Crossed Any Dry Rivers Lately?

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A young pastor in his first charge announced nervously: “I will take for my text the words, ‘And they fed five men with five thousand loaves of bread and two thousand fishes.'” At this misquotation, an old parishioner said audibly: “That’s no miracle — I could do it myself.” The young preacher said nothing, but the next Sunday he announced the same text. This time he got it right: “And they fed five thousand men on five loaves of bread and two fishes.” He waited a moment and then, leaning over the pulpit and looking at the parishioner, he asked, “And could you do that too, Mr. Smith?” “Of course I could,” Smith replied “And how would you do it?” the preacher asked. “With the leftovers from last Sunday,” Smith said.

Miracles have more of an important role in our lives than we like to think. Miracles played a role in the Old Testament verifying the presence of God and identifying God’s servants. In the New Testament miracles pointed to Christ. The Bible contains 103 obvious miracles and probably many more that are not so obvious. The Old Testament has 49. The New Testament has 54.

It is interesting to watch people struggle with miracles. There are those who are the skeptics. They believe that miracles stopped with the Apostles. Somehow God doesn’t perform miracles anymore. A stranger came up to a man in Atlantic City and asked to borrow $100. “My family has no place to sleep,” he said, “and we haven’t eaten in two days.” “How do I know you won’t take the money and gamble it away?” the man asked. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said the stranger. “We already have enough gambling money.” Woody Allen: “If only God would give me some clear sign – like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”

They find themselves reasoning away miracles, in the past and today. Research into the migratory habits of quail in the Middle East found that it was not uncommon to have quail in the Sinai. So there are some who would say that God providing quail every evening was not a miracle but an act of nature. But the migratory habits of the quail makes the miracle of the Lord’s provision all the more exciting. Each autumn, the birds fly from central Europe to Turkey. There they prepare for a crossing of the Mediterranean. The flight across the ocean is done in a single flight at a very high speed. Any bird that falters falls into the sea. When the birds approach the land they drop down in altitude but maintain their high speed.
As soon as they are over the coast land they land exhausted and completely drained. They lie motionless for hours while they regain their strength. For years Bedouins who lived near the coast harvested the easy prey. The amazing thing about the biblical account of the provision of the quail is that the birds must have kept flying until they reached the wilderness of Sinai where they became the source of survival for the hungry Hebrews in the desert. How did the quail know to fly on farther after their already exhausting flight? Only the Lord who created them could have pressed them on to be His blessing for His people in desperate need. And also note that for 40 years (not just autumn) the birds came.

Joshua is ready to take God’s people into the Promised Land. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. In the semitropical valley where Jericho is located, the valley has two growing seasons. The first harvest is followed by a month of rain, it is April. April when the river is swollen by spring rains and melting snow. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. Now what do we do with it? Is it a miracle or not? It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. Frequently in recent history earthquake shocks have collapsed sections of the high clay bluffs beside the river. In 1927 such an earthquake stopped the stream for over 24 hours.

We have heard this story before, only it was called the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:21-26) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”

How we have struggled with this miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. We think, “It must be a mistake – should be the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea. If the wind blow hard enough to hold the water back, how could the Jews pass through the sea without being blow away?

Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles isn’t a realist. The grounds for belief and disbelief are the same today as they were two thousand or ten thousand — years ago. For some reason the scientific had to rationalize all miracles. Eight-two percentage of adults agree or completely agree with the statement, “Even today, miracles are performed by the power of God” (Princeton Religion Research Center).

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. The point of scripture is clearly a miracle takes place.

God has never stopped performing miracles. Even life and death themselves are miracles. The miracle of birth no one completely understands. We can create the environment, but the life still belongs to God. Many asked, “Why didn’t God give Vickie a miracle? God did, with a disease that should have taken her life in 6 months and she lived 18 months. All healing is tentative. The mortality rate is still 100%. But for the Christian even death is a miracle.

The miracle is there for the eyes of faith that can see it. Crossed Any Dry Rivers Lately?

Abused and Used

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Violence is to be found everywhere. Just before the Flood, God says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Gen 6:11) Violence was and is adhered by God. “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”

And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. For Jesus, whose name the Church professes and whose life it tries to exemplify, violence is not an appropriate human response to conflict.

Two little boys were fighting in the bedroom. When their mother entered, one boy quickly announced, “Mom, it all started when he hit me back.” Domestic violence is found in families of all economic levels, among all professions, among all educational levels, among all races, and in all parts of our world. No one is immune!

When one family member suffers violence it effects all family members. It is almost always an adult who is the perpetrator. And of those it is usually but not always the male who is the aggressor. Minors, who have little or no influence in decision-making and are incapable of self-protection, are often victims of violence.

I was in a store recently where a mother and her two children were shopping. One of the children misbehaved, as children often will do in public. The mother yelled at the child in a voice that could be heard across the store. She used language that was inappropriate. Then she slapped the child several times (hard) around the shoulders. Abigail Van Buren once wrote about a woman who listened to a mother verbally destroy her child. The woman told the mother, “I’ll give you a dollar for him.” Only then did the mother realize the value of her child.

Now I firmly believe in discipline. PRO 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. My children can give you a vivid recall of when they were corrected. Their story sounds like going to the guillotine. However it corrected the problem and showed them love in the middle of pain. It was done in a way that preserved dignity and allowed grace.

The abuse of a child is scripturally never acceptable. To physically abuse a powerless child is a sin. PSA 11:5 The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. God defends the innocent. The child may endure the abuse. But God will deal harshly with the abuser. The cost may even be their soul. To sexually take advantage of a child is a sin. Jesus said it best, if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. A child is not likely to find a father in God unless he finds something of God in his father. Bruce Larson tells of going to Florida for a family reunion. As they were driving down the road they saw a sign that said “Naturists Convention.” They thought it said “Naturalists Convention,” and thinking that might be interesting they turned and drove in. They all soon learned that “naturist” is another term for “nudist,” and they had driven into a nudist gathering. Before long they spotted a group of nudists riding bicycles. One of the grandchildren was the first to spot the group, and he cried out, “Look Mom and Dad! They don’t have safety helmets on!” That was what they had trained him – always wear a safety helmet when you ride your bike – so that was what he saw when he looked at the scene. Our perceptions are based so much on what we already think or learn, that sometimes we overlook the obvious as we focus on what we expect to see. Sexual offenders most generally were victims. Courageous is the Christian victim who can rise from these ashes to stop the cycle.

Leslie Wetherhead recalled a woman who received a letter from a soldier she did not know. His name was Murray, and he wrote from the battlefield. Murray wrote that he had once been in her Sunday School class, and she had spoken about Christ as a hero for the boys. He mentioned the date when this woman’s words had altered his whole life’s perspective. She had kept a diary, so she turned to see her entry for the date Murray had mentioned. She learned that she had come home that particular Sunday discouraged, and thought about giving up teaching. The entry read: “Had an awful time. The boys were so restless. I am not cut out for this kind of thing. I had to take two classes together. No one listened, except, at the end, a boy from the other class called Murray seemed to be taking it in. He grew very quiet and subdued, but I expect he was just tired of playing.” The shadow of the woman who was a Sunday School teacher fell across a boy’s life and made a lasting impression.

The abuse of a spouse is scripturally never acceptable. Abuse comes in a wide array of ways, physical, mental, verbal, emotional, spiritual, sexual and even absence. The Church teaches that marriage is to be a permanent relationship. The Church discourages divorce. And all of this rightly so! The Church has to help build the home and help couples and families to understand commitment and its importance.

Here is where our scriptural ignorance sometimes does us harm. Since Jesus only talks about divorce being acceptable in terms of adultery, we feel trapped. Since Paul talks about the wife being submissive to the husband, she thinks that it is God’s will to live this way. But neither could be farther from the truth.

When Paul and Peter both talk about the wife being submissive they put the condition on the husband that he must love his wife as Christ loved the Church. Someone with that much love does not abuse another person. Paul dedicates the entire 7th chapter of First Corinthians to marriage. He deals with marriage, remarriage, being single and never married, and being widowed. 1CO 7:15 God has called us to live in peace.

It was a 99′ September day in San Antonio, when a 10 month-old baby girl was accidentally locked inside a parked car by her aunt. Frantically the mother and aunt ran around the auto in near hysteria, while a neighbor attempted to unlock the car with a clothes hanger. Soon the infant was turning purple and had foam on her mouth. It had become a life-or-death situation when Fred Arriola, a wrecker driver, arrived on the scene. He grabbed a hammer and smashed the back window of the car to set her free. Was he heralded a hero? He said, “The lady was mad at me because I broke the window. I just thought, What’s more important – the baby or the window?” Sometimes priorities get out of order, and a Fred Arriola reminds us what’s important.

If your life or the lives of your children are in danger leave. If the abusing spouse is unwilling to deal with the problem of abuse, leave. God has called us to live in peace.

With A Roll Of The Dice

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The words burn deep in our hearts. Jesus said, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot….As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him….but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. And Judas the traitor was standing there with them. Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse….He returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left.

Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Now comes the big task of replacing Judas in the line of Apostles. It seems odd to cast lots or dice to select a new Apostle. This is a holy moment! And they roll dice.

A certain man decided to make a living by gambling in the lottery, and indeed, he was lucky. He won millions. When asked how he did it, he replied, “I was smart and I was lucky. I like the number 7. I figured two 7’s would be luckier than one, so I multiplied 7 times 7 and put all my money down on number 48 and I won!” The friend said, “But 7 times 7 is 49, not 48!” The man replied, “I know, that’s the lucky part.”

Casting lots among the Jewish people was very natural. All of the Temple offices and duties were settled by casting lots. Names were written on stones, placed in a vessel and shaken. When a stone fell out the ones name on it was selected. Major decisions were made by casting lots.

Charlie Steinmetz built the giant generator for Henry Ford’s first auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan. One day the generator broke down, and work at the plant ground to a halt. Ford called in a series of mechanics to work on it, but none could restart the generator, and Ford’s losses were mounting by the day. In desperation, Ford called on Steinmetz. He came to the plant, looked at the generator for awhile, then pulled out a wrench and hit it with a loud crack. With that, Steinmetz threw the switch and put the plant back in business. A few days later, Ford received a bill for $10,000. He returned the invoice to Steinmetz with a hand written note: “Don’t you think this is a little high for just hitting a generator? Please itemize the bill.” In a few days, Ford received a second invoice. This one read as follows: “For hitting generator – $10. For knowing where to hit – $9,990.” Knowledge is a valuable thing. It can make the difference between wasted energy and effective service.

Peace is not the absence of trouble. Peace is the presence of God. As Christians we have the presence of God in our lives, the Holy Spirit. Sometimes decisions are “black and white.” We can clearly see the difference between right and wrong. We can clearly see the better choice. But sometimes we have to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit.

There are four principals in following the leading of the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible say? Is the issue morally and ethically correct with scripture? Are there stories in the Bible that are similar to the issue before us? The Bible doesn’t give all the answers but it gives a great deal of answers. Prayer and fasting are important in knowing God’s will! It purifies our lives and relationship with God. It humbles us and in humility we listen to God. It forces silence and in silence we are not distracted by the world. Look for signs of God’s guidance. Gideon looked to a lamb’s fleece. Moses looked to the supernatural. The wise men followed a star.
Even the early Christians wanted miracles. But signs can be difficult to understand and follow. Look for God’s handiwork but don’t be totally dependent upon that handiwork. And never be naive about signs. Lastly, how do you feel? Trust God’s leadership! We generally feel good about the direction God is taking us. Please note: Not fear. Not uncertainty. God will lead us.

When The Mourning Is Over, We Go On

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Grief affects all of us differently. An insurance man was settling up with a woman who had just lost her husband. He had brought a check for $50,000.00 to present to her. She looked at it and said (with a little catch in her throat), “You know, I miss him so much, I’d give $25,000.00 of this to have him back.”

Last week I prepared a meal and put it on the table. When Jonathan arrived, he looked at the meal and said,”Aren’t there TV dinners in the freezer?” Yes, but they are for emergencies. “Isn’t this an emergency?” I recall the words of Jesus to the believers as they sat on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

I am aware that God grieves when we grieve. Now, only a dear friend can be grieved. Not a stranger: he might be annoyed. Not a chance acquaintance: he might be perplexed. Not a business partner: he might be offended. Only a loved one can be grieved.

Steve Brown tells about an incident (fictional we’re sure) in the Atlanta airport. The air traffic controller said, “Pan Am flight 407, you are cleared to land on runway B.” Just seconds later, the same controller said to another pilot, “American flight 36, you are cleared to land on runway B.” A frantic message was immediately heard in the control tower:
“Tower, this is Pan Am flight 407. You just cleared me to land on runway B and now you cleared American flight 36 to land on the same runway.” After a long pause, the controller’s voice was heard again. “Well, uh, ya’ll be careful now.”

The promise of scripture is that God is faithful; he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. (1 Cor. 10:13)In the middle of grief we sometimes wonder just how much we can bear. Has God really pushed us to our limit? And then I understand just how wonderful God is! In our grief we go through all of the classic stages: Denial = Disbelief that this can happen to me. Anger = Finding targets to blame. Bargaining = Let us make a deal. Despair = Depression. Acceptance. No matter what stage we find ourselves in, God loves us.

Moses was an incredible man. Here was a man born to a Jewish family, but in order to save his life, his mother hid him in the river. The daughter of Pharaoh went down to bathe and found Moses. Moses’ life is divided into three parts: The first 40 years are in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh. Moses gets the best of everything. He kills an Egyptian for mistreating a Jew. The second 40 years are in the desert. He became a shepherd for Reuel the priest of Midian. He marries Zipporah and they have two children. The third 40 years are delivering the children of Israel from bondage to their new promised land. Here God uses Moses in a powerful way that forever changes the Jewish nation. Ten plagues are used by Moses. For the rest of his life Moses leads the children in the desert. He argues with God about destroying the Israelites and prevails. He delivers the 10 Commandments. Moses gets so close to God that his face begins to glow. However, Moses is not permitted to enter the promised land. He had been disobedient.

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab….God buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding this death and burial. JUD 1:9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” It was important for the New Testament story to have Moses. (Matthew 17:2-3) His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died….The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over. God allows them to grieve! The human body hurts and it must recover. And it is important that we give ourselves time and permission to grieve.

A few years ago, the press carried a heartrending story of a young father who shot himself in a tavern telephone booth. James Lee had called a Chicago newspaper and told a reporter he had sent the paper a manila envelope outlining his story. The reporter frantically tried to trace the call, but was too late. When the police arrived the young man was slumped in the booth with a bullet through his head. In his pockets they found a child’s crayon drawing, much folded and worn. On it was written, “Please leave in my coat pocket. I want to have it buried with me.” The drawing was signed in childish print by his blonde daughter, Shirley Lee, who had perished in a fire just five months before. Lee was so grief stricken he had asked total strangers to attend his daughter’s funeral so she would have a nice service. He said there was no family to attend since Shirley’s mother had been dead since the child was two. Speaking to the reporter before his death, the heartbroken father said that all he had in life was gone and he felt so alone. He gave his modest estate to the church Shirley had attended and said, “Maybe in ten or twenty years, someone will see one of the plaques and wonder who Shirley Ellen Lee was and say, ‘Someone must have loved her very, very much.'”

“The greatest loss – There are many kinds of sorrow on earth, but the deepest of all sorrows is when the heart loses Christ, and He is no longer seen, and there is no hope of comfort from Him. All comfort has gone, all joy is ended, there is no help from heaven or sun or moon, from angel or any creature.

When we allow God to grieve with us, we work through it. It is normal and it is healthy. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over. Then they moved on!