WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE OF OUR LIFE IN CHRIST?

Think about how the New Testament describes the early church in Acts 2:42-47 [NIV]:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Church with stianed glass window
Church in Roanoke, Virginia in the summer with the roses providing fragrance to worshippers walking along the sidewalk.

 

What a difference would be made in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, or world if we reflected God’s love to all persons we meet throughout our day! The early church was known by their care and love for each other. Theirs was not a maudlin kind of service – Scripture says they were together with “glad and sincere hearts” and they praised God and enjoyed “the favor of all the people.” Incredible. No wonder that, as a result of their gospel-driven witness, the Lord added to their number daily.

 

Church - St Margarets church in London (C)
St. Margaret’s Church in downtown London, England.

 

I don’t think our response to the love showered upon us by God through Christ Jesus is intended to result in our withdrawal from society so that we hoard our time with God and ignore our fellow creatures on this whirling sphere we call Earth.  No, that is not the life to which Jesus calls us.   Rather, He calls us to serve others, as He came to serve.  Matthew 20:26-28.

 

Where is the evidence of my life in Christ? The evidence, my friend, is my focused dedication to obey the commands of my Savior as found in Scripture, the foundational command of Jesus being that we are to first love God with all our strength, mind and heart and then we are also to love our neighbors as ourselves. Luke 10:27.

 

In fact, Jesus says that people will know that we are His disciples by the love we show to others. John 13:35.

 

Church
Beautiful church with the bell tower to call the congregation to the house of the Lord.

 

Do I enjoy being with my brothers and sisters in the Lord when I meet with them during worship on Sunday morning, or during Bible study in Sunday School, or during the Women’s Circle Bible Study, or during Choir rehearsal?  Do I cherish the people in my church and seek to attend to their needs?

 

Do I reach out in ministry to others beyond the walls of my church, perhaps even beyond my comfort zone?  Do people see the evidence of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ who is my Savior?

 

I know that I have failed to be the loving witness Christ calls me to be, but I pray that each day I come closer and closer to the target of reflecting Jesus to others, of loving them as Jesus loved them.

 

Beloved, what has been the evidence of your relationship with Jesus?

 

How much do you love Jesus?   How much do you love those whom Jesus loved?

 

 

Father, may I express my love to your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ, by ministering to those He loves, whether they may be among my friends or not. May I express my love to you, Father, by studying your Word and praying, listening to the Holy Spirit urge and direct me as I walk the path you have preordained for me to tread. Thank you Father for your Spirit who comforts, encourages and strengthens me. Please give me grace that I may continue to love and serve You throughout my days, even on the hard ones.

 

OPEN YOUR EYES … NOW, WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Have you been in the high mountains and soaked in the vista sweeping across the horizon for a far greater distance than that which you can usually see?

 

Blue Ridge Parkway view
Vista view from Blue Ridge Parkway overlook.

 

Things seem so different from that perspective. Have you ever had an opportunity to be in an airplane or on top of the mountain when you could see the fields, houses, rivers, buildings and roads below?

Knoxville Downtown (C)
Knoxville, Tennessee downtown from Sharp’s Ridge.

 

Looking at a city from the mountain top hides the random streets with roads clogged with traffic. It conceals the home with a messy yard or a tree that is less than beautiful when walking past on your evening stroll. Instead, all those features become one piece of the fabric that gives character to the overall motif when viewing things from above.

When I view the mountains …

Rocky Mountains from air (C)
Rocky Mountain peaks from an airplane.

 

or the oceans, …

Ocean waves and rock formation Oregon (C)
Pacific Ocean waves and rock formations along Oregon coast.

 

the minutia of the day is lost in the splendor and majesty of God’s creation. Indeed, God’s creation is awesome in its scope, beauty and power. Just check out Yosemite National Park, for example!

Yosemite water fall and downsream 2011 (C)
Yosemite National Park waterfall and downstream.

 

The Bible says in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Deuteronomy, Moses prayed:

“O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?”
Deuteronomy 3:24.

The Psalmist says:

“Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”
Psalm 104:1.

See the mighty Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

Sequoia -Yosemite 09 (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

 

God’s power is truly visible in the overwhelming splendor, beauty and majesty of His creation. His creation prompts us to praise Him for His mighty works.

But, His power is not only visible in the huge glorious vistas splayed out before us on this planet. His creative power is shown in the minute, as well.

Azalea in full bloom (C)
Azalea blooms up close and personal.

 

The detail in the flower of an azalea bush bespeaks of a Creator Who loves beauty.

Birds - American Goldfinch (C)
Goldfinch sitting atop branch in flower garden.

 

The glorious chirp and beauty of the Goldfinch as he sits atop a branch in the garden, searching for food, his mate, or just taking in the scenery.  God’s handiwork is evident even in this small creature.

Yes, God’s creativity is visible even in that which we walk past and ignore on a daily basis, in the beautiful birds, butterflies, flowers, clouds, sunsets, and in the myriad  of His majestic works which are simply too big for me to comprehend.

The Bible tells us that God wants us to know Him. Paul says in Romans 1:20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”

God, the Master Creator, has made the world and everything in it, including us. Such power, majesty and glory is too incredible for me to understand  – I only know that He wants to have a relationship with me. When I take my eyes off the problems, pain and discomfort of this life and look to Him in love, trust and obedience, then I remember that and I know that He loves me and is in control.

I am not a Polyanna who cannot see problems or pain – I have experienced both problems and pain on multiple occasions in my life. Rather, I am suggesting that, even in the middle of the problem or pain, you can look up to the Father Who loves you so much that He  sent his Son to be your Savior and Lord.  Becoming a Christian does end problems or pain, however.  When Paul asked that his “thorn in the flesh” be taken away, we read this:

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.

2 Corinthians 12:9.

Pain will still be present, but His comfort and His grace is sufficient to overcome whatever the world may throw at us.

So, I ask you, “What do you see?” Keep your eyes open and expect to see God today. He is present and He will make Himself known to you, you just need to look and listen as His Spirit guides you through the day!

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24.

Praise the Lord!

 

Father, forgive me when I have focused so much on my own personal problems, pain, discouragement that I have failed to see You all around me. Open my eyes and my heart to your comforting care and draw me close to You, each day. May I praise your Name each day You give me the gift of life.

KNITTING — AND THE CHURCH!

Many years ago, my Grandmother taught me to crochet and my Aunt taught me to knit. Both crocheting and knitting involve creating knots in yarn when you follow the pattern so that the work will be beautiful and reflect that which you want to create.

 

Knitting - beginning of baby cap
This is the beginning of a baby cap, done on circular needles and, here, the yarn is still attached.

I have long ago forgotten how to crochet, but I remembered enough about knitting to pick it up in recent years. And, thanks to instructional videos on youTube, books that I had purchased long before youTube was a twinkle in anyone’s eye (and which were still available in the house, due to my pack-rat nature) about how to create stitches, and a recent Christmas present from our Daughter, I have made several items including:

A long scarf of light silver blue, ethereal yarn.

 

knitting - scarf laying on shawl
Long scarf of silver blue yarn. This yarn knotted up at the center of the ball and I had to have one of my sisters in the Lord help untie the knots so that I would have enough yarn to finish the scarf.

 

A white shawl knit with yarn that has silver specks throughout. Very subtle. .

 

knitting - white shawl
White shawl that I use in the car or RV if the wind is cool on my shoulders.

A baby blanket and matching cap for a yet unborn recipient.

knitting - blanket and baby cap
Baby blanket folded in thirds with pattern revealed at the top. A matching baby cap is next to the blanket.

 

Knitting - baby cap next to blanket
Here the blanket pattern is shown “up close and personal.”  Working with multi-shaded yarn makes a pretty pattern.

 

As well as dozens of little baby caps for our missionary team to take to Cuba for use with newborn infants in the hospital in an effort to keep flies away from the infants. It is humbling to knit these caps which are supposed to be the “size of a small orange” and to contemplate the little head that will fit into the cap.

 

I am not an accomplished knitter by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy doing it but I have not attempted sweaters or vests or anything that is complex in nature. Just not there yet!

 

I do know, however, that there are two stitches in knitting and everything is based on those two stitches – knit and purl. That’s it. There are slip stitches, knit two together, and other stitches with names that I likely mispronounce, all of which create various patterns and textures for the piece, but they are all based on knit and purl. Essentially, these two stitches create knots in the yarn and, once the knot is fixed, you go on to make the next knot!

 

The yarn that I have used is not special stuff or exotic in any respect. There is, however, a wide variety of yarns, which by definition is a continuous strand of twisted fiber. Natural fibers include wool or cotton, cashmere and silk. You can also knit with bamboo, linen and synthetic fibers such as nylon and acrylic. I even saw a pattern for knitting a reusable recyclable tote using grocery store plastic bags as the “yarn”.

 

Recently, when I worked on the baby blanket and cap, I was thinking about the transformation of the single strand of yarn into a usable blanket and cap. Just knotting the yarn in knit and purl stitches row after row created a fabric that has far more uses, and is far stronger, than the single strand of yarn itself.

 

Knitting - close up of blanket
Close up of blue baby blanket shadow box pattern.

 

I suggest that the individual Christian is, in some ways, like that strand of yarn. We can do some things, but we cannot be as effective on our own as we can be when we are joined with our Christian brothers and sisters. Don’t take the analogy too far – we do not want to get so knotted up that we are not able to do our work. But, when we are knit into the fabric of the body of Christ, we are strong and we can be used by the Lord in a myriad of ways.

 

The Apostle Paul talks about believers in this way.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:1-3 ESV

 

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossians 2:18-19 ESV

 

The believers in our Lord are “knit together in love” and when we hold to our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, we are knit together and are granted growth from God.

 

Knitting with yarn is fun and we can create lovely things just by twisting the yarn in knit and purl stitches. But, when we are knit together in love with one another in the body of Christ, just imagine what He can accomplish through His Spirit for His Church.

 

By the way, when you drop a stitch in knitting, you can go back and pick it up and, if done carefully, the pattern is not destroyed. Left unattended, that errant stitch can unravel and potentially ruin the entire work. In the same way, when one of the believers in the church is in trouble, has difficulties or is unable to do the work assigned, the rest of the body can, and should, step in and “pick him/her up” restoring the person to fellowship and tending to the physical, financial, emotional and spiritual needs that have arisen. In this way, the church’s work is unharmed and the Lord in honored. That is what being knit together in love is all about!

 

Praise the Lord for His mercy, grace and love and praise Him for knitting us together in His love.

 

Father, I thank you for your grace in providing the Church for support, encouragement, instruction, guidance and reproof as I go along my Christian walk. I pray that I would not be the stitch that drops off the needle so that my assigned task done for Christ would unravel. Thank you that we are knit together in love, your love!

 

 

 

 

REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

Christmas 2008 124
Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

IT’S ALL AROUND US – DO WE SEE IT?

Just can’t get away from it this week.  One of our grandsons turned 13 and the next day our daughter turned … well just say she is still less than 40.   Then we have Valentine’s Day, and the next day another grandson has a birthday, turning 9 years old.  Just can’t get away from it.

 

Child sleeping at the table (C)
Child asleep at the porch table.

This little guy on the porch just turned 13!

 

Baby Liz standing at table (C)
Young child standing by holding on to the side table, taken a while back!

This little girl is … well, several decades older than she was in this picture!

 

 

And this little guy is now 9 years old.

Asleep in swing
Child asleep in swing at the day care center. To tired from playing!

 

I really am not talking simply about aging, although that certainly stares you square in the face sometimes.

 

 

I’m talking about LOVE.  When birthdays come, we rehash and revisit the day of that blessed occasion.  Pictures sometimes are produced but, even without the Polaroid or digital image, we remember and we smile.  Children are God’s gift to us.

 

 

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:3-5 ESV

 

I have heard it said that grandchildren are a gift from God presented as a reward for not killing your own children when they were teenagers!  I don’t believe that for a moment, but I do believe that there is a special bond between grandchildren and their grandparents that the children cannot understand.  How often do we hear (usually with a fake pout on the face) “You didn’t let me do that when I was a kid!”  Our response is, of course, “You don’t understand. This is not my child — it is my grandchild.  There is a difference!”

 

And, of course, love between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren, between husband and wife and between all the other significant people in our lives is celebrated at Valentine’s Day.  I understand  that this is a day most likely created by the greeting card industry, but it is a good day and I’m glad we have it.  In our hectic world, we don’t take the time to say “I love you” often enough.  So celebrate your love with your Valentine and then remember to continue the celebration for more than one day!

 

The reality is, however, that our celebration of love upon one’s birth or throughout the child’s life, or on the special day created for such celebration, pales miserably when compared with the love that God has for His children.   Consider just a few of the hundreds of passages in Scripture that speak of God’s love:

 

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,… “

Exodus 34:6 ESV

 

 

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26 ESV

 

 

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 5:7-8 ESV

 

Easter in Canterbury (C)
Easter in Canterbury, England

 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 ESV

 

 

Notice that last passage — Paul says that he is convinced, he is sure, that nothing in creation can separate us from the love that God has for us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

The world may think we are irrelevant.  Society may write us off as being of no value.  Your boss may not value the effort that you put into your work every day.  Your family might take your service to them for granted, never saying a positive word about how you look, what the meal was like or anything that you have done for them.  You may have been abandoned and rejected by those you love.

 

 

But, Beloved, you are loved.

 

God, the creator of the universe and the One who holds the universe, including your life, in His hands, sent His only Son to be a sacrifice on the cross in an act of atonement for sin.  He did not die as an atonement for His sin as He was sinless.  No, the wondrous truth is that Christ was the sacrifice for your sin and for my sin.  Read Romans 5:7-8 again.

 

 

What incredible love God has for us that He would send His Son into this filthy, sinful world so that God’s justice would be satisfied when sin was paid for and so that His grace could then extend to sinners who believed on the name of Jesus as their Savior, Lord and King.

 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 ESV

 

 

I pray that this offering by Selah of the song “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” [with lyrics] will be a blessing you.

 

This Valentine’s Day while you tell those around you that you love them., be sure to praise the Lord for His love and grace.  In fact, let praise to God be the first thing you express every day!  Try this as an experiment. I suspect your day will take on a whole different dimension!

 

 

Father, I praise your holy Name for your love and mercy extended to me on a daily basis.  I thank you for sending Jesus to be the sacrifice required to pay for my sins, and I thank you for your Holy Spirit’s presence in my life to guide and comfort me as I walk through this world.   May I worship you in thought, word and deed and may praise be continually on my lips, even the first thing in the morning. 

 

WHO IS IN CONTROL HERE?

 

I am in control of my life … right?  Are you in control of your life?  Really?

 

We get up, brush our teeth, go to work, come home, prepare meals, chauffeur the kids to and fro, do the laundry, mop the floor, make the beds, pay the bills, run to the post office for stamps, wash the toddler’s hands and face, do more laundry, exercise, go to the gym, ride the bicycle … the list is never ending. But, we are in control, right!?

Birthday cake on face (C)
Adorable toddler with birthday cake on her face!

 

Then there are the other obligations that we have on our schedule. Things like birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, worship at church, preparation for the children’s class party, choir rehearsal, women’s meetings for fellowship and prayer.

 

Thanksgiving meal new recipe (C)
Yummy acorn squash that folks would enjoy!

 

We take food to those who are suffering, participate in the Bible study and prayer group, leadership meetings, and work with outreach activities such as Habitat for Humanity, the Soup Kitchen, Second Harvest, etc.   And we still think we are in control, right?

 

Of course, we would be remiss if we ignored the incessant interruptions that the smart phone provides – email, tweets, Skype, messages, not to mention phone calls (the purpose of the telephone)! And we must not forget the magnetic call of social media such as Facebook. Hundreds of our friends want to know what we are doing, minute by minute. Could I honestly post that my status is that “I am in control of my life”?

 

Being in control of my own life is the focus of our culture … songs glamorize the concept by saying  “I did it MY way” and “I want it all and I want it all now!,”  an illustration that the focus of our world is I/me/mine!  In essence, we are the center of our universe. All else is irrelevant. Yet we still are running, we are out of time and energy, and, because we are so busy that we can’t squeeze another thing into our schedule, we believe that we are in control of our own life!

 

If we are honest, it would appear that we are slaves to the chores and obligations of family, home, society and employment! Like the little pet hamster, we are on the treadmill — running in circles with no visible exit point where we can rest, rejuvenate, relax, and refresh!

 

Ocean waves and beach (C)
Oregon beach with waves coming in, nonstop, with soothing sounds.

 

When was the last time you got off the treadmill and stopped so that you could listen to the sound of Nature? When was the last time you experienced the continual, powerful, pounding of the ocean and remembered that there is no switch to turn it off, yet the Lord could still the waves with His voice?  Mark 4:39.

Colorado Rocky Mountains
Colorado mountains, awesome in grandeur and strength.

 

When was the last time you stopped to look at the mountain and to consider the power of Him who holds the summit in His hand?

 

Beautiful butterfly
Beautiful butterfly found in Butterfly Farm in the Cayman Islands.

 

When was the last time you were still enough to inspect a butterfly, one of the magnificent beauties of God’s creation?   Creatures that are so fragile they will be blown away by the wind, yet they are strong enough to fly in migration across the ocean!

 

When was the last time you sat in a quiet room with your Bible open, reading it so you can learn more of Who God is? When was the last time you listened for the still small voice of God, speaking to you in a whisper in your soul, telling you that He loves you and wants you to focus on Him, not on the treadmill?    1 Kings 19:11-12.

 

Cross
Consider the cross, a reminder of the glorious gift provided to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

The very life we have, breath that we breathe, is a gift from God.  Certainly, those blessings are deserving of our thanks.  But even more we should be thankful for the gift of salvation, purchased at such great cost as Christ’s death on the cross, as payment for our sin.  When was the last time you said “Thank you” to Him for all His blessings that He has given you, because of His grace?

 

Who is in control here?  According to Scripture, the answer to that question is “God is in control.”  In speaking to the men of Athens, Paul says it like this:

And he [God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  For in him we live and move and have our being.

Acts 17:25-28.

 

In the Psalms, David describes God in a much more personal way.

For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-15

 

God is in control and I can allow Him to take me off the treadmill so that I can do the work that He has planned for me from the foundation of the world.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

 

May I glorify God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as I experience the glorious adventure of life with my Savior holding my hand as His Spirit guides my path.

 

Father, I praise, glorify, and honor you as the Creator God, sovereign, all-powerful, and all-knowing. I thank you that you are in control, and I bow in humble gratefulness that I am yours. May I live in the fullness of life that you have provided through Jesus Christ my Savior and through the power of your Holy Spirit.

 

GOD’S WOODLAND CREATURES AND US!

Often, we think of God’s woodland creatures in terms of big animals. Such as the caribou that we saw in Alaska. Tall, heavy with incredible racks on the top of their head. The muscles that are necessary to hold their head up are incredibly strong, they would have to be to carry the antlers as they do. And they are fast, when speed is needed.

Caribou close up
Caribou with large rack grazing in the Denali National Park., Alaska.

 

Out west we have the buffalo, certainly a handsome specimen of strength and endurance!

Buffalo in ND
Buffalo in the American West, specifically in the plains of North Dakota.

 

Then, of course, we think of the bear. Huge, frightful jaws and paws with claws that can rip almost anything, certainly a person if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time! He is certainly not someone I want to encounter without a bus surrounding me!

Bear in Denali
Bear walking across the plane in Denali National Park, Alaska.

 

Another of God’s creatures is the deer that inhabits the wooded areas of our country. Traveling through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, you can drive an 11 mile loop road around Cades Cove, the first settlement in the Smoky Mountains, and deer are always visible. Of course we are not afraid of deer – we remember Bambi!

Deer in woods Oregon 2009 178 (C)
Deer grazing in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along the loop road in Cades Cove.

 

But there are also the small woodland creatures, and many of them are not confined to the “woods” as in forest, take squirrels and chipmunks for example. Many abide in urban areas, finding shelter and food in unique places.

 

It is not very hard to find food in our backyard. Not only do we feed the squirrels and chipmunks by hand, when possible – we also have several feeders around the yard. They provide continued amusement, as long as the food supply is available!

Squirrel at corn cobs on feeder (C)
Squirrel eating corn at the backyard “picnic table” just below the bird feeder.

 

Not all squirrels have their own private restaurant, however. Many have to forage for their dinner. Consider the squirrels and chipmunks seen in Oregon at the Lava Butte Lookout. This squirrel blends in with the lava rocks and minimal vegetation so well that we almost missed him. [Hint: if you can’t find him, he is in the very center of the picture, nibbling on some greenery right in front of him.]

Squirrel can you see him Oregon 2009 229
Squirrel seen in Oregon nibbling on greenery growing among the rocks.

 

This little chipmunk apparently made a home in the lava cone near Bend, Oregon. Not much in the way of greenery, but he must find food in the area.

Chipmunk in cinder cone Oregon 2009 190
A chipmunk in a cinder cone in Oregon.

 

Here, the little guy running down the steps must be successful in spotting some food that looked good to him.

Chipmonk on steps Oregon 2009 199 (C)
A chipmunk trotting down the wooden stairs at the Lave Butte lookout, near Bend, Oregon.

 

Clearly, our Creator God has equipped the squirrels, chipmunks, caribou, deer and all His creatures with the ability to find sustenance, even in the harshest of places. Rocks are not edible, but there is an abundance of food for this chipmunk as he is seemingly protected in his rocky restaurant.

Chipmunk in cinder cone (C)Oregon 2009 232
A chipmunk standing in a cinder cone, Oregon.

 

This Alaskan squirrel appears to be ready for winter, although it was only August when we saw him, but winter comes quickly so it is best to be prepared!

Alaskan squirrel (C)
An Alaskan squirrel, looking for goodies before winter covered the landscape with snow and ice.

 

The Creator God cares for each member of His creation. Jesus says, in Matthew 6:26:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

 

This same passage expands God’s care for His creation by including care for even the flowers and grass of the field. See Matthew 6:30 where Jesus says:

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

 

I don’t believe that Jesus intended to say that birds and grass were the only parts of creation that God tends with His loving hand. Rather, they are illustrative of the depth of love God has for His creation. Grass is temporal and is burned when its short life is over. Birds may seem insignificant to us, but not to God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.   Matthew 10:29-31.

 

Jesus is teaching by comparison. God loves these seemingly insignificant parts of His creation so that He knows even when a sparrow falls out of a tree, so that he knows even the number of hairs on our heads, even the insignificant parts of His creation illustrate His love and care to those for whom He sent His Son to die!

 

God has a plan for His creation and, for those who are in Christ Jesus, God has a specific plan for us to accomplish during our time on this earth. We are not insignificant even though we may feel that way at times. Whatever our age, whatever our station in life, whatever our physical or mental abilities, we are not insignificant.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.    Ephesians 2:10.

 

When negative thoughts attack you, when you feel like no one sees or cares, remember the chipmunk or the squirrel, or the sparrow or the grass. Those features of God’s creation merit His attention at all times … how much more does He care for those He created in His image and into which He breathed the breath of life. Genesis 2:27.
Praise His Holy Name.

 

Father, thank you for providing for the little critters you created. Thank you for giving us the wide variety in animals to look at and care for. Thank you for telling us that we are not insignificant. But most of all, thank you for sending your Son to die for our sins, and to provide redemption for us so that we can be your children. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace.

PRAISE THE LORD!

 

Have you ever just wanted to haul off and shout or sing – as loud as you can – because you were so happy about something?

Baby newborn in hospital bassinet (C)
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

A grandchild prompts thanksgiving and praise to our great God for the blessing of children.

Have you ever just jumped for joy – for me, physical jumping is definitely out of the question, but inside I can jump really high!

 

hummingbird hovering (C)
Ruby Throated Hummingbird hovering before getting a drink.

The Ruby Throated Hummingbird has no problem soaring, hovering, flying or reflecting God’s glorious beauty.

 

Azalea in full bloom (C)
Azalea bush in full bloom.

There is infinite beauty in the profusion and detail of azalea blooms.

 

Has praise for your Lord ever just erupted and spilled over into your countenance and conversation after seeing God’s majesty in His creation?

Yosemite mountain view vertical 100_3480
Yosemite National Park scenic view.

Yosemite National Park showing God’s majesty and power in His creation.

 

Mt. McKinley from train to Denali National Park
Mt. Denali from train on the way to Denali National Park.

Mt. Denali [formerly Mt. McKinley] in Denali National Park, Alaska evidencing God’s glory in creation.

 

If not, why not?

 

Praise for the Lord is scriptural and is a natural outpouring of thankfulness for the working of God in our lives.

In Exodus 14 we read of the escape of the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians as they crossed the Red Sea on dry land.   In Exodus 15, we read the song of Moses as he and the people of Israel praised the Lord for their deliverance.

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. … Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” – Exodus 15:1-2, 11

 

In 2 Samuel 22, King David sings a song of thanks to the Lord for delivery from his enemies and from the hand of Saul.

And David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. … For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. ”  2 Samuel 22:1-3, 50

 

When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, he appointed the singers to praise the Lord.

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!”  1 Chronicles 16:6-11

 

The prophet Isaiah says:

“O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”  Isaiah 25:1

 

The writer of Proverbs says:

An evil man is ensnared in his transgression, but a righteous man sings and rejoices.  Proverbs 29:6

 

Praise and singing is not just for Old Testament folks.  In the New Testament, we remember Paul and Silas being in prison for preaching about Jesus. In Acts 16:25 we read:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

 

Imagine, singing hymns to God after being beaten and thrown into prison. Not only were they praying and singing, they were singing so loud that the other prisoners could listen to them. They were not gloomy guys bemoaning the wrongfulness of their imprisonment. They were not complaining to God, arguing that this unjust imprisonment should not have come when they were obeying the command to carry the gospel to others.  No — they were rejoicing – praying and singing to the very God who allowed them to be imprisoned.

 

And, the story continues.  The conclusion of this story is that the jailer became free from his sins.  The keeper of the prison asked what he should do to be saved and Paul and Silas told him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul and Silas were released from jail and the jailer attended to the wounds of the former prisoners/now brothers in Christ.

 

How could Paul and Silas rejoice in those circumstances?   Can we praise God when things are dark and circumstances are far from happy?

 

I suggest that we can praise God in any and all circumstances.   Paul and Silas had a correct understanding of who they were in contrast to who God is. We, as sinners, cannot come into God’s presence. A holy God cannot even look on sin. Our very best is as filthy rags before God. We have absolutely nothing that we can offer to Him to seek His acceptance.

 

But, we have been redeemed by Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection. And this redemption is all about His grace and mercy, not one iota about how good we are.  We have experienced the love of God in a way that the heavenly beings cannot imagine. Jesus, the spotless Son of God, paid the price for my sin – for all of it – and has claimed me as His, bringing me into the family of God:  granting me access to God through Jesus righteousness, not my own.

 

Beloved, this is good news and it transcends any negative circumstance that we encounter in this world.  We should fall at the feet of our Lord and thank Him nonstop for His grace and mercy, for His forgiveness and cleansing, for His love and atoning sacrifice on our behalf, for our adoption into the family of God.

 

Praise and thanksgiving are inexorably connected.   Thanksgiving flows directly into praise and there can be no heartfelt praise of the Lord if we are not thankful to Him.

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Psalm 69:30

 

By the way, no audition is necessary before you can sing in praise to our God! The quality of your voice is completely irrelevant, but the condition of your heart is paramount!

So,

  • Have you lifted up your voice in a song of praise to your Savior?
  • Have you expressed your thanks to the Lord for the gift of today?
  • Have you praised Him for His loving kindness and longsuffering toward you?
  • Have you praised Him for His compassion and forgiveness?
  • Have you praised Him for His mercy and His grace?
  • Have you expressed your love to Him by obedience to His commands?
  • Have you worshiped the Lord today?

 

If not, why not?

 

The Centurymen is a group of over 100 musicians who serve in the music ministry of various churches and who praise the Lord in song. As you think of praise and thanksgiving, listen to the Centurymen sing Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee. I pray you will be blessed by it and that praise to the Lord would come to your lips and heart.

 

Father, thank you for your Spirit that enables me to give you praise, honor and worship. Thank you for your Son who provided the atoning sacrifice for me so that I can be cleansed of my sin and can come into your presence through prayer, reading your Word and worship. Forgive me when I have taken your blessings for granted, or when I have thought that I was entitled to your blessings.  Forgive me when I have focused on outward circumstances rather than on your steadfast love and overwhelming mercy and grace.  Forgive me, Father, when I have ignored your Spirit and when I have sinned in thought and deed.  May my praise and worship be glorifying to you.

CHOSEN

 

I had polio when I was an infant. The resulting disability was severe scoliosis – a twisting of the spine in both the thoracic and lumbar regions. The evidence of this twist is that one shoulder blade sticks out and the opposing hip is raised.

 

As a child, I was terribly self‐conscious of my condition and the attendant ramifications. Because of medical treatments attempting to stem the potentially fatal twisting, I was prohibited from participating in the elementary school’s physical education program. As a result, if there were teams for anything, whether a game or any competition, I was never chosen.   I was always the last one standing along the wall waiting for some compassionate leader to place me on a team, even though the team members were looking at me with eyes that were pleading “No, not here, not on this team!”

 

While I am certain that my experience is not typical, I suspect that there is a universal understanding of the feeling of not being chosen – of being left at the wall, waiting – of rejection.

 

But, praise the Lord, He has looked on me with favor.   In John 15:13‐17, Jesus says:

 

Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

 

John 15:13-17

 

God has chosen His people, from the foundation of the world. Indeed, in Deuteronomy 7 we read:

 

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 [ESV]

 

In the New Testament, Paul reiterates the concept of God’s intentional selection of those who would be His people:

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

 

Ephesians 1:3-4 [ESV]

 

Being chosen by God includes recognizing His intimate knowledge of us, not merely as one of millions of creatures that inhabit this planet called Earth. Centuries before Jesus lived, David wrote that God knew him even before he was born.  Specifically, in Psalm 139:16 we read:

 

“…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

 

This tells me that God’s knowledge of us is personal and intimate. Such intimacy is further described in Psalm 139 when we are told that God knows my thoughts, my words, and my ways.

 

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

 

Ps 139:2‐4.

 

Who else knows us like this? Not even my husband, who knows me very well, can predict what I am going to say before I say it. Indeed, this is often evident by the look on his face after I say something that catches him by surprise!

 

Yet Scripture says that, despite knowing all about me, God loves me and that He chose me to be a child of His even before time began, before the foundation of the world.

 

Just think of it – the God of the universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, knows us as specific individuals on this minute planet in just one of the galaxies of the massive universe. And, in His sovereign majesty He has chosen us! He loves us, guides us, counsels us, and is present with us moment by moment. Indeed, His Spirit indwells those who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior … that means intimate communication with Him, now and forever more.

 

Shouldn’t this personal God receive our honor and worship? Shouldn’t His love to us cause us to follow Jesus’ example in love and service to each other, and to all those we come in contact with as we live our life for the Lord? I pray that we would respond to His wondrous grace and mercy with gratitude, love, reverence, obedience, and overwhelming joy!

 

Father, forgive me when I have accepted your love and grace without recognizing the incredible cost of my salvation; without remembering the magnitude of my sin that has been atoned for by Jesus’ death and resurrection; and forgive me when I fail to give others grace, mercy, love and encouragement. Father, thank you for your mercy in not giving me what I deserve, and thank you for your grace in giving me that which I could never acquire on my own, adoption into your family through Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord.