The American Paradigm

“Why are you Americans poking your nose into the Middle East’s business?” 

I was sitting with fellow Christians over tea at the Irish Bible Institute in downtown Dublin, Ireland.  The Americans had just invaded Iraq after our 9-11 attacks and Georg, a Romanian, and Cesar, a Spaniard, cornered me.  They seemed upset that those bossy Americans were at it again; pushing other countries around with our might and resources simply because we were bullies.

Now, if these fellows were non-Christians I might have just shaken my head and walked away.  But they both grew up in non-Christian cultures yet were now attending an evangelical Bible college to learn more about God and Jesus.  I saw a teachable moment!

“Have you ever seen the movie Amistad?” I asked.  Neither had.

“How about Schindler’s List?”  Neither had.

“How about Saving Private Ryan?” Both had.  I probed deeper, “Ah, so what did you think of the movie?”

Both men thought the plot of the movie was idiotic.  Georg scoffed, “How stupid for all those men to die, just to save one.  It doesn’t make sense.”  I followed up, “So, what is the value of a human life in Romania, Georg?”  He replied, “Why, it’s what that person can give back to Mother Romania.”  I expected that answer.  Then Cesar agreed, “Yes, a person’s value is what they contribute to their town, province and country.”

“Not in America,” I shot back.  They were dumbfounded.  “Do you think millions of Americans died during the American Civil War to free the black slaves because of what they could give back to the economy?  No!  In fact, freeing the slaves wreck the Southern economy.”

“Then why do it?” Cesar asked, genuinely incapable of understanding any other motive. “It was stupid to do that.”

“Does your country have a battle hymn?” They both responded that there is no such thing as a ‘Battle Hymn.’  It’s an absurd idea.  I replied, “America has The Battle Hymn of The Republic.  It was written during the American Civil War and one verse contains the line, ‘Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free.’  Why?  Because God loves and cherishes all men, women and children.  If Jesus died to bring all men to God, even those with no status, should we value any human life any less?”

I would love to say that 30 years of living in a godless culture (Georg grew up Communist!) was undone that day by my dissertation, but I’m afraid it wasn’t.  Still, they left the Irish Bible Institute with a deeper understanding of God’s love for all humans.  America advanced into Iraq not bent on revenge, but to free those dear people from an oppressive dictator.  Why?  Because ‘Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free!’

By the way, did you notice that all three movies I referenced were produced by Steven Spielberg?  His movies are gritty and mean, graphically showing how terrible man can be to his fellow man.  Then, in the midst of the indifference, a hero emerges who champions the rights of the downtrodden for no other reason than “All men are created equal.”  Spielberg has a way of putting all that on film, and I recommend each one.

That’s the American Paradigm: Jesus died to make men holy, let us die to set men free.  And it begins with the Constitution which boldly states, “All men are created equal.”

He Gave His Word

We went to visit Grandma and Grandpa at their house in 1968.  I was a happy observant 7-year old.  On this visit, Grandma was upset and agitated about something and would not stop pestering Grandpa about whatever popped into her mind.  It made the entire visit awkward; like walking on eggshells.  Grandpa was the picture of patience and grace and endured it all with poise.

We were driving home from the visit in our Ford Country Squire station wagon after dark.  The kind with the fake wood grain down the side and a luggage rack on top.  I was lying in the back (unbuckled) pondering what I had witnessed that day at my grandparents’ house.  I felt I had to search for a solution: some way to bring relief to poor Grandpa from all that friction.  I asked calmly out of the blue, “Dad, if Grandma wears Grandpa out with all her arguing, why doesn’t he just leave?”  To a seven year old, this seems like an innocent question.  I wasn’t judging, I just wanted Grandpa to be happy.

Dad thought hard (can you imagine having to answer that?) and calmly replied, “Well, Grandpa comes from a generation that doesn’t leave when things get tough.  You see, he made a commitment when he married Grandma ‘for better or for worse’ and he’s going to honor that. He gave his word, and to him there’s no other option but to keep it.”

That answer soaked deep into my spirit and took root there all that long drive home.  It has since burrowed it’s way into my core.  I admire my Dad for hitting the nail on the head with his answer.  Bravo, Dad!  But I especially admire my Grandpa for giving his word (at a wedding in 1929) and keeping it until the day he passed away…regardless of circumstances.  Years later, his final words to Grandma were, “I love you.”  How could you not look up to someone like that?

In case you don’t recognize it, we’re talking about “character.”  Grandpa was brimming with it.  He’s one of my heroes.

Today, 50 years later, I still meet people who seem surprised when I commit to something and stick with it.  For example, at work I may commit to helping with a project and then circumstances change.  I still help out on the project for the simple reason that I gave my word.  People say, “Why didn’t you get out of helping on that project? You had every right to.”  I just smile and say, “Because I said I would help.  I gave my word.”

Thanks, Grandpa, for the tremendous example you showed us all.  And for loving Grandma even when she was not very lovable.  Your legacy lives on.  I give my word on that!


“They will see His face..”

I heard it again at a funeral this year.  In fact, I hear it nearly every time I attend a funeral where the second member of an elderly couple passes away.  “He’s with Mom again,” or “She’s with Daddy again.”

It comforts our grief to turn our imaginations heavenward and see in our hearts this dear couple, who modeled marital bliss for us, experiencing that bliss again: together forever!  To our aching grieving minds, this gives us peace.

But Jesus declares in Mark 12:25, “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”  (Also in Matthew 22:30 and Luke 20:35).  How can this be so?  Surely, Grandma and Grandpa are walking arm in arm along the streets of gold.  If it were not so, it could not be heaven…could it?

But that sentimental notion, while noble and comforting, falls short of what heaven truly is.

On earth, God gives us spouses, especially committed loving spouses, as a foretaste of the unconditional, committed love He has for us.  But marriage, while the highest form of love on this earth, is just a toe in the water of the ocean of love that awaits us in heaven.  Those old relationships on earth will fade into insignificance when we enter his presence.  As Revelation 22:4 puts it, “They will see His face.”

Let that soak in.

My Grandma and Grandpa, fiercely committed to each other and deeply in love for over 50 years, arrived in heaven (years apart) but the fierce love they had for each other was just a mere dim candle compared to the sun-blaze of love they experienced when they saw His face.  That face, before whom prophets fell prostrate “as though dead,” smiled upon them and said, “Welcome, good and faithful servant.” At that moment, they stopped being “Glenn and Wanda; a married couple” and became Glenn and Wanda, glorified worshipers bowing at the feet of their Savior and single-hearted in their devotion to their Creator.

Revelation 7:9-10 describes it like this.  “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”


So if you want to stretch your imagination heavenward and picture what Grandma and Grandpa are doing right now, there’s your answer!  They’re not cooing over each other, they’re robed in shining white and crying out praises to God.  Together forever!

And to be honest, as they worship God they’re happier and more filled with love then they ever were on earth.  We will join them soon.

As you look forward to 2018, may God give you a foretaste of His presence that transcends everything on this earth, even the bond of marriage.

He Comes Anyway

December 1990 was a very different Christmas.

That December I was deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield and thousands of miles away from family, friends, my home church and stranded in a lifeless desert with no signs that it was the Advent season at all.  No trees, no carols, no Santas, no mall sales, no bells, TV specials, stockings, presents or family.  It was surreal: just like how the Grinch had stolen all the trappings from Whoville and left nothing but bare walls.

In fact, bare walls were all our little battalion chapel had!  It was a simple 10′ by 10′ room with a raw concrete floor, unpadded folding chairs, bare walls and ceiling painted bland off-white and a single window.  Because the Saudi nationals who worked in our camp could see through that window we were forbidden from putting up any religious signs that may offend them.  In short, it was just four walls, a ceiling and a floor: all barren.

Christmas Eve came and my friend, 2LT Rob McGill, convinced me to go to the midnight service in that antiseptic little room.  I hated that all I held dear at Christmas had been effectively stripped away.  Instead of celebrating Christmas, I was having a pity party because my Christmas was ruined.  The Grinch would have been so proud!

At 11:59 p.m. the chaplain passed out candles and we all lit one and turned out the harsh overhead fluorescent lighting.  He strummed his guitar and led us in Silent Night in that depressing little room.  Then as the song ended just after midnight Rob looked at me and said, “How ’bout that.  Jesus came anyway.”

Me (left) and Rob at midnight, Christmas Eve

I was speechless. Yes, Jesus came anyway! Just like Christmas still came to Whoville even after the Grinch stole all the trimmings.  And now I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no matter where I am, or how empty my Christmas Advent is, Jesus still comes each Christmas Day.

And HE makes all the difference!

Merry Christmas to everyone, especially to deployed troops serving in places where Christmas seems like an impossibility.  With God, all things are possible!


Barabbas – Part II

Let’s return to that fateful day known in Christendom as Good Friday.

As we saw in the last post (Barabbas – Part I) Barabbas was released by Pontius Pilate and disappeared into the boiling crowd of people visiting Jerusalem for the holiday.  Jesus, along with two petty thieves, have been crucified outside the city gate and are hanging there on public display.  It is afternoon now.  The crucified victims have already been hanging on their crosses for hours.

Barabbas urged his friends to come with him just outside the city and see this man hanging on the cross that was to be his.  He spun it as a way to savor the zealot’s victory over Rome, yet deep inside he was simply insanely curious.  His friends all declined the invitation.  After all, many of them, fellow zealots, were wanted men.  Bands of murderous rebels simply don’t go out and stand in large crowds to watch public executions, unless of course they intend to stir something up. 

“No,” they told Barabbas, “It’s the Passover.  Let that rabbi, Jesus, take the pressure off of us for awhile.” 

Barabbas was disappointed that nobody would go with him, but still decided to quietly sneak out on his own.  He pulled his cloak up over his head to conceal his identity and eased out into the crowded street.

“I must be careful,” he thought as he walked through the gate in the city wall.  “If those Roman guards recognize me, they still might just run me through with a sword.  After all, I was released, but not pardoned!”

As soon as he stepped through the Gennath Gate, the atmosphere of the Passover celebration vanished.  A short distance in front of him was a somber crowd.  Some were wailing in mourning, but most were milling around and quietly talking to each other.  An unnatural darkness, unlike anything he had ever seen, appropriately set the mood.

On top of a small round hill were the three crosses.  Set here of all places so that they would be highly visible to all.  Anyone coming into Jerusalem through this gate could not help but see the gruesome display and be warned of Rome’s iron grip.  As he caught sight of the three filthy, beaten men pinned up on the crosses, Barabbas stopped and shuddered.  They had been stripped of all but a loincloth.  They were now clothed in dust, blood, and shame.

“Mercy,” Barabbas thought.  It was the only word he could formulate in his mind.  “Someone show them mercy!  Even a pig should not suffer such cruel indignity.”

The brush of someone passing close by alerted Barabbas that he was standing alone on the path.  “I’d better mingle.  I won’t be recognized in the crowd.” 

He pulled his cloak tight around his face and moved along quickly.  He soon arrived in a part of the crowd that was mostly mourners.  Some were prostrate and wailing.  Some sat up, quietly sobbing.  Some stood in small huddles hugging each other.  Barabbas sat down by himself behind a group of wailing women. “Perfect,” he thought as he eyed the mourners nearby, “Nobody will notice me among these whimpering fools.”

And there he sat for what seemed like an eternity, watching the men on the crosses struggle for every breath.  It gave him a sense of deep appreciation to think how close he came to being up there with them.

Then, rather suddenly, Jesus pulled himself up straight and rigid.  The deliberate movement caused an expression of agony to contort his face, but it was necessary in order for him to exhale and speak.  And with that movement, he turned his face to the sky and shouted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Then, crying out something which Barabbas could not quite make out, Jesus fell limp.  His expression had no purpose, like it did only moments before.  The color of his skin turned ashen and he no longer struggled painfully to breath.  Yes, without a doubt the rabbi was now dead.

“Whew!  It’s over,” Barabbas muttered as is tense body relaxed.  Up until this point, he felt like he was watching himself die up there.  But now that Jesus was dead and Barabbas had not died along with him, the mutual suffering was over.  His feelings of pity and longing for mercy for Jesus now changed to feelings of loss.

“What a shame.  He didn’t deserve to die like that.  I did…well, maybe…but not him.”

Oddly, he felt no such remorse for the thieves.

Barabbas slowly rose to his feet, shaking off the stiffness of sitting too long, and dusted himself off.  The crowd had long since thinned out and gone back inside the city.  There were restrictions to how far you could walk on the Sabbath, which began at sundown, so nobody wanted to been seen breaking the law on the Holy Passover Sabbath.  The serious mourners who had stayed this long were now beginning to leave as well.

As each body was taken down from their respective crosses under the watchful eye of the Roman guards and the Pharisees, Barabbas focused on the lifeless body of Jesus.  His size and build were nearly identical to his own.  Even through all the filth and bloody wounds, Barabbas could detect a lean sinewy body.  Not what you’d expect in a rabbi.  For just a moment, Barabbas imagined that they were lowering his own lifeless body down from that cross.  For just an instant, he saw his own death from the point of view of a bystander, and felt that cross should have been his.

Then he gasped and flinched as he felt a man’s arm firmly wrap around his shoulder.  It made him jump rather violently, yet he did not pull away as the unknown man drew Barabbas near.  Barabbas, who was used to trusting nobody, somehow sensed that this man was no threat.  First was the touch: a gentle but firm arm around the shoulders that produced more of a hug than a grip.  Second was his face: a face he had never before seen, yet one that was as pleasing as an old friend.

The strange man smiled at Barabbas and said, “I know how you feel, Barabbas.  He died for me too.”

And with a little squeeze, he released his arm and walked away.  Barabbas stood dazed.  “Who was that?  How did he know who I was?  Was it one of Jesus’ Disciples?  Was it one of the priests?”  The man was now lost in the group of people crowding back in through the city gate.

Who was that unknown sympathizer?

It could have been you.  It could have been me.  It could have been anyone who places their hope of salvation in the merits of Jesus Christ.

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18

Barabbas – Part I

Have you ever considered Barabbas – the man who was released so that Jesus could be condemned?  He was captured by the Romans for “an insurrection and murder” according to Mark 15:2.  He was a wanted enemy of the Roman State and there was no way that Pontius Pilate would free “public enemy number one”.  Imagine how Barabbas must have felt as he slowly walked out onto that balcony with Pontius Pilate, Jesus, and armed Roman guards.  Let’s listen in as Barabbas thinks to himself.

“I’m a dead man.  Governor Pilate is going to let the crowd choose one of us to be released and I have to stand up here with…with…that Nazarene rabbi!  I’m guilty of murder…everybody knows that!  What has he done?  Jesus is just a rabbi spreading love and healing people.  Here is my only hope for release and I have to pair up with a prophet who entered Jerusalem just days ago to cries of ‘Hosanna in the highest.’  Those spikes are really going to hurt.”

Barabbas didn’t hear Pilate addressing the crowd.  He didn’t notice the morning sun forcing him to painfully squint.  He didn’t notice the fresh breeze which smelled of Passover preparations, a nice change from weeks in a damp prison.  Barabbas’ senses were dead that morning.  All external senses were dim and muffled.  It was his mind’s way of protecting him from his helpless reality.  He retreated into bitter numbness.

The unrepentant murderer stood there withdrawn like a calloused fist.  He hated the crowd and everyone in it.  While they would surely choose Jesus to be released, he still hated them for it.  It made him fell better.  And he hated that peaceful man across the way who was his opponent in this sick game of life and death.

“You lucky dog,” he thought as he eyed Jesus.  “You may be tired, beaten, and hungry, but soon you’ll be lounging at the Passover feast, laughing with friends and family and I’ll be skewered to a crossbeam.” 

He felt cheated that Jesus was his opponent in this cruel game.

“I would have fared better against one of those two thieves.”  His only consolation was that his death might motivate his fellow Zealots.  “At least I’ll live on as a martyr and perhaps my death will inspire another uprising.”  He smiled for the first time in days, “Yes, Pilate.  I’ll still be murdering Romans after I’m dead!”

Then something unexpected caught his attention.  It quickened his senses so quickly that his thoughts all vanished in mid-sentence.  Could it be?  What did he hear?  Did someone actually yell, “Release Barabbas to us!”  He strained to hear it again.  Barabbas stared wide-eyed at Pilate.  His mouth was open.  He did not breathe.  The Roman Governor appealed to the boiling crowd on Jesus’ behalf.

Barabbas struggled to send a thought to Pilate, “No, no!  Shut up!  Listen to the crowd.” 

Again the crowd, with forceful unity cried for Barabbas’ release.

“They want me?!”  A thin smile broke out on his face.  “You beautiful people!  I love these beautiful people.”  

Then he became absorbed in communicating to the crowd through expression and body language. “Yes, yes, louder, louder…that’s it.  We want Barabbas!  Release Barabbas!”  He glanced over to see how Jesus was working the crowd in his favor.  “Odd!  He’s just standing there like a statue.” 

Pontius Pilate appealed to the crowd a third time for Jesus’ release.  The Governor sensed the injustice of what was happening and was trying to show the crowd the foolishness of their demand.

“What crime has he committed?  I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.”  Pilate desperately wanted to see Barabbas impaled as a public symbol of what Rome does to murdering rioters.  “I will have Jesus punished and then release him.”

The crowd nearly went berserk.  They would have none of it. “Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!” they shouted even louder.

No words had ever sounded so sweet to Barabbas.  As the cries of the crowd developed a unified chant Barabbas stared at Jesus.  His lips silently echoed the crowd’s demand, “Crucify HIM!  Crucify HIM!”  Barabbas felt the malice in their chant and it gave him strength.

Sensing the need to calm the frenzied mob, Pilate caved into their demands.  Pointing stiffly at Jesus, the Governor declared, “Let him be crucified!”  Pilate then wheeled and stared at Barabbas with fury in his eyes.  Barabbas’ blood chilled.  Without words, Pilate clearly communicated, “This isn’t over.  I’ll get you yet!”  Then he spat at the guards, “Release him.”

The crowd exploded in cheers, they had gotten their way and the blasphemer would soon be dead.  The guard holding Barabbas released his grip and Barabbas collapsed to his knees.  The weight of long weeks on death row flushed from his body like a shower of cold water.

“I’m free!  I’m free!”  It was so unreal that he had trouble believing what he was saying.

His senses were sharp now and he soaked in every sensation around.  The smells were like perfume.  The roaring crowd seemed like music.  And the sight of Jerusalem from the Praetorium balcony in the early morning sunshine took his breath away.

Then his eyes fixed on Jesus.  The strange rabbi looked haggard and exhausted, yet his face was not desperate.  He was strangely calm.  This man had just been sentenced to die undeservedly, yet he did not exude the anger Barabbas had felt only moments earlier.  Barabbas thought this curious as he watched two Roman guards escort Jesus away to be crucified.

“Thanks, rabbi.  I don’t understand why you crossed my path today, but thank God you did.”  And with that thought, a guard unshackled Barabbas and roughly escorted him out.

Barabbas ran out of the Praetorium and crashed into the arms of his fellow patriots.  He cried joyously.

What did Barabbas do next?  Where did he go?  Did he hang around Jerusalem for Passover?  Did he mingle in the crowd to see Jesus crucified?  Stay tuned for Part II.

The Holy Waiting Room

Jesus shares an interesting story in Luke 16:19-31 about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who both die and are spirited away to separate sides of a large cavernous waiting room.  Jesus describes this place as the location where departed souls went after their bodies died.  You see, prior to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross all departed souls (both believers and unbelievers) went here (Hades in Greek; Sheol in Hebrew) to wait until Jesus made a way for them to get to heaven.

What a place that must have been.  Imagine everyone who had died before Jesus’ resurrection all being holed up in one place.  Abraham was there.  Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Samson, and Samuel were all there.  David was there, along with Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, and even Jonah.  They waited for centuries for that moment when all sin was finally atoned for and they were cleared for admission into heaven.  There are only two who never had to go wait in the holding tank.  The first was Enoch from Genesis 5:24, which says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”  The other was Elijah, who was taken directly to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).

What do you think it was like in that “holding tank”?  What did they do there to pass the centuries?  What image comes to mind?

I get the image of a doctor’s office waiting room.  Have you ever had an early morning appointment?  People open the door to the waiting room, check in at the desk and take a seat where they thumb through an issue People magazine dated August 1997.  This continues until the doctor’s waiting room is crammed full of coughing, sniffling people all ready to cross-contaminate each other.  At that precise moment, when you realize that one more person will exceed the room’s capacity, that’s when the nurse opens another door, peeks her head in and says, “Mr. Smith?  Please come with me.”

This is the image of Hades/Sheol I have in mind (only without the coughing and sniffles) when I read the account of Jesus, Peter and John on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).  As you’ll recall, Jesus takes Peter and John up on a mountain and he is transfigured before their eyes in glory.  Then Moses and Elijah both appear in glory with Christ and Peter and John see them talking with Jesus about his approaching death.

Now, it’s no big deal that Elijah appeared there in glory.  After all, about 700 years ago he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot and has been hanging around there with angels and God.  He got a pass and didn’t have to sit in the waiting room!  Getting him to the mountain top for a guest appearance was easy, for he was readily available and at God’s side.

However, Moses presented a logistical problem.

Moses was stuck in the Hades waiting room with all those others.  So, God dispatched an angel from heaven to go to Hades, find Moses among the millions already waiting there, clean him up for his guest appearance and take him to meet Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

What must it have been like as that angel opened the door, like the nurse at your doctor’s office, and called out, “Mr. Moses?  Jesus will see you now.”

Did Abraham protest? “Hey, I was here first!”

Did Adam counter? “No you weren’t.  I was first in line.  See, I took a number!  Number 1!”

Did David object: “That’s my offspring up there…the Messiah.  I should go instead!”

After all, of the heavyweights of the Old Testament Faith, Moses is the only one who had never set foot in Israel.  Why pick him?

And after Moses is taken away by the angel to make a brief appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration, did God send him back to wait a few more months until Jesus finished his atoning work?  Did everyone waiting there get excited as Moses described the Messiah?  Did they laugh when Moses told them how utterly clueless the Disciples were?  “Peter asked if they should build shelters for us!  Can you believe that?”

Yes, I’m sure that was the most interesting day in the history of Sheol.  Well, at least until Jesus appeared in shining glory and announced, “Hey, I’ve just defeated death.  Follow me to heaven!”

Another Round of Hysteria

I heard another one on my drive home yesterday.  They’re everywhere!  End Times prophets peddling their latest books about ISIS, terrorism, the collapse of the EU, the rise of globalism, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  According to them, the End is surely upon us!

I just shake my head and want to cry.

Look, the End of which the Bible speaks will surely come.  And it will come with signs that the enlightened Christian may recognize and be able to translate.  But let’s face it, Christians have a terrible track record at interpreting this stuff.

When I was a missionary in the Philippines in 1999 so many beautiful believers in the church I was supporting were losing sleep about Y2K.  In their minds, Y2K surely was THE event that would usher in the Second Coming.  I prepared and presented a class to the high school youth and started by saying, “Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, folks.  You’ve actually been living in it for at least four years now.”  I then went on to explain that Biblical scholars now believe Jesus was born anywhere from 4 to 6 B.C., not in 1 A.D. like our calendars say.  Therefore, 2,000 after His birth was not the year 2000, but actually somewhere around 1996.  The youth were stunned that they had actually been living in the 21st Century after Christ’s birth for years.

After they processed that fact, they then got angry with me. How dare I tread upon their much-cherished hysteria!  But this hysteria was nothing new.  I showed them pictures of actual posters from 1899 that predicted (with 100% certainty) that the End was sure to come in 1900.  It didn’t.

In the 1950s the world was healing from a devastating world war, nuclear Armageddon was a real possibility and, most shocking of all, Israel had just become a nation again after being absent from the earth for two centuries.  In the words of a fellow missionary who taught seminary during those years, “For years you couldn’t hear a sermon that didn’t mention the A-bomb or Israel.  We KNEW the End was coming in the 1950s.”  It wasn’t.

America experienced great culture upheaval in the 1960s: an unpopular war, assassinations, the Manson family, and students at Kent State were shot.  Along came a book (The Late Great Planet Earth) whose timing was like throwing gas on a fire.  According to this book, the End was upon us.  It wasn’t.

And on it goes.  The Left Behind Series, for example, is now a nostalgic source of jokes.  Doomsday harbingers still abound today, telling us that this sign or that event are proof positive that the End is just around the corner.  It may be, but if history proves anything, it probably isn’t.

Jesus says in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and THEN the end will come.” (emphasis added). Here, I think Jesus was saying, “Hey, Christians.  Focus on the Great Commission.  Finish it for my  glory because I won’t return until everyone has had a chance to hear my gospel.  Let the unbelievers worry about who is the Antichrist or which nations make up the 10-headed beast.  I want you focused on me and completing the Great Commission.”  Other verses support this position, but even if I’m wrong isn’t it better to spend energy on spreading the gospel than whether ISIS is Gog or Magog?  2 Peter 3:12 says, “..look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”  We “speed its coming” by getting out there and completing the Great Commission!

If you’re interested in more, check out The End Times in Jesus’ Words, which goes into more detail.  It’s an encouraging and motivating read, not a call to hysteria.


Finish the Work

My daughter is many wonderful things, and determined in certainly one of them (some might say “strong willed”).

As a toddler we read to her often and she adored books.  When she was three I was sitting on the couch watching TV and she toddled in.  She stood between me and my TV program, held up Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss and said, “Daddy, teach me how to read!”  How could I turn down such a noble demand?

I pulled her up into my lap, opened Hop on Pop and began to explain that certain letters always make the same sound.  “For example,” I said, “This here is the letter ‘P’.  Whenever you see that letter it makes a popping sound. Pah…pah…pah.”  This impromptu reading lesson was very brief.  Not surprisingly, in less than a minute my 3-year old slipped off my lap and sulked away, disappointed that reading takes longer than one minute to learn and required her rapt attention.

The desire was there, for she loved books and desperately wanted to read, but the willingness to put in the time and effort to achieve that goal was noticeably absent.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of our sad human nature?  We desperately want something but we often fail at execution.  This surplus of dreams and corresponding dearth of discipline to achieve them is a plague on the human condition.  If you want proof, just look around on New Year’s Day.  On this day of fresh starts so many of us “resolve” to finally do that thing that has eluded us for all the previous years (to lose weight, to get out of debt, to read the Bible every day, to clean the garage, to quit smoking, to earn a degree, etc.).  If we didn’t have a chronic problem achieving our dreams, we wouldn’t need to make the same New Year’s resolutions every year.

The Bible even speaks to our penchant to leave great things unfinished.  2 Corinthians 8:11 (NIV) says, “Finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.”  Great advice, Paul, but exactly how do we ‘Finish the work’?

I have no magic formula for instantly solving this curse upon the human condition.  My advice, however, is to prioritize what you CAN do.  I regularly step back from my life, identify what can be done within a reasonable amount of time (like finally starting this blog page!) and attack those things that you are willing and able to knock out now.  This generates the momentum of accomplishment, and that kind of momentum can energize you to accomplish even more.  As leadership guru, Dr. John C. Maxwell says, “Winning starts with beginning.”  So just find a dream and get started!

By the way, my remarkable little girl did teach herself how to read within a year of our aborted reading lesson.  She finally decided she wanted it badly enough to put forth the effort and my determined toddler got it done.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get off the Internet and go clean out the garage.

God Saves a Life Through Prayer

One July evening I invited a One Mission Society (OMS) missionary, Julie, to speak to some friends at my house after dinner.  Julie spoke passionately about her ministry to homeless children in Mozambique and my friends, Phil and Pattie, listened with great interest.  Julie showed some heart wrenching photos of these needy children who lived on a garbage heap and were covered with skin diseases.  Phil did not see the photos.  He is blind.

Three months later, after Julie had returned to Mozambique, Phil called my home.  He was disturbed and said, “I don’t remember the name of that young missionary who spoke at your house, but I sense in my heart that something terrible has happened to her.  Will you join me in praying for her?”  I agreed, hung up the phone, went to my bedroom and lifted Julie to the Lord in prayer.  After praying I thought, “I will call OMS headquarters to see if they’ve heard any news about Julie.

I phoned OMS and someone there said, “We got word just this morning that Julie has contracted cerebral malaria and has been flown to South Africa for treatment.  Her situation is serious and she could die.”  I passed that news along to Phil and Pattie so we all could pray more effectively for Julie.

Months later, as my own family prepared to go to the mission field (Philippines and Ireland respectively), God brought to mind the time when He reached across an ocean to alert a humble blind man who could not even remember Julie’s name, and Phil obeyed that prompting.  We missionaries are appreciative of each one who prays for us.

Now for “the rest of the story.”  Julie recovered fully, finished her assignment in Mozambique where she met a man from New York and is married with a happy growing family.  She is living proof that tropical diseases are no match for the loving care of our Lord and the obedient prayer of a humble blind man.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NIV)