Last night was one of those really dark nights. My dog and I were out for a late night walk when she stopped, raised her hackles and uttered her fiercest low growl. I carry a small flash light to turn on in case a car comes by. I want to make sure the driver sees us. But something else was seeing us. As I swept the area with the light I suddenly saw the reflection of six eyes pointed in our direction. The owners were about eighteen inches tall and silent. I’m pretty sure if I had hackles they would have matched my dog’s. Ever so vigilantly we retreated back home.
It is not the first time we have encountered coyotes but this was the first time more than one; at least that I noticed. How often are we unaware of being watched? In the workplace, in our neighborhoods, people are observing. We think our behavior and attitudes don’t matter, but they do matter, especially if people know we are Christians.
A really good kind of watching is “He who watches over you will not slumber;” Psalm 121:3. That kind of watching doesn’t cause us to vigilantly retreat. That is unless our path is somewhere we should not be. Psalm 1:1 describes that in three ways. “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.” If that was our path then we should flee as quickly as possible. What joy we have in Jesus’ words, “Lo, I am with you always. Even unto the end of the world.” I like that kind of watching.
Have you ever heard a sermon so good deacons should have passed out Nexium to people on the way out of church? Just in case you don’t watch the network evening news let me explain that Nexium is a remedy for heartburn. Cleopas and his companion spent late Sunday afternoon with the resurrected Jesus. He gave them a Bible study that was so intense and so meaningful they rushed back to the disciples and described it as, “And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
Sometimes the power of the Holy Spirit sweeps over a congregation and the word is so wonderful we can barely contain ourselves. It’s all so joyful to have a Cleopas experience. I wish everyone could taste the presence of God as they listen to the story of Jesus. I have heard some marvelous presentations on the typology of the sanctuary. I can add to that psychological sermons dressed up with spirituality. But, as good as they are they never make my heart burn as much as hearing about Jesus’ love and sacrifice.
If I could talk to all my preacher friends I would encourage them to hide their doctorates and just present the simplicity of that wonderful song we learned in Kindergarten. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me.” Now that makes my heart burn. When I see Him reaching out and touching lepers, I am astonished and definitely in need of Nexium.
I used to love used book stores. I loved the musty smell of decaying paper, glue and sometimes leather. The older the book the better. I was on a quest to find some ancient tome filled with the wisdom of the ages. I knew that somewhere there had to be written out the secrets of life and happiness. I was a fool. I was like Ponce de Leon who rode about Florida searching for the fountain of youth while having a Bible in his pack. My search was futile because I already had Paul’s letter to the Colossians on my desk.
Paul, one of the world’s greatest minds, said, “My goal is that they (you) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they (you) may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they (you) may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2. There it is. God has kept nothing from us. When He sent us Jesus He opened up the library of heaven for us to grasp “all” the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Do you want to be smart? Do you want to have unlimited intellectual growth? Do you want to understand more about life than the philosophers of the world with their sophisticated, complex theories? You can! The source of the secrets of the universe are not in some musty old book. They are found in the vibrant life and teachings of Jesus, the very Creator of all that is. Time spent with Jesus is a guaranteed way to a fuller, happier, more complete life because of the wisdom you will gain. A day without Jesus is a day of mental stagnation. A day with Jesus is a day of unlimited progress.
My wife’s father died at home on the very farm he was born. A half mile down the wooded road is a very small cemetery that had not been used for over 50 years. When we called the county records office they told us there was no map of the cemetery so we could dig anywhere we chose. If we stuck something, refill and move to another location. We carried him from the house, down the road and placed him under an old pine. Years later we placed my wife’s mom’s coffin right up against his. When his daughter and I were dating he taught me that a gentleman always walked between his sweetie and the road. Therefore, we made sure we placed her with him protecting her from the road. I’m anxious to talk with him because I am sure he will notice on resurrection morning that I remembered my lesson. I’m sure I will get a big thank you.
There will be so much to talk about on resurrection morning. I Corinthians 15 is one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible. For 58 verses Paul gives us the most information we will ever find anywhere regarding the joy of living again. He tells us it will all happen in a moment; in the twinkling of an eye. We fall asleep in Jesus and awaken to life evermore with all of our corruption gone. I’m sure you have friends, family, parents, grandparents, in-laws in my case, and children to tell all about what happened after they fell asleep. This will not be like wakening from a medical procedure. That has moments of trying to clear one’s head. This is instant clarity. This is the beginning of brilliance.
Modernity with its efficiency and improved and enhanced products makes our lives – I was going to say better but I’m not sure. Last evening I was looking out a window at the snow and realized I might never again see Jack Frost’s artwork on window panes. I loved how lacy frosty patterns of hoar would start in the corner of a window and work their way toward the center. I would put my finger on it and watch it melt only to see it refreeze when I took my finger away. Few children today will ever see that.
In the summertime on hot August days my Dad and I would go to the corner grocery store where there was a bright red metal box in the corner. We would lift the lid and peer inside at a variety of sodas immersed in icy cold water. Oh the utter joy of putting your hand in that frigid tank to slowly fish out a Nehi orange. Carefully we would pry off the cap without bending it so we could remove the cork liner. For the rest of the day I would wear the cap on my shirt by putting my shirt between the cap and the pushed-in cork.
Perhaps new and improved isn’t always better? But when it comes to new and improved you and me we cannot argue. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17. I doubt anyone of us will ever long for the old. The old just isn’t that grand. The new will be out of this world. Awesome.
In recent years the following publically traded companies, LinkedIn, Workday, Palo Alto Networks, ServiceNow, Twitter and Splunk have a combined fiscal loss of 1.7 billion dollars. Yet, investors continue to buy their stock. The rational is someday they will return huge dividends. I remember being belittled because my detractor said I was foolish to be trusting that Jesus would someday return and fulfill a host of promises. Need I point out the obvious?
In Psalm 145:3 we read, “Put not your trust in princes.” Let’s exchange the word “princes” with “corporate executives.” It you have any kind of IRA or retirement account you along with millions of others do exactly that. Your savings are invested in a host of companies run by individuals you will never know or even see. Let’s face it. We live by faith in other people. We hope they make wise decisions with our futures. So, is it not more sensible to also put our faith in One who never errs, never breaks a promise and never misappropriates our inheritance?
While it is wise to plan for a temporary future here with careful investments, it is so much wiser to “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: . .” That was told to us by a very wise man. His name is Jesus. So what treasure do we send to heaven? He doesn’t need our cash. He wants our love. And how do we send Him our love?
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I have always enjoyed the story of the four who brought their friend to Jesus. When they found Him, the way was barred by a non-obliging crowd, so they inventively went up onto the flat roof, dug a hole and lowered their friend to Jesus. Can’t you see the debris falling on Jesus’ head and those around Him? Some of the crowd must have cheered and laughed while the owner of the house must have screamed for them to stop. It had to have been mayhem. Surely Jesus must have pleasantly enjoyed their creativity.
What followed next was remarkable. Jesus could have healed the man and that would have been the end of it. It would have been one of hundreds of miracles. (The close of the Gospel of John says we could fill the world with books of stories about what Jesus did.) Instead Jesus said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The religiously astute in the crowd gasped. This was blasphemy. They were sure only God could forgive sins. Jesus later taught us that we can forgive sins. As a matter of fact He urges us to do so.
However, I want to focus on Jesus going to the heart of the issue. He did not merely fix the man’s symptoms. He went to the core of the man’s problems. To merely fix his limbs would be like giving money to a lazy man. The core problem of humanity is our need to have our sins forgiven and to start us on a road to do better. We need to strike at the nucleus of our problem. We need a heart replacement. It is grand to seek to make men noble but without curing the disease we are only postponing inevitable failure.
We were standing in line at the supermarket behind an old guy about my age. I could not help but notice the food he was putting on the conveyor belt was a hodgepodge of very unhealthy items. There were Oreo cookies and beef jerky and those were the healthy items. I had already rolled my eyes at my wife when he turned to me and quietly said, “My wife just died. We were married 36 years and I just don’t know what to buy.” As he walked away with a plastic bag in each hand I looked at the checkout girl who had started to cry. If I were a person who uses bad language I would have called myself a very bad name. When will I ever learn to stop being a smart Alex and stop judging people? What is it with me? Do I need to make myself feel superior by putting others down?
Why can I not act like a follower of Jesus? I am so thankful Paul talked about this inner conflict in Romans 7. If he had not I would be extremely depressed, but chapter 8 verse 1 is so wonderful. He asked who can help? Who can rescue us from us and His answer is an anthem that resounds through the universe. He said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus . . .”
So I am going to stop beating myself up over this lapse, learn a lesson and go ahead and do better next time. That is what being a Christian is about. It is not about being perfect. It is about learning and growing.
Each of us decodes what others say to us using a host of filters which are the products of our culture, our age, our education, our personal biases, and past experiences. I am amazed that we understand anything others say or write. I have students from Haiti, Jamaica, New York City, Boston and upper New York State. Surely there is a bit of lunacy on my part to walk into a classroom with the expectation that students will understand anything I tell them. If it isn’t lunacy then it must be arrogant ignorance. Thus it is that explaining the simplest of assignments can be a major task.
This brings me to the foolishness of preaching, whether it be to a gathering of thousands at a camp meeting in southern Kenya or ten people gathered together in Iowa. Believing that one has something to say that is meaningful to either of these groups is an audacious act. God must be amused at our conceit. We might think we were splendid and did God a great service by “spreading the Good News.” However, He knows it would have been utterly meaningless had not the Holy Spirit been present. Only the Holy Spirit knows the unique hungers of each soul. Only the Holy Spirit can translate our feeble attempts into meaningful thoughts that truly nourish.
So many times I have had people thank me for saying “such and such” because it was just what they needed to hear. I often take credit by saying thank you when I know I never said what they said I said. I’m sure it is a form of the gift of tongues mentioned in Acts or should I say the gift of ears. However, the process works, it isn’t our brilliance. It is God’s desire to save.
Just for a mega second today a gust of wind picked up a cloud of snow crystals and swirled them over my car. Visibility went to zero. Our minds are amazing museums of memories that merely need a key to bring them rushing back. As the road broke clear for me I remembered flying from Collegedale, Tennessee to my parent’s home in Pennsylvania. I was over Virginia with miles of visibility when a cloud happened. I mean happened. Instantly visibility was zero. There I was a mile and a half above the Blue Ridge Mountains hurtling along at 150 miles an hour and I could see nothing. As fast as I could I called flight control explaining and asking for guidance. No questions were asked. I was assigned a transponder number, given a heading, and an altitude to maintain. I couldn’t see him but I knew I was in good hands. After a while his voice came back saying please climb 2000 feet you will be going over Dulles International Airport. I couldn’t see but I obeyed and I was safe even with 747s coming and going around me.
The spiritual lesson here writes itself. We think we are cruising along fine when something totally unexpected happens and we need guidance. A quick request and our Master is there. If we trust and obey, even though we can’t see Him, He is watching. Just as I safely arrived in Pennsylvania we will arrive exactly where God wants us to be and where else would anyone in their right mind want to be.
Psalm 73:24 promises, “Thou shall guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” You have to admit it doesn’t get any better than that. God is not only great, He is good.