Thursday, April 27, 2017


(Scroll down for parts 1-5)

In my first post concerning this trip to Ethiopia, I mentioned that there was more than one issue that had come up that complicated my simple desire to go and see Levi. Another one of these was that our schedule for the trip was upset even before I got on the plane – weeks before.

The plan of Levi and me was to schedule my time in Ethiopia to fall either before or after a week-long training that Levi was to have in Addis Ababa. Levi is about half-way through his service, so this was to be his mid-term conference. Once Peace Corps set the dates for their conference, I bought my plane ticket so I would arrive on the weekend that the conference would have been over. Sounded great!

However, just as I had waited for Peace Corps to set their dates, I guess they must have been waiting for Levi and I to set our dates, because once I had bought the tickets, Peace Corps rescheduled the conference. It would now begin the day I arrive. It is because of this I have stayed in Addis Ababa so long. I am waiting for his week-long conference to be over.

Nevertheless, when I was presented with the need from the church in Kenya, I thought that perhaps this week could be an opportunity for me to go there and to see what the need might be. I have already written of this situation in earlier posts. (I think I especially talk about this in parts two and three of this Ethiopia series of posts).

It is now Wednesday evening as I write this, and I have not yet heard from the people in Kenya if it is advisable for me to go. I am now thinking that even if I were to hear today and able to leave first thing tomorrow morning, it would be too late in my time here to make the trip. The way that I figure it, it is a five-day trip at the minimum, and for Levi and I to even get to his place of work and have any amount of time there, we cannot now spare even one day. Please pray about that Kenya thing.

This whole situation has caused me to consider it in terms of my own personal history. In thinking about it, it occurred to me that I have had this same type of financial need situation presented to me in a steady stream for the past forty-five years from five different continents, or I suppose you could say, five parts of the world.

In four of these areas, I have lived and worked. In this fifth one, Africa, I have never before lived or worked, or even have ever visited. However, thanks to the internet coupled with my near obsessions to write, I also now have began to develop a relationship with someone here.

In the past, most of the needs that have been presented to me, I am sure were legitimate. However, I know for a fact that some of them were not. Whether legitimate or deceptive, the easy thing to do would be to put them all into the same pile and then into the rubbish bin. It would be easy if I simply did not care. I could quickly and painlessly dismiss them all.

But the problem is, I do care. I want to help if I can.

Maybe you are accustomed to getting many requests for money in your mail box, either the box at the end of your driveway or in your email inbox. “Junk mail," you may call it. There is even a little icon of a trash can on your computer screen that you can click to send the email into cyberspace ether never to be seen by anyone again except perhaps the NSA.

Mail in the mailbox – you can throw away without evening opening it. “Junk mail.”
People  you cannot dismiss so easily. There are no “junk people.”

The appeals that come to me are usually from people that I have long known. This one from Kenya is different in nature. This appeal that came from Kenya is the first from someone whom I did not before know and had never met. It came about because of this very web page. However, even with this one, my gut tells me that it is legitimate.

Perhaps you can see that every time I have to deal with this, I honestly consider if it is indeed a good cause and if there is something that I can do. With each one, a small toll is taken from me. I told Vivian before I left, that I have grown weary. I am tired. Forty-five years of having these appeals from people I know have worn me out.

I said to her that I am tired of being somebody. I just want to stay on my little farm and be nobody.

I am not some sort of wealthy philanthropist who has millions to give to people and causes. The thought is laughable! I have worked most of my life as a missionary where we had to watch our funds very closely. Now I am a retiree, and it seems like I have to watch them even more closely.

So what will I do about Kenya? I do not yet know, but I have an idea.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


(Scroll down for parts 1-4)

I was able to give my youngest son a hug! That was the reason for this entire trip to Ethiopia, so whatever else happens, it almost does not matter to me. Levi met me at the airport and he is looking well and fit.

Ethiopia is definitely a unique country. There are many ways in which this probably is true, but it is in even small things such as I noticed when I was filling out the registration for the hotel. As normal, there was a place on the form where I was supposed to write the date, which I thought was April 24, 2017. The clerk stopped me when he saw what I was writing and told me that he would fill out that part.

“Just sign your name here,” he told me, running his finger along the line at the bottom of the form.

The reason that he stopped me was because that was not the date in Ethiopia. Here, it is not April at all, but yesterday was 16 Miaziah. And it is not 2017, but only 2009.

Ethiopia has a unique calendar, which I think is used only here. Instead of following what we know as the Gregorian calendar, theirs is based on the ancient Coptic calendar, except that the months have names in a local historical language. Besides this distinction, it is 2009 instead of 2017 because they place a different specific time when Jesus was born. Truthfully, within the span of a decade, the exact year when Christ was born on earth is a bit of an open question.

So the clerk wanted to fill that part out. 16 Miaziah, 2009.  I am not sure how long they will be able to maintain this distinction, however. I just looked at the cash receipt for my coffee that I bought while sitting here now and see that the printed out copy, in conformity with the rest of the world, says 25/04/2017.

But if you notice, even that is not in conformity with the United States. It seems we also have that streak about us that wants to keep some distinctions. Our receipt would say 04/25/2017.

Besides this, we in the U.S. still prefer our gallons, quarts and pints, our pounds and our miles per hour. I suppose that it could almost be called a victory in this globally connected and digital age when a culture can still manage to maintain some of these distinctions.

Getting back to the hotel check in, after we worked our way through the registration form, the clerk then informed me that there was a breakfast to be included with the price.

“Great,” I said. “What time does in begin?”

“One o’clock.”

I thought I misunderstood. One o’clock is either too early or way too late to eat breakfast.

But here is another unique aspect of Ethiopia. They do not begin the twelve o’clock hour in the middle of the night. In their way of thinking, that cannot be the first hour of the day. Twelve o’clock here, the one that we would start our clocks for the day at midnight, is what our watches or cell phones would call six o’clock AM. In this way of thinking, this is when the day truly begins. In other words, our Zero hour is twelve o’clock midnight. Ethiopia’s Zero hour is the equivelant to our six o’clock AM.

When the clerk told me one o’clock, he meant their one o’clock. That is our seven o’clock in the morning.

Of course, this is similar to the way it is in the Bible. When Jesus told the story about the workers going to work in the vineyard in the third and sixth hours, these times where not 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM, but what we would call 9:00 and 12:00 noon.

This morning, true to the Coptic perspective on time here, when my watch pointed at 6:00, I heard the bell ring in the Coptic Christian church down the street. The new day had begun on this 17th day of the month of Miaziah, in the two thousand and ninth year of our Lord. 

I waited an hour and then went down to begin my breakfast at one o’clock AM.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


(scroll down for parts 1-3)

According the information on the flight monitor on the screen on the back of the airplane seat in front of me, the flight time from Seattle to Dubai is about 15 hours – 8200+ miles non-stop. I am pretty sure that this is the longest non-stop flight that I have ever been on. I think New Zealand from Los Angeles was about two hours and at least fifteen hundred miles less than this. That was a trip that Vivian and I made a few times. Whatever the actual duration, it is a long time in an airplane.

I have never been nor do I ever wish to be a travel consultant, and there are many others who have made long haul flights much more than I, but I do have a little advice for any who need to make a long flight. I give this advice because several people, before my trip, commented on this aspect of it with the single syllable of “Ugg!”

Neither is it my preference to make these long flights (or any flights), but I actually do not mind it so much. Here is why: These long trips, in some regards, are the same as the wagon trains of the 1800’s when the settlers made their way out to the western United State. Of necessity, the days and nights and weeks that these people spent on the trail had to become more than simply a mode of transportation to get from one place on the map to another. For the time that they were on the trail, it had to become also a lifestyle and a home. Their address was: Wagon Train, Western United States.

These people had to learn to live in their new neighborhood. This neighborhood consisted of the other wagons who rolled over the ground and then circled around a fire at night. Like any situation in life, there are negative aspects in it, but there are also some things that are pretty good. The people in the wagon in front of you may be a little strange, but those in back of you are wonderful neighbors. Sure, you may lose some of your freedom because you may want to stop in one place for a few days instead of continually pushing on, but on the other hand, you enjoy seeing new things each day and wondering what is over the next hill.

Long-haul flights are something like that. There are definitely disadvantages. Most of the advice given by people is how to minimize those disadvantages. Stretch your legs. Get up and walk around from time to time. Keep yourself hydrated. Try not to become stressed out.

Of course there are negative things about this new neighborhood of your flight. The bathrooms could use an expansion. Personal space almost disappears. If you are looking for solitude, you will probably be disappointed. But there are some other things that are not too bad. No cooking or washing dishes, for instance. No house cleaning. Make a mess and someone else cleans it up. There may be a movie that you kind of wanted to see when it came out, but you did not want to see it bad enough to drop seven dollars on it. Here you get it for free (after you pay your $1200 economy ticket). Many times the view out the window is stupendous.

Can’t sleep well on the plane? I frequently doze off in my recliner when I am at home. The seats on the plane do not approach that of my recliner, but I manage to catch little naps from time to time.  All of these little rests help, and since they are usually short, many times I remember what I was dreaming.

Some of the people in the plane may be less than ideal neighbors. There are sometimes those who face these long flights by making sure that they are good and drunk. Some are loud or rude. Some smell badly (I may have been one of these from time to time). But then there are many others that are nice. They are pleasant. They are excited because they are on holiday or just coming back from holiday and want to talk all about it.

Perhaps sometimes you don’t really want to hear about it, but c’mon, don’t be a bad neighbor!

For these 15 hours, my address is Emirates, flight 320, Seat 32H, I think at the moment somewhere above the Arabian Peninsula.

I am going to make myself at home.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


(Continued from the two previous posts, parts 1 and 2 – scroll down to see these)

In the previous post about my trip to Ethiopia to see our son Levi, I asked you to go back in time with me to last December so that I could give you a little historical context as to why I was considering whether or not to go also to Kenya. Now, in this post, I am going to ask you back in time to the year 1993 or ‘94; (perhaps it is even ’96, if Vivian were here she could give you the exact year). Whatever the year, our family was in Spanish Language School in Costa Rica.

While there at school, we became friends with another missionary family, who were from California. They also were learning Spanish to work later in some county in Latin America. They did serve for a time in Central America, but later shifted their entire focus of service and moved to Kenya. We have not had contact with them for years, but I knew the mission board that they worked under, so I found their contact information on the website and wrote an email to them.

Their work of all these years in Kenya has been a ministry to the many orphans or otherwise abandoned children of that country. As it turns out, their center of ministry has been in the same general area of Kenya as the pastor who had been writing to me, perhaps one hundred miles away or less. I wrote to my long estranged friend, and found out that they had recently retired (of sorts) and moved back to California. However, as it turns out, they were about to return to Kenya for a short time.

I learned from our friends that the type of letter that I received from this man in Kenya is not unique, and sometimes they setups for a scam. These scams are directed at pastors and churches by people who hope that someone will send them money, even though none of what they say about their orphanages is correct. Like a trout fisherman floating an artificial fly just above the eyes of a likely trout in a stream, they are hoping the pastor or the church will take a bite.

Pastors and churches in the United States and other wealthy countries are often easy targets, because if we are true to the teachings of Jesus, we try and do good for people in need. And there are also those words that I mentioned in the previous post that were written by the Apostle John about possessing the goods of the world but refusing to share them with those in need. But the love of Christ does not require us to be gullible, which is why Jesus also instructed his disciples to be “shrewd as serpents,” as well as “innocent as doves.”

I myself may be even an easier target than many others because much of my work in my life has actually been with brothers such as this one. I have seen and served with many who have hearts to help their own people who are in need, and who serve in churches with few resources. I know their struggle. I have had too many similar experiences with men of various countries to allow me to just dismiss them all as “charlatans” or “scammers.” There are many who are “servants.”

So this is where I am in this process right now. I just got an email from our Californian friends last night, and they had just arrived in Kenya the day before. As you can imagine, they are very busy with their own tasks, but they hope to be able to send a national Kenyan brother to this town to see if he can tell if this is a legitimate need.

I myself am enroute to Ethiopia. At the moment I am in a l-o-n-g layover in Seattle, and I spend tonight if Dubai (or is it tomorrow night there?). Anyway, I will not find out what my friends learned about my Kenyan friend until after I arrive in Ethiopia.

To be truthful, there is a part of me that almost hopes that this is a set-up for a scam so that I don’t have to think more about it. After all, the whole purpose of this trip was that I just wanted to see Levi. I want to give this big guy a hug and hang out with him for a couple of weeks. I am sure that Kenya is a very nice place to visit, but I have no desire to go there at this time.

However, I have also learned in the past that if one forgoes a task that the Lord has given, he also loses the great blessing that accompanies that task. And then there is the fact that many in our world live with severe difficulties – and of course, there are also those words by John (see part 2).
(To be continued when I can)

Thursday, April 20, 2017


(Post continued from previous post – Part 1)

To understand the principle reason that my simple and straightforward plan to go to Ethiopia and see Levi has become a little complicated, I must take you back in time to the month of December of last year. One day in about the middle of the month, there was a letter in my email box from someone in Kenya. The man was a fellow pastor, and in part, his letter read:

"Dear Servant of God Pastor Don ,
We are glad for your faith and truth which you have posted on your website which indicate that God has inspired you more about the word of God.

[For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know that I have been posting my Sunday sermons. In this brother’s subsequent letters, he told me that they use those sermons for teachings in their own church.]

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


All that I actually wanted to do was to go and see our son Levi, but there are already some things about the trip that are beginning to become a little complicated. This trip is no bucket-list kind of thing. I don’t even have a bucket list. And as far as travel – I like our little farm. Walking through our fields and in our woods is enough travel for me.

When Vivian and I returned here about five years ago after living mostly overseas for the past couple decades, I did not care if I ever got on an airplane again. But for the past year or more, Levi has been living and working in Ethiopia. He will be there for at least another year.

Levi lives in a remote part of the country where he has no phone, no internet, and not even any dependable mail service. For Vivian and I, after about a year of this forced estrangement from our son, we miss him so much that we felt that we had to go and see him.

But this would be no pre-packaged holiday travel vacation. As I said, Levi lives in a very remote part of Ethiopia. The last leg of the journey to his home village requires a five-hour trek over mountain paths. Actually, Levi told me once that it was three hours, but I am thinking three hours of walking for Levi should equal about five hours of walking for me – if I’m lucky.

But I am even confused about that aspect of the trip. Once, when he was in the capital of Addis Ababa and we were able to talk with him on the telephone, I tried to get him to clarify it for me.

“Levi,” I asked him, “Just to help me understand – from that point where the last bus drops you off, from that point to your village, about how many miles is it?”

Sunday, April 16, 2017


It was as if God said to us, “Look, I am going to try to make this as clear as I can so that you understand.”

Do you remember how Jesus used parables to make a point? They were stories. Jesus made up stories to illustrate a truth that he was trying to teach the people, or he told stories from his own experience. In the Old Testament, God sometimes had his prophets live an experience to illustrate a message for the people. This is especially notable with the prophet Ezekiel, who God instructed to act out several lessons so that the people of his day might see what God was trying to communicate to them.

But no greater lesson is given to us by God than that of what the patriarch Abraham experienced, and the great lesson that God teaches concerns the most important truth that we have to learn. Indeed, from the life of Abraham, there are many important lessons that we can learn, but the one I am going to tell you about today is the greatest.

The Story

Abraham had a son. The son’s name was Isaac. No son is just an ordinary son to the father, but Isaac was especially important to Abraham. He was Abraham’s only son whom he had with his wife, Sarah, and Isaac was born to him when the father was one hundred years old. We sometimes read of men and women living to very old ages in the Bible, but by the time Abraham was alive, the life-span of people was not that much different than it is for us today. Perhaps a bit longer, but not decades more. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah long after the aged couple should have been able to conceive a child together. In fact, the book of Hebrews referred to Abraham’s age at this time as being “as good as dead.”

We might say, “He had one foot already in the grave.”

But it was not only that Isaac was born to him in his old age. The baby was also the fulfillment of a very old promise that God had made to Abraham. It was long ago that God told him that he would have a son, but after the promise was made, the months when Abraham’s wife Sarah did not become pregnant became years, and the years became decades. In the end, Abraham and Sarah had given up. They no longer believed that God was going to fulfill his promise to them.

Then, to their amazement, Sarah became pregnant in her old age. Her months were completed, and she gave birth to this little infant boy. They called him Isaac. The name means laughter. Isaac brought them so much joy. It was a joy for which they waited many, many years, and then finally had abandoned the hope of reaching.

This is where today’s story begins. A happy family and a son who is the pride of his old father’s life. 

An Unexpected Twist to the Story

In the midst of this happy atmosphere, imagine the shock of Abraham when God suddenly said to him one day, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2 ESV).

These were the straightforward words that God said. We are not told if there was any kind of additional explanation given to Abraham. We have only these words. Nor do we even know if Abraham had a reply or a question of any sort. We are only told that he arose early in the morning, gathered some wood for the sacrificial fire on which he would lay his son, and then started out with his son on the three-day journey to the place God told him.

Why would God ask him to do such a cruel thing? The story has multiple applications and there are many lessons to learn, but we are going to focus on only one in this blog post. This is a story to help us to understand what it was like for God himself to allow his only son to be sacrificed on the cross of Calvary. 

The Journey to the Place of Sacrifice

For three long days Abraham traveled with his son to the place where God had instructed him to go. I am sure that he was fighting a battle in his mind during the entire journey. The battle however, was not the one that you might expect him to be having. It was not whether or not he would obey God in the task. In his mind, that task was already done. He would obey God, despite all difficulty.

Actually, Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he had been slain (Hebrews 11:19). It was the only way that Abraham could see that God would be true to his word. Isaac was, after all, the promised son from whom a new nation was to begin, and if Abraham was to slay him, he thought that the only way that God could make this happen would be to raise the boy back to life.

This belief, I am sure, must have been some comfort to Abraham, but nevertheless, where would he find the strength to kill his own son? This was the battle of his mind. To believe God seemed not to be the battle for Abraham. That battle he had fought and won years before. But when it came right to the moment when he must do the dreaded act, how would he find the strength?

As the two, the father and the son, walked side by side in those three days, in many ways Abraham already considered the task to be done. Abraham could not bear the thought of the actual slaying of his son. It was better to consider the task complete, and wait for God to act. It was better to think past what had to be done, and think only of the promise of God. 

The Only Begotten

The writer of the book of Hebrews refers to this time. In fact, it is interesting how he puts it. He said that Abraham was “offering up his only begotten son.”

Do not those words sound familiar? One of the first verses many have learned as children is John 3:16, where those words also appear. John also speaks of someone offering up his only begotten son, but it was not Abraham.

That verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (monogenes).

The similarities between the two accounts are remarkable.

You will recall that Abraham had prepared for this sacrifice by bringing wood from his home. It was to be the wood upon which he would lay his only son, and after Isaac was slain, the flame would be set to it to burn the body. The text does not say how the wood was carried for the three day trip, but they did have at least one donkey with them, and I suspect that they may have had a donkey as a pack animal. There were also two other men who accompanied them. If the donkey did not carry the wood, perhaps one of these men did, or perhaps even Abraham.

However, in the very last leg of this journey, at the foot of the mountain upon which Abraham would sacrifice his son, the father did an interesting thing. The text specifically states that Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son. Isaac would carry the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain (Genesis 22:6).

The Apostle John says that Jesus, on the day of his crucifixion, “went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull” (John 19:17). Jesus carried his own cross, at least part of the way, to his own crucifixion. 

Three Days in the Tomb

For three days, as Abraham had walked with his son, in many ways his son had already been made a sacrifice. His life had been given. It was easier for Abraham to think past the terrible act, and concentrate on God’s promise of fulfillment. For three days, the father considered his son as one dead.

For three days, the lifeless body of Jesus lay in the tomb of Jerusalem. During that time, we read of the great sorrow and even despair of his mother, his disciples, and the other people who were close to him at that time. We read how they wept and mourned the death of the one that they loved.

What we do not read about during this time is the anguish of God the Father. However, with the story of Abraham, we can at least get a small sense of what it must have been like for the Father in heaven. We could never know the sadness of the Heavenly Father, and indeed, the sorrow that Abraham must have felt is even beyond the grasp of our emotions. However, by identifying with this man Abraham, we can at least touch his grief, and by touching his grief, we may be able to sense the great depths of the grief of God.

The Silent Lamb

To continue with the story of Abraham and Isaac, Abraham put the wood for the sacrificial fire on the shoulders of his only begotten, the one who would soon be put to death. For his part, Abraham had in one hand the torch with the flame that would light the sacrificial fire. In the other hand, the knife – the curs-ed knife.

Almost beyond pity, Isaac innocently asks a question. “Father, we have the wood for the fire, and we have the torch, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

I do not know how Abraham was able to keep his composure to respond, but somehow he found the strength. “The Lord will provide the lamb,” he told his son.

I would greatly like to know what the conversation was like at the top of Mount Moriah, but all that we are told is that when they got to the top, Abraham built an altar and laid the wood in order on top of it. Then he bound his son, and placed him on the wood.

Of course, by now, Isaac knew he was the one to be sacrificed - he was to be the sacrificial lamb.

We do not read of argument or protest. There is no mention of struggle. Only that the boy was on the wood of the altar, waiting his time to be sacrificed.
In the trials leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus and after hearing the charges brought against Jesus, the high priest adjured him to answer the charges. “Why is it that you do not answer?” he said to Jesus (Matthew 26:62).
But Jesus kept silent.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate, Pilate asked him, “Where are you from?”
Jesus gave him no answer (John 19:9). 

The prophet Isaiah wrote: “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, neither did he open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

I think that both Isaac and Jesus already considered the act to be done. They were just waiting for it to happen. They were not living in terror of it, because in their minds, it had already happened. Like Abraham, they were instead anticipating how God the Father was going to bring them again to life. 

The Act and the Provision

On the top of Mount Moriah, Abraham reached out his hand to take the knife. The dreaded moment had come.

Then a voice: “Abraham, Abraham.”

Someone was calling his name. It was the angel of the Lord, calling to him from heaven.

“Do not harm the boy or do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, even your only son.”

Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram nearby. The ram’s horns had gotten entangled in a thicket. In a way that even Abraham did not know when he spoke the words to his son telling him that God would provide the sacrifice, God had indeed provided.

Abraham called the place, “The Lord Will Provide.”

He received his son alive. For three days he had considered him dead and wondered how God would bring him back to life, and now he knew. God provided a substitute. 

Jesus laid in the tomb for three days. He was dead. His life had been taken. Before he was crucified, he had explained to his disciples and to the others that he would rise from the dead, but either they did not believe it or they did not understand.

But the Father knew. He grieved for those three dark days, but on the third day, it happened. God was so eager to bring his son back to life that he sent his life to him very early in the morning on the third day – even before it was light outside. He would not wait until midday or even until later in the morning. After the required three calendar days and not a second more, Jesus rose from the dead! As Abraham took his son alive in his arms, God the Father took his Son, alive again in his arms. 

The Blood that Gives Life

But there had been a price. The blood of Jesus had been spilled. His blood was at the place where he was whipped, it was all along the Via Dolorosa as it ran from the gashes in his flesh and from the thorns cutting into his head by the spiteful crown of thorns that the soldiers had placed there. The blood of Jesus was in a dried puddle at the foot of the cross, where he hung bleeding and where the spear had pierced his side.

The life of every creature is in the blood. The Scriptures have taught us that. The blood of Jesus had been spilled. The life of Jesus had been taken.

Why? Why did God do this?

This is the story of the entire Bible. It began in the Garden of Eden, where God took the life of an innocent animal to provide a covering for the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Abel demonstrated it in the sacrificial firstling of his flock offered to the Lord. It was taught to us in the sacrifices that Noah performed after the flood, and we read of it in all of the burnt sacrifices throughout the Old Testament. We even see it in the example of Abraham and Isaac. The life is in the blood.

Our lives have been tainted by sin. We have upon us the penalty of death. Our own blood cannot save us from this death. For reasons largely unknown and not understandable to us, to purchase our lives, the blood of an innocent substitute must be found.

For us, that substitute is not the blood of the firstling of a flock of sheep. It is not a ram with his horns entangled in a thicket. It is the blood of none other than God Himself! Jesus Christ is our Redeemer!

Friday, April 14, 2017


In the previous post I compared the two offerings of Cain and Abel and discussed why Abel’s offering was acceptable to God, but Cain’s was not. This was because not only had Abel brought his offering with the correct attitude, but he also made this sacrifice in the correct manner. That is, Abel brought to God the proper type of offering, while Cain did not. Abel offered to God an animal sacrifice, Cain one of a crop – the “fruit of the ground,” as the text puts it. In some ways this is completely understandable, since Abel was a stockman (I suppose we could call him), and Cain was a farmer, or an orchard grower.

So why was it wrong for Cain to bring the product of his own hands? This is what Abel did. Abel was a shepherd and brought the firstling of his flock. This was accepted by God. Cain also brought the results of his efforts, but God did not accept it. Does it seem a bit unfair to you? If it does, you are not alone. Many people feel this way

One of the reasons that some view the offering of Cain’s as an entirely appropriate type of offering was not only because it came from the result of his occupation, buy they also liken it to the meal offering that was instituted by God in the Law of Moses. I also made mention of this in the previous post. 

The Purpose for Cain’s Type of Offering

This meal offering, sometimes also called the grain offering, was among the several types that God instituted in the Law of Moses. The meal offering was distinct from the sacrifices involving animals in some important respects. One of these differences was that the meal offering was not meant to be for the atonement for sins, but instead an offering whereby the man or the woman could show gratitude to God for the fruit of his or her labors. It was also a way in which the people would ask God to bless their efforts.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Of the man Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, we have this simple introduction along with his brother Cain: “Now Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 NAS).

In this extraordinarily brief introduction, we have much of all that we know about Abel. It really is not a great deal of background information. It is true that we are told that Abel offered a sacrifice to God that was acceptable, but other than by this assuming that he must have had a heart for God, the account does not tell us for what reason this sacrifice was acceptable.

Of Abel himself, in our minds we picture this man as a simple shepherd roaming the hills with his little flock of sheep. At least this is what most Bible commentaries say about Abel. In search of something to write about this man for whom we have little information, they usually say something to the affect that “shepherds in the Middle East have shepherded their flocks in similar manners for thousands of years.” However, in our haste to assume that there is not much about which to consider in this second son of Adam and Eve, we have not allowed ourselves to ask some important and often overlooked questions. 

A Vegetarian Shepherd

The first of our questions is this: Why was Abel a shepherd, or a “keeper of flocks,” as the text puts it? I ask this question because, in these first days after creation, there does not seem to be most of the purposes for which we today consider important for keeping flocks. At least not those common purposes that the shepherds in the Middle East have been doing it for thousands of years.

The principle reason that people have kept sheep throughout history has been for food, but it seems like this cannot have been Abel’s motivation. As a matter of fact, it is likely that this should not have been the reason for keeping flocks for several generations after Abel. From what we are able to make out from the brief account that we have written for us in the Bible of that early era, the first generations of people upon the earth should have been vegetarians. At least, this is how God first had instructed the people to live. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017


We all know about Adam and Eve. They were the first humans. Their home was in the ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden. That is, it was until they listened to Satan. He came disguised as a serpent and tempted them into eating the apple. With that bite of the apple, sin came into the world and the ideal conditions were destroyed.
Oh, and another thing, at first Adam and Eve were naked; we can’t forget that part of the story. At least they were naked until they sinned. Then they became ashamed of their nakedness and they wrapped some leaves over themselves in certain sensitive areas.
I may have left out a few details in that story, maybe even have gotten a thing or two wrong, but the story has been told and retold so many times that these small differences are common. It is unfortunate in many ways, because these simplifications have diminished the significance of what actually happened in those early days at the dawn of time.
Also, these simplifications have caused many people to regard the story as pure myth, or perhaps in an allegorical sense and nothing more. But the story is more than myth. I will agree that there is much about the story that is allegorical, but I have no reason to doubt that the events given to us in the Bible are indeed literal, accurate and historical.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The man Jacob was on the run. He had done something that, in his time and place, was disgraceful and loathsome. He was the second born of his family, albeit by only a couple of minutes. Nevertheless, if one is inclined to be precise, his twin brother Esau did precede him in his birth, and in that culture, these minutes meant everything. Many of the rights of inheritance were vested on the first born simply by virtue of the fact of his primogeniture.

The Birthright

Jacob’s minutes older brother Esau, however, had little regard for the privileges that he had received simply by virtue of him being the eldest son. Sometime before Jacob began his escape from the consequences of his disgraceful deed, Esau had showed contempt for those inheritance rights when he uncaringly traded them to his younger twin for a bowl of red soup.

This maneuver by Jacob to gain his older brother’s rights might be considered by some to be enough to make Esau angry, but now, Jacob had done something that had especially enraged the older brother. It was from this latest wrath of Esau that Jacob was fleeing.

Their elderly and nearly blind father, Isaac, wanted to give Esau his blessing. “I am now an old man and I do not know the day of my death,” Isaac said to Esau. “Now then, take up your weapons, your quiver and bow, and go out into the field to hunt some wild game so that you can prepare the kind of tasty food that I like. Then I will eat it and I will give to you my blessing” (Genesis 27:2). 

The Deceit

However, Isaac’s wife Rebecca heard of her husband’s plan and informed Jacob. Jacob was her favorite. She favored him so much that she wanted to go against tradition and arrange for Jacob to receive the blessing instead of Esau. Rebecca cooked up a plan (in more ways than one) in order to steal the blessing from Esau.

Friday, March 24, 2017



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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


One of the most ancient of stories in any language is the story of Job. Most people in Christendom know the story well. Job’s wealth was legendary. It is said that he was the “greatest of all men of the east.” However, even before we learn that fact about Job, we are told that he was a “blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

The story of Job is how God allows this wealthy and righteous man to be chastised by the hand of Satan. All that Job possessed was taken away in an astonishing series of disasters. One by one, messengers came to Job to report a catastrophe.

There was first an attack by some nomads of the area. They slew Job’s workers in the fields and took his oxen and his donkeys. The messenger who had come to tell Job of these things had not even finished speaking when one of his shepherds also came to Job with another disaster that had struck. He described a fire that had fallen from the sky and consumed all the sheep and all of the other shepherds. The messenger alone had escaped.

No sooner had this one finished his report, when yet another man burst in with some more terrible news. There had been an attack by the Chaldeans, who raided all of Job’s camels and killed the servants who were attending them. As Job sat in shocked astonishment at this devastating series of reports, still another came. Job’s ten children, for whom he had prayed daily, had all been in the house of the oldest son when a great wind came. The house collapsed on them and killed them all.

Job staggered to his feet, tore his robe as a sign of his anguish, and shaved his head as an indication of his grief. His strength taken from him, he fell to the ground. His reactions to this cursed day could have been many. Most men would have probably uttered curses of anguish. However, of all the reactions that Job might have had in response to all that he had endured, his response was to fall to the ground and worshiped the Name of the Lord.

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NAS).

But even with all that had already happened to him, Job had not seen the end of the disasters that were to befall him. He was about to endure extreme physical agony.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


I suppose that I, too, would have stopped to investigate the strange sight. Moses, the Israelite who had fled Egypt for fear of his life, was watching the flocks of his Father-in-law in far-off Midian. As Moses walked near mount Horeb, he saw a bush that seemed to be burning, but it was not being consumed by the fire. As Moses approached the bush, he heard the voice of God speaking to him out of the midst of it.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:10-12 ESV). 

This was the call of Moses by God to lead the Israelite nation out of their captivity in Egypt. So demanding and at times so frustrating would this task become, that there may have been moments later in the life of Moses when he wished he had never turned aside from his intended path to see a bush that was burning but not being consumed. Perhaps if he had known all that lie ahead of him he would have hesitated in obeying God even more than he did at the time.

Indeed, when God told him of his plan for Moses to stand before Pharaoh and to go to the Children of Israel to tell them that God had appointed him to bring them out of Egypt, Moses began to argue with God. It was a daunting task. Moses had tried it once before – forty years previous to that time.

Concerning that time forty years earlier, the first martyr Stephen would say of Moses, “He supposed that his brothers understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). Moses probably felt that if the Israelites did not accept him forty years ago, they certainly would not accept him now. 

What Had Happened in Egypt

Friday, March 10, 2017


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Sunday, March 5, 2017


One would think that the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews could have dispensed with the title “harlot” when referring to Rehab, a woman who had lived in the Old Testament days.
After all, when he wrote about “Rahab the harlot,” as he calls her, about seventeen hundred years had passed since she had practiced that trade. And she had done other things in her life– more noteworthy things. In fact, it was one of those other and more significant things about which the author writes:
"By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace" (Hebrews 11:30-31 NIV).
The spies of this verse are not the twelve spies that had been sent in to spy out the land shortly after the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt. That occurrence had happened some forty years earlier. The spies referred to in this case were only two in number, and they went in specifically to spy out the city of Jericho, the same city that Joshua was contemplating when he met with the captain of the host of the Lord.

The Story of Rehab

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


If you are in the custom of watching the local evening news, on almost any given evening, you may see a story about some unfortunate family who had just suffered a devastating house fire. Perhaps even some of you have had this experience. As the reporter interviews the family, they are usually standing in front of what was once their home. In the background is the rubble of their building, and ashes. Many ashes.

Ashes are what is left after all that is useful is burned away. After the fire has consumed all that was worth consuming, it leaves the ashes. Ashes are the useless byproduct of disaster. Even the fire refuses these.

To our Ash Wednesday service I brought some ashes that I collected from our fireplace in our home. After the fire has gone out, there are the ashes that remain. These hold no value for me. No matter how many of these ashes that I collect, I could never heat our home with them. They are worthless to me.

Today we as a church are observing Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season in the church calendar. The Lent season is the time during the year that commemorates the forty days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus accomplished before he endured the temptation of Satan.

The Celebration

The commemoration of Ash Wednesday and even the commemoration of Lent is not something that God has instructed us to do, but is purely a church tradition. Thus, like all human traditions, we need to be a little careful what meaning we put into it. If we are holding this service and observing Ash Wednesday out of some sense of duty or to fulfill a requirement, or simply because we have always done it, we are missing the point.

However, if we use these moments together to truly reflect on our relationship with God and with our fellow man, then our observance of Ash Wednesday and of the entire Lent season will be very meaningful.

I would like to give you two things pertaining to the image of the ashes to think about during this season of Lent.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


The “Holy War” had been proclaimed.

The religious extremist shouted, “We must take up arms to drive out the infidels from the land! They are the enemies of our faith!  To die in the holy war is to be rewarded in heaven and your assurance of salvation!  Your highest calling is to go to war and to kill the enemies of God!  God has willed it!”

Reading these words in light of current events, we might assume they were spoken by Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden, or perhaps some leader from ISIS.  But in this particular case to which I am referring, they were not.  These words were not spoken by any Islamic leader against the west or against Christians.

They instead were spoken by the leader of the Christian church in order to raise up a great crusade to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land.  His call came at the end of the eleventh century. 

Nine Hundred Years

Today we stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  It is almost incredulous how the rhetoric has been reversed.  Nine hundred years ago, it was the Christians who waged a holy war against Islam.  Today, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Palestine and in increasingly more places in the Middle East and even in the west, the Jihad has been raised against all that the Islamists see as the enemies of Islam.

The intervening years may have brought about many changes, but there is one thing that has remained constant.  In all times, and on all sides of a conflict, in what are described as “holy wars,” everyone claims to be fighting in the Name of God. Combatants are quick to proclaim that God is on their side.

I watched the image of a twelve year old Afghani boy on the television news a couple of years ago.  His young mind had been solidly indoctrinated to believe that the Taliban, despite the fact that they had so brutally ruled his country, were building a government in Afghanistan as Allah would have it done.

“The Taliban will never fall,” the young boy said, “because God is on our side!” 

“You will succeed,” the Pope told the crusaders of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, “because God is on your side!”

Today in the West, we do not agree with the twelve year old Afghani boy.  We look on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and also as the ISIS movement as being regimes of extreme evil. Each one in succession seems to only have increased in their cruelty.  The brutality of their actions against all who do not agree with them, and the violence that they have wrought in their own countries and around the world have demonstrated clearly their wickedness.  We believe that in fighting them we are fighting evil.

But nine hundred years ago the same might have been said of the crusaders who marched under the Christian banner to combat what they saw as the infidels of that day. The massacre that took place by the crusaders after the taking of Jerusalem was almost beyond belief.

Whose side is God on?