Month: May 2022

Such is the Kingdom of God

“We love Him because He first loved us.1 John 4:19

The stories of the two sons described in the last post described to some extent our Fathers’s love for His children, but what about our love for Him?

I am reminded of an incident years ago when my young granddaughter was celebrating her birthday with a party at a local bowling alley. At that time I owned an antique business and on that day I had no one that could watch my store. I reasoned that she had all of her friends, her parents, and her other grandparents with her; my presence would not be missed and I would see her in a few hours to give her our gifts. Nevertheless I couldn’t be at peace about missing her party despite the fact that I would need to close up the store- something I never did unless it was completely unavoidable.

I walked into the bowling alley looking for my granddaughter but it was packed with people and very noisy. Suddenly I heard, “Grandmaaaaaa!” As I turned around, there was my grandchild running the full width of the room with her arms outstretched and a blissful smile across her face-totally unaware of anyone but me. I couldn’t help but tear up as she fell into my arms, and I have never forgotten the joyful feeling I experienced in that moment.

Later, after leaving the party and settling down at home, I couldn’t get the picture of my granddaughter’s demonstration of love out of my mind. Jesus said, in Mt. 18:3, ” Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Mt. 19: 14 says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” I believe I gained some understanding that day about how our Heavenly Father must take great pleasure in our joyful demonstrations of love towards Him- may we always act out of humble, childlike hearts.

Wrapped in Love

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that they be “rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3: 17-19). Paul’s beautiful description of God’s love conveys the enormity and the power of God’s love- it is immeasurable and goes beyond mere knowledge about His love; it encompasses actually experiencing and feeling the love of God.

I am reminded of the account in Genesis 37 where Joseph’s father, Jacob, gave him a coat of many colors because he was born to him in his old age; and so, he loved him more than all his brothers. To Joseph, the coat was a constant reminder of his father’s love and favor, and he wore it everywhere. According to Strong’s Concordance, the “coat of many colors” literally means a very wide, full-length tunic with sleeves. Picture Joseph coming to his brothers as they were in the field. The passage tells us that they recognized him from afar off, before he had even come near- he was very visible and recognizable! I imagine this might have been possible because the colorful coat just billowed all around him, reminding his brothers that he was beloved and favored by their father.

Then there is the parable of the prodigal son (Colossians 3), where we read that his father took his best coat and put it on this son after he had returned from his wanderings. The expression “put on” is used a number of times in scripture and literally means to array- having a sense of sinking into a garment. Both sons were literally wrapped in the love of their fathers, and just as they felt the coats envelop them in warm acceptance, we as believers can experience this kind of love from our Heavenly Father:

Jude 21, “Keep ( hold fast) yourselves in the love of God…”

1 John 3:1, ” Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed (gave a gift) on us, that we should be called sons of God.”

Teach Me Your Ways- Our Part

There came a time for the preparation the disciples had received to be put into practice. Luke 9: 1-6 describes how Jesus gathered His disciples, empowered them, and sent them out to preach the gospel and heal those in need of healing. Again in Luke 10: 1 Jesus appointed seventy others and sent them ahead into every city and place where He was going to come. And of course, we should not forget that we have been sent forth today as well- “Go ye therefore and teach…” (Mt. 28: 19-20).

There are at least three aspects for wise learning to keep in mind:

  1. Discern if what you are learning is truthful and righteous. Acts 17: 10-11 praises the Bereans because they “searched the Scriptures daily” to determine if what they were being taught was true.
  2. Receive instruction once you have determined it is true and biblically sound. Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end” ( Proverbs 19:20)– to have wisdom, we must receive wisdom. God promises that He will instruct us and teach us in the way that we should go (Psalm 32:8) and He will give us wisdom when we ask Him for it in faith and humility ( James 1:5-6).
  3. Apply this received instruction to life (how to think, feel, and act). Proverbs 23: 12 says, Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears unto the words of knowledge.” We read in James 1: 22 that we are not to only hear the word (instruction), but to do the word– act on it; otherwise we deceive ourselves. How can we deceive ourselves if we do no put our knowledge into action? Perhaps one way is that we can come to believe that going to church and hearing the word is sufficient for godliness; or, maybe our good intentions can suffice for actions. This is not to say that we should not establish good practices, or that we can earn salvation through works, but the actions resulting from sound teaching are good indicators we have received these teachings into our hearts.

Teach Me Your Ways

I hear and I forget;

I see and I remember;

I do and I understand

Although I do not know the origins of this adage, it seems to provide wise insight into effective teaching and learning. In today’s world of social media, technology, and comfortable lifestyles, we are practically trained to become passive spectators:

We watch athletes actively compete while we inactively observe; we passively read or watch videos about the exciting lives others are leading; we silently listen to teachings or lectures on many varied subjects with little opportunity to contribute our insights; and so on. Ultimately,if we are not careful, we can grow comfortable in our passivity. The point is, there seems to be less opportunity today for active participation- active learning that helps us understand in a way no amount of listening or even observing could teach us. How can we really know where we need improvement or how strong or weak our skills and abilities are if we do not actually do what we are learning about?

It is no surprise that God’s word addresses this very subject. Jesus was the greatest Teacher there will ever be and He instructed through verbal teaching, showing/exampling how to live righteously, and allowing the disciples to put into practice what they had learned. The Bible truthfully reports the failings of His disciples as they attempted to do what Jesus had taught them; yet Jesus used each incident as a teachable moment (for example, read Mt. 17: 14-20). Additionally, Jesus was able to encourage His followers by reinforcing their righteous insights and behaviors, such as when Peter understood that Jesus was the Son of God by means of understanding from the Holy Spirit (Mt. 16: 13-19) and when a woman anointed Jesus before His death on the cross and He praised her (Mark 14: 3-9).

In the next post we will examine from a biblical perspective our part, the part of the disciple/student, in the learning process.

The Journey of Change and Transformation

The process of change is rooted in our desire and willingness to be teachable. Change is achieved by taking many small steps, with many small goals; and we need to be sure we are heading in the right direction at the start. Furthermore, reaching our destiny will be a journey, whether a long one or relatively short. There are basically two ways to proceed on the path of transformation:

  1. Imagine walking along a very dark path, where the only illumination you have is a flashlight. One way to proceed is to shine the light directly at your feet; essentially, you will be following your own feet! You might find that you are going in circles or that you bump into or trip over obstacles you had not been able to see. The spiritual lesson is that we cannot solely depend on ourselves to get us where we want to go. While we need to examine ourselves to discover needed changes, ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that will effectively guide us.
  2. And so, a second way to reach our goal is to shine the light well ahead, looking to the Lord and trusting Him to guide our feet. Psalm 37:3 teaches us that, “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Lastly, Proverbs 3:5-6 admonishes us not to depend on our own understanding; but instead, acknowledge the Lord (admit that God must be in charge and be grateful for His guidance) and He will make our path straight. That is, He will guide us on the most direct and effective path to our goal as we keep depending on and seeking His will and ways.

Resisting God- conclusion

Resisting God is much like trying to save a drowning person, who in their panic, fights the rescuer’s effort vigorously. Or, like trying to open a cage to free a bird but he pecks your hand instead of trusting and simply flying out to freedom. I do not wish to be like the Israelites who wandered needlessly for forty years in the wilderness! Through their stubborn resistance to the Lord’s instruction, they prolonged a relatively short trip to the promised land and most missed out on the blessing God had in store for them.

The truth is, the one we should resist is our enemy-the devil. James 4:7 says, ” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Notice, the enemy will flee after submission is made to the Lord. That simply means making a decision to obey God and putting ourselves in a humble position of reliance on Him. Then- wow- the devil must flee! It is not our power by which this happens; it is the power of the Holy Spirit within us that the devil cannot resist. Hopefully, we can now recognize one of many significant ways that by not allowing ourselves to resist God, we make room for the Holy Spirit to release supernatural power in our lives.

Resisting God

It is probably safe to say that we all occasionally (or persistently) battle resentment and bitterness over injustices and mistreatment- deserved or undeserved- that we have experienced in life. The world seems to be an increasingly darker and more evil place; and it can become difficult to believe we can do anything about it. I was battling this feeling during a morning devotion; here are a few things I learned:

  1. The more we resist God, the easier it becomes to keep on resisting him. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” We are not guaranteed that we have time to delay by resisting his will for us. This verse conveys a serious sense of urgency that should not be ignored. Additionally, Hebrews 3: 8-9 states, “Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me …where your fathers tried Me by testing Me.” Hardened hearts toward the Lord make it easier to resist (strive against) Him, which is the opposite of submitting to His will and commands.
  2. Believers must not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit. To grieve means to distress, make sad, or cause sorrow. Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by [whom] you were sealed on the day of redemption” (the day you were redeemed by Christ through faith). 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “ Do not quench the Spirit…”. Literally quench means to extinguish or cause to go out; in effect, it is diminishing the Holy Spirit’s exercise of His power in us.

The Holy Spirit allows us to be able to experience and understand God on a supernatural level.

Isn’t it amazing and sobering that we can interfere with this wonderful process simply by being stubborn and resistant to the point of grieving and quenching the Spirit?

More tomorrow on this subject…

Spiritual Refreshment

REFRESH:

  1. Gain physical and emotional rest in order to make (a person) feel stronger and more energetic
  2. To renew, revive, and invigorate spiritually

We all need refreshment- we can grow weak in our bodies (or at least less energetic), and according to Romans 12: 2 we also need to renew our minds. It is imperative that we take care of our bodies- the temple of the Holy Spirit- and at the same time remember that spiritual renewal must be a priority. Minds that are transformed by God’s word enable us to grow spiritually strong and faithful; and even contribute to our physical well-being.

Two major sources of renewal/refreshment are spoken about in the Bible:

First, the Lord, who sees our struggles provides refreshment perfectly suited to our needs. Acts 3: 19 states, “Repent therefore and return,that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” and Jeremiah 31: 25 says, ” For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Furthermore, as we have read in an earlier post, Jesus beckons us to come to Him when we are weary so that He might provide rest (Mt. 11: 28).

A second source is…us! Paul wrote to the Roman believers that he wanted to come to them and “find refreshing in [their] company” (Romans 15:31); and to Philemon, “For I come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7). What a blessing it could be to know that we provide refreshment for the hearts of our friends and family! As indicated in Hebrews 10:25, we need to build each other up even more as Christ’s return draws near.

Please click on the following link for a musical message. Thanks to Diane M. for the selection!

https://youtu.be/KNOjEeZsxXg%3Cbr

Formula For Joy

Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15, ” In quietness and trust is your strength.”

Therefore, the formula for joy is as follows:

Nehemiah 8:10 + Isaiah 30:15 = true joy of the Lord =

Quiet trust in the Lord is true joy!

Happiness is enjoyment and pleasurable satisfaction due to the experience of favorable circumstances- a worldy concept and goal. However, joy is anticipation of God’s goodness toward us in accordance with His perfect and holy will.

Quietness is a state of freedom from disturbance or tumult; it is being at rest and peace because believers are able to overcome disturbing, worrisome thoughts and emotions by placing trust in God’s goodness and power.

The Trap of Confusion

Squirrels have made our back yard their domain. They happily steal apples and peaches only to drop them unceremoniously and uneaten on the ground a few feet from the tree; they bite my figs to see if they’re ripe; they conduct reconnaissance up and down our pecan trees in anticipation of feasting on the nuts in the Fall. So, my husband placed several catch-and-release traps along the fence, where they scamper to and fro along the top.

One morning he discovered that a young possum had become imprisoned in one of the traps; it was visibly in full panic mode. Clyde (my husband) opened the trap door and tried to help the poor creature escape, but the possum was too agitated. The only option was to leave it alone until it could calm down and find its own way out.

I observed from the living room window the antics of the possum until finally he (probably by accident) escaped through the doorway of the cage. The possum ran full blast out into freedom where in his confusion, he circled wildly until he ran directly into another trap! Immediately Galatians 5:1 came to my mind, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (NAS)

The possum’s predicament illustrated how we can find freedom (or be set free from a besetting sin) only to fall into another “trap” if we do not remain sober and watchful in our new-found liberty. Paul cautioned that believers are to stand resolutely on the truth of God’s word so that we are not lured into yet another bondage, or even back to the same sin which had formerly imprisoned us. Instead of the yoke of slavery to sin, my prayer is for each one of us to enjoy true freedom under the yoke of Christ, where we can find rest for our souls (Mt. 11:28-29).

This passage in Matthew states, Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” When a person comes under Jesus’ yoke, she turns control of her life over to Him, in humble submission to His will- ready to be trained in His ways. Rest for our souls is not freedom from moral conscience, but from a burdened, condemned heart. He was a carpenter- His yoke provides grace, strength, and guidance- it will fit well!

A Final Lesson From My Garden- Grace and Redemption

Psalm 34:8: “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Later. as I was doing laundry, I Heard a rattle from the knob on the front door. Expecting my husband, I quickly opened the door; instead I found my next door neighbor (who was on her way to work) hastily hanging a plastic bag on the knob. I quickly peered into the bag as she said, “I brought you some cucumbers.” I responded with genuine delight, “They are my favorite!” “Oh,” she said, “you will really like these; they are so good.”

I was immediately struck by the grace and mercy of God. He actually cared about such a small matter; He always provides what we need and shows His love in many ways. And, despite my failings, the Lord used my neighbor’s generosity to carry out His blessing to an undeserving child. Indeed, God showed Himself strong in my weakness. I firmly believed, as I enjoyed my long-awaited sandwich that afternoon, that those cucumbers were far sweeter than any that might have grown on my vine.

A Second Lesson From My Garden

I had experienced remorse over prematurely uprooting the cucumber vine; now the nutrients had truly been wasted. Moreover, my vindication on the vine was short-lived when I discovered the large cukes that had been hidden from immediate my sight. They were forming and growing just as they should have all along. My remorse was out of proportion to the loss because God was beginning to use the experience as a valuable lesson.

In my heart I heard, “Timing is essential. The vine was taking longer than normal to produce because of its harsh environment; but your reward for patience would have been enjoying the cucumbers long past the expected season. Impatience without examination is preemptive of God’s work. Don’t give up. Keep looking, growing, and having faith. Wait and seek and hope expectantly for God’s goodness and enabling. He is your Promoter and Provider and He will make a way when there seems to be no way- Jesus is Life. The greatest “fruit” was hidden.”

Matthew 15:5, “I AM the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

A Lesson from My Garden

[From time to time I will post one of my short stories that I have written over the years]:

I stepped out of my back door and scowled at the clear sky… going on five weeks and no rain in sight. To my left, the cucumber vines filled the raised bed and threatened to lay claim to the flower bed. No surprise, after all, I had faithfully dragged out the water hose to water them in the searing heat throughout the drought. A fresh cucumber sandwich was my motivation- many sandwiches judging by the vitality of the vine. But as I peered under the leaves, hope for my reward was dashed- the leafy vine had no cukes!

As beads of sweat trickled down under my sunglasses and caught on the end of my nose, I contemplated on how to proceed in dealing with the impudent vine. But, this ended suddenly and with a sharp burst of energy; I jerked the plant up by the roots. No more wasted water, soil, fertilizer, or precious energy. Mission aborted! : )

A loud clunk sounded as I tossed the vines aside in order for them to eke out some sort of redemption on the compost heap. Several enormous cucumbers (which had inexplicably hidden themselves prior to their uprooting) now lay exposed on the ground. It seemed as if all the nourishment had flowed to these green monsters, effectively preventing sustenance to the minuscule cucumbers along the vine. My energy was spent. Earlier I could have harvested the overgrown ones and then had healthy cukes to enjoy later on.

After I cooled off, I reconsidered about the compost and decided to pickle the culprits. Actually, they made great bread and butter pickles which I have continually enjoyed as a relish in my chicken and tuna salads. Once my work was done, as I gazed at the lovely jars of pickles, I was reminded of a parable in Luke 13: 6-9. I realize the parable has symbolism and varied meaning, but I will relay what was impressed on my heart that day:

My Jesus is compassionate and long-suffering. The owner of the fig tree had every right to expect fruit from his tree; good soil and attention had been provided by the vine-dresser. He was ready to cut his losses and have it cut down, but the dresser pleaded for more time and even more tender care to be given to the tree before it was destroyed. I want this tender heart of Jesus. I want to be more patient. I want to give every chance to find the value in each and every situation where I have poured effort. And if I act prematurely, I hope to have the faith to seek a way (through the Holy Spirit) to redeem the good out of the “bad.”

Be an Encourager

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another…”

1 Samuel 30:6 – “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”

It is my desire to encourage others at every opportunity, but the fact is I often fail to put that desire into practice. Sometimes I am wrapped up in my own problems, or I simply fail to see that someone is in need of an encouraging word. It can be frustrating to ponder missed opportunities, but I discovered how I could do better:

These questions resounded in my heart one morning during devotion, “Are you an encourager to yourself? How can you be in the habit of encouraging others if you consistently discourage yourself with condemnation and negative thoughts?”

It was becoming clear that I needed to begin with myself in forming a habit of offering encouragement. The fact is, one cannot be double-minded and still remain equipped to effectively serve Lord. In other words, entertaining discouraging thoughts about my failures could not at the same time contribute to an encouraging, positive disposition for building up others.

Undoubtedly it will continue to be a learning process, but if I slip up I will ask God for forgiveness and another opportunity to give hope to the person I overlooked. Thankfully however, if that particular opportunity does not recur, I know I can trust in the mercy and goodness of the Lord to provide other chances to minister in His name.

Please share in the comment section what parts spoke to you the most, and feel free to include your additional insights about this post.

Mountain Musings

This past week we experienced the beauty of the NC mountains, including delicious food, cool weather, and bountiful nature. As I walked through the woods at the NC Arboretum, thoughts began to flood my heart about God and His nature. After all, the natural beauty that surrounds us tells us many things about who God is and how we can relate to Him. In the silence and stillness of the woods, I realized how rare and precious the absence of noise can be- the wind in the treetops calmed my spirit, and the songs of the birds were joyful to my heart. The words, “God is still on His throne” ran through my mind; and, “Be still and know that I AM God” soon followed that thought. Thank you Lord for allowing me to walk in your peace and joy this week!

How to Redeem Your Trials- Final Thoughts

Here is truth: Our Father cares for us- emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Heavy burdens weigh us down. We become pressed down under the heaviness of burdens we were not meant to bear- we become depressed. If we allow ourselves to grow anxious, we are not fully trusting in the Lord’s goodness and love. We might as well think He will give us a stone if we ask for a fish, or that we are not worth more than many sparrows! (Mt. 10:31; Luke 11:11)

His word assures us that His gifts are good and perfect and we are precious to our Father of Lights (James 1:7). Furthermore, scripture exhorts us to let go of our struggles by casting our cares on our Heavenly Father and coming under the yoke of Jesus (Ps. 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7; Mt. 11:30). In other words, God will take our worries and Jesus will help us get through any trial; He will make heavy burdens light so that we are not weighed down (defeated and discouraged) by them. The very fact that we are going through testing or tribulation assures us that we are on the right track because Acts 24:22 reveals that it is through much tribulation that we enter into the Kingdom of God. It is not punishment, but preparation!

Please feel free to comment on this series about redeeming your trials. Your feedback and insights are greatly appreciated!