THE SNEAKY WAY OF SIN

We all like to do things that we enjoy.  Just watch children playing together with their Playdoh.

Grandchildren at table playing (C)

 Or watch children playing in the sprinkler during the hot summer sun!

playing in sprinkler

When the children get a bit older, what could be more fun than a multi-generational game of backyard football.  No refs and no goalposts, but fun nonetheless!

USED family playing football (C)

None of these things are sinful, in and of themselves.  But sin has an insidious way of breaking into our daily routine even when what we are doing is innocuous.  Indeed, even good things can become sinful if it results in disobedience to that which we know God wants us to do.

The other evening, we had finished supper, cleaned up the dishes, and descended the stairs to the family room where we watched television.  We had been discussing, that very day, about how we needed to rethink our meals and eating habits because we need to lose weight for any number of health-related reasons. 

Following our normal course, at 9:00 we had ice cream bars, low calorie bars so in our minds they are ok to have, especially since we had no dessert for dinner. So far, so good.

But then the program we were watching focused on a family in various humorous, although troubling, life situations.  At the end of their day, the teenaged children came into the kitchen and found the Dad sitting at the table, looking haggard.  He had something in front of him that was not really identifiable for the audience.

The television Dad looked up at the children and said: “want some cheese toast?”

At that the program ended, and at the same moment, my husband and I looked at each other and simultaneously said “Cheese Toast!” 

Within moments we had retrieved the toaster oven from over the freezer and were siding bread onto the rack while the cheese was being unwrapped and made ready for melting.

Cheese toast is certainly not sinful.  But, what struck me most was how quickly our dedication to the proposition that we should lose weight fell by the boards when we heard the words “cheese toast” even though it was 11:15 p.m. 

Not a word was uttered in support of dietary restraint.  We bounded up the stairs as quickly as we could, toting the toaster oven to the kitchen and grabbing the bread and cheese almost in one smooth, coordinated, motion. 

When sin beckons me, do I really run toward it like we ran to cheese toast?  What if Satan puts something else in front of me so as to tempt me to leave the Lord that I love … will I run to it as fast as I did to cheese toast?

Our culture has done a great job of inoculating us from the actions of Satan.  We think of him as a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork, certainly nothing that we would be inclined to follow!  But that is not how Scripture talks of him.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8

I have not been in the wilds of Africa to see a lion up close and personal however I  did see a lion in the zoo!  But, when the lion prowls around, I believe that it sneaks up on its prey, saving the roaring for after the kill.

In speaking of the false teachers who were misleading the Corinthian church, Paul says this about Satan:

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

2 Corinthians 11:13-15

Of course, Satan’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the Church and all that Christ accomplished through His death on the cross.

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us.”

1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

The good news is that Satan is not the victor – He has been defeated by our Lord and Savior Who is more than capable of holding on to us as His people.  Indeed, James put it this way:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

James 4:7

If we resist Satan, he will flee because he understands that the only way we have the power to resist him is through Christ, and our Savior’s power far exceeds that of Satan any day of the week.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.

Jude 1:24-25

With that benediction I end this post.  Blessings to you, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.  Take heart – cheese toast does not win the day.  We can meet the adversary and sin has no controlling hold on us anymore.  We are still sinners, yes.  But now, through the blood of Jesus Christ, we don’t have to yield to sin – we can resist it through the poser of our Lord and Savior.

Father, I praise Your Name for the gift of salvation through belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I praise Your Name that I am no longer a slave to sin and that through Christ’s power I can resist Satan and claim life with Christ for eternity.  Thank You Lord.

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.

 

“DON’T DO IT!  UH UH -NO!”

It seems that we have recently focused on our canine children as illustrations of spiritual lessons for our daily lives.  Today is no exception as our MinPin doggie daughters, also known as “the girls”, have once again tried our patience.

We have tried to “train” the girls to stay put in one place while we are eating our meals.  The original intent of this routine was to stop them from barking while we are eating, and also to stop them from begging during the meal.  It has, for the most part, stopped the barking.  But, it has not been as successful with the begging.

Usually their “place” is the living room sofa as we are eating dinner in the dining room, in full site of them.  When we have finished our meal, we will say “you’re through” and they are to come bounding up to the table for a good girl treat, thankful to their parents that they are being so wonderfully rewarded.  That is what is supposed to happen.

Doggies ready to jump
Doggies ready to jump!

What actually happens is that they go to their “place” right away when we tell them to do so as we are sitting down to the table.  Then, when the wait is too long or if the aroma is especially exciting to them (such as the smell of bacon), they hop down and come over to the table where we are sitting.  At first, they would just run over and jump up at our side to tell us that they are there.  We, then, point to the sofa, say “Uh Uh – No, go back, place” and they run back, jumping up on the sofa and sitting as if they were good girls.

If we are engaged in serious conversation during dinner, they become stealth doggies.  They slide off the sofa and sneak through the kitchen so we don’t see them walking around.  Then they cut between us to get under the table in the hopes that something will have fallen through a crack.  We find out that one or both are under the table when we move our feet and hit something.  Then, we again, point to the sofa and say the dreaded words “Uh Uh – No, go back!”. 

I suspect that we are not the only ones that have this experience.  However, aside from the humorous smiles that their actions might induce, there is a parallel with my own life experiences and obedience, and it is not at all humorous.

As long ago as when the law was given to the Israelites, God said:

“So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 22:31

Again, in the wilderness they were told:

“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

Deuteronomy 13:4

God is serious about our being obedient to His commandments.  In fact, Jesus used obedience to His commandments as the test of our love for Him.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. …  Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:15, 21

In full recognition of the fact that we could not keep Jesus’ commandments through our own power, Jesus told His disciples that, after His resurrection and ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit would be sent to help them do that which He commanded them.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:26

Moreover, the Holy Spirit seals us in Christ. He is the surety, the guarantor of our salvation. 

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,”

Ephesians 1:13

Indeed, one of the Holy Spirit’s assignments with respect to believers is to transform us into the image of our Lord and Savior. 

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Romans 8:29

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2

When God has told me to stay in a difficult situation, I try to jump out of it, a classic definition of disobedience.  When I do, it is as if I hear the Holy Spirit saying “Don’t do it. Uh Uh – No!”.   Often I obey that voice and repent from my attempted jump of disobedience.  But, there are times when I disobey intentionally and then, too, I must repent of my arrogant disobedience and seek forgiveness, asking the Spirit to strengthen me so that I am able to resist temptation. 

God has given us His Word and His Spirit who indwells the believer in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit transforms us and renews our mind so that, as we are sanctified, we are conformed to the image of Jesus.  But that process is not linear. 

By that I mean, it is not a smooth road toward transformation.  We struggle and fail to obey the directives that are clearly given in Scripture and brought to our attention through the Holy Spirit.  Praise the Lord that when we have been disobedient, the Holy Spirit still is within us and He will tenderly guide you back into relationship with Him and with our Lord if you will confess your sin and repent. 

Next time you see your canine or Homo sapiens children disobeying your directive, stop and ponder whether there is something in your own life for which you need to confess and repent.  Is there some act of disobedience that you need to address?  Is the Holy Spirit saying “Uh Uh – No!”? 

The Psalmist knew the sweet fellowship with God that confession and repentance provides when he said:

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah”

Psalm 32:2-5

When David sinned, and kept silent, he was tormented day and night because of his guilt.  When he turned to God and confessed his sin, he was forgiven and he could say “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity”.  Happy is the one who does not stand before God covered in the guilt of his sin. 

Doggies patiently waiting
Obedient doggies!

Praise God that the Spirit says “Uh Uh – No!” preventing us from sinning, but praise God also that when we fail to be obedient, we can be restored to full fellowship with Him through confession and repentance. 

Father, I praise You for Your Holy Spirit and for the work that He does in my life as He guides me and leads me in the path that I should take.  Thank You too that Your Spirit also stops me from disobeying and, when I do sin, that He leads me back into the fold.  I praise Your Holy Name.

CLOTHED IN … WHAT?

Several years ago, the women of my church got together to sew dresses for children in  Southeast Asia and Africa who are cared for in a ministry called Homes of Love.  The children who were orphaned or abandoned are brought into a home where they are loved and cared for by their house mother.   [For more information about Homes of Love and the wonderful work that they are doing, see their website at homesoflove.org/]  The homes undertake a marvelous work, all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the Homes of Love motto is “Creating Families for Life”. The ladies in our church wanted to help by creating and sending some much-needed clothing.  Look at the impact that having new clothes can make in a child’s life.

At the time this project was undertaken, I was still employed full time, so I was not able to join in this effort.   Now, however, retirement has given me some time during the day that I could do something like this,, on a smaller scale of course, but I didn’t even think about it until Christmas when my husband surprised me with a new sewing machine.

1st Homes of Love dress - picture 2
First dress with cute buttons

 

I have now completed three dresses for the precious little girls. 

2nd Homes of Love Dress - Copy
Second dress, now with a pocket.

They are not professionally done, that’s for sure, and I know where the mistakes were made and remedies attempted; but, they were made because of love for our Lord and for His children.

3rd Homes of Love dress
Third dress with decorated pocket.

3rd Homes of Love dress - decorated pocket

This project has prompted me to consider the relationship between clothing and our spiritual well-being.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, in the Renewing Your Mind broadcast entitled “Clothed in Righteousness,” comments on the first covering mankind had.  [You can access this broadcast by going to renewingyourmind.org and then accessing the archive listing for January 16, 2018.] 

Immediately after Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, scripture says:

“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 3:7-8

Prior to their sin, the first couple did not know embarrassment; they did not have feelings of shame because they were naked.  They were in perfect union with each other and with God. Their bodies certainly were not shameful; they were made specifically by God for each other.   In fact, each evening the Lord would come and walk with them through the garden.  No clothing, no shame, nothing to interfere with their enjoyment of their God.

But all that changed in an instant, when they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree; their eyes were opened, and Adam and Eve now felt embarrassment, shame, guilt.  They sewed fig leaves to make themselves a covering, to help them hide and when they heard the Lord, they ran for the trees to hide themselves from their God.  Note that their fig leaves were not clothes – they were coverings.  The intent was not to exchange nakedness with fig leaves; the exchange was between innocence and obedience in sharp contrast with sin, shame and guilt.

We are like that too, are we not?  When we have disobeyed God, or even merely our parents or employers, we are shameful, and we hide ourselves.  Guilt and shame are powerful agents for hiding, trying to disappear so that our actions will not be found out or, if they become known, at least we will not be around to see the consequences. 

God, of course, knew where they were and what they had done.  He didn’t need them to provide information to Him – He needed them to understand the full ramifications of their actions.  So, after they admitted what they had done, God punished them, issuing curses on the serpent, the woman and the man.  Then God said something miraculous, and indicative of His love for His creation.  In speaking to the serpent, God said:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

This is known as the “protoevangelium”, a fancy word meaning that it is the first gospel, the first good news found in Scripture, and it comes in the third chapter of the first book in the Bible.  It pronounces the curse on mankind because of Adam’s sin but God does not stop there … He goes on to tell of His provision for a Savior who would take the curse upon Himself, thus relieving His people from their sin.   Think of it — even though God cursed Adam and Eve because of their disobedience, their actions did not take God by surprise!  Genesis 3:15 tells us that God had already a plan in mind for a Savior who could restore the relationship between mankind and God, the Savior known as the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is good news indeed, but for Adam and Eve, they were still in the trees with their fig leaves.  God could have told them to get out of the garden, to leave everything that He had given them, and get out!  Go roam wherever you want but you are not welcome here, under my shelter, under my protective hand. You disobeyed, and you brought this on yourself.

But instead, the Lord provided tangible evidence of His love and care, despite their disobedience.

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

Genesis 3:21

Before He cast them out of the garden, God himself made garments of skins for clothing of the man and his wife.  Dr. Sproul calls this “God’s first act of redemption,” and the first act that required the spilling of blood.  God did not cover Adam and Eve to hide them, He clothed them with skins.  Just as blood was shed when God clothed our first parents after they sinned, He offers to clothe us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ because of the shed blood of our Lord and Savior.

Scripture says that our best works, our best clothes, our best words and actions are as filthy rags before the Holy God.  So, we, like Adam and Eve, need clothes from God so that we can stand before Him.

The prophet Isaiah said it this way:

“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

Beloved, Jesus Christ, our Lord has clothed us in His righteousness.  Praise His Holy Name!

Hear now the song “Clothed in Righteousness” as presented on the album entitled Glory to the Holy One.  The lyrics are presented below so you can follow the words as they sung.

 

Clothed in Righteousness, Lyrics

Fallen race in Eden fair
Exposed and full of shame
Fled we naked from Thy sight
Far from Thy Holy Name

Refrain

Clothe us in Your righteousness
Hide filthy rags of sin
Dress us in Your perfect garb
Both outside and within

 

Sent from the garden in the east
Outside of Eden’s gate
Banished there from Thy pure light
Were Adam and his mate

Scarlet souls are now like snow
By Thy atoning grace
Crimson hearts become like wool
For Adam’s fallen race

Refrain

 

No work of ours is good enough
For evil to atone
Your merit, Lord, is all we have
It saves, and it alone

Refrain

 

Father, I pray that the words of this post and the music presented here would be used by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who read the message and hear the music.  Thank You, Father, for Your Spirit and for Your love as You clothe us in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

CAUGHT AND CAGED

We live on an acre lot with our house surrounded on the side and back by dense woods.  We have various feeders out with a plethora of cardinals, woodpeckers, titmouse as well as other brightly colored birds swirling around the backyard as the squirrels and our canine daughters eat the birdseed that falls to the ground.  These are our welcome visitors. 

Then we have some unwelcome visitors as well.  We have seen a groundhog for several weeks and, given the kind of damage they can, and have, inflicted on the house, my Beloved bought a trap so we could capture it and send it on its merry way via the City’s Animal Control van.  He put the trap in the backyard with an apple for bait and, low and behold, the next morning there was a plump groundhog munching on the apple, seemingly unaware that his ingress and egress had been drastically reduced.  The Animal Control officer took him away to a relocation place far from our yard.  Expecting there to be more than one groundhog in the woods, we set the trap again and went to bed.

In the morning, we could tell that the trap had worked and captured its prey.  What we could not tell from the house was that it was not a groundhog.

Racoon in overturned trap
Raccoon in overturned trap

Rather, it was a huge, angry raccoon.  He was so mad about things that he had turned the trap over in his machinations trying to escape, to no avail of course.

When I saw the pictures of the critter in the trap, my mind went to our situation as sinners.  We each have disobeyed God, multiple times in our lifetime: in fact, it is more likely correct to say that we have disobeyed God’s law multiple times per day!  We are caught in the trap of sin and we cannot, on our own merit or work, get out of the situation. 

“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.

Proverbs 5:22 

Then, in the New Testament, Scripture repeats that all mankind has sinned. 

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:7-8

We are then told that redemption must come from outside ourselves as a gift of grace from God through the atoning work of Christ Jesus: 

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” 

Romans 3:22-24

Racoon in trap
Trapped, caught and unable to get free!

Like the raccoon that was trapped and unable to get free, we, too, are trapped in sin and we cannot get free even though we struggle and fight.  Sin has too strong a grip on us.  But, through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and as a gift of God’s grace, we can be set free from sin’s trap.

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:2

Listen to the song “Free Indeed” as sung on Scripture Memory Songs: Overcoming Guilt, the song focusing on the words of John 8:36 and Galatians 5:1, using the NIV translation.

Praise the Lord for His incredible, wonderful gift of life and love in His Spirit and through His atoning work on our behalf.

Father, I praise Your name for your grace and your wonderful gift of life through your Spirit.  Thank you for releasing us from the bondage of sin and death when we receive, by faith, Jesus Christ as our Savior.

IN CELEBRATION OF THE REFORMATION – part two

In the prior post, we noted that this is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an event that began when 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 is a legal term referencing God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness  provided through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

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

Once we are justified, through faith in Christ, we are to live a Christ-centered life in thankfulness for all that He has done for us and for the Holy Spirit’s presence within us.  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.”

What would this look like?   Remember the butterfly? 

USED Butterfly close up (C)
At the Butterfly Farm, Cayman Islands

After the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, it not only can fly into the heavens, it must fly to live a healthy, fulfilled life. They must migrate to other locations, ultimately returning to their place of origin.  But we are not talking going around the block; oh no, we are talking long distances!

The flight of the butterflies is the longest known distance insect migration on Earth – and it’s been occurring for thousands of years. Monarchs sense certain topographical features, avoiding both large bodies of water and tall mountains. Instead, they choose cool valley passes between mountains. 

Several migration routes in central southern Canada lead down through the central U.S. Several others start in western North America and merge with central ones. The majority of Monarchs who survive obstacles and predators manage to thread a geographical needle, hitting a 50-mile wide gap of cool river valleys between Eagle Pass, Texas, and Del Rio, Texas, and then wind their way to a dozen specific high mountain peaks in central Mexico where they roost. After resting there for several months, the same generation returns north to Texas and other parts of the southern United States, where the females lay hundreds of eggs.  …  

Of course the question automatically pops into your head – How does the butterfly know where to go when they migrate such a long distance and end the trip on a mountain top to which they have never been.  Scientists believe that they now have an answer:

[Scientists] felt confident that they could prove that it was a combination of brain signals sent from the Monarch’s complex compound eyes and antennae that allowed them to track the position of the sun and the time of day (“like an internal GPS”) to navigate during their migration.

Monarchs have specialized body parts to help it navigate and migrate long distances. They orient themselves both in longitude and latitude, a unique ability, and can travel up to a mile high.

To conserve energy, Monarchs ride along prevailing winds and catch rising thermal waves, helping them travel great distances in a single day. They hide from the rain and will die if exposed to freezing temperatures and ice storms

[Information from http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/epic-migrations]

Notice that? The butterfly has been given specialized body part to enable it to migrate such long distances.  And, the butterfly is so strong that it can travel hundreds of miles, even going a mile high, but rain or ice will kill it.

Likewise, once we emerge from the stranglehold of sin through faith in Christ, we too have been given equipment to enable us to walk the pilgrim passageway in strength and confidence.  Read Ephesians 6 to identify all the armor available to us.  We are strong in the Lord, but we are not impervious to peril.  Sin can attack and derail our efforts.  We must persevere and keep looking to our Lord as we live in this world. 

Putting off the old sinful self is hard – it takes struggle and dedication to Christ to accomplish it, even for a moment.  But God’s grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggle because it is His plan to renew us in the likeness of His Son, our Lord.

Praise God that 500 years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel so we would learn 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 beautiful butterfly, a daily illustration that difficulties are for a time, and that the end result is worth the struggle as we are growing in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

REFOCUS ON CONTENTMENT

Have you ever given your young child or grandchild a shiny quarter with their eyes open wide at the wonder of the coin in their hands?  Then, when we are a bit older, we receive our first paycheck.  No matter the work, you remember the first time you see a check with your name on it because we are seeing the fruit of your labor.

Something happens as we move on with our life.  Suddenly we realize that we don’t have that same joy over our situation as we did when we were young.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Rather, it is as old as mankind itself.

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 2:16-17 ESV. 

Adam and Eve had everything at their disposal, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Seems like they would be contented, doesn’t it? 

Ozark Mountain River
Mountain River in the Ozarks

But then came the serpent who misquoted God when he asked “Did God really say …?“

Ultimately, Eve’s eyes were refocused:

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.

Genesis 3:1-6 ESV.  They became discontented when they looked at the one thing they could not have and desired it so much that they disobeyed their Creator God to get it.  Of course the result of that disobedience was swift punishment – expulsion from the garden accompanied by hard work and labor.

Contentment.  Why was she not content with what she had?  Because she looked at what she did not have instead of what she had.

Yosemite water fall and downsream 2011 (C)
Yosemite National Park waterfall and downstream.

How much happier would we be if we were content with what God has given us rather than comparing our condition with others, specifically with others who we believe are more wealthy, more healthy, more wise, more … whatever, than we are.

Jesus said:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33 ESV

Think about what the Lord endured for you and for me.  Then look at what He has blessed you with … even the hard things and know that nothing can compare with what He went through.  Praise Him for all things, and you will see that your joy has returned and you are contented in a way that was inconceivable before.

Relax, you know that your Savior and your Heavenly Father know you better than you know yourself!  The Holy Spirit will provide that which you need most.  Seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest will fall into place.

USED Asleep on daddy's lap - snickers
Contentment — Snickers is asleep on Daddy’s lap.

Contentment comes when we focus on our Lord Jesus Christ and rest in Him.   

Father, forgive me when I have focused on things that I don’t have or can’t do rather than focusing on You and giving thanks for all the marvelous blessings You shower upon me each moment of every day.  Refocus my attention on You and away from that which would cause discontent and unrest.  Thank You for Your love, grace and mercy.

KUDZU – A FORMIDABLE FOE

Kudzu is a vine that is ubiquitous in the American South.  It was formally introduced to the United States at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, however its potential in the U.S. was minimal at best and it appeared not to have a place in our landscape.

Then came the dust storms of 1935.  When soil erosion ravaged the prairies, millions of kudzu seedlings were grown in greenhouse nurseries as the weapon that would stop erosion in its tracks. 

Today, rather than in prairies, kudzu is associated with the South.  It is very aggressive when planted along roadways and railway embankments, and for that reason, it is conspicuously visible from passing automobiles!   Indeed, its creation of goblins and ghouls out of trees and telephone poles can be seen even when traveling 65 miles per hour. 

Kudzo - Trees engulfed in the vine
Kudzu as seen from the car traveling down the Interstate Highway.

In fact, the vine has been called “the vine that killed the South”, although that seems to be quite an exaggeration!  (Read more about this at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/true-story-kudzu-vine-ate-south-180956325/#cGVCq35eEDVdpfqu.99) )

We pass kudzu every time we get in the car as it is on the roadways that we travel daily.

As we were traveling down the highway, I began thinking about Kudzu and its spread.  At first, it is innocuous, just a little vine, a weed, no problem.  But when it becomes aggressive, it takes control of a small area on the tree and, quickly, engulfs the entire tree.  It is truly a formidable foe!

As I was thinking about this, I found a parallel to it for our spiritual lives. Consider the insidious ways that sin overtakes us.  Sin is cosmic treason, it is disobedience to God’s command.  Dr. R. C. Sproul says:

The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.  It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act in which we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 115-116

Kudzo along highway beginning its takeover in VA
Kudzu getting a firm hold along the highway in Virginia.

Looking at trees that are consumed by kudzu, we see them weighed down, bent and misshapen.  This brings to mind Jonathan Edwards’ description of sin and its effects:

Your wickedness makes you as if it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1974) p. 9.

Like kudzu, sin is insidious – it creeps in when and where we least expect it.  We must be on our guard because sin is constantly tempting us to disregard God and to act on our own, and sin is a formidable foe. 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

1 Peter 5:8 ESV

Indeed, we cannot defeat sin on our own.

Martin Luther put it this way:

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God.  Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved.  Now choose what you want.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Kudzu thrives in the light along the highways and roadways of the South.  But, its enemy is the shade of the forest where it cannot survive. 

Sin thrives in the darkness of rebellion against God and of self-pride.  Jesus said:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 ESV

But, sin has its enemy, specifically the Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Light of the world illuminates sin, the Light defeats the darkness. 

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””

John 8:12 ESV

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV

Like kudzu, sin may creep in and may even cover the heart, but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is sufficient to overcome whatever sin we have committed.  Repent and accept His forgiveness, then praise our Lord and glory in His name.

Father, thank You for shining the light of Jesus Christ in my heart and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that protects me as sin tries to tempt.  I pray for strength as I walk the path you have directed, I pray that I will look to You each day in Your strength, all for Your glory.

 

I CAN DO IT!

When our grandson was an infant, he was fascinated by light.  He would stare at a lighted lamp, in fact, you could entertain him by turning the lights on and off!  That fascination continued through his toddler age when his goal, multiple times daily, was to push the button or flip the switch to turn on the lights BY HIMSELF.

What parent has not heard the words “I can do it!”  They usually are stated in rather loud tones, often with a toss of the head as they refuse assistance even though there is little time to accomplish the task. 

I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 1      I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 2   I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 3

 After significant effort, often the child can do the task  and there is the feeling of success!

                I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 4      I can do it myself - climbing up on bench 5

Children aren’t the only ones who say this.  Adults utter these words as well, for example, consider these words in the context of following the instructions in the set up guide for some electronic gadget.  “I can do it!” 

But there are some things that I cannot do on my own.  

How often has this scenario unfolded in your life?  We see something that we believe God would have us do and we run into it, arms open (sometimes mouths open as well) but we fail, it is not successful, and we are worn out with the effort.  The problem is that we have not bathed the project in prayer.  We have not asked Him for His guidance.  We have not requested His Holy Spirit to be in control of this project. 

In short, we have not recognized that we CANNOT do it ourselves

Jesus was quite firm in this regard.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5 ESV

Did you see that?  How much of eternal consequence can we do on our own?  NOTHING!  To state the obvious, the word “nothing” is the combination of two words – “NO THING”.  We can do “no thing” for Him, no thing of eternal consequence, unless we abide in Him. 

He is the One who gives us the ability; He is the One who provides the power; He is the One who gives direction for His work. 

The words “I can do it” are the death knell for any effort on our part to be productive in the Kingdom of God, especially if you mean that you can do it by yourself.  Paul noted that God could use him when he was weak, because then the power of God is made manifest.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  God may well use us, but it is always at His direction, through His power, and in His providence, and for His glory

More spiritually fundamental is the fact that we cannot even save ourselves from our sin.  The very act of salvation is all God’s work, not ours. Indeed, Scripture is totally clear on this point – no one can do anything to accomplish his/her salvation because we are dead in our sins.  Colossians 2:13-14.  It is foolish to think that a corpse can take any action on its own – it is dead.  So too, we cannot resolve our sin issue on our own because our sin, our intentional disobedience to God’s commands, renders us spiritually dead.

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– … 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 2:4-5, 8-9 ESV 

“But God” – words that are music to the Christian’s ears.  But God … made us alive … by grace you have been saved through faith … it is the gift of God.

Beloved, the words “I can do it” simply do not apply to the resolution of our problem with sin.  We cannot save ourselves from our sin and we cannot approach a holy God while we are still in sin.  Absent God’s Grace and Mercy, we are doomed.  “But God”, salvation is all about Faith and Providence. Our salvation is a gift and we cannot do it absent God’s grace.

And, we must be abiding in the Vine before we can do anything of eternal consequence.  

Next time you are about to run off on your own … stop and seek His guidance and His power.  You can do all things as long as you are abiding in the Vine!

Father, thank You for Your great grace and mercy in providing salvation through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  May I give You honor and thanksgiving each day as I live through the power of the Holy Spirit, and may these words be glorifying to You, My God and my Savior.