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. 

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.

I didn’t ask for it.

During my time spent on light duty one of the tasks I have is to throw out the stale bread from the warehouse. The stale bread that the drivers bring back they are supposed to throw out themselves. One day I got started late due to other responsibilities. As a result I was still pitching the old bread when the drivers began coming back with rheir stale. Since I was already doing this task I just told the drivers to leave it there and I would take care of it. They were thankful because it meant they didn’t have to do it themselves and got to leave that much sooner. Those fellas didn’t ask for it I just volunteered to do it. It wasn’t even a matter of that they deserved it either, in fact I could have easily jusr stepped aside and let them work for themselves, but in all honesty I just felt like doing it (more of the Holy Spirit directing me so I could write about it).

Humanly speaking I am sure this is not the first time in human history that something like that has happened nor will it most likely be the last either. Spiritually speaking though I do have a by far greater example of that principle. Paul wrote about it in Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

None of us asked God to do anything for us. We each had a job to do which to be perfectly honest not one human being could ever do for themself. That job was to fulfill the law and thereby save ourselves but as I said we couldn’t do it. In fact we would never have asked God to do it either because we are such sinful creatures. Without God doing what He did we would never have had a chance for salvation. 

I didn’t ask for it yet He made a way for me to be saved. While we are at it I didn’t even know that I needed Him but yet He sent someone to tell me that I needed Him. Jesus came to this Earth to buy salvation for a world that didn’t ask Him for it. The hardest part of salvation is done, all that is required of man is to accept His free gift which He does ask that we do.

Traffic control

Garrett Morgan is a name many don’t know but I’ll wager given our fast paced society people would love to have a “little talk” with him. He is credited as the invented of the traffic light or red light or stop light. Amazing we don’t call it a more pleasant name such as the “go light” or the “green light”. Our view is negative because it has the ability to stop us dead in our tracks. Of course that is pretty much what Mr. Morgan had in mind, keeping traffic under control to make the road safer. This device takes away our complete freedom of recklessness in exchange for a measure safety for all. All those stop lights are timed with the legal speed limit to keep traffic flowing at it’s optimum rate. Sometimes it means we have to stop and be inconvenienced to allow for other to also be allowed to go.

I have noticed a nice little fact about those lights and side streets. It is that quite often if we will go to the red light instead of the shortcut to a street with no light we find ourselves moving along sooner than if we did do the short cut because of the flow of the surrounding traffic. Those nuisance traffic lights can be our friend. Our disobedience to them though can be costly such as a police officer catching us going through the light, red light cameras, or out right accidents. Traffic control devices are meant to be obeyed all the time and not just when we feel like it.

In the Bible we are given a “traffic control signal” known as the law. Galatians 3:24 says “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” That schoolmaster or instructor was a slave who generally had proven himself enough to be trusted to guide the development of the future master(s) of the house of the upper class. These young boys were not allowed to even leave the house without the schoolmaster; that is until their graduation day. 

God’s law is that schoolmaster in our lives. Though when we are first born into this world that same law condemned us all to Hell because we were all born sinful. Yet that same law also shows us our need for Christ and His salvation to get to Heaven. Once we do repent of our sins and ask Jesus to save us we still have that schoolmaster of the law, the difference is now it no longer condemns us to Hell but condemns our hearts over the sins we commit after our salvation. When we obey the law it doesn’t mean the signals are in our favor but it does mean that our life (traffic) can flow properly in God’s will. At the same time disobedience, running the redlights, causes accidents and gets us spiritual traffic tickets. If we avoid the light so we can just go already we find that it doesn’t go our way, we may have to wait even longer, we have an accident, or worse. Maybe it works out but is it really worth the cost of avoiding what the designer has given us to keep us where we need to be?

Get back to work

We all want to be blessed and to be used by God to be a blessing. When we don’t see those things happening in our lives just what is it that we suspect,at first, to be the reason for why it ain’t happening? If we are honest with ourselves then most of the time we know the answer. God won’t work in our lives when we give Him nothing to work with.

Perhaps we are supplying Him with the building materials but we still aren’t seeing results. I have to admit I have found far to often that yes indeed He has the stuff to work with in my life but sin has pulled the building permits. Now instead of building a godly life, time is being spent on cleaning up the debris left behind from the sin I have allowed to roam freely in my area. All that time spent going to church, singing praises, taking notes on the sermon, and the prayers that were more than just at church are all building materials. Maybe not all that we need to have but at least we have those things. Until that sin happens and stops construction.

Then there is the time factor that can delay a project. Those moments when we are about to work or are working and suddenly the time clock chimes and it is time for a break, time for lunch, time to punch out. We look around and realize nothing much got done. Time was wasted, it was spent on the wrong things and now we find ourselves further behind. How often does that lead to us putting the project on hold or scrapping it altogether? God didn’t want that to happen but our use of time dictated that to us.

Good news!!! God isn’t satisfied with our excuses. In fact He is ready for us to get back to work. He has plans for us, plans about us, and plans for our future (not just Heaven either).

Remember there was this certain big mouth in the group of disciples who followed Jesus around by the name of Peter? Jesus told him that Satan had plans for his life (to sift him as wheat) but Jesus also had plans for him. In fact Jesus told Peter when he was converted and not if he was, Peter was to strengthen the brethren. Peter was also told that he would deny Jesus three times. 

When the time came he sure did deny Jesus those three times. But I like what the Bible records for us over in Mark 16:7. The angels that were there at the now empty tomb of Jesus told the women to go back and “tell his disciples and Peter”. Did you catch that? And Peter. Peter! God still wants you and He is telling you to get back to work! Church however bad off we might be God still loves us and still wants us to get to work. Don’t let Satan tell you it’s too late, because it will only be that way when you leave this life. 

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.