Thursday, July 31, 2008

On a brighter note

by John D Ramsey

Cara text-messaged me the other day saying, “Pray for me today. I had a long restraint last night and [was] kicked in the face.” Cara works with children and young adults who need special help. As it turned out, Cara intervened in a volatile situation, and paid the price for loving the unlovely. Now Cara and Gabby have my-swollen-eye-in-July stories to share: Cara’s from a person and Gabby’s from a bumblebee. I suppose the lesson here is that in this world you can get hurt even if you are not trying to help someone. We might as well jump in and show people how much God loves them.

Cara’s black eye is healing; it was somewhat a right of passage among her peers. They told her she was no longer, “Rookie.” Cara is no stranger to pain, but violence is new to her. In her profession, enduring violence without resorting to anger establishes credibility. This reminds me of the Apostle Paul. He closed his written argument with the Galatians, saying, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Galatians 6:17 (NASB) In his lifetime, Paul was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned and left for dead. All this probably had not happened before he wrote Galatians, but Paul had credentials. He expected even people who disagreed with him to respect him accordingly. Compared to Paul, most of us are rookies. Consequently, we should pay attention to what he says and stop pretending to know better than he does.

I suppose this is part of what I find perturbing in Christianity, that is, the ease with which we dismiss the words of Jesus saying they were spoken to a different Dispensation, and the arrogance with which we ignore Paul because his commands were only culturally applicable. You can dismiss my rants, too, by the way, because I am a rookie compared to Paul and Jesus. In fact, if you are inclined to dismiss the words of Jesus for any reason, please write me off, too, because “a servant is not greater than his master.”

The other day we were exiting the highway, and we saw a man standing near the bottom of the ramp. He was holding a cardboard sign. From the back seat, Claire sounded the alarm, “Mom!”

Immediately, Lisa dived into her purse, collected a handful of quarters, and gave them to me. She was out of bills. As we approached, Lisa recognized the man and said, “I’ve helped him before.”

From the back seat Gabby sighed, “I have missed helping poor people.”

It had been a few weeks since we had seen anyone along the highway. Claire and Gabby are alert to opportunities to give.

It is true. If you give Gabby money, she is likely to put it in the Rice for Bangladesh five-gallon water bottle at church or else into a Ziploc baggy along with a we-love-you note to be given to someone desperate enough to stand along the highway asking for help. Normally, Lisa has kits stashed in the car's console containing a Gospel of John, a protein snack, some hard candy, and a crisp ten-dollar bill.

Why does my family do this? I will not take credit. We do this because Jesus said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 (NASB) Why ten bucks? It is enough to buy a meal. If I am giving something in Jesus’ name, I am reluctant to give less. If you want to criticize me, tell me that I am not giving enough, and be sure to include your street credentials. Honestly, I anguish over whether I do enough. Nevertheless, in my experience, a panhandler has never asked me for more than a dollar. If I give him ten, perhaps he knows that I am not giving grudgingly. If I give something, then I am obeying the simple command of Jesus.

I know that any money I give might be spent on Mad Dog, Wild I, or something worse. All my life, I have heard arguments demanding that we make value judgments before giving to the poor (What will he do with this?). Yet, I have not heard anything as simple and liberating as Jesus’ words, “Give to him who asks.” Jesus point was, do not make value judgments; just give to him who asks. Jesus wants simple obedience from us. I doubt that he appreciates the mental gymnastics that we employ to disregard his teaching.

If someone abuses my gift, so be it; he will not answer to me. We will all someday answer to Jesus Christ. When I do, I know that I will have no credentials of my own regardless of what I have done. When I fall before Jesus’ throne, I will plead only the promise of his grace and forgiveness. I have confidence in his capacity to forgive me because I know his credentials:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

— Charles Wesley

Jesus' amazing love is the persistent bright light that brings me back from my perturbations. Earlier this week I anguished over feeling incongruous in a place in which my Christian friends feel at home; nevertheless, Jesus knew alienation beyond my culture shock. Jesus, the Word, was God; he created everything. When he became a man, his prime creation did not recognize him. The Jews, his chosen people, did not accept him. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)

Jesus paid the price for loving the unlovely, among whom I am. I love him for that. By his grace, I am saved, and on this bright note, my spirit calms and waits for the clarity of Jesus' voice to call me again to obedience.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


by John D Ramsey

A couple days ago, I wrote a post “Be strong and courageous.” I admitted to Lisa that it was not the post that I was burning to write, but rather the post that I needed to read. There are many reasons that I needed to read “Be strong and courageous,” not the least of which are Cara and Daniel and Lisa and Claire and Gabby. Each provide me with different reasons for which I need to believe that God has already delivered . . . I just need to be strong and courageous. That was what I needed to read. What I have been wanting to write deals with the kingdom parables in Matthew 13.

Recently, I realized that Jesus' parables in Matthew 13 have shaped my theology and ecclesiology to a great extent, and yet I avoid talking about Matthew 13. Matthew 13 has changed the way that I see everything. Yet I have a hard time discussing it. If I read Scripture through the filter of my understanding of Matthew 13, and another does not, then it is difficult for me to communicate.

I have wanted to write about Matthew 13, but I cannot seem to get started. I began the Kingdom in Context Bible study in Genesis 10 because working through the Old Testament first, would at least defer my having to explain Matthew 13 while leaving it on my to do list. Yet, I know that Matthew 13 biases my interpretation of other passages, and so it is always in front of me. At some point I must explain why it is so important to me.

Perhaps, I struggle with an Elijah complex (am I the only one?). I would rather think that it is difficult to bring clarity to Jesus' subtle usage of words and phrases. There is no shame in that because Jesus told his disciples that these parables were not intended to reveal but rather conceal the mysteries of the kingdom. Teaching Matthew 13 is not supposed to be easy.

On Sunday morning, Mark taught about culture shock, that is, not feeling at home when we walk out into the world. Lisa passed me a note asking, “What about culture shock when we walk in to the [church] building?” Mark, if you happen to read this, I love you, I value your friendship, and I thought your sermon Sunday was great, but I do not feel any more at home in a church building than I do walking through a ladies' lingerie department. There's something appealing about it, but its not for me. It does not become me. I love the people at church, but church meetings are foreign. Why do I feel this way? I think it comes back to Matthew 13.

Perhaps that is an oversimplification. When I was nineteen years old, I sensed that God was telling me that I would never be a member of a local church. I am forty-eight. Twenty-nine years have not changed my mind. While I have attended churches (some regularly), I have never joined a church. Why? I suppose that I could answer, because God told me not to, but in fact, I find the business and politics of church perturbing. A friend of mine left the Lutheran church because he could not figure out why God needed a gymnasium, and, assuming God did need the gym, why did he need my friend to pay for it. I suppose the church wanted the gymnasium so that they would have something to offer people. Apparently, they had nothing to offer without the gym. That is sad.

When I attend church, I go to be with other Christians, but it is like going to a seedy tavern to be with football fans. Can I not be a football fanatic without risking beer spilled on my lap? Can I not be with fellow Christians without getting church business and politics dropped on my lap? Is this really the way it is supposed to be? I like beer; I like business; I like politics. I do not like beer on my lap, and I do not like business and politics intermingled with the practice of my faith. Are church business and politics necessary evils? Are they really?

The parables in Matthew 13 are often called the Mysteries of the Kingdom. They are that, but I tend to think of them as explaining the economy of the kingdom. They explain how things work in the kingdom of God. In an economy there are positive and negative forces. Likewise in the kingdom of God there is good and evil. As believers we need to discern what is good and what is not. I will assert, and not prove, that the kingdom of God in Matthew 13 is not the church. Nevertheless, the church is a microcosm of the kingdom of God, so the economic rules apply.

The first three mysteries of the kingdom, Matthew 13:24-33, are titled: the Parable of the Weeds, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Yeast. They encapsulate three economic principles of the kingdom of God: Subversion, Appropriation, and Decay, and this is SAD (acronym intended). If this surprises you, think about it. Jesus did not come to earth to tell us that everything here was wonderful.

The parable of the weeds tells of an enemy who plants weeds in a wheat field. The servants of the master ask, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” Matthew 13:28 (NIV). The owner of the field says, “No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.” Yesterday, Lisa accidentally cut down her zinnias because the back of the garden had become so weedy. She did not realize until later that part of the clutter was her yet-to-blossom flowers. She was sad for her loss. Likewise, we are not to pull the weeds for fear of damaging the wheat. This parable is often used as an excuse to tolerate miscreants in the church, but Jesus interpreted this parable for his disciples and “the field is the world.” In other words, our mission in the world is not to reform society by coercion. In so doing, we uproot those who might be wheat!

Subversion comes into play not because there are weeds in the field, but because we cannot resist pulling the first most obvious, most noxious one. Once we start pulling, there is no stopping. Some Christians are always publicly attacking the morals of unbelievers. If you do not believe me, do a Google search for “boycott Barnes and Noble.” But Jesus said that we are not to pull the weeds because we will damage the wheat. The harvesters, who are the “holy angels” will collect the weeds to be burned at harvest time. Until then we are to let them alone. Similarly, Revelation 22:11 says, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (NIV)

We are not in the business of reforming society. We are supposed to be in the business of reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus' blood can make the sinner clean, but a boycott might make our world appear a little cleaner. It is just a matter of our priorities. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not against people, but against spiritual forces of evil. We cannot accomplish spiritual victory by political means. Our enemy wants to destroy everyone for whom Christ died; he must laugh when he convinces Christians to attack unbelievers. How easily we are subverted!

The parable of the mustard seed illustrates appropriation or usurpation. Though the mustard seed is tiny, it grows into a huge plant. Once it grows the birds of the air come rest in its branches. In Luke 17, the mustard seed is compared to faith. That meaning fits Matthew 13 as well. As the mustard plant grows it attracts the birds of the air. The birds appropriate what is not theirs. Jesus said earlier, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Matthew 11:12 (NASB) Power hungry people appropriate and manipulate the faith of others for their own gain.

In Revelation 18:2, the apostate church, MYSTERY BABYLON, is said to have become a “haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.” Power attracts the ambitious, and Christianity has learned to see its leaders as political power brokers. Many Christians may not believe this to be a bad thing, yet it is an appropriation of our faith. It does not win souls for Christ because salvation is accomplished personally. When we rally for a cause other than the Gospel, we make someone powerful at the expense of the Gospel of grace. Jesus warned that our faith would attract ruthless and abusive leaders of men yet we are too willingly manipulated by them. Paul, likewise, warned the Ephesians saying, “Savage wolves will come among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29, 30 (NIV) Do we guard against the ambitious, or do we march them into leadership?

Finally, the parable of the yeast illustrates decay. This verse is often poorly translated, the New American Standard Bible manages to get it right. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven [yeast], which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” Many translations say that the woman mixed the yeast with the flour because that is expected. Some commentators compare the expansion of the bread loaf with the growth of the church, but that is not what Jesus is saying. He did not say that the a loaf of bread raised; he said that the flour became leavened, ergo, contaminated.

Yeast in the New Testament represents sin and pride. The woman hid the yeast in three measures of flour. Three measures in the New Testament is equivalent to an ephah in the Old Testament. The woman hid the yeast in over twenty pounds of flour! I think that Jesus was referring to a surreptitious practice of hiding yeast during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. When a woman hid the yeast in her week's supply of flour, then it all became tainted.

While we tend to think of yeast as a beneficial organism, it actually causes decay. In the kingdom economy, harboring a little sin, causes permeating decay. Paul so warned the Corinthians saying, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” 1 Corinthians 5:6 (NASB) The bread that the woman would bake from the tainted flour would not have been unleavened for the feast. Consequently, the parable of the yeast should remind us that secret sin will become evident.

As I read Jesus' words in Matthew 13, I read that we are easily subverted. The truth we are suppose to proclaim is appropriated for others' political gains. Our hidden pride ultimately causes decay. These are three economic principles of the kingdom of God. The balance sheet will not be settled until the harvest at the end of the age.

When we seek to influence society with anything other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I wonder whether we are not merely trying to make ourselves comfortable in this world. The Gospel does not make us comfortable; it asks us to carry our cross. When we battle evil using political weapons, have we not already been subverted?

I wonder what expression of Christian faith requires a church building. Did Paul not tell the Athenians that God “does not live in temples built by hands”? Yet we are prone to call a church building God's house. Did any command in the New Testament tells us to build church buildings? Are not our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit? Did Peter not call us “living stones . . . being built into a spiritual house?”

Paul gave the church at Corinth instructions for meeting together as an assembly in 1 Corinthians 11-14. Yet, we have so far departed from the pattern that Paul outlined that our church services do not resemble first century ecclesiology. I wonder whether modern church practice is not really a lump of leaven. It puffs us up. It looks good, feels good, and tastes good; but the underlying agent is leaven. Jesus told people to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.” The Pharisees added overhead to what was commanded thinking they were better for it. Likewise, our churches are not rising closer to the ideal, but rather they are so swollen with decay that they no longer resemble the churches to whom Paul ministered.

Lisa and I knew a teacher years ago who after the show would say, “All this . . . and the Gospel, too!” I wonder whether this was his way of saying, 'All this' is not the Gospel. Wake up and know that the truth does not need to be shilled! Yet the show goes on and keeps getting better. Does it make us love one another more?

In Lisa and my history with church, we have never gotten to know anyone very well by attending church services. When we have bonded in friendship with other believers it has been in a home. Nevertheless, churches spend much energy getting people to congregate within a church building where people can remain strangers. People living in the same neighborhood attend church together for years without ever knowing where the other lives. Our culture is insular, but our faith is not supposed to reflect the selfishness of society; it is suppose to reflect the grace of God.

If I am right, then Christianity as we practice it is truly a SAD affair. When I contemplate these things, I am always drawn to Revelation 2-3 where Jesus gave his sad assessment of five of the seven churches in Asia. I have learned that when we read Jesus' criticisms in Revelation 2 and 3 we tend to see other people, churches, and denominations. Yet I wonder if Jesus would say that I have left my first love. I must ask whether I value personal gratification over my commitment to Christ. I must ask whether I tolerate teaching that I should not. I must ask whether I am dead to sin or dead to God. I must ask whether I am wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

I can never feel comfortable in church. In Revelation 2 and 3, the only churches who were doing it right were afflicted and poor, they were persecuted unto death. They had little strength, yet they kept Jesus' word. If this is what it takes to have praise-worthy faith, then I want to experience Smyrna and Philadelphia (by that I do not mean Georgia and Pennsylvania). I do not imagine that the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia held very many business meetings, or managed much of a budget. I doubt that they contemplated how to be politically influential in Turkey. I think that they must have focused on Jesus Christ and held onto their faith as if it were precious. My heart wants to live where the only thing that matters is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the culture that is laying hold of me. That is where I think I shall feel at home.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be strong and courageous

by John D Ramsey

We should resume our Tuesday morning men's Bible study, Kingdom in Context, soon, so I decided to read Joshua through 2 Chronicles before settling into the specific passages where the word kingdom appears. I began reading in the book of Joshua this morning. When we read the first chapter of Joshua, four times we read the words, “be strong and courageous.”

God tells Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead this people . . .” God then tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous . . . obey all the law that my servant Moses gave you.” God promises Joshua success conditional upon his honoring the Law, and then God tells him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” The Septuagint translates the word for courageous as andrizou, meaning “be manly.”

After God speaks with him, Joshua gathers the leaders of the people together and tells them to get ready to conquer the land of Canaan. The men pledge their support to Joshua saying, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” They tell Joshua that they will follow him as they followed Moses. In reading this, remember that this was the faithful generation. These were not the adult generation that came out of Egypt and perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. These were the children who came out of Egypt and the children who were born in the dessert. They had indeed followed Moses. They swear allegiance to Joshua and institute the death penalty for rebellion, but then they make one request of Joshua, “Only be strong and courageous!” Perhaps Joshua was thinking, “Yes, I have heard that before.” God required Joshua to be strong and courageous, but Israel demanded it of him, too. No one wanted to follow a man who was weak and cowardly.

God equipped Joshua with everything he needed including an army willing to follow Joshua anywhere; Joshua needed to respond with commitment showing strength and courage. There were three facets of strength and courage that Joshua had to display:

  1. Strength and Courage in Leadership
  2. Strength and Courage in Obedience
  3. Strength and Courage in his Personal Life
Joshua led the people across the Jordan. When the feet of the priests carrying the ark touched the water, the river stood back and let Israel cross on dry ground. Joshua commanded the priests carrying the ark of God to step into the Jordan at flood stage. This demonstrated Joshua's strength and courage in leadership.

When Israel had crossed over, Joshua enforced the Law and required that his army be circumcised. His army's compliance is testimony to the strength of Joshua's will. Joshua showed strength and courage to enforce the Law that Moses had given him.

When Achan sinned, and Israel was routed at Ai, Joshua fell on his face before God, God responded by telling Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” In other words, be strong and courageous even before Almighty God. Joshua again had to be strong and courageous to enforce the law. Achan and his family were discovered and stoned to death. The punishment for Achan, by the way, was the punishment that men of Israel (including Achan) had demanded for rebellion. Joshua was strong and courageous to fulfill the vow. Afterward, Joshua had to lead Israel back to the place of their defeat. God told Joshua, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.” Joshua had to set aside his fear and disappointment and take up strength and courage to press on.

Moses and Joshua led Israel as a singular authority figure between the people and their God. When Aaron and Miriam tried to usurp Moses' authority, God struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses' authority and Joshua's after him was absolute. God did not rule Israel by committee. He worked through one man. The judges, too, exerted absolute authority. The kings following them exercised total authority. The prophets who judged Israel did not negotiate settlements, they demanded that Judah and Israel repent.

Today one man leads the church of Jesus Christ; we all answer directly to him. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:8-10 that we have one Teacher, one Father, and one Leader. Our Father is God in heaven. Our Teacher and Leader is Jesus Christ himself. No other man stands between a believer and his God. Although we submit to each other in love, we will answer only to Christ.

This arrangement puts us in a similar position as Joshua leading Israel — direct accountability to God. We are not conquering nations with the sword; nor are we commanding armies to obey our every word. We do not have authority over people, but we do speak with the authority of the truth. Consequently, we need to be strong and courageous. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men [be courageous], be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NASB)

Like Joshua, we know that God is with us. Like Joshua, we know that God will never leave us or forsake us. Like Joshua, we need to be bold to speak the Word of God. Like Joshua, we need to have courage to obey the voice of God. Like Joshua, we need to set aside our fear and disappointment to be strong and courageous. Like Joshua, we know that God is with us everywhere we go.

Like Joshua, God tells us, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . For I have delivered . . ."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wire-less weekend

by John D Ramsey

We have just returned from a camping vacation. We had been planning this event for months. Before we knew what we would do, we knew that this was the weekend when all six of us could rendezvous. The time and budget constraints did not allow for anything grand, so we knew it would be a simple affair. At some point, I suggested that we go camping at Roaring River State Park in southern Missouri. The park is nested in the forested hills and a cool water spring feeds the river. There is a trout hatchery at Roaring River. I have never been successful trout fishing, but that would not stop me from trying again. We have not camped at Roaring River for a long time, it would have been nice to refresh memories of the place. I reasoned that Roaring River would be a comfortable outdoor camping vacation, even during July.

Nevertheless, Cara's time was short and Roaring River was too far for her to drive. The plan was revised to camp at Tyler State Park in northeastern Texas. You read correctly, we camped in Texas . . . in July. Tyler State Park is in the piney region of Texas. The heat was tolerable. The shade from the trees and the breeze across the water was sufficient to keep us from overheating. There were very few mosquitoes, and we saw no tics. Gabby stepped on a ant mound, but only incurred a couple stings. I did not think they were fire ants, but after comparing a photo I snapped with online sources I cannot be sure. After her encounter with a bumble bee a couple weeks ago, the ants were merely a distraction.

It has been a few years since we have been camping. Before we left, Lisa inventoried and prepared all our gear including an old green Coleman camp stove. I think we bought the stove used somewhere when Cara and Daniel were little. A long time ago we replaced the kerosene tank with an adapter for bottled propane. When Lisa pulled the stove out; however, the paint was peeling. Although functional, it looked ragged. Lisa painted it pink and renamed it the “Bar-B” (pun intended). When we arrived at Tyler State Park, Lisa upgraded our reservation to a sheltered site. She did this mainly for the convenience of water and electricity, but our tent and screen house never came out of their duffel bags. The shelter was sufficient. The shelter was clean by camping standards, the concrete slab floor acted as a heat sink to cool the interior. Cara and Daniel picked up a oscillating fan at a nearby Wal-Mart, and we all stayed comfortably cool at night.

I took my work laptop with me, but it stayed in my backpack the entire trip. I did check text messages a few times to make certain that there were no urgent personal messages. In case of an emergency, I could have found a wireless network within a few miles, but no one called. Our last night at the park, after Cara had returned home, I did check email using my phone, but otherwise I was wire-less and wireless-less.

Tyler State Park has a small lake with surprisingly clear water. We were excited to go fishing. Gabby was proud of her new Barbie fishing pole, and Claire bought an Ugly Stick ultralight rod combo for the trip. She grinned when I told her that an ultralight made even small fish exciting to catch. Although we came ready, we caught only weeds. We did not see anyone else catching anything other than weeds, either. I suppose the fish have better things to do in mid-July than accommodate amateur outstate fishermen.

One afternoon, Claire joined Daniel and me in a canoe for an hour while Lisa, Cara, and Gabby floated about in a pedal boat. We swam. We played card games. Daniel asked me if I would play “Phase 10.” When I said, “Sure,” he pointed skyward and said, “Look, a pig!” I suppose my anti-game bias has been obvious, even to my children. At night, Gabby, Claire, and I spotted celestial objects through the branches of the pine trees, but the moon was bright, tree branches were thick, and visibility was not much better than at home. We sat around a fire, roasting hot dogs, and preparing s'mores. If we had transported bicycles, Claire and I could have ridden on the trails. For many reasons we decided to leave the bicycles at home. Walking everywhere was enough exercise for me.

Our activities were unexceptional. Still, we were together for a couple days in July without our typical distractions. We worked together, played together, and talked together. Early one evening, after fishing unsuccessfully, Gabby was walking back to the camp site holding my hand. She sighed, “I just love it that we're here!” That was the point. It did not matter where we were, or what we did. We were all together in one place, and all the other things that normally take center stage in our lives were in far away cities or at least tucked away securely in backpacks.

Something tasty is cooking on the Bar-B

Daniel and Gabby fishing on the pier

Cara tries Gabby's new Barbie fishing pole
(Is this a new summer fashion accessory?)

Gabby (photographer) catches Claire posing in the forest



Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jupiter jumped over the moon

by John D Ramsey

Gabby has fallen in love with the night sky. A couple nights ago Jupiter jumped over the moon. I did not let Gabby stay up late enough to watch it. I did let her stay up late enough to see Saturn and Mars setting in the west while Jupiter chased the moon across the southeastern sky. We also watched a couple satellites float by in the twilight. I worked late and staggered to bed at 1:30 AM, but before I did, I walked out into the street to confirm that Jupiter had indeed overtaken the moon. I wish Gabby could have seen it, but at that hour in the morning she would not have cared. Someday I'll explain to her the mechanics of the Solar System. Then she will understand why the moon travels from east to west at a slower rate than the stars and planets. Right now, Gabby is beginning to learn the names of the planets and a few stars and constellations. I know that her continued interest depends upon my enthusiasm as her teacher.

The next night, Claire stepped outside with us to see that Jupiter was indeed on the western side of the moon. Jupiter was playing hide-and-seek amongst some small clouds. I spotted it but lost sight within a couple seconds. When it appeared again, Claire saw it first. She was excited as if we were competing. If that is what it takes to involve Claire, we will play spotting and naming games. Lisa is thinking that we would make astronomy a large part of our home-school science curriculum this year. It will be an opportunity for all of us to learn.

It occurs to me why Gabby is so excited about the stars and planets. At first I assumed that she was intrigued by KStars, which I installed on Ubuntu. It did catch her attention, but I credit Lisa and her mom with capturing Gabby's imagination. This summer while the girls are not officially in school, Lisa has dedicated a day each week to studying great artists. This week they studied Degas.

Lisa played Brahms recordings, and discussed what was happening in the world while Edgar Degas was painting ballerinas. Lisa's mom, Julie, brought some pastels for the girls to work with. Julie traced a Degas painting from a coffee table book, and then transferred the tracing to some flour-sack dish towels. They soaked the towels in milk and then colored the picture with the pastels. When they were finished, they covered the cloth with aluminum foil and ironed the pictures dry.

That was this week. Last week they studied Vincent van Gogh. Claire painted sunflowers while Gabby re-created Starry Night. A year ago, Lisa and I saw the van Gogh exhibit at the MoMA in NYC. Seeing his painting first hand is more emotive than I had anticipated. I think that Lisa has transferred her appreciation of van Gogh to Gabby. Now that Gabby has painted “Starry Night,” she has a vested interest in the sky, and I get to be her teacher.

As I reflect on God's graciousness to me my heart recalls Psalm 8 as I learned it years ago from the KJV:

O LORD our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens,
the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


by John D Ramsey

Gabby picked a fight with a bumblebee. She tried to smash it so that it could not sting her. Gabby missed, and the bee stung her on her eyebrow. It also stung her on beneath her arm. She knows better now.

This happened at our Independence Day celebration at Mom and Dad's. Mom and Dad live in Amish country in northern Missouri. Pharmacies are not too far away, but they are not conveniently located, either. We probably would have retreated to the relative comfort of the city except my niece and her husband carry a bottle of Children's Benadryl for their toddler.

Even while Gabby's eye was swelling shut, she was a real trooper. Kids can be so resilient when they are not afraid. Gabby was a little fearful after the sting, but I held her and told her, “I know it hurts, but don't be afraid, it will be all right.” She calmed almost immediately. A few minutes later, she insisted that she get to go fishing. She tried to hold the pole while she also held an ice pack, but soon the ice pack was discarded in favor of fishing. Gabby caught the first and biggest fish of the afternoon. It was a small but lively largemouth bass. We were fishing at the pond by the road because the access was easier for the kids. This pond contains mostly bass and bluegill. The bass were biting, but only the small ones. Still, the kids caught fish while I struggled with the gear. Later in the evening, Gabby kept up with the cousins when it was time to light the fireworks. Again, she was fearless.

Diphenhydramine hydrochloride works wonders for bee stings, but Gabby still looked a bit rough and tumble when we took her to church on Sunday. Her eye was still swollen shut although her cheek was not as puffy as it had been. By Sunday evening her eye was completely open and the swelling in her face was not very noticeable. I am glad that Gabby's swollen eye healed quickly. After all the kind attention she received at church on Sunday morning, she was wearing it as if it was a trophy.

I would not claim that Gabby has no fear, but she is not fearful. Gabby preemptively attacked the bumblebee! She might have been undiplomatic, perhaps reckless, but certainly not fearful. A fearful child would have run away screaming at the sight of a bee. I would like to think that Gabby is not fearful because Lisa and I have not taught her to fear.

I am glad the Gabby is not fearful because fear is a prison. Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus became flesh and blood so that “by his death he might destroy him who hold the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14 (NIV) Do you notice what power the devil holds over humanity? He holds the power of death, which is actually men's fear of death. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we no longer fear death and the devil has no real leverage against us: resurrection follows crucifixion. What have we to fear?

The Psalmist, David, wrote “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” People read Psalm 23 as a source of comfort, and what a wonderful comfort it is. David fears not because the Lord, his shepherd is with him. When we are afraid, what a wonderful privilege it is to pray, I will not fear, because you, Lord, are with me. What we often fail to understand or perhaps acknowledge is that the Lord did not follow David into the valley of the shadow of death; the Lord as David's shepherd, led him there. Likewise when we are confronted with fearful situations it is our Lord who has led us into the shadows.

Sometimes we cannot grasp this. We argue that our own stupidity (or someone else's) is to blame for our predicament. We are willing to blame anyone before simply acknowledging that God has a purpose that we cannot understand. Yet, Paul writes, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) Paul had left a fruitful ministry in Troas to search for Titus about whom Paul worried. Paul reacted in fear, but even though his fear caused him to make a humanly bad decision, Paul understood that God was still leading him. God always leads in triumphal procession in Christ. God is always triumphant even when we fail. If this is true, then why do we still fear?

We still fear because we do not always want what God wants. We fear because we still want to assert our authority over our lives, and we rightly fear that our ambitions will fail. God leads us in his triumph, not in our own, which means that we have to trust him. When we learn to trust him we also learn to love him, and “perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV) It is easier to surrender to God's will when we know him well enough to love him than when we are still struggling just to trust him.

Other than Jesus, no person in Scripture illustrates total surrender to God's will better than Job. Job, at the onset of his suffering, declared,

Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
Job 1:21 (NASB)

The NIV says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job understood the temporariness of his life and wealth. Job did not understand why he suffered, but he understood that God's purposes were right. God is always triumphant, even when it hurts us. Nevertheless, Job's faith was not merely resignation or stoicism; Job anticipated true reward at the end of his suffering. He proclaimed,

I know
that my Redeemer lives
and that in the end he will stand
upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes
– I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me !
Job 19:26,27 (NIV)

Even in Job's suffering, he longed most for the day when he would see his Redeemer face to face. This greatest hope of his, the hope of resurrection, exceeded his desire for healing, vindication, and the restoration of his wealth. Likewise when our Great Shepherd leads us into fearsome places, we should not fear. We are fearless not because nothing painful can touch us; we are fearless because our hope clings to God's triumph. Paul spoke of his passion, which should be our passion, when he said,

I want to know Christ
and the power of his resurrection
and the fellowship in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death,
and so, somehow,
to attain to the resurrection of the dead.
Philippians 3:10, 11 (NIV)

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples many things, which are recorded in John chapters 14 – 16. At the end of his discourse, Jesus said,

I have told you these things,
so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have trouble.
But take heart!
I have overcome the world.
John 16:33 (NIV)

Whatever sting this world has for us will come, but yet we fix our eyes upon a distant horizon. We fix our eyes upon the one who loved us so much that he gave himself as our ransom. Trusting him, we see his love for us, and seeing his love for us, we respond with love for him. We do not fear the momentary pain because we have the hope of an eternity with him living in God's triumph.

Is this a reality in our lives? Probably not; at least not yet. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12 (NIV) Likewise, we need to commit our fears to the one who loves us most. When we do, we will hear him say, “In the world you will have trouble, but . . . I have overcome the world.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Denying the obvious

by Charles E Ramsey

Humanism is man-centered. All religions that deny a Creator God are based on self-centered humanism. So are self-centered people that believe God cannot get along without them. A Biblical Christian is a follower and learner of Christ, which means they walk behind not ahead of Christ. Believers love and obey Christ. They revere the Bible, God’s Word, as truth expressed by God. True Christians desire their days and lives to be God-centered.

These two world views stand in opposition to each other-- Biblical Christianity versus Humanism. The 1933 Humanistic Manifesto reads: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created,”[1] The 1973 Humanist Manifesto II states: “As non-theists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.”[2] In contrast Biblical Christianity is Christ-centered. (John 14:6). The Bible declares “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1) Humanists want us to understand that they advocate a “complete break with the past.”[3]. “Humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvation… diverting people with false hopes of heaven.”[4] (Emphasis mine) Christ proclaimed “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:16-17

Christian salvation begins by accepting the truth that all are sinners. (Romans 3:23) Biblical Christians acknowledge that Christ paid the price for sin when He took our sins upon Himself on the cross. (1 Peter 2:24). A new life begins with a spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. (John 3:3). Without the new birth no one will be saved. (Romans 8:9). The believer is assured of eternal life because Christ rose from the dead. Jesus promised to give us eternal life. (John 3:15-16). Salvation is the work of God’s grace, and after trusting Christ we are given understanding that His way is the only way. (Ephesians 2:8; John 14:6; Acts 4:12)

After Alexander the Great conquered the known world, he developed words that distinguished even the tiniest shade of meaning. Greek became the universal language. What was God’s purpose in orchestrating Greek into an exacting world-wide language?. During Christ’s time people world wide understood Greek, making ready for the wide spread of the gospel. A similar purpose exists today for the English language. Non-English speaking people everywhere are eager to take English classes taught by missionaries.

My college Greek professor emphasized the importance of Greek. With only three years of New Testament Greek, I am not a Greek scholar, but the Greek language does help me realize the power of particular words. In this article we will look closely at invitations Jesus made at different times. He invites us to “Come to Him.” Many Greek words with special meanings are translated in English as “come.” Scholars look at the way a word was used in secular writings to help determine their meaning. Just as Jesus Christ is creator of all life He also is the author of all language. I look at Jesus’ use of a particular Greek word to gain a better understanding of it.

The New Testament Greek “Deu/te, Deute” (come or follow) numbered 1205 in Strong’s Concordance is used in the verses selected for our study. Jesus used 1205 because it is an invitation with a promise He offers. This word for “come” is a profound expression of who Jesus is. Being omnipotent Christ has the power to deliver what He promises. The common word for come ”ercomai, ercomai” 2064 does not carry the preciseness of 1205 as illustrated in the following examples.

Matthew 11:28 Come (1205) unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Jesus addressed the question from John the Baptist, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Jesus commended John’s ministry and referred to the evidences that would remind John of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messiah. (Isaiah 35:5-6; 42:7; 61:1). John had been faithful. The message he received was reassuring. However, the cities where Christ ministered with the same signs were troubled by religious leaders condemning Christ’s work.

Because these highly educated men were envious and offended, they spoke negatively of Christ’s work. (Matthew 15:12; Mark 15:10). Even Jesus disciples were troubled by the opposition He faced from religious rulers. Jesus, being above all His critics, denounced their unbelief. He announced that He was able to bring peace and rest to all who trusted Him. Jesus predicted that believers would be hated by man-centered unbelievers until the end of time. (Matthew 10:22; John 15:19-21) Believers find strength when they follow Christ’s command to come to Him for rest.

Mark 1:17 Jesus said unto them, Come (1205) ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. After John the Baptist was put in prison Jesus assembled His disciples. At least two of these four fishermen had been disciples of John the Baptist. All of them were aware of Jesus’ ministry. As fishermen they understood that they were being called to be learners and to follow after the Teacher.

The real work was Christ’s. I will make you to become fishers of men. Men of the first century understood that they were giving up something of value to gain something of greater value. Peter later referred to the fact that they had left everything to follow Jesus. (Mark 10:28). >From these four fishermen Jesus choose Peter, James and John, for special experiences because they realized early that Jesus was the Messiah.

Mark 6:31 Come (1205) ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. The disciples had just finished a long period of instructions by Jesus. Crowds interrupted with requests for healing. Jesus never turned anyone away. All of this plus the grief over John’s death wore them down. Jesus’ call to get away from the crowd was welcome. His promise of rest was appealing. Sailing across the Sea of Galilee may have afforded brief relaxation. But when they landed they were met by 5000 hungry people. Jesus had compassion on the multitude and told His disciples to feed them. For a short time they wrestled with the idea of how to feed 5000. Then Jesus showed them He could meet the needs of the multitude. The disciples rest came from sharing their joy. Jesus’ prayer, his multiplying the loaves and fishes enough for 5000 was an exhilarating experience. Rest in one’s spirit comes when prayers are answered and knowing God has everything in control. Complete trust in God brings rest.

John 4:29 Come (1205), see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? This is a different kind of example. In the others we have seen Jesus as the powerful provider. Here Jesus is talking to a sinful woman who has come to the well for water. Jesus engages her in a conversation revealing His omniscience and concern for her salvation. She concludes that Jesus is the Messiah. In her exuberance she left her waterpot and went into the city to proclaim her news. “Come” as used here proclaims Christ as the Great One. When we exalt Christ people see the power of God. She won the whole town with her good news. This Samaritan town became the first to embrace Christ’s message without controversy.

John 11:43 …He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (1205). Jesus raised several people from the dead. Lazarus’ situation was unique because Jesus postponed his arrival until Lazarus had been buried four days. Martha and Mary complained that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died. Jesus called Himself the resurrection and life. He also promised if they believed they would see the glory of God. Jesus called to Lazarus “Come forth” and the dead man arose with burial cloth wound around his face and body. “Loose him and let him go.” Even Christ’s enemies, astonished though they were, complained that if he were not killed everyone would believe on Him. (John 11:48, 50) This miracle plus His own resurrection a few days later was the absolute proof of Christ’s deity and omnipotence.

John 21:12 Jesus said unto them, Come (1205) and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. After Christ’s resurrection His disciples still could not comprehend the truth of Christ’s coming back to life. He had told them to meet Him in Galilee. They obeyed and while they were waiting they went fishing. All night they caught nothing. From the shore Jesus told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. Usually experienced fishermen would resent the suggestion, but they had mellowed under Jesus teaching and obliged. The unusual catch of 153 large fish surprised them. John said “It is the Lord!” While they pulled their catch to shore Jesus prepared a breakfast of fish and called Come and dine. They didn’t ask where Jesus caught His fish, but realized again that all things are possible with Christ.

To embrace the Humanist world view is to deny the obvious. The proof of the God-man Christ Jesus has been witnessed and faithfully reported in precise language. For mankind to look to other humans for answers to life and death is foolish. Our Father God is the initiator of all life—temporal and eternal. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Experience the new life in Christ by coming to Him and accepting His promise of eternal life, peace and rest.

[1] Humanist Manifesto I, 1933, the First declaration

[2] Humanist Manifesto II,1973: Religion section, FIRST Proposition, 2nd Paragraph.

[3] Humanist Manifesto I, 1933, the First declaration. 3rd Paragraph.

[4] Humanist Manifesto II, 1973, Introduction, 3rd paragraph.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Something for nothing

by John D Ramsey

Cara's laptop died last week. Actually the hardware was fine, the operating system failed and rendered a perfectly good piece of hardware worthless. Yes, we all know the name of the operating system, so I do not have to mention it. It is very sophisticated and includes a feature that should allow it to be restored in case of failure, but none of the restore points worked. When she realized her next business day support from a major computer manufacturer was about as functional as her operating system, Cara became frustrated and sent her computer to me. She thinks of me as the ultimate geek, and it is a lovely thing when daughters think highly of their fathers (even if their opinions are exaggerated).

Cara's laptop has two hard drive bays, and from the recovery mode I was able to copy important files from her old drive onto a new one. After doing this I restored the factory image which serves a dual purpose: making the computer operational again and destroying all evidence of what made it crash in the first place.

After restoring Cara's operating system, I copied her files back to their original location. This was probably all that Cara expected me to do, but I would rather find solutions than fix problems. I found a solution: Ubuntu.

I have never been a fan of Linux. I first tried Linux in 1998. I bought a retail copy of Red Hat 5.2 at Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha. I thought it would be appropriate to breathe life into a bank of old library computers on the network I managed. The computers were used only for web browsing, and Linux was a reasonable solution. I did not win that argument, and the computers ended up piled in a storage room, c'est le vie. They were not much of anything, but they could have remained useful.

I have used Linux since, but I was never too serious about it. I work with other technologies. A coworker gave me a copy of Ubuntu four or five years ago, and I've kept the CD as a reminder that I wanted to take a closer look someday. Someday came last week. The CD was far outdated, so I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version (8.04.1).

Very long story made short, I installed Ubuntu on Cara's laptop. She can still boot to her legacy operating system. Whether she will make Ubuntu her primary OS is entirely up to her. Ubuntu is still geeky in places, but it is a commendable operating system. I think Cara will like it. I put Ubuntu through paces on Cara's laptop and it performed very well. I ripped a CD, burned a DVD, imported photographs from a camera, copied files to and from an SD card, and took my photograph with a webcam (Yes, Cara, you can delete it). I connected to my wireless network and moved files to and from Cara's legacy drive. I listened to music, and I watched videos. I even installed a costly legacy productivity suite that Cara uses. It runs through emulation software on Ubuntu, so whether Cara decides to activate it is entirely up to her. She has about 20 more chances to try it before it locks up.

I like Ubuntu very much. I still need to use other technologies on a daily basis, but Ubuntu has a bright future at my house. I have old hardware in my basement that could suddenly become useful again. Tonight I pulled my old Red Hat Administrator's Handbook off the bookshelf and read all about smb.conf. I could have read online, but I still like the feel of books. Ink on paper is for me an added value.

I wonder how much value Cara has received from her legacy operating system and software. I know she spent a lot of money on next day support which was supposed to include software support. I encouraged her to buy the support package because I was not going to be close by to fix her computer when it failed. I think she spent a lot of money for nothing. Ubuntu did not cost me anything. Sure, it cost money for the second hard drive, but Ubuntu cost me no money for licensing. Ubuntu cost me time to learn, but that was time invested in my daughter's life when she lives far away. Such moments are, as they say, "Priceless."

I do not think that there is anything that Cara needs to do that she cannot do from within Ubuntu. Even if she reverts to using her legacy OS, Ubuntu will still be waiting on her new hard drive ready to boot when the legacy operating system fails again. That, at least, is something.

Monday, July 7, 2008


by Charles E Ramsey

Midweek and I was mowing around one of our two gooseberry bushes and noticed the berries were ready. But I still had acres of mowing to do. Raining weather had put me behind, and company was coming at week's end.

Nevertheless, the thought of hot gooseberry pie with ice cream changed my sense of urgency. There is nothing like gooseberry pie to celebrate summer. On a whim, I stopped mowing and began picking gooseberries.

My philosophy adopted years ago is to pick all berries I see - both big and small. Some people only pick the biggest berries. I hear their argument. The small berries take longer to pick and stem. But if I don't pick them as I come to them, I'll loose sight of that little berry. I only have one chance, it's now or never. Hours later I still did not have enough berries for pies. The other gooseberry bush was wild, across the creek, surrounded by underbrush and stinging nettles and the grass is still growing.

Another day passed before I stopped mowing. It took a bit of self-convincing before I dared to continue my gooseberry project. Overnight heavy rain had washed out my pole bridge and driftwood obstructed my path to the wild gooseberry bush.

When I determine to accomplish something there is usually a way. I finally stood beside the volunteer bush, after struggling up the muddy creek bank. I was in for a surprise. On every branch large clusters of gooseberries were just waiting to be picked.

Was there a lesson in this? I have to admit when bigger berries became abundant they were my first choice. We had just a few hours to make pies before company arrived.

When our daughter and family left the next day I was ask to pray for my granddaughter, Hannah, who would soon be leaving for five weeks in Australia. I thought about the scripture that suggests when praising God others see Him. (Psalm 22:3). I prayed that Hannah would continually praise Jesus and others would see Him in her praise.

After they left I thought about my gooseberry experience and ask the Lord again what can this mean? After rereading the 1st chapter of John thinking--it's not the big things but insignificant things when given to God that make a big difference. I realized we need to look at daily events and see Jesus' involvement.

See the Lord Jesus Christ at work by Holy Spirit.

John 1:29-34 The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

The first event in John 1:29-34 John the Baptist saw Jesus. John announced Jesus as "the Lamb of God that takes away sin" I wondered 'Did John at this time realize that two of his disciples would leave him and become disciples of Jesus?' John was humble. No jealousy was in his heart Jesus said "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:28) John's calling was to introduce Jesus. He spoke with confidence because the Holy Spirit had revealed Christ's identity to him. Likewise we can speak with confidence when the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us from His Word.

The truth of the Holy Spirit was a new revelation. It was planted in the minds of these disciples but became a great experience a few years later. Great things start small. With God's direction they become what he intended.

Hear Christ's invitation to come and see.

John 1:35-37 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

38-39 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He said unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.

The next event we see the response of John the Baptist's disciples. They heard John's declaration and left John to follow Jesus. Jesus saw them and heard their question. Jesus responded to their inquiry as to where he lived by inviting them to come and see. We may surmise that he showed them a simple quiet place outdoors where they could retreat and talk. He later revealed to all that he had no place to lay his head. John's disciples were impressed with something other than his dwelling. They abode with him that day. Hearing John's message, following Jesus, and abiding with him, reinforced the truth about Jesus being the Lamb of God and changed their life forever.

Abiding is necessary for each of us. We learn more when we abide in his presence. A decision to follow Christ is only a beginning. There is a need to abide daily in his presence. See the significance of God working in every day events. Our turning over to Christ Jesus daily activities for his blessing glorifies God and the insignificant becomes big.

Feel his presence by opening heart to others.

John 1:40-42 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said unto him, We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.

43-46 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and found Philip, and said unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathanael, and said unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said unto him, Come and see.

This selection shows us the deep feelings these disciples had for Jesus. After Andrew left to follow Jesus, he quickly told his older brother. Did Andrew think his main purpose in life was to introduce Simon to Jesus? Did Philip tell Nathaniel about Jesus in order to assemble the group called Twelve Apostles? These understandings came later. This group was formed by God's oversight and they will one day be judges over all the tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:30). These events are big in themselves but they arose out of abiding with Jesus. We seldom see God's purpose in little things until God makes them bigger than we can imagine. Our purpose is to see God at work in little things. Abiding in Christ will make our future brighter.

Simon and Nathanael had challenges for Jesus to overcome. Peter was impulsive, determined, proud and not a quick learner. When Jesus met him he immediately assured Simon of a new name. Nathaniel had a prejudice to overcome. Simon's name was changed by Jesus to Cephas. The meaning of Simon is 'obedient' and Cephas means 'stone.' Peter is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Cephas. His full name Simon son of Jona meant 'obedient dove.' Simon Peter means 'obedient stone.' Stone would be an important word in Jesus' teaching. Matthew 7:24-27 compares accepting Jesus' teaching to a house built on a rock foundation. Simon Peter would become one with a true foundation which is Christ.

Consider the significance of His promises.

John 1:47-51 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael said unto him, Whence know you me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when you was under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and said unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believe thou? thou shall see greater things than these. And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The last verses in John 1 shows the significance of Jesus' insightful promises . Nathanael is called an Israelite indeed with no guile. Jesus knew Nathanael's heart. He was a serious man who reverenced the truth handed down by his forefathers. But he believed nothing good could come from Nazareth until he met Jesus. Jesus revealed to him something no one would know except God. Nathanael recognized Jesus as omniscient.

Nathanael's habit was to meditate under his fig tree. When Philip found Nathanael his thoughts were evidently on Jacob's dream and God's promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Jacob. (Genesis 28:10-22). When Jesus revealed that he saw him under the fig tree, Nathanael exclaimed "You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." Jesus assured Nathanael that he would see and understand greater things than Jacob's dream of angels ascending and descending. Jesus implied that Jacob's vision was about angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man of whom Jacob was a type.

This passage is full of little things that had great significance when God blessed them. Did I learn any thing in my week that included gooseberry picking? I'm sure to learn more, but I had to remember that God is able to do abundantly above all that I ask or think. He also uses our experiences to help us think of Him as the source of all good.

It is easy to think of myself more highly than I ought to think. I needed to see John the Baptist's humility of carrying out his calling. He knew that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. But why gooseberries? I realized I prayed more while picking gooseberries. I also listened more. It was like I was abiding in his presence, and that was what I needed. I needed to hear the message for myself about the significance of little events.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Children of freedom

by John D Ramsey

When I was a child, we spent Independence Day in Jamesport, Missouri. My cousins and I would light Black Cat® firecrackers and shoot cheap bottle rockets all day long. We would unravel the strands of firecrackers so that we could light one at a time. We then threw the lighted firecrackers at snakes or anything else we saw moving by the creek.

If we could drop a firecracker at the right moment, it would sink beneath the water before exploding. The hollow thunk sound followed by a splash was perhaps the most gratifying moment of the whole day. A close second might have been using firecrackers to launch tin cans skyward. At night, the adults lit illuminations, and they were okay. However, the noise of firecrackers and bottle rockets were my favorite.

In our exercise of freedom, we earned sprained thumbs and minor burns. These occurred when we held firecrackers too long or rather when the fuses burned too fast. Adults warned us that children had suffered major injuries abusing fireworks, but the risks only added to the exhilaration. For a day or two, we celebrated freedom. Occasionally, we had freedom ringing in our ears after an untimely detonation.

When Daniel was a boy, he loved July 4, too. I did not permit him the same freedom that I had enjoyed, but he probably found it when I was not looking.

Moving to Minnesota put an end to firecrackers for a few years until former Governor Jesse Ventura managed to get fireworks legalized. Still, many Minnesotans marched faithfully to public displays and personally shied away from anything hotter than a glow stick. There were fantastic displays, but on balance, the holiday was suffocating. I do not fault anyone for disliking fireworks. They do not thrill Cara. Likewise, sometimes I find them to be annoying. Nevertheless, I strongly object to a society that abridges my personal freedoms.

One year we came down to my brother-in-law’s house in Raymore, Missouri for the Fourth. Gabby was almost two years old. The neighborhood barricaded the street and each family barbequed and enjoyed a fireworks free-for-all. One neighbor fired his miniature cannon. It shook the windows in houses. Others fired their muzzleloaders (without bullets) into the air. They were almost as loud as the cannon. Of course, there were rockets and firecrackers all day long. In the evening, we walked to the end of the block to watch the public display. Some of us carried canvas chairs; some carried blankets to upon which to sit.

We waited until dark. When it finally started, it was a bit difficult to discern the public display because the sky was awash with red, white, and blue from the eastern horizon to the west. Everywhere we looked people contributed to the scene. When we walked home, the street choked with the smell of black powder. Firecrackers detonated nearby, and rockets flew from one side of the street to the other. It looked like tracer fire from a war movie, but it was not directed at people in the street. The combatants politely paused to let the crowds pass.

This scene still frightened Gabby, so I wrapped her in a woven blanket and carried her over my shoulder. She was no safer in the blanket, but it calmed her. To my knowledge, no one’s behavior inflicted injury that day. When we arrived to my brother-in-law’s house, a little girl driving a golf cart came by to share ice cream treats with the entire neighborhood. God bless America.

Since moving back to the Kansas City area, both Claire and Gabby have enthusiastically embraced fireworks. I am mellower in my old age, and I limit their expenditure. Still, like their father and brother, they are children of freedom, and they like to celebrate.

By faith in Jesus Christ, we are all children of freedom. The New International Version of the Bible renders Galatians 5:1, saying, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” A group of rule makers and enforcers plagued the Galatians. Paul wrote to the church to tell them they were free from the law. He said that he wished that those who preached circumcision would instead emasculate themselves. That sounds harsh, but it proves how strongly Paul felt about the freedom we have in Christ.

When we read Galatians 5:1 alone, it sounds almost as if personal freedom is the primary objective of the Christian life, but before our imaginations start wandering Bohemian, we should take a closer look at what Paul was saying in context. Strangely enough, the King James Version renders a better translation than either the NIV or the venerable NASB. It says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” A literal translation from the Greek reads, “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us, stand firmly, and do not again be pressed upon with the yoke of slavery.” With a better translation, we can observe a couple important ideas that the NIV and NASB ignore.

First of all, the subject of the initial phrase is not “it”, but rather the inferred, “you.” Paul is commanding, “You stand firmly!” In what are we to stand? “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us.” We are not to stand firmly in our own personal definition of freedom. Such is anarchy. Christ did not free us to walk according to whim. He freed us to walk with Him. The freedom to which we are called in Christ is a freedom to serve. Paul makes several points in Galatians 5 among which are these:

  1. You were called to freedom.
  2. Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.
  3. Through love, serve one another.
  4. The whole Law is fulfilled . . . in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
  5. Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
  6. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Paul was angry with the legalists in Galatia not because they were dullards who had no fun, but because they substituted a credo for a relationship with Christ. Paul did not want believers to follow somebody else’s rulebook while thinking it was spirituality. Paul explained that sometimes we deferred to the conscience of others, but only for their sakes. He asked the Corinthians, “Why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?” Paul instructed the Colossians similarly, saying,

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23 (NASB)

The Law focused the sinner upon his sin. Paul was saying, enough of that already! Our focus is upon Jesus Christ. The Law held the sinner in bondage whereas the blood of Jesus Christ set the sinner free. Looking again at Galatians 5:1, “In the freedom then in which Christ freed us, stand firmly,” we should take notice of the adverb “then.” In the Greek the word oun is sometimes translated therefore, so, then, so then, however, and now. It indicates that the action results because of something. We discussed in what we are to stand firmly. We discussed what our freedom is and what it is not. Now we ask, why are we to stand firmly in freedom? Because, Paul says, our mother is free.

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. Galatians 4:24-26, 31 (NIV)

As we celebrate our freedom as a nation, those of us who name Christ Jesus as Savior should also remember that we are also residents of the heavenly Jerusalem. As we celebrate national independence, we should also give thanks . . .

. . . to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:12-14 (NIV)

Celebrate! We are children of Freedom.