As I write this (8/28/19), we at Gaston Christian Church are finishing up the Trust Issues series while Reidsville is just starting it. (I was supposed to introduce it to you when I preached there, but I forgot.)
For me, trust is an easy thing to talk about, even do, when there is no “threat” right in front of me. Let me share one of my recent reminders that I am not at all different from those scared, “ye-of-little-faith” disciples in a storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee (see Matthew 8:26 and Matt. 14:31)
My wife is a Pediatric Home Care Nurse. She works regular shifts with a single patient (although she has many different patients), as opposed to making many short visits during her day. She works for two different nursing agencies to ensure that she has steady work. She is also a Mary Kay consultant (this is not a shameless plug; it is part of the story).
Most of the time, my wife works a day shift. Her hours vary depending on the needs and hours available for her clients. She has some “regular” clients and hours, but not too long ago, she committed to full time with one of her agencies because we needed the benefits that come with being full time. Because many of the other nurses also have steady clients, she has been filling in and picking up hours whenever she can. A couple of weeks ago, that meant covering for two night nurses who were going to be on vacation. Although she occasionally works a night shift, she was scheduled for five nights in a row, at two different homes, and the hours varied each night. Wednesday night was 11-7, Thursday was 10-7, Friday was 10-8 … Friday night is the night in question.
Although I try to keep track, I often forget what her hours are or where she is going (how long it will take her to get there/get home).
It is Friday night (into Saturday morning), third night of the five-day night shift stretch.
6:00am (oh, by the way, although the times vary by a few minutes +/- and although I am prone to embellishment and exaggeration for the sake of emphasis, this IS what happened and how it happened).
6:00am … in my “dreams” I hear my phone bling with a new message … it is just enough to wake me and a minute or two later I think, “Maybe that wasn’t a dream; maybe I need to check it?” So I rouse myself awake enough to check my phone – yes, the blue message light is blinking. “Who is texting me at 6:00am on a Saturday morning? (Could be Shannon ... if it is, we need to have a talk!)” It was an alert from an Identity Protection service I had recently signed up for; it wasn’t even a real alert, it was some information message about something … I lay there for 15 minutes reminding myself to turn off alerts for that service … finally, I drift back to sleep.
6:30am … in my “dreams” again, I hear a crash, bang or thud (as if something hit or slapped the side of the house). This time I get up more quickly – if it was not a dream, I need to investigate. No bad guys in the house. Nothing fallen or broken that I can tell. Probably a bird flying into a window or my son’s arm hitting the wall in his sleep, or it was just in my dreams.
I go back to bed … maybe I can catch a few more Zzz’s …
7:00am (again, I am NOT exaggerating!), I hear an alarm go off (wake-up alarm). “Why did my son set his alarm?” I get up. It is not coming from his room. I walk down the hall to the bonus room from where the sound is coming from. There, in a drawer of one of those plastic storage things, was a small travel alarm clock going off. My son had been home since the end of June. It is now the middle of August. We had never heard this alarm go off before and it was sitting in this drawer. Weird! (I turned it off.)
As I returned to bed, I wondered, “Is God trying to wake me up?” I asked God. I thought. I pondered. I waited. Nothing landed heavy on my heart or mind. Maybe just a string of coincidences …
I went back to bed … not expecting to fall asleep, but I think I dozed off … because …
7:30am, my phone alarm rings. Now I know many people use their phones as their alarm clock. I do not. When I travel, yes. But never (almost never) at home. I turned it off. (Before I forget, the previous Sunday I had set it as a back-up and I guess I had set it for Saturday and Sunday without knowing it, but that morning, I could not remember the last time I had used my phone alarm).
By now, I was awake and was going to stay awake … but I just laid in bed. Meribeth would be home soon, in fact, it was almost 7:45, when she was normally expected to be home. I didn’t want to yell; I didn’t want to get out of bed for no good reason (again!), so I texted her, “(are you) Home?” No reply.
No biggie. She’s not supposed to text and drive.
By the way, if you are waiting for some big reveal, some “goose bump” moment, it isn’t coming. All that was just to let you know my frame of mind; that the day had begun with multiple, unexplained disruptions, for which I was mildly looking for some added, perhaps even supernatural, reason.
8:00am, she is still not home; still has not answered my “Home?” text. But it is Saturday morning and most of the time when she works a Friday night shift, she stops and picks up breakfast for us all. That MUST be what she is doing. But if she stopped, she should have seen – and responded to - my text …
I decided to go downstairs to feed the cats and wait on Meribeth. I checked the calendar; she was working until 8, not 7. That’s why she wasn’t home yet; that’s why she hadn’t texted yet. Relief! (but only temporarily).
I did a few morning chores; it was now 8:15. Safe for me to call her; she should have left work; besides, this is her “regular” patient; the parents know her, like her; if I call after her shift is over and she is still there, they won’t be upset. I called. No answer. I did not leave a voicemail. No need; I’ve texted. She will see the missed call. She will call me. Sometimes she stays and chats with the mom for a few. That must be what’s going on.
8:30 – I call again. No answer.
Well, if she forgot to take her phone off of silent, and it’s in her purse, that would explain it. I’ll wait a few more minutes. I don’t want to call every 15 minutes … I’ll wait 17.
8:54 … no answer. Well, if phone is on silent, then … wait a minute! She’s in her car! She has Bluetooth, it will ring in her car even if on silent! Besides, if she left at 8, she should be home now, or at least soon!
9:06 – no answer, no text … this is getting disconcerting …
9:17 – by now, she SHOULD be home, even with breakfast, if not, there is a boatload of “missed calls” on her phone for her to see and KNOW that I am concerned!
Although I haven’t mentioned it yet, though my “play-by-play” should have tipped you off that I am getting anxious, nervous, worried, etc., I AM getting anxious, nervous, worried, upset …
What could be wrong?
1) She’s been in a car accident. This is the MOST likely scenario! What else could it be? In fact, it had to be such a terrible accident that she cannot use her phone! No, no, no … don’t think like that … what ELSE could it be?
2) Her patient got sick and had to go to the hospital or she is busy with both hands keeping him alive! (Although her patient is very stable, he has gotten sick before and while this is more likely than option #1, I quickly dispatched it out of mind …)
3) Nope. It MUST be the accident. She’s dead. How will I tell the boys? How will I tell her mom? What do I need to do first?
4) WAIT!!! I don’t need to jump to that conclusion … perhaps call the Highway Patrol? Or the area Hospitals. I should start with the one where LifeFlight lands and has the best trauma unit …
5) No, Scott, that’s silly. You are letting your imagination run wild. She will roll her eyes at my crazy thoughts!
9:23 – I call again … but this time, I prepare myself for a police officer or EMT to answer her phone. No answer. Surely THEY have seen my name appear on her screen and someone can call me back and tell me the location of the accident or which hospital they have transported her to!
Should I wake up Bryan now – so he can get dressed? Because if I wait until they call me, it will take him 10 minutes or so to get dressed … wait, I need to get ready too!
I make the call – no answer; Got in the shower, but with my phone just outside, just in case.
I had worked myself into a real lather by this point (and I’m not talking about the Ocean Breeze Shower Gel kind!). I was CERTAIN nothing but bad news was awaiting me and my sons regarding my wife, their mother.
Then, it hit me. “Why haven’t I PRAYED about this?” (In my defense, I did offer a quick prayer for my wife’s patient when I thought that maybe he had gotten sick causing her extended delay.) But other than wondering, “Is God waking me up for some purpose?” as I walked bleary-eyed to the bonus room to turn off the rogue alarm clock, I hadn’t really at all talked to God about my morning, about my fears, about my anxiety. Not even a prayer for my wife’s (unfounded, unneeded) recovery from the coma she was obviously in by this point!
I prayed. I confessed. Mostly, I confessed.
9:33 I call again. Still no answer.
Yes, I was still worried and wondering why my 7:45 text had yet to be unanswered or my 11 or so missed calls, but at the root of it all, I was guilty of not turning to God and trusting that, no matter what the reason – innocent or not, trauma-caused or not – I had failed to take it to the One who said, “Come to Me … and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
Why is trust so hard? Why is trust so hard FOR ME?
What is trust anyway? Was I, are we, just supposed to whistle while we feed the cats and not even wonder why our wife (or husband or child) is an hour late from work after their third all-nighter in a row? I do not think (1) God calls us to “ignore” those fears or feelings of anxiety. A young child lost in a department store or a teenager hour’s late for his or her curfew ought to raise our parental alarms. Mary and Joseph did not say, “Oh well” when they discovered Jesus missing (Luke 2:41-52). They went and searched for Him. The father of the prodigal son regularly searched the horizon for the return of his son (Luke 15:20). The trust we are to have is not in conflict when someone we love is in trouble or goes missing.
However, our fears, our anxiety should not overtake us or control us. Nor should it cause us to question the goodness of God. Instead, when those moments arise (and they will!), we need to remember to pray and to trust.
“God, no matter what the outcome, even if it is as bad as my runaway, crazy imagination, you are still God, MY God and Father, and You will be by my side; You will be faithful. Now, please help me to find peace; please resolve this situation in my favor.”
I still think it is hard to define – or make tangible – what trust is. For me, it is easier to see when I am not trusting.
· When I fail to remember that God is with me.
· When I fail to pray about it.
· When I allow my anxiety to beat out of my chest, let my thought run uncontrollable wild.
· When all I think of is the worst-case scenario, or better still, when I think the worst-case scenario is all about stuff here on earth rather than eternity, then I know my trust is lacking
I need constant reminding that “He will never leave me nor forsake me.” (Hebrews 13:5) I need to be in constant contact with my Father through prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I need to look for, and expect to “see” Jesus in the middle of my storm, in the middle of the night, in the middle of my fears and anxiety instead of being surprised when He says, “It is I!” (Matthew 14:27)
At 9:38, almost an hour after her expected arrival time, almost 2 hours after my first attempt to contact her that morning, Meribeth called. The signal was bad – we got cut off and had to call back and forth several times, but I heard enough to know she was ok.
On her way home, my wife needed to drop off some Mary Kay at a friend’s house. Normally they have a pre-arranged drop box for this (which is why I told you it was Mary Kay so you wouldn’t think it was a drug drop or money laundering!), but instead her friend, her VERY CHATTY friend, met her at the door. Then her husband came out … and for AN HOUR, she talked to my wife. Meribeth had left her phone in the car, thinking she was just going to walk to the front door and back. She said she had been walking (or trying to walk) to her car for more than thirty minutes! (I know this friend and I know how chatty she can be – I know that’s how it played out.)
I never did ask her why she didn’t reply to my first text or answer the phone while she was en route to her friend’s house, assuming I had called during that time – which given the frequency of my calls, I should have! I was just relieved that 1) she was safe and 2) it wasn’t because she was deliberately ignoring me or mad at me or any of those things.
(1) I am cautious to ever say, “I think _______ ” because what I think doesn’t really matter. I want to give you solid, Biblical truth without opinion, but sometimes the Bible is silent on certain nuances. Please take what “I think” as, perhaps, wisdom gained over the years, but in no way equal to God’s revealed truth. I am very aware of what Jesus clearly says in Matthew 6:31 and Matt. 6:34 and do not want to run afoul of His teaching. But there must also be a, “How do you do that?” answer.
For the record: I hate to run.
No matter what you might surmise from anything that you read me write, hear me say, or see me do... and despite what my wife might naively tell you, the truth is, I hate to run.
Maybe hate is too strong a word, since a lot of my family runs. Both of my sisters run, participating in 5Ks, marathons, and Ironman triathlons, while my nephew has competed in at least two Spartan races this year.
However, until a year ago, the only two times I had ever set out to just run - once in Georgia during my first ministry and once in Reidsville when I was new in town... so, both over 30 years ago - ended with me bent over on the side of the road, losing weight in a way that most doctors simply would not recommend.
In fact, while the header image looks much "cooler," this image is definitely more accurate:
I hate to run.
This past Thursday morning, after moving my son into his college dorm the day before, facilitating a small group that evening, and visiting in the hospital that night, when my wife's alarm went off at 4:15 AM (Yes Virginia, there is a 4:15 in the morning, and it just so happens to be one of the few times in both of our schedules that is free!) ...
I digress. When the cruel alarm sounded, I can't tell you how much I hated the thought of getting up to run, as well as how much I wanted to "run over" the sick, demented individual who first came up with the idea of running for leisure/sport/exercise.
But we ran. Or rather, we walked/ran (and for the purposes of this post, run and walk/run are synonymous).
Have I mentioned that I hate to run?
And yet, I run, not because I love to run, and certainly not because I am a fast runner (although I did finish second in my age division in my last 5K. A cynic would, at this point, mention that there were only two runners in that division, but hey, second is still second!).
No, I run because I love the benefits of running, including the (hopefully) healthier lifestyle, the 5K t-shirts, spending together-time with my wife doing our "thing" (which this summer has included our son), praying for certain people as I pass their house, and of course, the numbers.
I absolutely love the numbers. And when it comes to running, there are all kinds of numbers - distance, pace, and time, just to name a few.
Now, I understand that it's simply not realistic for each run to be better, time-wise, than the previous run, but there is still that push from my competitive side to try and make it so. Which means that at some point in the last minute or two of our runs, I usually shout out to my wife, "Don't give up. Big finish!"
I tell you all that to tell you the same thing: Don't give up. Big finish!
I wrote back in January that to get the change I want for my life, I need to do something. It's not just going to happen on its own. To that end, I listed seven measurable "goals" to help get me to where I want to be.
Sadly, of my seven, I am probably only on-pace with two (numbers 2 and 4, for those keeping score).
It's almost September. Almost two-thirds of 2019 is gone, and yet I am encouraging me (and you, if you have any plans or goals for the year that are still unfinished) ... I am encouraging all of us to finish big. Rather than get lazy, or quit, or simply wait until 2020 to rehash my unrealized "goals" from this year, I need to pursue all seven as much as possible over the last four months of this year!
Don't give up. Big finish!
Speaking of 2019, Reidsville Christian and Gaston Christian have been about Just Jesus all year as we've studied through the gospel of Matthew. Our churches' goal has been to know Jesus better than we know ourselves. With four months left, but almost half of Matthew remaining, there is still plenty left for each of us to learn about Jesus.
So, if you haven't read Matthew's gospel, it's not too late to start. If you've already read it a time or two this year, read it again. Using this schedule, you've still got time to read it twice.
And now that the summer is over, vacations are done, and school is starting back, we hope to see you as many Sunday mornings as possible.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).
Don't give up. Big finish!
Judged by a T, Saved by a ♰
"That road you're on is crowded, boy. Do you know where you're going? You're going to Hell, son!"
It was the summer of '79 (not '69, no matter what Bryan Adams says). I was 15 years old, and I was on the beach in Charleston, S.C.
"You're going to Hell, son!"
Never mind that I was there with my church youth group, in town to attend the Southern Christian Youth Convention. I had been singled out for a verbal assault about my eternal destination.
"You're going to Hell, son!"
Now, to be completely transparent, I was wearing a black, three-quarter-length sleeve baseball t-shirt with some rock-and-roll slogan on it (sorry - it's been too long to remember. I do know that it looked a whole lot less lame than the picture above). I had seen the shirt in a bar on the boardwalk the day before and, because I wasn't old enough to go into the bar myself, had asked one of my sponsors to buy it for me.
Okay, that was pretty transparent.
But the shirt was pretty tame. I mean, I know for a fact there was nothing on it about sex and drugs. I could never have brought that home and hoped to have it washed, much less wear it again, even to mow the backyard!
And yet, the rebuke was pretty public, and pretty loud:
"You're going to Hell, son!"
Maybe you've had a similar experience. Maybe, like me, it was a street-corner (or boardwalk-corner) preacher with fire in his eyes and anger in his voice. Or maybe it was some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) friend or co-worker.
Whatever your experience, it's possible that it is all brought back to the surface when you read Jesus' words in Matthew 7:
"You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way." (Matthew 7:13 NLT)
It certainly sounds like Jesus is talking about an eternal destination, doesn't it? But what if that wasn't His only intent?
You know, when I first had the idea for our JustJesus blog, my thoughts were that it would be a good outlet for Scott and I to dig deeper into Matthew in a way that we couldn't on Sunday mornings, or to address any text that we didn't get the chance to deal with.
It's the latter in this post, because somehow, at RCC, we completely missed teaching Matthew 7:13-14, not because it is controversial, and not for fear of offending anyone. No, we just missed it. I just missed it.
So, if you will, join me for a few moments in a study of this powerful (and maybe misunderstood) text.
I grew up hearing Jesus' words from the NIV:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destructions, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV84)
Before we go any further, here's a quick original language lesson from somebody who only had one semester of Greek (and made the "Delta" Society, not in a good way).
The word Jesus uses for broad can also be translated "easy." The word narrow can also be translated "hard" or "difficult." And the word road comes from the Greek word ὁδός (hŏdŏs), which can be translated as "way."
All three of those choices were used in the English Standard Version's translation:
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
That Greek word hŏdŏs, or way, appears exactly 100 times in the ESV. While Matthew uses it more than any other writer, the word is used in thirteen different New Testament books by at least nine different writers. In addition, for many early Christians, Jesus' teachings, including the Sermon on the Mount, were simply known as the way.
The imagery is that Jesus, as our Rabbi, is out in front on the road of life, while we, His disciples, His followers, are behind Him, staying close to Him by following His teachings. In fact, long before the church was ever called the church, Christians were called "followers of the Way." (Acts 9:2)
So, for the early Christian community, Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 - the Sermon on the Mount - was an important road map for them to navigate the road of life. And at the end of His sermon, Jesus says, "Okay, listen up! Don't go through the wide gate. And don't take the broad, easy way."
In Jesus' world, towns were built with walls, and in those walls were gates. Some gates were really wide... I mean hundreds-of-men-women-children-donkeys-camels-oxen-carts-wagons-all-going-through-at-once wide.
But other gates were small, and narrow, and sharp. You could only go through those gates one at a time.
Like with all of His teachings, Jesus was using imagery that made perfect sense to first-century ears.
But what was He saying?
I believe that Jesus' point was, "Don't follow the crowd. I know that everybody is going through the wide, easy gate, but there's another way to live - My way - that goes against the flow of traffic. You go through the small gate. And you walk down the narrow, hard way."
What exactly is the small gate? Or, put another way, Who is the small gate?
For those of you who aren't tracking, I'll go ahead and give you the answer (and, by the way, it's usually a good answer to give to most Bible questions):
The answer is Jesus. Jesus is the small gate.
Later, in John 10:9, Jesus flat out says, "I am the gate," meaning, "I am the entrance to life."
So, if Jesus is the small gate, what is the hard, narrow way or road? (By the way, Jesus is not a good answer to give here.)
Well, if you remember from like two minutes ago, way can mean "teaching." The narrow, hard way is Jesus' teachings, including everything that He had just taught in Matthew 5-7.
"Love your enemies."
Is that the easy way or the hard way?
Are you kidding me? There's nothing easy about it.
"Live with generosity... with open hearts, open palms, and open pocketbooks."
Is that easy?
"Put your treasure in God, not in stuff on Earth, and in doing so, be set free from your worry and anxiety."
Is that easy?
Not even on a good day!
So, Jesus says, "Every day, you have a choice. There are two roads. You can go down one, and it's really easy. I mean, it's downhill. It's paved. Everybody's on the road - just follow the crowd. But here's the problem with that: It leads to destruction."
And now, we're back to my t-shirt.
Notice how ambiguous and elastic that word destruction is. There are no time-tables. Jesus doesn't say when. He doesn't say how. Jesus simply says, "Destruction."
In the age to come? In eternity? Absolutely, I mean, I do think that's in there, but also here and now, in this life.
There are ways of living that the crowds go after that are destructive in nature. Would you agree? At first, they feel like life and freedom and fun, but at some point, you wake up and you're in chains. The next thing you know, your life is marked by pain, and regret, and shame, and consequences, and brokenness. It leads to destruction. It is destructive here and now, and into eternity.
But Jesus says, "There's another way to live... My way... My teachings... and it's really hard."
Don't you love Jesus' honesty? He would have made a lousy salesman! I mean, there's no sales pitch or gimmick - "It's a small gate, but it's cozy. It's a narrow road, but it's level. And there's air conditioning... and free iced-tea!"
There's none of that.
It's narrow. It's hard. It's difficult.
But it leads to life!
If you have followed Jesus for any length of time, you know that is spot-on! Obedience to Jesus is difficult. It takes energy. It takes time. It can be costly.
But it leads to life!
Life in the future? Absolutely! But life today as well. Joy, peace, freedom from anxiety, freedom from fear...
Jesus' way... obedience to Jesus' teachings leads to life.
Put that on a t-shirt!
You Are Worth More Than Many Sparrows
June 6, 2019. Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The allied invasion of Europe to defeat the Nazis, liberate those who were captured, and secure the future and freedom for Western Culture and most of the world. My dad’s uncle, Don Patterson, among other things, took part in liberating people from Nazi camps as the war was winding down.
WARNING! The pictures and descriptions below are graphic and disturbing, but also important.
A couple of years ago, my youngest son, Bryan, studied abroad for a semester in Ireland. While there, he took several opportunities to travel. One trip took him to several cities in Europe including Paris, Budapest, Berlin, Krakow and Auschwitz.
Bryan, who had just turned 19 at the time, was utterly moved by the solemnness of Auschwitz. He was ill-prepared, however, for the absolute inhuman treatment of the Jews and others the Nazis decided to exterminate. He walked past piles of shoes, piles of human hair, eyeglasses, luggage, prayer shawls, personal effects (1), and through one of the gas-chambers – a non-descript room except for canisters of zyklon b, cyanide gas used to kill thousands upon thousands of people.
He saw the “dorm” where the women, subjected to sterilization experimentation, were housed with windows boarded up so they could not see the wall were some prisoners faced the firing squad.
He saw plaques detailing how the Nazis “collected” and experimented on twins and other children.
There was a memorial honoring the place where Jews were buried, piles upon piles, by bulldozers in mass graves. Incinerators where countless bodies were reduced to ash.
In Budapest, along the bank of the Danube River, there is a memorial
… it is a bronze sculpture of shoes showing where the Nazis would line up Jews along the bank and then machine gun them, letting their bodies fall into the river to float away. It is unconscionable for me.
If you are having a hard time reading this, I apologize, well, only slightly. I do believe it is important for us to know and somewhat understand the depth of depravity sinful, godless humans are capable of.
I cannot express to you his feelings about all this. I do know they were deep, profound and extremely sad and emotional. How could one group of people be so cruel, heartless, immoral, (there are not enough adjectives) to treat others like yesterday’s trash?
As his semester abroad was winding down, he took a solo trip to France to visit Normandy. He missed the “tourist season” by one day but was able to secure a private guide who drove him to all the sites and shared with him some of the history. He of course toured Omaha Beach (and brought me back some sand!), and the American Cemetery at Normandy. All of these places were solemn and profound, but none “hit” him as profound as his first stop. His guide took him to the German Cemetery in Normandy.
There, in rows reminiscent of what you see at the American Cemetery, are the graves, individual graves, of the Germans who died there. [There is a large grave in the center containing the bodies of Germans who could not be identified, but it is also done with dignity.] Unlike the callous, heartless way the Jews were treated in life and in death, the Americans and our allies took the time and care to bury the Germans and mark their graves. We did this for our enemies.
What a stark contrast between the mass graves the Nazis dug and this place where, even 75 years later, German families can visit the graves of their loved-ones who fought and died for an evil empire.
Without trying to make a political statement, this illustrates the difference between “American values” and Nazi values. Although we have our well-documented faults, at our core, we value human life, even the lives of our enemies. No human ever deserves to be treated the way Hitler and his underlings treated the Jews.
We, every human being, including the Jews and including Nazis, were created in His image. That fact alone should end any debate.
But a few weeks ago, as I was reading Matthew 10, these familiar words of Jesus made me think of Bryan’s contrasting observation between Auschwitz and Normandy:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:28–31 (ESV)
The American and Allied soldiers did their best to treat the dead with dignity. Jesus said, “Not even something as ‘worthless’ as a sparrow dies without our Heavenly Father taking notice.” He even knows the number of hairs on our head! (I cannot fathom the tears He must have shed over the tons of hair taken from the Jews.(2))
We remember and honor those brave soldiers who gave their life 75 years ago, setting in motion the eventual liberation of tens of thousands of prisoners. It is right and good that we remember.
We put a high value on life, on sacrifice, on protecting the weak because we are made in the image of the Great God of the universe who gave breath to each and every life, no matter how small, insignificant, weak or of “little worth.” Those graves in Normandy remind us of the truth Jesus spoke: we are worth more!
(1) Many of these rooms/memorials were so solemn, pictures were not permitted to be taken of them. There are similar memorials at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and other places. They leave you speechless.
(2) When the Russians liberated Auschwitz, they found a five-ton pile of hair the Nazis had stockpiled for textile purposes.
Thank You, Jimmy
It was the first time in my life that I knew there was such a thing as death.
My first encounter with death was not because of the loss of a grandparent, a parent, or a sibling, although I have experienced all of those losses in years since. It was, instead, as I remember it, because of the left-hand bottom corner of the front page of the Winston-Salem Journal, the newspaper that was delivered daily to my home when I was growing up.
I don't really know exactly when I first noticed, but at some point, almost fifty years ago, I read a list of names in that small section (that unfortunately grew over time) and asked my parents about it.
"Those are the names of local boys who recently died in Vietnam."
I honestly believe that was my first introduction to the reality of death.
Over the years, I have visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or as it is sometimes referred to, "The Wall," on several occasions. Each time was moving, but I will never forget the emotions of my very first time.
It was the summer of 1986, less than two years after the memorial was completed and maybe a month after the death of my sister. My parents believed it was important that they take my other two sisters and me out of town on a trip. Not the best of ideas, but it's hard to fault them... and this really isn't about my family.
I can still remember arriving at "The Wall" with my parents, and my father almost immediately going to the book to try to find the particular panel of a certain name. I almost asked who he was looking for, but then I remembered.
I never knew Jimmy. I'm not even sure my father ever knew Jimmy, but we began going to church with his mother and father and brother not too long after Jimmy's death.
As I browsed the internet earlier this afternoon, I discovered that Jimmy... rather, PFC Jimmy Roger Westmoreland with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army died on April 8, 1969, less than three months after his tour began.
Some fellow soldiers who served with him have left personal comments on the "virtual wall" through the years. One described him as a "quiet, baby-faced kid." Another wrote, "I remember the first time I saw you, I thought to myself, 'This guy should be in Junior High instead of Vietnam, but I see we were both about the same age."
Jimmy was 20 years old.
On that day with my parents, seventeen years later, as they found Jimmy's name on the wall, they wept... not because of their relationship with him, because again, I'm not sure they even knew him. Looking back all these years later, I believe that their tears flowed out of an unsolicited bond with his parents and a common grief for a lost child.
I read a statistic recently that really struck me. During World War II, 12% of our population served in the Armed Forces. However today, less than 1% of our current population is serving or has ever served in our military.
Gala True, of the Department of Veteran Affairs says, "That small figure influences the way the general public thinks about the cost of conflict."
To be clear, this is not a pro-war post. That issue can be debated in other circles at other times by people far more qualified to do so than me.
But it is a pro-honor post.
The Apostle Paul wrote...
"Give everyone what you owe him... if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:7 NIV84)
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the most solemn of American holidays... a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our nation.
It is a day to remember Jimmy, and the more than 1.1 million other men and women who have given their lives for those who, in most-part, they didn't know either... for those who are still giving their lives for you and me.
Join me in giving to each of them what we owe them - our respect and honor. The reality is, we owe them so much more than we could ever repay.
Since that summer with my parents, with every subsequent visit that I have made to D.C., if I find myself near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I stop and look for Jimmy's name myself.
I never knew him, but I never want to forget him.
Thank you, Jimmy.
Who Will Unpack Your Lunch?
The week before Mother’s Day, I took several ladies from our church to see the limited release Chonda Pierce movie, “Unashamed.” Chonda is a Christian Comedian and if you’ve never heard her, brace yourself for some unexpected comedy! And, men, it’s really not for you. I was able to go with our ladies because we had an extra ticket and I drove the van.
As part of the movie, Chonda interviewed several Christian “in-the-news” people; former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, American Idol finalist and singer Danny Gokey, Michael Tait (lead singer for the Christian band Newsboys), fellow comedian Jeff Allen and the Benham brothers. Each had a story to tell of how their faith cost them something and how to live “unashamed” as Christians in an increasingly hostile world.
David and Jason Benham are successful real-estate brokers in the Charlotte area. They were all set to have a show on HGTV titled, “Flip It Forward” where they would remodel homes for people who could not afford to do so. They have never been shy about their Christian faith and HGTV knew all about it when they approached the brothers about a reality show. However, before the show even aired, protests arose about their “anti-gay” stance and pressure was put on HGTV and they pulled the plug. You can read the story from CNN if interested, but I just wanted to give you some background on who they were … that’s not what this blog is about.
As Chonda interviewed them, one of the brothers made an observation that really made an impact on me. They were talking about how faithful their mom had been, packing their lunch each day … and not just with PBJs, but she would make whole meals (Salisbury Steak, mashed potatoes, etc.) for them!
And then he transitioned to the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. He said (and that’s why I gave you all that background – I wanted the Benham brothers to get the credit), “So out of those 5,000+ people, don’t you think there were other children there? But this boy’s mom packed him a lunch!”
[To be fair and honest, we don’t know anything more about the story than what is in the Gospels – Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15. John uses the generic word for child/boy, and so we don’t know how young or old he was, though presumably younger than 13, the traditional age of Jewish manhood. I’ve heard people assert that the one boy could not possibly have been the only one in that crowd with food, “just the only one willing to share.” We just don’t know, and I don’t care for any “guessing” that detracts from the miracle, which is clearly the point of all four Gospels. And, we don’t know that it was his mom who actually packed him a lunch that day, but someone did!]
David (or Jason) made two very good points:
1. Be faithful, always, especially with the small stuff. “Moms,” he said, “don’t discount the small, everyday things you do. They are important; they matter.”
2. You never know who might unpack that lunch. In the case of that little boy, it was Jesus.
Again, (see above), we don’t know what truly happened, but imagine some Jewish mother sending little Johnny, er, Judah off for the day, “Don’t forget your lunch!” and little Judah saying, “Awww mom, do I have to?” “Yes!” Little did she know … later that day, as the disciples scavenged for food, lo and behold, this boy had two fish and five loaves of bread because his mother packed him a lunch.
What small, seemingly mundane, routine, un-important thing might you do that God will, one day, unpack for someone else?
It was a huge eye-opener for me.
· What word of encouragement might you give to someone at their most needed or impressionable time?
· What phone call or card might you send to someone who is in desperate need at that moment for someone, anyone to care?
· What if while simply doing your “job” (whether that is packing lunches for your family, flying an airplane from NYC when a birdstrike knocks out both engines over the Hudson, or tending sheep at night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago), what if God needed you there, in that place, doing "that" job, for something big? What if that day you decided you were not important or the “job” wasn’t important? What a loss that would be.
I know Mother’s Day 2019 has passed (I don’t know why I/we write these blogs after the fact, but I didn’t have this idea before Mother’s Day, so here it is), but I just want to say “Thank You!” to all the “mother’s” (or single dads, primary care dad’s, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) who do the small things … regularly … well … with love and attention. Maybe you don’t get the thanks you would like to get as often as you deserve it, but keep doing it. You just never know who might unpack the lunch you make.
Fire! Ready? Aim.
"How do you plead?"
Before you even start down that road in your mind, I'll go ahead and let you know - it was traffic court.
The year was 1988, I was living in Woodstock, GA, where I was serving at my first full-time ministry, and my car of choice was a real speed demon - a Hyundai Elantra. But speed was not the issue.
"How do you plead?"
In late 1987, I was driving through downtown Woodstock around 9 PM (so, I was probably "coming from church, officer") when the blue lights appeared in my rear-view mirror.
Quick side note: Is there any worse feeling... that gut-wrenching sight of the blue and/or red lights flooding the back seat of your car as you watch in your side mirror as the officer approaches your car? Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Actually, not so hypothetically.
"How do you plead?"
This particular night in Woodstock was, unfortunately, not the first time that I had the experience (I think the number is actually four, including one time when I was running on the side of the road... but that's a story for another time).
After getting my license and registration, taking them back to his vehicle, and making me wait for what seemed like an eternity while he determined that I was not "on the lam," he returned and proceeded to tell me that he had pulled me over for O.C.G.A. §40-6-49.
O.C.G.A. §40-6-49 states: "The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway."
What? Are you kidding me? I never follow too closely!
That's not true... at all. I am, shall we say, not the most patient of drivers. My family will very quickly tell you that many times they feel like they have a closer kinship with the passengers in the back seat of the car in front of us than they do with me.
However, when I am driving, I am still the picture of "reasonable and prudent."
Okay, that's not true either... and especially not thirty years ago.
So, after the officer explained to me my infraction, he handed me the ticket and said that I could either pay the fine or go to court.
I was twenty-three years old - that really should be enough explanation - and I felt like I really just needed the judge to hear me out so that he could understand my situation. (Even as I write that, I realize that I'm not all that different even today).
Which is how I ended up in traffic court a couple months later, being asked the question...
"How do you plead?"
I obviously answered, "Not guilty, your honor," to which came back his reply, with no hesitation, "Guilty. Next!"
What? Are you kidding me? I just sat in a smoke-filled room (remember, it was the 80's) for more than two hours with upwards of seventy to eighty other people, rehearsing clever arguments in my head. And now, after uttering only four words, I'm dismissed without even the opportunity to speak?
I really didn't know what to say. Thankfully I didn't say anything, but apparently, I didn't move away quickly enough either, because the judge looked at me and repeated, with emphasis, "Guilty. Next!"
The thoughts rolled through my mind: "What kind of back-woods justice is this? I mean, how can he sit there and make a judgment about me and my situation without ever even hearing a single word from me? He doesn't know me. What evidence does he even have, other than the report of a single police officer?"
Another quick side note: The above is not to in any way speak disparagingly of any police officer and especially the one who issued me the ticket. While I have not really thought too much about this over the last three decades, in writing about it today, and knowing that what I wrote just a few paragraphs earlier about my patience, or lack of it, while driving, is the truth, I know that the officer had it right.
I was guilty.
But we've all been there, haven't we? I mean, even if you've never been to Woodstock, GA (or even have a clue where it's located), we have all been there. We have all made snap-judgments and decisions about an individual without giving them a chance to speak even a single word. And many times, those decisions are based on far less credible evidence than a police officer's word.
You know, regardless of which side of the political aisle you align with, I believe that most of us would admit that our media, at times, has been guilty of failing to do its due diligence on a story, ignoring the "facts" for the privilege of getting to tell the story first.
However, before we cast that stone, we probably need to look in the mirror first.
I need to look in the mirror first.
Whether it is selecting a cashier at the grocery store (and usually my only criteria is, "Will he/she be faster?" My hours spent in line only serve to show how horrible my judgment is in that area) or any number of other mundane choices, we make judgments every single day.
That's to be expected. That's normal. That's life.
But, with the increasing number of users of social media over the last decade, almost everyone has, in some way, become a journalist and/or a critic. And while it is easy to point fingers at the "media" for their failings, all of us have or know someone who has suffered because of hasty words and hurtful judgments.
Whether we are the "author" (and trust me, you don't have to be on Facebook to author a judgment against someone. It only takes being willing to share the words with another person.), or we hear/read someone else's judgments and jump on the bandwagon with either the inability or indifference to actually separate fact from fiction, we are guilty.
"How do you plead?"
I am guilty.
So, here's my commitment to you (and for "you" to be "you," we really do have to have some sort of relationship, okay?)
Maybe I should rephrase that. Here is my commitment to you, my friends and family:
- I will believe the best about you.
- When other people assume the worst about you, I will come to your defense.
- If what I personally experience begins to erode my trust in you, I will come directly to you to talk about it.
- If/when you confront me about any such areas, I will tell you the truth.
The above ideas are not original - they are borrowed, some almost word for word, from Andy Stanley - but I like them so much, I want to try to make them a part of my own relationships moving forward. I feel like I have lived some of these out in the past, but maybe just as often, I've ignored some and possibly let down people who I care about. Moving forward, I want to be intentional... and consistent.
Because the truth is, even with all of my sin and faults (yours too, but we're talking about me), God chose to see me, in His Son, as holy and blameless.
"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes." (Ephesians 1:4 NLT)
And although I know it's on a completely different level, I want to make a similar choice. I want to be the kind of person who, given both options, chooses to believe the good much quicker than I believe the bad. I want to give the benefit of the doubt.
I'm pretty sure I know exactly how that can happen... where that change can come from.
It comes from following Jesus more (not too) closely!
What Easter Means to Me: Homemade Cinnamon Donuts
Now, of course, Easter means more to me than “just” homemade cinnamon donuts; a LOT more, but for the sake of an attempted catchy blog title to bait you to read, please indulge me (forgive the appetite inducing pun).
My paternal grandmother (henceforth “Granny”) was a wonderful country cook. She could take nothing and turn it into a delicious meal. One of the treats she would sometimes make were these homemade donuts that she would coat with cinnamon sugar. She fried them in a big ole iron skillet. She cut them into this shape – it was like two triangles back-to-back (I guess almost like a reverse “bow-tie” ◄►). For some reason, the memory of the shape stands out almost as much as the taste. They were delicious. I’ve had people send me recipes of how to make these, even offer to make them for me, but to be honest, I really don’t want any other than my Granny’s.
For several summers when I was teenager, I would spend a few weeks with my grandparents. They lived deep in the mountains of NC, a little town called, Robbinsville. It is almost at the very tip of western, NC (No, not Asheville or Boone ... further west and south, and a few decades behind the times).
When I was younger – pre-teen – we lived in Ohio – and I rarely got to see my grandparents. I didn’t have much of a relationship with them. Phone calls were “long-distance” and cost by the minute, so I would say “hi” every now and then, but that was it.
But when we moved back to NC, (and they moved from VA back to Robbinsville), I got to see them a little more often; they would even come to Charlotte to see us. And, when I was old enough, I would spend the summer with them.
I loved going to my Granny and Papaw’s. They owned the whole mountain! There were endless woods, a bear cave (or panther cave – I never had the guts to find out), a mountain stream … plenty of adventure for a young teen boy! I would go to “help” – mow their grass or do whatever, but Granny would not let me be out in the hot sun. She doted on me and spoiled me … and the homemade cinnamon donuts were just part of the treatment.
Sunday night suppers were very special. Churches were scarce in Robbinsville and for various reasons, we did not go to any of them. But for supper Sunday evening, Granny would make a “Sunday dinner,” the biggest meal of the week. But before we ate, Papaw would read from his Bible, pray, and we would all have communion. It was a very special and solemn time. I really enjoyed and admired watching my otherwise quiet, private, mountain-stoic grandfather act like my preacher-dad.
But they were not always like that.
My Granny was born in 1913; Papaw in 1911. Both lived/grew up in that area of secluded NC mountains, but still, it was a different time. Although moonshining and drinking were part of the “charm” of Robbinsville, my Granny and Papaw did it to excess. They had quite the reputation … especially my Granny. She had a child out of wedlock before meeting my grandfather. Scandalous, to say the least. For these reasons – and some others – my Granny was not “welcomed” in any of those churches back then. (I’m sure things would have been different 40 years later … well, maybe not; Robbinsville remained pretty stagnate for decades.) In fact, it got so bad that my dad was ashamed of his own mother. (Yes, this is difficult for me to write. I feel like I am somewhat betraying my family by sharing these skeletons, but I want you to get a good picture of things.)
By the time I started spending summers with them, they had left behind most of their wanton ways. But the Sunday Night communion service? Well, here’s how that got started … and why I am telling you about my Granny’s delicious homemade donuts.
One day as I was getting off the bus from Jr. High (Middle School, they call it now), Granny and Papaw were getting into my dad’s car in our driveway. They had driven the 4 ½ hours from Robbinsville for, what seemed to me, a surprise visit. Dad called out to me that they were headed to the church; he was going to baptize them. I wish I had thought to go with them, but I didn’t. I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, and they were “in motion” anyway. It just didn’t dawn on me. Or maybe it was God’s Providence that I didn’t go so this story would play out. I have heard my dad tell it many times; perhaps if I had been there, Granny would not have said what she did.
They got to the church (I think dad knew ahead of time and had the baptistry water heated) and changed into robes. They stood in the water and my dad said what I had heard him say so many times … he talked about how sins are washed away at baptism (Acts 22:16). As he was preparing to baptize my Granny(1), she stopped him and asked, “Gary, will ALL my sins be washed away?” My dad knew what she meant … he knew she was thinking back to her previous days of living however she wanted. He choked back the tears and said, “Yes, mamma, ALL your sins …” and he baptized her.
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven ...” Luke 7:47a (ESV)
My Granny died a few years later, 1982. She suffered a long battle with emphysema and some other health complications; the result of years of smoking and her lifestyle. But after that day, after she was born again, she was a new person. She was a forgiven person. She was a child of the King and an heiress to His promise. And I know, because of Easter – or better stated, because Jesus Christ died and rose again, defeating sin and death and hell itself – I KNOW I will see her again one day. She placed her hope and faith in the One – the ONLY ONE – who can make and keep that promise.
And so, I’ve placed my order: At the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), I have requested my Granny’s homemade cinnamon donuts. (2)
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 20–22, esv)
My Granny will be “made alive.” I will be “made alive.” All who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus will be “made alive.” And I would love for to you sample some of my Granny’s homemade cinnamon donuts when that day comes!
(1) The change was just as profound in my Papaw, but this story is about my Granny so, although he is included in everyway, his story is not the focus.
(2) Please don’t get derailed if you have a “theological disagreement” about me making requests for Heaven. I don’t know if God is going to grant any of my requests for the next life - I've made several; I do know Heaven is going to be beyond amazing and I will love it with or without Granny’s homemade cinnamon donuts. But on this side of Heaven, not knowing what will be “allowed” as far as that goes, I am asking – and have asked on many occasions – to once again be treated to those wonderful puffs of fried dough … AND, with that new body I’m gonna get, I won’t have to worry at all about any negative health consequences.
Kimberly Swann-King — EditedThank you so much for sharing Scott.. heartbreaking but powerful story about your precious grandmother and your father..and Christ's Forgiveness and Grace and how He truly restores. I so related to your father and what he went through. God is working in my life around the crippling shame that I have carried surrounding the behaviors of a severely mentally ill family member. This family member was truly a Christian, who had enormous and excruciating struggles. I deeply loved and cared about this person, but I struggled greatly around the illness and the repercussions of the behaviors. Still breaks my heart. I do know God is healing and helping me to work through this, and to grow in His Mercy, Grace Forgiveness and Truth. Family member deceased now. Thank you for sharing Luke 7:47, so needed to read that scripture and remember.. Thank you
She Thinks You're Jewish
"Here's a card."
I was sitting in the library stairwell with my then-girlfriend, looking at the envelope in her hand, wondering if I had missed an anniversary. She must have seen it in my face, because she said, "It's not from me. It's from Jane."
Jane was her best friend. Why in the world would Jane be giving me a card?
Only one way to find out. I opened the card.
I don't remember what the card looked like, or what it said on the outside, but I will never forget the words on the inside:
I looked at her, puzzled.
She said, "She thinks you're Jewish, but that you're in denial."
Seven years later, I went with my then (and still) girlfriend (and wife) to meet her grandmother for the first time. This would actually be one of the few times I got to spend with her grandmother, as she died less than a year later, just weeks before our wedding.
Later in the car, I asked Kerri, "So, how do you think it went?"
"She thinks you're Jewish."
Or maybe rather, "Oy vey!" (a Yiddish phrase expressing dismay or exasperation)
You know, I never grew up with a knowledge of having any Jewish heritage. My DNA results show "no connection" to the six European Jewish regions. (Then again, they also show "no connection" to the Native-American regions, even though my mother swears I am 1/16th Cherokee!)
So, who knows? I mean, anything is possible, especially since I know absolutely nothing about my father's heritage, since he was adopted.
I mean, it would certainly explain my love and appreciation for the Jewish culture, especially when those Jewish roots help me understand my own Christian faith in a deeper and more meaningful way.
So, here's my quick public service announcement. For those who may have never received a Happy Hanukkah! card themselves and so, you may just not know, the Jewish Passover begins tonight, at sundown. Tonight, all around the world, families will gather for the main Passover ritual, the seder - a festive meal that involves the re-telling of the Israelite exodus from Egypt through questions, stories, songs, and symbolic foods.
Our church family has been spoiled over the last few years to have a relationship with Aaron Abramson of Jews for Jesus. He has led us in the seder meal three different times and shown us the links between the ancient Jewish festival of redemption and Jesus as our Lamb of God.
This past Sunday evening was one of those occasions, and Aaron led us in a song that, even though we've sung it at our last couple seder meals, I had forgotten about it... but haven't been able to get out of my mind since! It's the song, Dayenu, a fifteen-stanza melody that is sung during the meal after the retelling of the Exodus story.
The Hebrew word dayenu loosely means, "It would have been enough."
While we didn't sing all fifteen verses, I have printed them at the bottom of this post for those who are interested. Essentially, the song is broken into three different sections, with the first five verses about the Israelite's release from Egypt, the second five about their time in the wilderness, and the third five about their spiritual life, giving thanks for the Sabbath, Mt. Sinai, the Torah, the land of Israel, and the Temple.
In each verse, there is thanksgiving to God for His kindness and mercy, ending with dayenu - "It would have been enough."
I like what Erica Brown writes about the song:
"It's rare to hear people say, when commenting on a blessing in their lives, 'It's enough.' When it comes to goodness, we are greedy. We want an abundance of happiness, and sometimes think of it as our due. But immediately after we tell of the Exodus from Egypt in the Hagaddah, we break into... song where we sing jubilantly and in unison, Dayenu - It is enough."
But in reality, it wasn't enough. I mean, that's why God sent His Son Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God, the once-and-for-all sacrifice that took away, forever, the sins of the world.
"The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship... 11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered Himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time... 14 For that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy." (Hebrews 10:1, 11-12, 14 NLT)
Jesus is enough!
But sadly, millions of people tonight and beyond will miss this eternity-changing truth.
So first, pray for the millions around the tables tonight, but don't you miss the truth. Don't miss the gratitude either!
Erica Brown continues...
"We don't realize how lucky we are until we speak our blessings in detail. Dayenu is not merely a reflection on Passover, but a template for true thanks."
As I was walking/running downtown this morning, I had this post on my mind when I hobbled past the store "Blessings by the Bushel."
You know, I am certainly blessed, and I definitely, in my own life, have received blessings by the bushel. But my thought on this Good Friday morning was, "If I had a bushel basket and it only had one thing in it, if that one thing was Jesus, would that be enough?"
On this day when we remember His sacrifice, for us, may we offer up the prayer that let's God know just how thankful we are... and that Jesus is enough!
"If the only prayer you say in your life is 'Thank you,' that will suffice. (Meister Echkart, 13th century German theologian and philospher)
I hope you will join me today in praying that simple prayer.
- If He had taken us out of Egypt and not made judgments on them; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had made judgments on them and had not made [them] on their gods; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had made [them] on their gods and had not killed their firstborn; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had killed their firstborn and had not given us their money; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had given us their money and had not split the Sea for us; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had split the Sea for us and had not taken us through it on dry land; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had taken us through it on dry land and had not pushed down our enemies in [the Sea]; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had pushed down our enemies in [the Sea] and had not supplied our needs in the wilderness for forty years; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had supplied our needs in the wilderness for forty years and had not fed us the manna; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had fed us the manna and had not given us the Shabbat; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had given us the Shabbat and had not brought us close to Mount Sinai; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had brought us close to Mount Sinai and had not given us the Torah; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had given us the Torah and had not brought us into the land of Israel; [it would have been] enough for us.
- If He had brought us into the land of Israel and had not built us the ‘Chosen House’ [the Temple; it would have been] enough for us.
Family ... and a Bonus
I celebrated a birthday last weekend. Some people love celebrating their birthdays; they love to have others celebrate their birthdays with them. I, however, am not like that. I don’t hate or dread my birthday or even getting older, I just prefer things low-key. I like to stay home and do as little as possible. The quieter, the better for celebrating my birthday. When my boys were school age, I would make a point of eating lunch with them on my birthday. It was – and is – the best gift for me – spending time with my family.
This year was pretty good. My youngest son came home from college and my older son came over and we had a nice family dinner. Afterward, we watched a movie. A really good movie. Actually, a great movie.
Now, I don’t “recommend” movies because inevitably, there is something in them that should not be recommended. But with that disclaimer behind us, I will proceed.
On Friday night when the whole family was together, we watched, “The Greatest Showman.” (1) I had seen it in the theater with my younger son, but my wife and older son had not yet seen it. It is a great movie (didn’t I say that already?). I don’t usually care for musicals (2), but this one really grabbed me.
It is a biopic about P.T. Barnum and while I am certain they took some liberties telling the story of his life, they did deal with some good and some bad.
Hugh Jackman (a.k.a Wolverine) plays Barnum. (Oh, spoiler alert). Barnum is a showman, but he is also a humanitarian (or they portray him as such). He takes misfits from the shadows and gives them a voice, a purpose, and above all, a family. There is a very brief scene when Barnum (and his two young daughters) track down a “bearded lady” who has a gorgeous singing voice. She is trying to hide, trying not to be noticed but when Barnum throws back the curtain and sees her, he says, “You are unique … even … beautiful!” It is a moving scene for me because it shows that neither Barnum or his children are frightened or at all put out by her striking appearance. (She later sings This is Me, one of the big anthems of the movies, that has a great message! I am listening to it as I write.)
Although Barnum was a huckster and would do anything for a buck (it would seem – and the movie does allude to this as well), he is also portrayed as not being prejudice; as loving people for who they are. This is one of many inspiring themes of this movie.
The next evening, we watched Bohemian Rhapsody, another biopic, but this one about the 1970-1980’s rock band Queen’s front man, Freddie Mercury. For those of you unfamiliar, Freddie had an exquisite voice and stage presence, and also extraordinary creative musical vision and business acumen as the movie brings to light. Sadly, Freddie Mercury also lived the slogan of “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” to its fullest and to his detriment. He contracted AIDS and died in 1991.
Thankfully, this movie was rated PG-13 and kept to that standard. While not shying away from Freddie’s predilections, it did not glorify them or throw them up in the face of the viewers. In fact, if anything, the movie showed Freddie’s choices for what they were … destructive, unsatisfying, and just plain sad. Don’t get me wrong, BoRap (as we insiders call it) is a celebration of Queen’s meteoric rise to stardom and Freddie was an integral part of making that happen. If you grew up during that time and were a fan of Queen (as I was), it is a good movie to watch, great music. But in doing so, don’t miss that underlying message of tragedy. I doubt the producers, execs, etc. had in mind a “spiritual” message (but maybe, I don’t really know); at the end, Freddie does reconcile with his own father, finds a “relationship” that isn’t based upon using people (albeit, not a right relationship), and is restored to the rest of the band and his life-long friends that he had ostracized.
As Queen is getting their start, they meet with a record label executive who asks what makes Queen any different from every other rock band. They reply, “We are family. But we are also misfits. We belong to all the misfits out there on the back row and they belong to us.”
Two very different movies about very different times, but both reminding us of the need to “belong,” the value and importance of family, even if the family bond has nothing to with blood but everything to do with shared experience.
These themes resonate with us – all of us, no matter who we are – because God created us to be “together.” He created us to be in a family. The Church is called the “family of God.” (Eph. 3:15). Jesus gathers around Himself twelve “mis-fits” of His own and shares the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15), something reserved for families to do (Ex. 12:3-4). Family is important.
But please allow me to take a sharp left turn, or something. Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). I don’t mean to assign Christian virtue onto P.T. Barnum where it is not deserved or use Freddie Mercury as a foil, but please indulge my illustration. Barnum, at least as was depicted, treated others as he wanted to be treated. “My father was treated like dirt, I was treated like dirt,” but he did not treat others that way, even his critics and persecutors, and certainly not the “misfits” he brought out of the shadows. On the other hand, we see some of the people in Bohemian Rhapsody use and abuse others. Freddie says, “You know when you know you've gone rotten? Really rotten? Fruit flies. Dirty little fruit flies. Coming to feast on what's left.” It is an ugly depiction of what happens when we don’t obey Jesus.
It is an odd pairing; there is brokenness and there is hope. Even in these secular movies with no Christian virtues in mind (as far as I know), these truths are shown. We are all broken (sinful, the Bible would say), in need of both redemption (salvation) and belonging (family, the Church). And there is hope for us all: His name is Jesus.
(1) In case you are curious, I got The Greatest Showman last year, but for my birthday this year, I got the Soundtrack – I have NEVER wanted a movie soundtrack before, but this one I fell in love with! I also got the BoRap Movie (I got the soundtrack to it for Christmas).
(2) For those of you at Reidsville, Shannon has never seen The Greatest Showman and I happen to know he LOVES musicals, especially musicals that Hugh Jackman stars and sings in. So I suggest you each buy him a copy.