Messages in Bottles

Rummaging around in a 70-year-old garbage pile is probably not considered socially acceptable. I was thinking about that as I trudged out to the ravine with spades and a large bucket, pulling strands of old barbed wire out of the grass as I went along. Those will be for craft projects. But the trash pile was even better than anticipated, since I seem to have found the “source” pile! I learned a few things about the person who lived here – Pretty sure he drank whiskey and he had false teeth. No, I did not find the teeth. But I found a couple tins of false teeth cleaner! IMG_3033The pile is made up mostly of rusty old tin cans, but digging around we pulled out some interesting-looking glass bottles, a teacup with moss growing inside, an old enamelware bowl, rusted license plates from the 1930s and 1950s, and the head of a pitch fork. It is interesting to think about all the life that has been lived on the family place, people we never knew, people we aren’t related to. Mining, homesteading…living.  IMG_3076My mom wanted to know if I was ready to throw away all the trash I had brought home. Well, not really! I have ideas for some of these things. Someone else may have cast them off, but they will be added to my collection of “treasures.” As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”IMG_3080These bottles and the whole notion of treasures bring a number of ideas to mind – How often do we recognize as a treasure only that which has intrinsic worth, or worth that has been assigned materially? How seldom do we recognize as a treasure that which is worthless by material standards, but which has value beyond reckoning?  Phrases like “rags to riches” call to mind a Cinderella-type story. Ashes to diamonds…Caterpillars to butterflies. Those phrases resonate with us. Maybe because our Creator put that longing on our hearts, a longing for transformation. And I suppose those are descriptive of the earth-to-Heaven part of the Salvation story. The Salvation story is the adventure of all adventures, the romance of all romances, the rescue of all rescues, the transformation of all transformations, the Bible being the Saga of the story of Salvation. We don’t belong to this world. Read Genesis. We don’t belong here. But what about “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” That is a different kind of transformation. The difference between the trash and the treasure isn’t what it is, but whose it is.
IMG_3101These bottles were nothing special when they were in the junk heap, and they’re still nothing special – Except that they belong to me and I happen to think they’re nice. In a sense, isn’t that the story of the Christian? Yes, Biblically there is a heart change that happens at Salvation and we are fundamentally transformed in one sense, and then are progressively transformed throughout our earthly life, and will then be gloriously transformed after death. Change is a result of genuine Salvation. So don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! Yes, there is a change. Ezekiel 36:26 reads: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a new heart.” But at the moment of Salvation, God doesn’t magically transform our circumstances or our flaws or our sins or our pain or our struggles. He doesn’t suddenly make us angelic creatures that deserve passage into Heaven by our own merit. We have no merit of our own! I was a wretched sinner before I was saved, and I am still a wretched sinner now. I still have a sin nature. I struggle with doubt, fear, pride, gossip, lust, and on and on. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make those things go away automatically. Sometimes, I think it actually intensifies those things, because with the heart change comes a knowledge that the “old way of life” is no longer acceptable, and then ensues the struggle against sin nature. Paul the Apostle recognized this all too well, and cried out in the book of Romans: “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” IMG_3087 The Christian is a lot like those bottles and rusted metal. Nothing changed when I pulled them out of the junk heap. They weren’t treasures then and they aren’t treasures now. They aren’t worth anything to anyone. Except to me. Not because they changed. But because they are mine. I have given them meaning. In the same way, God doesn’t change what we are. He changes Whose we are. He gives us His Spirit, and the strength to change. He gives us a new heart. He puts His stamp upon us. He gives us meaning. IMG_3066He makes us treasures. His treasures.

Laura Elizabeth

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On This Day of Thanks

How wonderful it is to have a day set aside from work and the normal routine to gather with family and friends to remember our blessings! For Christians in particular, Thanksgiving Day should be poignant and meaningful, in a way that goes beyond the sweet platitude of “an attitude of gratitude.” We must not fail to acknowledge the Person to whom we are giving thanks. We have so many things to thank God for. We thank him for family, for friends, for our church homes. We thank him for freedoms. We thank him for religious liberties that we still are able to enjoy here. We thank him for the blessing of a good job, of financial security, for good weather and good harvest. We give thanks for the sumptuous feast before us on the table, for the familiar faces of family and friends around the table with us. We thank him for health and gifts of prosperity. We thank him for successes. These are all things for which to thank God, by all means.
IMG_8464But there is a problem. We often spend our Thanksgiving cultivating gratitude for the temporal, the ephemeral. There’s nothing wrong with giving thanks for the temporary; after all every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), so indeed, give thanks. But some, many, don’t enjoy many or any of those things that I listed. “What in the world do they have to be thankful for?” we may think in sorrow.  Or, “What in the world do I have to be thankful for?” This is wrong thinking. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church proclaimed this: Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18) If we know Christ and have the hope of Heaven, we have everything to be thankful for. Everything, that is, being God himself. For if we are in Christ, isn’t he our everything? And if he isn’t, shouldn’t he be? Circumstances of life may devastate us. Thanksgiving Day may be a day of heartbreak for many. But with an eternal hope, a hope that is realized beyond the grave, beyond pain and sorrow and hardship and trials, how much we have to be thankful for! All of this life is so temporary and so short. All the sorrow (and all the joy!) we experience in this life will be nothing compared with the resurrection joy, the eternal joy, the Heavenly joy of our future home. IMG_8502Tomorrow we could be stripped of our family by death. But the command and truth remain: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34). This sentiment was sung by Asaph and other ministering musicians appointed by King David to bless the Lord before God’s people, and this sentiment is echoed again and again throughout the Psalms. With this as a model, we should thank God, for he is good. Really, nothing else matters, except that God is God, and he is good. The secure job could be taken away: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. You or your loved one could receive a diagnosis of cancer or another terrifying illness: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your small business could fail, cattle prices plummet destructively, crops could be destroyed by hail or drought, your home taken away through fire or flood: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Your spouse could die, your children could turn away from their faith, your wife could miscarry: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. My point isn’t to sound a bell of doom and mourning, or to make light of any tragedy. These are events that devastate families on a daily basis. The early church itself faced grief, persecution, loss, death, trials of kinds we in America can only imagine, and many trials we can too easily imagine. And yet they were commanded: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And only can we do this through the hope of what is to come, the hope of purpose beyond what we can see with our eyes. For we are also told, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). And in Isaiah: He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8). 
IMG_8533The James 1 passage continues: Every good and perfect gift is from above….He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…. (James 1:17-18). This is the manifestation of his love toward us, that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We are to thank God for his glorious Gift of Salvation through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh, God Incarnate, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. This is truly the most glorious Gift! God created mankind to glorify himself, and for mankind to enjoy fellowship with God. In Genesis 3, we are told that he walked in the Garden in the cool of the day. He fellowshipped with his creatures Adam and Eve in the lush and plentiful Garden he had created. Sin destroyed this intimate fellowship, but through the life and death of Christ, we are able to again experience fellowship with God on a spiritual level now, and one day we will actually stand before him, and come to live in a world without death or pain! And this gift is a free gift, offered to everyone. IMG_8535Thanksgiving in a Biblical sense implies a proper understanding of our place before God, and God’s place above us. We are to replace the old pattern of our sin lives with a proper understanding of our place before God. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Our lives now are to exhibit this precious fellowship with God through Christ – With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are to weed these things from our lives, not to earn our way to Heaven, but because they are out of place in the lives of those who have been brought into fellowship with God. And that precious fellowship is exhibited in us pouring forth thanksgiving. How simple, yet how difficult. Thanksgiving. IMG_8494On this day of Thanksgiving, give thanks for all of the blessings you enjoy – God truly gives lavish gifts, the greatest being the gift of Salvation. If you are mourning rather than rejoicing, if you are struggling, experiencing loss, remember that God is good, and his love endures forever – Take comfort in the hope we have in Christ. Give thanks for the visible blessings, but don’t forget the eternal blessings.IMG_8550Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Laura Elizabeth

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Blessed Paradox

Every good story has a transformation. And I love a good story. I think everyone loves a good story. The concept of a story is woven into our hearts as human beings. We naturally respond to and love tales of suspense and danger and good guys and bad guys, where the good guy wins, but just by a hair. We love high stakes, the threat of the story world falling apart if the good guy loses. We love the emotional roller coaster of thinking that the good guy is down, only to find out he is up again and the bad guy is retreating desperately. We love the stories of a knight in shining armor rescuing the beautiful and courageous maiden, or the gun-slinging cowboy thundering down on a ranch, to scatter the outlaws and marry the lone woman who had been defending her family’s ranch. We love the stories of bad-man-turned-good, coward-turned-brave, rags-to-riches, bondage-to-freedom, danger-to-safety, loneliness-to-love. Whether circumstantial transformation, or personal transformation, we love a transformation.

The genuine, regenerate Christian life is a life of transformation, a story of rescue (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Without transformation, we are still dead in our trespasses. Without transformation, we are still wretched beyond belief. If look at myself honestly, I recognize that I am full of pride and arrogance, lust and fear and envy, I am discontent and angry, spiteful and dishonest and disingenuous – and then I look at Christ. That is my rescuer! That is whom I am commanded to be like. That is whom I am commanded to worship. That is my Savior. How far short I fall! Le Croix et Les Perles

There is an unfortunate and deadly pattern in even those who consider themselves to be Christians, to try to deny their own indwelling sin, and to deny the need for transformation in their life. (1 John 1:8-9) The Bible clearly states that everyone is born with an innate knowledge of God (Romans 1:20). This means that everyone has a knowledge that this world is not how it should be, that there is something desperately wrong with the world and ourselves. If I am truly honest with myself, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am full of evil. I don’t deserve to be rescued! Without even trying to be wicked, I am wicked, and if I’m not wicked, it is simply by the grace of God! (Romans 7:21-25)

We live in a Christian culture where “good Christians don’t have problems,” where we don’t admit to our struggles, our sins, our own native evil. What a cruel message to perpetrate. What a burden of guilt, to not be able to admit what each of us suffers acutely from, to paste on a facade of perfection while withering away inside from shame! What a burden of sorrow and pain, to not be able to come to Christ, fall on our knees, and pour out our wickedness and repentance before Him, and let Him take our burdens and make us free! There is no sin too wicked, no secret too dark, no guilt too wretched, to be covered by the forgiving work of Christ. Just come. (Matthew 11:28)

What if Christian, the Pilgrim, had refused to admit he carried a heavy burden on his back, refused to drop it at the Cross, and tried to carry his burden all the way to the Celestial City? He would have died on the road, or drowned under its weight in the River of Life. And this is exactly what people do, who try to deny that they are struggling with their own evil, or who try to deny that there is such a thing as right or wrong, or that they have any indwelling sin in their life. They are refusing to let Christ take and destroy their burdens. They are denying the need for Christ. They are denying the need for a hero’s rescue, for a transformation of circumstance and person.

It does no good to claim Christ as Savior and deny the need of saving grace. It does no good to hope for Heaven if you don’t truly believe there is a Hell. It does no good to live a life labeled “Christian” if your version of “Christian” is no different from the culture. There must be a transformation.

What is springtime without first the deadened winter? What is dawn without the darkness of night? What is a rainbow without the fierceness of a storm? What is joy if we haven’t also experienced grief? What is salvation if we weren’t first dead in our sins? What is Paul the Apostle if he wasn’t first Saul of Tarsus? And what is the Resurrection of Christ the LORD if He didn’t first die a sinner’s death?

The glory of God is most beautifully manifested in His glorious rescue of wretched sinners. The salvation story is the rescue of all rescues, the ultimate knight-in-shining armor, the ultimate romance, the ultimate adventure, the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, the ultimate transformation of circumstance! The Hero comes, confronts the Villain, willingly pays the Ransom price to rescue the Prodigal, adopting as His children even those who had spit on Him, hated Him, abandoned Him, and crucified Him.

And thus we have the blessed paradox – A God who is all that is good, righteous, holy, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, a God who is just, and jealous, and justified in sending all of humanity to Hell for our corporal and individual wickedness…that same God stooped in love and mercy to become a Man, sinless and pure, to live a perfect life and die a perfect death, to pay the final price for sin: a gruesome, bloody death. (Ephesians 2:4-7) He died to save those who spit on Him, who reviled Him, who persecuted Him, who nailed Him to the tree. And each of us, by our sin, has participated in putting the nails through His hands and the crown of thorns upon His head. And yet He offers life. (Acts 22:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15)
It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t a story I would have written. I would have tweaked a few things. I would have made the object of rescue deserve it a little bit. I would have made the Hero a little bit volcanic, grabbing those who spat on Him by the shirtfront and giving them a righteous shake. But it is God’s story, and blessed be His name for choosing so glorious a rescue to be the story of all history! He makes it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him – I have no power on my own to live a “good life.” I have no power toward any good, without the strength of Christ in me. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong….so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 1:27, 29.

Soli Deo gloria!

Laura Elizabeth

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Waiting

IMG_5301.lowrezChristmas Eve is a good time to remember – and to reflect. On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the miraculous birth of a Savior, God Incarnate, who humbled Himself to come to earth as a baby, as the frailest form of humanity. But I think we often make the mistake of forgetting that the Christmas story doesn’t start in the book of Matthew, but it starts back in the book of Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament, a Savior was waited for – The entire Old Testament leads us to Christ.

It starts back in Eden, when Adam and Even were still the first people on earth.

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve rejected God’s command, God cursed the earth and increased the trials both men and women would face, but He also gave them hope – The hope of Someone who would come to earth to do battle with Satan.

In Genesis 13, God told Abraham that all families of earth would be blessed through Abraham. And in Genesis 15, God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.”

IMG_5295.lowrezIn Genesis 49, the last days of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, are recorded. Jacob was nearing the end of his life, and he gave a blessing to each of his sons. This wasn’t a blessing of earthly proportions, but was prophetic in nature and from the hand of God. In his blessing to Judah, he says, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In the second book of Samuel, chapter 7, the prophet Nathan came to King David, who was himself a descent of Abraham and Jacob, and told him, “….the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom….And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

And in the book of Micah, the prophet speaks about Bethlehem: “From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

These five examples barely scratch the surface of the promises and foreshadowing of the Messiah in the Old Testament. These are just a few of the many promises and prophesies that God gave His people – These were signs by which they would recognize the Messiah. They were reminders that God hadn’t forgotten His promises. God had a plan, a perfect plan, a beautiful plan, by which He would bring Salvation into the world, by which all families of earth would be blessed, who would rule in righteousness and justice and mercy, who would establish His throne forever. The Israelites waited eagerly and probably wearily for the Messiah, a king who would come and free them from the various harsh oppressions they lived under. As is so often the case, our anticipation of God’s plan for our lives is so much less than what He actually has planned. They waited for an earthly king. God had a different plan.

IMG_5288.lowrezFinally, as is recorded in the book of Matthew, a baby was born, given the name Jesus, born in the town of Bethlehem, to a young virgin named Mary, who was of the house of David (Luke 3), who conceived her Child miraculously through the Holy Spirit. This Child’s legal, adoptive father, Joseph, was also of the house and lineage of David (Matthew 1), making this Child both legally and physically of the house and lineage of David the King, and Judah, and Abraham. God always keeps His promises.

From Abraham’s lineage there did come whole nations of people on earth, but more importantly, from Abraham’s lineage was born the Messiah, through whom “all families of earth shall be blessed.”Abraham’s lineage is truly a magnificent lineage, and includes every single Child of God, every single person saved from their sins by faith in God’s Son and adopted into that glorious heritage. Even Abraham, who knew God with such a blessed kind of faith, couldn’t have comprehended that his legacy would include everyone adopted into God’s family through the saving work of the Messiah who would come from his lineage! What wonderful history!

IMG_5302.lowrezAnd it continues today! The scepter hasn’t left the house of Judah. The never-ending throne of King David is still being ruled from today, because Jesus, the Son of David, is reigning in Heaven, risen and glorious, and will one day return to finish His battle with Satan. The king the Israelites expected was a king who would wipe out their earthly enemies, restore earthly peace, and give earthly justice. But the King that God had planned would be a King who would wipe away our sins, our tears, our spiritual enemies, who would provide the Gift of Salvation, who would come to earth as a Man, someone we can try to comprehend with our finite minds, someone who can sympathize with us in our weakness, someone to demonstrate a life of righteousness, love, faith, purity, joy, servanthood, humility, and sacrifice. A King who would restore Spiritual Peace, and give Spiritual Justice and Mercy. A King who would adopt us into His household and call us His children, His brothers and sisters, His family.

And all of this started back before Genesis 1. The Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah. We wait for the second coming of the Messiah.

What a glorious heritage. What a glorious past, present, and future, in light of God’s gift to all mankind!

Laura Elizabeth