From Thimbles to Vats

“…the pagan philosophers wretchedly blundered… some asserting the world’s eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a fortuitous concourse of atoms…”

I read these words and thought what a perfect description of the assumptions of twenty-first century humanity. You could rewrite the sentence in this way. “Modern philosophers… assert the spontaneous generation of the universe (Stephen Hawking), others ascribe it to evolution” (a fortuitous concourse of atoms if there ever was one!).

It is a perfect description of modern man. But it was written four hundred years ago about men who lived a thousand years before that. Incredible, isn’t it! The more things change, the more they stay the same. So, how does a person writing four hundred years ago get such far reaching insight? How does someone look back a thousand years with such clarity and unknowingly describe a world four hundred years down the road?

The beloved and pious Matthew Henry was contemplating the biblical account of creation in Genesis. He was living as the psalmist had directed. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) Pondering the word of God, he saw what was eternally true and therefore knew what was eternally false.

Modern man, on the other hand, takes a thimble full of science and makes a vat full of stupidity. Just five minutes ago, I watched a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ fly by the church with lights flashing and sirens blazing. I sent up a prayer for another ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ who was probably hurting and not feeling especially fortuitous. Perhaps they will make it to a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a hospital, where a ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ called a doctor will help them.

Genesis 1:2 records that the earth was ‘formless and void’ or ‘a waste and emptiness.’ Here are two resounding Hebrew words: tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness. The mind of modern man has become tohu and bohu, waste and emptiness, a very unfortunate concourse of atoms.

Here is the real inconvenient truth of our age.

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)

I’m so glad the owner is also a Savior! And what a Savior he is!

Silent Joseph

We are blessed with words from those who were so closely connected to the birth of Jesus. Zacharias said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people.” Mary said, “For the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” The shepherds said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” Simeon said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation.” The magi asked, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” We have no specific words from Anna, but we are told that she began “giving thanks to God and continued to speak” of the Christ.

Not a word do we have from Joseph. When Jesus’ parents found the twelve year old in the Temple engaging the teachers, it was Mary who chided him, not Joseph. We feel certain that Joseph talked, but we do not know. We believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We must take it that the Holy Spirit had nothing to reveal to us regarding the words of Joseph.

Ah! But look what the Holy Spirit was pleased to reveal through Joseph. Joseph took the miraculously pregnant Mary as his wife. He had no relations with her until the child was born. He took her on an arduous journey to Bethlehem for he was unwilling to relinquish her care to anyone else. He was there for the birth of the Savior. He obeyed the summons of God and hustled his young family away to Egypt, safely avoiding the murderous Herod. He waited patiently for the summons to return. He brought his family back to Nazareth in safety. He attended to his father’s role for the growth of the child. He was there when Jesus could not be found and he searched until the boy was found. He brought them all safely back to Nazareth again.

When Jesus began his ministry around thirty years of age, his mother is still around, but we do not see Joseph. Some think that Joseph died in that span of Jesus’ life from twelve to thirty. But we don’t know. As quietly as he came, Joseph left. Not one word. But, oh, what a life!

Joseph was there, where he needed to be, doing what he was appointed to do, caring for what God cared for, not shirking but embracing hard things. Maybe this is where James, the brother of Jesus, got the idea for “be ye doers of the word and not hearers only.” Maybe James learned his wisdom at the feet of Joseph who taught him that God had given him two ears and one mouth, and therefore “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak.” (James 1:19f) Perhaps it was the quiet Joseph who taught his boy James that a loose tongue is like a hellish fire (James 3:1f) and that genuine faith is proved by loving deeds. (James 2:14f)

Words are important. Very important. Too important to expend so carelessly as we often do. Silent Joseph stands right at the heart of the advent of the Savior. Far from diminishing his role, the lack of words make his deeds shine the brighter and by his life the Holy Spirit convicts us when we are long on words and short on deeds.

Silent Joseph. I can almost hear him. Can you?

Appointment

Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.  By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. (Psalm 119:90-91 ESV)

By his appointment, we have today.  So long as there is a thing called ‘today,’ it is by appointment of God.  His appointments are always kept.  We, too, shall keep his appointments.  Hebrews 9:27 says that there are two: one is death and the other is judgement.  May I not be so hasty to keep my own appointments in the world that I forget about my appointments with him.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

What a Savior!

Sorry about the W53.21XA

“Sorry to hear about your W53.21XA.  What were you doing messing with a squirrel anyway?”

Perhaps you have heard about the new coding system required by the health care law.  The codes health care providers use to describe the patient’s diagnosis have jumped from 14, 000 to 68,000.  One doctor said the code book looked like the Philadelphia phone directory.  A W53.21XA, by the way, is “bit by a squirrel.” Imagine if we started using these codes in everyday talk.

“Haven’t seen you for a while.  Where have you been?”

“Oh, I just got out of the hospital.”

“Really?  What happened?”

“V95.40XA”

“What?  I didn’t know you were an astronaut!”

“I’m not.  Actually I was coming out of the coffee shop when I was blindsided by this dude who wasn’t looking where he was going. They couldn’t find a code for a coffee shop accident.  We figured that since the guy who knocked me down was pretty spaced out, he qualified as a spacecraft.  And since I didn’t find out his name, presto, W95.40XA, ‘unspecific spacecraft accident.'”

“Oh, I see.”

I am not at all sure that these codes will help us ‘see.’  Codes by nature are not designed to help us see.  Indeed, they are sometimes designed to do the opposite. They hide things. Pictures, on the other hand, are especially designed to help us see.

‘Revelation’ means unveiling.  The book of Revelation is not a code book but a picture book.  God wants us to see.  Consider this picture.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

It is a word picture, but what a word picture it is!  I remember the hand fans in the hymnal racks at the church of my childhood. With no AC and windows wide open, those fans were the first line of defense against gnats on a summer Sunday morning.  On each fan was a picture and the one picture I remember most was of Christ standing at the door knocking.  As often as I picked up that fan, he was still there, still knocking, still waiting for an answer.

That one picture is so crammed with outstanding theology, with such splendid glory, and with truly amazing grace, that it takes an entire Bible to explain it!

So, before your neighbor has a W53.21XA which gets infected, or worse, out of the blue, he experiences a W95.40XA and leaves us altogether, pray that he experiences a rev.3.20 and opens the door.

Anything we do to make that happen will have benefits out of this world.

What a Savior!

Well-worn Path

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  Psalm 84:5

The quarter acre between the back of Cades Baptist Church and the old Atlantic Coastline Railroad was shrouded in tall pines and thick with bushes and briers. But from the northeast corner, running diagonal and not always straight, to the middle of the western side, ran a well-worn path.  It had been beaten into submission by four hooligans of whom I was one.  The northeastern exit spilled into the backyard of the Young household where you could find one of the greatest drawing cards of boys ever made, a basketball goal.  The western exit brought you to the most sacred of places for a young boy, a lonely stretch of railway.  The smell of tar and diesel along with an endless supply of rocks was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  I often met the other hooligans there when, for reasons I could never understand, I was not allowed to go ‘across the tracks’ for a spell.  I think they call it ‘on restriction’ in these latter days.

In the course of time, the church cleared that little quarter acre and the path could no longer be seen, for everything was open under the canopy of those pine trees.  The last time I passed through Cades, it appeared that this tiny piece of the holy land had come full circle.  It was thick with vegetation and looked impossible to navigate.  If I could take you there, I could show you where the path was, but not where it is.  For it is no more.  The only way we would know it is because the path is written in my heart and in my mind.

Psalm 84 is the record of a soul longing to return to the Temple of God.  He would trade a thousand days anywhere for just one day in the courts of the Lord.  He would swap the presidency of the universe for opening the door for another thirsty soul to enter that sacred place.  His whole life was on edge until he could return and join the throng who were gathered and praising the Lord.

If the psalmist could take us by the hand today and lead us to the place of his heart’s desire, we would arrive in Jerusalem only to see where it was, not where it is.  For it is no more.  Perhaps the psalmist would be sad for a season at what had passed.  But the truth of his own words would soon come back to him.  Blessed are those “in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”  God had given him something far richer than a temple in this world.  God had cut a path in his heart.

No temple of this world is the final destiny of the children of God. His people gather in specially constructed buildings and make-do storefronts, in living rooms and rice paddies.  But if the people of God lose every gathering place they know tomorrow, the path to God’s sacred place cannot be taken from them.  It is written in their hearts and it leads straight to the heart of God.  You can always recognize it. The entry is marked by a cross.

John 3:16.  What a Savior!

Honey

But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.  Psalm 81:16

I wasn’t prepared for ‘honey.’  I remembered how Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and God’s thirsty people received water from the rock.  I also remembered another occasion when they were thirsty and complaining.  This time God told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses was upset.  He struck the rock, twice, and lost his ticket to the promised land.  But still, the thirsty people of God got water from the rock.  When I first read Psalm 81:16, I was prepared for water.  I wasn’t prepared for honey.

In the course of Psalm 81, God declared “But my people did not listen to my voice.” (v11)  Then God sighed.  I say it with reverence and I am not certain I have it right.  But here is what he said.  “Oh that my people would listen to me.” (v13) It sounds like a sigh to me.  It sounds like God longs to do something but his people want no part of it.

What does God want to do?  Perhaps something we would never expect.  Perhaps not just water but honey.  But what does it matter whether water or honey, if we are not thirsty for anything at all?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Matthew 5:6

What a Savior!

It’s a Given

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

The questions of Jesus were directed to his parents who, after three days of searching Jerusalem, found their precocious twelve year old in the Temple conversing with the learned people.  Mary and Joseph were perplexed.  They were perplexed before they found him because they couldn’t find him.  Now that they had found him, they were perplexed by him.  What did he just say?

They did not grasp what was obvious to Jesus.  I do not fault them.  After countless Sunday School lessons on this text, I didn’t see what was so obvious to Jesus either.  This was not a lesson about Jesus being an accelerated learner and ready for the advance placement class.  Nor was it merely the startling claim of a twelve year old to have God as his Father. It was also a lesson on the inability of Mary and Joseph to comprehend a matter that was so fundamental to Jesus that it was a given.

Jesus’ questions were a mild rebuke.  Let me paraphrase.  “Why would you spend three days looking for me?  This should have been the first place you looked.  It is, after all, my Father’s house.”  To Jesus, it was a given.  Mary and Joseph had not got it yet.

What is a given for you?  What is so patently obvious about you that no one would question?  One day, when you have passed through ‘the old door in the garden wall’ and the weight of the earth is literally on your shoulders, when your family and friends have left the graveside and have wandered back to the fellowship hall, scoffing down potato salad and green beans, how will they will finish this sentence?  “You know, it was a given for old so and so that ….”  He would be at the game on Friday?  That he would be at work on time?  That he would play the radio too loud?

Will anyone say “it was a given that he would be found in the place where God is worshiped and his Son is honored?”

Need a Savior?  I know one.  John 3:16.

And what a Savior he is!

Gnats

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? (Job 12:7-9 ESV)

I have lost count of the number of people who have declared something like this.  “When I get to heaven, the first thing I am going to ask God is why he made gnats.”  I want to go on record as doubting that this will be the first question anyone asks.  I suspect that we may not be doing the questioning at all.

But one obvious reason not to ask that question is that God has already answered it.  You may read it in the eighth chapter of Exodus.  The sorcerers of Egypt were great imitators.  Moses’ staff became a serpent.  Their staffs became serpents.  God turned the Nile into blood.  They turned the Nile into blood.  God called up frogs.  They called up frogs.  No doubt they were proud of their work.  Too proud.

God called in the gnats.  According to Exodus 8:18, they tried but could not do it. Imitations exposed!  Only God can manage a gnat.  The next verse says, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”  There you have it.  God made gnats to humble proud men.  And they will too.  They will make you look the very fool, waving at people you don’t like, blowing air through compressed lips, hitting yourself in all manner of places, walking around with your finger in your ear, or worse, in your eye!

I know that the hand of God is on our worship because I see his fingers everywhere.  And people respond to his fingers, too!  I have seen even stoic Baptists lifting their hands in worship, ducking and weaving and bobbing about in a sacred dance orchestrated by the very fingers of God.

No one should be too proud who has been humbled by a tiny gnat.  So, if the fingers of God are in our ears, perhaps he is telling us to listen to him.  If his fingers are in our eyes, perhaps we should be looking for him.  If his tiny little fingers fly up our noses, perhaps we should remember that the breath of life comes from him.  And if, by merest chance, one sneaks into our mouth, then it might be time to remember that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  If we will not feed on his good word, the day may come when we have to eat gnats.

“Ask the beasts,” said Job.  They have something to teach us.

What a Savior!  John 3:16.

When It’s OK to Limp

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Mat 18:8 ESV)

I once made a living spraying liquid fertilizers which were custom mixed with various herbicides.  One herbicide was especially effective at controlling cockleburs but you had to take great care in mixing and applying it.  Too much would kill everything.

One farmer had a field that invariably produced more cockleburs than soybeans. So, he ordered up an especially strong mixture of the stuff for that one field.  The responsibility for mixing and applying fell to me.  It came in a powder form that had a tendency to settle in the liquid if not constantly stirred.  Maybe I didn’t stir soon enough or maybe not long enough.  But I didn’t do something enough.  For the first twenty yards of the first ten rows there was nothing, and I do mean nothing.  For a long, long time.

As soon as it became apparent (when the rest of the field was up and growing), I swallowed hard and went to said farmer with deepest apologies.  He asked me if I had seen the rest of the field.  I had seen it but my focus was on the first twenty yards of the first ten rows.  Then he said this.  “In that field, I’ll take ten rows for twenty yards of nothing any year, if I can get the rest of the field looking like it does now.”

He lost something but what he gained was so much greater in his eyes that he was ready to do it again.  I was not ready to do it again, but he was.  He knew the risk but he also saw the harvest.  Losing a little to reap a lot looked like a deal to him.  If he was happy, you may be sure that I was.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:8 seem hard to us.  My foot is important to me.  In fact, it is me, and if I lose it, I will limp through life.  But Jesus is telling me that there are things worth losing.  These hard words are from one who sees the harvest.  There are attitudes, desires, and patterns of behavior that, if allowed to grow, will have devastating results at harvest time.  It is better to tell self where to get off today than to wait.  If not, you may find yourself in a field of spiritual cockleburs in search of a lonely spiritual bean.

Losing a little to reap a lot is a deal. It is OK to limp now if you know that the end result will be flying with eagles.

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 ESV)

What a Savior!

As I Recall

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)

It was a safety recall and I was told it would take an hour or perhaps an hour and a half to complete.  After two hours of waiting, I started to look for explanations. They were very kind.  They too began to look for explanations.  It hardly took ten minutes to find one.  “We apologize for the delay.  Bad recall part.  They had to change it out again.  Ready in about five minutes.”  I visit a lot of hospitals.  I know that “about five minutes” means the same thing as “they’re closing now” and “the doctor will see you shortly.”

I walked away pondering three words you don’t want to hear.  “Bad recall part.”  If you replace bad parts with bad parts, well, you get the picture.

Paul was amazed at the Christians of Galatia.  Helpless sinners, they cried out to the Savior and depended upon the Holy Spirit.  Then suddenly they let other voices convince them they could now do it themselves.  If they were living now, perhaps Paul would say, “Bad recall part.”

Don’t replace parts that don’t work with parts that don’t work.  It won’t work.

On the other hand, crying out to the Savior and depending on the Holy Spirit has never been a bad plan.

What a wonderful Savior he is!