God’s Preserves

An abundance of blackberry vines grew wild and, as Mom was fixing dinner, we’d often run outside and pick enough so she could put together a quick cobbler for dessert.  And my Dad—oh, he was the king of the blackberry pickers.  Give him some buckets and some loaded vines and he’d fill them up in nothing flat while we “helped,” eating as many as we were picking.  Then the kitchen would smell delicious for days as my mother canned enough blackberry preserves to last until the following year.

One day as I was reading my Bible, a verse popped out as never before, Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints!  For the LORD preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person (Psalm 31:23)Before I’d always visualized the Lord throwing out a life preserver to save me, but now I realized that He was turning me into fruit-of-the-Spirit preserves; and I prayed that my life would become as flavorful as those wonderful blackberries of years ago.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

He shall abide before God forever.  Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him! Psalm 61:7)

Mysteries Revealed

Paul Bunyon and Babe, his big blue ox, stand welcoming tourists to the Trees of Mystery.  Just over 49 feet tall, Paul is said to have dug the Grand Canyon simply by dragging his ax behind him as he and Babe walked across the land.  Now, with a wave and a wink and a lot of talking, he entices visitors to enter the groomed trail through the redwoods where they can not only view the wonders of these mighty trees, but can also be entertained by the legends of Paul’s exploits as a giant lumberjack.  There’s only one catch—there is an admission fee—no money; no mysteries revealed.  Oh, you can still wander through the End of the Trail Museum, learning about the lifestyle of early Native Americans; or visit the very-nice gift shop that offers temptations galore for great souvenirs; but only wandering along the mysterious forest path makes the day complete.

Much of life is like that.  There is a cost for just about everything—food, lodging, entertainment—and very little is free.  There is one great big exception though, because the full price has already been paid in advance.  Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, came to earth and offered Himself on the cross, paying the penalty that is required for man’s redemption from sin.  But He didn’t stop there; he also sent the Holy Spirit to be our Comforter and Teacher, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  (Colossians 1:26-27)

Lay Aside Every Weight

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

After years of illness or injury and recovery, I was finally at a point where my car was learning to go in directions other than doctors’ offices or hospitals.  On a much-needed vacation, a favorite pastime was to soak in a bubble bath with a good book—something I rarely have a chance to do at home.  On this day, when the time came to get out of the tub, I was shocked to discover that it was almost impossible because years of infirmity had diminished my strength to the point that it was a struggle just to get to my knees, let alone stand up and step out.  I decided I was much too young for this, so when I got home I joined a gym and started counting calories; determined that I was going to get back in shape so I would be able to keep up with my on-the-way grandchild.

One year later, I’d lost over forty pounds and was in better shape than at any time since high school, when PE was required and I had no choice but to exercise five days a week.  I hadn’t looked or felt so good in years and, on top of that, I got to buy an entirely new wardrobe. I didn’t keep any of the old “fat clothes” either for I certainly would never need them again.  The Lord didn’t let me get too cocky about it though—a friend, intending a compliment, actually said, “Oh Barbara, just think, this is as good as you’re ever going to look in your whole life!”   OK, great—how nice to know that it’s all downhill from here!

But oops! It soon became easy to skip a day here and there at the gym, or to allow myself an extra piece of bread or a second helping of food; and over several years I noticed that some of my new clothes weren’t quite as comfortable as they’d been when I bought them.  Then some of them didn’t fit at all.  Then I was shopping for undergarments that would compress my waistline and wearing things that were loose fitting or had elastic waistbands.  Like I said, oops!

So, here I am; back at the gym and counting calories again, working off the pounds I allowed to creep back; and it turns out to be a good thing I didn’t keep those “fat clothes” because with the current economy, getting a whole new wardrobe again isn’t an option so I’m extra motivated.  Along the way, as He often does in every life experience, the Lord has been gracious to point out some spiritual parallels.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I have a responsibility to take care of it to the best of my ability.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?   For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The principles for developing spiritual maturity in 2 Peter 1:5-7 work just as well to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.   But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 

As weight gain may be slow and subtle, almost unnoticeable for a long time; so are the effects of unrighteousness.  Little sins seem like nothing, but allowed to continue they escalate and become destructive.  Ananias and Sapphira probably thought little white lies were OK, but one lie that seemed OK to them cost them their lives.  Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.  So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts 5:9-11)

The Apostle Paul repeatedly referred to life as a race, and my desire is to finish the race well; doing the maximum amount of damage possible to the kingdom of evil.  If I am a good steward of my body I will be better able to accomplish the Lord’s purposes; so when old unhealthy habits creep back into my life, I must turn from them and start anew, just as I would if I recognized an old sin popping up that I thought I had overcome.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Missing Out

It was a few days before Halloween and the McKinleyville High School Panthers football team was facing off with our rivals in Fortuna.  I debated whether to go to the game or to a costume party at church, finally settling on the party.  After all,  in the four years the school had existed we had yet to win a game, and it was always such a let-down after all the excitement of the pep rallies to ride home in a bus full of disappointed kids.

The party had not been so great and the next day I was already wishing I’d gone to the game when I ran into a friend.  I casually asked, “So, how bad was the score this time?”  But no, our team had finally won, and the celebration was—well, quite a celebration; and I’d missed it.

As I read the story of the ten virgins recently I recalled that weekend and realized that I had been like one of the five who were unprepared.  I had gotten tired of waiting and had stopped watching for the promised win that would surely come eventually; settling for something else because I didn’t have enough faith in my team.  But my disappointment was nothing compared to that of those who do not remain alert for the coming of the Lord—they will pay a much higher price than just missing out on the celebration of a winning game.

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight a cry was heard: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming;go out to meet him!”  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.”   But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.”  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!”  But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
(Matthew 25:1-13)

Invisible Attributes Clearly Seen

One mile north on the railroad tracks; cut left through the trees on the dirt path; climb over the sand dunes; and wade into the waves of the magnificent Pacific Ocean.  It was once a favorite pastime on long summer days for my friends and me.

I was excited to go back and show my husband that beach where we had such fun—climbing up and then rolling down the dunes, making sand castles, collecting driftwood and sea shells, looking for starfish, and playing in the water; but it was not to be.

The old path through the trees had been replaced by a paved one, now part of the beautiful coastal walkway called the Hammond Trail.  Well, that was OK; it would still get us to the beach.  Wrong, for it was soon obvious that the sand dunes were gone and the waves were clearly visible, and then—oops!!!  There was no way to reach them because the Mad River had changed its course and now ran parallel to the shoreline, totally blocking any approach.  The narrow, flat spit of sand between the river and ocean was now accessible only to hundreds of harbor seals and sea gulls.   Well, at least someone still got to play there.

The landscape had changed but the beauty of this portion of the Pacific Coast was still breath-taking, and I stared in awe at God’s creation; pondering the fact that out there under the surface of the water was an huge undersea world visible only to the creatures who live there and the God who made them.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead. (Romans 1:20a)

So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind.   And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:21

If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 138:8-10