Category Archives: Thoughts on God

Rise Up, My Love (288): Abiding in The Vine

Song of Solomon 8:11 “Solomon had a vineyard.” God had a vineyard. What happened then? Did God give up husbandry when his crops failed? God is amazingly long suffering. Hundreds of years after God predicted giving up on Israel, He was still patiently working with them. When Jesus came, He preached to the nation: “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country” (Matthew 21:33).   Jesus was reminding them again of the passage from Isaiah, and He went on to tell the Jewish leaders that as a nation they had refused to listen to God’s prophets for centuries. (This is also discussed in Jeremiah 12:10, where the Lord laments, “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.”) So, what did God do? “Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him”…but “they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?” (Luke 20: 13,15). “They say unto him, he will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41).   Let’s review our verse again: “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.” Just as any good king would expect and deserve loyalty and fair business exchange, so God expected loyalty from his subjects. However, instead of “a thousand pieces of silver,” God received treachery and rebellion, even to the point of crucifying his Son. But, glory of glory, God had a plan all the time! This same Jesus, who was cast out of the vineyard of wild grapes and killed, was resurrected. Like “a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2), Jesus himself became the one true and living vine that produced fruits full of the sweetness of God.   Jesus declared in the beautiful passage in John 15:   “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine,ye are the branches….If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”   In this wonderful passage, Jesus invites all men to come to him and by faith be grafted into himself as the true Vine. Through abiding in him, and allowing his Word and his Holy Spirit to abide in us in truth (in other words, by continuing in obedience to true truth and grace rather than in rebellion), we will produce abundant fruit full of the sweetness and fullness of God’s love and joy, and bring great joy and glory to God! This is God’s amazing plan of grace for the world, so that anyone who will can become part of God’s vineyard.   Are you part of his vineyard? Are you abiding in him, allowing his Spirit and his Word to flow into and through you, washing away the impurities and bringing sweet nourishment to your soul so that your life is producing an abundance of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control? Lord, may we be faithful and loyal subjects who bring you “a thousand pieces of silver” for the wonderful fruits of the Spirit we enjoy by abiding in your vine and being keepers in your vineyard. Lord, may we surrender all we are and have to you, once forever, and again and again moment by moment until we are forever changed by your eternal presence. (All photos taken near Veneto, Italy, during a trip to visit our kids who live there, except for this last one, which is from Tasmania.)

 

Are You a Follower or a Leader?

Are you a leader or follower by nature? Do you think one is better than the other? American culture puts a high premium on being a leader, but this isn’t what Jesus taught, as Joe Stowell reminds us in his book, Following Christ. God calls us first and foremost to be Christ-followers, not leaders! In truth, I don’t think any of us make good leaders until we’ve learned to become good followers.

Joe is the president of Cornerstone University, where six of our seven kids began their college training, and I think this book is spot on! Ever hear of “Wrong Way Reigels”? He was the University of California center who became infamous for scoring a touchdown. . .at the wrong end of the football field during the 1929 Rose Bowl! His team lost to Georgia Tech by one point, and Joe points out that Reigels’s problem was living by “instinct without direction,” which is an issue for each of us.

Perhaps the most crucial of all life’s questions is: Do we want to be the master of our own fate and the captain of our own soul, as the poet William Ernest Henley wrote, or would we rather follow the guidance of a higher being (God!) who is infinite in his knowledge and wisdom, capable of accomplishing his will, loves us more than we love ourselves, and has our good (and that of all people) and his glory as his game plan?

The only hitch is, we have to surrender to Christ, and most of us are either afraid to trust him because we’re not sure he’s really God, or we don’t believe He truly loves us and has our best interests at heart, or we don’t want to share our “glory” with God! By nature, most of us find it hard to believe that God really loves us more than we love ourselves. We are also proud and resent the idea of giving God the glory. We’d rather seize control of our own destiny and bring glory to ourselves, so at strategic crossroads, even Christ-followers often fail to obey, even though we know good and well what we ought to do. If we want to be true Christ-followers, then we need to commit to obeying Christ even when it seems impossibly hard (and probably is, apart from God’s grace and strength).   We’ve each been given one life to live. . .one challenging but glorious adventure. For those who do not believe in God, or have chosen to take a position of being agnostic, they must default either to being their own leader or following some earthly leader, but I would rather be a follower of Christ. Because, as Joe Stowell points out, having “the real, risen, transcendent, ever-present resident Christ to relate to me in the very depths of my being apart from the inherent trappings of visibility is an advantage with which no earthly relationship can compare.”

Amen! There is no Best Friend Forever who was with us at the day of our birth, can abide with us forever, and loves us with an everlasting love. God alone, in the person of Christ’s Holy Spirit, offers to indwell us and provide guidance, purpose, abundance of joy, and life eternal. Besides all this, there’s another wonderful promise attached to being a true Christ-follower: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make  you free” (John 8:31-32). Being a Christ follower offers us true freedom and can lead us out of the prisons we’ve made for ourselves.

One of my favorite books as a child was Follow My Leader, a story about a teenage boy who is accidentally blinded by a friend’s carelessness and has to find a way out of the hatred that poisons his soul as a result. If you find yourself feeling imprisoned by hatred or embroiled in sin, My Leader (Jesus) can help you find your way out! Don’t believe me? Well, it’s not about me, it’s about God, and He’s the one who made these promises: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:3). Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

Will you join me and the multitude of pilgrims who’ve become Christ-followers?

The Greatest Fact of All Time…

Do you ever wonder what Easter is really all about? The following was written by the father of one of my closest friends from college. Mr. Ward traveled widely with Gideons International and spent most of his retired life giving away Bibles and sharing Christ with everyone around him. He lived a full, vibrant life and died suddenly from a heart attack, but Marcy (his daughter) told me that she half expected him to sit up on the stretcher as they were carrying him out, just to share the gospel one last time! Through this tract, he is still sharing the good news about the greatest fact of all time. Do you know what it is?

The Greatest Fact of All Time…

 is found here:  www.greatestfact.com  Please check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s formatted much more clearly on the website above, but if you don’t want to have to click again, Mr. Ward’s daughter has also given me permission to share it here as well:

The Greatest Fact of All Time

…is that Jesus Christ is the Creator of all things.

Where do you learn this fact?

The Bible, in chapter 1 of John’s Gospel, says,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

We learn here that the Word made all things—and that there was nothing the Word did not make.

But who is the “Word”?

John 1:14 says:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

So the Word had a body of flesh, and John says he saw Him. Again 1 John 1:1 speaks of Him:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…

So, it’s clear that the Word is a man!

Then who is this man?

The Word is none other than Jesus Christ!

With this in mind, we can read John 1 and substitute the name Jesus Christ!

1 In the beginning was [Jesus Christ], and [Jesus Christ] was with God, and [Jesus Christ] was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Yes, the greatest fact of all time is this: Jesus Christ is the Creator of the entire universe.

But why did Jesus Christ become a man?

Jesus became a man because you and I have a problem. It is the same problem every person has—sin!

The third chapter of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it very clear that we are all sinners.

10None is righteous, no, not one

23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

Yes, we are all guilty sinners. Then Romans 6:23 warns:

For the wages of sin is death…

Since you and I have sinned, we have wages coming—death. This is both physical death and spiritual death. Spiritual death is eternal separation from God in hell.

About hell Jesus said in Mark 9:48,

…where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

These wages must be collected!

Is there any hope?

Yes! There is hope! There is good news! Jesus received your wages. He died for your sin. He took your place. But He did something else very wonderful. When He died, He purchased a gift for you. The whole verse in Romans 6:23 reads:

For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus Christ purchased a gift for you—eternal life!

How can I have this gift?

Consider 1 John 5:9–10

9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

If you don’t believe this testimony, you are actually calling God a liar.

What is this “testimony” I must believe?

The testimony you must believe is found in 1 John 5:11.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

God has given you eternal life. It is a gift! He wants you to have it!

But do you have it? Not necessarily! A gift must be received, and God’s gift must be received!

Let’s illustrate it like this:

Suppose I offered you some money as a gift. If you don’t receive my gift, you won’t have it. You must receive it. In the same way you must receive God’s gift. If you do not receive His gift, you will never have it.

How can I receive God’s gift?

To illustrate, let’s suppose I put the money in a bank account. The money represents eternal life and the bank account represents Jesus Christ. If I transfer the bank account to you, you get the money. When you receive Jesus Christ, you receive eternal life, because eternal life is in Jesus Christ.

Let’s read 1 John 5:11 again:

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Eternal life is in Jesus Christ. Therefore, when you receive Jesus Christ, you have eternal life as stated in the next verse (1 John 5:12)

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

How do I receive Jesus Christ?

A very clear answer is found in Romans 10:9-10.

9 …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 for with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

What does it mean to confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth? Perhaps it could be like this: “I will take Jesus as my Savior and Lord! I will trust Him for my salvation from sin.”

Then believe with your heart (not just your head) that Jesus Christ lived and died for you, that He arose from the dead, and that He is alive forevermore. He is not in a grave, or even on a cross, but alive and with God the Father.

Then what?

You will be saved!

In other words, you will have the Jesus—you will have eternal life.

So why not do this:

  1. Repent and agree with God that you are a sinner.
  2. Confess Jesus Christ with your mouth as your Lord and Savior.
  3. Believe that He lives and that He was resurrected from the dead.

And you will be saved!

And here is the great offer!

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

—Romans 10:13

In other words, if Jesus Christ were here, He might say to you, “If you will ask Me, I will save you from your sins, and I will give you eternal life.”

Since Jesus Christ is God, He is here now!

How can I call on Him? How can I receive Him?

You can call on Him through prayer. You could talk to God like this:

O God, I come to You in Jesus’ name. I believe Your Word. I believe Jesus Christ lived and died for me, that He arose from the dead, that He is alive! And, Lord, I agree with You. I am a sinner; I am lost; I want to be saved. I call on you now with all my heart. Save me. For Jesus’ sake. Thank you, Lord, for saving me. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Now the greatest fact of all time for you is this:

  • You are a new creation of this wonderful Lord (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10)
  • You are a child of God (John 1:11-12; 3:3)
  • You can know you have eternal life (1 John 5:13)
  • You can come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness when you sin (1 John 1:9)
  • He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5b)

Read the Bible daily. Pray daily. Read the Gospel of John first.

If you have asked God to give you eternal life, then you understand the true meaning of Easter—”Resurrection Sunday!” If so, would you be willing to contact me either on this blog or at my email (kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com) with any other comments so I can pray for you? God bless you!!

 

 

 

How Would You Like a Beautiful Mink Coat?

We have an adorable little mink who’s taken up residence at our cottage, and I love to see him skittering everywhere, but he hardly ever stops long enough for me to take a clear photo. I always admire his gorgeous fur coat!Do you have a favorite place to shop for clothes? Mine is Goodwill. Oh, I do shop sometimes in other stores, particularly if we’re traveling where the prices are great and the styles unique, but for every day staples, I’d rather let someone else pay 10 times as much to wear their new outfit a few times before getting tired of it. Usually nothing I buy costs more than $3.50, and sometimes the item still has tags on it. Pretty hard to beat! My all-time favorite purchase from a second-hand shop was a lovely fur coat, which did cost more than $3.50 but less than $100. I just looked online at Sax Fifth Avenue, where they’ll give you a mink coat if you’ll give them $10,141.00, so I figured I got mine at a 99% discount. All winter long, our mink runs across the waterfront and dives into a hole under our dock, where I suppose he’s ice fishing, but this morning he was out enjoying the early spring sunshine, so he spent a few extra minutes on top of the dock.I remembered my son Joel telling me at the breakfast table that he’s reading a new book called Being a Beast by Charles Foster—a veterinary surgeon, London barrister and teacher of medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford.  In trying to understand what it feels like to be a beast, Foster attempted living like various animals, and his book relates what he’s learned from this unique experiment.  I’d probably never spend weeks underground eating earthworms the way Charles Foster did, but I can definitely identify with how lovely it would be to have a warm fur coat, especially if you’re going to jump into ice cold water!As humans, I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what it’s like to be a beast…or to be God, for that matter! We’re greatly limited by our intellectual capacities. We don’t know much about communicating with animals or God! However, unlike animals, God has given us a revelation about himself in the  Bible. If we want to know more about God, we can start by reading his book! Right at the beginning of the Bible, we learn that humans chose to disobey God and tried to cut off communication by hiding. But guess what? Instead of getting angry, God loved them and made provisions for them: Beautiful fur coats!  Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). In the New Testament, we learn that God still loves us—every one of his created human beings! God longs to communicate with us and is still providing for us: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).                            That’s not exactly a beautiful mink coat, but it’s even better!   Not just a covering for our skin, but a covering for our sin! Will you accept it?I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

In The Cave

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’d like to share this meditation written by a dear friend from my writers’ group who is a retired English teacher…wise, deep, and sweet!

It is the season of Lent, before Resurrection Sunday, and our church is encouraging us to be more contemplative in our personal worship, to be quiet, to listen to the voice of the Lord as we clear our minds and pray and wait. We have practiced being quiet in the worship service, in small meetings, in vesper services. It is a lovely and beautiful time. It is also totally awkward for someone determined to learn through study, to work out the faith in good deeds, to be busy just about all of the time.

In the middle of Lent we take a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with two of our grandsons. We have been there before and also to various caves around the country, so small wet stairs going down down down, slippery handrails, and the “Now I am going to turn off the lights” from the Ranger are not brand new events. However, they are the events I most dread even though I am thrilled to be there with our grandsons.

After a long hike down into a truly mammoth cave, “you can do it you can do it” keeping time with my footsteps, our group reaches a large inner space with high ceiling and park-supplied benches. The Ranger tells us all to “take a seat.”

He talks about where we are, how the large space has been formed, and answers several questions from the group. Then he says, “I am going to turn out the lights.” I schooch over closer to my husband. “But first, I want all of you to close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”  Yikes, I find my husband’s hand, move even closer to him. And I also close my eyes. Best not to remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave, “Now I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” Click, he turns them out. Best not remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave with our eyes closed and the lights turned off.

“When I tell you to, open your eyes.”  Momentarily, he tells us to open our eyes. I do, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, the darkness, the blackness, is all the same. I can’t see anything. Then the Ranger says, “I am going to turn on my light; it is the equivalent of one candle.” He clicks something and a light goes on. He is standing in the same place as before, he is holding a small light, and I can see the whole cave — ceiling, walls, jagged floors, bench seats, my husband, our grandsons, everyone else.

The Ranger makes some jokes about the overhead lights. Then he tells us that we can see well enough to get all the way out of the cave by this one small candle light if needed.  However, he does turn on the regular lights and we breathe easier.

And deep in the cave I think, “Wow, this is just like the practices for Lent. ‘Close your eyes,’ the Ranger says. ‘Be still,’ the Lord says. The choice is mine.”

The Ranger says, “I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” The lights go out which is not by my action, but I keep my eyes closed which is my choice. I choose to let my eyes adjust, I choose to clear other images out of my mind and heart. These are my choices.

The Ranger says, “Open your eyes.” I obey. It is deeply dark, fearsome. When I am quiet, focused, it can be deeply dark, fearsome. Light-action-busy is much more comfortable. “Now I will light one candlepower of light,” he says, his action not mine. The acuity of my vision astounds me. How can I possibly see this much? I see because I obeyed the Ranger and prepared my eyes.

So it is in the time of Lent. I can be still and quiet, close my eyes to the confusion of life. I can accept the darkness and allow the eyes of my heart to adjust. And now, with my eyes prepared, what more do I see?

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

(Written by Helen Bell. Thank you so much, Helen!)

Rise Up, My Love (275): Eternal Security

Song of Solomon 8:7 God’s eternal love for us secures us forever. We do not have to secure ourselves by adding our own feeble attempts at “good works” to keep God’s love. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ, and God has chosen to love us. Who would be so foolish as to think that this sacrifice and love was not sufficient to procure (and retain) our salvation? “O foolish Galatians!” Paul warned when the church at Galatia thought they had to keep their salvation through maintaining their good works. Could a lifetime of good works and righteous living add something to Christ’s already perfect sacrifice? No! A thousand times, “No!” A thousand lives lived well could not buy an ounce of God’s love; that would be an insult! his love is lavished on us as freely as the air we breathe and the sunshine that warms our lives. We are his and he is ours!

Revel in the eternal security of his love and unity with us. Finally, if you are married, enter into this supernatural love and let it transform your relationship with your spouse. Husbands (and wives), you are to love your wives with this same eternally secure love. We are called to love our spouses with a love that cannot be tempted to distraction by Satan or the sirens of this world. We are to love each other with a love that does not falter even when we fail one another. We are to love our mate with a bond so strong that only death itself can part us. Are you loving your mate with such a love? Have you told them? Have you demonstrated your love in ways that your spouse can understand?

There is an old joke about the insecure wife who asked her husband, “Do you still love me?” to which he responded, “I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Gary Chapman—in his excellent book, The Five Love Languages (which I highly recommend if you’ve never read it)—explains that people understand and experience giving and receiving love in at least five different ways: Words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and touch. Different people experience feeling loved more clearly through different modes of expression. All of us would do well to understand the varying needs of those we love and learn to express love to them in ways that they can most readily understand.

Are you loving others with God’s eternal love, which cannot be quenched or drowned or bought or sold…forever? Oh, God, may we understand and experience your amazing love, and may we begin loving others with such wondrous strength!

 

Claim Your Truth

This morning’s devotional reading from You Are the Beloved by Henri Nouwen expressed beautifully what I was trying to say yesterday. In fact, he says it so much better than I did that I decided to write it out for your encouragement!

February 12  Claim Your Truth

It seems crucial that you realize deeply that your worth and value does not depend on anyone else. You have to claim your own inner truth. You are a person worth being loved and called to give love, not because anyone says so…but because you are created out of love and live in the embrace of a God who didn’t hesitate to send his only son to die for us…Your being good and worthy of love does not depend on any human being. You have to keep saying to yourself: “I am being loved by an unconditional, unlimited love and that love allows me to be a free person, center of my own actions and decisions.” The more you can come to realize this, the more you will be able to forgive those who have hurt you and love them in their brokenness. Without a deep feeling of self-respect, you cannot forgive and will always feel anger, resentment, and revenge. The greatest human act is forgiveness: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Forgiveness stands in the center of God’s love for us and also in the center of our love for each other. Loving one another means forgiving one another over and over again.

Love,
Henri

If you struggle with feeling loved, self-respect, and/or forgiveness, please consider getting this daily devotional. It’s full of encouragements for understanding God’s inexpressibly wonderful love for us and all the blessings and freedoms that flow from allowing his love to overwhelm us!

“O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” (—S. Trevor Francis, 1875)

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!”