It is the spring of the year and the plant and flower industry is in full bloom. It is easy to come away from the store with the added baggage of a flower or two. Some will last only a season, and others will come back next year if we are willing to expend the energy to put them in the ground and take care of them. It seems that each year at least one new flower bed is made at our place, and this year is no exception. Barb is a highly proficient bargain spotter, and when she came across some good-looking lilies marked down to only a dollar a piece, we became the proud new owners of six oriental lilies. When I was informed of all the abundance of beautiful flowers and good looking plants at that store, and that I really needed to see them, of course, I was ready to go see for myself. So in order to incorporate those six bargain lilies into the landscape, at the store we saw some phlox and some petunias, and it all began to materialize. We could put a new bed by that blank shed wall with a row of the orange lilies along the back, which will grow 2 or 3 feet tall. Next we could put a row of the light purple phlox, which will grow about 18 inches tall. Then we could put an assortment of the white, purple, and reddish colored petunias that grow about 12 inches tall all across the front and fill in some blank spaces. So that bargain of six dollars of beauty was transformed into some amount of double digits of beauty. Plus we get to break up some new ground with the shovel, add some soil amendments, mix it all up real good to make a top notch bedding soil, and get our new plants in the ground in a brand new bed. That’s OK. I believe that is why God put the first family he created in a beautiful garden. He wants us to be together with him in his presence and together enjoy the beauty of his creation. That’s the way he started it all in a garden (Genesis 1-3), and that is the way it is to continue. When sin came in to destroy that beauty, he made provisions through his Son, Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice of his life, to put it all back together again. He came to give life and life more abundantly. Bad choices in line with the enemy’s deceptive plan of destruction can ruin it all. But choices made to embrace and line up to God’s plan of life in Christ Jesus is a beauty beyond description. We can enjoy God’s beauty in God’s garden, if we will. It is being willing to exchange our life for his: “Lord, I give you my life, and I receive yours.” In that garden the roses never fade.
Many years ago I had occasion to float the Caddo River on an inner tube. I think that was my first time to do it, and I don’t remember ever doing it again. I do remember being momentarily pinned to a tree branch that was down in the water. Everything was smooth and gentle, a lazy day floating the river. I allowed myself to get over to one side of the river and come up on the tree branch down in the water. “Not a problem”, I thought. I will just grab hold of it and go around it.” Everything was calm and gentle, but when I got to the branch I was very surprised at the force behind me that not only was pinning me to the branch, but it was pulling me under the water! It happened to fast and so forceful, a momentary bolt of panic shot through me as I realized this was no game. That river could just calmly and gently drown me! I never knew there was such force in operation, while it all looked so peaceful!
It is easy for us to float through life with everything appearing calm and peaceful on the surface. We can splash and frolic as we float down the stream and enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful day. The forces we are dealing with are very powerful forces that are much greater than we realize. We are operating either under the power of sin and death or in the power of the righteousness of God and life. The power of God’s righteousness in Christ Jesus, when he is truly the Lord of our life, carries us down the middle of the river away from the snags and branches in the river. The power of sin and death takes us to one side or the other, where the snags of transgression and the branches of willful sin stick out into our path of travel. Everything is calm and peaceful and it is a beautiful day, until we are pinned to a branch and a force greater than we can resist takes us down and drowns us in eternal death, separated from God’s presence forever. The calm river deceives us and takes us out without mercy. Jesus came to take our sin away and fill us with his Spirit and guide us in the river of life each day. His blood sacrifice is our righteousness with God forever. We can trust him. We cannot trust our goodness and righteousness. We can embrace and rely on his finished work and sacrifice for us. He is faithful, he will carry us through. Thank God for Jesus Christ who will safely carry us down the peaceful river of life to our home in him forever.
By cleaning up some scrubby bushes and briars and stuff, we saw that we could have a nice line of the large trees on the east side of the lawn with a new area to plant some flowering bushes. One vine covered crooked tree leaned toward and all but over hung the power line going across the back side of our property on the north border. I put the extension ladder up against it right in the middle of a large clump of vines and fought my way through the vines to get the chain around the tree to pull it with a come-along as I cut it. With it good and tight and while under Barbara’s watchful eye, I proceeded to cut the tree. Sure enough, as it came down it swung around away from the power line and we got it to the ground. Once on the ground I noticed that the large clump of vines that I had fought through was dormant poison ivy with no identifying leaves. The weather was mild so I was wearing a short sleeve shirt. I thought, “Oh me, look what I have done.” I had noticed that there was a large poison ivy vine going up the tree, but it never occurred to me that the clump of vines in the upper part of the tree consisted of poison ivy! Sure enough, that evening I began to feel the itching. When I gave it a “hot water treatment” in the shower on my arms and throat where I waded into those vines, it itched intensely, indicating that I had been exposed. I am dealing with it now, using the hot water treatment which keeps the itching down from twelve to twenty four hours. Had I paid attention, I would have put on long sleeves and buttoned it up tight, but now I must deal with it.
God has provided spiritual armor for our walk with him in this life (Ephesians 6:10-20). We can actively take and apply the Word and the Spirit to our lives in such a way to prevent some things, and to remedy others. If our lack of attention or our thinking is “Well, I’ve got it all, I don’t need to take the Word” or, “I don’t need to be filled with and walk in the Holy Spirit”, that’s our choice. We will just have to itch. If we will pay attention and take God’s full provisions we can have protection from a lot of the stuff we encounter in life. Jesus told believers they were to be “endued” (“clothed upon”) with power from on high (Luke 24:49). If we will clothe ourselves with his Spirit and Word, we can save ourselves a lot of grief and be able to “wade into” the job at hand with God’s power upon us.
When house hunting to make the move to Benton more than a year ago, we decided that the one thing that we knew we did not want in a house is a yard with a “gum ball tree” in it. However, after finding the ideal place for what we needed, we did have to compromise in our desires and guidelines in buying a house. We not only acquired a gum tree, we acquired six huge gum trees that are actually in the yard, with two that are on the perimeter. We put a circle gravel drive in the front yard which I like to keep clean to keep organic matter from being embedded in it. In blowing the gum balls off the drive way I observed that the end of the stem of the gum ball is sort of enlarged so that it easily hooks onto things, even pieces of gravel, so that doesn’t easily blow off. The other day I walked away from the task of blowing the driveway off in preparation of a great grandchild’s birthday party, saying that the streets of hell must be paved with those tormenting, spiny, gum balls that resist being blown off the driveway and that will hardly burn! The good news is that five of our trees are in the front yard and only one in the back yard with the two perimeter trees. So it doesn’t cover the whole 1.67 acres, and it is a flat lawn that enables me to sweep them up pretty good with a large mechanical sweeper that is pulled behind the riding mower. I try to remind myself of the good points of having the beautiful shade trees when I am walking across gum balls or while I am in the process of having to clean them up. Barb and I looked out the window yesterday and observed a favorite tender plant just breaking ground in a pot, and it had a gum ball sitting on it! We all have “gum balls” in our lives in one form or another.
We have a choice. We can focus on all the negative aspects of having gum trees with the accompanying gum balls, and allow that to govern our outlook and attitude in life. It is easy to carry a hard, spiny, no burn gum ball attitude in life. Or, we can get the gum balls cleaned up after they all fall and forget about them while for most of the year we focus on enjoying the shade, the beauty, and the brilliant fall colors. The Word says to think on the good and pleasant things in life (Philippians 4:8). Even when I think about my gum balls, I can remember that at least I have a machine that helps to manage them. That’s good. And, one of those perimeter gum trees will probably become firewood next year. That’s good. I will focus on the good things and carry an attitude of thanksgiving.
I grabbed my phone after having it on charge all night and got a glimpse that it had zero percent charge, then it blinked off. I unplugged it and plugged it in again to check it, and sure enough, when I had plugged it in the night before, I did not have a good connection so that it was discharging all night long. When I came to get it, the small amount of power that it took to light up the screen is all it took to completely drain it down to zero. Since I would not be leaving the house for a while, I re-connected it, making sure it was a good connection that was charging. By the time I would be ready to go, it would be ready to go. If we don’t pay attention, we, in our spiritual lives, can be living in a state of being drained, having zero percent charge. When it is time to go, and our screen lights up for the last time, it is seen that there is no life in us; we were not properly connected. But then it’s too late. I remember the little girl interviewing the leader of our mission group in Russia in 1995. There was a team of twenty two of us who went into the region around St. Petersburg. Working with interpreters, we would go into a village and canvass the village during the day praying for people, preaching the gospel of Jesus, and passing out flyers telling about the meeting to be held in the town hall that night. A regional television station came and did an interview that went live to millions of people. The girl doing the interview kept asking direct questions about Jesus and how to be saved and what was involved in being a Christian. When the interview was over she said to the leader that the reason she asked those questions was because she wanted to be saved and know this Jesus we were preaching. She realized she was not connected and had never been connected. She did accept Jesus and commit her life to him, the sure connection.
Many believers have let their connection get corroded with sin and the trials and cares of life. You are living in a state of being drained. As simply as I unplugged and re-plugged the phone we must unplug the bad connection and make a good, clean connection to the power source. By turning from sin and trusting in Jesus for cleansing, and by committing things into his hands, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit to be guided by him. In this way we will have the power to do what we need to do to keep the connection sure. The key to staying charged is simply to check our connection and make sure we are properly connected to the power source of God’s Word and Spirit.
It was Sunday afternoon. Several family members were eating together in a restaurant, and little two and a half year old Jace had his little toy cows with him at the table. Jace loves his cows. They go with him everywhere he goes, including to bed with him at night and all around the house. The three little cows are made of a breakable plastic, which has rendered one of the cows with only one original leg. Two of the other legs consist of a screw twisted into the remaining part of the leg and body and wrapped with black electrical tape to match the one good remaining black leg. The fourth leg is just missing, which in Jace’s eyes makes no difference, even though the cow cannot stand up. His Father will fix that fourth leg, but Jace loves his cows no matter how banged up, impaired, and non-functional they might be. If you have Jace with you, you have his three cows with you.
The Bible says when we were without strength Christ died for the ungodly, and that God “commendeth his love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). In other words, even though we are like Jace’s broken cows and cannot stand on our own feet God’s love toward us is not diminished one minute. He still wants us to be with him at all times and be healed and restored in every way. In order for us to be with him, he sent his Son into this world to be our Savior. Jesus conquered all the temptations of the flesh and devil so he never sinned and was totally pure and righteous for us. He was beaten at the hands of the authorities which secured healing for everyone who believes (Isaiah 53:5). He died for us as the totally acceptable sacrifice in the eyes of God. His blood sacrifice was full payment for the sins of all mankind, for whosoever believes and receives him into their life as their one Lord and Savior (John 3:16). He was raised by the power of God’s Spirit, victorious over sin, satan, death, and the grave. He is seated at the Father’s right hand of all power and authority, and those who believe, are positioned with him in that spiritual realm. Through the power of that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, by our receiving and walking in that Spirit, God has provided for us to be with him at all times to walk and talk with him and live in his renewing power on earth today. He has promised to keep us and take care of us if we believe and walk in his Lordship. This is the Good News of Jesus. How Jace loves his three cows is how God loves us and keeps us with him at all times as we give ourselves to him.
Many years ago I had an orange, Volkswagon bug. It was parked on the side of the street in a parallel parking spot. A disoriented driver came along the street in a vehicle and accidentally rammed the bug in the rear. Amazingly the back glass popped out intact and landed on the narrow grassy strip between the concrete curb of the street and the concrete sidewalk. It rested parallel to the street and sidewalk, unbroken. The impact damaged the engine causing it to leak oil. I was happy that I was able to re-install the unbroken glass, and by keeping several quarts of oil with me in the car, I was able to drive it until I was could get it worked on. Then after getting the oil leak fixed, I drove the rammed bug until I sold it.
Sometimes things happen that are amazing. It makes us stop and wonder about the fact that it happened as it did. We all have stories of such wonderment of things that have happened in everyday life. It is no different in the Bible. Jesus was anointed with, was endued with, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38). Blind eyes were opened, inoperative limbs were made whole, and the dead were raised. There were many things done through his life that made people stop and wonder about what happened. After the people were filled with the Spirit in the book of Acts, the same types of things happened through their lives. People talked about and wondered about what was happening. Today, many of us say God is with us. It is one thing to say it, and it is another thing to truly believe it. God was with Jesus and signs and wonders occurred through his life. God was with the early church and signs and wonders occurred through their lives. Today, if we really give ourselves to believe that God is with us, the Bible says signs and wonders will follow. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:17,18). Our lives will show what we believe. What we show causes people to think about it, wonder about it and talk about it. That’s OK. Whether it is a banged up bug with unbroken glass, or blind eyes that have been blessed to be opened, amazing things happen in life!
I was painting a house at a place in the country, where they have several dogs. One dog stood out in particular as I was working in and around the place. They were all friendly and settled, but this one would suddenly run out across the field barking. I looked to see what he was barking at, and at first it seemed there was nothing there in the open field. But as I studied it more closely, I realized that the dog was barking at the buzzard that was sailing around in the sky. “Well”, I thought, “now that’s a good watchdog! Not even a buzzard can sneak up on the place.” As I continued to observe over the days that I worked at that place, I realized that he is in fact a good watchdog. He does not bark unless there is something that is invasive or out of place. That’s a good dog to have around. If he barked excessively, you would not pay attention to him. But as he is, when you hear his bark, you know there is something there, even if it is just a buzzard sailing around over the field.
Jesus told his disciples that when he went away he would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and he would be their guide and helper. Not only does the gospel provide forgiveness of sins for us, but it also affords the divine “watchdog” to warn, alert, and instruct us in those things that need to be brought to our attention. The Bible says that God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation (a putting to proof, trial, adversity) also make a way to escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). With this being so, the “watchdog” of the Holy Spirit must be barking a lot and often, warning, alerting, and instructing us, because life carries a constant stream of temptations, trials, and adversities. If we ignore his warnings and fail to watch, then something can over take us. If we will listen and see what it is all about, then we are in a position to do whatever we need to do. If the fowl of the air, a Biblical reference to the spirits of the devil, are floating over our field (Matthew 13:4), it is good to have a divine alert of what is going on. I am persuaded that the Holy Spirit will communicate with us constantly if we will give ourselves to him to allow that communion. Certainly, according to the Word, he will faithfully warn us as needed. So if we hear some barking at the buzzards going on in our heart, we need to pay attention and check it out. God always has our best interest in mind.
I shared with my wife, Barbara, one morning before I went to work, that I had a project ahead of me of white-washing some interior wooden walls. I have done lots of painting in my days, but I have never white-washed anything. Outside of reading how Tom Sawyer whitewashed the fence, I have never paid any attention to the technique. I decided to run by the Sherwin Williams Paint store and see if they had any special product for such a project. I walked in the store and told the manager what my project was and asked him if he had any special product for it. As I talked with the manager at one counter, I was aware of a man doing something with paint over at the other counter. The manager replied to my inquiry by referring me to the man at the other counter who was creating some samples of white-washing for a customer of his. I just stepped into a white-washing tutorial, learned exactly what I needed to know, made acquaintance with the man and thanked him, and went on to the job. I mentioned to them that it worked out real good that I could step in the store and learn all I needed to know. I further stated that we believe in applying the Word of God to our lives in specific ways, and that the Word says in Psalms that the Lord surrounds us with his favor (5:12). I went on to the job, created a couple of samples for the owner to see, and went on with some other painting. When I got home from work that afternoon, Barb asked how my day went. I told her about the white-wash tutorial incident. She said that as I drove out of the driveway this morning she was prompted to pray for me that I have wisdom, and have it easily and quickly for the whitewashing job. Wisdom doesn’t come any easier or quicker that what I experienced that day!
The Word says the Holy Spirit is given as a helper, and, that a wife is given as a helper. If you get them both working together, now that’s some help! Bottom line is this: Jesus said of believers, “ If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). Since the Spirit of God is given as the helper to believers, it would behoove us to listen to his promptings and do what he directs us to do. Only good things can come from it. We can actually live a lifestyle of hearing and responding to him if we will. All it takes is that we lay our lives at his feet for him to do with us whatever he so desires. It is sort of like the monkey trap. We can hold on to our life like the monkey holds to the banana with his hand in the snare, or, we can “let our life go” by giving it to the Lord, like if the monkey turns the banana loose, his hand is free to be removed from the trap. Such commitment to the Lord to abide in him will bring multiplied rewards both now and for all eternity.
We enjoy burning wood for heat in the winter. It is a lot of hard work to cut, split, and stack, then go out in the cold and get bundles of wood into the house. I have a canvas carry bag that carries several sticks of wood. Since I want to make the most of every trip I tend to load it up until it is a little bit heavier than I really want to carry. That makes it hard, and, it is dirty. When bringing it in and loading it in the wood bin, and taking it out of the bin to put it in the stove, debris falls off in the floor. Then when you burn it, and remove the ashes, a fine dust settles on the stove and surrounding area. Also, anytime the babies come to visit, the screen goes up to keep them away from the hot stove. But you know what? We still like to burn wood for supplementary heat. It just seems like there is nothing like being able to back up to a wood stove and get toasty warm all over inside and out. We also enjoy the evenings, to sit down and relax with the fire flickering through the window of the stove. So, one day, in the process of cleaning the ashes out from the stove, my shovel kept hitting something which seemed like something other than the normal remaining small chunks of coals and ashes. As I dug around to lift it out I found a small piece of barb wire in my little shovel. It had been embedded in a piece of wood that the chain saw had fortunately missed. It was hidden down deep, never to be seen except for when it was all put in the fire. The fire will reveal the hidden things that are buried deep as it burns away what covers it up. That tree had the barb wire attached to it so long that it slowly grew around it so it was imbedded and unseen.
This happens to us sometimes. We make choices allowing the barb wire to be attached to us so that it becomes part of our personality. Self- imposed barriers and restrictions and foreign, injurious, thoughts and actions become imbedded. We are told that Jesus will baptize believers with the Holy Ghost and fire (Matthew 3:11). There is a working of God in our lives in which we not only have our present sins forgiven and washed away, but he will go deeper and reveal the inward causes, if we will allow him to do so. He wants to set us free from the inside out. Deep wounds must heal over a period of time from the inside out. As we avail ourselves to him, and immerse ourselves in his powerful Word, he is faithful, he will heal us. As we pursue and allow the fire of his Word and Spirit to burn in our lives, and pay attention, we will be able to see and understand and receive freedom. He will speak to us personally in our heart and mind, or he might speak to us through somebody. Either way, God is merciful and faithful to those who will come to him believing. As the fire to the wood revealed the wire, so will the Holy Spirit reveal and free us from our hidden barb wires.