The gift of thorns

I would never desire a bed of roses, even for just one night. No matter how sweet it might smell or how soft it might would be. Whenever I think about such a thing I am reminded of the little rose garden we have in our backyard. There we have a rose bush called a Cinnamon Rose Bush. Now I don’t know if it is every cinnamon bush that is like this or just ours but this thing is covered with thorns. Just to get it out of that plastic tub it came in I had to wear leather welding gloves and I still felt like I was getting poked. It seems to me that even the thorns have thorns on them. So with that image in mind logically, to me, a bed of roses is going to have thorns in it.

Thorns aren’t bad though. No, we don’t like to be stuck by one but that is just the thorn doing it’s job. Thorns are there to protect the plant. Roses are a pretty good source of Vitamin C so it stands to reason that animals would want to get to that vitamin. With a fallen nature the animals would overdo it and there would be no more rose. The sweet smell would be gone and it’s beauty lost forever. Having thorns protects the plant from such wanton destruction.

Thorns are a gift from God. They weren’t there originally. It took man giving into sin for thorns to appear. We read in Genesis 3:17,18 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee…” Cursed is the ground for our sakes, not as torture mind you. The thorns were brought about to protect us. Protect us from abusing God’s grace. He could have rightfully killed Adam and Eve then and there but He extended grace. Life is pain and the thorns remind us how much worse it can be. Those little pricks help stear us when temptation is brewing. We can either choose to listen or suffer their wrath. 

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Get all you can

I was thinking the other day about what advice I would share with a young preacher who was just starting out. Three things came to mind. Each of which I wish someone had shared with me when I first started out. While I don’t know the extent of the change it would have made for me I know the right advice would have gone a long way.

My first piece of advice would be this. When it comes to what a God called man is to preach, God has already told you what to preach. He has given you 66 books in one volume called the Bible. Stay on your knees in prayer with your nose in the good book. You don’t have to look for the eight-run home run sermon, just give ’em Jesus.

The second piece of advice would be in regards to opportunity. That is, take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t hide behind the line that you are not good enough yet to go out somewhere, that you need more seasoning. If God called you and you have been faithful to study and not just have opinions and traditions then God will be with you. A young preacher may not feel up to the challenge of an invitation, but I would urge them to take it. The opportunity they pass on may be the same one someone like me would be begging to have.

Lastly, and just as importantly as the first two. Please young preacher ask questions. Don’t just assume that the older more experienced preachers will just open up the flood gates of knowledge to you of their own accord. They tend to not remember how it was to be that inexperienced. There is knowledge and wisdom there but you most likely will have to tap into it yourself verses them taking you under their wing.

I am reminded of what Paul wrote over in 2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Paul just listed four generations in this one verse. How much Paul brought out on his own verses how muxh Timothy had to dig out of the apostle on his own I don’t know, doesn’t matter anyway. The point is that there was knowledge there and each preacher has the responsibility to get all that he can and pass on all that he can.

Getting along

I heard a preacher say one time that we had best learn to get along with our co-workers because if we don’t God will make sure you two get stuck together. With that in mind I must confess that there is a group of men where I work that I don’t see eye to eye with. For the record I am a union member, where I work is a union business, my local is in need of more members, and I was always taught that if you work at a union shop you must be a union member. Long story short this group of guys are not union member, which puts me at odds with them.

However over the past few months I have had to deal directly with them more than normal. Yes they are just as human as I am, which is no surprise, but they are still non-union workers in a union shop but I am getting over that. I can’t change what they are but I can work with them, even dare I say work a little with them. As part of my transition back to my normal job I have had my hours changed to where I come in earlier and help our shippers ship the product to the drivers. Part of this new responsibility includes shipping some of their product. For me that is a little weird, bad enough I am shipping but also shipping to these guys!?! We do have a common goal though. All of us want to make a living to support our families.

This got me to thinking about who in the Bible were some “opposites” who had to learn to work together? David and Jonathan come to mind. Jonathan is the crown prince yet he knew David had been choosen by God Himself to be the nect king, 1 Samuel 23:17. These two agreed to work together even though Jonathan knew he was getting the short end of the stick. The over all goal was more important, they knew they had to follow God’s will for their lives and for their nation. 

Still though they didn’t have that difference of opinion like me and the non-union guys. That lead me to think about to of Jesus’ disciples. Matthew the publican and Simon Zealotes. Simon Zealotes was as pro-Israel as you can get while Matthew the publican had “betrayed” Israel by going to work for the Roman’s as one of their tax collector’s. Early on it must have been somewhat uncomfortable for these two to work together. Not even much of a stretch to think that they did their best to be as far apart as possible but still they hung in there. Personally I kinda picture it taking Jesus at the last supper washing everybody’s feet before it really started to click for them. The idea that they have a common goal and a common employer (God). Their past was in the past and now a day would soon come for them when they would work together, Pentecost, both giving out the good news that Jesus saves. Then one day coming to understand that salvation was not just for the Jews but for all mankind, so long as they would accept the free gift. Yeah even those two could get along, they needed common ground and that was found at the foot of the cross.

Get up and go done left

You know those times when you got all the energy and desire in the world to do something that you need to accomplish but you lack that fateful third component of Time? Happens all the time doesn’t it? Personally I hate when that happens, which is all too often for me. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is that thing, that goal, that opportunity just somehow always manages to get placed on the back burner.

Of course history teaches us that as soon as we get that precious time to spend on that project one or both of the other things has gone. It is late in the day and we are just plain worn down by the events of the day. Those same events that kept us from reaching our goal before like some solid brick wall now are doing it again, only this time like iron chains attached to our legs. Perhaps it is a matter of that all important desire has burned out. Earlier in the day it burned so hot we just couldn’t wait for the moment when we could and dare I say would get it done! However something else changed, and we may no longer feel the pull, the drive to finish what we told ourselves we would get done.

To be blunt, our get and go got up and left without us. Those three things (time, energy, and desire) are so interlocking that without the one the rest become a chore, a burden, a project for another day. Our focus gets lost in the haze of our running from place to place. As a result we sacrifice things that we feel we can do without for a little while, with the greatest of intentions to make up it up.

Can we? Sure, there are some things that we pass on that we honestly can do without, no harm no foul. Yet there are other things that are a part of us that we view as being okay to neglect, for the time being of course, yet they are not. Truth is that once we get into the habit of letting those things slide by the way side eventually we come to the point that without giving it a second thought we just let it go and that leads to us forgetting it altogether. In the back of our minds it turns out we really didn’t need it anyhow. At least that is what this new habit tells us. Next thing you know years have passed and a great deal has been missed out on.

For the Christian I am thinking about very specifically two things. The first is our Bible reading and the second is our prayer life. Both require those same three elements: time, energy, and desire. How often do we get up late and rush out the door without those two things? Or head off to bed early and not make an honest effort to get caught up just a little? I am guilty. In fact I will even go so far as to say that the disciples were guilty of much the same thing and they even did it with Jesus present!

In Mark 14:37-40 we read And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?  Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.  And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.  And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.” These boys had the time but their energy was spent and I believe Jesus was also trying to make a point to them and us about desire. You see of those three elements desire is the most powerful. Desire will help you over come where those others come short. We though have a bad tendency to allow our desire to become a weak flabby muscle, mentally speaking. Without desire we will never have enough time or energy to get to it. The disciples didn’t even know how to answer Jesus when He approached them about falling asleep again instead of praying, and I believe it was because they allowed their physical side to over come their mental side, the spirit truly is ready but the flesh is weak.

So what difference does it make if we don’t read our Bible enough or pray more often? To start with these two are halves of a conversation. Praying is our half of the conversation that we hold with God and reading our Bible is God’s half of the conversation with God. If a couple never speaks to one another their marriage won’t last. A teacher who never says anything to the students will never teach the students and if the students don’t speak up about the lack of education they will never learn. Secondly prayer and Bible reading show dedication on our part. They tell God that He is more important and that we want to spend time with Him. Which is good because He wants to spend time with us, it’s written in His book.

Out of the norm

The other night I decided to attend our church’s teen meeting. Yeah, I know I haven’t been a teenager in over twenty years. On top of that I am something of an introvert so I am not big on socializing by nature. For me, I felt like I really needed to step out of my norm, my shell, that I needed a change if for nothing else to be a little different for a couple of hours.

All in all I had fun at the meeting. We started off by playing a couple of games. One was a guessing game where each of us wrote down three positive facts about ourselves on a card with no name on it and we were then divided up boys against girls. Our object was to guess who on the opposing aide had written about themself. For the second game we all had to choose an animal and a motion and sound that would describe the animal. While in a circle we would have to do our animal and follow it with someone elses animal. We did this until we messed up the animal or picked someone who was already out.

These games served a couple of purposes. The most obvious was to entertain everyone. The leaders didn’t go straight into the Bible and teach the Bible in the typical dry style that has doomed so many young people to think that church is boring and let me get out of here as quick as possible. These kids are teenagers, as such you have to approach them accordingly. This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 he was willing to go to the level of his audience in an effort to win as many to Christ as possible. Those leaders for our teens are doing the same thing and have seen some results. 

Now the other thing that those games did which is in my estimation even more important is that those games desensitized the participants. When we first started I felt so out of place. Like I said I am twenty-plus years older then the oldest, this wasn’t my age bracket and I am sure most if not all realized that tidbit. I felt ignored because I wasn’t one of them, so awkward in fact I wanted to leave but at this point it was too late. Yet once we got through the first game, a simple game at that, we were all laughing and talking to those on our side and the second game opened us up to laughing and talking with the whole group. No longer were we divided by age and gender, for one evening that norm had been left behind, we were now all equal to one another.

After a quick meal it was time to get into the Bible. Our youth pastor had warned me if I ever showed up I better come prepared to bring the devotional, so I did just in case. As it turned out right after the meal he did indeed tell me I had two minutes to get ready. I brought the devotional on some of the details about the book of Ruth and tried to tie it in with both our pastor’s current series on the life of King David and the first of those same games where we had had to guess who had wrote what details about their life. Not a normal devotional perhaps but I could see their faces when I told them different things. Their guard was down after the opening of the evening and they were more willing to hear about God’s word. For a few minutes I was their equal and I think they enjoyed it, I know I did.

Value in a name

This is from a Facebook post I made a few years back, so please forgive the punctuation and capitalization errors.

while studying for an upcoming funeral i was struck by this.  in Luke 7:11 we read of a city called Nain.  we don’t know anything about Nain, but we do know the name.  names mean a great deal in Jewish society.  to have the name gives it certainty that it existed and that this event took place.  for some one here the miracle rally took place.  when dealing with people from the past often Jesus would say “a certain”.  while he didn’t name the individual you knew from that phrase that the person and event really happened.  once Jesus did give a name, leading us to believe the event he spoke of was very recent and the individuals involved probably known to someone in the crowd.  here by giving the name of the city we are shown the event happening in real-time.  the event is not the raising of the dead (though that happened) but HIS compassion for the hurting.  thus illustrating what the psalmist said in Psalms 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  the word “precious” here means valuable.  his children are valuable to him.  and when we are hurting over the passing of a loved one it means something to God as well because we are his.

A quick take away: Our own salvation

Philippians 2:12b work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Does that mean we save ourselves? Nope. It is His salvation that He has purchased for us, Psalms 96:2. He planned it before the beginning of the world, Ephesians 1:4. It is our greatest possession, Romans 6:23b) “your own salvation”. it is the salvation that He has offered, John 3:16; Revelation 3:20. We can have it if we accept it, Romans 10:13. (Kinda like a vacuum cleaner salesman, only God ain’t dumping dirt on your rug it is already there Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23.)