Easter season has passed. Colorful baskets are bubble-wrapped and stored in plastic containers, chocolate marshmallows have done their diet damage, and pastel, church clothes are washed and hung for the next dress-up event. Ham and scalloped potato leftovers have been devoured, the Easter bunny has started his/her 12-month hibernation, and soon 4th of July gizmos will begin appearing in store windows. We move on. Jesus did too. Three days after his death he joined two faith-shaken men—one named Cleopas and one unnamed– in their walk home after witnessing the crucifixion of the one they trusted would save them from the Romans. Seven miles outside of Jerusalem a stranger joined them and questioned their grief. Stopping in their tracks, one said to the outsider, “You must be a visitor to Jerusalem. If you lived there, you would know the things that have happened there in the last few days.” After all, anybody who was anybody had heard of the crucifixion… anybody, it appeared, except this man. So, they filled him in on the details of the empty tomb. As one pastor preached this past Sunday, “Nobody saw no body in the tomb.” What they didn’t know was the stranger walking alongside them was the very one about whom they spoke. I love the irony: “Are you the only one who does not know…?” when they are addressing the only one who really does know! (Filling Jesus in on his death is sort of like me explaining electrons to Albert Einstein.) The stranger confronted them. “How foolish you are! How long it takes you to believe all that the prophets said! Didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things and then receive His glory?” Beginning with Moses, he explained to them how the one crucified fulfilled death and resurrection prophecies made thousands of years before. (Since there are over 300 such prophecies in the Old Testament, I assume Jesus shared only the most relevant ones.) Wanting to hear more, the men begged this learned man to join them at their home for dinner. It was there Jesus broke bread, and the pair’s eyes were open to recognize their Savior, very much alive and reclining at their kitchen table. Once Jesus left, they couldn’t wait to share the good news (Is it any wonder that “Gospel” means “Good News”?) with Jesus’ closest followers, the disciples, so they sprinted back to Jerusalem to relive their encounter with their Risen Lord. So, let’s backtrack to look at a few hidden nuggets in this scripture. Did you ever question why only one of the traveler’s names is given? Some speculate that this was intentional so that we would put ourselves in the place of the nameless journeyman. If so, we should imagine the joy experienced when the once-downtrodden men realize that they have witnessed the unthinkable. The story in which they are partnering has a new beginning. The grave is empty because Jesus is alive! And they are in the elite group to witness the miracle first-hand. I wonder how many of us, like the two men, “miss” Jesus. We expect him to show up at a Sunday morning church service or a trip to a mission field, but not right beside us as a fellow sojourner. If we’re not alert and ready, we won’t take the time to invite him into our lives, and we will keep hopelessly strolling down the road without recognizing his presence. Instead, let us keep Easter season alive. Let us expect Jesus to join us in our daily walk so that we never miss an opportunity to spread the “Good News.”
If I knew that I had only a few breaths left before I died, I would pick my words carefully. Whatever I said would hopefully have an impact and be a lasting memory for those within earshot. Conversation about my favorite food (lobster) or television show (Songland) or movie (The Greatest Showman) or vacation spot (Mazatlán) would not be important. Jesus’ last words demonstrates such importance. As he hung on the cross, his body torn to shreds from the torturous flogging, he fought desperately to take air into his lungs. Words were precious. So, what did he say? Seven memorable things, listed here in chronological order:
1. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
2. “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 43
3. “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” John 19:26-27
4. “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” Mt. 27:46
5. “I am thirsty.” John 19:28
6. “It is finished!” John 19:30
7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
Jesus chose his words with eternal implications. The first three demonstrated merciful compassion. Let’s revisit them. 1. He offered forgiveness to his persecutors. He could have called for their eternal damnation (and who could blame him), but he chose instead to show them both grace and a second chance to get it right.
2. He offered eternity (with no works attached) to the criminal hanging on the cross next to him after the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!”
3. He offered concern and love for his mother, Mary, that she be taken care of for the rest of her life by his best friend, John.
Three statements, each demonstrating Jesus’ unfailing love for others.
The next two phrases show Jesus’ relentless, human struggle.
4. He felt abandoned, alone, forsaken by his Father. Many theologians believe that this was when God saw Jesus covered with the sins of mankind and could look on His son no longer. At this moment our Savior felt the weight of humanity’s evil and could take no more.
5. Jesus was fully human and fully divine, yet his divinity did not allow him to sidestep the realness of the anguish he was feeling, thus his thirst came from a parched mouth. He needed the ability to say two more things.
6. Jesus’ work on earth was done (a Hallelujah moment).
7. And then, finally, finally, the horrific cruelty was over. Jesus took his last breath and went Home to Heaven, thirty-three years after he came to earth.
Seven statements, some showing the humanity, some showing the divinity, of our crucified Savior. Fortunately, Jesus had more to say. Starting three days after he was buried, he appeared to offer encouragement at least 10 more times to his followers. And then again, he ascended into Heaven, once and for all. Jesus left the cross and the grave empty.
What does that mean for us?
Jesus is alive!!! (I cannot add enough exclamation marks!)
Today he sits at the right hand of the Heavenly Father where he intercedes for you and me. May we all remember that as we celebrate Resurrection Sunday!
A spider and a centipede are having tea. The centipede gets up and offers to go buy snacks. He goes out the door and hours pass. The spider is so hungry, wondering what happened, and opens the door, only to find the centipede sitting on the doormat, still putting on his shoes.
Sometimes I am that centipede. It takes me F.O.R.E.V.E.R. to tie my hundred shoes, to get going…in a spiritual sense, I mean. In real world activities, I am the Energizer Bunny.
Francis Chan’s “New York Times” best seller, Crazy Love, makes me wonder if I am taking my own sweet time in becoming what God desires for me, even after 43 years of being a Christian. Chan writes much about “lukewarm Christians” (in other words, not Christians at all). They love God for what He can do for them (like eternity in Heaven) and not for who He is.
The test is simple, using the question John Piper wrote in God In the Gospel: “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” Spend some time before answering.
The author is concerned about the unfaithfulness of Christians. Referring to the question “Can I go to heaven without truly and faithfully loving Jesus?”, Chan’s response comes as no surprise. “I don’t see anywhere in Scripture how the answer to that question could be yes.”
We know that Jesus’ sacrifice to die on the cross for our sins benefits us eternally, but have we ever considered the emotional pain well before the crucifixion, like how it had to grieve God to say farewell to His son and send him to earth to live with sinners who would reject him, abandon him, deny him and kill him? (If you are a parent, put yourself in God’s shoes.) Leading up to that Heavenly good-bye, I wonder if the angels were huddled in panic. Were there lingering hugs and tears? Surely Jesus knew what was ahead, that he would be grieved, tempted, exhausted, frustrated and would agonize over his impending death. Still, he volunteered to come, to offer to die in our place.
How much love he has for you and me, that he made that choice!
Jesus wasn’t finished. He returned to Heaven but did not leave us without help: the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His followers and therefore us, “… it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go the Helper will not come …” (John 16:7). Get that? Better than Jesus remaining with the disciples is that we can be gifted with his Spirit. And what a gift he is! In John 14, we learn much about what we Christians have living inside of us, thank you, Jesus, waiting to be used. A helper. A comforter. A teacher. A guide. A prophet. A convicter. An intercessor.
Christians, we have been given everything we need to faithfully follow Jesus. It is time we lace up our spiritual shoes and get moving. Luke 10:2 reminds us of Jesus’ words, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;…”
Last week, I wrote about the horrific death of Jacque, a friend of close friends, but one with whom I had spent time on several occasions when we talked about politics, charities in Mazatlán, the increasing traffic and our families. I just never got around to putting on the Jesus shoe to tell her what mattered most.
I have to wonder, Would Chan use that as a definition of “lukewarm”?
About once a month I receive a “Mexico Alert” from Jacque, an American friend living in Mazatlán, in order to keep me abreast of the happenings in our beach town. Updates about Covid or travel are typically the lead topics. It was she who, years ago, began a philanthropic activity (“Friends of Mexico”) after seeing the impoverished needs of the Mazatlán community. Until this year, a gala at a local hotel was held annually where money raised helped the down-and-out. Jacque was the Mistress of Ceremonies for the event and has been labeled the “Ambassador of Mazatlán.” She was all about helping others.
Bill, a tall, white-haired gentleman-attorney with an engaging grin, and Jacque, a stately, classy, beautiful woman who has a way of making everyone feel special, are known all over Mazatlán. If Dave and I ran into them at the Organic Market, it was not uncommon to find several locals engaging them in conversation. We would take our turn.
Every Sunday for several years, Jacque and Bill met up with our mutual friends Howard and Joyce for Sunday lunch. Same time, same restaurant, same food. Occasionally we all would go to dinner, or they would come to our condominium development where they knew several of the owners.
Dave and I had been invited to their home at the top of Icebox Hill the last time we were in Mazatlán. Built high on a cliff overlooking the beach and ocean, I was terrified to appreciate the landscape from one of their many balconies. Straight down to the bottom were only sharp rocks to break the view.
Last Monday night, Jacque fell to her death from that hill. Her body was found at its bottom. On Tuesday, Howard and Dave drove to Bill’s home and heard the horrific details. The couple had retired for the evening, but their dog—who had not been “put down” only because Jacque couldn’t agree–needed to go outside Jacque volunteered to take him for a walk. When too much time passed, Bill went to the front door and found their dog still on a leash, but without his owner.
Bill said that he spent the next hour searching the three stories of their home, closet by closet. Soon, the police arrived, and Bill was asked to go to the hospital to identify his wife’s body. Bill speculated that her fall might have been caused by the loose gravel next door to their hillside home where a condominium complex was under construction. No one knows if Jacque stepped on it in the dark and slipped or if the dog pulled her that direction. It doesn’t matter. She fell 207’ (20 stories) to her death.
Over the past few days, as friends grieve Jacque’s loss, they all share one thought: Every day counts. None of us know the time nor the hour when our time on earth is up. I can guarantee that when Jacque stepped outside with her dog, the idea that she would fall off that cliff never entered her mind.
Frederick Buechner writes, “Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true. On the contrary, we tend to live as though our lives would go on forever.”
We must be prepared for eternity. Please, Readers, this is my “Mexico Alert” to you. Take the time to stop whatever you are doing and ask Jesus to be your Lord, to forgive you of your sins, and to draw you close to him. Start reading your Bible, God’s Word of how much He loves you and how much He wants you to love Him back. Ask yourself, if this is your last day on earth, what is the most important thing you need to do. Before it’s too late.
My girlfriend “Jean” and her husband allowed their grandson, “Gabe,” to move in with them (for the third time) when he began failing in school and at his job. Their daughter and divorced son-in-law had partied rather than parented and were negligent in their care of this son from the time he was a youngster. Jean did everything physically, emotionally and spiritually to help Gabe, but the emotional roller coaster ride was overwhelming.
When Gabe decided to become a professional guitarist, his grandmother bought him a guitar and paid for lessons. She noticed an improvement in her grandson’s attitude and confidence and thanked God for the change. But when his “band” dis-banded, Gabe lost interest and opted to go to tech school to learn to work on computers. His family celebrated that he had a focus and purpose. His grandmother bought him an old car so that he had transportation to and from school. He worked as a dishwasher to pay for gas and personal expenses.
When test time came and credentials were awarded, Gabe could not pass the exam. His grandmother hired a tutor, but Gabe had test-fright and failed again…and again. He became lethargic, got fired from his job, and the roller coaster ride continued.
Time was up. My girlfriend knew that she and her husband no longer could babysit their twenty-year old. He had to go. Empathetically, Jean sat Gabe down and shared how much she loved him and prayed for him, but that it was not fair to him to be enabled to the point that he had no chance at success by living off his grandparents. She just could not do that to him.
Jean called me to share what happened next. Gabe was stunned. “Oh, Grandma, I am just fine. You don’t have to worry a thing about me. I could stay here forever and be perfectly okay. But thank you for thinking of me. That’s why I love you so much.”
My friend and I laughed hysterically. Her “loving” approach had back-fired.
If you’ve lived past the age of…oh, say, five, chances are your best intentions have—at one point or another–gone awry. Your ministry failed. Your children, whom you raised to love Jesus, now follow the ways of Buddha. Speaking up to your boss awarded you a pink slip instead of a promotion.
Moses knew what that was like. Bravely, he had entered Pharaoh’s presence and insisted on the Israelites being released from their positions in slavery. Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace but saw the injustice done to the Jews (his people) and spoke up.
Pharaoh was ticked. Freedom? Ha. Instead, the Israelites’ work load would double. Too, they would gather their own straw to make their bricks, so it was impossible for their quota to be filled. Should it not be, they were beaten. They asked for a meeting with Pharaoh who blamed Moses. Since he had insisted that the people go, it was all his fault.
Poor guy. His admirable goals had backfired…big time.
Thomas Myers writes about this in his sermon “What Do You Do When Things Go from Bad to Worse?” “They (the Israelites) now believe it is all Moses’s fault! Moses is going to go from hero to zero. He is going to go from the penthouse to the outhouse.”
If you’re like me, you can empathize with Moses. We are tithing, praying, reading our Bibles, attending ZOOM Bible studies… and our child turns to drugs. Our car transmission fails. Our savings account is eaten up with the pandemic. Our aging parents move in with us. And, like Moses, our tendency is to blame God. An easy target. (Yes, that is what Moses did.)
A priest, a doctor, and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers. The engineer fumed, “What’s with those guys? We’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes!” The doctor chimed in, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such inept golf!” The priest, noticing a nearby green-keeper, greeted the worker. “Hello George, What’s wrong with that group ahead of us? They’re rather slow, aren’t they?” The green-keeper replied, “Oh, yes. That’s a group of blind firemen. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime!” The group fell silent for a moment.
The priest said, “That’s so sad. I’ll say a special prayer for them tonight.”
The doctor added, “Good idea. I’ll contact my ophthalmologist colleague and see if there’s anything she can do for them.”
The engineer responded, “Why can’t they play at night?”
I’ve met people like that, haven’t you? Empathy is not in their vocabulary. Correction: they appreciate empathy, but only when they are its recipient. Should they, however, be inconvenienced, a price will be paid. The same is true with forgiveness. My granddaughter, Montana, is here in Mazatlán, Mexico, in discipleship training. This past week, she shared that their group had focused on forgiveness. She made me smile with this observation: “Forgiveness is a gift.”
I’m not sure there is a better present than to forgive someone. Consider the eternal implications to not. (Jesus’ words, not mine): For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matt. 6:14-15) It’s one of the harshest warnings in Scripture.
I have known people who will not forgive, who hang on to their offense, who would rather spend eternity away from God than to humble themselves and deal with their pride. Fortunately, my Mazatlán friend, Debbie, is not one of them. We could have lost something precious, had she not forgiven me for what I wrote in an Email–implying that she was not trustworthy–that was accidentally forwarded to her a few years ago. I had written the words in frustration and became hysterical when I realized that she had read them. Immediately, I phoned her to apologize and ask her forgiveness. She had been deeply wounded by how I had both betrayed our friendship and disrespected her work.
Since I was teaching in Kansas at the time, I had to wait over two months–for spring break– until I could meet with her, face to face, to ask her forgiveness. She had every right to dismiss me, to judge me and decide that I was not worth her time. Her choice to give me another chance was a lesson that taught me much about how I want to live my life. Because Debbie knew that unforgiveness always leads to bitterness which keeps us living with a broken heart, she showed grace, and because of that, our friendship has become an elite bond we both cherish. Not a week goes by that we don’t spend time together. Last year, when Debbie and I were having lunch, I brought up how I wish I could take back those accusatory words, but my friend would have none of it. “That’s in the past. What we have now is the best.” We both are blessed beyond measure because Debbie was the bigger person.
Is there someone you need to forgive? Or would you rather harbor your power-in-payback resentment and hold to the lofty “over my dead body” mantra? I pray that you don’t see that to its literal ending.
Trivia containing “Home Hints” or “Fun Facts” often are sent to me. Years ago, when I was teaching high school, one such Email– two pages full of such tidbits– made its way into my Inbox. I recited them to my students who found them as interesting as I did…until, that is, I read #10 which stated, “It is impossible to lick your elbow.” Immediately, a junior in the back row licked his elbow, making me skeptical of the other “facts” I was asked to believe.
All that to bring me to the story of my splinter. A few months ago, Dave and I were in Springfield, Missouri, picking up our kayak after having a hole repaired at the shop where we bought it five years ago. This was a good plan, since the option was Hubby’s grandiose idea to glue his stash of Gatorade lids together, melt them into the puckering cavity and call it good. The kayak shop seemed a better bet.
We had borrowed a trailer which, to our surprise, ended up being one we had loaned our son a decade ago and hadn’t seen until it turned up—suffering multiple maladies, including rust, rotting boards and no taillights– behind my nephew’s shed.
Sliding the mended kayak onto the trailer, I immediately felt the pain of a splinter in my thumb. Dave’s attempt to remove it by using a fishing lure–one he found latched onto a web pocket in the kayak—left me with a bloody thumb and an embedded sliver of wood too deep to extract. Once home, I referred to my “Home Hints” on how to remove the little demon. The first suggestion was to lather it with honey, sit back, and watch the sweet goo do its magic. And get this! It worked. Within 5 minutes, the splinter had finagled its way to the surface. A “fun fact” that panned out.
So, I now am rethinking my decision that all of these “fun facts” are hogwash. Just because one student could lick his elbow doesn’t dispel the other 20 pieces of information that might just come in handy someday…like in a trivia contest or as a painless remedy. We need to determine what is truth and what isn’t.
I have a friend who considers the Bible nothing more than a collection of useless, truthless trivia. She is a splinter to my soul, for she believes that there is no “Absolute Truth” and that only fools buy into Jesus’ claim that he is “Truth.” I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6) The irony, as I have pointed out to her, is obvious: “So, to you, your Absolute Truth is that there is no Absolute Truth. Interesting.”
For me, the Bible works. It is not simply 66 books of useless minutiae but is a personal, love letter from God to everyone who seeks Him. Psalm 119:105 refers to it as “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
The Bible brings me peace and promises me a future. It tells me of a loving God who became man and suffered everything we have suffered, exchanging His life for ours. It makes me a better person as it reminds me to be forgiving, selfless, honest, patient (still working on that one), loving and kind. It tells me that I may have some ugly splinters in my heart that need to be extracted but that “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Prov, 16:24)
Useless trivia? I can’t imagine anything further from the truth.
This morning, while walking with a friend, I shared that I was writing this week’s article on what parents go through if their children disappoint them. Her response? “Don’t you mean “when” instead of “if”? Perhaps you agree, so let me ask this question: how do you respond when your kids disappoint you? You know, when they fail to live up to the standards and values you have tried so hard to instill in them?
Many of you readers know what I’m talking about. You helped your kiddos in their studies, faithfully took them to church every Sunday, encouraged them in whatever activities they loved and taught them right from wrong. But they make choices that clearly aren’t wise and ones you never would recommend.
They begin to run with the wrong crowd. Fail to take their studies seriously. Sneak out at night. Act promiscuously. Spend too much time on video games. Vape. Do drugs. Close you out of their lives and build a quiet resentment towards you. Marry a slug. Turn from God.
And you, as a Christian, enter into the world of “cover up.” After all, what will other believers think? You know, the ones who birthed the kind of child you deserved. The ones with the perfect sons and daughters who were potty trained before they could walk and wrote math manuals in first grade and will grow up to be keynote speakers at Christian conferences and lead others to Christ on a daily basis.
You sit in study groups with those parents and listen as they share the depth of their children’s faith while you squirm and silently, desperately, try to conjure up something somewhat spiritual you can brag about, hopefully redeeming the reputation of your child. Let’s see…this week you didn’t get a call from his teacher, and no police officer has shown up at your doorstep this month. Yippee!!! Time to hang the piñata and celebrate.
Dave and I were embarrassed on more than one occasion with the behavior of our children. Behavior that we did not cover up. Behavior that was discussed openly in whatever town we lived at the time. Oh, we would talk to our kids about their actions, and for a while–like an hour or two–they would follow our guidance, but within a short time, they would revert to a life of disobedience. In response, I would sign up for every Christian conference dealing with raising godly children.
The speaker’s story was always the same. She had prayed and fasted from the time she was ten years old, just anticipating the day she would have children. Her kids now were missionary doctors in the Cambodia jungles, as were her adult grandchildren. (I’m not exaggerating…by much.) I would sit there, wanting to smack her upside her cheery little head, fearful that my children would end up in the penitentiary…and they weren’t yet in kindergarten.
What had Dave and I done wrong? We looked to the Bible for comfort and were introduced to parents who loved God but had children who disappointed. Eli, the high priest at the temple and the one asked to raise Samuel, had two sons who died after defying God’s rules. Samuel, the prophet whose life was dedicated to God, had sons who did not follow in his virtuous footsteps. King David (“a man after God’s own heart”) birthed a rapist, a murderer and two sons who started a coup against their dad. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad.
Being filled with guilt over how we hadn’t parented well was pointless. Sure, we weren’t perfect, but it’s not like we trained our kids to defy us…or God. I mean, our sons might have used each other for target practice, bloodied each other’s lips on a semi-regular basis, tackled too hard, pushed a brother through the dry wall in retaliation for a ping-pong paddle to his head, or hung the younger sibling upside down from the tree fort, but none of them turned from God or committed the crimes of these Biblical children.
Is it any wonder I find great comfort in reading my Bible?
Little things matter. Need proof?
Ask the players on the Dallas Cowboys football team when the holder failed to turn the seams to face the kicker.
Ask me when I ignore auto-correct while texting and my friend reads “You look greasy” instead of “You look great.”
Ask my friend who trusted the pop-up thermometer on her Thanksgiving turkey and sliced into its bloody center.
Ask the bachelor who mistook salt for flour in the birthday cake he prepared for his date.
Ask the families of the Challenger disaster after a fifty-cent O-ring failed to do its job.
Ask my husband when, after I set off the fire alarm by burning mashed potatoes, he gave the security company the wrong password.
No doubt, you readers have your own tales of some minor issue escalating into a major problem. Hopefully yours are more on the humorous side instead of resulting in a more serious outcome like some I have mentioned.
Every day we can make little things matter. A smile to a stranger…perhaps even a “Good morning.” An offer to help a wheelchair shopper nab something on the top row. The will power to resist that chocolate chip cookie (so I’ve been told). A giggle.
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” – Luke 16:10
Jesus addressed the crowd with a story of a rich man who had three slaves to whom he gave an amount of money, referred to as talents, and told them to care for what had been handed them. The first steward was given five talents, the second, two, and the third, one. The first two servants used the talents to trade and gain profit, returning to their master with double the talents. The third servant was fearful of his master and hid his one talent, returning only that to his master.
The story concludes in Matthew 25:29-30: For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Oopsie! No mere slap on the wrist for this guy. He did nothing to grow what he had been given, to improve someone else’s life. This master is ticked off because, according to him, little things definitely did matter.
Jesus took time for the little things. He chose 12 disciples, not 120. He always was willing to stop to heal one hemorrhaging woman, one blind man, one paralytic. He fed 5000 with two fish and five loaves of bread. Little things with big impact.
Not all of us will become preachers at mega churches or have a Grammy-winning album or translate the Bible into the Jieng language, but most of us will start 2021 with at least one resolution. Instead of setting large goals (I will lose 100 pounds this year/witness to everyone I meet), how about aiming for a pound a week or being in tune with God’s prodding? You know, attainable goals.
We just need to know that in taking care of the small details, we will be serving our Master well. In doing that, large things—God-pleasing things–can be accomplished.
This was a hard week. Two ZOOM Bible studies brought news no one wants to hear. Monday night’s group has prayed for Adam, a thirty-two-year-old husband and father, for months. Today, Karen, his mother and ZOOM member, forwarded the email he sent her: The tumor in my colon did not shrink nearly as well as the surgeon had hoped. So there will be no reconnection after my colon is removed. Additionally, the lesion is right up against my prostate, meaning my surgeon is unsure if just removing the colon will be enough, and potentially the prostate will need to come out as well, and if that’s the case, there is the potential that they may need to remove my bladder too. Finally, the liver will need to be addressed after all of this takes place.
Again, my surgeon said that she is going to do her best, and if the Lord wills it, I am more than willing to sacrifice my “quality of life” to spend more time with my wife and children.
“If you all could be praying for me and my family. This looks to be a very deep valley that we are currently walking through, but we know that God is good through it all.
Our current prayer is for nothing short of a miracle, as we move closer to surgery. At the very least, we are praying that the cancer can be clearly removed without touching the prostate/bladder, and that God halts the cancers growth and spread in the liver. Thank you all for your continued prayers and support of my family as we continue to walk with God through this. Praying that He blesses you all for the blessing you have been to us. We love you all.
Please pray for Adam and his family.
Tuesday’s ZOOM call had its own share of tough news. My dear friend’s beloved father passed away that morning. When she found out he did not have much time left, she booked her flight to Switzerland, only to be told that because of Covid, she would need to be quarantined for two weeks before visiting him, and if she stayed with her mother, her mother would not be able to visit her father. She canceled her flight and will have to settle for visiting her dad’s gravesite at a future date.
The same day, a text shared a Pet Scan revealing a friend’s esophageal cancer has spread.
We all have our stories, and through our tears, we cry out to God, the One who knows our beginning and our end, the One who can make a difference, imploring Him to fix things. Sometimes we see the miracle; sometimes not. Still, we know that Jesus lacks nothing in the miracle department. The book of John gives seven signs demonstrating Christ’s vast powers:
1. Water changed into wine—Jesus’ power over quality
2. The nobleman’s son healed—Jesus’ power over distance
3. The impotent man healed—Jesus’ power over time
4. The five thousand fed—Jesus’ power over quantity
5. Walking on the water—Jesus’ power over natural law
6. The blind man healed—Jesus’ power over helplessness
7. Lazarus raised from the dead—Jesus’ power over death
Of course, the fact that Jesus can does not mean he will. Our job is not to second-guess but to know that—for all of us– the end-game of this life on earth is death. Unless we are raptured, it is a certainty we cannot deny. We. Will. Die. The key for all of us is to be prepared. All three of the men mentioned above made Jesus the Lord of their lives, and because of that, they will spend eternity with him. I pray you do the same.
Jesus knew what he was talking about. Every time he spoke. He literally was a know-it-all.
Can you imagine how much fun that would be? I mean, sometimes I act like I know more than I do, but really KNOWING? Wow! As the wife of a former pitcher/coach, I probably have seen a few thousand baseball games in my life. Our house has been filled with players and staff who sit for hours and talk about the mechanics of pitchers. I should know the difference between the movement of a sinker and a change-up.
Dave and I watched this year’s World Series, and periodically I commented on a pitch. “Was that slider really outside?” Dave’s corrections were annoying. It was a “curve ball.”
He was wrong.
I watch “The Voice” on television and remark that the singer sounds just like Celine Dion. No judge turns his/her chair. Their observations stun me. The vocalist was “a little pitchy” or “had an irregular vibrato” or seemed “a little breathy.” WHAT?
Last week, I attended church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pastor Loran Livingston was livid about what he had read the previous week on social media. He called Christians into account after they had written defamatory statements about the presidential election on social media, reminding his congregation that none of us have all the facts, and that we act unloving when we pretend we do. Sometimes (most times) the best thing we can do is keep our thoughts to ourselves. Know-it-alls find that an almost impossible task.
The amazing thing about Jesus is he didn’t have to prove he knew anything…like we think we do. Sometimes, what he knew he refused to disclose. Before being crucified, he remained silent—instead of defending himself–when being interrogated by Herod, the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. I’m fairly certain I would have had some pithy thoughts I could not keep to myself.
My granddaughter’s husband, Tyler, is in seminary in North Carolina. Recently, I was there to visit them (and meet my new great grandson—so cool!) and asked Tyler about his experience. He answered that he thought that seminary would provide more answers, especially after learning Greek so he could better understand and explain the true intent of scripture. He said that he has more questions now than when he entered seminary.
I shared with him how my former pastor explained the seminary experience:
The first year in seminary you don’t know what you don’t know.
The second year in seminary you know what you don’t know.
The third year in seminary you don’t know what you know.
The fourth year in seminary you know what you know and how much you still need to learn.
Know-it-alls expose their insecurities when their opinions are the only ones that matter, and I don’t know about you, but until we reach Heaven, none of us have those bragging rights. More times than not, we just need to keep our thoughts to ourselves.
That being said, I still think it was a slider.
Jesus cursed a fig tree. He was hungry, and when there was no fruit on that particular tree, he put a hex on it so it never again would bear figs.
And even though I’ve never been a friend of figs, I always felt kind of sorry for that tree. But, typical for the Bible, there’s more to this story.
Fig trees are mentioned 60+ times in Scripture. They’re sort of unusual because they can produce up to three crops a year. The first crop appears on the trunk; the second in the branches; and the third in the leaves.
And therein lies the problem. Let’s look at the passage in Mark 11: The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Did you catch it? “…a fig tree in leaf…” although “it was not the season for figs.” Actually, it was just before Passover, about six weeks before the fully-formed fig appears, the time when the leaves are accompanied by “taqsh,” small edible knobs that appear but fall off when the real fig forms. Leaves with no taqsh meant no figs for that year.
Jesus understood that. These leaves failed to do their job. All promise and no follow-through. So, Jesus cursed the tree. Not because he couldn’t create a fig from dirt, should he so choose, but to teach his followers that this tree was an analogy of Israel.
Jeremiah 8:13: I will take away their harvest, declares the Lord. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.
Those Israelites wouldn’t follow through. They appeared spiritual, but there was no fruit. And they were without excuse. God had given them the Promised Land where bumper crops were the norm, yet they took them for granted. They had prophets telling them how to act, yet they refused to heed their messages. They had been told that one day a Messiah would come. They were seeing miracles and hearing of Baptism and forgiveness and redemption, yet they were in such a spiritual drought, they refused to open their eyes and ears and understand the power of the one walking in their midst.
I just have one question: What’s the manna with those Jews? (I couldn’t help myself.) Probably the same thing that’s the manna with us.
God wants us to be fruitful. Trees are known by their fruit. If we see apples hanging from a limb, we know that we are looking at an apple tree and not a thorn tree. (This is not rocket science.) Christians will be known by how much they produce for God’s kingdom.
In Matthew 7:17, Jesus says that every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Look at what follows: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Serious stuff. This is no mere cursing. This is a grand finale that calls us to account. We are to be the real deal. We are to represent Christ in the way he deserves to be represented. We are to be fruit-full. Fortunately, as long as we have breath, we have time to make it right, to produce fruit in a way that brings honor to our Savior. So, here’s the good news: We don’t have to wait; no matter what season, now is the perfect time to plant. Apples or thorns? Our choice.