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Hail or Hell

     In my Earth Science class we are learning about Meteorology. Today I was discussing cumulonimbus clouds, how they form, and the results of their violent action. Maybe you can guess where this is going. Given my particular Southern accent, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the pronunciation of hail and hell. (And yes, I can pronounce them differently and correctly, and yes, there is a difference in Southern accents. (That was for my Northern brothers and more British speaking acquaintances.)) So, a student immediately seizes upon the opportunity to ask which one I meant. I replied, as the snickers increased, that we could talk about either one. I then proceeded to compare and contrast the two by way of modeling proper separation of homonyms (as they appeared), prefacing my comments by saying that I take both seriously, since I believe both are real. Encouraged on by several students, I re-pronounced the words, “hale” (long a) and “hel” (short e) and said one is cold and one is hot. One is a thing and the other is a place. 

     Had I had more time to think, I believe that after re-pronouncing them that I would have said something more along the lines of, “One is a thing; one is a place. Both are real and dangerous. One is hot and one is cold. One can ruin your day and one can ruin your eternity. One can injure your head and one can injure your soul. Both are avoidable if you retreat to an ‘umbrella’ of protection from the wrath they entail.” Hopefully the little I did actually say communicated much of what I would intend to say if it were not a spur of the moment reaction.

Duty

I was asked, as one of the guests requested by the Eagle Scout candidate, if I would like to speak during the ceremony. I asked if I would be allowed to share Scripture. The response was, “That would be good because the pastor had a conflict and can’t come.” Following is an approximation of what I said then:

Eagle Scout Candidate (ESC- I used his name where this appears), congratulations on your accomplishment. I am here to give you a challenge. Your Scout Oath speaks of duty to God, Family, Country, Others, and Self. Life is about relationships. I add family to the list because, even though it is not included directly in your oath, it is the most fundamental unit of society, even above government, and is surely included in “others”. The Scout Promise and Path is about fulfilling these duties within these relationships.

My challenge today, ESC, pertains to the question, What is our duty to God?

Micah 6:8 says, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In the context before and after this verse the prophet points out that this requirement is not being fulfilled. Is it an unreasonable requirement? Paul quotes King David, the prophet (Psalm 36) when he says,There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands,there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does goodthere is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Paul summarizes the problem just a few verses later: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (v.23) Is God being unreasonable to require what we cannot do? What is the solution? The solution is relationship with God. Hear what Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The first step in duty to God is to know God through His Son, Jesus.  The next step is to live for God. These two steps cannot be reversed. You cannot simply serve God and be a nice person. You must know God through Jesus first, then He gives power to those who know Him by providing everything they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3).

ESC, my challenge to you is this: Know God through Jesus, not know about God. Know God by receiving Jesus as your Savior. Secondly, know God regularly through His Word and through worship. Thirdly, serve family, country, and all people through the power God gives, giving Him the credit. This is your duty to God.

Start

Last week I was asked to film some running and interviews and be interviewed about exercising. After challenging students to come out for a set of couch to 5K training sessions to be sponsored by the track team, I gave them my challenge: “I have been exercising for over 40 years and here is what I’ve learned: Start now, start small, and start again.” Start now, because if you don’t you probably won’t. Start small and progress slowly or you will probably be overwhelmed and give up. Life is challenging. You get injured or sick or you have responsibilities that prevent you or old habits overtake you and you just sit. Don’t give up; start again. And the next time it happens start again and again until the habit makes it hard to quit.

When I walked away from being interviewed I realized that what I said could readily be applied to many areas of life. The spiritual application is one of perseverance and diligence in the pursuit of relationship with God. Our life with God begins and continues by grace through faith, but we are also urged to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:12-13) God’s work in us results in us working. Our salvation is secure in Him but our sanctification is progressive. If it is reading the Bible regularly or studying it, or praying, or witnessing, or going to church for worship and fellowship: Start now, start small, start again. You’ve given in again to that sinful urge. Your old self wants it and that’s why you did it, but your new life in Christ wants to please Him and wants to break the slavery to sin. It is not just a matter of stop. You need to replace the sinful urge with a godly urge. Practice righteousness. Start now. Start small. Start again. You neglect the best for the alright and easy. Set your priorities in order which includes the best and down time to recuperate from intense activities. Start now. Start small. Start again. Getting in shape spiritually is not so different than getting in shape physically, though really it is because “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;  for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (I Timothy 4:7-8) And furthermore, though you should “work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” simultaneously “…it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13-14) And “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Other than that (haha!) they are the same, so start now, start small, and start again. Coupled with the many promises that we “can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) and “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1) and “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3), and more, then the least we can do is start now, start small, and start again.

Heavy Heart Light

Oh Father, my heart is heavy
My past failures and troubles, too
Exact from me a stiff levy
Brokenness, regrets not a few

There is now no condemnation
Help me believe that it is true
Act so without reservation
Participate in life anew

Communicate life to loved one 
Keep what is best for him in view
Remembering victories won
Repent, reconcile, and renew

May my life show to all others
That forgiveness makes all things new
Humble in success and failures
Belief in Christ is what is due

Make my heart light with joy and peace
Paint my life with a brighter hue
Christ's life in me a brand new lease
May be seen by all to be true

Real Need Supplied

Few things that I really need
Many that I want
Separating them indeed
Seems to be a taunt

This exercise brings freedom
I don't have to grasp
Holding both these in tandem
Frays nerves like a rasp

Now I am not a Buddhist
Wants I don't deny
More likely increases the list
Better not to try

But wants don't have to control me
I can walk away
He has met my needs, I'm free
In peace each new day

Out of breath and lost my way
Cling for my supply
Gratification delay
He will soon reply

(Luke 10:40-42; Matthew 6:25-34)

Root and Branch

In Isaiah 11:1-10 the rule of the Messiah is gloriously summarized. The first and tenth verses suggest the lineage of this ruler by a plant metaphor. But at first glance it appears to be a mixed metaphor. Verse one reads,Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit”, and verse ten in part reads, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse…” So which is he, a shoot and therefore a branch or a root? Is it a poorly played metaphor or a profound mystery?

The best place from which to better understand Scripture is Scripture. Isaiah 53:1-2 introduces the the chapter on the Suffering Servant: Who has believed our message And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground”. Here we see again that He is both shoot and root, and seemingly fragile and stressed. In this chapter the horrors of his demise are chronicled with such detail as to cause even the casual observer to think it must refer to Jesus on the cross. Jeremiah 23:5 states, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.” On trees trunks (or stems) shoots become branches. Now Jesse was the father of King David, so both passages imply the promises given to David in 2 Samuel 7 concerning “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (verse 13) In context the “his” of this verse is the descendant (branch) of David who will rule. Messiah will also be a priest: “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.” (Zechariah 3:8) Priests symbolizing the Priest who will come, the Branch. In Revelation 5:1-5 His authority is shown: I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.  Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” God, the Father, sits in majesty upon His throne holding a sealed scroll. John weeps because it seems that no one may open it. But the Root of David, Jesus, has that authority and power because He has overcome sin and death and hell according to the command of His Father. But why is He characterized as a Root here? The final verse I would like to share clears up this dichotomy: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus declares He is the root and shoot (descendant). I believe that the meaning of Him being declared both Root and Branch is as follows: As God He is the Root or origin of David’s line and all things; as Man He is the Branch or descendant of David who would save His people and rule righteously forever. Messiah Jesus is the perfect God-Man, both Root and Branch.

The hymn by this name has become one of my favorites over the years because it conveys the holiness and glory of God by transporting the mind to the mercy seat both in the tabernacle and in heaven. The version I have has 5 verses. The original, written by Frederick Faber, has 8 verses: (for a choir rendition, albeit too slow for my liking, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4VtpEu3CDQ)

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty, how bright;
How beautiful Thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thy eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thy endless wisdom, boundless power,
And glorious purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deep and tender fear;
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

Yet, I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart!

No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done,
With me, Thy sinful child.

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s Reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!

As I sang this wonderful hymn, and others, and mused on Psalm 103, more verses came to me. They are not of a quality of the original but I do intend them as worship to God:

He righteous deeds each day performs
Judgments for the oppressed
Compassionate and gracious He 
With love for the distressed

As high as heaven above earth
So great His steadfast love
Is toward all those who fear their God
The God who dwells above

As far as east is from the west
Transgressions He removes
A Father who compassion on
A child who his God fears

For all is peace, my soul at rest
Submitted to His will
Our God is good and great and kind
To know Him is a thrill

One day in heaven we will be
Adoring face to face
But now we see His glory great
Through His redeeming grace