Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Partial obedience

by John D Ramsey

As a parent, perhaps nothing is as exasperating as a child’s partial obedience. Lisa deals with this more than I do, but she cannot bring herself to praise the little girls for almost obeying. In fact, by now the girls should know that their greatest grief comes from doing only part of what is required of them. Partial obedience is a calculated human behavior that disrespects authority and asserts autonomy in such a way as to undermine accountability. When parents spot this attitude in their children, it is difficult to avoid resorting to anger.

In 1 Samuel 15, God commanded Saul to annihilate the Amalekites: all the people and all their livestock. Saul, obeyed to a point. The Amalekites descended from Abraham through Isaac and Esau. Yet when Israel came out of Egypt Amalek attacked them. Joshua led Israel in battle, and while Moses held up his staff, Israel prevailed. When Moses lowered his staff, Amelek prevailed. Aaron and Hur each held up Moses’ hands until Joshua’s forces prevailed in the battle. God promised at that point to “completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Exodus 17:14 (NIV)

Amalek illustrates how God deals with nations in contrast to how he deals with individuals. People ultimately stand before judgment when they die. Nations, however, God judges in history. The nation of Amalek committed a crime against God and his chosen people centuries before Saul’s kingdom. Yet God waited until Saul was king to deal with Amelek. Surely all from Amalek that escaped death from Joshua’s army had died long before God commanded Saul to destroy Amalek. Did all the Amalekites Saul killed share hatred against Israel with their ancestors? Even if they hated Israel, God’s stated purpose was clear. He punished Amalek for how they treated Israel during the Exodus from Egypt.

God chooses when and how he judges the nations. Likewise, God chooses when and how each of us will die. God’s justice is not ours to criticize. If we question God’s judgment, we exalt ourselves in arrogance. There is no injustice in God’s decision. There cannot be injustice because God alone is the Creator of all things. No one is greater than the God who created him. Furthermore, no man and no nation of men will escape God’s justice even if God displays his patience throughout history.

When Saul warred against Amalek, he and his army spared Agag the king, and “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs and everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy . . .” 1 Samuel 15:9 (NIV)

When Samuel learned what Saul had done, he demanded, “Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” 1 Samuel 15:19 (NIV)

Saul defended himself against this indictment saying,

But I did obey the LORD . . . I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.

1 Samuel 15:20, 21 (NIV)
Saul, of course could not have “totally destroyed them” and “brought back Agag their king.” His two statements were mutually exclusive. Either he “totally destroyed them” or he did not. Moreover, he allowed his army to take plunder when God had commanded them to destroy everything. Saul made the excuse that part of the plunder was devoted to sacrifices to Samuel’s God. Samuel rebuked Saul with an oft-quoted proverb,

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams
.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.

1 Samuel 15:22, 23 (NIV)

Samuel condemns Saul’s partial obedience calling it “rebellion” and “arrogance.” Samuel compares rebellion against God with divination (some translations say, “witchcraft”). How is rebellion similar to divination? Very simply: Saul’s rebellion sought another way other than obedience to God. Saul’s crime would have been no worse had he consulted an oracle of Baal. He rejected God’s command and pursued another.

Likewise, Samuel compared Saul’s arrogance to idolatry. Arrogance before God is idolatry because it exalts the creature above the Creator.

The consequences of Saul’s partial obedience should be sobering to all. God cannot condone our partial obedience. When Jesus spoke from heaven to the churches in Asia, he praises those who remained true witnesses, but among the church of Pergamum were those who taught sexual immorality and idolatry. Jesus, told them to “Repent . . . Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:16 (NIV) To Thyatira, Jesus says of a so-called prophetess who beguiled believers with her false teaching, “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:23 (NIV)

I doubt that the church in Pergamum thought that they were following Balaam. Yet, some were condoning sensuality and even immorality. Likewise, not all in Thyatira followed Jezebel, but they all tolerated her. Perhaps they wanted to make their churches “seeker-friendly.” Sometimes modern Christianity refuses to sweat the small stuff. We would rather encourage unity by upholding only what we can establish by consensus.

Yet the broader our unity, the more shallow our faith becomes. We let the full testimony of God’s Word fall away by our rationalizations. From 1 Samuel 15 we learn that God sees our partial obedience as if they were the sins of divination and idolatry. By pursuing a lowest-common-denominator type of consensus rather than Canon, we “divine” rather than discern. By presuming that such actions please God, we elevate ourselves above him in arrogance.

Certainly, there are cultural expressions of worship that vary from place to place. These differences we should embrace, and if we cannot, we should overlook them without criticism. Certainly denominational labels are neither here nor there; both faith and apostasy reside within every so-called Christian organization. There is no such thing as a Christian organization, by the way. Christian people organize, but our organizations are hollow not hallowed. The only unity that matters is the unity of faithfulness founded upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ. You cannot incorporate this, it is the Holy Spirit's work.

We obtain this knowledge of Jesus Christ through the faithful application of God’s Word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Correct doctrine is Scripture without our contrivances. Rather than tossing out Scripture to accommodate meaningless consensus, we should all rather cast aside extra-Biblical dogma, politics, and tradition that Scripture does not support. If pursuit of Biblical truth divides us, so be it. Let us divide amicably without condemnation. Better let us each commit to uphold fully the truth of Scripture. Then let us each pursue full knowledge of the Son of God through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told the woman at the well in John chapter four, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23 (NIV) True worship of God does not arise from our partial obedience to His Word. Nor, will God indefinitely tolerate rebellion and arrogance among his people. God’s patience may persuade some churches that his judgment will never come. Perhaps they believe that God no longer cares about the purity of truth in worship. Beware; God remembered his oath against Amalek. Likewise, God will not tolerate our individual disobedience indefinitely, either: Saul vividly illustrates this truth for us. Moreover, if we do not tolerate such behavior in our own children, we can be assured that God will not tolerate partial obedience in us.

We should repent and return to our first love – Jesus Christ. Our grandest church buildings and organizations may erode when we do. True Christianity is not about building churches or our trying to “take over the world”; it is about “[knowing] Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10 (NIV) Such is our calling. Such is our hope. Yet, mere partial obedience disparages our high calling in Christ.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Word of testimony

by Charles E Ramsey

My wife and I continually express our appreciation for each other. Dr. Walter L Wilson, pastor of Central Bible Church in Kansas City years ago, always spoke of "our Lovely Lord Jesus," and he admonished men to show love and appreciation to their wives. His example of loveliness made it easy for me to express my love to my wife Bonnie. Genuinely testifying of ones love for another leads to a contented pattern for life.

Conversely, I found in scripture where not being appreciated is considered. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (NIV John 15:18-19)

Recently, I received a new book, Foxe Voices of the Martyrs 33 A. D. to Today. The Forward reads:
I wish I could tell you that persecution is waning, that our brothers and sisters are being treated with fairness and justice. Instead, I must tell you that persecution of Christians is more common in our generation than ever in history. The oft-quoted statistic is true that more people died for their Christian faith in the past century than in all the other centuries of recorded history combined.
(David B. Barrett, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2007)
While the gospel message of Christ Jesus brings great peace, joy and love to the believer, it sometimes produces hatred and hostility in unbelievers. Persecution occurs in countries where there is no freedom of religion. We are blessed in the United States to enjoy that freedom. My purpose is not to extol Christian society, but to relate what the Bible says regarding a believer's reaction to hatred.

Persecution of God's people has occurred since the beginning of time, nevertheless, for the purpose of this study I will focus on the persecution that began when Christ was crucified. Persecution has an unusual consequence. Whole communities have embraced Christ because of believers' dying testimonies, triumphantly dying for their faith in Christ.

The apostle Peter instructs persecuted believers:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.

…But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
The correct attitude when despised for your faith in Christ is "do not fear… but always witness of your hope with gentleness and respect."

Peter continues to remind his friends:
It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.
(NIV 1 Peter 3:9, 14-15, 17, 18)

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy "…Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned…" (NIV 2 Timothy 3:12-14)

Testimony is a powerful word in the New Testament. In Greek the root word martur is translated as martyr, testify, testimony or witness. When persecution in the New Testament followed a testimony of Christ, the writer used the word martur... Our word martyr is a transliteration of the Greek word martur. The 1st century persecution was a result of faithful witnessing of Christ's love, but it frequently resulted in martyrdom.

The biblical fact is that Jesus came to die for our sins. His main mission from God His Father was to live a perfect life as a man and reveal the essence of the Father. Therefore He became the necessary sacrifice for mankind's sin. By rising from the dead Jesus Christ proved that eternal life is possible to all who believe. In our country we have divorced the connection of being a martyr and being a witness, Therefore persecution for our faith in Christ is not as evident in America as elsewhere.

Scriptures show the evidences of persecution when the New Testament was written. "You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." (NIV Hebrews 10:34) "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him." (NIV Philippians 1:29) Evidence of persecution carries over into the book of Revelation, as a prophecy of the end times. It becomes clear that the greatest persecution is still ahead for believers.

In the Revelation Jesus gave to the apostle John, He used the Greek word martur concerning Himself and His message. (The translation of martur is in bolded in the following references.)
(John) "who testifies to everything he saw-- that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ".... "From Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood… I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."
(NIV Revelation 1:2,5,9)

This last reference shows the apostle John was imprisoned at Patmos for preaching about Christ. "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation." (NIV Rev. 3:14)

From his vision John records:
"I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained…Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed."
(NIV Revelation 6:9, 11)
This prophecy gives a picture of the end times.

The practice of hating Christians will not decrease. The problem starts in the beginning when Satan introduced a lie to Adam and Eve. Satan still introduces lies to contradict truth and entrap mankind. At the end of this age Christ provides the way to overcome Satan. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death…"

Two different women are pictured in the next quotes. The first refers to the nation that gave birth to Christ. The second woman refers to Satan's counterfeit religion of the last days. First: "Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring-- those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (NIV Revelation 12:11.17)

Second: "After this I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, was opened... I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus…." (NIV Revelation 15:5,6)

John's response to the angel delivering these messages was inappropriate. "At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (NIV Revelation 19:10) The phrase "testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" is a clue for interpreting Old Testament prophecy, especially Isaiah 53.

Jesus applies the word martur to the faithful in the last days when He concludes Revelation.
…I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
(NIV Revelation 20:4)
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
(NIV Revelation 22:16-17, 20)

The above is a sample of 181 times in the New Testament where the root word for martyr is used when speaking of believers testifying or witnessing for Christ. However the most important concept is our attitude when sharing Jesus with the unbeliever. We must be loving and caring. If we are bitter we are in the wrong. We are to be gentle and respectful even if they are holding a gun to our head and daring us to confess Christ. (Applying Peter 3:15)

The world dogmatically opposes Jesus as the only way of salvation. On the other hand the eternality of every one's soul is at stake. Christ is the answer for our sin problem which also includes the gift of eternal life in heaven. We are commanded to tell others about Christ's death and resurrection. It is our salvation and eternal benefit.. Paul's counsel to a believer is "…Be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." (NIV Philemon 1:6)

Just as a Christian husband and wife can be examples of unity of love that produces the grace of contentment, believers must share their faith with gentleness and respect for the unbelievers. We are created beings responsible to God. Each will make a choice that reaches into eternity.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lost donkeys

by John D Ramsey

When God chose Joshua to lead Israel in conquest of the Promised Land, God repeatedly told him to “be strong and courageous.” Likewise, when Joshua commanded the leaders of his army, he also told them to be “strong and courageous.” Years later, when Samuel appointed Saul to be king in Israel, he told him, “Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24 (NIV)

Joshua had learned to serve God by following Moses. Joshua climbed as far up Mount Sinai as God allowed him to climb. There he waited for Moses. After Moses had been face-to-face with God, Joshua stayed with Moses even as the glory faded from Moses’ face. Joshua fought battles at Moses’ command. Joshua and Caleb were the only spies to bring back a good report. The people of Israel nearly stoned Joshua for stating his faith in God, but Joshua did not flinch. Joshua was a warrior and a leader of men. Yet even as Joshua was taking charge of Israel, God continued to remind him, “Be strong and courageous!”

Samuel had been dedicated to God before he was born. He lived his entire life as a Nazirite – fully dedicated to God’s service. Samuel was not a king, but rather he was a prophet, a priest, and a judge. Israel prospered under Samuel’s spiritual authority, yet when Samuel was an old man, Israel demanded that he give them a king.

In answer to Israel’s demands, God gave them Saul. Saul had no experience. His only adventure before Samuel anointed Saul as king was searching for his father’s donkeys. They were not even Saul’s donkeys; moreover, Saul never found them. He and his servant roamed the countryside for three days but the donkeys eluded him. Saul had one positive quality; he looked good. He was taller than his countrymen, and he was handsome. He was just what the people wanted in a king.

Samuel anointed Saul privately but later chose Saul publically by lot. When the lot fell upon Saul, he was hiding in the luggage. He knew what was going to happen, yet he was not prepared to face it. This was not a great beginning, but Saul had some early successes. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and he acted like a leader. He routed the Ammonites and secured the kingdom. God granted Saul the kingdom conditionally based upon Saul's keeping God's commands.

Not very long after gaining the kingdom, Saul lost it. Israel was at war with the Philistines because Jonathon, Saul’s son, had attacked a Philistine outpost. Saul had tried to rally the people, but instead of preparing for battle, most of Saul’s army went into hiding. They hid because they had no weapons.

The Philistines had eliminated the blacksmiths from Israel. Scripture does not say by what means the blacksmiths vanished, but the men of Israel had to go to a Philistine city to get their farm implements sharpened. Perhaps the Philistines used intimidation, seduction, or a combination of both to relocate all the blacksmiths. Perhaps they used violence. Regardless, only Saul, Jonathon, and Jonathon’s armor-bearer carried swords.

Earlier Saul had roused 330,000 armed men to battle against the Ammonites; consequently, if he had no weapons to fight the Philistines it reflects poorly upon Saul’s leadership. His complacency was at least partly responsible for his dilemma. Nevertheless, Saul’s son, Jonathon was not complacent. He had started the war by attacking the Philistines. Saul then called up the reserves, but they did not come. In time, Saul's regular army began deserting.

[Saul] waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD's favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

1 Samuel 13:8-12 (NIV)

Many teachers take issue with Saul’s offering a sacrifice. They argue that, only priest from the tribe of Levi were allowed to sacrifice to the Lord. However, this argument is tenuous. Samuel was not even a Levite by birth, and he offered sacrifices. Although Eli, the high priest, raised him, Samuel was naturally a member of the tribe of Ephraim. No one disputes Samuel’s qualifications to offer a sacrifice. Elijah was also a prophet, and not a Levite, yet no one questions his right to offer a sacrifice. God commanded David to offer a sacrifice on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David did not sacrifice at the tabernacle because he was afraid of disobeying God (2 Chronicles 21). These situations illustrate that at times sacrifices outside the temple system were not only accepted but also required.

Samuel, Elijah, and David were prophets, but Saul also prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. Saul’s actions alone were equivalent to men who came before him and men who came after him. Yet God held Saul’s actions against him; why?

When God gave Saul the kingdom, he also gave Saul three commands:

  1. Fear the LORD
  2. Serve him faithfully with your whole heart.
  3. Remember the great things God has done
In a sense, Saul’s commission was not that different from Joshua’s. God told Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” Had Saul always feared the Lord, served him faithfully, and remembered all that God had done, Saul, too, would have been strong and courageous.

When we read the passage closely, we realize that the purpose of Saul’s sacrifice was not consistent with fearing, serving, or remembering God. Saul was not being strong and courageous. Saul offered the sacrifice merely as a means of rallying the troops. Saul did not direct his sacrifice in worship of God; rather Saul directed his actions toward solving his current problem. Saul was afraid because his army was too small to protect him. He thought that offering a sacrifice might encourage the troops. Yet Saul’s actions did not deceive Samuel.

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command.”

Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.

1 Samuel 13:13-15 (NIV)

Saul’s losing the kingdom had very little to do with his actions and very much to do with his attitudes. If Saul’s confidence had been in God rather than in his own meager army, he would have kept the kingdom. Even Jephthah, the scoundrel from Judges 11 became a hero of the faith in Hebrews 11 because he had confidence in God. Saul, too, had been a hero when he trusted God. Yet Saul lacked the mettle to remain faithful to God. Perhaps the kingdom came upon him too easily.

Saul was not competent. Before becoming king, nothing other than his appearance distinguished him. He never even found his father’s donkeys, though they apparently found their own way home. Yet, when Saul yielded to God, God used him to do great things. When Saul did not regard God, he lacked all the requisite leadership skills to be king, and Israel suffered because of Saul’s lack of faith. We can draw from Saul’s example many truths:

  • We should realize that human leaders are frail and prone to failure. Our hope should be in God, and not in men.
  • God is able to use any man. It is not the measure of the man, but the measure of God’s Spirit upon the man that matters.
  • We should remember our victories as God’s victories. Left to ourselves, we probably could not even find our donkeys.
  • When we become concerned about circumstances, we have lost sight of the kingdom of God.
  • A singular victory does not comprise our character.
  • Our daily walk of faith is more important than the magnitude of our victories.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Logging

by John D Ramsey

Tonight while the little girls were at AWANA, Lisa and I stopped at ACE Hardware and bought a maul and a wedge. When we came home, I did not come inside before playing with my new toys. I split a few logs from the tree we had cut down on Monday. Lisa observed, “Those five-dollar bundles of wood we bought while camping are beginning to look like a good deal.” I had to laugh at myself. It was getting dark and I could not see, but all excuses aside, I am not a lumberjack. I am a geek. I sit in front of a desk all day writing SQL queries and C# code. Today at work I had a back spasm just thinking about swinging a maul. Tonight, my back is still complaining, but now it has a reason.

I know that the principles of mechanical physics apply to log splitting. Accordingly, the log stands no chance against a properly executed blow from the maul. However, theory alone will not produce for me a neat stack of firewood. The application of the theory requires skill. Absent skill, brute strength would do, but my greatest strengths are less brutish and more geek.

When it was too dark to see – my glasses clouded with sweat, I came inside the house and sat down in front of my computer – my domain. I was huffing, puffing, but smiling, too. I have a small stack of firewood to show for all my sweat. Yet, it is more firewood than I had earlier this evening. Each day for the next week or so, I will try to split a few more logs until I get the best of the tree or until the tree gets the best of me. Maybe I will learn a new skill. If not, I will certainly enjoy a few laughs at my expense.

It is not often that we celebrate our frailties – at least not deliberately. We usually expend our efforts doing things for which we have talent and avoiding activities that expose our deficiencies. Common wisdom tells us to do what we do best. Nevertheless, our walk of faith turns common wisdom upside down. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying,

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1:26, 27 (NIV)

Not many wise, not many influential, not many noble, yet those whom God chooses he uses regardless of their weaknesses. In fact, he uses us because of our weakness. Why does God use weak men? Because our weakness testifies of his strength.

God gave the Apostle Paul one of the greatest promises in Scripture when he told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul celebrated this truth telling the Corinthians,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Scripture continually observes this pattern that Paul descibes. Abraham, the nomadic shepherd, destroyed five kings and their armies. Sarah, the barren woman, became the mother of Isaac. Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, became the second-highest ruler in Egypt. Moses, condemned to die even before he was born, became the deliverer of Israel. Joshua, Moses’ former servant, led Israel as they took possession of the Promised Land. Gideon, the least of his father’s sons became the deliverer of Israel. Samuel anointed David, the shepherd boy, to be king of Israel. All of these exhibit God’s strength working despite human weakness. Likewise, Jesus chose fishermen and tax collectors to be his disciples.

Yet Jesus, himself, is the greatest example of God’s strength revealed out of weakness. The Son of God, the visible expression of God, gave up all the glory that was rightfully his, and he became a man. Jesus lived a humble life. He often had no place to live. He owned no property. His family thought he was crazy. The religious authorities wanted to kill him. The political authorities were indifferent to his life. His disciples betrayed, denied, or abandoned him. Ultimately, a death squad crucified him. He hung on the cross, exposed and suffering while the crowds ridiculed him. Jesus, who had no sin, took upon his body the sins of the whole world. Jesus became the shame of all men so he could carry the shame of all men into the grave. Jesus fulfilled both sides of the following equation: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NIV) In truth, Jesus became the weakest of men so that he could become the power of God unto salvation.

In human weakness, God reveals his strength. Following the death of Jesus, God the Father raised him from the dead. Not only was he alive again, but he had paid the curse of sin thereby reconciling sinners to their God. We who receive the gift of God now also obtain Christ’s resurrection unto eternal life.

We might not ever become comfortable with our weakness, but as we walk in faith, we learn that in our weakest moments God reveals the power of Christ’s resurrection in us. When we realize we are weak, we should praise God, because the weaker we are, the more likely we are to see God’s power and glory working in our lives.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Y-Ike-s

by John D Ramsey

Lisa talked to Cara this evening. Cara evacuated Houston with the treatment center where she works. Cara had moved from Galveston closer to Houston just days before Gustav fizzled. This weekend, some of her friends on the island lost their homes to Ike. Cara waited all day to hear from one friend whose home the storm destroyed. Cara finally received a text-message informing her that her friend was okay.

Cara also told Lisa that she saw her new apartment complex on television, and it does not appear damaged. Lisa and I have been tracking water levels around Clear Lake as best we can, and we, too, are optimistic that Cara’s apartment may have survived intact. Her roommates will be returning as soon as authorities permit them, and Cara will get an updated report when they do.

Cara will be staying at the camp for an indeterminate period. Her responsibilities will keep her there for as long as they need her. We expect that the storm surge inundated her car, which she left parked near Clear Creek when she evacuated with the clinic. It was a good old car.

There will be time for assessing damage and making financial decisions, but right now Cara is serving people who need her help. I could not be more proud of her.

Meanwhile in Kansas City:

The weather has been wet and our moods dreary (birthday parties notwithstanding). It has been difficult to focus on Gabby's sixth birthday knowing that Ike disrupts Cara’s life. Still, Gabby’s birthday parties went well. Lisa’s mom and dad came over Friday night, and Gabby’s friends came over Saturday morning. Lisa planned to have the kids’ party at the park, but the weekend forecast required a change of plans. With fourteen kids here, along with several moms, I did not even feel like the house was crowded (though I retreated for a while). Lisa did have a bit of an adventure keeping some of the kids contained, but no one was injured and everyone had fun. Gabby will be writing thank-you notes this week as part of her language arts assignments.



After the Saturday party, Lisa took a well-deserved nap. The little girls and I went outside in the drizzle and salvaged gala apples from the tree. We did not pick them last weekend because they were in worse shape than the red delicious apples that we boxed. Yet, every apple removed from a tree is an apple that will not sustain a squirrel through the winter.

On the gala tree, there were very few beautiful apples, but today we filled two thirty-gallon coolers with otherwise usable apples. When Lisa awoke from her nap, she came outside to join us. She especially did not enjoy working in the rain. Nevertheless, she realized that we needed to deal with the gala tree. She could not bring herself to complain about the weather considering what people in Texas (including Cara) endure this week.

I am glad for the opportunity to work with the little girls in the rain. Modern lifestyles place too much emphasis on personal comfort. Years from now, Claire and Gabby may remember the day in September 2008 when they picked apples in the rain, but many normal, comfortable days will prove altogether unmemorable. If nothing else, working outside in the rain should make working outside in nice weather much easier for Claire and Gabby.

Nothing is wrong with enjoying comfort, but when our pursuit of comfort prevents us from accomplishing something, how pathetic we are! Cara will always remember Hurricane Ike. She will remember that she left her own interests behind to care for those in need. Whether she gains professionally from this experience what she does these next few weeks will certainly become part of her character.

Our best opportunities lie beyond the boundaries of our personal comforts:

Today, I read in 1 Samuel chapter fourteen. Saul was king of Israel; he and his army arrayed themselves against the Philistines in a standoff. Saul had led an army of 330,000 men against the Ammonites in a previous time, yet since then the Philistines had succeeded in disarming Israel perhaps by killing or otherwise disabling the blacksmiths. Saul had an army of about 600 men with him, but only he, and his son Jonathon, had swords.

Trepidation paralyzed Saul, but his son Jonathon told his armor-bearer, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” 1 Samuel 14:6 (NIV) Jonathon and his servant boldly approached the Philistine outpost. When the Philistines chided them to come up, Jonathon and his armor-bearer climbed up the rocks and attacked. Jonathon led the way with his armor-bearer following. Together, they killed twenty Philistines, and the rest of the Philistine army panicked. The Hebrews who had aligned themselves with the Philistines changed sides once again, and Saul’s army-in-hiding came down from the hills to finish the rout. The Lord delivered Israel on that day.

Within our lives – within our walk of faith – many things impose upon our comforts or unsettle our hearts. Nevertheless, we need not have confidence in ourselves to have confidence in God. We need not squander our time in self-indulgent indecision. We need not look too far ahead while there is something to do today. Trusting God, we should move forward, energetically accomplishing our present task whether it is small or grand.

Sometimes the discomforts we face bring with them the sweetest rewards. Tonight, Lisa’s crock-pot simmers with the aroma of apples. In the morning, its contents should be apple butter.



Tonight, Cara works in an unfamiliar place looking out for children with unsettled minds and hearts. Tonight, I pray that God will cause Cara to be his little river of joy refreshing souls who are despairing, and may the morning bring them healing.

Regardless of our fears and inadequacies, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving.”



Friday, September 12, 2008

Surprise!

by John D Ramsey

I remember Christmas shopping for Cara and Daniel when they were four and three respectively. Lisa put items in the shopping cart while I kept the kids distracted. At their ages, it was easy to keep them distracted even through the checkout process. We managed to purchase nearly all of their gifts right under their noses without either child noticing. When Christmas came, Cara and Daniel were surprised to see the gifts that they had liked so much in the stores. Their surprise was always a bit of a mystery to Lisa and to me.

Tonight we went to Target to buy Gabby a bicycle for her sixth birthday. Buying at Wal-Mart was out of the question because their bikes in the colors that Gabby likes are all branded with Disney Princesses, Hanna Montana, or the like. All things are lawful, but in our family, Disney and similar brands are just not expedient. I do not want my girls’ identities to be coupled to someone else’s fantasies.

Target had a very nice Schwinn bicycle that Gabby had noticed before. We wandered around Target until Gabby caught sight of the bicycles and asked me if she could look at them again. She and I left Claire and Lisa and studied the bikes. Lisa and Claire joined us later and we all debated the advantages of the different bikes. Ultimately, we bought a less-expensive model because Gabby did not value the Schwinn more highly than another model.

Gabby does not know that we purchased the bicycle. While Lisa was asking a clerk to take the bike to Guest Services, I was discussing the sizes of basketballs with Gabby a couple aisles over. We left the sports and toy department for girls' clothing. Lisa found some corduroy pants for Gabby to try on. While Gabby headed to the dressing room, Claire and I purchased the bicycle and concealed it in the back of the Explorer.

As Gabby was entering the dressing room, she told Lisa, “You know, they could just buy me a present.”

Lisa asked, “Do you think they will?”

Gabby answered, “No, because they just didn’t think about it.”

When Lisa checked out, she bought a riding helmet that Gabby had wanted. Gabby noticed. When Gabby got into the car she looked into the back almost expecting to see her new bicycle, but Claire and I had done a masterful job of camouflage. Gabby asked Lisa about the helmet, and we explained that she had outgrown her old one; when that happens it is time to buy a new one. The helmet that fit her at Target was on clearance, which was even more reason to grab it up.

Tomorrow, Gabby will be excited to receive her new bicycle. Until then, Claire is basking in the glory of keeping a secret. When we reveal the secret tomorrow, both girls will celebrate even though it is Gabby’s birthday.

As believers in Jesus Christ, God has entrusted with a great mystery, yet we need not keep it secret. In fact, we are responsible to share the secret with those who do not know, and we celebrate with all who come to know the truth.

The mystery we possess is that the God who created everything also lovingly created man in His image. Nevertheless, we, his creation, rebelled against our Creator, and consequently fell under the curse of death. At the appropriate time, the Son, the visible expression of God, became a man. He lived among men experiencing all that we experience, yet without rebellion against the Father. In his life, he expressed both his deity and his humanity. In his physical suffering and death, he endured both the wrath of man against his God, and the judgment of God against man’s sin. On the cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Satisfied by the sacrifice of the Son, the Father raised him to life again.

Because of the Son’s incarnation, his death, and his resurrection, we who were in rebellion against our Creator are now reconciled to him.

We receive this reconciliation by his grace. Some Bible translations refer to grace as a “free gift”, and grace is free in the sense that we could never merit it. Yet accepting God’s grace costs us something. When we receive grace, we die with Jesus Christ to the world and to our former selves. We instead become alive in God and alive to God through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. Dying with Christ means that someday we, too, will experience the glory of his resurrection.

Jesus, in John chapter three, and Peter, in 1 Peter chapter one, refer to this reconciliation to God as being "born again" — a new kind of birthday. This is the mystery of the ages, the greatest gift in history, and it is yours to keep — forever.

Now that you know, how will you celebrate?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Free gas - hot air five bucks

by John D Ramsey

On Sunday afternoon, I happened to open the front door of our house as people were canvassing the neighborhood hanging cards on people's doors. A woman and a boy were walking in front of our house. I thought they were distributing political literature. When the woman saw my door open, she retrieved the card that the boy was carrying and brought it to my door herself. I appreciated her willingness to be personal rather than anonymous, so I did not deadbolt the door and run to the basement before she walked up the drive. Actually, Lisa was taking a nap, and I did not want a doorbell to awaken her.

I did not have my hearing aid inserted, so I am not certain what the woman said, but her spiel was short and the card she handed me was self-explanatory. I was relieved to see that the card was not a political solicitation; rather it was an invitation to attend a church event. I have seen signs for the church on the vacant lot on which they plan to build. In the quest to become whatever it is they want to become they are now soliciting new members-preferably those who might contribute to the building fund.

The card itself was worth a "free snow cone" to cool our tongues, but it promised much more including:
  • Over 30 free games
  • Water games
  • Giant inflatables
  • Prizes
  • Free food & drinks
  • Hot air balloon rides (for five bucks)
  • And a chance for the "$100 Gas Card Door Prize."
I know that there are many ideas about what church is supposed to be, but honestly, I have never attended a church that takes its ecclesiology from the Bible. There are some that take Biblical ecclesiology seriously, but the closest that I know of is about 250 miles away.

The problem with Biblical ecclesiology is that it turns everything upside down. For instance, the word pastor appears exactly once in the entire Bible and then only in its plural form. Read it yourself from the New American Standard Bible:

He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Now, if the Bible says something once, it is important. I might point out for my evangelical friends that if God gave us evangelists, pastors, and teachers "until we all attain to the unity of the faith" then we might have a difficult time dismissing apostles and prophets any earlier.

Words are empty containers into which we put ideas, and when we approach the Bible, we need to fill its words cautiously with the Author's ideas and not our own misconceptions. What did the word pastor mean in the first century? Its meaning relates to the archaic meaning of the English word pastoral. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, for instance, conjures visions of the countryside.

A pastor in the strictest sense is then a shepherd of men. A comparison of Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 reveals that the responsibility of shepherding falls upon certain old men. An elder possessed certain qualifications to be sure. Explicit among them was age, married with believing children, and faithfulness. Paul sent Titus to Crete to identify the men who met the criteria and appoint them as overseers. Paul did not tell Titus to appoint them in every church, but rather to appoint them in "every city". I consider my dad to be an elder. He is old. He has children who believe. He is married only to my mother. He is able to teach. He works among several groups of believers serving all and mentoring some. Some people call him Pastor.

Some denominations call this position bishop, which does not bother me, so long as they do not also call them, "Father". Yet, if bishops are elders are pastors, then it seems that churches have inserted an extra layer or two into their ecclesiastical hierarchy, which affronts Jesus' own words:

But you are not to be called "Rabbi," for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "Father," for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "Teacher," for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

Matthew 23:8-10 (NIV)

The position of elder follows a natural order; older and wiser men have the responsibility of leading others by example according to 1 Peter 5. Younger men have the responsibility of respect and deference to their elders. The hierarchy Jesus taught was between man and God and not between men and other men. Paul referred to fellow apostles Peter, James, and John as "those who seemed to be important". He then says, "Whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance." Galatians 2:6 (NIV)

Churches today make much ado about hierarchies, but I demur. Some well-meaning pragmatists have informed me that church just does not work without hierarchical structures. I have to admit, they are right. Our modern churches do not work without hierarchies. Someone has to be in charge.

Yet I must ask whether we have made the same mistake that Israel made in 1 Samuel 8 when they rejected God as their king and insisted that Samuel appoint a king for them. I suspect that many of our churches are not spiritual entities but rather businesses.

I think that godly men who fulfill the role of pastor in these businesses today are actually apostles and prophets who would preach in any forum where people would listen. I do not fault them for preaching the Gospel, but I do fault the audience for not listening. After all, according to Ephesians 4, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers do not do the work of service. Rather, the rest of us, those whom they equip, we do the heavy lifting according to Biblical ecclesiology.

When I read words on a church flier like, "$100 Gas Card Door Prize!" and "Hot air balloon ride -- $5", I wonder whether we have forgotten what the work of service is. When Jesus said, "When I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me", I do not think he was speaking of hot air balloons.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Free food

by John D Ramsey

Saturday, we cleaned most of the apples off our red delicious tree. We boxed a little less than 100 pounds of apples, and culled about as many that were smaller. Most of the apples were accessible from the ground or from a stepladder; however, some were far enough out of reach that I needed to climb the tree to get to them. This led to some awkward contortions where I was hanging on with my left hand and picking apples with my right hand. The highest apples I tossed down to Claire, and she caught them (some of them) with my old Rawlings baseball glove.

Gabby was our official apple-sizer. She used a wide-mouth Tostitos Salsa con Queso jar to measure the apples’ circumference. If an apple fit in the jar, she culled it. If it was too big for the jar, she boxed it. If a squirrel had ruined it, she pitched it into a trash bin. Lisa, Claire, and Gabby will process the culls into apple pie filling, applesauce or something else yummy as they decide.

Sunday, Lisa made salsa again using tomatoes and jalapenos from our garden. This summer we have eaten hundreds of free tomatoes with more to come. I suppose the loads of tomatoes from our garden have had a positive impact on our grocery budget. The trick for Lisa has been to make effective use of them. Likewise, our apples may also be a budget windfall. The girls are thrilled with the idea of free food, yet I wonder how much we will spend on sugar, cinnamon, and piecrusts before we realize the potential of all our free apples.

Free food is a powerful idea. Yet food is seldom entirely free. For instance, to harvest a couple hundred pounds of apples required all of us to work for one morning. It would not pay me to take a day off work to pick apples. Nor would apple picking have paid if I had injured myself falling from a ladder or from a bough of the tree. It might have paid Lisa the value of my life insurance, but that is beside the point. As it turns out, we are poised to benefit again from free food. Even so, Lisa and the girls have a lot of work ahead of them before we realize results. Free food requires commitment.

When Israel wandered in the desert, God provided them with free food in the form of manna. Still, they had to gather the manna each day, and they had to prepare it before they could eat it. While daily-manna assured them that they would not starve, the process was labor intensive. Arguably, manna from heaven alleviated the risk, but not the labor related to survival in the wilderness. About six or seven months after Israel crossed over the Jordan into the land of promise, God no longer provided manna because the people ate the produce of the land.

Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6 all give us the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Luke’s treatment is very much a summary. Matthew and Mark give us the background leading up to the miracle, and John records the events immediately following the miracle. Matthew and Mark tell us that after Herod beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus took his disciples to a secluded place to rest.

John’s execution alarmed and confused the people who had followed him. Their hopes for the kingdom that John had preached were shattered. Grieving and bewildered, they gathered by the Sea of Galilee waiting for Jesus to appear. Their gathering was spontaneous, and they did not prepare to spend days in the countryside.

When Jesus and his disciples arrived and saw the crowd, Jesus “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Mark 6:34 (NASB) When it was late, Jesus’ disciples wanted to send the crowd away so they could find something to eat, but Jesus instead took the contribution of five barley loaves and two fish and fed five thousand men plus the accompanying women and children. When we think about Jesus feeding the five thousand we need to remember that it was five thousand families.

The people, who mourned John the Baptist’s demise, immediately sought to make Jesus their king. In response, Jesus sent the crowds away and withdrew into a secluded place. He told his disciples to sail to Capernaum, which was several miles north on Sea of Galilee. Many of Jesus’ disciples had family in Capernaum or Bethsaida, a short distance away. Jesus told his disciples that he would join them later. The disciples might have sailed close to the shore for a time thinking that Jesus would appear on the beach and call out to them. Jesus did not come as they expected. Before long, they were in open water and it was night. A storm nearly capsized their boat. In this distress, Jesus came to them walking on the water. When Jesus entered the boat, the sea calmed and they immediately reached the shore.

Although, Jesus told his disciples to sail toward Capernaum and Bethsaida, apparently the storm drove them to Gennesaret instead. When we hear God say, “Go this direction”, do we feel confused or discouraged when the storms of life take us somewhere else? Just because God gives us direction, does not mean that we are in control. Nevertheless, we can be sure that, regardless of the storms, God retains control. This insight is too good to pass up, but we are talking about free food.

In the morning after Jesus disciples started out for Capernaum, the people whom Jesus had fed set out from Tiberias sailing for Capernaum thinking that Jesus was meeting his disciples there. They expected to arrive at Capernaum before Jesus did, but they were surprised to learn that was ahead of them at Gennesaret. When they found him there they asked, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” John 6:25 (NASB) Jesus did not answer their question. Instead, he rebuked the people who had sailed the lake looking for him.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.

John 6:26, 27 (NASB)

The people whom Jesus fed in Tiberias had worked hard to catch up with him in Gennesaret. They expended much energy pursuing free food. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.” Perhaps they were just a little embarrassed to realize that they had worked hard for another free meal that apparently was not forthcoming.

Still, the people were curious about working for eternal life, and they asked, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

The peoples’ hearts were hardened, but they still had free food on their mind. They challenged Jesus asking, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? . . . Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness: as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’”

Jesus realized that the people were comparing him to Moses. He corrects them telling them that Moses did not bring bread from heaven. He tells them that the Father gives the true bread from heaven. The people asked Jesus “always” to give them this bread.

The people thought that they are negotiating with Jesus, but Jesus is taking the discussion far beyond their comfort level. He immediately goes beyond their ability to comprehend. Jesus tells them that he is the bread of life that came from heaven. The people demur, but Jesus continues to escalate, saying,

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.

John 6:48-51 (NASB)

The Jewish leaders among the crowd objected vigorously, saying, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” Jesus was anticipating this question. This question divides the believers from the unbelievers; either you accept it or you do not. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.

John 6:53-58 (NASB)

Jesus offers himself as the bread from heaven that brings eternal life to all who eat it. This he offers freely, but it was difficult even for his disciples to accept. Many followers turned away because of these words. Jesus explained to his closest disciples, “. . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Of course, Jesus is speaking in spiritual metaphor! He contrasts physical life and death in the wilderness with eternal life in him. Jesus was not talking about preserving our present bodies forever. He said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” Eternal life does nothing for the mortal body. Eternal life does not preempt my appointment with death. It gives me hope beyond the grave.

The Jews, the people who had pursued him from Tiberias, never realized that Jesus had been speaking in metaphor all along. He wanted to give them eternal life. They wanted Jesus to feed them barley loaves and fish. His audience and Jesus were not really in the same conversation. Knowing this, Jesus stretched the metaphor as far as he possibly could, but their minds were still into sushi.

We might breathe a sigh of relief realizing that “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood” is metaphor, but before we feel too relieved we need to understand that Jesus’ words are not empty. His metaphor is extreme because his teaching is extreme. Knowing that Jesus was speaking in metaphor we still need to answer, what does it mean to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

Some Christians spiritualize nearly all of Jesus’ teaching to deflect truth that convicts them (Matthew 23:1-12, for instance), only to turn around and take Jesus literally when he says he is speaking figuratively. Go figure. Actually, their pattern is consistent because when Jesus goes one direction, they go the other.

Other Christians dismiss Jesus’ words in John 6 as if metaphors cannot be parsed. Reflecting upon the meaning of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, I recall what Paul said about the Lord’s Supper.

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?

1 Corinthians 10:16-18 (NASB)

Paul’s argument was not that the elements of the Lord’s Supper were literally the blood and body of the Lord, but rather sharing the Lord’s Supper is sharing in his sacrifice. He points to Israel’s example, “Are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?” That is what Jesus was teaching in John chapter six.

When Jesus says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he expresses that we must take responsibility for his sacrifice. Jesus died on the cross because my sin put him there. Jesus, the bread of life offers himself to us freely. Nevertheless, to accept this bread means to acknowledge my sin. I acknowledge that my sin crucified the Creator. I accept Jesus’ sacrifice as a sin offering for me. How culpable am I in Jesus’ crucifixion? I am as culpable as if I ate his flesh and drank his blood. My responsibility in Jesus’ death is not some abstract or technical guilt. I am either in or out. If I think my responsibility for his death is insignificant, then I have not partaken of the bread of life.

Accepting his sacrifice for me, I can no longer live for myself. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood means that my life now dwells in him and his life now lives in me. Receiving Jesus’ gift of eternal life, I am taken captive by his boundless love. Receiving by faith Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin is what Jesus refers to when he says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” To acknowledge less is to reject him and his offer of eternal life.

The bread of life, Jesus offers freely. Will we commit to it?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Red apples to pick

by John D Ramsey

It began with a tease, as many things do in this house. I passed Claire in the hallway on my way to the garage. “I want a ten-page report ready before I get home,” I snapped.

Claire looked bewildered and asked, “On what?”

“Your day,” I answered. As I was getting into the Explorer to drive to work, I relented, “You must have exactly one word on each page.”

Claire smiled.

Lisa had joined us by then and suggested that Claire write a haiku. I was thinking haiku already, but I did not dare require it. Since Lisa thought of it, too, I suggested that if Claire completed her haiku using exactly ten words, I would bring her a special prize. Claire accepted the challenge.

At work, while I was rebooting my laptop because of critical updates, I started thinking about haiku. Was it fair of me to ask Claire to write a ten word, seventeen-syllable poem on a whim? Did my requirement impose upon Lisa’s lesson plan for the day? Plans for the weekend flashed through my mind, and while I was still rebooting I text-messaged Lisa,

Morning promises
little girls, sunshine, breezes,
red apples to pick.

I figured that if I could do it during a reboot, it was not too much to ask of Claire. Later I realized that technically I had failed my own assignment because I was writing about tomorrow and I had asked Claire to write about today. On the other hand, one day is as good as another.

I am looking forward to divesting the apple trees of their fruit before the squirrels do. Lisa coaxed some apple boxes from the grocery store complete with packing material. The nicest apples we will box and put in a cool spot in the basement. The rest of them might become applesauce or apple butter – anything other than squirrel food.

On my way home from work, I was talking to Lisa on the phone. She asked me if I had gotten an email from Claire. I had not checked before leaving work, so she read Claire’s haiku to me.

Book report was good
Math and reading every day
Enthusiastic

That was good enough for me. Claire's reward in only eight words:

Yesterday's Sunshine®,
a bittersweet memory,
crisp Hydrox® cookies.

We will eat apples tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What a holiday

by John D Ramsey

Nothing exposes project requirements better than jumping in – especially when one jumps in over one's head.

I volunteered to set up a website for RHE (Raymore Home Educators). Lisa knows a good deal when she hears it, so the gig was mine. I usually spend my days traversing data relationships in SQL or perhaps LINQ without regard to how the data appears. It has been too long since I have any serious web development, so it was time to dive in.

This weekend I have worked with HTML, XSLT, RSS, C#, SQL, LINQ, ASP.NET, AJAX Toolkit, Regular Expressions, and CSS. I have created a dozen or more PNG images for backgrounds and such. I have tested results using Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3.0.1, and Safari 3.1.2. With minor variations in fonts, pages appear the same. This sounds like a résumé.

With about 10 megabytes of code and executable files in my project, it is not as if I have been slacking. Yet, I am still not finished with the first iteration. The nice ladies (and gentlemen) from RHE will have to be patient. I have worked non-stop (except for an ice cream social with some friends Sunday night), but I have to admit that after three days and three nights, I still do not see the light.

From a requirements perspective I admit that I have succumbed to the anti-pattern of low hanging fruit: that is doing the stuff that should be easy at the expense of the stuff that is harder. Of course, the most needed stuff is harder. Some of the easy stuff turned out to be hard anyway, which is why good project managers want to start with the hard stuff. The low hanging fruit included the Cascading Style Sheets. They do not add function to the site, but they do provide form. Without CSS, my web pages look like plain white paper with some random controls thrown on them. Yet, I wonder how many hours I spent tweaking pixel counts and such. I probably do not want to know. Lisa likes the way it looks, and that is something.

I showed her what the site looked like without CSS, then I showed her what it looked like with CSS, but without the background images. She had a hard time understanding the layers involved. She liked the site with the style applied and probably does not ever want to see it as vanilla again. That is okay, I like it with the styles applied, too.






Of all the things that I have done this weekend, I believe that the intensity of the pursuit is what I have enjoyed the most. Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NASB) Sheol is the grave. Solomon was telling people that whatever they planned to accomplish in life needed to be wrapped up or left unfinished.

Paul took a more optimistic approach, saying, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24 (NASB) If we work only for ourselves, then truly all of our efforts will come to naught when we die. If on the other hand we are working for Jesus Christ, then reward follows our exit from this stage. Working for the Lord is not always some great spiritual endeavor; sometimes it is merely doing “whatever you do.”

A few days ago, I deliberated with my family whether I was truly intense. Tonight, I have to admit that I can be. Yet there is satisfaction in hard work. Knowing that if the Lord gives me something to do, he will use it for his glory is most satisfying of all.