PEACE – WHERE IS IT?

Peace is hard to find in our 24/7 world today. But, thankfully, there are places that just seem to facilitate the sense of PEACE! Stay awhile, enjoy the scene, relax, rest, be at peace with yourself and with your God. This river and mountain view in Alaska was one of the peaceful moments in a crazy, stress-filled week.

Peace is a difficult word to define. For some, it is the absence of conflict, a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.. For others, it is akin to rest, where there is tranquility and calm. The Hebrew word for “peace” is , šālôm, translated in the Septuagint most often by the Greek word, eirēnē. It has a broad semantic range of meaning, including the concept of completeness or the totality of something. It also connotes success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being.

Scripture says this about peace:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26:3-4

It is interesting to note that these words from the prophet Isaiah came while he was issuing oracles against the people because of their transgressions and failure to follow the commandments of God. In fact, in chapter 24 the prophet, speaking the words of God, pronounces judgment on the whole earth. In the midst of these judgments, we find words that promise peace.

Jesus frequently addressed the disciples in thisohn way. For example:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” … Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20: 19, 21

The Apostle Paul opened most of his letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:3

The Apostle Peter expressed the same sentiment when he wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.: 2 Peter 1:2

Peace — it is something that most of us long for and something that very few possess. We know that during the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tensions are at fever pitch. Many of us are out of work. Many of us have lost our income and we don’t have enough funds to feed the family, or cover the rent. Many of us see no way out of the problems that loom over us each moment of every day.

Jesus never said that His disciples would have an easy time of things. Indeed, we know that each one of the Apostles endured extreme hardship, most of them being killed in gruesome ways. Yet, even in those horrendous days of hardship and torture, they had peace. An inspiring example is found in the pages of Scripture describing the first martyr for Jesus – Stephen. In Acts 6, we are told that Stephen was doing wonders and signs among the people, and that he was a a man who was full of grace and power.

This was too much for the establishment. They wanted rid of Stephen. Acts 6:10. Stephen detailed the message of God to the Hebrews through the centuries and he ended his statement with condemnation of the very people who were charging him. Here is the end of Acts 7 beginning with Stephen’s statement and then the response of the people, Acts 7:52-60.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:52-60

Stephen had peace – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One Who is now sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for each of His children. Stephen’s peace was so great that he forgave the very men who were stoning him, including one Saul who was a young man guarding the coats of the men executing Stephen.

Peace can also be found in the security of mountains, the strength of the granite rocks, the beauty of God’s creation.

Characterizing God as a Rock is common in the Old Testament. The clear symbolism is that God cannot be moved, He is strong, He is the Source of all comfort and assurance. David says it this way in Psalm 18:2:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

Beloved, don’t depend on your own strength, your own resources, your own understanding to get through these times. Look to God, the God who is above all gods, the God who is the Almighty Father and the One who desires to become your Rock, your Fortress, your Stronghold in days of trouble.

Father, forgive me when I run ahead and try to take care of things my own way! Help me to stop and look to You as the author of my salvation and as the lover of my soul. Enable me to see Your Hand in my situation and to rely on You even when things are dark and difficult.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY!

Sign in South Dakota.

When we were on our western adventure we saw this sign in South Dakota, and it brought quite a few chuckles for several days. “My winter fat is gone; now I have Spring rolls!”

Dead End sign across the road from the Cemetery

While a Dead End sign is not unique, its placement across the street from a cemetery caused us to stop and think.  Yes, the cemetery really is the ultimate dead end, at least until the Lord returns!

Grand Junction, Colorado, one way sign with sheep in the foreground.

When we were in Grand Junction, Colorado, we found a lovely scene with sheep on the grassy field in a cul-de-sac with a “one way” sign showing the direction of traffic.  I thought to my self, “yes, there is only one way and that is to become a sheep in the Lord’s flock.”

Words – they sometimes say something silly, sometimes something profound.  They can be misunderstood and they can be clarifying. But words always have an affect on the hearer.

Jesus understood this well.  In Matthew we read this about the Pharisees who were taunting Jesus:

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.  And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

Matthew 22:15-16

What followed after these two verses was the question about marriage in heaven, specifically about the man who died and his wife was the wife of his six brothers, all without children.  So, whose wife was she in heaven?

The point for this post, however, is not the question nor the response Jesus gave.  It is what the Pharisees said as a preface to their question:

“we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”

When we speak of our Lord, do we do what the Pharisees said Jesus did?  Are we true in our dealings with others?  Do we teach others of God truthfully and without shading our teaching to be sure we don’t offend or run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  Are we swayed by appearances? 

I cannot answer these questions for you.  I can only say that I have to repent and ask the Holy Spirit to give me the confidence, compassion and conviction to speak of the Lord without shading the truth, without adjusting the message to the audience seeking approval of man rather than approval of God.

I certainly do not mean that we should speak without consideration of the difficulties others are experiencing or without consideration of where others are in their faith journey.  Being rude and callous is not the way of our Lord.  Seeking to shock others is not the way of the Lord.  He was humble and filled with compassion for others.  When He answered the Pharisees it was to expose their hypocrisy – they were after all trying to entrap Him in His own words.

So, how do you speak?  What do you say?  Are you truthful when you speak?  Are you oblivious to the station, rank or wealth of the person to whom you are speaking? 

Does our speech reflect our Lord and Savior?  And if not, why not!

Father, so often I try to make my point by focusing on the minutiae rather than on You.  Let me hear the Holy Spirit and let me be guided by His words so that what people hear when I speak is You.  Enable me to be more and more like Jesus in my walk and especially in my speech. 

LOUD VS. STILL

It seems that in our modern culture, there is an emphasis on volume.  Music is no longer melodic and soothing (I’m old school, sure enough), but rather it is ear-splitting loud with lyrics that are almost unintelligible to the listener.   Even country music has transformed from the acoustic guitar to electronics along with bands and a variety of drums. 

Sounds, loud sounds, are found in nature as this world was created by our Almighty God.  Indeed, Scripture frequently references God using thunder to get his message across, and anyone who has been in a thunderstorm, with the cloud above their house, knows the fierce sound and shaking that occurs with thunder.   Consider these verses:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

Exodus 9:23

And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 19:19

David, a man who tended sheep and was a warrior, who was outside and saw the handiwork of God often, said this:

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Psalm 77:17-18

We understand thunder and loud crashes and sometimes it terrifies us.  But there is a flip side to God’s loud creation, and that is Silence.

Currently, we are in the midst of a show shower.  Likely, it won’t amount to much accumulation, but it is positively beautiful to watch as it falls from the sky and covers the ground. 

Snowy tranquility (C)
Snowy tranquility in the backyard.

This blessing, in the form of small white flakes, comes, not with blasting thunder, but in silent beauty descending from the sky.

Snowy branches
Snowy branches up close and personal

In First Kings, we have the record of God speaking with Elijah who had just confronted King Ahab and Jezebel.  God understood that Elijah was exhausted and deflated from his work, and God came to him.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV

God came to Elijah in a still, small voice.  Oh yes, God can shout louder than our ears could withstand, but He comes to His servants, often, in a still small voice.  A voice which we will miss if we only pay attention to the cacophony of sound constantly around us.  We must retreat and be quiet, be still!

God has even directed His people to be silent before Him.  In Exodus, Moses told the people to be silent and watch as God brought about their salvation from the Egyptians.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:13-14

David understood this concept of being still before God.  In Psalm 46:10, God tells him:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Be still – know that God is with you.  Be still – know that God loves you.  Be still  — know that God will fight for you.  Be still – hear His still small voice in your heart, mind and soul. 

The command to “be still” is not the same as “do nothing.”  The command does not mean that we sit down in a comfy chair and just relax while God does everything.  He is not your manservant nor is He going to do that which He has called you to do. 

Remember, God’s Son, Jesus, left heaven and His eternal relationship with the Father to come to earth and do that which we could not do, save us from our sin.  Jesus did not come to earth, do some miracles and then just rest on his laurels … “I healed the leper so I don’t have to do anything else today!”  No, He was busy doing God’s will, all of it, every day and every moment.  Even when He was a youth, He went into the temple “to do His Father’s business.”  Luke 2:49.

Beloved, let the beauty of falling snow remind you that there is beauty in silence.  Be silent before the Lord and let Him fill you with His voice and His love, with His direction and His grace.  Be silent and know that He is God.

Father, I too often run around “doing good things for You” and forget that I need to send time listening to You, hearing Your still small voice.  Forgive me when I don’t block out the loud sounds of materialism, commercialism, greed, consumerism, violence, entertainment media seeking my attention, distractions from the cell phone … everything that takes the place of listening to Your voice.  Calm my heart and help me hear You.

The Gateway

St. Louis, Missouri, boasts the Gateway Arch which stands at the Mississippi River as a testament to the pioneering spirit of the people approaching the eve expanding West.

the Gateway Arch rises up behind the new glass entrance
Gateway Arch National Park. Photo courtesy of StudioBrookes.

Founded by the National Park Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a transcontinental United States, the Gateway Arch National Park (formerly known as the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial”) stretches from the Old Courthouse to the steps overlooking the Mississippi River. In between, the Gateway Arch rises high, a bold monument to the pioneering spirit.

Today, the Gateway Arch celebrates the diverse people who shaped the region and the country. The dreamer, Thomas Jefferson, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, doubling the size of the United States. The explorers, Lewis & Clark, and their Shoshone guide Sacagawea, scouted the new territory and mapped a route to the Pacific Ocean. The challengers, Dred and Harriet Scott filed suit at the Old Courthouse for their freedom from slavery, and St. Louis suffragette Virginia Minor sued for women’s right to vote. The Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed the stainless-steel monument that honors them all.

gateway arch 1
Picture taken while I was visiting the arch.

The graceful arch is based on the catenary curve, that is the shape made by a free-hanging chain when held at both ends. When speaking of his design, Saarinen said, “The arch symbolized the gateway to the West, the national expansion, and whatnot.”

A view of the Gateway Arch reveals over 43,000 tons of concrete and steel that arc 63 stories high into the Midwest sky. Since its completion in 1965, the tram ride in the monument has taken millions of visitors on the trip to the top to enjoy stunning views stretching up to 30 miles to the east and west.

Much more information about the arch is available at the National Park Service website. (www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm)

The Gateway Arch, of course, is not the only way to the West. It is certainly a wonderful monument to those who made the trek through difficult terrain with less than ideal circumstances and comforts.  But, today, there are many ways to get to the West from the East, in addition to going through the Gateway Arch.

Such is not the case in a matter of significantly more import than physical travel.  I am speaking of our ultimate destination for eternity. 

We know that we are finite creatures, born in space and time, and that we were created from dust and, given enough time, we will return to dust after our death. 

In Scripture, the Holy Bible, Jesus says that He is the gateway to heaven.  That is, that no one can come to the Father Almighty, God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, except through Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

Unfortunately, today there are many who assert that there are a variety of “ways” to get to heaven or to please God.  However, Jesus’ words do not equivocate.  There is no quibbling.  There is no suggestion that any other “way” is possible or effective if we want to go to heaven where the Father resides.  Jesus simply and clearly said that He is the only way to the Father.

Good works are not sufficient.  Giving money is not sufficient.  Being hopeful that the balance will tip in your favor is not sufficient.  Nothing is sufficient because everything other than what Christ did on the cross is based on our own abilities.  The problem is that we are all sinners and we are dead in our sins.  We can do nothing to aid ourselves or to move ourselves toward heaven.  We are dead.

If a person is dead, he cannot do anything for himself.  If he is to have life, an outside force must operate to give him life again.  He can’t summon up the strength to get life, he is dead.

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Praise God.  He loved us even though we were sinners, we had been disobedient to His law.  While we were sinners, before we could do anything to assist in our salvation, Christ died for us.  He accomplished all that was necessary to pay for our sin.

Jesus Christ, however, rose from the dead.  He conquered death and sin. 

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

Romans 6:9

Because He died and rose again, He is capable to rescue us from our sins, and He will do so if we have faith in Him.

“because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Romans 10:9-10

If is for this reason that Jesus could tell His disciples, that He was THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life … there is none other

There are many gateways to the Western part of the United States, but there is only one way to heaven, no matter where you live or who you are. 

The Way is Jesus. He is the way to eternal life. Come to Him if you have not already done so and claim Him as your Savior and Lord of your life.   If you have already come to Him, praise His name. Thank Him for the life that He has given you, now and forever more.

Father, we praise your name for the love that was expressed to us through Christ’s life and death, and for your mighty power in raising Him from the dead so that we could claim Him as our Savior and Lord.   Thank you Father, thank you Lord Jesus, and thank you Holy Spirit for quickening our hearts and bringing us to yourself.

HONEYSUCKLE – a fragrance that lingers!

Honeysuckle – the fragrance lingers in the air and fills the yard with sweetness!  We have a honeysuckle bush and several honeysuckle vines that climb some of the trees in the woods in our backyard.

Honeysuckle - tall bush
Honeysuckle tree that is bordering the woods in our back yard.

The scientific name for honeysuckles is caprifoliaceae.  The bush is large, upright and grows to 15 to 20 feet in height.  

The flowers change from white to yellow and it has red berries in the fall.  In late autumn, leaves typically remain green and attached well after the leaves of our native trees and shrubs have fallen.

Honeysuckle - close up
Honeysuckle blooms proliferate throughout the tree.

While seeing the blooms in the tree is beautiful, the thing that I love most about the honeysuckle is the fragrance.  Scientific reports state that the honeysuckle bush flowers in May through June and that the flowers are “fragrant, in clusters from the leaf axils, tubular, 1 inch long, slender, distinctly 2-lipped, with the upper lip having 4 lobes, the lower lip with 1 lobe.” 

That’s all well and good, but it does not, in my humble opinion, give enough print to the luscious fragrance of the honeysuckle bush.  It fills the air on a summer evening.  You can sense the fragrance even when you can’t see the flowers, you just know it is there … you can tell because you are familiar with the scent.

God has always been interested in fragrances both in His worship and in the lives of His people.

In the book of Exodus, we read this regarding the tabernacle in the wilderness:

“”You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood.” … “And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it,””

Exodus 30:1, 7 ESV

The Lord God also gave numerous instructions as to how to make the incense, when to burn it, etc.  In short, God’s dwelling was to be a place of fragrant beauty.  It is no surprise, then, that God’s creation is a place of myriad fragrances, and honeysuckle happens to be one that is pervasive in our yard during the summer!

The Psalmist says:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;  you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;”

Psalm 45:6-8 ESV

Paul tells the Ephesian Church that they were to walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:2 ESV

Christ was described as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, on our behalf, in payment for our sins so we could avoid the wrath of God because of our sinfulness.

In response to Christ’s incredible gift of love for us, we are to give to others, to enable others to see the Lord Jesus Christ in us, and to assist our brothers and sisters in the Lord as they walk their journey of faith.  Our works for others are not payment for our salvation, rather they are gifts of love in thanksgiving for what God has done for us, in other words, they are a sweet, fragrant offering to our God.

Paul said it this way:

“I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Philippians 4:18 ESV

You see, we are not to hoard our blessings, but we are to give to others just as the Lord gave to us.  When we do, our actions become a fragrant offering to God.  Consider the words in Revelation regarding the prayers of those who have gone before us:

“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.”

Revelation 8:3-4 ESV

Matthew Henry speaks of these verses and admonishes us as follows:

It is very probable that this other angel is the Lord Jesus, the high priest of the church, who is here described in his sacerdotal [priestly] office, having a golden censer and much incense, a fulness of merit in his own glorious person, and this incense he was to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints. … The prayers of the saints come up before God in a cloud of incense; no prayer, thus recommended, was ever denied audience or acceptance.

So, as Christians, we are to walk in love as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  We are to give to others both in terms of material help as well as with prayers, and these offerings will rise as a fragrant sacrifice to God.

We should give off the pleasing fragrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that fragrance should permeate the air around us so that, even if people don’t hear us say anything, they will know that we are Christians.

Enjoy the wonderful fragrance of honeysuckle, and let it remind you of the fragrance that we should give to those around us as we share the pleasing fragrance of love that our Lord Jesus Christ has given to us.

Father, I pray that I would live my life as a fragrant offering that is pleasing to you.  I pray that my prayers would be presented to you through the wonderful work of Jesus as my intercessor and mediator, and that they, too, would be a fragrant offering that is pleasing to you.

TIME – WHO CAN COMPREHEND IT?

My husband and I had occasion to talk about time the other day.  Specifically, we were speaking about how it seems like something that happened one year ago seems as though it happened yesterday and, at the same time, seems as though it happened many years ago.  We know the date of the occurrence, and we know the current date, but time seems to both telescope into the distant past as well as coming down to the microscope of yesterday.

I suspect you have had those same feelings.

Dover cliffs
The white cliffs at Dover, England.

When we were in England about 8 years ago, we saw the white cliffs at Dover, England, something that my Dad talked about seeing during the war.  They were beautiful, and it was an experience that I treasured having.  It seems that it was yesterday when we were walking on that path; but it also seems as though we were there at least 20 years ago because of the multitude of experiences that we have had since then.

How can our concept of time be so fluid when, in fact, time is one of the most measured and constant things we have in our world.  Every year has 365 days in it (except for leap year, then it is 366), every day has 24 hours in it, every hour has 60 minutes.  We know this … yet sometimes it seems the days go by slowly and other times it seems the time flies past us.

We know from the account of creation that God created all things, including the establishment of time for our universe. 

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Genesis 1:1-5

That is how we still speak of time – the morning and the evening is one day. 

Although God created time, God is not bound by it.  Indeed, God is eternal.  Not only will God exist undiminished everlastingly into the future, but He has existed identically throughout the infinite past.

God told Moses His Name in Exodus 3:14:  “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”  No beginning and no end.  God IS.   

Jesus, as one part of the Trinity, is God and is, like the Father, eternal, with no beginning and no end.  In Hebrews 13:8 we read:  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

But that is not all that speaks to us about time.  Scripture also says this:

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

2 Peter 3:8

We are finite creatures, not like the infinite eternal God.  But I wonder if God gives us a taste of what is like when we seem to have the same event in the recent past as well as in the long past.  It would seem that this might be the case given Peters words in his second epistle. 

There is much that I don’t know.  But, I do know this – God is my powerful, infinite, personal, awesome God, and He is far beyond the limits of time.  He knows the past and He knows the future, both for the universe in a cosmic sense and yet for me personally, even though I am no more than a humble creature that is less than a miniscule dot on the planet.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Father, I thank You for the gift of life, the gift of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You know the future that has been planned for me, and I am secure and confident in Your hands.

WHO DO YOU IMITATE?

Although he lived long before anyone reading this post was born, Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832) rendered a quotation that many of us know today.  He was an English cleric who was also a writer and collector.  His book, including collections of comments and short essays were wildly popular in their day.  One of his most famous quotes which is still in use today is: “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery”.

Imitation.  Children imitate their parents/caregivers all the time.  We were taking care of a young girl while her mother took some night classes at a nearby school.  She was looking at a Golden Book that we had in the house when she began “reading” to us, as her nursery school teacher would do.  She held the book in her hands and looked at the pages, then turned the book facing us and said “Blah, blah, blah, I don’t want to hear about it!”  After saying this, she turned the page and looked at the next two pages, again flipping the book to face us and repeat the same sing-song-phrase. 

Clearly, this young girl was not actually “reading” the printed word, but she was repeating what she regularly heard at home, complete with the intonation that comes from frustration or anger.  Imitation. 

Even if we are adults, don’t think that our days of imitation are over.  We still imitate others. 

When we were in England a number of years ago, we went to Abbey Road in London.  Since some in our family were alive when the Beatles walked across that road, we had to do so as well.  This is our impression of the Beatles’ classic album cover.

Abbey road

It was a great deal of fun to imitate that walk, although it did not bring us any fame, just some honks by irritated drivers!

On a much more serious note, imitation can take on eternal consequences.  For example, we are to imitate the good that other Christians do in their lives.

“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

Most of all, we are to imitate the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.  After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them to imitate His actions.

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

John 13:15

He also said:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

John 13:34

Eternal consequences, you may ask?  What if I don’t want to imitate Jesus?

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

John 14:15

“If you … [then] you…”  The opposite of this, of course, is that if we do not keep His commandments, then we do not actually love Him even if our lips try to say otherwise.

The writer of Hebrews said that we are to imitate the faith of our leaders who faithfully brought the Word of God to us.

“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

Paul put it this way:

“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16

Two questions, thus, come to mind.

  1. Are you obeying Christ’s commandments? Do you love others and serve them in His name?  If not, why not?  Do you really know Jesus Christ as your Savior or are you playing Christian, rather like playing a part in a play? 
  2. Is your life, your witness, your love for the Lord such that you could say the same thing that Paul said? “I urge you to imitate me.”  Is your way of life revealing the strength of faith you have in Jesus Christ?  If not, why not?  If so, can others find Jesus Christ by imitating you?

Imitation.  So easy that a child can do it.  So hard that many will run from its demands.  So much a blessing that it provides grace and abundant living in the here and now, as well as forever more.

Father, I pray that I would be a witness for Your Son, Jesus Christ and that Your Spirit would strengthen me as I seek to imitate Him and His love for others.  Enable me to live so that others can imitate me and grow stronger in their faith and in their devotion to my Lord.

The Speck and the Log

One of the television shows that I have watched, even in reruns during the many years after initial airing of the episodes, is The Andy Griffith Show.  The characters are memorable and the stories all had strong character-building messages.  If you are not familiar with the characters, Andy was the sheriff of Mayberry, a small fictional town in North Carolina, USA, and Barney was his deputy sheriff.  Barney was a man with a good heart, but he had the ability to routinely put his foot in his mouth, and he often made situations far worse because of his misguided actions and his insistence on strict interpretation of the law. 

In an episode entitled “Citizen’s Arrest”, Barney and Gomer, the town’s gas station attendant, came into conflict over a traffic ticket, notwithstanding the fact that they were best friends.  

Barney wrote Gomer a traffic ticket for making an unauthorized U-turn in downtown Mayberry.  After issuing the citation, Barney returned to the squad car and, immediately, made the same U-turn that earned Gomer a ticket.  Gomer stood in the middle of the street and yelled “citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest” resulting in a crowd surrounding him with Gomer shouting that Barney should receive the same fine as imposed on him. 

To defuse the situation and avoid further harsh words, Andy suggested that Barney simply write himself a ticket, pay the $5 fine and get along with his life.  After much cajoling by Andy, Barney wrote the ticket but then announced that he would not pay the $5 fine. Instead he would take the alternative punishment of 5 days in the jail cell, which happened to be in the same room as the Sheriff’s office.

Barney’s problem was that he could not see his own wrongdoing when he was so focused on Gomer’s infraction.

How often we are in the same situation.  Something is alright for me to do but I will criticize you for doing the same thing.  It is human nature, we want to be better than others; even if it means that we ignore our own errors, which often are the more egregious. 

Jesus told a parable about judging others in Matthew 7:1-5.  The parable is likely one that you have heard before.

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:1-5

Interestingly, there are various words for what is in the eye of the accuser: specifically, it is called a beam, a plank, a board, and a log.  Whatever translation you may be using, the truth is the same.  Before advising someone of their own misbehavior, the speck, the accuser must take note of and remove the beam/plank/board/log from their own life.

The parable teaches us how to conduct ourselves with reference to our perceived faults of others.  The story was spoken to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus encountered during His ministry.  But the lesson taught applies to us as well – to those who are rigid and severe, who condemn people around them and who are proud and conceited in justifying their own actions.

Jesus cautions us against judging others.  We are to judge ourselves, our own acts, but we must not judge others.  And, we must not speak evil of others.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. “

James 4:11

We must not judge the hearts of others, nor their intentions – that is God’s prerogative. 

“If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.”

Psalm 44:20-21

Only God knows what is in the heart of man.  Remember, the thieves on the cross were suffering the same punishment as our Lord Jesus Christ.  While on the cross, one received Jesus through faith in Him and the other rejected Him.  God knows who His children are, and He knows when any person will be brought into His family.  We do not have such knowledge.

Why follow Jesus command not to judge?  So that we will not be judged.  In other words, if we presume to judge others, we may expect to be ourselves judged. If we are modest and charitable in our censures of others, and decline judging them, and judge ourselves rather, we shall not be judged.  As God will forgive those that forgive their brothers, the merciful shall find mercy.  Our refusal to judge others is an evidence of humility, charity and deference to God and shall be noted and rewarded by God accordingly.  Romans 14:10

Don’t focus on correcting someone over a small fault while you have a big fault that you are ignoring.  Have you ever noticed that it is common for those who are most sinful themselves, and least sensitive to it, to be the most forward and free in judging and censuring others?

For example, read 2 Samuel 12:1-7 and see the story of the prophet of God, Nathan, confronting King David over his sin with Bathsheba.  David “burned with anger” at the man in Nathan’s story who had taken another man’s little lamb.  It was then that Nathan pointed his finger at the King and said: “You are the man!”. 

Jesus said the right way to interact with others is for me to take the beam out of my eye first.  I must repent and correct my sin first and then I can help my brother or sister. 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Luke 6:37

This is a short part of the episode described above.  To see the entire sequence of events, you can view the longer 5 minute segment of the television show by clicking on the top left box, after this 20 second segment is completed.  Note that viewing the longer segment will take you out of The Ruminant Scribe website.

Father, I pray that I would have the wisdom to see the log in my own eye rather than focusing on the speck in my neighbor’s eye.  Heal me and let me lead a life that is in conformance with the commands of my Lord and Savior, in the Name of Jesus I pray.

NOW THAT I HAVE HELD HIM.

We know the Christmas story; we see it reenacted in the children’s Christmas pageant every year.  Mary and Joseph travel from their home to Bethlehem where there is no room in any inn and Mary’s baby, the Son of God, is born in a manger.

Angels in Epiphany Pageant
The angels brought the news to the shepherds.

The angels announced the Baby’s birth to the shepherds in the fields.  Then the shepherds went to where the Babe was and they saw Him.  Their response was to tell everyone what they had heard and seen. 

Shepherds in pageant

While the magi usually are included in the children’s Christmas pageant, because children love to dress up like kings, Scripture does not support seeing them at the manger.  They came to see the King some time later, but that time discrepancy is alright for our pageant purposes.

When the pageant is over, we praise God that the “story” is true and that our Savior was, indeed, born of a virgin and that He came to save His people from their sin.

But there is another event that occurred when Jesus was just a baby that we seldom read or hear about during the Christmas celebration.  In short, it is about Simeon and Anna who recognized Jesus as The Christ, the Savior, the Messiah.  Luke’s description of Simeon’s response to the Babe is found in Luke 2:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’”

Luke 2:25-32

Simeon was waiting.  He was watching.  He was ready to see the Savior.  He was told that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ, and he was waiting. 

Jesus promised that He would come again and receive His people to Himself.  He was born as a baby for the specific purpose of dying on the cross as our atoning sacrifice.  He was raised from the dead and now is in heaven where He intercedes to God the Father on behalf of His people.

Are we waiting?  Are we watching?  Are we ready for Jesus’ return?  It is a promise as securely written in the book of the Father as the news was for Simeon that he would see the Savior before he died. 

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

Numbers 23:19

Simeon understood – the prophesy said that there would be a Savior and he believed and waited.  Are we waiting?

While it is not a traditional Christmas carol that we sing every year, here is Michael Card singing Simeon’s song “Now That I Have Held Him In My Arms”.   It is a beautiful rendition of the song and I suggest that it will speak to your heart as you prepare for the celebration of the Advent of our Lord.

Here are the lyrics if you want to read them as you listen to the song.

That old man in the temple
Waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them
In the morning sunshine
A couple come and carry in a baby

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms
My life can come to an end
Let Your servant now depart in peace
Cause I’ve seen Your salvation
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Mary and the baby come
And in her hand five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing
Nestled in her arms
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing

Now that I’ve held Him in my arms 
My life can come to an end 
Let Your servant now depart in peace 
‘Cause I’ve seen Your salvation 
He’s the Light of the Gentiles 
And the glory of His people, Israel

Now’s the time to take Him in your arms
Your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace
He’ll give you salvation cause
He’s the Light of the Gentiles
And the glory of His people Israel

Father, thank You for people who are skilled in writing and performing music and movies so that we can ponder and meditate on Your Word.   Your Word is alive and speaks to us, and I pray that I will take time to meditate on it daily, even when all the Christmas activities close in on me – enable me to make YOU the priority this season, and all year long.