Are we walking worthy of God?

During a trip to Oregon, we drove along the coastline and, ultimately, came to the Garibaldi estuary.  That is, we came to the point where the river met the ocean, where fresh water mixed with salt water.

Estuary in Oregon 2009 159 (C)
Garibaldi estuary,, Oregon

The setting was beautiful and the concept mind-numbing.  How does fresh water and saltwater combine while remaining separate and not tainted by contact with each other at the estuary?  Given the mass of the ocean, it is clear that the fresh water is not going to dilute the salt in the ocean.  But the same cannot be said of the fresh water in the river.  Its mass nowhere compares to the ocean so why does the saltwater not taint the river’s fresh water? 

I’m not an expert on watersheds or the movement of rivers, etc., but after doing some reading, I think a simple answer is that the saltwater is much more dense than fresh water.  The result is that saltwater cannot go over the natural barriers that occur in the riverbeds.  While there is some mixing of the two, in various ways depending on the estuary configuration, ultimately the fresh water is not at risk of contamination from the salt of the ocean.  It seems to be impervious to it!

While we were reading in 1 Thessalonians, this week, we read these verses:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. 

Paul uses the illustration of a parent and his child, one we can certainly understand even 2000 years after this was written.  We teach our children how they should behave, how they should be courteous, how they should be kind and assist those who need help, etc.   I recall that, when I would come back from visiting with relatives or friends, my parents would specifically ask if I “behaved myself”, and often a phone call would be made by my mother to confirm the validity of my affirmative response.  She didn’t take my word for it, she checked herself!

This is like what Paul is saying to the Thessalonian Christians.  We exhorted (strongly encouraged or urged) and they charged (entrusted them with a task or responsibility) the people.  Why?  Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.”    

Matthew Henry, writing in the 17th century, asks what our “gospel duty” is regarding our relationship with God. 

What is our great gospel privilege-that God has called us to his kingdom and glory. The gospel calls us into the kingdom and state of grace here and unto the kingdom and state of glory hereafter, to heaven and happiness as our end and to holiness as the way to that end.

What is our great gospel duty-that we walk worthy of God, that the temper of our minds and tenour of our lives be answerable to this call and suitable to this privilege. We should accommodate ourselves to the intention and design of the gospel, and live suitably to our profession and privileges, our hopes and expectations, as becomes those who are called with such a high and holy calling.

A more modern approach is expressed by David Guzik when, in considering these same two verses, he says the following:

It is impressive that Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life

… “How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you … that you would walk worthy of God.”  Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could tell them that they should walk worthy of God because his life and message were consistent.

I suspect that you are asking yourself, “what does our walk with the Lord have to do with an estuary?”

Perhaps nothing in your mind, but in mine, I come up with these questions: Am I mixing salt with fresh?  Am I getting so bogged down in this world that I no longer desire God and His kingdom? Am I so acclimated to the saltwater that I no longer relate to the fresh water of the gospel?  I pondered whether my walk was worthy of God and His kingdom as I flittered from one thing to another, ignoring people in need, taking precious time for frivolous activities, putting Bible time off until I’m too tired to concentrate on what I’m reading.  You get the idea.  

Do I spend so much time doing things, which seem important at the time, with the result that I have no more energy, time or ability to pay attention matters that are of paramount importance, matters that have eternal consequences?

Does this sound familiar to you?

We are to walk through this world although we are citizens of God’s kingdom.  We are to be salt and light to those we come in contact with, but we are not to be so attracted to them that we lose our perspective.  We are to mingle and be Jesus’ representatives to others but we must remember, always, that our citizenship is in God’s kingdom — so we are not attached to the temporary things of this world, rather we look to those things above that are unperishable.  In short, we must walk worthy of God even as we walk through this fallen world. 

Paul reiterated this point in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 where we read:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.

Do I walk, every day, in a manner that is worthy of my citizenship in the kingdom of God?

Do I walk worthy of my calling so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified through me?

Do you?

Father, I read in the Bible tht I should not have an attachment to this world but that I should set my mind on tings above, that I should glorify You through my actions, thoughts and words, that I should walk worthy of my calling that I have received from You.  Oh Holy Spirit, cleanse me and give me Your power to do that which has been commanded so that my life will glorify my God and my Lord.

ARE YOU SECURE?

We are still housebound. The Governor has issued a “Stay at Home” order which is stronger than the “Safer at Home” order given previously.  The COVID-19 has overtaken our world and it has changed our activities on a national/ regional/ and individual basis. We are told that the absence of interaction with others outside the house is the secret to keeping healthy and eradicating the virus that has overtaken the world.  Things that have been routine, such as birthday parties, getting together with church friends for lunch on Sunday afternoon, working at jobs and going to stores, have been cut short. Things that normally would provide the security of routine have been eliminated as we are all staying at home.

Arches National Park 1
Arches National Park

When we were at Arches National Park in outside of Moab, Utah and we came across this sight — formations called “Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers”.  They clearly were made over thousands of years as water and wind sculpted the stone.  But they dwarfed the people visiting the site. and they seemed secure.

Another formation was found in the Park and it, too, was the result of centuries of wind and water sculpting its contours, which included a cave-like structure that could have provided respite from the elements.

Arches National Park 2

The permanence of monoliths such as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park give a sense of security, if for no other reason than their size and durability.

Yosemite El Capitan 6-2011 069
El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Or, staying in our own house, away from possible contamination by a virus that you can’t see except under a microscope, will provide security from the virus, but is that real security?

Scripture tells us much about security.  Take Psalm 15 for example.  It is short, and it is duplicated here for your reference.

A Psalm of David.

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;  who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;  in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;  who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

Psalm 15:1-5  [ESV]

So, what are we to do to be secure?  Walk blamelessly, do right and speak truth.  Don’t slander with your speech and don’t hurt your neighbor.  Honor and fear the Lord.  Freely look for ways to care for your neighbor, not expecting something to be done for you in return.  Don’t take a bribe so that you will do anything to subvert justice or prosecute the innocent.

Honor God and serve Him and you will not be moved.  You will be secure because you will be in the Lord’s hands.

Matthew Henry says of this psalm’s conclusion:

The psalm concludes with a ratification of this character of the citizen of Zion. He is like Zion-hill itself, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever, Psalm 125:1. Every true living member of the church, like the church itself, is built upon a rock, which the gates of hell cannot prevail against: He that doeth these things shall never be moved; shall not be moved for ever, so the word is. The grace of God shall always be sufficient for him, to preserve him safe and blameless to the heavenly kingdom. Temptations shall not overcome him, troubles shall not overwhelm him, nothing shall rob him of his present peace nor his future bliss.   (Emphasis added)

This Psalm does not relate merely to the Old Testament Israelites.  Rather, it relates to all those who claim the name of Christ as their Redeemer Savior.  The grace of God is sufficient for us, even today, even as we are sequestered in our homes under the government’s “Stay at Home” order.  Discomfort because of inability to see our friends and relatives, unease as we face an Easter at home rather than in communion with our Christian community, concern about finances and whether there is sufficient toilet paper to hold until we can return to normal living.  All these things can rob us of the peace and security that is available in God, if we will only seek Him and allow Him to encourage and assist us fdring these times.

Yes, the formations in Arches National Park took time to become what they are, and in years to come they will likely change.  But for now, they seem secure.  We too have gone through various difficult times in our lives which have formed us into the people that we now are.  Likely, we will change in future years, but we are secure — not in our physical strength or intellectual capabilities, but in the strength that we have through the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our strength, and He is our Redeemer Savior.  He is our Lord, and He is our Shepherd.  We are the beloved sheep of His pasture, and we are the ones for whom He gave His blood as our atoning sacrifice.  Additionally, He is the one who is interceding for us, this very minute, before God the Father in heaven.  

That is security in its highest and truest form.

Seek Him and honor Him.  Then, as David said in Psalm 15, we will not be moved.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son to be our Savior and Redeemer.  Thank You Lord for living a perfect life which we could not live, and then dying the horrific death on the cross, bearing our sin so that we do not have to carry it, thereby granting us eternal life with You which we would otherwise not be able to have.  Thank You that we are secure in Your love, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout whatever this world may throw at us.  We are Yours and are secure in Your hands.  

WHY SHOULD WE PRAISE GOD?

Bald eagle, Moores' pix cropped

When we were in Alaska, we had occasion to see eagles soaring high overhead and one of them was flying along the river, likely anticipating the taste of the duck that we saw flying just ahead of it.   The eagle was beautiful, sleek and fast.  Its talons were strong and its beak was sharp.

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Our traveling companions snapped this picture of a bald eagle while they were on an excursion along the glaciers.

Eagles are referenced in the Holy Bible for various reasons.  One is as a warning for disobedience.  See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:49:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand,  …

The picture is clear.  If the people are disobedient to the commands of God, a nation will come against the disobedient Israelites bringing swift destruction.

Like an eagle!

But, Deuteronomy not only warns us by using an eagle as an illustration, the book also tells of God’s love for is people, again using the eagle as an illustration. 

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12  

Of this passage, Matthew Henry makes the following comments:

The eagle is observed to have a strong affection for her young, and to show it, not only as other creatures by protecting them and making provision for them, but by educating them and teaching them to fly. For this purpose she stirs them out of the nest where they lie dozing, flutters over them, to show them how they must use their wings, and then accustoms them to fly upon her wings till they have learnt to fly upon their own. This, by the way, is an example to parents to train up their children to business, and not to indulge them in idleness and the love of ease. God did thus by Israel; when they were in love with their slavery, and loth to leave it, God, by Moses, stirred them up to aspire after liberty, and many a time kept them from returning to the house of bondage. He carried them out of Egypt, led them into the wilderness, and now at length had led them through it.  The Lord alone did lead him. God needed not any assistance, nor did he take any to be partner with him in the achievement, which was a good reason why they should serve the Lord only and no other, so much as in partnership, much less in rivalship with him. There was no strange god with him to contribute to Israel’s salvation, and therefore there should be none to share in Israel’s homage and adoration, Ps. 81:9.

The eagle teaches her young to arise and to be industrious.  She teaches them to fly, at times carrying them on her own wings until they can do it on their own.  God worked alone in accomplishing Israel’s release from bondage and, thus, God is to be praised and worshiped.  There is no other god beside Him.

In Psalm 103, David is praising God for the numerous benefits given to His People.  I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here are the first five verses:

1 Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The theme of the psalm is our blessing of the Lord.  Blessing, here, refers to one who kneels or gives humble adoration – it is absolute praise of the one who is to be blessed.

David knows that we would forget to bless the Lord given our natural tendencies.  It is for this reason that he exhorts us to bless the Lord with all that is within us … all that we are, our thoughts, words, actions, feelings, desires … all that is within us should praise the Lord. 

He then goes on to remind us that the reason we should be compelled to bless the Lord is the remembrance of all the benefits that come with following our Lord. 

            Forgiveness of our sins

            Healing of our diseases, both of mind and body

            Redemption from hell

            Crowns us with steadfast love and mercy

            Satisfies us with good

            Renews our youth like the eagle’s

That last one, renewing our youth like the eagle’s, threw me for a loop.  What does that mean?  So, I consulted Matthew Henry, again.

The eagle is long-lived, and, as naturalists say, when she is nearly 100 years old, casts all her feathers (as indeed she changes them in a great measure every year at moulting time) and fresh ones come, so that she becomes young again.  When God, by the graces and comforts of His Spirit, recovers His people from their decays, and fills them with new life and joy, which is to them an earnest of eternal life and joy, then they may be said to return to the days of their youth.  Job 33:25.

Matthew Henry was born in 1662 and died in 1714.  I don’t know how long eagles would live in our day, and it may not be the 100 years that he referenced.  But, the explanation of molting I do understand.   And, I also understand the new life and joy that comes to the believer when God, by His grace and mercy, because of their faith in Christ alone, adopts them into His family. 

Why should we bless the Lord?   The reasons as too numerous to count.  They are as the grains of sand on the seashore, or as the number of stars in the heavens.

Pick your reason to praise the Lord for today! 

Then, praise Him frequently throughout the day.  Don’t skimp … praise when you feel joyful, and when you are grumpy!  Praise Him when things go well, and when they are not so hot!  Praise Him when you want to, and even when you don’t. 

Father, I praise You for the gift of life and I praise You for your loving kindness, patience, mercy and grace extended to me each day, moment-by-moment.

The Planets

We had the opportunity to listen to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra recently.  The program included Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy, On the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johan Strauss, Jr.,  These Worlds in Us by Missy Mazzoli, and The Planets, Suite for Large Orchestra, Opus 32 by Gustav Holst.

Each piece was masterfully performed and it was a pleasure to hear them performed live.

The work that is subject of this blog, however, is The Planets.  The composer characterized the orchestral work as “mood pictures” in which each separate movement represented a planet in the solar system. (Notably, he did not include Earth.)  This composition was created in 1916, so there were only seven planets, excluding the Earth, that had been identified and were the subject of Holst’s work..

Along with the music, the Symphony presented a montage of video showing each of the planets in space.  Viewing the video, one became acutely aware of the difference between each of the planets and our Earth.  All were beautiful in their own right.  The rings of Saturn were gorgeous while the rings of Uranus were not quite as complex. While beautiful, none of them had any visible evidence of life.  No trees, no flowers, no animals, no oceans, no clouds.  Just barren rock.

earth-from-space-dscovr
Earth as seen from space.

In contrast, on this planet that is the third from the Sun, we have life in all its fullness.  Beautiful trees, incredible variety of flowers, animals that range from minute little gnats to enormous elephants and apes, fish that swim in the oceans that live so deep man cannot go there apart from specialized submersibles.  Evidence that God created creatures for His glory and beauty is found when, at the bottom of the deepest oceans where no light is found, the camera lights come on and fish are seen displaying a panoply of colors.  God’s enjoyment of His creation is profound, and man can only taste a bit of that joy here and now.

Scripture tells us that God created all things.  Genesis 1:1 states without equivocation:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Matthew Henry says of this verse that:

this world was, in the beginning of time, created by a Being of infinite wisdom and power, who was Himself before all time and all worlds.

The Apostle Paul says:

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Ephesians 3:8-9

Paul was more clear on this point when he wrote to the Colossians:

“He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Colossians 1:15-17

For the Christian, these words are comforting and clear.  The Old Testament says that God created all things and, in the New Testament, we find that Jesus Christ is the Person who performed that creative work.  We are also told that this creation was created by Him and for Him, and that He holds everything together.

The Biblical creation story is certainly not popular in our 21st century culture.  Big Bang and Evolution are more tantalizing today than a mere statement that by the Word of God creation came about.  But, popular or not, this is the Word of God and it is the authoritative source for my faith and its practice.

I believe the video showing the barrenness of the other planets in our solar system is evidence of the grace of our God in giving us this Earth to live on.  Not too close and not too far from the Sun.  My husband said that Earth’s placement  is called the “Goldilocks Zone” … it’s just right!

Praise God for His marvelous works.  Thank you Lord for giving us this beautiful planet on which to live, and for giving us life itself.

Father, forgive us when we act like we created anything!  Forgive us when we take Your creation for granted.  Forgive us when we disrespect our world and when we take actions that harm the environment.  Thank you for giving us such a beautiful world in which to live, all because of Your glorious grace, mercy and love.

RECOLLECTIONS AND REJOICING

We have seen many old buildings, most of which were in horrible disrepair due to their age, harsh weather and lack of maintenance, on our travels through the U.S.   Some are not falling down [yet], just boarded up, no longer relevant to the modern era. 

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House with a history known to some but not to the passers-by on the highway.

When I see an old barn, house, store, whatever, I think about the people who lived there many years ago.

Old barn along interstate (C)
Barn along interstate with the roof missing at one end of the building.

In South Dakota we stopped at Fort Hays, outside Rapid City, and visited some buildings that were used in the movie Dances with Wolves.

Fort Hayes, South Dakota
Fort Hays near Rapid City, South Dakota, the Tin Shop
Fort Hayes stockade
Fort Hays – Stockade

Although this was a movie set, not the “real” old buildings, it still is a reminder of that way people lived in years past.  No matter the actual age of the structure, structures from the past are fascinating to me.  The stories that they could tell about what happened there and how people lived and acted within the structure. The past holds good and bad memories, recollections of good times that are often countered by remembrances of times that were not so good, possibly even horrible!

There are times that Satan throws our sin back in our face and we can get mired in the muck of self-pity, self-doubt, loathing, etc.  In short, if we get stuck in the past by recollecting the depravity of our ways,  we cannot live the abundant life God wants us to have in the present.

God is all knowing and all powerful, eternal and loving, holy and good.  Reformed theology teaches that even before creation existed, God knew us, He saw all our actions and knew the words we would speak, both those that were intended and careless. The plan of salvation existed before creation, because God knew we would sin and need a Savior.  Because of His love, He sent His Son to be that Savior for His children. 

Paul told this truth to the Ephesians so long ago:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved;)”

Ephesians 2:4-5 

This certainly is not something that I can explain, it is a matter of faith.  I can, however, thank Him for the grace and mercy extended to me in the forgiveness of my sins.  The Psalmist says:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:11-12 

Matthew Henry comments on these verses, in part, as follows:

As the heaven is high above the earth (so high that the earth is but a point to the vast expanse), so God’s mercy is above the merits of those that fear him most, so much above and beyond them that there is no proportion at all between them; the greatest performances of man’s duty cannot demand the least tokens of God’s favour as a debt, …  Observe, God’s mercy is thus great towards those that fear him, not towards those that trifle with him.  We must fear the Lord and his goodness.

As far as the east is from the west … so far has he removed our transgressions from us, so that they shall never be laid to our charge, nor rise up in judgment against us.  The sins of believers shall be remembered no more, shall not be mentioned unto them; they shall be sought for, and not found.  If we thoroughly forsake them, God will thoroughly forgive them. [Emphasis mine]

The difference between God and man is referenced by the prophet Isaiah where God is speaking and says:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9

God’s ways and His thoughts are fundamentally different from ours.  When He forgives, He wipe the slate clean.  There is no remnant of the sin to remind Him that we deserve punishment.  Rather, He has cleaned our sin ledger with the blood of His Son and there is no longer any record of our sin before God. 

So, when you begin to focus on the sins of the past, surprise Satan and tell him to take a hike.  Turn your eyes to Jesus, the lover of your soul and the One who bought you with a price, His sinless blood.  Don’t let your past eliminate the present.  Look to Jesus and worship Him, then rejoice!

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:10 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

For the Christian, the antidote to living in the miserable part of your past is to rejoice for the glorious love of your Redeemer in the present and to think about the joy we will have when we see our Redeemer in the future and for all eternity to come.  For the one who does not believe in Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior, there is no escape from your past until you call upon Him and claim Him as your Savior.  Do so today!

Father, Thank You for the truth of your Word and for the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a victorious life as a testimony of your marvelous, steadfast love and mercy.  Forgive us when we focus on the past, when You have already erased it from our account, when You have already credited us with Jesus righteousness because of His death and resurrection, as we have come to the cross in faith and believed on Him as our Savior.

Witness with a warning!

When we were traveling in Alaska, we came to the train crossing outside  Girdwood, Alaska.  The side of the building had a very conspicuous warning, pictured here.

Railroad train crossing warning

 It tells the reader to always expect a train at this crossing and to stay off the tracks, stay away from the tracks, and stay alive!  It certainly cannot be more pointed. 

But, likely, even though it was placed there with those explicit terms, people still failed to heed the warning given.  The temptation to try to outrun the train, or to cut in front of an oncoming locomotive is just too strong to resist.  Hence the warning’s final phrase, “Stay Alive!”. 

As Christians, we are told that we should warn others of their sin and of their need for a Savior.  In Proverbs 11:30 (ESV) we read:

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.”

The New International Version of this verse reads:

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”

Proverbs 11:30 NIV

In considering the second part of this verse and the winning of souls for our Lord, Matthew Henry says that the wise are more than merely righteous.  Rather, they are trees of knowledge which is not forbidden but by which the wise man communicates wisdom to others.  The purpose of this witness is to win souls for the Lord.  In Daniel 12:3 we read that the wise turn many to righteousness, and this is the same thing that is referred to in Proverbs 11:30.  Matthew Henry concludes the thoughts about this verse with these words:

“Those that would win souls have need of wisdom to know how to deal with them; and those that do win souls show that they are wise.”

But we should be aware that winning souls comes with a warning.  God spoke to Ezekiel advising that he should tell the house of Israel the words that he receives from the Lord.  In directing this, He includes a warning for failure to do that which He directs:

“And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.  Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.””

 Ezekiel 3:16-21

John Calvin discusses these verses in his commentary and makes this statement:

Nothing is more precious to God than souls which he has created after his own image, and of which he is both the Redeemer and Father. Since, therefore, our souls and their salvation are so dear to God, hence we infer, how anxiously Prophets and all pastors ought to discharge their duties; for it is just as if God were to commit souls to their care, under this condition of rendering an account of each. Nor is it sufficient to admonish one and another, for unless they had endeavored to recall all from destruction to life and salvation, we hear what God here pronounces. Hence, also, Paul uses this expression, woe is me if I preach not the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon me.(1 Corinthians 9:16. – “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!)

We have been called by our Lord to “make disciples”.  This involves teaching and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We cannot “save” anyone, we can only point to our Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will impress upon them the need for their salvation.  We “merely” have the assignment to tell the good news and then live it out as a day to day witness of the Lord’s grace, mercy and love.

So, let us take our duties as Christians seriously.  Let us not flippantly allow others to do our witnessing for us – we should be, like Paul, compelled to tell others the good news.

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

When we speak to others, we each do it in our own winsome way, but we must always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us of our Savior.  We must warn others of the danger to which they are exposed, but we must do so with gentleness, respect and an awareness that we are following our Lord’s directive, not our own agenda. Continue reading

HONEYSUCKLE – a fragrance that lingers!

Honeysuckle – the fragrance lingers in the air and fills the yard with sweetness!  We have a honeysuckle bush and several honeysuckle vines that climb some of the trees in the woods in our backyard.

Honeysuckle - tall bush
Honeysuckle tree that is bordering the woods in our back yard.

The scientific name for honeysuckles is caprifoliaceae.  The bush is large, upright and grows to 15 to 20 feet in height.  

The flowers change from white to yellow and it has red berries in the fall.  In late autumn, leaves typically remain green and attached well after the leaves of our native trees and shrubs have fallen.

Honeysuckle - close up
Honeysuckle blooms proliferate throughout the tree.

While seeing the blooms in the tree is beautiful, the thing that I love most about the honeysuckle is the fragrance.  Scientific reports state that the honeysuckle bush flowers in May through June and that the flowers are “fragrant, in clusters from the leaf axils, tubular, 1 inch long, slender, distinctly 2-lipped, with the upper lip having 4 lobes, the lower lip with 1 lobe.” 

That’s all well and good, but it does not, in my humble opinion, give enough print to the luscious fragrance of the honeysuckle bush.  It fills the air on a summer evening.  You can sense the fragrance even when you can’t see the flowers, you just know it is there … you can tell because you are familiar with the scent.

God has always been interested in fragrances both in His worship and in the lives of His people.

In the book of Exodus, we read this regarding the tabernacle in the wilderness:

“”You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood.” … “And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it,””

Exodus 30:1, 7 ESV

The Lord God also gave numerous instructions as to how to make the incense, when to burn it, etc.  In short, God’s dwelling was to be a place of fragrant beauty.  It is no surprise, then, that God’s creation is a place of myriad fragrances, and honeysuckle happens to be one that is pervasive in our yard during the summer!

The Psalmist says:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;  you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;”

Psalm 45:6-8 ESV

Paul tells the Ephesian Church that they were to walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:2 ESV

Christ was described as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, on our behalf, in payment for our sins so we could avoid the wrath of God because of our sinfulness.

In response to Christ’s incredible gift of love for us, we are to give to others, to enable others to see the Lord Jesus Christ in us, and to assist our brothers and sisters in the Lord as they walk their journey of faith.  Our works for others are not payment for our salvation, rather they are gifts of love in thanksgiving for what God has done for us, in other words, they are a sweet, fragrant offering to our God.

Paul said it this way:

“I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

Philippians 4:18 ESV

You see, we are not to hoard our blessings, but we are to give to others just as the Lord gave to us.  When we do, our actions become a fragrant offering to God.  Consider the words in Revelation regarding the prayers of those who have gone before us:

“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.”

Revelation 8:3-4 ESV

Matthew Henry speaks of these verses and admonishes us as follows:

It is very probable that this other angel is the Lord Jesus, the high priest of the church, who is here described in his sacerdotal [priestly] office, having a golden censer and much incense, a fulness of merit in his own glorious person, and this incense he was to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints. … The prayers of the saints come up before God in a cloud of incense; no prayer, thus recommended, was ever denied audience or acceptance.

So, as Christians, we are to walk in love as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  We are to give to others both in terms of material help as well as with prayers, and these offerings will rise as a fragrant sacrifice to God.

We should give off the pleasing fragrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that fragrance should permeate the air around us so that, even if people don’t hear us say anything, they will know that we are Christians.

Enjoy the wonderful fragrance of honeysuckle, and let it remind you of the fragrance that we should give to those around us as we share the pleasing fragrance of love that our Lord Jesus Christ has given to us.

Father, I pray that I would live my life as a fragrant offering that is pleasing to you.  I pray that my prayers would be presented to you through the wonderful work of Jesus as my intercessor and mediator, and that they, too, would be a fragrant offering that is pleasing to you.

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!).

DSC_0190
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.]

THE COLOR OF THINGS

There are times that I can only just marvel at the variety of colors that God has given us to enjoy in His creation.

Blenheim gardens around tasting room 2
Colors in the gardens at Blenheim Vineyards, Virginia
Blooming trees in spring
Redbud trees with blooms reaching to the skies.
Virginia colorful leaves in autumn 2
Virginia mountains showing their colors in the Autumn.
Miami colorful cactus
Even a cactus provides a splash of color against its green spikes.

God’s colors don’t just exist on top of the earth, they extend to the waters below ground level as well.  

Nassau - colorful fish swimming past
Colorful fish swim by in Nassau.

And His colors extend to the heavens where the clouds reflect His light and glory.

Sunset over Annandale VA 4
Sunset in Annandale, Virginia

Even in the deep canyons of our earth we see the beautiful colors of the Lord’s handiwork.

Bryce Canyon 1
Bryce Canyon

I realize there are scientific explanations for why colors exist, why we see certain colors in the way that we do, why clouds reflect the light of the sun, etc.  I understand all that, but I still come back to the fact that God is the Creator of all things and He is the One who designed the system that produces the colors we see.

Colors abound in God’s creation, and He delights in them.  However, there are two other colors of which God is intimately aware that abound in man.  These colors must be dealt with here, on earth, before we are called into eternity.

The first is the scarlet/crimson stain that sin has placed on our hearts.  Simply stated, sin is disobedience to God.  It is doing that which He said not to do, creating idols that take His rightful place in our hearts, putting ourselves at the helm of our life as if God is not only unnecessary, He is irrelevant to how we want to live.  Such pride and arrogance is sin.  The holy God cannot tolerate, condone or even look upon such disobedience.

This being true, Isaiah 1:16-18 God says:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 

In other words, while your hands are full of blood I will have nothing to do with you, though you bring me a multitude of sacrifices; but if you wash, and make yourselves clean, you are welcome to draw nigh to me; come now, and let us talk the matter over.

James 4:8 says:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Isaiah 1 says:

That all their sins should be pardoned to them, and should not be mentioned against them. “Though they be as red as scarlet and crimson, though you lie under the guilt of blood, yet, upon your repentance, even that shall be forgiven you, and you shall appear in the sight of God as white as snow.’ Note, The greatest sinners, if they truly repent, shall have their sins forgiven them, and so have their consciences pacified and purified. Though our sins have been as scarlet and crimson, as deep dye, a double dye, first in the wool of original corruption and afterwards in the many threads of actual transgression-though we have been often dipped, by our many backslidings, into sin, and though we have lain long soaking in it, as the cloth does in the scarlet dye, yet pardoning mercy will thoroughly discharge the stain, and, being by it purged as with hyssop, we shall be clean.  See Psalm 51:7.  If we make ourselves clean by repentance and reformation, God will make us white by a full remission.

How does this occur?  How can God even discuss turning our scarlet sinful heart into a heart that is white as snow?  The prophet Isaiah had an inkling of how this would be done and he described it in his prophecies:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14  By the way, Immanuel means “God with us.”

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

Isaiah 9:6-7

In Isaiah 52-53 we read of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ who was the Redeemer for our souls.  See these three verses indicating the transfer of our sin to the sinless Jesus Christ as he died on the cross.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Isaiah 53:4-6

So, what color is your heart?  Is it scarlet with unrepentant sin or is it white as snow because you have claimed Jesus Christ as your Savior Redeemer?  

There are a myriad of marvelous colors in God’s creation, but there are only two colors that decide the eternal fate of every person on this globe.  Scarlet because of sin — White as snow because of Jesus’ transforming power in your life.  Surrender your life, your will, your everything to God through Jesus Christ and you will be changed inside so that your sin will be forgiven and you will become a child of Bod, clothed with the white robe of the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Lord, I pray that Your Word would work in the hearts, minds and souls of each of us as we consider whether we have become white with Jesus Christ’s righteousness.  Let those who are so clothed be thankful and humbled by the loving obedience and acceptance of our Savior.  Those who do not know the Lord Jesus, I pray would read Your Word and that Your Spirit would touch their hearts and transform them into children of our God.