Monthly Archives: February 2016

After All

Through the dark woods the little boy ran.

As fast as his skinny legs would take him he ran. Through the gullies and up the hills; across the streams and over the fields he breathlessly scurried on.

His heart beat faster and faster. Fear raced through him like a freight train. He dared only once to glance back at the giant vicious predator. The bear was closing on the lad, his growls of hunger growing louder as he pursued his tiny prey.

The boy finally reached the place of no return –and no escape.

He was cornered.

The little boy closed his eyes tight. The bear leaped on him from behind and gave a menacing final growl.

Then just as suddenly, the bear released the little boy from his powerful grasp. The boy squirmed out and jumped to his feet and turned to face the bear. The boy giggled and ran into the bear’s strong limbs.

“I love you Daddy!” he gleefully exclaimed.

Hugging him tight, the dad smiled and whispered, “I love you too, son.” Taking his little hand in his, the father walked his son out of the bedroom.

Game over.

How comforting to know that the menacing bear you imagine pursuing you is really your loving father. Your unfounded fear melts away in the warm embrace of the one who would never harm you because he loves you more than you’ll ever know.

After all, he’s your father.

When Francis Thompson first published his iconic poem, The Hound of Heaven, many readers were at first startled at the metaphor of God as a relentlessly pursuing animal. But when studied and understood, the comparison pulsates with a passionate beauty. The poem is the story of God’s determined persistence in the face of our stubborn and foolish resistance. We try to run and hide, but we can’t. God chases us “down the nights and down the days … down the arches of the years …”

We continually flee “from this tremendous Lover”, Thompson writes. Until, in time and circumstance, God corners us with his love. And we surrender, not into the grip of a ravenous hound, but into the arms of a compassionate and merciful God, who loved us all along.

After all, He’s our Father.

When Jesus first addressed the Almighty Creator of the universe, shrouded in sovereign, inscrutable mystery, as “Our Father”, the Jews were unaccustomed to such Deistic intimacy. Nor were the gods of other religions any more approachable.

People perceived a menacing bear, a hungry hound, perhaps, but not “Our Father.”

Still, Jesus pressed the analogy.

“You fathers,” Jesus said, “if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13, NLT, emphasis added).

We all want to be good parents. Most of us believe we are, whatever else we may be. Is not God our Father capable of being so much more to those who commit themselves to his care?

That’s the point Jesus is making, not only in his Sermon on the Mount, but throughout his teaching and his stories – throughout his brief life on this earth: God is our merciful and loving Father. Yes, he will punish us, he will correct us, he will test us and he will teach us. But the one thing he will never do is hate us.

Why then do we so often fear him and flee from him? Why are we tempted in our sorrow and pain and suffering to see God as a cruel, vindictive or, at best, indifferent Sovereign?

God loves you and me perfectly and John tells us that “there no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18, NKJV).

John wraps up our relationship with God into the arms of the Divine loving nature:

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16, NASB, emphasis added).

This is much more than a lovely esoteric concept; it is a life-altering reality for the one who believes.

The Bible is nothing more – and nothing less – than the story of our Father’s abiding presence, his faithful provision and his unfailing protection. The essence of its panoramic display – cover to cover- is the Father’s unchanging, unconditional and endless love.

CS Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia, consistently portrays the lion Aslan – the Christ figure – as neither tame nor safe but always good.

I don’t know why God should love me. I truly don’t. But I know he does, despite my occasional misgivings. It is his nature to love me. And as Paul reminded Timothy: “he cannot deny who he is.” (II Timothy 2:13, NLT).

After all, he is my Father.

“God is love.” This is the summation of his nature.

In this central, undeniable and incontrovertible truth is our hope – both now and forever.

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Heartbeat

The weather was great.

The lodge was beautiful.

He enjoyed the tour.

Cibolo Creek Ranch is an exclusive resort in West Texas, not far from the Mexican border.

He was here for the weekend to do what he loved just about more than anything else – hunt.

He dined with the other guests Friday evening and was his usual animated and jovial self.

Still, he was tired from the trip and at around 9:00 PM, he graciously excused himself and retired to his bedroom. The next morning he failed to join the others for breakfast but they thought he had chosen to sleep in. After he didn’t show later, there was concern.

When someone knocked on his door there was no answer.

Upon entering his room, they found him lying in bed, clad in his pajamas.

“He was very peaceful,” the resort owner later told NBC News.

Somewhere in the night the well-ordered and monumental life of Antonin Scalia came to an end. His incredible mind, unconscious in sleep, would think no more. His passionate heart, courageous, convicted and filled always with joy and the love of life, beat its last.

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Scalia, 79, was the brilliant intellectual anchor of the conservative wing of that Court. Widely regarded as Ronald Reagan’s most significant appointment to the bench, Scalia served nearly thirty years. His eloquent opinions, often as a dissent from the Court’s majority, were the stuff of legend. His arguments were powerful, his logic incisive and his manner cordial but direct.

Scalia, a proud and devout Roman Catholic from a Jesuit background, loved his family, his faith and his country.

He also cherished the Constitution and thought the founders who wrote it should be heeded.

He was a conservative icon.

He leaves a rich and historic legacy as arguably the most consequential jurist of our time. There is now a silence on the Supreme Court – and a void – that will not be easily filled.

For all his brilliance and influence, Antonin Scalia could not order the time or circumstances of his step into eternity. He had made his weekend plans but God had made his own long before.

In every unexpected death, especially one so notable, you and I are reminded of the uncertainty and brevity of life and the sovereignty of God.

“We can make our plans,” Proverbs tells us, “but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NLT). “For what is your life?” James asks. “It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away” (James 4:14, NKJV).

“… a puff of smoke, a mist …” (The Amplified Bible).

Our lives – even the lives of the great and mighty among us – are so terribly fragile. Someday for every person the silver chord shall break. The time and cause of that separation have been determined with the same divine precision that set our entrance into this life.

God knows – and he alone declares – the end from the beginning.

You and I have a rendezvous with death and eternity. It is an appointment we must keep, all our other plans notwithstanding. We shall not be late; we shall not be early. And we shall not know.

Woody Allen famously remarked, “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”.

But he will.

The word “appointed” in Hebrews 9:27 of the King James Version is pregnant with meaning. Our death in this world was specifically arranged before this world was formed. Our appointment cannot be canceled, postponed or re-scheduled.

Justice Scalia kept his at a ranch in West Texas.

Scalia’s death not only reminded us of life’s uncertainty. It also set off a political firestorm that has dramatically raised the already high stakes of this presidential election. It reads like a fast-paced novel.

The senior conservative justice on the Supreme Court dies unexpectedly while on a hunting trip in West Texas. The White House is occupied by a liberal lame duck Democrat who is African American. The United States Senate is controlled by the Republicans.

This sudden shift in the Court’s ideological balance takes place against the backdrop of one of the most contentious and bizarre presidential campaigns in American history – starring a controversial former Secretary of State, a card-carrying Socialist and a bombastic billionaire.

Get some popcorn and grab a front-row seat!

Truth is so often more exciting and implausible than fiction.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Watching this drama unfold over the coming weeks and months, we’ll all get a refresher in civics.

The President has the constitutional right to nominate a justice, just as the Senate has the constitutional right to confirm or reject that nomination. Madison and his colleagues called this “advise and consent”. It’s the delicate checks and balances they built our government on.

Yes, the stakes are incredibly high this year.

Christian leaders – and especially pastors – need to realize this and urge their congregations to pray and pay attention. If there was ever a time to reject the high cost of indifference this is it.

Generations will be indelibly shaped by what happens in the next ten months.

Old Ben Franklin reminded us that “God governs in the affairs of men”.

We have just seen his hand again. You may be sure he has a purpose.

Strange how much history can hang on a single heartbeat.

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Everywhere

It was a major miscalculation.

It was made out of ignorance.

It was a costly mistake.

In a battle one can never afford to underestimate or misjudge one’s enemy – it can be fatal.

But the Syrians did just that. It proved their undoing.

How and why it happened is fascinating and its lessons timeless.

Israel was, it seems, always under siege and outnumbered by its adversaries. Not much has changed since those Old Testament times of danger and conflict. In I Kings 20, we see a spineless King Ahab giving in to the demands of a Syrian king named Ben-hadad.

Appeasement seldom works well for the country doing it and this was no exception.

After Ben-hadad seized Israel’s women, “the best” of its children and its silver and gold without resistance, he came back for even more. But men made of sterner stuff put an abrupt halt to the policy of appeasement.

“Don’t give in to any more demands,” they told Ahab (I Kings 20:8, NLT).

When the Syrians learned that Israel was done appeasing, they decided to attack. Ben-hadad, literally drunk with greed and hubris, made loud threats about turning Samaria into rubble.

King Ahab warned him:

“A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won” (I Kings 20:11, NLT). That’s good advice for candidates just before an election, as well as for kings and generals.

Fighting bravely in the mountains of Samaria, Israel routed Syria, just as an unnamed prophet had promised it would. Then the prophet told Ahab, “Get ready for another attack”; Ben-hadad and his powerful army would be back in the spring (verse 22, NLT).

Licking their wounds in humiliation and dissecting their defeat, the Syrian generals counseled their King:

“Their gods are gods of the hills,” they explained to Ben-hadad, “therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they”(I Kings 20:23, KJV).

The Syrians didn’t know God.

They had no understanding of Jehovah. They only knew their own gods – idols constructed out of man’s fear and superstition. The Syrian gods were limited by time and space. The generals assumed Israel had similar ineffectual deities.

King Ben-hadad agreed with his officers and so the battle plans were made. They would meet Israel – and its gods – in the spring on the plain.

Israel was, as usual, vastly outnumbered. Its army “looked like two little flocks of goats” compared to the Syrian forces “that filled the countryside” (verse 26, NLT).

Then the prophet came once again to King Ahab with this word from God:

“Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand …”

And the prophet added this divine postscript for good measure:

“…and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” (verse 28, KJV, emphasis added).

Why would God do this?

Because man had in his ignorance and pride limited God. He had underestimated Jehovah’s power and misjudged his ways. Ben-hadad got God wrong. That’s a serious thing to do. And God was about to correct that misunderstanding. He would not share his glory with the puny impotent deities devised by carnal imagination.

The worst mistake we can make about God is to limit him.

The psalmist declares that “the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3,KJV).

God Jehovah alone is to be praised and feared “above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens” (Psalm 96:4-5,KJV).

God gloriously and powerfully transcends and supersedes all human boundaries. He doesn’t live only in the hills or only on the plains. He inhabits and rules over every fiber of the universe he himself created.

David beautifully describes the omnipresence of God in the 139th psalm.

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7,KJV).

God is everywhere all the time. He is, in the wonderful title of theologian Paul Tillich’s book, The Eternal Now.

God is not only in every place. He’s also present in every situation.
When his wife died of cancer, C.S. Lewis grieved not only her loss but the supposed strange inexplicable absence of God in his grief. “Meanwhile, where is God?” Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed.

Lewis was wrong, as he later confessed.

But many of us have felt that way.

We make Ben-hadad’s mistake.

God is with you not only on your mountaintops of joy but also in your dark valleys of sadness, perplexity and pain. He goes with you through every emotion you experience.

He never leaves you and he will never forsake you.

God is there in the joyful celebration of new birth. He’s also there when your child is diagnosed with leukemia. And he’s there when you learn he’s in remission. God is with you when you get hired but he’s also just as present when you get let go.

God is with you in the good times and in the tough ones.

On the mountains of your lives – and in your valleys.

No, you’re never alone. Not ever. Thank God for his presence always.

He’s everywhere.

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The Singer and the Drunk

Martin Ross was a drunk.

He wanted no part of religion.

But Bertha Ross was a praying wife.

She didn’t condemn her husband, nor did she give up on him. She loved him, remained faithful to him through his frequent bouts with alcohol – and she never stopped praying for Martin.

Bertha trusted God for Martin’s salvation and deliverance.

So did her family and friends.

One day, Martin gave his life to Jesus Christ. He finally found his deliverance from those inner demons. But Martin Ross didn’t believe in going half-way. Not only did the man become a Christian. He entered the ministry and became pastor of the Baptist church in Brooktonville, New York, a small upstate community about eight miles outside Ithaca.

Some years later, Martin’s daughter, Rhea Miller, was taking a stroll through the beautiful back fields of their Brooktonville home. She reflected upon her father’s life, her difficult childhood while he was drinking and God’s miraculous rescue of her dad.

Rhea recalled his stirring testimony. Martin Ross often said he would rather have Jesus than all that the world could offer; he would rather walk with his Lord and be guided by him than to possess all that money could buy.

This was, Rhea knew, her dad’s full and unconditional commitment to Christ – his unending gratitude for God’s gift of a new life and a fresh start. The world’s material wealth could not begin to compare to what Pastor Martin Ross had found while in the depths of his own despair: the overflowing abundance of God’s amazing grace.

Martin was a truly rich man. He would never forget that.

Moved in a strange way, Rhea, who loved poetry, later wrote some verses about her father’s devotion to Christ.

It was 1923 and Rhea Miller was 30 years old.

More than a decade later, in another update New York home, another praying woman was asking God’s certain guidance for her young son. He was dashing and musically gifted, possessing a rich baritone voice, perfect diction and a confident yet humble presence.

The son had auditioned on some secular radio programs. Fred Allen’s NBC radio show was very impressed. This young man was wowing both critics and fans alike. Gifted and attractive, he was told he could really go places.

It was heady stuff for one so young.

He had been raised in a Christian home. While the lucrative opportunities tugged at his pride and ambition, he was still uncomfortable in this secular setting. The pressures were not only on the outside, he struggled within.

He was torn.

His saintly mom observed; she knew and she prayed.

Then somehow, somewhere, she came across a poem. Reading it, she prayed to God that its powerful message might have an impact on the undecided boy she loved. So one night she placed it gently on the piano she knew he would play. When he read it the next morning, he was so struck he decided to put music to its words.

His mother urged him to sing it in church that next Sunday.

He did.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold,
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by his nail-pierced hands.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause,
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

It was the poem written by Rhea Miller as a tribute to her dad.

When Mrs. Miller died in 1966, George Beverly Shea, the young man who had been influenced by her words to choose a career in Gospel music, had already sung her poem to millions around the world. In 1940, Shea had met another young man named Billy Graham. Graham told Shea he liked his singing and invited him to join his fledgling evangelistic team. Before he died at the age of 104, George Beverly Shea had sung before an estimated 200 million people worldwide.

One of his signature songs was I’d Rather Have Jesus.

It’s a song taken from a poem written by the daughter of a Baptist preacher in a small town in upstate New York – a preacher who used to be a drunk.

The Bible tells us that God alone declares “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10, KJV).
His plans – made in eternity past – are inscrutable to mortal man. Human eye cannot see, nor can the ear hear the extraordinary things God has prepared for those who love him.

What an ironic God! What a surprising and sovereign Creator! In what divine ways he works! What rich and indescribable grace!

When we wait on him, when we trust him, when we deliberately choose to follow him, God will never cease to amaze us.

Paul said it well in his letter to the Romans:

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33, KJV).

Martin Ross and Bev Shea would give a unanimous “Amen” to that.

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