IS IT REAL OR ARTIFICIAL?

When I was a child, we always had real Christmas trees.  Since I lived in Chicago, we did not have forests or woods to run to so that we could chop down our tree; rather, we purchased them from tree lots in neighborhoods.  Tying the tree to the top of the car, we drove home with just the right tree, then having to cut the tree down because it was almost always too tall for the room.

aRTIFICIAL SILVER CHRISTMAS TREE

My Great Aunt and Great Uncle, however, purchased an artificial tree … it was quite costly because it was the new trend.  It was silver and came with a multicolored light wheel that turned so that the tree was any of a number of colors, including, of course, silver.  The silver tree is still sold today, as I found this picture of one for sale this week.

Now, there was no way that anyone could have been fooled into thinking that the silver tree was a real tree.  Of course, there are no totally silver metal trees in the wild!  My mother thought that the silver tree was absurd; while I thought it was unique and rather cool.  But even as a young child I knew it was not a real tree!

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Now, in our own home, we have an artificial Christmas tree (actually two artificial trees).  It is much easier to decorate and its cost is amortized over numerous years, making it a much more fixed-income friendly tree than a real tree would be.  And, the artificial trees of today look much more like the real thing than did those of yesteryear, at least as long as you don’t get too close to inspect the “needles” or the “tree’s” branches. 

From a distance it looks like the real thing, but it is not.

The same thing can be said about our spiritual lives, our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and our Savior.  People can look good,  do nice things and can even say the right words, but their relationship with the Lord may not be the real thing … they may be an imposter, a silver tree among the green.

This is not a new phenomenon – in the Old Testament God warns about people who seem like they are believers but who, in fact, worship false gods.  Consider these words:

But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,

Jeremiah 18:15

For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

Zechariah 10:2

Jesus spoke of false prophets, warning the people to beware of them.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 7:15

The Apostle Paul issued the same warning that Christ gave:

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15

The Apostle Peter also gave a warning about false prophets and those who preach heresies rather than the true gospel.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:1-3

Finally, the Apostle John also warned against false prophets who teach heresies, admonishing the people to test what people are saying to be sure that they are teaching God’s word and not a distorted message.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

This Christmas time be vigilant, Christian.  Test what you are hearing.  Read the Scripture and pray for wisdom and understanding.  Don’t fall prey to false teachers whose heresies sound rather like the gospel but are actually false teachings that distort and dilute the power of the Gospel of Christ. 

Don’t be fooled by artificial trees that look real, but are not!

Father, I pray that I would have wisdom to separate the truth from the falsehood; that the Holy Spirit would help me avoid the pit of heresy; that I would be granted pastors and teachers who love Your Word and who preach the truth without apology, and that I would take that truth and live it out before others, to honor and glorify You, my Lord. my Redeemer and my King.

The Speck and the Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 7:1-5

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

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

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

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

James 4:11

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

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

Psalm 44:20-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 6:37

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

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

SIGNS AND DIRECTIONS

 When we were in England, we saw several “roundabouts” which delineated the proper route to take at, what we in the United States would call, an intersection.

Road signs in England with two roundabouts
Road sign in England showing connected Roundabouts.

It is important to follow the signs, and this one was one of the more clear-cut signs that we encountered. 

Society sets out these signs to dictate to us how to travel, how to negotiate from one place to another, how to get us where we want to go via the safest route available. 

It is clear that the land planners have concluded that it is appropriate for the proper flow of traffic that vehicles on the highway move in one direction on that part of the road, the vehicles exiting where appropriate to continue with their trip.  While some people may find it offensive to have their direction of travel dictated by “the government”, there can be no real opposition to the concept that the direction of travel at that spot on the highway must conform to the roundabout’s directive or there will be serious mishaps with property damage and potential loss of life. 

Steven Wright, the erudite American scientist and humorist described travel in this way:

“When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.”

While this is certainly true on the highway, his statement could also be speaking of a wider application, such as a consideration of whether your positions and opinions are in the mainstream or in opposition to society.

In thinking about the Christian life, I would submit that Mr. Wright’s comment is spot on.  If we are following the crowd, if we are following the dictates of the culture, if we are joining in with society’s standards, values and positions, everything might be coming our way, but we are in the wrong lane – we are not on the road to righteousness, and we are not on the path of a life with Christ that leads to eternal life. 

Rather than following the crowd, the Christian would do well to remember what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In other words, as Christians we must not presuppose that our culture’s standards, ethics, values and morals are those of the Almighty God.  He is above our finite world and His ways are very different than ours. 

Mark Twain expressed this thought:

“When you find yourself on the side of the majority it’s time to pause and reflect.”

Jesus talked about the majority position and its popularity when He said:

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14.

The fact that our ways are not those of God is highlighted by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus provides a glimpse into what God blesses, and illustrates that God’s ways are counter-cultural to be sure.  Here are just a few of the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 5, and I am using the Amplified Bible for this quotation:

Blessed [spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired] are the poor in spirit [those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [both now and forever] [Luke 6:20-23]. 

Blessed [forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace] are those who mourn [over their sins and repent], for they shall be comforted [when the burden of sin is lifted]. [Isaiah 61:2]    

Blessed [inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect] are the meek (or humble, gentle) [the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled], for they shall inherit the earth. [Psalm 37:11] 

Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God], for they shall be [completely] satisfied.

Matthew 5:3-6.

So, what direction are you going?  What path are you following? 

Be counter—cultural.  Follow Jesus.  Take the roundabout that leads to the narrow path, and you will be blessed.  Jesus said it, so you can believe it.

Father, help me to follow You as I live in this world.  May my walk reflect Your ways even if that means it runs totally counter to society’s mandate.  May I have the strength and will to follow You, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

How firm a foundation …!

Reverend Franklin Graham stated, in an article for the National Day of Prayer,

“I believe our nation is in trouble today, probably more than I’ve seen in my lifetime. We are contending with issues that are causing the very foundation of our country to crumble. Our moral and spiritual roots are eroding, the economy is misleading, family life is disintegrating, and political forces are at unprecedented odds. There seem to be very few leaders who will take a stand for God and for His Word.”  http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/how_to_pray_for_america

 

Foundations are important. Without a firm foundation, the whole structure falls, whether it is a building, home, career, church or country.

 

Most of us have experienced the lack of a foundation. The easiest to recall may be the first time you went to the beach and have stood, ankle deep, in the ocean. As wave upon wave rolled through your legs and over your feet and ankles, you can feel the sand shift under you. Soon, if you stood there long enough, you will be knee deep in sand because the water has “rearranged” the “ground” upon which you based your stance, and there was nothing secure underneath you.

 

Ocean - standing
Boy standing in ocean as waves move the sand under his feet.

 

In what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus Christ talks about the need for a foundation as he spoke to his disciples and the people gathered around him. In Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] he provided the following parable where He particularly was speaking about those who hear his words but do not intend to follow His teaching:

 

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

 

Clearly, Jesus’ parable has a multitude of lessons encapsulated in these four verses. But the focus here is on “foundation”. What is the foundation that the wise man used for his house? What foundation is secure so that the house did not collapse even during difficult times?

 

Scripture states that this Rock is Jesus Christ Himself. In Isaiah 28:16, the writer states that there is a rock provided for us to build this house upon, and that rock is Christ. He is laid for a foundation, and other foundation can no man lay. The church is built upon this Rock, and every believer is secure on this Foundation.  I Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20.

 

foundation
Rocks forming the foundation of the porch at cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

 

The foolish builders in Jesus’ parable based their hope upon anything but Christ, and you can rest assured that such unsecured foundation will certainly fail them on a stormy day. This picture of rocks as a foundation for the front porch was taken at the Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.  While the porch has been sturdy with this “rocky” foundation for a very long time, such foundation for your life will yield no true comfort and satisfaction for times of trouble in this life or at the time of death and future judgment. (There is more information about Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park that can be found at the Parks’ website, at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm.)

 

This dilemma was described eloquently in Job 27:8 [KJV]:

For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he may gain [much], if God takes away his life?

 

Job continues to compare the foolish builder’s hope with the spider’s web.

Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it but it does not hold.

Job 8:14-15. [NIV]

 

Clearly, having the right foundation is of paramount import. Indeed, it has eternal consequences.

 

The Psalmist says:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:12 [ESV]

 

The writer of Psalms 11 then asks this question:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalms 11:3 [ESV]

 

The answer, Beloved, is to pray … to look to the Lord who is the only foundation that will stand, no matter what happens. When things look bleak, Scripture tells us that God is not hindered by the leaders of men, see Proverbs 21:1 [ESV]:

 

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

Even the king, who is the most powerful person in the kingdom, is subject to the sovereign will of Almighty God, whether he recognizes it or not! The Lord turns the king’s heart however He desires.

 

Are you going through difficulties now? Have you in the past? In the unlikely event that the answers to these two questions are “no”, in all likelihood you will have difficulties in the future. But you do not have to be terrified or dismayed.

 

Are you concerned about our country and the course it seems to be traveling?  Pray.

 

Read the Word and pray that the country will return to the foundation upon which it was founded. Pray that God will be allowed to return to the school, the governmental body, the court. Pray that God will shower His grace upon our country and that we would repent of our arrogance and insistence that we would ignore His Word and His Son.

 

God rescued Israel when they prayed to him and repented of their sin … let us do so now and pray that He will not depart from our land.

 

Beloved, pray and then trust Him and praise His Name even when things are hard … the Lord will be blessed and you will be glorifying Him in all things.

 

                                                

Father, I know that You are sovereign and that no leader rises to power but for You allowing him/her to do so. I know Scripture says that You can turn the leaders’ hearts because they are like a stream of water in your Hand. Lord I pray for our country, for our leaders and for our people. Prick our hearts that we would turn to You and not trust in our own power. You gave us this land; may we be stewards of it as we rely on You to guide our course.