Sunrise illuminating cloud behind title: Staying in Right Relation to God

 

One morning a while back, I sat for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. It was an especially brilliant one.

After a few minutes, the pinks and oranges and yellows faded away as they always do.

That particular morning, something caught my eye. Two or three clouds still glowed brightly. While all the clouds above, below, and beside these two or three clouds had lost their glorious hues, those two or three had not.

The sight left me wondering. Why didn’t they fade as well?

It took a few moments of pondering to conclude that those two or three clouds were likely closer to the earth than the ones that, from my perspective, surrounded them. The sunrise rays of the sun no longer reached the further clouds, but still lit up the lower ones.

Then I wondered if there’s a lesson to be learned from these clouds. It didn’t take long to realize that there is.

Whether or not the cloud still shone was to do with the cloud’s relation to the sun. There was no way that cloud could shine on its own. It had no light in itself. Only when it was in right relationship with the sun, could it shine.

In Matthew 5:16, I am told to shine so that people would glorify God.

How can I shine? Is it of my own accord? Do I muster up the light myself?

No. It is the light that Jesus gives. I must be in right relation to Jesus so that His light may shine through me.

Interestingly, shortly after the sun had risen, I opened my Bible for my morning devotional time. I’d been reading through Numbers recently. That morning I was at Numbers 25.

As I began reading, the theme of right relation to God, or being tuned into Him, continued.

In case you haven’t read Number 25 recently, let me re-cap the story for you.

Israel was approaching the Promised Land. God had warned them not to get too friendly with the enemy nations in the area. He knew these nations would draw the Israelites’ hearts away from Himself.

Nonetheless, in chapter 25 we find the Israelites prostituting themselves with the women of those nations and going after their idols.

God was furious! Yet again, His chosen nation had sharply turned their back on Him. The people had been so out of touch with God, that they did the very thing that most inspired His righteous jealousy!

But wait. It gets worse.

As many of the Israelites gathered to grieve what their nation had done, an Israelite man, Zimri, passed by with a woman from an enemy nation. He publicly and unashamedly took her into his tent.

Zimri’s timing was terrible. He was completely out of touch with what was going on. Why were all those people gathered at the Tabernacle? To grieve over and take action against the very sin he was publicly committing.

Zimri’s actions earned him capital punishment. 

Now, that story is an extreme example. Thankfully we are no longer under the Law but are under grace.

Regardless, as I read that story, I couldn’t help but blatantly see how very critical it is for me to be in right relation with God.

When I am walking rightly with God, not only will I be a light for Him, but I will know what pleases or angers Him. Only then can I live a life fully pleasing to God.

No, it is not that I must earn my salvation, but out of thankfulness for God’s great mercy on me, I desire to please Him. As a Christian, God has instructed me how I ought to live – in right relationship with Him. He knows that such a life is the very best possible thing for me.

So, like those two or three clouds, may I make it my goal to live in right relation to God.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 NASB

 

A freshly cut onion with the title: Onion Layers

 

Examining Onion Layers

I glance at the clock. Time to start making supper. As I close my computer and head toward the kitchen, I decide that stroganoff would make a tasty meal tonight.

At the pantry, I reach for onions. Since this batch of onions was starting to go bad, I’m glad the bag is nearly finished. I make a mental note to put them on the shopping list.Red onions

Pulling out two onions, I glance at them. One is large and decently healthy looking. The other is small and covered in rot.

I place the cutting board on the counter and begin peeling the larger onion. That done, I locate my favourite knife and slice the onion in half.

I frown at what I see inside.

Although the large onion appeared healthy, the center has a rotting section. With a sigh I dissect it, discarding what’s bad.

I eye the smaller onion. If the onion that had appeared considerably healthier on the outside was rotten at the core, what chance did this miserable looking onion have of containing anything good at all?

Maybe I should just throw it out.

I glance at the pile on my cutting board of chopped good onion. It’s not as big as I want it to be for the meal. I could grab another onion from the bag and out-right discard the bad one. However, I wasn’t planning to shop for groceries for a few more days. With the onion bag so low, perhaps it was worth checking to see if the smaller onion had anything worth keeping.

Resigning myself to the unpleasant task, I gingerly reach for the smaller onion. I’ll give it a try.

I slice the onion open.

To my astonishment, the rot on this onion only went two or three layers deep. Once I peeled away the outside, I had a crisp juicy looking onion. Incredibly, the good parts of this onion looked far healthier than the good parts of the larger onion.

Chopped onion in bowlThe good part of the large healthy onion appeared fine and passable, but the good part of the small rotten onion appeared fresh and delicious.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve long known that onions go bad more or less in layers. Peel away the bad layers and you’ll likely find good usable onion within. This particular bag of onions, however, had thus far contained several onions that appeared mostly healthy on the outside, but had a bad section at their core. How amazing to find that the one onion that looked the worst was actually the best inside.

As I toss the chopped onions into the frying pan and turn on the heat, I find myself thinking about how people can have layers as well.

The Sunday School Lesson

Perhaps the most well-known verse to go with this thought is 1 Samuel 16:7b – a verse I memorized as a child.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV2011)

When did God say these words? God spoke them through His prophet Samuel when choosing a new king for the nation of Israel. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best looking. He chose David, a young shepherd boy at the time.

Here’s another translation of the verse: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b CSB)

Just like with the onions, I cannot see what is inside those around me, but God can.

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you’ve probably heard this principle many times. I know I have. It’s an important reminder from time to time, yet as I pondered the onion allegory, I wondered if there was something more for me to learn here.

A Further Onion Allegory

Then I recalled another passage of Scripture – a rather convicting one.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was pointing out the errors of the religious leaders of the day. He said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. … You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV2011)

For now, the lesson for me to consider has to do with my own core. What are my thoughts like and how do I behave when no one is there to see me? Am I rotten in these private unseen parts of my life?

It is so easy to do as the Pharisees did and focus on making the outside of my life look good.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus had said: “Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:5a NIV2011)

So how am I doing? Am I seeking God with all my heart or is it all for show? Am I giving Him room to work in the hidden areas of my life to be transforming me into His image? Or do I need to repent of selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and wickedness?

Will I be like the religious leaders who prompted Jesus’ cry at the end of Matthew 23?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV2011)

Or do I pray as David did?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Spray paint and cell phone

A few days ago, I needed to do some spray painting. I gathered old cardboard, the little flower pots I planned to paint, and the spray paint can.

I switched into old jeans and a t-shirt and took my watch off to keep it clean.

Outside, I set everything up. Then I looked at my phone.

I was expecting a text soon to which I’d need to reply. Therefore, I couldn’t leave the phone inside and miss the message. However, I certainly didn’t want to get paint on my phone!

I slipped it into my back pocket. That wouldn’t work. The pocket was too short leaving part of the phone exposed.

Pulling it out, I studied my phone. One end of the phone had the cameras and the headphone jack. Paint on the main camera would prevent me from taking pictures, but I often enjoy using my phone camera. Spray paint over the reverse camera would make Zoom calls impossible. Not good. As for the headphone jack, I don’t use headphones often, but losing the option wouldn’t be favourable. Therefore, I slipped the phone back into my pocket with the camera side down. That would keep it safe.Cell phone charging

But wait! The part of the phone now exposed was the power cord plug-in! That would never do. If the phone can’t be charged, then none of its functions would be usable!

Reluctantly, I switched it the other way around. Now the power plug-in was protected. I would be disappointed if the camera got damaged, but I owned a different camera I could use. What I wouldn’t have was a working cell phone if this one died.

Thankfully, I didn’t get any paint on my phone. I was paying enough attention to not touch it when my fingers were sticky with paint.

The lesson

Why do I recount this little story? Because there is a lesson here for me.

Similarly to how I needed to choose which part of my phone to protect, I must choose every day what parts of life I protect the most.

To some people, taking the time to think about which way to put my phone in my pocket may seem excessively cautious and pointless. Likewise, I sometimes neglect to put thought into what I want to prioritize in my life. It seems unnecessary to take time to think about prioritizing when I could be using that time to accomplish something instead.

The challenge is, like with my phone’s power plug-in, if I fail to guard the most important parts of my life, everything else will suffer.

So what parts of my life should I guard?

What the Bible tells us to guard

To find the answer, I did some research. I searched for the word “guard” in the Bible. Here are some of the verses I found.

I must be sure the way I am living does not involve evil. 

“The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.”  (Proverbs 16:17 ESV)

What do I use to help keep my way pure and good? The Bible.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.”  (Psalm 119:9 ESV) 

My heart needs tending to as well.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

Here’s something I must guard against.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'”  (Luke 12:15 ESV)

What’s the highest priority?

Okay, but which is most important? With my phone, the power cord plug-in is by far the most important thing to guard. What about in my life?

Here’s Jesus’ answer:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 NIV)

If I am careful to guard God’s position as the first priority in my life, the rest will fall into place so much better.

God will help me

Easier said than done! Thankfully, God will help me guard my life according to His ways. I can trust Him to do so.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? 

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 121:1-2,8 NASB)