It’s time in New England to start building up one’s supply of firewood for the coming winter. When I take my axe in hand I feel like one of the ants and not the grasshopper who played his fiddle. I have done my fiddling for the year. It is time to pay attention to the calendar. It feels very manly to raise the axe overhead and bring it down on a nice round of maple. It is a game to see if I can hit the mark for which I am aiming. When I miss I hope no one was watching. One would not want to hold the round of maple unless they have an excellent surgeon standing by.
It must hark back to Greek class in the seminary so long ago, but I can’t do this without thinking of “hamartia.” “Hamartia” is one of the first Greek vocabulary words we learned. It means to miss the mark. Paul often uses it for the English word “sin.” There is something almost comforting about “hamartia.” It might indicate one was trying to do what was right and just missed the standard. However, Paul does use the word in Hebrews 10:26, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, . . .” In this verse it doesn’t sound like one is trying and therefore there is no forgiveness. It is true we are saved by grace and all can be forgiven but we cannot spit on God’s grace by deliberately missing the mark. Jesus offers to help us with our aim.
Just some thoughts while chopping wood on a September afternoon.
Our hummingbirds are gone. We will leave the feeders out and filled for another week or so to accommodate transients moving south from Canada and Maine. They will need to fill up for their long journeys. The catbirds are gone. Our days are still warm and the trees are still green (however, a different color green) but the birds know what is coming and have decided it’s time to go. The lawn has pretty much stopped growing and shadows are lengthening. It must be the shadows that tell the birds it’s time to go. It is only a week now until the sun moves into the southern hemisphere.
The thing I liked best about September when I was a boy was it was time for the new cars to come out. It was a wonderful time because there were real differences between the model years. A 57 Chevy was very different from a 58. Cars had white wall tires and fins and came in two or three colors. They hid them from us by transporting them at night covered with canvas. They were put on back lots where you could not see them until the designated day. There was great excitement in the air to watch TV and hear Dinah Shore sing “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Of course cars were considered high mileage if you put 60,000 miles on one. Today that is just getting a car “broken in.”
I get excited when I read I Corinthians 15 that speaks of our corruptible bodies being replaced with incorruptible and immortal bodies. What they will look like and how will it feel to be 100 percent whole and healthy? Jesus offers us so much. It’s a good time of the year.
It occurred to me this afternoon had Jesus lived into His seventies He would have added a few beatitudes. “Blessed are the nappers for they shall be refreshed.” “Blessed are the early risers for they shall see each dawn.” “Blessed are the grandparents for they shall spoil their grands.” “Blessed are the walkers for they shall not be stiff.”
Jesus was a great observer of people. His beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount is one of the greatest philosophies ever written. It is intriguingly simple and astonishingly difficult. There is something for everyone. His challenge to be perfect as God is perfect takes one’s breath away just by thinking about trying to do so. Fortunately for us it is not the requirement for salvation. Yet it is. The answer to the enigma is how. Paul answers that for us in his letters to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. Without Paul’s counsel we would be most miserable. He wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, . . . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph. 2.
Jesus’ insight in Matthew 5 regarding sin’s most dangerous state being internal instead of external shocks us with a description of our true human condition and how much help we really need. Teaching us to turn the other cheek when abused challenges the heartiest among us. How often do we want to hit back and of course hit back a bit harder. Kermit once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” I would like to add it is not easy being a real Christian.
There is an interesting YouTube of a man on a street trying to sell a $50 Canadian gold coin for $25. No one will buy it. He is even standing near a store that buys gold so someone could go inside and check its value. No one will do that. At one point he offered to trade it for a bottle of water someone was carrying and he was unable to trade it. The coin weighed an ounce and gold was then selling for $1500 an ounce. Many people refused the offer by saying, “I’m good.”
In Revelation 3:18 God calls for His last day church, Laodicea, to buy His gold so it can be truly rich. The gold He offers are the riches of spiritual understanding. He so wants us to grasp the wonders of having an ever growing good character as we become more and more like Him. It is so easy to be comfortably content with where we are. We say and mean it. “I don’t want to harm people. I don’t want to steal from them. I want the best for others.” However, there is so much more. There is an incredible peace that continues to grow as we watch the world go mad about us. There are philosophies and mental riches that come with a friendship with Jesus.
Like the people who refused the gold coin by saying “I’m good” we just don’t get it. They didn’t buy the coin because they didn’t understand the value they were being offered. We don’t spend the time in prayer and study because we just don’t grasp the value of what we are being offered. So who is the biggest loser?
Do you ever wakeup about 4 AM with a parched mouth? You want to roll over and go back to sleep but something cool and refreshing slipping over your dry lips would be an oasis. The longer you wait the more intense the thirst. Finally you head down the stairs for the kitchen. Now the real dilemma begins. In the darkness illuminated only by tiny LEDs scattered about the room you put your hand on the handle of the fridge. You have tried to keep your eyes half closed as to remain in a semi-stupor so going back to sleep would be easier. If you could only just crack open the fridge door but you have open it wide enough to get your arm inside and maneuver.
How is it that a forty watt bulb can produce a burst of light equivalent to the first atom bomb blast at Los Alamos? It isn’t just your eyes? Even your skin reacts as the light rays push the wrinkles out of your face. Reeling and staggering away from the light you try to back up to the open fridge as not to be permanently blinded. You put in your arm without really looking directly into the heart of the “sun.” I know where the sun goes when it goes down at night. It sleeps in my fridge.
It is no wonder God cautioned Moses not to look at His face. Surely the light would have incinerated Moses.
There are two kinds of light. Too much too fast of either can harm. Books and knowledge must be dispensed carefully. In ancient times Hebrew children were forbidden to read certain chapters in Scripture. Light in due time.
I, like most of you (I imagine), occasionally look at my paycheck stub and sigh over the deductions. Then I sink into my easy chair to watch the evening network news. There before my eyes is the video footage of hundreds of thousands of people streaming out of the middle-east fleeing savage carnage that few of us can even begin to comprehend. I am so thankful to pay taxes for the wonder of our land. The political zoo that is winding up now for the next year can be amusing but is also an example that anyone can run for president and say anything, no matter how outrageous or untrue. We call it free speech. Stop and think about the miracle that not one candidate will be beheaded in the coming months.
It is easy to be thankful when one lives here. While there is probably an end to the list we could develop, it would be a long list. Once in a while I hear someone say, when asked to mention just one thing they are thankful for, “I have so many I can’t distinguish just one.” Well, go ahead then and say two or three or four. Or could it be they have no concept of what life is like for millions not here?
If life is all about being fair, when most of us get to the pearly gates Peter should say to us, “Sorry, you already had your share.” How wonderful it is to know that life isn’t about fairness. It is about mercy and love and family. It’s about redemption from our selfishness and transforming us into a Christ-like creature. Perhaps one of the very early steps on that journey is being very thankful.
We’ve had an interesting twenty-four hours. It all began late last evening when I opened our back door. With incredible power our one hundred pound lab exploded past me out onto the patio. There was a flurry of motion involving a ten pound skunk trying to figure out what direction to unload. Suddenly the air filled with a cloud of you know what. Even though the dog was in the midst of it all she did not (we are so thankful) receive a direct hit.
Do you remember Matthew 16:16 where Jesus warned His disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees? It takes such a tiny amount to change everything. Our environment all night and day was changed by just a tad of skunk power.
Over and over again I see the leaven of the Pharisees attacking the Gospel. I hear people say, “Yes, of course we are saved by grace.” Then comes the leaven that stinks like a skunk. “But.” It is that word “But” and what follows. They have to add some tiny stipulation. It is almost as if they are afraid someone is going to get away with something they didn’t. The Gospel has incredible power to save and we must be on guard not to let anything steal away its effectiveness. There are no specials on grace. 2015 isn’t some special time when extra sins can be forgiven. Grace is lavished upon us any time we are in need. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
Anything that deviates from this even to the smallest detail is skunk powered leaven.
They appeared to be in their twenties and seemed to be very enamored. They (and I say this as tenderly as possible) appeared to be on the lower side of gifted. Perhaps challenged is the correct word. They were at Burger King and their hugging and kissing were bothering some of the customers. They were not being aggressively disgusting just displaying a lot of passion with their affections to each other.
Several years ago I had a similar situation occur regularly in church during the worship services. While the situation in Burger King was almost sweet, such a display in church really bothered me. Perhaps it was because I was preaching and was trying to keep the congregation’s attention.
Being associated with universities through the years I learned intelligence comes in so many levels and areas. I had faculty members not come to church when I was preaching because they knew I would not challenge them. They really were very smart. The smarter you are the fewer people you can talk with without boring them. I am amazed that God is interested in talking with us. He knows and understands everything. What can we tell Him? How do we interest Him? I think my dog is very smart but really our conversations are very limited.
God’s fascination with us is our capacity to grow. Just as I loved my sons when they were three, I found them more and more interesting as the years went by. Now I am in a situation where they can speak of things that force me to really concentrate and even then I sometimes don’t understand. As God’s children we will never speak of things He will not understand. He will be delighted to see our IQ climbing with our never ending birthdays.
One of the greatest men who ever lived was a tradesman from Galilee. We know very little about him. What we do know catapults him to the apex of the Human Hall of Fame. Heaven selected this man to be the protector, nurturer, role model, teacher and most influential person in the earthly life of Jesus. I am of course thinking of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth. He was a widower and already had children when he married the teen God chose to be Jesus’ mother.
We don’t know when he died but he was the one who taught Jesus His carpentry skills. Years later when Jesus raised Lazarus to life, He surely must have thought about using that power to bring His Joseph back. But, knowing what was to come and knowing how crushing it would be to Mary, He spared Joseph seeing the cross.
A study of Jesus’ miracles reveals that He did nothing for Himself. Every miracle was to bring health and joy to others. That is not to say that He did not gain personal pleasure from healing the blind and the lame. He would not have been human had He not thrilled with the joy of restoration. Can you imagine His joy on resurrection morning? He will be as happy as we. But then again, it has the element of sorrow because of those He does not raise to eternal life. It will be a day of mixed feelings. I love what Peter says regarding this. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9. I’m sure Jesus is very anxious to see Joseph.
It was heartbreaking to watch. The ice cream man, who drives too fast, was being chased by a little girl with her money in hand. Finally her little legs stopped running as she wistfully watched the truck round the corner. It was too late. But the story doesn’t end there. Her daddy came out, put her in his car and off they went pursuing the ice cream man. Yeah, for all the caring dads in this world.
For thousands of years humans have chased after life. The dream of eternity aches inside our chests. For centuries our heavenly Father watched as man struggled to understand this thing we call death. We are captive to a system of aging that imprisons both the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The oak tree grows old and finally surrenders to time as it ceases to hold up its gnarled branchy arms. Finally, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
No longer do we stand with money in hand watching the truck go round the corner. Our Heavenly Dad has come to the rescue. It is not too late. The Way is paved and clear. It was no accident that the early church called itself, “The Way.” Eternity waits for an unconscious decaying body, but rejoices to receive a vibrant human being transformed into the very image of the One who knows “The Way.” Yeah, for all the Dads in this universe.