A CHRISTIAN LIFE – IS IT SOLITARY OR IN COMMUNITY?

There are times when I wonder if I should be a hermit so I could be quiet and introspective.  Then there are other times that I am glad I am in a community of believers where I am nourished and fed spiritually as well as emotionally and socially.

When we were in Colorado we saw the quintessential example of one who apparently preferred their own company to that of others.

bridge-to-house-in-colorado-mountains
A beautiful cabin in the high mountain woods!

Here, in the high mountains of Colorado, stands a house with a chasm between the roadway and the front door.  It is not a gentle slope that one could walk down and then up to get to the house. Oh no, it is truly a chasm.  It reminded me of the castle of yesteryear with the moat around it and the gate that came down thereby allowing visitors to enter the castle or, conversely, to keep them out!

There was no gate that opened allowing passage over the chasm at this house – rather it had its own bridge.  Look at the picture carefully and you can see the green bridge from the road to the cabin.

When we returned home, Bill found out that this cabin has a name — Thoreau’s Cabin.  A real estate brochure description of the place says this:

FULLY FURNISHED log cabin located along the national “Alpine Loop Scenic Byway”.  …  Spectacular setting in the rugged San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  Dramatic Mountain views in every direction; cabin is surrounded by 13,000 foot mountain peaks. … Cabin is located on five private acres at 11,450 foot elevation in Hinsdale County, Colorado.  Cabin borders the 102,000 acre nationally designated “Uncompahgre Wilderness” area. Henson Creek runs through the property with views of multiple scenic waterfalls.  150 foot long suspension bridge over Henson Creek provides access to cabin via private parking area. 

The brochure (that has more pictures) was accessed February 14, 2017 and can be found online at http://lakecitycoloradorealestate.com/15001-County-Road-20-a153865.html

A disclaimer here — I am not making any comment about the people who live there.  I don’t know them and I don’t even know their name.  I can say that I completely appreciate their selection of the view that they have from their home – it is incredible.  I can also say that I would try to insure that I had enough food to last me through the winter because I would not want to be driving that road with the snow and ice that most certainly would come in buckets! And, finally, I would note that someone would have to carry me across that bridge since I suspect my legs would give out at the first step!

However, in all seriousness, I am looking at this view and thinking about those Christians who assert that it is possible to maintain a strong Christian life without associating with other Christians. They build walls around themselves, excluding others from sharing their Christian walk.  They purposefully set themselves apart from others so that they have no, or very limited, interaction with them.  In so doing, they deprive themselves of the encouragement fellow believers could give them.  They preclude others from giving wise counsel so as to prevent error in their doctrine. They miss out on the celebration of joys that others have, and they miss out on the personal joy that comes from helping others in need.  Most of all, they voluntarily extract themselves from the Body of Christ.

Luke, the writer of the book Acts in the Bible, said:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 2:42 ESV

That is the description of the early church.  And each believer, even in 2017, should follow this pattern.  Meet together with other believers for worship, for teaching, for the fellowship, for communion and for prayer.  Don’t try to go it alone.

Each person’s relationship with Jesus is individual and no one, not even your own parents or spouse, can receive Jesus into your heart nor can they put their Christianity over you like a blanket.  That being said, Christianity is not a solitary lifestyle.  It is a life in unity with Christ and with other believers.

Here is a parable that illustrates this point:

The story is told of the man who did not go to church and who lived alone. 

Although he had attended church in the past, that was a long time ago and he did not see any reason to go now. 

The new pastor came to visit him and the man silently opened the door and gave a mute welcome, gesturing to a chair in front of the blazing fire.  The minister entered and sat down.  Both men rocked in front of the fire without any words being exchanged.

Finally, the pastor took the fireplace tongs and grabbed a blazing coal, taking it out of the center of the fire and putting it on the edge of the fireplace.  Still there was no conversation.

After a time, the coal that had been blazing was nothing but a lump of partly burned wood, no blaze, no heat, just some distasteful smoke arose wafting toward the ceiling. 

Silently, the two men looked at the coal for a few moments when the pastor took the tongs and replaced the coal into the fire.  Within moments the coal, that seemed to be dead, was blazing and providing heat and light to the room.

The pastor stood up and, rising slowly, the old man stood:  “I’ll be in church on Sunday morning, Parson.”

A coal cannot continue burning when taken out of the fire. 

The Christian cannot grow in a holy life without corporate worship, prayer and fellowship with other believers.

I pray that you are in communion with other Christians often, that you pray for them and support them with encouragement, assistance and love.  Enjoy peace and quiet but don’t forgo Christian relationships as you study, sing, worship and pray together.

Blessings to you, this day. 

Father, thank You for giving us the Church, the Body of Christ, so that we can worship You and we can grow in our faith, in our understanding of Your Word, and in our transformation into the likeness of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

A CONSUMING FIRE

This past weekend, my husband and I spent a beautiful evening at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where we enjoyed dinner at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee, with our children and their spouses as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

dancing-bear-welcome
Greeting as you begin the entrance to the Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro Restaurant.

Then we spent the night at the Dancing Bear Lodge, all compliments of the children.  Yesterday we left the lodge rested, thanking the children for their thoughtful gift, and praising the Lord for the beauty of the mountains surrounding us.

dancing-bear-lodge-sign
Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro entrance, Townsend, Tennessee

As we drove back home, we saw the smoke from the forest fires that have been plaguing our area for the past several weeks.  We are in the midst of a severe drought and the mountain woods are dry creating the perfect setting for forest fires.  We stopped at a little store in the area and spoke with a police officer about the status of the fires.  He said that there were a couple of small spots still burning uncontrolled on the other side of the mountain but he did not know of any real concern at this point.

We continued on our 45 minute trip home and brought our things in from the car.  In the afternoon, we turned on the television to learn the upcoming weather and heard about a cold front that was coming and that would bring strong winds and rain.

We were aware that the wind had kicked up significantly because we experienced this as we were driving home.  The reality was that the wind was blowing in excess of 80 miles per hour in the high mountains.  One result of that strong wind was that embers were picked up and blown a long way, some over a mile from the fire source, where they landed on dry leaves and a whole new fire started.  A second result was that trees were blown over and when they hit power poles the fallen power lines fell on dry leaves and burst into flames.

In short, in just 15 minutes, there were multiple new fires all burning out of control and all headed toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, two vacation tourist areas adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The fires were all-consuming.  This morning, the report is that well over 100 structures have been destroyed, including resorts, free-standing restaurants, and multi-story hotels.  The firefighters have not been able to get up into the mountains to check on how many homes have been destroyed, but there were over 1,000 people staying in shelters after mandatory evacuation orders were given for their protection.

Watching the videos taken from cars as they were driving down the mountain roads with fires on both sides of the street reminded me of the Scripture describing God as a “consuming fire”.

In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read this warning:

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

We think of God as our Father, and for the believer He certainly is that because of the salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord.  He loves His people and has done everything that He can do to protect us and bring us to eternal life with Him.

But we often don’t remember that He is a jealous God. He wants us to worship Him alone.  We are not to worship idols that replace His rightful place in our life.    Those idols are insidious, they interject themselves into our lives in what is seemingly innocuous ways.  For example:

  • Family – we love our families and we take care of them, indeed, Scripture tells us to do so. The family is a gift from God.  But when our family pushes God out of the picture, the family is now a forbidden idol.
  • Money – we are told in Scripture to work so that we can take care of ourselves and our family and so that we can donate funds to help others. Money is good.  But, when money becomes our god so that we hoard it, we strive to get more and more, we look to it for our security and happiness, when we take pride in how much we have accumulated without recognition that all things come from God, money has now become a forbidden idol.
  • Fame – we want to be well known so that we can spread the gospel to others, something that Scripture tells us to do. But, when we seek fame for our own glory, when we believe that we have accomplished these things on our own without acknowledging God’s role in our success, we have made fame a forbidden idol.

The list could go on and on, but the point is that God will not tolerate idols in our lives.

In Hebrews 12:28-29, the writer tells us this:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

We are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

A series of natural events collided in East Tennessee causing devastation and loss by fire  — extreme drought and dry conditions, strong winds whipping embers to new locations, downed trees cutting power lines thereby igniting leaves below.  I pray that we would search our own lives to see if there are any activities or conditions that would collide with our love for God — effectively pushing God out of our lives or diminishing our trust and devotion to Him.

I pray that

  • our worship is acceptable to God and that we come to Him in reverence and awe of His majesty, power, glory and honor.
  • we come to Him with contrite hearts, asking for forgiveness for our sin and seeking His power to live lives that are acceptable to Him.
  • we would worship and seek His face when we interact with others to spread the gospel.
  • we would seek His mighty hand to stop the raging forest fires and that He would comfort and strengthen those who have suffered such significant injury and loss.

Father, please put out Your hand and stop the devastating forest fires now raging in East Tennessee.  I thank You and there have been only a few injuries and no fatalities at this point, and I pray that You would protect those who are in harm’s way as well as those who are fighting these fires.  I pray that You would give guidance to those who are directing the rescue efforts and that You would sustain the workers with Your Spirit’s energy, love, compassion and strength. I also ask that You would encourage, comfort and strengthen those who have suffered loss during these fires.  Finally, I pray that You would bless these words and that those who read them would be encouraged and/or convicted by Your Spirit so that blessings will come this day.

GIANT SEQUOIA TREES ILLUSTRATE PERSEVERANCE.

After going to the Maricopa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I have a tremendous amount of respect for these gentle giants of the forest.  Their size can only be described as gargantuan and their age makes Methuselah sound like a teenager!

But one of the characteristics I note with particular interest is what I would call “perseverance”.  Now, I know that the trees have no awareness or sense that they have persevered through difficult times.  But, the fact remains, that there is evidence on many of these old creatures of significant trial, especially by fire.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

 

These are two of the Giant Sequoia Trees which show the fire scars as evidence of the trees’ perseverance through ferocious wildfires through the centuries they have lived.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree
Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

God, in His ultimate wisdom, created these trees knowing that they would be around for a long time and that, in the natural order of things, fire would destroy some of the forest ground cover as is necessary for a healthy forest environment.  So, God gave the Giant Sequoias the ability to survive severe fire damage, this being, according to the National Park Service, “a remarkable characteristic of the Sequoia.” I spoke of this characteristic in a prior post, “Difficulties Can Produce Beautiful Fruit” posted August 19, 2015.

The focus here, is not so much the physical fact of their survival, but the concept of perseverance … or, as is applicable to Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, perseverance of the saints.

I realize that the trees can’t just pick up and move when the going gets hot.  They are “stuck” there, so to speak.  Notwithstanding this truth, consider what is visible from the trees pictured below — above the top of the fire scar there is green growth and abundant branches.  The trees are not just alive; they are healthy, surviving and flourishing.  They endure the flames and then survive and keep on prospering, right where they are.

Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.
Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.

God knows me, too.  He knows that trials will come and the heat may be intense.  He also knows that I cannot face it alone.  In His grace He has not left me alone – He has provided a way for me to survive, not through a layer of cambium but through Jesus Christ as my Savior, the Holy Spirit as my Companion, and the Body of Christ, the Church.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Whether grandiose and ancient as seen in the 1,400 year old Canterbury Cathedral, or small and rustic such as the historic Cades Cove Church in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the church building is the meeting place for the Body of Christ.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Believers, themselves, are the Body of Christ when they work together for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ and in support of each other as the family of Christ and children of the Living God.

When Daniel’s three friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow down to him, they told the king that they would only worship their God.  In rage, the king threw the three men into the fiery furnace, but when king looked into the furnace, he saw four men in the fire.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were retrieved from the furnace and they were not burned or singed and they did not even smell of fire.  See Daniel 6:23-27.  God walked with them in the fire, and they were unharmed because they persevered in their faith and in reliance upon God.

I have the same God who went into the fire with His children as recounted in Daniel chapter 6.  He is the Great Healer, my Companion and my Guide. He has given me His Word (the Holy Bible) and He has ordained that the Body of Christ, the visible church on earth, be available to me as a believer in Christ for support, prayer, strength, encouragement, and help in time of need.  This does not mean that struggles will not come, or even that I am guaranteed that the struggle will not be stronger than I am — but it does mean that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God that I have through Christ Jesus.  Read Romans 8:35-39.

God's roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him -- the Holy Bible.
God’s roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him — the Holy Bible.

In short, He has provided the way and the strength to persevere through the trial so that, at the last day, I will be able to stand before Him, clothed in the righteousness of His Son and be accepted by Him as His child.  My obligation is to joyfully take advantage of the strength He has provided when difficult times come.

James writes in his letter that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4.

I don’t know about you, but I normally do not consider it “pure joy” when a trial comes my way.  No one wants hard times – but hard times do not play favorites. Jesus promised that there would be hard times for the Christian … it is not a matter of IF there is a trial; it is simply a matter of WHEN the trial will arrive.  Perseverance in our Christian walk comes as a result of enduring the testing of our faith, and the result of perseverance is maturity in Christ.

The Giant Sequoia tree reminds me that perseverance is possible.  The Lord has provided these trees with protection and healing after a fire.  He has provided me with the Comforter who is with me not only for healing after the fire has passed but the Comforter is with me even during the trial, giving strength, encouragement and, yes, comfort.   And He has provided the Body of Christ, the Church, for my support, encouragement and aid.

Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus Christ into this world as the atonement for my sin.  Thank you also for providing means of grace so that I can persevere when difficult times assail, thank you for the Holy Spirit present within and the Church present without for strength and encouragement, prayer and praise, help and aid during times of testing. Help me to be of encouragement to your children through your Spirit and the Word.  Rather than fighting the test, Father, help me to embrace it and persevere through it so that I will be mature in my faith.  Thank you for being with me, even in the furnace of testing.  I praise your name and glorify you in all things.

DIFFICULTIES CAN PRODUCE BEAUTIFUL FRUIT

I was in prayer this morning asking the Lord for comfort, strength, peace, healing and His presence for several of the people in our church who are going through very difficult times. I truly believe that prayer is the “best thing” that we can do for others, and as I was considering the various situations facing these brothers and sisters in the Lord, I was reminded of a video‐essay I saw about Yosemite National Park. This program captured my attention because my husband and I had been to Yosemite several years ago and we found it to be an awesome manifestation of our Lord’s creativity and beauty.

What really captured my attention was the discussion of the Park’s Giant Sequoias and the role that fire plays in their sustainability. The Narrator discussed fire in the Park as being a necessity for the forest, and I recognize this as a correct generalized proposition that is true of any forest woodland. Without fire, the underbrush would become so dense that seedlings would not be able to take root, etc.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

This is a picture that we took on our visit to the Park which shows a fire scar that is so severe that the inside of the tree has been burned out and the tree resembles an old‐time wooden clothespin, perhaps for Paul Bunyan’s laundry! The Narrator of the video-essay stated that the Giant Sequoia tree’s bark was extraordinarily thick and the cambium layer, just beneath the bark, has fire resistant properties to enable the trees to survive severe forest fires.  This statement is consistent with one of the plaques in the Park.

Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.
Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.

The Narrator continued to describe how the Giant Sequoias cannot survive without periodic fires. I thought I misunderstood what he said – why would these majestic trees require fire for their survival – they might successfully endure the wildfire, but to say that they require it is an entirely different proposition, and one which surely must be incorrect!

I was intrigued by this statement and, after doing some research, I found that one of the primary requirements for Giant Sequoia seedlings to grow is full sun. A glance at the forests in which these trees thrive reveals that, while the mature trees have full sun due to their towering height, there are multitudes of trees around them which, although dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias, are tall trees in their own right. The result of this, of course, is that the Giant Sequoia seedling is beneath the neighboring pines, oaks, and whatever – without the benefit of full sun.

In short, the Giant Sequoia Trees require periodic wildfires so that the underbrush and smaller tree vegetation can be cleared so as to provide the correct environment for successful germination of the sequoia seeds in full sun.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

But, as the television marketer says, “Wait, there’s more!”  Not only does the wildfire provide the open nursery for the seedlings, the fire actually is required to release the seeds from the cone in the first place. It is no secret that extremely hot air accompanies a forest fire; for me, the surprise was that the hot air in the canopy of the massive trees dries and opens the trees’ seed cones causing the release of large numbers of seeds to the forest floor, which, because of the clearing accomplished by the fire, has been transformed into the optimal seedbed for the seeds to take root and grow into images of their ancestors.

Seedlings in Yosemite National Park
Seedlings in Yosemite National Park

Also, the Lord provided even more help for these seeds to grow to maturity. The post‐fire loose ground ash operates as a blanket to protect the seeds from ultraviolet radiation damage. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum accessed 8/28/2013]

Besides being an interesting aspect of the Lord’s natural world and besides showing the care that He took to insure the sustainability of His creation, the soul‐searching began when I considered the illustration provided by the Giant Sequoia Trees in the connection between the fire and the resultant beauty.

It made me consider how I respond to the fire circumstances in my own life? Am I able to look past the immediate pain and difficulty so as to see the beauty ahead? Do I endure the difficulty with anticipation for the good that our Lord will accomplish through it? Or, do I, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction so that I avoid the problem and pain? Do I even recognize that there is a cost for avoiding the trial … lost lessons learned and more agonizing trials ahead for which I could have been prepared, or perhaps which could have even been avoided, if I had paid attention to the initial difficulty?

Do I say what Joseph said to his brothers?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “… And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.… But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Genesis 45:4-7. Or, as my own paraphrase would render this passage, you may have meant to hurt me, but actually you were fulfilling God’s plan to provide a way to protect you and your families from the death that would surely have come during this severe famine.

When we are in the midst of the maelstrom, when we can’t see where things are going, through faith we can have confidence that God is sovereign and that He is working things out for His purposes and the Christian’s ultimate good. Even if scars remain, there will be beauty that will come.  The nail piercings in our Lord’s Hands reflect just some of the excruciating suffering He endured for us on the cross, but they are beautiful for those who believe in His Name for salvation.  But for what those scars represent, we would not have His righteousness to cover our sins and we could not call God “Abba Father”.  Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.

God is sovereign in all things. He provided for the Giant Sequoia Trees, and He will provide for His children. See Luke 12:22-31.  Praise His Name as we trust in Him and in His unfailing grace, even as we go through the flames of trial that confronts us, by whatever name it is called.

As the Psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1.