Provision

I abide, God provides

Firewood yield from unexpected tree-trimmer visit

Firewood yield from unexpected tree-trimmer visit

I just happened to be home when a company contracted by our electricity provider pulled up to trim trees growing under electrical wires running along the back of our property.

“Would you mind leaving larger hardwood branches behind for our firewood?” I asked one of the crew members.

And just like that, my dwindling firewood reserve was replenished!  Several large branches trimmed from two large trees in ours and our neighbor’s yards produced two-plus face cords of hardwood.  Like ‘wood manna’ from above!

The sense of God providing rose in me as I marveled at the daring worker climbing high into the branches of our towering silver maple. After strategically fastening ropes to secure his safety harness, he tied off one of the large branches for safe cutting and transport to the ground with help from his crew below.

We burn wood for enjoyment, so God’s provision in this case was more along the line of fulfilling a desire of my heart.  (See Psalm 37:4, NASB).  Nevertheless, a caption popped into my mind for this moment, “I abide, God provides.”

Abide, as from John 15 where Jesus tapped into the agricultural mindset of his followers to paint a picture of how God’s kingdom operates.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4, NASB)

A few sentences later, Jesus describes the destiny of cut off, no longer abiding branches - thrown aside to dry, be gathered and burned.  Except here I will gleefully re-purpose these dead branches for fire fuel to warm our home on a winter evening in the future.

No feature of creation is beyond the reach of our all-providing God, even death.  A fire’s ashes rejoin earth’s humus to spawn new plants and trees.  Jesus restored Lazarus to life after four days in the tomb and shortly after Jesus shared his abide principle, his own death would achieve the ultimate, providing event of all time - restored relationship with God!

Note the order and roles.  1) I abide. 2) God provides.

In 2011, I themed a Christmas ornament with this same “abide” message.  God has since worked abiding into my life. After drawing me through a season of waiting and learning to trust more in him, a “next phase” opened where I saw possibilities in developments I never would have considered before. I am still in that phase now, more accepting, even appreciative that the ways forward don’t often unfold as I plan or envision.

Linking my abiding with God providing also presumes that failing to abide dims my sense of God’s nearness.  “Abide-failure” tends to cause pride and urgency toward self-preservation to rear up in me. Counseled Jesus, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

“These things” include anything we ask God to provide. (See Matthew 6: 28-32, NIV).

Seeking and abiding is not standing still.  God’s first work for humanity was to tend creation as his image-bearers.  Working, serving and tending is often where God shows us new possibilities.

In God’s provision is also a caution not to allow our abide to descend to pride, especially when life is going well.  Unless I’m missing something, the Bible only sparsely connects our efforts with God’s provision.  More frequent is how poorly most of us handle bounty.

Abide elevates our thankfulness to the Lord whereas pride turns us inward, attributing provision more to our own efforts, intelligence, entitlement and ingenuity than to God’s shaping of situations that yield benefit for us.  Think about some of your greatest achievements and honestly consider how much you can truly attribute to yourself after discounting for other contributing factors over which you had little or no control.

Honestly acknowledging our lack of control over most of life can sink us to anxiety or draw us to giving Jesus’ abide invitation a try.  Abiding prepares us to recognize and give thanks when the “Provide” trucks arrive unexpectedly to replenish our firewood reserve!

Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good. His faithful love continues forever. (Psalm 136:1, NIRV)

See: 2011 "Abide in me" ornament

 

 

Daily Bread — 2010 Ornament

FOOD FOR LIFE

My career challenges continued in 2010 through closure of my home care business, finding some temp work to get by and then landing a new position in early December. I locked in with God via regular prayer and He answered with both insight and practical help. Even so, the “whys and wherefores” remained a mystery. Faith, applied practice to follow God, kept me in the game. “Daily Bread” became to expression of how that happened for me this year – how God not only meets our needs but desires our dependence.

Our Daily Bread — 2010 Ornament

The term “Daily Bread” is generally attributed to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11.   I drew the 2010 ornament title from this scripture but the ornament’s lesson is from the story of manna and quail recorded by Moses 1500 years before Jesus appeared on the scene.  In Exodus 16, we read how God responded to the Israelites hunger by providing a daily portion of bread and meat to them in the forms of manna and quail. This provision would continue for the duration of their 40 years of wandering in the desert.  God’s provision is later recalled in Deuteronomy 8 as the people are challenged to remember and remain obedient to God as their memory of his miraculous provision fades with time.

The elements of this story that we related to was how this provision of food was attributed as a trial, a blessing and a discipline.

  • The trial occurred when they experienced hunger and cried out to God for relief.
  • The blessing arrived in God’s response with food to satisfy their need.
  • The discipline regarded following God’s instructions to the letter – to gather only enough for a single day.  If more was gathered, the extra amount rotted before the next day as well as other repercussions from being out of favor with God.

The last two years of joblessness and underemployment have brought the realization of daily need into our perspective.  God taught that EACH DAY we are to literally depend on him for THAT day only – like the Israelites 3500 years ago.  Furthermore, we saw how God uses the very hunger that he wove into our nature to draw us to himself.  As God nourishes our bodies, he challenges us to consider that he can meet our spiritual hunger as well.

I contend that a belief system should offer a plausible explanation of life as it really is.  Christianity “works” because it speaks to life as it is, both physical and spiritual.  Bible lessons connect the two.  While God gave us natures brimming with hungers and passions, when we satisfy them at just the physical level, we fall short of our full potential.

When God made us with bodies that need food to survive, he created a world able to more than meet that need.  However when the Israelites are later challenged to remember how God responded with manna and quail, another idea is introduced – that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Thousands of years later, Jesus affirmed these lessons by demonstrating the rich connections between the spiritual and physical realms.  While Jesus performed feeding miracles on several occasions, his radical pronouncement, “I am the bread of life.”  (John 6:48) echoed Moses’ words of Deuteronomy 8:3.  In his discourse with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he distinguished between the properties of the well’s water that only temporarily quenches thirst and the living water he provides that offers eternal life.  (John 4:13).

So I offer you my 2010 ornament, “Daily Bread” to share how God showed us this year how we need to turn to him anew each and every day for all the sustenance we need – physical and spiritual.  For “his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3: 22b-23a)

(glenn 12/9/2010)

Give us each day our daily bread. (Luke 11:3, NIV-1984)


Notes

Ornament back/bottom:

go out each day and gather enough for that day.  (Exodus 16: 4)
man does not live by bread alone (Deut 8:3)
I am the bread of life (John 6:48)

Scripture References: Matthew 6: 11; Exodus 16: 4, 12; Deuteronomy 8: 3, Lamentations 3: 22b-23b; John 6: 47-50

  1. Daily Bread (Matthew 6:11, NIV-1984):

    Give us this day our daily bread.
     
  2. Manna and Quail: Sustenance in the desert (Exodus 16: 4-5, NOV-1984):

    4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
     
  3. Hunger that bread alone cannot quench (Deuteronomy 8: 1-5, NIV-1984):

    1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

    8 I am the bread of life. ( Jesus) (John 6:48, NIV-1984)
     
  4. Provision when needed (Exodus 16:12):

    “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”

    his compassions never fail. They are new every morning(Lamentations 3:22b-23a) 
  5. Life-giving water (John 4:5-13, NIV-2010):

    5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

    7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

    9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

    10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

    11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

    13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  

Bride of Christ — 2006 Ornament

MARRIAGE A MYSTERY:

I was honored this year to be invited by my niece Sarah to offer the mealtime prayer at her wedding banquet.  As I thought about that prayer and about the life that she and Patrick were entering into together, thoughts about marriage came to me that eventually inspired this year’s ornament design.

 Traditionally, a just-wedded couple’s first night together centers on consummating the spiritual and familial union sealed earlier at their wedding ceremony with their first physical/sexual union. This ornament draws its lesson from this most basic of all natures innately human – sexuality.

The terms “Christmas” and “Bride of Christ” encompass elements of our struggles with both sexuality and relating to God although neither term can be found in the Bible.  Rather, each regards aspects of God’s limitless desire to engage us at our level so that He might show us the abundant life that He offers to all people.

2006 "Bride of Christ" Ornament

God gifted humans with sexuality to (1) cause and sustain “oneness” (Matthew 19: 4-6)between a man and woman who have covenanted before Him to lifelong commitment and faithfulness with each other and (2) as a fun way to make babies and proliferate humankind (Genesis 1: 28).

Sadly in today’s world, our first exposure to sex is often in the form of an abuse of His design – advertisers’ use of sex to sell everything under the sun, … casual depictions of sex in our entertainment media … porn – the number one use of the internet, … premarital sex – more common today than premarital virginity, etc., etc., etc.…

In a society obsessed with sex, avoiding temptation is hard. Men in particular but many women as well struggle with maintaining a wholesome sexual perspective. Sharing in this struggle, I’ve devoted a lot of prayer and study to this topic.  Fortunately, God meets us where we are at, uses our struggles to build character (Romans 5: 3-4) and to demonstrate that nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8: 38-39).  In Christ alone is forgiveness and mercy (Ephesians 1:7).  So, here’s where I’ve landed so far…

While God grieves the misuse of His plan for sex (Jeremiah 13: 26-27), our powerful craving for sex is by His design and He draws on that power not only to enable successful marital relationships but to try to drive home in us His intense desire to be “known” by us at the most intimate level. Throughout Scripture, God uses the language of sex to speak to us because, quite frankly, it is a language we understand – and so does He.   (On the bottom of the ornament, I listed some of these Scriptures.  Note in each how a sexual theme is stated or implied to convey a bigger idea.)

Forgiving my bluntness, a way to depict the “act” of marriage is as a “trinity” of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy experienced by a man and woman exclusively committed to each other for life. Furthermore, marital sex is ordained and encouraged by God down through the ages, so much so that He admonishes husbands and wives to not “deprive” each other “except by mutual consent” (I Corinthians 7:5).

I believe that the “oneness” that Scripture declares occurs in sex is when the spirits of two people “merge” via the physical act, which is why sex is set apart in Scripture from all other human acts, why its abuse is listed high on most lists of sins, and why purity and virginity is so highly regarded by God (see Genesis 2:24 &  I Corinthians 6: 15-20).  Think about this “trinity” next time you share this joyful, timeless ritual with your spouse. Marital union is a wonderful, prayerful, God-given example, although incomplete, of what oneness with God is like.

Isn’t it just like God to use our own carnal nature to draw us to Him? (That he GAVE us by the way!) – Another illustration of how He is not a distant God but as close as, … well, I hope you get the idea.

So, you ask, how does the innocence of the Christmas story relate to this theme? Well, one way to look at Christmas is God sending His Savior Son to the world via a sexual scandal of His own making. To a nation that stoned to death women caught in the act of adultery, a girl who claims to have never “known” a man is found to be pregnant. Moreover, the explanation she gives is about an angel visiting, of God “overshadowing” her to cause conception and that the child she bears is God’s own Son!  Imagine that story leaking in today’s press!


Notes:

Label, Front of Heart: Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5: 24-27

Label, Back of Heart:

Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marital intimacy to convey His desire to be cherished by us. Israel, His chosen people, is His lover in the Old Testament and the Church is His Bride in the New Testament.  Not only is God NOT embarrassed by the emotional, spiritual and physical bonds that a husband and wife enjoy together, He defers to the most intimate of all human connections to illustrate the relationship He yearns to have with us. Being “known” in the “biblical” sense was God’s idea in the first place!

Label, Bottom of Ornament (Underneath):

Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22).

Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. (Judges 2:17a)

Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood (Jeremiah 3:9)

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! (Song of Songs 4:10a)

… when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, … you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25a)

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelations 21:9b)

Later thoughts associated with the lesson but not the ornament: (2/15/2013)

  1. Jesus reaffirming the original design of marriage: established by God, two become one, man has not authority to separate. Divorce allowed by God as an act of mercy only because of man’s sinful “hardness of heart.” (Matthew 19: 3-8)
  2. Marriage as a mystery: Part of a teaching by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Ch 5: 22-33).  The “mystery” reference is in verses 31-32 is: “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (NLT)

    As noted on the ornament text, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel also mirrors this mystery. So both the old and new testaments are spanned by this idea: God/Christ as husband/groom and Israel/Church as wife/bridge.

    So, revisiting key markers of the conversation:
    • Established by God in the Garden of Eden: Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22)
    • Affirmed by Jesus: let no one split apart what God has joined together. (Matthew 19: 6b, NLT)
    • Explained by Paul: This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5: 32a, NLT)
  3. For other biblical nuances of this idea, look at : As alluded in my ornament explanation, the Bible is filled with this idea. Any violation or watering down of it is entirely due to God making allowance due to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.

    Whole book examples:  Song of Solomon (expresses the romantic, passionate aspects), Hosea (expresses the faithfulness of the husband for an uncommitted and unfaithful wife).