When he was 20 years old, J. Pierce Cunningham left his home in New York and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, about 1885.
He met someone special, and he and his new wife settled down with a homestead claim by 1890. They were allowed a total 160 acres, and if they could build a big enough cabin, cultivate a few acres of crops and live on the land for five years, they would own the land outright.
My husband and I visited the cabin when we were visiting Grand Teton National Park in September. You can walk right through it and a bit of the property around it, and countless folks have taken pictures of the cabin itself. Silly me, I only took pictures from around it! Here’s a picture taken by my husband:
While the cabin Cunningham built was a popular style back East (two rooms connected by a breezeway going between), ranching was a completely different venture out here in the West from anything he may have known growing up in New York.
First of all, the soil was different. While he had chosen a spot in the valley with more silt sediments than other locations, it was still no match for the fertile soil found in the eastern states. Because the soil was less fertile, more land area was required to provide food for raising cattle. “While 80 acres may have been more than sufficient for raising cattle in the east, the 160 acres allowed under the Homestead Act proved to be insufficient for Jackson Hole ranchers” (Cunningham Cabin Guide and Map, Grand Teton Association).
In order to make the best of his land, Cunningham dug canals and ditches to irrigate the property by rerouting water from mountain streams. These canals still run through the area.
In addition, the blowing snows of winter could have easily pushed over fences built in the eastern style. Pioneer ranchers designed “buck and rail” fences, which were built to withstand these weather extremes by using the weight of the snow as an anchor. These were often replaced by post and wire after 1900, when barbed wire was invented (for those who could afford it).
What Cunningham may have learned in his younger years just wouldn’t work when he made a new life for himself as an adult. He had to make changes in the way he did things, learning from the new environment he found himself in as well as from other ranchers around him.
As followers of Christ, we are in a different setting than we were before, and what we used to do just doesn’t cut it here! We’ve got a new citizenship, and a new address:
“May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1:11-14 NLT).
Rules of conduct and systems of behavior differ from country to country, and the same is true of believers who have moved from one kingdom to the other. There’s a definite learning curve to navigate. Paul wrote a letter to a very young church of new believers, encouraging them in their faith with these words:
“For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.
For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-11).
These are good reminders for us, no matter how long it’s been since we began following Christ! We need to remember who and whose we are, and live like it, knowing that one day we will give an account for how we used the time we’ve been given.
In addition, we are to learn from each other, as we grow together in the faith. We really can’t do this on our own!
Let us protect our hearts by living in faith and love, and protect our minds by trusting in what Christ has done for us. He has saved us, and not because we could ever be worthy of it or earn it. It was purely out of his love for us!
“You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:2-5).
May we in turn pass the love we have received on to others, no longer living for ourselves.
Look at this list, and see how many of the things we are to rid ourselves of have to do with a focus on self:
“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Colossians 3:5-10).
“You used to . . . but now!” We’ve got new expectations and rules for conduct as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Yes, God is changing us into the image of his Son, but we have a part to play in the process. “So put to death . . . have nothing to do with . . . don’t be . . . get rid of . . . don’t . . . put on” — all of these ideas have to do with our own effort in applying the Word of God! Our old ways just won’t cut it here.
“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:21-24).
So what does a citizen of the Kingdom of God look like? Well, here are a few things to ponder. Notice how many of them have to do with how we treat others!
- “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).
“Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body” (Ephesians 4:25).
“Use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29)
“Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
As we begin this New Year, may we focus on our relationships with those around us, learning to love as Christ has loved us, and by allowing the Spirit to “renew [our] thoughts and attitudes“.
May we show ourselves to be citizens of the Kingdom of God by learning and applying new systems of behavior that focus on others instead of ourselves.
Look up and out, my friend! There is a whole world around you that needs you to shine your light! What is one area of your spiritual growth walk that could use a little more effort on your part?