Sunday, November 22, 2015

SEVEN LETTERS CONCERNING THE END OF THE AGE

LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF REVELATION 

In the beginning of the book of Revelation, there are seven short messages to seven churches in what is now western Turkey. These are called the letters to the churches of Asia, since that was what the province was called under the
Roman Empire.
 
The letters were penned by the Apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation. The churches to which he wrote were actual fellowships of believers in real cities during the days of John. Some Bible students have theorized that these churches also represent other things, or have other meanings.There is perhaps some additional significance to the meaning of these churches, but some of the theorizing concerning this begins to border on the ridiculous.
 
Nevertheless, I think that we can say that the messages to these seven first-century churches are also messages to Christian churches everywhere, since a common phrase in all of these messages is, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The messages to these churches are messages that we should also hear in our churches today.
 
Actually, it is not only these short messages that were written to the churches, but the letter to them also included the entire book of Revelation. It was a single letter that was meant to be delivered to all of these churches, and probably other churches in that area as well. In those days, there was no pressing the “carbon copy” icon in the email. The common method in that first century was to circulate the written letter from one church to another, so that all could read it and even make copies of it.
 
As you know, the book of Revelation is largely about events surrounding the final days upon the earth – about the end of the age. The churches in that first century, when they read about these events, they probably expected themselves to see many of these things happening in their own lifetime. They had no idea that they it would be millennia before many of these things would take place.
 
In the short messages to each individual church, we read of some of the problems of these seven churches. Coupled with the warnings to each church, there was also a promise given to them if they listened to the warning and obeyed. I do not know how these churches responded to these messages, but presumably, they took the warnings and promises quite seriously. After all, the rest of the book of Revelation talks of some horrible events that were to take place. These churches would have no doubt felt the need to be prepared.
 
Birth Pangs
 
As we now know, most of the things written in the book of Revelation did not occur in the first century. Some did, however. In addition to this, Jesus as well as the Apostle Paul likened some of these prophetic events to “birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8; Romans 8:22). Many of the events found in the book of Revelation have occurred all throughout history, in varying degrees. It truly is very similar to an expectant mother going through the birth pangs of having a child, because these painful things upon the earth will become the most severe as we near the end of the age.
 
However, the difficulty with these birth pangs concerning the end of the age is that as time goes on, we tend to become inattentive. As the years pass, then the decades and then the centuries, we see that all of the most severe of events have not yet taken place.
 
The Wise and Foolish Virgins
 
Like the story that Jesus told of the ten virgins (Matthew 25), Jesus has delayed his coming much longer than any of us thought that he would. We begin to become drowsy and fall into complacency, forgetting to be watchful.
 
The essential lesson of that story of the ten virgins is that it is only the individuals who are wise who will be ready to receive Jesus when he comes. The wise are the ones who have prepared themselves for the coming of Christ. The five foolish virgins who were not ready found the door closed to them, and when they knocked to try and enter, the only words that they heard were, “I do not know you.”
 
I know that all of this brings up many theological and doctrinal issues that we could examine, but the essence of the story was to teach us to be watchful and to be ready.
 
Like the bridegroom of the story, Jesus has delayed his coming longer than perhaps any person would ever have guessed. But the lesson of this story of the ten virgins, and the lesson of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation is the same: If we are not vigilant about our lives, we may find ourselves suffering the consequences of not being prepared. We may find ourselves wishing that we would have heeded some of these warnings that John wrote to these churches in Asia Minor.
 
What We Need to Hear

Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, “The Spirit expressly says that in later times, some will depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1a).

He also wrote, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1).

Taking these words of admonishment together with many others like it in the New Testament, it seems to me that it does us no harm to often make an assessment of our walk with God. Considering these words of Paul’s along with John’s warnings given to the seven churches of Revelation, it becomes apparent that anyone who does not have a true faith in Jesus Christ the Sovereign God will abandon him when confronted with any type of severe persecution. 

The Letters to the Churches

It would be nice, I suppose, if we knew something about the various situations in the churches to which John wrote and why he wrote the things that he did to each church. Actually however, it probably best that we do not know. Indeed, even John probably did not know much of what was happening in these churches. After all, these words that he wrote to the churches were not actually his words. He was not acting as a church pastor or bishop or any kind of overseer. These were words that John was instructed to write. As an introduction to these letters, John writes who told him what to write. 


I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man...

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Taken from Revelation 1:10-20 ESV) 

The words that John wrote to the churches were not actually John’s own messages to them. They were the words of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who repeatedly said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

For this reason, when we read these words to the churches, it almost does not matter that we do not know about the specifics of each church, for they are words for us as well. As we read these messages, we would do well to ask, if Jesus were to send a message to the Log Church*(footnote), what would he say?

It gets even more personal than that. If a courier showed up at your door one day, carrying with him a letter from Christ, what would it say? Would it say some of the same things that were written to the seven churches of Asia?

Ephesus

Would the message say, as did to the church in the city of Ephesus?  

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil…I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” 

I must admit, this first message is one that has caused me some sorrow on several occasions. Sometimes when the business and the busy-ness of life begins to crowd into my own life and when I find that I am looking to the same forms of entertainment as the rest of the world to take up the hours of my day, I find myself thinking back to the time when I first gave my life to Christ.

More than just a few times, I have asked myself what happened to those days. In those early days with the Lord, I devoured the Bible, not able to satiate completely my curiosity and learning. This specific message to the church in Ephesus probably has done more to safeguard my priorities in life than any other words in the Bible.

Laodicea

Along with admonitions and warnings that Jesus gave to the churches, he also had something positive to say about almost all of them, all of them except one. The church of Laodicea was the only church of the seven to whom God said nothing good. The people there received no commendation of any kind.

Financially speaking, the people of Laodicea were generally
wealthy. This city was a rich, commercial center of the area, and the church was one who considered themselves as being self-sufficient. But the opinion of Jesus was different.

He said to them, “You say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,’ but your actual state is that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

It is puzzling to me why we so easily equate a comfortable financial situation with security. This is not God’s perspective. It is the world’s perspective. Certainly, in this world, money is everything. However, if we step back and see the broader perspective of life, we come to understand that a few minutes of wealth in this present life does not compare in the least with the eternal crown of life that was promised to the faithful in the church of Smyrna.

In contrast with the church in Laodicea, which was wealthy in the world’s eyes but impoverished in God’s eyes, Jesus told the church in Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich!” They were the ones who, if they remained faithful, were promised the crown of life.

But Laodicea was the “lukewarm” church, seemingly having no passion to dedicate themselves to God. This insipidness is distasteful to God. “I will spit you out of my mouth!” he told the church.

Nevertheless, even to this church, so apathetic about their life with God, there is a promise: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

We might think this a strange thing to say. Was this not a Christian church, this Laodicean church? Were they not meeting in the name of Jesus? Presumably they were, and yet Jesus was left outside, knocking and asking to be let in. He was only waiting for someone to hear him and to open the door.

And what about your own life? After all, the life of the church is only the sum of the lives of the individuals who gather. The spiritual life of the Log Church is only the sum of our own spiritual lives. How many of us, when we sense the Spirit of God wanting to make a change in our own lives, refuse to let him in? If we do not, is it any wonder that we cannot get victory over some events and practices in our lives?

But for those who do, Jesus has a promise: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” 

Confused Perspectives

There are five other churches that are included in this letter. I simply do not have time to speak of each one of them at this time. Each is a message to a church who has its own unique struggle with the society of their day. Most of these churches had failed in one significant way or another. However, Jesus admonished and encouraged these churches to rekindle those good things that remained, and to return to his teaching.

The truth is, we easily become confused in our priorities. Every day we see the changing standards in society of what is right and what is wrong. Quite often, things that were wrong in one generation are celebrated in the next. Sometimes these changes of our standards of acceptability are based on some remnant of the truth, but just as often, it is based purely on personal preferences. It is the culture of the moment and contemporary society that drives us, not eternal truth.

We also become confused by what we see as being influential in the world. These are things like wealth and power and prestige. We forget that these marks of this age have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.
 
But we have not been created to live only a generation here on earth. We have been built for eternity. If our lives are to have meaning, we must understand that what is important in the eyes of the world often means nothing in the eternal kingdom.

Jesus said it best when he was on trial before Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world…You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:36-37).

If we wish to live by what it true, we must heed the words repeated seven times to the churches of Revelation: “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

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*(The Log Church is our little church where I am the pastor. This blog post was a sermon I gave there. www.thelogchurch.com)
 

 
 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

OF CAMELS AND NEEDLES - INHERITING ETERNAL LIFE


“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question was asked of Jesus one day. A man actually ran up to him to ask it, seemingly intent on receiving an answer. The story is found in three of the gospels (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30). From the three accounts, we not only learn that his man was determined to receive an answer to his question, but also that he was a young man, he was some kind of ruler, and he was rich.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked.

Do you see anything as being wrong with this question?

This was not the only time that this same question was asked of Jesus. He was asked the very same question at least one other time that we know of (Luke 10:25). Besides this, Jesus spoke often of eternal life.

But the premise of the question seems wrong to me. What seems wrong is this: An inheritance is not achieved by doing something, or that for which one works to obtain. An inheritance comes because of who you are, not because of what you do. An inheritance is received based on a promise, not on works.

This is a point that the early apostles especially were careful to teach. Perhaps the most succinct statement about this is what Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “If the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise” (3:18).

The point that he was making was that we cannot earn our salvation. It must be given to us by God as a matter of grace from him, and received by us in faith.

However, when the rich, young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus did not mention receiving this life by the grace of God, or anything concerning being born again. He did so at other times. For instance, when the man Nicodemus came to him, Jesus told him, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…whoever believes in [me] will have eternal life” (John 3:3,15)

With the rich young ruler, Jesus simply said, “If you wish to enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

At first blush, this may seem like a contradiction with what Jesus had said to Nicodemus. It also does not seem to be the same as the teaching of the apostles. However, let’s continue with the conversation between the rich young ruler and Jesus.
 
Doing the Minimum

“Which commandments?” the young man asked. He may have been interested in working in order to obtain eternal life, but apparently, he did not want to do more than was necessary.

Jesus summarized them for the man. “You shall not commit murder; you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness, and honor your father and mother.”

Then the young man asked another question that is a bit interesting. “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”

What is interesting about this question is this. If the man really did keep all of these commandments as he said he did, why did he still feel insecure about his salvation? Hearing this list from Jesus, why did he instead not congratulate himself on obtaining the eternal life that he was seeking?

He did not feel secure in this because in his heart, he knew that he was holding back. He knew that there was still something wrong.

 “One thing you still lack,” Jesus continued, “Sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor.”

This was a step that the young man did not want to take. When he heard what Jesus said, he went away grieving. After all, he was a very wealthy man. He did not want to just give it all away.

“How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus went on to say. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The Great Commandment

We will get to the camel going through the eye on the needle in a moment, but we first need to back up and look at a couple of things. First of all, when Jesus summarized the commandments for the man, we should notice that the summary was actually not a fair representation of the written commandments of God.

As a matter of fact, Jesus did not mention the most important of all of these commandments. On another occasion, when some Pharisees asked Jesus which of the commandments was the great commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).

Why did he not mention this one to the rich, young ruler? Jesus only summarized the commandments having to do with our treatment to other people.

Measuring Our Love

Of course, any answer that I could give to this question would only be speculation on my part, but I will give you some ideas of what I think may be the reasons.

First of all, when we talk about our love for God, how are we to measure it? The first and great commandment is that we should love God with all of our hearts, soul and mind. Nevertheless, we do not have a good, objective way to measure this. It is not like checking our blood pressure. Neither do we have a dipstick into our souls that gives us the level of our love, as if we were checking the oil level in our cars.

If you were to ask me if I am keeping this commandment of loving God with all of my heart, I could tell you anything that I wanted, and you could not really dispute it. It is an internal matter that you cannot verify. That is, you cannot verify it by the means that I mentioned. However, there is a way.

Although you cannot take a numerical reading of some sort of my love for God, you can tell quite a lot about it by my actions. You can tell a lot about my love for God by the way that I treat other people.

That is why, when Jesus told the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, he continued with these words: “A second commandment is like it (speaking of the first one about loving God), ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40). 

Motivations for our Love

The young man who came to Jesus was doing all that he thought might be required of him, but his actions were mechanical. His motives for fulfilling the commandments were not based on love – not his love of God and not his love for others. His motive was doing what was necessary for his own eternal security, but no more than that.

Earlier I mentioned another person who had asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. All that we know about this particular man was that he was a lawyer.

When Jesus asked this man about how he had been following the commandments, the man quoted back to Jesus the commandments about loving God, and the one of loving his neighbor, the same commandments Jesus himself had quoted on the other occasion that I mentioned. The lawyer’s answer was good, according to Jesus, but like the young ruler, this man also was looking to do only the minimum of what was required.

Wishing to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus went on to tell the lawyer the now well-known story of the Good Samaritan, illustrating for him that the motivation for doing good for someone else should not be out of self-interest or so that one can merely appear to be righteous. It should be done for the benefit of the other person, despite what may or may not come back to you in return.

In this story that Jesus told, of three people came upon a robbed and beaten man lying on the side of the road: a priest, a self-righteous Levite, and an ethnically unclean Samaritan. Of these three, only the Samaritan felt compassion on the man and helped him. This he did even at great personal expense.

“Which one of these proved to be a neighbor?” Jesus asked the lawyer.

“The one who showed mercy,” was the answer. Mercy toward others was the test of neighborliness.

More Difficult for the Wealthy?

To return to the rich, young ruler, Jesus told him that despite having followed what the man saw as the letter of the law, he had missed the issue of the heart, or as we sometimes say, he missed the spirit of the law. To point this out to the young man, Jesus said to him, “One thing you still lack, sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor.”

When the man seemingly refused to do this, Jesus went on to say, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

In saying these things, Jesus was not expressing that it is evil to have a lot of money. Let’s read carefully the passage from the Gospel of Mark, for here it makes it a bit clearer how Jesus expressed this.

Looking at [the young man], Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:21-25 NAS)

When speaking of entering the kingdom of God, Jesus did not mean that the difficulty was only for those who are rich. It is for everyone. The difficulty perhaps is enhanced for those who are rich, because people who have a lot of wealth are accustomed to simply buying anything that they want. They do not have the monetary restrictions and limitations that many of us have.

But entrance into the kingdom of God cannot be purchased – not at any price. For a man who is not used to being restricted in getting what he wants, this may be difficult to accept.

An additional difficulty for the wealthy is that in this life, it is easy to depend upon that wealth to fix any broken situation. In many ways for the wealthy man, money can become his savior. When the young man was confronted with the call to simply give all of his money away, it was something that he could not bear to consider. It would be throwing away his very security in living.

The Camel and the Needle

In some ways, becoming part of the kingdom of God may be more difficult for the rich, but truly, it is difficult for us all. Not only is it difficult, it is impossible.

Hearing what Jesus said about the camel and the eye of the needle, the disciples were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”

Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:26-27 NAS)

This is the statement where the analogy of a camel going through the eye of a needle comes in. Not only is this a difficult thing to do, it is an impossibility. No matter what we do, we could never get a camel to pass through such a tiny opening. Difficulty is what we might say we have in getting the thread to go through that opening in the head of the needle. Impossibility is what we have with a camel.

Perhaps you have heard the interpretation that in those days there was a very small gate in the wall of Jerusalem called “the eye of a needle” that would allow passage of a camel only if it stooped low and had all of its baggage removed. This was to allow those who came to the city after the main gate was closed to be able to enter the city, while at the same time restrict an invasion.

It is said that in using this example, Jesus was saying that a man could get into the kingdom of God if he humbled himself and divested himself of all his worldly riches.

I do not agree with this idea. First of all, there is nothing that would tell us that such a gate actually existed in the wall of Jerusalem, and secondly, even though Jesus did use the word “difficult,” he was speaking of an impossibility for men and women to enter the kingdom of God by their own means. I believe this phrase concerning the eye of a needle was an aphorism of the day that spoke of an unthinkable thought, or an impossibility; much as we would say, “It will be a cold day in hell before I do that!”

At least that is how the disciples understood Jesus. When the disciples heard Jesus use this phrase about the eye of a needle, they were astonished. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.

This is when Jesus answered, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

In the months to follow, the disciples would see time and again as they walked with the Son of God, how he did the impossible. Most of the people who came to Jesus were merely attracted to him because he did wonderful things, marvelous things. But the disciples learned not to be attracted to Jesus because of marvelous things. They instead learned to follow Jesus because he did impossible things.

Jesus could make life arise from death. This the disciples came to believe.

Some time later, when the thousands of people who had been enthralled by Jesus began to abandon him because of difficult times, Jesus asked the twelve if they also were going to leave. It was the apostle Peter who gave the classic answer:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”

Peter had come to understand and believe that Jesus could do the impossible. He is Lord of the impossible.

Monday, September 28, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 3

(Please scroll down to first read parts 1 and 2, or click on the titles on the right side of your screen)
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How to Crucify Your Flesh

Referring to something else that Paul said, this is how he put it. ”Take off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. Instead, be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Then put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and in holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Paul spoke of the old manner of living almost as it if were a garment that we can take off ourselves. When you think about it, this is more than simply an analogy, since we accept that these bodies of ours are not what constitute our true beings. Our true selves are our inner selves, our spirits. Our spirits are clothed in our bodies.

Paul tells us to take off that old self. He does not mean, of course, that our entire physical body will change so that we have a different physical body, but spiritually speaking, that is exactly what he means. “Take off that old body,” he tells us, “so that you can put on your new self that is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This is to be complete change over. We do not change the pants but not the shirt. It is to be a complete transformation into the person that God has created you to be. There is to be no corruption that comes from the world. “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul said.

This means that when we see something about our former manner of life that has come from the corruption of the world, we are to take it off like an old, ragged garment. We are to cast it away. These things are the stumbling blocks that will cause not only ourselves to stumble, but will also trip up others in their walk with the Lord.

When we cast away these old garments, we are to replace them with new garments. “Put away falsehood,” Paul says, “and learn to speak the truth.”

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.”

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (from Ephesians 4:22-32 ESV)

Let’s Get Personal

What we do, the way that we act does not only affect ourselves, but also has an influence on those around us and for those who know us. The words that come from our mouths can cut deep wounds into the lives of others. Our actions can ruin the lives of others.

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks.”

This especially seems to be true in regard to our influence on young lives. After Jesus told his disciples that, rather than to cause a little child who believes in Christ to stumble, it would be better to have a heavy millstone hung arounds ones neck and be cast into the sea, he again brings up the subject of children.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” he told them. “For I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Is there something about your life that you know is not consistent with the way that God intended you to be? Cast it away. It is a stumbling block. Replace it instead with something that is good.

Many struggle with something in their lives for their entire lives, never being able to overcome it. There may be many reasons for this and I know that it is sometimes a complicated issue, but one of the reasons may be that we often only consider the harm that this thing or this manner of living is doing to ourselves. If we were to understand that these things are also stumbling blocks to others who are walking through life, it may give us the incentive to cast it away.

Do not despise these little ones. Let them go to Jesus, for such is the kingdom of God.
Do not let stumbling blocks be part of your life.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 2

Please scroll down to first read part 1
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Dealing with Stumbling Blocks

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!” Jesus said. “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:7).

As we can see, this is central issue for Jesus. Being a stumbling block is not something that we can just brush off as being our own personal affair. Whenever Jesus pronounced “woe” on someone or something, the expression carried with it very serious consequences – eternal consequences. This issue of stumbling blocks is an issue that we cannot brush aside and pretend does not matter. We see this even more clearly as we continue to read what Jesus said.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (Matthew 18:8-9).

Those are some strong words. This is one of those instances where I do not think Jesus is speaking literally. I do not think that he is saying that we actually should cut off our hand if we continually do something wrong with it. I suppose some people might teach that Jesus does mean this literally. If you hear someone saying that, the first thing that I would do is to check to see if they still have both of their hands and both of their eyes.

However, neither do I want to compromise or water down the words of Jesus. He spoke in such strong terms because he wanted to show us that this is an extremely important matter. It is a matter that will have eternal consequences, and woe to us if we do not heed these words.

Beyond Dismemberment

So if Jesus does not mean for us to literally cut off our hand or gouge out our eye, then what does he mean?

What it meant to the Apostle Paul was even more extreme than what Jesus had said. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul did not stop at cutting off his hand or gouging out his eye. He crucified his entire body!

This did not mean that Paul literally and physically rigged up a cross and had someone nail him to it. However, spiritually speaking, this is exactly what he did do. He considered his life apart from Christ to have no value.

No… more than that, he considered his life apart from Christ to be dead!

He continues, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 NAS).

Paul did not physically die in the flesh on that day that he gave himself up for Christ, but spiritually speaking, his flesh did die. From that moment on, he worked on living for Christ in all and every area of his life.

If we are sincere about our own lives with Christ, this is also what we must do. However, even knowing this, it still may leave us wondering about what Jesus said about stumbling blocks. How do we remove these things from our lives?
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The conclusion in a couple of days

Thursday, September 24, 2015

STUMBLING BLOCKS - PART 1


It is an interesting term – stumbling block. I seriously doubt if anyone ever set out to purposefully make an actual stumbling block, and I am quite certain that none of us have ever seen an object that we would recognize as a stumbling block. We have never walked through a museum looking at historic artifacts, and seen a display of a block of some sort with a little identifying placard that said “Stumbling Block.”

Nevertheless, despite this lack of experience, none of us have any difficulty knowing what is meant by the term. It is not difficult for us because all of us have stumbled over something or another at some time in our lives. We know what a stumbling block is.

Stumbling Blocks in the Bible

I believe that the expression stumbling block is strictly a Biblical term, and to be technical about it, the word block has been added by the translators in an attempt to clarify the meaning for us. I do not know of any other literature that uses this idiom. The meaning, of course, is quite clear. It first appears in the book of Leviticus (19:14) where there is a prohibition of putting a stumbling block in the path of a blind man in order to trip him.

By the time the phrase appears in the New Testament, this “tripping someone up” came to mean anything that would lead someone else to fall into sin. In Matthew 13, for instance, it is put into the context of the Kingdom of God as being the evil tires (or weeds) that had been planted among the good wheat, causing harm to the wheat crop.

We can often see these sorts of stumbling blocks in churches today. These are the people who truthfully do not have any interest in knowing the way of the Lord, but instead consider the church as just another organization to belong to. In doing things and making decisions in the church, they do not consider the Word of God, but rely only upon their own opinions or the present culture of the day.

Or, these people have certain things about their lifestyle that is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Bible. This causes confusion to those who are sincerely trying to learn how to walk with Jesus. The people who mislead these Christians are the stumbling blocks to the true believers.

In this story about the wheat and the tares, Jesus talks about “the end of the age” when he will send his angels to gather all of these stumbling blocks to cast them into that place that place of punishment where there will be endless weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the fate of those who live their lives as stumbling blocks.

A Special Consideration for Children

In Matthew 18, Jesus again brings up the subject of stumbling blocks, this time in the context of our influence upon children. He told the disciples, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).”

We can see that Jesus took this issue of being a stumbling block seriously indeed. This is especially so, it seems, when it comes to our influence upon children. Children naturally look to adults as role models. They look to their parents in particular, but they also look to all of us.

It is understandable why they should do this. They know that they will one day be adults, so to whom else should they look? It is the adults in their lives that give them a guide as to what they should be like.

To many adults, this is a frightening thought. It is frightening because they know that they themselves have certain things in their lives that should not be there. In order to ease our conscience about this, we often will say to ourselves, “This is my personal affair and it is not the business of anyone else.” We tell ourselves, “There are many adults that do this same thing, so why should it bother me?”

Well… that may work for us for a while, were it not for one thing. That thing is the Holy Spirit. If there is something in our lives that is not according to the way that God wants us to live, the Holy Spirit has a way of letting us know. He points these things out to us and he does not let us rest.

The Holy Spirit Confronts the Stumbling Blocks

The truth be told, there are many things in all of our lives that are not as they should be, but the Holy Spirit does not simply say we are evil people, list all of our faults, and then tell us to change. It may be that this is how it is before we become believers in Jesus. We saw our lives as heading in an entirely wrong direction and understood that we need to change everything about it. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and convinces us that we need to turn to God in our lives.

This is the way that we become Christians after having lived only for the world and for ourselves. However, after we are believers, the Holy Spirit deals with us in a different way. It is not that our entire lives are heading in a wrong direction any more, but there are still things about our lives that are not right.

These the Holy Spirit points out to us one at a time. He convicts us on one area of our life that we need to bring before Jesus, confess it to him, and ask him to help us in it. When we have victory in that area, the Holy Spirit shows us something else about our lives that we need to deal with.

Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, it is…sort of. But more than work, it is freedom; it is growth. Freedom is sometimes difficult to obtain. Growth inevitably comes slowly, but it is worth the effort. It is worth the time.
 
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Continued in a few days

Monday, September 7, 2015

THE DAY THAT CORA DIED


WARNING: This is a very sad story. If you cried when Ol’ Yeller died, you will cry with this one. You might ask me why I would write such a sad story, and the answer is, “I don’t know.” Most of the things that I write about farm life are happy things, because farming is a happy life for me. However, we have had a couple of sad things also happen this summer. Unfortunately, this is also part of farm life.

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It had been a hard year for our old cow Cora. I do not actually know how old she was. I bought her only about four years ago, but she was obviously very old even then. The shoulders of her front legs stuck out unnaturally, and had the look of being affected by a type of bovine arthritis. But it was not arthritis, and her ungainly look did not seem to give her any pain. It certainly did not inhibit her movement in any way.

Some of the pastures of our farm are on very steep hillsides, and when I would call the cows to follow me as I opened up a new paddock, Cora would come running down the hill like an adolescent, often being the first one at the gate. I used to warn her after watching her run down a steep slope, “Be careful old girl, you’re going to end up falling and breaking something.”

Despite being my oldest cow and despite her awkward appearance, I thought that she was the most beautiful cow that I had. She had long graceful horns that grew out of a forehead that was covered with long, light red, kind of frizzy hair. In the winter, the hair falling in front of her face fairly covered her eyes. I sometimes wondered how she could see. But see she did, and looking into a field of wind-driven snow never seemed to bother her.

She was old, yes, but it was not her health this year that had been the difficult thing for her. To tell you about what I think led to her eventual death, I need to go back to the month of July. It was in July that her last calf was born. This is very late in the year to have a calf, but Cora was at the stage of life that breeding was perhaps getting a little unpredictable. But in July, at a time when all the other calves on our farm had been running and skipping around the fields for some time, Cora gave birth to a little heifer.

I was extremely happy to see this little heifer, whom we
immediately called “Corabelle.”  Up until Corabelle was born, I had only gotten bull calves from Cora. Ever since I had bought her, I had been hoping for a heifer so that I could keep her line going. I don’t know why. I just liked Cora. We were all happy to see little Corabelle.

Then, about a week and a half after Corabelle was born, disaster struck. The disaster came one night in the form of several coyotes that attacked and killed the little calf as it lie sleeping. As you might imagine, this event pained me considerably, but even more so Cora (this is a separate story. You can read it at http://www.donaldrhody.com/2015/07/corabelles-death-in-wild.html ).

It is a difficult thing to read grief on the face of a cow. Sometimes I thought that I must be reading my own regrets into the mind of Cora, but I would occasionally see Cora on the hill, seemingly looking at the other calves running around. “What must she be thinking?” I thought to myself. “Surely she must remember.”

Earlier this spring, I was not sure of my plans for Cora for later in the autumn. I knew she was very old, but I did want that little heifer from her. One of the things that I was thinking was that if she were to have a heifer this year, I may ship her to market later in the fall. I think that is what a good herdsman would have done. There could be no profit left in Cora in the future.

However, when she did have little Corabelle, my plans changed. I told my wife Vivian, “I think I am going to just let Cora live out her days here on the farm and allow her to die a natural death. I cannot think of sending her to market.”

I’m afraid that the longer that I am in this business, the less of a herdsman I am becoming.

Then Corabelle was killed. But despite what I thought might be Cora’s sorrow, after the loss of her calf, Cora seemed to be doing pretty well physically. As a matter of fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I looked at how she had filled out. She looked sleek and fit. At one time during the summer I wondered if she would be able to make it through another one of our harsh, Wisconsin winters, but after looking at her that day, I thought that she would have no trouble.

But in the end, it was not the cold that got her, it was the heat.

This early September, we have been having unusually hot weather for this time of year. Temperatures in the high 80’s with humidity that exceeded even that. Our cows have already begun to grow their winter hair, and it has been very hard on them. Four or five days ago, I watched as the cows climbed the hill after getting a drink at the pond. They were moving pretty slowly. Then I noticed that Cora was not among them.

A little concerned, I went to look for her. I finally found her standing in the shade in the valley, but panting rather hard. I actually was not bothered about it much at the time. Cora always panted in the summer. Vivian and I used to joke about it. As soon as the thermometer reached 70, Cora would start to pant. “It’s too hot for Cora,” we would laugh.

When I saw her standing in the shade on the day I went to look for her, I gave Cora a rub on her hairy forehead and left her there. I fully expected that she would join the rest of the cows soon.

The next day, there was still no Cora. Now I was concerned. Again, I went to look for her. She was not where I last left her, or nowhere in that area. I looked all over our little farm. I at first could not find her anywhere. Finally, I came upon her lying under some balsams in furthest point that she could find to be alone.

She looked fine, but I knew that this was not a good sign. I had never watched a cow die before. Growing up on the farm, we never had a cow die of old age. We would always ship them before they got to that stage. That is what herdsmen do. But I already commented about my learning curve in being a herdsman.

However, when I saw her lying at that place on our farm, I was worried. It was as if she had gone off to die. She rose to her feet when I came near, but she had the look about her that she was not interested in coming back up the hill to be with the others. I had brought a little feed in a bucket for her. She sniffed it and licked at it a little, but she was not interested. This was not like Cora.

The day was hot and muggy. I had even replaced my standard-wear bib overalls with shorts that day, and just the act of walking around the farm soaked me and all my clothes with sweat. I walked back to the pond and got a pail of water for her, and she drank a little, but not much. Inside, I knew that Cora was dying.



For three days I went down to check on her, although I did

This is the last time I saw Cora when

she was still able to hold her head up

not really have hope that Cora would pull through. She knew that it was her time to die. I knew it too. Nevertheless, I kept tempting her with goodies. I walked back up to the farm and got her a nice bit of hay, just in case she should decide to eat a little. There was an apple tree in the woods near to where she lay, and I picked a couple of apples for her. She always loved apples and would gobble them down so fast I used to be afraid that she would choke on one; and I did not know how to do the heimlich maneuver on a cow. However, when I brought the apples to her this time, I held one up to her snout. She first took it in her mouth, but her appetite was gone. She let it drop to the ground.
 

One night, after dark, I heard coyotes yipping in the direction where Cora lie. They were not near where she was lying, but I was afraid they might find her during the night. She would have no strength to fight them off. I took my revolver and walked carefully in the dark down the hill and through the balsams. There, a couple hundred feet from Cora, I aimed at nothing and emptied the cylinder of bullets into the tops of the trees. I hoped it would be warning enough for the coyotes to stay away. I don’t know if my shooting did anything, but at least they did not come that night.

For three days Cora lie there. She sometimes drank a little water, but I don’t think she ate anything at all, or if she did, it was very little. But she seemed comfortable and always perked up a little when I came to see her. If it had seemed like she was suffering, I would perhaps have put her out of her misery. But she mostly seemed peaceful – just waiting for death to come. It was difficult for me, but I had wanted to let her die naturally, so that is what I did.

This afternoon when I last went to check on her, I knew that she had died even before I got there. The last time that I saw her, I knew that death was very near. When I arrived at the spot, she lie still, flat on the ground. She was peaceful now. It is sad for me, but honestly, I don’t think it would be so sad except for the fact that she had to see her last calf killed by predators. I wanted to let Cora die a natural death, and that is what she did. My regret is that I did not want it to be this soon.

Vivian said that if the calf would not have been killed, Cora would not have died this year. Her little calf would have kept her alive. I think that she is right.

I will miss Cora. Most mornings I look out on the fields to see the cows. Quite often, when the light was still dim and the cows were still lying on the ground from sleeping during the night, all that I was able to make out was Cora’s graceful horns sticking out of the fog.

I do not know how Cora’s life was in the many years before she came to our farm, but I can say that she had a nice life here. All of our animals do, and despite the occasional heartache, that is one of the joys of our farm.