, Your saving grace and mercy.  Give me boldness as I go about Your business today, so that my voice may be heard to Your glory now!

A PICTURE OF GOD’S GOODNESS

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

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

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

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

Sheep in a field adjacent to Stonehenge in England

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

Rapeseed fields in bloom in England

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

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

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

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

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

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.