“DON’T DO IT!  UH UH -NO!”

It seems that we have recently focused on our canine children as illustrations of spiritual lessons for our daily lives.  Today is no exception as our MinPin doggie daughters, also known as “the girls”, have once again tried our patience.

We have tried to “train” the girls to stay put in one place while we are eating our meals.  The original intent of this routine was to stop them from barking while we are eating, and also to stop them from begging during the meal.  It has, for the most part, stopped the barking.  But, it has not been as successful with the begging.

Usually their “place” is the living room sofa as we are eating dinner in the dining room, in full site of them.  When we have finished our meal, we will say “you’re through” and they are to come bounding up to the table for a good girl treat, thankful to their parents that they are being so wonderfully rewarded.  That is what is supposed to happen.

Doggies ready to jump
Doggies ready to jump!

What actually happens is that they go to their “place” right away when we tell them to do so as we are sitting down to the table.  Then, when the wait is too long or if the aroma is especially exciting to them (such as the smell of bacon), they hop down and come over to the table where we are sitting.  At first, they would just run over and jump up at our side to tell us that they are there.  We, then, point to the sofa, say “Uh Uh – No, go back, place” and they run back, jumping up on the sofa and sitting as if they were good girls.

If we are engaged in serious conversation during dinner, they become stealth doggies.  They slide off the sofa and sneak through the kitchen so we don’t see them walking around.  Then they cut between us to get under the table in the hopes that something will have fallen through a crack.  We find out that one or both are under the table when we move our feet and hit something.  Then, we again, point to the sofa and say the dreaded words “Uh Uh – No, go back!”. 

I suspect that we are not the only ones that have this experience.  However, aside from the humorous smiles that their actions might induce, there is a parallel with my own life experiences and obedience, and it is not at all humorous.

As long ago as when the law was given to the Israelites, God said:

“So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 22:31

Again, in the wilderness they were told:

“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

Deuteronomy 13:4

God is serious about our being obedient to His commandments.  In fact, Jesus used obedience to His commandments as the test of our love for Him.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. …  Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:15, 21

In full recognition of the fact that we could not keep Jesus’ commandments through our own power, Jesus told His disciples that, after His resurrection and ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit would be sent to help them do that which He commanded them.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

Moreover, the Holy Spirit seals us in Christ. He is the surety, the guarantor of our salvation. 

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,”

Ephesians 1:13

Indeed, one of the Holy Spirit’s assignments with respect to believers is to transform us into the image of our Lord and Savior. 

“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.”

Romans 8:29

“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.”

Romans 12:2

When God has told me to stay in a difficult situation, I try to jump out of it, a classic definition of disobedience.  When I do, it is as if I hear the Holy Spirit saying “Don’t do it. Uh Uh – No!”.   Often I obey that voice and repent from my attempted jump of disobedience.  But, there are times when I disobey intentionally and then, too, I must repent of my arrogant disobedience and seek forgiveness, asking the Spirit to strengthen me so that I am able to resist temptation. 

God has given us His Word and His Spirit who indwells the believer in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit transforms us and renews our mind so that, as we are sanctified, we are conformed to the image of Jesus.  But that process is not linear. 

By that I mean, it is not a smooth road toward transformation.  We struggle and fail to obey the directives that are clearly given in Scripture and brought to our attention through the Holy Spirit.  Praise the Lord that when we have been disobedient, the Holy Spirit still is within us and He will tenderly guide you back into relationship with Him and with our Lord if you will confess your sin and repent. 

Next time you see your canine or Homo sapiens children disobeying your directive, stop and ponder whether there is something in your own life for which you need to confess and repent.  Is there some act of disobedience that you need to address?  Is the Holy Spirit saying “Uh Uh – No!”? 

The Psalmist knew the sweet fellowship with God that confession and repentance provides when he said:

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah”

Psalm 32:2-5

When David sinned, and kept silent, he was tormented day and night because of his guilt.  When he turned to God and confessed his sin, he was forgiven and he could say “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity”.  Happy is the one who does not stand before God covered in the guilt of his sin. 

Doggies patiently waiting
Obedient doggies!

Praise God that the Spirit says “Uh Uh – No!” preventing us from sinning, but praise God also that when we fail to be obedient, we can be restored to full fellowship with Him through confession and repentance. 

Father, I praise You for Your Holy Spirit and for the work that He does in my life as He guides me and leads me in the path that I should take.  Thank You too that Your Spirit also stops me from disobeying and, when I do sin, that He leads me back into the fold.  I praise Your Holy Name.

Canine Friends and Devotion!

Let me preface this post with the note that I am an unabashed dog person.  We had a cat for 18 years and I loved him, but never felt as close to him as I have felt with our canine children.  Therefore, it is from this perspective that I write this post.  I certainly mean no disrespect to those of you who love felines!

As an only child, I had a friend that was a constant in my life for a long time – my dog named Tippy.  She was all black, shaggy and soft, except for the white tip on her chin [hence, her name!].  

tippy-at-the-piano
Tippy showing her proper posture and her white chin!

She was my constant companion, confidant and comfort.  She sat with me at the piano and endured horrible playing with gracious patience.

linda-with-tippy-at-piano
Tippy with me at the piano … long ago but not so long ago that it was a harpsichord!

Doris Day is quoted as having said:

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”

I agree with her.  Tippy would lay next to me on the sofa when I was ill and just provide comfort without saying a word! 

linda-and-tippy
My canine friend giving comfort when illness would come.

I guess you could say that I have had a canine companion almost my entire life.  Tippy has been gone for decades, but I still smile when I think of her.  Other canine blessings have been Missy and her daughter Winnie.  Here they are with my infant son many years ago.  

jonathan-with-missie-and-winnie
Missie (left) and her daughter Winnie (right) with infant son in between.

Skippy who was the head puppy in charge, at least he thought so.

skippy-close-up
Skippy, the Lhasa Apso/Poodle mix who was love on four paws.

Glitz, Goldie and Sweetie were marvelous retired greyhounds who graced our presence with their stately tranquility and incredible speed.  Goldie loved to travel in the RV:

dog-sweet-goldie
Goldie thought riding on the sofa in the RV was appropriate since she was in her retirement as a racing athlete, after all!

Now we have our MinPins, Cuddles and Snickers, along with our granddog, Haley.

spring-lake-the-three-friends
Three friends, enjoying the sunny day at the campground lake.

Of course Tippy was not my only friend, I did have some playmates who were even called “best friends”.   

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

Now it is BFF – Best Friends Forever!  That “Forever” may seem likely at the time we speak it, and some of those persons do remain friends for many years.  Others, however, disappear from our lives but they leave imprints on our heart and spirit just the same.

With Facebook and other social media, we can have friends all over the world and never even meet them or speak to them in person.  To my way of thinking, this takes the meaning of “friend” and stretches it so that it bears little resemblance to its meaning in decades past.  But such is the reality for millions of youth today.

Scripture talks a great deal about friends. 

Probably the best example of a real BFF is the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament.  In 1 Samuel 17, David defeats Goliath and is brought before Saul as the victor in battle.  The very next chapter introduces us to Saul’s son, Jonathan, and we read in 1 Samuel 18:1 that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”  Their friendship continued for years, even through the time that Saul was hunting David to kill him, with the two men making a covenant between them that they would care for each other’s families if harm should come to them.  1 Samuel 20:42.

David remembered his covenant with Jonathan even after both Jonathan and Saul, his father, were dead.  King David asked if any of Jonathan’s family were still alive and we read in 2 Samuel 9 of the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan, who from that day forward sat and ate at the King’s table. 

We may not recognize the significance of this but in those days, all the family members of the preceding king were killed so that there would be nobody who could contest the validity of the kingship.  Mephibosheth escaped this fate when his nurse took him and ran, hiding him far from the king. 

In other words, it would be rare, indeed, for a son of a deceased king to sit at the current king’s table and to be brought under the care and protection of that king.  But this is what happened to Mephibosheth because of the friendship King David had with his father, Jonathan.  That’s a BFF!

While he was loyal to the covenant made with Jonathan, not all of King Davids friends were loyal to him, however.  In 1 Chronicles 27 we read of Ahithophel, the king’s counselor and Hushai the king’s friend.   Ahithophel was definitely not a BFF because he sided with David’s rebellious son in an attempt to take the throne from King David.  Scripture tells of the pain David had when he turned into an adversary:

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

Psalm 41:9

Sometimes friends betray us, and that is painful.  For this reason, we tell the children that their friends are important.  We tell them that the type of person they befriend can have an influence on them beyond just the immediate friendship.  We tell them to choose their friends carefully because of the strong influence friends can have on them.

In Exodus we read of God’s relationship with Moses:

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

Exodus 33:11a 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this type relationship with God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of the Universe?  

Well, I have some news for you …  the reality is that we can have this type relationship because of the sacrificial death of Jesus for our salvation.  When the Holy Spirit is within us, we can even address the Almighty Creator God as Father.  That is even closer than a mere friend!

Friends – we need them so that we can be socially healthy and so that we can live a full life.  But, we need Jesus Christ so that we can have a relationship with God because in and of ourselves we are sinful and unable to even approach God, let alone please Him. 

Praise God for our salvation; and praise Him too for the gift of Christian friends who encourage, support and love us in our good times and through our difficult times as well. 

Cuddles and Snickers
Cuddles and Snickers, our two MinPins

And praise God for the gift of our canine friends who love us unconditionally and who give of themselves in cheering us up, in grieving with us when we are hurt, in snuggling when we are ill, and in running with glee when we are happy.  Oh that we as Christians would be as kind to others as our canine children are to us!  

 

But we err if we think that is all that is required of us as followers of Christ.  Rather, unconditional love is the initial threshold that Christian love should pass.  Jesus’ love for us, and thus our love for our fellowman/woman, is to be sacrificial, not self-centered. When we love others as Jesus did, we will tell them the good news of the gospel and of the kingdom of God.   And it all is to be to the glory of God, our Father.

 

Father, your kingdom is one of marvelous wonders and goodness.  Thank you for the gift of canine friends, of feline friends, of the friendship of so many of your creatures in this world.  Thank you also for the gift of Christian friends who show us Jesus in their love and service.  May I be Jesus to others as I live through the power of your Holy Spirit.

THE TEAR

The tear – it can be shed because we are sorrowful, in pain, frightened, or angry. Or, it can be shed because we are joyful, relieved, empathizing, or celebrating. (I will always cry when the Bridal March begins, whether or not the bride has even begun walking the aisle!) Crying is therapeutic – it gets pent up emotions out and relieves tension. You could say that tears are suitable for a host of purposes!

used A Tear
A child’s tear lingers on his cheek, even as a smile crosses his face!  For his grandmother, the tear tugs at her heart.  For him, the tear will be gone soon, but the grandmother’s heart will take a bit more time to heal!

 

What tugs at my heartstrings the most, though, is a tear from my grandchildren. Now, I know that children shed tears in the process of growing up, it just happens.   I also know tears can be shed when children encounter something that is unfamiliar to them even if there is no discomfort or danger. I know that tears come as a result of, often very well-needed, discipline. And, I know that children are not above shedding some tears in an effort to get what they want, even if it is abject posturing to get something from their Grandparents!

 

Crying
Sometimes the adult, believing she is giving the child an exciting day, results in frightening the young child so much that tears flow. The adult may explain that there is no danger, but still the tears flow.

 

As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. Who has not looked at their sick child and at least thought, if not said aloud, “I wish it was me instead of my baby!” Sometimes we simply cannot kiss it and make it better, and our tears will flow out of frustration, concern, helplessness ‐‐ love.

 

Jesus knew our feelings because He experienced them. He wept when his close friend Lazarus died.  [John 11:35] He wept when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41 ] knowing that, because they had rejected him, tribulation would come and the city would be devastated. Our Savior experienced physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain, during his time here with His creation.

 

And, deep down inside, I believe that His heart hurts when He hears our cry and sees our tears. However, unlike us, He was not “helpless” in the face of sorrow or disappointment. He was, at all time, the God‐man – fully God and fully man. Through His act of obedience to the Father’s plan, He went to the cross so that we would have an escape from the pain inflicted upon us by sin.

 

Further, because of His triumph over sin and death, He knows that our troubles will last only for a short while, that there is a lesson we need to learn from the events that sparked the tears, and that He is with us through the dark times. We simply need to trust Him and hold His Hand as He sees our path while we cannot.

 

I have not been immune from those dark times. I have experienced nights on end with tears as my only companion. I worked to keep the family on an even keel when its support suddenly disintegrated before my eyes. There were times that the tears flowed so hard that I could not breathe, and I relied on the Holy Spirit to pray for that which was best because I could not.

 

I also know that no one can take your tears away; no one stands in your shoes; no one understands the disappointment you have encountered; and no one has endured the dark night that you are in or that you have experienced. It is yours and yours alone. David was well acquainted with the loneliness and pain that difficulties, fearful events, strife, and sin can create.   He refers to it as the “valley of the shadow of death.”

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4-6.

 

But notice the rest of this sentence, even though he was in the valley, he was not bound by fear. David knew that the Lord was with him and was providing comfort to him, even in the darkness of that valley.

 

I certainly am not David, but I can affirm that I have experienced release from the tears and dark times through the grace of God, the love of His Son Jesus, the solace of the Comforter, and the soothing hands of His Church.   Beloved, rest assured that you are not alone as you go through your difficult times.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for you and He will guard and protect you as His own. [John 10:11]

 

Lift up your eyes and look for Jesus and He will give you strength. As incongruous as it sounds, while you are crying tears of grief, sorrow, fear or pain, you can experience peace and even joy because He has you in His arms and there really is nothing to fear.   Martin Luther says it well in the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

 

 

One day you will be able to look in the rear view mirror of your life and see the valley that you climbed out of, and you will be able to praise His Name as you thank Him for His kindness and grace, even in those dark times.

 

Joy is possible even as tears linger on your cheek!

 

Father, I thank You for being with me through your Son, my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, my Comforter. Thank You for the truth that You are sovereign and that nothing will frustrate your plans for me or for your church. Thank You for bringing me through the valley and for holding me even when my tears flowed. Thank You for your love.

 

 

 

OF TRUCKS, TRIALS AND TRIPS

We had occasion to be traveling on the highways of our country a lot recently.   If you spend any time at all on the roads, you will run into trucks. Well, hopefully not actually run into them, but you will come across them along the way. In fact, as we left a small town in Virginia, I counted over 60 trucks going in the opposite direction, on the other side of the interstate, in the span of about 20 minutes.

 

Trucks along interstate (C)
Trucks along Interstate 40.

 

The roads in East Tennessee are hilly, curvy and picturesque. Trucks that run the route often know when the road gets tricky to negotiate and, for the most part, they handle the hills and curves well, usually sharing the road with the smaller cars and vans without difficulty or incident.

Trucks going up and down hills on interstate outside Knoxville (C)
Trucks going up and down hills on the Interstate.

 

However, one thing that I noticed is that there are times when even strong, big, heavy trucks have difficulty climbing the hills, especially when the truck is heavily loaded and the weight is simply too much to travel at significant speed. When this scenario unfolds, the truck with the especially heavy load will move to the right lane, put its flashing lights on, and plod slowly up the incline, while the trucks coming upon them in traffic will line up behind them until there is an opening in which to pass the slower truck.

 

Trucks passing along interstate (C)
Trucks passing each other.

 

We were passing a truck loaded with heavy materials that required slow travel up the incline and I was reminded of how I can get bogged down in my Christian life when sin enters and I allow it to remain.

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

Psalm 38:4 [ESV]

This huge truck that can easily travel at highway speed was limping up the mountain side, held back by the sheer weight of its load on the steep incline.

The writer of Hebrews warns us to be aware of sin that “clings” to us:

 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 [ESV]

When I am loaded down with sin, or with guilt because of past sins, I can no longer climb the hills placed before me. Instead, I am grounded and unable to accomplish the work that Christ has for me. I have effectively taken myself out of the game … sidelined and unable to properly function … I am like the weighed down truck trying to race uphill.

This thought then prompted me to recall a study that the women did at church last year, specifically, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory of the Christian lifeThe pilgrim was originally named Graceless but he received a new name of Christian after coming to faith in Christ.  He was trying to walk in the Christian Way and was having great difficulty because he was carrying a heavy backpack that was loaded with his sin and guilt.   As Christian approached the cross, he received a fuller view of Christ and the work that was done on the cross for him. It was then that his heavy backpack fell off through no effort of his own; and, as it tumbled down into the tomb, Christian felt the comfort of being covered in his Savior’s care.

David describes this condition in Psalm 51:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:9-12 [ESV]

David had sinned … he knew that and he knew that God knew that! He prayed that God would clean his heart, wipe out the sin, be present with him once more, and restore the joy that came from the salvation granted by God.

This is the joy and comfort that Christian felt when his backpack loosened and fell into the tomb at Christ’s cross.

It is the same joy that I can have when I confess my sin and leave it at the foot of the cross.

It is the same joy and comfort that you can experience when you are released from carrying around sin and guilt that has accumulated for years (dare I say decades?)!

Praise the Lord that Christ’s work on the cross enables us to shed the weight of sin and guilt so that we can climb mountains at full speed while we do the work that He has ordained for us to do. We may be called carry heavy weights for Him, but the task will be eased when we remember that our sin is gone and that Christ and His Spirit are with us.

Jesus said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:29-30 [ESV]

We will be yoked with Christ, each mile of the road on our trip with our Savior and Lord.   We will not limp along, unable to prevail in our work.  His power will strengthen and enable us to do the task.  Praise His holy Name.

 

Father, I pray that you would forgive me when I complain about the weight of the task ahead. Help me to remember that You are with me, that your Son is yoked with me and that your Spirit will give me strength to carry on even in the face of difficulties. Help me to honor and glorify You in my life, words, deed, and worship.