He was one street-smart, battle-scarred yellow cat. His half chewed off ears told tales of territorial battles won and lost. He definitely knew his way around. He was a veteran of life with all his missing parts to display his valor. As I approached he stealthfully backed under a bush. He was way too smart to challenge a four thousand pound car. Being brave doesn’t mean stupidly taking on something that outclasses you. Being smart is a vital component to being brave and intelligence separates the courageous from the foolish.
Psalm1:1 is great counsel for the truly brave. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” One should only place oneself in such jeopardy for a noble cause, not just to taste and see, one should flee at first opportunity. One cannot expect to mingle and play in mud without getting soiled. Jesus was able to pull that off. “This man eats with sinners.” However, Jesus also spent entire nights in prayer fortifying Himself to do daily battle with one determined to destroy Him.
As I was thinking about that old yellow cat I found myself hoping not all our scars will be removed in heaven. It would be boring if we were all uniformly the same without reminders of victories won. While it is true we shall all be saved by Jesus, it should also be true that we should have identifying scars of valor obtained in the cause of righteousness.
He was a mountain of a man. He had to be over 400 pounds and filled the door to my hospital room. He came to draw blood and was gentle and kind. When he spoke he was obviously not from New England. He was from deep Mississippi and his speech did nothing to hide that. Out of his huge man came the sweetest voice as he said to me, “Mr. Harvey, (Medicare requires my first name.) I’ll try not to hurt you.” He was a character out of a southern gothic novel by William Faulkner. His large dark hands could have crushed one of mine but he was ever so careful with the needle. I never felt it slip in for its drink. On his way out as he closed the door for the night he said softly, “You have a blessed night.” I did. He helped.
It is fascinating how some people seem larger than life. With a few kind words and a caring demeanor they can change our entire day. Jesus was that way. John was certainly aware of that. He wrote in I John 1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” What is amazing is John’s experience is not reserved only for him. We too will see with our eyes and we too shall touch the One who speaks worlds into existence. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Hebrews 1
This is awesome beyond words.
We have all done it. Someone is hurting or suffering from a great loss and we say to them, “If you need anything just call me.” Really? Anything? How about making my car payments or my mortgage? How about paying off my medical bills? Now I do realize and so do those in pain realize that you are speaking of something within reason.
This happened to my sister this weekend. Her very sick neighbor came home from the hospital and my sister said the “anything” thing. “Oh,” her neighbor said, “Could you bring me some egg custard.” This sounds simple enough except my sister did not know what egg custard was (obviously my mother never made it for us) and my sister did not find it at her supermarket. Fortunately we live in the wonderful age of the Internet and a Google search for egg custard provided a recipe.
I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of the midnight knock on the door. It’s found in Luke 11 and it contains one of my favorite verses. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” God, our Father, is a giver. He cares about our needs and is anxious to help. For some reason that I do not understand often times we have to ask. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Maybe it has something to do with our adversary the devil, who accused God of over giving to Job. So go ahead and ask. If it is good for you, you will get it. If it isn’t you won’t. I hope you like custard.
Each of the Ten Commandments is designed to keep us happy. No one knows us better than our Creator and therefore He knows what is best for us. When He tells us not to covet He is telling us how to be happy with what we have. It is miserable to see something another person has and to want it. Sometimes we talk about “Gateway Drugs.” We should talk about “Gateway Sins.” There is no question that little sins lead to big sins. Coveting is a “Gateway Sin.” If we did not want what another person has we would not be tempted to steal it or worse, kill them so we could get it. Thou shall not covet definitely belongs in the Big Ten.
I am amazed at how many people I speak to who are not happy. We should have happy courses and the first class should be dedicated to paying attention to what God has prescribed for us. One of the things I notice is how fearful people are. They talk about how bad the world is getting. Having been a history minor in college I would like to propose that the world isn’t any badder than ever. Horrible things have been occurring since Cain killed Abel. The difference now is the 24 hour news channels. In order to fill up all that time newspeople scour the world for all the horror they can find and then they pump it into our living rooms. The bad stuff happened before this. We just didn’t know about it. Technology enables them to make us miserable.
Please remind yourself every day that Jesus loves you. Be comforted that your sins are forgiven and rejoice in your citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It’s a happy kingdom.
Ever so gently and as kindly as possible I whispered to the elderly lady cashier, who had given me five dollars too much in change, and I returned the five to her. I knew it would have come out of her pay if her cash drawer was short at the end of the day. However, before you smile and think, “I knew he was honest” allow me to say if it had been the very rude seventeen-year-old who had upset the elderly lady, I’m not so sure I would have returned it. I would have figured she deserved to be stuck for five dollars or even more.
This brings me to the issue of our allowing other people to determine our behavior. Should I have allowed a rude teen the power to make me dishonest? This really starts when we are very little. How often as parents have we heard, “He hit me first.” Somehow that was a justification for hitting back and, of course, when we hit back, it was always a tad harder.
Not only is it difficult to teach children to turn the other cheek, it is difficult to do so as adults. In Kindergarten we should offer Tongue Biting 101. “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Thank you Solomon. And our Jesus has something to say about this in the Sermon on the Mount. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” Jesus is not telling us to be a doormat. He also tells us to “shake the dust off our feet and leave.”
Don’t hit back, which is what I wanted to do to that seventeen-year-old.
This afternoon the checkout lady at the Dollar Store, who appeared to be very close to seventy, was being rudely ordered around by another employee who was all of seventeen. With tears welling up in her eyes the elderly lady attempted to help me. The extent of her mental state evidenced itself when her trembling hands gave me an extra five dollar bill in my change. My dilemma was to further upset her by pointing out her error or take the easy way out and pocket the extra five and say thank you. Or was I merely justifying an attempt to keep the five? The human heart is a deceitful thing and works its very best havoc on its owner. The most difficult person to know is the one we see in the mirror.
For over seventy years I have been trying to know me. But like Paul in Romans 7, I regularly do things that disappoint me. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
I don’t think it was about an extra five dollars. I am not a rich man, but really five dollars? What would a man give in exchange for his soul? Five dollars? That’s trading your soul for one large extra thick chocolate malt! But what if it were for five million dollars? Then I would rationalize how much good I could do for my church. I could make quite an impressive list of good deeds after I took an around the world trip with my wife.
So what did I do? If I tell you what and why I would most likely be trying to assuage my conscience.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. My father, a school teacher, who always went to school in suit, white shirt, tie, and a white handkerchief in the left top pocket of his suit coat, came home and announced it was time for me to learn to ride a bicycle. I was so excited as I climbed aboard my sister’s bike and off we went with him running behind. It was elation beyond words as the wind blew through my hair. These were the days before helmets and knee and elbow pads. This was blood sport and I did not disappoint. I looked back over my shoulder, a big mistake. He knelt down beside me and took the white handkerchief from his suit coat pocket and wiped off the gravel and blood. And then he said to me, “Good job. Look how far you came.”
I did not stop being his son because I fell down. Neither do we stop being part of God’s family when we fail. Quickly He comes to our side and with the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness He wipes us clean and says to us, “Good job. Look how far you have come.”
The Christian walk is not about being perfect. It is about falling, being wiped clean and getting up for another try. It is about going farther between falls. And sometimes the falls are spectacular but that just makes getting up so much more courageous. It is true Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery to go and sin no more. We must never forget He also said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Happy riding. Go far.
I sat down this afternoon to watch a program on Netflix. It was a British production and I was having such a difficult time understanding what they were saying I finally turned on the subtitles. That helped a lot. I felt kind of stupid needing subtitles for something in my native tongue. Or is British English my native tongue? This afternoon I doubted it.
My students in Africa used to argue amongst themselves about what language we will speak in heaven. Of course each tribe was a rabid supporter of their language. I never got into the fray. I didn’t have to. I know it will be American English. But wait will that be American English in Georgia or Boston or Des Moines?
I used to have some church members who were insistent that I should use the King James Version when I preached. They were convinced that Jesus said “Thee” and “Thou” as I should if I was going to have any authority. So what language does God speak? He speaks the language of the heart. He doesn’t need the mutterings of our mouths to understand our needs, our desires, our passions and our longings.
I love Romans 8:26 and 27. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Perhaps in heaven we will retain our native tongue and use a universal translator button on our shirts. (robes!) However it will work it will be just fine.
It has been 37 years since a horse has won the Triple Crown of racing. This weekend American Pharoah’s name will be added to the list of the all time great horses. He did it and it is indeed a rare and noteworthy event. However, I am even more excited about our Triple Crown win. Please note the following verses.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the CROWN OF LIFE that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
II Timothy 4:8
“Now there is in store for me the CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
I Peter 5:4
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the CROWN OF GLORY that will never fade away.”
This is super exciting because it is not going to be rare. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne.” Our God who is rich in mercy and anxious to save as many as possible is ready and prepared to award us our Triple Crown win. It really is a Triple Crown gift but who is going to quibble about words over something so very grand? It is no wonder there is an old hymn that says, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” We shall have three. Jesus will have so many crowns and He earned His. Because He loves us He is thrilled to gift us ours.
I had a student who professed he had little faith in anything. According to him he was a practical man who had to personally experience things. He seemed puzzled when I asked him to explain the difference between a one dollar bill and a twenty dollar bill. Because we can obtain twenty times something with the twenty dollar bill than we can with a one dollar bill certainly there has to be a difference in their value. But they are both made of the same kind of paper and are the same size and weight. There is no intrinsic difference. The only differences are the ink patterns. My practical student displays faith every time he purchases something. He has faith in the power of the United States Federal Reserve Bank.
Next, I asked if he ever flew anywhere. To do so requires faith in the competence and sobriety of the pilots, the mechanics, the air traffic controllers, the manufacturer of the fuel, the structural engineers and the weather prognosticators. Flying is truly an act of faith.
Everyday life in our modern world requires faith. So why not place ourselves by faith into the hands of the One who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. Why not believe Him when He says, “I love you.” He is more trustworthy than any monetary system or any airline team. Trust Him who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” and then gave viable evidence by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus said, “He who believes in me shall never die.” I like that. I like that a lot.