Pickles

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Citron Wood, A Luxury Item

Citron wood fruitReference: Revelation 18:11-17

John wrote Revelation near the end of the first century. At that time, the Roman Empire was the dominant geographic-political entity, stretching from Britain, through Europe, and into the Middle East. In Revelation 18, John prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire; however, the Roman Empire did not end for about another 375 years. In 476 A.D., Rome fell when the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Hun general, Odoacer, who then ruled Italy.

Revelation Chapter 18 contains three laments; one by the kings of the earth (Revelation 18:9-10), one by the merchants of the earth (Revelation 18:11-17), and another by sea captains, sailors and all who earned their living from the sea (Revelation 18:18-20). The merchants of the earth are crying out because Romans (and its Empire) no longer buy their cargoes. These cargoes include precious metals and stones, linen and cloths, every sort of citron wood and articles of every kind made of ivory and costly wood, spices and food products, horses and carriages, and slaves.

During the Roman Republic, elite members of society were known for their sumptuous banquets. The best banquet tables were made of citron wood because the wood did not stain when wine and other food was spilled on them. The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C.) recorded that a citron wood table could cost as much as 1.3 million sesterces. To put this amount of money into a New Testament framework, this citron banquet table was valued at an amount equivalent to 20 Jewish workers each laboring 45 years (assume: 1/4 of a denarius equaled 1 sesterce and a typical Jewish laborer earned 1denarii per day).

Citron Wood

Citron wood comes from the Tetraclinis articulata tree which most of us call the sandarac gum tree, thyine wood, or the thuya. T. articulata is the sole species in this genus of plants. It was native to the western Mediterranean region particularly southern Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Malta. The expansion of agricultural activity, over grazing, urbanization, exploitation, and fires have reduced the number of sandarac trees. In Israel, the sandarac grows in Galilee and the northern valleys, central hills (Carmel) and in the entire Negev desert area. It can grow in rock fissures and rocky slopes. T. articulata is an evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family.

Symbolism: Luxury

In the Roman Empire, citron wood was a luxury item. A luxury item is an indulgence that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease. To wealthy Romans, a citron wood banquet table provided all three of these. These wealthy Romans and their decadent ways were the same individuals that persecuted early Christians, laughing when Christians were killed in the Coliseum. Their self- indulgence  led to the downfall of Rome. Perhaps we need to reflect on what we pay more attention to: acquiring luxury items or walking in the Spirit.

Copyright: October 28, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

Harps on Willow Trees

Salix babylonicaThe story of the fall of Jerusalem is in 2 Kings 25:1-12 and Psalm 137 is a lament of the exiles in Babylon.

After King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem (January 15, 588 B.C.). About 2 ½ years later, King Zedekiah and his army broke through the Jerusalem wall near the king’s garden and fled the city. Nebuchadnezzar pursued and captured Zedekiah at Riblah. Zedekiah was taken to Babylon and killed. On August 14, 586 B.C., the Babylonians set fire to the temple, royal palace, and every important building in Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down. Israelites that remained in Jerusalem were taken as captives into Babylon with the exception of the poorest people who were left to tend the vineyards and fields.  In Babylon, Jewish captives were treated as slaves or servants (2 Chronicles 36:20).

Psalm 137 remembers the Babylonian captivity and provides insight into the life of the Jerusalem captives in Babylon. The first stanza (first 3 verses) possibly indicates that the captives lived near and/or worked building canals that connected rivers around Babylon and provided irrigation for crops. The captives were so wretched that at times they could do nothing but sit and weep for their lost freedom and land. Verse 2 recorded that they hung harps, used to accompany songs to God, on willow trees. Probably the men did not technically hang their valued musical instruments on willow tree branches. More likely, they set them aside or as we say today, “put them on a back shelf,” having no heart to play or sing. To further add to the captive’s agony, their Babylonian captors demanded the Jewish play harps and sing songs of joy about Zion. The Babylonians want the captives to entertain them!

Stanza 2 (verses 4-6) is about repentance. It begins by the captives asking how they can sing God’s songs in a foreign land. In the captives’ minds, songs should praise God and reverberate through the Temple and Jerusalem, not be sung for the entertainment of a heathen people. The two verses of the stanza are pledges and curses on themselves if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 5 says: may their right hand – the hand used to play the harp – lose its skill (become numb) if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 6 avers:  may their tongues cling to the roof of their mouth – never sing – if they do not remember and consider Jerusalem their highest joy.

Stanza 3 (verses 7-9) is a petition for God to punish the Edomites and the Babylonians. The Edomonites were off-spring of Esau who was Jacob’s (Israel) twin brother. Yet, the Edomites encouraged the Babylonians when they destroy Jerusalem. Although the Babylonians were the vehicle of God’s punishment of the Jewish people, they embraced their conquest with gleeful brutality. The brutality included taking Jewish babies from the arms of Jewish mothers and beating their heads against walls and trees.

Babylon Willow Tree

The Babylonian willow is the Salix babylonica  known as the weeping willow. The tree is native to central Asia, probably China. From China it was transported along the silk route to the Middle East. The willow was planted and grew around ancient Babylon which gave its name to the species.  Weeping willows favors bright sunlight.  Under too much shade, the tree grows unevenly. In Israel, S. babylonica grows in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands and is found in the Sharon Plain. Typically, Babylonian weeping willows grow between 30-50 feet tall. Flexible stems move gracefully in the wind. The weeping willow is deciduous and loses its leaves in the late fall and early winter months. The upper leaf surface looks olive-green while the underside appears silver. Like branches and stems, leaves hang down, or droop, as they grow. Weeping will trees produce leaves and flowers simultaneously.

Symbolism:  Repentance

Depression and weeping are concepts that could be associated with the Salix babylonica because they described the behavior of the Jewish captives in Psalm 137:1-3; however, “repentance” is the better symbolism. Repentance means turning from sin and amending one’s life.  Repentance implies sorrow, regret, and contrition for previous sinful behavior.  The captive Jewish men repented. The result was that they could not sing God’s songs in a land of heathen idolaters.  They saw moral impropriety in mixing the songs of the Lord with the things of the world.

The Bible did not describe how the captivities came to repentance. They may have remembered and talked among themselves about the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Both warned of the coming judgment on Israel, but also talked about Israel’s deliverance and restoration. Perhaps they heard directly or indirectly the consoling words of Ezekiel, who like they lived in Babylon.  Ezekiel’s assured the captives that Israel would return home to Jerusalem and inhabit the towns of Judah (Ezekiel 36:8-12).  Ezekiel even promised that a new Temple would be built.

However repentance came about, the Jewish captives pledged their loyalty to Jerusalem, home of God. The Good News Bible (1976) provides a succinct translation of their oath:

May I never be able to play the harp again if I forget you Jerusalem!  May I never be able to sing again if I do not remember you, if I do not think of you as my greatest joy (Psalm 137:5-6).

In April 1948 immediately before Israel declared itself an independent nation, the Jewish sector of Jerusalem was practically in a state of siege (MacDonald, 1995). Food supplies were almost exhausted. Weekly rations for each person was 2 ounces of margarine, 4 ounces of potatoes, and 4 ounces of dried meat. Then, news came that a convoy of food and supplies was coming from Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people ran out to welcome the trucks. Jews in Jerusalem reported that they will never forget the sight of the first truck in the convoy.  Written on the front bumper of the blue Ford were the words “If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem….”

Reflection. The Jews learned the value of repentance in Babylon.Have you learned the value of repentance?

Copyright: October, 18, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

David Waits for God

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

Copyright: October 4, 2014: Carolyn Adams Roth

Life is a Garden

My 97 year old friend in assisted living shared this poem with me today:

Life is a Garden

Life is a garden, good friends are the flowers; and time spent together life’s happiest hours.

Friendship, like flowers, blooms ever more fair when carefully tended by dear friends who care.

And life’s lovely garden would be sweeter by far if all who pass through it were as nice as you are!

Source: Anonymous

Separation from God

Commiphora africana lightRead Genesis Chapters 1 and 2.

On Creation Day 6 God planted a garden in the east in Eden (Genesis 2: 8-9).  Most scholars believe that the location of Eden “in the east” is in reference to Israel, where Genesis was probably written. In the ancient Hebrew language, Eden means “delight.”  The Garden of Eden was a place of pristine and abundant natural beauty.  All manner of plants were present. A river ran through Eden to water the garden. The Bible did not give the river a name.  After leaving Eden, the river formed the headwaters of four rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.  It’s tempting to conclude that Eden was located near present day Iraq because rivers named Tigris and Euphrates are located in Iraq; however, these Iraqi rivers are probably not the original rivers named in Genesis.  The devastating flood of Noah’s time destroyed and changed the topography of the land.  Later peoples probably named the present day rivers Tigris and Euphrates in the same manner that early American colonists named American locations after sites in Europe, e.g., Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Bible described the Pishon River as winding through the land of Havilah, noted for its gold and aromatic resin.  The aromatic resin was bdellium, the first plant named in the Bible.

What is a bdellium?

Bdellium’s genus and species names are Commiphora africana. The generic name ‘Commiphora’ is based on the Greek words ‘kommi’ (gum) and ‘phero’ (to bear).  The bdellium is a deciduous tree indigenous to sub-Saharan African.  In 2012, bdellium did not appear in Israeli plant data bases.  Bdellium grows best in red or sandy clay and rocky ground to include from escarpments.  It leafs before or at the beginning of the wet season and loses leaves as the dry season begins.  If rainfall is sparse and interrupted, two crops of leaves may be produced.  Underground roots spread many feet around the tree in search of water. The bark is pleasantly scented and exudes a clear gum or resin.  Nomadic peoples use the bdellium tree for several purposes.  Roots of young plants have a sweet taste and are chewed.  Timber is used for stools, milk containers, spoons and on occasion for building houses. Bark is brewed for red tea.  Soft gum is eaten while hard gum is used to make arrows.  Fruit is chewed to prevent gum disease and stop toothaches.   In ancient Egypt women carried small pouches filled with bdellium pieces as a source of perfume.

Bdellium Symbolism

The Hebrew word for bdellium is bedôlach, derived from the word’s primary root, bâdal which means to separate, divide or distinguish from. The symbolism of the bdellium plant in the creation story mirrored the separation or differentiation of the Biblical Garden of Eden from the lands outside.  The Biblical Eden included beautiful plants and plants available for man to eat; it was all sufficient.  In contrast, the land of Havilah was noteworthy only for its gold and one aromatic resin-producing plant, bdellium.  None of the lands outside of Eden were described as attractive, lush, or food producing.

Living inside of Christ is like living in Eden.  With Christ our lives are beautiful, fertile and satisfying.  When we are outside of Eden — separated from Christ – our lives are bland, unproductive and we are left hungering for something that is not there.  That something is Christ. Sometimes I feel like I am simply smelling the aromatic bdellium in Havilah, rather than living in Eden.   I worry that I am separated from Christ; that I am not spending enough time with him or the right kind of time with him.

At those times I am reassured by Romans 8:35 where Paul asked the question, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ. Will trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  The answer Paul provided is as relevant today as it was to the Romans 2000 year ago.  Paul’s answer was, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).

Thought: Nothing can stop God from loving us. What stops us from loving God? Remember as we love God, we obey him.

Copyright: September 21, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

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New Gardener

What can I say?

Death by Wormwood

WormwoodWormwood was a falling star with the same name as a plant; read Revelation 8:1-11.

St. John, the Beloved Disciple, is credited with writing Revelation. Revelation is an unveiling of spiritual forces operating behind the scenes in history (ESV-SB, 2008). Revelations is largely prophecy, describing what will occur in future time. The book was written in the form of a letter addressed to the 1st century churches in the 7 cities of the Roman province of Asia in the region now known as western Turkey. Probably, John wrote Revelation in 95-96 AD when he was exiled to the island of Patmos

In Revelation chapter 8, John described a vision in which 7 angels, each with a trumpet, stood before God. The angels were ready to sound the trumpets, initiating judgments on the earth. These judgments were not the final judgment on the earth; rather, they were to warn the people of coming destruction and call them to repentance (ESV-SB, 2008). The sounding of the first four trumpets caused plagues in nature – land, sea, fresh water, and heavenly bodies. See Table 1 for a synopsis of the effect of the sounding of the four trumpets.

Table1, Outcome of Blowing Trumpets 1-4.

Trumpet Caused Outcome on the earth
First: land Hail and fire, mixed with blood, were thrown on the earth 1/3 of the earth was burnt to include 1/3 of trees and plants. Every form of plant life was affected.
Second: sea Something like a great burning mountain – a great burning mass – was thrown in to the sea. 1/3 of the sea became blood, 1/3 of living creatures in sea died, 1/3 of ships were destroyed.
Third: fresh water A blazing star called Wormwood fell on 1/3 of the rivers and springs of the earth. 1/3 of waters (possibly fresh waters) became bitter and many people died from the bitter water.
Fourth: heavenly bodies Sun, moon and stars were struck 1/3 of the day and 1/3 of the night was without light.

When the third trumpet sounded, a blazing star fell to earth. This blazing star was called Wormwood or Absinthus. When meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere and start to burn they are called meteorites. In the United States, we commonly call them shooting stars. When a large meteorite hits the earth’s surface, a huge dust cloud rises. The dust and particulates in the cloud spread around the globe moved by winds and the rotation of the earth. Wormwood contained a contaminate that turned 1/3 of the earth’s fresh water bitter; or somehow released pollutants on earth that contaminated 1/3 of fresh water sources.

Wormwood

The Revelation 8:11 wormwood reference is to Artemisia absinthium, the best known of the approximately 400 artemisias. According to legend, wormwood grew up in the trail left by the serpent’s tail as it slithered out of the Garden of Eden. The earliest known description of wormwood was found on an Egyptian papyrus dated approximately 1600 BC; it was described as a medicine to rid the body of worms. With the exception of rue, wormwood is the bitterest known herb. Wormwood is native to North Africa and temperate regions of Eurasia. Americans describe wormwood as similar to Western sagebrush.

An addictive drink, absinthe, can be made from the Artemisia leaves and flower tops. Absinthe is illegal in most countries of the world including the United States, Canada and France. The active ingredient in wormwood is thujone, which in large quantities is a convulsive poison.

Symbolism: Idolatry

In the Old Testament, wormwood was used as a metaphor in the following ways: a) idolatry of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:18); b) calamity and sorrow (Jeremiah 9:15, 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, 19); and c) false judgment (Amos 5:7) (McGee, 1991). The star’s name identified that its effects were judgment on man for his idolatry and injustice. In the Bible era, idolatry primarily referred to worship of idols or graven images, e.g., Baal, Artemis, Neptune. Most westerners do not worship statues, but that does not mean that we are not idolaters. Idolatry is blind or excessive devotion to something or someone, e.g., money, prestige, a charismatic individual. The calamity and sorrow associated with contamination of 1/3 of the fresh water supply of the world will be natural consequences of turning from God and worshipping idols.

copyright September 4, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Moses’ Bulrushes in U.S.

PapyrusRead the account of Moses and the bulrush cradle in Exodus chapter 1 – chapter 2:10.

Jacob and his family (70 members in all) settled in the Goshen area of Egypt in about 1876 B.C.   Moses was born about 350 years later.  In the interim years, the Israelites becoming so numerous that Goshen was filled with them. A new pharaoh came to power who did not know the history of Joseph helping Egypt.  Feeling threatened by the number of Israelites living in Egypt, the new Pharaoh made them slaves.  He ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all Israelite newborn males.  The midwives worked around Pharaoh’s edict and the numbers of Israelites continued to grow.  Still determined to reduce the number of Israelites, Pharaoh ordered that every Israelite male infant must be thrown into the Nile River where the infant would die.

When Moses was born to an Israelite family, his mother was determined to keep him alive. She crafted a cradle made from bulrushes and coated it with bitumen (tar-like substance) to make it water resistant.  Moses’ mother placed him in the cradle and put the cradle among Nile River reeds. Moses’ sister, Miriam, was tasked with guarding the baby in the cradle.  Guarding the cradle was dangerous; predators, e.g., wild animals, crocodiles, and snakes, lived in and around the Nile River reeds.

Pharaoh’s daughter came to the Nile River to bathe and saw the cradle floating among the reeds.  She sent a slave girl to get the cradle. When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the cradle, she recognized a Hebrew baby.  Feeling compassion for the baby, Pharaoh’s daughter decided to make the baby her son. At that time Miriam stepped forward. Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter, if should obtain a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.  When Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, Miriam went home and returned with Moses’ mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter directed her to nurse Moses until he was weaned. In ancient times, it was common to nurse infants for two to three years.  Probably, Moses’ mother nursed him the maximum time possible.  After Moses was weaned, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and Moses became her son. In the Hebrew language, Moses meant “drawn from the water,” while in Egyptian Moses meant “son of” or “born of.”

The Bulrush Cradle

The bulrush cradle was made from the Cyperus papyrus, a stately aquatic reed also called the Nile papyrus.  The reed is  indigenous to Africa and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea. For optimal growth, reeds need full sun. Throughout Africa many swamps, shallow lakes, and stream and river banks are dominated by papyrus reeds; however, in Egypt the papyrus plant is now rare.  In Israel there are only limited papyrus reeds, generally in tended gardens. In ancient Egypt, the bulrush had multiple uses. The reed was renowned as the source of ancient Egyptian paper called papyrus.  In Egypt, references to papyrus paper occurred as early as 3100 B. C. Bulrushes were excellent pens because air-spaces in the stems could hold ink. Papyrus reeds were used to make boxes and baskets because they were light weight. Giant stems were buoyant, therefore, used in construction of reed boats, cradles, and bed mattresses.  Today in sub-Saharan Africa, mothers craft reed or wooden cradles for newborns that they call a Moses’ Basket.

For the first time this year, local nurseries were selling the Cyperus papyrus. I bought several for the church Bible garden. They were a great hit especially with the children.  I planted them in part sun and part shade and watered them frequently. Unfortunately they are an annual but perhaps they will regrow next year if I mulch their roots this fall.

Symbolism of the Papyrus: Absorb

The symbolism of the bulrush reed is related to its ability to absorb. The Hebrew word for bulrush is derived from the Hebrew word gâmâ’ which means “to absorb.” Moses’ cradle was made of porous bulrushes which absorbed air; thus, it was buoyant and floated and saved Moses’ life.  In the English language, the meaning of absorb is to take in and make part of an existent whole.

The body of Christ is the world-wide universe of believers who have God’s spirit living in them (I Corinthians 12: 12-13; Ephesians 1:25; Colossians 1: 24). When we accept Christ as our lord and savior, we automatically become members of the body of Christian believers. Then, ideally we affiliate with and are absorbed into a local body of believers.  Being absorbed into a local body of believers takes several intentional steps.  First, we need to find other Christian believers.  Second, we need to open ourselves to fellow Christians so we can absorb the essence of Christ-likeness in them. Third, we need to willingly give the Christ in us to others.

God tells us “not to give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25); but where do we find members of the body of Christ? Generally, we find them in a Bible-believing church. Finding a Bible-believing church can begin with exploring church websites. Most churches describe their doctrine and beliefs on their website; believers can ascertain if a church’s doctrine is congruent with the Holy Scriptures.  After evaluating a church’s doctrine and beliefs, believers can attend the church.

When we moved to Roanoke, we started looking for Bible-believing churches.  After prayer, receiving friends’ recommendations, and evaluating church web-sites, we decided to visit several churches.  Some were large, others were small. One met in a movie theater on Sunday mornings; another in a large century-old stone church.  Some churches we eliminated after one visit; however, generally we made several visits to each church. Not limiting ourselves to churches in our present denomination was a big step. It was hard to act on our belief that we were members of the body of Christ, rather than members of a certain denomination. Finally, with continued prayer we agreed on a church that promoted Christian growth and development in an inclusive body of believers.

Making an effort to be absorbed into the Church’s body of believers is work.  In addition to Sunday church, we attended Sunday morning Bible School. Attending Bible school was important because we heard the teacher’s point of view and that of congregates who participated in discussions. We joined ministries that used our spiritual gifts and talents.  My husband and I noted repeatedly that congregates “knew their Bible” and applied it to situations encountered in meetings and ministries. We participated in a number of one-day mission/community outreach activities where we interacted with more church members.

Not every individual slides automatically into fellowship with others in the church. My husband is outgoing and is comfortable in just about any setting.  I’m just the opposite; I prefer to stay at home, have my personal devotions, journal, and meditate.  At one time I felt inadequate because I was introverted. Now I realize that God does not require us to change our personality (I Corinthians 12:12–30). Within the body of Christ, there is room for individual differences. What God expects is for each of us be absorbed into a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Thought: How we absorb and are absorbed into the body of Christ can take many forms.  What form is your absorption taking?

Copyright: August 25, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Common Beauty

Vicia faba flower

Vica Faba flower.

When I was growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, we had a garden. It was a big garden in which we grew vegetables. Mother canned most of them so the family would have nutritious food during the winter months.

We grew several rows of beans. They weren’t one of my favorite vegetables to eat in the summer when other fruits and vegetables were abundant; however, in the cold winter when Mother prepared beans with onions, boiled potatoes and ham, all six of us children sat right up to the table.

As a child, I never paid any attention to how plants grew. I again marvel how I spent decades of my life not appreciating the smaller beauties of nature, like a bean flower.  Last Sunday in church, I spoke about the Church Bible Garden to another Sunday school teacher’s helper. He questioned, “what’s Bible garden?” Is it in the back of the church? We never park there.”

Carefully, I explained that St. John’s Lutheran Bible Garden included 70 of approximately 125 plants named in the Bible. Also, the plants were labeled with their name and the Bible verses where they were found. The gardens were located in the front of the church.

My feelings were hurt: Here was my beautifully designed, planted and weeded garden and he did not even know it existed. Why was my husband and I doing all this work if the congregates didn’t even notice?

Reflection:  Our good works — even planting a garden– are to point toward God, not toward ourselves. It doesn’t matter that many, even most, individuals are un-aware of our efforts. God knows our heart and our sacrifice to him.