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.

THE PERFECTION OF GOD

Perfection.  What a glorious word.  When it is said, we know that a high standard has been met, the pinnacle of achievement was accomplished, and we have witnessed work which cannot be improved upon.  Perfect.

Diver at hotel pool in Florida perfect
A perfect dive in Florida!

Perhaps you have achieved perfection in a sporting activity, like diving.  Or, perhaps you have achieved perfection in a hobby, maybe a picture that people have said is “picture perfect”.

Oregon picture perfect mountains
Picture perfect scene in Oregon.

Or perhaps it is the sleeping newborn infant, while family members look at the child and marvel and say “Perfect!” as they look at the little fingers with tiny fingernails! 

Newborn baby girl (C)
Newborn baby daughter, alive with all sorts of possibilities ahead of her.

While each of these examples do show what could, in human terms, be considered perfect, they come nowhere close to the perfection that is the standard of our God. 

Medieval theologians used the Latin phrase ens perfectissimus  to refer to God.  The phrase may be translated by the words “the most perfect being.”  … [They wanted to] underscore the reality of God’s perfection so clearly that they would eliminate any possibility of suggesting the slightest lack of perfection in God’s character.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998p. 197

Dr. Sproul continues:

God’s perfection applies to all of His attributes.  His power is perfect; it has no weaknesses or any possibility of weakness.  His knowledge is not only omniscient but reflects perfect omniscience.  There is nothing that God does not know or that He could possibly learn. … God’s love, His wrath, His mercy – all that He is — is perfect. Not only is He perfect, but He is eternally and immutably so.  There never was a time when God was less than perfect and there is no possibility that in the future He may slip into any kind of imperfection. What has been with God will be so forever.  His perfection is immutable.  It cannot change.

Ibid., p. 198  (Emphasis is mine)

The very consideration of the scope of God’s perfection makes it hard to comprehend.  How extensive it is … how overwhelming it would be for us to see … how unlike us it makes our Creator God.

When God delivered him from the hand of King Saul, David extolled the Lord and gave praise to Him, including the following description of the monumental difference between God and man by saying, in part:

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.  But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Psalm 103:19 ESV. 

“As for man … BUT God.”   The chasm between God and man is so great that it cannot be truly fathomed.  Those who think that God is unnecessary because we can handle things for ourselves, “thank you very much”, are simply – well, wrong.  The very fact that we exist, the fact that we have air to breath or that rain comes for nourishing our planet so food will grow, and the fact that the earth keeps spinning is in God’s providence and in His good pleasure.   

“This God–his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.   For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?  This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless.”

2 Samuel 22:31-33 ESV

Jesus, the incarnation of God, said:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:48 ESV.   Of course this is an impossible goal, but we are called by our Savior to strive for perfection.

God’s perfection is one of the attributes of His nature.  Praise His holy name that His perfection extends to all His attributes.  He is the same today as He was before the creation of the world and He will be the same perfect powerful God when this creation is transformed into the new heaven and new earth. 

God’s perfection – hard to comprehend in its fullness, He is the “most perfect being”.  God’s perfection – difficult to fathom, but easy to hold on to as we rest in the perfect love of our Savior and God.

Father, You are perfect, You are the most perfect being and You have been such since before You spoke the world into existence.  Perfect in power, in love, in wisdom.  I praise Your name and bow in humble gratitude as I think of Your perfection touching my heart which is so full of imperfection and sin.  Father, enable me to live my life as a testimony to Your perfect character, and I ask this through the power of the Holy Spirit.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

An old joke told by my husband goes something like this:

After a long discussion about serious matters confronting our country and our businesses, one man asked another “What do you believe?”  The response was “I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

While the humor is superficial, the real question hangs in the air like Spanish moss hangs from tree limbs – what do you believe?  Of course you need to complete the thought … what do you believe about ____fill in the blank_______?  We can believe any number of things about any number of topics: politics, military necessity, recipes that are tempting, education, how much to drink at any given time, etc. but the only belief that is of eternal consequence is “What do you believe about God?”

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

John 3:16. 

Cross
The cross, a reminder of the glorious gift of God provided to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While there are many additional concepts involved in God’s salvation for His people, the Scripture of the Holy Bible encapsulates them concisely and definitively in the John 3:16.  Christians can argue about the finer points, the details and the doctrine, but ultimately, eternal life comes down to believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

In our church, we recite The Apostles’ Creed each week.  It is a statement of the common beliefs of the Christian community that is a bit longer than John 3:16.  

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic* church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

*Catholic means “universal”.

It is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of that which we believe because what you believe about Jesus Christ determines your ultimate destiny.  Why do we need Jesus as a Savior?  See Romans 3:23.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

According to Dr. R. C. Sproul our sin is “cosmic treason” against God.  [For more from Dr. Sproul on this topic, see the post Good and Bad Together?, posted January 27, 2017.]  

Unfortunately, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our rebellious sin.

“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

If you receive Him as your Savior, through grace alone, as you believe in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into heaven, if you confess your sins and repent, Scripture says that you will be saved.  Your position in Heaven for eternity is guaranteed and you will be a new creation in Christ.

Think about the Apostles’ Creed and each of its elements.  Do you believe this?  Does it make a difference in your life?  Pray that you will be more aware of how your beliefs determine your actions, because they do.

Here is a song entitled “I Believe” sung by the Bar J Wranglers For God and Country.  I pray that you would be encouraged by its beautiful message.

Father, I thank You for Your grace that was extended to me by Christ’s death for me on the cross of Calvary.  I thank You for the mercy and forgiveness you granted to me and I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation.  I pray that these words would challenge those who may not know You, and I pray that Your Holy Spirit would touch their hearts and bring them to You.

 

 

EXCITEMENT

 

Do you remember the last time you were excited about something … I mean, really excited?

I came across this picture of my young grandson who was clearly excited about something that he saw.  The focused expectation that is plastered across his face is priceless.

expectation
Anticipation can bring excitement!

There are many events that trigger excitement in our hearts.  A soldier returns from a long deployment.  A student leaves from home for the first year at college.  From the parents’ perspective, excitement reigns when that same student returns home.  A young couple experiences the birth of their first child.  

One example of excitement that we have on a daily basis is Snickers’ excitement to get into the backyard.  Despite her diminutive height, She jumps higher than the door knob, with her tail wagging and her sister trying to stay out of her way!

In the Bible, and even today, a time of widespread excitement is the Passover celebration.  It is the feast that reminds the people of Israel when God acted mightily causing Pharaoh to release them from bondage in Egypt.  The night of the last plague, the people were to kill a lamb and put its blood on the door frame of their homes.  Then, the angel of death passed over the country and killed the first-born in each home; but the angel “passed over” the houses that had blood on the doorway.

While Passover is a time of solemn remembrance, it is also a time of excitement.  This was true even in Jesus’ day.  The people were excited … on the day we know as Palm Sunday, they were going to Jerusalem to celebrate their deliverance from bondage.

Not only that, they had just found the One who they believed would be the Messiah, the One who would crush the dominance of Rome, and the One who would again lead the people, militarily, to a kingdom such as David had ruled over centuries before. 

They were so excited that they put their garments on the ground and waved palm branches shouting “”Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”  It was a parade with the only “float” being Jesus, riding on a donkey’s colt.  Read John chapter 12 for the whole story.

In my mind’s eye, I envision the people jumping and screaming, rather like Snickers.  Going full-out, no holding back, excited to the core.

When they were praising Jesus as King, they did not know that at the end of the week they would be screaming again, but this time it would be “CRUCIFY HIM” as Pilot stood wondering what he should do with this innocent man, Jesus.

Rather than taking the high road and releasing Jesus, Pilot succumbed to the demands of the people on that Thursday night.  He let the mob determine justice and he, quite literally, washed his hands of the whole thing.  He sent Jesus off to be crucified.  Read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19. 

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the sinless Son of God, was put to death to pay for the sin that each of us has committed.  Dr. R. C. Sproul says this about sin:

Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign.  It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.  Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo?  What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God.  We are saying “God, Your law is not good.  My judgment is better than Yours.  Your authority does not apply to me.  I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction.  I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” 

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

The week started with the people joyfully screaming in honor, blessing and allegiance to the King, the One riding into Jerusalem on a colt. 

The week ended with the people again screaming but this time their malevolent demand was for the murder of this Man; He was not simply to be killed, they demanded that He be killed by crucifixion. 

Sin and evil, Satan, appeared to have won the battle.  Satan knew people disobeyed God – he caused Adam and Eve to sin in the very beginning. The pure Son of God was going to die this ignominious, excruciating and humiliating death, and Satan thought he would then have full sway in this world.

Instead, the pure Son of God voluntarily went to the cross, not in payment of any sin that He committed.  Rather, He endured Calvary in payment for my sin, and for yours.  By His death, He spanned and closed the chasm that had existed between man and the Holy God..

Because He lived a perfect life as required by God’s law, because He committed no sin, His death paid the price that the broken law incurred and that a just and holy God demanded.  Sin could not be forgiven and forgotten unless God’s justice was satisfied. 

This is what the cross accomplished.  Justice was meted out and now forgiveness could be granted.  Jesus Christ died … but Satan did not win the victory.  On the first day of the week, the tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead.  And, he lives today, even as He is in heaven interceding for each of us before His Father, the Almighty God. 

Now that is something to be excited about!

Father, I pray that these words would be used to prick the hearts and minds of those who read it.  I pray that Your Spirit would work in each of our hearts so that we would reflect our Lord to others.  I thank You for the great give of grace and salvation that has been given to us through faith in Your Son.

 

 

 

ERADICATION OF FREEDOM

We were traveling through East Tennessee doing errands and found ourselves in Morgan County, near the Frozen Head State Park.  I have heard of this park for years but had never visited the location, so we took the opportunity to do so.  The park was beautiful and we were very glad to have taken this side-trip. 

frozen-head-state-park-trees-forming-arch-2
Frozen Head State Park, Morgan County, Tennessee.

However, on the way to and from the park, we passed the Morgan County correctional facility.

morgan-county-correctional-institution
Morgan County Correctional Facility, Morgan County, Tennessee

As we drove by, we could not help but notice the “razor wire” in multiple layers that surrounded the facility. 

morgan-county-correctional-institution-3
Morgan County Correctional Facility, razor wire surrounding facility.

The sight put me in a somber, introspective mood.  Being incarcerated and seeing the outside world but not being able to get to it would be terribly difficult.  I have had occasion to work with female prisoners in various facilities and I believe that it is fair to say that life there is hard, both physically and emotionally.

While I have not been in jail, I have experienced a period of time when I could not move off my bed.  Many years ago, I was in a body cast that ran from my head to my left knee.  I was immobile in bed, unable to move my body, for over 7 months.  I gained some measure of “freedom” when the leg part of the cast was cut off and I could sit up and walk again, while wearing the body part of the cast.  All in all, the cast experience was almost 14 months. 

My experience was not pleasant by any means, but even on my darkest days, I knew the time of my inactivity was limited.  I had an end date when the cast would come off and I could, slowly, return to normal activity for a 10 year old. 

That is not the case for many of those incarcerated in the jails of our country.  There is no certain end date for their release to the outside world. 

As bad and as dreary as that scenario is, there is one scenario that is far worse.  We know that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden because their union with God was broken by their disobedience.  And, as a result, Adam’s descendants live in sin. 

According to Strong’s Lexicon, in Hebrew, the root word “sin” is the Hebrew word חַטָּא chaṭṭâʼ, khat-taw’; that refers to “a criminal, or one accounted guilty:—offender, sinful, sinner.”  Generally speaking, to sin is to miss the mark; to violate God’s law thereby bringing judgment on yourself.  In short, disobedience is the crux of sin … we disobey God’s law and we all must pay the penalty for it.  Sin is the ultimate bondage and enslavement for all mankind.

The first time the word “sin” is stated in Scripture is found all the way back at the beginning.  In Genesis 4:7 we read God speaking to Cain after his offering was not accepted by God:

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 ESV

Shortly after these words were spoken, Cain did not rule over sin.  Rather, he gave in to it and murdered his brother Abel.

Scripture talks of sin as putting us in bondage. 

“For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,”

Psalm 59:12 ESV

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

Proverbs 5:22 ESV

In the New Testament, Jesus told those who were feeling free because of their status as children of Abraham:

“They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”

John 8:33-34 ESV

We, in the modern world, intrinsically know the truth of these statements from Scripture.  Notwithstanding the bravado from the thrill of repeated criminal activity or from the high brought on by illicit drugs, when the excitement is gone, what remains is the sure awareness that we have done wrong, that is, we experience guilt.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we know that we have violated God’s law.  

We don’t have to be imprisoned in a jail with razor wire to be in bondage.  We might be a slave to drug or alcohol addiction.  We might be a slave to smoking or overeating.  Sin can even be hidden in respectable clothing … it can come in the form of gossip or malicious speech, both of which can be subtle but dangerous addictions.  It can come in the form of doing good things for others for the purpose of praise and glory to you, instead of doing those same things for the glory of God.  Any time we rob God of the glory that is properly His, we have committed sin.   And, the more often we sin, the more sin becomes our master. 

How do we get out of the razor-wire confinement imposed by sin?  We look to the One who took our sin on Himself.  We must repent and cling to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has paid the price for our sin.  We don’t need to keep sinning because He has broken its power over us.  Paul says it like this:

“For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Romans 6:10-14 ESV

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV

Listen as the Centurymen sing the beautiful hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” from their album The Centurymen Silver Anniversary,

The power of Jesus’ name is the answer to the bondage of sin.  While sin eradicates, obliterates, and otherwise destroys our freedom, the Lord Jesus Christ has broken sin’s shackles and replaces that bondage with freedom in Him.   Praise His Holy Name!

Father, I thank You that Your Son has conquered death and sin; that He died so that Your children could have freedom from sin and could live with You eternally.  I praise Your Holy Name!

BLOCKING YOUR OWN WITNESS

Work with me here – use your powers of mental image creation – use your imagination for a moment! 

Picture yourself going along a scenic highway with trees on each side of the road, wishing that you could see beyond the trees to the vista and you expected would be there.  Now, on your mental roadway you come across a sign that says “Scenic Overlook Ahead”.  Excitement wells up in your heart and you expect to see almost to China … well, not that far given the earth’s curvature, but you and confident you will see a long way?

You round the bend and see the sign with the arrow to the overlook.  You park the car in the conveniently placed space and walk to the overlook, complete with sign that headlines VIEW. 

overgrown-scenic-view-sign
Scenic Overlook of Fork Mountain on Blue Ridge Parkway

And you see … the trees and shrubs that line the road.  They have totally blocked the “scenic overlook” so that you can only wonder what you would have seen at this spot, but for the trees!   I have no idea what Fork Mountain looks like, but I am sure it is wonderful since it was worth having a sign created along with a parking area, etc.  It’s too bad that we can’t see it for the trees that have grown up and have blocked the view.

Being the die-hard fans of scenic overlooks, we continued our trek and came to another overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway … it reads “View SHENANDOAH VALLEY”. 

overgrown-scenic-view
Overgrown Scenic Overlook of the Shenandoah Valley, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Because we live in East Tennessee and have traveled this route often, we know intellectually that a view of the Shenandoah Valley is, in fact, on the other side of the trees.  But you could not tell it from the overlook view, that’s for sure.

Just down the road a-piece (that’s East Tennessee for a little distance), there was another overlook and, what to my wondering eyes should appear but … the mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley!

blue-ridge-parkway-vista
Mountains encircling the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Parkway.

And then, shortly farther down the road, we saw the valley off in the distance.

shenandoah-valley-from-blue-ridge-parkway
The Shenandoah Valley in the distance, taken at an overlook that was not blocked along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Are we like the Fork Mountain overlook?  Do we have a Christian witness to tell to those we come in contact with but they cannot see our witness for all the mess that surrounds us?

Think about a church congregation on Sunday morning.  It is welcoming at the front door and there is all manner of information available to newcomers, including a nice man and woman extending a warm hand in welcome.  The new family walks in to the sanctuary and finds a place in a pew that, unbeknownst to them, “belongs” to one of the premier families in the church.  All of a sudden, tongues begin to wag about the scene that will develop when Mr. and Mrs. So and So come in and THEIR pew is taken by this visiting family.  The ushers even consider asking the visitors to move, but don’t want to upset anything, especially since Mr. and Mrs. So and So have not yet arrived.

So our visitors sit undisturbed until they overhear some church members talking:

“Did you see how tight her skirt is this morning?  I’m surprised her parents let her go out like that!  Oh, she is in foster care?  Well that is no excuse!  And, did you notice the tongue piercing that boy has? Disgraceful!  And he came to church like that!  Oh, his single mother is in the last stages of cancer?  Do you really think that forgives his unwashed and uncombed hair or his clothes that smell a bit used, shall we say!  Anyone can wash!”

“Ms. MNH told me that Ms. XYZ has been sick for weeks.  She said that the Deacons have not even visited her?  They should be ashamed of themselves, aren’t they supposed to care for people in the church?  No, I didn’t check on Ms. XYZ.  Me?  What?  Oh no, I can’t go to her house, I don’t even know where she lives!  I wouldn’t know what to say.  Besides, that’s what Deacons are for!”

“Look at Mr. ASB in the choir!  Who does he think he is!  I’ve heard him sing in the congregation and he can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  Oh, he has had voice lessons? Well I doubt that they would make any different. I think he wants to be up there to be more visible … doesn’t he have a store in the mall.  I hear it is not doing so well … perhaps he is in the choir so people go to his store!  It certainly isn’t because he can sing!  Hahaha!”

What is the impression that this visiting family would have of our imaginary congregation?  Of the individuals in our imaginary congregation?  Is this that they are honoring their Savior, by backbiting, spreading gossip, belittling other believers?

Taking it out of the imaginary … Do we hide our witness with our sins so that we, in reality, have no witness at all because it has been negated by our actions?  Is the overlook of our life free and clear of debris or is it so cluttered with our sins that people can’t see the love we have for our Lord because of the lack of love we have for our neighbors or for other believers? 

Jesus said:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

Let your light shine … don’t let the overlook of your life become so overgrown and cluttered that it obscures your witness for your Lord.

 

Father, I pray that my light is not hidden under a bushel of my own making.  I pray that my light is not blown out by my critical nature and my narrow-minded thinking.  I pray that my witness is not undermined by sins for which I am unrepentant.  I pray that my light beams brightly for Jesus Christ through the darkness of our world.  I pray that my witness is clear and that others will be drawn to Jesus, and that I would not push them away from my Lord by any act or word carelessly spoken. I pray that You would send Your Spirit to enable me to glorify You in all things, through the power of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

I DIDN’T DO IT!

“Who … me?  I didn’t do it!”  Ever hear anyone say that?  Have you heard your young children say that?  Did you ever say that? 

Birthday cake on face (C)
Yummy Birthday Cake – I didn’t mess it up! 

 

It is a common thing to hear, especially when there is some disaster that just happened and your young children are all standing around pointing fingers at each other and exclaiming, almost in unison, “I didn’t do it?” even as the incriminating evidence is still sticking to their fingers!

 

Recently, our granddog Haley was exploring the backyard when she apparently decided to get up close and personal with something that had run under the house.   We don’t know what attracted her undivided attention, but that is the only reason we can imagine that she pushed her way through the latticework so that she became imprisoned under the porch. 

 

When she did not come back in the house when we called for her, our grandson found her looking out through the latticework and he had no idea how to get her out.   The place she pushed through was blocked from the other direction, so she was literally stuck there.

 

After trying various things to retrieve her, we broke some of the slats and, ultimately, after a good bit of tugging, it folded down so she could walk out unscathed.  Here is a picture of the broken lattice with her laying on the porch with that “Who, Me?!!  I didn’t do it” look!

 

haley-and-the-porch
Who … me? What did I do?

 

This is virtually the same thing that Adam and Eve told God, way back long ago when they were in the Garden of Eden. 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”

Genesis 3:1-4.

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.

Genesis 3:6-7.

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?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:9-13.

 

Adam — “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it … the woman you gave to me did it!” 

Eve — “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it … the serpent deceived me!” 

Me – “Who, Me?  Don’t blame me … I didn’t do it!”

You — …

 

Finger pointing began millennia ago when Adam pointed to Eve, she pointed to the serpent and God said “Out of the Garden!”  Genesis 3:24.   No matter what you want to call it, the Bible gives a name to any disobedience to God … SIN. 

 

We read of sin in the very next chapter of Genesis where God accepts Abel’s offering but rejects Cain’s.  God says in Genesis 4:7:  “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

 

Did you know that according to a computer word search of the English Standard Version of the Bible, the words “sin”, “sins”, “sinned”, “sinning”, “sinful”, “sinner” and “sinners” are used a total of 423 times. 

 

In other words, “sin” is an important concept to God because it reflects our direct disobedience to His commands.  It reflects our refusal to obey Him which, in effect, puts us where God should be.  And, it will bring the same punishment on us as it brought to Adam and Eve – we will be cast out from God’s presence because a holy God cannot and will not countenance a sinful creature in His presence.  Judgment is the only response to our sin just as Adam and Eve experienced expulsion from the Garden. 

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about sin:

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 6.6.

 

However, in Romans 5:19 we read that there is hope for sinful man:

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

 

This promise is reaffirmed in 1 Corinthians 15 we read:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:22, 45.

 

Again turning to the Confession of Faith, we read:

Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

 

Because of Jesus Christ, we can be made alive and have a life-giving spirit.  Because of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, He became sin for us. Because of God’s grace, we can be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, thereby becoming acceptable to God through His blood shed for us.

 

Haley looked at us as if saying “Who me?  I didn’t do anything wrong!”  She well may have been following her nose and not paying attention to what she was doing.

 

But that same line of thought does not apply to you and me.  We do know what we are doing and many times it is sin – it is direct disobedience to what God wants us to do – and that is enough to cut off our relationship with God, forever.  We need to find help outside ourselves, and that help was sent from God in the God/man Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life and who took our sin on Himself, who died and was buried, and who rose again to life evermore. 

 

Praise the Lord that He saves us through His sacrificial death as an atonement.  Thank Him for His obedience to God the Father, and thank God for His mercy and grace that was extended to us.  Thank the Holy Spirit for His work in convicting us of sin and of sealing us to salvation through His power.

 

Praise His Holy Name!

 

Father, I pray that you would bless these words and that the readers would be encouraged, strengthened and renewed in their faith and focus on You.