Geological surveys of the State of Maine reveal that all three major rock groups--sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic--exist in its bedrock. These rocks contain quite a variety of mineral content and vary greatly in color, texture and structure. There are widespread areas in Maine where bedrock, the solid rock that makes up the earth's crust, is exposed. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the Pemaquid shorelines of Maine. The waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash upon huge rocks, bedrock that makes up the scenic ledges of this coast. For thousands of years, these rocks have been battered by the waves, but they stand as a testimony of their security, stability and strength.
As I looked at the immovable, massive rocks of the Maine coast I had a fresh appreciation for their Creator. Also, I remembered the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy, Chapter 32. Scattered in the verses of this Song that Moses proclaimed to the entire assembly of Israel, shortly before his death, are several references to God, "The Rock." The first reference appears in verses 3 and 4. "I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He."
The Song of Moses tells the story of God's faithfulness to His chosen people even though they rejected Him. "For the Lord's portion is His people...In a desert land He found him...He shielded him and cared for him; He guarded him; He guarded Him as the apple of His eye...He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from flinty crag..." (Verses 9-10, 13) Despite the Lord's lavish care for His people, they turned away from Him. "Jeshurun (Israel) grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he rejected the Rock, His Savior." (Verse 15) Moses told his people: "You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth." (Verse 18)
Israel could not survive without their Rock, as the Song continues to explain: "How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up? For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede." (Verses 30-31) The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is one of great compassion and comes to the defense of His people when He sees that their strength is gone, and they need Him. He says through the Song of Moses, "...There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand...Rejoice, you nations, with His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people." (Verses 39, 43)
When Moses finishes his Song, he says to God's people, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (Verses 46-47) It is interesting to note that the book of Revelation tells of John's vision of heaven where he hears those who are victorious over the beast sing the Song of Moses. (Revelation 15:1-3)
When I remember the bedrock of Maine's coast I think of our Savior, The Rock. The Psalmist says, "He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." (Psalm 62:2) Isaiah confirms this: "Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal." (Isaiah 26:4) 1 Corinthians 10:4 reminds us of how the children of Israel drank from the rock: "...For they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." We must do likewise. Troubles and trials will come into our lives. We must be prepared like that house that was built upon a rock. "He (the person who does what Jesus commands) is like a man building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against the house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock." (Luke 6:48-NKJ) Jesus is our Rock, our Bedrock. We must build our lives upon Him!
Imagine the delight of amateur photographer Brent Cizek when he was able to capture a picture of a common merganser with 56 ducklings following her in a line! He posted his photograph of the ducklings on Lake Bemidji in Minnesota on the Internet and became the center of attention of the National Audubon Society and thousands of other people who were "wowed" by his pictures. The president of the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union, Bob Dunlap, explains that it is common for waterfowl to lay their eggs in the nest of other birds. All the birds together are called a "creche." He says, "It's more like a day-care thing." The fledglings come under the care of one lead bird.
Since his original photos were taken, Cizek has returned to the Lake to take more. In one image, there are approximately 76 ducklings. Dunlap expects the ducks to stay together until they migrate in the fall. In my opinion, Cizek's best picture is the one of the mother merganser paddling across the lake with all 50-some babies following her in a straight line. These babies are smart enough to know that they must follow their leader for she will take care of them.
Life becomes much easier for us when we follow the Lord, our leader who gave us life and loves us. He will lead us on a path that brings us to our intended destiny. King David wrote about this in Psalm 27:11. "Teach me Your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path." The writer of Proverbs describes how to trust the Lord to lead us. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Father God gave the Israelites instructions on how to prosper. "It is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4) "If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth." (Deuteronomy 28:1)
In John, Chapter 10 of the Bible, we have a discourse on The Good Shepherd and His sheep. "...The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3-4) Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the one we need to follow because he takes us on straight paths. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:14-17) "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish..." (John 10:27-28)
What a promise we have if we follow the Lord! He encourages those who follow Him through the Psalmist: "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:6)
The Mission: Prepare the Way of the Lord
The One Called: John the Baptist
The Place of Preparation: The desert/wilderness
The Message: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near."
Why would John the Baptist proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is near? Jesus, the Son of God, left heaven and came to earth. He carried His Kingdom with Him and was about to demonstrate the power of that Kingdom. John came before Jesus to get the people ready to meet Him. "And so, John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." (Mark 1:4-5)
Repentance was the key--a changing of the mind. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, repentance is defined as a shift in thought and turning from self to God. Reorientation of lives and a change in lifestyle and relationships must take place. Those of us who are saved understand that repentance is an essential element in our salvation. And the Lord is patient with everyone, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
An important time of preparation on the Jewish calendar begins today. It is the 1st of Elul--the sixth month on the Jewish calendar. The month of Elul is linked with the Hebrew letter YOD which means, "God has appointed mercy from His hand." In addition, Elul 1 is also the beginning of a 40-day period called Teshuvah whose root word means "to return" or turning from evil and turning toward good. The next 40 days are meant to be a time of preparation for meeting the Lord. They end on Yom Kippur--The Day of Atonement. The Jews use this time to repent of their sins against others and against God. This is done to prepare for meeting the Lord at the Feast of Tabernacles, a time of celebrating when God's glory came down and dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness. They desire a clear path to renewed intimacy with Father God.
God designed cycles throughout the year to draw us closer to Him and to give us blessings. He has done His greatest works during His appointed celebrations. Chuck Pierce's book, A Time to Advance, says, "God's appointed times are like 'pit stops' in the race of life.” Celebrating them invites God to invade our lives so that we can be equipped for the season to come. The Jewish people understand the importance of following God's appointed times to receive His blessings. In the Old Testament God prepared humanity for His plans by sending a prophet to announce His intentions. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to bring heaven to earth. As followers of Jesus, we too are called to "prepare the way of the Lord." It means clearing the path before us so that He is our primary goal. It means seeking Him daily.
One thing the Jewish people do during the month of Elul to prepare to meet the Lord is to recite Psalm 27 daily. They believe that hidden within this Psalm are references to the festivals they are celebrating in the seventh month. According to the Midrashim (Oral Torah), in Psalm 27:1 the word "light" refers to the light of Rosh Hashana (The Festival of Lights) and the word "salvation" refers to Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). "The shelter of His tabernacle" in verse 5 refers to The Feast of Tabernacles. I do not know if this true. Regardless, in this psalm David pours out his heart in an all-out pursuit of the Lord. I plan to recite this Scripture daily for the next 30 days as part of my pursuit of the Lord. Would you join me? "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple...My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Psalm 27:4, 7-8)
The temperatures are in the triple digits, the winds are strong, and the grasses and trees are bone-dry from the lack of moisture. All it took was a mechanical failure of a vehicle to ignite a fire that would grow to apocalyptic size. What is now call the Carr Fire has all eyes focused on Redding, California in Shasta County. So far, 141,825 acres have been torched, six people have been killed, entire neighborhoods have been destroyed and $24,000,000.00 has been spent in an attempt to contain this ferocious fire. The fire seems to have no bounds and jumped the Sacramento River as it was blown toward Redding and the Christian community called Bethel. One cannot wrap their mind around the scale of destruction. Firefighters press forward even though they are exhausted and two in their ranks have been killed. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes and only had time to grab their essentials. We can only imagine the toll that has been taken on wildlife. There is also an unseen toll on those people who are in the middle of this tragedy. A spirit of shock and trauma and fear and terror will try to settle itself in the souls of these individuals. Its purpose is to steal hope from them and plant doubt in the goodness of God.
How do we reconcile God's goodness with a situation that has brought such large-scale devastation? There are no easy answers to this question. Truly, it seems impossible to answer the "why" question. However, amid hardship and confusion there are some words of wisdom and comfort that might help us in our time of need. Bill Johnson, lead pastor at Bethel Church wrote a book titled God is Good. Here is what he says: "I will not sacrifice my knowledge of the goodness of God on the altar of human reasoning so that I can have an explanation for a seemingly unanswered prayer." Those of us who have seen the goodness of God in our lives know that He is for us and not against us. "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) The apostle Paul declares, "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, or anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
In the book Faith Quake, author Pastor Doug Herman had to face the question, "Where was God?" when he lost his two-year old daughter and wife to a battle against AIDS. He knows that "pain and adversity are no respecter of persons" and advises us to pour out our hearts to God, for He is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8) Even in our darkest hour, "He will never leave or forsake us." (Hebrews 13:5) However, we must realize that we may not get the answer to our "why" question. Herman advises: "When the ground is shaking the most, keep standing. Never, ever give up spiritual ground." In the midst of difficulties, King David declared, "I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalm16:8)
Worship leader Laura Story wrote a beautiful song called "Blessings" as a result of the struggle she and her husband Martin endured through his disabilities that came upon him after brain surgery. She knows this: "Because God sees our lives from an eternal perspective He has plans that we humans simply cannot understand...Trust His plan today, even if you can't understand it." Laura asks the question, "What can sustain my soul as I wait upon the Lord? God's Word gives me a sure foundation for each next step and His Spirit gives me the hope to actually take that step...Cling to His Word like the next breath you breathe."
"Tragedy is not the final word!" says Dr. Larry Crabb, pastor and author. Here is what Pastor Herman recommends: "Use the shovel of hope to clear away the rubble of your faith quake." The Bethel Church has already begun assisting their community in rebuilding their lives through practical means. Christians from around the world are praying for them and contributing to the recovery and rebuilding efforts. God's promises provide a firm foundation upon which we can rebuild. One such promises was the mission statement of Jesus--"to comfort all who mourn...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes..." (Isaiah 61:2-3) We should pray for, support and encourage the Bethel community as they share the love of Jesus in the rebuilding efforts. You may remember a church in rural Texas led by Pastor Frank Pomeroy who lost 26 of his congregants, including his 14-year old daughter, when a gunman shot and killed them. He made this statement of faith: "I don't understand, but I know my God does." When tragedy strikes, may we rebuild our lives on God's unshakable foundation.
Joan E. Mathias