Friday, October 25, 2013

Blossoming Rods

It happened on the next day, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. Number 17:8
A simple rod with three main uses - to protect, to discipline and to inspect.  A true shepherd would never go out without their rod and staff.  These are two different items.  The rod has a smooth, bulbous end and the staff has a crook.  The staff has different uses as well - drawing sheep together, guiding back onto the right path, and to make the shepherd's presence real to the sheep - when they see the staff, they know the shepherd is approaching.  Both of are great importance in the life of the shepherd and of the sheep.  Without one of them, the job can only be accomplished halfway.  Today I am focusing on the rod. I want to think about what my rod is blooming for Christ?  Is it blooming for Him at all, or is it filled with the weeds of self?
I read a passage that confused me a moment this morning, until I asked God what it meant for me at this moment in time of my life here on earth.  I confess that I started out seeking answers on the internet, but it simply frustrated me to do so.  Each article I read cried out to me, "We don't know!!!"  So, I finally asked God to explain.  I immediately had a sense of knowing that He was speaking to me about how I look and smell to Him.  I know that may sound strange, but I understood due to verses such as Psalm 141:2 which says, "May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice." 

As this understanding came to me, I was drawn to a site entitled "The Sign of the Almond Tree." It is a publication by "Hebrew for Christians."  It says that the Hebrew word for almond is shakeid and comes from the root "shakad" which means "to watch" or "wake."  God uses this as a play on words when He shows Jeremiah the vision of an almond tree and tells him he has seen well, because God is watching over His word to perform it.
In Numbers God proves He has chosen Aaron as shepherd of the people by making his rod, which has no life within itself, as it has been cut off from it's life source, bloom.  It bloomed almond blossoms.  God had called Aaron and his family as watchmen (or shepherds) over Israel.
We, as Christians, have each been given a shepherd's rod of some sort. We may be shepherding our children, a Sunday school class, relatives, neighbors, but we are shepherding someone, somewhere.

We must first realize that the rod is carefully selected and cut to fit precisely.  The shepherd then must practice with the rod until it virtually becomes an extension of his arm to the sheep.  This takes time and effort. 
Our rod is the Word of God.  We must put forth time and effort into praying for understanding and wisdom regarding it and then study it thoroughly until it becomes an extension of ourselves so much so that it feels perfectly normal to use it wherever we are and with whomever we are visiting, whether a believer or not.  When we do so, we have a promise from God Himself -
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
  Isaiah 55:10-11
Some will read this and say, "But it says that it is the word that goes forth from God's mouth, not mine!!"  They would be correct except for one thing, God's children are that extension of Himself that become rods in His right hand.  We have been carefully selected and formed to fit His calling on our life.  Therefore, His words should be what comes forth from our mouth as He directs.  This means that our words are His words. 
As rods of God, we may have different blossoms, but hopefully they are all a sweet smelling fragrance to the Lord rather than weeds that cause sneezing, coughing, wheezing and disgust, thus being plucked up by the roots and thrown from His presence. If we are not blossoming, then there is a definite problem.  We are either not really His, or we have neglected spending time with Him, getting watered and filled with the light of His word so that we have begun to wither instead. 

As for the verse that stumped me originally, it is as follows: Ezekiel 8:17 Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen [this], O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Yehudah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose.
God's people, the Israelites, had chosen to put a branch from idols to their noses.  Rather than breathing in the Truth of God's word and filling their lives with His presence, they chose demonic idols instead.  They believed in God, but chose idol worship over waiting for His promise of the Messiah.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.  James 2:14-18 & 26
  It is not that faith does not save us, but rather that if it does not produce works (or fruit) in us, then it is not a living faith, but a dead one.  Something that is dead cannot give life.  Without Jesus we are simply a rod, created, designed and chosen by Him, but dead and useless.  When we, through faith, accept His gift of life through Jesus, then we begin to blossom with new life.  May we never wither or fade away, but bloom and send up a sweet smelling fragrance to Him each day.
Father, may your true children, given life through the precious blood of Jesus, accept Your calling and bloom plenteous blossoms to send up a sweet fragrance to Your nostrils and place a smile of joy on Your face.  May our heart desire always be to be pleasing unto You. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Love Cannot Quit

I remember sitting on the couch in the livingroom with Daddy reading the Bible aloud and the rest of us reading along in our Bibles. Daddy would read a verse and then explain it to the best of his ability.  The problem was, I didn't always agree with him in his assessment.  I remember one time in particular when Daddy read about gifts of the Holy Spirit and said they were no longer relevant. I had not yet given my life to following Christ Jesus, but I believed the Bible as the true word of God.  I remember thinking, "If that is true, then something has changed and it wasn't God.  So what was it?"

I the LORD do not change.  Malachi 3:6
The only conclusion I could come up with was, "God doesn't change, so we must have.  He doesn't draw away from us, but we do draw away from Him.  We must have drawn so far away as to make it impossible to receive His gifts."  I found what was to me proof of my thought processes. 

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.  Deuteronomy 31:8
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:6
I continued to reason that if it was our drawing away from God that robbed us of the ability to receive His gifts of the Spirit, then drawing closer to Him would make it possible for us to receive once again.  After I decided to follow Christ I thought back in amazement that I had had these thoughts even before I received Him as my personal Savior and Lord.  The better I get to know Him, the less I am amazed by it, but instead see that it only makes sense.  He was wooing me to Himself in love. 

Before going any further, as he continued studying God's word, Daddy changed his mind about the Holy Spirit giving gifts to believers.  He was simply regurgitating what he had heard being preached commonly at that time.  The reason for this was the big charismatic movement of the day made people fearful.  Some said you had to have particular gifts of the Spirit or you weren't God's true child.  Others said that if you had these same gifts, you were being deceived.  This battle and others like it still go on today, even though God's word warns us to stay away from these types of disputes.
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. II Timothy 2:23-24
However, there is a gift of the Spirit that God tells us we must have or we are none of HisHowever, it is not "speaking in tongues of angels," "gift of healing," "gift of evangelism," or any other the other wonderful gifts mentioned by Paul in the New Testament.  It is the greatest gift of all - Love - agape love - God's love.

If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers  ( the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.  I Corinthians 13:1-3
Without love (agape - an act of self-sacrifice, not a feeling. There's no such thing as agape without action.) every other gift is a waste of energy.  Without love, we cannot walk in wisdom.  When I came to this realization, I wanted nothing more than to receive God's love and to walk in His wisdom rather than my own.  I had been walking in my own long enough.  It had gotten me nowhere, but had given me some special gifts, like fear, anxiety, a feeling of belonging nowhere and to no one, the need to do more, be more, prove myself, etc.  Once I cried out to God for forgiveness and asked Him to pour out His love and wisdom on me, fear was replace with passion for God's word, anxiety was replaced with the peace of knowing that I did indeed belong to Someone and there is no one greater than He.  I no longer had to prove myself, but learned to accept who I was created to be and marveled that He found me worthy of His calling on my life.  Life, though it still has ups and downs, became a journey of excitement and seeking adventure at every turn.  I learned that there is always good to be found in every situation if we will but ask Him to help us find it.  I am not saying that I never experience fear, heartache, bereavement, etc. but rather that He has given me the sense to know that even in my worst of times He is with me, carrying me, loving me and giving me the strength to carry on. When my beloved daddy passed away on my son's wedding day, I wanted to simply collapse in my bed, cover my head and sob.  Another part of me wanted to run to my momma and throw my arms around her neck and sob. I cried out to God, felt His presence and was given words of comfort and then he sent one of my nephews and his family to our door. Peace and joy flooded my heart and even though I was almost overwhelmed with grief, because of God's presence, I was able to go to the wedding with a smile on my face. 

Without knowing Him I would be unable to see the love He has for His creation, especially those He created to spend eternity with Him, and I would not sense the longing He has for them to come to truly know Him and experience His grace.  Nor would my heart ache in love so that I am obliged to tell people about His love for them and I would stand by and simply watch them choose to spend eternity without Him in misery.
Paul was not simply making a generalized comment when he wrote, "Now abide these three: Faith, Hope and Love; and the greatest of these is Love." I Corinthians 13:13  Without love, faith and hope are dead.
Father, You are the only One that makes this life worth living, for You are Love.  Without You we are lost, fearful, wandering around forlorn and feeling forsaken.  You have made it clear in Your word that this is not Your desire for us.  You want us to spend eternity with You beginning now, not some time in the distant future.  We sometimes get it into our heads that we have to struggle through this life on our own until we get to heaven.  It makes us want to give up and quit.  We do not have that luxury.  Time is short and most are headed for an eternity without You.  They do not even fear that because they do not understand what that entails, because they do not know You.  If they realized that eternity without You means eternity with everything that is opposite of You, fear would draw them to You.  This is partly why You have told us that "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  Proverbs 9:10.  Understanding that You are everything good from the tiniest thought of goodwill to the extravagant love lavished on mankind through Jesus' death on the cross, brings us to the conclusion that without You there is only evil, hatred, pain, loneliness, fear, agony, every other negative thing we can think of and much much worse.  The fear of not having You in our lives should dominate our thoughts and actions and cause us to strive all the more to reach others for Your kingdom.  Quitting brings only loss.  You have told us that the victory is Yours and has already been won, therefore we cannot, we must not give up and quit. When we are tempted to give up, help us recognize our responsibilities and keep going unless and until You give us the signal to pack up and leave.  Help us to rely on Your strength rather than our own, for You will never fail us, for You are love. 
God is love  I John 4:8    Love never fails.  I Corinthians 13:8

Monday, October 14, 2013

Only a Portion

Inheritance - we inherit things, traits, ideals, belief system......but how do we feel about them?  How do we treat them?  Physical items of inheritance such as houses, furniture, money, etc. may be treated with respect, admiration and protection, OR they may be sold or given away due to taste preferences.  Family traits can be admired and maintained or changed through surgery.  Ideals and belief systems can be built up and strengthened or squashed through disillusionment.  There is, however, an inheritance that can never be changed.  This is about a portion of that inheritance.
As I write this, my little niece, who is not even a teenager yet, is going through a health trial.  She has been told that her heart has stopped beating several times, which is what made her pass out a few weeks ago.  Her momma was told that it was urgent she get her to a children's hospital and have a pace maker put in.  It was supposed to be done today.  However, the hospital refused to see her as the doctor had not sent the information needed.  She was told she would have to wait until Friday.  Calls to her doctor have availed nothing. 
My niece has inherited this heart problem.  My mother, her grandma, has seven different things wrong with hers.  However, the inheritance that cannot be changed is in place.  My mother is 83 and doing well.  I anticipate my niece living just as long and eventually much longer.  Why?  She has an inheritance with God.  As His child, she has health assurance that goes way beyond anything earthly health insurance can muster.  Not only has she received it, but it has been paid for, free and clear.  All she has had to do is accept it.  It not only covers the cost of any and all sickness, disease, injury or accident, but it assures her that no matter how things look, she is safe within the loving arms of Jesus - the One Who paid the price.  This means that even if she were to leave this life, she has eternal life with Him.  I have this to cling to as well, as I have the same assurance.  No matter how long either of us remains here, we will be with each other forever after all is said and done.
It is extremely difficult to not know all the answers of the whys and wherefores of this life.  We want to cling to what we have that is tangible and within our visual sight line.  The only way to look beyond this life and begin (and begin is all we really ever do) to understand that life on this present earth is not genuine any longer, but has been mutilated by the evil one beyond recognition from what it was originally intended, is to begin to know the Creator.  He has a definitive plan that cannot be changed and that will pour out an inheritance on all His beneficiaries that will mind boggle the recipients and place terror into the hearts of those not belonging to Him. Knowing this gives us a peace that cannot be understood, even by us when heavy trials beset us. 
My sister (niece's mom) is hurting and frustrated by this entire situation, yet she has a peace and hope to cling to and is striving to do so.  She knows that if she continues to hang on to them, victory will be won.  Grant you, she doesn't know exactly how, but victory will come indeed. 
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.   Acts 20:32

My sister will cling to this hope by going to her heavenly Father and pouring her heart out to Him, seeking His will and direction.  She will also begin to devour His Word until she is more than satiated by it.  She will sing His praises until the tears of healing begin to flow freely. This, along with the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, will build her up to receive her inheritance along with all the rest of us, God's children through faith in Jesus' death and resurrection.
Father, I lift my sister and her baby girl into the palms of Your hands.  Hold them there until the day of Your deliverance from this trial.  Help them remember that there is nowhere they will ever go that You haven't traveled first in order to clear the path for their safety.  You will never leave them nor forsake them, for You have promised it in Your word in Hebrews 13:5 - Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.

May all Your children cling to You in this hope and trust You to never let us go anywhere You are not.  Help us to love You by walking in love at all times and seeking to know You more fully daily. In Jesus' most precious name.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Simply an Echo

Our oldest granddaughter spent the night last night by herself for the first time.  She has always been scared to do so in the past.  She is ten years old.  Why did she fear?  She has known us all her young life.  We are her grandparents and she knows we love her dearly.  Why?  I think she may have been scared that by herself she would be rejected.  I know that is how I felt as a child.  However, a couple of months ago she spent the night here along with a girl cousin.  I spent hours with them teaching them to crochet circles and helping them make a small purse for her little sister's doll.  Her Kpa spent time fussing over them with treats, hugs and laughter.  She is no longer afraid.  She knows us better and has discovered that we truly love her just because she is our granddaughter.  That's all she needs to be in our eyes.  Now that she is convinced, she no longer fears and actually asked to spend the night - by herself.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Matthew 10:31
Yesterday our pastor told a true story of a little orphan boy who kept asking Tommy Walker if he remembered who he was.  Tommy would answer day after day that indeed he did - Jerry.  The boy would then ask, "We're friends, aren't we Tommy?"  Tommy would always reply that indeed they were.  When Tommy realized the need in this boy's heart was for someone to recognize him as worth something by knowing his name, he sat down and wrote the song "He Knows My Name."  This young boy's fear came from not having parents to reveal to him his worth here on earth.

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

I have a Father
He calls me His own
He'll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And He hears me when I call
I was once asked by our then school counselor why my children were so well behaved.  I answered that they knew they would receive more discipline at home than they did at school if they caused problems and more than that; I was blessed that they had all received Jesus as Savior at a very young age.  I might should have added that parents are the example makers and setters. It is our actions rather than our words that teach our children the most valuable or the most hurtful lessons in life.
As I was teaching Sunday School recently (kindergarteners) I asked the children what kind of things parents worry about.  Money, children getting sick, losing their job, child getting hurt, big animals hurting someone and fire were just some of the answers I received.  It hit me rather forcefully that children pay much more attention than we dare think.  It also hit me and made me a little sick to my stomach that what we are teaching them when we worry is that, in our opinion, maybe God isn't big enough, strong enough or loving enough to take care of us.  It may not be what we believe, but it may very well be what we are teaching.  
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7
In his message this Sunday on Psalm 23, Pastor Kenny talked about walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  He told how there are deep valleys in Israel with such high cliffs of either side that the sun hits the pathway only at high noon.  The rest of the time you walk through them in virtual darkness.  They are places where lions loves to hide.  Their roars echo for miles there.  He compared this with life, as did the Psalmist - David, in that we all go through dark, seemingly treacherous places in life, but the Shepherd is always ahead of us and knows what is coming before we do.  We shouldn't listen to the lion's roar as if it were possibly more than one, and should realize that our Shepherd is in front with His rod and staff to guide and protect us.  He will bring us through to the other side unless we give up.  If so, we are asking to be devoured by the enemy. 
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  I Peter 5:8
There is no doubt that we will have fear come upon us in this life.  The key, where our children are concerned I believe, is to admit the fear to them and pray with and/or in front of them for God to continue shepherding us through this difficult time and to give us the strength to not give up and give in to the enemy roaring at us.  We then must not give up or give in to the enemy when he roars words of condemnation, destruction and fear in our ears.
Father, Your word contains every answer to every problem, but we have to want to see, understand and obey.  Grant us willing hearts to study Your word for answers, understanding to grasp them and diligence and determination to follow through in obedience, trusting You as our Shepherd and Guide all along the way.  Help us shepherd our children in a way that causes our lives to shine forth as a beacon to them, guiding them to You that they might come to understand and cling to the knowledge that You will never leave them or forsake them, even if everyone else should choose to do so.