The first leg of my two part journey is complete. I’m in the land of Tulips as you can see from the photo. They are absolutely beautiful. I’m always amazed at nature, and all that God created. The variety, the beauty, and yes the humor of so many wonderful things. Anytime a craft is made it tells something of the person who made it. This is certainly true of our Lord. He made all this, and the variety, beauty, and humor is all part of His life. Amazing, and brings us to a place of humble thanksgiving and adoration. God’s blessings to each of you. I will see if I can continue a word to two next week.
In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament, Moses is giving final instruction to the people of Israel before they cross over the Jordan River and enter the Promised land. They are to keep themselves from sin and not take up any of the false and idolatris practices of the pagan peoples. He writes, “It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.”(13:4) The word “hold fast” is the same Hebrew word that is used in Genesis 2:24 for the relationship of a husband and wife. The King James version says that the man shall “cleave” to his wife and they become one. The word means to follow close, to be joined together, to cling. Moses was saying that we are to be joined together with our Lord in the same way as a husband and wife are joined together. They become one flesh. This has met many challenges in our modern era, but the instruction has not changed. For us to stay faithful to our Lord, to seek to live lives that honor Him and are a blessing to us, we continually seek to grow in our relationship to the Lord. Just as a husband cleaves, holds fast to His wife so we daily hold fast to our Lord.
The Bible speaks about tithing as the standard for giving to the Lord. The tithe is ten percent of one’s income. Malachi 3:10 tells us, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, … and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” Now, God is not an accountant, and we are freed from the requirements of the Old Testament law. Nor do we have to dicker over whether that ten percent is of the net or gross. The issue is really a matter of trusting in the Lord. Do we believe that the Lord can provide for our needs? If you look at all you now have, whether little or great, as a gift from God, then you’ve already seen His provision for your life. Giving is a joy in sharing what He has provided, and not the burden of an obligation. If the decision is to give two or three percent, that’s fine. As we try increasing our giving our faith also grows, and we have the joy of being a blessing to others.
Our local newspaper has an interesting or thought provoking quote on the front page each day. Last Friday’s was by a Japanese farmer/philosopher by the name of Masanobu Fukuoka. He said that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”. There has always been an important connection between the land and the nature of people. Both created by God. We are supposed to learn from the things in nature that God created. Farming is hard work, but as Fukuoka said is has a way of cultivating and perfecting people. However, since the Industrial Revolution more and more of us have gotten away from the land. The family farm is far less common than it was years ago. We have become far more dependent upon the supermarket than we have the good earth of God’s creation. Now I’m not going back to growing my own food anytime soon, but a thought like this helps us to understand the changes in the nature of our society over the past hundreds of years. And not all those changes have been good. It is one more factor contributing to our lack of closeness and understanding of our God who has made us and all things.
Recycling is big today. Everyone recognizes that we make too much trash and need to reuse a lot of our throwaway material. I put my big blue container out by the street with it’s two weeks worth of newspapers, plastic containers, glass jars, and cans. Then tomorrow when I go to buy a ream of copy paper it will have been made from some of those same recycled materials. Obviously, recycling is a good idea. If you think about it, God is first one who declared recycling a good idea. In His grace He has been recycling people since the Fall. Man’s nature is self-willed and opposed to God. Over the years of life we make wrong decisions separating ourselves from our Lord. But God is not willing to throw us away. We have His forgiving grace through Jesus Christ who is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world”.(I John 2:2) He continually reaches out, seeking to get us to turn in faith to Him. He extends His sure promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”(I John 1:9) There is no better recycling than this. In Christ “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”( II Corinthians 5:17) Think about that the next time you put that blue container by the road.
Psalm 23 came up this morning as part of my daily reading. This “shepherd’s psalm” is the best loved of all the Psalms. It is the one that families have asked to be read at almost all the funerals I’ve had. Yet it is really a psalm for life. Psalm 95 tells us “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”(vs.7) The Shepherd uses the rod of guidance and correction, and the staff of protection and restoration each day to bring us to good pastures and still waters. The images are rather foreign to us, but their truth remains. We do face our valleys of the shadow of death in a variety of trials, but the Lord is still there. His word to us continually is do not fear, do not be anxious. He can be trusted for all we face in each day. His goodness and mercy does follow us, and we have the assurance that we dwell in His house now and forever. Far from being a funeral psalm, these are truths we rest upon daily.
“Where can I go from you Spirit? Where can I flee from you presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10) Each of us is a creation of God. He gives us life and breath. As the Psalmist says, He follows us wherever we are. He has been called the Hound of Heaven. It is the awesome mystery of His love that causes Him to continue to seek us, and want to work in our life. Whether we know it or not, His right hand is upon us today.
In the busyness of our world we need t learn how to be quiet. It is not easy, but if we lose our ability to be quiet and think, we also lose our ability to draw near to our Lord and find our strength in Him. God is not just out there somewhere, a power we call on occasionally when we are in need. God is a rational person who desires that we learn to know Him. When Paul was speaking to the philosophers in Athens, he said that God created mankind “so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”(Acts 17:27) This is an amazing truth that is stated throughout our Scriptures. Our sins have made a separation between us, but that has not changed God’s desire for us to know and draw near to Him. He has perfectly revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, who once said to Philip, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”(John 14:9) God has come to us in Jesus. He has done everything necessary for us to know and have a relationship with Him, but He will not force Himself on us. He invites us to come, to read His Word, to become quiet before Him, to think, and to pray. All of our questions and doubts will not be answered in this life, but we will learn that we are a part of a real Person who loves us deeply. We will find, as Paul told the Athenians, “in him we live and move and have our being.”(vs.28)
This is not a perfect world. Nor are the things in our personal lives perfect. Our jobs don’t always go the way we would like. Kids don’t always behave. Things get put away in the wrong places. Computers crash, and you can add to the list of irritating imperfections. The problem is we want things to be perfect. We don’t want to deal with the irritations. It’s frustrating. It makes us angry. But it is what it is, and our irritated attitude is not going to make things better. The only way to meet the imperfections of life is with a nature that is perfect. There is only one. Jesus. That may sound simplistic, but we are called to look to Him, to trust Him, to seek our strength in Him for all our times of life. He doesn’t cause all the situations we face, but He can work in them and use them for our good. No one faced more trials than our Lord when He walked this earth in our human flesh. He met these trials with His nature of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”(Galatians 5:22-23) That is what God’s spirit is continually seeking to work in our lives. Of course, we don’t live in these attributes perfectly, but think about it. If we were to meet the trials of life with more of these perfect characteristics, they would have a real power to change the present situations into something just a bit more perfect. Day by day we seek to yield in trust to the Hands that are shaping us.
I correspond with a pastor friend of mine in Tanzania east African. In fact I will be visiting there in the middle of next month. It is very interesting to hear of his ministry and the conditions under which he works. “Interesting” is really not a good word. It sounds like I can stand aloof and pity him. Rather, I do appreciate him for his dedication to the Gospel, and willingness to carry it forward, even under very difficult circumstances. I’m not sure I would be able to do it. Then too, sharing with these African friends helps me to look at my own life in a different light. I try not to take anything for granted, as my right, or something that I deserve. Whatever I have is by the grace of God, and I am reminded of Jesus words, “to whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) Whether in Africa, or in the U.S., we are stewards of God’s gracious gifts, to use them wisely and to His glory.