OUT OF BALANCE

Ever have a sense that you are just a little out of whack, a bit off kilter, just a mite out of balance?

We were driving through the Great Smoky Mountains and I spotted this tree, that seems to epitomize that feeling.

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Tree with branch growing along ground

I really have no idea how this happened, but it appears that the tree grew strong and tall, while a branch at ground level just moved to the right and then began growing alongside the tree.  It is clearly alive and well, just a bit out of kilter.

Then there are the trees that have been traumatized by raging forest fires, but which still remain standing, even though scarred.  Here is an example from Yosemite National Park showing the giant sequoia tree and its fire scar. 

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Giant Sequoia Tree burned clear through from forest fire, still growing and healthy notwithstanding the injury received.

This fire scar has burned all the way through the tree so that you can walk through the tree without harming it.  The tree itself is many stories tall!

Trees, that sustain rearrangement or injury, can grow and thrive even after their injury occurred.  Indeed, great swaths of forest undergo fire damage on a routine basis and the result is that the forest regrows, healthier and stronger than it was before.  In fact, some trees, like the giant sequoia trees, require heat from the fire to open their seed pods; the seeds then need cleared ground so they can germinate and grow, something that they would not have but for the forest fire!

My problem is that when I am undergoing something difficult, I tend to think that it is bad, that no one has ever had this type of injury, in other words I go through a pity party of no small stature.  I might not express this outwardly, but inside I am drowning in in it. 

As a Christian, however, this is not the way I am to respond to difficulty.  We know that difficulty comes to everyone.  If persecution attacked our Lord Jesus Christ throughout his ministry, we certainly should not be surprised when hard times come upon us.

Paul admonished Timothy to be aware of these things:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-17

How should I respond to difficult times?  Not by holding a pity party!  Rather, I should turn to the Scripture because this is the only Source that is profitable for:

Teaching – I will learn from the experience or difficulty

Reproof – Reproof can be said to be criticism for a fault.  It is from reproof that I will learn what should be removed from my life.

Correction – The reproof rightly received will result in correction of the error of my ways, my thoughts, my motives, my desires, etc.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word to correct that which He identifies as being in error.

Training in righteousness – Then, the Holy Spirit will be able to train my in the way of righteousness, because I have learned from the difficulties experienced.

What is the purpose of this teaching, reproof, correction, and training?  Paul tells Timothy what the purpose is … that the man (woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

You see, I may do a great many things that are good to do, but we need the Holy Spirit to prepare us to do good works for the Lord.  If we do good things in our own strength, we are doing them ourselves and they have no heavenly significance.  They may feather our cap in this world, but in the judgment, but earthly treasures are temporal, subject to destruction and theft.   Not so with heavenly treasures!

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.”

Matthew 6:19-20

When we do good works for God through the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than in my own power, they resound in Heaven to the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

So, when I am upset by circumstances, by some hurtful word uttered against me, or by a slight that brings humiliation, my response should not be a pity-party.  Rather, the response should be a turn to the Word and reliance on the Holy Spirit to teach, reprove, correct. and train me in righteousness.

Don’t be out of whack, a bit off kilter, or a mite out of balance.  Don’t descend into the pit of self-pity.  Rejoice because your Lord and Savior loves you, has forgiven your sins, has brought you into the family of God, and has given you eternal life.  Everything else is, quite simply, irrelevant!

Praise the Lord that He has not left us alone but that He has given us His Word and His Spirit as our comfort, guide, and strength, even in difficult times like the COVID 19 pandemic!

Father, You are the Author and Creator of all things.  You know the end from the beginning.  You know all things, omniscience, You are all powerful, omnipotent, You are everywhere at all times, omnipresent.  Such power is beyond my comprehension, especially when I remember that You sent Your Son to die for my sins.  Such love is also beyond my comprehension.  Forgive me when I drift into self-pity or fear of difficult times.  Remind me to cast all my fears, apprehensions, concerns, problems, difficulties at the foot of the cross because You have borne them for me already.  Then let me praise Your Holy Name and glorify You with my thanksgiving.

HOLY – WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

As a child, I remember singing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” with great gusto in my home church with my mother and father standing by my side. 

Then, as I got older in my faith walk with the Lord, I sang the hymn with less gusto and more meaning as I pondered each of the words while singing them.

Some places just evoke a feeling of sacredness, of being a special place where we feel close to God.     Consider the Canterbury Cathedral, where worship services to God have been conducted for over 1400 years!

Canterbury cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

Or, consider Bryce Canyon where we see the majesty and jaw-dropping creativity of our Sovereign God.  The beauty and sheer magnitude of the canyon evokes a feeling of gratitude to God for the beauty of His creation.

Bryce Canyon 1
Bryce Canyon with its “hoodoos” – spires standing up over the base of the canyon!

Or, consider Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and pools of water that exceed the boiling point, spewing steam and sulfur continually from their fissures.

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Yellowstone National Park. The pavement in the parking lot gave way under the pressure of the geyser beneath.  

These things tell us that God is different than we are … that He is far greater than our finite minds can comprehend. 

We say God is holy, that we have the Holy Bible, that Jesus foretold of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we know that are to be holy but: “What is ‘holy’?” 

The Hebrew word for “holy” as found in Strong’s concordance is Strong’s Number H6944 which matches the Hebrew  קֹדֶשׁ  English transliteration “godesh”.  This word occurs 519 times in 382 verses in the Hebrew concordance of the NASB

The word signifies apartness, sacredness, separateness and it is used in relation to God, places and things.  There is a “set-apartness” for that which is holy.  In reading Leviticus we see how the tabernacle and all its furnishings and utensils were “consecrated to God”, another way of saying they were set apart for God’s use, specifically for use in their worship of Him.  The clothing that the priests wore was consecrated for when they were performing their priestly duties.  They were set apart for use in the worship and service of God, taken out of the ordinary and set apart for God.

We remember that when Moses was in the wilderness and saw the burning bush, he walked over to it and, when he approached the bush, God spoke and told him to remove his sandals because the ground where he was standing was holy ground.  Before the bush started burning the ground around it was just regular ground, like all the rest of the wilderness.  But God’s presence, His use of the bush to get Moses’ attention, set the bush and surrounding ground apart from the rest: it became holy. His sandals that were covered in the dust of the ordinary had to be removed because they were contaminating the ground that had become holy.

God directed Moses to tell the people that they were to be holy because He, their God, is holy.

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Leviticus 19:1-2

God elaborates upon His relationship with His people in the next chapter:

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

God set apart His people for His own purposes, that they should be His and that they should follow no other god.  He separated them from all the peoples on the earth and they are His.  They are a holy people – not because of their own abilities or value. 

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

God’s people are His because He has chosen them and He is faithful to fulfill all the promises that He made to the patriarchs of old. 

In the New Testament, Peter tells the Christians that they are God’s children and that they are to be “holy” in their conduct!

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

We know, of course, that we cannot be holy on our own – we need the Holy Spirit to bring us the holiness that we need so we can show God’s holiness to the world.  We are sinful creatures and cannot be “holy” in our own right.   Because God is holy, we are to be holy as His children.  Holiness is to be a family trait!

So, what does this have to do with me, or with you?  We need to remember that, as Christians, we have dual citizenship – we are citizens of the place on earth where God has put us for His purposes, and we are citizens of God’s kingdom. As much as we are involved with the workings of our homes, cities, governments, schools, etc., these take second place when we think about our ultimate, eternal citizenship. 

God’s world is a beautiful, magnificent creation that reflects His glory daily.  But Scripture tells us that this world will pass away, but God’s Kingdom will never pass away.

Jesus said that our focus should not be on this world, but rather on heaven.

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.

Matthew 6:19-20

Be holy because God is holy.  Think of the words of the hymn as  you listen to it being sung on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise and Comfort, by Columbia Publishing House.

Father, I know that I cannot be holy other than by Your grace and mercy through the power granted to me by the Holy Spirit.  Enable me to grow in holiness so that others may see You reflected in my life.

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.