DAILY PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING

The Holy Spirit has been impressing upon me the privilege of praising the Lord and giving thanks to the Father, not just when something good (in our way of thinking) happens, but regularly, multiple times per day.  It has been said that gratitude should be our modus operandi. 

When we went to the western United States, we found ourselves praising God multiple times per day as we saw His beautiful creation spread out before us.

USED Half dome (C)
Yosemite National Park

The natural beauty of Yosemite National Park prompted us to praise Him and give thanks to Him for the glory of His creation.  Half-Dome standing like a sentry over the mountains and valleys reminded us of the Lord’s watchfulness over His people, and of His omnipotence.  The sure and certain knowledge that He is in control and His purposes will not be thwarted by anything that man can conjure up!

Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska
Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska

The Landscape Rainbow that became visible as we were driving to Seward, Alaska reminded us of God’s unfailing promises. We saw this rainbow the day after I had surgery to repair my broken ankle, a sure-fire way to cut vacation travel short!  But the Lord was with us even in those difficult days thousands of miles from home, when He sent numerous people to minister to us, helping us get through the trial of no place to stay, of surgery, etc.   His people surrounded us, even in the hospital corridor.  The rainbow was a visual reminder that He had not lost track of us, and He would not do so, ever!  And, in response, we uttered a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Him for sending this beautiful reminder of His presence.

Praise and thanksgiving should be ever present in the life of a Christian, even when things are not what we expected, when they are difficult and painful, when they are overwhelming and frustrating.  Praise and thanksgiving are appropriate at all these times because God is teaching us to be more like His Son, our Lord and Savior.

Paul said:

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

The writer of Hebrews said this about praise to God:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Hebrews 13:15

This is not just a New Testament command – it is referenced multiple times in the Old Testament as well.

David referenced praise and thanksgiving numerous times in his writings, and here is one of them:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

In fact, the Israelites were told to practice daily praise and thanksgiving.  With regard to the obligations of the priests, we read in 1 Chronicles 23:30:

“And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening,”

The command is to begin and end the day with praise and thanks to the Lord God.  Notice, God didn’t say that this was required on those days that were easy, or when they were encamped and not fighting anyone, or that they were exempted from this requirement when it was too hot!  Every morning and every evening — come rain or shine, home hard times or easy ones, come plague or famine, come ease or comfort.  Praise and thanksgiving were to be their standard daily.

Do we do this? 

Every day or ever? 

Even on those days that are so frustrating and maddening that we want to scream? 

Even when the children are fighting and we can’t hear ourselves think? 

Even when our spouse has done something that infuriates us? 

Praise and thanksgiving when illness hits or an unexpected death occurs?

Yes, we should!  Daily praise and thanksgiving.  At times it is difficult but calling on the Name of the Lord and giving Him praise and thanksgiving for His presence and comfort, for His guidance and leading, always is music to our Lord’s ears.  It is glorifying to God the Father and it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  I’m not saying that we will understand the reason behind what happens to us, that is God’s area of expertise!  I am saying that the Christian’s response to these things should be humble acknowledgement that we are hurt and that we don’t understand why this bad thing occurred; but, we have confidence in God and His wisdom and we praise His name and give thanksgiving to Him for his faithfulness and His abiding presence with us that gives comfort and peace even in difficult circumstances. 

What a difference daily, moment by moment, praise and thanksgiving would make in our lives!  Glorifying God, giving Him praise and thanksgiving, even at your deepest hour will bring peace and comfort, even when nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. 

Father, forgive us for failing to give You praise and thanksgiving on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.  Enable us to see even difficult days of suffering and loss as times to give You praise as You execute Your purposes for us and for the world.  Give us strength and wisdom as we live our lives and lead us to give You the praise and thanksgiving that You rightfully deserve, every moment of every day. 

THE POWER OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD

Today we are seeing, once again, the power of the Almighty God as we observe Hurricane Florence pummeling the eastern coast of the United States.  While her winds are “only” 90 miles per hour, she is traveling across the countryside at a mere 5 miles per hour as she pours rain down on thousands of people at a rate of 1 inch per hour. 

Numbers like that are staggering when you consider them for even a little while.  The trees split asunder from the stress caused by the sustained winds and they fall over from the weakening of their root systems in the over-soaked land around them.  All this, plus debris flying through the wind, is downing power lines and causing widespread loss of power to thousands of people.  Reports have been coming in about incredible flooding of their homes both from rain and the storm surge pushing the water inland.

Moreover, the hurricane is forecast to affect people and communities in multiple states, hundreds of miles from the coastline.   Indeed, we are told that the rain and wind from this hurricane will affect us for almost a week … and then comes the aftermath which will have ramifications for many months, if not years.

I’m not a meteorologist and I certainly don’t have any equipment to measure the weather – I am just pointing out what I have read and heard on the news reports of the storm. 

cropped-mountains-view-in-alaska-c.jpg
Mountain view in Alaska

I am, however, a Christian and my Bible tells of a flood in which the rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.  And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

Genesis 7:11-12

Verses 17 – 20 of this chapter continue describing the deluge of water:

The flood continued forty days on the earth.  The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.  The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters.  And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.  The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

By the way, a cubit was about 18 inches or 45 centimeters, so 15 cubits above the mountains would be 270 inches, or 22.5 feet.

Yosemite half dome scenic 6-2011 019
Yosemite half dome scenic view

We should pray for those who are in the path of Hurricane Florence and we should seek God’s providential grace that they be kept safe from harm.  We should pray for the first responders to be given safe passage as they seek to help others, for the news reporters as they try to let us know what is happening to others in our land, and for those who have been displaced by evacuation that they be given comfort and peace even as their lives have been upended by the storm.

While the storm is devastating, we can find peace even in this hard time when we remember that the Almighty God is in control and His purposes will not be thwarted by anything.  He loves His children with a love that is greater and that is stronger than any hurricane or any other power on earth.  Therefore, even in this, or any other, disaster we can praise His Name.

Blessings to you today – and forever more.

Father, there are times when no words can express our concern, our fear, and our awe at the manifestation of Your mighty power.  We tend to think of You in terms of humanity when You are the Creator and Sustainer, the Giver of Life and the Redeemer of our souls.  Your power is unlimited and Your love is unmatched.  I praise You, Father.  Please comfort all those who are going through the hurricane now.  Protect them and may Your perfect will prevail in all things.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD — IMMANENCE AND IMMUTABILITY

Today we are considering two aspects of God’s nature that we almost never think about, but which are aspects of the majesty of God with respect to His relationship with us – Immanence and Immutability.

IMMANENCE

Immanence is a fancy way of saying God is with us, always.  Our God is at hand and He works even through the minutiae of our lives to produce a love for and enjoyment of His Word and, in fact, of Himself.  This attribute is in direct opposition to the concept that God established the world and then just walked away and left it to spiral wherever it wanted to go.  That God did not involve Himself with the creation; once the creation was done, He was finished with it and things could go well or poorly and God didn’t really care.

In Jeremiah, God asks:

“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24

The Psalmist frequently talks about God and His relationship with the creation.  One of my favorite chapters is Psalm 139 where David says God knows him so well that He even knows when we stand or sit, or recline in slumber.  God is so near that He knows what we are going to say, even before we express the words out loud.  There is absolutely nowhere on earth or heaven or hell that we can go where God cannot see us, reach us, hear us.  This chapter extols the immanence of God, without using that term.  Beloved, read this chapter and know that our God cares about you, personally and intimately.

In Acts 17, verses 27-28 we read:

“Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.'”

Acts 17:27-28 

Scripture describes our God as One who does not sit back and merely observe a creation which He set in motion millennia ago; He is present and actively participating in His world.

What does this mean to you as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ?  Immanence is an attribute of God that provides the believer confident rest in the knowledge that there is no place or situation that is too far to be under God’s providence and protecting hand.  Things may be difficult as far as this world is concerned, but there is no reason to fear that things will remove you from His love and care.

Paul put it best:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:38-39

IMMUTABILITY

Our world is always changing.  Even things that we consider unchangeable, immoveable – actually do change.

Half dome (C)
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Mountains such as those found in Yosemite appear so strong and solid, and they are – at least until God shakes them in an earthquake.  But even mountains are changed, albeit gradually, by the ravages of weather. 

Yosemite giant sequoia fallen tree (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree fell and its root system was exposed.

Even Giant Sequoia Trees that have stood for centuries, change and, at some point, will come crashing to the earth.  Change in this world is inevitable.

Because of this, we have a hard time contemplating the attribute of immutability.  Nothing in this world stays the same … everything changes.  But not so with God. 

Not only does God know every little thing that is going on with each one of us, His immanence, the attribute of immutability means that God will not change His mind when it comes to His ultimate will for His children’s care and protection. 

“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. 

“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

The fact that God does not change his mind, his characteristics, his plan, or anything else guarantees God’s character will remain the same and that which He has willed, will, in fact, occur.   

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8

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 on a whim.

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!

Listen to the beautiful hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.   Note the words “As Thou has been, Thou forever wilt be.”  That’s immutability!  As you listen, identify other phrases that point to God’s immutability.  Praise Him that He is unchangeable, and He loves us with an unchanging love!

This hymn is sung by Robert and Robin Kochis on the album entitled “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.

Father, Your mercies, grace and love are magnificent.  Your involvement with us on a moment by moment basis is such comfort and security, even when things seem to be going poorly, we know that nothing will thwart Your plan for us.  I praise You for your Immanence and Immutability.  You are God.  I praise Your Holy Name.  May my life reflect Your grace to others throughout my days.

 

REFOCUS ON CONTENTMENT

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

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

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

Genesis 2:16-17 ESV. 

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

Ozark Mountain River
Mountain River in the Ozarks

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

Ultimately, Eve’s eyes were refocused:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

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

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

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

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

Jesus said:

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

Matthew 6:31-33 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

VISIONS OF GLORY HERE ON EARTH

Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.

Psalm 33:8 KJV

There are times in our lives that we encounter something that is just too wonderful to fully appreciate at the time.

Consider some of the places that God has provided us on the planet – places that exhibit His power, beauty, majesty, omnipotence, just to name a few of His attributes that are represented in His created order. 

Yosemite 2011 WRM 095 Overlook of Kings Canyon National Park (C)
Yosemite overlook at King’s Canyon

Towering mountains.    “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” – Psalm 90:2 ESV

Consider the thundering waterfalls.    “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”  Psalm 42:7 ESV

Oregon 2009 066 (C) Multnomah Waterfalls
Multnomah Waterfalls, Oregon

Consider beauty and destruction combined, such as with volcanoes.  When we were on Maui, in Hawaii, we traveled to the crater of Haleakala and watched the sun come up over the horizon.  The crest of the volcano is over 10,000 feet high, so it was windy and the clouds were constantly changing as they flew over and passed the crater.  While volcanoes can be deadly and can cause widespread destruction, they also provide silent witness to the power of God’s creative hand and the beauty of His majesty.

Haleakala sunrise 4
Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, Sunrise over the crater.

While God’s creation is majestic in scope, it is also awesome in its beautiful detail. 

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!” – Luke 12:27-28 ESV

flowers - lilies

Or, consider the birth of a child – we know the biological process that takes place.  Some of us even know all the details of human anatomy and physiology that work together in the creation of that little one you hold in your arms.  But, just describing the biological process of childbirth does not even touch the full impact of the birth of a little baby.  The joy that the child brings to the parents; the marvel in the expression of the young sibling who now is the older child; the tears in the grandparents’ eyes as they look at the personification of their living heritage. 

Grandparents holding baby
The infant is comforted by grandparents who just want to look adoringly at the child’s face!

I am not so Pollyanna to think that this is the lot granted to each child born on this planet – far from it.  Some children are born into a house that is far less than supportive and can even be abusive. But Scripture tells us that mankind was created in the image of God. 

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 ESV

Each person, even the smallest infant, is a creation of God the Almighty Creator and Sustainer who imprints His image onto the heart and soul of each one.  The reason we cannot see God’s image in others is not because of a problem with the image of God, but rather it is a problem that we have because of Adam’s fall and the interjection of sin into the world.

Scripture tells us of God’s majesty like this:

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.”

Psalm 65:5-8 ESV

What a marvelous God we serve.  What a powerful and majestic God we serve.  What a loving God we serve. 

“But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Habakkuk 2:20 KJV

Today take the time to contemplate (or ruminate) on being silent before God.  Think about His majesty and glory.  Think about His intimate love for you and of the salvation that He has provided.  Read the love letter that He has given us, His Word, the Holy Bible.  Then, love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind.  Matthew 22:37. 

Father, I thank You for showing us Your power, beauty and majesty through the natural creation you spoke into existence.  I thank You for giving us Your Word and Your Spirit.  that tells us what you want us to do, how we should live in Christ, and what your Spirit

THE FEAR OF GOD

When we were in England, we visited a number of cathedrals and were amazed at the exquisite details in the construction and decoration of each of them.

bath-cathedral-c
Bath Cathedral, Bath, England

The exteriors of the cathedrals had a focal point, upward to the sky as if the very building was praising God in prayer and thanksgiving.

canterbury-side-view
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

 

Even the walls of the cathedrals evidenced exquisite workmanship and beautiful detail.

canterbury-wood-carvings-adorning-the-walls
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Carved woodwork adorning the walls of the Cathedral.

 

The church in Canterbury was established when Saint Augustine was sent as a missionary in 597 A.D.  In the town of Canterbury, there has been daily worship of God for over 1,400 years.  Just think about that for a moment! 

The original cathedral was rebuilt completely by the Normans in 1070 following a major fire. Although there have been many additions to the building over the last nine hundred years, parts of the Quire or Choir, which is the area between the nave and sanctuary in a cathedral, and some of the windows and their stained glass date from the 12th century.

canterbury-stained-glass-windows
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Stained glass windows. They were removed and sequestered for safety during World War II and reinstalled when the war ended.

See the Canterbury Cathedral’s website for more detailed information on this glorious church.  https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/history/cathedral-history-in-a-nutshell/

We came to the entrance of the cathedral property and walked through this gate.  At first I thought this was the church … then I realized it was “just” the gate to the property.  Even this aspect of the cathedral was designed and constructed with an emphasis on the heavens.

canterbury-the-archway-into-the-church-property
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Arched gate into the Cathedral property.

 

Why go to all this trouble in creating such glorious buildings in which to worship God?  Why do all this incredible craftsmanship during a period of time when people were living in far less sturdy structures?  Why do this at all?

I suggest that these folks had a right understanding of the “fear of the Lord”. 

Scripture has much to say about learning and fearing God.   See for example the following passages in the Old Testament:

“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,…”

Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

Psalm 111:10 ESV

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

So, what does it mean to fear God?  One definition of “fear” is, of course, to be afraid, to be in terror when we face God.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness.  He is just and we are unjust.  This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.  The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge.  We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us.  We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified.  Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147

The justified person, the believer in Jesus Christ, is not afraid of God, rather God is his Father and fear is washed away.  Paul wrote this to his spiritual son, Timothy:

“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

But we are still admonished to “fear the Lord”, so if we are justified by Christ, what does it mean?

“Fear” when used in this context references our actions of “reverence” and “worship”.  We are to “be in awe of” Him and we are to “honor” Him.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Proverbs 1:7 ESV

The note on Proverbs 1:7 in the Reformation Study Bible says, in part:

The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge.  This fear is not distrustful terror of God but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as the Creator, the Savior and the Judge.   

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the majesty of His creation?

yosemite-2011-wrm-126-waterfalls-and-river-c
Yosemite National Park, waterfall and river.

Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the detail of the small baby, a child created in the image of God?

baby-girl-1-month-old
One month old baby girl.

Has your spirit ever soared when entering a place of worship as you anticipate spending time with your Savior and God in worship?

canterbury-cathedral-view-of-the-altar-area
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England.  Interior of Cathedral looking at the altar area of the church.

Have you considered our Savior God who sent His only Son to die for your sins?  Have you thanked Him today, even this moment, for such love, grace and mercy?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten this precept.  We have instead turned to human philosophy and social engineers.  We have created a generation of children who have turned to Hollywood or the Internet for their heroes and role models.  The fantasy world of television and movies, with computer generated special effects, has become the reality that our youth crave.  Young and old alike seek thrills and/or escape by turning to drugs and alcohol.   We kill children without batting an eye, while we worry about the spotted owl or the snail darter fish.  

Scripture does not change – its teachings are true and they are timeless.  Thousands of years ago, God stated that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom.   It was true then, and it is true today. 

I believe that those building the cathedrals were honoring God and creating a place of worship that was a physical representation of the glory and magnificence due Him in worship. 

Note that I am not saying that all churches need to be this elaborate.  Nor am I ignoring the role that the Popes or other “leaders” likely played in desiring a place of magnificence for his own benefit. 

What I am saying is that we, even in our “modern” age, need to have a holy fear of our God.  It is a heart issue, not an architectural one.  We should give God the reverence, awe and honor to which He is due.  In short, He is not the “Big Guy in the Sky”.  He is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior … He is our Father and our God.

 

Father, forgive me when I have not given You the reverence that You deserve.  Let my heart sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” throughout the day and let my praise to You be last on my lips as sleep overcomes me.  May I love You and glorify You in all things.

VISTAS, TIME AND THE NEW YEAR

Mountains – Oceans.  Some people love the ocean more than they do mountains.  I admit that I like to look at the ocean on occasion, but I love mountains!  Specifically, I love my mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  What I truly enjoy is getting to an overlook or valley and then marveling at the vista splayed out around me.

smoky-mountains-vista
Great Smoky Mountains – vista from Cades Cove, Tennessee

I hasten to add that I am an equal opportunity mountain lover.  We have been privileged to see a number of mountains in our country, and I have loved every minute of it!

colorado-shelf-road-and-vista
Colorado “shelf road” and mountain vista.

When I stand looking out at the grandeur of the mountains and contemplate the forces that created them, my soul sings to the Creator God, my heavenly Father, in praise and worship.

used-half-dome-c
Yosemite National Park, Half Dome and surrounding vista.

What does this have to do with the new year?  A great deal. 

We are temporal, mortal, and our days are limited.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

Psalm 103:15-16

In fact, the Bible affirmatively states that all we have is this moment, and even it is a gift from God.  James, the half-brother of Jesus, says it like this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

James 4:13-16

He advises us that we are not to think that we will be here on this earth forever, rather we are to make plans according to the will of our Father.  So, it is good for us to look back at the vista of 2016 and see how we did on that directive.  Use the beginning of this new year to consider the condition of our relationship with our God so we can more effectively grow in 2017.

  • When were we close to God;
  • When did we do His will;
  • When did we say “I will” when He prompted us to say something to an individual;
  • When did we learn from His Word;
  • When did we testify to others of His great mercy and grace,
  • Now, you add your own points to consider, as each of us will have different things to ponder.

The year 2016 is in the record books.  It is over and there is nothing we can do to change what was said, done, or experienced.  The stuff we planned to do, but didn’t, will not get done in 2016, it is over.  The relationships we intended to nurture, but didn’t, will not be stronger today because of anything we did in 2016, it is over.

dar-library-clock-c
Clock in the DAR Library, Washington, D.C.

As Scripture points out, the only time we have is today.  We don’t even have any guarantee that we will see much of 2017 other than the moment we are in right now.

So, take the time to consider your life.  Renew your dedication to focus on the Lord God Almighty rather than on the temporal things of this world.  Those things that you were going to do in 2016 but then neglected — now is the time to get them accomplished.  

Write the letter, send the card, make the phone call, give the hug, encourage the fainthearted, reach out to those who are hurting.  

Whatever you need to do, do it in the name of our Lord and Savior.  Don’t wait until 2018 — now is the time to do that which our God has asked us to do.

Remember how the Lord blessed and protected you in 2016, how He secured your salvation through Christ our Lord, and how the Holy Spirit worked in your life during the year, and praise Him for it.

Then, as you look ahead to 2017, praise Him for what He is going to do in and through you as you rely on His strength, power, wisdom and love.

The great hymn “How Great Thou Art” details much and can provide a springboard for your praise to our God.  Here is the hymn sung on the Concordia Publishing House album Hymns for all Saints, Adoration, Praise, Comfort.  Daily, let your heart and soul sing out in praise to our gracious heavenly Father. You might even want to add your voice to that song!

 

Father, thank You for being with us throughout our life as You lead and guide Your children in Your will.  Thank You for sending Your Son to be our Redeemer and thank You for providing Your Spirit to indwell and empower us we grow into the likeness of Your Son.  As we look to the new year, may we always remember that You are the only living Almighty God and may we sing praises to You in all that we do.

The Giant Sequoia, Cicada, and Me

Several years ago, an experience and a news story prompted me to start thinking.  First, the experience.  This was an incredible trip out West where my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon.

Kings canyon sign 100_3502
Kings Canyon National Park.

The scenery was jaw‐dropping.

Yosemite 2011 WRM 086
We walked 1/2 mile to an overlook and emerged out from the wooded mountainside to see this incredible vista.

For this story though, the majesty of the scenery takes a back seat to the Giant Sequoia Trees.  These trees are beautiful and to say they are tall would be an insult … they are huge … no, they are gargantuan!

Yosemite 2011 WRM 016
Giant Sequoia Trees in the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. So tall that their branches begin at a height the other trees can only begin to reach.

While no one really knows how old the trees are, the National Park Service says that it is estimated that the Giant Sequoia Trees are between 1800 and 2700 years old.  Some of the trees have even been given names of states, presidents and influential people in our country’s history.

In 2002 the National Park Service measured the trees and found, for example, that the tree named General Sherman is 274 feet in height and 102 feet in circumference.  The tree named General Grant is 268 feet tall and 107 feet in circumference.  The tree named Washington was 254 feet high and 101 feet in circumference.

Now to the news story. The headline was something like “17 years in the making” [not an exact quote].  The article discussed the upcoming, expected cicada invasion.

Cicada
Cicada

Now, if you don’t know what a periodical cicada is, you might not think this is a big deal, but the word “invasion” might tip you off to the significance of this event.  Those of us who have experienced these bugs in person know that they are hard to ignore.  [How do you miss tens of millions of grasshopper‐looking, flying, chirping insects whose collective sounds, magnified by the sheer incredible number of them, sounds like a very loud hum?  That’s not really a question that needs an answer!]

I know that as a species, the cicadas have been around for millennia.  While I do not do this (yuck), many people in our world eat cicadas as a source of protein and calcium (I shiver as I write this!).  Further, records show that they were eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Burma, and Latin America.  (By the way, female cicadas are considered to be meatier than their male counterparts! Who knew?) And cicada shells are not uncommonly used in Chinese traditional medicines. (Shiver!)

The periodical cicada’s life can be summarized by the statement that it lives underground sucking on tree roots for 17 years, emerges and mates for 4 to 6 weeks and then dies … all of the cicadas doing this at essentially the same time.  The female lays her eggs in tree limbs from which, after hatching, the future cicada drops to the ground, and burrows into the dirt where, during the next 17 years it matures and then emerges to do this ritual all over again.

What do the cicadas have to do with me, other than that I can’t stand the sight, sound or thought of gazillions of cicadas dive‐bombing me when I am outside?   In short, they don’t have much to do with me at all, personally.  They are outside and I am inside when they are around!

But, when I considered the comparative difference between the giant sequoia trees and the cicadas, I was prompted to think about all of God’s creation, including me.  Although the species has survived for millennia, why are these insects so short‐lived while the Giant Sequoia Trees have grown and survived for over 15 centuries — and where do I fit in?

God created all of us, you and me as well as the sequoia and cicadas and we each have our own specific God‐given role in this world.  I am much more like the cicada than the sequoia in terms of life‐span.  If I survive to 100 it will be a miracle, but the sequoia tree is not even out of its proverbial diapers at that point in time; whereas the cicada will have had almost 6 generations when I reach 100 years of age.

In the book of Genesis, we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28.

On the basis of creation’s history in Genesis, I can affirmatively assert that I am different, unique, separate, from the sequoia and cicada because God said so.  Mankind is viewed by God as being the paramount creature in the creation story — we were created in God’s image, something that does not apply to any other creature.  And, God said that we are to have dominion over all the rest of creation, because that is how God ordained it to be.

Of course, we know that Adam sinned and we are not in the same state of grace that applied at the time of creation.  But the sin of humankind does not reduce or eliminate the sovereignty of God.

The Psalmist says that we are to measure our days because they are numbered by God.  (Psalm 39:4‐5) God’s sovereignty even extends to His knowledge of how long each of us will live.  Each of us has a specific purpose that God has ordained, and we will only find our true happiness, comfort and peace in God when we fulfill that purpose.

We are told in Scripture that He has given His Son’s life as an atoning sacrifice for us … not for the cicadas or sequoia.   We can be assured that we are of infinitely more value to God than either the Giant Sequoia Tree or the cicada because, as a result of His grace and Christ’s death and resurrection, God has made a way for believers in Christ to be with Him for eternity!

Praise Him.  And may I use the days that He has granted to me for His glory.

Father, I praise You for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, your Son and my Savior.  I praise You for the gift of life and for your sustaining presence, grace and mercy towards us.  I pray that You would conform me to the image of your Son so that I would glorify You.

OPEN YOUR EYES … NOW, WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Have you been in the high mountains and soaked in the vista sweeping across the horizon for a far greater distance than that which you can usually see?

 

Blue Ridge Parkway view
Vista view from Blue Ridge Parkway overlook.

 

Things seem so different from that perspective. Have you ever had an opportunity to be in an airplane or on top of the mountain when you could see the fields, houses, rivers, buildings and roads below?

Knoxville Downtown (C)
Knoxville, Tennessee downtown from Sharp’s Ridge.

 

Looking at a city from the mountain top hides the random streets with roads clogged with traffic. It conceals the home with a messy yard or a tree that is less than beautiful when walking past on your evening stroll. Instead, all those features become one piece of the fabric that gives character to the overall motif when viewing things from above.

When I view the mountains …

Rocky Mountains from air (C)
Rocky Mountain peaks from an airplane.

 

or the oceans, …

Ocean waves and rock formation Oregon (C)
Pacific Ocean waves and rock formations along Oregon coast.

 

the minutia of the day is lost in the splendor and majesty of God’s creation. Indeed, God’s creation is awesome in its scope, beauty and power. Just check out Yosemite National Park, for example!

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

 

The Bible says in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Deuteronomy, Moses prayed:

“O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?”
Deuteronomy 3:24.

The Psalmist says:

“Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”
Psalm 104:1.

See the mighty Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

Sequoia -Yosemite 09 (C)
Giant Sequoia Tree in King’s Canyon, California.

 

God’s power is truly visible in the overwhelming splendor, beauty and majesty of His creation. His creation prompts us to praise Him for His mighty works.

But, His power is not only visible in the huge glorious vistas splayed out before us on this planet. His creative power is shown in the minute, as well.

Azalea in full bloom (C)
Azalea blooms up close and personal.

 

The detail in the flower of an azalea bush bespeaks of a Creator Who loves beauty.

Birds - American Goldfinch (C)
Goldfinch sitting atop branch in flower garden.

 

The glorious chirp and beauty of the Goldfinch as he sits atop a branch in the garden, searching for food, his mate, or just taking in the scenery.  God’s handiwork is evident even in this small creature.

Yes, God’s creativity is visible even in that which we walk past and ignore on a daily basis, in the beautiful birds, butterflies, flowers, clouds, sunsets, and in the myriad  of His majestic works which are simply too big for me to comprehend.

The Bible tells us that God wants us to know Him. Paul says in Romans 1:20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”

God, the Master Creator, has made the world and everything in it, including us. Such power, majesty and glory is too incredible for me to understand  – I only know that He wants to have a relationship with me. When I take my eyes off the problems, pain and discomfort of this life and look to Him in love, trust and obedience, then I remember that and I know that He loves me and is in control.

I am not a Polyanna who cannot see problems or pain – I have experienced both problems and pain on multiple occasions in my life. Rather, I am suggesting that, even in the middle of the problem or pain, you can look up to the Father Who loves you so much that He  sent his Son to be your Savior and Lord.  Becoming a Christian does end problems or pain, however.  When Paul asked that his “thorn in the flesh” be taken away, we read this:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9.

Pain will still be present, but His comfort and His grace is sufficient to overcome whatever the world may throw at us.

So, I ask you, “What do you see?” Keep your eyes open and expect to see God today. He is present and He will make Himself known to you, you just need to look and listen as His Spirit guides you through the day!

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24.

Praise the Lord!

 

Father, forgive me when I have focused so much on my own personal problems, pain, discouragement that I have failed to see You all around me. Open my eyes and my heart to your comforting care and draw me close to You, each day. May I praise your Name each day You give me the gift of life.