Friday, March 27, 2009

Questions, Ask God

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Questions, Ask God

“Are you asking among yourselves what I meant?” Jesus asked this question of his disciples on one of the last occasions he was with all of them (John 16:19 NLT). His followers heard Jesus’ teaching that night, but the essence of what he said didn’t saturate their understanding.

Even though Jesus was in their midst, they chose to ferry their questions back and forth between themselves rather than ask Jesus. Their wonderings could have opened the door to wandering.

Bible studies, Christian literature, one-on-one conversations, lectures and sermons are all ways to increase knowledge about God. The Bible is a God-encyclopedia. But sometimes I don’t comprehend what I read there. The white-space margins in my Bible are littered with question marks.

How is one to get answers to Bible-margin-questions or big question marks in life? Most often, I resort to talking with friends who are on the same journey. Could I be making the same mistake the disciples made?

Even with Jesus sitting at the same table, they debated the intricacies of his message. They ignored the available teacher in their presence.

Jesus, knowing that he would soon be back with the Father in heaven, gave instructions for seeking wisdom after he returned to his first home. “You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy” (16:24).

On that same night, Jesus also talked about The Comforter, the Holy Spirit who would “convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment,” and he named the prominent problem in the world. “The world’s sin is unbelief in me” (John 16:8, 9).

While the counsel of godly people is admirable and advisable, the best route for clear answers is a talk with the master of all languages, the Master Theologian. For answers to questions about life, earth, blue skies above and the heavens beyond, God is the ultimate information place.

Questions are a learning tool. Not all of our questions will be answered because God’s thoughts are higher than mans’ thoughts. But there is much that God planned for his creation to understand.

Go to God in Jesus’ name through prayer. Then, as the old gospel hymn says, “I may have doubts and fears” but “just a little talk with Jesus makes it right.”

Jesus’ question reverberates into 2009. “Are you asking among yourselves what I meant?”

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Garden Learning-March 20

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They may look tacky, but they represent a lot of joy. The empty seed packets taped to my fence at the end of the vegetable rows may be an eyesore because they are attached with duct tape, very small pieces, though.

This is the first vegetable garden I’ve planted in many moons. This garden is small in comparison to the ones I used to plant, but these seeds and plants were put into the ground with high harvest hopes for ripe cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, green beans, and peppers.

I learned to plant a garden from my husband David’s grandmother, Beulah. When I married and moved from Houston to the country, I had little agricultural experience. I’d only been close to fresh vegetables at the grocery store and two corn stalks growing in my parent’s yard.

Someone had given my four-year-old brother Kenny a few kernels of dried corn, and my mother let him plant them in the flower bed at our home. When they got four feet tall, my sister and I, both teens, were mortified that tasseled corn was growing in the front flowerbed for the whole world to see. Later, Grandma Beulah’s instruction cultivated garden appreciation and at least a lime green thumb.

This spring, I’m about three rows shy of having my garden planted. Hubby David came home when I was putting away the watering hose, sharpshooter shovel, hoe, and duct tape. Although Grandma has been gone for 20 years, I told David that grandma “spoke” to me all afternoon. Each time, I’d get ready to chop dry flaky manure into a row or press a large tin can around a tender tomato plant, I’d hear her voice.

The same instructions she’d given me thirty years ago surged forward and helped me with this new plot of ground. I even spoke to her aloud a few times when I messed up. Apologized for several crooked rows. I didn’t use her stake and string method to mark off straight rows, just eyeballed them. I could see her sizing up a slightly curvy row and hear her saying, “Oh well, a crooked row yields more anyway.”

Sophistication and soil don’t often mix. Dirt under fingernails doesn’t go over at a board meeting. We get used to skyscrapers, plastic keyboards, and buying vegetables from grocery bins. But lessons beyond gardening can be learned by placing a lifeless-looking seed into the warmed moist earth and watching for germination, watching for God to keep a promise. When two leaves of a seedling slowly unbend and reach for the sun, a hope unfolds, a promise of “more.”

The word “inspire” came to our language through Latin and Old French and meant to “to breathe.” God breathes life into seeds and souls, and one of the Christian paradoxes is that Christ died to bring life. We, too, can inspire, when we die to self. How do the following words of Jesus inspire you? Memorize and meditate on these this week. I will too, especially as I watch for those seedlings of promise in my backdoor garden.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Timing of a Miracle

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When a commercial airliner landed on the Hudson River and all crew and passengers survived, the word “miracle” cocooned the event. And the photos of passengers standing on the aircraft’s wings, submerged just below the water surface, had a walking-on-water appearance. Reporters mentioned that the perfect timing of everything was part of the miracle.

Sometimes it’s both the out-of-this world happening and the timing that displays the workmanship of God. David Biven in “New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus” shares his knowledge of Jewish history and everyday life, and miracle and miracle-timing are both in the story of Peter and the daytime large catch of fish from the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:1-11).

Peter and others had fished all night without the protection of modern rubberized rain gear. Brrrr—scholars believe it was winter and inevitable that the men got wet when fishing from their small vessel and handling the net. These Galileans stopped their work at daylight because fish could see the nets in the water and avoided them. The trammel nets and their small boats were typically manned by groups of four men.

After a night of fishing the extremely large nets were washed and allowed to dry, so that the linen lines would not rot. Jesus arrived at dawn while the wrapping-up chores were being completed. Rabbis taught at every conceivable time, so Jesus sat down in Peter’s boat moored a few feet from shore and taught those workers, strollers, and early shoppers gathered at the seaside.

Casting fishermen had strong bodies from tossing the heavy nets and hauling in loads of fish in sodden nets. But when Jesus arrived it was going-home-time for these night fishermen. The weary crew was probably hungry and had just spent a night’s work for nothing. No catch. No fish. No pay.

The text says that Jesus sat in Peter’s boat and taught. How do you tell the Lord of the earth that you’re tired and you just want to eat some bread and go to sleep? I wonder if Peter cleared his throat to get Jesus’ attention. Peter apparently bided his time, and soon Jesus said to the fishermen, “Push out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Were they astounded? It was daylight. Didn’t this rabbi know anything? A fishing excursion in broad daylight? With their nearly dry nets? On regular trips, the men often had to jump into the frigid water and untangle nets or scare the fish into the nets. Who wanted that cold job again?

Despite all the possible arguments against Jesus’ request, the fishermen and Peter obeyed, and when they cast the huge net, fish apparently swam blindly into it. Throughout the night, human effort had yielded zero fish. In bright sunlight in God’s timing, he herded a huge school of fish toward their net. Peter then fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped him.

David Biven concludes that the “timing of the miracle” helped the fishermen see the hand of God working. God shows his workmanship when a star falls, when spring arrives, when a plane lands on the Hudson, when a school of fish swim into a net. Watch for the work of God. It might be highly visible, or silent, or it simply may be in the timing.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

How the Story of Ben-Hur Came About

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Converse with 20 Christians and they will tell you 20 different ways God piqued their interest in him and encouraged their belief in Christ. One such story comes from the Civil War General Lew Wallace who authored the book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

When a young boy, Wallace’s mother told him about the Wise Men, who searched for the King of the Jews. That story intrigued him throughout his adult years, and he eventually wrote “The First Christmas,” a fictional account of the Wise Men. He didn’t submit it for publication, but put it away. His church attendance sporadic, he confessed that his “attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference.”

He read sermons from some of the “best preachers” of his day—Bossuet, Chalmers, Robert Hall, and Henry Ward Beecher—but only “for the charm of their rhetoric.” In 1876, a “chance” meeting with atheist Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, breached his indifference. On a train together, Ingersoll discounted believers in God, Christ and heaven with “argument, eloquence, wit, satire,” and “brilliant antitheses,” Wallace later wrote.

At his destination, General Wallace disembarked alone. Instead of taking the streetcar, he chose to walk because of his “confusion of mind.” He had no answers to any of the Colonel’s opinions. Wallace, ashamed of his ignorance, remembered the manuscript he’d written about the Wise Men searching for The Christ Child.

He decided to finish the story through to the crucifixion. He reasoned that the writing would oblige him to study the Bible and everything relevant to the event. He thought he would then possess “opinions of real value.” The book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ resulted. Wallace also journeyed to a belief in Jesus, “a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

God addresses unbelief in this statement: “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.” He continued, “My purpose will stand; and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10-11). God knows how, when, and where to stimulate interest in himself, even through an atheist’s opinions.

The story of the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur and his path to belief became a stage play. The chariot race presented an obstacle to the stage production, but eventually, in the play first performed on Broadway in 1899, eight trained horses pulled chariots and ran on treadmills.

After 21 years of worldwide performances, an estimated 21 million people viewed the stage production. One historian said the play "brought millions to their feet to cheer and more millions to their knees to pray?"

Later, MGM produced the 1959 motion picture Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston, which won 11 of the 12 nominated Academy Awards. An animated version, featuring the voice of Charlton Heston, and I watched the DVD with my young grandsons.

During the movie, we talked of ancient Roman rule and Rome, Italy today, and in a lighter moment, I explained the difference between leopards and lepers. They asked questions about Jerusalem culture and questions about God. They showed empathy for the sick and oppressed. Those special moments are treasures for me. And they had their beginnings in Civil War General Lew Wallace’s journey—a journey to The Christ.

(Suggested family activity leading up to Easter: Watch the movie Ben-Hur.)

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