BLOCKING YOUR OWN WITNESS

Work with me here – use your powers of mental image creation – use your imagination for a moment! 

Picture yourself going along a scenic highway with trees on each side of the road, wishing that you could see beyond the trees to the vista and you expected would be there.  Now, on your mental roadway you come across a sign that says “Scenic Overlook Ahead”.  Excitement wells up in your heart and you expect to see almost to China … well, not that far given the earth’s curvature, but you and confident you will see a long way?

You round the bend and see the sign with the arrow to the overlook.  You park the car in the conveniently placed space and walk to the overlook, complete with sign that headlines VIEW. 

overgrown-scenic-view-sign
Scenic Overlook of Fork Mountain on Blue Ridge Parkway

And you see … the trees and shrubs that line the road.  They have totally blocked the “scenic overlook” so that you can only wonder what you would have seen at this spot, but for the trees!   I have no idea what Fork Mountain looks like, but I am sure it is wonderful since it was worth having a sign created along with a parking area, etc.  It’s too bad that we can’t see it for the trees that have grown up and have blocked the view.

Being the die-hard fans of scenic overlooks, we continued our trek and came to another overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway … it reads “View SHENANDOAH VALLEY”. 

overgrown-scenic-view
Overgrown Scenic Overlook of the Shenandoah Valley, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Because we live in East Tennessee and have traveled this route often, we know intellectually that a view of the Shenandoah Valley is, in fact, on the other side of the trees.  But you could not tell it from the overlook view, that’s for sure.

Just down the road a-piece (that’s East Tennessee for a little distance), there was another overlook and, what to my wondering eyes should appear but … the mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley!

blue-ridge-parkway-vista
Mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Parkway.

And then, shortly farther down the road, we saw the valley off in the distance.

shenandoah-valley-from-blue-ridge-parkway
The Shenandoah Valley in the distance, taken at an overlook that was not blocked along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Are we like the Fork Mountain overlook?  Do we have a Christian witness to tell to those we come in contact with but they cannot see our witness for all the mess that surrounds us?

Think about a church congregation on Sunday morning.  It is welcoming at the front door and there is all manner of information available to newcomers, including a nice man and woman extending a warm hand in welcome.  The new family walks in to the sanctuary and finds a place in a pew that, unbeknownst to them, “belongs” to one of the premier families in the church.  All of a sudden, tongues begin to wag about the scene that will develop when Mr. and Mrs. So and So come in and THEIR pew is taken by this visiting family.  The ushers even consider asking the visitors to move, but don’t want to upset anything, especially since Mr. and Mrs. So and So have not yet arrived.

So our visitors sit undisturbed until they overhear some church members talking:

“Did you see how tight her skirt is this morning?  I’m surprised her parents let her go out like that!  Oh, she is in foster care?  Well that is no excuse!  And, did you notice the tongue piercing that boy has? Disgraceful!  And he came to church like that!  Oh, his single mother is in the last stages of cancer?  Do you really think that forgives his unwashed and uncombed hair or his clothes that smell a bit used, shall we say!  Anyone can wash!”

“Ms. MNH told me that Ms. XYZ has been sick for weeks.  She said that the Deacons have not even visited her?  They should be ashamed of themselves, aren’t they supposed to care for people in the church?  No, I didn’t check on Ms. XYZ.  Me?  What?  Oh no, I can’t go to her house, I don’t even know where she lives!  I wouldn’t know what to say.  Besides, that’s what Deacons are for!”

“Look at Mr. ASB in the choir!  Who does he think he is!  I’ve heard him sing in the congregation and he can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  Oh, he has had voice lessons? Well I doubt that they would make any different. I think he wants to be up there to be more visible … doesn’t he have a store in the mall.  I hear it is not doing so well … perhaps he is in the choir so people go to his store!  It certainly isn’t because he can sing!  Hahaha!”

What is the impression that this visiting family would have of our imaginary congregation?  Of the individuals in our imaginary congregation?  Is this that they are honoring their Savior, by backbiting, spreading gossip, belittling other believers?

Taking it out of the imaginary … Do we hide our witness with our sins so that we, in reality, have no witness at all because it has been negated by our actions?  Is the overlook of our life free and clear of debris or is it so cluttered with our sins that people can’t see the love we have for our Lord because of the lack of love we have for our neighbors or for other believers? 

Jesus said:

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.

Matthew 5:16

Let your light shine … don’t let the overlook of your life become so overgrown and cluttered that it obscures your witness for your Lord.

 

Father, I pray that my light is not hidden under a bushel of my own making.  I pray that my light is not blown out by my critical nature and my narrow-minded thinking.  I pray that my witness is not undermined by sins for which I am unrepentant.  I pray that my light beams brightly for Jesus Christ through the darkness of our world.  I pray that my witness is clear and that others will be drawn to Jesus, and that I would not push them away from my Lord by any act or word carelessly spoken. I pray that You would send Your Spirit to enable me to glorify You in all things, through the power of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

OPEN YOUR EYES … NOW, WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Have you been in the high mountains and soaked in the vista sweeping across the horizon for a far greater distance than that which you can usually see?

 

Blue Ridge Parkway view
Vista view from Blue Ridge Parkway overlook.

 

Things seem so different from that perspective. Have you ever had an opportunity to be in an airplane or on top of the mountain when you could see the fields, houses, rivers, buildings and roads below?

Knoxville Downtown (C)
Knoxville, Tennessee downtown from Sharp’s Ridge.

 

Looking at a city from the mountain top hides the random streets with roads clogged with traffic. It conceals the home with a messy yard or a tree that is less than beautiful when walking past on your evening stroll. Instead, all those features become one piece of the fabric that gives character to the overall motif when viewing things from above.

When I view the mountains …

Rocky Mountains from air (C)
Rocky Mountain peaks from an airplane.

 

or the oceans, …

Ocean waves and rock formation Oregon (C)
Pacific Ocean waves and rock formations along Oregon coast.

 

the minutia of the day is lost in the splendor and majesty of God’s creation. Indeed, God’s creation is awesome in its scope, beauty and power. Just check out Yosemite National Park, for example!

Yosemite water fall and downsream 2011 (C)
Yosemite National Park waterfall and downstream.

 

The Bible says in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Deuteronomy, Moses prayed:

“O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?”
Deuteronomy 3:24.

The Psalmist says:

“Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”
Psalm 104:1.

See the mighty Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

Sequoia -Yosemite 09 (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

 

God’s power is truly visible in the overwhelming splendor, beauty and majesty of His creation. His creation prompts us to praise Him for His mighty works.

But, His power is not only visible in the huge glorious vistas splayed out before us on this planet. His creative power is shown in the minute, as well.

Azalea in full bloom (C)
Azalea blooms up close and personal.

 

The detail in the flower of an azalea bush bespeaks of a Creator Who loves beauty.

Birds - American Goldfinch (C)
Goldfinch sitting atop branch in flower garden.

 

The glorious chirp and beauty of the Goldfinch as he sits atop a branch in the garden, searching for food, his mate, or just taking in the scenery.  God’s handiwork is evident even in this small creature.

Yes, God’s creativity is visible even in that which we walk past and ignore on a daily basis, in the beautiful birds, butterflies, flowers, clouds, sunsets, and in the myriad  of His majestic works which are simply too big for me to comprehend.

The Bible tells us that God wants us to know Him. Paul says in Romans 1:20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”

God, the Master Creator, has made the world and everything in it, including us. Such power, majesty and glory is too incredible for me to understand  – I only know that He wants to have a relationship with me. When I take my eyes off the problems, pain and discomfort of this life and look to Him in love, trust and obedience, then I remember that and I know that He loves me and is in control.

I am not a Polyanna who cannot see problems or pain – I have experienced both problems and pain on multiple occasions in my life. Rather, I am suggesting that, even in the middle of the problem or pain, you can look up to the Father Who loves you so much that He  sent his Son to be your Savior and Lord.  Becoming a Christian does end problems or pain, however.  When Paul asked that his “thorn in the flesh” be taken away, we read this:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9.

Pain will still be present, but His comfort and His grace is sufficient to overcome whatever the world may throw at us.

So, I ask you, “What do you see?” Keep your eyes open and expect to see God today. He is present and He will make Himself known to you, you just need to look and listen as His Spirit guides you through the day!

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24.

Praise the Lord!

 

Father, forgive me when I have focused so much on my own personal problems, pain, discouragement that I have failed to see You all around me. Open my eyes and my heart to your comforting care and draw me close to You, each day. May I praise your Name each day You give me the gift of life.

TRAINS – TOOLS FOR TRANSFORMATION!

At the outset, I want to thank my Beloved Husband for acting as my consultant extraordinaire on the topic of trains, engines, fuel, etc.  This has been a hobby/interest of his for decades and I appreciate his willingness to help me with the accuracy of my account below.

——-

Every Christmas we watch the 1946 classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who gave up his personal dreams in order to help others. The primary dream that George Bailey had was to travel across the world, having adventures and thrills that were simply not available in the small town of Bedford Falls.

Near the beginning of the movie, George hears a train whistle and the following colloquy occurs between George and Uncle Billy:

George: There she blows. You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?

Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…

George: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.

 

Trains. Where distances made it virtually impossible for travel between communities, the train removed that impossibility; indeed, they increased mobility and the speed at which you could cross our continent. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad even linked both sides of our country together!

Long train
Long passenger train going to California.

Take for example this long passenger train going cross country, from Illinois to California.  The picture does not say the destination, but I was on that train in 1955 as we went to visit my grandparents.

 

Train travel expanded the horizon so that people could experience areas of the country far from their local community. Families that were divided by hundreds and thousands of miles could now visit, after a marvelous trip on the train.

 

There were trains of various sizes and purposes, fueled by a variety of materials; but all were intended to go from one place to another.

Train - 611
The 611.

 

 

The Norfolk and Western 611 is a steam engine that was based in Roanoke, Virginia.   My husband has a long history with this particular locomotive. It has recently been restored to pull excursions.

Train 611 in curve
The 611 steaming through a curve.

 

 

The Alaska Railroad runs trains throughout the State of Alaska and the trains provide vital links to supplies and assistance to those folks who live in areas outside of the cities. Numerous reality television shows illustrate the railroad and its involvement with the “off-griders” in Alaska.

 

Train Alaska Railroad train engine,  cropped Anchorage (C)
Alaska Railroad train engine.

 

The Alaska Railroad also has tours of the state, with beautiful observation cars for the tourists’ enjoyment.

 

Train Alaska Railroad Train observation car, Anchorage Alaska, Moore (C)
Alaska Railroad observation car.

 

 

Railroad train - inside observation car
Inside the Alaska Railroad observation car.

 

And there are train engines that have specialized purposes … consider the snow plow in Alaska!

Train - snow plow on engine front
Snow plow to be used on the train tracks in Alaska.

 

Then there are the trains that carry freight from one place to another. Imagine how many trucks would be required to carry the freight that one train can pull!

Train - Freight train Rio Grande
Freight train Rio Grande Railroad.

 

Yosemite 2011 Sugar Pine Railroad Train (C)
Yosemite Sugar Pine Mountain Railroad.

 

 

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can go just a little off the road and find train tracks that have long been abandoned, reminiscent of the logging activity that took place there centuries ago.

Train Century old logging railroad train  in Blue Ridge Mountains
Centuries old abandoned logging tracks through mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Trains made the impossible possible. The Iron Horse pulled loads that were way beyond the ability of human or equine strength. The train could go into terrain and through inclement weather better than any transport available to man. Communities were brought closer because of the connection made by the train schedule. Isolation was lessened when the train arrived with materials from far away places.

 

 

Indeed, trains encouraged dreams and imaginations, as exploration of what was beyond the normalcy of life became a reality.    While airline and automobile travel may have eclipsed the train for some, it is hard to comprehend what our country would be like if it were not for the trains that belched their way onto the scene in the Nineteenth Century.

 

 

But trains would not have accomplished the revolution that they did if they just sat on the tracks and didn’t GO. In order for the Iron Horse to fulfill its mission, it needed power. That power came from various sources: wood, coal, diesel oil, and electricity, but there is no debate that power was required to have functional trains.

 

 

As Christians, we are to be Jesus’ hands and feet, His words are to come from us and we are to express His love to those around us. It certainly is no easy task since we are sinners, saved by grace, and we have to fight our sinful nature to do that which Jesus commands. In short, we cannot live the Christian life in our own power – we have to have the Holy Spirit within us to give us the power to overcome evil, sin and Satan.

 

 

Prior to the beginning of his ministry, immediately after his baptism by John, Jesus was led into the wilderness and was tempted 40 days by Satan. Jesus successfully withstood the tests hurled at him and, at the conclusion of the 40 days, Scripture tells us in Luke 4:14 that:

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.

 

 

Through this Holy Spirit, He was able to heal and teach as no other had done before.  See Luke 4:32 where we read that the people “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” The King James Version of this verse says that “for his word was with power.”

 

 

In Luke 14:29 Jesus promises that the disciples would receive power from the Father, but they need to wait.

“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

 

 

In the Book of Acts, Jesus tells his disciples why they would receive power from His Father:

“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 [ESV]

 

 

On the day of Pentecost, this promise was fulfilled, and as evidence of the power of the Spirit that filled the disciples, we read:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 [ESV]

 

 

The same Spirit that powered Jesus is available to us as Christians for the empowerment of our life and witness. Indeed, when we become Christians, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart and we read the Scripture with open eyes and an understanding that the Spirit provides. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be bold in our testimony so that we give an answer to any who ask about our Savior. In short, the Holy Spirit is the power for our life in Christ.

 

 

The train transformed our world. Its power accomplished much and we have evidence of the trains’ successful work throughout not just our land but the entire world.  Trains had a variety of functions and purposes, but they all worked together to transform society.

 

 

Jesus Christ has transformed our world in a much more important, eternal way. His disciples are not all the same, each has his/her own spiritual gift to be used for building up of the Body of Christ. One by one, His disciples are spreading the gospel throughout the world and people are hearing of His work and saving atoning grace through His death and resurrection.   Through that witness, God’s mercy is extended to people who are becoming children of God and are being adopted into His family through faith in Christ alone.

 

 

The train cannot sit in the station without power and expect to do any work. The train’s impact on the world becomes evident when power is used to get the job done. Likewise, we, as Christians and believers in Jesus Christ, cannot sit in the church pew and expect that we have fulfilled some sort of obligation to our Savior. We must access the all-sufficient power of the Spirit that will transform all those who are to come to salvation in Jesus Christ.   We must represent Jesus Christ to each individual we meet, all through the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

 

Father, forgive me when I have failed to access the power you have provided through the Holy Spirit. Forgive me when I have not ministered to others as Christ would have me do, simply because I was too lazy to take action. Forgive me when I have failed to spread your Word to others in need. May I have the impact on my world that you want me to have so that your kingdom will be increased, all to your glory and honor.