God and Gravity: Shouldn’t We Trust and Fear Them Both

I’ve heard different preachers use gravity as an analogy for our faith in God; just as we know gravity exists even though we cannot see it, so we know God exists even though we cannot see Him. We know gravity exists because we personally experience its power, and we witness its effects on other forms of matter.  We also know that it is constant because we can meticulously weigh its pulling force upon objects and we can identify and calculate ways to oppose or defy it.

Over the past three Sundays, at the church in Center, we have been discussing our faith in God.  We have developed a working definition of faith and defined it as: Fearing God enough to Act  in obedience as an Individual, Trusting in the Hope of God’s promises.  Sunday, we will be speaking about trusting God.

As I thought about both the use of gravity as an illustration of faith and the fact that faith is sincerely trusting God, it struck me just how adequately the illustration serves its purpose.

We not only believe that gravity exists, but we place a major amount of trust in its consistent power.  We trust gravity to hold us on this earth while we move about, yet we also trust it never to exert so much power that we are forced against our will to remain stationary.  We trust gravity to allow us the freedom of momentarily testing its power by leaping to rebound a ball or pick an apple from a tree, and then we trust it to pull us back down to the safety of solid ground. When we leap from the bed of a truck or from the tier poles of a tobacco barn, we trust gravity to both keep us from floating away, and to refrain from body slamming us against the hard ground.

We respect and appreciate the God- established law of gravity for through it we can securely live our lives upon this earth.  Many times this respect is taken for granted, but a bone jarring fall will quickly rebuild the respect gravity deserves.

Many of us  are also terrified of gravity.  We call it being afraid of heights, but what we actually fear is gravity. Many’s the farm boy who has been jokingly chided as he demonstrated a fear of falling the first time he ascended a silo or climbed up the tiers of a tobacco barn, “It’s not the fall that will hurt you. It’s the sudden stop at the bottom that causes the problem.”

Being afraid of heights is fearing the consequences of disrespecting and defying gravity.  The farther away we get from the center of earth’s gravitational pull, the more intense our fear becomes of possibly suffering the consequences for having defied the law of this invisible power.

Remember the first word in the definition of faith: Fearing God.  There are two ways in which we are to fear God.

The first one is to be terrified of God.  Many do not like thinking about being terrified of God, but it is biblical (Isaiah 8:13).  God is both our creator and our judge.  As our creator, God has every right to establish parameters which govern the way we should serve Him as we live here upon this earth (Psalm 33:6-22; Matthew 7:21-23).  That’s called a law.  As our judge, God has every right to determine the penalty for breaking His law (1 John 3:4; Luke 12:4-5; Hebrews 10:26-27). That’s called justice.

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

The penalty for breaking God’s law is eternal condemnation. (Romans 2:1-6) That’s terrifying. When we develop faith in God, the farther away we find ourselves from God, the more terrified we become.

But God is also a loving Father who provides away to safely come back to Him (1 Peter 1:13-21). Through obedient faith in the blood of Jesus, we are brought back safely from our defiance and  placed on the solid ground of God’s grace (Romans 5:1-5; Mark 16:15,16) .  Through faith we can trust God to consistently pull us toward Him, yet never so strongly that we cannot exercise our free will or momentarily test His love. Saving faith fearfully respects God for the comforting consistency of His grace.

God and gravity.  Believe in them. Be terrified of them. Respect them. Be saved and kept safe by them. Or face the horrifying consequences of defying them.

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Is My Name Written There?

Yesterday, I googled “Craig Waddell” to see on what type sites I appeared. I knew that there have been and are more Craig Waddells in this world, but I figured that I would at least show up on the first page through whitepages.com or some other search site which specializes in finding people near the inquirer. The search returned about 500,000 hits. It turns out that in this huge old world, according to the Google search criteria, I don’t even rank in the top 20 Craig Waddells.

A painting by the most famous Craig Waddell.

The most popular person who shares my name is an Australian artist.  Then a couple of criminals show up quite frequently, followed by a Scottish detective. A dairyman in New Zealand named Craig Waddell  and a preacher here in the States also received hits, but not me.

Where did I find the first reference to anything personally about me?  On page 10 of the search results.  The two hits listed on that page were to a bulletin article published by a neighboring congregation of the Lord’s church (http://www.cavecitycoc.org/blog) and an article published by my wife’s cousin on her site, nanahood.com (http://nanahood.com/wifemy-love). Then the search trail once again grew cold.  I finally quit clicking “next” after page 20.

We all hope that we will live our lives in such a way that we will make a noticeable mark on this world.  We may not hope to be world famous, but we do hope that someone will remember us.  We like to think that we are important, at least in our little circle of humanity.  And yes, we’d like to believe that we will appear on the first page of a technologically advanced search engine which can pinpoint the exact location of the smart phone on which we are instigating the search.

But the truth is, most of us will never make the front page of a newspaper, we will never be the headline of a local TV station’s news broadcast, and we will never be the first hit on a google search.

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

However, the good news is regardless of whether any other person remembers us when we are gone, when we are a Christian, our name is written in the Lamb’s book of life; and it is instantly referenced by the owner of that book. (Revelation 21:22-27)  The notes written by our name tell of cups of cold water that have been given (Matthew 10;42), plates of food that have been served (Matthew 25:34-40), words of encouragement that have been uttered , and weakened hands that have been strengthened by our loving fellowship (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Google may never know my name, but God knows the exact number of the hairs of my head (Matthew 10:28-33).  And being so intimately known by the Almighty is all that really matters.

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Is This File Worth Keeping?

A couple of days ago, I went through my file cabinet in order to try to find a user’s manual for our whirlpool tub.  I didn’t locate that particular manual, but I did find a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about keeping.

Although they are several years old, some of the papers are still applicable today, and  need to be kept indefinitely.  There is a very small savings bond that I won about 15 years ago as a donated door prize at a dairy organization meeting.  There are different farm and personal records.  There are deeds and other documents that pertain to the properties we own.

Some of the papers aren’t necessarily applicable today, but they may come in handy should we ever be audited, or should something unforeseen come up.  I know this is highly improbable, but better safe than sorry.

Some of the papers are keepsakes.  There’s one file containing some of the kid’s report cards from their elementary school years, pictures that they drew during those years, and a 25 year old issue of the Kentucky Girl Scouts’ magazine in which our oldest daughter appeared on the cover; her troop tied ribbons around the trees at our local courthouse as a tribute to those serving in Desert Storm.

Some of the papers were just junk.  They had either outlived their usefulness, or shouldn’t have been kept to start with.  There were manuals to appliances and power tools which have long been gone.  There were records that the previous home owner had left, and I had thought might prove to be useful – Not!  There were copies of documents pertaining to vehicles that we haven’t owned in years.

I threw away most of  the junk items in order to make room to add new hard copies of  things I think are currently important.  But most of the marginal items remain where they have been for years.  I suppose I’m just a pack rat when it comes to “important” or sentimental papers, but I just couldn’t bring myself to dispose of the majority of the filed documents.

Spiritually, most of us have lots of memories of events filed away in our brains. Some of the memories concern things  which we have done and said.  Some of them concern events and circumstances which happened to us, and over which we had no control.

Some of these memories need to be kept filed away indefinitely.   They need to be kept readily available for an occasional perusal because they make us who we are today.  These memories help us to become better human beings when we relive them.

Some of the memories need to remain for a while longer, but eventually will need to be disposed of because they will outlive their usefulness.

Some of these memories are purely keepsakes and deserve a permanent place in our minds because they bring us joy and happiness.

And then there are those memories which need to be tossed, whited out, or permanently archived; those memories which take up space in our mind and yet no longer serve a purpose, if they ever served one.  Most of these memories are of events which negatively affected our lives.

How do we do accomplish this feat?  I don’t know.  Can we ever totally remove them?  I don’t believe so, or at least I’ve never been able to.

However, I do know that there is a way of dealing with them.  Jesus Christ can help us with those memories that need to be trashed.  He can help us put them in perspective and help us keep from regularly bringing them to the forefront of our minds.  He can help us deal with the guilt and the low self image which these negative memories produce.  He can aid us in seeing our true value, and in pressing on as we strive to live up to our potential.

Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord can and will help us clean up the file system of our souls, our minds, and our lives, if we will allow him to do so.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14 ESV)

 

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Baby It’s Cold Outside! Or Is It?

The frigid temperatures Sarah and I have experienced in Wisconsin when we have gone to visit our family do not feel as cold to us as those we experience here in Kentucky.  To us, 20 degrees there feels about like 35 degrees here. However, no matter how we sense the temperature, the reading on the thermometer is still 20 degrees, and the results are still the same – everything freezes.  Our mental or physical sensation of the surrounding atmosphere does not change the natural laws governing the presence or absence of heat.

Spiritually speaking, sin is much the same. There are certain sins that we know to be violations of God’s law, yet these sins do not seem to be extremely evil to us. In fact, sometimes committing the sinful acts produces a warm, fuzzy feeling within us. Mentally and emotionally, we reason that the deed surely can’t deserve the same consequence as all those other actions which produce tragedy, sorrow, and heartache.

Yet, the Bible teaches that all sin, and any sin, separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1, 2).  The Bible teaches that all sin earns spiritual death for the sinner (Romans 6:23).

Just as our sensation of a physical temperature cannot change the factual measurement and consequences of that temperature, so our feelings concerning a sinful action cannot change its classification or the consequences we must suffer should we choose to commit it.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

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Christianity: Ever the Same, Yet Ever Changing

Over the past few years, I’ve gone through phases of trying to learn a different language than my native English.  So far those phases have come and gone, and I still do not know Spanish.  But each time I begin trying to learn a different language, three things come to mind:

Learn the basics.  Embed them into your mind.  Pack them up and take them with you where ever you go, because you will need them.   But don’t stay in linguistic elementary school forever.  If you do so, you can never appreciate that language’s true  beauty and complexity, nor can you truly express your thoughts and emotions to those with whom you wish to communicate.

Ask, “Why?”, when you don’t understand the reasoning behind an irregular principle or an exception to a rule; but be ready to accept the answer, “There is no rhyme nor reason to this principle. It’s just the way it is.”   When you receive this answer, shrug your shoulders, learn the principle or rule, and press forward.  Linguistics is not an exact science.  A language grows and flows like a river; primarily flowing in a long established bed, but at time same time, ever changing that bed in order to fit its needs.

Abstracts cannot be reduced to a set of rules. All abstracts of life (art, music, language, religion, etc.) have both universal and cultural parameters.  All of these follow some universal rules. Yet no one geographic culture of this world expresses these abstracts in exactly the same way as another geographic culture. The excitement comes in experiencing these differences, adapting accordingly, and then learning to express oneself in an entirely different way.

These same observations apply to our worship and service to God.  We must learn the basics of Christianity as they are taught within the Bible.  But we cannot be content to only be fluent in the basics.  If we do, we can never appreciate the vibrant beauty and complexity of Christ’s teachings; nor will we ever experience the peace-filled contentment of truly learning to love one another.

We must also realize that the Bible establishes rules and patterns by which we are to seek God and to worship him.  Sometimes we question the reasoning or logic behind these expectations.  Many times  no answer can be given as to why God performed a certain action, issued a specific command, or requires a certain reaction in order to benefit from a promise.  All we can do is learn the principle, accept its authority, and press forward.

Christianity cannot be reduced to a set of rules.  Yes, there are some universal parameters that apply to every human being who will ever embrace Christianity; for example faith in Jesus, baptism for remissions of sins, worshiping in spirit and truth are universal expectations.  But there are also ways of expressing gratitude and devotion to God which are unique to an individual geographic culture.  When one encounters the unique ways in which one of these “foreign cultures” worships the creator, he would do well to adapt and adopt.  In doing so, he can experience the excitement of knowing that Jesus is the savior of the world, and not just his little corner of this vast globe.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

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I’m Glad I Got to Know You, Jimmy.

Up until 6 months ago, he was just another resident being brought in by the staff to listen to us sing and hear a devotional message each third Sunday of the month. Sometimes he would sleep. Sometimes he would seem to listen. But he always looked down and flicked out his tongue in an irritating way. I didn’t know his name.  I had no idea why he was in the nursing home. I was doing my good deed by simply being there, so I’d wave goodbye as I walked past him.

Then one night a group from church went to the home to do a craft with the residence. Jimmy was the only man present so I sat with him in order to help him tie the tassels on the throw we were making. He wasn’t very fast, and he got some of the threads crossed, but I could tell he loved every minute of that time we shared together. As he said after we had finished, “It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad for two old men.”

Jimmy was just a few years older than me. He had no family; his mother and father had both passed away several years earlier. He had diabetes and was suffering from some of the resultant ailments that accompany that disease. His mental capacity was limited, but he had a memory like an elephant.

He was a former dairy farmer so we had much in common. He could remember all the tractors and machinery that his father had owned, and where they had been purchased.  He would reminisce about feeding silage during the cold winter months, mowing hay during the hot summer months, and picking corn during the harvest months. He spoke fondly of milking the cows and wishing he could go back and do it again. He talked about the aggravation of attaching a mounted corn picker on his dad’s tractor, and the joy of watching a new barn being built.

From that first craft night, each time we would return to the home to sing or to do a craft, he looked for me, and I for him. We would talk about things that had happened and he would bring up things that I had said the last time we had visited. Sometimes, if we ran out of anything to say, we would just sit quietly. The man with the irritating tongue-flicking habit was no longer just another resident sitting in a wheel chair over to the side of the group. He was Jimmy Wilson. He was a friend. And I will miss him . . . more than I really imagined that I would.

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:40)

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The Source of the Crack in Your Heart May Not be What You Think It Is

A fairly large crack has recently formed in the concrete surrounding my hay barns. The surfaces on either side of the crack are uneven and they are becoming more so with each passing year. At first I thought the fissure was forming due to the lower end of the slab settling down.  This didn’t make sense since the pad was poured about 35 years ago, but I supposed the damage could have been done early and the results just now showing up after all these years.  On further investigation, I realized the upper section was actually rising, and thus causing the uneven surfaces.

I traced the crack back to the edge of the concrete slab where a tree had taken root and was growing.  I knew the tree was there and actually thought it to be a benefit for the cows.  It provided a small amount of shade and was useful as a back-scratching post. The tree is not very big , only about 12” in diameter and maybe 20’ tall. Yet, its roots have undermined the concrete and have pressured it into relinquishing its integrity.

Often, we put much time and effort into trying to make sure that we keep the center of our hearts and lives appearing as if they are solid with unblemished integrity. We spend so much time focusing upon the center that we do not pay attention to what’s growing around the outer edges. Then one day we realize that a type of sin has taken root just on the outskirts of our lives.

The sin may not appear to be “extremely evil”.  It may even appear beneficial in our relationship with others.  But before we realize it, its roots have undermined our faithfulness and are pressuring us to relinquish our integrity.

Keeping our faith in tact requires constant vigilance; vigilance of both the center of our hearts as well as the peripheral edges of our lives.  The roots of sin will often grow unseen beneath us until they eventually leverage us into cracking open at the heart.

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.” (Deuteronomy 29:18,19)

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Having Trouble Empathizing? Just Give It A While.

I remember as a teenager watching others limp and hobble around after they had sprained their ankles.  I wondered if they were just putting on a show and “milking” it for all it was worth, especially when I was asked to do some of their work for them. At that time,  I possessed good strong, flexible ankles and could literally walk on them with my feet turned on their sides.

Then one day I twisted an ankle to the point of nearly breaking it. From that day forward, I could identify with and understand the pain of the weak ankled.

Through the years, I’ve heard older people talk about becoming inflexible, having joints hurt, and being hindered in their ability to perform the most basic of tasks. I’ll have to admit, there has been some skepticism on my part.

However, now, when I pull onto a road from a near parallel position, I have difficulty twisting my neck enough to look out the side glass in order to see if there is any traffic coming from behind.  These days, arthritis or the occasional flare up of bursitis in both elbows and one shoulder makes the simplest of tasks such as  putting on my shirts and coat somewhat more difficult.   The pain often limits my ability to use my strength to carry loads or open tailgates.

Needless to say, my skepticism is decreasing as my experience increases. Generally, when we have trouble empathizing with someone who is enduring some type of pain (be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual), all we have to do is wait; time and life will provide the personal experiences necessary for us to hurt along with them.

“Rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with them who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

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Grace, Faith, and a Subway Gift Card

This past Sunday, I surprised the members of the congregation by telling them that my wife and I had a gift for each person present.  I had prepared for this portion of my sermon on grace by duct taping a gift card from Subway restaurant for each person under the pew in front of them.  Before telling the group where to find the present and what it was, I told the members of the audience that each person must retrieve his/her own gift, that the endowment was non-transferable, and that each individual had to personally redeem the gift; no one else could redeem it for him.

The time came for me to reveal the location of the present, and I said, “If you believe me, and trust what I have told you, you may reach under the pew in front of you to receive your gift.”

No one moved.  They all  skeptically smiled and looked me in the eye.  But no one moved.

I responded somewhat spiritedly, “No one believes me?”

Then one person took the plunge and reached for her gift.  When the people around her heard the tape rip loose from the wood, more and more began retrieving their cards, until each person in the audience held a present in his hand.

In all honesty, I can’t blame the group for their skepticism because I have used some deceptive illustrations before.  I also asked them to break protocol, requiring them to step out  of their comfort zone and perhaps run the risk of looking naive or foolish.

The good part about the congregation’s reaction is that it has provided not only an illustration for my sermon on grace, it has given me an illustration for this Sunday’s sermon on faith.

It has been said that grace is God reaching down to take hold of us, and faith is our way of reaching up to hold onto God.  God has purchased the whole world a gift. (John 3:16; 1 john 2:1-2)  His Son’s blood is the purchase price God has chosen to pay in order to redeem us from our sins. (Titus 2:11-14)

Sometimes this is hard to believe, especially when we are not expecting to hear such “good news”.  Sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to believe that the Creator of this world would sacrifice His own Son to pay for the havoc and damages which our sins have wreaked upon this world.  Sometimes we just can’t believe that the gift is an absolutely free gift, requiring us to do nothing more than to receive it by faith.

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

Each person who wishes to take advantage of this gift receives the benefits of the endowment by demonstrating faith in God’s promises (Romans 5:1,2).  A person demonstrates his faith by humbly obeying the stipulations God has set forth for receiving the forgiveness of sins. (John 3:36; Romans 2:4-11; Romans 6:16).  The Bible clearly teaches that saving faith always obeys (James 2:17-26).  Paul uses Abraham as an example of faith being the sole reason for God to  accredit someone as being righteous (Romans 4:1-25); yet Abraham demonstrated his faith by obeying the commands of God (Genesis 22:15-18; Hebrews 11:8-19).

God has endowed each of us with the most precious gift He could possibly give us – the salvation of our souls.  But we cannot sit back and skeptically smile at Him, waiting for Him to lay the gift into our hands.  Through faith, we must trust His words enough to reach out to receive the gift.

Grace is God reaching down to take hold of us.  Faith is us reaching up to hold onto God.  In order for the plan to work, both must reach for the other.

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“Milk” and “Church”: Two Powerful Words That Sell

The January 25, 2015 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman magazine contains an article concerning the efforts of a startup company to bio-engineer a product which it hopes will replace animal produced milk as a staple of the human diet. In the article (http://hoards.com/article-14731-milk-without-the-moo.html), the author, Kirk Sattazhan, points up that over the past 20 years many fluids extracted from plants have been developed, packaged, and marketed in the supermarket dairy case under the “milk” label.  But in the end these products are not milk. They are oil extracts that have been artificially colored, textured, and flavored in order to imitate the real thing. The developers and marketers of these products knew from the beginning that they would not be able to sell the American public on their product if the primary labeling read nut and bean oil.  So they capitalized on a very powerful word – milk. Thus the terms soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk were born.

There is the real thing, dairy milk produced by dairy animals, and there are the counterfeits, bio-engineered fluids and oil extracts blended and marketed in such a way as to persuade the populace that it is consuming the real thing.

The Spiritual Application.

Jesus, the one and only savior of this world (John 14:6), promised to build one church. (Matthew 16:16-19). Paul said Jesus built only one church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:4) and that He saves only that church (Ephesians 5:23-27).

Mouse over scripture reference to view entire scripture text.

Mankind has built many organizations which look, feel, and taste like the church. These organizations can be found in the “christian” section of the supermarket of the world’s religions.  They are sold under the label “church”. Why?  Because just as “milk” sells, so the powerful term “church” draws interest and devotion. But in the end, there is only one authentic church; the one promised, established, and exemplified in the New Testament.

Although the populace may be persuaded that any organization which refers to itself as a church is indeed just another form or branch of God’s church, the final analysis proves that only Jesus’ church originated in the mind of God.  All other groups are mere extractions from the mind of man, concocted and mixed in such a way as to convince mankind that they accomplish the same purpose as the original.

As to what God says about the issue, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. . .there is one body.” (Ephesians 1:22,23; 4:4; 2;16).

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