ARE YOU ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD?

Many years ago, like in the 1970s, there was a song sung by Karen Carpenter called “Top of the World .”  The lyrics for the chorus of this song were:

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation, and the only explanation I can find, is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around, your love’s put me at the top of the world.

We often want to be on the top of the world, don’t we?  For most of us, that is simply a wish that we could get out of the dismal surroundings that confront us on a day-to-day basis.  We want to be taken out of our current situation and put on top of it so that we won’t have to deal with the issues, be hurt by others, face difficult consequences, etc.  We will be on top of the problem and it won’t be able to adversely affect us anymore.

A picture that comes to my mind when I think of escaping to the top of the world is that of  the Meteora Monasteries in Greece.  These monasteries of the Greek Orthodox Church were built high above the ground between the 14th and the 16th centuries.  In fact, they are about 1,300 feet above ground.  Wars and invasions were the norm, so having the monastery up above the fray was a way to minimize distractions, enable the monks to meditate more effectively, and, not at all an insignificant concern, it provided them a place of safety because of their incredible isolation from the world below. 

monastery-of-the-holy-trinity-meteora-greece
Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora, Greece, a 14th century monastery on the cliff tops.

In fact, goods and supplies, as well as visitors to the monasteries, were transported to the top by way of ladders lashed together and baskets tied to ropes, which were then hoisted to the top via pulleys.  Now there are steps for easier access to some of the monasteries, but hundreds of years ago the way to the top was, indeed, formidable. 

For more information, see the CNN Travel article about this area at http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/meteora-greece/index.html 

It is indeed enticing to be on “top of the world”.  But is this where we are to stay?  Is this following the mandate that our Lord gave to His disciples?  I think not.

Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven, He and his disciples were gathered together and He gave them His final instruction:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

We are to go and make disciples, this is what the Lord commanded.  This does not sound like we are to retreat from involvement with people, does it?

In a prior post we looked at living in a cave, something that has been done throughout history. Even King David hid in a cave when hunted by Saul.  Thus, he spoke from experience when he said in Psalm 139: 

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Psalm 139:7-8 ESV

Simply put, we cannot run from God.  He is with us and sees us in the cave as well as on top of the mountain. 

I certainly do not deny the good work that the monks have done, and are still doing, in the Greek Orthodox Church worship that occurs in these monasteries.  Indeed, a retreat to the mountain top is exhilarating and we can experience God in a new way by stepping out of society and into a meditative cocoon, into silence and tranquility so that we can hear God’s “still small voice” [1 Kings 19:12] as He speaks to us in the way He has done through the millennia. 

But, ministry, the work of the Lord in His world and the fulfilling of His command to His disciples, requires that we interact with those who are lost, who do not have a life-giving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It requires that we go out of the place of worship and into the world; it requires that we be the light guiding others to Christ; it requires that we be the salt that heals and preserves as we introduce the Lord Jesus to those who do not know Him by our words and our lifestyle witness.

Whether it is a cave or a mountaintop retreat, we need to come out and interact with people as we make disciples. We should obey the Lord’s command, because we love Him; and we should do it all to the glory of the Father, the Almighty God.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to honor Your Son, Jesus Christ, as I live before others in the power of His Spirit.  May my witness be glorifying to You and may Your Spirit bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

IS THIS WHAT IT APPEARS TO BE?

Have you ever seen something that just looked odd?  Like there was some inconsistency in what you were observing?

When we were on a trip recently, we were sitting in traffic when a mini-van pulled alongside of us.  The name on the … well, here is a picture of the vehicle:

Yellow cab in Virginia
The gray Yellow Cab.

In case you are not looking at this in color, the cab is gray.  The name is in black.  And, the name of the company is “Yellow Cab”.  [Please note, I am not in any way saying that the company is bad or that the driver of the cab was inconsiderate.  I am only commenting on the difference between the name and the color of the taxi.]

I started laughing and Bill then noticed the inconsistency and he, too, chuckled.  A discussion then ensued about why we were laughing – what made it funny. 

Obviously it was the inconsistency between the yellow in the name and the gray of the vehicle.  Yellow cabs, by definition, are yellow, at least that is what they usually are! 

That discussion then went into a discussion of how upset we are when we think something is one thing when, in fact, it is quite different. 

Christians are to be imitators of Christ. 

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

John 13:13-15 ESV

“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.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 ESV

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

“… For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.  And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.”

Acts 11:26 ESV

Disciples of our Lord are to follow Christ’s example and His commands; that is what the title Christian implies – we are followers of Christ.  And, His example at the Last Supper was that of being a servant to others, with the specific commandment that His disciples love one another, just as He had loved them.   Before ascending into heaven, He directed that the disciples were to make disciples, baptizing and teaching others.  In Acts, we read that the early church met together and did what Jesus directed, and they were first called Christians in Antioch.

So, service, love, teaching and obedience to our Lord are central characteristics of a Christian.   How does that fit with someone who puffs themselves up before others, and then belittles folks behind their back?  How does that fit with someone who refuses to participate in helping those in need?   How does that fit with someone to will not associate with other believers in church?

Jesus had something to say about those who say or do things for the wrong reasons:

“”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

Matthew 23:23 ESV. 

The hypocrites arrogantly tithed absolutely everything, but they ignored those in need!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Matthew 23:25-28 ESV. 

From a spiritual perspective, the what is on the outside is irrelevant: it is the heart that matters.  The hypocrites looked good on the outside, but inside was a different story!

I thought about that gray yellow cab and wondered if that was a picture of me. 

When people hear me speak of my Lord and Savior, the outside identifies me as a Christian; but then when they hear me blast the restaurant server, do they still see me as a Christian?  When I drive my car, with its fish decal on the back representing me as a Christian, and then I cut someone off, is my driving witness consistent with what the decal affirms?  

In other words, is my witness inconsistent with my heart?  Do I look like one thing in actions and in words while the underlying heart condition is vastly different?

Am I really what I appear to be?  Are you?

Am I a gray yellow cab? 

Father, forgive me for the times that my actions are inconsistent with the message that You have directed me to present to others.  Forgive me when I am more like the hypocrites in Scripture than I am like the Christians who unashamedly presented Jesus Christ to all who came to them.  Give me strength and the ability to do Your will as You direct and empower.

ARE YOU IN THERE?

Have you ever watched a sculptor at work … creating a beautiful figure out of a chunk of marble or wood? How do they do that? How do they know what figure will come out of the material they are using?

Although I have not seen sculptors working in marble, I have seen people sculpting wood – with chain saws!

Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.
Sculptor of wood with chain saw working on large piece.

These artisans were chainsaw sculptors who were taking part in an international chainsaw carving competition in Reedsport, Oregon in 2009. This competition was subject of a post entitled “Creative Talents on Display” posted on May 2, 2015.

They created wood carvings of birds and bears, fish and wildlife on both a mammoth and a small-scale, all done with chain saws, some large for the first cuts and others very fine for the detailed work, but chain saws nonetheless.

Chain saw carved hawk.
Chain saw carved hawk.

No matter the size, the concept is the same. Something is inside the wood, and the artist must work to release it.

Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.
Looking at wood and seeing the statue encased in it.

Michelangelo said that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The same great sculptor was asked how he knew when to stop sculpting on a piece and he responded: “Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”

 

Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.
Checking the sculpture and confirming what the craftsman sees for his piece.

This is a picture of one of the sculptors in Reedsport who has placed some rough-hewn details which begin to show the subject of his sculpture.

Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.
Eagle grasping at salmon, carved by chain saw sculptor.

Here the artist has completed the work and has released the object from its imprisonment! This is one of the finished products at the Reedsport, Oregon competition in 2009 – an eagle swooping down to catch the fish below. Incredible detail, all done with a chain saw!

I readily admit that I have no such talent – if I were to hold a block of wood in my hand, it would stay there until I put it on the wood pile for the next winter fire. But, I certainly can appreciate the effort, talent and creativity that goes into developing one of these pieces.

I believe that God has called each of us to be, in essence, a sculptor of persons through His power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Luke 4:18-19 Jesus said:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Emphasis added)

Jesus told those in the synagogue that day so long ago that He was sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners … He was not talking about those in jail for their misdeeds but to the broader citizenry who are held captive in sin.

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” 1 Corinthians 15: 56.

What does that have to do with blocks of wood? Nothing. But it has everything to do with our involvement with others in our church, family, neighborhood or world.

Think about the young people who come to church for youth group. Perhaps a smile or an arm around a shoulder would encourage some barriers to be dropped so that the story of God’s love through Jesus Christ could make inroads into a young person’s heart, replacing “attitude” with love.   Are you in there?

The attitude bear cub.
The “attitude” bear cub.

Think about the elderly who have no one to care about them? A warm meal served with a smile, or a coat provided with a hug, might be something that would chip away the callous exterior to reveal the heart that Jesus can touch.   Are you in there?

Mountain Man carved with chain saw.
Mountain Man carved with chain saw.

Why do this? Because God said we should, see Matthew 28:19‐20. Praise His Name that He should want me to work on His behalf! What a privilege. What a responsibility. What a joy.

Are you in there?

Father, help me to see others as you see them … through the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to look past the exterior and to see the hurt, the need, the worries, the anxiety, and the fear. Help me to be the hands of our Lord as I seek to minister to others, and help me to point other always, and only, to you my Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

 

WIND CHIMES – SOUND OR SILENCE?

Wind chimes — I love them.

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch
Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

I enjoy hearing them when the wind ripples through their parts and the chimes make melody along with the leaves and birds, all of nature combining to glorify God through their music.

Wind chimes outside porch window
Wind chimes outside porch window

But, not all the wind chimes are like the two above which are placed outside near the porch windows.  Certain wind chimes have been placed on hooks inside the porch.

Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch
Wind chimes with brass chimes on porch

We did have them outside for a time and their sound was just not … musical, shall we say.  The primary problem, though, is that they were not able to withstand the rigors of the breeze.  Seems rather weird that a wind chime could not hold it together in the wind, but that is the situation with those that are, now, inside.

Wind chimes on porch
Wind chimes on porch

Then there is the pottery wind chime from Hawaii that we had outside and it performed beautifully until one of the pieces broke after hitting the side of the house.  It is now in wind chime retirement, hanging on the wall inside the house.

Wind chimes from Hawaii
Wind chimes from Hawaii

A bamboo straw wind chime was a souvenir from an adventure in Jamaica.

Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window
Wind chimes made of wood in bedroom window

The bamboo chimes have all the right pieces, but they just don’t make music – they rather thud!  A wind chime without the chime.  Just window dressing!

Wind chimes in kitchen window
Wind chimes in kitchen window

Some wind chimes have extra features, like balls that sparkle and, this one in the kitchen, even has a spring holding the chimes up.  Touch it and the whole thing bounces up and down with the chimes giving off a rather tinkling sound.  But I wouldn’t want to put it in the wind – the spring would have the chimes all twisted up in no time!

Wind chimes gracing the kitchen
Wind chimes gracing the kitchen

Some wind chimes, like this glass blown chime, are just too fragile to hang out in the wind.  It makes pretty music when the lower bob is touched, but it is simply not strong enough to endure the wind that would hit it outside. So it views life through the kitchen window.

Those chimes that are outside in the wind are doing what they were intended to do – make beautiful melody when touched by God through the breezes that He provides.  Those that are inside the house, for whatever reason, are still wind chimes, but they are not doing what they were intended to do.  They are pretty, they are providing ambiance, they are souvenir reminders of the trips that we have taken, but they are not fulfilling the purpose intended for them as wind chimes.

In Matthew 5:15-16, Jesus used a lamp as an illustration of something that can fulfill its purpose when being used properly.

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  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.

Of course, putting the light under a basket so that its light, although available, was not able to do its job is foolishness.  But Jesus then continues to say that the disciple of Christ should “let your light shine before others.”  Why?  For the purpose that others would see the works of the disciple and then give glory to God.

Notably, the very first question in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”, and the answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  One of the proof text verses supporting this response is 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul directs:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

In short, as Christians, we are not called to live an inactive, inert, or passive life.  We are called to do God’s will for us.  God’s people have always been called to do His will.  In Leviticus 25:18, God tells Moses to tell the people:

Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.

In the New Testament, Jesus says:

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

John 14:15.  And then he gives the counterpoint command in John 14:24 by saying:

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.  John 14:24

In other words, if you do not keep Jesus’ words, you are showing by your very actions that you do not love Him. It matters not that you say you love Him.  The proof is in the pudding – do your actions show that you are keeping His commands?

So the next question is “What has Jesus commanded His disciples to do?”  That answer is found clearly in the Gospels.  Consider the Gospel of John where Jesus tells us what He wants … actually, He says it three times!

“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

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:17

And then, while we are loving our Christian brother and sister, as we are commanded to do, we are also to:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 28:19

Jesus knew that we would need power to do this, so in Acts 1:8 we read Jesus’ instructions to the disciples after his resurrection and just before He ascended into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Knowing that being His witnesses would be difficult, He prayed to the Father for them:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15

Thus, we have the commandments, instructions, power and protection, all provided by our Loving Lord.

So:

Wind chimes playing music outside the porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians whose grace-filled life makes everything around us more beautiful?
  • Are we behaving as Christians by loving each other as Christ loved us?
  • Are we loving those outside the Christian family so that they see Christ in us?
  • Are we strong enough to love people even when it is hard and windy?
  • Are we loving people even when they hurt us?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are fulfilling the purpose God has for us?

Or:

Wind chimes on porch

  • Are we wind chime Christians who are too fragile in our faith to speak to others or to love those who are unlike ourselves?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who cannot withstand the torrents of difficulties attendant with Christian witness outside the confines of the church?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who have opted to stay inside the church, never getting out into the world so that we are not exposed to anything difficult or challenging?
  • Are we wind chime Christians who are so busy trying to look like Christians that we don’t have the time or inclination to follow Jesus’ command to love others?

 

Father, may I be a wind chime that sounds your love and mercy to others around me.  Forgive me when I have been content to sit on the sidelines of life and have refused to let my witness chime out for you.  Holy Spirit, embolden me so that I can do the work that you have arranged for me to accomplish and may my witness be love-filled even during those times when the winds of anger or contempt buffet the way. May I reflect Jesus in all that I do, to your honor and glory.