“The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done...They don't speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth…” Psalm 19:1-4 (CEV)
My grandparents were farmers. “Early to bed and early to rise…” Yet on one night in August grandma would get us out of bed in the middle of the night and we would grab a quilt and a lawn chair and go outside to stare at the sky to watch the annual meteor shower. Grandma did not believe in God yet was so awed by heavenly displays of creation she had to pause and enjoy them, and pass that same appreciation on to us. As I grew older we would identify the various constellations and track their movement throughout the year. I’d stare at the stars and wonder how many years it took their light to reach my eyes. How often I have stopped what I was doing to take in a rainbow or a sunset; or run out to the barn to enjoy the sights and sounds and smell of a summer thunderstorm, hearing the rain pound on the roof as the breeze brought a fresh smell from across the meadow. Yes, there is no “voice” in a bright orange harvest moon, but somehow I heard the heavens speaking, “The hand that made us is divine.” The heavens still speak. Take the time to enjoy what they are saying.
“What though in solemn silence all move round the dark terrestrial ball? What though no real voice nor sound amidst their radiant orbs be found? In reasons ear they all rejoice, and utter forth a glorious voice; forever singing, as they shine, “The hand that made us is divine.” Joseph Addison, “The Spacious Firmament on High.”
Entering a church in a poor country 30 years ago, I was bothered by the ornate features of gold, silver and hardwoods that surrounded me. I was in traveling clothes yet was dressed far better than the locals who sacrificially gave in order to dress up this house of God. I was offended by what I saw. What a waste! If the money spent on this extravagance had only been used to help better the community! That was my thinking until I recently revisited the contrasting actions of two women and Judas Iscariot. Luke tells of a woman who, while Jesus is eating, washes His feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and pours expensive perfume over them. The host, a very religious man is appalled; because of her past she shouldn't be allowed to do that.
Mark tells us a few days before Jesus’ arrest that Mary, the sister of Martha, also approaches Jesus while He is dining. She pours an entire jar of very expensive perfume over His head. Though she is criticized for such extravagance Jesus commends her for this sacrificial act of devotion. Judas is one of the criticizers yet immediately after Mary’s kiss of devotion Judas arranges for his kiss of disloyalty. A sign of affection now becomes his sign of defection. Judas who was thought a friend now acts the foe.
These are two people who know Jesus intimately and whose actions are noted by observers. As followers of Christ they were among the same number, but not of the same nature. Judas claimed to care about the poor; Mary counted herself among the poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Judas wanted power. Mary wanted purity. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” Because of his position people thought Judas was close to Jesus. In his heart He was not. Because of her position people thought that Mary should not be close to Jesus. Because of her heart she was.
Ironically sometimes those chosen by Jesus object to the devoted acts of those drawn to Him. Sometimes what we consider wasteful Jesus considers worshipful. And what we consider worshipful, God considers otherwise.
Consider this; Judas’ kiss evaporated in Gethsemane. Yet as Jesus endured the agony in the garden, betrayal, denial, trial, torture, crucifixion and burial, the fragrance of Mary’s devotion lingered as a sweet reminder that the Father’s plan was being fulfilled. Anyone who came close to Him during the next few days would smell it.
Judas took the bread of betrayal from the hand of Jesus at the Last Supper – Mary sought the Bread of Life at His feet – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they will be filled.”
Chickens are hard to sneak up on. One day the chicken house on my grandparent’s farm failed to hold its residents and I had to round them up. Each time I got close to one it gave out a startled ‘cluck’ and scooted away. I would lunge after it but then spot one more so I’d turn and chase it only to see a chance to grab another. Soon I’d be running left and right, growing frustrated as the air became filled with dust, feathers and frantic squawking. Years later, as I prepared to pastor a church for the first time a friend gave me this advice, “Only chase one chicken at a time.” That was experience talking.
As each year begins I see the new calendar as an opportunity for many accomplishments. With high expectations I set goals and make vows to fulfill them but as the months go by I’m tempted to dart from one good thing to another. Then winter rolls around and I look back on the year with some regret for not staying focused. Half-read books; projects started but not finished, issues or problems I began to tackle until some other urgent thing would catch my attention. I don’t mean to say the year was wasted, but distractions, even good ones can get us sidetracked from our goals.
What are your goals? Do you make resolutions? I’m making just one: “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:5
It seems simple yet if I will begin each day committing to Him the time that I have, He has promised to direct my path through the urgencies that attract my attention. Focus on Him and He will help you accomplish many things…one chicken at a time.
“Trust the LORD… surrender all your ways to Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Living on the farm, October was a woodcutting month. I can remember we’d get those first cool nights, look out at the empty woodshed and realize it was time to get going. So each day, in hot sun or cool rain, we’d drive out into the woods, cut and drag and split and haul and stack until we were confident we were prepared for any kind of winter. It’s true what they say about wood heat, “It warms you twice.” When the frigid nights of January arrived I was glad we began cutting in October.
When I wake up early in the morning, I really don’t feel like praying or reading God’s Word. I’m tired and would like to go back to sleep. But I don’t know what kind of day it is going to be and if I don’t spend that time with the Father, I’ll be unprepared for it.
Every day brings something new. A new opportunity to share my faith, to help someone; to resist some temptation; to overcome some obstacle; to face a tragedy; to experience a blessing from God. There’s a song that says, “The path that is my portion may be through the flame or flood, but His presence goes before me, and I’m covered with His blood.”
Take time each day to enter His presence and you will be prepared for the path that awaits you.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season…” Psalm 1:3
I have several fond memories of my grandparent’s farm in October. Frost covering the grass each morning; the colorful leaves beginning to fall to the ground; the smell of wood smoke in the air; and the crisp, flavorful apples growing on the trees. They had several good apple trees scattered around their yard and garden, but my favorite were in an old grove on the other side of the barnyard. They were Jonathan’s and I loved their flavor, yet because they were untended they were small and you had to search for one without wormholes. They weren't worth harvesting and most ended up on the ground for the deer to scavenge.
Recently we stopped at a roadside fruit stand and bought a box of Jonathan’s. How big and beautiful they were! These came from trees that had been pruned and watered and fertilized. These were what Jonathan’s are supposed to be like!
Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches. Our life should be coming from Him and if it is, the Father expects to discover good fruit from us. What is this fruit? The Bible describes it as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Jesus cautioned that if His Father, the gardener, didn't find fruit on the branch He would begin to prune it. If we remain in Him, if our life is drawn from Him, if our roots are planted in Him and we drink in His words and stand in His light, we will produce the fruit He is looking for.
As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.”
If your identity is in your race;
If your identity is in your sexuality;
If your identity is in your politics;
If your identity is in your doctrine;
You will always try to justify yourself because
you will not see beyond yourself.
But if your identity is in Jesus, your focus will be on wanting to please Him, and being content in fulfilling what He has called us to do. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and until the last soul has been spared the fires of hell; until the world ceases to offend its Creator, no other cause is as important. You have no rights to lose; you have a cross to bear.
“I have decided to speak only of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
As the weather has warmed up recently, I notice some of my bulbs have broken through the earth and green shoots are sticking up over 6” above the ground. Spring is on its way. How long will the winter weather hang on? No one really knows, not even the popular rodent from Pennsylvania. If I really get concerned about winter hanging around I don’t look to the groundhog, the Farmer’s Almanac or even my daffodil bulbs. I look at my calendar. It reminds me that spring always follows winter because that is the way God has designed it.
“Do you know the laws of the heavens? Did you give God authority over the earth?” (Job 38:33)… “As long as earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”(Gen. 8)…“There is a time and a season for every activity under heaven”… “I know that everything God does will endure forever.” (Ecc.3)
To Job, God declares that He is in control and just as there are seasons in the climate He has established, there are seasons of life. God has ordained that things will come and then pass. There will be times of plenty and times of want, times of joy and times of sadness, times of toil and times of rest. The coming spring reminds me that there is the hope of life, of a future provided by God. He has said it will be so, so it will be as He has said. The weather, the world, our future…He is in control. That is a relief!
Do you ever long for the “good old days?’ There is a large creek in NE Washington State where my great grandparents’ homestead is. I used to go up there every summer. Twenty four hours of every day, water winds down the many miles from Deep Lake to the Colombia River, slowly eating away at the sandy banks. Each year we would discover some of the deep spots where we loved to swim the year before had been filled up with sand and a new one created somewhere else. So in our swimsuits and bare feet we’d have to make a new path over the hot rocks and through the brush and thistle. But did that stop us? No. We’d tiptoe our way until we found a spot to play in the water that was always 10° colder than I would have liked.
The creek is a living organism that is constantly changing and though it never looked the same from year to year, we just dealt with the new challenges the best we could. We had to if we wanted to enjoy it.
There are some ways we experience God that shouldn’t change. However, there are others that will. And like that swimming hole, if we’re willing to make the effort we can still be refreshed.
2015 will look different from 2014, that’s inevitable but ok. Enjoy the memories, but expect God to do something new.