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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons from the battlefield, part 20:

From 2 Chronicles 36:22-23

In the first year of Cyrus’ reign in Persia, God told him to build a temple in
Jerusalem and send the Jews home. This was the most unlikely thing in the world. A new king has more to worry about than building a religious temple in another country, and he certainly wants to preserve his skilled labor force. If our new president started his term by building a temple in the Middle East, we’d be more than a little upset. God, however, delights in doing the MOST unlikely. He delights in the unpredictable and unexpected. 

Years before, God had said He would use his servant Cyrus, but who could believe His “servant Cyrus” would turn out to be the king of an enemy nation? God had also told them that their captivity would last seventy years, but many were surprised when the end of captivity finally came. Right on time, God’s unexpected servant King Cyrus sent the children of Israel back to their homeland and financed their temple’s reconstruction. God did what He said He would do, exactly when He said He would do it. He was faithful to His Word.

Our wonderful, amazing Lord, delights in doing things in an unpredictable, unexpected way so that we will know without a doubt that every blessing came only from Him. Is there something about which you have been praying? Why not ask God to intervene in such an unexpected way that it will be clear the blessing came straight from Him. Pray that He will move in a way that only He could do. There is no greater fun than seeking God do something extraordinary! 

The Recognition: the crowd's view

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

We are moving into a passage that deals with recognizing the diety of Christ. From Mark's gospel, we know that Jesus and the disciples were near Cesarea Philippi. For those who are familiar with the geography of Israel, it should be noted that this is not Caesarea Maritima, the seaside city built by Herod the Great on the Mediteranian. Caesarea Philippi was a town located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in a region dedicated to worship of the Greek god of desolate places, Pan.  

Jesus had gone with His disciples to pray. To be more precise, the verse above suggests that Jesus had gone to pray and His disciples had gone along with Him. While they were there in that solitary place, He began to question them. "What are people saying about me?" He asked. Jesus was not doing a publicity check. He was about to lead them to a profound insight. "What are they saying? Who do they think I am?"  

All the answers indicated that He was believed to be either John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets come back to life. Not one of the answers they gave that day suggested people thought He was a heretic or a crazy man. The religious leaders were disturbed by Him and His words and they accused Him of heresy, but the general populace understood that He was not just an ordinary man.  They weren't quite sure who He was, but they clearly understood that His presence had significance, and that He was a man of religious importance. 

Jesus heard all the answers, then He brought the disciples to the turning point. "But who do you say that I am?" He asked. Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. "You know what people say, but what do you say?"  He wanted them to understand for themselves who He was, not just follow along with the crowd. Some of them had come to Him on the recommendation of John the Baptizer, some had come at the urging of one of the other disciples, and some had joined Jesus when He called them from their work. Now, they were being asked to choose for themselves. What did they say?

It was Peter who spoke. It was almost always Peter who spoke, perhaps as the de facto leader of the twelve. According to Matthew, he replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. Peter had recognized that He was not just human. He was, as the Son of God, also diety. Peter recognized, too, that, as God made flesh, He was also the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of all prophecy. He was the Promised One. 

These twelve men had spent a lifetime hearing about the Coming One, and likely expected a military ruler who would overthrow the Romans and restore the Kingdom to power and greatness. Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, and commended the widow who gave her last mite. It was hard to imagine this Man leading a military revolution.  Peter's confession revealed an important fact. He was choosing truth over expectation. Jesus was not what people had expected, but He was exactly what we needed and Peter understood that. 

There is a great difference between our expectations of God's blessings and the reality of them. Those of us living in an affluent society have a tendency to expect more affluence, more ease, more recognizable blessings as we follow Christ. Those expectations, though, do not necessarily line up with His teachings. Sometimes He leads us to desert times of less rather than more, and we find even greater blessings in that place of less. We would do well to examine our own expectations about Christ, about faith, about discipleship. Are we expecting a "prosperity gospel" walk of faith or do we recognize that we follow the Suffering Servant Messiah who laid down His life for the sin of the world? We base our manner of following on our understanding of the One we follow, thus it is vital that our expectations of Who Jesus is be replaced by reality. 

Take a close look at both your expectations of Christ and the reality of Him. Look again at the promises He has given. The One who said, "Take heart, I have overcome the world," was the same One who also said, "In this world you will have trouble." He did not promise to help us avoid difficulty. He promised to help us through. He did not promise the results we expected in our difficulty. He promised to take that difficulty and bring something good from it. 

Like Peter, let reality replace expectation and confess with him, "You, Jesus, are the promised Messiah and my God." 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fence Building

I am a fanatic about fences, and I don't mind admitting it. I want the barbed wire tight, the posts straight, and every strand level. Just so you know, there is never, ever a reason to secure barbed wire with baling string. Why would anyone even consider such an option? 

This morning, I did my usual routine of feeding livestock, writing, and opening the park. I was headed to take a shower when It occurred to me that the plants still needed to be moved to the greenhouse. That big project was almost done when Betsy, Ryan's first show heifer and a magnificent animal, came up to the fence and started bawling. She was clearly very unhappy. It turned out that a large dead tree had fallen on the fence, driven one of the fence posts completely into the ground (a few inches still showing) and totally leveled the fence. As a result, Custard, Ryan's big Charolais cross, had stepped through the gap and was in the yard. Betsy was "telling on her"!  

After moving the cows to the round pen, I went back to examine the fence. There was a tree down that needed to be moved, fencing wire to separate, and an entire stretch of fencing to be repaired. A closer look revealed that someone had used baling string to connect the wire to the posts. I was not happy.  In addition, some of the wire did not have clips attaching it to the posts. Maybe the impact of the tree knocked those clips right off. Maybe. But I doubt it. 

The condition of the fence was so totally pitiful that I decided the only thing to do was take down the entire section, reseat my posts, and restring the wire, and I gathered my tools to get started. It was a terrible mess and the job looked way too big, but I did what I always do. "Lord, I can't tell where to start. Please help me!" 

After a survey of the rubble, it was clear that the tree had to be moved. I was trying to decide how to move it and thought, "Roll it".  Much to my surprise, I reached down, lifted that big log, gave it a twisting shove, and it rolled right down the hill. Thankfully, only one strand of wire was broken and It just so happened that there was one turnbuckle in the tool box to repair it. Before I knew it, I had reseated the posts, figured out how to use my come-along (to tighten the wire), taken all the wire loose, repaired the break, restrung the wire, and secured it to the posts (with the appropriate fencing clips). 

It was amazing that all that work was accomplished so quickly, but what was even more amazing was that the fence was tight and straight. More than a decade ago, a dear friend realized how lacking I was in basic farming skills and undertook to teach me. He and his family  taught me how to set a post, string wire, and build a fence, among many other things. How they stood dealing with such a prissy diva is beyond me, but they were instrumental in God's work of transformation that changed a diva into a woman a little more like what God has intended. I'm still easily overwhelmed by the scope of the farm work, but I'm much quicker to think, "Maybe I can do this" and to give it a try. The investment they made in my life has yielded an incredible result and my new straight fence is just one of the many benefits of their efforts. 

Now, lest you think that I have become a fantastic farmer, remember that my fence was in a mess before the tree fell, and I didn't know it. I am a fanatic about wanting the fences to be right, but I have not been a fanatic about checking them or repairing them myself. That's because I have, once again, let busyness take over, and the farm, the pastures, the fences, and I don't know what else yet, have gotten away from me. The good news is that the investment in me was not wasted, I do know how to fix fences, and the farm work will get done in the same manner the fence was repaired today. One step at a time and with the help of God. 

Are you investing in the life of someone? It is easy to get frustrated when that effort you've expended seems to have no yield or be totally wasted. Take heart. Investments in the Kingdom of God are never wasted, even when the part of the Kingdom you're investing in is a too-busy, prissy woman like me. In the blink of an eye, a tree can fall, fence wire can break, and priorities can be not only shifted but also corrected. 

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; (Matthew 6:20 NASB)

You may not be able to tell it right now from looking at my pastures, but before too long, I'm hoping it becomes clear that the investment in my life was not just worth it, but is bearing fruit that lasts. 

The Journey, part 30: recognition

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

In a series that began with the apostles' journey of obedience, the traditional stopping point would be when those apostles returned from their travels and gave their report to Jesus. The miracle of the loaves and fish was included in our study of the journey because of one very important point. That event demonstrated the vital truth that no miracle was possible without the blessing of God, but with His blessing, no miracle was impossible. 

This verse is another natural transition point. The narrative changes here from an account of the miraculous feeding of the multitude to a discussion of whom Jesus was believed to be, and is another point before which the study of the journey of obedience might end. This passage is included because it contains a question we all must answer.

"Who do you say that I am," Jesus asked Peter. It is a question we are compelled to consider. Is He just a religious zealot? Is He a madman with delusions of grandeur? If those are true, then we must not follow Him, for He is not God. If, instead, He IS the Son of God, the Christ, the Promised Messiah, then we dare not follow Him. If His claims that He died as a sacrifice to pay our penalty for sin are true, if He was resurrected to demonstrate His power over sin and death and set us free, then a decision to follow Him is the most important decision we can ever make. If we choose to stake our eternal destiny to the claims of Jesus, then we must also stake our present life to Him as well. 

If, like Peter, we believe that He is the Christ, then we will follow, as the disciples did, in a journey of obedience that changes everything. Decisions must then be based on His will and not our own. Our sin must be relinquished and purification and sanctification must become our goal. If Jesus is who He claims to be, and if we choose to follow Him, then we cannot remain the same. Our following must lead to transformation into the very image of Christ. 

 "But who do you say that I am?"  This is the question we must answer. It is the question on which our lives, our eternity, depend. Consider well, dear ones, and be certain that you have joined your life with the only One who holds the present and the future in His nail-scarred hands. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Haiku #4

Justice with mercy
Righteous Redeemer and King
Holy is The Lord

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making Preparations

My friend and fellow alderman, Lynda Bramlett sent word to me today that she had some rubber plant cuttings, and wondered if I wanted some. Of course, I said yes and, after getting cleaned up from my attic work, headed over to her house.

Lynda has a huge greenhouse and her husband and brother-in-law were putting visqueen on the outside to get it ready for winter cold. She had already started moving the plants inside for protection and had more plants than she wanted to keep over the winter, so she was giving me cuttings to try to root. My trunk was full of plants when I left, headed for my own greenhouse. 

I was surprised at how early she was preparing. It seems like we have just started having autumn! Cold weather should be months away, shouldn't it? Checking the weather forecast revealed that we will have lows of 43 next week. That's a little closer to freezing than I'd expected, and I guess Lynda is right after all.  It's time to prepare. 

This afternoon, I began looking at my own plants, deciding what needs to be divided, what needs to be moved, what can survive the winter in place. I'm super excited that, for the first time, I can move them all to the safety of my new greenhouse rather than recreating a tropical forest in my living room. I, too, am getting prepared for cold weather.

There's been considerable talk about preparations of all kinds lately. There are personal protections suits, Ebola prevention kits, and bug-out bags for sale, and they are flying off the shelves. After an 18-day stretch without electricity and running water during the ice storm of 1994, I like to be well-prepared myself, but my stockpiling generally includes matches, water, rice, and dried beans. I don't want to forget seeds. No matter what happens, I always keep seeds for the next crop. My strategy is to have enough food to keep me alive until my seeds have time to grow more food. 

With all our preparations for disaster, it is easy to forget that there are more important preparations to make. Regardless of what comes our way in this lifetime, we will all face eternity and preparing for that is the most vital preparation we can make. None of our stockpiling here will make as much difference as storing up our treasures in heaven. Jesus had strong words for those with only earthly treasure and we would do well to take heed. 

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)

How prepared are you? Make sure you are storing up treasure will last. All the preparation in this world will not matter a bit if you don't also prepare for the one to come. 

The Journey, part 29: The Blessing

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. (Luke 9:16 NASB)

In every instance of Jesus breaking bread, whether to feed a multitude or for a meal with his disciples, it was preceded by blessing the bread. The word translated as "blessed" is eulogeō, and literally means "to speak well of". In this instance, it is used to indicate words of consecration and request for God's blessing. This word can also be used to indicate the offering of praise for God's goodness and to indicate a desire for God's glory.  In essence, when Jesus looked up to heaven, holding the bread and fish in His holy hands, and "blessed" the food, He was consecrating it to God, asking for His blessing, and praying that the blessing would bring glory to God. When the disciples starting taking up those twelve baskets of leftovers, it was apparent that God had done just that. No one there that day had any doubt that the feeding of the multitude was a miracle of God. 

As the body of Christ, we commonly "ask blessings" for our food as well as for our plans and actions. I wonder, though, if our eulogeō might not sometimes become a eulogy of rote, just words without heart. Are we consecrating our food, plans, lives to God alone? Do we want God alone to be glorified? 

Lest we misunderstand this business of consecration, let's examine the word a bit. To consecrate something is to dedicate it to God or to sanctify it. To sanctify something is to purify it or free it from sin. Of course, only God can sanctify us. When we ask for God's blessing, we are asking Him to begin His work of blessing by purifying us and freeing us from the sin that so easily entangles us. If we want Him to be glorified, this purification, freeing us from sin, must be done. 

When Jesus, who never sinned, but remained pure and sanctified, asked God to bless and be glorified in the breaking of the bread, a miracle happened. Perhaps if we were more intent on being purified than on receiving blessings, we, too, would see the miraculous intervention of God in response to our prayers. 

Understanding this work of consecration and purification is a vital part of the journey of a disciple, and must be developed if we are to become all God intended us to be. As we bow our heads to ask God's blessing, may we ask first for His purification, for it is only in the purifying that we see all the blessing He intended to give. It is in that holy cleansing that the miraculous begins and our Lord is glorified.