In the Wilderness, A Voice

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Flannery O’Connor once said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” Ever see someone with a Mohawk? Someone dressed in Gothic? Dark makeup all over their face. Cape like clothing. In fact there is a couple in northeast Wichita that drive a hearse around as a regular car. The Punk Rock look with all of the fluorescent colors and spiked hair. The fad of tattoos. The body piercing. And then there was John the Baptist. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark is the oldest of the four gospels that we have. Mark is the only one of the four writers that calls his writing a “gospel.” He states his theme in the opening sentence, The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. From that point on he defends that stance. But Mark more than any other gospel writer makes Jesus very personal. Mark has no apparent interest in the supernatural birth of Jesus. Mark jumps into the adult life of Christ, but begins with John the baptizer.

The gospel always begins with a messenger, whether it is an angel whispering in Mary’s ear, a parent telling a child a story, or an odd prophet standing waist deep in a river. It is noticeable that John is nowhere near a church! His message is so different and so radical that he must preach it outside the “normal” church. Those who insisted on staying inside the church never heard his message. Only those who were willing to enter the wilderness got to taste his freedom.

It is amazing what words can be heard coming from the wilderness. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobolus, a half brother of Antipas. She had been married to her uncle, Herod Philip, and had borne him a daughter, Salome. Antipas, however, persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him, though he was already married to the daughter of King Aretas (who escaped to her father, and a war ensued). Such a marriage was adulterous and incestuous. Matt 14:6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

I am reminded of what Harry Truman once said, “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.” I reckon every one of us has some idea where our own wilderness lies. A wild, uninhabited region suitable only for pasturage or sparse human occupation. I am sure we have a long list of all the good reasons why we should not go there. We are comfortable where we are. We know the ropes and we know we will be fed. Why should we hunt God anywhere else? Unless there is a voice crying out in the wilderness, the one we cannot quite make out from our distance. If we only listen for God in church, we will miss half of what He is saying.

Look around the birth of Christ at all of the voices crying out. The angels to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. The wise men that visit the community. The solders that kill all of the first born in the city. The Priest that blesses Jesus’ birth.
And yet for years, until John arrives, there is no voice.

Few revolutions begin inside the Church; most start in the wilderness. An old Arab story goes like this. When I was young, I was fiery – I wanted to awaken everyone.
I prayed to God to give me the strength to change the world. In mid-life I awoke one day and realized my life was half over and I had changed no one. So I prayed to God to give me the strength to change those close around me who so much needed it. Alas, now I am old and my prayer is simpler. God, I ask, please give me the strength to at least change myself.

About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway? Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.

The Beatitudes: Humility

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This fundamentalist Christian couple felt it important to own an equally fundamentally Christian pet. So, they went shopping. At a kennel specializing in this particular breed, they found a dog they liked quite a lot. When they asked the dog to fetch the Bible, he did it in a flash. When they instructed him to look up Psalm 23, he complied equally fast, using his paws with dexterity. They were impressed, purchased the animal, and went home (piously, of course). That night they had friends over. They were so proud of their new fundamentalist dog and his major skills, they called the dog and showed off a little. The friends were impressed, and asked whether the dog was able to do any of the usual dog tricks, as well. This stopped the couple cold, as they hadn’t thought about “normal” tricks. Well, they said, “let’s try this out.” Once more they called the dog, and they clearly pronounced the command, “Heel!” Quick as a wink, the dog jumped up, put his paw on the man’s forehead, closed his eyes in concentration, and bowed his head.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Meek is mentioned only by Matthew and is not found in Luke. An obvious allusion to Ps 37:11 But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. Who are the meek? And what is it to be meek? Clearly the way the passage is written, to be meek is not an earthly virtue but a relationship with God. They are in other words meek before God.

(1) So the truly meek are, first of all, submissive to God’s will. Whatever will of God is for them, they will. Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Today, when we use the word “meek” we misunderstand what scripture is talking about! Meek today means subservience or even spinelessness. But meek as used in the New Testament denotes nothing of spinelessness or lower status. Jesus said of Himself, Matt 11:29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Gentle and humble is one way of saying, meek. But meek does not mean powerless or helpless. In fact, it means a “great deal of control.” It takes a great deal of courage and self-control to allow someone else to run your life. Matt 21:12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. Doesn’t sound meek, but it is meek, because He is obedient to the will of God. A father and son walked through a wheat field inspecting the crop. The boy called attention to the stems that stood erect and said, “Those that let their heads hang could not be of much value.” The father said, “Son, you’re wrong. The stalks that stand so straight are lightheaded and almost good for nothing, while those that hang their heads are full of beautiful grain.” Humility is the beginning of greatness.

(2) They are also flexible to God’s Word; if they are really meek, they are always willing to bend. They do not imagine what the truth ought to be, and then come to the Bible for texts to prove what they think should be there. Rather, they go to the inspired Book with a candid mind, and they pray, with the psalmist, Ps 119:18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. The meek in spirit are like a photographer’s sensitive film, and as the Word of God passes before them, they desire to have its image imprinted upon their hearts. Mark 10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Meekness is a state of the heart or an attitude. He knows himself to be less than the least of all saints; and, in some respects, the very chief of sinners. Therefore he does not expect to have the first place in the synagogue, nor the highest seat at the feast; but he is quite satisfied if he may pass among his fellow-men as a notable instance of the power of God’s grace, and may be known by them as one who is a great debtor to the loving-kindness of the Lord.

(3) In addition to being humble and gentle, the meek are patient. They do not merely forgive seven times, but seventy times seven; in fact, they often do not feel as if anything had been done that needed any forgiveness, for they have not taken it as an affront; they consider that a mistake was made, so they are not angry at it. They willingly turn the other cheek. Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harbored vengeance. Paul asserted his right when he said, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? Nay verily; but let them come themselves, and fetch us out,” (Acts 16:37).

(4) I think that meekness also involves contentment. The meek-spirited man is not ambitious; he is satisfied with what God provides for him. He does not say that his soul loathes the daily manna, but somehow has learned the art of “thou shall not want.” The source of this meekness is Christ.

What does it mean to “inherit the earth?” The earthly Messianic kingdom? This might have been translated “the land.” The historical context of this passage means, it was promised to them that they should inherit the land of Canaan. In the time of our Saviour they were in the constant habit of using this promise as a proverbial expression to denote any great blessing, perhaps as the sum of all blessings.

Nothing is mightier than meekness, and it is the meek who inherit the earth in that sense. They inherit the earth in another sense, namely, that they enjoy what they have. Matt 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant. The world has everything turned around. But the meek inherit the earth!

I received a note from a nurse that had taken care of my wife during her illness. Two years after her death and the nurse remembered her. “She was so thoughtful getting coffee for other patients or asking how their day was going.” “Such a positive attitude and witness, never boastful.” She concluded, “In the six years I have worked for the Cancer Center, I have literally seen 1000’s of patients. A lot are forgotten, but a few very special ones stand out. Vickie was one of those special people! She was one in a million!” Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

HAVE YOU SEEN MY SON?

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They say that if you creep into an evergreen forest late at night you can hear the trees talking. In the whisper of the wind, you’ll catch the older pines explaining to the younger ones why they’ll never be perfectly shaped. There will always be a bent branch here, a gap there. Long, long ago, evergreens were perfect, with each taking pride in branches sloping evenly from crown to symmetrical skirt. Every tree endeavored to grow its branches and needles to perfection. All strained at the task, fully concentrating on their form and appearance. Each vied for the honor of being the Queen’s Christmas tree and reigning in the great castle hall, shimmering with silver balls and golden angels that sparkled in the light of a thousand candles.

One cold night, a small pine, who had the promise of being the finest in the forest, heard the yelping of dogs in the thrill of the hunt. As a small rabbit, eyes wide with fright, frantically searched for cover, the young tree dipped its branches down to the ground and the rabbit found safety within an evergreen screen. When the rabbit found its burrow the next morning, the little pine could not quite lift its branches. Then a powerful blizzard lashed the land, and a small brown wren desperately sought sanctuary in the evergreens but each tree she approached clenched its branches tight like a fist. Finally in exhaustion, the bird fell into the little pine. The pine’s heart opened and so did its branches, and the wren slept within them, warm and secure. But the pine had difficulty rearranging its branches.

As winter deepened, a strong gale caught a small fawn who had wondered from its mother. As the fawn sought a windbreak, the trees held their branches open so the wind could whistle through them without breaking or bending their limbs. Again the little pine took pity, closed its branches, forming an impenetrable wall behind which the fawn huddled out of the gale. But alas, when the wind ceased, the small pine had been severely and permanently bent out of shape. Now it could never hope for the honor it had longed for since a seedling.

Lost in despair, the little pine did not see the Queen come into the forest to choose the finest tree herself. When she saw the small pine in the royal forest she made a mental note to have a woodsman dispose of it and drove on, but then she stopped and glanced back at it. As she gazed on it, she noticed the tracks of small animals that had found shelter under it and a downy feather within its branches where a bird had nested. And as she studied the gaping hole in its side and its wind-whipped trunk, understanding filled her heart. The Queen chose the little pine and brought it to the great hall for in it she saw the love of Christ expressed on earth.

So if you walk among the evergreens today, you will find, along with rabbits, birds and other living things, drooped branches providing cover, gaps offering nesting places, forms bent from wrestling winter winds. For, as have many of us, the trees have learned that the scars suffered for the sake of others make one most beautiful in the eyes of God. (Matt 25:40) I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” The challenge of the Christian is to be like Jesus. Christian in fact means, “Christ like.” It is interesting what I see in my children. There are certain things that they do or say that remind me of Vickie or of me or a grandparent. Even when I sit down and look at old photos I can see me or their mother in each of them.

(John 14:9) Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

How do we know that we are a Christian? Because we can see Jesus in our own lives. When we stand before God, God doesn’t have to ask, “Have you seen my son?,” because He can see the son in our faces. We stand on the edge of a new millennium. When will Jesus return the second time? “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

A lady in a nursing home wheels her chair through the halls, stopping everyone she meets. “Have you seen my son?” “He promised he’d come today.” Perhaps she has forgotten that her son died several years ago. Or perhaps she waits for him to come back to take her with him. In any case, her vigilance is constant, “Have you seen my son?”

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!'”

That is the story of Advent! It asks the question, “Have you seen My Son?” And then invites us to WATCH and WAIT!

Evolution Or Creation

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If you are in a room with three monkeys, one holds a banana, one has a book and the other a pencil, which one is the smartest primate in the room? ANSWER: Hopefully, YOU! I wish all of the hoopla that has been in the news about evolution and creation were about evolution or creation, but it has not. I wish all of the hoopla was about our children receiving the finest education possible, but it has not. The real issue has been and has always been about power.

Growing up in a very conservative family and community forced me to see life and my relationship with God in a very narrow view. I may have been narrow minded in my faith understanding but it never caused me to question my faith in what I learned in life, but in fact always reinforced my belief. Some how today some groups would have us to think that knowledge almost seems to be a threat to our faith. I submit to you that the real issue isn’t the gaining of knowledge but an insecure faith.

A Sunday School teacher had just read the story of how God created man from the Bible. She asked the class if they had any questions. One of the little boys raised his hand and said, “My dad says we come from monkeys.” Sweetly the teacher replied, “Bobby, let’s talk about your family problems after class.”

Most people do not realize the ongoing struggle and dialogue that is in scripture its on creation. No where in the Bible does it ever question the fact that God created the universe. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Straight forward and simple! God is the creator.

The moon is approximately 240,000 miles from earth (238,852 miles). The sun is about 93 million miles from earth (92,956,000 miles). Scientists have concluded that if either one of these astronomical bodies was one-hundred miles closer or further away from the earth, life on this planet would not be possible. Likewise, the earth spins at 1000 m.p.h. while orbiting the sun at 60,700 m.p.h. Just a 2 m.p.h. difference would prevent life on earth. The amazing handiwork of God is not only perfect, but perfectly balanced.

It’s a humbling experience to discover how little we know when compared to how much there is to learn. God may need to ask us, as He asked Job so long ago, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?” (Job 38: 4, 16) God is the creator, there is no dispute!

Now, the hardest question of all, “How did God create the universe, the earth and all life? Every major religion in the world has a creation story. Creation stories are not unique to Christianity. Most Christians don’t even realize that the Bible has three creation stories. All three affirm that God created the world. But all three are different in just how God created the world. I find it incredibly arrogant that we know how God created the world when not even our forefathers of faith knew!

The oldest creation story that we have is found in Genesis 2:4. Chronology we can only trace the history of man through the Bible 4,000 years. Genesis 2:4 can only be dated to 850 B.C. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In this account of creation we do not have God creating the world in six days. In the order of creation God creates the waters and then God creates man.
Then God creates everything else, including the Garden. We are even told the location of the Garden in the land where Abraham comes from. When man is found to be alone, God creates woman. Now compare that creation story with Genesis 1:1 which is a young 750 B.C. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It is in this account of creation that we find God creating the world in six days. In the order of creation God creates everything before God creates man and man is only created on the sixth day. But notice the difference, God did not create man and then later woman, God created both at the same time. In this second account there is no Garden. By the time that John sets down to write the Gospel around 90 A.D. it is not important how God created the world, the only thing that is important is that Jesus Christ was a part of that creation. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Science and evolution being from the same God cannot be mutually opposed. But both can be misinterpreted. Charles Darwin never said or wrote that God did not create the world. Charles Darwin was a Christian reared in a Christian family. His father wanted him to be a minister but he wanted to be a naturalist. His study and research lead him to write “The Origin of Species.” Everything has a genetic link.
I have wisdom teeth that I don’t use. Fish in caves, don’t have eyes. We know with the discovery of DNA, Darwin was right. Perhaps it wasn’t the writing of “The Origin of Species” that bothered us as much as “The Descent of Man.” He said that it was just possible that we came the chimpanzee. Perhaps what really bothers us is not that it questions if God created the world, but that it questions who we are related to.

Whatever we may think of God, God’s existence is not manifest in the products of nature. There should never be fear in the quest for the truth. And the truth is that God can create this universe any way that God wants to create this universe. Whether it is a big explosion that sends the stars soaring, or whether God takes a handful of dust and makes a human being. God is not and has never been bound by our human limitations. To us a day is 24 hours. To God a day is a 1,000 years.

Imagine a family of mice who lived all their lives in a large piano. To them in their piano-world came the music of the instrument, filling all the dark spaces with sound and harmony. At first the mice were impressed by it. They drew comfort and wonder from the thought that there was Someone who made the music-though invisible to them-above, yet close to them. They loved to think of the Great Player whom they could not see. Then one day a daring mouse climbed up part of the piano and returned very thoughtful. He had found out how music was made. Wires were the secret; tightly stretched wires of graduated lengths which trembled and vibrated. They must revise all their old beliefs: none but the most conservative could any longer believe in the Unseen Player. Later, another explorer carried the explanation further. Hammers were now the secret, numbers of hammers dancing and leaping on the wires. This was a more complicated theory, but it all went to show that they lived in a purely mechanical and mathematical world. The Unseen Player came to be thought of as a myth. But the pianist continued to play.