Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Peter learned

The idea of Peter wanting to walk on water bugs me. Was he faithful for asking to join Jesus or was he proud in thinking he deserved divine intervention? Or did he just lack common sense?

In Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the sea to the disciples' boat, we get the idea of Jesus being master over the elements. He could stop a storm and stroll on top of water.

But there's another component to this story as well. in the Bible, the sea also represents chaos, danger, and death. Jesus, in walking on top of that, was revealing that he could master those elements as well. He was not bound chaos and death.

A boat was a life-saving device, protecting those inside from the sea. Peter asked Jesus for permission to leave that protection to come to the Lord.

When Peter became afraid, Jesus saved him but also rebuked him: "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matt 14:31)

I take Jesus' rebuke seriously. Would Peter have been better off staying in the boat?

Was Peter trying to get closer to the Lord or was he trying to align himself with a person of power? Was his attempt to one-up his fellow disciples or to leave safety for a walk over chaos and death?

Jesus' rebuke makes me think his intentions were mixed.

Peter had a lot to learn before he could go change the world for Jesus. Faith was at the core of that. The next time Peter leaped from a boat, he met a resurrected Jesus who invited him into ministry. (John 21) Broken and humiliated by his denial of Jesus, Peter found Jesus ready to care for him, asking him to care for others.

We never hear of Peter walking on water again, but we definitely hear of him giving everything he had to obey Jesus' command.

Peter had failures but through them he learned this:
Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.1 Peter 1:13-14

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New life

Just like the ancient Hebrews did, we celebrate babies in our culture. They are the reminder that life is worth living and that new opportunities arise to train the next generation.

I had the chance in the last week to rejoice in more personal ways. My husband and I had two grandsons born in the last week. I've been a bit slow posting here because of those commitments - but what a joy it is to be so preoccupied!

Here are photos:

Isaac with his daddy (our son), Nathan.




Ian with his mother (our daughter), Melissa.


God has blessed us!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Whose plan?

Yesterday we discussed how a ruler wanted to add a guarantee to his life's work. He wanted the promise of eternal life.

Jesus responded with a challenge: "follow me."

Hundreds of years before, a psalmist threw his head back and groaned. "Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, 'You will not call us to account'?" (Psalm 10:13)

The wicked seek their own gain. But while they are pursuing what they want, God's ear is inclined to the helpful and orphan.

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. (Ps 10:17-18)

Unless our goals are melded with God's, we pursue our dreams selfishly. The God of the universe cares for the meek and the oppressed.

That was Jesus' message to the rich ruler as well: Shed your own goals and follow mine.

For the ruler, this was too great a price for eternal life. Obviously his wealth was his dream. Eternal life was more of an add-on, a nice medal to decorate the uniform. He walked away from Jesus.

He forgot what we must never forget:
The Lord is king forever and ever (Ps 10:16)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The to-do list

There may have been only one thing left to check off on the ruler's to-do list and he gave it his full attention.

So, when Jesus came through the area, the ruler asked a logical question of a religious teacher: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

We learn quickly that this man had wealth and, as a ruler, had authority.

In small towns today, the local newspaper will often interview graduating seniors. When asked about their goals, these 18-year-olds by a large majority responded, "to be rich and famous."

The ruler had arrived there. He had fame and wealth. Now he was in search of one more thing: a ticket to heaven.

He'd already started the process, in his own eyes. He kept the commandments. Was there anything else he needed to do?

Jesus turned the conversation on its ear with his answer: "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Luke 18:22)

Jesus knew the ruler had spent his life pursuing personal gain. Now this ruler wanted heaven - for personal gain.

This account from Luke is a strong statement about where we put our trust. Are we resting on our laurels, so to speak, gripping our own goals and hoping to add the veneer of heaven?

But there's more here. Jesus asked the ruler to become like him. Jesus asked him to shed that which kept him from God. Jesus laid out a new goal: to deny his own gain so that he could follow Jesus.

For this ruler, the idea of tossing aside his dreams to follow God's path was repulsive. He walked away from Jesus.

Tomorrow, we'll look at Psalm 10. There's more to be learned about personal gain there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Walking

When the image slams me yet again, it's always like a nightmare in roaring intensity and heart-pounding emotions.

The path lies before me, the way scrubbed neatly down to smooth dirt and gently winding through the meadow. But this meadow has been overgrown by weeds. Black jagged leaves hang along the path and determined vines creep along the edges.

As I walk, I hear toothy growls from the thick chaos along the edges, throaty snarls that threaten. I get a flash of a yellow eye, a white fang.

This path seems frightening. I'm like David, who wrote, "Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am weak; heal me, Lord, for my bones are shaking; my whole being is shaken with terror." (Psalms 6:2-3)

But I remember, as he remembered, that there are no weeds on the path. No monsters have pierced its walls. When I stay on the path, I feel the warmth of the sun and the sweet scent of blossoms.

David sorted this out, too. He wrote: "The Lord has heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and shake with terror; they will turn back and suddenly be disgraced." (Psalms 6:9-10)

Our enemies can't enter God's path. We are safe in his presence.

The obvious conclusion: stay on the path.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Julie & Julia

We went to see the movie, Julie & Julia, last night, based on a favorable review from World magazine.

The movie, based on a young woman's goal to cook all of Julia Child's recipes in one year - and blog about the adventures, does a masterful job of paralleling young Julie with Julia Child's life.

I enjoy watching Meryl Streep's craft and she did yet another great job in portraying Child.

I wouldn't take my teens to this because of the seemingly-obligatory bad language. Plus the zest for cooking extended to a zest for one's spouse, although we didn't see more than long kisses and lights turned out. And, surprisingly in Hollywood terms, the couples were married and happy.

I gained a new fascination for Child's life. She had spunk and determination, something that seemed to be passed on to young Julie during the year of cooking. Child had the fortitude to see a project through, something Julie had not done before.

Some Hollywood politics were wedged into the plot as well, as Child's husband was a critic of McCarthyism and debated briefly with her father, who was an outspoken Republican. On another occasion, Paul Child was summoned to Washington (he worked for the government) to answer questions from three stern men who, in Hollywood symbolism, were probably stiff-necked McCarthy conservatives.

In yet another scene, Julie's boss said he wouldn't fire her for blogging on the job. He inexplicably explained that he wasn't a Republican and he wasn't a schmuck.

What politics had to do with Julia and Julie wasn't made clear and I saw it as another way that Hollywood attempts to subtly train its viewers in an acceptable point of view.

I liked the scenes from the movie where Julie recognizes her own vapid nature and is inspired by Julia to complete a task and overcome difficulty. I appreciated the positive view of marriage. The husbands were not bland fools but actively encouraged their wives.

I didn't care much for Hollywood's additions of gratuitous language and political undertones.

PluggedInOnline offers helpful reviews before spending your money on a film. Click here to read their review of Julie & Julia.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cooking

The first time I put my youngest daughter in charge of fixing supper, we had an odd blend of clam chowder and black olives. I think she figured two cans of food covered all the food groups.

Today, however, she cooks fancy tomato basil soup and an elegant chicken dish that draws crowds.

I thought about her skills as I considered feet. Feet, by the way, are a curious thing in the Bible. Feet, in biblical terms, indicated authority. A king had rights over land touched by his feet. Those defeated were considered to be under the feet of their conquerors.

A psalmist many centuries ago wrote:

You made him [man] ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet. (Psalms 8:6)

So when God put everything under our feet, he meant we had authority to rule. I'm amazed, first, that he'd turn over the works of his hand to us. Look at what mankind has done to God's creation over the centuries.

This isn't about our worthiness. Do we deserve to be handed authority over God's creation?

How would my daughter have grown in her culinary skills if I had insisted she do it right the first time? I had to believe that she would learn and grow given opportunity. (And it took a little imagination after that first meal!)

God is more gracious than I am. He looks at his children and sees not bumbling failures but princes and princesses who can grow into their rule. He crowns his children and raises them to a lofty place that they have not earned.

Our response isn't to call ourselves master chefs, but shout this:
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalms 8:9

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The goal as one

God has set apart the faithful for himself. Daily I feel the pull of a world that craves inclusiveness. "Join us. Our unity is our strength."

The goal is to speak as one. And I think of Babel. There, the people joined to a build a tower to their own abilities. Some think they united to build stair steps to heaven, to enter the divine kingdom.

God rejected their efforts, knowing that this kind of unity would lead them into more trouble. If they built this tower, they'd work together for other projects that would not lead them to God but to further depravity.

Unity in God is a beautiful thing. Unity without God leads to projects that serve lower desires.

To be set apart for God is to be given the freedom to pursue the things of Philippians:
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Phil 4:8)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Making a way

When it comes to humility, John the Baptist was no slouch of an example.

Today's evangelists tend to prefer plush travel conditions and a detailed list of requirements for their visits, but John declared himself unfit to even untie the sandals of the Messiah.

John had a successful ministry with many disciples and followers. Crowds followed him to the Jordan where he preached repentance and baptism.

Yet his defining statement was quoted in John 3:30: "He must increase but I must decrease."

In that context, I find it interesting that he compared himself to the prophecy of Isaiah. When the team sent by the Pharisees to judge his ministry asked him who he was, he said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:23)

Is it odd for a man of such humility to declare himself to be the fulfillment of an old prophecy? John was so confident of his mission that he didn't use the prophecy to elevate himself, but to elevate his mission. He was called to clear a path.

Israel's terrain is very uneven, from desert to mountain. Those listening to Isaiah many years before would have understood how important a clear road would be. John referred to the same idea in explaining his mission. His job was to build an interstate highway for the Messiah.

John serves as a powerful model for us today. He was confident in what he had to do but had no concern that doing it would elevate him. He was not climbing a corporate ladder but simply making a way for someone else.

Can we do the same?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Forever Richard by Sue Dent

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Of the fairly new Christian vampire genre, this book comes from a committed Christian author who understands the ideas of redemption and curses. Using the vampire legends, Dent creates a world where those cursed long for something better and cling to a slim hope that there can be redemption. Having a book from a Christian perspective may give us an avenue for those fascinated with the vampire genre in general.

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Forever Richard

The Writers Cafe Press (January 5, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Sue Dent hails from Mississippi. She graduated from Mississippi College in 1983. Since graduating she’s sold computers, taught computer classes and has worked as a Technical Specialist IV for the Mississippi Department of Natural Resources.

Forever Richard is the second book in the Thirsting for Blood series. The prequel, Never Ceese was short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award and also voted the ACFW’s book club choice for April 2007. Ms Dent is currently working on the third book in the series.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: The Writers Cafe Press (January 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934284033
ISBN-13: 978-1934284032

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The blazing mid-morning sun laid a haze over the southwestern landscape. José squinted at the distant horizon. “Mirada que está viniendo,” he said. “It’s him.”

The day laborers loitered on corners hoping for work in the fields—backbreaking work that paid little. Not the type of work they wanted but because most of them lived in the country illegally, they hadn’t a lot of choice. The laborers worked long hours for little pay, which was attractive to employers—so attractive they’d risk breaking the law to hire them.

The men had to watch for Border Patrol agents, so they scrutinized every gringo with a careful eye.

José’s buddies squinted in the direction he’d indicated. Raul pushed himself off the wall where they sat. “I thought you saw him leave town—for good.”

“Yeah,” Antonio seconded. “Qué tal? You can’t see good or something? Maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

For several weeks they’d watched this stranger. No one knew when he’d arrived or how long he planned on staying. They did know they wanted him gone. Both a gringo and an outsider—the combination usually meant trouble.

José watched the giant of a man approach. His long black duster billowed; his boots stirred up a dust storm around him. José boldly took a step forward. Raul watched and his lips curled into a smirk. Who did José think he was kidding anyway?

“What you gonna do, hombrecito? The little man gonna take the big man on? He’ll squash you like that little bug.”

José, desperate to earn respect among his peers, ignored the comment and squared his shoulders.

* * *


The small immigrant town of Rio Lobos could have easily been a mirage. Surrounded by dry, flat desert, like the desert he’d spent the past two days walking through, he considered this possibility. Not until he stepped onto solid pavement did he believe otherwise.

Heavy boots marked each step as he moved along. His long duster no longer billowed but flapped freely. He’d tucked his left sleeve into a front coat pocket to prevent it from blowing about but with no left arm inside, the sleeve hung slack.

In town, he stepped onto a sidewalk. Worn and beaten by the elements, sections of it were in dire need of repair—the curbs, crumbling chunks of concrete. The entire town needed a facelift. Colorful pennants, strung about and flapping in the hot, arid breeze did little to disguise this.

The most modern building was the bank. It sat on the adjacent corner and boasted a display below the bank name that alternated time and temperature: 9:47 AM and a scorching 97 degrees. Sweat beaded and rolled down into his thick beard. He scratched at it but stopped short of complaining. After all, the beard had offered his face some protection against the stark rays of the blazing desert sun. Yet, a curse for the one responsible for his present condition was never far from his lips.

Blasted werewolf! If it hadn’t been for the creature, he wouldn’t have to worry about hair that grew twice as fast as normal. The bite wasn’t the only thing to worry about when battling a werewolf.

His stomach growled. Two days had passed since he’d eaten anything. The five young migrant workers on the corner watched him arrive and stared belligerently as he drew near. One of the five took an aggressive step forward. The stranger slowed when he saw the young worker but walked on by. No one followed.

La Tienda sat next to the laundromat. The tantalizing aroma of authentic Mexican cuisine lured him across the street.

Those standing around the entrance scattered. Startled patrons inside moved as far away as possible as he stood between them and the door. Mothers gathered their small children. The young lady who worked the counter wore a nametag, Maria. She stifled a scream and backed up against the wall. Someone hissed the word gringo and he understood.

“Aye, gringo,” he said, his Scottish accent strong. “I get that. I’m different. But I don’t want any trouble.”

Trapped in bodies that wanted to run, a dozen pairs of eyes watched him go about his business. Careful not to make any sudden moves and frighten the patrons further, he walked slowly to the counter and gathered up foil-wrapped burritos from beneath a heat lamp. One by one, he placed them in a deep pocket of his coat.

“See,” he told them. “I just want to eat . . . and now I’m going to pay.” He reached into his pocket for cash but had to guess at what he owed. Maria wasn’t talking. He laid down a ten, grabbed a styrofoam cup and filled it with coffee, then headed to a group of tables and chairs near the back of the store and sat. A mass exodus followed as anxious patrons darted out. Maria disappeared into the back.

A ceiling fan warbled overhead and kept the hot air circulating. He set his coffee down and took the burritos from his pocket. He devoured the first one in no time. After a few more bites of another, he could finally think about more than his next meal—like the events of the previous evening.



Tobias had eluded him for years, but he hadn’t given up looking. The werewolf had information and he was desperate to hear it. After nearly a century of traipsing across continents—Europe, Asia and now North America—he’d finally found him.

Tobias knelt and drank from a stream, his shirt beside him. The moon’s glow heightened the appearance of well-defined muscle. Tobias could easily overtake him. He had to move with care.

He took a cautious step closer, pushed the fabric of his duster back giving him easy access to the pistol-grip sawed-off shotgun holstered on his thigh.

Tobias tensed; he sniffed the air—his cupped hands froze in mid-drink. His head turned a sliver to stare at the abstract reflection in the stream. The stranger drew his weapon and in one fluid motion Tobias stood and turned. Eyes black and narrowed, his nose wrinkled at the odor of silver.

“Aye, did ye think I’d come unprepared?” When Tobias didn’t answer he asked, “Do ye speak English, lad?”

Tobias tilted his head, his thick brows furrowed in confusion. Maybe his accent confused, so he worked to tame it before speaking again. This time Tobias nodded.

“Then tell me why ye have run from me all these years.” He kept the shotgun level. “All I ever wanted was to ask some questions.” Why had Tobias let me sneak up on him tonight? Maybe it’s a trap? He pressed the gun barrel against the chest of the werewolf. “Ye don’t have friends around waiting to pick me off, do ye? If so, then ye should know—I’ll kill ye first.”

The breath of the werewolf turned to vapor in the cooler night air. “Tobias alone.” Stilted werewolf English, but still English. “Tobias wait for you. Tobias need—help. Help Tobias.”

Stunned eyes stared back. “Help Tobias? Away with ye! Why should I help when ye have been running from me for so long?”

Tobias glanced over his shoulder and found the moon where it hung, crescent in shape. “Tobias forget.”

“Tobias forget?” He followed Tobias’s gaze then nodded. “Ahh, Tobias forget—forgotten how to become the wolf. Ye have gone too long without transforming.” They never saw the danger until it was too late. “Yet ye remember ye need the moon, don’t ye . . . to draw the blood up, to get things going.”

Tobias turned back to face him. “You help Tobias remember more.”

As a subtle reminder, he shoved the gun barrel against Tobias’ chest. “Tell me what I want to know. Besides, what makes ye think I can help?” He could help, of course. But he didn’t give this information away freely. He didn’t need every werewolf who’d forgotten tracking him down.

“You help Gideon.”

His expression fell. “Great. Gideon shared.” Even after he promised that he wouldn’t.

“Help Tobias like you help Gideon.”

His eyes narrowed. “Aye, but first, ye pay my price. Tell me. You know the werewolf Joachim. Ye ran with his pack. What became of him? Where is he now?”

“Joachim? Joachim is no more.”

The words hit him hard. All these years of waiting, hoping—it couldn’t be true. “Ye lie!” he growled. He had to be. He moved in closer to Tobias and forced the end of the gun under his chin. “Ye’ll tell me the truth or I’ll blow your head clean off!”

“Tobias show you.”

“All right.” He brought the gun back down to chest level and allowed Tobias to put an open palm to his forehead.

The first image: two wolves thrashing it out, teeth bared and bloodied, eyes blazing with intent. It ended when one of the wolves went down and she rushed forward. He gasped and Tobias removed his hand.

“She killed Joachim,” Tobias spat out. “She the reason he is no more.”

“Ye will not speak of her like that. Ye won’t!”

“Joachim is no more because of her! He fight Zade for her.”

“Where is she now? Ye have to know.”

Tobias reached into a pocket, took out a trinket on a thin chain and held it up.

A lump formed in his throat; moisture played in the corner of each eye. “Where’d ye get that, lad? Where in the world did ye get that?”

“Tobias take it from Joachim.”

He batted back the moisture to regain some composure. “Doesn’t prove anything. Ye still haven’t told me where she is or if she is.”

“Hold tight. If she is, you know. If she isn’t, you know too.”

He considered this. “Aye, but I’ll need my hand for that and I canna say I trust ye enough to holster my weapon. But—” he said, “if ye hold the locket—maybe that will work.”

Tobias placed his left palm back to the stranger’s forehead and held the trinket tight in his other hand.

Images flashed. A castle, a feeling. “Aye, I see her. She’s alive.” He furrowed his brow. “. . . sort of.” Tobias took his hand away. “Now put that necklace in my breast pocket.”

“You help Tobias?” the werewolf replied.

“Aye, of course.” After all, that was the deal. He couldn’t use the information himself. He wasn’t cursed. But, having the information and the ability to share it—on occasion there had been a definite advantage to that.

He’d have to holster the shotgun to free up his hand to initiate the action. “This is going to be bit tricky,” he admitted, not certain he wanted to risk putting his weapon away and give up the advantage. But Tobias seemed ready to cooperate. He put his apprehension aside and slid the gun back into its holster.

With his hand on Tobias’ forehead, the flow of information could begin. Several attempts to get things going ended in failure. What was wrong?

“Ye block me. I canna help if ye block me.”

With no more coercion than that, Tobias let his mental guard down.

“Aye, that’s better.” He’d helped several other werewolves remember the way. Some took the information quickly. Some didn’t. Often he could help speed things up by focusing. He closed his eyes but they shot back open when he felt sharp claws dig into his wrist. Tobias had already begun the transformation.

“Aahh!” He fought the instinct to pull away. Tobias could take his only arm if he wasn’t careful. The pressure increased. “For the love of God,” he exclaimed.

Tobias stiffened and his hand jerked before he fell backwards onto the ground. The stranger ratcheted his shotgun from his holster. “Aye. That’d be a word ye canna tolerate.”

On the ground, Tobias continued the rapid transformation—the human form faded further until the new looked at home on all fours. Soon, it sprinted off into the woods.

“Good riddance,” he yelled out after him, “you ungrateful beast.”

* * *


The migrant workers still loitered. The same young man who’d shown aggression the first time moved directly in his path.

When he angled to go around, the guy matched him step for step. Dark intimidating eyes met his. “I don’t want any trouble,” he said. “I just want to get by.” He searched the young man’s face for any sign of compromise.

“You gotta pay to get by, gringo.”

That word again. “I can’t give ye what I don’t have.”

A quick look over his shoulder to the others and the young man tensed his forearms. “Well, you better come up with something or you’ll have to deal with us, right, muchachos?”

Arms crossed, they nodded.

“All right,” he said. “I do have one thing.” He reached into a pocket and drew out his hand, closed. Slowly, he opened it to reveal—nothing. In another instant, his palm covered the young man’s forehead and the ringleader sank to the ground, unconscious.

The others backed away. “¡Él lo mató!” he heard one say before they all broke and ran.

“Nay,” he yelled after them. “He’s not hurt. It’s not what ye think.”

It was pointless to explain further. They’d disappeared around the corner. He sighed deep and pulled the young man along by an arm. He left him to rest under the shade of an awning.

* * *


On the outskirts of town sat the Alamo Plaza Apartments, remnants of a not-so-successful motel chain that dared defy the odds. No traveler would stop here now, only locals. You could pay by the week or ten dollars an hour, maximum two. His third prepaid week at the motel. He headed straight back to his unit.

When the stranger saw another tenant leafing through mail, he quickened his pace. He was expecting something. Perhaps it had arrived. The mail had come, but no package waited. A notice stuck to his door, the “Attempted Delivery” box marked. Tomorrow the post office would try again. He pushed past disappointment and went inside. Calling the post office did little good. The mail truck with his package was still out making deliveries and wouldn’t return until after the post office closed.

He removed his duster and let it fall across a chair near the door. He placed his shotgun on a table next to the unmade bed and lay down. Two days of walking through the desert had taken its toll. He needed to rest.

Sleep came easily enough. He recalled waking up once to find the room dark. The sun had set. The next time he awoke, it was morning, 9:45 according to the digital clock on the small bedside table. He sat up and rubbed the back of his neck. He felt rested but antsy. How would he kill time until his package came? A long shower helped, as did shaving his thick beard. But he still had at least an hour.

He settled onto the end of his bed, television remote in hand, and began channel surfing. Jeopardy. He stopped to watch. The category: Famous Wars.

The unyielding presence of this single Highland regiment caused the Russians to abandon their intention of taking Balaclava.

The contestants jumped all around the correct response. “What is the Charge of the Light Brigade?” one said. “Who fought the Crimean War?” another chimed in. The third contestant merely shrugged.

His deep-set eyes misted over in remembrance. “Aye, the thin red line—what was the thin red line.”

The thunder of hooves, the smell of death, he remembered it all. To die like they did. That would be an honor. Yet dying wasn’t an option for him. Neither was aging in a timely manner. It had something to do with the battle he had with that werewolf. He did age, though much more slowly—about a year for every fifty he’d lived, but death never came. He’d been run clean through during the battle at Balaclava, an injury that left more than a few men dead where they fell. Not something he understood—in fact, quite frustrating. He switched the television off to avoid further memories.

A solid thump against his door and then a knock. “Aye. I’m here,” he said jumping to his feet. A short sprint to the door and—no one there. He looked down to see a package at his feet.

He checked the box and brought it inside. The postage showed it had come all the way from New Delhi, India. He carefully opened it. The seller had done such a fine job of packing that it took him more than a minute to reveal the knife inside.

Its pitted blade and wooden handle reinforced with bone plates attested its authenticity. He ran his fingers over the traces of Aramaic and Hebrew inscription. “Aye,” came his breathless whisper. This had to be it, the knife of the Aqedah, the very one used by Abraham on Mount Moriah. The one he’d been searching for. He’d combed sacred parchments for any mention of the knife past Abraham, looked around at Djebel Thebeyr, where a granite block, purportedly split in two by the touch of this knife, drew tourists. Still the knife had eluded him . . . until now.

“Finally.” He stared at what he held in reverent awe.

“Finally I can end this madness.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Choosing

For the people of God, the times wore like a heavy rail across their shoulders. Although they had food and family, they had no freedom. The worship of other gods was offered like lush fruit on a silver plate, a banquet of choices to simulate freedom while holding the people in a vice of oppression.

But what time am I describing?

Sadly, this was not a one-time experience for God's people. I could have been describing the Israelites' 400-year oppression in Egypt. Or, maybe I told of the Exile, when many Israelites were torn from their homeland in the Exile by Babylon, spending 80 years under that powerful regime. Or maybe the time of the Romans, when the Jews remained in their homeland but under the Latin strong arm.

Had you thought of the parallels before? In each case, God's people were oppressed by a powerful empire that favored a pantheon of gods.

In those days, empires often embraced the gods of the newly-conquered. They figured that if they simply added in the new gods, the people would be less likely to rebel against the regime.

So the pressure was great to adapt. Those who clung to one God were outcasts, seen as unwilling to fit in, as narrow and suspect.

As we read biblical texts, we have to understand that context for the people. (For a review, check out these links: provenance I and provenance II.)

One benefit of understanding the backdrop for biblical writings is that, as we see application to the original reader, we can also see how they might apply to us as well.

As I described the oppression in my first paragraph, did your mind flit to modern-day China? Or maybe modern-day America? Clinging to one God today often brands us as outcasts, narrow-minded and social rebels.

In that context, the words of Isaiah, who wrote to exiles in Babylon, resonate in a new way:
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." (Isaiah 40:1)

We need comfort as much as those exiles did - and to know that it comes from God and not from other gods or empires is, well, comforting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The blasphemy law

Location: Pakistan
Arrested: October 2008

Twenty- year-old Sandul Bibi is in prison in Pakistan, charged with violating section 295-B of the Pakistani legal code, the “blasphemy” law.

Sandul is falsely accused of ripping pages from the Quran. On Oct. 9 a large crowd of Muslims attacked Christian families at a church, throwing stones and firing guns.

They were shouting, “Kill Gulsher and his daughter Sandul.” Sandul and her father, Gulsher Masih, were arrested after a mob from the local mosque surrounded their house. Loudspeakers from different mosques broadcast accusations that Christians had disgraced the Quran, calling Muslims to attack and burn their homes. The angry crowd threw stones at Sandul’s home. Christians believe Sandul and her father were targeted and arrested because they were aggressively winning villagers to Christ.


Sandul has written several letters to her family from prison. In her latest letter she says, “I am praying a lot that God releases me from here and I can meet you, but I don’t know when. He will give answers for our prayers. Please pray for me.”

If convicted, Sandul faces at least four years in prison. She and her family desperately need your prayers and encouragement.

(Source: Voice of the Martyrs.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Counting the stars

God's fascination with the stars fascinates me.

He promised Abraham more offspring than stars in the sky.

So how many stars are in the sky?

I did a little research and discovered that nobody knows. Estimates range from 200 billion stars in our galaxy to 3 thousand million billion stars (3 followed by 16 zeroes), in the universe. NASA alleges there are zillions of uncountable stars.

Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Outside that, there are millions upon millions of other galaxies also!

That takes my breath away.

But look at how God views the stars: "He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name." (Psalms 147:4)

That's pretty awesome to consider. And then add in this idea: how many people have lived? More than the stars?

If God knows every star by name, he knows my name. And yours.

We are known by the One who can count the stars.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Grab a light

We get some ferocious thunderstorms in Colorado in the summertime. When the black-purple clouds boil overhead in the evening, one of the first things we grab is a flashlight. It's not unusual for the power to go out in those storms, dropping a black curtain over our home.

I think I once broke a toe trying to navigate my own bedroom in the dark. I've stumbled over tables and chairs when there's no light.

In John's account of Jesus' life, he used that idea of light and darkness to brilliantly illustrate the contrast between those who seek spiritual light and those who hold onto their spiritual darkness.

John explained the phenomenon in John 1:15: " The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

But the kicker comes later, when Jesus addressed a skeptical crowd. They wanted proof of who he is. This exchange takes place in John 12, late in Jesus' ministry. He had already preached and healed and explained many times.

Not enough for this crowd, however. They wanted more proof.

Jesus' answer asked them to believe what his ministry had revealed. "While you have the light, believe in the light," he said to them.

He asked for belief while they could still see. Jesus himself was the light and he would be leaving soon. Before they were plunged into darkness again, he asked them to grab a flashlight. Believe, he said, that it's better to be in the light than in the dark.

Jesus said, “The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness doesn’t overtake you." (John 12:35)

And then, after his last appeal to believe, he went away and was concealed from them.

We don't get forever when the darkness is approaching. We can grab the light or grip the darkness. Jesus said it well: " But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." John 12:32

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jacob's hope

Why Jacob? How did the selfish deceiver get this kind of endorsement? I was reading Psalm 146 and found this:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob... (Psalms 146:5)

I get the part about being happy because we have God's help but why is He called the God of Jacob? Why not the God of Moses or Abraham or Noah?

Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, a wayward young man who deceived his brother and his father for selfish gain. He was a liar and a coward, running from the consequences of his deceptions.

Why would God identify himself with Jacob?

What did the God of Jacob do? He kept his promise to Jacob when Jacob kep no promise with God. The Lord sustained Jacob when he deserved death, remembering the covenant made with his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob cared only for birthrights and blessings for personal gain.

God reached out when Jacob could not and would not. God made the covenant and chose to keep even Jacob's side of it.

A former deceiver was changed into a patriarch who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel - with a new name revealing a new character.

Jacob deserved to see his plans flame out like a falling star but instead God sustained His plans.

No wonder those whose help is the God of Jacob are happy. Their hope is beyond their own worth or activity.

The Lord's plans are eternal. He remembers His promises even when we do not. God extends a one-sided arrangement that is astonishingly gracious. That's hope.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
Psalms 146:3-5

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fighting alfalfa

When we moved to our current home, we literally carved living space out of an alfalfa field. If you're not familiar with alfalfa, in the West it's a common livestock feed which is cut, dried, and baled for storage.

Our location in Colorado is technically called a desert and the farmers here get crops largely by supplemental irrigation. Or they use dryland techniques to tease every ounce of moisture out of the ground.

That was the case with our alfalfa field. It hadn't seen more than rainwater for many years.

We assumed that tearing it out and building a home would be relatively easy.

But that crazy alfalfa keeps coming back!

We build a flower bed over one patch of alfalfa after hoeing it out. We added 18 inches of dirt to the box - and the alfalfa pushed through that.

It is impossible to pull alfalfa by the roots. Those roots have run deep to some private source of water. I may have a new look at eternal life after wrestling with alfalfa for five years. Those plants seem equipped to live forever!

If you've read Psalm 1, you remember the writer's word picture regarding a tree planted beside a stream of water. It goes like this:

... a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither... (Psalms 1:3)

Our alfalfa is like that with roots finding some stream of water that allow it to grow in spite of my opposition. It overcomes serious attacks because it is rooted in water that gives it life.

I have looked at Psalm 1 as a sweet introduction to the Psalms, but my battle with alfalfa reminds me that we will have serious skirmishes in our lives. We will be opposed by forces. We cannot survive unless we have deep roots into living water.

What's the living water? Fortunately, the psalmist anticipated that. Living water is God's Word.

Do we cling to God's Word with the tenacity of my alfalfa? That Word is not a sweet treat - a donut to start my day. It is what keeps me alive.

Delight in the living Word today.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Served a feast

The second chapter of Titus is almost done. If you'll recall, I undertook a new discipline this summer: memorizing the book of Titus.

I am working on Titus 2:13 right now. (Keep holding me accountable.)

Memorizing helps me to see insights I have missed even with intensive reading. For example, Titus 2:11 says this:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

So simple and so easy to glide over. But I saw three important points:

  • Grace comes from God. He's the source of grace.
  • That grace brings salvation. I love the action word: "brings." I get an image of a waiter bringing the entree to the table. It comes to us; we are served.
  • That salvation has appeared to all men. It's not reserved for Pharisees or church elders. It has appeared to all.
But, like the entree placed on the tablecloth, we have to take it in. It doesn't do much good sitting there on the table.

Feast today!