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!

A CONSUMING FIRE

This past weekend, my husband and I spent a beautiful evening at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where we enjoyed dinner at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee, with our children and their spouses as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

dancing-bear-welcome
Greeting as you begin the entrance to the Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro Restaurant.

Then we spent the night at the Dancing Bear Lodge, all compliments of the children.  Yesterday we left the lodge rested, thanking the children for their thoughtful gift, and praising the Lord for the beauty of the mountains surrounding us.

dancing-bear-lodge-sign
Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro entrance, Townsend, Tennessee

As we drove back home, we saw the smoke from the forest fires that have been plaguing our area for the past several weeks.  We are in the midst of a severe drought and the mountain woods are dry creating the perfect setting for forest fires.  We stopped at a little store in the area and spoke with a police officer about the status of the fires.  He said that there were a couple of small spots still burning uncontrolled on the other side of the mountain but he did not know of any real concern at this point.

We continued on our 45 minute trip home and brought our things in from the car.  In the afternoon, we turned on the television to learn the upcoming weather and heard about a cold front that was coming and that would bring strong winds and rain.

We were aware that the wind had kicked up significantly because we experienced this as we were driving home.  The reality was that the wind was blowing in excess of 80 miles per hour in the high mountains.  One result of that strong wind was that embers were picked up and blown a long way, some over a mile from the fire source, where they landed on dry leaves and a whole new fire started.  A second result was that trees were blown over and when they hit power poles the fallen power lines fell on dry leaves and burst into flames.

In short, in just 15 minutes, there were multiple new fires all burning out of control and all headed toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, two vacation tourist areas adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The fires were all-consuming.  This morning, the report is that well over 100 structures have been destroyed, including resorts, free-standing restaurants, and multi-story hotels.  The firefighters have not been able to get up into the mountains to check on how many homes have been destroyed, but there were over 1,000 people staying in shelters after mandatory evacuation orders were given for their protection.

Watching the videos taken from cars as they were driving down the mountain roads with fires on both sides of the street reminded me of the Scripture describing God as a “consuming fire”.

In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read this warning:

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

We think of God as our Father, and for the believer He certainly is that because of the salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord.  He loves His people and has done everything that He can do to protect us and bring us to eternal life with Him.

But we often don’t remember that He is a jealous God. He wants us to worship Him alone.  We are not to worship idols that replace His rightful place in our life.    Those idols are insidious, they interject themselves into our lives in what is seemingly innocuous ways.  For example:

  • Family – we love our families and we take care of them, indeed, Scripture tells us to do so. The family is a gift from God.  But when our family pushes God out of the picture, the family is now a forbidden idol.
  • Money – we are told in Scripture to work so that we can take care of ourselves and our family and so that we can donate funds to help others. Money is good.  But, when money becomes our god so that we hoard it, we strive to get more and more, we look to it for our security and happiness, when we take pride in how much we have accumulated without recognition that all things come from God, money has now become a forbidden idol.
  • Fame – we want to be well known so that we can spread the gospel to others, something that Scripture tells us to do. But, when we seek fame for our own glory, when we believe that we have accomplished these things on our own without acknowledging God’s role in our success, we have made fame a forbidden idol.

The list could go on and on, but the point is that God will not tolerate idols in our lives.

In Hebrews 12:28-29, the writer tells us this:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

We are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

A series of natural events collided in East Tennessee causing devastation and loss by fire  — extreme drought and dry conditions, strong winds whipping embers to new locations, downed trees cutting power lines thereby igniting leaves below.  I pray that we would search our own lives to see if there are any activities or conditions that would collide with our love for God — effectively pushing God out of our lives or diminishing our trust and devotion to Him.

I pray that

  • our worship is acceptable to God and that we come to Him in reverence and awe of His majesty, power, glory and honor.
  • we come to Him with contrite hearts, asking for forgiveness for our sin and seeking His power to live lives that are acceptable to Him.
  • we would worship and seek His face when we interact with others to spread the gospel.
  • we would seek His mighty hand to stop the raging forest fires and that He would comfort and strengthen those who have suffered such significant injury and loss.

Father, please put out Your hand and stop the devastating forest fires now raging in East Tennessee.  I thank You and there have been only a few injuries and no fatalities at this point, and I pray that You would protect those who are in harm’s way as well as those who are fighting these fires.  I pray that You would give guidance to those who are directing the rescue efforts and that You would sustain the workers with Your Spirit’s energy, love, compassion and strength. I also ask that You would encourage, comfort and strengthen those who have suffered loss during these fires.  Finally, I pray that You would bless these words and that those who read them would be encouraged and/or convicted by Your Spirit so that blessings will come this day.

A DROP FOR THE LORD ACCOMPLISHES MUCH!

We went camping at Spring Lake RV Resort in Crossville, Tennessee for a weekend away from the frenetic activities that seem to have overtaken us lately.  The campground has a lovely lake with a beautiful fountain and swan, quite the picture.  The Lord brought numerous thoughts to my mind while I was staring, almost hypnotized by the falling water from the fountain. 

spring-lake-island-swan-and-fountain
Spring Lake RV Campground, Crossville, Tennessee. Picturesque and a quiet respite from a frenzied world.

For some reason I thought of the difference between a drip and a drop.  “Not much” you say?  Perhaps not, but there is a nuance that favors one over the other, at least as far as personal characterization is concerned. 

As a noun, the definition of the word “drip” does include the word “drop” but it also includes the words “trickle”, “dribble” and “leak”.  These words reflect, to me at least, some lack of intent … in other words an almost accidental event. 

As a noun, the word “drop” has the definition of “the quantity of fluid that falls in one spherical mass”.  As far as synonyms, the words include “bead”,”globule”, and “dewdrop”.  (I don’t want to be considered a “globule”, but …)

Returning to the fountain, it seems to me that the water sprayed from the fountain and formed drops of water, not drips of water, and those drops rose and then formed an arc when they fell back into the lake.

I further noticed that when the water drops hit the face of the lake, they didn’t just go down into oblivion … rather, they hit the surface and had an effect on the lake, they sent ripples out into the lake.

spring-lake-fountain
Close up of Spring Lake campground fountain and ripples.

 

In other words, the lake was not the same after the water droplets hit the surface.  Each drop had an impact on the lake itself, even though it was small and not all that “important” in the overall scheme of things.  While the ripple from an individual drop may not have been huge, the combination of them reached far out into the lake.

So too, we each can make an impact on our world to the glory of God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit as we reach out and share the gospel story of Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross for His people. 

We may not be a great preacher, or an important teacher, or one who has a voice which is heard by millions.  We may be simple folks who love their family, who work in an inconspicuous role at their church, who sing as a choir member but not even as a soloist. 

We may be in the background and think that we are just a small drop, not much to look at and without much effect.  We may even think that we are not important enough or smart enough or loving enough … but if you are a Christian, you are part of the fountain that is the Body of our Lord, and each part is important because Jesus Christ died for each one of His people

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

Hebrews 12:2. 

Each of us can reflect His love, compassion, and zeal for spreading His gospel to others who need to hear the “Good News”.  That is the race that which is before us and we cannot run it if we are weighed down by sin.

Praise God that when we ask the Holy Spirit to bless our work and then we do what we do to our best abilities, through His power, God will use our efforts and our impact will change our world.  And, I believe, that the “great cloud of witnesses” will rejoice as we fulfill the work that we were ordained to do.

Today, pray that you will reflect Jesus to your world.  Even if you feel as miniscule as a droplet from the fountain, remember that each drop impacts the lake in its own way.  Remember too that you have been chosen by Jesus Christ to spread His gospel to the “world” into which He in His providence has placed you, and He will empower you to do so.

Don’t be a drip — don’t trickle or drizzle around without power or strength.  

Be a drop for our Lord — have an impact for Christ on the people you come in contact with as you live your Christian life through His word His power.  Your effect will be multiplied when you join the rest of the drops as together we ripple through society, spreading the message one drop at a time!

 

Father, thank You for sending your Son to die for my sins so that, through faith in Christ alone, I can join the millions of other saints who will glorify your name throughout all the ages.  I pray that You will guide me as I live my life so that through your power, I will give witness to your Kingdom on this earth.  And, at the end of my days, may I join the “cloud of witnesses” who will rejoice at the coming of your Kingdom on the earth.

 

PROSPECTING – DIGGING DEEP AND THE BIBLE

 

It seems to me that virtually all young children, especially boys, are intrigued by dinosaurs.  While these behemoths have been extinct for millennia, interest in them seems to be growing and intensifying in these days.

boy meets dino
Grandson inspecting toy dinosaur!

Years ago, our young grandson spent many hours playing with the toy dinosaur trying to figure out how it moved.  He loved that dinosaur, but it was a passing fancy.

 

One of our older grandsons has loved dinosaurs, and all things like fossilized bones, since he took his first breath.  Even as a child, his birthday cake was a dinosaur!

 

Birthday cake - dinosaur
Apparently, all dinosaurs are not extinct!

He reads about them, he knows how to identify them, he knows what they ate and where they lived, in short, he loves dinosaurs.  Now in his teens, he has said that he wants to be a paleontologist and/or archaeologist and I am fully confident that he will succeed in that venture if his interest continues.

Evans Day 011
Fossil found at Gray’s Fossil Site in Tennessee.

As a surprise for a job well done, we took him to Gray’s Fossil Site in upper East Tennessee.  The extinct animal pictured above greets you at the Museum and other fossils reveal that shovel-tusked elephants, saber toothed cats, semi-aquatic pot-bellied rhinos are just some of the animals that roamed in the area.

Evan searching for bones among rocks
Searching in the dirt and stone for treasures at Gray’s Fossil Site in Tennessee.

One of the activities that he LOVED was to dig in a tray of dirt and rocks in the hope that he would find a fossil or piece of bone from ages past.   Of course, you can’t make that kind of “find” by just gazing at the dirt and rocks.  No, you have to investigate it, handle it, look at it with some magnification to determine if you really have a “find” or you have a piece of hard dirt (also a likelihood in East Tennessee).

Evans Day 041
Inspecting small piece material found in the dirt and stones.

 

He had a marvelous time digging and investigating, looking for the fossilized treasures that might be there.

 

His devotion to dinosaurs and his steady interest and determined study of them is commendable.  And, I am sorry to say, that it put me to shame.  I’m not referring to my interest in dinos, I am referring to my reading of Scripture.

 

How do I read Scripture, the Holy Word of the Living Creator God?  There are times that I read it and really think about it: but far more often I read it as if it were a novel … picking it up here and putting it down again without thought.

 

In the Old Testament we read:

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

Ezra 7:10

 

When I read Scripture, do I “set my heart” to study God’s Word?  Do I look up words so I understand their meaning and context?  Do I ask why the Holy Spirit used that specific word when so many others might have been used?   Do I think about why this is included in the Holy Writ in the first place?  If it was important enough for the Holy Spirit to direct its inclusion in the Bible, what am I to learn from this?

 

When I read Scripture, do I consider the entire chapter as a unit?  Do I think about the chapter in the context of the book as a whole?  Do I investigate how this book relates to the overall theme of both the Old and New Testament in Scripture – Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of His people?

 

The Psalmist said:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Psalm 119:105

 

Do I consider the Word to be a light to my path when I read the Bible?  Do I look closely at how the text would apply to my life, today?  Do I look at the Scripture and focus on what it says, while waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak in that still small voice that is usually drowned out by the television, stereo or radio, and the general cacophony of our 21st Century life?

 

When I read Scripture, do I expect to hear God speak to me?  Do I expect that the Scripture passage will apply to my life?  Do I expect that the Word will touch my heart and draw me closer to Him?

 

I confess that I cannot answer these questions in the affirmative!  I am convinced, however, that if I want my life to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, this is how I must read His Word.  I must be quiet so that I can study it, focus on it, learn it, listen to it and let the Holy Spirit speak to me.

 

In the New Testament, we are told to study the Word so that we can teach others.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15.  The King James Version translates this verse as follows:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

 

No matter how you say it, the Christian should study the Bible, carefully read it and investigate what the words are, what the text says, and what it means in our world today.

 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

 

Since this is true, then we are in possession of a Book that reveals the God that we serve, as well as His requirements, demands, blessings and curses.  It reveals His love and His justice, His holiness and our sinfulness.  It is a Book that we should reverence as well as read; it is our heavenly guidebook given by God for our benefit … we would be foolish to ignore it or to treat it lightly!

The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

Psalm 92:6-8

 

Father, I confess that I have not read your Word with the intensity and zeal that it deserves.  I confess that I have not expected You to speak to me through your Word, and I confess that I have not followed the commands that You have spoken in your Word.  Forgive me and help me to understand and accept your Word as I read and study it, and I ask this through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.

 

LAUGHTER, JOY AND LOVE.

We live very close to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

 

Smoky Mountains vista
Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Picture taken of vista that is seen from Cades Cove.

 

In Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a town at the entrance to the Park, there are many things for tourists to do, and among them is having your picture taken while you are dressed up in old-time garb. The resulting picture in sepia tones appears to be very old, perhaps of people who bear a striking resemblance of you but who lived generations ago.

 

One of the requirements when the picture is taken is that you have to look serious. I am told that holding a smile for a period of time is more difficult than holding a frown. Before the days of fast shutter speeds or digital photography, it took time for the image to be exposed, for example, for a tin-type. In short, you had to be still. If you smiled, your mouth would be a blur – if you frowned, or at least were serious, your mouth would be in focus.

 

Here is one picture where the children had an incredible level of seriousness, while Mom, who probably glanced at them just before the camera snapped, seemed to be ready to laugh.

 

old time family picture
Tourist picture of family taken by photographer at an “Old Tyme” studio in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Laughter – Joy – Love. What blessings from the Lord!

Laughter

When I think of laughter in Scripture, the first thought is of Sarah laughing when the angel of the Lord told her husband that she would have a child in her old age. See Genesis 18.

 

Actually, the word for “laughter” is not often used in the Scripture, but the Bible is replete with times that people reveled in the joy that the Lord their God gave to them. I can’t help but think that, in the midst of the glorious joy that they had, the people in Scripture laughed – not in derision, but in sheer joy!

Joy

What can be more infectious than a child’s joy!

 

Happy baby girl (C)
Smiling baby girl showing her joy at her surroundings.

 

The Psalmist wrote numerous psalms about joy, of which this is an example:

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psalm 32:11 [ESV]

 

Paul wrote in Romans:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17 [ESV]

 

Luke characterized the disciples as follows:

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 13:52 [ESV]

 

What can be more infectious than the joy of a small child? The Joy that the believer has in his/her Lord and Savior. It is a glorious gift from the Holy Spirit.

Love

The number of Scripture passages that deal with love are myriad – the love of God, the love of Jesus Christ, the love we should have for each other – love is written throughout the pages of Scripture. For example:

 

The Psalmist says:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13:5-6 [ESV]

 

When I think of God’s love, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, the cross. But the image that speaks to me about Jesus’ love for His sheep is this one that is hanging in our study at home. The lamb is resting so comfortably on His shoulder and it is being held so tenderly by the nail scarred hands of the Lord.

 

Picture hanging in our office
Picture representing the Lord Jesus holding a lamb on His shoulder. His nail pierced hand is shown and the lamb is secure in His loving grip.

 

Paul, in Romans 5, provides this picture in words when he says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 [ESV]

 

Sometimes we want to laugh but the occasion does not warrant it – but even then, our eyes can shine with the joy that we are experiencing. God did not create us without feelings – He clearly wants us to experience laughter, joy and love.

 

While the world experiences a type of joy and love, the fruit of the Spirit encompasses joy and love on an entirely different level. It is joy that is not based on circumstances but on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Spirit that indwells the believer. We will consider the fruit of the Spirit next week when the new series begins on The Ruminant Scribe blog site.

 

Ask the Lord to give you glimpses of His joy and His love through His Spirit. You will be glad you did.

 

Father, thank You for granting to us the incredible blessing of emotions and feelings so that we can experience the summit of love and waves of joy. And, thank You for being with us when we experience difficulties and trials, too. Thank You, Sovereign Lord, for providing us with the Holy Spirit Who gives to us your joy and love now and for all eternity.  We praise your holy name.

TO GRIT OR NOT TO GRIT — THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Okay, I will admit that I was born and raised North of the Mason-Dixon Line and that I had never had grits until I was in the process of moving from Chicago to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I had stopped for the night, somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga, and had breakfast at the restaurant adjacent to the motel.

When ordering breakfast, I asked for “milk”.  Does anyone know what “sweet milk” is?  The waitress, for clarification of my request for “milk,” asked if I wanted “sweet milk”.   After declining either chocolate milk or milk that had added sugar in it, the waitress walked away.  There clearly was a failure to communicate.  I am confident that she was thinking “Bless her heart”, in the southern way that means “poor, pitiful person!”

(I have since learned that in the South, at least when this occurred, restaurants would have buttermilk available for their patrons, so to distinguish between it and what would be regular milk in the North, non-buttermilk was often referred to as “sweet milk.”)

When the meal came, I saw a serving of eggs, bacon, toast, and oatmeal on the plate with white milk as the beverage.   Now, I was not used to eating oatmeal on a plate – we always used bowls.  But, I was moving into the South, so I attributed it to different customs, etc.

So, after eating the rest of the meal, I poured cream onto the oatmeal and after a bit of swishing it around, I took a bite.  It really did not taste like oatmeal to me – it wasn’t bad, just really odd oatmeal.

When the waitress came back, I asked why the oatmeal was served on a plate because it made it very difficult to eat.  You can understand, it ran all over the plate and couldn’t be corralled onto my spoon.

The waitress said “Oatmeal?  Did you want oatmeal too?”  I responded “No, I had not asked for it but it was on the plate.”  To which she grinned and said with a voice that sounded like the quintessential southern belle:

“Honey, that wasn’t oatmeal – that was grits!”

Who knew?  In the South, at least 40 years ago, you got grits whether you ordered them or not … they were the ubiquitous food made from ground corn that just showed up on your plate.

Obviously, my introduction to grits was not particularly formal or well-timed, although it was apparently humorous as I recall people in the restaurant watching me slurp my “oatmeal” all around the plate.  I am sure they knew I was not “from ‘round here” when I said “GRITS?!” a bit too loud to be proper.

After four decades, I have grown in my culinary skills and tastes so that now I will even order grits, on purpose, when eating out.  I have made instant grits at home (even though “No real southerner would dream of eating instant grits”, a comment that calls to mind the cook at the diner in the movie My Cousin Vinny.)

Proof of this transformation can be found in the fact that I just downloaded a recipe for cooking stone ground grits in the slow cooker – here is the picture of the grits from this recipe, in a cup I might add!  [http://addapinch.com/cooking/easyrecipe-print/2224-0]  Apparently, I have morphed into a quasi-southern girl, I guess!

Picture of grits that were prepared in a slow cooker.
Picture of grits that were prepared in a slow cooker.

I am at a loss, though, about one question … can you eat just one (1) grit?   Who would want to … it certainly would not fill you up.  But you never hear that “a grit” was served at the meal.  You only hear of “grits”, plural.  As a collection of grits, they are beneficial and healthy; and, with some cheese melted into them, they taste incredible.  In short, grits are better when there is more than one.

Moving to the spiritual plain, I think grits are somewhat like Christians.  I am not talking about being in a commune or cult, nor am I advocating withdrawal from society to be with your group alone.

You certainly can be a Christian all alone, and indeed, your relationship with Jesus Christ as a child of His is intensely personal.  No two people come to the Lord in the same way, and He ministers in and through His people in unique ways equipping them with various abilities, all for His purposes.

But, Christians are called to meet together for teaching, preaching, fellowship, and ministry.  While our faith in Jesus is personal, it is not in isolation. We come together as a family of believers and worship our God and His Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..  Some of our houses of worship are large and grand.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Some are not are grandiose, or as ancient.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Some are more rustic, but the Spirit of our Lord resides within the believer and, when we come together, there is the Spirit of the Lord.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

And sometimes we even come together in our homes, to study the Bible, pray and fellowship with each other.  We come together as did the early church in Acts 2:42, 27:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The writer of Hebrews said:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We do not become Christians simply by being around Christians.  We must have our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ for that new birth transformation to occur.  But, we will have a hard time staying on the path of Christ if we do not avail ourselves of one of the means of grace provided by our Father, His Son and The Holy Spirit – the Body of Christ, the Church.

A grit will still be a bit of ground corn even if it is not with any other bits of corn.  But it will not serve its purpose until and unless it is with a group of other grits; and then it will become nourishment for those who consume them.

A coal burning brightly in the fireplace will still be a coal even when it is taken out of the fire and put on the side.  But it will go out without the nourishment of the fire.  It will not be doing that which it was created to do unless and until it is returned to the fire so that it can burn hot and provide light and heat to those around it.

A Christian can be a Christian without being an active part in the Church; but the likelihood is that the light will become dull and the witness will be shallow and undernourished without regular intentional fellowship, worship, teaching, studying, serving and communion with fellow Christians in the Church.

Father, thank you for the lesson of grits.  May I determine to be part of a Bible believing church that follows the pattern of Act 2 in learning the Scripture and the apostles’ teaching, in prayers with and for others, in fellowship with Christians who worship and serve my Lord Jesus Christ, and in regularly sharing communion with fellow believers as we remember the sacrifice that our Lord made for us.  Thank you for the means of grace you so marvelously provided.  Forgive me when I have either ignored them or taken them for granted.  Such arrogance is sin and I ask forgiveness, in my Lord Jesus’ Name.

OF BILLBOARDS AND BANNERS!

Every fall, college football reigns supreme in Knoxville where the University of Tennessee football team, the Tennessee Volunteers, face off with the visiting team while over 100,000 people fill the stadium for a home game and they cheer, scream and watch every move made.  This does not only apply at the home game – such dedicated watching includes all televised away games as well, but then we don’t have the stadium cheerleaders, so we have to find our own!

Our own private cheerleader for U.T.
Our own private cheerleader for U.T.

In an earlier post, “I will give my all …”, I talked about seeing the billboard for the football program that challenges the players to give their “all” to the program.  The billboard has the shape of our state in the background and, in the University’s colors of orange and white, the words on the billboard say that we will give our “all for Tennessee today”.  The billboard not only has that slogan in print, it also has a giant hand coming up from the foliage under the sign as if to touch the sign as an imaginary player passes beneath, a subtle reference (for those who know the history) to the sign on the player’s locker room wall that says the same thing and which, according to tradition, each player touches as they run through the T into the football stadium.

Scripture tells us that God demands wholehearted devotion.  Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the following commandment from our Holy God:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That pretty much sums up “our all” doesn’t it … heart, soul and might.

But in case we missed the message there, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 follows up on it and says:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Talk about our “all” … God is saying that we are to serve Him with our whole being, not to serve Him half-heartedly.   Of course, Jesus also reiterated this command as being the first and greatest commandment that we are to follow.

Even for us in 2015, this commandment clearly extends to us as believers of our Lord subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection.  He gave His life for us; how can we even think of giving anything less than our “all” to Him?

Going back to the billboard about the team giving their “all” to Tennessee football, in the prior post I pondered if I would be willing to have a sign in the front yard saying that I would give my “all” for Jesus, and if that sign would make a difference in my life.

As I came down the stairs thinking about that post and the billboard, I looked up and … low and behold … we do have such a sign in our house.   Actually, it is a banner placed over the primary exit door of our home which reads:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Banner of Joshua 24:15
Banner of Joshua 24:15

That, of course, is taken from Joshua 24:15.   I remember when we bought this banner many years ago; I have always loved that verse in Joshua and this was a beautiful representation of it.  And, it encapsulates the commandment in Deuteronomy and the thoughts about obedience and allegiance to God that runs throughout Scripture.

I mention this because our banner has been hanging there quite a while, and I am afraid that it has become part of the room décor – sort of a statement of “ambiance” rather than a statement of intent for any of us when we exit the residence.  I am not certain that we notice it at any time other than when we have to dust it before company comes over (okay, maybe not even then).

In fact, if I were to ask our grandchildren about what the banner across the door said, they probably would have to go to the living room to read it, even though it has been there for years and they pass under it each time they exit the house.

This realization raised some questions in my mind and heart:

    • I wonder if each of the Tennessee players think of what that sign says every time they touch it as they go through the passageway into the stadium, or if it is a gesture that gets lost in the excitement of the moment?
      • I wonder if our children and grandchildren think of the lessons learned in our home when they are outside of our reach?
    • I wonder if the coaches remind the team of the sign’s significant message before they run into the field for the sports conflict of the day?
      • I wonder what would happen if we reminded the children and grandchildren to remember our Lord as they face the world and its challenges when they left the security of our home each day?
    • I wonder if I reflect the message that banner has been expressing so eloquently all these years?
      • Do I serve the Lord?  Every day?  In all my activities? Whenever I leave the house?
      • Does my family serve Him?  Is Jesus Lord and Master of all those in my family?
    • I wonder if my cheerleading for the Lord is as driving and exuberant as the cheerleading for the football team?
      • Do my children and grandchildren know that I am on the Lord’s team?
      • Do the neighbors see an excited exuberance for my Lord or do they see someone who goes about “serving in the church” with a grumble and frown?

Father, forgive me when the cares of this world flood my mind and heart so that I am unable to even think about You or my Lord.  Forgive me when I am “too busy” to spend time with You in reading your Word.  Forgive me when I am so committed to my family, friends, work, entertainment, and even activities at the church, that I don’t take the time to pray or to listen to your Spirit.  Help me, today and for all the future todays that You give to me, to give You my “all”.  I pray this through the mighty name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

I WILL GIVE MY ALL ….!

Knoxville, Tennessee is the home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team.  In the fall of the year, the city falls under the spell of the Big Orange Volunteer Spirit, with over 100,000 fans cheering in the stadium at a home game.  During football season, it is not unusual to see stores, offices, homes, and restaurants of every type decked out in Big Orange colors of orange and white in support for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Support for Volunteer football team
Support for Volunteer football team

In fact, today is the first game of the 2015 season and it is out of town.  But the Volunteers don’t need to be in town to have dedicated fans.  Yesterday, I went to a restaurant for lunch with a friend, and well over 50% of the people in the building were wearing orange shirts, hats, jewelry, and the owner was even wearing orange pants.

Now, I, too, am a Big Orange Volunteer fan, make no mistake about that.  While none in my family are native to Knoxville, we long ago caught the fever of college SEC football, cheering for the Tennessee Volunteer football team, win, lose or draw!

Our dedication to the team even extended to the turf on which the game was played.  When the stadium was changed from artificial turf to grass a number of years ago, we purchased a square of the orange and white end zone for a souvenir of those days gone by!  It is hanging on the family room wall

Piece of the end zone turf, University of Tennessee
Piece of the end zone turf, University of Tennessee

We have our car flags, orange and white T-shirts, sweatshirts and blankets, as well as orange and white car decals, plastic plates, cups, spoons and forks, table cloths, … well you know what I am talking about.

Big Orange football game day table wear
Big Orange football game day table wear

And, of course we have the posters and caps on display, all of which are adorned with the beautiful orange and white of the Volunteers.

National Championship Poster for University of Tennessee
National Championship Poster for University of Tennessee

Finally, we can’t forget the spirit of the game … the cheerleaders, and in years gone past, we even had our own!

Cheerleading to willing fans.
Cheerleading to willing fans.

For the past several years there has been a sign along the interstate advertising the Tennessee Volunteer football program with the slogan that the team will “give our all to Tennessee today!”

It caused me to think about what that phrase meant. “Give our all to Tennessee today!”  I am certain it references the effort that the young players are to give to the game.  I am certain that it reflects the focus that the coaches have in training the team and guiding them during the big games.  I am certain that the team is reminded of this mantra throughout their training whether or not it is a game day.

But it made me think.  I certainly am NOT a football player, never have been and never will be! But I am a Christian.

Can I say that I will give my all to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, today?

Would I have a sign like this in the front yard telling the world that I will give my all to Jesus today?

  • If I had such a sign, would I actually pay attention to it or would it blend in with the scenery?
  • If I had such a sign, would I read it as I left the house each day or would I pass by it and ignore the admonition?
  • If I had such a sign, would I mean what it says, or would it be mere decoration?
  •  If I had such a sign, would I look at it and pray that I would fulfill that promise no matter what the cost, no matter what the consequence, no matter what ….?

Perhaps the first question I need to ask is:

“Do I really want to give my all to Jesus today? Am I that committed to Christ that I want this for my life, today?”

Scripture says this is exactly what we are to do.  In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

We cannot shrug our shoulders and mumble, yeah, but that was said thousands of years ago; it’s not for us 2015! Not so, my friend.  Jesus reiterated that this was still a commandment for us in Matthew 22:37 when He stated that this was the great commandment.

Note that it is an imperative statement — “You shall”.  It is not optional, and it is not a divine suggestion.  As Christians, this commandment expresses how much we should be committed to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Remember, our Lord gave His all for us — He deserves no less from us in response.

So, who will get your all today?

Father, forgive me when I have given my all to the world, to things that have no eternal significance, to idols that take time and attention away from You, my Creator-Sustainer-Sovereign God.  Give me the grace and mercy to give my all to You each day that You give to me. And, Father, I cannot do anything without your enabling through my Lord; so, please give me a heart that can be used by the Holy Spirit to do the work that you have ordained for me, in the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, I pray.