TRYING TO UNDERSTAND

Cuddles, one of our two Miniature Pincher dogs, always seems to want to understand what is going on.  She will watch what we are doing and cock her head to the side, with her eyes piercing ours, as if she was trying all her best to know what is going on.  Perhaps she is thinking that her people are really goofy, I don’t know, but it seems as if her mental wheels are spinning when she focuses and looks at us like that, at least my humanizing of the canine would think like that!

Recently my husband was going to fix a leaking kitchen faucet.  He got all the materials together to do the job and then opened the cabinet under the sink.  In Cuddles’ mind, this was a perfect opportunity to help Daddy!

Cuddles helping daddy 1

You are not aware of the step of faith this is for her.  This cabinet houses the dreaded garbage disposal, and each time I turn it on, she will come running from wherever she is in the house and bark at it. When it stops, she walks off as if she had killed the monster that was threatening Mommy.  This time, though, she had Daddy with her, and she was proud to stand side by side with him.

Cuddles helping daddy 2

Getting into the nitty-gritty of the issue under sink, Daddy was leaning far forward, and Cuddles was standing close to him, with eyes forward as if she were inspecting or monitoring his actions.  Even a flash bulb would not divert her attention from Daddy and the cabinet.

Cuddles helping daddy 3

At this point, she really was trying to assist him because now her front paws were on the floor of the cabinet.  She was absorbed in trying to understand what he was doing.  But, she couldn’t help, and she did not know what was going on.  Her inquisitiveness had to yield because it was just beyond her ability to comprehend.

These pictures present a sort of image of me and God.  There have been times that I felt just like Cuddles.  I want to help, to do something, but I just can’t understand what needs to be done.  God is working in my life, but I don’t comprehend what I am supposed to do; I don’t know where He is leading, I don’t know why something painful happened. 

Can you relate?  Perhaps all is well, and you are not peering under the cabinet for answers now, but you have done so at some point in the past.  Or, perhaps you are now seeking answers as you are under the protection and guidance of your Heavenly Father, but you are wondering where He is leading you, or why your circumstances have changed.

Perhaps you are trying to understand why a dreaded disease has attacked your child or spouse, or yourself.  Perhaps you are trying to understand why a beloved family member was taken from you too soon, or why your dream job came crashing down when the company closed. 

There are too many scenarios to list, and each of us has to deal with situations and problems that come our way, seemingly with virtual regularity. 

But, Beloved, know that our Heavenly Father has written us a love letter, the Holy Bible.  It details what God’s plan is and how we are to live. 

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Deuteronomy 6:5

It tells of His provision of a Savior to atone for our sins so that we can have an abundant life now and eternal life with Him after death envelops our body. 

“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

And, God has given us His Holy Spirit to quicken our hearts which are dead in sin, Who then speaks to us and opens our eyes so that we can understand the Bible as we read it, and Who guides us in prayer.

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

John 14:26

Beloved, you don’t need to peer into the cabinet of the future in fear.  You don’t need to cock your head to the side and wonder what God has planned for you.  You don’t need to be in panic when something comes at you out of that cabinet, God has you in His hand and He is omniscient and omnipotent. 

There is one reality and God knows it in its entirety, as it exists by, through, and for Him.  This omnipotent God has said that if you seek Him, He will be found.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”

Proverbs 8:17

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:13

Just as Cuddles tried to understand but could not, some things are simply beyond our capacity to understand; but even those difficult things are not outside God’s control or knowledge.  As a child of God, as a Christian, you are secure, and you are the child of the Omniscient, Omnipotent God of all creation.  Trust Him and obey His Word.  Him and He shall be found.

Father, thank You for giving us little animals who can remind us of eternal principles.  Thank You for Your Word, for Your Son, and for Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for salvation and for the promise of life eternal through Jesus Christ my Lord.  May these words be encouraging and of comfort to those who read them.

WHAT DID YOU MEAN?

I have often heard that the English language is very difficult to learn.  There are so many “rules” which are “broken” so often that it almost makes the rule meaningless.  And so often, we use the same word to mean something quite different in two different situations.  For instance, one word can mean a vocal part or a brass instrument.

Recently, “Mr. Smith” agreed to accompany our church choir on a musical instrument.  The choir director mentioned this to another member, saying that “Mr. Smith” would be playing a baritone.  The response was “a baritone what?”  to which she said, “a baritone”.  The inquiry then was “a baritone saxophone? a baritone what?”  She responded: “a baritone baritone.”   After a frustrating conversation, it became clear that the choir director was speaking of an instrument and, although musically inclined, the church member had never heard of an instrument called by that name.

BARITONE
The baritone horn, or sometimes just called baritone, is a low-pitched brass instrument in the saxhorn familY.

If a man says he is a baratone, does that mean he is a brass instrument?  Of course not.  But, how often do we say the correct word and others hear that word but interpret it with a meaning very different than what we thought we conveyed with the word?

Jesus recognized this problem as the distinction between what Scripture says and how the Pharisees and Sadducees interpreted those same words.

“”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 [whoever says Raca, which is a Greek word of contempt] 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

The Pharisees and Sadducees were repeating one of the Ten Commandments as expressed in the Old Testament without understanding the scope and intent of that commandment.  They were using the same words but meaning something much less than intended.

Another example relates to adultery.

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.”

Matthew 5:27-28

Again, same words but different and expanded meaning. 

The misunderstanding of the words expressed by God through Moses in the Old Testament was not a surprise to God and it was not something that only became apparent when Jesus came into His ministry.  The Prophet Isaiah said:

“And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites with amazing wonders. The wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.””

Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

When we speak of our God to our neighbors, we need to be clear about Who we are talking about.  Although He is the creator of the universe and all that is in it, He is not only the creator.  Although He is God, there are no other gods above Him.  We may have gods that we look to, gods such as money, fame, even family or health; but nothing is anything even approaching our God.

Beloved, the bumper sticker with all the symbols of other religions with the term “Co-Exist” cannot be the philosophy of the Christian.  We certainly recognize that others believe in gods.  But, those ideas are not the same as the one true God of Scripture, whose Son is Jesus Christ our Savior.

Be careful of what you say and how you say it.  Mean what you say and be ready to stand up for your faith.  Our world needs to see Christians who are committed and willing to say that God is the only God and Jesus Christ is His Son and the only way of salvation.

“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 ESV 

Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be my Savior.  I pray that I would be willing to stand and affirm this truth in witness to others and that Your Holy Spirit would give me the strength and grace to so witness to the glory and honor of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.

SIGNS – FOLLOWED OR IGNORED?

It seems as though our culture is overrun with signs.  Billboards are all along the highways and some are digital, enabling the billboard owner to multiple “signs” displayed for all to see.

Some signs are humorous.  There is a van for a lock and key company which has, along the bottom of their vehicle, the statement “Cheer up it can always be worse.”

Some signs are informational. 

Blenheim Palace signpost
Signpost at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England

Some signs are confusing even though they have been in use for over 60 years.

Road signs from England the magic roundabout
The Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England

(For a video on how this roundabout works, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OGvj7GZSIo.)

Other signs are rather straightforward.

Texas sign
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Sign - Hats and Boots in Nashville TN

Hats Boot Co. sign in Nashville, Tennessee

There is another sign on the highways that we have no difficulty following, because we know that an accident will surely occur if we disobey its warning.

One Way sign cropped
One-Way Sign along the highway

No matter what your language may be, when you see the arrow going in a certain direction, you understand that such direction is the only correct one.

In the Bible, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be leaving them very soon.  John chapter 14 details this conversation between Jesus and his closest friends:

“”Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

How many ways are there to God the Father?  Just one – belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Just as the One-Way sign points to the correct direction to be followed on the highway to avoid disaster or death in an accident, Scripture details the one way to avoid disaster and eternal death.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross for our salvation.  He said it clearly – “I am THE way”.  He did not say “I am A way” as if there were more than one option.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12

Signs – they are helpful, instructive, humorous, and some remind us of eternal consequences. 

I pray that if you have not sought the Lord, please do so now.  Scripture has told us everything that we need to obtain eternal life.  Now is the day of salvation.  Now is the time to go the right direction on that narrow road to salvation. 

Father, I pray that those who read this missive would be touched by Your Spirit.  If they are already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, may their faith be renewed, and their spirit be encouraged by these words. If the reader is not already a believer in our Lord, I pray that Your Spirit would quicken their heart and that they would realize their need for the Savior. 

 

TUNING TOGETHER IN UNITY

We went to the symphony the other evening.  It was an incredible performance, featuring a 29 year old pianist from France.  Both of us were mesmerized by her awesome talent and by the way she and the orchestra mixed and matched each other, with their musical lines intertwining into a beautiful tapestry of sound.

Listen here to “Viam Dei” composed and directed by Jeff Lippencott on the album “Glory to the Holy One”.  

You will notice that each instrument plays a critical part in the overall musical score.  None is wasted.  Some are louder to be sure, but even the little triangle can lend its tone to the beautiful message being created by the entire orchestra.

But, although I have been to a number of concerts over the years and have always seen this happen, what struck me the other evening occurred before the conductor stood on the platform and raised her baton.  It even occurred before the conductor was on the stage. 

As the instrumentalists arrived on stage, they warmed up by practicing various points in the music for the evening, each one running through spots that likely caused problems for them.  The result was a cacophony of sound, not a unified melody or harmonic chord.  The Concert Master, the title for the musician in the position of first chair violin, walked onto the stage and the musicians stopped, silence – no sound from the orchestra. 

oboeThe Concert Master pointed to the oboe player and a clear, pure tone was heard wafting over the instrumentalists.  The various instruments were then tuned to the tone of the oboe.

Whether or not that tone was pitch perfect somewhere else was relatively immaterial (although I suspect it would have been on pitch anywhere, given the skill of our musicians).  The point was, it was to be pitch perfect here, at this point in time, so the musicians tuned their instruments to that pitch and that pitch alone. 

No one said “I’m going to use my pitch!  It’s better!.”  If that had been the case, there would have been discord among the instruments.  All of them needed to be tuned to the same pitch so that the resulting musical presentation would be in harmony.

Later, when a piano was rolled onto the stage for the featured instrumentalist to use for her Concerto, the Concert Master played a note on the piano and the orchestra tuned to that instrument.  After all, it would not do to have the instruments tuned to the oboe if the oboe was not in tune with the piano. 

As I was listening to the musical presentation, which was incredible by the way, I was thinking about how each of the instruments blend together to create the glorious music which we were experiencing. 

orchestra

How like the Church, the Body of Christ.  Scripture teaches us that we are to work together.  We all may have different gifts, talents, interests, abilities – but we are all part of the same Body and our role is important.  Remember the triangle – the percussionist who plays it plays a number of other fascinating instruments in the percussion section and the triangle is by no means the most important one.  But, somewhere deep in the midsection of the piece, there were two measures where the triangle was called for.  He stood and the little triangle was held high, struck the appropriate number of times, and then returned to its hook (or whatever it hangs on) until the next time it was needed.

The instruments that required tuning were all tuned to the same pitch.  In the Body of Christ, each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is to be tuned to the same pitch as well. 

  • Each and every one of us is to look to the Word of God, the Holy Bible, as the message we are to proclaim. We read what Jesus said and what we are to do in the Scriptures, so it is imperative that each of us knows the Bible and that we each study it as our guide for living the life God desires.
  • Each and every one of us is to look to the Holy Spirit for our guidance, for our message, for our strength and for a proper understanding of the Scriptures.

Remember that Jesus said He would send the Spirit to be with us:

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

John 14:26 ESV

How would my life be changed if I tuned myself each day to the Scriptures?  How would my church be changed if each member tuned themselves each day to that which the Holy Spirit directed them to say and do?  Unity of mind and of purpose is desired and of paramount importance throughout the Scripture.

“A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

Psalm 133:1 ESV

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

1 Peter 3:8 ESV

And in Ephesians 4 Paul writes that believers should walk worthy of the calling to which they have been called. 

How is that walk? 

We are to live with humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, because we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:1-6.

oboe

This week, remember the orchestra and the oboe.  Tune yourself with the Scriptures and walk in faith in the unity and bond of peace with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

 

Father, enable me to tune my heart to the tone of the Holy Spirit so that I will reflect the image of my Lord and Savior.  May my life be fueled by the Holy Spirit and may I walk in Your way, today and each day that You give to me.

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.

GOOD AND BAD TOGETHER?

We found this interesting vehicle on display when we visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.  See the post PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISION IS HARMFUL! that was posted April 26, 2016 for more information about our visit to the Museum and this interesting vehicle.

Lane Motor Museum double car
Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

At first glance, I thought it was interesting that it seemed to have front headlights on the back end as well as at the front.  Upon a more focused look at the vehicle, I realized that it was two front halves put together.

Lane Motor Museum double car inside
Close up view of the two front ends of the Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

Fairly odd looking, I have to say.  Obviously, this would be impossible to drive if both “front ends” were engaged at the same time.  Yet, on a spiritual basis, this is what we do all the time in connection with the irreconcilable contrast between “good and evil”.

We affirmatively state that God is good.  Indeed, we know that goodness is one of God’s attributes. 

“And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” 

Exodus 33:19 ESV

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!.”

Zechariah 9:17 ESV

The Apostle Paul even notes that goodness is part of the fruit of the Spirit which we are to grow in our own hearts and minds as we allow Him to transform us into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

Galatians 5:22 ESV

The reality for us, however, is that goodness is not what we see on a daily basis in either ourselves or our world.  Rather than goodness, we see evil, selfishness, pride, injustice, violence, hatred, and hurt.  In short, we see sin, disobedience to God’s Word, in both our own life and in the life of our community and the world.

It is the height of arrogance to think that mankind is good.  A review of the daily headlines shows that this is not the case.   That same arrogance produces the thought that we are good at any time … even our best “good deeds” are described in Scripture as “filthy rags”.   Isaiah 64:6 [KJV].

Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign.  It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.  Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo?  What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God.  We are saying “God, Your law is not good.  My judgment is better than Yours.  Your authority does not apply to me.  I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction.  I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” 

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116 (Emphasis is mine)

So, we know that we are not good and that sin and evil abounds in and around us.  But we then argue that if God is good, it would appear that God is not watching, He doesn’t care, or He is incapable of helping us in a world that is so full of evil.  While some feel this way, I suggest that the opposite is true.  Turning to Dr. Sproul’s comments again, he says:

… He [God] is so slow to anger that when His anger does erupt, we are shocked and offended by it.  We forget rather quickly that God’s patience is designed to lead us to repentance, to give us time to be redeemed.  Instead of taking advantage of this patience by coming humbly to Him for forgiveness, we use this grace as an opportunity to become more bold in our sin.  We delude ourselves into thinking that either God doesn’t care about it, or that He is powerless to punish us.  … The supreme folly is that we think we will get away with our revolt.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 117 (Emphasis is mine)

When it appears that God is not working in our world, the reality is that He is waiting.  He is exercising His patience.  He is allowing evil to continue because there are those who have not yet recognized the Spirit’s conviction of sin and who have not yet received the gift of salvation through faith in Christ alone. 

Can evil/sin exist with good/holiness?  The answer to this inquiry is an emphatic “no!”   Sinful mankind cannot appear before the Holy God who is the essence of goodness.  But through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for us to be forgiven of our sin and washed in the righteousness of His Son. 

christ-of-the-ozarks-missouri-1968-3
Christ of the Ozarks, Missouri, USA (circa 1965)

“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 ESV

If God were to wipe out all evil, those who have not yet received Jesus Christ as their Savior would be lost forever.  Thus, God waits patiently until all His children have come to Him.  .  Paul says in Romans:

“Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4 ESV

For a time, it may appear that people are successful in their revolt against God and His Anointed One.  For a time, it may appear that evil has won the battle and that God is helpless to give aid or comfort to His people. 

Beloved, this is a delusion, a fiction of the highest magnitude.

When God slams down His gavel in judgment of all mankind, there will be no time then for people to confess their sin and to receive the gift of salvation.  The time of God’s mercy will be over.  His patient waiting will be completed.  At that point it will be the time of judgment. 

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

1 John 3:7-8 ESV

Don’t be double minded.  Goodness and evil/righteousness and sin/light and dark cannot coexist.   Look to Jesus Christ, confess your sin, receive His righteousness and live then in goodness and light, through His power alone.

Father, cleanse my heart from its sin and double-mindedness.  Enable me, through Your Spirit, to live my life in dedication to You and to Your will.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, my God and my Redeemer.

 

I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

 

By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television. 

a-wise-man-from-childrens-pagent
A wise man at our children’s Christmas nativity scene.

We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field.  The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.  

The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears!  Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received.  It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ. 

And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41] 

But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches.  Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on.  Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.

Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world?  Absolutely not.

But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:

 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34 and again,

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Luke 12:51

In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth!  This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born!  But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission.  Quite the contrary.  He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected.  The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.

In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires.  It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him.  Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.

Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:

Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,… 

Jesus did bring peace.  It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior. 

Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

What does this have to do with Christmas?  A great deal!  Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.

For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress.  It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth.  But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe.  (Remember Job?  Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)

God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control.  He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed.  He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people. 

The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping.  He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later.  Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.

Christian, take heart.  Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long.  He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way.  His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.

Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ.  When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!

MARCHING

 

Did you ever hear someone say “He marches to his own drummer.”?  I think what they mean is that the individual is somewhat counter-cultural – he does not “go with the flow” – he is an independent thinker which takes him outside the group into which he otherwise would find himself.

Marching to your own drummer may be fine if we are speaking of an individual’s independent actions.  But it does not bode well for those who are supposed to be marching under orders.  For example, the middle school marching band does not look too bad in a still picture, but they were a bit muddled when they tried anything other than straight lines.  (I know about it since I was in that band many years ago.)

marching-band-coming-at-you
Junior High School marching band, while proud parents line the streets!

 

But marching takes on a whole different dimension when done by the U. S. Marine Corps at the closing-of-the-day ceremony at the Barracks in Washington D.C.  The band came marching out from the barracks in strict formation, all their feet were off the ground at the same time and their backs were straight, even when carrying their instruments.

marching-band-usmc
U. S. Marine Corps band marching out of Main Barracks in Washington D. C.

The sight and sound when they lifted their instruments and followed the direction of their drum major was incredible.

band
U.S.M.C. Band standing tall while playing during parade at the Main Barracks in Washington, D.C.

Then the Corps itself came marching out from the Barracks in perfect alignment and timing.

usmc-marines-marching
Marines marching in formation. Thrilling to watch, hard to do!

And they came to a stop and stood at attention for inspection.

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Standing at attention during parade at U.S.M.C. Barracks in Washington D.C.

Marching is frequently referenced in the Old Testament when the people of Israel were going from place to place in the wilderness and when they were settling down in the Promised Land.

Of course one of the miracles in the Old Testament is found in Joshua 6:1-6 where the people were told to march around the city of Jericho and God would give them the victory. While the instructions seemed strange, especially to a military people, they followed God’s command.  They were obedient and the city walls fell just as God had said.

The battle to take Jericho occurred after God told Joshua to be courageous and unafraid, that God would be with him.   We have that same promise that God will be with us in the person and presence of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. 

The overwhelming promise of peace came as Jesus was telling his disciples that He was going to suffer, die and be raised from the dead, and then He would be taken from them.  He would return, but they would be on their own for a time. 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

When Paul was in Corinth, the Lord came to him in a vision:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Acts 18:9-10.

In our world there are many wars that are ongoing and there are many soldiers marching to the orders of their superiors.  But there is a war that is greater than those raging between people on earth.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12.

Because the war waged against believers in Christ is from spiritual forces and cosmic powers in opposition to Christ, we human creatures are unprepared and unable to successfully fight in this battle. We are doomed if we are on our own – but if we are in God and covered in His armor, we will be able to withstand the battle.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. …  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

Ephesians 6:11. 13-18.

  • Praise God that He provides us with the tools we can use to fight the battle.
  • Praise God that He has promised to be with us as we do His will.
  • Praise our Lord that He has given us His peace and presence, even in the heat of battle.

Listen to “Onward Christian Soldiers” as sung on Amazing Grace Songs of Faith and Inspiration by 101 Strings Orchestra.

                

So, are you marching to your own drummer?   Or, are you marching under the cadence and direction of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

We are in a war of cosmic proportions and against spiritual powers that outmatch our human abilities hands-down. If we are marching in our own strength, we will be doomed.  We must march under the direction of our Risen Lord and Savior … only He has conquered sin and death, and we can rely on Him to help us conquer our fears and all the temptations that come our way.  March in the sure confidence that the armor God has provided will sustain you throughout the battle.

 

Father, I thank You that we do not have to face this battle alone.  Rather, I praise your holy name that You have provided us with the tools to effectively fight powers that we cannot see, beings that are too strong for us, through your Word and your Spirit.  Forgive me when I have tried to win the battle on my own.  Lead me as I march through my life so that I may be a Christian soldier who brings honor to my Sovereign Lord.

EVIDENCE OF FAITH

We need rain!  In East Tennessee we currently have multiple fires burning sending smoke into the air in a spreading blanket of contamination across the area.  While we have needed rain for several months, it was only of passing general interest.

I drafted this post before the air quality alerts went into effect and the need for significant rain became obvious on a daily basis.  The initial focus of the post is rain,  but its application relates to faith in all areas of our life.  May it be a blessing and a challenge to you, my dear Reader.

 

A friend sent me a modern parable that goes something like this:

It was especially dry, and the village needed water but no rain was in the offing.  In response to the situation, all the villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer, all the people gathered and prayed, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That’s FAITH.

This parable reminds me of an Old Testament story illustrating faith.  There had been no rain in the land as a judgment by God on the people and evil King Ahab, and this act of judgment was to be relieved only by Elijah’s word.  I Kings 17.  After winning the challenge between Baal and God on Mount Carmel, the people repented of their sin in going after other gods, and they said that the Lord would be their Lord.

Thus, the prophet prayed for relief from God’s judgment.  After petitioning God for rain, the following discourse occurred between Elijah and his servant.

And he [Elijah] said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he [the servant] went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go again,” seven times.  And at the seventh time he [the servant] said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44. 

rain-in-mississippi
A massive rain storm in Mississippi. Rain is visibly falling in several places as we were heading toward the storm.

Elijah sent his servant to look for the rain cloud … 7 times.  And, that 7th time the servant saw “a little cloud like a man’s hand”.  Although no rain had yet fallen, Elijah told the servant to go tell the king to get ready to run now, otherwise you will be stuck in the mud because of the rain.  That’s FAITH.

What is scriptural faith?  In the Bible, the writer of Hebrews describes faith as follows:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:1, 6.

It is not faith in everything that comes along, nor is it a blind faith that has no foundation. Your faith is misplaced if you sit in a small plastic chair for it will collapse under the weight of a 250 pound person.  Clearly, the amount of your faith is not in question — you acted on your faith by physically sitting down.  The problem was that the object of your faith was seriously deficient. 

Faith in God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, the Lover of our souls, and the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord is the faith that provides peace, support, and salvation.  Faith alone in God, through Christ Jesus, is the path to eternal life.

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.

Paul testified:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17.   Note, the King James Version of verse 17 uses the more familiar language “The just shall live by faith.”   The meaning of the two translations is the same – God justifies and declares us righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2.

Jesus repeatedly told persons during His ministry that the faith of those He healed had made them well.  For example:

Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:22

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

Matthew 9:29

And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:19

These people had faith that Jesus could heal them, an event that had not occurred but was to be in the future.  Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, they were healed so that God would be glorified.  It was at that point that their faith became a reality.

So, when you pray, do you have faith that you will receive an answer to your prayer?  The answer may not come immediately, and it may not come in a form that you expect; but there will be an answer.  David understood that God would answer his prayer according to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love answer me in Your saving faithfulness.

Psalm 69:13

Praise God that He is faithful, that He abounds in steadfast love.  He is in control, He is the Almighty God, and He will respond to the prayer of faith in His time and in His way.

By the way, do you know where your umbrella is?

Father, I pray that I would have more faith so that I would be the one who brings the umbrella when prayers are raised up for rain.  I pray that my prayers would not just take up my time but that they would come before you in your majesty and power.  And, I pray that I would not be faint when the answer seems to be so long in coming; may I trust in your unfailing love and mercy and may I rest in your grace, through Christ my Savior I pray.