A COMPASSIONATE HEART

When your children were young, did they ever have an accident that resulted in a broken bone, or perhaps a burn or a sprain?  Often the injury is the result of some foolishness on the child’s part.  Perhaps the child is doing something that he/she knows they should not do, or perhaps he/she is taking a shortcut through an area that is dangerous, or perhaps he/she decides to try flying! 

But, the cause is not relevant to the pain in the parent’s heart!  When your child is injured, that hurt, while not physical, brings such pain to your heart that it is as if you had sustained the injury too.

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Child’s cast for his broken leg.

When dealing with the immediate aftermath of the injury, the focus is necessarily on getting help, treating the wound, stemming the tears and insuring no further harm is experienced.  And, while this is going on, compassion is enabling us to handle things that we never dreamed we could.

Compassion – sympathy, empathy, commiseration, feeling, pity, tenderness.  This is just one of the emotions we feel when someone we love is injured.  Compassion frequently expresses itself in an anguished cry on behalf of the one who is, or will be, experiencing pain.

Jesus is known for His compassion as is evidenced in the Gospels, for example, when He fed the 5,000 people who came to remote locations to hear Him teach. 

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

Mark 6:34 NIV

Jesus’ compassion expressed itself by an anguished cry in the book of Luke, when He was on His way to Jerusalem, the city in which He would stand trial and be crucified.  As He was on the road to the city, Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Luke 13:34

The compassion of our God is evidenced throughout Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.  Consider Moses’ discourse to the Israelites as he recounted what happened during the wilderness years.  In Deuteronomy 5:27 Moses reminds the people of their promise to do all that God said, and then he tells them what God said to him in response to the people’s promise:

“’Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken.  Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!  Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.'”

Deuteronomy 5:27-31

God chose His people and loves them as a Father.  In verse 29, you can almost hear the anguish when God said, “Oh that they had such a heart as this always”.  God’s compassionate heart screamed the desire that His people would be loyal and devoted to His worship and that they would obey His commands.   He wanted it to “go well with them and with their descendants forever” and such would be the case if they were obedient, if they would make good on their promise of that day!  But He also knew that this would not happen!

Punishment is forgotten when the injury occurs.  Fix the injury, then consider  the punishment.  In Israel’s case, their punishment was wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and, later in their history, captivity and removal to Babylon, all because of disobedience.

How like the Old Testament folk we are.  We read Scripture and say that we will do what it says.  But, like our New Year’s Resolutions, slowly but surely, we forget about the words of Scripture as the things of everyday life push it out of our minds and schedules.  We want to do what God says, but we just can’t seem to pull it off.

It is for this reason that Jesus Christ was born, lived a perfect life of obedience to God’s commands, had no sin in Himself, but took our sin on Himself, that we might have life through belief in His Name.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:30-31

When we commit our hearts to Jesus, when we fall at the cross and acknowledge Him as our Lord and Master, then we will receive forgiveness of our sin and the Spirit can infuse us with the nature that Jesus Christ had.  We will still sin, surely, because we are a sinful people.  But there is forgiveness and restoration through the cross of Christ upon our confession and repentance. 

Then we can express compassion that is not self-centered or self-aggrandizing.  Rather, our compassion will be a characteristic of our loving Father, of our Savior Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit Who will give it to us as we seek to do the Father’s will in our world.

Blessings to you today as you serve our God and Savior.

Father, I pray that I would exhibit Your compassion to those that I meet.  May my heart break for the things that break Your heart, Lord Jesus, and may I express my compassion through the power of the Holy Spirit in words, thoughts and deeds that glorify Your Name.

UNDERLYING POWER

Recently I saw a Facebook post saying something like:

“Watch out for people who are always bragging about what they can do, a lion never has to tell me that he is a lion.”

Of course, the thrust of the comment is that the lion does not have to advertise that it has power — its power is evident and well-known to others.  Unlike the lion, however, often the people who are doing the bragging will be embellishing and exaggerating their status whereas people who actually have abilities or who have had accomplishments do not have to brag.     

While in Yellowstone National Park recently, we were privileged enough to see a family of buffalo strolling down the road and into some trees.  They were minding their own business, walking as a unit without being a threat to anyone and seemingly not aware of our presence.  There were three adult buffalo and three young ones.

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This baby buffalo is not particularly threatening.  We saw him walking through some trees with two of his siblings and three adult buffalo.

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Now, these two buffalo present a different picture than the baby did.  They are not threatening as they are laying in the grass but staring at us while standing seemed to be potentially threatening.  Especially when the National Park Ranger told us that adult buffalo weigh about 2,000 pounds.  Combine that weight with an ability to run at 30 miles per hour, and you have a considerable threat both to man and vehicle.

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Like the lion, the buffalo does not have to brag about its abilities.  It can be calm and in control, and it can also be terrifyingly fast if it needs to defend itself or its family.  In short, they are animals of great strength and speed – animals with underlying power that we as humans simply don’t have ourselves.  We may be able to drive our car faster than the buffalo can run, but if the buffalo impacts the vehicle, it is probably going to be damaged beyond repair.

The lion and the buffalo have underlying power within themselves.

So, does the Christian.  I don’t mean that we can run fast – anyone who knows me realizes that running at all is not likely going to happen.   And I don’t necessarily mean that we have physical strength, although some people I know are incredibly strong.

What I do mean is that ALL Christians have underlying power within them, specifically the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus Christ so that we are enabled to be witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are.  Jesus said:

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

John 15:26-27

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Again, after His resurrection, Jesus said:

“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

We know that the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and that same day they preached the gospel of Jesus Christ boldly.  Fishermen and tax collectors who were cowering in fear after Jesus’s death were transformed on that day into evangelists who virtually blanketed the known world with the good news of faith in Christ.

They didn’t brag about their achievements.  They gave the glory for what they were doing to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit, praising God for the good works that they were seeing all in the name of the Lord.  They were Christians who were powered by the Holy Spirit.

So are we.  We have the same Holy Spirit, the same Lord Jesus Christ, the same God and Father Almighty.  They are our brothers and sisters just as much as the Christians we see in church.   We too have the Holy Spirit, and as part of the unchanging infinite triune God, the Holy Spirit is no different now than he was 2000 years ago. 

Underlying power.  Do I take advantage of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life?  Do I call upon His power to enable me to do the work that Christ has called me to do?   Do I use that power for spreading the gospel?  Do I boldly tell others of Jesus Christ or do I shrink back in fear of what they will say, or think?

What about you?  How would you answer these questions?

Father, I pray that you would forgive me when I have failed to witness to others of Your marvelous gift of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  I pray that you would embolden me to witness of my Lord without fear and that Your Spirit would put the words in my mouth that will accomplish Your Work in those to whom I speak and in me as I do Your will.

Who are you and where do you live?

People are diverse, unique, different.  Take for example, where we live.

As we were driving on our vacation this summer, we went through the City of Chicago.  The traffic going down the highways going into the city were crowded with trucks, cars, vans, busses.  Not to mention the train that ran to various parts of the city with terminals in between the highway lanes.

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Then, when the highway signs were somewhat out-of-the-way, the skyline came into view!

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Thousands upon thousands of people live within the scope of that picture.  They live in high-rise apartment buildings which have incredible views of the city beneath and Lake Michigan along the shoreline, some of the views going almost to the Wisconsin state line!  However, some live in much less splendor, along the railroad tracks and in dilapidated buildings in the center of town.  And of course, there are shops, businesses, banks and all sorts of eateries spread throughout the city.

This kind of congestion is not for everyone, however.  One of the places we visited was Bar Nunn, Wyoming.

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The campground was rustic and the people were super friendly.  The view of the community from the campground was beautiful with its backdrop of mountain terrain.

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The first night we were there, the clouds provided a beautiful ending to a glorious day.

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In contrast to the “majesty” of Chicago, the little post office next to the campground in Bar Nunn provided a different perspective as it gave the whole community postal services, and we, as sojourners, appreciated its presence since we could purchase stamps and use the handy mailbox to send post cards to the family back home.

We all don’t live in the same type dwellings, in the same area of the country or in the same climate.  But, almost all of us are often asked the same questions, no matter where we are:  “Who are you, and where do you live?” 

Our answer frequently is to respond with the name our parents provided to us and then to give our place of permanent residence.  And these are appropriate responses as they give some fundamental information about us to the person we have just met.  From there, we can continue the conversation and a friendship might result, or we can walk away after conducting the transaction with the individual without any further personal information being exchanged.

That is not the whole answer to those questions for the Christian.

Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:1-6

Jesus clearly said that the one who believes in Him, through faith alone, will spend eternity with Him in heaven.  Indeed, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way that we can enter heaven and come to God.  In fact, Jesus also tells us to put our treasure in heaven since there the treasure is secure for all eternity, rather than having it on earth where it can be easily destroyed.  Read Matthew 6:19-20.

Paul said it this way:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,”

Ephesians 2:19-20

In other words, the Christian has dual citizenship – we are citizens on this planet, living in the country, province or state, city or hamlet in which we reside.  But we are also citizens of heaven where we will live eternally with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, along with all our brothers and sisters who have been adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ.

So, how do we answer the question propounded above … “where do you live?”  We might want to go into an explanation of our dual citizenship, or we might just want to give our address and let our Christian walk do the rest of the talking for us.  Either way, let the Lord guide you as you witness for Him in our world.

Father, forgive me when I have been too timid to express my conviction that Jesus Christ made it possible for me to be Your child.  I cannot express my gratitude and thankfulness for such gracious mercy extended to me, an undeserving sinner who was saved by grace!  May I always be ready to tell others of Your gift of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  Help me, I pray.

TIME AND THE TALE

We recently returned from a trip out west and we visited a number of the U. S. National Parks.  They all made indelible impressions upon us with their grandeur, their diversity, their colors, and their spectacular beauty.

One example of this is Bryce Canyon outside of Richfield, Utah.  At an elevation of 8,000 feet, it is a riveting place of fascinating geological formations, which are called “hoodoos”. 

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The “hoodoos” are spires that reach way above the canyon floor.  At first glance, they appear as if they are giant orange-flavored snow cones. 

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Some of the spires seem to be huge apartment buildings, even with balconies overlooking the terrain and with green trees growing on the “roof penthouse”.

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Around the bend, toward the edge of the canyon, there were more spires, albeit somewhat shorter and they did not seem to be as carved as the other spires.  We were advised that this area was the “new” portion of the canyon.  In future years, these will be as incredible as the “hoodoos” that we had just seen, and they likely will be reduced to rubble.

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As we stood looking at the new section, I pondered what storms these youngsters would have to endure in the future, what temperature extremes would come their way, if they would stand sentry over their aging counterparts.   And I thought of the stories that the mature “hoodoos” would tell them if they were able to do so. 

But, the reality is that all of this came in the millennia that created the canyon as we see it today and it was captured, in a nanosecond, by a digital camera.  The details of the canyon’s creation, the carving of the individual “hoodoos” and the struggle of the trees to find a place to grow are not part of the story told by the canyon in our pictures. 

In short, the canyon’s history was condensed into a split-second picture of serene beauty.

Often on our trip, the high desert terrain gave me a visual impression of what I supposed the people of God might have experienced in the wilderness.  We know that the people of God were in the wilderness for 40 years, but Scripture only tells us of what happened in the first two years of their wandering and then the narrative skips to the end when they arrive at the Promised Land.

Matthew Henry says this of the missing years:

The thirty-eight years, which after this they were away in the wilderness, were not the subject of the sacred history, for little to nothing is recorded of that which happened to them from the second year to the fortieth.  After they came out of Egypt, their time was perfectly trifled away, and was not worthy to be the subject of a history, but only of a tale that is told, for it was only to pass away time like telling stories, that they spend those years in the wilderness, all that while they were in the consuming, and another generation was in the rising.  The spending of our years is like the telling of a tale.  A past when it is past is like a tale when it is told.  Some of our years are as a pleasant story, others as a tragical one: most mixed, but all short and transient, that which was long in the doing may be told in a short time.

Psalm 90:9 says:

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

We know from personal experience that we can tell the tale of events in mere moments when the actual event took months or even years.  While we think we will live a long time, the reality is that in cosmic terms, our life is fleeting and, when it comes to an end, it is like a sigh.  Even the canyons of our national parks change with the years. 

But there is something that is, indeed, eternal and not fleeting.  Jesus said:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Matthew 24:35

Praise the Lord for His Word, the Holy Bible.  Praise the Lord for His steadfast love and mercy.  Praise the Lord for His wondrous works.  Praise the Lord!

Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your love and Your sacrificial death on the cross to pay for the sins of Your people.  Thank You for Your Word and for preserving it so that we could learn of You and trust in Your Name for our salvation.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

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

Rock City barn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 16:24-26

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

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

Acts 8:1

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

Paul warned the Galatians:

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

Galatians 1:6-9

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

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

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

THE HOMESTEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homestead water tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 3:6

God, Himself, is saying that He does not change – a characteristic that is totally foreign to us.  He is immutable.  He is the same today as He was before creation even existed. And, He will be the same when time is no more.

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

James 1:17

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

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8  

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

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

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

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

FINAL RESTING PLACE

Cemeteries are found throughout the countryside. I love to read the headstones and see the notations made about the life of the one who died. Some cemeteries seem to be random, standing as solitary sentries for a few memorial markers along the roadside.  Some are huge and stand as monuments commemorating historic events that shaped our nation, community, and ourselves.    

One such place that we visited was the cemetery in the Vicksburg, Mississippi battlefield.  It was sobering to see the cannons all lined up as if they were ready to inflict injury on the enemy.  It was even more sobering to consider that in the battle, American was pitted against American as the Civil War was raging throughout the country.

Cannons in Cemetery in Vicksburg MS
Cannons lined up and ready, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In the battlefield there were monuments throughout the area to fallen soldiers form various states and communities.  This is the Illinois monument, complete with soldiers names inscribed inside the mausoleum-type structure.

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Illinois monument, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Some have a decidedly modern atmosphere, such as Sunnyslope cemetery in California. 

Sunnyslope Cemetery, CA '56

While some have a decidedly older atmosphere,  such as this cemetery located in Boston.

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Cemetery in the City of Boston, Massachusetts

Then there are cemeteries that bear special significance to us personally, feelings that other places do not produce.

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Cemetery in Salem, Virginia

My husband’s family is buried in this Virginia cemetery.  I love going there, not only to remember the people and thank them for teaching my husband to be a Christian man who loves me unconditionally, but also to meditate on the end that will ultimately come to all of us.  I also love to look out over the hillside and see the church steeples reminding me that Christ is the One who governs all of life and who gave His life as a ransom for many.

I truly don’t mean this to be morbid, but I do want us to think about our mortality and the finality of our days. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes correctly notes:

No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.”

Ecclesiastes 8:8

The writer of Hebrews affirms that each of us will die, it is the fate of all finite beings:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Hebrews 9:27-28

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians said this about the end of our lives:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise firstThen we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

In other words, all people will have to die unless they are still alive when Christ returns.  Even they will rise to meet the Lord.  None of His people will be left out!  This is what Jesus meant when He said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.””

John 8:51

The believer in Christ will certainly die a physical death just like everyone else – but the believer will not have a spiritual death.  Instead, we will be with Christ.   Physical death is a reality for all mankind because of sin.   Spiritual life is a reality because of the grace of God as it is a gift from God given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23

Our Western culture does a fantastic job of shielding us from death.  We are killing each other faster than we are birthing people, but we rush the bodies off to the undertaker, to the funeral home, so that we don’t even see the body, often with either closed casket or cremation burials.  Many children have never been to a funeral/memorial service and go into their early adult years before experiencing this type of personal loss.

Even if we wish to hide our heads and ignore reality, all of us will face death at some point, and when we do, we will no longer have time to make the decision that is of eternal consequence.   Do I follow Christ Jesus as my Savior or do I act as if God does not exist at all, only to be supremely surprised when that belief is in error!

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Beloved, be sure of your faith and of the One in which you have your faith.  Be sure that you have answered that question correctly.  Let the cemetery remind you that no one is immortal, we are all going to die and the ground will not be the final resting place for our spirits. 

Blessings to you, today, tomorrow and throughout your life.

Father, I pray that these words would be of encouragement to those who believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would use these words to convict and soften hearts that are hard and that You would work in those hearts to bring them to Yourself.  In Christ’s name I pray.

Attitude – What is yours?

The story is told that an old man was wearing a shirt that sported the following sentence: “I am not 80 years old…I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience”.  That is an example of ATTITUDE.  There are all sorts of variations on that theme, but recently I saw a marque sign at a motel that was unique, and it made me laugh.  While I don’t think it really had anything to do with the motel, I loved the sign, drove around the block to see it once more, and then took a picture of it so I would remember what it said:

Sign - winter fat gone
“My winter fat is gone, now I have spring rolls!”

You may have heard that before, but I had not.  I think it illustrates an attitude that does not bemoan circumstances, rather it acknowledges facts and moves on.   

The reality is that we all have things about ourselves that are less than flattering, perhaps some more than others, but each of us is held captive by some negative comment made by others that has shaped our own image into a false image which we cannot seem to overcome. 

Beloved, the eternal reality is that Jesus Christ loved us when there was NOTHING to love.  We were sinners through and through.  Adam determined that way back when he ate the forbidden fruit, and we have been under that original sin curse ever since.  We have no beauty in us, even the good things that we do are marred by sin and self-interest, by pride and arrogance, and by disobedience of God’s law. 

Paul said it this way:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:6-8

Let those words sink into your heart and into your mind … God loved us while we were sinners.  But He could not leave us as sinners because of His holy justice.  So, He sent Christ to die for us.  Christ paid our debt on the cross.  We no longer have to struggle to try to please God because that has already occurred.  We just need to claim Christ as our Savior and Lord, and we then live a life that is in conformity with His Word.

That means that the false image that plagues you today is washed away by the blood of the Lamb of God.  What does God see when He looks at you?   We know what He sees because His Word tells us:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Isaiah 1:18

In referencing what the Lord Jesus did for us, Paul says this about God sending His Son:

“For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

For those in Jesus Christ, God sees the Lord’s righteousness when He looks at us.  We are covered in the robes of our Lord and His righteousness.  No false image, no trying to be good enough, no sin and no fear of God because He has given His Son to be our Savior.  

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:16-17

So, what should be our attitude?  Paul, farther along in the same chapter, supplies the thrilling answer:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Romans 8:37

Many people want to be a conqueror, but we are more than merely conquerors … we are children of the Sovereign, Almighty, Creator, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent GOD, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Attitude – it should not be arrogant because we are children of the King, rather it should be that of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We should be servant to all because we are nothing more than sinners, saved by grace.  For that we should be eternally thankful.  So, what is your attitude?

Father, please forgive me when i have let the opinions of other men and women dictate what I think of myself.  Give me the strength and courage to look only to You for my meaning, worth and value.  Enable me to think in terms of eternality rather than earthly, and let me remember that my true value is seen in terms of Jesus and His righteousness.

MIRRORS AND REFLECTIONS

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

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

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

mirror

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

Cuddles frightened by reflection in mirror

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

Mirrors are not the only things that provide reflective images. 

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 1:3

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:49

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

Romans 8:29

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

2 Corinthians 3:18

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

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

1 Corinthians 13:12 [New Living Translation]

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

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

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

James 1:23-25

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

Mirror clock

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

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