Panguitch what?

We were driving along the road from Richfield, Utah to Bryce Canyon when we saw Panguitch.  What is Panguitch, you might ask?  It is a lovely, small town just 24 miles from Bryce Canyon, and we felt like we were driving through the old west a century ago (as long as you didn’t notice the traffic lights, paved road and modern cars!).

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The Panguitch Mercantile

The town is small, but it has a rich history.  According to the town’s website, “Panguitch” is a Native American Paiute word meaning “Big Fish”, a reference to the many lakes in teh area which are teeming with award-sized rainbow trout.

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Every town needs a Thrift Store

The site further describes the town by saying: “This historically rich town is unassuming, quaint, and full of its own charm. Sprinkled with wild-west history, the city boasts small museums, original architecture, stunning wilderness, and plenty of pioneer spirit.” (Emphasis mine.)

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Cowboy’s Smoke House Cafe on Main Street.

Have you ever stepped back in time?  I know we can’t do it for real, but have you ever thought about a time different than our own?  Perhaps it was a time in your life when things were wonderful, even though you didn’t realize it then.  Or, perhaps you were reading an historical novel and found yourself lost in the time period of the characters in the book.  Or, perhaps you were watching a television series like Downton Abby, and you found yourself thinking how you would have reacted if you had been living at that time.

No matter, the point of that I want us to think about is that God created time, and God is outside of time.  What was yesterday, today and tomorrow for us are all the eternal present for God. 

I certainly cannot explain it, because my mind is limited to time references of a temporal human being.  But, the eternal Creator of time is certainly able to be outside of time.  He has existed forever and He will continue to exist forever. 

In Deuteronomy we read:

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy.’”

Deuteronomy 33:26-27 ESV  (see the endnote for more information about Jeshurun)

This verse tells us that none of the gods of the nations around Israel were capable of doing for their worshippers that which Jehovah did for His people.   Matthew Henry says this about this passage:

Riding on the heavens denotes his greatness and glory, in which he manifests himself to the upper world, and the use he makes of the influences of heaven, and the productions of the clouds, in bringing to pass his own counsels in this lower world: he manages and directs them as a man does the horse he rides on. When he has any thing to do for his people he rides upon the heavens to do it; for he does it swiftly and strongly: no enemy can either anticipate or obstruct the progress of him that rides on the heavens.

His boundless eternity; he is the eternal God, and his arms are everlasting.  The gods of the heathen were but lately invented, and would shortly perish; but the God of Jeshurun is eternal: he was before all worlds, and will be when time and days shall be no more.

God’s eternality is one of His attributes that is fundamental to our understanding of His nature.  He existed before the Creation of all things and He will continue to exist long after this world has gone.  He doesn’t need to “step back in time” because all of time is in Him at the same time. 

But for us, we time-bound people, while we can think back and recall other times,  we have no ability to think forward to the future.  That belongs to God.

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

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Jesus put it this way:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

Beloved, no matter what faces you today, be aware that God knows of your situation and He has it in His control.  There is simply nothing that comes your way that either surprises God or that is too difficult for Him to deal with – He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.  In other words, God knows all things, God is all powerful, and God is present everywhere. 

All the idols that mankind has created share at least one fundamental characcteristic – they are all manmade.  God, however, is not manmade: rather, He created man.  Trust Him.  Believe in Him.  Look to His Son who paid the price for mankind’s sin and believe in Him for your salvation and eternal life. 

Moses was right – “There is none like God”.

Father, I thank You for your word and I thank You for loving your people with an everlasting love.  You are God.  Forgive me when I have looked to other gods for help when only You can give me life abundant now and eternal hereafter.  You are God, and there is none other.

[By the way, Jeshurun is a poetical name for the people of Israel that is used as a token of affection.  Its meaning is “the dear upright people” and it is used in only four places: Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 22:5, Deuteronomy 33:26, and Isaiah 44:2.]

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The Arlington International Racecourse is located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  The track officially opened in 1927 with 20,000 people as Jockey Joe Boliero won riding a horse named Luxembourg to victory. 

In 1981 Arlington was the home of the world’s first million-dollar thoroughbred race: The Arlington Million.

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The result of that race is immortalized in bronze at the top of the paddock at Arlington, where a statue shows jockey Bill Shoemaker riding John Henry as the horse charged down the stretch, coming from way back, to catch The Bart at the wire. 

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It was a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the 40 to 1 long shot, and the statue celebrates Thoroughbred racing’s inaugural million dollar race.  The sculpture’s name is “Against  All Odds.”

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The sculpture is captivating; it is mesmerizing.  You can feel the tension, hear the crowd, see the strain and effort of both horse and jockey.  The horse ran the race and, against all odds, became the champion, receiving the victor’s crown at the end.

Running the race is, of course, a paramount objective at Arlington.  It is also a paramount objective of the Christian.  I don’t mean that each of us must go to a race track and run a marathon, sprint, or even a trip around the track’s oval. 

Rather, I am referring to running the race in our witness and daily walk with the Lord.

The Apostle Paul uses the race analogy often in his letters to the churches of his day as an illustration of the dedication and focus the Christian should have in spreading the gospel of Christ.   Consider the following passages:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

2 Timothy 2:5

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Ultimately, Paul says:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

The horses competing in the race rely on the jockey and their training to carry them through at the race.  They only have their own resources to rely upon, and on that day in 1981, John Henry pulled out the stops and won the race, receiving his crown.  It was a perishable crown, but that is not what the Christian race is all about.  The Christian’s crown will be presented by the Lord Jesus Christ and it will be an imperishable crown. In the words of our Lord:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

Train yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually for the race that is set before you.  Keep running the race even when it is hard and you are tired.  Remember that you have the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, to guide you and to give you the words to speak as you witness to others of Jesus and His love. 

The race we are in as Christians is not one on which to wager.  Our running is secure in Jesus and through His grace, power and might we will, like Paul, fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to finish the race You have set before me.  I pray, too, that I would keep the faith You have given me and that I would persevere to the end as Your child, through Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – RIGHTEOUSNESS

“Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.”

Psalm 116:5

Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”

Psalm 71:19

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. … Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.

Daniel 9: 7, 14

The righteousness of God is one of the most frequently referenced attributes found in Scripture.  It is tied closely to God’s justice, and the word “just” is sometimes used where other translations will say “righteous” in reference to God’s character.  When the Bible speaks of God’s righteousness, it means that God’s character or nature always leads Him to do that which is right.  We know that God is holy, and righteousness is His holiness in action.

צְדָקָה

The transliteration of this Hebrew word is tsedaqah and its pronunciation is tsed·ä·kä’. This Hebrew word is translated as justice or righteousness.  Strong’s concordance says this in its definition:

  1. righteousness (in government), such as a judge, ruler or king, of the law, and of the Davidic king Messiah
  2. righteousness (of God’s attribute)
  3. righteousness (in a case or cause)
  4. righteousness, truthfulness
  5. righteousness (as ethically right)
  6. righteousness (as vindicated), justification, salvation
  7. righteous acts

δικαιοσύνη

This is the Greek word for righteousness.  The transliteration of this Greek word is dikaiosynē and its pronunciation is dē-kī-o-sü’-nā.  Strong’s concordance defines this term in the following manner:  

in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.  A) the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God; B) integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting

Now, let’s consider some of the examples and scripture passages dealing with God’s righteousness.

Consider, for example, that God deals righteously with humanity.  Abraham expressed God’s righteousness in Genesis when he was speaking with God about Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

God expresses His righteousness when He loves the things that are good and hates the things that are evil.  This attribute leads God to do only those things that are right.  Thus, because He is righteous, He must judge evil and sin cannot come into His presence. 

Righteousness is like goodness and holiness, but this attribute differs from others because it requires works to establish it.  God is good and God is holy, but He refers to Himself as righteous because He works the good as well.

This connection between works and righteousness is seen in the very first book of the Bible.  God was speaking to Abram and promising to make him a great nation, notwithstanding the fact that his wife was barren.  After delivering this promise, scripture says:

“And he [Abram] believed the LORD, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” 

Genesis 15:6

A multitude of other scriptures reference the connection between our works and righteousness.  Consider these as examples:

“And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.”

Deuteronomy 6:25

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Psalm 24:4-5

The Old Testament is not the only place where righteousness is discussed and commanded from God’s people. 

Jesus said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 

Then Paul wrote to the Romans and said:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 14:17

The connection between righteousness and action was expressed by James like this:

 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness“–and he was called a friend of God. …  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

James 2:21-23, 26

While Christians are called righteous, we do not receive that commendation because of any ability to accomplish good works in ourselves.  Rather, we are considered righteous by our holy God because we reside in the righteousness of Christ.  In other words, Christ’s obedience is imputed to us and when we stand before God, God sees not us but the righteousness of His Son.

Paul expressed it like this:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–“

Philippians 3:8-9

Righteousness.  It is an attribute of God and we are commanded to follow God’s lead in doing works of righteousness.  Not to earn our own salvation, but to praise Him for the gift of grace and mercy in the atoning work of our Savior and Lord.

Father, I praise You for Your righteousness.  Through Your Son’s sacrifice, You have imputed His righteousness to us, and have covered our sins with His atoning blood.  Thank You for Your righteousness and mercy. 

BREAD – YUMMY!

I have long had a bread machine, but it went unused for most of my working career – too much to do, overtime, documents to read and cases to research. 

All that changed after retirement.  I have been having a grand time making homemade bread, dinner rolls, and breakfast sweet breads (this latter needs more practice before I serve it to anyone other than my beloved Husband!). 

After making two loaves of light rye and one loaf of white bread, I sat down to eat a slice of the rye and, as I was munching on it, I thought of bread in the scriptures. 

What exactly was bread in the scriptures?  It was as important to the ancient people and cultures as it is to us today.

In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we find that Joseph oversaw storing the grain before the severe famine was to hit the area.

“During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.”

Genesis 41:47-49

Grain makes bread, and bread sustains the people.   Grain in scriptures included barley, millet, and wheat. The King James Version of scripture uses the word “corn” while the Hebrew definition focuses on wheat, cereal and grain.

For example, we read in the giving of the Law:

“If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver.” 

Leviticus 27:16  (By the way, a “homer” is about 6 bushels.)

The beautiful book of Ruth speaks of barley as well:

“So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

Ruth 2:23

Exodus 9:32 (KJV) speaks of “rie” as being in the field, but it is believed that this was not something that we would use today to make “rye” bread; rather, scholars think this more likely to be spelt or emmer which is another type of wheat. 

God called Gideon in Judges Chapter 6 while Gideon was beating out the wheat in the winepress in an effort to hide the grain from invading Midianites.  And, in Judges Chapter 15 we read that Samson went to visit his wife during the wheat harvest.  Indeed, wheat is often referenced in the Old Testament.

This is a picture of a bread pan that was from Lachish (ca, fifteenth century B.C.). 

Lachish bread pan
Picture from Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums as found in Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, J. I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney and William White, Jr., © 1995 Thomas Nelson Publishers, page 471.

This pan may have been used for forming cakes of bread or it could actually have been used for baking the bread.  Leviticus 2:5 says:

“And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil.”

Leviticus 2:5. This is the ESV translation; the KJV translation uses the word “pan” instead of “griddle”.  Whether we would consider this a pan or a griddle, the picture gives evidence of what the ancient people making bread actually used. We certainly can relate to this activity even though several millennia have passed since this pan was used.

Jesus used wheat in his discourses with the disciples such as we find in Matthew 13.  One of the parables taught by Jesus referenced the man who sowed good seed in his field, only to have his enemies plant weeds among the seeds.  The owner left the field alone and all the plants grew until harvest when it was easy to identify the good wheat from the bad weeds.  Later in the chapter, Jesus explained the parable to the disciples, saying that the weeds were the evil ones, but the wheat represented those in the kingdom of God.

We also read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:11 where He is teaching the disciples to pray when He said:

“Give us this day our daily bread, …”

The hearers would have understood that bread was a staple of the Hebrew diet.  They milled and sifted grain, usually wheat but also barley. They made it into dough, kneading it and forming the dough into thin cakes which were then baked.  They also would have understood Jesus’ prayer for bread with the broadened meaning of food in general. 

For me, the primary reference that comes to my mind when I think of scripture and bread is Jesus’ I AM teaching:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” 

John 6:35

People understand that bread is life-giving; it is life-saving; it is food; and it represents the fact that food is fundamental to our well-being.  We must have physical food or we will die, it is “as simple as that!”

In like manner, we cannot spiritually be alive without the food of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the Bread of life, both here and for eternity.  He handles our longing for spiritual food and gives us the Holy Spirit as our comforter and guide.  We must feast on the Word of God or we will die, this too is “as simple as that!”

Next time you pick up a slice of bread, stop and thank Him for being your Bread of Life! 

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Psalm 34:8

Father, thank You for providing Your Son for our salvation and for an abundant life now and evermore.  May I always look to my Savior and rely on His direction and guidance so that I will bring glory to Your Holy Name.

WHERE IS YOUR SECURITY – IN MONEY OR IN GOD?

In every home there must be time set aside to handle the financial matters of the family. It might be weekly, monthly … whatever fits for the individual situation. While there are at times not many “finances” to manage, there always seems to be an unending supply of bills to pay. 

No matter what our station in life may be, we must deal with money because we use it to pay for the goods and services our lives depend upon. 

But, what is it that we really rely upon for security in our life? 

Jesus spoke about money on many occasions.  For example, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Paul gave additional admonition regarding money to the young pastor Timothy when he admonished:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

1 Timothy 6:10 ESV

We must be careful not to let money become our master, to prevent money from taking the place in our heart that rightfully belongs to God.  God is deserving of our love and adoration, and He alone is the One to whom we should be devoted.

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to testify of His words in nearby villages, He told them to take only a staff, implicitly telling them that God would provide that which they needed along this trip.  This occasion is recorded in  the book of Mark, chapter 6.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts–but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.”

Mark 6:7-9 ESV

The result of their journey is reported in verses 12 and 13 of this chapter:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

No report is made that they lacked what they needed.  Rather, God supplied their needs and they were able to do Jesus’ work throughout the land. 

Remember that Scripture says that God has unlimited resources with which to help His people.  God said:

“For every beast of the forest [is] mine, [and] the cattle upon a thousand hills.”

Psalm 50:10 KJV

Cows grazing in pasture along highway in Virginia cropped
Cows seen grazing in field along a Virginia highway.

Recall, also, that God sent manna to the Israelite people in the wilderness when there was no grocery in which to buy bread.  He sent quail for meat when nothing but desert surrounded them.  God has His ways to provide for His children.

The writer of the book of Hebrews admonishes:

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.“”

Hebrews 13:5 ESV

It is not sinful to plan and work toward a strong financial position for your family.  Money itself is not evil.  But, we must remember that God gives us everything, even the health and wisdom to work, and the talents to be used in our life work.  Indeed, He has even given us the gift of life itself.  All things are from Him. 

With this in mind, we are to be content with what God has given us.  Even when we are in desperate financial straits, God has promised that He is with us and His children would not be forsaken.   This is the definition of true security.

Father, forgive me when I have let my sense of security come from the bank account or pension plan; forgive me when money has become my security blanket.  I pray that I would rely on You alone for my security, as You alone are capable and dependable, and You alone love me with an everlasting love, through Your Son and my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

REFOCUS ON CONTENTMENT

Have you ever given your young child or grandchild a shiny quarter with their eyes open wide at the wonder of the coin in their hands?  Then, when we are a bit older, we receive our first paycheck.  No matter the work, you remember the first time you see a check with your name on it because we are seeing the fruit of your labor.

Something happens as we move on with our life.  Suddenly we realize that we don’t have that same joy over our situation as we did when we were young.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Rather, it is as old as mankind itself.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 ESV. 

Adam and Eve had everything at their disposal, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Seems like they would be contented, doesn’t it? 

Ozark Mountain River
Mountain River in the Ozarks

But then came the serpent who misquoted God when he asked “Did God really say …?“

Ultimately, Eve’s eyes were refocused:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Genesis 3:1-6 ESV.  They became discontented when they looked at the one thing they could not have and desired it so much that they disobeyed their Creator God to get it.  Of course the result of that disobedience was swift punishment – expulsion from the garden accompanied by hard work and labor.

Contentment.  Why was she not content with what she had?  Because she looked at what she did not have instead of what she had.

Yosemite water fall and downsream 2011 (C)
Yosemite National Park waterfall and downstream.

How much happier would we be if we were content with what God has given us rather than comparing our condition with others, specifically with others who we believe are more wealthy, more healthy, more wise, more … whatever, than we are.

Jesus said:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33 ESV

Think about what the Lord endured for you and for me.  Then look at what He has blessed you with … even the hard things and know that nothing can compare with what He went through.  Praise Him for all things, and you will see that your joy has returned and you are contented in a way that was inconceivable before.

Relax, you know that your Savior and your Heavenly Father know you better than you know yourself!  The Holy Spirit will provide that which you need most.  Seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest will fall into place.

USED Asleep on daddy's lap - snickers
Contentment — Snickers is asleep on Daddy’s lap.

Contentment comes when we focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and rest in Him.   

Father, forgive me when I have focused on things that I don’t have or can’t do rather than focusing on You and giving thanks for all the marvelous blessings You shower upon me each moment of every day.  Refocus my attention on You and away from that which would cause discontent and unrest.  Thank You for Your love, grace and mercy.

KUDZU – A FORMIDABLE FOE

Kudzu is a vine that is ubiquitous in the American South.  It was formally introduced to the United States at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, however its potential in the U.S. was minimal at best and it appeared not to have a place in our landscape.

Then came the dust storms of 1935.  When soil erosion ravaged the prairies, millions of kudzu seedlings were grown in greenhouse nurseries as the weapon that would stop erosion in its tracks. 

Today, rather than in prairies, kudzu is associated with the South.  It is very aggressive when planted along roadways and railway embankments, and for that reason, it is conspicuously visible from passing automobiles!   Indeed, its creation of goblins and ghouls out of trees and telephone poles can be seen even when traveling 65 miles per hour. 

Kudzo - Trees engulfed in the vine
Kudzu as seen from the car traveling down the Interstate Highway.

In fact, the vine has been called “the vine that killed the South”, although that seems to be quite an exaggeration!  (Read more about this at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/true-story-kudzu-vine-ate-south-180956325/#cGVCq35eEDVdpfqu.99) )

We pass kudzu every time we get in the car as it is on the roadways that we travel daily.

As we were traveling down the highway, I began thinking about Kudzu and its spread.  At first, it is innocuous, just a little vine, a weed, no problem.  But when it becomes aggressive, it takes control of a small area on the tree and, quickly, engulfs the entire tree.  It is truly a formidable foe!

As I was thinking about this, I found a parallel to it for our spiritual lives. Consider the insidious ways that sin overtakes us.  Sin is cosmic treason, it is disobedience to God’s command.  Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

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

Kudzo along highway beginning its takeover in VA
Kudzu getting a firm hold along the highway in Virginia.

Looking at trees that are consumed by kudzu, we see them weighed down, bent and misshapen.  This brings to mind Jonathan Edwards’ description of sin and its effects:

Your wickedness makes you as if it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974) p. 9.

Like kudzu, sin is insidious – it creeps in when and where we least expect it.  We must be on our guard because sin is constantly tempting us to disregard God and to act on our own, and sin is a formidable foe. 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8 ESV

Indeed, we cannot defeat sin on our own.

Martin Luther put it this way:

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.  Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved.  Now choose what you want.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Kudzu thrives in the light along the highways and roadways of the South.  But, its enemy is the shade of the forest where it cannot survive. 

Sin thrives in the darkness of rebellion against God and of self-pride.  Jesus said:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 ESV

But, sin has its enemy, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Light of the world illuminates sin, the Light defeats the darkness. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””

John 8:12 ESV

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

Like kudzu, sin may creep in and may even cover the heart, but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is sufficient to overcome whatever sin we have committed.  Repent and accept His forgiveness, then praise our Lord and glory in His name.

Father, thank You for shining the light of Jesus Christ in my heart and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that protects me as sin tries to tempt.  I pray for strength as I walk the path you have directed, I pray that I will look to You each day in Your strength, all for Your glory.

 

PERSONAL, PRIVATE PRAYER – DO I HAVE TO DO IT?

When we look at the New Testament scriptures, we see a pattern that reveals the importance of prayer, not just corporate prayer during Sabbath services but private, personal, intimate prayer with our Creator, Savior, Loving God.  In all things, Jesus is our example, so we look to Him for our understanding of personal prayer.

Jesus prayed intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane before being betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, and He asked three of His disciples to support Him during this time.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Matthew 26:36-44 ESV

He was sad, sorrowful, asking the Father if there was a way that His assumption of our sin could be avoided.  In other words, “isn’t there some other way?”  Haven’t we cried the same thing to our Father?

But Jesus’ prayer didn’t stop with a refusal to do what the Father directed – He continued to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, saying, in essence, “Your way is the best.  If you want me to do this, so be itI will obey.” 

We have all had the experience of confronting a huge problem, frightening news that upends our universe.  Perhaps it is news of a deadly disease, or the fracture of a marriage that had seemed perfect.  Perhaps the violent, unanticipated loss of a child or spouse, or perhaps the agonizing vigil with an aging parent who no longer knows who you are.  We pray hard during those times.  We seek the Lord’s face and ask the hard questions, most of which begin with the word “Why”. 

There are a myriad of reasons that God allowed the difficult circumstance and we will never ever know all of them, but we can have confidence that they are all directly tied to His plan for your life.  He loves you and, even in the hard times when all logical arguments fail and it is sheer pain, unadulterated panic, and fear, if you are His child, He is holding you in His hand.  He wants you to understand that His grace is available and that His power is all-sufficient … trust Him and let Him hear all your fears, pain and panic.  Don’t try to sugarcoat your thoughts and feelings — He already knows them.  He will hold you and respond saying “my grace is sufficient for you.”   2 Corinthians 12:9.

USED Giant praying hands in Webb Missouri
Praying Hands in Webb Missouri

Jesus not only prayed when faced with the agonizing ordeal of the cross, He prayed, routinely, regularly, even when His ministry was at its peak and he was beset by many who wanted to be healed and to hear Him teach.  

“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Luke 5:15-16 ESV

In fact, He often would withdraw from people so He could be alone with His Father, in prayer. 

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

Matthew 14:23 ESV

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12 ESV

Jesus even told His disciples and those around Him that private prayer between them and the Father is more important than praying before others, as the hypocrites did.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6 ESV  The disciples understood that prayer was important, so in Luke 11:1 we have the record that, after Jesus had been praying, they specifically asked Him to teach them to pray.  It is this request that gives us what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”. 

Private prayer was important in the Old Testament — David said:

“But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”

Psalm 88:13 ESV

Private prayer was important in the New Testament — The New Testament church also prayed earnestly for the spread of the Gospel and for the growth of the church.

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Acts 1:14 ESV

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”

Acts 12:5 ESV  This is the humorous scenario that we read about, when Peter was miraculously released from prison and came to the house where people were praying for his release, but the maid would not let him in because she didn’t recognize him as the one for whom they were praying!

If prayer was important to Jesus, if prayer was important to the disciples who lived and walked with Him, if prayer was important to the early church, it should be important to us.

Individual prayer – it is important.  Take time to be away from work, household chores, telephone, television, children, spouse, even well-meaning prayer partners … have dedicated time to talk with God on an intimate, individual basis.  Then listen.  Prayer is a benefit that Christ has secured for His sheep.  Don’t ignore it. 

So, have you prayed today?

Father, forgive me when I have ignored spending time with You.  Forgive me when the trivial has overridden the important, when materialism has crowded out the eternal, when I have sinned by saying a “prayer” that is a thinly veiled demand that You act on my behalf in a certain way.  Forgive me, Father.  Help me to put Your desires ahead of mine so that You will is done in my life and in the lives of those with whom I come in contact.  May I sincerely say “Your will be done”.

PLAN AND GO – OR GO WITH THE FLOW?

I find it interesting when I talk to people about vacations.  Some folks just “go with the flow.”   No need to plan where they are going to stop, “there will be a place somewhere!”   No need to get tickets ahead of time, “there will be a seat available!” 

Others plan every hour and second of their time away from home.  They have hotel and restaurant reservations.  They have tickets, in hand, for various events they want to see or in which they want to participate.  And, they have maps galore including the most up-to-date GPS program available.  

I suspect that most people are a combination of these two extremes, but I am mostly a “planner” while my husband is more of a “go with the flow” guy.  It makes for some interesting times. 

taylor-mcgee-campbell-wisconsin-dormatory
Taylor University, Upland, Indiana — picture of McGee-Campbell-Wisconsin, my dormitory when I was a student in the late 1960s. It had been demolished by the time our daughter graduated from the University in 2000. 

We had two children in college at the same time.  They both were in out-of-state schools, each about 7 hours away from our home but in opposite directions!  This did not create too much of a problem until the year when Parents’ Weekend was held on the same date for both schools.  Normally we do things together, but given the circumstances, I went to our daughter’s school and my husband went to our son’s school.   

vmi-jackson-hall-1996
Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, picture taken in 1998 of Jackson Hall (the dormitory) when our son was a cadet there.

Since we were going in opposite directions, leaving at different times, it never occurred to me to make my husband’s hotel reservations.  He made his own plans when he traveled for work so I didn’t think twice about his plans for this trip, especially since he was going to an area not far from his birthplace. 

I planned my trip and even arranged for an Aunt to meet me in the small Indiana college town as a surprise for our daughter.  I had started loading the car with things that she wanted for her dorm room when my husband asked: “Where am I staying tonight?”    I responded: “I don’t know; where did you make your reservations?”  

The blank look on his face was all the answer I needed.  No reservations.  “Well,” he said, “there are loads of rooms in the area.”  So I headed for Indiana and he headed for Virginia.  He knew the area well, in fact it had been his sales territory for a number of years, so I was not concerned about his ability to find lodging. 

What neither of us knew was that all of the gazillion schools in northern Virginia had Parents’ Weekend at the same time.   What he also did not know, but soon found out, was that no rooms were available in any of the hotels/motels near the VMI campus.

I, on the other hand, was safely booked into my hotel when I tried calling him on his cell phone.  At that point in the day, he told me about all the Parents’ Weekend activities and mentioned that he did not yet have a room.  He was confident that it would be easy to find one; he just had “not really looked”.

Later, he called to tell me that he found lodging – an hour away from the college and in the direction of our home.  He was not in a regular room but in the hotel’s conference room.  I then had a mental picture of a long table with all the chairs pushed in forming a fence with his sleeping form stretched out between the chairs, a book for his pillow. Rather like the Biblical Patriarch Jacob, I thought!   

conference-room-table

While he let me have that delusion for a while, later in the conversation he told me that the room had a sleeper sofa.  There went the Jacob analogy!

Praise the Lord that He is sovereign.  In our arrogance and sin, we think that we have our life all worked out, but we must remember that our life is always under His control, whether we plan and schedule or relax about the details.  Job learned this millennia ago when he said:

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” 

Job 42:1-2

Moving into the New Testament, when Pilate said that he had the power to either free or crucify Jesus, Jesus corrected him:

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” 

John 19:10-11. 

In Proverbs 19:21 the writer says:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.”  

I have to confess that my planning down to the infinite detail is something of which I must repent since it falls in the category of prideful sin.  You know, something along these lines: “I’ve got this, Lord.  You can take care of more important things!” 

I further suspect that Bill’s relaxed attitude is much more like that which our Lord desires.  Rest in His arms and let Him handle the details.  I’m basing this on the teachings in Matthew chapter 6, a chapter which I commend to your reading.

In it, Jesus talked about anxiety and told His disciples, and us, not to worry about our life or what we are going to eat or wear.  God knows what we need and He will work His will through us.  At the end of the chapter, He says:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:33-34 ESV 

Yeah, I believe that this supports my husband’s relaxed attitude about planning, and it is something that I have to cultivate in my own life on a daily basis.

Ultimately, both of us had marvelous times with the children on our respective Parents’ Weekends.   Even when things seem to be hectic, helter-skelter, and going awry, God has even the tiniest details in His hands.  What an incredible, caring and omniscient God we serve.  What a glorious blessing it is to call Him “Father” through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Thank You, Father, for guiding us through the hurdles that we encounter in this world.  Thank You for loving us and sending Your Son to be our Savior.  Thank You for blessing us with Your Spirit as He teaches and encourages us along the way.  Thank You that Your purpose always prevails, even when things seem out of control to our limited way of thinking!