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:

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“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.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – LOVE

Scripture says that God is love. 

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

1 John 4:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 4:9-11, 19

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

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

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

Romans 5:6-10.

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

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

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

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

Luke 23:34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEAR THE CROSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark 14:27. 29-31

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

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

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

And they all left him and fled.”

Mark 14:50

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

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

Mark 14:51-52

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

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

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

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

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

John 19:25-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 10:33 

 

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

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

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

 

SIGNS – FOLLOWED OR IGNORED?

It seems as though our culture is overrun with signs.  Billboards are all along the highways and some are digital, enabling the billboard owner to multiple “signs” displayed for all to see.

Some signs are humorous.  There is a van for a lock and key company which has, along the bottom of their vehicle, the statement “Cheer up it can always be worse.”

Some signs are informational. 

Blenheim Palace signpost
Signpost at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England

Some signs are confusing even though they have been in use for over 60 years.

Road signs from England the magic roundabout
The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England

(For a video on how this roundabout works, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OGvj7GZSIo.)

Other signs are rather straightforward.

Texas sign
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Sign - Hats and Boots in Nashville TN

Hats Boot Co. sign in Nashville, Tennessee

There is another sign on the highways that we have no difficulty following, because we know that an accident will surely occur if we disobey its warning.

One Way sign cropped
One-Way Sign along the highway

No matter what your language may be, when you see the arrow going in a certain direction, you understand that such direction is the only correct one.

In the Bible, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them very soon.  John chapter 14 details this conversation between Jesus and his closest friends:

“”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

How many ways are there to God the Father?  Just one – belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Just as the One-Way sign points to the correct direction to be followed on the highway to avoid disaster or death in an accident, Scripture details the one way to avoid disaster and eternal death.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross for our salvation.  He said it clearly – “I am THE way”.  He did not say “I am A way” as if there were more than one option.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12

Signs – they are helpful, instructive, humorous, and some remind us of eternal consequences. 

I pray that if you have not sought the Lord, please do so now.  Scripture has told us everything that we need to obtain eternal life.  Now is the day of salvation.  Now is the time to go the right direction on that narrow road to salvation. 

Father, I pray that those who read this missive would be touched by Your Spirit.  If they are already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, may their faith be renewed, and their spirit be encouraged by these words. If the reader is not already a believer in our Lord, I pray that Your Spirit would quicken their heart and that they would realize their need for the Savior. 

 

A NEW SERIES: THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

We have entered a new year, 2018.   In considering what God has done for us through the past year, I was contemplating what we believe about Who our God is, what is He like, what is His nature?  In other words, what are the attributes of our God?

So, as we begin this year, we will consider the attributes of God as a special “series” of posts each Friday for the next several months. A couple of notes at the outset of this series.

  • There are numerous listings of the attributes of our God, and I will not be covering each and every one. 
  • I certainly will not consider the posts here to be the final authority on any of the topics, but I pray that we would think about the nature of God and His attributes and realize that each of them have a significant impact on our faith in Him. 
  • There will probably be times when pictures are not appropriate for the post topic.  So please bear with me.  
  • There will likely be many questions, comments, and elements of the attributes that I do not cover in the post and tangential positions that I did not explore.  I would encourage you to let me know of your comments, etc., and if there are questions I will gladly respond.  But, the posts are not intended to be exhaustive studies on the attributes.  
  • I pray that the studies presented here will whet your appetite for your own further, more detailed, study of the attributes of God so that your understanding of Him will be deeper than ever before. 

If your family is like mine, on New Year’s Eve we held out until midnight when we watched the ball drop to mark the beginning of the new year.  As we were ticking off the minutes to that moment when the calendar changed and 2017 was gone forever, we pondered just where the “old year” went?  How did time fly away so quickly?  What have we done with the time that God has granted to us? 

Since “time” was so paramount in our thoughts that evening, I thought the best place to begin in consideration of the attributes of God would be His Eternality – that is His eternal nature.  That post will begin the series next Friday, January 12.

As we begin to consider this topic, I would ask that you pray for guidance and that, together, we will grow to be even more in love with our God, His Son, and His Holy Spirit than ever before.

Blessings to each of you, my dear followers, as we embark on our 2018 journey.