A PICTURE OF GOD’S GOODNESS

Scripture talks about God’s goodness to us in multiple places, but Psalm 65 is particularly detailed.  David, the shepherd boy who became King and was beloved by God, describes God’s care for His creation like this in Psalm 65:9-13:

You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

Psalm 65:9-13
Farm with mountains in the background

The picture above is the very essence of peace and tranquility.  The field is prepared and is surrounded by beautiful trees with the mountains in the distance, and the unseen farmer waits for the rain to fall, to water his field and to bring forth the harvest.

Sheep in a field adjacent to Stonehenge in England

Flocks filling up the fields and meadows indicate blessing and abundance from God.  According to the Psalm, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks!

Rapeseed fields in bloom in England

We were in England when the rapeseed plants were in full bloom.  The “yellow fields” were beautiful, especially from higher elevations when the scope of the fields were apparent.  The beauty of these fields spoke of the beauty that God gives to us if we only were to open our eyes to see it.  They also foretold of the anticipated harvest when the plants would potentially become a cash crop for the farmer.

In God’s eyes, these things are all blessings from Him to us.  Where would we be without the freshwater of rainfall?  Where would we be without the sunshine causing growth in the grain?  Where would we be without God’s unfailing love and watchfulness over us?

Beloved, don’t keep your eyes focused on the pavement beneath your feet!  Don’t keep your thoughts trained upon yourself and the problems that confront you.  Step out of the problems and hardships and drink of the peace and comfort God provides to you.  I don’t mean that all the hard things will disappear, but I can say, speaking from experience, that God’s comfort and blessing will overshadow the difficulties that you are experiencing. 

Remember Psalm 65 – the valleys and fields, the meadows and pastures, all God’s creation shouts and sings for joy.  What about joining them in the symphony of love to the Lord?!

Father, forgive me when I am so focused on my own problems that I forget to praise You.  Through the Lord Jesus Christ You have given me all that I need, on earth and in heaven.  Salvation through faith in Christ, forgiveness of my sins, fellowship with other believers through the Church, resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.  On top of all those blessings, You provide comfort and Your Holy Spirit for guidance and a sure guarantee of salvation.  Father, thank You for blessing me so very much!

GLORIOUS BEAUTY ON DISPLAY

Sometimes we get a glimpse of the incredible variety and diversity among even things that usually look very similar.

While that sentence sounds like gibberish, I am thinking of the glorious beauty that God gives each Autumn when the leaves on most deciduous trees change from their traditional green color into an incredible pallet of colors of various intensities, hues and shades. 

Colorful vista in Virginia mountains

As we were driving through the mountains of Virginia recently, the views from the highway were breathtaking as the colorful leaves broadcast their praise to their Creator.  The beautiful views in the mountains made me think of the Scripture speaking of the joy we can have through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In Matthew Poole’s in-depth commentary on Isaiah 55, he says the scripture speaks of an invitation to seek spiritual blessings from Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father.  We should come to Christ speedily, by repentance, and rest assured that His grace is infinite, His Word is powerful and that believers in Him will have joy eternal. 

In Isaiah 55:12-13 God is speaking, and it reads as follows:

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55:12-13 

Colorful leaves along highway in Virginia

The mountains and hills and the trees of the field will break forth in singing and clapping their hands at the joy of the Lord and at His reign.  

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV.1 says:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

Scripture confirms this statement of faith.  See for example:

Colossians 1:16

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.

Psalm 33:5 says:

He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love [goodness] of the LORD.

This world was created by our God for His glory, and even the plants and animals were created for His glory.  In fact, we, too, were created by God and it is our incredible privilege to live for His glory and to love Him supremely.

Beloved, does your spirit soar when you consider the love that the Lord has for you?  Do you look around at this beautiful time of the year and see the Lord’s hand outstretched before you? 

Open your eyes and see the marvelous works of God.  Praise His name and come to Him in repentance and love.  Bless His name throughout your days, and the peace of our Lord will rest upon you eternally.

Father, thank You for evidence of Your love and blessing as we look around us during the beautiful autumn days.  I pray that I would not take these blessings for granted but that I would praise You and glorify You each day that I live.  In Jesus name, I pray.

 

ARE YOU ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD?

Many years ago, like in the 1970s, there was a song sung by Karen Carpenter called “Top of the World .”  The lyrics for the chorus of this song were:

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation, and the only explanation I can find, is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around, your love’s put me at the top of the world.

We often want to be on the top of the world, don’t we?  For most of us, that is simply a wish that we could get out of the dismal surroundings that confront us on a day-to-day basis.  We want to be taken out of our current situation and put on top of it so that we won’t have to deal with the issues, be hurt by others, face difficult consequences, etc.  We will be on top of the problem and it won’t be able to adversely affect us anymore.

A picture that comes to my mind when I think of escaping to the top of the world is that of  the Meteora Monasteries in Greece.  These monasteries of the Greek Orthodox Church were built high above the ground between the 14th and the 16th centuries.  In fact, they are about 1,300 feet above ground.  Wars and invasions were the norm, so having the monastery up above the fray was a way to minimize distractions, enable the monks to meditate more effectively, and, not at all an insignificant concern, it provided them a place of safety because of their incredible isolation from the world below. 

monastery-of-the-holy-trinity-meteora-greece
Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora, Greece, a 14th century monastery on the cliff tops.

In fact, goods and supplies, as well as visitors to the monasteries, were transported to the top by way of ladders lashed together and baskets tied to ropes, which were then hoisted to the top via pulleys.  Now there are steps for easier access to some of the monasteries, but hundreds of years ago the way to the top was, indeed, formidable. 

For more information, see the CNN Travel article about this area at http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/meteora-greece/index.html 

It is indeed enticing to be on “top of the world”.  But is this where we are to stay?  Is this following the mandate that our Lord gave to His disciples?  I think not.

Immediately before Jesus ascended into heaven, He and his disciples were gathered together and He gave them His final instruction:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

We are to go and make disciples, this is what the Lord commanded.  This does not sound like we are to retreat from involvement with people, does it?

In a prior post we looked at living in a cave, something that has been done throughout history. Even King David hid in a cave when hunted by Saul.  Thus, he spoke from experience when he said in Psalm 139: 

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Psalm 139:7-8 ESV

Simply put, we cannot run from God.  He is with us and sees us in the cave as well as on top of the mountain. 

I certainly do not deny the good work that the monks have done, and are still doing, in the Greek Orthodox Church worship that occurs in these monasteries.  Indeed, a retreat to the mountain top is exhilarating and we can experience God in a new way by stepping out of society and into a meditative cocoon, into silence and tranquility so that we can hear God’s “still small voice” [1 Kings 19:12] as He speaks to us in the way He has done through the millennia. 

But, ministry, the work of the Lord in His world and the fulfilling of His command to His disciples, requires that we interact with those who are lost, who do not have a life-giving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It requires that we go out of the place of worship and into the world; it requires that we be the light guiding others to Christ; it requires that we be the salt that heals and preserves as we introduce the Lord Jesus to those who do not know Him by our words and our lifestyle witness.

Whether it is a cave or a mountaintop retreat, we need to come out and interact with people as we make disciples. We should obey the Lord’s command, because we love Him; and we should do it all to the glory of the Father, the Almighty God.

Father, I pray that You would enable me to honor Your Son, Jesus Christ, as I live before others in the power of His Spirit.  May my witness be glorifying to You and may Your Spirit bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

Christmas 2008 124
Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.