The Applause of Nature

The noise of the day had quieted. I relaxed on the deck. I felt a gentle breeze blow across my face. Then I heard it! I heard the sound of nature. The leaves of the trees were swaying with the wind. They were rustling against each other. I heard the trees clapping their hands!

Psalm 47:1 NKJV says, “O clap your hands, all you people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.

The trees were clapping their hands and shouting triumphant praise. I wanted to follow their example.

I realized the trees were able to clap their hands (their leaves) with the wind’s help. Wind is also a description of the Holy Spirit. I meditated upon my reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s help. Jesus says in John 14:16-17, I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.Because the Holy Spirit nudged me that evening, I was able to perceive God’s glory in my surroundings.

I clapped my hands. My soul shouted praise.

As I remained upon the deck, my eyes glanced towards the western horizon. An awesome sunset was displayed. I paused to applaud. God had created a majestic masterpiece by painting beautiful colors across the sky. I exclaimed my approval by praising Him for His artistic performance.

Once again, I was quiet. I faintly heard another sound. I discerned that it was the voice of the stream flowing near our property line. The water produced audible vibrations as it meandered downstream. Psalm 98:8 begins, “Let the rivers clap their hands.My heartbeat was in rhythm with the water’s claps and slaps.

It was a delightful evening. I experienced the atmosphere’s accolades.

Nature clapped. And I clapped my hands. I also clasped my hands in prayer. Proverbs 15:8 tells me that the prayer of the upright pleases the Lord. I wanted to fulfill the words of David in Psalm 141:2. “May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

I experienced the promise of Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Growing Hollyhocks and Memories

Hollyhocks. Botanical members of the mallow family. Perennial posies. Multiple flowers unfolding upon each stalk. Majestic floral spires stretching upwards to 9 feet in the air. Trumpet-shaped blossoms attached to strong stalks of greenery.

For me, hollyhocks produce childhood memories as well as flowers. These towering green spears with delicate floral petals offered my cousins and me a Sunday afternoon project. While visiting grandparents, we created hollyhock dolls. We picked some flowers that were blooming as well as as few buds not yet revealing their hidden beauty. One flower in full bloom was placed upside down on our workspace. With a toothpick, we attached a bud to the blossom. Now we had a head connected to a beautiful flowing dress. Another flower was separated into individual petals. One petal was placed upon the bud as a hat – secured with a tiny piece of toothpick. With white hollyhocks, we created brides. With colored blossoms, we fashioned bridesmaids. What a display we designed! Good thing my grandparents’ garden displayed a multitude of hollyhocks!

As I reflect upon our hollyhock dolls, I am reminded of two scriptures. We made brides. In Revelation 21:2, John declares,I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.We fashioned little ladies adorned in beautiful gowns. Isaiah 61:10 says, “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Today, our daughter-in-law grows hollyhocks beside their home. As I gaze upon them, I am reminded of the hollyhocks beside my grandparents’ shed. I share my memories with our granddaughters. I also teach them the art of making hollyhock dolls. Creating memories while sharing memories. The floral hollyhocks for our project grew from seeds planted in the ground. I wonder if I am planting hollyhock memories in the hearts of my granddaughters.

I like the quote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” I may not understand how God is working at the moment. However, it is important for me to cherish each moment and allow it to become a memory.

Luke 2 records the birth of Jesus and the shepherds’ visit. Verse 19 says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.I treasure and ponder memories of hollyhocks and family. I also desire to fulfill Titus 2:3-5. It says that older women are to teach and encourage younger women and girls. I pray that my time with our granddaughters not only results in fun but also helps some seeds of faith to grow.

One more hollyhocks story. My friend has black hollyhocks in her garden that grew from seeds given to her by her sister. When Debbie first planted the seeds, they did not come up. She thought they just didn’t make it. Then, three or four years later, the hollyhocks bloomed! However, not in the location she expected. They were at least 15 feet from where she had planted the seeds. She learned that we often reap later than when we sow. And, sometimes we reap in a different place than where we originally sowed a seed. All of this happened while they lived in Colorado. Then they moved to New York. Hollyhock seeds traveled with her. Again, she had to wait a few years to enjoy the blossoms of her labors. Last year, she had black hollyhocks in New York. Now she shares her seeds with others. What an incredible gift of hollyhocks and memories! Debbie comments, “We don’t know how God will take what we plant and use it for His glory!”

Mark 4:26-28 supports Debbie’s comments. The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Hosea 10:12 is another applicable verse. “Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you.

Hollyhocks are short-lived perennial plants. However, they easily reseed themselves. With the help of the wind, the seeds blow in multiple directions resulting in new growth in unexpected locations. Their trumpet-shaped blossoms announce their presence. Mark 4:8 says, “seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop.

May the Holy Spirit be the wind that blows our spiritual seeds into the receptive soil of souls.

Hollyhocks may be considered an old-fashioned flower. Growing hollyhocks is often a goal of gardeners who remember them from their childhood. Hollyhock spires inspire creativity. They produce memories as well as flowers. It has been said that one of the greatest gifts that God has given humanity is the beautiful gift of memory. In a sense, memory allows us to relive a special moment. Both hollyhocks and memories proclaim life. Another quote I like says, “Some memories are unforgettable, remaining ever vivid and heartwarming!” The brilliant colors of hollyhocks and the vivid memories in our minds are like crayons drawing floral and faith images. Psalm 111:2 declares, “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.

HOW and WHO

Three little letters of the alphabet: H – O – W
When the letters are placed in alphabetical order, we read the word HOW.
But, if we rearrange the letters, we create WHO.

We have the tendency to want to know HOW more than WHO. That is because we consider ourselves to be the WHO. When we are WHO, we assume we know HOW to do the task before us. However, if we allow God to be WHO, then we do not have to know HOW. The HOW is in God’s hands rather than ours.

Paul says in Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.God is WHO provides us with the HOW. If we think of ourselves as the WHO, we will fail because we will not know HOW to accomplish the task. We are able to be WHO only when we allow God to empower us with the knowledge and ability of HOW.

Jesus says in John 5:19 says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” He continues in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.

In John 5, Jesus emphasizes that His Heavenly Father is the WHO through whom He is able to perform the HOW. In John 15, Jesus applies this principle to us. We can become WHO God uses, when we rely upon Him to help us know HOW.

In Matthew 4:19 NKJV, Jesus summons Simon Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They know HOW to fish for fish but have no idea HOW to fish for people. Throughout the next 3 ½ years, Jesus set an example of HOW they could fish for men. After His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 24:49, “And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But remain in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” The disciples needed the Holy Spirit, the WHO, in order to do what Jesus was calling them to do. They did not know HOW until they received the WHO. The same is true for us today.

In Luke 11:1, one of the disciples asks Jesus to teach them HOW to pray. Jesus instructs them as recorded in Matthew 6:9-10. “So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ In essence, Jesus teaches them to ask for God’s will to be done according to HOW God desired. They also learn WHO to direct their prayers towards. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray because He desired them to be those WHO prayed.

Jesus also wants us to pray. When we are among those WHO pray, we must surrender our pride of thinking we know HOW to do everything. Praying is not our opportunity to tell God HOW to fix the world. II Chronicles 7:14 is good example for HOW we are to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.When we pray in this manner, we are reaching out to the One WHO hears and knows HOW to answer.

In Matthew 10:19-20, Jesus warns His disciples about persecution. He says, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.They did not need to know HOW ahead of time. They simply needed to know WHO to rely upon.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.Throughout life, we will endure trials. We may wonder HOW we are going to endure the difficult times. Timothy gives us some insight in II Timothy 1:2. “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” Timothy states that he knows WHO he has placed his faith in. And, he knows that God, as the WHO, will be with him and help him with the HOW. We, too, can be confident WHO will help us. We need not worry about HOW we are going to do it. I John 2:27 NLT says, “For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what He teaches is true—it is not a lie.

God calls us to fulfill His plans and purposes. (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11)  However, we do not know HOW to do it! We find our assurance in Ephesians 3:20. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.God is WHO will help us do what we do not know HOW to do. In order to know HOW to fulfill God’s plans, we must rely upon the Holy Spirit’s power. We are not WHO is actually doing the work!

During the past few months, we have found ourselves, our nation and our world in situations no one knows HOW to overcome. Jesus told His disciples, and tells us, in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.If we rely upon ourselves to be WHO resolves the pandemic and the violent riots, we will fail. Only when we turn to God for HOW we are to act and react, will we overcome the evil one behind the turmoil. The Lord says in Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. When we trust God, He will accomplish what we cannot do in our own strength. The Lord is our WHO and HOW.

When we don’t know HOW, let us rely on the One WHO can do it. Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.Our situation may be bigger than we are, but it is not bigger than God. He is the One WHO will help us learn HOW. John 14:26 says. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

God is WHO knows HOW. God is WHO helps us know HOW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Roads Traveled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost

Our nation has been traveling some rough roads the past few months. The terrain traversed by our nation has also affected the paths we are personally traveling. As a nation and individually, we are walking down roads not previously experienced. Routes probably not our first choice. Unlike Robert Frost, most of us prefer familiar paths. However, I believe God will use our journeys upon the difficult roads for our good and His glory. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

I am reminded of two roads highlighted in scripture. The Road to Emmaus and the Road to Damascus. I see messages for us as we currently walk down similar roadways.

Luk24:13-25, gives the account of two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They shuffled along and discussed their quandaries regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. These men knew Jesus was a powerful prophet. However, He had been crucified. Now some women were saying He was alive. What was really happening? They didn’t understand.

These two men may remind us of our nation and ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have not understood everything that has happened. Worldwide medical experts continue to ask questions regarding how to combat the coronavirus. It may appear as if leaders are shuffling along being hesitant to give answers. However, they have moved slowly because of uncertainty. Everyone is traveling down a road previously not taken. During the national shutdown, we felt like we had no roads to travel. We still have our questions. Why do we have to be so careful about being with loved ones who are sick and dying? Does social distancing really help? We get tired to washing our hands.  Do we really have to wear masks?  Can’t a medicine be found that will heal those who have acquired this disease? When will a vaccine be developed so we can return to the road of life?

Back to scripture. The men traveling the Road to Emmaus were joined by another individual. He wanted to know what they were talking about. It was really Jesus who was with them, but they did not recognize Him. They shared their story.

It is good to remember that Jesus is traveling with us even when we may not be acutely aware of His presence. He hears our questions and understands our struggles. Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always.

When the three travelers reached their destination, the two men asked their companion to stay. Only when Jesus broke bread with them did they recognize Him. This is a picture of our sacrament of holy communion. We may become broken while traveling the roads of life’s journey. However, let us remember Jesus’ words at the Last Supper with His disciples. Luke 22:19 says, “And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying, ‘This is My body, given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’”

In Acts 9:32, the men commented about how their hearts were strangely warmed when Jesus spoke to them. Let us be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

After their encounter with Jesus, the two men returned to Jerusalem. This time, they quickly ran down the road anxious to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive. No more shuffling with doubt. They were running with confidence. Let us remember Proverbs 3:4-5. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

The two men almost missed Jesus on the Road to Emmaus because He showed up in a way they did not expect. Let us be watchful for Jesus while traveling Emmaus-type roads.

There is another road in scripture that we may travel. In Acts 9:1-10 Saul walked the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. When he took his first steps, his heart burned with anger and he was determined to persecute those who believed in Jesus. He believed lies rather than the truth proclaimed by Jesus. (In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”)

On the Road to Damascus, Saul looked for an opportunity to express the bitterness that raged within him. As a nation, we have encountered men and women who have similar feelings. People have lashed out at people. Wounds of prejudice and inequality and disrespect have erupted into lawlessness. Bottled anger has exploded violently. Protests against inequality and authority have not stopped. A mixture of lies and truth continue to be voiced.

Saul’s intent was to find and kill those who believed in Jesus Christ. However, God had a detour planned. Not just a minor road detour, but a major itinerary life change. The light of the Lord flashed before his eyes. Saul hit a roadblock that knocked him to the ground. He remained blind until Ananias prayed for him. The route he would travel throughout the remainder of life was changed dramatically.

There are constructive changes that need to be made within our nation to eliminate racial inequality. However, our country would also benefit from a restoration of respect for law enforcement. Destructive riots are not the way to achieve God’s plans and purposes. While Saul encountered physical blindness, our nation encounters mind blindness. I John 2:11 says, “But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.Then II Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.We need the light of Jesus to take away our blindness. Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.This is true for us as individuals as well as for our nation.

The United States would benefit from a Damascus Road experience. We need an encounter with the Lord to get us on the right track that will glorify Him. Also, as individuals, we can benefit from Damascus Road experiences. There are times when we need to draw closer to the Lord and allow Him to recalibrate our motives and actions. He may choose a different route. James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Saul encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus. He became a new man named Paul with a new mission. Let us be aware of Jesus when He appears to us on the Damascus-type roads we travel.
II Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are new creations.

Myterium tremendum” is a phrase that describes how we feel in the presence of the holy. I believe the holy presence of God was experienced by the two men on the Road to Emmaus and by Saul/Paul on the Road to Damascus. Let’s anticipate the Lord’s presence as we travel the roads ahead of us. We may discover that the road less traveled is the most blessed route. Acts 17:28 says, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.

Freedom!

We often engage in war to gain freedom.

Freedom was the goal of the American Revolutionary War. Freedom is the reason for our celebration on July 4th. We look back and remember the battles fought for America’s freedom in 1776. Today, we value the freedom experienced by Americans because of these historical battles.

On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The document declared the 13 American colonies’ freedom from Great Britain. The actual dates for the American Revolutionary War are April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783. However, the British actually surrendered in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. Within this time frame, there were many battles fought and countless lives lost. Freedom did not come quickly in 1776. Freedom was costly.

Freedom is our goal in the Medical War of 2020. Freedom from the COVID-19 disease is the ultimate goal. Freedom from the required quarantine and social distancing is the immediate goal we would like to achieve.

The exact dates of this war are unknown. We believe it started early this year. It has not yet ended. Battles have been fought and lives have been lost. Attacks have lessened in some areas but have increased in others. Freedom continues to be costly.

Freedom is the goal of spiritual wars. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. Galatians 5:1 declares, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Spiritual freedom is costly. It cost Jesus His life.

Although we may not physically see spiritual warfare, battles are taking place. We may not always be aware of the fighting. However, warfare is occurring in the spirit realm. I Peter 5:8 warns, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The starting date of the war against satan began in the garden of Eden. Spiritual warfare will only end when Christ returns. Revelation 21:4 declares, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.Currently, the enemy is always trying to attack. However, we know we will achieve victory. In Isaiah 54:17, the Lord declares, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.II Thessalonians 3:3 says, “The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That sounds like war! However, we must remember that we fight spiritually in a unique way. Zechariah 4:6 reveals how these battles are fought and won.Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.

II Corinthians 10:4-5 gives the following description. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

We are given specific uniforms to wear while engaged in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:11-17 says, ““Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

In Romans 8:37 we have a wonderful promise. In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Therefore, we can declare I Corinthians 15:57. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Whatever the nature of warfare, the goal is freedom. Military wars are fought with physical weapons and artillery. Medical wars are fought with proper hand washing and social distancing. Spiritual wars are fought with spiritual weaponry.

As we celebrate the Independence of the United States of America, let us be thankful for freedom. Remember, freedom comes in various forms. However, freedom is not free. It is always costly.