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. 

DSC_1802
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.

DSC_0189
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.)

DSC_0188
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.  

 

 

 

TIME AND THE TALE

We recently returned from a trip out west and we visited a number of the U. S. National Parks.  They all made indelible impressions upon us with their grandeur, their diversity, their colors, and their spectacular beauty.

One example of this is Bryce Canyon outside of Richfield, Utah.  At an elevation of 8,000 feet, it is a riveting place of fascinating geological formations, which are called “hoodoos”. 

20180707_141832

The “hoodoos” are spires that reach way above the canyon floor.  At first glance, they appear as if they are giant orange-flavored snow cones. 

 DSC_0231

Some of the spires seem to be huge apartment buildings, even with balconies overlooking the terrain and with green trees growing on the “roof penthouse”.

20180707_141941

Around the bend, toward the edge of the canyon, there were more spires, albeit somewhat shorter and they did not seem to be as carved as the other spires.  We were advised that this area was the “new” portion of the canyon.  In future years, these will be as incredible as the “hoodoos” that we had just seen, and they likely will be reduced to rubble.

DSC_0284

As we stood looking at the new section, I pondered what storms these youngsters would have to endure in the future, what temperature extremes would come their way, if they would stand sentry over their aging counterparts.   And I thought of the stories that the mature “hoodoos” would tell them if they were able to do so. 

But, the reality is that all of this came in the millennia that created the canyon as we see it today and it was captured, in a nanosecond, by a digital camera.  The details of the canyon’s creation, the carving of the individual “hoodoos” and the struggle of the trees to find a place to grow are not part of the story told by the canyon in our pictures. 

In short, the canyon’s history was condensed into a split-second picture of serene beauty.

Often on our trip, the high desert terrain gave me a visual impression of what I supposed the people of God might have experienced in the wilderness.  We know that the people of God were in the wilderness for 40 years, but Scripture only tells us of what happened in the first two years of their wandering and then the narrative skips to the end when they arrive at the Promised Land.

Matthew Henry says this of the missing years:

The thirty-eight years, which after this they were away in the wilderness, were not the subject of the sacred history, for little to nothing is recorded of that which happened to them from the second year to the fortieth.  After they came out of Egypt, their time was perfectly trifled away, and was not worthy to be the subject of a history, but only of a tale that is told, for it was only to pass away time like telling stories, that they spend those years in the wilderness, all that while they were in the consuming, and another generation was in the rising.  The spending of our years is like the telling of a tale.  A past when it is past is like a tale when it is told.  Some of our years are as a pleasant story, others as a tragical one: most mixed, but all short and transient, that which was long in the doing may be told in a short time.

Psalm 90:9 says:

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

We know from personal experience that we can tell the tale of events in mere moments when the actual event took months or even years.  While we think we will live a long time, the reality is that in cosmic terms, our life is fleeting and, when it comes to an end, it is like a sigh.  Even the canyons of our national parks change with the years. 

But there is something that is, indeed, eternal and not fleeting.  Jesus said:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Matthew 24:35

Praise the Lord for His Word, the Holy Bible.  Praise the Lord for His steadfast love and mercy.  Praise the Lord for His wondrous works.  Praise the Lord!

Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your love and Your sacrificial death on the cross to pay for the sins of Your people.  Thank You for Your Word and for preserving it so that we could learn of You and trust in Your Name for our salvation.

Chores and Work – Are they a bain or a blessing?

No one likes chores.  No one likes duties that are not thought of as fun and chores, almost by definition, are not fun. 

Farm in Tennessee
A Tennessee farm

Talk to any child raised on a farm and they will tell you of chores and hard work, even before going to school for the day!  (We remember the Little House on the Prairie television series showing farm life in bygone days.)

Learning how to work is simply something that must be done.  Confucius said: “The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty as the son who neglects them.”

The Jewish Tamud, Kiddushin 29a, outlines the responsibilities of a Jewish father to his son.  The father was obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him if he is the firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade.

The parent was to teach the child a trade, thereby enabling the child to become a productive member of society who was able to support himself as an adult and, prayerfully, have a wife and children to propagate the family line.  All of this was in question though if the child could not be employed in a trade so that he could earn a wage to accomplish these goals.

Clearly, working was seen as an important part of one’s life.  Indeed, Paul wrote some very stern words:

“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

2 Thessalonians 3:10

Scripture says that God worked when He created the universe.

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Genesis 2:2-3

Then, shortly after these two verses, we read that Adam was to work in the garden.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Genesis 2:15

Tended flower garden in back yard
A tended flower garden

 

What was Adam’s job?  How did he “work it”?

“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

Genesis 2:19

Adam had the incredible job of naming all the animals and birds. 

Of course, we know that sin entered the world while Adam and Eve were in the garden and our first parents were expelled therefrom.  At that point, work was no longer merely tending the plants and animals.  Rather, it became exceedingly difficult. 

“And to Adam he [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.””

Genesis 3:17-19

So, perhaps our angst about work is the continuation of the rebellion that began in the Garden.  Perhaps our resentment for having to work is simply a modern description of an ancient condition – perhaps it is nothing other than sin, disobedience to God, rejecting God’s plan and inserting ourselves into God’s place so that we believe we are the master of our own universe.

How do we see these things correctly?  Solomon noted:

“Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil–this is the gift of God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:19

Matthew Henry said of this verse:

Life is God’s gift, and he has appointed us the number of the days of our life (Job 14:5); let us therefore spend those days in serving the Lord our God with joyfulness and gladness of heart.  We must not do the business of our calling as a drudgery, and make ourselves slaves to it, but we must rejoice in our labour, not grasp at more business than we can go through without perplexity and disquiet but take a pleasure in the calling wherein God has put us, and go on in the business of it with cheerfulness. 

So why do we have such difficulty with chores and work?  Why is “work” almost a forbidden dirty word in our culture today?

Perhaps we need to confess our sin, our rebellion, our rejection of God’s order and realign our vision to be consistent with God’s viewpoint.  Work is something that we must have to thrive, both from a financial standpoint but also from a psychological and emotional standpoint.  We need to accomplish things during our day, and those things are especially blessed if they are in line with God’s directives for us.

Father, forgive me when I have seen work as drudgery or as something to run away from.  Enable me to see my life’s work through your eyes, as a means of glorifying You and of spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Your Son to those around me.

 

HORSE, WAR AND PROVIDENCE

During the past weeks I have been watching the news and have become more and more concerned about the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Strong words come from various nations and war ships are being positioned while bombs are being prepared.  Difficult words to hear for the populace of any nation, particularly in this day when destruction could be catastrophic.

In reading Proverbs, I found comfort, even in this turbulent time, in the following verse:

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.

Proverbs 21:31

White horse statue, St Francois Xavier, Manitoba
White Horse statue in the Royal Municipality of St. Francois Xavier, Manitoba, Canada

 

In David’s day and for centuries thereafter, the horse was the consummate fighting machine.  While the horse did not guarantee a win, the one on horseback had the clear advantage.  So, it is understandable that if a battle was forthcoming, the horse would be made ready.

In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Poole [1624-1679] says that the “horse” encompasses any warlike preparation that is undertaken.  In other words, we must do that which is possible for us to do in preparation for the battle.  But, we must also recognize that the outcome of the battle is not up to us.  The key point of the verse is the second section which states that victory in the battle rests with the Lord. 

In his commentary on this verse, Matthew Henry [1662-1714] notes that all the plans of mankind are under the eye of God. 

He that sits in heaven laughs at men’s projects against him and his anointed, and will carry his point in spite of them, Psalm 2:1-6. … Be the cause ever so good, and the patrons of it ever so strong, and wise, and faithful, and the means of carrying it on, and gaining the point, ever so probable, still they must acknowledge God and take him along with them. Means indeed are to be used; the horse must be prepared against the day of battle, and the foot too; they must be armed and disciplined. In Solomon’s time even Israel’s kings used horses in war, though they were forbidden to multiply them. [See Deuteronomy 17:16]  But, after all, safety and salvation are of the Lord; he can save without armies, but armies cannot save without him; and therefore he must be sought to and trusted in for success, and when success is obtained he must have all the glory.

David reinforces this concept when he says: 

The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Psalm 33:17

Mr. Poole’s commentary, consistent with Matthew Henry’s thought, expressed as follows:

Safety is of the Lord; the success of the battle depends not upon any human strength or art, but merely upon God’s providence, who gives the victory when and to whom he pleaseth, and ofttimes to those that have least reason to expect it.

Let these words be of comfort to you.  Remember that our God is in control, even when it appears that things are falling apart.  Remember too these words, also found in Proverbs 21:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

Proverbs 21:1

Faint not. Fear not.  Faith in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ will preserve you today, in times of difficulty, in times of fear, even at the time of death. If you are His child, if you have claimed Jesus as your Savior, you have no need to fear. 

As David said in the Old Testament:

“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do to me?”

Psalm 118:6

And as Paul said in the New Testament:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:35, 38-39

Father, thank You for Your Word that is true.  Thank You for the calming assurance that You are with me even when fear aims its arrows at my heart.  Thank You that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that the Holy Spirit will comfort me through all things, and that nothing can pull me out of Your hands.

 

 

 

 

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, PATIENCE, part one

FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 13

PATIENCE – SLOWING DOWN OF GOD’S WRATH

PART ONE

The fruit of the Spirit at issue this week is Patience, also known as longsuffering.

 

I have no doubt that each of us has, at one time in our life or another, said that we want patience but we don’t want to wait for it!   Mr. Paul Sweeney asked a question that I have raised a number of times in general conversation:

“How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:  Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.”

 

Hal Borland said:  “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

 

The patience that we are speaking of as a fruit of the Holy Spirit is different than that which has its basis in the person or in society in general.  The patience that is referenced in Galatians 5 is grounded in the Holy Spirit.

What does Scripture say?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience (longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

Galatians 5:21-22.

 

The longsuffering that is a fruit of the Spirit stems, as do the other characteristics that we have examined, from love of Jesus Christ our Lord and comes from the Holy Spirit, as we are being transformed into the image of our Lord.

 

In Hebrew, the word longsuffering is a combination of the words Arek and Aph which mean, respectively, Long and Nose. (By the way, the word Aph or nostril first appears in Scripture in Genesis 2:7 where we are told “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”)

 

So the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for longsuffering is “long of nose” with reference to “long breathing”.  Because anger was indicated by rapid, violent breathing through the nostrils, this term meant “long of anger,” or “slow to wrath.”  In the ESV the word longsuffering is translated “slow to anger.”

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” 

Psalm 86:15

 

Longsuffering, in the Greek context, is the word makrothumia, and it is a bit more expanded in definition.  It relates to “long of mind or soul” which is regarded as the seat of the emotions.  This is in contrast to “shortness of mind or soul”, in other words irascibility, impatience, or intolerance.

 

Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church defines makrothumia found in Galatians 5 as the “ability to take trouble (from others or life) without blowing.  To suffer joyfully.”  Strong’s Lexicon explains that this term is the self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong.  Its opposite is revenge or wrath.

 

Longsuffering is attributed to God in connection with his “bearing long” with sinners and His intentional delay in executing judgment on them, thereby allowing time for them to come to Him in repentance.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2:4

 

Now the God of patience [macrothumia] and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (KJV)

Romans 15: 5-6

 

We are also to be longsuffering toward others.

Be patient [macrothumia], therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

James 5:7

 

The Apostle Paul associates longsuffering with endurance which suggests patient endurance of trials and sufferings, and its further association with joy indicates a joyful acceptance of the will of God, whatever it may be.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

Colossians 1:11

 

In this regard, Matthew Henry defines long-suffering as patience to defer anger, and a contentedness to bear injuries.

 

Christians are frequently admonished and exhorted to cherish and show longsuffering toward one another.   For example:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience [longsuffering], bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Colossians 3:12.

 

This is not the type of patience that waits in the line at the bank, without screaming for service, but with the foot tapping in frustration.  Rather, this kind of patience is not available by our own efforts, it comes from reliance on the Holy Spirit and, just as the other fruit of the Spirit, this fruit is not available to the unregenerate man.  It is a mark of the Christian as she is being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

 

It is in reliance on God and acceptance of His will, with trust in His sovereignty, goodness, wisdom and faithfulness, that we are enabled to endure and to hope steadfastly through the power that the Holy Spirit provides as we lean on Him and learn of Him.  We look to Jesus as our chief example to imitate – He was the penultimate example of longsuffering patience throughout his life, death and even after His resurrection.

How does this apply to my daily life?

Does this patience/ longsuffering have relevance to our modern life? YES.   Just look at what David describes in Psalm 55 when he realizes Ahithophel had betrayed him, and consider how this relates to the feelings you experienced upon betrayal and disappointment.

For it is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him.  But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.  We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng. 

Psalm 55:12-14

 

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Psalm 55, said of the hurt that we can experience even from our “Christian friends”,

There always has been, and always will be, a mixture of good and bad, sound and unsound, in the visible church, between whom, perhaps for a long time, we can discern no difference; but the searcher of hearts does. David, who went to the house of God in his sincerity, had Ahithophel in company with him, who went in his hypocrisy. The Pharisee and the publican went together to the temple to pray; but, sooner or later, those that are perfect and those that are not will be made manifest.

 

However, while recognizing the universality of disappointment or emotional sabotage, Scripture teaches that longsuffering or patience does not permit either retaliation or revenge!

 

The Christian has the duty to bear the injuries suffered from others even if it requires longsuffering. This means that we do not bring any immediate suffering on the one who injured us.  We are not to show any bitterness toward him, either in speech or in action.

 

Is this hard?  Yes.  Is it commanded? Yes.  Does it require the Holy Spirit to work in us?  Yes.

 

Quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35, the Apostle Paul said:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19

 

Next week we will consider how this patience is evidenced in our lives.  In the meantime, consider how you can relate to those who have hurt you in the past and ask the Holy Spirit to grant you the patience and longsuffering that you need so that you can respond in love and not bitterness.

 

 

Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.