Are we walking worthy of God?

During a trip to Oregon, we drove along the coastline and, ultimately, came to the Garibaldi estuary.  That is, we came to the point where the river met the ocean, where fresh water mixed with salt water.

Estuary in Oregon 2009 159 (C)
Garibaldi estuary,, Oregon

The setting was beautiful and the concept mind-numbing.  How does fresh water and saltwater combine while remaining separate and not tainted by contact with each other at the estuary?  Given the mass of the ocean, it is clear that the fresh water is not going to dilute the salt in the ocean.  But the same cannot be said of the fresh water in the river.  Its mass nowhere compares to the ocean so why does the saltwater not taint the river’s fresh water? 

I’m not an expert on watersheds or the movement of rivers, etc., but after doing some reading, I think a simple answer is that the saltwater is much more dense than fresh water.  The result is that saltwater cannot go over the natural barriers that occur in the riverbeds.  While there is some mixing of the two, in various ways depending on the estuary configuration, ultimately the fresh water is not at risk of contamination from the salt of the ocean.  It seems to be impervious to it!

While we were reading in 1 Thessalonians, this week, we read these verses:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. 

Paul uses the illustration of a parent and his child, one we can certainly understand even 2000 years after this was written.  We teach our children how they should behave, how they should be courteous, how they should be kind and assist those who need help, etc.   I recall that, when I would come back from visiting with relatives or friends, my parents would specifically ask if I “behaved myself”, and often a phone call would be made by my mother to confirm the validity of my affirmative response.  She didn’t take my word for it, she checked herself!

This is like what Paul is saying to the Thessalonian Christians.  We exhorted (strongly encouraged or urged) and they charged (entrusted them with a task or responsibility) the people.  Why?  Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.”    

Matthew Henry, writing in the 17th century, asks what our “gospel duty” is regarding our relationship with God. 

What is our great gospel privilege-that God has called us to his kingdom and glory. The gospel calls us into the kingdom and state of grace here and unto the kingdom and state of glory hereafter, to heaven and happiness as our end and to holiness as the way to that end.

What is our great gospel duty-that we walk worthy of God, that the temper of our minds and tenour of our lives be answerable to this call and suitable to this privilege. We should accommodate ourselves to the intention and design of the gospel, and live suitably to our profession and privileges, our hopes and expectations, as becomes those who are called with such a high and holy calling.

A more modern approach is expressed by David Guzik when, in considering these same two verses, he says the following:

It is impressive that Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life

… “How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you … that you would walk worthy of God.”  Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could tell them that they should walk worthy of God because his life and message were consistent.

I suspect that you are asking yourself, “what does our walk with the Lord have to do with an estuary?”

Perhaps nothing in your mind, but in mine, I come up with these questions: Am I mixing salt with fresh?  Am I getting so bogged down in this world that I no longer desire God and His kingdom? Am I so acclimated to the saltwater that I no longer relate to the fresh water of the gospel?  I pondered whether my walk was worthy of God and His kingdom as I flittered from one thing to another, ignoring people in need, taking precious time for frivolous activities, putting Bible time off until I’m too tired to concentrate on what I’m reading.  You get the idea.  

Do I spend so much time doing things, which seem important at the time, with the result that I have no more energy, time or ability to pay attention matters that are of paramount importance, matters that have eternal consequences?

Does this sound familiar to you?

We are to walk through this world although we are citizens of God’s kingdom.  We are to be salt and light to those we come in contact with, but we are not to be so attracted to them that we lose our perspective.  We are to mingle and be Jesus’ representatives to others but we must remember, always, that our citizenship is in God’s kingdom — so we are not attached to the temporary things of this world, rather we look to those things above that are unperishable.  In short, we must walk worthy of God even as we walk through this fallen world. 

Paul reiterated this point in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 where we read:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.

Do I walk, every day, in a manner that is worthy of my citizenship in the kingdom of God?

Do I walk worthy of my calling so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified through me?

Do you?

Father, I read in the Bible tht I should not have an attachment to this world but that I should set my mind on tings above, that I should glorify You through my actions, thoughts and words, that I should walk worthy of my calling that I have received from You.  Oh Holy Spirit, cleanse me and give me Your power to do that which has been commanded so that my life will glorify my God and my Lord.

WE’VE GOT WHAT?

Some time ago we noticed some dirt on the baseboard of the guest room in our home.  It is a room that had gone through multiple iterations of use, from a suite for our daughter and her family, to a bedroom for us after surgery, to a guest room for visiting clergy and friends.  Since our children have moved back home and have established homes of their own, we no longer have need of the guest room for housing their families so it is not put to frequent use.

Therefore, we did not pay much attention to the “dirt” on the baseboard in the corner of the room.  We went into the room recently and discovered that the “dirt” seemed to have become more pervasive and we became a bit concerned about the cause.

The answer to the title question is “We’ve got mold!”  It has not intruded into the entire room, just one corner, but it did a real good job of invading that area.  We have now had the corner stripped of the dry wall by the mold remediator, and we can see the damage that it caused.  Now the mold has been killed and the area sealed off until we can get a contractor to repair the damage.

mold damage 0708191104b
Ceiling in the corner of the room showing mold damage

As I was looking at the damage, while trying to settle my stomach from how ugly it was, the Lord struck me with the realization that my hatred of the mold and what it did to the house is miniscule when compared to His holy hatred of sin. 

The room looked fine when you looked at the wall.  Yes, there was some discoloration at the baseboard, but no one looks at that!  Put something in front of it and you don’t even know it is there!

The room looked presentable.  It was fine.  It was even quite pretty with the curtains and lovely furniture, with knickknacks on the shelves and a broad window showing off the rose bushes outside. 

But when the sheet rock was taken down, what a horrible scene embraced the eyes!  At the lower corner of the room, you could see the outside through the vinyl siding on the exterior wall of the room.  The only thing between the room and the outside was the thin vinyl siding.

mold damage 0708191104a
The lower corner exposed pure sunlight through the siding.

On the outside, we can look presentable, maybe even pretty or handsome as we go to church, pay our tithe, sing in the choir, and do all the things that we are supposed to do.  But if we harbor sin in our hearts, if we are quarrelsome and spiteful, if we covet or lie, if we murder the reputation of others through gossip or slander, or if we abuse the marital bed through adultery, we present anything but a pretty picture when the veneer is taken away.

Jesus spoke of this situation in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28

The Pharisees and scribes were holy men before the people, but they were lawless sinners before God, the One who could read their hearts and minds like an open book. 

It is humbling to realize that God knows your thoughts, your minds, your actions, your motives … your everything.  While the mold hid behind the drywall, it fooled us but it was still there, working its damage. Likewise, God is not deceived by outward appearances.

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

2 Chronicles 16:9  These words were said to Asa, King of Judah, after he had sinned by consulting with a medium about an upcoming battle, rather than relying on God.  This was in direct violation of God’s command.  There are negative consequences to violating God’s laws.

David understood the ability of the Lord to see our actions:

“The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.”

Psalm 34:15   Fortunately, there also are consequences to obeying God’s command, and these consequences lead to righteousness and a relationship with the Almighty God.

The writer of Proverbs, too, understood the all-encompassing knowledge of God, not just actions but motives and reasons, unspoken words and thoughts:

“For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.”

Proverbs 5:21

God’s omniscient knowledge of us is repeated in the New Testament by the half-brother of Jesus who said:

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.””

1 Peter 3:12

Believer, don’t harbor sin in your heart.  Confess your sin and repent of your actions.  You will be restored and the blot will be taken away … new boards will be erected and the new sheet rock will be unblemished.

Such is not the future of the wicked, however.   In the verses immediately after Proverbs 5:21 quoted above, we read:

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.  He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.” – Proverbs 5:22-23

The remedy for sin in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. 

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:8-9

Don’t let the mold of sin ensnare you.  Confess your sin and repent, claim the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and you will be saved.

“The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!”

Psalm 22:26

Lord, I pray that the mold of sin, eating away at the fiber of our beings, will be purged by the blood of the Lamb, that sin would be eliminated from our lives and that Jesus would replace that rotten wood with clean firm resolve through the Holy Spirit working in our lives on a moment by moment basis.  Forgive us for our sin and cleanse us from all iniquity. In Christ’s holy name, I pray.

The Gateway

St. Louis, Missouri, boasts the Gateway Arch which stands at the Mississippi River as a testament to the pioneering spirit of the people approaching the eve expanding West.

the Gateway Arch rises up behind the new glass entrance
Gateway Arch National Park. Photo courtesy of StudioBrookes.

Founded by the National Park Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a transcontinental United States, the Gateway Arch National Park (formerly known as the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial”) stretches from the Old Courthouse to the steps overlooking the Mississippi River. In between, the Gateway Arch rises high, a bold monument to the pioneering spirit.

Today, the Gateway Arch celebrates the diverse people who shaped the region and the country. The dreamer, Thomas Jefferson, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, doubling the size of the United States. The explorers, Lewis & Clark, and their Shoshone guide Sacagawea, scouted the new territory and mapped a route to the Pacific Ocean. The challengers, Dred and Harriet Scott filed suit at the Old Courthouse for their freedom from slavery, and St. Louis suffragette Virginia Minor sued for women’s right to vote. The Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed the stainless-steel monument that honors them all.

gateway arch 1
Picture taken while I was visiting the arch.

The graceful arch is based on the catenary curve, that is the shape made by a free-hanging chain when held at both ends. When speaking of his design, Saarinen said, “The arch symbolized the gateway to the West, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

A view of the Gateway Arch reveals over 43,000 tons of concrete and steel that arc 63 stories high into the Midwest sky. Since its completion in 1965, the tram ride in the monument has taken millions of visitors on the trip to the top to enjoy stunning views stretching up to 30 miles to the east and west.

Much more information about the arch is available at the National Park Service website. (www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm)

The Gateway Arch, of course, is not the only way to the West. It is certainly a wonderful monument to those who made the trek through difficult terrain with less than ideal circumstances and comforts.  But, today, there are many ways to get to the West from the East, in addition to going through the Gateway Arch.

Such is not the case in a matter of significantly more import than physical travel.  I am speaking of our ultimate destination for eternity. 

We know that we are finite creatures, born in space and time, and that we were created from dust and, given enough time, we will return to dust after our death. 

In Scripture, the Holy Bible, Jesus says that He is the gateway to heaven.  That is, that no one can come to the Father Almighty, God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, except through Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

Unfortunately, today there are many who assert that there are a variety of “ways” to get to heaven or to please God.  However, Jesus’ words do not equivocate.  There is no quibbling.  There is no suggestion that any other “way” is possible or effective if we want to go to heaven where the Father resides.  Jesus simply and clearly said that He is the only way to the Father.

Good works are not sufficient.  Giving money is not sufficient.  Being hopeful that the balance will tip in your favor is not sufficient.  Nothing is sufficient because everything other than what Christ did on the cross is based on our own abilities.  The problem is that we are all sinners and we are dead in our sins.  We can do nothing to aid ourselves or to move ourselves toward heaven.  We are dead.

If a person is dead, he cannot do anything for himself.  If he is to have life, an outside force must operate to give him life again.  He can’t summon up the strength to get life, he is dead.

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Praise God.  He loved us even though we were sinners, we had been disobedient to His law.  While we were sinners, before we could do anything to assist in our salvation, Christ died for us.  He accomplished all that was necessary to pay for our sin.

Jesus Christ, however, rose from the dead.  He conquered death and sin. 

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

Romans 6:9

Because He died and rose again, He is capable to rescue us from our sins, and He will do so if we have faith in Him.

“because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Romans 10:9-10

If is for this reason that Jesus could tell His disciples, that He was THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life … there is none other

There are many gateways to the Western part of the United States, but there is only one way to heaven, no matter where you live or who you are. 

The Way is Jesus. He is the way to eternal life. Come to Him if you have not already done so and claim Him as your Savior and Lord of your life.   If you have already come to Him, praise His name. Thank Him for the life that He has given you, now and forever more.

Father, we praise your name for the love that was expressed to us through Christ’s life and death, and for your mighty power in raising Him from the dead so that we could claim Him as our Savior and Lord.   Thank you Father, thank you Lord Jesus, and thank you Holy Spirit for quickening our hearts and bringing us to yourself.

EVERYONE BELIEVES IN SOMETHING!

An old joke told by my husband goes something like this:

After a long discussion about serious matters confronting our country and our businesses, one man asked another “What do you believe?”  The response was “I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

While the humor is superficial, the real question hangs in the air like Spanish moss hangs from tree limbs – what do you believe?  Or, more pointedly, what do you believe about God?  This is the question, the only question, that is of eternal significance.  Do you believe that because you are a good person God will certainly accept you into His heaven?  Do you believe that your money and fame will be, on balance, more than your evil, selfish deeds on earth?  Do you even believe that there is a future or do you think that life on this earth is all there is?  What if you are wrong?  What then?

What you believe in is of critical import – it is a matter of eternal consequence.

One thing that is certain  is that you can trust the Holy Bible to be true.  What it says is true because it contains the Word of God, the Creator and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, regarding the need for a Savior, the Bible says this:

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. 

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

While there are many additional concepts involved in God’s salvation for His people, the Scripture of the Holy Bible encapsulates them concisely and definitively in the John 3:16.  Christians can argue about the finer points, the details and the doctrine, but ultimately, eternal life comes down to believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

But salvation does not come just from believing that Jesus existed … even the devils believed that.  Rather, Paul expresses the belief required as:

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:9

In our church, we recite The Apostles’ Creed each week.  

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic* church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

*Catholic means “universal”.

It is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of that which we believe because what we believe about Jesus Christ determines our ultimate destiny.  Why do we need Jesus as a Savior?  See Romans 3:23.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

Unfortunately, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our rebellious sin. 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,”

Colossians 2:13

Paul said that we are “dead” ro God because of our trespasses and sins,  and we know that a dead person cannot do anything to bring himself back to life.  Rather, God has to intervene to raise that person from death to life in Jesus Christ.

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

If you receive Him as your Savior through grace alone, as you believe in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into heaven, if you confess your sins and repent, Scripture says that you will be saved.  Your position in Heaven for eternity is guaranteed and you will be a new creation in Christ.

Think about the Apostles’ Creed and each of its elements.  Do you believe this?  Does it make a difference in your life?  Pray that you will be more aware of how your beliefs determine your actions, because they do.

Here is a song entitled “I Believe” sung by the Bar J Wranglers from their album entitled For God and Country.  I pray that you would be encouraged by its beautiful message.

 

Father, I thank You for Your grace that was extended to me by Christ’s death for me on the cross of Calvary.  I thank You for the mercy and forgiveness you granted to me and I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation.  I pray that these words would challenge those who may not know You, and I pray that Your Holy Spirit would touch their hearts and bring them to You.

 

 

DID YOU SEE THE MOON!

On Jan. 20, 2019, the moon passed through Earth’s shadow in a total lunar eclipse. This is the only total lunar eclipse that we will have in 2019.  Lunar eclipses can occur only during a full moon, and this one was extra special because it was also a supermoon. A supermoon occurs when the moon is full and closest to Earth in orbit.

The moon truly was a “supermoon”.  When it rose over the horizon, it looked like an immense ball in the heavens.  It was huge and it dwarfed the vegetation beneath it.  I realize that its size was a function of the effect that the horizon has on my mind.  It is explained that when the moon is near the horizon, we perceive it to be farther away from us than when it is high in the sky. But since the moon is actually the same size, our minds make it look bigger when it is near the horizon to compensate for the increased distance.  No matter the mental, physical, psychological or scientific cause for the size of the moon when it appears at the horizon, it was enormous last evening.

We watched the recent eclipse of the sun, a solar eclipse, and saw the moon block the sun, with the black moon surrounded by the blazing light that emanates from the sun’s surface.   The total lunar eclipse is much different.

When there is a total lunar eclipse, our planet slides between the sun and the moon.  For the eclipse to be total, the moon has to be in perfect alignment with the sun and Earth, with the moon on the opposite side of Earth from the sun.

When the full moon moves into Earth’s shadow, it darkens, but it doesn’t disappear. Sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere lights the moon so that it appears to be a red coppery color.

According to Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History:

If you were standing on the surface of the moon when this event was happening, and you were staring back at the Earth, what you would see is this beautiful reddish-orangish tinted ring.

We went outside in the below-freezing temperatures to see what we could of this lunar event.  Unfortunately, clouds were moving in so we could not see the full eclipse, but we did see its beginning as the earth moved into position! 

Thankfully, numerous pictures can be found on the Internet so that we can see this picture of God’s handiwork even if clouds obscured it from our vision.  This picture was taken by a telescope at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

griffith observatory lunar eclipse
Credit: Griffith Observatory

The Psalmist said:

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!”

Psalm 148:3 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1 

One of the things that affected me, even when watching the beginning of the eclipse when clouds were filtering in, was the silence of the night.  This incredible display of nature was going on above me, high in the heavens, without sound, without fanfare, just doing what God ordained to be done. 

As I put my head on the pillow, I thought about the eclipse and how silently the event was unfolding, how gloriously rhythmic nature is in its movements, how amazingly dependent we are on the clockwork movement of nature, and how fragile we are when compared to the glories that God manifests in His creation.

Surely, the heavens do declare the glory of God. 

Let our lips join the heavens as we glorify God all our days.  As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says:

1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

 

Father, I praise You for all the marvelous works in creation.  I praise You for all the wonderful works given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.  I praise You for all the truths expressed through the Holy Spirit in Your Word.  Thank You for the beauty of Your creation.  I pray that I would glorify You today, and all the days that You grant to me.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

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

Rock City barn

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

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

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

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

DSC_0093

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

DSC_0064

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

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

DSC_0056

DSC_0023

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

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

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

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

Matthew 16:24-26

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

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

Acts 8:1

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

Paul warned the Galatians:

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

Galatians 1:6-9

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

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

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

FINAL RESTING PLACE

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

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

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

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

IUED llinois state memorial Vicksburg Mississippi civil war cemetery
Illinois monument, Vicksburg, Mississippi

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

Sunnyslope Cemetery, CA '56

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

Boston cemetery
Cemetery in the City of Boston, Massachusetts

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

Virginia cemetery IMG_20160529_1316404_rewind
Cemetery in Salem, Virginia

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

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

The writer of Ecclesiastes correctly notes:

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

Ecclesiastes 8:8

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

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

Hebrews 9:27-28

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

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

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

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

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

John 8:51

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

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

Romans 6:23

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

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

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

Ecclesiastes 12:13

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

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

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

MIRRORS AND REFLECTIONS

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

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

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

mirror

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

Cuddles frightened by reflection in mirror

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

Mirrors are not the only things that provide reflective images. 

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 1:3

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:49

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

Romans 8:29

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

2 Corinthians 3:18

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

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

1 Corinthians 13:12 [New Living Translation]

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

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

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

James 1:23-25

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

Mirror clock

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

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

THE END AND THE BEGINNING!

There are many things that come to an end during our life on this whirling planet. 

Babies wearing diapers.  Many a mother thinks that day will never ever, ever, ever come, but it does (unless something horrific intervenes).

The end of the work day.  Again, there are times that even that seems to be far off in the distant future if the assignment you are working on is difficult or unbelievably boring.  But even that day does, in fact end, at the appropriate time.

One thing that occurs like clockwork (please pardon the pun) is the ending of the day. 

Sunset along I 40 4
Driving westbound on Interstate 40

Heading west on I-40, we can see the sun setting behind the mountains with the beautiful colors lighting up the evening sky.   This was the sunset one evening when we visited the family in Virginia.

There are times that God’s creation is simply too beautiful to describe.  Pictures certainly do not do justice to the glory that shines out from God’s world. 

Sunset and clouds 2
Setting sun with clouds

We know that God created the sun and the moon – it says so in Genesis:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  … And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lightsthe greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”

Genesis 1:1, 14-19 

The Psalmist says it this way:

Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.”

Psalm 74:16

Ocean sunset with lighthouse (C)
Ocean with far distant shore

In our world of technology and scientific data, we have analyzed, digitized, and categorized the sun, the clouds, the atmosphere, the solar flares, and all kinds of things that I don’t even know.  We have studied and drawn, recorded and photographed the sun in our effort to understand it, and we have gone a long way from our forebears who pointed and said “bright!”

But in my little corner of the world, at sunset, I look in the sky and see the hand of my Father, painting a particularly beautiful picture for me to see as I head into the evening hours of the day.

Many are so much more scientific and analytical than I am. They can explain so much about things of nature and of our world.  It is my prayer that we all would stop and look at what God has given us, cherish the view, lock the mental picture into our minds, and then thank Him for His unfathomable love and mercy. 

When the day is over and the sun is running its course to the other side of the world, they are awaking to the warmth of its rays.   “Good evening” to you is “Good morning” to someone else!

The end, thus, is really also a beginning!

USED Butterfly caterpillar (C)

I doubt that the little caterpillar in this picture ever would think that he would be transformed into a beautiful butterfly. 

The truth of the matter is, however, that the caterpillar must get into his cocoon and shed the body that had restricted him so that the transformation can take place.  Rather than crawling along in the dirt, the butterfly can soar incredible distances, looking down on the land that he used to call home.  The caterpillar’s end was also its beginning. 

USED Butterfly beauty (C)

For us, when we are relieved of our mortal shell, our physical body, we will be transformed into our eternal bodies, glorious and without blemish.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.””

1 Corinthians 15:51-54

Billy Graham said this in the years prior to his death:

Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead.  don’t you believe a word of it.  i shall be more alive than i am now.  i will just have changed my address.  i will have gone into the presence of God.

The end is not really the end … rather, what we think of as the end is actually just the beginning. 

 

Father, I thank You for giving us the example of nature in Your marvelous creation.  The setting of the sun where I live is the end of the day, but it is the beginning of a new day elsewhere on this whirling globe.  The “death” of the caterpillar is just the transforming work so that it can be a butterfly.  Our physical death is simply the shedding off of our mortal bodies into the eternal body that You have prepared for us.  Thank You for Your steadfast love and for calling Your children to come to You from every corner of the earth.