POWER FOR FRUIT BEARING

Earlier this spring, I wrote about a Wisteria vine that follows a fence at the corner of our street.  This year it was full and the vine produced prolifically.

Wisteria blooming vine
Wisteria fine on the fence and growing up and onto the neighboring tree and telephone pole.

The mass of flowers hides the source of the plant’s power – the vine stem itself.

Wisteria blooming vine close up
Wisteria vine stem at ground level, providing nourishment for the plant.

 

The vine is strong, solid, and firmly embedded in the ground.  From its roots, the entire plant derives its strength and nourishment, enabling it to bloom and give its flower for all to enjoy.

 

As Christians, we too are to produce fruit for our Lord.  In order for us to do this, we must be firmly grafted to the Vine.  Jesus used the vine and branches analogy when He said:

 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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 15:1-5

 

The wisteria branches need the vine stem for their strength and nourishment.  Likewise, we have strength for our life in Christ as long as we “abide” in Jesus, when we are attached to our Lord through the Holy Spirit’s power.  When we are depending on the Vine for our strength, direction, words, actions, then we will be able to bear fruit for Him.

 

In his sermon entitled The Secret Of Power In Prayer delivered on the Lord’s Day Morning, January 8, 1888, at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, Pastor C. H. Spurgeon talked about an individual who exclaimed “I have something to do!” without regard to being in the Vine.

 

“’I have something to do,’ cries one.

Certainly you have, but not apart from Jesus. The branch has to bear fruit. But if the branch imagines that it is going to produce a cluster, or even a grape out of itself alone, it is utterly mistaken. The fruit of the branch must come forth of the stem. Your work for Christ must be Christ’s work in you or else it will be good for nothing.

I pray you, see to this. Your Sunday school teaching, your preaching or whatever you do, must be done in Christ Jesus. Not by your natural talent can you win souls, nor by plans of your own inventing can you save men. Beware of homemade schemes. Do for Jesus what Jesus bids you do. Remember that our work for Christ, as we call it, must be Christ’s work first if it is to be accepted of Him. Abide in Him as to your fruit-bearing. Yes, abide in Him as to your very life.”

[Sermon #2002 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 1 Volume 34 www.spurgeongems.org.]

 

The flowers cannot bloom and grow without the stem’s strength.  If they are cut off from the vine’s stem, they will die in time.  So too, if we work for the Lord in our own strength and power, using “homemade schemes” or using our talents without regard to the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be ineffective because, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing for Him. John 15:5.  We may be good people, and we may even do nice things for others, but there will be no spiritual fruit because only God through the Holy Spirit can produce that fruit.

 

As Spurgeon says it:  our work “must be Christ’s work first if it is to be accepted of Him.  Abide in Him as to your fruit-bearing. Yes, abide in Him as to your very life.”

 

I pray that this rendition of the hymn “Abide with Me,” played by Eric Wyse on Reflections – 60 Songs of Devotion, will focus your mind and heart on our Lord and His grace that has been given to you through His Spirit.

 

 

Father, forgive me when I have run ahead and done things for You when You did not tell me to do so.  Forgive me when I have relied on my own strength, talent or power to “work for You”.  May I rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and for strength as I live my live for Your honor and glory alone.

 

WE ARE THE BODY!

One thing is for sure – every person alive has a body. Our body may be tall or short; stocky or slim; male or female; or a host of other possibilities, but we have a body and that body is what other people see. Therefore, it becomes how people identify with us.

 

Another thing is absolutely true — our bodies are not indestructible. One grandson broke his arm when he jumped off a slide in an attempt to avoid a puddle at the bottom!

Jonathan David with cast

 

Another grandson broke his leg while at the hospital when he found out that he was going to be a big brother to a little sister.

Child's cast
Child’s cast for broken leg.

 

When I fell in Alaska, I severely broke my left ankle.

Ankle xray
X-ray

 

This resulted in surgery and over 9 weeks of non-weight bearing and significant use of a wheelchair, with later graduation to a walking boot, and then physical therapy. Subsequent to this injury and repair, I needed to have left knee surgery to strengthen and repair a torn meniscus. And then, I had to have right knee replacement because of, in part, the damage caused by twisting my leg when I turned my body to get into the wheelchair.

 

Praise the Lord that there is healing for our bodies. Both the grandsons have completely healed and they act as if the broken limbs never happened. The Lord has healed my body from its various surgeries and there is physical therapy ongoing.

 

The past two years have impressed upon me the interaction and interconnection of the various parts of our bodies. When one part of our body is injured, the rest of the body comes to its aid. For example, when you get a splinter in your finger, white blood cells congregate at that site to get the invader out!  Or, consider people who cannot hear but who have extraordinary eyesight; or those who have been rendered blind and they recount how their hearing has improved.

 

In the New Testament of Scripture, we often read about the Body of Christ. This phrase is used in three senses. First, the phrase refers to the physical body of Jesus which according to Philippians 3:21 is the model for the resurrection bodies of Christians. Second, the phrase refers to the bread of the Lord’s Supper, or communion, a sacrament of the Church. 1 Corinthians 10:16. Third, the phrase Body of Christ is used by Paul as a symbol of the church. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

 

In Romans 12:5, Paul describes the church as being one body in Christ, each member belonging to all the others. In other words, the church encompasses in a single community all those who are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit through faith.

 

It is the community of believers who are responding to Jesus’ call to “Follow me.” Christ commissioned His followers to carry on His work and that is the Church’s reason for existence. In short, the Body of Christ gives to the world the hands, feet and voice of our Lord. The Body of Christ is the church in action.

 

Just as our physical bodies have different parts with different functions, so the Body of Christ is made up of believers who have different spiritual gifts, abilities and interests.

  • Not everyone is a preacher – but we all must be able to tell others of our Lord Jesus by giving our own personal testimony.
  • Not everyone is a singer for the choir – but we all are to praise God and make a joyful noise!
  • Not everyone has the gift of hospitality – but we all must extend love and assistance to those in need when we are able to do so.

 

In other words, we as believers in Jesus Christ are not clones of each other. In His providence and sovereignty, God has equipped His church, the Body of Christ, with those people who can fulfil specific needs. Each of us need to do the task which is intended for them to fill.

 

We each have the responsibility to fulfil the role assigned to us in the Body of Christ because it belongs to you, not to anyone else. Sure, others could do it if you don’t, but you will miss out on the blessing of obedience to God if you fail to be obedient and you will be putting stress on other parts of the Body who are trying to take care of your job as well as their own.

 

My right leg helped get me down the stairs when I could not put weight on my left leg; however it was at the expense of my right knee which had to be replaced because of the exacerbated damage caused during those 9 weeks of twisting into the wheelchair. In other words, the Body accomplished what needed to be done, but it was more costly than it would have been if my left leg had been operational.

 

“If We Are the Body” is a song recorded by Christian rock band Casting Crowns. Written by Mark Hall and produced by Mark A. Miller and Steven Curtis Chapman, it was released as the lead single from the band’s 2003 self-titled debut album through Beach Street Records on July 26, 2003. Mark Hall, lead singer and a youth minister, said that “If We Are the Body” was originally written for use in teaching his youth group what the Christian church was for. Each person in the Body of Christ is given gifts to use in ministry; and when Christians refuse to use the gifts given to them, the Body suffers.

 

We don’t know those who are to be recipients of the salvation provided by Christ’s atoning work on the cross. What we do know is that the Body of Christ, the Church, is to witness to the world — that is to each one who the Lord brings into our path.

“If We Are the Body” closes with the haunting words:

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
Jesus is the way

 

I pray, as members of the Body of Christ, that we would accomplish our tasks and then assist other parts of the Body as well, rather than being those who sit back and let the Body go on without their input.

 

Don’t miss out on the blessing of service to our Lord. If you are a believer in Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are part of the Body of Christ and you have a role to play in the church for which you have been equipped, and that role is singularly yours.

 

Praise the Lord that He has enabled us to become part of the Body of Christ, the church, to His glory and to the honor and glory of God the Father.

BE PREPARED!

Even as I write this post, winter storm Jonas is still pummeling the New England coast with rain, sleet, heavy snow and pelting winds although it has now pretty much finished its work in the southern United States. We knew it was coming … all week long we were told by the weather forecasters that a monster storm was brewing and it would bring drenching rains for days on end in the south and snow that could be measured in feet, not inches, farther north and along the eastern coastline.

People were warned to be prepared. Of course, in our area, we are told that there is a 10% chance of snow and, within an hour, the stores are out of bread and milk. So, with a 100% chance of snow predicted, my husband went to a convenience store to pick up a gallon of milk, fully expecting that there would be none. However, he found that there was a healthy supply of both milk and bread. He expressed his surprise to the cashier and was told “you need to look at the shelves where the beer is usually found!” Apparently, for some folks, beer is more important to have on hand during a snow storm than milk and bread, if you are expecting to be in the house for a number of days.

Wood for stove
Wood sitting by the fireplace ready to be used when needed.

 

Preparation is important. At the house, we have firewood stacked outside and an immediate supply next to the fireplace.

Wood stove fire
The fire in the wood stove insert in the fireplace. The ceramic cow is for added humidity and the fans on each side start spinning when the heat from the fire is built up.

 

The fireplace has an insert that makes it a wood burning stove, so when the temperature started falling, my husband built a fire and we were toasty warm … hot in fact, the room was 82 degrees at one point! But we were prepared.   If power goes out, we can cook on the top of the stove.  We had the food we needed, the heat we needed, everyone was inside, and all was well.

Snow - Bird feeder
Backyard bird feeder covered in snow.

 

Although the snow did not materialize in any significant amount at our house, it did in surrounding areas. For us, it was just enough to make the neighborhood pretty. There is something so serene and still when snow is falling.

 

Snow - front yard
Front yard with snow blanket, serene and white.

 

Even the canine members of the family were prepared. We put their yellow slickers on them and turned them loose in the backyard. They loved to run and sniff the snow, in fact, Snickers tried to catch the flakes with her mouth.

The video is of the two of them in the back yard – wait for the first 8 seconds and then you will see the two yellow streaks pass by the field of view! I hope it brings a smile to your face.

 

Preparation. People prepared for several days to be ready to withstand any difficulties that may arise in this storm. We prepare for a great many things … academic tests, surprise celebrations for loved ones, the potential of a new baby, transfer to a new job, moving to a new community, company coming for dinner … yes, we prepare for many things.

 

The question is whether we have prepared for the ultimately important thing … where we will spend eternity.

 

In the Old Testament, King Belshazzar decided to give a feast for one thousand of his lords and officials. You can read about this extravaganza in Daniel chapter 5. While they were reveling and using the vessels from the Lord’s House to drink their wine, the king was rightly disturbed when he saw a hand writing on the wall of the palace. Ultimately, the Lord’s prophet Daniel was called to interpret the writing.

 

“And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Daniel 5:25-31 [ESV]

 

Belshazzar believed himself to be above reproach – he was king and nothing could harm him. Certainly not anything that would arise during his festival! He forgot that God was responsible for his position and that God could snuff out his life, literally, in a heartbeat. In short, he ran out of time to prepare to meet God.

 

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable of the rich man who had so much bounty from his farm that he didn’t know what to do. So he built larger barns to store his grain and his goods. Then he said:

“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 12:19-20 [ESV]

 

The man in Jesus’ parable ran out of time to prepare to meet God and, based on God’s referring to him as “Fool,” it would appear that he was not ready. He had placed so much emphasis on his personal abilities that he gave himself all credit and left nothing to God. In this case, his eternal destiny was decided by his own foolish refusal to acknowledge his need for God. In short, he ran out of time to prepare to meet God.

 

Preparation. Scripture says that preparation for our eternal salvation is simple and yet profound.

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

Romans 10:9-10 [ESV]

 

Are you prepared? Where will you spend eternity?  Now is the time of salvation!

 

Father, thank you for your provision of salvation and for the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the indwelling Holy Spirit and for the work of the Spirit in prompting your children to come to you. I pray that you would use my life as a witness for you, and that these few words would be used by your Spirit to prompt people to search your word and so come to a realization of the saving work of our Lord on their behalf.

ARE YOU IN THERE?

Have you ever watched a sculptor at work … creating a beautiful figure out of a chunk of marble or wood? How do they do that? How do they know what figure will come out of the material they are using?

Although I have not seen sculptors working in marble, I have seen people sculpting wood – with chain saws!

Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.
Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.

These artisans were chainsaw sculptors who were taking part in an international chainsaw carving competition in Reedsport, Oregon in 2009. This competition was subject of a post entitled “Creative Talents on Display” posted on May 2, 2015.

They created wood carvings of birds and bears, fish and wildlife on both a mammoth and a small-scale, all done with chain saws, some large for the first cuts and others very fine for the detailed work, but chain saws nonetheless.

Chain saw carved hawk.
Chain saw carved hawk.

No matter the size, the concept is the same. Something is inside the wood, and the artist must work to release it.

Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.
Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.

Michelangelo said that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The same great sculptor was asked how he knew when to stop sculpting on a piece and he responded: “Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”

 

Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.
Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.

This is a picture of one of the sculptors in Reedsport who has placed some rough-hewn details which begin to show the subject of his sculpture.

Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.
Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.

Here the artist has completed the work and has released the object from its imprisonment! This is one of the finished products at the Reedsport, Oregon competition in 2009 – an eagle swooping down to catch the fish below. Incredible detail, all done with a chain saw!

I readily admit that I have no such talent – if I were to hold a block of wood in my hand, it would stay there until I put it on the wood pile for the next winter fire. But, I certainly can appreciate the effort, talent and creativity that goes into developing one of these pieces.

I believe that God has called each of us to be, in essence, a sculptor of persons through His power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Luke 4:18-19 Jesus said:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Emphasis added)

Jesus told those in the synagogue that day so long ago that He was sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners … He was not talking about those in jail for their misdeeds but to the broader citizenry who are held captive in sin.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15: 56.

What does that have to do with blocks of wood? Nothing. But it has everything to do with our involvement with others in our church, family, neighborhood or world.

Think about the young people who come to church for youth group. Perhaps a smile or an arm around a shoulder would encourage some barriers to be dropped so that the story of God’s love through Jesus Christ could make inroads into a young person’s heart, replacing “attitude” with love.   Are you in there?

The attitude bear cub.
The “attitude” bear cub.

Think about the elderly who have no one to care about them? A warm meal served with a smile, or a coat provided with a hug, might be something that would chip away the callous exterior to reveal the heart that Jesus can touch.   Are you in there?

Mountain Man carved with chain saw.
Mountain Man carved with chain saw.

Why do this? Because God said we should, see Matthew 28:19‐20. Praise His Name that He should want me to work on His behalf! What a privilege. What a responsibility. What a joy.

Are you in there?

Father, help me to see others as you see them … through the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to look past the exterior and to see the hurt, the need, the worries, the anxiety, and the fear. Help me to be the hands of our Lord as I seek to minister to others, and help me to point other always, and only, to you my Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

 

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

It certainly is no secret that a new baby in the house upsets the applecart for parents as well as for older siblings.

Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

It sometimes is a stressful time with the older siblings wondering if Mom or Dad have enough love to go around.  This is especially true given the emphasis (rightfully so) on the newborn baby which has now taken the place of priority over that of the older children.  “Mom, do you still love me with all your heart?  You love me more than the baby, right?”  Of course Mom would respond that she loves both the children with all her heart. Then she is asked: “How can you love both of us with all your heart – you have 2 hearts?”  Math and biology have now become real issues!

Child looking at infant sibling
Child looking at infant sibling

We smile at the question, but as adults, don’t we sometimes wonder how much we are loved, whether it is by our spouse or our children or our friends?  Sometimes, during hard times, we even wonder if God still loves us … if He did, surely He would have prevented “X” from happening.  [You fill in the blank.]

When it comes to God, I think the answer to how much God loves us is encapsulated in the saying:

“There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more than He does; and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less than he does.”

I believe that this saying captures the definition of divine security.  Human love is strong, but it is sometimes fairly conditional.  Not so with God.  Scripture teaches that His love for me began even before I was born and it will continue throughout eternity. I did not earn it, I did not merit it, and I cannot lose it.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist describes God’s creation of his being and the intimacy of God’s knowledge of him personally.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Psalm 139:2-4 [NIV]  (Emphasis mine)

The Creator of all things knows me so intimately that He knew the number of my days even before I was born, before I “came to be”.  Further, He knows what I am going to say, even before I say it!  [That thought is difficult for me to even put into a post – praise Him for forgiveness!]

The scope of God’s knowledge of us and of His love for us is beyond my comprehension; I can only bow in thankful praise and abject submission to this God of love who sent His Son to be my Savior.

Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The depth of His love is shown by Calvary and the tomb; and, His power over death is shown by the Resurrection!

Philippians 2:8-11 describes Jesus’ sacrifice like this:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [ESV]

Praise the Lord that He has reached out and has adopted us into His family, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are children of the Sovereign Almighty God.  We are members of God’s family, and we are sisters (and brothers) of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  See Romans 8:15-17.

There is no question that God loves His children.  His love is more than sufficient for His children; it is perfect and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.  We read in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that:

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. [ESV]

Thus, the real question is “Do you love Jesus?”

Jesus asked this very question of Simon Peter, the disciple who often seemed to put his foot in his mouth before thinking.  The impetuous Peter had affirmed his devotion to Jesus in the Garden before Judas and the guards came … then, during Jesus’ “trial”, he denied that he knew Jesus, not just once but three times.

After the resurrection, Jesus was with Peter and he asked “Do you love me?” three times – paralleling Peter’s three denials.   The story is told in detail in John 21:15-19.

Peter said that he did love the Lord and Jesus’ response was to direct Peter to “feed my lambs”, to “take care of my sheep”, and to “feed my sheep”. [NIV]  In other words, saying you love Jesus is not the end of the inquiry … you have a job to do.  In Peter’s case, it was to be a missionary feeding, caring and tending for the Lord’s sheep, and ultimately dying a martyr’s death.

That may not be what Jesus calls us to do … but He does call us to do something for which He will equip and provide direction and strength.

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

Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]

So, how much do you love Jesus?  Enough to obey Him?  Enough to be a witness for Him wherever you go?

Father, help me to be a witness for my Lord.  Give me strength when I think I cannot go on, and give me wisdom to know when I should simply express love.  Help me to let Jesus shine through me in all things for your glory and praise.

WIND CHIMES – SOUND OR SILENCE?

Wind chimes — I love them.

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch
Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

I enjoy hearing them when the wind ripples through their parts and the chimes make melody along with the leaves and birds, all of nature combining to glorify God through their music.

Wind chimes outside porch window
Wind chimes outside porch window

But, not all the wind chimes are like the two above which are placed outside near the porch windows.  Certain wind chimes have been placed on hooks inside the porch.

Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch
Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch

We did have them outside for a time and their sound was just not … musical, shall we say.  The primary problem, though, is that they were not able to withstand the rigors of the breeze.  Seems rather weird that a wind chime could not hold it together in the wind, but that is the situation with those that are, now, inside.

Wind chimes on porch
Wind chimes on porch

Then there is the pottery wind chime from Hawaii that we had outside and it performed beautifully until one of the pieces broke after hitting the side of the house.  It is now in wind chime retirement, hanging on the wall inside the house.

Wind chimes from Hawaii
Wind chimes from Hawaii

A bamboo straw wind chime was a souvenir from an adventure in Jamaica.

Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window
Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window

The bamboo chimes have all the right pieces, but they just don’t make music – they rather thud!  A wind chime without the chime.  Just window dressing!

Wind chimes in kitchen window
Wind chimes in kitchen window

Some wind chimes have extra features, like balls that sparkle and, this one in the kitchen, even has a spring holding the chimes up.  Touch it and the whole thing bounces up and down with the chimes giving off a rather tinkling sound.  But I wouldn’t want to put it in the wind – the spring would have the chimes all twisted up in no time!

Wind chimes gracing the kitchen
Wind chimes gracing the kitchen

Some wind chimes, like this glass blown chime, are just too fragile to hang out in the wind.  It makes pretty music when the lower bob is touched, but it is simply not strong enough to endure the wind that would hit it outside. So it views life through the kitchen window.

Those chimes that are outside in the wind are doing what they were intended to do – make beautiful melody when touched by God through the breezes that He provides.  Those that are inside the house, for whatever reason, are still wind chimes, but they are not doing what they were intended to do.  They are pretty, they are providing ambiance, they are souvenir reminders of the trips that we have taken, but they are not fulfilling the purpose intended for them as wind chimes.

In Matthew 5:15-16, Jesus used a lamp as an illustration of something that can fulfill its purpose when being used properly.

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Of course, putting the light under a basket so that its light, although available, was not able to do its job is foolishness.  But Jesus then continues to say that the disciple of Christ should “let your light shine before others.”  Why?  For the purpose that others would see the works of the disciple and then give glory to God.

Notably, the very first question in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”, and the answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  One of the proof text verses supporting this response is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul directs:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

In short, as Christians, we are not called to live an inactive, inert, or passive life.  We are called to do God’s will for us.  God’s people have always been called to do His will.  In Leviticus 25:18, God tells Moses to tell the people:

Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

In the New Testament, Jesus says:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15.  And then he gives the counterpoint command in John 14:24 by saying:

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.  John 14:24

In other words, if you do not keep Jesus’ words, you are showing by your very actions that you do not love Him. It matters not that you say you love Him.  The proof is in the pudding – do your actions show that you are keeping His commands?

So the next question is “What has Jesus commanded His disciples to do?”  That answer is found clearly in the Gospels.  Consider the Gospel of John where Jesus tells us what He wants … actually, He says it three times!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

John 13:34

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:17

And then, while we are loving our Christian brother and sister, as we are commanded to do, we are also to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 28:19

Jesus knew that we would need power to do this, so in Acts 1:8 we read Jesus’ instructions to the disciples after his resurrection and just before He ascended into heaven.

“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.”

Knowing that being His witnesses would be difficult, He prayed to the Father for them:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15

Thus, we have the commandments, instructions, power and protection, all provided by our Loving Lord.

So:

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians whose grace-filled life makes everything around us more beautiful?
  • Are we behaving as Christians by loving each other as Christ loved us?
  • Are we loving those outside the Christian family so that they see Christ in us?
  • Are we strong enough to love people even when it is hard and windy?
  • Are we loving people even when they hurt us?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are fulfilling the purpose God has for us?

Or:

Wind chimes on porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians who are too fragile in our faith to speak to others or to love those who are unlike ourselves?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who cannot withstand the torrents of difficulties attendant with Christian witness outside the confines of the church?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who have opted to stay inside the church, never getting out into the world so that we are not exposed to anything difficult or challenging?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are so busy trying to look like Christians that we don’t have the time or inclination to follow Jesus’ command to love others?

 

Father, may I be a wind chime that sounds your love and mercy to others around me.  Forgive me when I have been content to sit on the sidelines of life and have refused to let my witness chime out for you.  Holy Spirit, embolden me so that I can do the work that you have arranged for me to accomplish and may my witness be love-filled even during those times when the winds of anger or contempt buffet the way. May I reflect Jesus in all that I do, to your honor and glory.

COMMUNICATION AND HOW OLD IS GRANDMA?

I received an email from a friend that told the story of a grandson talking to his grandmother about current events. The grandson asked his grandmother what she thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general. In reply, the grandmother thought about what was different when she was a girl of about the same age as her grandson.

The list was extensive, but here are some of the things she listed for him …

I was born before:

  • television
  • polio shots
  • Xerox
  • contact lenses
  • Frisbees
  • credit cards
  • laser beams
  • ball-point pens
  • dishwashers
  • clothes dryers
  • space walk or space station
  • computer dating
  • day-care centers
  • group therapy
  • FM radios or tape decks
  • Videos, CDs or DVDs
  • electric typewriters
  • Pizza Hut
  • McDonald’s

The email story went on with many more examples of the differences and then she asked her grandson – “How old do you think I am?”

From my perspective, she was not very old!   She was born in 1952 … I would have been 4 years old when she was born!

House in Shrivenham, England
House in Shrivenham, England

The email was humorous when reading it but profound in its message … changes have come to us so rapidly that we have not been able to really adjust to one set of conditions before new situations are presented to us.   Take the iPhone for example; phones are hardly used for phoning someone anymore; they are computers, cameras, calculators, internet browsers, maps, and games and new generations of them are issued before we know how to use the one we have!  

Or consider the family.  Rarely do you find entire families in the same city or state. There are many families with children and grandchildren hundreds or even thousands of miles away from grandparents, a situation that was rare 60 years ago.  Each of the pictures in this post reflect just some of the locations where our children and family members have lived.

Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carollina
Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

As I was thinking about this email and the changes that have developed in such a short time, I looked through a box that my husband brought to the house after he cleaned out a storage room. When I opened it, there were a number of things that had been retained for no specific (or good) reason. But then I saw a large envelope and, when I peered inside, I saw numerous letters and cards that had been to me sent as an encouragement during a spiritual retreat 20 years ago.

I opened and read several but had to stop when tears made it too hard to read the handwriting. Reading words of encouragement written so long ago by loved ones and dear friends, many of whom are now with our Lord, blessed my heart and soul more than I had anticipated, and surely more than they could ever have expected. A loving gesture of writing and sending a note, that was discovered anew 20 years later, still had the power to evoke strong emotion and thankfulness to our Lord for the blessing of the friendship and thankfulness to them for taking the time to send the note in the first place.

Welcome sign at the Texas state line
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Then I thought about how I communicate with others, today. The family is spread out over hundreds of miles. We send an e-card for birthdays, anniversaries, and general greetings. It is a reminder that we are thinking about them on their special day, and we may even type in a personal note, but that’s it. What about notes to family members, encouraging them and letting them know that, even from a distance, we love them and are thinking of and praying for them. That too is most likely an email.

Communication is easier today than it has ever been. But it is temporal and evaporates at the end of the day.

In Bible days, there was no email or e-card to alert people that David had instructions for the troops.  No, he sent a letter.  See 2 Samuel 11.   The King of Syria sent a letter to the King of Israel along with gold, silver and clothing when he wanted the man of God to heal his servant Naaman.  See 2 Kings 5.  When Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem, he received numerous letters from his adversary, Sanballat.  Nehemiah 6.  Handwritten letters allowed communicating with those who were not with you physically.

Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.

This was true, also, in the New Testament. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Antioch with a letter from the church leaders admonishing the people to listen to those being sent to them.

Paul often wrote a letter to one church and then directed that it be read by the other churches in the area also. The letter to the Colossians is an example of this:

And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

Colossians 4:16.

Letters were read and cherished by the people in the church and then sent on to the next church so that all were instructed, admonished, encouraged and strengthened by the Apostle’s words.

Moses commanded the people, when they left Egypt and the feast of unleavened bread was instituted:

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

Exodus 13:8.

Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico
Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico

We are commanded, numerous times in Scripture, to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord and to tell them of how the Lord has guided and strengthened us during our lives.

Given this migration away from family togetherness, how do we communicate our faith to the children and grandchildren?

One way that we, in the 21st century, can communicate our faith with our children is by letters. It is easy to send texts and emails, and we can even Skype and see them, but perhaps, at times, we should return to the communication of Scripture and send some letters. Letters can be read, and reread, years or decades from now, after we are no longer able to communicate with anyone.  Perhaps we should send

  • Letters that tell of the Lord’s wondrous love for us.
  • Letters that describe the Lord’s guidance and strength during a hard time.
  • Letters of instruction and encouragement in the Lord, that say “It is because of what the LORD did for me when ….”.
  • Letters that witness to our love for Him and of our love for the recipient of the note.

May my life be an open letter of love for my Savior, and may I communicate that love to those within my sphere of influence in a way that is beautiful and pleasing to my Savior and in a way that will last, perhaps even beyond my own self!

Lord, give me wisdom as I try to communicate my love for You and my love for my children, parents, grandchildren, friends … help me to create a witness that will last and encourage those reading it to renew their focus on You, as You alone are to be glorified.

OF BILLBOARDS AND BANNERS!

Every fall, college football reigns supreme in Knoxville where the University of Tennessee football team, the Tennessee Volunteers, face off with the visiting team while over 100,000 people fill the stadium for a home game and they cheer, scream and watch every move made.  This does not only apply at the home game – such dedicated watching includes all televised away games as well, but then we don’t have the stadium cheerleaders, so we have to find our own!

Our own private cheerleader for U.T.
Our own private cheerleader for U.T.

In an earlier post, “I will give my all …”, I talked about seeing the billboard for the football program that challenges the players to give their “all” to the program.  The billboard has the shape of our state in the background and, in the University’s colors of orange and white, the words on the billboard say that we will give our “all for Tennessee today”.  The billboard not only has that slogan in print, it also has a giant hand coming up from the foliage under the sign as if to touch the sign as an imaginary player passes beneath, a subtle reference (for those who know the history) to the sign on the player’s locker room wall that says the same thing and which, according to tradition, each player touches as they run through the T into the football stadium.

Scripture tells us that God demands wholehearted devotion.  Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the following commandment from our Holy God:

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

That pretty much sums up “our all” doesn’t it … heart, soul and might.

But in case we missed the message there, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 follows up on it and says:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Talk about our “all” … God is saying that we are to serve Him with our whole being, not to serve Him half-heartedly.   Of course, Jesus also reiterated this command as being the first and greatest commandment that we are to follow.

Even for us in 2015, this commandment clearly extends to us as believers of our Lord subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection.  He gave His life for us; how can we even think of giving anything less than our “all” to Him?

Going back to the billboard about the team giving their “all” to Tennessee football, in the prior post I pondered if I would be willing to have a sign in the front yard saying that I would give my “all” for Jesus, and if that sign would make a difference in my life.

As I came down the stairs thinking about that post and the billboard, I looked up and … low and behold … we do have such a sign in our house.   Actually, it is a banner placed over the primary exit door of our home which reads:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Banner of Joshua 24:15
Banner of Joshua 24:15

That, of course, is taken from Joshua 24:15.   I remember when we bought this banner many years ago; I have always loved that verse in Joshua and this was a beautiful representation of it.  And, it encapsulates the commandment in Deuteronomy and the thoughts about obedience and allegiance to God that runs throughout Scripture.

I mention this because our banner has been hanging there quite a while, and I am afraid that it has become part of the room décor – sort of a statement of “ambiance” rather than a statement of intent for any of us when we exit the residence.  I am not certain that we notice it at any time other than when we have to dust it before company comes over (okay, maybe not even then).

In fact, if I were to ask our grandchildren about what the banner across the door said, they probably would have to go to the living room to read it, even though it has been there for years and they pass under it each time they exit the house.

This realization raised some questions in my mind and heart:

    • I wonder if each of the Tennessee players think of what that sign says every time they touch it as they go through the passageway into the stadium, or if it is a gesture that gets lost in the excitement of the moment?
      • I wonder if our children and grandchildren think of the lessons learned in our home when they are outside of our reach?
    • I wonder if the coaches remind the team of the sign’s significant message before they run into the field for the sports conflict of the day?
      • I wonder what would happen if we reminded the children and grandchildren to remember our Lord as they face the world and its challenges when they left the security of our home each day?
    • I wonder if I reflect the message that banner has been expressing so eloquently all these years?
      • Do I serve the Lord?  Every day?  In all my activities? Whenever I leave the house?
      • Does my family serve Him?  Is Jesus Lord and Master of all those in my family?
    • I wonder if my cheerleading for the Lord is as driving and exuberant as the cheerleading for the football team?
      • Do my children and grandchildren know that I am on the Lord’s team?
      • Do the neighbors see an excited exuberance for my Lord or do they see someone who goes about “serving in the church” with a grumble and frown?

Father, forgive me when the cares of this world flood my mind and heart so that I am unable to even think about You or my Lord.  Forgive me when I am “too busy” to spend time with You in reading your Word.  Forgive me when I am so committed to my family, friends, work, entertainment, and even activities at the church, that I don’t take the time to pray or to listen to your Spirit.  Help me, today and for all the future todays that You give to me, to give You my “all”.  I pray this through the mighty name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

LIVE IN THE SEASON!

When I think of living in the season, the first thing my mind turns to is the Preacher in Scripture and his admonition that “for everything there is a season”.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 reads:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;…

In Psalm 104:27-28 we read:

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

Eating “in-season” … it’s Scriptural and, therefore, we should take a good hard look at it!

When we were in England several years ago, my Daughter-in-Love received a box every week from a nearby farmer with vegetables that were just then harvested by him.  Many of them I had never seen before, let alone eaten, but he put in recipes and directions about how to prepare the vegetables in the box.  I thought, then, that it would be fun to get vegetables from farmers instead of only in grocery stores.

Later, there were so many stories of Hep C, bacterias, and all sorts of illnesses traceable to tainted food, so I decided to check out getting produce from a nearby farm to minimize the number of hands that touched the produce that we ultimately ate at our dinner table.

Eggplant, Zucchini, Summer Squash and Acorn Squash from vegetable box.
Eggplant, Zucchini, Summer Squash and Acorn Squash from vegetable box.

I did some reading and discovered the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement.  Basically, you buy a share of the farmer’s crop by paying a monetary amount in January or February, thus becoming a shareholder in the crop for the year.  Then, when the farmer’s produce begins coming in, you receive a box of vegetables directly from the farmer once per week.  The box contains some of each of the crops ready for harvest so you are eating with the seasons.  And, you receive some vegetables that you may never have purchased in the grocery store, thereby expanding your culinary tastes to include more veggies than corn!

Juicy Tomatoes from vegetable box.
Juicy Tomatoes from vegetable box.

We decided to participate in a CSA and then looked for one we liked near our city.  We found The Colvin Family Farm.  You can learn about them from their website at http://www.colvinfamilyfarm.com.  The most wonderful surprise was that this is a Christian family-owned farm and they use the farm as a witness to the grace of the Lord and His providential bounty.  The farmer’s wife has a blog, fittingly entitled The Farmer’s Wife, where she details life on the farm for her big family,  where she describes the various crops are and how to use the vegetables in the box, and also where she provides a witness to her love for the Lord and His grace in her life.  (The blog for this week talked about living spicy, with various peppers!) http://tnfarmerswife.blogspot.com/

We received our vegetable box today and I was prompted to think about living in the moment.  Eating in season, eating what the Lord has provided today, not craving for what will be coming later.  Being satisfied with today’s provision.  For some, this is a very different mindset.

Cucumber, Curley Kale and Tomato from vegetable box.
Cucumber, Curley Kale and Tomato from vegetable box.

The Hebrews in the wilderness learned this lesson when the Lord provided manna and quails for them to eat.  In Exodus 16:15-26 we read about when the people were first introduced to manna.  It was found on the ground in the morning and they were instructed to gather enough for each person in their house to eat for that day.  They were not to save anything for the next day, unless it was the Sabbath – if they were to do so, in the morning they would find worms and decay rather than fresh manna.

In other words, they were instructed to eat one day at a time – and to eat what was provided in-season for them.  Later, when they were no longer in the wilderness, the Lord instituted the feast of first-fruits where the people were to offer the first fruits from the harvest to the Lord.  They still ate in-season.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus said that we should not worry about tomorrow, about what we should eat or wear, because our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things and they will be provided.

Eggplant, Cucumber, Yellow and Purple Peppers from vegetable box.
Eggplant, Cucumber, Yellow and Purple Peppers from vegetable box.

Eating our vegetables from the box has been fun for us and it has taught us a renewed appreciation for the variety that God has provided for food in His world.  I would encourage you to consider participating in a CSA.  Alternatively, I would encourage you to eat vegetables that you can purchase from farmer’s markets as they will be fresh and the variety from the crops will encourage some tasty changes to your family’s menu!

Praise the Lord for the provision of food that is found in abundance and in a variety that creates exciting mealtime adventures.