DO YOU REMEMBER?

Many years ago, a couple of my cousins from Wisconsin would come to Illinois to visit.  They were about 10 years younger than I and we would have a good time visiting together.  When it was bedtime, I would read to them from an English storybook that my Father brought home when he returned after World War II.  The book had adorable pudgy-cheeked children and precious elves and even snow fairies!

I married about 10 years later and these two delightful girls were my flower-girls at the wedding.   We really did not have much contact through the ensuing decades, other than some Christmas cards, attending the funeral of a beloved Aunt died, and receiving a wedding announcement.

On our trip last summer, we were going through Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin to visit friends and I contacted one of these ladies to see if we could get together for dinner as we journeyed through the state.   Plans were made and we did so. 

decoration at campsite
Decoration at campsite in Rivers Edge Campground, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

She contacted her sister and the next day both of them came to the campground for a visit and then dinner.  We had a delightful time. 

pool play area at campground
Pool play area at Rivers Edge Campground, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

To my astonishment, they asked if I remembered the stories that I read to them years earlier from that old English storybook.  When I said that I did, they asked that I tell them two of those stories before they left the campground that evening.   I was honored to do so, and we revisited the Pixie who stole a taste of pink ice cream and the Snow Fairy who disobeyed and became stuck on earth.  Two adult women remembering life lessons that had been encapsulated in stories told decades earlier in their childhood, and me cherishing the time with them and recalling when the stories calmed them so that they could sleep in a strange house.

This past week we were working with come elementary school children and singing the song “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the Book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”

In doing so, the children had fun singing at the top of their lungs, while the adults revisited the time in their childhood when they, too, learned the song.  But far more than having fun, the song is imprinting the message on the children’s minds that the Bible is the Word of God and it is something that lasts, you can stand on its teaching because it is from Almighty God.  They may not understand all that, but it is in their heads and hearts and someday, when they are older, they will remember its teaching, just like my cousins remembered those comforting stories.

The importance of teaching children the Word of God is a direct command of our God.  For example, in speaking of the law and commandments of God as given to Moses, we read:

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Deuteronomy 11:19

The Psalmist says the following:

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

Psalm 34:11

No matter our age or station in life, we all can say with King David:

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”

Psalm 86:11

Snow fairies and Pixies are not real and the stories are not imbued with the imprint of the Holy Spirit of our God.  However, Scripture is, and we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to teach them what God says in His Word to guide them as they go along life’s pathways. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

This great cloud of witnesses refers to those who have gone before us, who paved the way so that we could know of God and of His Word.  So, will your children remember when you read the Bible to them?  Will your grandchildren remember that you told them the stories in the Bible?  Will your family be able to point to you as a person who assisted them in understanding God’s Word? Are you paving their way through the Scriptures?

Father, teach us to do Your will and to tell the next generation about Your marvelous works in our own lives as well as in the lives of those who have gone before.  May I spread Your Word as I live my life in witness to Your love, grace and salvation through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.

FOUNTAINS, REFLECTIONS AND POWER

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

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

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

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

John 15:5

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

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Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.

CAMPING AND CICADAS – LIVING SLOW AND LIVING FAST!

We were camping at the Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, Tennessee recently. It is a beautiful park, with great facilities including a playground, swimming pool, trails, big fields for soccer or just for running, and beautiful overlooks.

Panther Creek State Park Campground
Panther Creek State Park Campground
Panther Creek State Park Overlook
Panther Creek State Park Overlook

Differing camping styles was on vivid display since there was a tent camping couple immediately next to our RV and a small tent across the street for a family with two children.

Tent camping couple
Tent camping couple
RV camp site with gear
RV camp site with gear
Family tent camping
Family tent camping

It was glorious. Time to relax, to read, to just contemplate the glories of our Lord’s creation. When we had the campfire along with the obligatory s’mores, the two girls from across the street joined in, and later their parents came to tell them it was time for bed, and then the girls’ parents sat down and joined our circle of conversation. What a great way to meet people and share our Christian experience, around the campfire!

At this campground, the RV backed up to the woods and the fireflies in the evening were myriad. Each evening when dusk descended, the chirping of thousands of cicadas was heard, loud and clear, in a way that is impossible in urban life. We might hear a couple of crickets in the backyard: but in the campground woods, the din from the cicadas was positively deafening.

Cicadas. They are an interesting creation of our God and a direct counterpoint to a camping experience – talk about fast living! The 17 year cicada lives underground, around the base of trees in forests and woodland areas, and they dig tunnels in the dirt as their living quarters for 17 years. Then they come out from their underground nursery, after maturing for all those years, by climbing out of “escape chimneys” that they have dug to the surface.

When the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit, they receive a signal. The insects rise up and wriggle out of their burrows to take to the sunlight and fly to freedom, well actually they are not so much looking for freedom as for a mate. Then, after 4 to 6 weeks, during which time the males have mated and the females have laid their eggs underground, they die. Seventeen years later, the ritual occurs again, and the beat goes on.

The Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible considers life under the sun and calls it “vanity”. R. C. Sproul and other theologians don’t define “vanity” as being vain or of interest in and to oneself, and it certainly is not a table in the boudoir. Rather, Biblical “vanity” is defined as being “futile”. In other words, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is saying that life is futile – there is no point to it and it just exists and repeats without any ultimate meaning. That certainly seems to be descriptive of the cicada’s life.

But, whether or not the cicadas are a 17-year-occurring annoyance or if they have a significant role to play in the ecological foundation of our world, it is certain that our human lives are not meant to be played out in such manner. We are not insignificant insects to God, the Creator of thousands of galaxies.

The fact of the matter is that God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to this sin-sick world. He died for us to pay the price of our sin. If we believe that he died and rose again from the dead, and if we repent of our sins and claim Him as our Savior, by faith we will be declared to be a Child of God.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes concludes by saying:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commands, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Do you want meaning for your life? There is no secret or magic pill.  To find meaning, just reach out and grab the outstretched nail-pierced hand of Jesus. Fear God and keep his commandments.   This is the whole duty of man and woman!  This provides life’s meaning.  This is fulfilment!

Amen and amen.