Witness with a warning!

When we were traveling in Alaska, we came to the train crossing outside  Girdwood, Alaska.  The side of the building had a very conspicuous warning, pictured here.

Railroad train crossing warning

 It tells the reader to always expect a train at this crossing and to stay off the tracks, stay away from the tracks, and stay alive!  It certainly cannot be more pointed. 

But, likely, even though it was placed there with those explicit terms, people still failed to heed the warning given.  The temptation to try to outrun the train, or to cut in front of an oncoming locomotive is just too strong to resist.  Hence the warning’s final phrase, “Stay Alive!”. 

As Christians, we are told that we should warn others of their sin and of their need for a Savior.  In Proverbs 11:30 (ESV) we read:

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.”

The New International Version of this verse reads:

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”

Proverbs 11:30 NIV

In considering the second part of this verse and the winning of souls for our Lord, Matthew Henry says that the wise are more than merely righteous.  Rather, they are trees of knowledge which is not forbidden but by which the wise man communicates wisdom to others.  The purpose of this witness is to win souls for the Lord.  In Daniel 12:3 we read that the wise turn many to righteousness, and this is the same thing that is referred to in Proverbs 11:30.  Matthew Henry concludes the thoughts about this verse with these words:

“Those that would win souls have need of wisdom to know how to deal with them; and those that do win souls show that they are wise.”

But we should be aware that winning souls comes with a warning.  God spoke to Ezekiel advising that he should tell the house of Israel the words that he receives from the Lord.  In directing this, He includes a warning for failure to do that which He directs:

“And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.  Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.””

 Ezekiel 3:16-21

John Calvin discusses these verses in his commentary and makes this statement:

Nothing is more precious to God than souls which he has created after his own image, and of which he is both the Redeemer and Father. Since, therefore, our souls and their salvation are so dear to God, hence we infer, how anxiously Prophets and all pastors ought to discharge their duties; for it is just as if God were to commit souls to their care, under this condition of rendering an account of each. Nor is it sufficient to admonish one and another, for unless they had endeavored to recall all from destruction to life and salvation, we hear what God here pronounces. Hence, also, Paul uses this expression, woe is me if I preach not the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon me.(1 Corinthians 9:16. – “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!)

We have been called by our Lord to “make disciples”.  This involves teaching and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We cannot “save” anyone, we can only point to our Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will impress upon them the need for their salvation.  We “merely” have the assignment to tell the good news and then live it out as a day to day witness of the Lord’s grace, mercy and love.

So, let us take our duties as Christians seriously.  Let us not flippantly allow others to do our witnessing for us – we should be, like Paul, compelled to tell others the good news.

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

When we speak to others, we each do it in our own winsome way, but we must always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us of our Savior.  We must warn others of the danger to which they are exposed, but we must do so with gentleness, respect and an awareness that we are following our Lord’s directive, not our own agenda. Continue reading

DO RULES MATTER?

A brief look around will reveal that we have a multitude of churches and many of them look very unlike each other!  

Church - Canterbury Cathedral (C)
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

There are awe-inspiring cathedrals with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, while offering worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.. 

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia was established in 1802.

Some churches are much simpler, far less ornate; some are centuries old and others are of newer vintage.  Building style is irrelevant.  These, too, offer worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.  In short, the question is whether the focus is on God as the one being worshiped or on the worshiper as a consumer or customer.

Jesus said:

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 

Sometimes things go on in church that are inconsistent with God’s instructions for worship.  When the priests were selling animals in the temple at Jerusalem, Jesus was angry and overturned their tables and scattered the animals, saying: 

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Matthew 21:13 

Jesus was quoting from the prophet Isaiah who wrote these words centuries earlier: 

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56:6-7 

Do rules matter?  Yes, God’s rules matter.  An example of this is found in 1 Chronicles when David, with incredibly good intentions, sent to have the ark returned to Jerusalem.  When he did not follow the rules, disaster struck.

“Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.” 

Deuteronomy 31:9 

Here we read that the priests were to be from the tribe of Levi, and the priests were the ones who were to carry the ark of the Lord.  Certain priests were to carry the ark on poles so that no one would ever touch the ark. (Exodus 25:10 et seq.) It was holy because God was there, and God had established the way for it to be transported safely. 

“And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.  

But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.

Numbers 7:8-9

The sons of Merari received wagons and oxen for use in their service as priests in the tabernacle of God, and Uzzah was one of Merari’s sons.  He, therefore, had the cart and oxen ready for use in temple service.  But reading the very next verse in Numbers 7 reveals that the sons of Kohath did not get a cart or oxen because they were to care for the things of God that had to be carried on their shoulders, like the ark of the covenant.  

“So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim.  And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim.  And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.  And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.”

1 Chronicles 13:5-10

Uzzah tried to do something good in that he was steadying the ark so it would not fall when the oxen stumbled, but the ark of God was to be carried on the priests shoulders by using the poles permanently affixed to the ark.  It was not to be put on a cart pulled by oxen.  Uzzah disobeyed God’s rule and he died, immediately, on the spot, without any appeal or delay. 

God’s rules matter.  God’s justice mandates that His rules be followed, if for no other reason than He is God and He said so!  Even human parents look at their children and say “Because I said so!”  That’s all the reason the young child needs to have to obey what his/her parent directed.  And it is all that we need when we consider whether we should follow God’s rules … choosing not to do so is SIN and that carries serious consequences.

David learned the lesson.  After leaving the ark for three months at the home of Obed-Edom, David summoned the priests and ordered them to bring the ark to Jerusalem.. However, this time he used Levites who were commissioned to carry the ark on poles … he did it in accordance with God’s rules.

“Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 15:11-14 

The ark was successfully carried by the priests and came to rest at the place David had prepared for it.  God’s rules are to be followed. 

Worship is, by definition, not about you or me!  Rather, it is about God.  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses wrote:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 

This was reiterated by Jesus when He called it the great and first commandment:

“Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31 

How do you see worship?  Is it a time for you to boast in your pride of position of power, or in your ability to financially support the church?  While you are in the service are you thinking about all the things you could be during the hour you sat in worship? Is it a time when you walk out of the service thinking that you didn’t get anything out of being there that day?  

Or is it a time when you worship God with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength?  Is your focus on God and your relationship with Him?  Is your desire to praise Him for who He is, for His attributes and character?  

Rules matter.  I pray that we will return to worship God in the way that He has directed.  God’s commandments are not suggestions nor are they optional.  Follow them and live.  Worship Him in spirit and in truth, and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  

Father, forgive me when I have failed to worship You as You desire.  Help me to focus on You and Your Word throughout my day as I worship You in my life.

Chores and Work – Are they a bain or a blessing?

No one likes chores.  No one likes duties that are not thought of as fun and chores, almost by definition, are not fun. 

Farm in Tennessee
A Tennessee farm

Talk to any child raised on a farm and they will tell you of chores and hard work, even before going to school for the day!  (We remember the Little House on the Prairie television series showing farm life in bygone days.)

Learning how to work is simply something that must be done.  Confucius said: “The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty as the son who neglects them.”

The Jewish Tamud, Kiddushin 29a, outlines the responsibilities of a Jewish father to his son.  The father was obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him if he is the firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade.

The parent was to teach the child a trade, thereby enabling the child to become a productive member of society who was able to support himself as an adult and, prayerfully, have a wife and children to propagate the family line.  All of this was in question though if the child could not be employed in a trade so that he could earn a wage to accomplish these goals.

Clearly, working was seen as an important part of one’s life.  Indeed, Paul wrote some very stern words:

“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

2 Thessalonians 3:10

Scripture says that God worked when He created the universe.

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Genesis 2:2-3

Then, shortly after these two verses, we read that Adam was to work in the garden.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Genesis 2:15

Tended flower garden in back yard
A tended flower garden

 

What was Adam’s job?  How did he “work it”?

“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

Genesis 2:19

Adam had the incredible job of naming all the animals and birds. 

Of course, we know that sin entered the world while Adam and Eve were in the garden and our first parents were expelled therefrom.  At that point, work was no longer merely tending the plants and animals.  Rather, it became exceedingly difficult. 

“And to Adam he [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.””

Genesis 3:17-19

So, perhaps our angst about work is the continuation of the rebellion that began in the Garden.  Perhaps our resentment for having to work is simply a modern description of an ancient condition – perhaps it is nothing other than sin, disobedience to God, rejecting God’s plan and inserting ourselves into God’s place so that we believe we are the master of our own universe.

How do we see these things correctly?  Solomon noted:

“Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:19

Matthew Henry said of this verse:

Life is God’s gift, and he has appointed us the number of the days of our life (Job 14:5); let us therefore spend those days in serving the Lord our God with joyfulness and gladness of heart.  We must not do the business of our calling as a drudgery, and make ourselves slaves to it, but we must rejoice in our labour, not grasp at more business than we can go through without perplexity and disquiet but take a pleasure in the calling wherein God has put us, and go on in the business of it with cheerfulness. 

So why do we have such difficulty with chores and work?  Why is “work” almost a forbidden dirty word in our culture today?

Perhaps we need to confess our sin, our rebellion, our rejection of God’s order and realign our vision to be consistent with God’s viewpoint.  Work is something that we must have to thrive, both from a financial standpoint but also from a psychological and emotional standpoint.  We need to accomplish things during our day, and those things are especially blessed if they are in line with God’s directives for us.

Father, forgive me when I have seen work as drudgery or as something to run away from.  Enable me to see my life’s work through your eyes, as a means of glorifying You and of spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Your Son to those around me.

 

TRUST IN …

When I was a young girl, we sang a song in our church titled “Trust and Obey”.   It is an old hymn that is not sung very often “now-a-days”.  But the other day I was thinking of trust, and that hymn came to mind. 

Trust.  It is a word that we hear often today in the phrase “Just trust me!”  But what is trust?  And should we just go around trusting everyone?  If not, who or what is worthy of our trust?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary says that trust is assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something. 

One example of trust is sitting in a chair.  When I lower myself into a chair, I trust that it will hold me and that it will not crumble under my weight.  If I sit on a little plastic chair in the toddler nursery at church, it is likely that it will break and I will be on the floor – in other words it was not something in which I should have placed my trust.  The object of my trust was unable to accomplish that which I expected.  In other words, the object of your trust is important!

When we see a parent tossing a baby in the air, with the child laughing and squealing in delight, only to then be caught by the parent, we see an excellent example of trust.  The child is not fearful that he will fall to the ground – his parent is there to catch him.  The child relies on the parent totally: that, too, is trust.

Helping child to swim (C)
Trust enables the child to jump into his father’s arms.

When our young grandson had not yet learned to swim, he was fearful of jumping in the water.  While he did not want to plunge into the unknown, his father was there with open arms, hands ready to greet him in the water.  But for his trust in is father, he would have satisfied himself with running around the edge of the pool and would never have gone in to experience the thrill of swimming.

Scripture speaks of trust often.  In fact, the word “trust” is used in the Psalms 35 times. 

“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act.”

Psalm 37:5

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Psalm 56:3

“I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.””

Psalm 91:2

Proverbs speaks of trusting.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

And the prophet Isaiah extols God as he speaks of his trust in Him.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

Isaiah 12:2

Scripture also makes clear that the object of your trust is important.  In other words, does whatever you put your trust in merit your trust, is it trustworthy?  Some things are not, even though they may appear strong and invincible.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

Psalm 20:7

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.”

Jeremiah 7:8

Both the Psalmist and the prophet warn that some things simply are not trustworthy.  This is in comparison to the Lord, Who is totally trustworthy.  What God says He will do, will, in fact, be accomplished.  When God says that He will keep His children in His hand, nothing will be able to take us out of His hand.  God’s promises are true and sure, and they will come to pass in His time and at His good pleasure.

Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Isaiah 26:4

So, who or what do you trust?  Are you trusting in your strength and power, the modern equivalent of chariots and horses?   Are you trusting in your wealth and position, your title or your education?  Are you trusting in your good works or your charitable activities?  Nothing in this world is worthy of your trust for eternity because nothing in this world is eternal.  Rather, trust in the LORD.  He is worthy of your trust. He is strong and powerful so that you will find your trust is not misplaced when it is in Him.

Hear the hymn “Trust and Obey” as presented by Don Moen in this beautiful rendition complete with lyrics and picturesque scenery.

 

Father, forgive me when I have taken my eyes off Jesus and misplaced my trust in my own strength or activities.  Forgive me when I have relied on material things for security when You are the only true security in this world now and for eternity.  Forgive me when I have failed to trust and obey, two words that are so easy to say but sometimes to difficult to accomplish.  Enable me, through Your Spirit, to do Your will as a trust and obey Your voice today.

THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – ETERNALITY

We know that God created the world and everything in it.  We are told that in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  In these verses we are told that God created all things in six days, He rested on the seventh day after proclaiming His creation to be “very good”.  Genesis 1:31.   On the fourth day of creation, God set the sun and moon into action thereby establishing the time that governs us throughout our lives. 

dar-library-clock-c
Clock in the DAR Library, Washington, D.C.

We, along with all of the created order, have a beginning and an end.  In other words, simply put, we are bound by time; we are finite; we are not eternal. God, however, is not so bound.  God is eternal and His eternality is one of His attributes.          

Wayne Grudem says:  “God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.” [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 168]

Louis Berkhof notes that the eternal nature of God means that He “possesses the whole of His existence in one indivisible present.” [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 60]

Being outside of time is virtually impossible for us to comprehend.  However, it is an attribute of God which is fundamental to our thought about our Creator and Savior. 

In Exodus Chapter 3 God is speaking with Moses and, in answer to Moses’ question about Who was sending him on the mission to free the Israelites from Egyptian captivity, God says:

“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'””

Exodus 3:14

God will exist undiminished everlastingly into the future, and He has existed identically throughout the infinite past. For this reason, God said to Moses “I AM WHO I AM”.

David understood God’s attribute of eternality when he wrote:

“But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.”

Psalm 102:12

Not only is God the Father eternal in His nature, but this same eternality extends to Jesus Christ, the eternal Son.  He existed eternally before His incarnation as the Firstborn over creation, even though at that time He did not have human form. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8

Peter wrote of the eternality of the Lord in words that we can understand, even if we cannot wrap our minds around what it means:

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

2 Peter 3:8

The attribute of eternality is a wondrous truth for the believer God and in His Son, Jesus Christ.  This attribute gives us confidence in our faith and in the salvation and preservation that He gives to us as we live within time.  We can live without fear because God is always with us.

Eternality – a word that we don’t use or think about, but it is a word that gives hope, security and confidence as we rest in God’s eternal nature and in His eternal promises.

Father, I cannot understand how You can exist forever … I cannot even understand the concept of forever since all that I have known will last just a short time.  But I understand Your name – I AM – and I bow at Your feet in thanksgiving that the God of creation would rescue me from sin and claim me as His child, eternally.

BREAD – YUMMY!

I have long had a bread machine, but it went unused for most of my working career – too much to do, overtime, documents to read and cases to research. 

All that changed after retirement.  I have been having a grand time making homemade bread, dinner rolls, and breakfast sweet breads (this latter needs more practice before I serve it to anyone other than my beloved Husband!). 

After making two loaves of light rye and one loaf of white bread, I sat down to eat a slice of the rye and, as I was munching on it, I thought of bread in the scriptures. 

What exactly was bread in the scriptures?  It was as important to the ancient people and cultures as it is to us today.

In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we find that Joseph oversaw storing the grain before the severe famine was to hit the area.

“During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.”

Genesis 41:47-49

Grain makes bread, and bread sustains the people.   Grain in scriptures included barley, millet, and wheat. The King James Version of scripture uses the word “corn” while the Hebrew definition focuses on wheat, cereal and grain.

For example, we read in the giving of the Law:

“If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.” 

Leviticus 27:16  (By the way, a “homer” is about 6 bushels.)

The beautiful book of Ruth speaks of barley as well:

“So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

Ruth 2:23

Exodus 9:32 (KJV) speaks of “rie” as being in the field, but it is believed that this was not something that we would use today to make “rye” bread; rather, scholars think this more likely to be spelt or emmer which is another type of wheat. 

God called Gideon in Judges Chapter 6 while Gideon was beating out the wheat in the winepress in an effort to hide the grain from invading Midianites.  And, in Judges Chapter 15 we read that Samson went to visit his wife during the wheat harvest.  Indeed, wheat is often referenced in the Old Testament.

This is a picture of a bread pan that was from Lachish (ca, fifteenth century B.C.). 

Lachish bread pan
Picture from Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums as found in Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, J. I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney and William White, Jr., © 1995 Thomas Nelson Publishers, page 471.

This pan may have been used for forming cakes of bread or it could actually have been used for baking the bread.  Leviticus 2:5 says:

“And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil.”

Leviticus 2:5. This is the ESV translation; the KJV translation uses the word “pan” instead of “griddle”.  Whether we would consider this a pan or a griddle, the picture gives evidence of what the ancient people making bread actually used. We certainly can relate to this activity even though several millennia have passed since this pan was used.

Jesus used wheat in his discourses with the disciples such as we find in Matthew 13.  One of the parables taught by Jesus referenced the man who sowed good seed in his field, only to have his enemies plant weeds among the seeds.  The owner left the field alone and all the plants grew until harvest when it was easy to identify the good wheat from the bad weeds.  Later in the chapter, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples, saying that the weeds were the evil ones, but the wheat represented those in the kingdom of God.

We also read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:11 where He is teaching the disciples to pray when He said:

“Give us this day our daily bread, …”

The hearers would have understood that bread was a staple of the Hebrew diet.  They milled and sifted grain, usually wheat but also barley. They made it into dough, kneading it and forming the dough into thin cakes which were then baked.  They also would have understood Jesus’ prayer for bread with the broadened meaning of food in general. 

For me, the primary reference that comes to my mind when I think of scripture and bread is Jesus’ I AM teaching:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” 

John 6:35

People understand that bread is life-giving; it is life-saving; it is food; and it represents the fact that food is fundamental to our well-being.  We must have physical food or we will die, it is “as simple as that!”

In like manner, we cannot spiritually be alive without the food of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the Bread of life, both here and for eternity.  He handles our longing for spiritual food and gives us the Holy Spirit as our comforter and guide.  We must feast on the Word of God or we will die, this too is “as simple as that!”

Next time you pick up a slice of bread, stop and thank Him for being your Bread of Life! 

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Psalm 34:8

Father, thank You for providing Your Son for our salvation and for an abundant life now and evermore.  May I always look to my Savior and rely on His direction and guidance so that I will bring glory to Your Holy Name.

A NEW SERIES: THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE VINEYARD AND THE CHURCH

The vineyard and the church
Jefferson’s Vineyards outside Charlottesville, Virginia

As we were going through the vineyards outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, we stopped to take a picture of just part of the vines in the Jefferson vineyard with a red-roofed church just beyond them.

The juxtaposition of the vines and the church building prompted my mind to go to John 15.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  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 15:1, 4-5

Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this discourse and He was advising them that they had no power in and of themselves to accomplish anything eternal for the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, He said “apart from me you can do nothing”! 

We think that we can do a lot of things without God’s assistance; but, without Jesus, none of them are of any merit.  But, separate us from God and all our works, even the very best ones, are essentially garbage in God’s sight.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Isaiah 64:6 

Our righteous deeds, the ones that we hold up to God as evidence that we should be rewarded, all those nice things we did and said, all of them are considered to be like a polluted garment, filthy rags. 

According to Strong’s concordance information, the Hebrew word translated as “filthy rags” relates to menstruation and the soiled garments therefrom. It is profound that Isaiah used this term to describe God’s attitude toward man’s good works. 

It is easy to read “filthy rags” as being merely soiled cleaning cloths.  But for me, this Hebrew definition puts the “filthy rags” reference into a new light – our good deeds, no matter how costly or how worthy they are in man’s eyes, are worth only to be dumped into the refuse can. 

So, what do filthy rags have to do with the Vine?   

NOTHING!

When we are in Christ Jesus, when we are connected to the Vine, our acts of righteousness avail much. When we are abiding in the Vine, we have the power of the Vine flowing through us and we can accomplish that which He has ordained for us to do for the Kingdom of God.  Then, instead of “filthy rags,” God sees the righteousness of Christ that has become imputed to us through our faith in Him.  In short, we abide in the Vine and He enables us to do righteous deeds that are a fragrant aroma to God, not filthy rags.

The church, the bodily manifestation of Jesus Christ after His resurrection, is to do His work. 

“And [God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Ephesians 1:22-23 

Each of His children are part of the church, the body of Christ, and we each have a role to play as we live out our lives to the glory and honor of our Savior.  Paul talks of the body of Christ like this in First Corinthians 12:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. …  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 

In this new year, praise the Lord for the gift of eternal life through His death and resurrection and also for the gift of an abundant life in the here and now.  And thank Him that He has grafted us into the Vine so that as His Church we will have the power that comes to those who abide in Him.

The vineyard and the church.  The very symbols of the Source of our strength and of the Body which carries the message of our Lord to those with whom its members interact.

Father, Your ways are inscrutable and unknowable to us.  We praise You for giving us Your Son as our Savior and we thank You for enabling us to witness to Your incredible love and mercy through Jesus Christ.  Thank You, too, for giving us symbols that we can use to remind us of Your grace, providence and goodness.  May we glorify You in all that we do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

GLORIOUS BEAUTY ON DISPLAY

Sometimes we get a glimpse of the incredible variety and diversity among even things that usually look very similar.

While that sentence sounds like gibberish, I am thinking of the glorious beauty that God gives each Autumn when the leaves on most deciduous trees change from their traditional green color into an incredible pallet of colors of various intensities, hues and shades. 

Colorful vista in Virginia mountains

As we were driving through the mountains of Virginia recently, the views from the highway were breathtaking as the colorful leaves broadcast their praise to their Creator.  The beautiful views in the mountains made me think of the Scripture speaking of the joy we can have through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In Matthew Poole’s in-depth commentary on Isaiah 55, he says the scripture speaks of an invitation to seek spiritual blessings from Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father.  We should come to Christ speedily, by repentance, and rest assured that His grace is infinite, His Word is powerful and that believers in Him will have joy eternal. 

In Isaiah 55:12-13 God is speaking, and it reads as follows:

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55:12-13 

Colorful leaves along highway in Virginia

The mountains and hills and the trees of the field will break forth in singing and clapping their hands at the joy of the Lord and at His reign.  

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV.1 says:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

Scripture confirms this statement of faith.  See for example:

Colossians 1:16

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.

Psalm 33:5 says:

He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love [goodness] of the LORD.

This world was created by our God for His glory, and even the plants and animals were created for His glory.  In fact, we, too, were created by God and it is our incredible privilege to live for His glory and to love Him supremely.

Beloved, does your spirit soar when you consider the love that the Lord has for you?  Do you look around at this beautiful time of the year and see the Lord’s hand outstretched before you? 

Open your eyes and see the marvelous works of God.  Praise His name and come to Him in repentance and love.  Bless His name throughout your days, and the peace of our Lord will rest upon you eternally.

Father, thank You for evidence of Your love and blessing as we look around us during the beautiful autumn days.  I pray that I would not take these blessings for granted but that I would praise You and glorify You each day that I live.  In Jesus name, I pray.