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Forrest and Elaine Martell and their children were our neighbors for many years. They moved to Libby in 1957, just a year before my family, and ended up attending the newly formed Faith Bible Church where my future father-in-law, Clarence Kutz, had come to be their first pastor in 1955. When my folks, having heard about the great Bible teaching of Pastor Kutz, went to visit at FBC, the Martells were among the first to befriend our family. They were very involved in helping get the church built (both the structure itself and the assembly of believers who ended up calling that their church home). They were great examples to us and became good friends of my folks and I. They ended up living next to the Kutzes and when we moved back to Montana, we built our house in the same area. Our children attended school together.
Jim and Louise Morris were among the first missionaries supported by FBC. They attended Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta (north of Calgary) where several of the Kutz children also went for Bible school. Ray Kutz became a very close friend and roommate of Jim’s and they played in a trumpet trio together. Jim also often spent Christmas with the Kutzes since his home, Kansas, was too far to travel. After Bible school, the Morrises went to Thailand as missionaries and spent 15 years of faithful service before seeing a spiritual breakthrough. Now there are thriving churches in the area.
This past week, both Forrest Martell and Jim Morris escaped their earthly bodies and made the exciting instant transition to the home prepared for them in heaven, and I’m sure received a great welcome from family and friends in Christ who preceded them. What a reunion that must have been! But most of all, they got to see their Savior face to face and hear, “Welcome. Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21…my paraphrase).
Both Forrest and Jim had lived for nearly 90 years on this earth when God called them home. They were given a few more than the 70-80 years that Moses wrote about in the one Psalm attributed to him: “As for the days of our life, they may contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away (Psa. 90:10). When Moses wrote those words near the end of his life, he was 120 years old (Dt. 34:7), but all the rest of the people of Israel (except Joshua and Caleb) who had been more than 20 at the beginning of the 40-year wilderness wanderings, had died there (Nu. 14:28-34), and so there were no others more than 60 years old! (Someone who was well up in years commented that you are to respect your elders, but I don’t have many of those left!)
Prior to the Flood of Noah, the average lifespan was 912 years! Adam died at 930 and Noah at 950, and of course Methuselah at a record 969. But then Shem only lived to 600 and Abraham died at 175. Thus the normal lifespan by Moses’ time was down to 70-80 years, and he prophesied that this would continue—and it has. It is remarkable that, with all the increase in medical knowledge, this figure has stayed about the same, and there seems to be little the gerontologists can do to increase it. The reason is, it is not a medical or biological problem; it is a spiritual problem. Death entered because of sin and though Christ conquered death, it still remains the final enemy to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:26). Until then, the death rate will remain the same, no matter the advancements of medicine and gerontology, for “It is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Moses also indicated that the latter—so-called “golden years”—are largely “labor and sorrow” just as God had told Adam when his sin brought God’s curse on the earth (Gen. 3:17-20). No matter how much we try to prolong our lives, we are soon cut off. But then, PTL, “we fly away”! The soul/spirit of the Christian, released from its weary body, flies away to be with the Lord. Those behind may sorrow, but “to depart, and to be with Christ…is far better” (Phil. 1:23). The Christian may confidently say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). In the meantime, as our days on earth grow to an end, it is more important than ever that we “Conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5).
Moses’ conclusion? “So, teach us to number our days that we may present to God a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12), prayed Moses, and so should we.
I don’t know if you are familiar with “The Church of Oprah Winfrey, ”but it is a New Age religion of positive thinking, of forgiveness without atonement (there is no room for the cross of Christ), of acceptance without judgment and meaning without truth.” One of the things that turned her off to the Jesus of the Bible is His desire for praise and glory, considering Him a self-seeking glory hound.
So, just why does God desire our praise and to be glorified? Does that make Him like movie stars and sports heroes and people of position and power who want people to idolize them? Is He like Mohammed Ali who claimed “I Am the Greatest,” and loved the acclaim that came with his boxing success? None of us like people who are “full of themselves,” arrogant, boastful, egocentric. And didn’t Jesus Himself say: “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and who ever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12)?
Yet Scripture makes it clear that God’s goal in all He does is to receive praise for the glory of His name. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah to the Jews said: “For the sake of My name, I delay My wrath, and for My praise, I refrain it for you, in order not to cut you off…For My own sake I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isa. 48:9-11). The Psalmist, David, prays to God, saying: “There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord; nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before You, O Lord; and they shall glorify Your name, for You are great and doest wondrous deeds; You alone are God” (Psa. 86:8-10). The last six chapters of the Book of Psalms are all about praising God: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven” (148:13). “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness…Praise Him with the trumpet sound..with the harp and lyre…with timbrel and dancing…with stringed instruments and pipe…and loud cymbals…Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” (Psa. 150:1-6).
God’s clear purpose from Scripture is to exalt Himself and His name in the eyes of man. But, His aim to glorify Himself is wholly good and pure—because it is an expression of His love. First of all, He is worthy of all our praise, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Ro. 11:36). When the apostle John was caught up to heaven (Rev. 4:1,2), He saw Christ sitting on the throne and all those around were worshiping Him saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things and because of Thy will they existed and were created…Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 4:11; 5:11). (NOTE: Many years ago I attended “Promise Keepers” at the Seattle Kingdome and got to experience 40,000 men singing “How Great Thou Art”—a foretaste of heaven!)
God’s glory refers to His “eternal (unending) intrinsic (coming from within) perfections (attributes).” He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and is sovereign over all the affairs of His creation—including mankind. He is thus deserving of all our praise and honor. He is also self-sufficient and in need of nothing. We can add nothing to Him that is not already flowing from Him. So, God’s desire to seek His own glory and to be praised by man cannot stem from His need to feel good about Himself or to compensate for some deficiency. People who seek glory and praise are trying to conceal weakness and deficiency and also are concerned only about themselves and not what happens to others. But we read in I Cor. 13:5 that “Love does not seek its own,” so, how is God loving? If God is a God of love (and He is…I Jn. 4:7-10), He must be for us (and He is…Ro. 8:31).
So, is God for Himself or is He for us? YES! Because God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, He must be for Himself in order to be for us. If He were to abandon the goal of His own self-exaltation, we would be the losers. His aim to bring praise to Himself and His aim to bring pleasure to His people are one aim and stand or fall together. In view of God’s infinite beauty, power and wisdom, what would His love to a creature involve? What could God give us to enjoy that would show Him most loving? There is only one possible answer—Himself! If God would give us the best, the most satisfying, the most significant, i.e., perfect love, He must offer us no less than Himself for our contemplation and fellowship and worship. That’s what Psalm 16:11 indicates: “In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” To be supremely loving, God must give us what will be best for us and delight us most—Himself! How do we respond when we are given something excellent to enjoy? We praise it. We praise what we enjoy, and “the praise is the climax of the joy itself” (C.S. Lewis). It is part of the pleasure. “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment” (John Piper).
“Therefore, if God is truly for us, if He would give us the best and make our joy full, He must make it His aim to win our praise for Himself—not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can only be found in knowing and praising Him” (John Piper). God, then, is the one being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimate loving act. When He does all things “to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12), He offers to us the only thing in all the world that can satisfy our longings. God is for us and therefore has been, is, and always will be, for Himself. Since 1643, Protestants have used the Westminster Larger Catechism as part of their worship. It begins with the question: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The Answer: “To glorify God, and fully enjoy Him forever” (p. 153).
So, “Praise the Lord! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psa. 150:6).
If you happen to live in an area that experiences Chinook winds, you have undoubtedly experienced sudden change. In January 1943, warm Chinook winds hit Spearfish, South Dakota, quickly raising the temperatures from –4 to +45 degrees F in just two minutes!The widest temperature change recorded in the US in a 24-hour period is an incredible 103 degrees! It took place in our home state of Montana where the community of Loma, on January 15, 1972, saw the temperature jump from –54 to +49 degrees F.
Sudden change is not restricted to weather. This spring the whole world experienced sudden change, as in a matter of a few days our normal routines of work, school, recreation, church, travel, etc., were drastically changed due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Change is sometimes the very nature of life. In the Bible, James reminds us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (Jas. 3:13-15).
We cannot presume upon the future or of life remaining as it is today. We can experience the unexpected death of a loved one, a surprise health diagnosis, a financial reversal, broken relationships—sudden changes that we didn’t see coming. “Life is a journey with many unpredictable elements” (The Daily Bread, Feb. 27, 2020). That’s why James warns us to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives, and say “Lord willing, we will do such and such.” None of us is even promised that we will be alive tomorrow, for “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We do not know when that appointment is—God is in charge of that. So, “Lord, If I’m still here tomorrow, this is what I plan to do, unless you have something else in mind.”
But this I do know, while the events of our lives may be uncertain, and the unpredictable often happens, nothing ever takes God by surprise and He will be right there with us through life’s unexpected moments—like a pandemic—and He will never desert or forsake us (Heb. 13:15). He is our one constant throughout life. He is our Rock, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride” (Psa. 46:1-3).
Jesus had been teaching by the Sea of Galilee. Such a great multitude gathered that He had to get into a fishing boat and continue His teaching to the crowd gathered on shore. He taught in parables such as the sower and the seed, the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed and the pearl of great price (Mt. 13). Then when evening came, He told His disciples, “Let’s go to the other side (of the lake)” (Mk. 4:35). Jesus, exhausted from a long day of teaching, fell asleep in the boat and a sudden storm came up. The Sea of Galilee, which is some 680-700 feet below sea level with a range of mountains on either side, is subject to sudden winds sweeping down off the mountains, especially at night. Waves have been observed reaching 20 feet in height. The disciples, some of whom were experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were afraid for their boats and their very lives as waves were breaking over the boat (Mk. 4:37), so they awakened Jesus “and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm” (v. 39). I’m sure the disciples learned a lot more about their Teacher that day as they observed His power over nature. They hadn’t fully realized yet His deity as the God-Man.
Storms can arise suddenly in our lives too, as they did for all of us in mid-March this spring. Sometimes God calms the storms, but other times He calms us in the midst of the storm. In either case, He is in control—we are not. We need to trust Him to do that which is for our good and brings Him the most glory. God’s words to Isaiah the prophet are good ones for us today: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10). Remember, “If God is for us, who (or what) is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—not even a world-wide pandemic! (Ro. 8:35). PTL!!
Way back in grade-school days, I remember the picking of teams for playing competitive games during recess or P.E. The team captains would normally start with choosing the students whose abilities could help his/her team win. It was always a bit embarrassing for those who were the last to be picked. It meant that they didn’t really want you on their team, but had to pick you because everyone had to participate.
When a person is elected to be president of the United States, he has the challenging chore of selecting a group of leaders to serve as cabinet and staff. Usually the individuals chosen are friends or those that have the same political views, but when Abraham Lincoln became president, instead of surrounding himself with friends and people who agreed with his philosophies, he chose opponents and competitors, people who would offer differing viewpoints and hold him accountable.
Some may also find rather surprising the list of men that Jesus chose to be His inner circle. He didn’t pick religious leaders and the highly educated and famous. He chose fishermen and tax collectors, just ordinary people who would accomplish extraordinary things, not because of their natural abilities or potential, but because of who He is. Jesus was not blindsided by their inconsistencies or failures. In fact, shortly before His arrest, trial and crucifixion, “Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night…” (Mt. 26:31). But Jesus also had said to those He chose: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19). And later, Jesus chose to use Peter to help build His (Christ’s) Church that would prevail against “the gates of Hades” (Mt. 16:18).
Jesus called the disciples when they were engaged in their ordinary occupations and none of them fully realized what they were getting themselves into. Little did they know that Jesus would, after just three years of ministry with them, end up being crucified and then shortly after would return to His Father in Heaven. And then, when He told them He would be leaving, He made an amazing statement: “…He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall He do; because I go to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). That had to be a puzzling prediction because they had been struggling in their faith even while He was with them, and I’m sure were wondering what Jesus had seen in them to pick them. I mean one of them had betrayed Jesus and another—one of the three closest to Jesus, Peter, had even denied knowing Jesus during His trial and crucifixion! How could Jesus say to them, “…It is to your advantage that I go away…” (Jn. 16:7a)? The answer was: “…If I go, I will send Him (the Comforter, the Holy Spirit) to you” (Jn. 16:7b). That’s why, just before He ascended back to heaven, “He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, which you heard of from Me” (Acts 1:4)... (a reference, of course, to the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost). Jesus went on to explain, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). Taking the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin) to all the world and seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel (Ro. 1:16,17), that would be the “greater works” of which Jesus spoke in the Upper Room. Their future success did not depend upon their own ability but on the power of Christ at work in and through them through the Holy Spirit who would come to permanently indwell them (and us, when we believe).
Do you ever wonder what God sees in you? Why you were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4)? It isn’t because of your talents and abilities, but because of His mercy and grace. What does God see in you and in me? He sees the righteousness of the indwelling Christ (II Cor. 5:21). He sees what He will accomplish in and through your life. The Apostle Paul, who at one time had been Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the followers of Jesus, was transformed and became the temple of the Holy Spirit and testified, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
God also sees what He will make of your life. Accept Jesus’ call to follow Him and He will transform your life and use you in ways you never thought possible. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (I Cor. 1:27-29).
I recall reading in James Dobson’s book Dare to Discipline about an experiment on a playground at a school where the children primarily hung near the buildings during recess until they built a fence around the school property. Then the children felt safer and utilized the whole area for their playtime. We witnessed a similar thing in our neighborhood recently. A new family with young children had moved into a home that is on our walking route. We noticed the same thing happen. The place had no fence and the children hung out next to the house. But then the parents built a cute little fence out of pallets and now the children play in the whole yard around the house.
One of the principles of life is that “freedom has fences,” i.e., true freedom comes only when we live within the boundaries that are placed around us to protect us. Many think that freedom comes from removing all the fences, getting rid of all restraints, but that ultimately leads to bondage to our old sinful natures. We all recently saw an example of that in the CHOP district in Seattle. Getting rid of authority and police protection and rules and regulations leads to anarchy and chaos—it always has and always will. You would think we would have learned from examples in history, but it seems many have to find out for themselves.
From the very beginning of creation and the history of mankind, God placed restrictions or boundaries upon us. Adam and Eve were free to eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying, “for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Satan convinced Eve that God was not being fair or truthful and said, “You surely shall not die!” (Gen. 3:3). Eve believed Satan’s lie and she and her husband both ate of the forbidden tree and today we live in a world of sin and chaos as a result. We all inherited the sinful nature that resulted from that act of disobedience (Ro. 5:12,19) and have the tendency to listen to Satan’s lies and to disobey God’s commands.
The sinful heart of man thinks that if we can throw off all of God’s restraints–like the protection of human life from conception to the grave, like marriage being for one man and one woman, like sex being reserved for marriage, like doing our own work honestly to provide a living for our family, like worshiping only the one true God and not substituting gods of our own making, like treating others with kindness and respect and not envying and coveting what they have, like submitting to the authorities God has placed over us—that we will really be free. But, God has placed those boundaries around us because with our old, sinful natures, we need them.They are for our safety and security. Without them, man does only “that which is right in his own eyes” as they did during the “dark ages” of Israel’s history, a period of some 350 years of seven cycles of sin, slavery, supplication and salvation. We cannot experience true freedom without living within the boundaries God has set down for us.
Our nation just celebrated our 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and our freedom from the restraints place upon our people by Great Britain. For the most part our nation was living within the guidelines that are laid out in God’s Word, the Bible. It was even the only textbook for awhile in our schools. It doesn’t mean there was no disobedience to God’s commands, but as a nation we trusted in God and His Word and the “fences” set down within which to operate freely. Then gradually there was a movement to “tear down the fences,” to eliminate God’s Word and all its restrictions and gradually our legislators started listening to the voices of those who wanted to practice things that God’s Word condemns and passed laws, upheld by the courts, to allow such practices. Those who opposed were made out to be “intolerant” and “politically incorrect,” and hateful. Slowly the voice of reason—based on the principles of God’s Word—has been squelched and now we are witnessing a nation that is struggling and polarized and experiencing violent protests, hatred, looting, killing and lack of respect for authority, even asking that we defund the very ones who have the responsibility to protect us and to keep us within the boundaries that remain. Wow, how far we have fallen!
We sing “God Bless America” and speak of “the land of the free.” But we have forgotten that God can bless only when we are obedient to Him and we are free only when we stay within His boundaries. The Psalmist writes: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psa. 33:12a), and the wisest man who ever lived (besides Jesus), Solomon, wrote: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Pr. 14:34). Our president’s goal is to “Make America Great Again,” and that won’t happen because our economy is doing well, or we have a strong military, or our educational system improves and people are working, but rather we can only be great again if we really believe and live out our motto: “In God We Trust.” As long as we trust in science or education or government we are putting our trust in man, and therein lies a big problem. The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD…Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD…The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it’ ” (Jer. 17:6-9).
We need to understand that God’s standards (His fences) are for our good and that real freedom comes from living by those standards. The more we resist them and try to remove them the further we get into messes like we find our nation in right now. We desperately need a revival in the church and for our nation to regain its senses and realize that God placed boundaries upon our lives for good reason and that life doesn’t work the way He intended without them. We need to be like the prodigal son in Scripture and return to our Father to serve Him. He waits with open, loving arms for that to happen. It is our only hope as a nation. Pray much for our country and leaders and for us as Christians to be the salt and light which we are intended to be.
The late Charles Schulz, a believer in Jesus Christ, often included some great theology in his Peanuts comic strip. One of my favorites was repeated on August 4, 2019 and dealt with the need we have for security. Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty are sitting under a big shade tree and Patty asks: “What do you think security is, Chuck?” His response: “Security is sleeping in the back seat of the car when you’re a little kid and you’ve been somewhere with your mom and dad, and its night and you’re riding home in the car and you can sleep in the back seat. You don’t have to worry about anything. Your mom and dad are in the front seat, and they do all the worrying. They take care of everything. But it doesn’t last! Suddenly you’re grown up and it can never be that way again. Suddenly it’s over and you’ll never get to sleep in the back seat again! Never!”
I’m sure you can probably relate. Sometimes you wish you weren’t the adult in the room and could go back to sleeping in the back seat of the car while mom and dad are taking care of everything. Well, it is possible, for we have a heavenly Father who tells us to “cast all our anxiety (care) upon Him, because He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7). The Psalmist, David, who I’m sure could also relate to what Charlie Brown expressed, wrote: “Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Psa. 55:22). The Apostle Paul, wrote these words to encourage the believers at Philippi: “Be anxious for nothing (don’t worry about anything), but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).
Webster defines “security” as: “The state of being of feeling secure; freedom from fear, anxiety, doubt, etc.; something that gives or assures safety, tranquility, protection, certainty.” Hey, that’s just what we see promised in the above verses, and many more in Scripture. Isaiah, the prophet, wrote these comforting words “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3 NIV). David wrote: “I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely” (Psa. 16: 8,9). The Apostle Paul wrote these words to his understudy, Timothy: “…for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (when I stand before Him)” (II Tim. 1:12).
We live today in a world of uncertainty. For the past 3 1/2 months we have experienced something unique in history where the majority of the population has been living under lock down, many having lost their jobs, and others having to work from their homes using the available technology. Students were not able to return to school or to participate in sports but had to take their classes online. The entire entertainment industry came pretty much to a screeching halt, as did the sports world. Shopping became interesting, with many commodities missing from shelves and workers and shoppers wearing masks. Travel was curtailed, affecting the airline and rail industries. The majority of the world had to “shelter in,” and still thousands contracted the Covid-19 virus and thousands have died from it. The political world has seemingly just totally lost its moorings and everything that happens gets politicized with anger, animosity and now protests and riots and vandalism and looting. People are threatening to “defund the police” whose job is to keep us safe. Things have become crazy and out of control. Life has become very uncertain. We don’t know when this virus will finally run its course and people will settle down and life will get back to normal—whatever that will look like. It will definitely be a “new normal,” as some ways of living will have been permanently changed. People have lots to be anxious over and many are fearful and lacking peace and confidence about the future, and with good reason.
I’m reminded of an old hymn “In Times Like These” by Ruth Caye Jones:
“In times like these you need a Savior, In times like these you need an anchor.
Be very sure, be very sure your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!
This Rock is Jesus, yes He’s the One, This rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!
In times like these you need the Bible, in times like these oh be not idle.
Be very sure, be very sure your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!
In times like these I have a Savior, in times like these I have an anchor.
I’m very sure, I’m very sure, my anchor holds and grips the solid Rock!”
Many—the majority in fact—are looking for security in all the wrong places: their financial resources or real estate; in their job, their position, their education or their skill set; or in religion and their church attendance or membership. But, there is real security in only one place—a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, who came to earth, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life revealing to mankind the character of God and then laid down His life as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Security comes from accepting Christ’s death on your behalf and inviting Him into your life as Savior and Lord. We are secure from that day forward through eternity for we have “Christ in us the hope of glory,” and “He Himself said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’ ” (Col. 1:27; Heb. 13:5). Security comes, not from religion but a relationship with God the Son. John wrote in his first epistle, the “know-so epistle”: “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (I Jn. 5:11-13).
Our security is in the almighty, unchanging God our Savior, Jesus Christ. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:31-39). AMEN!! That is real security?
Okay, a trivia question for you: “What is the official (national) bird of Norway? For us in the United States, it is, of course, not the wild turkey as Benjamin Franklin proposed, but the majestic Bald Eagle. For Norway, it is a very ordinary bird that behaves in very extraordinary ways, the white-throated dipper. Our version in North America is the American dipper, a slate-gray robin-sized bird that resembles an overgrown version of its cousin the wren, with its stubby tail that sticks upward.
The dipper is the only perching bird that is exclusively aquatic. You would expect to see it perching in tree in your backyard or the forest, but instead, you will spot it along the shores of a fast-moving stream. If you’ve ever been to Glacier Park and sat along one of the many frigid streams of ice-cold water, you have probably spotted a little bird that sits along the shore pumping its body up and down by squatting and standing up some 40-60 times per minute, and then suddenly flitting from rock to rock and at some point disappearing into the turbulent, icy water for minutes at a time (It can hold its breath for ten minutes!). If you can keep an eye on the dipper you will see it literally walking on the slippery rocks on the bottom of the stream in search of food and then probably see it “flying” through the water upstream as it uses its wings like a penguin does to propel itself through the water and use the current to force its buoyant little body to stay under water. At times the bird vigorously “rows” its sturdy wings like oars to resist the current in order to steady its position.
To all appearances this little perching bird has no special features to enable its exuberant activity by and in a fast-moving, icy stream of fresh water, often just having melted from a glacier or snow bank. But it moves in and out of the water easily, and effectively navigates the streams in spite of its physical limitations. And to go with this unusual activity is the fact that the dipper constantly has a song to sing. Adverse weather seems not to affect it in the least. Despite the dipper’s physical limitations (it is definitely not built like a duck!), the dipper joyfully and energetically goes about its search for underwater larvae and other edible morsels, all the time with a cheery song.
Amazing! How does the dipper know to perform these underwater behaviors? An un-programmed or otherwise undirected “trial and error” process (which evolution would require) isn’t an adequate explanation because failures equal drowning! And a drowned dipper wouldn’t get a second chance to evolve such underwater survival skills! Dippers, like other birds, need providential programming in place to fill their special niches in the life God planned for them.
God did design the dipper some special features which enable it to perform such amazing activity in the icy, turbulent streams. God made its plumage very dense. Its protective covering of feathers is thicker than either of its relatives the wren or thrush. The ends of the feathers are more loosely formed to prevent them from soaking up water. God also designed the dipper with a large oil gland at the base of its tail with which it waterproofs its feathers. Our amazing Creator also gave the dipper three eyelids for its rather small eyes, one of the eyelids cleans and wipes the cornea like a windshield wiper, keeping it clear of water and making it appear that the dipper is always blinking. Also, on its nose are two flaps which close off each nostral and prevent water from entering when the bird submerges (not even ducks have this feature). The dipper can also decrease its heart rate by 55-65% and increase the amount of oxygen stored in its blood, for its prolonged foraging trips under water. The dipper doesn’t have webbed feet (like a duck) or toes (like a coot), but does have extra-long strong toes for gripping the slipper rocks and for pushing itself up stream.
The slate-gray color of our American dipper helps it blend in to the rocks and logs along the stream. Its nest (constructed mainly by the female), looks like a round ball about a foot in diameter and covered with live, green moss, which the dipper waters by standing on its nest and shaking off the water from its feathers. The nest is built by rocks or logs or often behind a waterfall!
What a strange, amazing bird! God equipped this bird with the remarkable skills it needs to get its food in a harsh, frigid environment, all the while seeming to maintain a spirit of joyfulness, despite its apparent physical limitations. Talk about “Providential Programming!”
It seems that we too often find ourselves to be inadequate for the harsh circumstances in which we find ourselves, but God has equipped us to by giving us the Holy Spirit and Christ living in us to deal with anything that comes our way and, if we trust in Him and not our own wisdom and strength, we “can do all things through Him who strengthens us” (Phil. 4:13). And we can do it cheerfully, in spite of our human limitations. Earlier in the same chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).
Hopefully you live near a stream where you can go and observe these amazing little exuberant, cheerful creatures that God made, the dipper, and “let them tell you” of the goodness of God (cf Job 12:7,8).
As I have mentioned in previous “Wisdom of the Week” articles, we have a neighborhood whitetail deer herd which creates problems with our attempts at gardening and growing flowers, shrubs and trees. We have found very few things they actually don’t eat, especially in the fall, as they prepare for winter. We have to put cages or fences around anything we wish to protect. But, at the same time we are provided with lots of entertainment seeing God’s beautiful creatures and their antics throughout the year. We have a little rabbit that found a home under our beehives—of all places—and this last week we happened to catch sight of a doe and the rabbit playing chase. Pretty comical.
We also had the first fawn show up this past week, in the backyard of our neighbor with three dogs (two of them Great Danes!). We heard the neighbor’s son hollering at the dogs and went to investigate to discover they had found a new fawn in their yard. We took over some latex gloves and another neighbor who had arrived managed to catch the fawn (which could already run) and take it out into our field and place it in some deep grass near the neighbor’s fence. Toward evening the doe showed up and got her fawn—yea! A couple years ago we had the privilege of watching twins being born in our orchard and were able to video the amazing scene.
Because of the increase of wolves, mountain lions and grizzly bears in our area, many of the deer have moved into residential areas for safety. Since a whitetail deer will live 10-12 years, a doe, which can reproduce at age two and often has twins and occasionally triplets, can produce a family of up to 130 in her lifetime! At one time there were an estimated 50 million whitetail deer in the United States, but by the late 1800’s, they had dropped in numbers to near extinction. Public concern saved the animal and populations are now close to 10 million (We are doing our part!).
In late May or early June, the does have their young. It takes only 10-15 minutes for the doe to give birth to a fawn. She begins bathing the fawn to clean it up (and remove any smell), usually licking so vigorously that she knocks the fawn off its wobbly feet. She also eats the placenta and signs of the birth to eliminate any telltale sign which would betray the deer’s presence to a predator. The fawn is usually able to stand within just a few minutes and as soon as it can walk—in about twenty to thirty minutes—the doe leads the fawn to a place of safety. (In the case of the fawn in the neighbor’s backyard, mom forgot about the fence that her fawn couldn’t get under, over or through!) The doe will take the fawn to a safe place to rest for the next 2-3 days during which the fawn remains practically motionless with its legs tucked beneath and its neck stretched out and head pressed flat against the ground, or curled up in a fetal position. God, in His wisdom, to protect the fawn from predators (which resulted from the curse He placed on the earth after sin…Gen. 3:14-19), provides the fawn with a spotted coat enabling it to blend inconspicuously with its background, the spots resembling shadows on the ground caused by sunlight filtering through the trees. In addition, the fawn is odorless for several weeks. If the fawn stays motionless, a predator could walk right by it and the infant, with its protective coloring and lack of odor would be undetected.
During those first two or three days, the doe will separate herself from the fawn so as to not attract predators, but she will return briefly several times a day to feed the fawn with her rich milk which contains twice the solids and three times the fat and protein of that of a Jersey cow. On that diet, the fawn quadruples its weight in a month! (And adult weighs 150-300 pounds.)
Soon, as the fawn gains strength from the nutritious milk, and is more sure on its legs, it is prone to start wandering and exploring. The doe, in order to protect her fawn will be firm in discipline, insisting that her little one lay down and stay there until told it’s okay to move. She will push the fawn to the ground with her muzzle, or front hoof placed in the fawn’s back pressing it to the ground. The fawn needs to learn to obey. It is really a matter of life and death.
Predators such as coyotes, cougars and wolves can quickly pick up the scent of an adult deer long after it has passed by. Inter-digital glands located between the points of the split hooves deposit a waxy secretion on the ground—but this is not the case of the fawn until it has sufficiently developed its running skills—just another way our wonderful Creator designed the whitetail deer.
Besides its quickness and speed and ability to hide, the whitetail deer comes equipped with razor-sharp front hooves which it uses as very effective weapons to inflict serious wounds on an enemy. The rattlesnake is one such enemy. The deer leaps into the air and pounces on the snake. The quickness with which the deer attacks with its sharp hooves will kill and tear the snake to shreds. God also equipped the whitetail deer with a very sensitive nose, sonar-like hearing and keen eyesight. They have the ability to focus on both nearby and distant objects at the same time. So, while it has its head down eating, at the same time it keeps an eye out for trouble. Because their eyes are set high and spread wide apart, the deer can see almost completely around itself.
If the whitetail deer were able to respond to its Maker, it would echo with the Psalmist, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb, I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works…” (Psa. 139:13,14 NKJV). And just think, If God so wonderfully designed His creatures—like the whitetail deer—we, as the “crown of His creation,” can—and should—rejoice in His design of us, His care of us, and His purpose for our lives to be able to communicate with and love Him and to spend eternity with Him through the sacrifice He made to pay for our sins. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
We live near the beautiful Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area and over the years have had the privilege of doing lots of hiking in the area, including making it to the top of a number of the mountains. What an amazing view and perspective you get when on a mountaintop! I also had the opportunity a few years ago of taking a scenic flight over the Cabinets, and within just over an hour seeing all the places we have hiked, spending many hours just to reach one of the destinations. Mountains are so majestic and seem to represent power and authority and stability. We speak of having “mountaintop” experiences as highlights in our lives. But, in our humanity, we always have to return to the valleys and live out our everyday lives.
While many actual mountains are connected with key events in Scripture, they are also used figuratively as symbolic of strength and stability. In Psalm 30:7, King David, in reference to the stability of his kingdom, writes: “O LORD, by your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong…” David also speaks of the mountains as symbolic of the righteousness of God (Psa. 36:6). The prophet, Isaiah was given a vision of the glory of the future kingdom and writes: “Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills and all the nations will stream to it” (Isa. 2:2). Daniel, in prophesying of the coming kingdom on earth, writes about the “stone” which crushes the earthly kingdoms and becomes “a great mountain that fills the whole earth” (Dan. 2:35).
Mountains have served as the site of many significant events in Bible history. Noah’s ark, after surviving the world-wide flood, “rested upon the mountains of Ararat (which reach 17,000 feet in elevation)” (Gen. 8:4). (It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “rested” is the same as the word for “Noah.” Also, the ark came to rest on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, which—after considering the calendar change God made at the time of the Passover [Ex. 12:2,6] is the same day Christ was raised from the dead (Jn. 19:4; I Cor. 5:7).
When God requested that Abraham offer up his promised son, Isaac, He sent him to the mountains of Moriah, where Solomon later built His Temple in Jerusalem (II Chr. 3:1). “Moriah” means “The place to see God,” or “The place where God provides.” It was there that God did provide the ultimate sacrifice for sin, His only begotten Son, that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life (Jn. 3:16 cf Gen. 22: 8).
It was, of course, Mt. Sinai that Moses ascended (twice) to receive the Law for the Israelites during the third month after their exodus from slavery in Egypt (Gen. 19:1). Mt. Sinai is usually identified as Jebel Musa, a 7500-foot peak at the southern end of the “V” formed by the gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. At the foot of the peak is a plain 2 1/2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide in which the people could easily have camped for the more than 11 months that they were there.
In the central part of Palestine are two mountains rising about 3,000 feet on either side of the narrow valley of Shechem. On Mount Gerazim Moses stood and promised a blessing to the Jews if they would obey God’s commands. Then he stood on Mount Nebal and proclaimed a curse upon the people if they would not obey God’s commands (Dt. 11, 27).
Carmel is a mountain range, rising to 1800 feet, which juts out into the Mediterranean near modern Haifa, Israel. It was there that the prophet Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the Asherah (mother of Baal) to a contest to see whose god was the true God–Jehovah God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Baal. They would prepare offerings upon an altar and call upon their god to send fire to consume it. The Baal worshipers cried out to their god, danced around the altar, cut themselves, but to no avail. Then Elijah prayed and God sent fire to consume not only the sacrifice but the altar itself and licked up the water in the trench around the altar (I Kgs. 18).
When Jesus began His public ministry, He went into the desert (probably near Jericho) where he fasted for 40 days and was then tempted by the devil, who “took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory” (Mt. 4; 8). Satan, the usurper, had become the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31), and offered these kingdoms to Jesus if He would just bow down and worship him. Satan’s offer was genuine, but, of course Jesus—as the God-Man— couldn’t, and wouldn’t worship Satan, or He would not have fulfilled His mission to go to the cross and die for sin. Jesus will one day rule over the world, in His time.
Probably the most familiar of all Jesus’ teachings also took place on a mountainside in Galilee. It is referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount,” and contains the Beatitudes (Mt. 5-7). Later in His ministry, “Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them…and behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him” (Mt. 17:1-3). This event probably took place on Mt. Hermon, with an elevation of 4200 feet. The transfiguration gave the three disciples a preview of Jesus future exaltation and the coming kingdom. Peter wanted the experience to continue and offered to build tabernacles there for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (v. 4). When we have those “mountaintop experiences,” we want them to last!
Near the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He sat on the Mount of Olives and answered His disciples’ question about the signs of His coming and the end of the age (Mt. 24:3). Jesus’ response (Mt. 24,25) is referred to as “The Olivet Discourse.” Shortly after that Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and then returned to the Mount of Olives where He was betrayed by Judas, arrested, tried, and taken to a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem called “the skull” (Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin). It was probably in a prominent place near the public highway. Some claim that Moriah (where Abraham took Isaac) and Calvary are identical.
When the Lord returns to judge the nations of the earth and to set up His Millennial Kingdom, He will set foot again on the Mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem and it will split in two… “and the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. All the land will be changed…and the people will live in it, and there will be nor more curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zech. 14:4-11). Seven years before that, the Church will be removed as Christ comes in the air for His Bride (I Thes. 4:13-18). “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
The answer to the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, is definitively answered in Genesis. God created adult plants and animals with the ability to reproduce. On the third day, “God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation…’ and the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:11,12). In His wisdom, God designed many diverse ways to prolong the life of every species of plant He created.
Plants and trees have different ways of multiplying. Some reproduction is asexual and includes reproduction through rhizomes, or horizontal stems, that grow underground and from which roots and new shoots sprout. We have a number of cottonwood trees on our property and I am constantly having to dig out shoots which are coming up in the lawn. Poplar and birch also reproduce with rhizomes. Some plants that have rhizome reproduction include most ground-cover plants such as mint and ivy and periwinkle. Other vegetation involving asexual reproduction includes ferns, and mushrooms which make young plants from reproductive cells called spores. Cultivation is another asexual method of reproduction where a cutting is taken from a stem or branch and either first placed in water and then planted in the soil, or—in some cases—planted immediately in soil. The new tree or plant will be an exact copy—or clone—of the parent. Some plants, such as tulips and narcissus (including daffodils) grow and reproduce from bulbs which multiply each year.
Other reproduction is sexual through the exchange of pollen between male and female reproductive systems. A single tree can produce both male and female flowers. Many trees, such as pine, rely on wind pollination (which is happening in our area right now). The yellow dust-like pollen is carried by the wind to another tree of the same species that’s producing female flowers and cones. The female cones on a conifer produce a sticky substance near the ovule so wind-borne pollen will stick. Pollen can also be transported by “pollinators”—anything from bees to bats, hummingbirds, moths, beetles and butterflies. Sometimes there is a very close relationship between a pollinator and the tree or plant they pollinate. Some birds’ beaks, for example, are specially designed by the Creator to crack open conifer cones, thus spreading the seeds. Some plants can only be pollinated by a specific species of insect or animal. The flowers that trees bear either function as female or male. Female flowers contain ovaries that develop into fruit while male flowers bear pollen that fertilizes the female flowers. Some trees bear flowers of only one sex (monoceious); others bear flowers of both (dioecious).
However pollination occurs, it isn’t the end of the reproductive cycle. The seeds (embryos) that pollination produces still need to be distributed. Some seeds as with fruit trees and nut trees, are encased and drop to the ground or taken by deer, squirrels or birds to be spread. Animals may eat the nuts, pits, or seeds, which are then spread as the animal defecates. We have a little pine squirrel, “Squeaky,” that last fall made numerous trips to the three flower planters on our deck. This spring we were surprised by the product of his/her work. We had numerous sunflowers, plumb trees and chestnut trees coming up in our planters! I transplanted them to our vegetable garden and next year will donate them to a friend who has a plant nursery!
Other seeds are wind-borne, much like pollen. Some find fertile soil and germinate. Maple trees have winged parachutes, cottonwood have fluffy cotton balls carried by the wind, sometimes for miles. Other seeds are encased in burrs which attach like Velcro to animals or to human clothing. Last fall, while out hunting, I walked through a weed patch and when I got home had to spend an hour pulling burrs off my clothing and pack. Blackberries are scattered after being digested by birds. Tumbleweeds, after drying, are picked up by the wind and can travel quite a distance to distribute the seeds. There are some conifer trees, such as lodge pole pine, which have serotinous cones which depend on heat during the seed production cycle. The cones are sealed by a resin that requires 122-140 degrees Fahrenheit in order to open. That is why after a forest fire, you will often see a very thick stand of lodge pole trees as the first to come back. Lodge pole have both regular cones that cast their seeds upon maturity as well as serotinous cones.
In one of the parables that Jesus taught, He referred to the Word of God as a seed which He sows in the world (the field) on different types of soil (the hearts of man). Some is sown on hard soil (Mt. 13:4), some on shallow soil (vv. 5,6), some on thorny (worldly) soil (v. 7), and some on fertile (receptive) soil (v. 8) where it germinates, grows to maturity and bears fruit (v. 23). The seed, God’s Word, is broadcast (scattered) in a variety of ways (just as the seeds of plants and trees) and is carried by the Spirit of God however and wherever He wants. When the soil is fertile—a heart that God has prepared—the seed takes root and germinates into new life and grows and bears fruit. The Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle: “For you have been born again, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God (I Pet. 1:23).
Just as our Creator designed vegetation with the ability to reproduce in a variety of amazing ways, He also designed man to reproduce, not only physically, but spiritually through “spreading the seed of the Word of God,” sharing the Good News of the Gospel, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:1-4). Are you planting the seed of His Word wherever you go?