CONTRAST AND COMPARISON

We have had occasion to consider the beauty and brevity of life recently.  It is something that no one wants to ponder for long, it is too sobering; but, it is an inevitable fact of life.  We are born, we live, and we will experience physical death.

English field
Idyllic English fields that symbolize the Garden to me

We read of creation in the very first book of the Holy Bible.  God created man to live a life that was fulfilling — he had work to do and food for nourishment.  Man was not created to sit and do nothing, he was to work the Garden of Eden and keep it. 

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26

However, there was one test in the Garden for Adam and Eve … God asked for obedience.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:15-17

They could eat of any tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they could not eat.  God said if they disobeyed, they would die.

Of course, we know what happened.  Chapter 3 begins with the serpent testing Adam and Eve by twisting the words of God and telling them that they should not believe God’s threat of death, rather they should believe the serpent’s words that they would not die and the fruit was good to eat.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 

Genesis 3:6-8

They disobeyed, and there it was – death arrived, sin entered the world, and a gradual disintegration of creation began.

Physical death was not the only result of their disobedience.  Prior to eating the fruit, Adam and Eve enjoyed a close relationship with God, something that we cannot comprehend in our fallen condition.  God walked in the Garden in the cool of the day and He communed with His creation.  After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve heard God walking in the cool of the day and they hid themselves because they, then, knew that they were naked and they were ashamed. 

But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?””

Genesis 3: 9-11

I love this passage – if you have had children, or been around children, you will undoubtedly relate to this picture.  You see the child hiding under the blanket or in a corner but you call “Where are you?” anyway.  You know where they are, but they don’t know that!  Then the conversation continues as you determine if there is something amiss or if they are simply playing hide and seek.

Our Creator God did not need to call Adam and Eve to find out where they were.  He is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent … He knew exactly where they were.  And He knew exactly what they had done.  He wanted them to admit to it.

Spiritual death, separation from God, occurred when they disobeyed the Creator and nothing Adam and Eve could do would change that.  Praise God that He did not leave us without hope, however.

In the first recorded shedding of blood in the Garden, we read that God did not leave His children hiding behind fig leaves.  Rather, He made clothes for them.

“And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

Genesis 3:21

Then, on a hill called Calvary, blood was again shed, this time it was the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.  His blood was not shed because of any sin that He had committed; rather, He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary as the atonement for the sin that Adam and Eve committed and for the sin that you and I have committed.  This was done so that we could be reunited with God through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We would escape eternal death by faith in Jesus’ atoning work on our behalf.  We have eternal life with God through Christ our Lord.

End of the Road
The end of the road sign in Denali National Park.

We all come to the end of the road when death stares us in the face.  The reality is that this will happen to each one of us; but physical death is not the end.  Our soul will live eternally and the end of the road leads to only two destinations, Heaven or Hell. 

Just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden after their sin, God will cloth us in the righteousness of Christ if we have faith in Jesus as our Savior and if we trust in Him as Lord of our life.  Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6

Christ shed His blood for His children … come to Him in faith and repent of your sin, claim Him as your Savior, and the end of the road here will open the door to an eternity in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I pray that these words would have full effect and that You would send Your Spirit to quicken hearts dead from sin so that faith can bear fruit in the lives of Your children.

WHEN LIGHTNING COMES!

This past week we had severe storms rage through the Southeast.  Pounding rains with strong winds (which made the falling rain descend on us horizontally, or at least it appeared so) pummeled the buildings and vegetation.  There were a number of tornadoes throughout the region and many were dramatically adversely affected by such severe weather. 

Heading into the Storm
While on vacation, we were driving into a storm in Mississippi that had lightning, thunder and blinding rain. This is similar to the storms that we had in East Tennessee this week.

I had been out in the thick of it as I picked my grandson up from school.  We drove back through rain but it seemed to be slacking a bit and we commented on how the storm appeared to have finally passed along.  The sky confirmed our suspicions insofar as the dark heavy clouds had dissipated and there was even some hint of blue overhead.

So, with relief surging through our veins, we entered the house and I proposed that we celebrate his day with a slice of freshly made bread that had come out of the bread machine just before I left to get him from school.  His face lit up in positive glee when …

A SIMULTANEOUS  FLASH/BOOM

I literally jumped back and he lunged and wrapped his arms around me, plastering us together in an embrace that was based on our mutual thought “What was that?” 

He answered the unspoken question first saying “Grammy, there was a jet engine in our kitchen!” 

I responded that it sounded like a jet engine but it was lightning that hit something very, very close.  Then I smelled an unmistakable ozone smell and I realized that the house had taken a direct hit by lightning. 

While many hours and days have been taken up by the effect of the lightning strike, damage to the house was minimal and there was no personal injury. Inconvenience is irrelevant when we consider the possible ramifications of the storm, lightning, wind and tumult that may have occurred. 

In short, we have praised the Lord for protecting us throughout the whole event. 

The strike, however, did prompt me to look into Scripture to see what God has said about lightning.   The reality is that lightning is often referred to, almost always in God showing us His power and/or His presence.  While I am not citing all of the references, here are some of the ones that I found especially descriptive.

“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off”

Exodus 20:18 ESV

God spoke to the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness of Sinai.  God called to Moses from the mountain and, when Moses approached the mountain, God express His Law, the Ten Commandments.  The people, however, were afraid at the sight of the mountain when God was there.  Lightning was pivotal in expressing the power of God to His people. 

One of Job’s friends, Elihu, made this argument to Job, underscoring God’s power and His inexpressible works:

“Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God.  Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?”

Job 37:14-15 ESV

Then we have the vision of God that Ezekiel records in Ezekiel 1:1 and following.  I will not cite all of the chapter, but some pertinent verses are:

“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. … As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, … And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.  As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.  And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.”

Ezekiel 1:1, 4-5, 12-14 ESV

There are many more references to lightning in the Old Testament, but I want to look at the New Testament where we find the term in a new light (pun intended):

His appearance was like lightning, and His clothing white as snow.”

Matthew 28:3 ESV

This, of course, is describing the appearance of Jesus at the time He was transfigured before three of His disciples.  This occurred very shortly before He was arrested and crucified.  His glorified appearance was so bright that it, in itself, was blinding, like lightning. 

Then, another of the Gospel writers says this about lightning:

“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.”

Luke 17:24 ESV

When the Lord Jesus Christ, also known as the Son of Man, returns in judgment, it will be sudden, like lightning.  And, like lightning, it will be unmistakable.

Lightning is evidence of the power of the Creator God and it is undeniable in its mission.  Just as mankind cannot stop lightning’s travel, mankind will not be able to stop the Son of Man returning to claim His people. 

For the believer, lightning reflects a marvelous promise coupled with sense of expectation and wonder. 

For an unbeliever, lightning represents judgment with unchangeable consequences.

Now is the day of salvation! 

“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2 ESV

Father, I praise Your name in thankfulness for protection from the storm. For those who do not know You, I pray that Your Spirit would convict them of sin and draw them into Your arms, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

OF TRUCKS, TRIALS AND TRIPS

We had occasion to be traveling on the highways of our country a lot recently.   If you spend any time at all on the roads, you will run into trucks. Well, hopefully not actually run into them, but you will come across them along the way. In fact, as we left a small town in Virginia, I counted over 60 trucks going in the opposite direction, on the other side of the interstate, in the span of about 20 minutes.

 

Trucks along interstate (C)
Trucks along Interstate 40.

 

The roads in East Tennessee are hilly, curvy and picturesque. Trucks that run the route often know when the road gets tricky to negotiate and, for the most part, they handle the hills and curves well, usually sharing the road with the smaller cars and vans without difficulty or incident.

Trucks going up and down hills on interstate outside Knoxville (C)
Trucks going up and down hills on the Interstate.

 

However, one thing that I noticed is that there are times when even strong, big, heavy trucks have difficulty climbing the hills, especially when the truck is heavily loaded and the weight is simply too much to travel at significant speed. When this scenario unfolds, the truck with the especially heavy load will move to the right lane, put its flashing lights on, and plod slowly up the incline, while the trucks coming upon them in traffic will line up behind them until there is an opening in which to pass the slower truck.

 

Trucks passing along interstate (C)
Trucks passing each other.

 

We were passing a truck loaded with heavy materials that required slow travel up the incline and I was reminded of how I can get bogged down in my Christian life when sin enters and I allow it to remain.

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

Psalm 38:4 [ESV]

This huge truck that can easily travel at highway speed was limping up the mountain side, held back by the sheer weight of its load on the steep incline.

The writer of Hebrews warns us to be aware of sin that “clings” to us:

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us ….

Hebrews 12:1 [ESV]

When I am loaded down with sin, or with guilt because of past sins, I can no longer climb the hills placed before me. Instead, I am grounded and unable to accomplish the work that Christ has for me. I have effectively taken myself out of the game … sidelined and unable to properly function … I am like the weighed down truck trying to race uphill.

This thought then prompted me to recall a study that the women did at church last year, specifically, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory of the Christian lifeThe pilgrim was originally named Graceless but he received a new name of Christian after coming to faith in Christ.  He was trying to walk in the Christian Way and was having great difficulty because he was carrying a heavy backpack that was loaded with his sin and guilt.   As Christian approached the cross, he received a fuller view of Christ and the work that was done on the cross for him. It was then that his heavy backpack fell off through no effort of his own; and, as it tumbled down into the tomb, Christian felt the comfort of being covered in his Savior’s care.

David describes this condition in Psalm 51:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:9-12 [ESV]

David had sinned … he knew that and he knew that God knew that! He prayed that God would clean his heart, wipe out the sin, be present with him once more, and restore the joy that came from the salvation granted by God.

This is the joy and comfort that Christian felt when his backpack loosened and fell into the tomb at Christ’s cross.

It is the same joy that I can have when I confess my sin and leave it at the foot of the cross.

It is the same joy and comfort that you can experience when you are released from carrying around sin and guilt that has accumulated for years (dare I say decades?)!

Praise the Lord that Christ’s work on the cross enables us to shed the weight of sin and guilt so that we can climb mountains at full speed while we do the work that He has ordained for us to do. We may be called carry heavy weights for Him, but the task will be eased when we remember that our sin is gone and that Christ and His Spirit are with us.

Jesus said:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:29-30 [ESV]

We will be yoked with Christ, each mile of the road on our trip with our Savior and Lord.   We will not limp along, unable to prevail in our work.  His power will strengthen and enable us to do the task.  Praise His holy Name.

 

Father, I pray that you would forgive me when I complain about the weight of the task ahead. Help me to remember that You are with me, that your Son is yoked with me and that your Spirit will give me strength to carry on even in the face of difficulties. Help me to honor and glorify You in my life, words, deed, and worship.

THERE IS ALWAYS TIME, RIGHT?

We measure time all the time. Here, Bill is using a lawn sun dial which we came across at Blenheim Palace in England. The pointer (human) stands on the right spot for the month and day, and then you extend your arm straight up revealing the time. He was doing this shortly after 1:00 p.m. and the shadow on the ground is just clearing the 1 o’clock dial. That is one way to tell time! No electricity or battery backup needed – of course it must be sunny! [Apparently there was no need to tell time at night! J ]

 

Human sundial at Blenheim Palace (C)
Blenheim Palace lawn sundial — telling time without electricity or batteries!

 

For us, however, we feel that time is of critical importance, whether day or night. We react to events, plans and situations as they come our way, and we constantly run out of time to do all that we have on our calendars or that we want to accomplish. But unless it is our birthday, we rarely think about the amount of time we have already lived ‐‐ or, more to the point, the length of time we have left to live.

 

Just this morning we read in our local newspaper about a 39 year old businessman who died in a skiing accident in Colorado.  I have no idea if this gentleman was  believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  While I don’t know if he was a Christian, I feel certain that he did not know that yesterday would be his last on this earth. He did not know that all the dreams and plans that he was working on would be stopped on a dime when he drew his last breath. He did not know that his life would be cut short, or that he would not celebrate his 40th birthday, or that there was no more time allotted to him, here.

 

Over and over in Scripture, writers tell us of the short life span we humans have, warning us that there is no guarantee of one more second, let alone one more day, week, year, decade! An example of this theme is seen in Psalm 39:4-5 where King David writes:

 

Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. [NIV]

 

This theme is repeated in the New Testament teachings of Jesus in a parable recorded at Luke 12:16-21:

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [NIV]

 

This theme is again repeated in James 1:11 where James speaks of the man who goes about his business unaware that his life soon will end:

 

For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.  [NIV]

 

James continues to say in chapter 4:13-14:

 

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” [NIV]

 

 

Big Ben (C)
Big Ben in London — the quintessential example of a powerful clock!

 

Scripture repeatedly warns us not to assume that we will be here tomorrow, in other words,  we are told that our life’s end may come when we least expect it.

 

Our Sovereign God has all this in His power. For this reason, we should focus on seeking the Kingdom of God rather than seeking worldly things. Matthew 6:28-34.

 

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2:

 

“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he [God] says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” [Quoting Isaiah 49:8] Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” [NIV]

 

I saw a series of television advertisements, most likely by a pharmaceutical company but I don’t recall which one, that say that you will not get an invitation or a bulletin warning that tomorrow you will have a fatal heart attack.   Whether or not you use their medicine, the point is one worth consideration because it has eternal consequences.

 

In our human arrogance we think that there is always time to seek salvation.  I’ll do it later.  There is always time, right?

 

While there are many questions for which I have no answer, I do know the answer to this one. No!

 

One of these days time will run out and there is absolutely no way that you or I know when that day will come. The Apostle Paul was right – act now, while there is still time. Today is the day of salvation!

 

Father, we pray for the family of the young man who died in the skiing accident yesterday.  We pray that he was a believer in Jesus Christ and that our Lord will be near and provide comfort to the grieving family. We also pray for those reading this post, that if they do not know the wondrous love of the Lord Jesus, that they would look to your Word and that your Spirit would touch their hearts so that saving grace would be made real to them this day. And, Father, we pray that you would remind each of us, daily, that our time is limited, and that we should make the most of each day you grant to us for the furtherance of your Kingdom, to your honor, glory and praise.

BE PREPARED!

Even as I write this post, winter storm Jonas is still pummeling the New England coast with rain, sleet, heavy snow and pelting winds although it has now pretty much finished its work in the southern United States. We knew it was coming … all week long we were told by the weather forecasters that a monster storm was brewing and it would bring drenching rains for days on end in the south and snow that could be measured in feet, not inches, farther north and along the eastern coastline.

People were warned to be prepared. Of course, in our area, we are told that there is a 10% chance of snow and, within an hour, the stores are out of bread and milk. So, with a 100% chance of snow predicted, my husband went to a convenience store to pick up a gallon of milk, fully expecting that there would be none. However, he found that there was a healthy supply of both milk and bread. He expressed his surprise to the cashier and was told “you need to look at the shelves where the beer is usually found!” Apparently, for some folks, beer is more important to have on hand during a snow storm than milk and bread, if you are expecting to be in the house for a number of days.

Wood for stove
Wood sitting by the fireplace ready to be used when needed.

 

Preparation is important. At the house, we have firewood stacked outside and an immediate supply next to the fireplace.

Wood stove fire
The fire in the wood stove insert in the fireplace. The ceramic cow is for added humidity and the fans on each side start spinning when the heat from the fire is built up.

 

The fireplace has an insert that makes it a wood burning stove, so when the temperature started falling, my husband built a fire and we were toasty warm … hot in fact, the room was 82 degrees at one point! But we were prepared.   If power goes out, we can cook on the top of the stove.  We had the food we needed, the heat we needed, everyone was inside, and all was well.

Snow - Bird feeder
Backyard bird feeder covered in snow.

 

Although the snow did not materialize in any significant amount at our house, it did in surrounding areas. For us, it was just enough to make the neighborhood pretty. There is something so serene and still when snow is falling.

 

Snow - front yard
Front yard with snow blanket, serene and white.

 

Even the canine members of the family were prepared. We put their yellow slickers on them and turned them loose in the backyard. They loved to run and sniff the snow, in fact, Snickers tried to catch the flakes with her mouth.

The video is of the two of them in the back yard – wait for the first 8 seconds and then you will see the two yellow streaks pass by the field of view! I hope it brings a smile to your face.

 

Preparation. People prepared for several days to be ready to withstand any difficulties that may arise in this storm. We prepare for a great many things … academic tests, surprise celebrations for loved ones, the potential of a new baby, transfer to a new job, moving to a new community, company coming for dinner … yes, we prepare for many things.

 

The question is whether we have prepared for the ultimately important thing … where we will spend eternity.

 

In the Old Testament, King Belshazzar decided to give a feast for one thousand of his lords and officials. You can read about this extravaganza in Daniel chapter 5. While they were reveling and using the vessels from the Lord’s House to drink their wine, the king was rightly disturbed when he saw a hand writing on the wall of the palace. Ultimately, the Lord’s prophet Daniel was called to interpret the writing.

 

“And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

Daniel 5:25-31 [ESV]

 

Belshazzar believed himself to be above reproach – he was king and nothing could harm him. Certainly not anything that would arise during his festival! He forgot that God was responsible for his position and that God could snuff out his life, literally, in a heartbeat. In short, he ran out of time to prepare to meet God.

 

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable of the rich man who had so much bounty from his farm that he didn’t know what to do. So he built larger barns to store his grain and his goods. Then he said:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'”

Luke 12:19-20 [ESV]

 

The man in Jesus’ parable ran out of time to prepare to meet God and, based on God’s referring to him as “Fool,” it would appear that he was not ready. He had placed so much emphasis on his personal abilities that he gave himself all credit and left nothing to God. In this case, his eternal destiny was decided by his own foolish refusal to acknowledge his need for God. In short, he ran out of time to prepare to meet God.

 

Preparation. Scripture says that preparation for our eternal salvation is simple and yet profound.

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Romans 10:9-10 [ESV]

 

Are you prepared? Where will you spend eternity?  Now is the time of salvation!

 

Father, thank you for your provision of salvation and for the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the indwelling Holy Spirit and for the work of the Spirit in prompting your children to come to you. I pray that you would use my life as a witness for you, and that these few words would be used by your Spirit to prompt people to search your word and so come to a realization of the saving work of our Lord on their behalf.

THE FRAGILE GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

The Presidential Prayer Team devotional for December 15, 2015 is entitled “Shaking Not Necessary”. It is an excellent devotional thought that begins with the Christmas gift exchange experience of shaking the package and wondering what it contained. I would encourage you to read the devotional for yourself, at http://www.presidentialprayerteam.com/devo.

Christmas tree
Decorated Christmas Tree with Presents scattered underneath.

 

When I read the opening paragraph, my mind immediately went back to a Christmas almost 30 years ago when my daughter was trying to guess what her present was. I was wrapping gifts in the bedroom with the door closed and she was on the other side asking if she could “help”. As parents, you would understand that the help being offered was actually an attempt to see if she could identify her gifts early.

 

I declined her invitation and she wanted to know why. I told her I was wrapping her gift and she then began a barrage of questions about what it was, how big, etc.   Finally, in frustration, I told her that she should not bother me anymore because I had to be careful. When she asked why, I said it was fragile and I didn’t want it to fall off the bed while I was wrapping it. She was quiet and I finished wrapping the gift.

 

When the wrapping was completed, I opened the door to find her sitting on the floor, leaning against the door, waiting to carry her fragile gift to the tree. The irony was that this was not her only gift, nor was it the most expensive. But because it was the one that I told her was fragile, it was the paramount gift under the tree as far as she was concerned.

 

She scooped it up, v-e-r-y slowly and with great care. Holding it out in front of her as if it were nitroglycerin and walking with “baby steps” so it would not be jostled. She went down the stairs and arrived at the tree.   After putting the precious gift on a chair, she knelt down and made a space under the tree so that her fragile gift would not touch anything else. Then she placed the gift under the tree.

 

Each day before Christmas she would look at the tree, check to be sure that nothing encroached on the space she had cleared, and her fragile gift was intact.  Her brother would move packages around so they would almost hide THE gift, and she would patiently move everything away so that nothing would harm the fragile gift being given to her.

 

Seeing her concern made me sick at heart. I was proud of her care for the gift, but the reality was that her gift was a just plastic bottle of bubble bath, obtained from Walgreen’s, and it now had the cherished place under the tree. I even asked my husband if we should switch packages and get something that actually was fragile. Holding the course, the package remained.

 

On Christmas morning, it was the first to be opened. And the family had an incredible experience watching her realization that she had been tricked – it was not a fragile gift at all. Even today, if someone mentions a fragile present, my daughter’s cheeks flush and she gets her ire up and the whole story is retold.

 

Clearly, I did not intend to hurt her feelings and I apologized profusely after she opened the package. The statement was made when I was tired, frustrated about wrapping presents, and as attempt to stop her incessant demand to come into the room.  [She did, by the way, get several very nice presents that year, but the only one that is remembered is the giant bottle of bubble bath.]

 

Christmas nativity scene
The Nativity Scene on a cloth that my daughter and I made as well as represented by figurines above, Mary is holding the Babe.

 

My daughter’s gift was not fragile. The gift that God has given us is not fragile either – it is as strong as the Almighty God’s love and mercy.

 

Her gift was cheap bubble bath.  In contrast, God’s gift was not cheap, it was His priceless Son, born as a Babe who ultimately died as our Sacrifice.  God’s gift ultimately provided salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior whose birth as a babe is celebrated at Christmas.

 

The gift at Christmas from God is not a joke. It is not something that looks good on Christmas day but breaks or shuts down the next day.

 

The gift of God is Salvation – eternal life with God Himself.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Praise the Lord for His grace, mercy and love that was extended to us when Christ was born, and which was completed when Christ was crucified and raised again from the dead. His death atoned for my sin; so the salvation granted by the Lord is, indeed, a gift for which i am eternally grateful.

 

Praise Him, this holiday season. Remember the babe in the manger, but remember too that the babe is our Savior and Lord.

 

Father, thank you for your saving work through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you have given us salvation through faith in Christ. Thank you that you have sent the Holy Spirit to seal our salvation and to bring us into right relationship with you. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace. May you be honored this Christmas Season.

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

A number of years ago, we visited the Butterfly Farm on Grand Cayman Island as an excursion from our cruise ship.  I saw the name “Butterfly Farm” and, being the literalist, saw long rows of planted butterflies.  At first I thought it was a joke, but finding out that it was a legitimate, informative place, we decided to go on the tour.

It was a wonderful time and we learned a great deal about these small animals.  Hurricane Ivan had passed across the island, causing severe destruction.  As we learned during our tour, one of the significant casualties was the butterfly population.  Essentially, the butterflies were blown out to sea by the force of the hurricane.  While this might not seem like a big deal at first, it is huge inasmuch as butterflies pollinate plants, just as bees do; therefore, we/humans need butterflies for food propagation.

Beautiful butterfly
Beautiful butterfly

Therefore, a “butterfly farm” was established to repopulate the butterflies on the island.  The “building” was essentially a mesh wall with a mesh roof, into which were planted shrubs, flowers, trees and grasses that would provide the food and shelter.  Butterflies were brought in from other areas of the world and placed in this protected environment.  When they were ready and in sufficient numbers, the roof would come off and they could be released into the area.

Butterflies - getting to know you!
Butterflies – getting to know you!

Of course, the butterflies were more than willing to work toward repopulation.  While we were there we saw these two butterflies doing their part to assist in the growth of the island’s butterfly community.  The pictures in this post were taken by my husband, but most of the scientific information that is included came from the website for The Butterfly Farm on St. Maartin, found at: http://www.thebutterflyfarm.com.

Butterflies are a type of insect.  They belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera, which means “scaly wings”.  The butterfly’s life cycle is made up of four stages, each of which are unique and very different from each other.  This process is called metamorphosis which means “change of form.”  First, the butterfly starts as an egg.  After about a week, the egg hatches and a tiny caterpillar emerges.  The caterpillar eats and gets bigger and bigger, ultimately shedding its skin 4 to 6 times.   Here is a picture of a leaf at the Butterfly Farm on which a caterpillar has attached itself.

Caterpillar on a leaf
Caterpillar on a leaf

After 2 to 4 weeks, the caterpillar will be full grown and it then transforms itself into a chrysalis/ or pupa.  It hangs from a tree or bush, appearing to be doing nothing, but inside the caterpillar’s body becomes the adult structure of the butterfly.  This stage takes 10 to 15 days.

Then, the former caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

Butterfly - stained glass
Butterfly – stained glass

But that emergence did not come easily … the insect has to struggle inside the cocoon, pushing against the sides before ultimately breaking through into the sunlight.

Butterfly having some strawberry lunch
Butterfly having some strawberry lunch

If the cocoon is cut so that the butterfly can emerge without struggle, the butterfly is doomed to live on land, unable to fly.  Getting out of the cocoon the easy way costs the butterfly the opportunity to soar.  It is the struggle to escape the cocoon that allows its wings to strengthen so that, after the struggle, flight is possible.

In other words, it is in the struggle itself that strength is born.

This week is Reformation Week – a time of remembering October 31, 1517, the day that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The debate that arose out of this action culminated in what is now called the Protestant Reformation.

One of the primary teachings of the Reformation is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Good works do not constitute any basis for our right standing before God; rather, our good works are the result of and the witness to our faith in Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-10.

Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness in His sight comes to us because through our faith alone the Father imputes to us, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

In other words, the Reformation’s call is that the just shall live by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Being justified, however, is not the end of the question.  There is a responsibility to live a Christ-centered life when we are justified by His sacrifice.  Paul says we are new creatures when we have yielded our lives to Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17.

Elaborating on this statement, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that we are to:

“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Even though we may not like hearing the message, we too are to put off the old self.  This is a struggle, but we need to recognize that it is in the struggle that we are strengthened. We may lose some of the battles but, even if we lose the round, at the end of the day we are stronger than we were before the struggle began.

I don’t know if I agree with the “No pain – No gain” mantra, but I do know that it has been through the painful times of life that I have gained new understanding of God’s grace, His mercy, His guidance and His love.

So, how do I view difficult times?   How do you?

Remember the butterfly.  Before the caterpillar can become the beautiful butterfly it is destined to be, it must go through all the stages and struggles.  Only then will it emerge as the new creature that can fly far above the ground to which it formerly was attached.

Then, praise God that He is with us, in both difficult and easy times.  Praise Him that his grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggles as we seek to put the old self away so that we can be renewed in the likeness of our Lord. When struggles come, praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit is present with us to give us strength and clarity of mind and soul as we resist temptation and stand strong in the struggle. Praise Him too that so many years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel and to remind us that salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thank you, Father, for the provision and protection of your Word and for the work of Martin Luther and other saints of the church who suffered greatly for their proclamation that justification is a matter of faith in Christ alone, and for the resulting Reformation.  Thank you too for the times when I have struggled, even when I have lost my way; for during those times, you gently guided me back to you and the struggle itself strengthened me for the rest of the journey.  Thank you for the beautiful butterfly, who daily illustrates the concept that difficulties are for a time, that there are struggles and hardships, but that the end result is worth the struggle as we grow in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ through your grace and mercy.

A CALL TO WAKE UP AND REPENT – Scripture reference corrected

I suspect that the question of how long our life will be is far from our normal conscious thought, until something happens to jar us out of our lethargy and into the reality that none of us is as big, as strong, as indestructible, or as far from leaving this life as we believe ourselves to be.

These thoughts are on my mind today because we just came back from the memorial service for a dear lady in our church who died this week after an extended illness.  While it was difficult to learn of her passing, we were relieved that she was no longer in pain, that her husband was no longer watching her suffer, and that he and the rest of her family could rest in the knowledge that she was with her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Family at my grandfather's grave
Family at my grandfather’s grave

Unlike our friend who suffered the ravages of disease for many years, the picture above is of the family after my grandfather suffered a premature, and unexpected death in 1956.  As I recall, his death was sudden, without an extended illness.  There was no way for the family to prepare themselves, one day he was with us, the next he was gone.

I know this is true of my own mother.  She died when I was 21.  I was living several states away so we communicated by phone.  I spoke with her on Sunday and we expressed concern about my father’s cancer.  He was in the hospital preparing for surgery, but we were not sure what the outcome would be. (Back then, you did not prepare for cancer surgery by sitting at home, you waited in the hospital bed for multiple procedures in preparation for surgery.) She was comforting me about my father, telling me that the Lord was with her and with Daddy and that He would take care of both of them.  I was not to worry.

That was the last time I heard my mother’s voice. Two days later, on Tuesday, I received a phone call that she had suffered a massive stroke.  She never came out of the coma and on Thursday she went to meet her Lord and Savior.  She was only 54 years old when she was called home.

Mother's tombstone
Mother’s tombstone

Hard to concentrate on trivial things when your life is turned upside down by a sudden death of a loved one.

No one has an answer to the multitude of questions that are raised when death comes like a thief in the night nor are there answers when we watch a loved one die a slow, excruciating death.  That simply is not within our sphere of knowledge.

Like it or not, we are the creation, not the Creator.

Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground
Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground

God is sovereign in all things, even in the length of time his creation exists.  Even before we are born, God knows when we will arrive as that bundle of joy and when we will leave this earthly existence.

Proverbs 90:12 says –OOPS —  CORRECTION:  Proverbs only has 31 chapters so clearly this is an incorrect reference.  Thanks to my dear friend Claudette Starr who noticed this mistake.  I do apologize for this error; my proofreading will have to improve in the future!  Now, back to the thought.  If you look at PSALMS 90:12 you will find the following text:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

There are numerous lessons that can be learned when we attend a funeral, or when we learn that a loved one has died suddenly, not the least of which is that we are reminded that we need to be ready for “our own personal end of days” as well as “the end of days,” when Christ returns.

He sent His Son to be our Savior.  His Son, Jesus, died as an atonement for our sin, all of it.  Because he died for us, we no longer have to suffer the punishment that our sin places on us.  He rose from the dead and, because He lives and is interceding on our behalf, those who believe in Jesus’ Name will live eternally.

In 2 Corinthians 6:2, the Apostle Paul says it as clearly as possible:

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

That Tuesday, my mother had no idea that such day would be the irreversible beginning of herlast days”.

As Reformed Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ will bodily return one day.   Indeed, Paul affirms this in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Then, there will not be any more time to repent.  The die, as we say, will have been cast and the game of this world will be abruptly ended.  There will be no more time.  Even if Jesus does not return during our lifetime, we know that we will all have to face death, some sooner and some later; but it is inevitable.

It is a certainty that time will run out – whether it is when Jesus returns or at our own personal “end of days” — and there is absolutely no way that you or I know when that day will come.

The Apostle Paul was right – Repent, for today is the day of salvation!

Father, often we live our lives as if we will continue on for decades before anything major will happen, certainly before death knocks at our heart’s door; forgive us for being so callous and foolish.  Forgive us, Father, for thinking of salvation as a type of fire insurance.  Forgive us when we have marginalized Jesus’ work on the cross rather than bowing in humble obedience to Him.  Forgive us when we have ignored the Holy Spirit’s prompting for a living, dynamic relationship with the Almighty Sovereign Creator God.  Father, forgive us!

CRAZY QUESTIONS

There are times that my mind takes off on a tangent and I start laughing until tears form, and then my husband looks at me and says “All right, what’s so funny now?” Often it is a twisted question about the English language that has come to mind, and we both wind up laughing.

This happened the other evening as we were in the car returning from a visit with friends. Our last name is Mowles – rhymes with towels. It doesn’t seem that it should be that hard to pronounce. But, such is not the case!

It is not at all uncommon for people to pronounce it “Mow-less” with the “mow” sounding like what you do to your grass during the summer. Take the sentence, “Hi, Sam, did you mow your grass?” Or, “Joe, did you tow my car last week?” Or “That top is cut too low, Susie!”

Consider: “Oh horrors — the bow is aimed to send the arrow directly through the bow of the ship!” Or: “She was wiping the bowl with a towel when she heard the wolf howl!”

Why does “mow”, “tow”, and “low” all sound one way with “how” sounding differently? Why does “bowl” sound like “mow” as in “mow the grass” when “howl” sounds like “towel” or Mowles?

Another crazy question relates to plurals.

Shrivenham house
Shrivenham house

Here is a house in England that I thought was charming. It reminded me of a doll house that I wanted when I was a small girl. The singular word “house” is pluralized as “houses” while the singular word “mouse” is pluralized as “mice”. Why the difference?

Houses along street in Oxford, England
Houses along street in Oxford, England

Why couldn’t more than one house be “hice”? Or, more than one mouse be “mouses”?  “Greetings, Jim. How long does it take to mow the grass at all your hice?” Or, “By the way, did you hear of the rash of mouses in the neighborhood hice?”

By the way, these hice are on a street in Oxford, England. They reminded me of the brownstones in New England!

Or this question:  Why do we have a “leaf” on the tree but we have a pile of “leaves” in the yard?

Child playing in the leaves
Child playing in the leaves

Why don’t we have “leafs” in the yard or a “leave” on the tree? But of course, you couldn’t have a “leave” on the tree because, in the fall, when the “leave” would “leave” there would be a bunch of “leafs” on the ground! .. Good Grief!

While there are hundreds of crazy questions such as these and, although they are of interest (perhaps), we must admit that they are mundane and of very little consequence. However, there is another question which may sound crazy but which is anything but. Indeed, it is deadly serious.

In the Bible, at John chapter 3, we find recorded the encounter between a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jews, and Jesus. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, presumably so that the other Jews would not know of his interest in what Jesus had to say.   Jesus, knowing the unexpressed but real inquiry in Nicodemus’ heart, understood that he wanted to know how to have eternal life.

In John 3:3-18, Jesus says:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him “How can a man be born when he is old?” Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”   Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” … Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” …  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Crazy question – must we go back into the womb to be “born again”? Nicodemus certainly was correct in asking how these things could be. And then Jesus told him exactly what would be required to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Son of God would be lifted up and those who believed on his name would not perish but have eternal life. They would see, and even be included in, the kingdom of God.

Indeed, this is the same question that the jailer asked Paul in Acts 16:30 “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The response to this question was straightforward: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Acts 16:31.

Beloved, some questions are crazy and of very little consequence. But the question asked by both Nicodemus and the jailer is of eternal consequence and it has a specific, direct and clear answer that applies to us today as well as it did to them 2,000 years ago.

If you want to be included in the kingdom of God, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who saves you from your sin and enables you to stand before the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, the Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient God who is Holy and who could not look at us except for the blood of His Son – we stand before Him not because we have done good deeds or are righteous, but because Christ is righteous and we have claimed Him as our Savior, Redeemer and King.

Praise Him Who provided the way of salvation to us; and Praise the Son who died the death that we should have died; and Praise the Holy Spirit for sealing us as children of God through the obedience of the Son.