Blooming Where We’re Planted

Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what my spiritual gift is!” What a malady of the spirit that presents. My Goodness, I cannot count the scores of students of the Scriptures who have confessed that they have no earthly idea what their spiritual gift is. And with good cause. As we are reading through the fourth chapter of Ephesians beginning at the eleventh verse, we read, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (NASB),” No help there! Their resumes don’t seem to include any of those categories.

Again, in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians beginning at verse 28, we find another list of such gifts including: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, various kinds of tongues. Once again, they cannot put pair their name with a single gift on that list either. Frustrating!

Continuing on, in that twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, we see that such frustrations are validated. “All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (verses 29-30 NASB) In looking through all those Spiritual gifts, they readily declare that their business cards cannot say John Doe, pastor, nor John Doe, prophet, nor John Doe, administrator, etc.

Even If we were to add some positions of service to that list, many would still come up empty. Such persons might be too timid to be an usher or greeter, or too lacking in patience to work in the nursery, nor could they ‘carry a tune in a bucket’, let alone play a musical instrument. Yet they want to fulfill that empty place in their spirit by exercising their gift—whatever that may be.

In search of some answers, let’s bend our minds somewhat and step outside the walls of the church. Let’s just say a Christian brother cannot seemingly exercise any of the gifts listed above but he can sure fix a leaky faucet. And let’s say God had had caused a faucet to leak in a particular home at a specific time—a situation where his ‘secular’ talent would come into play. Our omniscient God would be well aware that as ‘John Doe, pastor’ he would not be welcome to enter that person’s home; but as ‘John Doe, plumber’ he would be greeted with open arms. Once inside that home, he might find his real reason for him being there. The Holy Spirit had already prepared the homeowner’s heart to hear the Word and set up a divine appointment between that homeowner and the plumber. God does not act randomly.

Such appointments are not rare with God. I am reminded of the story in Acts 8:where the Spirit of God led Philip, one of His disciples, out to the unlikely desert road running between Jerusalem and Gaza. God had already worked out a predestined time and place for a divine appointment unbeknownst to Philip. But, there at that specific time and place, he would meet a specific lone traveler who was reading his Bible. (My, my, what a coincidence.) “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him (verses 34-35 NASB).”

Hmm, the next questions might be, “How does this process work?” “ How can such appointments be met successfully? First of all, we must always be prepared to enter the game. Proper preparation is a key. We must read and learn the ‘playbook’, follow the advise of the ‘head coach’, and “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 NASB).” Hmm, ‘assembling together’. Interesting! The Bible is instructing us to assemble together with other believers. We might suggest that a Bible believing church is a good place for us to assemble together. Let’s call our assembling together as ‘huddle’. In the ‘huddle we receive instructions, encourage one another, and learn how to work together as a team. Huddles are up lifting and invigorating, and we enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie established during our huddles. They’re enlightening and fun.

But, we must constantly be reminded that no matter how much we enjoy our times in the huddle, games are not won in the huddles—No Siree! Games are won in the ‘field’. In Acts 8:4 we read, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word (NASB) Notice the word, ‘scattered’.If we are to win the battles, we are to break huddle, scatter out, and take our assigned positions in the fields of our calling. That is where we find ourselves planted in the most fertile ground. That is the place where we find ourselves among the lost and dying of the world. We find them in our work places, schools, hospitals, prisons. Those are the secular fields where God, in His infinite wisdom plants us. And then, we are to bloom where we are planted!

Warning! Life won’t be nearly as easy out in the field as it was in the huddle. Rather than encouragement and camaraderie we will be met with resistance and discouragement from the enemy. We will encounter all sorts of opposition and hardships. In many cases we will be shunned by our peers. We will often be called untoward names. But those are the fields in which our secular talents and spiritual gifts come into play; that is where we flourish in God’s sight. That is our reason for being. Just a little side bar, It should also be noted here that the greenery is more lush and the flowers are more bountiful when planted where the ground is rich with rotten leaves and decaying wood along with the refuse and dung from animal life. The harder the battle, the greater the rewards.

“Be Holy, for I am Holy.”

It was a time of emotional praise and worship during a service at our church. The whole congregation was on their feet. Sprinkled throughout the sanctuary a number of worshipers had their eyes closed, hands lifted toward heaven, sincerely singing, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty’. I feel quite certain that many of us were struck with awe of our Almighty God and His absolutely unmatched holiness during that particular time of worship and praise. It evoked a set of feelings I shall never forget.

Years have past since, and as I recalled that memorable worship service, I was suddenly struck with the words, “Be holy, for I am holy.” We find those seemingly impossible words in1 Peter 1:16. Wow! What was Jesus thinking!? In the Greek Lexicon, the very first definition of ‘holy’ indicates ‘perfection, reverence, awe’. According to that definition, only Jesus was and is able to fulfill those lofty traits; only Jesus attained perfection, only Jesus deserves our utmost reverence, only Jesus should be held in awe. That being the case, how in the world could our holiness ever be compared the His holiness? How could we, as lowly sinners, ever be expected to measure up to the attributes exhibited by our Lord? He set the bar too high! As a matter of fact, just the opposite is true. We are imperfect, irreverent, and should be considered as no more than lowly sinners saved by His amazing grace. Is He is commanding us to do something we absolutely cannot do! No human alive can emulate the awesome standards set by our Lord and Savior.

Or can we? Is it actually possible? Is it actually possible for us to ‘be holy as He is holy’? Apparently so! He never asks us to do something that we cannot do. So, let’s jump to the next definition in the Lexicon to see if we can find some answers. There we find that ‘holy’ is also defined as ‘Set apart’. Let’s insert those words into that command, “Be ‘set apart’, for I am ‘set apart”:. Hmm, maybe we have touched on the answer to this conundrum. We can do that! Now He is asking us to do something for which He has already set the example. Surely we are all aware that He was ‘set apart’ for a special mission during His time here on earth. And He accomplished exactly what He was sent here to do! It should be noted that we too are to be ‘set apart’. He has specifically gifted us for a special mission while we are here on earth and He expects us to accomplish exactly what we were sent here to do. He further instructs us how to be set apart in 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate” says the Lord. “and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you (NASB).”

With that in mind, let’s see if we can find God’s reasoning in commanding us to be ‘set apart’. Set apart for what? Our nature wants to know, “what’s in it for me?”’ It seems that any task is easier to preform when we are aware of its purpose, the eventual outcome and the ultimate reward. Surely God had some divine purpose in mind for each of us when commanding us to be ‘set apart’. Otherwise, why would He purchase us with His own blood, make of us new creations, indwell us with His Holy Spirit, promise us an abundant life, and prepare for us an eternal dwelling place in heaven, only to leave us here, conforming to the world’s standards of living until He finally calls us home? No way! There is work to do, souls to be saved, crowns to be won.

As a fan of basketball, I am reminded of the various roles each member of the team plays. In the NBA each team consists of 15 active players. Each one has been ‘set apart’ for a particular task, but only 5 are in the game at any given time. The other ten are on the bench awaiting their call. They better not be playing checkers, or distracted by their cell phones or talking to the cute chick sitting behind them. No Siree! They better be concentrating on the game, familiarizing themselves with the opponents moves, and planning their strategy of attack. If they are to be successful when their time comes, each and every member needs to practice together with the team, work out in the weight room, and be acquainted with the play book, Then when the coach calls their number, they are immediately prepared to jump up, strip off their warm-ups and run to the scorers table, ready, willing and able to enter the game. The goal is to win the game, make the playoffs, and finally win that highly coveted championship ring. Although they earn millions during the course of their careers, their most sought after possessions from their playing days is that ring.

Consider God’s prophet, Moses. During the entire course of his playing days, surely he would he would have been qualified and considered as MVP of the entire nation of Israel. He was one of their greatest players of all times. His memoirs were so important that they became the complete Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It should be noted that He was ‘set apart’ from his conception till his death.

Although he had no earthly idea what God had in store for him, he was actually spending a whopping four score years in training for the awesome task that lay ahead of him. He would spend the first 40 years of his life training in Egypt, learning every aspect of the Egyptians. While living in Egypt, he became totally familiar with their way of life, their strengths and weaknesses, their habits and vulnerabilities. Then through a personal error of judgment, he was forced out of Egypt into the Sinai peninsula. There he would spend the next 40 years of his life becoming totally familiar with the lay of that land. He learned where all the springs and water wells were located. He became acquainted with the climate, the fauna and flora of the entire region. He became accustomed to life in the desert and how to survive.

Wow! Eighty years! He was in training 80 years before God called his number—80 years old before he actually entered the game. “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me (Exodus 8:1 NASB).” After 80 years in training, Moses’ very first assignment was to march right into Pharaoh’s throne room and inform him that the LORD said, “Let my people go!” Good Heavens! According to Exodus 12:37–38, the Israelites numbered “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” at that time. Numbers 1:46 gives a more precise total of 603,550 men aged 20 and up. One can only imagine how many that would be if all the women and children were added into that figure. That was a huge order! Yet that was the task that God spent 80 years training him for; that was what he was ‘set apart’ to do.

Let’s personalize this illustration. We are all well aware of many who are obviously ‘set apart’, who are visibly exercising their spiritual gifts; pastors, teachers, caregivers, counselors, and the like. On the other hand, many, many of us are seemingly sitting on the bench, awaiting our number to be called. Yet unbeknownst to us, we may very well may be in training at this very hour for a specific task. Our number may be called to enter the game at any time. So Jesus commanded us to “Be holy, for I am holy.” Or, in other words, “Be set apart, for I am set apart.” Here is a little advise on how we can be training for whatever task we are ‘set apart’ to accomplish. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:17 NKJV). This is how we can be ready when He calls our name.

Then we can say with the great prophet Isaiah, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 KJV).” Don’t you know God is pleased when He hears those words. And, when we have finally accomplished all that we were ‘set apart’ to do, we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV).”

Ah, those ‘championship’ crowns will be our most treasured rewards when our ‘playing days’ here on earth are over.

Recovering Sinners

‘Recovering Alcoholics'; ‘Recovering Addicts’. Most of us probably know, or know of, some really fine people who fall into that category. Some may be our close friends or relatives. Such dear people are afflicted with a disease for which there is no immunization nor is there any cure. Some of them may have been able to achieve a degree of victory through an ‘overcoming’ desire within them. But, for those afflicted with that particular disease, the power and allurement of alcohol and/or drugs never goes completely away. Apart from a miracle of God the tendency is still there and always will be.. They can only be described as ‘Recovering Alcoholics’ or ‘Recovering Addicts’. We can only imagine the constant battle that is raging within them, and the ceaseless temptations that today’s society places in their pathway.

I would venture that the majority of us do not fall into that category. We should praise the Lord for that! But that is certainly no reason for boasting on our part; that surely doesn’t mean we are disease free—No Siree! Not by any stretch of the imagination! We all have inborn weaknesses. We all have chinks in our armor. We are all natural born ‘sinners’! We are all addicted to sin! And, sin of any kind, whether mental or physical, is also a disease for which there is no immunization, nor is there any cure. We may have achieved a degree of victory over one or more of our natural, inborn weaknesses, but the tendency is still there; we can only describe ourselves as ‘Recovering Sinners’.

I would love to report that for those of us who are born again Christians, the Holy Spirit living within us is a be all, do all remedy for the addiction to sin. But that is simply not the case. There will always be a war raging within us. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would (Galatians 5:17 RSV).” Even the great Apostle Paul acknowledged the war that was always raging within him. He confessed to the Christians in Rome, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19 RSV).” Hmm, does that strike a nerve in any of us?

That being the case, the apostle Paul offered this bit of advise: If we are to achieve any degree of victory over various sins, we must avoid people, places and things where we could so easily become addicts. In that regard, he also told the Christians at Rome, “… make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.(Romans 13:14 NASB).” Wow! That Scripture should be in all caps, “MAKE NO PROVISION FOR THE FLESH IN REGARD TO ITS LUSTS!!!”

Allow me to offer a crude illustration if I may. Suppose I was a big ole trophy bass, and I was mentoring a younger bass—a small fry. One of the first things I would tell him, “Son, do you see that big fancy bass boat over yonder? STAY AWAY FROM IT!!!. Those guys might look harmless enough, but they have a whole pantry full of tasty looking morsels that they will dangle in front of you. They can be unbelievably alluring to you. You might be able to resist some of them, but they’ll keep on going to their pantry until they find one you can’t resist. And the next thing you know, you’ll find yourself in their frying pan.” Surely you have had some friends that have ignored the warning signs. In other words, by flirting dangerously close to those shiny bass boats, they were making provision to satisfy the lusts of their flesh, and their natural weakness got ‘em.

That translates so easily to us. Country singer, Tom T. Hall wrote a rather humorous song outlining the various areas of our lives in which we have inherent weaknesses, areas in which we can so easily become addicts: It’s ‘Faster horses, Younger women, Older whiskey, More money’. That sounds overly simplistic, but it brings to light four familiar problem categories affecting so many of us. These are common pitfalls that trap so many of us.

FASTER HORSES! Oh yeah! We may not give a whit about horses, but it certainly serves as a microcosm of of our ego driven desires. So many of us are burdened with the desire for bigger, better, fancier, newer, costlier houses and autos and clothes and toys than our peers. We wish for less gray hair, less wrinkles and more libido. We want better jobs with more prestigious titles and associated privileges. And the society within which we live often measures our degree of success by our material possessions, rather than upon our state of contentment and happiness. Taking that a step further, to be content with our possessions and our station in life is considered by many as having no ambition. Hmm, I wonder how our society would judge the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “….I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: (Philippians 4:11 NKJV)”

YOUNGER WOMEN!! Sex! Whew! What a tempting lure that can be! And it seems the older we become, the more we long for the days of our youth and the pleasures our young love afforded. (Please note; I can only speak for men, because I are one!) Many are the men who develop the ‘middle age crazies’, trying to hold on to their youth with both hands. Even though many of us are beyond our prime, we still desire to be appealing to the sexy young chicks. It’s a male instinct. Pharmaceutical companies are capitalizing on that weakness and are making a mint selling us performance enhancing hormones. But here’s the bad news. What I’m saying next is so very elementary, but it doesn’t cost anything to remind us again: Unbridled sex can be, and often is a very dangerous allurement. It can break up homes; it can produce a myriad of STD’s; it can result in a lifetime of regrets, and it can draw the wrath of God almighty. It ain’t worth it! Thus, in 2 Timothy 2:22 we are exhorted to, “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts (NLT).”

OLDER WHISKEY! Drunkenness! I will catch a lot of flak over this, but part of me understands those who enjoy a cold beer after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day. I can also understand those who enjoy a glass of red wine with their various Italian dishes. I can even understand those who enjoy a mixed drink to relax before enjoying a nice dinner. I would venture that such practices in and of themselves are not a sin (other than the bad influence they might be to someone who is watching). However, the ‘hidden’ danger in all these is that a single drink ofttimes becomes the bridge between sobriety and drunkenness. Admittedly there are a number of ‘social drinkers’ who are content with a single drink. But a large segment of those who enjoy strong drink are not able to stop until they reach some level of inebriation. Oddly enough, with many imbibers, drunkenness is actually their goal! Irish author and dramatist, Brendan Behan, once opined, “One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough”. Thus the wise admonition, “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” ”Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is led astray by it is not wise (Proverbs 20:1 NASB).” Just a little side bar to that: the same would apply to any and all mood altering substances. .

MORE MONEY! It should also be noted here that money, in and of itself is not evil. Money greases the wheels of business and technology, of medical research and development, of charitable aid and assistance, and many other noble endeavors. However, it also presents a potential pitfall. Please note here that Satan also has the power to ‘bless us’ with money. In many cases, he can make the prospect of more money be so unbelievably alluring to us that it becomes one of the strongest desires of our heart. We often feel that the degree of happiness we enjoy is directly related to money —the more money we have, the happier we’ll be. In such cases, God is left out of that equation. In such cases, our thirst for more money surpasses our thirst for a closer walk with God. Money has become between us and God. Without even realizing it, money actually becomes our God. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10 NASB)”.

As the wise ole trophy bass would tell his young fry, “Son, see all them tasty looking lures over there? I know how delicious they always look. But, watch out! No matter how innocent they may seem, they are potential pitfalls. They all have the potential to trap you!”

So be wary of faster horses, younger women, older whiskey and more money! To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Remember, we are no more than ‘Recovering Sinners!”

Back Roads of the Bible

Guided tours; What memorable intervals in our lives they offer. Love ‘em! I, along with my dear sweetheart of nearly fifty years, have been extremely blessed to have visited a number of marquee landmarks while being hosted by experienced travel guides They were wonderful! Please understand, I say that not to be braggadocios, but rather to express my sincere thanksgiving that we were so privileged while we were still able to travel. Looking back, I marvel at the myriad of sights and sounds and aromas and tastes we witnessed first hand. I still often find myself reliving those beautiful experiences. What a joy! I wouldn’t wish to have missed any one of them.

Even so, I still have a degree of remorse when thinking back to those ‘once in a lifetime’ vacations. As with seemingly all guided tours, many prove to be quite hurried, visiting as many well-known landmarks as one can cram into the allotted time. I must admit that I have often wondered what little hidden treasures we were missing while speeding along from one storied destination to another. I remember glancing out the windows wondering where some of those picturesque little back roads might have led. I could only imagine what little treasures may have been hidden behind that veil of trees.

Happily, there have been occasions when I have had the opportunity to revisit several places that we have missed during the rush of our earlier journeys. I jumped at the opportunities. My, how I have totally enjoyed exploring such areas on my time and tempo. I love to just sit down and soak in the beauty around me. Even in the hometown in which I have lived nearly all my life, I still enjoy exploring off the beaten track in search of little unforeseen treasures. And I am often unbelievably rewarded—amazed at my discoveries. Diamonds truly do come in small packages. Many times I have been so excited about some of my discoveries, I have fantasized about being a tour guide, pointing people to the wonderful hidden beauty of my hometown It’s during those precious hours that I get a true glimpse of the magnificent garden that God prepared just for us. It’s times like that I begin to realize that Almighty God provided millions and millions of hidden treasures if we will only take the time to search for them.. I am curiously reminded of the thrills we received during our childhood years while searching for those wonderful hidden treasures—colorful, tasty ‘Easter eggs’!

As strange as it may seem, the Holy Bible is much like that. Since I have been exposed to the basic Scriptures all my life, I would like to think I am reasonably familiar with most of the marquee passages. From the time I first began learning those simply illustrated Bible stories as a little tot to my present ‘golden years’ I have visited and revisited ‘favorite’ passages more times than I can count. They are often referred to as ‘sugar sticks’ and are absolutely beautiful. I never fail to marvel at God’s amazing grace. I never tire of hearing of God’s unfathomable love for me. I never tire of hearing of the day when we leave our mortal bodies behind and put on our immortal bodies—imperishable bodies which we will have for all eternity. My hope is increased each time I am reassured that I will never die—when I hear of that indescribable place He has provided for me after we leave this life. I would never, ever wish to have missed any one of those wonderful stories and lessons and sermons. I thank God for His ‘tour guides’ who have so faithfully led us through the uplifting truths of God’s Word.

That being said, I know there are hundreds and hundreds of little treasures tucked away in various obscure Scriptures often overlooked by the casual traveler. But we missed them. Unbelievably beautiful blessings lie along those roads less traveled, but in the rush of our lives, we missed them. We are so inclined to put it on cruise control and speed casually along from Sunday to Sunday, from one familiar landmark Scripture passage to the next without taking the time to search out wonderful hidden treasures found in the less traveled back roads of the Bible. Our lives could be so very much richer if we took the time to explore beyond the freeways and autobahns and busy seaports. It’s only during the times spent exploring the back roads and woodland trails of the Bible, the babbling brooks and hidden waterfalls, the scenic mountain overlooks and the peaceful valleys below, that we begin to discover the magnitude of “the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9)”

Even in our deeper studies we often stumble over one little ‘jot or tittle (Matthew 5:18)’, and rather than slow down and search out its meaning, we are inclined to pass over it and go to the next verse. But once we finally realize that every little ‘jot and tittle’ has deep meaning and significance “…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 KJV)”, we develop a desire to search the Scriptures more diligently. As we dig deeper into the Word, we must also become aware of the fact that our English language is not as complete and thorough as was the original languages of the Bible. Thus, we are often compelled to go back to the original Hebrew and/or Greek in order to get the true meaning of various words. Such searches invariably become real eye openers—often eliciting the ‘WOW’ factor! I’m reminded of the Scripture that ends with the phrase, “…He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6 KJV).”

On a more personal note, since the terminal illness of my dear soul mate has necessitated us to become basically limited to the confines of our home, I now have considerably more time to search the Scriptures. Happily, my curiosity has led me to explore passages I had never noticed before. I now have time to explore the unsearchable riches of God’s Word, and the rewards have been awesome. It is during those quiet, contemplative times that I can say with the Psalmist, “I rejoice at Your word as one who finds great treasure (Psalm 119:162 NKJV).”

And, my gregarious nature compels me to play the role of ‘tour guide’, and share such findings with other students of the Bible. Thus, my weekly blogs….

The Tar Pits of the Bible

Here is an obscure little verse in the Genesis record that the Lord suddenly brought to my attention this week. “Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell into them. But those who survived fled to the hill country (Gen 14:10 NASB)”. Weird! I would venture that very few, if any, students of the Scriptures have that little verse underlined in their Bibles. I must admit that (until now) neither did I. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon centered around that verse, nor have I ever observed an exposition of that verse in the various notable commentaries. Yet there it is. The Holy Spirit obviously thought it was necessary to tell us that there were tar pits in the valley of Siddim. Therefore, since “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2Timothy 3:16 NASB)”; it would probably be very rewarding to find out why we are told that “Siddim was full of tar pits”. There are no superfluous words in the Bible.

So, in order to see if we can make some sense out of that obscure (and often overlooked) Scripture, and figure out how it could possibly have any meaning for you and me, let’s set the stage. Back in the thirteenth chapter of Genesis we read, “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD (Gen 13:10 NIV). Hmm, what an interesting dichotomy—a land that looked like the garden of Eden, yet full of tar pits! We continue in that same verse, “(This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)” Then, in verses 12 and 13 we are told, “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” As is so often the case, all Lot could see was a land that looked like the garden of Eden, all the while overlooking the fact that it was full of potentially dangerous tar pits, and totally depraved men. Isn’t it strange how many, many times the allurement of sin trumps our good judgment. Sad, but true!

Continuing on; if we wish to get an even more impressive picture of this little verse, let’s think all the way back to the creation story. It is so very interesting to realize that when God was laying the foundations of the earth, He precisely placed all the mountains and valleys, deserts and wetlands, forests and plains in specific locations according to His overall plan. Nothing was random. And while all this vast creation was taking place, He also meticulously placed a little group of tar pits in a precise location in the middle east. We must also know that this could not have been a random anomaly of nature. No Siree! God does not act randomly. As in everything, He had a specific plan and purpose in mind. And He wanted to draw our attention to that phenomenon.

Inquiring minds such as mine are inclined to ask what that purpose could possibly serve. Why do we need to know that? Well, let’s see if we can figure out this little puzzle. Follow me as I try to develop this line of thought. When we place a supply of coal briquettes in our BBQ grill, we have a specific plan and purpose in mind. That’s obvious! This is not a random, insignificant act. We are planning to ignite them at a certain time in the future. And we will not be igniting them merely for the purpose to watch coals burn, we have a planned use for the ensuing fire. Thus, does it only stand to reason that God placed those tar pits in that specific location with the specific purpose of igniting them sometime in the future. And, that being the case, we should rest assured that He would not be igniting them merely to watch those tar sands burn, Just like us, He surely had a planned use for the ensuing fire. We get a hint in verse 13 above. There we have been told that the men of Sodom were wicked and sinned greatly against Him. There must be an obvious connection there.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the eighteenth chapter of Genesis. God had told Abraham that the inhabitants of Sodom had become so depraved and unrepentant that He would ultimately destroy the cities—with fire!“ But Abraham pleaded with God to save the cities for the sake of the righteous. Finally, at the very end of that chapter, Abraham continued, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten (Gen 18:32 NASB).” But when all was said and done, not even ten righteous souls could be found in those twin cities. Sure enough, God followed through on His judgment. “Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground (Gen 19:24-25 NASB)”. Wow! When fire and brimstone rained down on those tar pits, one can only imagine the total devastation. We are not told how long that fire burned, but the result was what Lot had originally looked up and seen as ‘the whole plain of the Jordan, well watered, like the garden of the LORD’, was now reduced to a charred valley, totally devoid of every living thing: the cities, the inhabitants and all vegetation. I would suppose it could be described as a brief preview of an everlasting hell.

Ah, but all was not necessarily lost. Looking back at that original verse in this discussion, we should notice that we have only discussed half of the verse. Rather than reading only of the inevitable result of God’s terrible judgment and wrath, we can read of some good news—some really wonderful news! The same God that had put those tar pits in place had also, by His amazing grace, provided a way of escape. Escape! What a wonderful word! Here’s a wonderful fact: According to the various concordances, the word ‘escape’ appears approximately 60 times (depending on the approved versions). We continue reading, “But those who survived fled to the hill country.” I would venture that the hill country could accommodate any and all who left their wickedness and great sin behind and escaped to the refuge of God’s hill country. But, it should be noted that unless we accept the offer of His amazing grace, it is of no avail to us. He doesn’t force it on us. In Hebrews 3:2 we read, ”How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him (NKJV)”.

Thus, in ascertaining how that weird little verse applies to us, allow me to share a couple more pertinent verses. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did”. And again, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us (1 Cor 10:6,11 NIV)”.

What Gets Your Goat?

Frustration! Do you ever get frustrated? I do! I hate to admit it, but I get frustrated—a lot! Among my myriad of faults, I must confess that I am too easily frustrated; no ifs, ands or buts about it. It doesn’t take much to ‘get my goat’. What an uncomfortable state of mind that proves to be! Then, adding insult to injury, I get frustrated by the fact that I am so easily frustrated. Hmm, in thinking back, my dear dad, my hero, my mentor, evidently also occasionally got frustrated. He would nearly always announce his frustrations by telling us that someone and/or something really ‘got his goat’. We always knew what he meant and what was coming next. That was his prelude for describing how someone and/or something had led to his frustrations. For a number of years I never knew the origin of that old saying, but I always knew what was implied. I have also used that little ‘catch phrase’ to indicate my frustrations on more occasions than I could count.

Fast forward several years. One of God’s finest evangelists, Dr. Sam Cathey, was conducting a revival meeting in our church. One of his messages has stuck in mind to this day. It was during his powerful message concerning the wiles of the devil that he introduced an addendum to the little phrase, “If you don’t want the devil to get your goat, don’t tell him where you’ve got it tied”. We all chuckled in approval but I have found that to be one of the most profound adages ever uttered. The truth of that little phrase has played out in my life over and over and over again through the years since then.. Even though I am aware of the consequences, I have continually declared where my goat was tied and, sure enough, he got it. I am obviously a slow learner. We can rest assured that anytime we announce where our goat is tied, the devil is listening and he can make it happen. For instance, if we lash out. “SO HELP ME, IF ANOTHER #@%#*# CAR RUNS THAT RED LIGHT, I’M GONNA SCREAM!!!” And, you guessed it, another #@%#*# car will run that red light just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. The devil can and will make it happen. He wins.

I have often looked back several years to an incident that happened while I was employed near downtown. As such I was engaged in rush hour traffic both in going to and coming from my work place. Not good! The first major intersection I encounter is located at an expressway where each direction has its own separate interval with green lights. If you can picture it, that means that every direction has to wait while each of the other three directions cycle through their green lights. That makes it seem forever between our own green lights. As you can well imagine, patience often runs thin. On one such occasion, when my turn finally came, a bus ran their red light, then a truck followed the bus through the red light, and then a van loaded with day laborers followed the truck. “How dare those jerks! By the time they get through running their red light, mine will turn red again!” By that time, I was steaming! ”They ought to be shot!” In my frustration, I deemed it necessary to lay down on my horn to show my displeasure. In response, I think every laborer in that van must have stuck their arms out the windows. With so many of them flipping the bird at me, the offending van looked like a porcupine. Satan had gotten my goat and had stolen my victory and my joy. And he did it at the very beginning of my day. Don’t you just know he was standing in the shadows and laughing out loud! GOTCHA!

WOW! Did he ever! With that memorable incident, I got an up close and personal look at Satan himself. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I saw exactly how he works. He heard me vent my frustration and lash out at that annoying traffic. He heard me tell any and all around me exactly where my goat was tied, and he got it! After all was said and done, I had learned a valuable lesson I shall never forget. As result, I have often prayed that He would take away my weakness in that area. And you shouldn’t be surprised that among other things, He is answering that prayer; He is in the process of giving me victory over that particular weakness. Thank you Lord for that.

Fast forward several more years. We have long since gained a seemingly endless source of information (both good and bad) via the internet. One day as I gathering my thoughts relating to this little devotional, the phrase ‘Got my goat’ popped into my mind. So, I looked to the internet, and found a number of sites indicating that the phrase originated in the barns adjacent to racetracks where horses are stabled prior to races. It should be noted here that horses in their natural state are wild and high strung. And among all the various breeds, thoroughbred racehorses tend to be the most nervous and high-strung. This tendency is often magnified greatly when they are confined within the environs of strange stables. Some are so high-strung that they become virtually unmanageable.

As we continue reading about the temperament of racehorses, we are told that in the early days of the sport, it was found that when such high-strung horses were coupled with goats, they seemed to have a very calming effect on affected horses. As a result, horsemen and their trainers would often pair such horses with goats, making them more manageable. Thus, when taking their horses to the track, they would then bring along their goats and stable them in the same stalls with the offending horses in hopes of keeping them calm, cool and collected, ready for the race.

As you might well expect, the presence of a goat in the stall with a racehorse would announce to his opponents that that particular horse was vulnerable. The secret was out. He was unbelievably high-strung; his readiness for the race was dependent upon his goat. Thus, if the opponent could manage to sneak in and ‘get his goat’ he would put the prized, odds on favorite horse at a disadvantage, thus giving the opponent the opportunity to seize the victory.

In thinking of that expression, how easily that fact translates to us. Our enemy, the devil, is always looking for any chinks in our armor—any areas of vulnerability in our lives. If and when he locates any such areas—people, situations and/or tendencies, which so easily cause frustrations and robs us of our joy, he has happily discovered where our goat is tied. And rest assured he will ‘get it’, and he will use it against us. If he finds that our goat is tied to a weakness toward sexual impurity, or to strong drink, or to an errant child, or to job security, or rude traffic, or jealousy, …or…or…, he has the power to get our goat, and he surely will! That’s his ‘modus operandi'; we’re his obsession; we’re his favorite targets. And adding insult to injury, he loves to point out all the chinks in our armor to any and all unsaved souls who might be looking to us as witnesses. They seem to thoroughly enjoy watching the devil get out goats and then pointing fingers.

Even so, our Almighty God has assured us that we can gain the victory over our weaknesses. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB).” He reinforced that promise by reassuring us of our power over the wiles of Satan in Romans 6:14 where we read, “Sin is no longer your master… (NLT).” Could I offer a little advise based on my personal experiences: Hang in there! Take heart! He is able to deliver us. Check out again what the three young Hebrew lads told wicked King Nebuchadnezzar when he threatened to burn them alive, “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king (Daniel 3:17 ESV).”.

He told us about that miraculous incident to illustrate His power to do the same for us. Have faith in God. He can replace our ‘goats’, repair the chinks in our armor, and give us victory over the enemy!

See-Saws of our Lives

Have you ever noticed how our lives could ofttimes be described as a perpetual series of see-saws—up and down, up and down, up and down. “I was up, but now I’m down”, or “I was down, but now I’m up”, “I was out, but now I’m in”. Notice that in nearly every case the pivot upon which all the ups and downs of our lives rest is that little word ‘but’. I know this sounds trite, but let me assure you, a simple little ‘but’ can be one of the most significant words in the English language. It’s the ‘buts’ in our lives that totally change our directions; not merely alter them, but change them by a whopping 180º!

We often use ‘buts’ to shift the blame for a misstep away from us. We are hoping that that simple little word can absolve us of any and all personal guilt. It’s that old ‘the dog ate my homework’ trick’. “I’m sorry I was late ‘but’ I got caught by a slow moving train”. In other words, ‘it was all that train’s fault; if that train had not blocked me I would have easily been on time. Or “I’m sorry I stepped on your, ‘but’ it was sticking out in the aisle.” In other words, “Don’t blame me. It’s all your fault! If your foot had not been sticking out in the aisle, I wouldn’t have stepped on it.” In effect we are saying that we are the victims, rather that the perpetrators.

Lawyers often use ‘buts’ in defense of their clients. As a matter of fact, nearly all successful lawyers have a litany of ‘buts’ in their bag of defenses—circumstances outside their client’s control which could ultimately lead to a ‘not guilty’ verdict. We’ve all heard them, “abused as a child”, or “my dad left us when I was two”, or “innocent by reason of insanity”, or “necessitated for self defense”, or “the way she was dressed said she wanted it”,or, or ……just to name a few. Once again, in each case, lawyers are obviously trying to paint their client as the victim rather than the perpetrator.

We use ‘buts’ to explain our station in life: “I thought we were happily married but then….” Or, “We tried to bring our child up right, but then…..” Or, “We were flying high—good job, fine home, fancy cars, extra money to run and play, but then….” Whoops! The see-saw has just changed our course in life. All our arrows were pointing up, but now all our arrows are pointing down. We had hit a serious road block— a road block that caused us to stop in our tracks, evaluate our options, alter our course, and move on. It should also be noted here that road blocks are not all bad! Road blocks can often steer us away from disaster; road blocks may actually be the disciplining hand of our loving Lord. In such cases, road blocks can actually be reason to rejoice! Rejoice? How’s that? How can we rejoice over our situation when all seems lost? Here’s a hint. In Proverbs 13:24 we read, “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them (NLT)”. We can rejoice that God loves so much that He is disciplining us, steering us back in the right direction.

Or visa-verse, the opposite can also often be true. All our arrows can be pointing down, “The roof leaks, the chimney leans and I ain’t got no money, ain’t got no job, and ain’t got no prospects of gittin’ one; poor pitiful me.” It’s prayer time—sincere prayer time, asking God to insert a “but then….” (Note: have you ever noticed how much more frequent and sincere our prayers are during times like these. And have you also noticed that such prayers are filled with mostly requests, and very few thank yous’?) Ah, but not to fret! Rather than enjoin a pity party, know that our loving Lord is able to turn all our arrows up just as easily as He can turn them down. The situation may appear to be impossible. But, happily, those are the times when God can cause us to land on a springboard. Once again, that’s the arena where God is at His best. It’s at times when we are at our wits end—when there is no light at the end of the tunnel, that we can be headed for a “but God” springboard. The see-saw may soon miraculously change directions. In Matthew 19:26 Jesus tells us “ “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (NKJV).” Did you notice that wonderful little phrase ‘but with God’?

Isn’t it amazing at how many see-saws in our lives rest on the pivot ‘but God’. As in the examples above, the ‘buts’ in our life become much more significant and powerful when immediately followed by God—‘but God’ (or some implication of a ‘but God’). We find literally hundreds of situations in the Scriptures where circumstances were headed in wrong directions, ‘but God’ stopped them in their tracks and introduced them to His chastening rod. Those sobering Scriptures should serve as warnings for us. When all things are seemingly going our way to the extent that we take our eyes off of Him, WATCH OUT!. We are headed headlong toward a dreaded ‘But God’. We too are certainly not exempt from His chastening rod. But, when we receive that disciplining rod of our Father, He is proving once again that He loves us. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2 NIV).”

However, we should rejoice that the opposite is also true. For example, the whole fifteenth chapter of Luke could be considered as the lost and found department of the Bible: a coin was lost but now is found, a sheep was lost but now is found, and a prodigal son was lost, but now is found. Likewise, our lives can be totally transformed when we encounter a ‘but God’. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how we could face trials that will surely come were it not for a ‘but God’. Without that brief little two-word phrase, we would have no hope in the world. Every imaginable ill circumstance in our lives can be negated when God inserts His all powerful ‘but God’ into the equation.

One of my favorite hymns of all time is ‘Love Lifted Me’. It was was written by James Rowe way back in the year 1912, yet it is still as fresh and pertinent today as it was over a hundred years ago.

I was sinking deep in sin, for from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more.
The master of the seas heard my despairing cry;
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I!

Words cannot express how much I rejoice in the fact that I too was once lost, but now am found, ‘I too was once blind, but now can see, I too was once headed for eternal torment, but God rescued me! No matter what our situations and circumstances may be, the insertion of a ‘but God’ can change the tide and the prevailing ill winds that are buffeting us. Once again, no matter whether all our arrows seem pointed up or down, I am reminded of that wonderful promise, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28, NLT).” Any or all our arrows may be pointed down and there seems to be no hope, but God is going to cause them to work together for good for those of us who love Him and have placed our total trust in Him.
Join me as I am trying to hold on to that promise with both hands and “Rejoice always!”