I had an awful father. He had an incredible work ethic. For decades he worked two full-time jobs making sure his family was well cared for. While we were not rich, far from it on a school teacher’s salary, we had nice things. Remembering him fills me with awe, making me awful.
English is an awful language filled with words that mean just the opposite. I stopped at a yard sale and saw piles of priceless things. Who could put any price on the junk they were trying to sell? Here in New England things that are really fascinating and intriguingly good are wicked good. Once I had to resign a letter resigning from a job. I lost the first copy.
In 1719 Isaac Watts wrote, “Before Jehovah’s awful throne, ye nations bow with sacred joy; know that the Lord is God alone; He can create and He destroy. Wide as the world is His command, vast as eternity His love; firm as a rock His truth shall stand, when rolling years shall cease to move.”
Most things in the universe change. Even our sun will change. It will burn out. Don’t worry about it. It’s a few billion years before that happens. But we will be around to see it happen because another thing that doesn’t change is God’s promises that we will live forever. Forever is a really long time. How reassuring it is to know there is only one thing about God that will change. It is His love for us. Love grows and if He loved us so much two thousand years ago to give us His only Son just imagine how much He will love us when our sun burns out.
Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them how to pray. To be able to communicate with the Lord of the Universe is a way to open our minds to an understanding of our origins, being and future. We are curious creatures. We want to know. Real prayer is not a Santa Claus list of needs and wants. Real prayer is the melding of our finite minds with the infinite mind of God Himself.
Each of us brings to any relationship a history of us. For me to truly know you I must know your parents, your siblings, your culture, and your sins. It is all these and more that make us us. Your prayer life and mine are very different. It would be erroneous for me to describe to you my prayer life and say, “This is the way to do it.” All I can tell you is this is how prayer works or doesn’t work for me. Prayer is as unique as DNA is unique to each of us. As a forensic scientist can identify us by our particular code so God can identify us by our yearnings and cries. He does not need us to begin each prayer with, “Dear God, this is ….. calling.” He knows who is calling Him because He knows the very distinctness of our content.
Paul wrote, “When I was a child I thought as a child.” He could have said, “When I was a child I prayed as a child. But now that I am a man I pray like a man.” Jesus said, “We have not because we ask not.” Ask. Don’t beg. The one who knows you better than you know you, hears and will open to you what you really need.
This afternoon I mailed a $5.50 book back to Amazon. It cost me $3.50 cents in postage. I probably used a gallon of gasoline to go to and back from the post office. Gas is currently $2.50 cents a gallon so I am out of pocket $.50. I should have just given the book to a friend. One would think that as old as I am I would count the cost prior to doing something.
In Luke 14 Jesus speaks of this very thing. He said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,…”
So just what does it cost to follow Jesus? Salvation is a gift, which, when thoroughly appreciated engenders love. Love engenders a desire to give. Sometimes we speak of an obligation of grace. I’m not sure I like the word “obligation.” I do not feel obligated to give my wife, my sons or my grandchildren anything. But I certainly want to give them things. Is the word “urge” better than “obligation?” Obligation means have to. Urge means want to. I want to obey Jesus. I want to do anything for Him because He is so magnificently wonderful to me. My cross, which Jesus speaks of, is not onus. It is a joy. Obedience is a joy. Giving is a joy. Love is like that. Love and obedience are not obligations. They are fruit.
I had a friend who treated the Bible as if it were the ultimate puzzle book filled with anagrams, numerology, mystic secrets and cryptic messages formed from taking letters out of context and forming words in English. I never could get him to understand that his cryptic messages only worked in English and not Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of Scripture. He also maintained the King James Version was the only legitimate version. Again I couldn’t get him to understand that not everyone in the world spoke English. Spanish and French people need to have and use their translations.
It is true there are some chapters in Daniel and Revelation that seem very mysterious but they are able to be understood in the light of history. They are not to be treated as Sunday Morning New York Times Crossword Puzzles. The intent of God giving us His word is explained to us by Paul. He wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” We wonder what Paul meant by “Scripture.” It would have been the height of arrogance for him to have assumed his letters would be regarded equally with the works of Moses, etc. Today we do regard them to be equal.
The Bible was given to us that we might find salvation. It is there to aid us through the cares of this world into an assured understanding of just how good God is and what He was and is willing to do to make sure we are saved. If you enjoy puzzles, go buy a book of puzzles. If you want to live forever, experience the excitement of a living Jesus in the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Ninety year old former president Jimmy Carter is showing the world how a real Christian faces eternity. When diagnosed with what could be terminal cancer he said, “I am ready for anything and looking forward to a new adventure.” What a wonderful adventure is before him. He will close his eyes and wake up to see the Jesus who he has loved all his life. This past weekend President Carter taught his number six hundred and something Sunday School class. He spoke of love which is exactly what our message is all about. Love is the heart and soul of the Gospel. The Good News is we are loved.
Jesus wants us to be filled with assurance. If we believe He tells the truth how can we doubt our salvation? Many people I know will say, “Yes, I trust Jesus. It is me I don’t trust.” Well, you shouldn’t trust yourself. You are not worthy. You never were and never will be. It is all about Jesus and not about you or me. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled neither let it be afraid.” He also said, “Fear not for I am with you even unto the end of the world.”
Jesus doesn’t care if you are a Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Adventist, Mormon, or Jehovah Witness. Church membership isn’t the ticket to eternity. Accepting the freely offered gift is the ticket. “Freely offered gift” is a redundancy. If it isn’t free than it isn’t a gift. Paul said it so well, “The gift of God is eternal life.” Can we please stop worrying about our performance and cease looking at ourselves? Smash the mirrors. Rejoice in the One who promises you the best adventure ever. It’s only one heartbeat away.
A week ago I wrote concerning my mental instability regarding my set of Harvard Classics that is blue but has a brown volume seven. I received a large amount of correspondence regarding the offending book. The overwhelming suggestion was that I would be much more mentally at ease if I ordered the advertised blue volume on Amazon. Therefore I did so. Yesterday the postman delivered the ordered volume. I need to report that I am in a more dire condition than before.
Despite my care in ordering the needed blue volume I received another brown volume seven. The psychological dissidence is very disturbing. I need to warn those who advised me to proceed with the purchase that you will be billed for your portion of my psychiatric fees. Fees will be divided equally among those who advised to go for it. Responsibility can be most disconcerting.
For thousands of years Lucifer has been disconcertingly trying to make God responsible for the havoc that he, Lucifer, has created. Because God has granted us free will, Lucifer and we have used that free will to destroy that which is good. Thus God has been battling to save us from Lucifer and ourselves. The cross was the apex of the conflict in which God paid the price for our sins but did not, and I repeat, did not accept responsible for the horror. Should God do so Lucifer could claim victory. In the Book of Revelation we read of a war in heaven. Obviously this was not a physical war. How could there be when one side is all powerful? It was a psychological war that is still raging. Let us join God in defeating Lucifer by accepting Jesus’ gift of grace. Let us do all we can to bring this conflict to its so needed end so all will know forever who is and was responsible.
Some evenings are just about perfect. Try to imagine a small New England town park. Add to it being with your best friend, 78 degrees, a clear sky with a half moon, katydids in the trees, an ice cream truck, small children laughing and playing on the newly mown grass. Add to this idyllic scene one of best country bands ever, playing from the town gazebo. Watch a couple of old babes trying to revive their youth by dancing on the lawn to the classics about Alabama, Tennessee, Texas and, of course, sweet Georgia. If one closed their eyes they could have been serenaded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Blake Shelton and be on the road again with Willie Nelson. Sorry, there was no Dolly Parton, it was an all male band. The mosquitoes were few and the summer breeze was an evening zephyr.
We were sorry it had to come to an end. Heaven isn’t going to be all classical music or hymns. God is very eclectic, if He weren’t, He wouldn’t have passed out such a wide variety of gifts. But I don’t imagine the songs there will be about heartaches and tears on pillows and drinking beer sitting on the end of the dock and Folsom Prison. Actually, the evening was quite grand knowing there would be no more prisons or tears.
Sometimes we get a taste of the abundant life. No, that is a wrong thing to say. Jesus would have us feast on the abundant life. He promised, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” That is not just for the future. That is also for now. Don’t miss out. Make Jesus the Lord of your life right now.
This afternoon I watched a small flock of sparrows trying, without success, to get food out of our birdfeeder. It is one of those feeders with a door that closes if too much weight is on the perch. Sometimes it keeps the squirrels out but not usually. They are smart enough to eventually thwart it. The birds were flocking onto the perch thus making too much weight and thus closing the door. No one could eat because too many were trying to eat. This would be a good illustration regarding too many people eating off the government. But that would be getting into politics so I will not go there. Instead we can use the sparrows to talk about the disastrous effects of selfishness.
At first I wanted to excuse the sparrows because they were ignorant and did not know any better but people do. However, on second thought most people don’t understand. When we live in a “me first, me first” culture, some end up with too much and some end up with too little. Oops, that is also getting into politics.
Let’s try this. The key to happiness is service. The more we do for others the happier our lives. This is a major construct of Christianity. Jesus did not call us to be rulers of others but to care for others. This results in the abundant life that He promised us in John 10:10. If someone is sitting home alone feeling neglected the solution is getting involved with others. This can happen in a family, in a church, in a civic club or in a hospital doing volunteer work. The idea is to get the focus off of self and unto others.
If only I could have gotten the sparrows to understand.
Just two weeks ago if asked what kind of squirrels do you have in your neighborhood I would have responded, “Gray and red.” I had no idea that we had flying squirrels. It seems they are nocturnal and since I am diurnal I had no knowledge of these big eyed creatures. But for the past two weeks one has taken up residence at night at our bird feeder.
I am delighted to learn something new about my own backyard but at the same time I am a bit chagrinned regarding my ignorance. It has been a good experience for me. It reminds me of how little I really know. Occasionally someone will phone me asking a Bible question. When I was much younger I would pontificate answers with great authority. However, as the years have passed by, I have become aware of the vastness of Scripture and my very minuscule knowledge. Also, some of what I thought was so I now know isn’t or wasn’t so.
The smartest time in my life was when I graduated from high school. It has been an intellectual downhill journey ever since. I have discovered that the more education one obtains the more aware they become of how much there is to learn and how little we know and how little time there is to learn more. Once I heard someone bragging about her education and wondered if she got her degree from a Cracker Jack box.
If you would enjoy the treat of being humbled, just spend a few evenings on a clear night enjoying the two thousand plus individual stars we can see with our unaided eye. If that were all there was we would be overwhelmed. But there is so much more, much more, much more, much more to learn.
There she sat, calmly looking at us through the glass door of our woodstove. She did not seem upset and obviously had no idea of her precarious situation. She was a sparrow that had come down the stovepipe into our family room. The odds on her finding her way back up the pipe and out to freedom seemed very minimal. My wife rescued her and set her free. The last we saw her was on a branch of a Japanese maple.
We live in a world rife with weapons designed to kill millions. There are groups who think they will be doing God a great service if they can use them. How they can think this is beyond my comprehension. Obviously their Allah is not the same God as our loving heavenly Father. The reason is while they think Jesus was a prophet they do not see Him as a duplicate character of our Father. Jesus did say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
While I do not want to spread fear and upset the tranquility of our lives, it would be Pollyannaish to ignore reality. No, we should not be having our children jump under their school desks like some of us did in the 60’s. But neither should we be thinking something horrible is impossible. We don’t want to be like a sparrow calmly sitting in a stove. Eternity is a topic worthy of our consideration and Jesus is the one and only hope for a world almost out of control.
We must also remember that Jesus offers us peace. He did say, “Peace I leave with you. . . . Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid.”