GIVE TILL IT HURTS?

In the days of my childhood, i recall the minister preaching about giving our money, time and talents to the Lord and His Church.  One of the phrases that he repeated was that we were to give to the Lord “until it hurts”. 

I suspect that the scripture he was using for this thought was Jesus’ comparison of the rich men giving to the temple treasury with that of the widow.   Read Luke 21:1-4. In short, the rich were giving out of their abundance while the widow, in her poverty, gave all that she had.  Giving to the Lord did not “hurt” the rich men but it cost the poor widow everything.  

But, does scripture require us to hurt when we give to the Lord?  I don’t think so.

In 1 Chronicles 29 we read of the freewill offerings that the Israelites provided to the house of God.  The figures of their gifts that we find recorded for us to consider are truly staggering.  In verse 7 we read that they gave 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron.

I am not an accountant nor am I a math whiz, but research tells me that these figures equate to approximately 188 tons of gold, 10,000 gold coins, 375 tons of silver, 675 tons of bronze and 3,750 tons of iron.  (See the New Living Translation for these figures)  And this does not even consider the precious stones that were given to the treasury of the house of the Lord.  

When God created our world, He did not skimp.  He did not say “they are going to sin and cause heartache for me so I’ll give them a dump to live in, that’s all they deserve!  They are going to mess up my creation anyway, so they don’t deserve to have my beauty around them.” 

That’s not the way of our God. He created a beautiful world full of abundance and reflective of His glory even though it is now marred by man’s sin.  

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Snow-capped Grand Tetons 
Ocean verticle sun going down
Sunset over the ocean.
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Frozen Head State Park, Morgan County, Tennessee.
Yosemite 2011 WRM 095 Overlook of Kings Canyon National Park (C)
King’s Canyon National Park Overlook, California
Waimea Canyon Kauai mountains
Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii

David said it this way:

“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.  He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:6-8 

God displayed His incredible beauty, power, majesty and glory through His creation which He provided to us.  We should stand in awe of our God, because He is the Almighty, the one true God.  Of course, God’s display of His beauty in our world does not even begin to encompass what God has provided us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s steadfast love, mercy and grace is abundantly evident in Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  

God gave us His Son to satisfy the judgment of death that sin brought to us.  Praise God that Jesus rose from the dead and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation.  We are sinful creatures and have no good within us.  Even our best is equivalent to filthy rags in God’s eyes.  So we have no ability to bridge the gap between sinful man and a holy God.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection, He provides us with His righteousness. 

This righteousness is a gift from God. We can do nothing to earn it.  But, what is it worth?  What would you pay for it if you could do so?  In thankfulness, give God your life, your plans, your dreams, your abundance.  Love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and then love your neighbor as yourself.  Obedience to God is the sacrifice that He desires.   

Of all people, we as Christians should be honoring the Lord daily, giving thanks to Him for this great gift of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and glorifying God by obeying His word.  Give until it hurts?  No.  Give to Him in praise and thanksgiving, with joy and gladness.   

Going back to 1 Chronicles and the gifts that the people gave to the house of the Lord, what I find beautiful is not the amount or weight of their gifts, but the fact that they rejoiced in their giving.   Here is the record in 1 Chronicles 29:9-13:

Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.  Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.  Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.””

Be like the Israelites of old. They they didn’t grouse about how poor they were!  They rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD.  

When was the last time you rejoiced in your giving?  When was the last time you gave with a whole heart offering your resources, time and energies freely to the Lord?   When was the last time you rejoiced in being of service to the King of King, the Lord of Lords, and the Redeemer of your soul? 

Give until you hurt?  No.  Give until your giving reflects your thanks to the Lord for all that He has done for you through Christ as well as on a day-to-day basis. 

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Eruption of White Cone Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Give willingly and freely.  Give obediently and rejoice in the Lord.  Let your thanks erupt into giving from a full heart devoted to our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, I praise Your name for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ my Lord and my Redeemer.  Forgive me when my giving has been skimpy and unfeeling, when I cared more for what I wanted to do with my money than what I could give to You in thanksgiving for all that You have given me.  May I rejoice in Your steadfast love and may that find expression through joyful giving with a thankful heart.  

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

Long before I moved from my native Illinois to Chattanooga, Tennessee, I saw a barn with its roof painted with the words “See 7 States from Rock City”.  This is a sample of one such barn.  The barns were ubiquitous.  They were not limited to Tennessee or the surrounding states.  I was in Des Moines, Iowa when I looked out the passenger window to see a Rock City barn roof hundreds of miles away from Tennessee.  They often would add the location, “Chattanooga, Tennessee”, or perhaps it would say “atop Lookout Mountain”, but the message was the same.  Rock City was a place where you could see 7 states at the same time.

Rock City barn

While the marketing pitch is a good one, of course, you really can’t see 7 states at one time. The physical reality is that on a very clear day, the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville, about 100 miles away, can be seen.  But, the curvature of the earth’s surface places any of the mountains in Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia below the horizon.  But that is of small concern when you stand at Rock City’s Lover’s Leap and see the compass points aimed at the seven states:  Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  In short, the view from Rock City is extraordinary and one that is worth the stop on your trip around the area, particularly on a clear sunny day.

Since we were from the state with Rock City, while we were on vacation, we headed off to see Idaho’s City of Rocks, a National Park Service Reserve outside Almo, Idaho.  Here we were, two people from Tennessee looking forward to getting to Idaho’s City of Rocks.

The name was the same thing in reverse, but what we found when we arrived at the site was very different from what we were used to in Tennessee.  First, the GPS routed us through miles of country roads with planted fields as far as the eye could see.  The fields gave way to mountains with steep crevices and no guard rails, not to mention the cattle grazing in the “open range” mountain terrain.  And, the road was gravel, rather like driving over a washboard.   After a couple of hours in the fields, there was a sign for City of Rocks.  (In fairness, unbeknownst to us, the GPS routed us to City of Rocks via the “back entrance”.)

We found it ironic that, as we left the City of Rocks, alongside the road to the Visitor’s Center was a souvenir shop named, … wait for it … Rock City!

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While the road to Rock City on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee is not necessarily for the faith-hearted, it is paved and there are well-marked intersections with directions to Rock City.  Further, Rock City has well-defined paths around the cliffs and rocks that define the area with a gift shop at its entrance.  Not so in Idaho.  

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But, we found out that the City of Rocks is a favorite rock-climbing area because it is rough, undeveloped and has huge rocks to clamber over.

Don’t misunderstand me – City of Rocks was beautiful in its own way.  But it was vastly different from Rock City.  The names were exceedingly similar, but the reality was totally different.

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We in our society today face the same kind of scenario when we consider the teaching that we receive in our churches.  We hear people say that they are teaching what the Word of God has to say, and we listen to great oratory and think that we have heard a wonderful sermon.  But, if you read the Bible to see if what they are teaching is what Jesus taught, you will find that it may sound the same, but the reality is totally different. 

For example, it is exciting to hear that if you believe in Jesus, He will give you everything you want in your life.  In short, if you are not rich beyond belief, then you just don’t have enough faith!  The prosperity gospel has many adherents. 

But, Scripture does not support this “gospel”.  Indeed, Jesus said:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Matthew 16:24-26

That doesn’t sound like the prosperity gospel to me!  Taking up your cross … losing your life for Jesus’ sake!  Indeed, Jesus said that His followers would have persecution in their lives, and so they did.  (Read John 15:20)  In fact, after the stoning of Stephen, we read:

“And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Acts 8:1

The City of Rocks and Rock City are very different places.  The message of Jesus Christ as given in the Bible is very different from that which is preached and taught in many of our churches in the 21st century. 

Paul warned the Galatians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Galatians 1:6-9

Paul did not allow for any gospel other than the Good News of Jesus Christ.  No distortion and no changes.  No “almost the same.”  He said they should not listen to any other preaching that is contrary to what they heard from Paul.

So, is a distortion of the gospel of Christ alright for you?  Or do you want to follow Jesus by reading His Word, listening to teaching from His Word, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you discern what is the true and correct doctrine to follow.

Father, enable me to identify what doctrine is false and what is true so that I can know with confidence that I am following Jesus Christ alone.  Give me wisdom and may I listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all things.

THE HOMESTEAD

The term “homestead” means a family’s home, including the house and any other buildings or lands that go with it.  Often, we think of it in terms of a large tract of land, but that is not necessarily required.

However, there is an area in Tennessee, along the Cumberland Plateau, where a New Deal Subsistence Homesteads community was built.  There were about 100 of these communities throughout the country and the Tennessee community is evidence of the ingenuity, hard work and dedication that these folks had.

Of the initial 233 families selected for the Cumberland Homesteads project, 30% were distressed farmers, 30% were unemployed miners, 30% were unemployed textile workers, and 10% were struggling professionals (including teachers, nurses, and a doctor).  Architect William Macy Stanton, who designed a number of buildings in TVA’s planned city of Norris, created the basic design for the homes and other buildings at the Homesteads. The community’s first stone houses were completed in late 1934.  

Although the original purpose of the Homesteads project failed, the community survived, and over half the farms remained in the hands of original homesteaders through the 1950s. Indeed, the homestead house design is still visible if you drive through the area.  There may be some additional rooms added, but the basic homestead house design is still identifiable.

I was speaking with a gentleman who was a child when his parents received a homestead.  He said that they would build the barn first, because that would house the animals that they needed for food and it would hold whatever equipment that they had to use on the farm. 

He laughed and said that, since there was no glass on the barn windows, the rain would come in through the window openings.  That meant that they needed to see which way the wind was blowing so that they could move their hay mattresses and clothing to the other side of the barn so they would not get wet.  This was a vivid memory, and I suspect he could feel the damp hay even as we were speaking.

Homestead water tower

The Homesteads water tower provided a source of water as well as serving as the social headquarters for the community. 

Today, the water tower building is used as a museum recording the existence and perseverance of the community that thrived there almost 100 years ago.  In the museum area, there are hundreds of letters, pictures, and personal items, many of which provide an interesting view of life in the rural Cumberland mountains.

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The typical homestead house was made from the stones that were on the property itself!

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Telephone communication was certainly not something that could fit in your pocket!  In fact, you will notice that the only way to speak into the phone was to put your mouth up at the phone itself.  You would hear by using the ear piece attached by a cord hanging on the side of the phone box.

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This is a picture of a Conlon Zephyr which was a type of ironing machine. Indeed, this was state-of-the-art in the mid-1930s.  The little sign on the fabric reads:

“Flowered feed sacks were welcomed bonuses for the farm wife. She carefully chose her colors and patterns for making dresses, quilts, curtains, etc.”

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The wood stove kept things toasty in the kitchen, likely the area most folks would congregate during the harsh winter on the plateau.

In our world, things always are subject to change.  Today in 2018, we in the United States certainly do not live like they did in the 1930s.  We have electricity and we have cell phones.  Most of us don’t use feed sacks for curtains or clothes.  Some would argue, I suspect, that some of the changes in modern days are not for the better, while other changes have surely made our lives significantly easier.  But like them or not, changes have, and will, come.  Things change.

But there is One who does not change, and I am referring to our God and Father.  Scripture says:

“”For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Malachi 3:6

God, Himself, is saying that He does not change – a characteristic that is totally foreign to us.  He is immutable.  He is the same today as He was before creation even existed. And, He will be the same when time is no more.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17

Christ’s divinity and His immutable nature is highlighted by the writer of Hebrews when he says:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8  

Praise the Lord that He is unchanging and that His promises are, therefore, secure.  This gives the believer security to know that when we have been adopted into God’s family through faith, we can trust God not to change His mind and “unadopt” us because of something we have done. 

No man can slip through His fingers into the breach of hell if that person is a child of God and has expressed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God neither changes His plan, His covenants, His prophecies, nor His justice. In other words, God is dependable – God is immutable, unchangeable!

While things change in our world, we can be secure in the knowledge and conviction that our God does not change.  His perfect plan for us will be accomplished no matter what the circumstances surrounding us may be.  Thank Him, today, for His wondrous love and mighty strength to keep us in His arms throughout the turmoil and change that we see all around us.

Father, the old hymn says “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” and those words are true.  Christ is the Rock on which I stand when all else around me is tumbling and changing, when the world is rushing to evil and violence, when even Your people are abandoning Your Word.  Father, I pray that my Homestead is in heaven, secure in the grip of Christ my Savior.  I further pray that You would use these thoughts to encourage, challenge and strengthen those who read them. May Your Spirit move in our world, today.

WILDFIRES IN TENNESSEE

In 2016, wildfires erupted in the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee.  Ironically, they started at a location known as Chimney Tops and then, fueled by hurricane strength winds, the fires barreled through the mountains toward Gatlinburg, a beautiful resort town at the entrance to the National Park.

Tennessee had been in significant drought and the woods were tinder dry.  While the Chimney Tops fire was thought to be contained, nature changed that opinion quickly.  We had been on the “quiet side” of the mountains, in Townsend, Tennessee, as a gift from our children for our 30th anniversary.  Going home on November 28, 2016, we could see some smoke in the sky.  When we stopped at a local store, a law enforcement officer was present, so we asked about the status of the fires.  He said that they were not a worry, that they were contained, and he expected them to be extinguished that day or the next.

His expectation was not realized, however. That same afternoon saw winds as high as 87 miles per hour, which blew sparks from the existing fires to new dry tinder over a mile away.  The winds created an additional fire hazard, as its strength blew down dried trees, which resulted in downed power lines that then contributed new sparks to the tinder beneath.  Because of the loss of power and because some of the pumping stations had burned, hydrants went dry the next day. 

Firefighters also were battling nature without the use of their two-way radios when the system failed, also the radios of different emergency agencies were not compatible.  The 911 system could not handle all the calls it received, and the emergency operations center phone system went down completely when it lost power. Moreover, cellular towers were destroyed by the fires, so that cellular coverage became unreliable, thus rendering personal cell phone communications unreliable, at best.

All in all, the fires claimed at least 14 lives and injured 134 others. By December 12, the inferno had burned more than 10,000 acres (15 square miles) inside the national park and over 6,000 acres in surrounding areas outside the park.  At least 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate and over 2000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. 

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Picture taken by Tennessee-based photographer Jeremy Cowart of Gary and Linda Jackson’s home as featured in Voices of Gatlinburg, December 2016.

In short, it was an horrific sight to watch on television and the stories of terror that fell so swiftly are difficult to hear.  Friends from church were in their cabin, atop one of the hills in the mountains when they smelled smoke.  Thinking it was from their fireplace, the husband went from the bedroom to the front room, just to double-check.  When he looked outside, he saw a wall of flames virtually at their lot line.

The two of them jumped into their car, leaving the other car behind, and headed down the mountain.  Their trip took them along the mountain road with flames on both sides, smoke so heavy that they could not see the edge of the road.  Finding one way blocked by fire equipment, they turned and went down another road.  The trip that normally would take 45 minutes took several harrowing hours. 

God was merciful.  They escaped without harm.  And, weeks after the fire when they were finally allowed to go back to their cabin, they found that their cabin was only minimally harmed by the flames and smoke.  All the other cabins on their cul-de-sac were destroyed, burned down to the block foundation. 

Many of the houses are being rebuilt, however it seems that just as many homes and businesses that were destroyed have not been touched.

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The woods, one year later!

Looking down from the deck of our friend’s cabin, one year after the inferno hit the mountains, it was encouraging as well as amazing to see the forest’s regrowth and reclamation of the land.  God’s creation does not wait for man to hurry in and rebuild.  Rather, His creation goes about the business of regrowth, of rebuilding the nutrients in the earth, of repopulating the animals, birds, and all that had been there before.  They will return in their due time.

I am reminded of Noah and the flood.  He and his family were tucked safely in the ark, along with their closest friends, the animals that were preserved from destruction.  After the rains ended, the ark came to rest, and the humans were anxious to leave their floating residence.  I would likewise have been in a hurry to get onto land after 150 days of rain, but they had to wait for the right time.  God had closed the door to the ark and only He could open it.  Genesis 7:16. 

Noah’s tests to see if the waters had receded sufficiently are described in Genesis 8. 

The point is that God commanded Noah to get into the ark, He commanded the animals to get into the ark, He commanded the waters to come, and He commanded the waters to recede.  When all was sufficient for Noah to live on the earth, God told Noah to leave the ark, commanding him further to take the animals so that they could be fruitful and multiply. 

The Gatlinburg fires caused numerous deaths and an untold amount of property damage.  They caused grief and suffering on a massive scale.  But, there is healing after the inferno.  The forests show that healing in visible real terms.  Other healing is more subtle and difficult to quantify, but it does come because God is leading us to heal.

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Beloved, scripture teaches that healing will come.  We need to follow God’s direction, His mandate, and humble ourselves, praying and turning from our wicked ways.  We need to acknowledge that God is God and His ways are right, then we need to do that which He says.  If we do that, He promises that He will hear us and will forgive us of our sin and heal our land.

The fires were horrible, no doubt about it.  The loss of life was tragic and it sent families reeling in grief and pain, no doubt about it.  But healing does come. 

Seek Him and be healed.

Father, I pray that healing would come to our land, but I realize that first we must confess our sin.  We have failed to follow Your low and we have not done that which Your Son commanded.  We have not loved others more than ourselves; we have not treated the widow and stranger with love; we have not read Your Word and meditated on it day and night; we have …. Father, may we repent and turn to You today, before it is too late for us to do so.

 

PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISON IS HARMFUL– part two

This is part two of a revision and repost of an April 2016 post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee and a visit to the Lane Motor Museum.


Indecision – A breeding ground for inaction and for doubts about God’s sovereignty, your salvation, and a host of other questions that Satan will interject so that your devotion to your Lord will be diverted or, perhaps even, diminished!

This firemen’s vehicle from Cogolin, France seems to be the perfect visual representation of indecision!

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Close up view of the two front ends of the Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

No matter how it got to Nashville, it seems to me to be a classic representation of indecision.

Previously we looked at James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James in Scripture, when he spoke of indecision and its difficulties.  Specifically, He said:

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:5-8.

The King James Version of this scripture uses the term “wavereth” rather than the term “doubting” in verse 6.   Looking up the meaning of this word in Strong’s Lexicon, you find that one definition given for G1252, diakrinō, the Greek word translated “doubting” in the ESV and “wavereth” in the KJV is “to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt”.

Being at variance with yourself seems to be the quintessential description of indecision!

The reality of indecision, however, is not the point. Rather, James is warning that those who are “at variance with” themselves must not suppose that they “will receive anything from the Lord” in answer to her prayers.

The consequence of indecision is that the Lord will not be responsive to the prayer that is subject of doubt.

Of course, we also must remember that prayers must be made in alignment with God’s will for answers to be received. I am confident that Paul did not doubt when he prayed to be relieved from his physical infirmity. But he did not get the relief that he desired.  Rather, God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

The fact is that fervent, unwavering prayer raised to God’s throne does not equate to the instant resolution that we may envision. Pain is real, but grace is overwhelming and eternal. I have learned that when I am weak, then I am strong because it is God working through me, and that makes all the difference!

Don’t be double minded – be single minded. Have your mind focused on the Trinity: on God, on Jesus Christ, and on His Holy Spirit. Look to the Lord’s way for your life and you will be blessed, even through unexpected answers to your prayers.

Father, forgive me, I pray, when I have prayed while doubting that an answer would come. You are sovereign and I desire to yield to Your guidance and authority in all things. Strengthen me in this, I pray.

PUSHMI-PULLYU – INDECISON IS HARMFUL– part one

This is a revision and repost of an April 2016 post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee and a visit to the Lane Motor Museum.


Have you ever wondered, considered, fretted, worried, and then wondered again about taking some course of action?   What should I do? Where should I go? Should I change jobs or retire? What medical procedure would be the best? What should I order in a restaurant that I won’t be wearing around my hips 5 years from now? (Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, I concede!)

Indecision – this is the breeding ground for inaction and it is breeding ground for doubts about God’s sovereignty, your salvation, and a host of other questions that Satan will interject so that your devotion to your Lord will be diverted or, perhaps even, diminished!

When we stopped at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, we saw a vehicle that seemed to me to be a visual representation of indecision!

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Firemen’s vehicle, Cogolin, France.

My first thought when I saw this vehicle was “This is a pushmi-pullyu!!”

Pushmi-Pullyu was a fictional character from The Story of Doctor Dolittle, written by Hugh Loftling in the 1920s.  The pushmi-pullyu (pronounced “push-me—pull-you”) was a “gazelle-unicorn cross” which had a head at each end of its body.

Pushmi-Pullyu-Story-of-Doctor-Dolittle

[Image and information about the book was obtained on April 25, 2016, from http://www.bing.com/images and from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Doctor_Dolittle.]

Although the pushmi-pullyu was fictional, the vehicle in front of me at the museum was not!

I am told, although I am no French expert to be sure, that “Sapeurs-Pompiers” is French for firemen.  Cogolin is a small city in south east France in the French region Provence-Alpes-Cot d’Azur. The town has about 11000 people.   So, this vehicle, with its two steering wheels, two front tires, two front windshields … two working front ends was, apparently, at least at one point in time, a fire vehicle for the town of Cogolin, France.

How it came to be at the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee is unknown to me, but I can attest that it was there!  But, its travel to Tennessee is irrelevant; it seems to me to be a classic representation of the “pushmi-pullyu” conflict that is also known as “indecision”.

James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the book of James in Scripture, speaks of indecision and its difficulties.

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

James 1:5-8.

Don’t be a pushmi-pullyu!  Don’t be double minded – be single minded. Have your mind focused on the Trinity: on God, on Jesus Christ, and on His Holy Spirit. Look to the Lord’s way for your life and you will be blessed, even through unexpected answers to your prayers.

Father, forgive me, I pray, when I have prayed while doubting that an answer would come. Forgive me when I have simply failed to yield control of my life to You, in all things.  Strengthen me in this, I pray.

 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

We have just returned home from a trip through 5 different states – Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.  We did not “tour” throughout all these states, we did drive through them on the interstate highways.  It is easy to see the incredible variety of landscape that our country exhibits:

Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina make the driving scenic and sometimes scary.

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The mountains of East Tennessee.

Florida is significantly flatter than the mountains but there are beautiful beaches and palm trees, and fruit stands with fresh fruit even in March (we were there during the Strawberry Festival, yum!)

Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, Coral Gables, Florida Intricate detail in palm tree
A beautiful palm tree in Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, Coral Gables, Florida.

 

Whether or not the terrain was hilly or flat, there was one feature that was the same throughout all the states.  It was pervasive.  It was ubiquitous!  It is the orange road construction barrel.

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Orange highway construction barrel. Some say it is our state flower, but I think it is all over our country!

Construction – it is good for the highways. 

We know that there are potholes, uneven lanes, torn up pavement, all sorts of problems with the roadways and construction to repair such problems is good.  You simply cannot get away from the barrels.  They are put up when no construction is in sight, yet.  They are put up when the grading equipment is alongside the lane of travel.  They give evidence of the upcoming improvement in road conditions, which is good even if they cause some congestion and delay at the present time.

USED Crane visible from interstate in Nashville
Crane hovering over construction in downtown Nashville.

Construction – it is good for the cities.

When there is construction, there is growth.  There is change and there is development.  Sometimes people differ on how or where construction should occur, but there can be no dispute that construction changes things. 

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Christ of the Ozarks, Missouri, USA (circa 1965)

                Construction – it is good for US.

Seeing the construction in each of the states we traveled reminded me of the construction that is going on in each one of us, every moment of every day. We don’t have red barrels to tell others of the ongoing construction in our lives, but we are “under construction” nonetheless.  

Scripture teaches us that God loves us and that He gave His Son for us as an atonement for our sin.  This enables us to have confidence that we will be with Him now and forever if we have faith in Jesus Christ and trust Him alone for our salvation. 

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

Romans 5:9-10 ESV

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

Romans 10:9-10 ESV

But, salvation is not the end of the story.  Once we have received Jesus Christ into our heart through faith, we then become “under construction” as the Holy Spirit does His work in transforming us into the image of our Lord.  I have heard it said “God loves us as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay this way!”  In other words, He desires that we be changed into the image of His Son. 

“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 ESV

“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 ESV

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

Praise the Lord that we are “under construction”.  We are lovingly being transformed by God from our sinful, earthly desires, impulses, thoughts, actions and words into the image of our Lord.  But it takes time!  While we are justified with God immediately upon our receiving the Lord Jesus as our Savior,  the transformation into the image of the Lord is not an instantaneous occurrence.

A song written by Sim Wilson entitled “Please be patient with me” captures the concept well:  

Chorus:

Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet.

Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet.

When God gets through with me, when God gets through with me,

I shall come forth, I shall come forth like pure gold.

Verse:

If you should see me and I’m not walking right,

And if you should hear me and I’m not talking right;

Please remember what God has done for me, 

When He gets through with me, I’ll be what He wants me to be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yjsTLpo_vQ

This transformation does not occur through our own efforts.  It does not come about through our own strength by struggling to keep all the commandments or by trying to copy good things that we see others doing. 

This construction comes from the Holy Spirit’s work inside of us.  It is an inward change.  It is a change of our heart and of our will. In fact it is a total surrender of our own will to that of our Father.

Praise the Lord that He is transforming us as we live our life in grace through the Holy Spirit.  Rest in Him and He will perform His good work in you.

Please be patient with me! 

When He gets through with me, I’ll be what He wants me to be!

 

Father, I thank You for sending the Holy Spirit into our world so that He would work in the life of each of Your children, transforming them into the image of Your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

THE FARMERS’ MARKET

I love going to a farmers’ market to see the cornucopia of produce available to us for consumption.  The profusion of apples, tomatoes, squashes, green vegetables … there is no end to the bounty that is available to us from the farmers’ fields.

Several years ago we were in Abingdon, Virginia and went to the Farmers’ Market there.  Here is a sample of the goodies that they had (some of which we purchased).

Abingdon farmers market 2
Farmer’s market in Abingdon, Virginia.

While we were in Abingdon, we also went to another vendor of fine edibles, the Abingdon vineyard and winery.  It was in October, so the vines were dormant and they were certainly not a picture of lush green vines.  But the prospect of fine wine in the future was evident by the care and tending of the vines, even in the winter. 

Abingdon winery outside 5
Vineyard during the October rest in winter, tended and cared for by the vinedresser.

 But, all was not gray at the winery!  God’s beauty was evident in the colors that graced the surrounding landscape.

Abingdon winery outside 7
Shrubs in their colorful finery at Abingdon Winery during October.

However, back to the farmers’ market.  Knoxville has a large farmers’ market that is in multiple locations around town. While I enjoy going to see what is available, another market that I enjoy visiting is the farm store at Carver’s Orchard in Newport, Tennessee. 

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Wide variety of apples at Carver’s Orchard in Newport, Tennessee.

Bushel baskets of apples adorn the floors and tables of one side of the farm store, with pickles, jams, jellies, butters, honey, ciders and all sorts of other goodies in jars are along the walls. The orchard is huge and the number and type of apples available is staggering.  They even have a chart of various apples showing when they will be harvested. 

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Apple chart at Carver’s Orchard showing the type of apple and the timing of harvest.

If you turn to look at the other side of the farm store, you will find a variety of other produce some of which is grown at their farm while the rest is from other local farmers.  For example, there will be tomatoes, Vidalia onions, pumpkins, potatoes (both white and sweet), gourds, etc.

Carvers orchard 10-2016 - tomatoes
Bounteous tomatoes available at the orchard farm store.

This is not meant to be an advertisement for any specific company or place.  Rather, these pictures and comments are intended to shake us out of our apathy, out of our whining about inconveniences and problems, out of our misguided belief that the universe revolves around us or that all we see around us is the result of our work alone. 

I fervently pray that the pictures will reawaken our gratitude to God for His great bounty bestowed upon our country. And I pray that we will remember the source of the bounty that farmers present on market day. 

“You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”

Psalm 104:14-15 ESV

I pray that we will honor the One who is the source of our very breath, who gives our bodies the strength for each heartbeat, who gives us the opportunity and ability to do our work, and who is the Lover of our souls. 

“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.”

Psalm 104:27-29 ESV

God’s blessings have been showered on our country for hundreds of years, and for a great many of those years we remembered that He is the source of the harvest.  However, in more recent times, it appears that we have forgotten, both as a country and as individuals, that God is the One who provides His bounty for us. 

When He is ignored, when we claim that all this came from our own labor, when we take the glory that is rightfully His and claim it for ourselves, we have replaced Him with idols of our own making.  This, my beloved, is sin.  It is rank disobedience and God will not continue blessing us if we continue in unrepentant sin.

The problem is that God is holy and He WILL NOT share worship with other gods.  This is a problem that is as old as … well all the way back thousands of years when Israel would copy worship of the peoples around them, while still saying that they worshiped God.  They were taken as captives and moved away from their land, and this was said about the experience:

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods…”

2 Kings 17:7 ESV

Scripture continues:

“The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, ‘You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.  And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.’ “

2 Kings 17:35-39 ESV.  But, the next verse makes an extraordinarily sad pronouncement:

“However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.”

2 Kings 17:40 ESV

Fearing [reverencing], worshiping, and honoring God is neither a suggestion nor an option on the multiple choice test of life.  It is a commandment, and it is a commandment that God takes very seriously. 

Let us all examine ourselves and see if there is any sin in us;

  • if we have refused to give God the honor due His Name,
  • if we have ignored God’s commandments and have flaunted our freedom so that we have trampled on His Word,
  • if we, in our pride, have claimed to be the creator of our own abundance,
  • if we have refused to repent when the Spirit has convicted us of our sin,
  • if we have given lip service to the worship of God while we, at the same time, worship other gods such as money, fame, family, position, ­­­___you fill in the blank­­­­­­­____!

Scripture tells us that there is a remedy to this situation – there is hope that God will continue to bless us.  In Second Chronicles we read:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

It is not too late – if we as His people will humble ourselves in prayer and repent and seek Him while we turn from sin and look to Him alone, God will hear us and will save us and heal both us and our land. 

Father, enable us to see ourselves as You see us … then let us flee to the cross of Your Son and repent of our sin so that His righteousness can be imputed to us and we can live in the light of Your grace.  Then, I pray that you would heal our land.

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.

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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. 

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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!