Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

I have most of my life struggled with a sense that maybe God doesn’t care. I know from Scripture, experience with answers to prayer, blessings, and encouragements from numerous people over years of time that He does care, but still, though less now, there is this occasional nagging question in my heart as to whether He cares. I no longer believe that it is a lack of faith, because it is by faith that I quickly dismiss it by replacing it with truth.

You see, I have long known that God is able. Both my study of Scripture and experience of His grace confirm that. Sometimes I am tempted by the thought that He is not willing. Recently, I was again thinking about these things because I am reading “The Glory of Christ” by John Owen wherein he speaks of Christ being willing and able to help us. The word that came to my mind was efficacy. Suddenly it seemed to me that efficacy is the connecting bridge between willing and able. Efficacy, “the ability to produce a desired or intended result”, connects intent and ability. God accomplishes what He intends. He would not accomplish it if He did not intend to do so. When He intends to do so, it is accomplished to the extent that He speaks something into existence which was not. He did so in creation; He does so in salvation.

Also, I have long been amazed by a transcendent God who cares about an insignificant human like me. Only, based on His free sovereign grace, I am not insignificant.

Most efficacious He
Who speaks a thing and it comes to be
With a thought or His hand
It hastens to move or firmly stand

In Him power resides
Infinite, sovereign, above all rides
Yet with kindness and truth
He defends, provides, renews our youth

A picture of His grace
Power condescends for Adam’s race
Willingly was humbled
In flesh and death for us who stumbled

Willing and able He
With the greatest of all need are we
The efficacy is real
How thankful we for this hope and seal

Read Full Post »

I missed out on the Mt. Collins/Clingmans Dome hike, which is OK because I did the hike from Newfound Gap to Clingmans in the winter of ’82 with a foot and a half of snow. I spent the night at Mt. Collins Shelter. I spent the next night under a rock overhang because the drifts prevented me from making it to Spence Field Shelter. But I digress. This hike with my daughter and son-in-law last Saturday was for the purpose of going to Mt. Kephart, a 6217′ knob just off of the main ridge toward Mt. LeConte. We added in a few other notable views, The Jumpoff, the highest single drop in the Smokey Mountains N.P., and Charley’s Bunion, a bare rock with an expansive view, for a total of 9 1/4 miles of hiking. For the pictures of this seventh six thousand foot peak that my daughter has hiked to, click on Mt. Kephart.

Read Full Post »

This article is tied very closely to a previous gps entry.

gps, Gracious Providential Serendipity, is good, but we should not live life in expectation of its provision all of the time. God is the source of all that we need, but we are to be diligently involved in acquiring what He provides. When it comes to the knowledge that I need for living and succeeding at what God has called me to, I need His gracious providential guidance. I see that it comes in two forms, gracious providential preparation and gps. The preparation may be events, enjoyable or difficult, that I had no part in bring about, but I need to make full use of opportunities to research and study and review and question and memorize and use knowledge available to me. God provides the mind, time, circumstances, and knowledge. I need to engage all of them. When all of that does not yield the knowledge that I need for some occasions, then I need gps.

In summary it seems to me, g (guidance) from God has these two corollaries, p (preparation) and s (serendipity). At least that is the way I am thinking about it now: g, p, s. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV), certainly with God’s Word but also in all endeavors for your King.

Read Full Post »

If you have followed this blog for any period of time, then you know that there will always be one or more post-Thanksgiving entries. There are rich traditions developed around this holiday in my family. I have been realizing how valuable that is to the next generations. The big meal and afternoon flag football game have been a staple for two generations now. Seriously, my nephews and niece and my children and their children have been doing this with us for nearly 40 years now. There has to be a time when the traditions are passed down to the next generation, and changes, deletions, and additions are inevitable. Thus far the changes have been almost exclusively additions. This year we added going to my son’s house for Thanksgiving Day. Enjoy the pictures here of two children and their spouses and eight grandchildren. Another day I’ll share pictures of the big Friday meal.

Read Full Post »

Some things may best be unsaid, and I certainly don’t say all that I think here, but I am also sine ceres, “without wax” (1). The cracks in my pot show, and I am content for them to show if it brings glory to my gracious God who always causes me to triumph in Christ Jesus so that the knowledge of Him may be in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).

In years past I was chronically depressed. For many of those years I would not even have characterized my condition as such, not knowing what ailed me. I was a believer and follower of Jesus, but did not know joy or peace. My confidence in belonging to Him has grown over the years, but my sanctification has not kept pace. I can relate to Bono of U2 in this (2). Depression and anger no longer control me and are infrequent strangers who pass me by in my travels. One area of particular growth for me is the area of peace. Because of the blood of Christ, I have peace with God (Colossians 1:20, Hebrews 13:20), but I have not always felt that peace. Increasingly I do. A frequent reader of this blog could discern that an area that I long to see growth in is the area of joy. It is after all a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I get joy in little fits and starts, particularly when I am singing hymns about the grace and mercy of my Lord, but it is not the consistent nourishment of my soul.

So, a combination of conviction for sin and the sermon last Sunday precipitated the following verse (3):

Moments of sadness flood over me
Phosphenes of despair fleetingly see
From these vestiges may I be free
Satisfied and joyous in Christ be

I want to hasten to say how thankful that I am for God’s patience, provision, and presence. I am not who I should be, but I am not the man I once was. God is faithful (Philippians 1:6).

  1. https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2008/sine-ceres-without-wax/
  2. http://jonathandodson.org/2006/10/sanctification-bono-barth/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphene The remembrances of past failures probably are the external stimuli that bring about the sensations of despair.

Read Full Post »

Some of my deepest moments of awe come when I consider the contrast between who I am and who God is. In all of His nature and all of His ways He is wholly other and above me. And then to think that His mercy is so gracious toward me. Lean into the contrast and be in awe of God and His marvelous mercy and great grace.

God is transcendent, we are not so
Yet he condescends to us below

High and exalted; humble and low
Not to be faulted, if You cared not so

Holy and righteous; sinful condemned
Grace most amazing toward those who sinned

Having all knowledge; foolish unwise
Imparting truth, discerning all lies

Glory and honor; guilty with shame
Growing in blessing, glory and fame

Read Full Post »

Why did God include Obadiah in the Scriptures? Afterall, the judgements cited are repeated in Jeremiah 49, though who is repeating whom is not known since the date of Obadiah’s writing is uncertain. The book is very short, fewer verses than Jude, though a few dozen more words. Its purpose at the very least is to introduce or reiterate and confirm the judgements determined for Edom and clearly delineate why.

Verses 15-17 are key to the book:

“For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you.
Your dealings will return on your own head. Because just as you drank on My holy mountain,
all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and swallow and become as if they had never existed. But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape, and it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.” Obadiah 15-17

God is making use of Edom as an example of how He deals with any and all nations that tamper with His Chosen People. Edom and Israel are closely related by blood, history, proximity, and interaction, but they are treated identically to any unbelieving nation that harms Israel and will receive the same treatment at the hand of God. At this level it seems straightforward.

The understanding of God’s determination turns on the metaphor of drinking. Jeremiah 49:12-13 says, “For thus says the Lord, “Behold, those who were not sentenced to drink the cup will certainly drink it, and are you the one who will be completely acquitted? You will not be acquitted, but you will certainly drink it. For I have sworn by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that Bozrah will become an object of horror, a reproach, a ruin and a curse; and all its cities will become perpetual ruins.” From the context it is obvious that the cup that Bozrah, the capitol city of Edom, will be forced to drink is not pleasant. It is a cup of judgement. The Lord more clearly defines the nature of this cup in Jeremiah 25:15-16: “For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” The cup is for Babylon, but verses seventeen and following tell of the many other nations who will have to drink it.

The tenses of the verb in the Obadiah verses cited above arrested my attention. In order they are “drank”, “will drink”, and “will drink”. Understanding that Edom will drink of God’s judgement and that all nations will likewise partake, is, as I said, straightforward. But what is it that Edom “drank”. Is God from His eternal, non-time bound perspective speaking of Edom’s future judgement as though it has already happened? I think that the detail of the passage says otherwise.

“As you have done, it will be done to you.” (v.15) In the metaphor of “drink”, I believe that the passage is saying that as you, Edom, did harm to My People, I, God, will do harm to you. How had Edom drunk? Verse 10 says, “Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever.” Then the prophet lists the things that they should not do which they later did when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. The cup that is drunk is one of wrath. Edom got their fill of scoffing, looting, enslaving, and cutting down escaping Israelites. They would receive the same punishment and more from God since they would “become as if they never existed” (v.16), like the nations.

The application to the United States as one of the nations is obvious. God will not ignore the many evil things that America has done and is doing to many peoples including their own. To name but a few, recall our proxy wars, setting up tribes (Taliban for instance) and turning around to destroy them, broken treaties, the many ways we poison our food, water, air, and soil for profit, sex trafficking, and abortion. Persecution of God’s People, the Church and the remnant of Israel, by America has begun and will intensify. God will not turn a blind eye concerning all of this evil. We will be judged like all the other nations who have not acknowledged Him and have hurt His People.

The judgements listed in Obadiah for Edom and the nations are further tied to the day of the Lord which includes God’s blessing of Israel. It is hard to sort out what parts of what verses refer to Edom and Jerusalem in the past and which are reserved for the future but based on the immediate and wider context of eschatological Scriptures, God is not done with Israel or the nations. And it is abundantly clear when the last verse of Obadiah says, “The deliverers will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be the Lord’s.” (Obadiah 21) Take note of similar statements at the end of Joel 3, Amos 9, Zephaniah 3, and all of Zechariah 14, not to mention numerous times among the “major” prophets. The day of the Lord is a time of setting things right by fulfilling promises for judgement of sin and completing all of the blessings God has promised but not yet fulfilled. God be praised for His infinite knowledge, righteousness, and power. He has made known what His plans are for mankind.

Read Full Post »

I asked my wife when I arrived back home, “Why do my children all want to plunge down through the brush and off the trail?” She rolled her eyes and said, “Maybe because that’s what their dad taught them?”

Well, what can I say? My middle son texted me and asked if I’d like to go on a hike. He didn’t say where. The Appalachian Trail traverses Cross Mountain from Iron to Holston Mtn. In the gap where the road crosses there is a parking space and a gentle walk across a large field with excellent views. Next it enters an open middle-aged forest of predominately Yellow Poplars, Chestnut Oaks, and Northern Red Oaks. As we glided along this gentle grade on the leaf strewn trail on a balmy November day, my son suddenly said, “I want to show you something. Let’s go down here.” We followed a reasonable slope along a spur ridge for several hundred feet, then took a sharp right and down into the draw. As we slid down the slope we entered rhododendron thicket and rocky creekbed with the slickest leaf and algae combination. Check out my further commentary and pictures at Stoney Creek.

Read Full Post »

A few days ago I had a conversation with a guy about getting back into shape, who said, “I don’t like running by myself. I need the motivation of running with someone.” I told him that I have run by myself for years since I never had anyone to run with, barring a few short stints. The conversation got me to thinking about what motivated me to run. Afterall, I am OK with running, but I certainly don’t love it. My motivation is a desire to stay in shape cardio vascularly speaking so that I can do the things I want to do, like hiking, playing with grandchildren, and approaching a climbing area. I don’t have the time or opportunity to do any of those things regularly enough to stay in shape that way. Running can be done on a local greenway or in the neighborhood where I work during lunch or around the house or at the local school track for a short period of time about three times a week, or simply, where and when I have time.

The questions that occurred to me were the following:

What is the difference in desire and motivation? Do desire and motivation overlap, and if so, at what points?

I start with definitions, not because I have no more creativity or original thoughts, but because many words and ideas have become confused, switched, and overlapped when they are actually distinct. For example, we say, “I feel guilty”, when guilt is a judicial problem, not a feeling. In reality, we should say, “I feel shame” about my guilt. I can almost feel some people’s response: “You know what is meant. What’s the big deal?” Well, guilty feelings, shame, may or may not follow guilt. Understanding the difference between a legitimate or false feeling and legitimate or false problem helps one to see the way forward in resolving either or both. If the problem is guilt, one needs to seek out forgiveness. If the problem is shame apart from unforgiven guilt, one needs to accept forgiveness already tendered, and forgive self. (1)

Desire is a longing or craving. Motivation is an incentive or drive.

So, it seems reasonable to say that desire is a feeling and motivation is a compelling cause behind the feeling. Where it seems to get complicated or confused is the source of the motivation. Feelings are internal, but motivation can be either internal or external. For example, running with others is clearly an external motivation. However, is it driven by a feeling or an internal motivation? Fear of being alone or desire to be with others are feelings, but they are also motivators because they push one to do certain things. But this just reversed the cause and effect in that now feeling is driving the motivation.

Desire can be an internal motivation, but so may cold logic about what is beneficial. And there may be a feedback loop where a desire causes a motivation and a motivation causes a desire. This feedback loop may be positive, more motivation produces more desire produces more motivation, etc. Or it may be negative in that a certain desire kills motivation which kills desire, etc.

It is at this point that the confused or credulous reader might ask what the usefulness of this mental exercise has been. If you know what motivation, internal or external is behind your desire, or conversely what desire is behind your motivation, you may be able to substitute other motivations or desires to change a negative feedback loop into a positive one.

For example, perhaps you are in the “Exercise Protection Program” as a friend of mine likes to say. The thought of exercise demotivates you. You consider all of the downsides of exercise: sweating, soreness, time, effort, ability deficiency. That kills any desire you have to exercise. If instead, you could focus on upsides of exercise: cardiovascular fitness, strength and coordination gains, body purifying aspects, goals you may set, good changes to your body you will observe. That grows you desire to exercise. Realizing even a few of the benefits further increases you desire, which is a further motivator to continue.

Which one comes first, desire or motivation? Some external push, a motivator, might get you started trying to learn a new skill like playing the guitar. But would you have begun if it did not touch on a desire you had to grow in that area or in general? Conversely, some internal pull, a desire, grows within you to stop, for example, speeding on the highway. Would you have that desire if you had not been motivated by hearing of a wreck or ticket or moral imperative to obey the law?

My intermediate conclusion to this discussion is that motivations include all external and internal influences. Desires are those types of motivations that are internal and sometimes first causes. (2) We can interject motivations that will change our course. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you one, or focus on outcomes that are beneficial, or pursue diligence until you acclimate to the desire for the activity. These are ways you may interject new energy into your desires and motivations.

  1. Sometime my examples or asides become the focus because a full explanation is needed for them to make sense. So much for brevity, conciseness, and clarity.
  2. THE First Cause of all things is God, but here I mean a first cause within the individual that comes from the will of that person unprovoked by outside influences. I do not here refer to moral freedom. I believe we have moral freedom, but there is a problem. Our natures are totally depraved. We always choose what we want to do, but our choice apart from the Holy Spirit of God is always wrong and in rebellion against God, since our nature compels us to do wrong. God, being totally sovereign rules over all outcomes and inputs, and we as moral agents work within the framework of His will and purpose.

Read Full Post »

Hiking the sixers continued this past weekend with a proposed assault on the backside of the Black Mountain ridge that runs from south to north beginning at the Clingmans Peak above the Blue Ridge Parkway, and proceeds to Celo Mountain. The “back” or west side of the ridge is less populated and less accessible. The idea was to go as far up gravel and logging roads in our compact cars as gates and undercarriage clearance would allow, and then hike to the ridge and take in Celo, Gibbs, and Winter Star Mountains, before descending back to Deep Gap and gravel roads and our cars.

Several locals described that last gravel road, which is about 600 feet below the top of the ridge, as the top or high grade. One person explained that this was where the logging and mining railway had been cut many years ago and is relatively flat. There were no gates closed but the road got progressively rough. We should have parked our cars sooner, but we had to push on until the next switchback in order to have a wide place to park and turn around. The extra distance of hiking this resulted in caused us to decide not to include Winter Star on this trip. It definitely could have been done, but there were people already waiting below for longer than anticipated. So, we opted for 2 out of 3.

I continue the story with pictures at Celo and Gibbs.

Read Full Post »

A Colorful Day Out

I may have a new climbing partner in my new locale. He was sure interested in learning and trying. We tried a new crag for us both at Bays Mountain Park. The cliffs are small, 25 to 40 tall, but the rock is solid sandstone with a mixture of moderate trad and sport routes. Out of the 15 some odd climbs, we did four before the sprinkling and dim light chased us off. Other than one day at a climbing gym, I had not been climbing for 6 months or regularly for 9+ months.

I thought about what goes first when we don’t keep up a regular climbing schedule. I think I may lose abilities in the following order as time progresses:

Speed goes first, followed by power, then endurance, next strength, and finally coordination.

I think that it is similar in running. I feel certain that research has greatly favored running, but gurus and researchers in both sports can probably provide the reasons why my hypothesis for the progression of deterioration is right, wrong, or some of both. Items like VO2 Max probably play into the first two while lactic acid threshold may curtail the continuance of the next two. Coordination is somehow a muscle memory issue, but what bio-chemical process enables or degenerates that ability? I so wish that someone who has a deeper knowledge of these issues would enlighten me.

That rabbit trail tangent having been run down to a dead-end*, check out the few pictures I took of the proceedings of our outing at A Few Colorful Climbs.

*In my poor knowledge base at least

Read Full Post »

Moving, unpacking, settling in, finding your way around, starting a new job are time consuming. One must make time for the more relaxing moments. My preferred way to relax is walking. Having a job that involves standing is not good for flow of body fluids, so I walk, observe, think, and pray during my lunch break or converse with my wife during evening walks. The pictures at Fall Begun come from three different walks, two at lunch and one in the evening. I feel so blessed to live in a part of the world where seasons change, and I work and live in neighborhoods where I may daily range. God gifts many larger blessings, but the smaller daily ones help to fortify the soul for daily stresses. Be active or quiet and at any rate contemplative so that you may absorb the goodness of God in His creation and through His other manifold blessings. Being contemplative means quiet and open to observation both internal and external.

Read Full Post »

As I walked the other day, I observed a Mockingbird pestering a Redtail Hawk. Plucky birds that they are, he cut in and out, notifying the hawk that he was in his territory. The hawk made his ponderous circle upward to free himself from the pest. You know that if he got ahold of Mr. M he would shred him between his talons and beak, but it is not to be because Mockingbirds can make much quicker cuts that hawks can’t follow.

A few days later I heard a Mockingbird as it sat singing in a Maple tree as I walked past. He jumped up to the powerline as I passed under the tree and continued to sing. I have lost count at around 25 to 30 different songs of an educated Mockingbird that used to sit on the light pole where I once taught school, entering under his joyous morning songs. And that reminds me how that I don’t like the name Mockingbird, because they don’t sneer or make fun. Neither do they plagiarize their songs since they give credit to their composers by the songs they sing and to the Creator of them all. Perhaps they should be called Song Learning Birds or Repeater Birds or Remix Songbirds. Anyway, I love to hear them sing.

Yet another day walking I observed Mr. M making a perfect two point landing on a lawn. Approaching at full speed, he flared his flight feathers at the last possible split second and seemed to simply step off of the air onto the lawn. My eye could hardly follow the transition for the speed, but Mr. M executed the move into a bush not long after and I caught more of the action. Then he flew almost vertically from bush to an altitude of 30 feet to peck at an intruding competitor. The two M’s made their quick cuts to claw at and peck toward one another in quick succession. I thought how much more dangerous they were to one another than the hawk was to Mr. M or visa-versa.

I could not have seen any of the flight action had it not been for the color and flashing of feathers. Their lateral tailfeathers are white against the gray background of the rest. They have white mid-wing feathers that barely show until they spread their wings wide. When Mr. M turned his wings downward for the perfect landing, the white on dark gray feathers showed straight in my direction. M’s are not so colorful as other birds but they always seem to be dressed up for any occasion, looking rather sharp.

All of the brief encounters with Mr. M over the past week have caused me to reflect on this pleasure at observing him in various ways and at various times. I have always favored the species, but I think that I could now say that Mr. M at least ranks if not holds the highest regards in my mind among birds. His Creator is certainly of the most intelligent, beauty-loving, design worthy sort, unmatched by any other.

Read Full Post »

The preacher said, “It is inexplicable to me why there is an interest in zombies.” He explained that zombies are animated corpses in certain pagan worship rituals, particularly in Africa. In modern culture they are walking dead corpses that mindlessly go around eating people.

So, what was a preacher doing talking about zombies, and is it really inexplicable? Genesis 2:17 says, “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” And “since by a man came death,” and “in Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:21,22), then all of unregenerate mankind are walking dead, zombies, physically alive and deteriorating toward death and spiritually dead. (1)

Our physical vitality is the reason we don’t immediately understand our spiritual death, but I believe that there is another reason that most of the society doesn’t believe it. Death is defined in our culture as annihilation. Afterall, if we are no more than a set of chemical reactions slated to one day end, then this life is all that there is and death ends existence. I think that the strongest evidence that this is the prevailing idea about death is found in what happens after a mass shooter has done his worst. Almost always one does or attempts to take his/her (2) own life. Why do they do that? I believe that they think that they are getting away with it, since there is no afterlife and no consequences for their murders.

But as the preacher said and I heartily affirm, the Scripture teaches that death is a separation. By this definition there are three types of death: 1) physical (2 Corinthians 5:1-10), 2) spiritual (Isaiah 59:2), and 3) eternal (Matthew 7:21-23, Revelation 20:14-15). God has made us to be eternal being, not existing from eternity past, but continuing on into eternity future, some to eternal life (John 3:16) and others to eternal death (Romans 6:23, Revelation 20:14). Therefore, the spiritual zombies of this world are triply dead, already dead, deteriorating toward death, and eventually permanently dead. I further believe that this biblical definition of death helps us to understand the concept of hell. Whatever hell is, it need be no more than separation from God and His good gifts of common grace. Those who hate God, all who are lost, long to be far from Him. He will oblige them with separation from Him and all that he provides. There will be no hanging out with your buddies in hell. There will be a mutual separation, death, of all beings from one another because of hatred and fear and the absence of God and His grace.

And the fascination with zombies does not seem inexplicable to me. Those who are called to eternal life love and seek life. Those who are destined for eternal death, love and pursue death. From my experience of talking with, listening to, and observing students, death is fascinating to those not seeking after eternal life. I suspect that somehow, they feel an association with zombies because they innately know that it is an analogy for their life. They lack purpose, wonder if life and thought is real or illusory, and believe death is a natural part of life rather than an intrusion foisted upon life through the agency of sin.

If you have held on this long, you may think this a needlessly morbid diatribe upon humanity. However, it is needful to jolt some into hearing the solution and encouragement. Whereas “the wages of sin is death”, encouragingly, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23), for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4;12) Sinner, take heed to it, turn away from sin in both your love of it and pursuit of it (repent), and believe in the Lord Jesus as your Rescuer from zombie death in all of its forms. Do not say that you must see to believe. Dead people cannot see or believe. Call out to God to bring you to life, no longer separated from Him, so that believing you may see. You will be eternally grateful and alive.

  1. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) We are sinners by nature and by practice.
  2. Why almost none of the mass shooters are females is a discussion for another day about the brokenness of males in our society and how it manifests as opposed to the brokenness of females and how it manifests in equally destructive ways not so viscerally apparent.

Read Full Post »

A colleague and I were discussing some of the challenges and emotional oscillations of our lives and work. She pointed out that we as Christians focus on our sin far too much and that we should focus on the victory we have in Jesus. I agreed and referenced a number of verses in support of focusing on overcoming sin.

Later I reflected on the conversation, finding nothing amiss, but still having some small discomfort over what was not said. You see, we live in a culture at large and Christian with many voices.

I read Puritan prayers, fully concurring with their attributing to themselves, and by extension me, actions, thoughts, intentions, and omissions no better than a worm. I am a sinner by nature and a sinner by practice. Job’s false comforter, Bildad the Shuhite, says truly, ““How then can a man be just with God? Or how can he be clean who is born of woman? If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot,
and the son of man, that worm!” (Job 25:4-6) We are promised that we will be made perfect in heaven (Hebrews 12:23), but we fall far short, as it says in Romans 7:18-19, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” I have this fallen nature, but that is not who I am in Christ. I am a new creation, the old things passed away. (II Corinthians 5:17) I have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:16)

But more prevalent in our society than the worm mentality are voices that proclaim either overtly or by implication that each person is or can be perfect or powerful or in control, being or having god within us. These voices, though many proclaim to be, are not Christian. They are Humanist and counter to the Scriptures, attributing to man god-like qualities. Power of positive thinking gurus hawk self-improvement books and faith healer-prosperity gospel preachers tickle ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Whereas the Scripture teaches that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV) Therefore “Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5, NASB*) And we struggle, as it says in Romans 7:18-19: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Being neither worthless and unable to respond nor godlike and supremely powerful, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price, therefore, glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20) We are “called as saints” (Romans 1:7), that is, sanctified or made holy. We called beloved: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Corinthians 7:1) Because we are loved by God, we are both motivated and enabled (II Peter 1:3) to cleanse ourselves. That means avoiding sin (I Corinthians 10:13), quickly confessing sin (I John 1:9), and perfecting holiness are top among our duties. Don’t focus on your sinful tendencies; focus on your ability in Christ to daily overcome those tendencies. In balance, pursue victory, but take heed lest you fall (I Corinthians 10:12, KJV), informed by the Word of God and led by the Spirit of God.

*NASB is what I almost always quote from, but I use other versions on occasions for emphasis.

Read Full Post »

My daughter decided to start hiking to build up her stamina. She said that she needs intermediate goals in order to make progress and keep interested. So, she decided to start hiking to the top of the 25 tallest peaks in the Eastern U.S. That had to morph into a different goal because it is either hard or silly to do, depending on which list of highest peaks you look at. The hard has to do with deciding which peaks are the 25 highest. Different lists credit different peaks with that status. You may think that is silly in the days of Global Positioning. In one sense it is silly. One site included any peak that rose from around the surroundings for 160 feet. That means that you could “bag” five or six peaks on two hikes along two different ridges. The site she settled upon was a Wikipedia page called “Southern Sixers“. It includes all of the mountains east of the Mississippi that are taller than 6000′ above sea level, except Mt. Washington (6288′), which is in New Hampshire and would rank 22 on the list. The list has 53 entries, so 54 with Mt. W. I don’t what my daughter is going to do, but she suggested some number like 32 on the list. She will bag some peaks lower on the list with the two ridge walks that I mentioned above. I hope that I might be included in a fair number of these excursions.

Click on A Good Beginning to see how the first two “sixers” went.

Read Full Post »

In I Kings 15:8-22, the Scripture provides us a biographical sketch of King Asa including one notable interaction he had.

The wider context for his life and reign was during the Divided Kingdom which followed after the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon for 120 years. Ten tribes split to the north under the evil rule of Jeroboam. In fact, there were no good kings in the 200 years of Israel’s existence before the Assyrians exiled them.

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, and then his son, Abijam, were no better in the south. So, the great-grandson of Solomon, Asa, comes to the throne in a culture full of idol worship. The time is about 910 B.C. Asa ruled for 41 years, which certainly brought stability to Judah. His grandmother, Maacah, daughter of Abishalom (or Abisalom, son of David) was queen mother. Some translations say mother, but the Hebrew word can also be translated grandmother, and since Asa’s father had the same mother and father by name, she must have been Asa’s grandmother. This fact of who she was brought further stability and increased claim to the throne on Asa’s part since both his father and mother were in direct line from King David.

“Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” (v.11) Of the 20 kings who ruled in Judah during the 325 years after Solomon until the Babylonian captivity, only 8 received this commendation. But Asa is in a narrower group of four who received an additional good word similar to his: “…like David his father.” (v.11) How did he do right in God’s sight? He removed all idol worship, delineated in three ways: 1) He did away with male prostitution, which was a religious rite probably of Asherah, the female fertility goddess, 2) he removed the idols of his father, and 3) he removed his grandmother, Maacah, because she had made an Asherah pole which would have been in the form of a female, “horrid” (v.13 NASB), “abominable” (v.13 ESV), and “repulsive” (v.13 NIV). Asherah could be groves of trees or carved, wooden poles. The latter is in view here since it is so terrible looking. Asa cut it down and burned it. The burning was for the particular reason of desecrating it so that it would no longer be worshipped, and the Kidron valley was where unclean things were deposited. I believe there is a connection between Maacah and the male prostitution. Even more important to telling who Asa was is the boldness with which he would go after even his own family to do what was right and pleasing in God’s sight.

Verse 15 adds another commendation: “ He brought into the house of the Lord the dedicated things of his father and his own dedicated things: silver and gold and utensils.” Dedicated things were usually spoils of war, at which he had been successful with God’s help.

In this description of Asa there is one negative, “But the high places were not taken away.” (v.14) This detail seemed to be a blind spot for many of the good kings. Solomon seems to have set a precedent, for it is said of him in I Kings 3:3-4, “Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.” God had directed otherwise long before when Joshua said, “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.” (Joshua 22:29) So, Solomon cannot be excused for sacrificing other places because the temple was yet built, because the tabernacle was present. Asa did not stop this unprescribed worship, and though perhaps ignorant of its sinfulness, it was no excuse. God through the writer extends grace because He knew Asa’s heart when it says, ” nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days” (v.14)

Then begins the account of an adversarial interaction with Israel to the north. Asa is being threatened by Baasha, king of Israel, by a fortification of Ramah a mere 5 miles from Jerusalem, Asa’s residence and capitol. And being on the main north-south trade route, the fortification could shut down trade for Judah. There is no indication that Asa prayed or took counsel with prophets. Instead, he reverses his dedication of gold and silver to the temple treasury and sends it to his enemy to bribe him to attack Israel. It is a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of move. So, Ben-hadad, king of Aram at Damascus, breaks his treaty with Israel and attacks their Northeastern flanks, killing and destroying. Baasha had his hands full at home, so he stopped fortifying to hem in Asa. Asa conscripts all of Judah to haul off the incomplete fortifications at Ramah and fortify elsewhere. It appears from this account that Asa got away with his scheme unscathed. There is one other mention of disease in his feet in his latter days, but otherwise, he dies in old age, reckoned a good king.

And so he was, but the II Chronicles 16:7-12 tells a fuller story of what was going on, and what God thought about it.

“At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in prison, for he was enraged at him for this. And Asa oppressed some of the people at the same time. Now, the acts of Asa from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa became diseased in his feet. His disease was severe, yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.”

For thirty-six years Asa lived and ruled in pursuit of God and His ways. We don’t know what changed or when, how suddenly or slowly, but Asa became proud and self-reliant. God had even graciously warned him to not go this way when Azariah the prophet said, ““Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (II Chronicles 16:2)

I want to end well, not flame out in anger or doubt or rebellion against God. I must cling to God all of my days, for I am no better than good king Asa who started and proceeded well but ended poorly. May God spare me and each of His servants from presumptuous sins, from rebellious acts, from arrogant decisions to instead serve Him in humility, giving attention to His Word and His Spirit’s leading, for His glory and the good of those who watch me and us.

Read Full Post »

My oldest brother turns 74 today. Always looking for an excuse to go on a hike and get together with family, he emailed the family via group email about hiking not too far a drive from any of us. Schedules being what they are, three out of the four brothers and their wives and one son out of eight children and his family made it for the hike, 14 souls in all. We had done this hike as one of our Thanksgiving hikes several years ago. For some reason, all of us remembered the falls but forgot the hike. It is not steep but it is continuously up. It is not long at 1.5 miles out, but it is rough with randomly pitched small boulders in sections. Small children needed assistance and less stable older participants gave out. The purpose of the hike was time together and time in the woods. Both objectives were completed. For half of us there was a little extra adventure as well. Check out the pictures at Margarette and Bailey Falls to see why.

Read Full Post »

Permanently or for a while, I don’t know, but certainly for the next few months I will not be building any decks since I have started a new, fulltime job indoors helping people recover their health. It is a major career and direction change for a 62 year-old, but one I have been pursuing for nearly five years now. I agreed to this deck somewhat reluctantly because I knew that it was going to push right up to the time I would be moving. In fact, I did end up pushing very hard to complete it the day before I started packing the truck. The completion of this short phase in my life reminded me of a song on an old 78 RPM record my mother had in the Livingroom Closet. On the very static recording, Gene Autry is crooning, “I’m headed for the last round-up”. In the song, he is actually talking about going to heaven, but as a boy I didn’t catch on to that. Instead, I took it to mean that an old cowboy was riding in his last cattle round-up, meaning he was retiring. I get asked somewhat frequently how I like retirement, having retired from public education after 28 years. I don’t really know. I have built decks for two years and now end that round-up circuit in order to start a new adventure.

There were costs to building decks. I worked long hours on the clear days and not at all on the rainy days. I was totally worn out at times. Making mistakes and having cost overruns was frustrating. I was frequently exposed to chemicals that I have a reaction to. It was difficult to price things to make money without chasing off potential customers. I knew that I could not physically do this work long-term. There were benefits to building decks. I was my own boss and kept my own hours. I met new people and had many profitable conversations. I was physically stronger than I had been previously for many years. I sweated profusely which is good for a body. Solving problems was a good challenge. I had the sense of a job well done and thank you’s for accomplishing it. It paid many bills.

For a tour of the process on this latest and possibly last deck, click on Something Old and Something New.

Read Full Post »

I have over the years used and shared a metaphor for God’s dealing with me and directing me. For many years I traveled a curvy, steep, two-lane road over the mountains to get to healthcare and hiking and climbing destinations. I have traveled it alone, with my family, with my wife, or with friends in all conditions: snow, blazing heat, intense storm, beautiful Autumn days, full bloom of Spring, wildlife crossing the road, semi’s and cars and motorcycles (1) wrecked, and fog.

This metaphor, I believe, first began to form in my mind when talking to my former landlord about traveling this stretch of pavement. He was a telephone lineman for many years until his retirement. He once told me that he had seen fog so thick on that stretch of road that he actually walked beside his truck with hand on the steering wheel looking down to see the white stripes on the pavement in order to make progress. He was not given to exaggeration or metaphor, but regardless, the image in my mind directed me toward how I would feel many times subsequent in the midst of trying to move from one point to another in my life. As the old hymn says, “God Leads His Dear Children Along” (2), sometimes in the clear blue, sometimes in the dark, and sometimes through deep fog. He makes use of the conditions of our circumstances He has allowed or created for His glory and our good. More specifically, He may be about encouraging our souls in the crisp, new morning or slowing us down to follow closely in the fog. We may only be able to see one dashed line ahead of us on our life’s road, which causes us to pay attention and pray constantly. I have felt as though He has closed in the fog so near at times that I could only see the next step in front of me, and that light only a moment before I took the step. Perhaps He knew I would run ahead and miss the path if given more light, or perhaps He was training me to follow closely, trusting only Him.

As I have shared and contemplated this metaphor, one little detail has not satisfied me. It seems to be a mixed metaphor with vehicle and dashed lines on the one hand and footsteps and path on the other. I may tell someone the fog on the mountain story only to finish with the footsteps along the path. Musing on this discrepancy a few days ago, a more pointed application illumined my understanding. Sometimes I may go at a pace of a car in the fog and others I must pick each step one at a time, not knowing what precipice I may be traversing (3). God chooses the pace by the depth and duration of the fog and roughness of the path. The weather is not the point; following patiently and circumspectly without either running ahead or falling behind is. I long for some clear days, but I cherish the quiet intimacy of the fog.

  1. Not having gained the fame of “The Dragon”, it is nonetheless a draw for motorcyclists who like the challenge of the curvy highlighted by exceptional scenery: NC181.
  2. Colored, underlined script are links, in case you didn’t know. I am reminding myself as I tell you that I should write a blog entry about the circumstances in which I learned and sang that hymn over the years. God is good to direct.
  3. Having read the Chronicles of Narnia to my granddaughter recently, this idea reminds me of the scene when Lucy had seen Aslan in the woods near the precipice’s edge, pleading with his eyes to follow her. Her siblings, save Edmund, and the dwarf voted her down. When their choice failed, Aslan graciously appeared again, and they followed through the dark down a narrow path between cliffs to its base. At the bottom when the sun arose and the fog cleared, one of the siblings, I believe it may have been Edmund, remarked how amazing it was they navigated safely down the path. But, of course, they did, Aslan was leading.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains