FRIENDS –CHERISHED GIFTS FROM OUR LOVING GOD!

Humanity has long known of the importance of friendships. People are social creatures, whether it is a family, a club, a church congregation.  For some, even a gang provides the social connection that is necessary, although it is in a negative context.  In short, friendships are important to our mental, psychological, and physical well-being.  Animals understand the value of having friends, perhaps not in the same language as we do but in packs where each looks out for the other.

Dog - Two friends waiting for family

Two friends, our greyhound and chow/spitz mix, protecting the yard from squirrels and cats, while looking for the family to return.

 

Friendship has been on my mind this week because of our visit with a beloved lady who has been a dear friend for over 35 years.  Our children were close friends through preschool and elementary school.  Although she moved away and our visits were seldom after that, we have remained close through the heart bonds of love in our relationship with the Lord and with each other. 

 

Although she and I have visited together in various locations, I have not seen her son in many years.  We were reunited as we stood in their home with his wife and children around us.  The years melted away and it was glorious.  He explained to his children that when he was young, I was his second mother, Mama-J, and that I had also been his Cub Scout Den Mother!  (That made me remember the pumpkin seeds that were strewn all around the family room after the Cubs hollowed out and then carved their Halloween pumpkins.  But, since that was a fond memory, the seeds were worth it!)  It was wonderful to see him face-to-face.

 

Scripture speaks of friends in numerous places.

 

In Exodus 33:11 we find: 

“The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”

 

Scripture even gives us examples of true friendships that were time-honored and God blessed.

 

In 1 Samuel we read of the friendship between Jonathan, Saul’s son and presumptive heir in line for the kingdom, and David, the one who God selected as the next King of Israel.  At 1 Samuel 20:42 we read:

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.”

 

The “Rest of that Story” is found in 2 Samuel 9. After the death of Saul and Jonathan, and after David became King, he looked around to see if anyone of Jonathan’s family had survived the battle and his ascension to the throne.  Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s infant son at the time of the war, did survive because he was secreted to safety by his nurse.  When the King called to have this sole survivor of Saul’s family brought to him, Mephibosheth rightly thought he was going to die. 

 

Instead, King David brought Mephibosheth into his family, and he ate at the King’s table the rest of his life.  Why?  Because of the oath between friends that had been made years earlier.

 

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

2 Samuel 9:7.

 

Sometimes, those we think of as friends do not act in a way that is good for us.  An example of this is found in the actions of Ahithophel, King David’s close confidant and friend, who sided with David’s son, Absalom, in his rebellion against David.  2 Samuel 15-17.  David’s pain at this betrayal is described in Psalm 55:

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

Psalm 55:12-14

 

We also see the example of Job’s three, sincere but misguided, friends:

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13.

 

Often we think of these friends with disgust when we hear of them telling Job to repent of his sin while Job maintained his innocence.  And, in the end, God upheld the honor and longsuffering of his servant, Job, expressing anger at the friends.

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7.

 

Without focusing on their misguided advice, consider what these men did.  They came a long distance to comfort Job.  They wept for his condition.  They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights.  They did not speak one word to him because of his great suffering.   

 

Have we done this for our friends?  Have we sat at the hospital, even one day let alone seven, comforting them?  Have we wept for their condition?  Have we extended the gift of service, perhaps holding a hand or putting a cool cloth on a hot forehead?  Have we honored them with our presence, sitting quietly and praying for them, without the disruption that constant talk brings?  Have we repeatedly prayed for them bringing their condition before our Healing God in earnest prayer?

 

Jesus spoke of friends frequently in his discourses to the disciples and others around him. One of the most pointed statements is found in John 15:13-14:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.

 

Friends … what blessings from God and how important they are to us as we grow, age, mature and remember.  And, to be considered a friend of God, when we do what Jesus has commanded us to do, is beyond comprehension.  It is a gift of grace, and grace alone.

Praise the Lord that He has procured our salvation through His righteousness.  It is in Him that we can call Him friend and that we can stand before the Holy God and can say “Abba, Father”.  Praise His Holy Name!

 

Father, we thank You for the gift of friends.  We pray that we would be faithful friends who support and encourage each other in our walk of discipleship.    We pray for those who feel that they have no friends, and we ask that you would enable us to befriend them in a meaningful way that reflects your love to them, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THE BODY OF CHRIST AT WORK JUNGLE VEGETATION!

Tribe landing strip
At the landing strip on an island in The Philippians.

There are times when things come into greater focus for us as we walk along our pilgrim way with Christ.  One of those times occurred when our daughter was on a mission trip to Manila and spent one month with a missionary doctor.  One week per month, he took a flight into a remote island area and treated the tribe located in the bush.  Another missionary family lived there full-time, their house being a hut with a wood fire for the stove.  So, she had the opportunity to live for one week with the tribe, assisting the doctor and learning of life and the people of God as well.

Tribal village
The village waiting for the doctor to come and minister to their needs.

The Body of Christ became very real for her as she worked with the doctor and served the people both in Manila and in the island tribe.  The following is an excerpt of one of her emails to us:

I had some good conversations with Dr. N. on the plane.  We talked about mission life and the differences in the various roles of missionaries.  I think that one of the things that I saw most was the image of the body of Christ.   It takes more than the people in the tribes. It takes all those that are behind them – the missionaries like V. who are in supportive roles.  Most of them go unthanked, but their part is vital.  They take care of the missionary’s orders for food, their errands.  In fact, Mr. B. sent a flat tire to the hanger on one trip and the people in Malaybalay had it fixed and sent back.  Without the supportive roles, so much would not be possible.  None of this would be possible either if it weren’t for the support of those at home with “secular” jobs.  They provide financial, administrative and prayer support. I guess what I learned is the importance of listening to the call of God.  Where is he leading you?  Wherever it is, follow it with all of your heart and let nothing get in the way of that calling.  We all have a part to play.  I also realized the process that God takes us through.  I don’t think that I’ll ever be done learning how to rely on God and not my own strength, but I also know that He’ll never be done trying to teach me.

 

Scripture teaches the same thing that our daughter described.  In 3 John 1, the Apostle says:

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

3 John 1:4-8.

 

Supporting the efforts of the pastors, teachers, missionaries and other ministries of the church is part of the calling of each and every Christian.  Once a year attendance or an annual financial gift is not sufficient.  We need to participate in the life of the church and to interact with others who are part of the body of Christ, as we need the encouragement, accountability and support that frequent interaction entails.  When it comes to missionaries and pastors, we are to go the extra mile with our support, encouragement and prayer.

 

Paul talks of the various churches supporting outreach to others in Romans:

I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.   At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints.  For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.  For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.  When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.

Romans 15:24-28.

 

And, of course, in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the physical body and how each individual member of it has a specific role to play in keeping the person healthy and able to accomplish that which has been appointed for her to do. He then equates the physical body of the Christian to the Body of Christ:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:27-28.

 

So, quoting our daughter: “Where is he leading you?  Wherever it is, follow it with all of your heart and let nothing get in the way of that calling.  We all have a part to play.”

 

Do you know the part you are to play in the Body of Christ?  Ask Him … the Spirit will lead you into it.  Once you know what you are to do, do it … don’t let the body suffer because you are unwilling to do either your job or your share of the work.

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.”

Philip Romolo Neri, (21 July 1515 – 25 May 1595)

 

In short, if you are a Christian, you have a part to play in the body of Christ.  So, do it!

 

 

Father, I pray that we each would follow the Holy Spirit’s lead and embrace the part that You have given us in the Body of Christ.  Forgive us when we have ignored the Spirit’s nudging or when we have shirked our duty after we have been made aware of it.  Help us to run toward the work You have set before us and, in the power of your Spirit, enable us to serve your Kingdom all for your glory and honor, through Christ our Lord, we pray.

 

THE TEAR

The tear – it can be shed because we are sorrowful, in pain, frightened, or angry. Or, it can be shed because we are joyful, relieved, empathizing, or celebrating. (I will always cry when the Bridal March begins, whether or not the bride has even begun walking the aisle!) Crying is therapeutic – it gets pent up emotions out and relieves tension. You could say that tears are suitable for a host of purposes!

used A Tear
A child’s tear lingers on his cheek, even as a smile crosses his face!  For his grandmother, the tear tugs at her heart.  For him, the tear will be gone soon, but the grandmother’s heart will take a bit more time to heal!

 

What tugs at my heartstrings the most, though, is a tear from my grandchildren. Now, I know that children shed tears in the process of growing up, it just happens.   I also know tears can be shed when children encounter something that is unfamiliar to them even if there is no discomfort or danger. I know that tears come as a result of, often very well-needed, discipline. And, I know that children are not above shedding some tears in an effort to get what they want, even if it is abject posturing to get something from their Grandparents!

 

Crying
Sometimes the adult, believing she is giving the child an exciting day, results in frightening the young child so much that tears flow. The adult may explain that there is no danger, but still the tears flow.

 

As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. Who has not looked at their sick child and at least thought, if not said aloud, “I wish it was me instead of my baby!” Sometimes we simply cannot kiss it and make it better, and our tears will flow out of frustration, concern, helplessness ‐‐ love.

 

Jesus knew our feelings because He experienced them. He wept when his close friend Lazarus died.  [John 11:35] He wept when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41 ] knowing that, because they had rejected him, tribulation would come and the city would be devastated. Our Savior experienced physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain, during his time here with His creation.

 

And, deep down inside, I believe that His heart hurts when He hears our cry and sees our tears. However, unlike us, He was not “helpless” in the face of sorrow or disappointment. He was, at all time, the God‐man – fully God and fully man. Through His act of obedience to the Father’s plan, He went to the cross so that we would have an escape from the pain inflicted upon us by sin.

 

Further, because of His triumph over sin and death, He knows that our troubles will last only for a short while, that there is a lesson we need to learn from the events that sparked the tears, and that He is with us through the dark times. We simply need to trust Him and hold His Hand as He sees our path while we cannot.

 

I have not been immune from those dark times. I have experienced nights on end with tears as my only companion. I worked to keep the family on an even keel when its support suddenly disintegrated before my eyes. There were times that the tears flowed so hard that I could not breathe, and I relied on the Holy Spirit to pray for that which was best because I could not.

 

I also know that no one can take your tears away; no one stands in your shoes; no one understands the disappointment you have encountered; and no one has endured the dark night that you are in or that you have experienced. It is yours and yours alone. David was well acquainted with the loneliness and pain that difficulties, fearful events, strife, and sin can create.   He refers to it as the “valley of the shadow of death.”

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4-6.

 

But notice the rest of this sentence, even though he was in the valley, he was not bound by fear. David knew that the Lord was with him and was providing comfort to him, even in the darkness of that valley.

 

I certainly am not David, but I can affirm that I have experienced release from the tears and dark times through the grace of God, the love of His Son Jesus, the solace of the Comforter, and the soothing hands of His Church.   Beloved, rest assured that you are not alone as you go through your difficult times.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for you and He will guard and protect you as His own. [John 10:11]

 

Lift up your eyes and look for Jesus and He will give you strength. As incongruous as it sounds, while you are crying tears of grief, sorrow, fear or pain, you can experience peace and even joy because He has you in His arms and there really is nothing to fear.   Martin Luther says it well in the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

 

 

One day you will be able to look in the rear view mirror of your life and see the valley that you climbed out of, and you will be able to praise His Name as you thank Him for His kindness and grace, even in those dark times.

 

Joy is possible even as tears linger on your cheek!

 

Father, I thank You for being with me through your Son, my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, my Comforter. Thank You for the truth that You are sovereign and that nothing will frustrate your plans for me or for your church. Thank You for bringing me through the valley and for holding me even when my tears flowed. Thank You for your love.

 

 

 

PERCEPTION/ILLUSION VS. REALITY

When we were in Oregon, there were so many beautiful places to take pictures, it was hardly possible to do the scenery justice through pictures.  There were the stark, seemingly dead places where volcanic eruptions had erased the vegetation, but even in the places where the trees had sustained incredible damage, there was beauty.

 

One such place was Lava Butte just outside Bend, Oregon where we came across this tree.

 

Bird in the Tree -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Tree outside Bend, Oregon at the Lava Butte.

 

The contrast between its barren limbs and the flourishing evergreens nearby made me think about the incredible strength of nature.  And then I saw a yellow bird on the tree’s limb.  I didn’t have any idea what kind of bird it was, but it appeared to be resting before going off to further exploits of this land.

 

When we got home, I looked at the pictures, again thanking the Lord for the beauty of His creation.  Trying to identify the yellow bird, I enlarged the picture above, and this is what I saw:

Bird in the Tree - 2 -- Oregon 2009 049 (C)
Was it a bird? No!

Apparently this “bird” is of the genus “Lady Taking a Picture”.

 

Perception/Illusion  versus Reality.

 

There are times when we think something is one way, when the reality is that it is quite another.   I perceived that a brightly colored bird was sitting on that branch, when the reality was that a lady in a bright shirt was standing beyond the tree taking a picture at the same time I was taking a picture of her.  My perception was certainly not reality, but it was harmless and funny.

 

But the difference between perception or illusion and reality is not always harmless or humorous.

 

We see people harming innocents and calling it justified because of their hatred.  We see people abusing others in the name of ambition.  We see the slaughter of babies that somehow becomes less offensive by calling it a “woman’s choice.”  This is our perception – but the reality is vastly different.

 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?  They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.  They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage.  They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”  Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?  He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?  He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge– the LORD–knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.

Psalm 94:3-11.

 

God sees –God hears – God is fully aware of what mankind is doing.  He is sovereign and in control, even when it appears that things are out of control.  He knows the thoughts of man because He created man.  The fool is the one who dismisses God as irrelevant or of no concern.

 

There are times we feel powerless against the foes that confront us.  This too is a perception that we are led to believe – but it is not the reality for the Christian.  Elisha and his servant confronted the army of the enemy and we read the following about this encounter in the book of Second Kings where it says:

When the servant of the man of God [Elisha] rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17.

 

Elisha was not worried about the forces against them.  The problem was that the servant believed the perception that they were defenseless.

 

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about perception and reality when he tells the Romans that God has revealed Himself through creation but man chooses to believe the lie Satan promotes.

 

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”   For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.   For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Romans 1:17-25.

 

  • Don’t believe the lie that if your good outweighs your bad, you will get to heaven.   In Romans 10:3-18 Paul states that “”None is righteous, no, not one”.
  • Don’t believe the lie that all you need is to get along, love everyone and do your best.
  • Don’t believe the lie that this world is all there is, so get all you can because God wants you to be wealthy and to have all that you desire.
  • Don’t believe the lie that since God is love there will be no judgment.
  • Don’t believe the lie that hell is not real and the concept of eternal damnation is ridiculous.

 

Both the Old and New Testaments describe God’s response to sin and disobedience, and it is powerful, fierce and just!   God’s wrath is upon sinful mankind … only His mercy is stopping His hand from executing judgment on sinful man this very moment!

 

While you are not righteous, and while you cannot wash your sin away, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection has paid the sinner’s debt and that freedom from sin is available through God’s grace.  Paul says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9.

 

Perception/illusion versus Reality.  In that battle, reality wins every time and Reality has a name – the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent triune God!

 

Father, forgive me when I have believed Satan’s lies that You do not care, or that You have no plan for me,  or that You do not love me.  Enable me to see the protection that You place around me, and grant me the grace to reach outside my comfort zone so I can extend your love and compassion to others, through your Spirit and in the power of the name of Jesus Christ.

EXCITEMENT AND CELEBRATION!

What excites you?  What causes a sense of celebration and joy for you?

 

A child at a birthday party anxious to see what the package holds?

Excitement
Excitement at a birthday party!

 

Watching fireworks at the park?

Fireworks 2
Fireworks after baseball game!

Going on a vacation?

Cruise ship at distance
Cruise ship at a distance.

Going outside?

Okay, that question is really related to our MinPin daughter, Snickers, who cannot stand at the door to go outside.  In her exuberance for getting outside, she, in all her 8 inches of height, will jump higher than the doorknob while she waits for us to open it.

 

 

What makes you glad?  What excites you?

 

Scripture tells us of a time when David exhibited extreme excitement and joy in 2 Samuel 6.  The cause of his excitement was that the ark was being returned to the City of David, and it had just arrived from the house of Obed-edom.   Scripture says that David “danced before the Lord with all his might” [ESV] or “with great enthusiasm”. [Amplified Bible]   When his wife, Michal, saw him dancing, she became angry because she thought his actions were undignified.  She confronted him with his conduct and David responded, reading from the Amplified Bible:

So David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord that I did this, who chose me above your father and all his house, to appoint me as ruler over Israel, the people of the Lord.  Therefore I will celebrate in pure enjoyment before the Lord.”

2 Samuel 6:21.

 

In the New Testament, Jesus talked of His joy:

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

John 15:11.

 

And then also we read what Paul says gives him joy:

I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

2 Corinthians 7:4.

This same verse is translated as follows in the Amplified Bible:

“Great is my confidence in you, great is my pride and boasting on your behalf.  I am filled to the brim with comfort; I am over flowing with joy in spite of all our trouble.”

Having joy in spite of the troubles that confronted him.  Wow!

 

The disciples, at the ascension of the Lord, watched Him go up into the clouds after He blessed them.  Then we read, in the Amplified Bible, at Luke 24:31-32:

And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy [fully understanding that He lives and that He is the Son of God], and they were continually in the temple blessing and praising God.

 

Worshipping with great joy.

  • That doesn’t sound like being the “Frozen Chosen” on Sunday Morning, sitting in the pew with dour faces, never smiling and singing through clenched jaws!

Rather that description sounds like:

  • people who are thankful to God, and to Him alone, for their salvation, who recognize how great the mercy was when the Holy Spirit touched their hearts through His grace alone!
  • people who put God at the center of worship and not their own feelings and opinions.
  • people who celebrate and praise God for His goodness through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
  • people who want to spend time with each other, who speak to and encourage one another!

 

So, I ask you, how do you worship the Lord and the Father Almighty?  With great joy or with a sense of obligation or dread?  Do you love meeting with other believers and fellowshipping with them because of your common bond in Christ, or do you spend the smallest amount of time possible at church because other “more pressing matters” are calling to you!

 

Worship is exciting because in it we are ushered into the throne room of God.  Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, and the work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating our hearts to the reality of our sin and to the blessing of His mercy.  While in our own strength and power we would be cast out from before His presence because of our abject sin and spiritual poverty, because we stand before God in the righteousness of Christ, we can call the Holy One, the Creator of all things and the Lover of our Soul, “Abba, Father”.

 

I pray that we would have a renewed appreciation of worship and fellowship in the life of the Christian Church.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35.

 

Worship and love – they go hand in hand.  Worship denotes the reverence of and for God, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion. And, our devotion to the Lord should be evidenced in the love that we have for one another and for the world around us.  Indeed, worship and love of one another are means of grace given to us through the Holy Spirit … let us not ignore them!

 

This week, may we remember that the worship of our God is exciting and is a joyful experience.  Then, when we leave the worship service, may we continue in an attitude of love toward both our fellow believers as well as each person that the Lord puts in our path.  Love one another — surprise them by your love and then point them to Jesus.

 

Father, forgive me when I have approached worship with a sense of obligation rather than with excitement about being in your presence.  May your Holy Spirit touch my heart and may I come with reverence and awe at your majesty, power, omniscience, glory, and love.  May I be accepted before You as I stand covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, my Savior.  May I love You with my whole heart and may I worship You daily.

 

PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISION IS HARMFUL!

Have you ever wondered, considered, fretted, worried, and then wondered again about taking some course of action?   What should I do? Where should I go? Should I change jobs or retire? What medical procedure would be the best? What should I order in a restaurant that I won’t be wearing around my hips 5 years from now? (Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, I concede!)

Indecision – this is the breeding ground for inaction and it is breeding ground for doubts about God’s sovereignty, your salvation, and a host of other questions that Satan will interject so that your devotion to your Lord will be diminished, or at least diverted!

Last year, when we were in Nashville, Tennessee, we stopped at the Lane Motor Museum, which has been a subject of a prior post on The Ruminant Scribe. I saved discussion of this specific vehicle because it seemed to me to be a visual representation of indecision!

 

Pushmi-Pullyu-Story-of-Doctor-Dolittle
Pushmi-Pullyu fictional character from The Story of Doctor Doolittle, written by Hugh Loftling in the 1920s.

 

My first thought when I saw this vehicle at the museum was “This is a pushmi-pullyu!!”

In the The Story of Doctor Dolittle, there was a fictional character called the pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”). It was a “gazelle-unicorn cross” which had a head at each end of its body.

[Image and information about the book was obtained on April 25, 2016, from http://www.bing.com/images and from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Doctor_Dolittle.]

Although the pushmi-pullyu was fictional, the vehicle in front of me at the museum was not — even so, I could not help but think of this humorous character!

Lane Motor Museum double car
Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

 

It is a vehicle with two front ends. We were told that all the vehicles in the museum were functional and drivable, but I don’t know if both ends of the vehicle drove or if only one side did.

I am told, although I am no French expert to be sure, that “Sapeurs-Pompiers” is French for firemen.  Cogolin is a small city in south east France in the French region Provence-Alpes-Cot d’Azur. The town has about 11000 people.   So, this vehicle, with its two steering wheels, two front tires, two front windshields … two working front ends was, apparently, at least at one point in time, a fire vehicle for the town of Cogolin, France. How it came to be at the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee is unknown to me, but I can attest that it was there!

Lane Motor Museum double car inside
Close up view of the two front ends of the Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

 

No matter how it got to Nashville, it seems to me to be a classic representation of the “pushmi-pullyu” conflict that is also known as indecision.

James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James in Scripture, speaks of indecision and its difficulties.

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8.

The King James Version of this scripture uses the term “wavereth” rather than the term “doubting” in verse 6.   Looking up the meaning of this word in Strong’s Lexicon, you find the following information for G1252, diakrinō, the Greek word translated “doubting” in the ESV and “wavereth” in the KJV:

  1. to separate, make a distinction, discriminate, to prefer

  2. to learn by discrimination, to try, decide

      1. to determine, give judgment, decide a dispute
  3. to withdraw from one, desert

  4. to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend

  5. to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt

To me, these definitions are more indicative of the struggle going on in the one who is undecided, a struggle that the simple term “doubting” does not seem to connote. The first part of entry number 5 is particularly illustrative for me  – “To be at variance with one’s self”. That seems to be the quintessential description of indecision!

The reality of indecision, however, is not the point. All of us are subject to some indecision at one time or another. Rather,  James is warning that those who are “at variance with” themselves must not suppose that they “will receive anything from the Lord” in answer to her prayers.

The consequence of indecision is that the Lord will not be responsive to the prayer that is subject of doubt.

Of course, we also must remember that prayers must be made in alignment with God’s will for answers to be received. I am confident that Paul did not doubt when he prayed to be relieved from his physical infirmity. But he did not get the relief that he desired.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

The fact is that fervent, unwavering prayer raised to God’s throne does not equate to the instant resolution that we may envision. Rather, as Paul points out, he asked the Lord to take this “thorn” from him but instead of removal the Lord gave him grace, an even greater relief. Pain is real, but grace is overwhelming and eternal. I have learned that when I am weak, then I am strong because it is God working through me, and that makes all the difference!

Don’t be a pushmi-pullyu!  Don’t be double minded – be single minded. Have your mind focused on the Trinity: on God, on Jesus Christ, and on His Holy Spirit. Look to the Lord’s way for your life and you will be blessed, even  through unexpected answers to your prayers.

Father, forgive me, I pray, when I have prayed while doubting that an answer would come. Forgive me when I have doubted that Your plan for my life was the best or that You had my eternal best interest in mind. Forgive me when I have simply failed to yield control of my life to You, in all things, for You are sovereign and I desire to yield to Your guidance and authority in all things. Strengthen me in this, I pray.

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, INTRODUCTION, Series Post No. 1

This is the first post in a series of thoughts about the fruit of the Spirit found in The Bible at Galatians 5:22-23.   I plan to post this series each Friday, if the Lord grants it, and we will take time to think about what the Scripture says, and how it applies to my daily life.

 

I have used a number of references in preparation for this study, but throughout this study we will be specifically referencing Dr. R. C. Sproul’s teaching series Keeping in Step with the Spirit, CD Teaching Series; and Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series, both of which are available from Ligonier Ministries at http://www.ligonier.org. I will also make frequent reference to Jonathan Edwards’ sermons collected in the excellent book Charity and Its Fruits, available through The Banner of Truth Trust at https://banneroftruth.org/us/. Another reference that I have referred to in this study is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This is an incredible reference for understanding our Christian theology, not just the fruit of the Spirit. I would encourage you to obtain a copy of the Shorter Catechism together with proof texts at http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

 

WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?

 The first question we need to ask is “Why study the fruit of the Spirit?”

 

We know that the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Catechism Answer Number 1.

 

The Catechism also teaches that God created man, male and female, “after His own image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness” with dominion over the creatures. Catechism Answer Number 10.

 

However, because of Adam’s fall, sin entered the world and all mankind lost the “knowledge, righteousness and holiness” that had been given to us at creation. Catechism Answer Number 18.

 

Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22 says it this way:

 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

 

No longer do we have the righteousness and holiness that we had when mankind was first created. But all is not lost. The Catechism again comes to our aid by explaining that sanctification is the work of God’s free grace by which we are renewed in the image of God and are enabled more and more to die to sin and live to righteousness.

 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:12-14

 

Paul continues to consider the Christian transformation in Colossians 3:10 where he says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” and Ephesians 4:24 says that our new self was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

 

So, how important is righteousness?     God calls each of his children to righteousness. Remember the first catechism answer – our primary purpose is to glorify God … we do that through the practice of righteousness.

 

At this point, some are asking “what in the world does all this righteousness talk have to do with the fruit of the Spirit?”   Listen to the words of Jesus.

 

Jesus prioritized the disciples’ concerns in Matthew 6:33: they were not to worry about what they would eat or wear — they were to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and all the other needful things would be added to them.  Jesus explicitly stated that our goal is righteousness.

 

In his book The Holiness of God, Dr. R. C. Sproul says “the goal of all spiritual exercise must be the goal of righteousness.[i]

 

So, how do we know if we are growing in righteousness? Dr. R. C. Sproul continues to provide this answer:

The fruit of righteousness is that fruit that is exercised in us by the Holy Spirit. If we want to be holy, if we have a real hunger for righteousness, then we must focus our attention on the fruit of the Holy Spirit. [ii]

* * *

[The virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23] are the marks of a person who is growing in holiness. These are the virtues we are to cultivate. … In this list of the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle gives us a recipe for our sanctification. … The fruit of the Spirit – that is where our focus must be. [iii]

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO MY DAILY LIFE?

 

Martin Luther explained righteousness in practical terms by saying that “Every Christian is called to be Christ to his neighbor.” We understand this to mean that we should live our lives to conform to God’s will so that when people see us, they see the reflected holiness of Christ in our lives – people will see us reflecting Jesus’ love to others and, in so doing, they can see Him living through us.

 

We all sin every day, or more likely every moment of every day. But for the believer in Jesus Christ, that sin is covered by His righteousness and we are made children of God through His work on the cross. Therefore, we can follow our chief end, which is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, by growing in righteousness. This is done by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our minds and hearts so the fruit of the Spirit becomes recognizable in our life.

 

Our search for righteousness leads us directly to the Holy Spirit and the fruit that He promises to provide and grow in our hearts.

 

So, for now, I would challenge you to read Galatians Chapter 5 and focus on the comparison between the acts of the natural man and the acts of the believer in Christ Jesus who has the Holy Spirit working in her heart, specifically verses 19-23.

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.

——————–

[i] The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., © 1998 R. C. Sproul, page 166.

[ii] Ibid., page 167.

[iii] Ibid, pages 169-70.

CONTENTMENT – A BIBLICAL POSTURE!

We see something on television about a new product that makes us consider whether our older version of the same thing is still a viable alternative for use. Or, we see something that our neighbor has purchased and it appears to be better than what we have so we want to “upgrade”, shall we say!

 

You know the feeling … that discontent with what we have or with what we are doing?

 

We compare ourselves with others and, somehow, we way too often come up lacking.

  • If only I had that job instead of this one…
  • If only my hair would …
  • If only I had received that promotion …
  • If only I had that house, or car, or dress, instead of this one …
  • If only I was as slender as that lady …
  • If only my children were like theirs …
  • If only …

 

Our canine daughters, Cuddles and Snickers, illustrate this discontent quite often when they both vie for the same toy even though the toy box is filled with other playthings, sometimes even a duplicate of that which they are fighting over.

 

Cuddles and Snickers tug of war
This is mine! Get your own!

 

Don’t misunderstand me, there are times when people are mistreated and abused and there is a legitimate reason for the hurt that is felt. We must work to resolve those issues and/or injustices.

 

I am referring to discontent that is also known as covetousness. I can hear the voices now. “I know that the tenth commandment is ‘Thou Shall Not Covet’!  I don’t do that!”

 

Really?

 

That was my first response when I was reading an article entitled “Thou Shall Not Covet” by Jason Helopoulos in the June 2015 Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries.   His words were convicting in the first order. In speaking of the reason that coveting is so harmful, he states:

Coveting pulls the heart down into the pit of self-seeking and the muck and mire of envy, slander, adultery, pride, dishonor, murder, thievery, and idolatry. It has rightly been said that when we break any of the first nine commandments, we also break the tenth commandment.

 

For us to combat covetousness, first we need to follow Jesus’ commands in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

 

As a youth, I sang a song  that said something like this:  “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  When our eyes are on the Lord and His gracious gifts to us, the things of earth will begin to dim in our eyes.

 

Second, we need to follow the example of Paul:

I have learned in whatever situation to be content.

Philippians 4:11b.

 

Contentment is not something we can buy, fight for or grab – it is something in which we should rest. God is sovereign and He, therefore, knows exactly what we need and His grace is sufficient for every trial.   Quoting Rev. Helopoulos again:

If God thought it was good for us to have more, he would give us more. Every Christian rightly seeks to maintain this mind-set. And when this is the case, what joy contentment brings to the Christian life.

 

Third, we should be thankful. Thankfulness forms a hedge around us enabling us to focus on God rather than on the transient things that form our world.   It is hard to be thankful when you are coveting that which others have. Likewise, it is hard to be discontented when you are thankful for the blessings provided by our Sovereign God.

 

As a result of polio, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (twisting of the spine) when I was 6 years old. When I was 9 years of age, I was put into a body cast and then had surgery to try to stop the twisting that would otherwise have taken my life by age 25.  Although I was in the body cast for over a year, I didn’t miss any school because I had a home-bound teacher from the Chicago school system.

Linda on hospital cart revised
This was me in the body cast. It began behind my head and then it encompassed my body all the way down to my hips and then to my left knee.   I could not raise my head, even to read a book or see television.  That is why I wore prism glasses so I could look through them and see what was in the room, rather than just the ceiling.

 

Rather than being thankful for the healing that was going on in my body, I was crying one day when she came into my room .  Rather than giving me a shoulder to cry on, she demanded “What’s wrong with you!” My response was a feeble, “Because I’m in a body cast!” She then taught me a lesson that I have not forgotten over the 55 years since she spoke these words:

“You are crying over a temporary thing. A child down the street has brittle bones and there is no cure … she breaks a bone when she turns in bed and she is constantly in excruciating pain. Now, what is wrong with spending some time in bed … you have a determined end to your procedure, she does not! So I ask you again, ‘Why are you crying?’”

 

Although I could not articulate it then, through the decades since she said those words, I have found them to be true … when you are hurting, when there are problems and difficulties that are overwhelming, just open your eyes and look around and you will find others who have problems far more difficult than your own. This will put your burdens in perspective.

 

While it is tempting to keep your eyes on your own pain and problems, engaging in self-pity is never productive. Step back from the situation. Don’t become discontented. Rather, look to the Lord, rest in God’s unfailing grace and give Him thanks for His loving hand that encompasses you even when you are not aware of it and problems abound. Psalm 139 states that God knows our every move, word and action. And, nowhere in scripture are these verses revoked.

 

When things are difficult, when pain has set in and when your world is in a cataclysmic nose-dive, you can trust that your Lord has you in His hands and that God knows exactly what is going on.   I don’t mean that he will immediately fix whatever the situation is, but you can rest assured that His grace and comfort will be poured out to help you through the trial.

 

Discontentment – while it often is a reality, it is always sin. I must acknowledge that it is a sin and then repent, look to my Lord and give Him thanks for the salvation that He provides to me. Indeed, even the breath that I breathe is a gift from Him.  No matter how difficult our life is on this earth, it is for a short time – eternal life granted by our Lord is for, well, eternity!

 

Now, what about you?

 

Discontented? Confess, repent and allow His comfort to encompass you. Praise His Name and be thankful. Discontentment will vanish, and you will be able to live life to the fullest in His grace and love.

 

Father, forgive me for whining and crying about my circumstances when You have them in your control and your grace and mercy has lifted me above my circumstances.  Forgive me when I sink in the muck and mire of discontentment rather than realizing that You have already lifted me into your Courts through Christ my Lord and Savior.  May I praise your Name today.

ON THE RELEVANCY OF JOHATHAN EDWARDS IN 2016.

 

In preparing a Bible study on the fruit of the Spirit, other than Scripture, one of the primary references that I consulted was an incredible book entitled Charity and Its Fruits, that compiled Jonathan Edwards’ sermons that he preached in the 18th century  [edited from the original manuscripts with an introduction by Tyron Edwards, first published 1852 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005)].

 

Jonathan_Edwards[1]
Jonathan Edwards, Puritan Preacher from the 1700s.

Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 and lived until 1758. [Picture from Wikipedia article, Jonathan Edwards (theologian) and from the front cover of the book Charity and Its Fruits.]

 

He was a Puritan theologian, pastor, and devout Calvinist, whose conversion centered on his coming to the realization that God is sovereign over all things. Many consider him to be the most significant American churchman of the 18th century, as he was a Preacher who was a leading figure in the (first) Great Awakening of the United States.

 

While I was in high school, I read one of his sermons entitled “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” that had been reproduced in my American Literature class textbook. I suspect many people know of this sermon, in which Edwards says:

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked.”

 

Clearly, his intent was to describe the reality and nature of Hell so that the hearer would turn to the Lord Jesus Christ.   His writings are way more extensive than just that one sermon, however!

 

In Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards talks about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s heart and virtually each page challenges us to live a life in the power of the Holy Spirit as we exhibit love [charity] to those around us.

 

Here are a couple of passages for you to consider today as you meditate on your Christian walk.

Regarding the Christian’s attitude about suffering and difficulties in this life.

From Scripture:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 [ESV]

From Jonathan Edwards:

They that are truly Christians, have that faith whereby they see that which is more than sufficient to make up for the greatest sufferings they can endure in the cause of Christ. They see that the excellency in God and Christ, whom they have chosen for their portion, far outweighs all possible sufferings. And they see, too, that glory which God has promised to them that suffer for his sake – that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory which their sufferings for Christ’s sake work out for them, and in comparison with which, the heaviest sorrows and most enduring trials are but “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

 

  • Do I gripe about the sufferings that I must go through in this life?
  • Do I accept sorrows and trials in the knowledge that I am in God’s hands even then or do I search for answers to the “why me” questions that I posit?
  • Do I even stop, for one moment, to consider the suffering that my Savior, Jesus Christ, endured form my sake?
  • Do I count it a privilege to suffer for Jesus’ sake, or do I want my own creature comforts so much that I avoid suffering at all costs?
  • Do I really believe that the “excellency in God and Christ … far outweighs all possible sufferings”?

 

Easter in Canterbury (C)
Love is shown most strongly when we look at the cross and the empty tomb!  Easter in Canterbury, England

 

On love as being the “sum of all Christianity”.

From Scripture

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant … .

1 Corinthians 13:4 [ESV].

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 [ESV]

From Jonathan Edwards:

 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 ChristiansAn 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!

 

  • Am I jealous of the position others possess, or of their possessions, or their families, or their figure?
  • Am I hard-hearted, arrogant, boastful?
  • Do I empathize with the injured or hurt person before me or do I simply nod my head and then move on to the next topic?
  • Do I share of the abundance that God has given me or do I hoard it in case of a need down the road?
  • Do I speak unkindly of those I hardly know, simply to put myself in a better position with those to whom I am speaking?
  • Am I friendly to others, only to make malicious comments about them to my friends?
  • Do I hinder love to man, and then expect God to accept my offering of love for Him?

 

When reading Jonathan Edwards, it seems as though he is speaking to me directly, notwithstanding the hundreds of years since he penned these words. It certainly is clear that the human experience has not improved in the intervening years! Once again, repentance is in order so that I can be cleansed so that the mirror of my life will reflect Christ’s love to those around me.

 

Do you see yourself in Edwards’ words?

 

If so, Beloved, repent and be restored to fullness of life in the Spirit of our Lord and Savior.

 

Sovereign God, thank You for giving us men such as Jonathan Edwards who gave us a clarion call for repentance, for devotion to your Son, Jesus Christ, and for guidance in living a life in grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Father, forgive me when I have ignored your Spirit and have acted in such a manner as to mar my witness for Jesus Christ. May these words be used to bring glory to You today.