ERADICATION OF FREEDOM

We were traveling through East Tennessee doing errands and found ourselves in Morgan County, near the Frozen Head State Park.  I have heard of this park for years but had never visited the location, so we took the opportunity to do so.  The park was beautiful and we were very glad to have taken this side-trip. 

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Frozen Head State Park, Morgan County, Tennessee.

However, on the way to and from the park, we passed the Morgan County correctional facility.

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Morgan County Correctional Facility, Morgan County, Tennessee

As we drove by, we could not help but notice the “razor wire” in multiple layers that surrounded the facility. 

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Morgan County Correctional Facility, razor wire surrounding facility.

The sight put me in a somber, introspective mood.  Being incarcerated and seeing the outside world but not being able to get to it would be terribly difficult.  I have had occasion to work with female prisoners in various facilities and I believe that it is fair to say that life there is hard, both physically and emotionally.

While I have not been in jail, I have experienced a period of time when I could not move off my bed.  Many years ago, I was in a body cast that ran from my head to my left knee.  I was immobile in bed, unable to move my body, for over 7 months.  I gained some measure of “freedom” when the leg part of the cast was cut off and I could sit up and walk again, while wearing the body part of the cast.  All in all, the cast experience was almost 14 months. 

My experience was not pleasant by any means, but even on my darkest days, I knew the time of my inactivity was limited.  I had an end date when the cast would come off and I could, slowly, return to normal activity for a 10 year old. 

That is not the case for many of those incarcerated in the jails of our country.  There is no certain end date for their release to the outside world. 

As bad and as dreary as that scenario is, there is one scenario that is far worse.  We know that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden because their union with God was broken by their disobedience.  And, as a result, Adam’s descendants live in sin. 

According to Strong’s Lexicon, in Hebrew, the root word “sin” is the Hebrew word חַטָּא chaṭṭâʼ, khat-taw’; that refers to “a criminal, or one accounted guilty:—offender, sinful, sinner.”  Generally speaking, to sin is to miss the mark; to violate God’s law thereby bringing judgment on yourself.  In short, disobedience is the crux of sin … we disobey God’s law and we all must pay the penalty for it.  Sin is the ultimate bondage and enslavement for all mankind.

The first time the word “sin” is stated in Scripture is found all the way back at the beginning.  In Genesis 4:7 we read God speaking to Cain after his offering was not accepted by God:

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 ESV

Shortly after these words were spoken, Cain did not rule over sin.  Rather, he gave in to it and murdered his brother Abel.

Scripture talks of sin as putting us in bondage. 

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,”

Psalm 59:12 ESV

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.”

Proverbs 5:22 ESV

In the New Testament, Jesus told those who were feeling free because of their status as children of Abraham:

“They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”

John 8:33-34 ESV

We, in the modern world, intrinsically know the truth of these statements from Scripture.  Notwithstanding the bravado from the thrill of repeated criminal activity or from the high brought on by illicit drugs, when the excitement is gone, what remains is the sure awareness that we have done wrong, that is, we experience guilt.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we know that we have violated God’s law.  

We don’t have to be imprisoned in a jail with razor wire to be in bondage.  We might be a slave to drug or alcohol addiction.  We might be a slave to smoking or overeating.  Sin can even be hidden in respectable clothing … it can come in the form of gossip or malicious speech, both of which can be subtle but dangerous addictions.  It can come in the form of doing good things for others for the purpose of praise and glory to you, instead of doing those same things for the glory of God.  Any time we rob God of the glory that is properly His, we have committed sin.   And, the more often we sin, the more sin becomes our master. 

How do we get out of the razor-wire confinement imposed by sin?  We look to the One who took our sin on Himself.  We must repent and cling to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has paid the price for our sin.  We don’t need to keep sinning because He has broken its power over us.  Paul says it like this:

“For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Romans 6:10-14 ESV

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV

Listen as the Centurymen sing the beautiful hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” from their album The Centurymen Silver Anniversary,

The power of Jesus’ name is the answer to the bondage of sin.  While sin eradicates, obliterates, and otherwise destroys our freedom, the Lord Jesus Christ has broken sin’s shackles and replaces that bondage with freedom in Him.   Praise His Holy Name!

Father, I thank You that Your Son has conquered death and sin; that He died so that Your children could have freedom from sin and could live with You eternally.  I praise Your Holy Name!

FEARS — COMMON BUT UNNECESSARY

Fear.  We all have things that we are afraid of, and many of them are legitimate. Chapman University has begun an annual study of American fears, and the results from the second annual survey that have recently been released.  The random survey questions cover 88 fears in various categories, such as crime, economic, environment, government, illness, claustrophobia, public speaking, and even questions about clowns.  

They found that in 2016 Americans were most afraid of “Corrupt Government” by a whopping 60.6%  The next closest fear was of a “Terrorist Attack” which bore a percentage of 41% with “Not having enough money for the future” coming in as number 3 with a percentage of 39.9%.  

Clearly, our world is full of fearful things, and this has been true throughout all of history. There have always been tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, severe ice storms, etc. Then, too, some of the things that mankind is capable of today were not dreamed of 1000 years ago, or even just 100 years ago, but even then there were fearful things.  Consider the 1st Century Christians and the persecution under Nero or the harm done to Christians in the Middle Ages, or even more recently, to the persecution of Christians in many countries of our world today.  These are fearful times.

But, sometimes, looking back on our fears, we laugh at how we could have been frightened at all.  For example, we watch the original television Star Trek series now, 50 years after its original airing in 1966, and we wonder how we could have been frightened by the special effects in that program!  They are now so “cheesy” to us, but then I well remember being glued to my chair in fear that Captain Kirk was going to be vaporized! 

My Grandmother was beyond fearful and well into terrorized when she lost track of me while she was babysitting when my parents were at some appointment away from the house.  She was from a small town in Wisconsin and we lived in the big city of Chicago. 

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Downtown Chicago. This picture was taken from the top of the Prudential Building, “Top of the Rock”, in the early 1960s.

 

She was uncomfortable in such a large city and she just “knew” that there were evils hidden around every corner.  One problem she had was that she remembered that the infamous gangster Al Capone lived in Chicago, and when my parents returned home, they found her in the middle of the street, screaming my name, crying that Al Capone had kidnapped me.  (Actually, he had been dead for about 4 years at this point, but that was irrelevant to Grandma.)  I had simply walked away from the house with my puppy and had gone to a house around the corner to show my friend’s Grandmother my puppy.  She invited me in for cookies and I was watching the Howdy Doody Show on TV unaware that Grandma was in the street screaming.

Fears can cripple us from rational thinking.  They are disabling and they damage our lives in ways that are too numerable to count.  Fears of flying, fears of spiders, fears of going outside, fears of being in large crowds, fears of high places, fears of being in small spaces.  The number of fears is too great to count because they are the fabrication of our own minds and each of us are unique.

Certainly there are fears that are normal.  If we are in the woods and are bitten by a poisonous snake, we need to take immediate action to remedy the problem.  But the fear of potentially being bitten by poisonous snakes should not stop us from enjoying God’s creation in nature, and even in the woods.

Scripture has quite a bit to say about fear.  In Isaiah 35:3-4 we read:

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of   God. He will come and save you.”

In Joshua 1:9, God is directing Joshua in how he is to lead the people after Moses’ death.  God says:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

This peace and lack of fear is available for the believer in Jesus Christ and in our God, as is seen by David’s psalm:

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

Psalm 23:4

I suggest that the ultimate antidote to fear is found in Romans 8:28, 38-39:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. … 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.

Read that again – NOTHING will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

God is omnipotent and omniscient … He is all powerful and all knowing.  Therefore, He not only knows what is going to happen to us, He has it in His control.  His purposes will be fulfilled even if they are difficult for us to understand and to live through.  We have to have faith that our Heavenly Father will not put more on us than we can handle (although at times in my life I have thought that perhaps He had more confidence in me than I had).  During the rough times in my life, I have rested on Paul’s comment about his own “thorn in the flesh”:

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

2 Corinthians 12:7-9.

Fears – yes, we all have them.  But thanks be to God they don’t have to be disabling.  No, we are more than conquerors through Christ who saved us.  When we are weak, then God is strong through us.  When we are afraid, He will give us courage.  God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us, no matter what the trial might be. 

Listen to the song “Perfect Peace” as sung on the album Scripture Memory Songs – Overcoming Anxiety.  The words are taken from Scripture and provide balm for troubled hearts. 

And the peace of God which passeth all understanding  shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7 [KJV]

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. 

Isaiah 26:3 [KJV]

Father, I pray that these words from your Word will provide comfort and blessing to those who read them and that Your perfect peace will rest and abide on us even during tumultuous times because we have confidence that You are in control. 

A CHIME IN THE DARK NIGHT

Since Halloween is approaching, I decided to file a repost of one posted on July 25, 2015.   I pray that you will enjoy reading this and that you will be encouraged to be a chime in the dark night of your family, church, community, country, and world.  The Christian voice needs to be a clarion call in witness to what our Lord has done for us.  

A Chime in the Dark Night

We are fortunate to live in a city that has an incredible symphony orchestra and, as a result, we have ready access to classical concerts, pops concerts, chamber music concerts, etc.  Last year we had tickets to the classical concert series.  I love to listen to the orchestra in a live performance – it is a real treat.  But I don’t know what to expect just from reading the advertisement for the concert.

We arrived at the theater and found that the program was three selections, all written in the 1800s by persons of whom I had no knowledge, given my relatively insufficient knowledge of composers and their works. The concert was in late October so the selections had a Halloween theme.

The first selection was A Night on Bald Mountain written by Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian born composer who was born in 1839.  The work is based on a Russian legend describing the witches who go to Bald Mountain the night before the feast of St. John the Baptist.  While there, Satan comes and it becomes a night of passion and frenzy.

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Grandson in Halloween costume.

The program notes included an explanation, written by the composer himself, detailing what to expect in the performance.

So far as my memory doesn’t deceive me, the witches used to gather on this mountain, gossip, play tricks and await their chief – Satan.  On his arrival, they, i.e., the witches, formed a circle around the throne on which he sat, in the form of a kid, and sang his praise.  When Satan was worked up into sufficient passion by the witches’ praises, he gave the command for the Sabbath, in which he chose for himself the witches who caught his fancy.  – So this is what I’ve done.  At the head of my score I’ve put its contents.

  1. Assembly of the witches, their talk and gossip.
  2. Satan’s journey
  3. Obscene praise of Satan and
  4. Sabbath.

If the work is performed, I wish this program to appear on the bills for the enlightenment of the audience.

 

[From the Program Notes by Ken Meltzer, The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra program for the concert on October 17, 2014 entitled Symphonie Fantastique, Sameer Patel, Conductor.]

The orchestral work ranged from fluid and enticing to frenetic and frenzied.  The entire orchestra was involved; violins, woodwinds, two harps, brass, and of course there was, my personal favorite, percussion!  What struck me, however, was that just before the end of the piece, chimes were struck, clear and sharp.  The chimes pierced the frenzy of the scene and peace came in their wake.

The program noted that

“At the height of the Sabbath, a distant church bell sounds.  The spirits disappear, and A Night on Bald Mountain concludes with the arrival of dawn, and the return of peace.

Sunrise (C)
Sunrise at Sea

I have attached this link to a YouTube post by The Wicked North which is a performance of part of A Night on Bald Mountain, this clip coming at the height of the Sabbath toward the end of the piece.  The YouTube clip is a little over 9 minutes long, but at 7:20 on the clip you will hear the change in the music following the ringing of the chimes.

 

As I applauded the skill and talent of our orchestra in its rendition of A Night on Bald Mountain, I thought of the symbolism in the music.  It was a beautiful reminder that our Lord is supreme.

We need to be reminded of this as, in our own country, innocent people have been killed, just in the past month, as they prayed in a Charleston, South Carolina church, as they did their assigned duties at the Marine and Navy centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and as they watched a comedic movie at a theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Clearly, Satan has his way in the world [Ephesians 2:2], but we know that the ultimate victory belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:55-56:

“Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [ESV]

Oh that we would live our lives hearing the bell’s chime through the din of the world’s clamor.

Oh, that we would live our lives in a manner that we would be like a bell chiming out the love that the Lord gives us for this fallen world.

Oh, that when people meet us, they would see Jesus.

I DIDN’T DO IT!

“Who … me?  I didn’t do it!”  Ever hear anyone say that?  Have you heard your young children say that?  Did you ever say that? 

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Yummy Birthday Cake – I didn’t mess it up! 

 

It is a common thing to hear, especially when there is some disaster that just happened and your young children are all standing around pointing fingers at each other and exclaiming, almost in unison, “I didn’t do it?” even as the incriminating evidence is still sticking to their fingers!

 

Recently, our granddog Haley was exploring the backyard when she apparently decided to get up close and personal with something that had run under the house.   We don’t know what attracted her undivided attention, but that is the only reason we can imagine that she pushed her way through the latticework so that she became imprisoned under the porch. 

 

When she did not come back in the house when we called for her, our grandson found her looking out through the latticework and he had no idea how to get her out.   The place she pushed through was blocked from the other direction, so she was literally stuck there.

 

After trying various things to retrieve her, we broke some of the slats and, ultimately, after a good bit of tugging, it folded down so she could walk out unscathed.  Here is a picture of the broken lattice with her laying on the porch with that “Who, Me?!!  I didn’t do it” look!

 

haley-and-the-porch
Who … me? What did I do?

 

This is virtually the same thing that Adam and Eve told God, way back long ago when they were in the Garden of Eden. 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”

Genesis 3:1-4.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis 3:6-7.

But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:9-13.

 

Adam — “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it … the woman you gave to me did it!” 

Eve — “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it … the serpent deceived me!” 

Me – “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it!”

You — …

 

Finger pointing began millennia ago when Adam pointed to Eve, she pointed to the serpent and God said “Out of the Garden!”  Genesis 3:24.   No matter what you want to call it, the Bible gives a name to any disobedience to God … SIN. 

 

We read of sin in the very next chapter of Genesis where God accepts Abel’s offering but rejects Cain’s.  God says in Genesis 4:7:  “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

 

Did you know that according to a computer word search of the English Standard Version of the Bible, the words “sin”, “sins”, “sinned”, “sinning”, “sinful”, “sinner” and “sinners” are used a total of 423 times. 

 

In other words, “sin” is an important concept to God because it reflects our direct disobedience to His commands.  It reflects our refusal to obey Him which, in effect, puts us where God should be.  And, it will bring the same punishment on us as it brought to Adam and Eve – we will be cast out from God’s presence because a holy God cannot and will not countenance a sinful creature in His presence.  Judgment is the only response to our sin just as Adam and Eve experienced expulsion from the Garden. 

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about sin:

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 6.6.

 

However, in Romans 5:19 we read that there is hope for sinful man:

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

 

This promise is reaffirmed in 1 Corinthians 15 we read:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:22, 45.

 

Again turning to the Confession of Faith, we read:

Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

 

Because of Jesus Christ, we can be made alive and have a life-giving spirit.  Because of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, He became sin for us. Because of God’s grace, we can be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, thereby becoming acceptable to God through His blood shed for us.

 

Haley looked at us as if saying “Who me?  I didn’t do anything wrong!”  She well may have been following her nose and not paying attention to what she was doing.

 

But that same line of thought does not apply to you and me.  We do know what we are doing and many times it is sin – it is direct disobedience to what God wants us to do – and that is enough to cut off our relationship with God, forever.  We need to find help outside ourselves, and that help was sent from God in the God/man Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life and who took our sin on Himself, who died and was buried, and who rose again to life evermore. 

 

Praise the Lord that He saves us through His sacrificial death as an atonement.  Thank Him for His obedience to God the Father, and thank God for His mercy and grace that was extended to us.  Thank the Holy Spirit for His work in convicting us of sin and of sealing us to salvation through His power.

 

Praise His Holy Name!

 

Father, I pray that you would bless these words and that the readers would be encouraged, strengthened and renewed in their faith and focus on You.

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Remember when you were young, and one of the questions you would ask when you met someone new was “What is your name and where do you live?”

Even as adults we ask the same questions, although we often add “What do you do for a living” and “How long have you lived in our city?”

I have been going through hundreds of slide pictures taken by my father before his death and I came across several that prompted thoughts about houses in which my forefathers lived.  My grandparents’ house in California, for example.

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Grandparents’ house in California.

Or my grandparents’ house in Wisconsin.  I loved that front porch!

clyde-smiths-house-in-neenah-60
Grandparents’ house in Wisconsin.

But then there are houses that I can’t even contemplate living in … houses that are so big that I don’t think I could count the rooms.  This Louisiana plantation house is one such building.

louisiana-plantation-house
Louisiana plantation house.

To top it off, there is the house that is currently for sale in our city … a house with its own name, Villa Collina.  The newspaper says that it is “glorious” with over 50 rooms and is 37,000 square feet.  I simply cannot wrap my head around a single family residence that size.

But, all these houses are here, they are material, they are temporal, they are subject to rust and decay.  While I don’t live in any type of house like that, I am confident that I will live in a truly glorious house one day … my Savior says so:

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

John 14:2

Jesus is telling his disciples that he will be leaving them, not for a frivolous purpose or to get away from people who just did not get his mission in this world.  No, He is going home to His Father and he will prepare a place for them in heaven.

This place will be massive because there is room enough for all the believers in the world.  It is a place for those who shall be saved, who were ordained unto life through belief in Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.  These mansions were to be sprinkled with His blood just as the tabernacle and all the ministry vessels were sprinkled by the blood of the sacrifice.  Hebrews 9:21.  By His resurrection from the dead, by His ascension into heaven as our forerunner [Hebrews 6:20], and by His sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us, He prepares our place in heaven.

Just pause for a moment and imagine the glory that will surround these dwellings and the incredible sound of millions of voices singing praise to the Father for the work that He did through Jesus Christ, His Son and our Savior, and to the Holy Spirit who sealed us for our salvation.  Glory, power and praise is due to our God and we will participate in giving that glory to Him in eternity.

 

I pray that the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” as sung on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort, from Concordia Publishing House was a blessing to you.

I don’t know if we will sing this in heaven, but I am sure that singing songs of thanksgiving  that give honor to God will be as natural as breathing.

So, “Where do you live?”  Or, more importantly, “Where will you live for all eternity?”  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and your answer will be certain … you will live in the place prepared for you before the foundation of the world together with the saints from all ages.  Praise God for such hope and grace.

Father, if there is one who does not know You or your Son, I pray that the Holy Spirit would use these words to convict of sin and to comfort those who fear death.  Thank You for sending your Son as our Savior and your Spirit to effect salvation in your people.  Thank You too for the sure confidence of faith in Scripture and the truth of Your words. 

PLANNING AND WAITING EXPECTANTLY

Have you ever planned something a long time in advance, like 18 months or more, and then it came time for the event, and you almost missed the fun and excitement of it in the worry and concern about details?

I admit that I am a hopeless planner.   When our daughter got married, I had lists to keep track of the lists — the overarching list was of things that had to be done and then the other individual lists of each of those things with detailed points to be checked off as the task was completed.

bride-down-the-aisle
Our daughter as she walks down the aisle with my husband … a glorious day indeed!

If a trip is being discussed, I will have a list, usually in Excel, where each day is outlined, things to do are identified along with address and phone number, hours of operation and sometimes even the cost of admission.  If a day has 3 or 4 events, I am a happy camper.  My lists are not set in concrete.  If something else looks interesting, we can and should do that, but in case we can’t find anything else, I have my lists.  I don’t want to have empty time … fill it up and then eat!

I can rationalize this mania for lists, of course, but the reality is that sometimes, in the preparation and scheduling, I miss the point.  When she got married, we were celebrating this creation of a new home and were asking God to bless it with His presence and guidance through the years to come.  When we are going on a vacation with our children and grandchildren, we want to forge memories, to tell stories of how God has been involved in our lives through the years, to pass the torch from generation to generation.  That’s what important, not what schedule we will have or whether the event goes along without a hitch.

When I get lost in the detail, I forget the big picture and sometimes I run the risk of missing it entirely.

This characteristic of mine makes me think of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They kept the rules; they taught the dos and don’ts; they were zealous for God.  But they missed Him when He came.  The Old Testament has numerous prophesies about the Messiah, and these teachers could read the verses from Isaiah and Psalms and probably quote them by heart, but they were so lost in the details of dogma that they missed the important One.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

king-size-bed
The manger that provided a place to sleep for our Savior was, on that day, a bed for the King.

Their preoccupation with the rules and details of what they expected resulted in them missing the Messiah’s coming.  Even more than that, it resulted in the actual rejection of the very One they said they were waiting for.

 

They rejected Him when He did not fit the mold they were expecting.

 

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.

Matthew 26:3-4

 

They were waiting, as they were told to do so in the Old Testament, but they were not waiting expectantly … in short, they r-e-a-l-l-y didn’t think anything was going to happen.  They did not expect the Savior to be born, certainly not on their watch!  He would certainly not come as Jesus did, so they rejected His message and His life – they set out to kill him and, ultimately, they did so.

 

In today’s world, we are still waiting for the Lord, but this time it is for His second coming.  This time it is waiting for Him, when He will usher in the end of time and the beginning of our eternity.  We are told to wait for Him and He promised that He would come again.

 

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

Matthew 25:13. 31

 

He said that He would come back.  Do we wait expectantly for our Lord to return?

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 14:3

 

Are we weighed down with the cares of this life so that His second coming is nowhere on our radar screen?

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  … Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:27, 33-36

 

Are we longing to see Him and to leave this world behind for the life we will have with Him in heaven?

 

I may be able to list out the details of a wedding or a trip, but I cannot list the details of the second coming of my Lord and Savior.  I can, however, trust what He says in Scripture. The details of this incredible event are unimportant to me here and now. I don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the details.  Those are in God’s hands.  The fact that Jesus will return is based on the truth of Scripture.

 

God’s Word is true.  Unless my body quits and I die first (at which time I will be met by my Lord in heaven), Jesus will return and take me to join the Church Triumphant.  Praise His holy Name!

 

Lord, may I be so in tune with You and your Word that I don’t get caught up in the detail but I rest in You and your righteousness, love, mercy and grace.  May I not get so entwined with the goods, activities and cares of this world that I forget to watch and prepare for your return.  Thank you Lord for salvation and the blessing of your Word and for the security and truth of your promises!

FOUNTAINS, REFLECTIONS AND POWER

We were camping at a beautiful little campground in Crossville, Tennessee, Spring Lake RV Resort. 

spring-lake-campground
Spring Lake RV Resort, a panoramic view of peaceful campground.

Although the fall colors were not yet in their fullest, it was clear that they would be brilliant very soon.  

In the morning, the cool air held the promise of a beautiful day as we sat eating breakfast looking out at the lake.

 

used-spring-lake-breakfast
Eating breakfast outside with a view of the lake before us. God’s creation is magnificent!

In the evening, the air was crisp, requiring a shawl for me, as Bill and I sat on the swing and looked at the stars through the hanging pine branches overhead. 

One of the most relaxing and mesmerizing sights for us was watching the fountain in the center of the lake that began its work about 9 in the morning and continued, nonstop, until dark. 

spring-lake-fountain
Spring Lake fountain showing droplets plummeting to the lake’s surface.

Having worked on a number of water cases during my law practice, I am well aware of the importance of aerating lakes and ponds so that the water does not stagnate and cause all sorts of problems in the environment.  So I understood the reason for the fountain. 

But having knowledge of the characteristics of lakes and ponds and the variations of fountains and aeration systems did not eliminate the mesmerizing magic of watching the water shooting into the air, of seeing the mist going higher than the water itself, and then following the arc of the water spouts as they turned and plummeted to the lake’s surface.

spring-lake-fountain-and-ripples
Fountain and ripples on the lake from the falling water.

In the morning, as the sun rose over the lake, the fountain became even more hypnotizing when its reflection became apparent.

spring-lake-0648
Fountain spray reflected in the lake.

While thinking about the reflection in the lake, I also thought about how Scripture says we are to reflect the image of Christ to those with whom we come in contact.

We have just completed a 25 week series on the Fruit of the Spirit in this blog.  As I often noted in discussing the fruit that the Holy Spirit wants to grow, nourish and blossom in our hearts, minds and souls, the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s is to transform us into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  In short, we are to reflect Jesus Christ to those we meet during our day.

Paul says we are not to conform to the world but we are to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, see Romans 12:2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In Romans 8:29, Paul describes the transformation that occurs in the Christian through the Holy Spirit when he says:

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.

The reflection of the fountain in the lake is not the same thing as the fountain itself.  The reflection has no power of its own; it cannot make an impact on the lake because it is just a reflection. 

Likewise, when we speak of “conformed to the image of his Son” we are not talking about physically looking like Jesus.  Nor do we have any power of our own, like the fountain reflection; we can do nothing apart from the source of our power, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Rather, we are Jesus’ image bearers to our world.  We are to have the same attitudes and spirit of the Lord.  What matters to Him should matter to us.  His response to people should be our response to people.  His sacrificial compassion should be evident in how we treat others, putting their needs ahead of our own at all times. 

But, we cannot do it on our own because we are sinful and God’s way is totally counter-cultural and against the ways of the world.  On our own, we are like the reflection of the fountain – powerless.  We must be transformed before we can do Christ’s work in the world.         

That required transformation comes by the work of the Holy Spirit, so we should cherish the development of the fruit of the Spirit in our hearts because that is evidence that we are growing in our Christian walk.  Then, when we are walking in the Spirit and the Holy Spirit is working on our transformation into the likeness of the Lord, we will be able to impact our world for the glory of God. 

The challenge – don’t be just a powerless mirror reflection of our Lord, one who says words without faith in action; one who does good deeds without telling of Jesus.  Connect to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to transform your heart and mind into the image of our Lord.  Then you will have His power to spread the Good News of the Gospel to those you meet throughout your day. 

 

Father, forgive me when I have failed to reflect your love to others, when I have neglected the needs of those around me, when I have put myself ahead of others on my list of importance!  Transform me from a powerless reflection into the vital image of your Son through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit so that I can be an effective witness of your power, grace, mercy and love.  May I spread your Gospel to others through your leading and your strength.

 

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Have you ever been asked “Where do you live?”

 

Childhood home on Olympia Street '59
Childhood home on Olympia Street in Chicago, Illinois.

That question often came up when I was a young child … neighborhood children ask this question to find out if my house was near enough so that they could come visit without having to ask their mother or father.

 

Even as an adult we often ask “Where do you live?”  Sometimes the answer is a physical street address and sometimes it is a city, or a county, or a country.  But it is guaranteed that we all live somewhere.

 

One of the most unusual houses I have seen is the one pictured below, near Willow, Alaska.  It was visible from the train ride as we made our way to Denali National Park.  Looking at the vista, you might think you were looking at a cell tower rather than a house.  It stands tall … over the neighboring trees.

Alaska - 7 layer house in woods (C)
View from Alaska Railroad on trip to the Denali National Park.

 

A close up of the house reveals that it is, in fact, a structure made up of at least 7 “houses”, built on top of each other, above the surrounding forest.

Alaska - Dr Seuss Tower House outside Denali - close up (C)
Close up view of “The Dr. Seuss House” outside Willow, Alaska.

According to the locals, the 12-story house stands above the surrounding trees with each “house” stacked so that it appears to be either an afterthought or a layer on a very tall cake.  The owner built the house after a forest fire, and the house originally had views of Mount Denali (former Mount McKinley) as well as the neighboring Denali National Park.  However, as nature will do, trees regrow after a fire and, as a result, the owner lost the view that he prized so dearly.  So, not being a quitter, he added more and more stories to his house.  The result is the 12-story tower that appears to be another tall tree in the forest, at least it did from the train!  The locals call it “The Dr. Seuss Tower House”.  [There is an aerial video of the house as well as some photographs of the entire building in an article written by Alexa Carrasco, dated April 7, 2015, and found at http://www.curbed.com/2015/4/7/9972998/dr-seuss-willow-alaska-house.]

Where do you live?

For the Christian, the answer to that question is not just our physical address or city in which we reside.  While that information is a correct answer to the inquiry, it is not the definitive statement of where our true ultimate home is.

 

In John 14:2-3, Jesus says:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

So, where is your home?  Here or there?

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21.

So, where is your treasure?  Here or there?

 

An old country gospel hymn says, in part:

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door;

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

 

Oh Lord, you know, I have no friend like You.

If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?

The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door;

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

 

We have a job to do on this spinning planet called Earth; we are here to do the Lord’s work.  He has commissioned His people to witness to others about His life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession for us before the Father.  We are to tell others of His sacrifice on the cross so that His righteousness could be applied to those who come to Him in faith and believe in Him, following His commandments and loving others as He loved us.   We are to present the gospel when the opportunity is made available to us.

 

We cannot just sit and pine for our home in Glory.  In short, we should not be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good!

 

But, we also should not have a strangle-hold on this world and its treasures because they are only temporary.  They will not go into eternity with us.  The Psalmist knew this truth!

Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.

Psalm 49:16-17.

Our treasures are to be with the Lord, while we are temporary residents of this world.

 

So, where do you live?  Where is your house?

However, the far more important questions are:  Where is your home?  Where is your treasure?  Where is your heart?

 

Father, I pray that I would keep my eyes on my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, rather than on this world and the lure of money, position, power, ease, etc.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would attune my heart to His song and that I would look for the places that He wants me to go and do that which He directs.  May my treasures and my heart be in Heaven, through Jesus Christ, my Lord.

 

NEEDS AND WANTS!

I think that we, in the Western culture, have been lured by media and peer pressure to confuse and combine Needs and Wants.   You know what I mean … we tell ourselves we neeeeed something because we want it but if we just say that “I want that!” we sound childish, immature and demanding.  So instead, we come up with adult sounding reasons to illustrate the need for the particular thing while ignoring the abject desire for it that actually began this psychological discussion with ourselves.  We have created a “nee-ant” … a combination of need and want … and we do whatever we need to do to satisfy that desire.

Recently, our needs and wants were brought into focus when did our laundry during a trip to the beach with the family.  We had a plastic garbage bag as well as two laundry baskets that were heaped full of dirty clothes. 

Laundry baskets
Two laundry baskets, now empty, but formerly loaded with dirty clothes!

The campground laundry was very busy, it being extremely hot and humid thus requiring multiple changes of clothes, etc.  So, we searched the internet and found a laundry not too far from our location. 

The building itself had seen better days, but there were multiple open washers and dryers so it was fine with me if the ceiling fan was rattling and the floor was less than sterile.  

There was an old bicycle sitting inside the laundromat, up near the front window, and there was one gentleman loading his clothes from a washing machine into the coin-operated dryer. 

Some small talk ensued, mostly about politics and sports teams, and then quite suddenly he turned and looked at us and asked “Are ya’ll Christians?”  Our statement that we were Christians prompted him to apologize for some expletives that he had used earlier.  We continued speaking.

Ultimately, he suggested which dryers worked best, noting that he came to this laundry every week, did his clothes, and then went to work his night job,.  He had a plastic box with a lid, somewhat (but not much) larger than a banker’s box, and a small sack. 

When the dryer was done, he neatly folded his clothes and put them in the box and sack.  Before he left the laundry, he offered us a roll of plastic bags in case we needed them.  He wished us well and we returned the blessing. He went to the front of the laundry and got on the bicycle, taking his box and sack with his clean clothes home.

What a comparison – two laundry baskets and a garbage bag with an air conditioned car to transport us compared to a man on a bicycle with his clean clothes for the week in a box and a sack.

Needs and wants.  Praise the Lord for the material blessings that He has bestowed upon you, including the blessings above and beyond your needs.  Don’t assume that you have accomplished all this by yourself!  But also, don’t get your needs confused with your wants!

Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had been blessed by God with many material goods, but he lacked thankfulness toward God:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Luke 12:16-20.

People resist following Christ because they don’t want to give up control of their lives, without realizing that the spiritual blessings available through Christ far outweigh the material things of this world.  This world is temporary and the treasures laid up here will be gone in the blink of an eye … life after death is eternal, non-ending, forever. 

While we should thank God for blessing materially, much more important is our thankfulness for the spiritual blessings that we have received through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

For in him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses …, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2:9-14.  These are just some of the spiritual blessings we receive through Christ.

In recounting his conversion from a persecutor of Christians to a follower of Jesus Christ, Paul told King Agrippa:

And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

Acts 26:15-18.

Forgiveness of sins.  Acceptance by God the Father.  Everlasting life through the life, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Sanctification through the Holy Spirit — spiritual blessings for which we should be praising our God continually, in word, deed, countenance, and in our heart’s spiritual praise.

The end of Acts 26 says:

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”  And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am–except for these chains.”

Acts 26:28-29.

There is no record of King Agrippa coming to know the Lord.  Don’t let that be your story … Don’t let your “nee-ants” get in the way of your life in Christ. 

 

Father, I pray that these words honor You and your Son.  I pray that your Word would be effective for your purposes, and I pray that my “nee-ants” don’t interfere with the witness and the work that You want me to do.