ARE YOU A SOLDIER?

We love to take pictures of courthouses as we travel.  It is understandable since I spent 30 years in the practice of law and was in many courthouses throughout the Southeast United States.

On a visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, we saw the old Warren County Courthouse and decided to look around.  As we were leaving the courthouse, we saw a plaque in honor of the soldiers from Vicksburg and Warren County, Mississippi, who fought in World War II.  The poem at the top of the granite block is entitled SOLDIERS and it reads:

We were that which others did not want to be, we went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do.  We were … AMERICAN SOLDIERS.

Monument to american soldiers outside vicksburg old courthouse
Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi 

The word “soldier” brings up many different emotions, memories, experiences to people, but I suspect that for the vast majority of people, the word “soldier” encompasses the concept of one who is willing to deny themselves for the benefit of others.  That is certainly what is within the words on the Warren County monument to  Company B of the 106th Engineer (Combat) Battalion, 31st Infantry (Dixie) Division of the Mississippi National Guard in the 1940s.  

The Apostle Paul was certainly well acquainted with the role that soldiers had in the Roman world.  He, after all, was imprisoned on more than one occasion, and each time there were soldiers who guarded him who undoubtedly heard Paul’s witness for Christ. 

“And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.”

Acts 28:16

Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul used the analogy of being a soldier when referring to serving Christ Jesus in our walk through this life.  Specifically, in 2 Timothy, Paul told the young preacher:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Being a soldier for Jesus reminds me of a song that I sang as a young child.  It was sung to the tune of The Old Gray Mare and the words went like this: 

I may never march in the infantry;  Ride in the cavalry; .Shoot the artillery.

I may never fly o’er the enemy; But I’m in the Lord’s army! 

Yes Sir!  [with a child’s salute]

The concept of being a soldier is especially strong in my heart today as, this past weekend, one of our congregation’s covenant children and a recent high school graduate left our town and flew to the other side of the world so she could work with a mission organization in Asia. 

She will be in a culture totally foreign to her, away from her family, for a year.  She is, in the truest sense of the term, a soldier for Jesus Christ in a foreign land. 

I pray that the Lord will bless her work and will bring many to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of her witness.  I pray that the Lord will give her peace and comfort as she is away from home for such a long time, and I pray that she will be supported through the prayers of the congregation that she left in our town.  [As a parent, I pray too that the Lord will give grace, comfort and peace to her family who will miss her presence daily.]

But, the fact that she left to do her work in the Lord’s army does not mean that there is no such work for me, or for you, to do.  We are all called to be soldiers for Jesus, no matter if it is in a foreign land or across the street.  To paraphrase the Vicksburg granite monument,

We are called to love those who others would not, we will go where others fear to go, and we will give witness even when others fail to do so.   We are … SOLDIERS OF THE KING. 

Listen to my husband’s favorite hymn as presented by 101 Strings on the album Amazing Grace Songs of Faith and Inspiration, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Father, I praise You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Redeemer and King.  I pray that I would be a soldier in your army who operates in accordance with your orders, and that I would be fruitful in my witness as I do your work in my world.

THE WORD OF HIS POWER

The word of His power.  This is a phrase that we don’t hear in our modern speech, but it is wording that is found in Scripture, specifically in the opening of the book of Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Hebrews 1:1-3

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Dubois, Wyoming
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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
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Red Canyon, Richfield, Utah

This same creative power was not only extended to Jesus’ work of creation, it also was on display when He was living among us.  The same word “power”, or the Greek word δύναμις which is transliterated as dynamis, was used when people who met Jesus discussed His miraculous works:

“and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Matthew 13:54

“And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!””

Luke 4:36

And it is the same word that Jesus used when He said this to His disciples, as recorded in the first chapter of Acts:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.””

Acts 1:8

This same power is available to us when we are doing that which God has told us to do, specifically when we are witnessing of His great love for us as shown through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Praise our God and Father for the work of His Son in creation and in sustaining our universe through the power of His word.  Praise Him also for sending His Son to save us from our sin so that we could have life everlasting with Him.  Silence yourself and worship our God.

“”Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!””

Psalm 46:10

Father, I thank You for your Son and for His marvelous works in creation.  I thank You, Lord Jesus, for your wondrous love as evidenced by your sacrificial death on the cross, and I thank You, Holy Spirit, for your work in quickening our hearts so that we can believe and have saving faith in our Lord.  I pray that I would silence my fears and concerns so that I can be still before You, as I glorify You, my God and my Redeemer.

TRAVEL IN GOD’S HANDS

We have just returned from a trip that covered over 6,000 miles, through lands that were densely populated and through lands where there was no person or building for hundreds of miles at a time.  We experienced mountains followed by corn fields which were followed by huge ranch areas which had brush, cacti and very few trees.  We were in the desert and going through Monarch Pass which registers over 11,000 feet above sea level.   It was an incredible feeling to be standing at the Continental Divide, ears popping all the while!  

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The variety of the landscape is impossible to describe as we traversed from Tennessee to South Dakota, then to Wyoming, on to Idaho, then to Utah, and Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, ultimately returning to home in East Tennessee.

The trip and the thousands of digital pictures will be subject of many future blog posts, I suspect.  Suffice it to say today that our overwhelming experience was encountering our marvelous God everywhere we looked.  Saint John wrote in the Book of Revelation:

“”Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.””

Revelation 4:11 

This is the song that the twenty-four elders sing to our God, and we echoed that song in our hearts as we saw dramatic scenery that revealed His creative power like we have seldom seen.  Some examples are the Red Canyon outside Richfield, Utah.

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In Indiana we saw the Wabash and Mississinewa Rivers and spent time finding and admiring the Seven Pillars on the river.

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And in Wyoming we saw the Grand Tetons looming over the highway, glorious with their snow covered peaks even in the heat of July.

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And in Yellowstone, the geyser basins were the source of incredible beauty.   The orange surrounding the cobalt blue boiling water is bacteria which thrives in this environment. Watch where you walk, though … the water in these “ponds” is way hotter than the boiling point of water and the ground is very thin.  Boardwalks are the only safe way to experience these vents in the earth’s crust.

As spectacular as all this is, God was not only seen in the grand and glorious scenery splayed out before us.  His providential Hand was experienced first-hand when we were filling the gas tank in the RV in a very small Utah town.  A long-distance truck driver who had been following us for some distance came up to us and said one of the rear coach tires was very low, recommending that we add air as soon as possible.  

We thanked him for his kindness and, when the tank was full, we went to the back of the station where there was a three-bay mechanic’s shop.  The owner came out and looked at the tires, noting that the tread on one was split and four of them were long past their replacement date.  (This clearly was something the mechanic in Tennessee should have told us about, but that’s a different story.)

Needless to say, we replaced four of the six tires on the RV and we were on our way, praising our Lord that He was watching out for us, even when we didn’t know we were in danger.

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”

Psalm 143:10 

We have always known God cares for us and is guiding us with His Hand.  But when you can see His Hand working on your behalf, it is overwhelming.  The God who created all this beauty cares about us so much that His immutable love is watching each moment, so that His purpose will be fulfilled in our world and in each of our lives.

Keep your eyes open and see His Hand before you.  Read His Word and let His Spirit speak to your heart and mind.  Bask in the love that our Lord Jesus has for you … He gave His life as a ransom for you.  Praise Him all the day long.

Father, I thank You for the marvelous creation of Your Son.  I thank You that You sustain all things with the power of Your Word, and yet You even know the details of my life as it unfolds before me.  Forgive me when I forget the power of Your Word and when I act as though I am in control.  Take my life, Lord, and make it what You want it to be and may the words of  Scripture bring forth fruit for Your Kingdom. 

THE HOMESTEAD

The term “homestead” means a family’s home, including the house and any other buildings or lands that go with it.  Often, we think of it in terms of a large tract of land, but that is not necessarily required.

However, there is an area in Tennessee, along the Cumberland Plateau, where a New Deal Subsistence Homesteads community was built.  There were about 100 of these communities throughout the country and the Tennessee community is evidence of the ingenuity, hard work and dedication that these folks had.

Of the initial 233 families selected for the Cumberland Homesteads project, 30% were distressed farmers, 30% were unemployed miners, 30% were unemployed textile workers, and 10% were struggling professionals (including teachers, nurses, and a doctor).  Architect William Macy Stanton, who designed a number of buildings in TVA’s planned city of Norris, created the basic design for the homes and other buildings at the Homesteads. The community’s first stone houses were completed in late 1934.  

Although the original purpose of the Homesteads project failed, the community survived, and over half the farms remained in the hands of original homesteaders through the 1950s. Indeed, the homestead house design is still visible if you drive through the area.  There may be some additional rooms added, but the basic homestead house design is still identifiable.

I was speaking with a gentleman who was a child when his parents received a homestead.  He said that they would build the barn first, because that would house the animals that they needed for food and it would hold whatever equipment that they had to use on the farm. 

He laughed and said that, since there was no glass on the barn windows, the rain would come in through the window openings.  That meant that they needed to see which way the wind was blowing so that they could move their hay mattresses and clothing to the other side of the barn so they would not get wet.  This was a vivid memory, and I suspect he could feel the damp hay even as we were speaking.

Homestead water tower

The Homesteads water tower provided a source of water as well as serving as the social headquarters for the community. 

Today, the water tower building is used as a museum recording the existence and perseverance of the community that thrived there almost 100 years ago.  In the museum area, there are hundreds of letters, pictures, and personal items, many of which provide an interesting view of life in the rural Cumberland mountains.

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The typical homestead house was made from the stones that were on the property itself!

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Telephone communication was certainly not something that could fit in your pocket!  In fact, you will notice that the only way to speak into the phone was to put your mouth up at the phone itself.  You would hear by using the ear piece attached by a cord hanging on the side of the phone box.

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This is a picture of a Conlon Zephyr which was a type of ironing machine. Indeed, this was state-of-the-art in the mid-1930s.  The little sign on the fabric reads:

“Flowered feed sacks were welcomed bonuses for the farm wife. She carefully chose her colors and patterns for making dresses, quilts, curtains, etc.”

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The wood stove kept things toasty in the kitchen, likely the area most folks would congregate during the harsh winter on the plateau.

In our world, things always are subject to change.  Today in 2018, we in the United States certainly do not live like they did in the 1930s.  We have electricity and we have cell phones.  Most of us don’t use feed sacks for curtains or clothes.  Some would argue, I suspect, that some of the changes in modern days are not for the better, while other changes have surely made our lives significantly easier.  But like them or not, changes have, and will, come.  Things change.

But there is One who does not change, and I am referring to our God and Father.  Scripture says:

“”For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Malachi 3:6

God, Himself, is saying that He does not change – a characteristic that is totally foreign to us.  He is immutable.  He is the same today as He was before creation even existed. And, He will be the same when time is no more.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

Christ’s divinity and His immutable nature is highlighted by the writer of Hebrews when he says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8  

Praise the Lord that He is unchanging and that His promises are, therefore, secure.  This gives the believer security to know that when we have been adopted into God’s family through faith, we can trust God not to change His mind and “unadopt” us because of something we have done. 

No man can slip through His fingers into the breach of hell if that person is a child of God and has expressed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God neither changes His plan, His covenants, His prophecies, nor His justice. In other words, God is dependable – God is immutable, unchangeable!

While things change in our world, we can be secure in the knowledge and conviction that our God does not change.  His perfect plan for us will be accomplished no matter what the circumstances surrounding us may be.  Thank Him, today, for His wondrous love and mighty strength to keep us in His arms throughout the turmoil and change that we see all around us.

Father, the old hymn says “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” and those words are true.  Christ is the Rock on which I stand when all else around me is tumbling and changing, when the world is rushing to evil and violence, when even Your people are abandoning Your Word.  Father, I pray that my Homestead is in heaven, secure in the grip of Christ my Savior.  I further pray that You would use these thoughts to encourage, challenge and strengthen those who read them. May Your Spirit move in our world, today.

HOME – WHERE DID YOU SAY IT WAS?

The posts on The Ruminant Scribe have been anything but regular for the past couple of months.  I have diligently tried to post every Tuesday and Friday since I began the blog, and I have been pretty successful in keeping that schedule (apart from when surgery has thrown the calendar into a spin).

But, for the past couple of months, the posting schedule has been shot.  I didn’t want to explain what was coming as I did not want to publicize the fact that we were going to be out-of-town for two months.  No sense alerting whatever malevolent forces are lurking to do harm to the fact that the house would be unoccupied for that period of time.

So, what took us away?  My husband, the two dogs and I went on our 2018 Western Adventure RV Road Trip. 

RV with car
RV ready to roll with Jeep following wherever we go!

The mileage on our motor home when we began was 56,660 miles.  When we pulled into the storage lot 64 days later, the mileage was 61,919.  Thus, after applying higher math to the equation, we had traveled 5,259 miles. 

However, the coach was not the only vehicle driven.  We towed our Jeep and used it at the various stops to visit the National Parks, towns and roadways while the RV was hooked up to the power at the campground.  In short, the Jeep gave us portability that the coach would not have done, so we need to consider the Jeep’s mileage as well.  The trip meter says that the Jeep was driven 1,334 miles during this trip. 

So, the total mileage for our 2018 Western Adventure over the past 64 days was 6,593 miles. 

I am confident that there will be more references to our trip in future blog posts; suffice it to say that for now we are very glad to be home.  This prompted me to think about what Scripture says about home.

One of the most prominent references is where people are simply returning to their home, the place where they belong, the place where they are safe and secure, the place they want to be for a host of reasons.  Consider:

As soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.”

Genesis 30:25

“And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home.

2 Chronicles 25:22

The Lord God was so detailed in giving the Law to His people that He required that a newly married man should remain at home with his wife for one year.

“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.”

Deuteronomy 24:5

Scripture speaks of having a place to call home, noting that this even applies to animals:

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.”

Psalm 84:3

After Jesus healed people, He most often would tell them to go to their homes:

“I tell you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

Mark 2:11

Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.””

Mark 5:19

And of course we also have Jesus’ words in the parable of the lost sheep:

“And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'”

Luke 15:6

While we didn’t have a party at the house upon our arrival, we were very thankful for the home to which we returned., and the children did, in fact, have a surprise waiting for us. 

Traveling is great fun with many adventures to have, sights to see, foods to taste, pictures to take and roads to travel.  But there is something heart-tugging about “home”. 

So join me today as we celebrate returning “home”.  We often think of our home in terms of chores – laundry, cleaning, dishes, yard work.  All that is necessary to be done, but for now, I would ask that you think about your home differently.

Think about your own home, no matter what it looks like: whether it be a house, an apartment, a tenement, a bungalow, a cottage or a townhouse; whether it is in a city or village; whether it is huge or tiny; it could even be a motor home that can move to different locations!  If it is the place where you feel secure … safe … loved, then it is “home,” and praise the Lord for it.

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.”

John 14:2-3

Home, for the Christian, also includes being with the Lord Jesus Christ for all eternity in our heavenly home.  Praise God for His gracious gift of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Through Christ’s righteousness, we can have life everlasting in our heavenly home.  Thank Him now for such a marvelous gift that we have yet to experience.

Blessings to each of you.

Father, thank You for the blessing of travel and experiencing new things, seeing new sights, going down unexplored roads.  Thank You also for the blessing of returning home, and for the blessing of Your presence no matter where we are.  We praise You for being with us each step of the way.  Thank You, Lord.

WILDFIRES IN TENNESSEE

In 2016, wildfires erupted in the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee.  Ironically, they started at a location known as Chimney Tops and then, fueled by hurricane strength winds, the fires barreled through the mountains toward Gatlinburg, a beautiful resort town at the entrance to the National Park.

Tennessee had been in significant drought and the woods were tinder dry.  While the Chimney Tops fire was thought to be contained, nature changed that opinion quickly.  We had been on the “quiet side” of the mountains, in Townsend, Tennessee, as a gift from our children for our 30th anniversary.  Going home on November 28, 2016, we could see some smoke in the sky.  When we stopped at a local store, a law enforcement officer was present, so we asked about the status of the fires.  He said that they were not a worry, that they were contained, and he expected them to be extinguished that day or the next.

His expectation was not realized, however. That same afternoon saw winds as high as 87 miles per hour, which blew sparks from the existing fires to new dry tinder over a mile away.  The winds created an additional fire hazard, as its strength blew down dried trees, which resulted in downed power lines that then contributed new sparks to the tinder beneath.  Because of the loss of power and because some of the pumping stations had burned, hydrants went dry the next day. 

Firefighters also were battling nature without the use of their two-way radios when the system failed, also the radios of different emergency agencies were not compatible.  The 911 system could not handle all the calls it received, and the emergency operations center phone system went down completely when it lost power. Moreover, cellular towers were destroyed by the fires, so that cellular coverage became unreliable, thus rendering personal cell phone communications unreliable, at best.

All in all, the fires claimed at least 14 lives and injured 134 others. By December 12, the inferno had burned more than 10,000 acres (15 square miles) inside the national park and over 6,000 acres in surrounding areas outside the park.  At least 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate and over 2000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. 

Voices of Gatlinburg picture
Picture taken by Tennessee-based photographer Jeremy Cowart of Gary and Linda Jackson’s home as featured in Voices of Gatlinburg, December 2016.

In short, it was an horrific sight to watch on television and the stories of terror that fell so swiftly are difficult to hear.  Friends from church were in their cabin, atop one of the hills in the mountains when they smelled smoke.  Thinking it was from their fireplace, the husband went from the bedroom to the front room, just to double-check.  When he looked outside, he saw a wall of flames virtually at their lot line.

The two of them jumped into their car, leaving the other car behind, and headed down the mountain.  Their trip took them along the mountain road with flames on both sides, smoke so heavy that they could not see the edge of the road.  Finding one way blocked by fire equipment, they turned and went down another road.  The trip that normally would take 45 minutes took several harrowing hours. 

God was merciful.  They escaped without harm.  And, weeks after the fire when they were finally allowed to go back to their cabin, they found that their cabin was only minimally harmed by the flames and smoke.  All the other cabins on their cul-de-sac were destroyed, burned down to the block foundation. 

Many of the houses are being rebuilt, however it seems that just as many homes and businesses that were destroyed have not been touched.

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The woods, one year later!

Looking down from the deck of our friend’s cabin, one year after the inferno hit the mountains, it was encouraging as well as amazing to see the forest’s regrowth and reclamation of the land.  God’s creation does not wait for man to hurry in and rebuild.  Rather, His creation goes about the business of regrowth, of rebuilding the nutrients in the earth, of repopulating the animals, birds, and all that had been there before.  They will return in their due time.

I am reminded of Noah and the flood.  He and his family were tucked safely in the ark, along with their closest friends, the animals that were preserved from destruction.  After the rains ended, the ark came to rest, and the humans were anxious to leave their floating residence.  I would likewise have been in a hurry to get onto land after 150 days of rain, but they had to wait for the right time.  God had closed the door to the ark and only He could open it.  Genesis 7:16. 

Noah’s tests to see if the waters had receded sufficiently are described in Genesis 8. 

The point is that God commanded Noah to get into the ark, He commanded the animals to get into the ark, He commanded the waters to come, and He commanded the waters to recede.  When all was sufficient for Noah to live on the earth, God told Noah to leave the ark, commanding him further to take the animals so that they could be fruitful and multiply. 

The Gatlinburg fires caused numerous deaths and an untold amount of property damage.  They caused grief and suffering on a massive scale.  But, there is healing after the inferno.  The forests show that healing in visible real terms.  Other healing is more subtle and difficult to quantify, but it does come because God is leading us to heal.

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Beloved, scripture teaches that healing will come.  We need to follow God’s direction, His mandate, and humble ourselves, praying and turning from our wicked ways.  We need to acknowledge that God is God and His ways are right, then we need to do that which He says.  If we do that, He promises that He will hear us and will forgive us of our sin and heal our land.

The fires were horrible, no doubt about it.  The loss of life was tragic and it sent families reeling in grief and pain, no doubt about it.  But healing does come. 

Seek Him and be healed.

Father, I pray that healing would come to our land, but I realize that first we must confess our sin.  We have failed to follow Your low and we have not done that which Your Son commanded.  We have not loved others more than ourselves; we have not treated the widow and stranger with love; we have not read Your Word and meditated on it day and night; we have …. Father, may we repent and turn to You today, before it is too late for us to do so.

 

THE END AND THE BEGINNING!

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

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

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

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

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Driving westbound on Interstate 40

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

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

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Setting sun with clouds

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

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

Genesis 1:1, 14-19 

The Psalmist says it this way:

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

Psalm 74:16

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Ocean with far distant shore

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

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

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

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

The end, thus, is really also a beginning!

USED Butterfly caterpillar (C)

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

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

USED Butterfly beauty (C)

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

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

1 Corinthians 15:51-54

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

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

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

 

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

 

WHAT IS GREATER THAN ALL OUR SIN? GRACE

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness.  Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.  Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. 

Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998. p. 180

God’s grace is the bestowal of blessing that is neither earned or merited.  God’s grace is extended to us totally because of Christ’s death on the cross.  He took the death that we sinful creatures deserved so that we could live our life in and through Him.

The Hebrew word for “grace” means favor, acceptance, kindness. 

In Genesis we read God’s description of the wickedness on the earth and of His intention to destroy all creation.

“So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”

Genesis 6:7-8 KJV   The English Standard Version of this verse says “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”  But Noah found grace, favor, before God and Noah and all his family, as well as the creatures of the earth, were saved from the all-consuming flood that arose by God’s power.

In the book of Exodus, God, Himself, includes grace as part of His nature when He was speaking to Moses.

“The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.  The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”

Exodus 34:5-6 (KJV) and (ESV)

In Psalms 145:17 we read:

            “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works.” (KJV)

            “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, kind in all His works.” (ESV)

While the word “gracious” is not used often in the New Testament with reference to God, the word “grace” is used over 100 times when speaking of God’s actions toward His children.

For example, Paul in his letter to the Romans uses the word “grace” often.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”

Romans 3:23-24

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 5:20-21

The writer of Hebrews says:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

The demonstration of God’s grace towards us comes in different ways.  There is the grace that God shines on the elect and wicked alike; this is called “common grace”.  The word “common” does not denote that the grace is cheap or ordinary.  Rather, this grace provides all of mankind blessings that are non-eternal, such as health, good weather, prosperity, rain, etc.  In fact, life itself is a gift of common grace.  He does not have to give life to any one, no one can demand it from Him, and He can take it when He pleases. Indeed, sinful man deserves nothing but death. 

Then there is that special grace which God demonstrates toward those whom He chooses to be His people, just as He did with the children of Israel.  We read in the book of Deuteronomy these words of God:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

 

 

Cross
This sign is outside the “Minister’s Treehouse” in Crossville, Tennessee.
Jesus shed His blood for You and me. 

God chooses His children not because they are more powerful, wise, intelligent, charismatic, pious, handsome, or any of the other characteristics that we would consider important in selecting someone for some specific honor.  Rather, He chooses His children simply because that is what He chose to do.

This grace is amazing for it relies not at all upon us, but solely upon God and His providential will. Our adoption as children into His family is not based on any service or good we are capable to render. The enormity of this grace is impossible to comprehend, but our reaction to it should be bowing ourselves at the feet of the Lord in praise and rejoicing for His pleasure in granting us salvation.

The hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” encapsulates the response we should have to this grace of our loving Father.  Listen as The CenturyMen present this hymn on their album The CenturyMen Silver Anniversary, Disc 2.

May we crown Him Lord of All as we praise Him for paying our ransom from the fall, not because of any merit that we have, but because of His abundant grace toward us.

Father, there are no words to express our gratitude for the gift of Your grace.  Lord Jesus, we fall before You and praise Your name for Your paying our ransom so that we could be relieved of the debt of sin and come to You now, and forevermore.

 

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – GOODNESS

Another one of God’s intrinsic attributes is His goodness. We read about it in the opening verses of the Bible where we read of creation done by God simply at the power of His words.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.”

Genesis 1:3-4. 

Waimea Canyon Kauai mountains
Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii

This continued throughout creation and then, in verses 26, 31 we read: 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

When the Triune God was done with the creative work on the sixth day, He looked at His completed creation and said not only that each of the component parts were good, He declared that “it was VERY GOOD” and that statement included mankind, created in His image, for fellowship and relationship with Him.  God is good, and we were created in His image. 

A short look at the newspaper tells us that we are not good, however.  Sin entered the world and contaminated that which God had created.  But sin did not change the character or nature of God.  He is still Good.

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100:5

God is not good because it is attractive for Him to be so, and He does not strive after following some standard for goodness that is outside of Himself.  God IS good.  J.I. Packer says that God’s sovereign redemptive love is just one facet of God’s goodness. Goodness underlies virtually all that He does.  [J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, p. 46]

He is the Source of all goodness.  In other words, goodness is not an abstract concept – it is personal – it is WHO — it is God.  The only reason we know anything at all about goodness is because God, who created us in His image, IS good.

The Jews knew that to call yourself good was to take an attribute of God and apply it to yourself, something that was clearly within the definition of blasphemy, as is evidenced by Jesus’ response to the man in Mark 10:18 where He says:

“Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.” 

Goodness is one of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul identifies in Galatians.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” 

Galatians 5:22

Due to sin, we have no inherent goodness within ourselves.  But, the believer has the fruit of goodness due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is part of the Triune God-head and thus the Spirit has the same nature as the Father and the Son.  Since goodness is intrinsic to the Father’s nature, it is also part of the Holy Spirit’s nature, so that it is a fruit that will grow within the believer as we give more and more of ourselves to the Lord.

Dr. R. C. Sproul notes, in the Developing Christian Character, CD Teaching Series from Ligonier Ministries, that when God’s goodness is evidenced in our lives as a fruit of the Spirit, there is a new ability to appreciate excellence and beauty because it is evidence of the beauty, order and exquisite detail of God’s nature and character.

 We have already spoken of God’s joy in His beautiful creation. A further example of God delighting in beauty can be found in Exodus 28:2 where God tells the people how to make Aaron’s garments for use in worship:

 “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty”.

Even though they were in the wilderness, God did not want the priest to be clothed with normal garments.  Exodus 28 details what was to be made, including what materials were to be used.  A very partial listing includes: blue, purple, and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen; two large onyx stones engraved and set in gold filigree; chains of pure gold; twelve gems for the breastplate – sardius, topaz, cabruncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, jacinth, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx and jasper – each one being put in gold filigree settings.  And there is much more!  Clearly, Aaron’s garments reflected God’s glory and beauty!

Another example God’s goodness is appreciation for music.  Music was an integral part of worship in the Old Testament. 1 Chronicles 15:28, 2 Chronicles 7:6.  David talks of making music and singing to the Lord in many of the Psalms.   Psalm 101:1, Psalm 92:1.

More recently, Johan Sebastian Bach [1685-1750] composed his music to give glory to God.  Bach wanted his music to point to the existence of God when, during the “Enlightenment”, people were arguing that man was the be all and end all and that God was unnecessary.   Bach himself said:

“Music’s only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” 

Listen to “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” as composed by Johan S. Bach and performed by the Choir of Sommerville College, Oxford. 

God’s goodness is just one of the intrinsic aspects of His nature, it is one of God’s attributes.  Goodness is truly the foundation for all that He has done for us. We should praise Him continually for the mercy, grace, and salvation that has been extended to us through Christ our Lord, all because of His goodness.