IMITATION

Have you ever tried to imitate someone?

When we were in England eight years ago, we went to London so the Beatles fans in the family could see Abbey Road.  Then, in typical tourist style, the four men in the family walked across the street, in an apparent attempt to imitate the album cover!

Abbey road

When I look at the picture, I have to smile seeing the totally serious faces of the participants!

In June 2018 I used this same picture in a blog entitled “Who do you imitate?”.  Apparently the Lord wants me to reinforce this thought in the blog site!  Please refer to that blog for additional thoughts on our duty of imitation.

The Greek definition of the word “imitate” relates to one who mimics or who is an actor.  In Vine’s Expository Dictionary, it is noted that the verb “imitate” is always used in exhortations and always in the continuous tense, suggesting a constant habit of practice.

So, do you make it a habit of imitating those Christians who have provided us examples of Christlike actions?  Think about these exhortations:

WE SHOULD IMITATE THE CONDUCT OF MISSIONARIES

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,  nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.  It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

WE SHOULD IMITATE THE FAITH OF SPIRITUAL GUIDES

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Hebrews 13:7

WE SHOULD IMITATE THAT WHICH IS GOOD

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 1:11

God is good, and we should imitate this characteristic of our Heavenly Father.  God’s goodness is shown in His benevolence toward us, His creatures.  In like manner, we should reflect His goodness.  How?  We should imitate His goodness in our benevolence to others.  This may look different for each of us as we relate to others in our own unique manner, but it should have the same fundamental characteristic – the actions should be for the benefit of the other person without regard to whether they thank us, like us or even know that we did anything for them.  Our benevolence is based in God and in our transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Recall when Christ healed the 10 lepers.  The story is found in Luke’s gospel.

And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance  and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:12-19

Ten were healed of the dreaded disease leprosy.  Ten men went from having to stand outside the city, without family or friends, covering their mouth and crying “Unclean, Unclean”.  Ten men went from having no interaction with society to being welcomed home, in the community and at the synagogue.  But, only one came back to thank Him.

Scripture says that all ten of the men were healed as they were walking to the synagogue.  There is no indication that their healing was reversed when they failed to give thanks.

One said thank you to our Lord.

We, too, are diseased.  Oh, not with leprosy but with a disease just as deadly and putrid – sin.  Oh that we would have a realistic understanding of how grievous our sin is to God, how God will not look at sinful creatures.  He sent His Son to take our sin upon Himself so that we could come to God and become His children, children who God can look upon because what He sees, instead of our sin, is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been given to us through the blood of Christ.

May we imitate that one man who turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.   May we recognize our sin and thank God through Christ Jesus for wiping it away, for cleansing us, now and forever.  Once we are cleansed from our sin, may we imitate our God and Father Who lavishes His benevolence on us.  When we give to others, when we help others, when we do for others without their knowledge, we are imitating our Father.  Praise His Holy Name.

Father, so often we minimize our sin, saying it was just a ”white lie” or “not as bad as murder” when there is no gradation of “sin”.  Disobedience to Your Word is sin, no matter how we may want to characterize it.  Thank You for sending Your Son to be our atoning sacrifice that paid for the consequences of our sin.  Thank You for calling us to Yourself through the Holy Spirit, and enabling us to imitate Your benevolence to those You place in our world.

UNITY AND THE BODY

Recently I saw a cartoon based on Deuteronomy 27:6 which reads:

“you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, …”

I then found it on a website of funny Christian jokes:

burnt offering - funny-christian-jokes-christian-humor

The drawing presented this scenario:   A family sitting down to dinner, with heads bowed and hands folded.  Mom and Dad at the ends of the table with Junior on the side between them.  This evening, Junior had been asked to pray.  The expression on the faces of his parents reflects horror when he prays:

“We want to thank you Lord for all that you have given us. In return, I hope you like this burnt offering my Mom prepared for all of us …”

The desire to thank the Lord is wonderful.  The burnt offering analogy is a bit harsh and not at all in the context of what Scripture was directing.

We often see this frequently humorous but still misguided effort from children.  But sometimes we see it duplicated in adults as well. Then, it is not quite so humorous.  

You know, the joke that has too much salt in it not to hurt; the backhanded comment that was not intended for the subject to hear, but they did; the criticism that came from a lack of understanding all the circumstances; and the list could go on and on. 

What do we do then?  Frequently we laugh and shrug it off, as if it did not matter.  But it often does.

Many times, the response is for feelings to get hurt, anger to burst into flames, frustrations fester and relationships can be broken, sometimes irrevocably. While this is indeed unfortunate in our social or work environment, it is heartbreaking when something like this divides the Church.  Not only is it heartbreaking, it is unnecessary.

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia established in 1802

As Christians, we have been touched by the Holy Spirit and He lives within us.  It is His work that convicts us of our sin, teaches us of God’s will, enlightens us as to the Word of God, etc.  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  He is just as much God as is the Father and as is Jesus Christ, the Son. 

How the Holy Spirit indwells each and every Christian is beyond my understanding, but it is a doctrine that I believe and I have experienced His work in my life.  So, while I don’t understand the “how”, I understand the “fact”.

Church with cross in front
Illinois church with cross on their building

Since there is only one Holy Spirit, and since He is within each believer, how come Christians often can’t stand each other?   I submit that it is the natural man coming out … the sin nature that all of us have.  After all, Satan does not want the Church to be successful, to be unified, to be fruitful.  It is his desire that no one hears of Christ, that no one remains resolute in their faith, that no one looks to the Lord on a daily basis. 

Church in snow
 Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in Roanoke, Virginia

Instead, we need to be mindful of Paul’s exhortation that we be unified as Christians. 

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Ephesians 4:1-7

We as Christians are to be one … one in the spirit, one in the Lord.  But, this does not mean that all are identical.  We are, indeed, all sinners saved by grace.  That is to be sure.  But, we are not clones of each other, although we are all in the process of being transformed into the image of our Lord and Savior.  (See Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18) 

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Rather, the Lord has given each of us varying gifts and talents that are for His use in accomplishing His purpose in the world through us.  Just as our body is not composed of one part, like the lung, neither is the Body of Christ composed of one part, all Christians being the same.  So, there will be differences in worship style, in church buildings, in mission efforts … but the fundamentals are identical – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. 

Just as all the churches pictured above look different and have varying worship styles and languages, if they honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, if they teach from His Word, if they praise His Name, if they baptize in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if they praise and glorify God the Father, then we can call them brothers and sisters in the Lord.  The variety of church styles, worship styles, song styles is immaterial as long as the fundamentals are in place.

Don’t let division among Christians cause any to leave the fellowship, cause the church to split, cause brothers and sisters to go against each other in anger.  Through the power of the Spirit, resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Keep the church, the Body of Christ, unified and healthy.

Blessings to each of you as you walk in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that these words will bear fruit for Your Kingdom.  I pray that the Body of Christ will remain strong and vibrant, that it will grow and bear much fruit for the Lord Jesus Christ.  I pray that Satan will be kept away from our churches so that the doctrine will remain pure, so that the parishioners will remain strong, and so that the church’s witness will proceed to go throughout the land untarnished by division or backbiting among its members.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – SOVEREIGNTY

Unlike centuries ago, we no longer have many sovereigns in our world today.  When we visited England, we stayed in London and went to Buckingham Palace, one of the homes of Queen Elizabeth II.  It is in downtown London and it takes up significant acreage with the palace, gardens and grounds.

2011-04 England 139

Looking at Buckingham Palace from across the grounds you can get a glimpse at the magnitude of the Queen’s residence. 

2011-04 England 152

Standing closer, we could see the guard making his route securing the sovereign, as we were on the other side of the gate looking in with a throng of others.  

We in the United States have a hard time with the concept of “sovereignty”.  Our whole corporate psyche is centered on freedom.  We believe that we were born free, to live as and where we choose while doing whatever it is that we want to do.  No caste system.  No one dictating what profession or job we must take.  No one telling us where we can or cannot live.  

Having a person over us who is sovereign is exactly what our forefathers rebelled against and it was the springboard for the Revolutionary War between our country and England.

So, when we come to the attribute of God that is titled “Sovereignty”, we have a hard time comprehending all that such term entails.  It is easy to speak the words that “God is in control of everything.”  But the reality of a Sovereign God is much more far-reaching than a platitude.

In Exodus chapter 18, we have a beautiful vignette of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro:

“And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and [how] the LORD had delivered them. Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, “Blessed [be] the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, [and] who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the LORD [is] greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, [He was] above them.“”

Exodus 18:8-11 NKJV

Jethro was glad for the deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel and, after Moses had described all that God had done in Egypt, Jethro rejoiced and praised the LORD who is sovereign over all.  Nothing that some people may attribute to a god is outside His sovereign control.

The Psalmist says this about God’s sovereignty:

“Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”

Psalm 115:2-3

God is sovereign over all mankind or anything that he worships, nothing compares to our God and Lord.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

Proverbs 21:1

God is sovereign over other monarchs on earth – while the king might be making plans, the Lord God controls that which happens.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Proverbs 16:33

As with kings, even the common man is subject to the sovereignty of God.  Men cast lots and then make their decisions based on that result, but God is the One who controls the decision that the lot mandates.

In fact, God is even sovereign over the actions of animals.

Recall what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31

Now, remember Jonah’s free transportation in the belly of the great fish, and then, at the word of the Lord, his being catapulted from the fish onto dry land.  Jonah 2:10.   Also, remember how God gave Balaam’s donkey the power of speech when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the street, but his master did not.  Numbers 22.

There is nothing outside the control of God’s loving hand.

  • Not the plans of the wicked even if they are dictators or despots.
  • Not the way our physical world works which sometimes seems to be in opposition to mankind such as when there are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, or droughts.
  • Not the actions of demons or even Satan, remember how Satan had to get permission to test Job and could only take action within the confines established by God.
  • Not even my own free will. Regarding salvation, we may believe that we accepted Jesus through our own free will, but even then, it is God Who quickens our heart to become aware of our sin and our need of His grace. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:28, 38-39 

God’s sovereignty is a tremendous comfort to the believer because it enables him to have confidence that he does not need to fear, God is still on His throne and He is still sovereign – in charge – in control, no matter what might be going on in this temporal world.

We must remember that when sin entered the world, man had turned himself into a headlong catapult toward sickness, illness, pain, sorrow and death.  God intervened in Genesis 3:15 where we learn of a Redeemer, a Savior Who will pay the price of sin and redeem God’s children for Himself.  We all must die physically because of the curse of sin on our mortal bodies.  But, we don’t have to die spiritually if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.   

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37

Beloved, God’s sovereignty is an attribute that is hard for us to comprehend but it is the basis of God’s providence.  We know that God’s will, His providence, shall prevail because God’s sovereignty mandates it.  Nothing can defeat God’s will.  Praise His Holy Name!

God’s sovereignty + His love for His children

=

Unassailable confidence and comfort for the believer.

 

Father, there are no words available to express my praise and love for You and for Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Lord, I cannot comprehend Your sovereignty and all that such attribute entails, but I do have confidence in You and Your sovereignty brings comfort to my heart.  Thank You, Lord.

 

LEGEND OR FACT?

When we visited England, one of the places we enjoyed seeing is the Uffington White Horse, a highly stylized prehistoric white chalk hill figure, measuring 360 feet long.  It has been said that the White Horse has been guarded as “a masterpiece of minimalist art” for over 3,000 years, as it dates from the late Bronze Age, sometime between 1380 and 550 BCE.

white horse from road long cropped
The Uffington White Horse from the road.

 This is a closer picture of the white horse figure. 

white horse close up

When standing on top of the mountain, this is what part of the figure looks like. 

white horse from atop mountain

Nearby are ice-cut terraces known as the “Giant’s Stair”.  Speculation is that these terraces at the bottom of this valley are the result of medieval farming.  The valley below the horse is known as the Manger and legend says that the horse grazes there at night.

White horse farming terraces

(The pictures were taken by us on our visit to England.  Much more information about the White Horse was accessed 10/17/17 and can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uffington_White_Horse .)

Numerous legends surround the White Horse and adjacent fields, and that prompted thoughts about legend viz-a-viz fact.  A legend can be generally defined as a story that has come down from the past, especially a story that is regarded as historical although not verifiable.

While there are legends in every culture, there is one story that is worldwide and which is most assuredly fact rather than legend – the story of God’s involvement with people on this earth as found in the text of the Holy Bible.  Indeed, neither the Old or New Testaments are either fiction or legend, rather they are the words of God as they were recorded by real people and as they have been preserved through the millennium by God’s hand.  Indeed, the Biblical text is self-authenticating; for example, the Old Testament is the record of God’s calling His people and of their history, prophets, priests and kings.  The New Testament contains the witness of that which the writers personally saw and heard.  It is a record of eyewitnesses testifying to the truth of their writing. 

I know that some have said that the Ten Commandments are only Ten Suggestions or perhaps Ten Good Ideas.  But, I beg to differ.  The Ten Commandments are, indeed, God’s Law given to Moses for a rule of life for God’s people. 

In fact, Jesus understood that the Ten Commandments were not legend or irrelevant fiction.  He taught about them and even broadened their application.  For example, consider what Jesus said about the Sixth Commandment as found in Exodus 20:13, His words recorded in Matthew 5:21-22:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

The Seventh Commandment as found in Exodus 20:14 was also referenced by Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Legends are fun to hear and the stories are entertaining to read.  But Scripture is not legend or fiction: it is a serious book to be read and studied.  The Holy Bible contains the very words of the Holy God, and they are as true today as when they were written and spoken thousands of years ago.

The real question, then, is what will you do with the Holy Bible? 

If the Holy God has given us His Word as a guide for living our lives, don’t you think we should read it? 

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”

James 4:17 New Living Translation

And if we read it, should we not take its words into our minds and hearts, thereby allowing God’s Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord?

Father, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14  May I love and read Your, and I ask that Your Holy Spirit would quicken my heart and let those words take root so that my actions conform with Your instructions.

 

SIGNS AND DIRECTIONS

 When we were in England, we saw several “roundabouts” which delineated the proper route to take at, what we in the United States would call, an intersection.

Road signs in England with two roundabouts
Road sign in England showing connected Roundabouts.

It is important to follow the signs, and this one was one of the more clear-cut signs that we encountered. 

Society sets out these signs to dictate to us how to travel, how to negotiate from one place to another, how to get us where we want to go via the safest route available. 

It is clear that the land planners have concluded that it is appropriate for the proper flow of traffic that vehicles on the highway move in one direction on that part of the road, the vehicles exiting where appropriate to continue with their trip.  While some people may find it offensive to have their direction of travel dictated by “the government”, there can be no real opposition to the concept that the direction of travel at that spot on the highway must conform to the roundabout’s directive or there will be serious mishaps with property damage and potential loss of life. 

Steven Wright, the erudite American scientist and humorist described travel in this way:

“When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.”

While this is certainly true on the highway, his statement could also be speaking of a wider application, such as a consideration of whether your positions and opinions are in the mainstream or in opposition to society.

In thinking about the Christian life, I would submit that Mr. Wright’s comment is spot on.  If we are following the crowd, if we are following the dictates of the culture, if we are joining in with society’s standards, values and positions, everything might be coming our way, but we are in the wrong lane – we are not on the road to righteousness, and we are not on the path of a life with Christ that leads to eternal life. 

Rather than following the crowd, the Christian would do well to remember what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In other words, as Christians we must not presuppose that our culture’s standards, ethics, values and morals are those of the Almighty God.  He is above our finite world and His ways are very different than ours. 

Mark Twain expressed this thought:

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Jesus talked about the majority position and its popularity when He said:

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14.

The fact that our ways are not those of God is highlighted by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus provides a glimpse into what God blesses, and illustrates that God’s ways are counter-cultural to be sure.  Here are just a few of the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 5, and I am using the Amplified Bible for this quotation:

Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever] [Luke 6:20-23]. 

Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent], for they shall be comforted [when the burden of sin is lifted]. [Isaiah 61:2]    

Blessed [inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect] are the meek (or humble, gentle) [the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled], for they shall inherit the earth. [Psalm 37:11] 

Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God], for they shall be [completely] satisfied.

Matthew 5:3-6.

So, what direction are you going?  What path are you following? 

Be counter—cultural.  Follow Jesus.  Take the roundabout that leads to the narrow path, and you will be blessed.  Jesus said it, so you can believe it.

Father, help me to follow You as I live in this world.  May my walk reflect Your ways even if that means it runs totally counter to society’s mandate.  May I have the strength and will to follow You, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

LEARNING – A LIFE-LONG ACTIVITY

School has been out four days this week due to illness.  So many teachers and students were ill with the flu/respiratory difficulties that the county school system was simply shut down. 

Although not wanting his friends to be sick, one of our grandsons remarked that it was a good day because the schools were closed.  We talked about that concept and he (being on the cusp of his 11th birthday) said he didn’t really like school.  Being the “older generation,” we responded that school was important for many reasons and that learning continued all through your life.

Learning — in our culture, we tend to think of learning as being confined to a strict educational setting such as a primary school for children.  

2011-04-england-031-watchfield-primary-school
Watchfield Primary School in England.  This is the school our grandchildren attended while living in England.

Some of us consider institutions of higher learning as the place where real education takes place.  While education and learning certainly does occur in colleges and universities, this is not the only place learning can take place. 

At the time of Jesus’ ministry, His disciples did not sit in classrooms to hear what Jesus was going to teach.  They walked the streets and hills with Him and listened as He talked along the way. They sat on the hillside when Jesus taught the thousands of people following Him.  They ate meals with Him and, after spending time in Zacchaeus’ house with Jesus, they heard Zacchaeus respond to Him by saying:

“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Luke 19:8 ESV

 They had, what we could certainly call, “hands on” learning.   Jesus said that He would make them “fishers of men.” 

I am not a fisher[wo]man and my Dad was not a fisherman.  In fact I only started eating fish, already cleaned, filleted, prepared and cooked, as an adult.  So, it was with interest that I visited Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishing is a thriving industry.  In 1925, the town erected this moving, and emotionally charged, monument at the harbor to honor those lost at sea. 

glouster-mass-mariner-58
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, Gloucester, Massachusetts

According to the National Park Service, The Mariner was created to “commemorate Gloucester’s 300th anniversary and to permanently memorialize the thousands of fishermen lost at sea in the first three centuries of Gloucester’s history. In 1879 alone, 249 fishermen and 29 vessels were lost during a terrible storm.”

A plaque on one side of the base reads, “Memorial To The Gloucester Fisherman, August 23, 1923”. A larger panel on the harbor-facing side of the base reads: “They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships 1623-1923”, in bronze letters, citing Psalm 107:23.

Fishing is still a part of Gloucester’s life.  For example, we saw fishermen mending their nets, an activity with which the early disciples would have been intimately familiar inasmuch as they too were fishermen.  Just watching this activity reminded us of the disciples Jesus called to walk with Him.

fishermen-tending-nets-53
Fishermen mending nets in Gloucester, Massachusetts

 “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Matthew 4:18-22 ESV

Fishing – it was their business, their trade, and it was what Jesus used to illustrate how He would use them in His kingdom.  He would make them “fishers of men.” 

They learned Jesus’ teachings, His way of life, His relationship with God, His desires for them to be witnesses to others, and much more. 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8 ESV

Jesus put the learning issue front and center when He 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.”

Matthew 11:29 ESV

How do we learn from Jesus today?  He is not here to personally instruct us in what He wants us to do or say on a day-to-day basis.  So, how do we know what we are to do in His service?

Scripture tells us exactly what He wants from His disciples.  

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

John 14:15 ESV

We are to keep His commandments, and they are found in Scripture.  Matthew 5 begins with the verses we call The Beatitudes – verses that describe the blessings in the kingdom of heaven.  This chapter continues with numerous verses that set out a portion of Jesus’ teaching on how we are to live.  Verses such as:

“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 ESV

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22 ESV

If you want to know how you are to live as a disciple of Jesus, read His Word, the Holy Bible and you will find your answer.  The primary commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and that we love our neighbor as ourselves.  Deuteronomy 6:5 and Luke 10:27.  But there are many other commandments that relate to how we are to live and fulfill the primary commandment above.

Learning – we learn in many ways.  I pray that you and I would focus our desires to learn that which pleases our Lord and may we actively take steps to learn His commands so that we can obey His words and please him in our life, actions, words and thoughts.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to seek You and learn of Your ways through Your Holy Word.  Holy Spirit, I pray that You would enlighten my heart so that I can understand and follow my Lord’s commands always.

AN ACTIVITY BASED ON A RELATIONSHIP

For the past several years, I have been privileged to be included on a prayer list of concerns raised by some precious children in a nearby elementary school.  They participate in The Good News Club, an after school ministry for a couple of hours once a week, and part of that time is spent in prayer.  They then give the leader their prayer requests and it is sent to the various praying participants via email.

As an older adult, it is heart-warming, and sometimes humorous, to read some of their prayer requests. 

  • Praise that a child’s mom came back to be with her family.
  • Prays that his great-grandmother gets better.
  • Pray for her teacher’s daughter, that she stops coughing.
  • Pray that a fever blister in her mouth will go away
  • Pray that he can pay attention
  • Pray that the dog will stop barking

Each request, however, reflects a concern that these precious children have, either at home or at school.  In other words, these concerns touch their entire universe. 

As adults, we have learned to be a bit more obtuse when we pray.  Asking for some specific thing for our own selves might be too brash. So, we will phrase it in some other way so that we might be able to trick God into thinking we are praying for others, when it is actually our own desires at issue.  Even when intervening on behalf of someone else, most often we tell God what we want Him to do.

In the Canterbury Cathedral, as in the other cathedrals we visited in England, there were many tombs of various persons and heads of the church.  We found it interesting that the archbishops were, almost always, depicted with their hands clasped in prayer.

canterbury-cathedral-tomb
Ornate tomb of an archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

I don’t know if they were praying for their own soul or if they were praying for their congregation, but I do know that prayers of intervention for others are appropriate.  For example, Paul says:

We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong, and our prayer is for your perfection.

 2 Corinthians 13:9.

tomb-of-one-of-the-archbishops-of-canterbury
Tomb of Archbishop John Bird Sumner, 1780-1862, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

In Colossians 1:3-4 he tells his readers that he thanks God for their faith when he prays for them.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…

Notice, however, that Paul’s prayers are not a laundry list of things that Paul wanted.  He certainly did not see the Father as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who would give out goodies for his personal benefit  … he didn’t even pray to be released from prison!  Read Acts chapter 16 for the incredible story of Paul in jail in Philippi, which was a leading city in the district of Macedonia.

Rather, Paul’s prayers related to strengthening the spiritual welfare of the believers, to the continued spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for healing to occur so that God’s power would be revealed and He would get the glory.

Paul understood that, fundamentally, prayer is a conversation between two parties … the believer in Christ Jesus and God.  But these parties are not peers:  they are not equal in any manner.   We are the creation, and we are mortal.  We are sinners and the best we have to offer God is likened to giving Him filthy rags. 

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah 64:6 [NIV]

But for God’s sending Jesus Christ, we would not be able to have any prayer life because we could not approach God due to our sin.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection defeated the control sin has over us when He clothed us in His righteousness.  That is what God sees … sinners clothed in Jesus’ righteousness who were saved by His Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord. 

Thank God for the righteousness that has been given to you through Jesus Christ.  Grow in your relationship with the Father, feed it with study of His Word, sit quietly and let Him speak to you so that your prayers are not a one-sided conversation that is a thinly veiled demand that God act in a certain way to satisfy your temporal desires. 

praying hands
Praying Hands.

While we can, and must, pray for the children and their concerns, our prayers must first be recognition of Who God is and we should give thanks for God’s gift of grace, His holiness, His attributes of love, patience, goodness, beauty, … the list could go on. 

Through prayer, we can have an intimate relationship with God, the Creator and Sustainer of all. But we must remember that we cannot just barge into God’s court with our demands even if they are camouflaged as requests.  We must have respect and reverence for the Almighty God.   So, start your prayer with time in adoration of Him.  Then, that adoration will naturally lead to confession of those times when we have fallen short of His desires for us.  This will flow into thankfulness for the forgiveness and cleansing from our sin that He gives to us through Jesus Christ.  And then, and only then, launch into a prayer of supplication.  This pattern of prayer is often referred to by the acrostic ACTS.

  • A – adoration of God
  • C – confession of our sins
  • T – thanksgiving for His cleansing of our sins
  • S – supplication for others and then, and only then, for ourselves

Offer God prayers of praise and thanksgiving multiple times per day.  Praise Him for His love and wondrous works on our behalf.  Praise Him for allowing us to come before Him in prayer. Thank Him and let your spirit be, first and foremost, one of gratitude in prayer.  Then see if your prayer life takes on new vibrancy when you intercede for others.

A singer from my youth was George Beverly Shea, who frequently sang at the Billy Graham Crusades.  On his album Echoes of My Soul, he sings a song entitled “Early in the Morning”.  Listen and think about what you can thank the Lord for today!

 

Father, I thank You for giving me the privilege of coming into Your presence through Your Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I thank You for promising to hear my petitions and I know that You will answer them according to Your divine will.  I praise Your name for Your grace and love, extended to all those to believe in the name of Your Son.  Strengthen us in prayer as we seek to serve you in our world.

REPURPOSED

Do you ever feel like you prepared for one thing in your life but that didn’t work out and you are lost now.  What do you do?  Is your training worthless?  Did you follow where you thought God was leading, only to find that your path was blocked?  Did God make a mistake?

Well, the answer to the last question is an unequivocal NO.  God did not, indeed He cannot, make a mistake. 

I suggest that when your life path takes an unexpected twist that you find disconcerting or even disappointing, God is preparing you for His purpose. 

watshfield-book-swap-repurpose-phone-booth-in-england
Phone booth and postal box in Watchfield, England

When we were in England, we saw the quintessential examples of English life – the postal box and the telephone booth.  The postal box was still used for its originally intended purpose.

However, just as in the U.S., the telephone booth was a thing of the past.  As we noticed throughout the country, England has a history of preserving things rather than demolishing them. There were houses that were well over 500 years old, still in use and still as they were centuries ago, at least on the outside.  Given that culture of preserving things, in the village of Watchfield, England, the telephone booth was not removed, it was simply put to another use.

english-phone-booth-close-up
Sign showing new purpose for outdated phone booth — a book swap location!

While the phone connections were removed, shelves were installed and the antiquated phone booth became a Book Swap location.   In fact, the booth probably had more business with people depositing, taking and returning books than it had before its “repurposing”.

When it appears that God fits you for one task and then that assignment changes, from a human perspective, we become discouraged and sometimes we even question whether we misunderstood what God wanted us to do in the first place.

I know because it is exactly what I experienced.  I believed that God wanted me to be a teacher, specifically an elementary school teacher, when I went to college.  After two years in ElemEd, I had less than a stellar grade in “Games and Rhythms”, a course that all the students took to get “an easy A”.  I was active in music, both instrumentally and vocal, but for some reason I was almost flunking this course. 

I spoke with my guidance counselor and he suggested that, perhaps, God was telling me to change my major.  After considering that Math, Science and History were not realistic options for me, I changed my college major to English secondary education.  In this drastically harder curriculum I had a grade level of 3.8 (out of 4, not 10). 

I believed that God had a purpose for this curriculum change but that conviction was challenged when I could not find any teaching position upon graduation.  Instead, I found myself working as a secretary/administrative assistant in banking and the law for the next 11 years. 

Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.

1 Chronicles 16:23

Did I misunderstand what God wanted me to do?  Was that wasted time?  It certainly did not help me as a secretary but that doesn’t mean that they were wasted years.

I suggest that God used all of that training in various ways through the years.  In working with children in youth clubs at church, in leading vacation Bible school events with young children, in teaching older children in Sunday School, in developing youth programs at various churches I have attended. 

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!

Psalm 105:2

The digression from education into an office environment proved providential also – in each position that I held, my employer noted my abilities and suggested that I attend law school, even where there was no law school in the immediate area.  Eleven years post-college, I did attend law school and a 30 year career as an attorney followed.

When the phone booth no longer is relevant, it is time to repurpose and it becomes a well-worn book swap.  If we leave our spiritual eyes open, He will lead us.  He will not leave you stranded … He loves you and He desires for you to be useful in His kingdom.  He uses every event, every experience, every class … He uses everything in your past to pour into your future service for Him.

Why?  Because He know exactly what His plan is for you. 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

He not only has a plan, He wants us to tell others about what He has done in our life through His plan: we are to be witnesses to others about His grace and love.

saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in Him.”

Hebrews 2:12-13

God knows exactly who He is going to put in your way so that

  • you can recount your similar experience to support and encourage that person in their walk with the Lord. “Tell of all His wondrous works.”  
  • you can recount how He worked in your life when problems seemed insurmountable so that you can counsel the other person with the knowledge that God does not change, He will work on their behalf just as he did for you. “Tell of his salvation from day to day”
  • you can recount the blessings that He has brought to your life. “I will tell of your name to my brothers”

Repurposing is not bad – it is one way that God equips us for the walk that He has predestined for us.  In your “waiting time”, don’t give up.  He is teaching you something even as you are waiting for “the” assignment.  In fact, that waiting period may well be just the assignment that He has for you.  Thank Him for it and see how your attitude and appreciation for the work and for your Lord grows day by day.

Here Damaris presents the song “I know the plans I have for you” from her album The Heart of God.

 

Lord, I pray that I would be patient and confident in Your guidance and love for me, even in the waiting periods of life.  I pray that even when I would do the work that You would have me to do, it would be all for Your glory through the power of the Holy Spirit and for the praise of God, the Father Almighty.

A GOD OF BEAUTY!

Beauty.  Our culture seems to idolize the beautiful people.  Mega-dollar industries have been built on providing cosmetics, beautifying potions, exercise machines to make the body sleek, to name just a few examples, all for making people beautiful.  But what is beauty, really? Is physical beauty really what is important?

 

The Merriam Webster online dictionary [found at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/] provides one definition of “beauty” as “The quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit; loveliness.”   I like this definition.

 

In his book, The Holiness of God, p. 196-7, Dr. R. C. Sproul states that God is the source of beauty.  Indeed, that beauty is one of the attributes of our Divine Creator.

 

God Himself is the ground of all unity and diversity, of simplicity and complexity. His very being is internally consistent and harmonious and proportionate.  In him there are no distortions, no disorder, no ugliness.  His voice admits to no noise or cacophony. The works of his hands are cosmos, not chaos.  Chaos is marked by disorder and confusion; it is manifest irrationally. The beauty of God is a sane and rational beauty in that his being is one of perfect sanity and order.  Insofar as the beautiful bears witness to these qualities, they bear witness to Him. … To cultivate an appreciation for beauty is to set our course to follow after the sublime Author of all beauty.

 

Appreciation for beauty is a consistent theme throughout the Bible.  The Old Testament Scriptures are particularly appreciative of the beauty of nature. God announced that creation was good in Genesis and, after the creation of mankind, the penultimate act of creation, God declared it to be “very good”!   Then, in Exodus we read:

 

Exodus 28:2 – “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”

These words were spoken by God when He gave the instructions and directions for the Tabernacle to be built in the wilderness and for the dishes and implements to be used, even down to the detail to be included on the clothing to be worn by the priests.  Note, God included as a characteristic of the holy garments that they are “for beauty”.

 

The psalms exhibit an appreciation for God’s handiwork in numerous passages.  Consider Psalm 8:1, 3-4:

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens. … When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

 

Psalm 19:1 states:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”

 

Psalm 104 describes God’s mighty work in creation noting that He set the earth on its foundations and going on to describe the individual parts of creation all under the umbrella of the prayer “Bless the LORD, O my soul!”

 

Listen to Brentwood Jazz Quartet’s rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King” from their album The Best of the Brentwood Jazz Quartet.

 

Take some time to look at the pictures as you listen to the music, and then meditate on the following Scriptures.  Renew your sense of the beautiful and praise God for His wondrous works.

 

Yosemite 2011 WRM 095 Overlook of Kings Canyon National Park (C)
King’s Canyon scenic overlook, California, USA. Majesty and power reflected in the glory of creation.

 

Psalm 96:6 – “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”

 

Sunset and clouds 3
Sunset and clouds show God’s pallet of colors!

 

 

Psalm 104:19 – “He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.”

 

Brook trees and mountain Oregon 2009 141
Mountain, trees and brook in Oregon, USA.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

 

Bath Abbey (C)
The door at Bath Abby in Bath, England. Craftsmen creating a beautiful place for worship of a God Who loves beauty.

 

1 Chronicles 16:29 [KJV] – “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

 

Baby girl 1 month old
A baby girl, full of promise and beauty.

 

Proverbs 31:30 – Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

1 Peter 3:3-4  – Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

 

 

Ocean verticle sun going down
Sunset over the ocean, an acknowledgement that the day is over but the ocean continues to roar and churn, as ordained by our Creator God.

 

Psalm 104:25 – “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.”

 

Schmerhorn building in Nsahville Symphony and choir ready to perform
The Schermerhorn Symphony center in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Orchestra and choir ready to sing a sacred concert to the glory of God in their performance of Dr. R. C. Sproul’s hymn collection “Glory to the Holy One”.

 

 

Psalm 104:33 – “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”

 

Snowy tranquility (C)
Snowy tranquility. Snow blankets our surroundings and causes us to stop and cherish the silent beauty of God’s world.

 

Psalm 51:7 – Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

 

 

Father, I pray that my meditation is pleasing to You, for I rejoice in You and your Holy Name.  (Psalm 103:34)  I pray that these pictures, this music and these humble words would be used by Your Spirit to encourage and strengthen those who read this post.  I pray that You would use Your Word to speak to the heart and minds of those who encounter these passages of Scripture.  Father, I pray that You would be glorified in all things.