Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tinkerer

Tinker - an interesting word, at least for me. Maybe it's because I can relate to it since I remember my father saying that word at lot, especially when he was trying to fix something. For example, if he was attempting to get an old clock working, he would say he was going to tinker with it a while. This usually meant that he didn't really expect to get it actually working, unless success happened by chance, or through perseverance of several tinkering episodes. Nonetheless, he would continue to tinker with various things. To my dad's credit, not everyone can tinker, it takes perseverance and patience, and he was a pro at it.

Another word my dad used a lot, especially when he went outside in the garage to see what he could get into, was the verb "putter around". He would say something like, "I'm going out to putter around for a while". That usually meant doing little things of little consequence. It was usually an act of randomly performing small, unplanned mediocre tasks, in no particular order.

A third word he used a lot was pretnear. Actually, it's more of a phrase. My dad would say something like, "He pretnear got the job done!" This word, I suppose, is an abbreviation for the phrase "pretty near", meaning almost.

I don't know if these words are specific to the area I grew up in (south central N.Y. state), or the time period I grew up in. But regardless, I look back at them with humor and nostalgia.

You are probably wondering how in the world those three words - (tinker - putter around - and pretnear) -  relate to anything spiritual. Well, they actually do. They apply to someone who takes the Bible, God's word, with a lackluster attitude. The word lackluster means exactly what it sounds like - lacking luster. In other words, an attitude lacking conviction or vitality. Here's how to apply those three words to Bible reading, in just one (run-on) sentence....

Don't tinker with God's Word like you don't really expect to get anything out of it, or
putter around in it with no real direction, and don't ever say, "I pretnear was persuaded to get serious about following the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Amazing Tree Of Life

The garden was special in the sense that everything was perfect, lush, and full. And there were all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. But there were two very unusual trees in the garden that stood out from the rest. In fact, they were supernatural trees that God had created.
One was called the Tree of Life. The other was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Both trees were located right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, where God had placed Adam, the first man, to work it and take care of it. Adam was allowed to eat from any tree in the garden except one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That's because if he ate from that tree, God had warned him that he would surely die.

God did, however, allow Adam to eat from the other supernatural tree: the Tree of Life. Actually, the Tree of Life had mysterious, extraordinary qualities, for if anyone ate from it, they would live forever! This tree not only sustained Adam's life, but sustained it eternally, as long as he continued to eat from it. 

Eventually, God created Eve, Adam's wife. You probably know the rest of the story. They both eventually disobeyed God's rule, and deceived by Satan's words, they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Everything went downhill from there. Death, and sin itself, came into a perfect world. And the effects are with each of us today. Not only is physical death the destiny of every person, but spiritual death is a real possibility because of the effects of sin. 

As a sentence, a penalty for their sin, Adam and Eve were not only kicked out of the beautiful, luscious Garden of Eden, but they were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life. God placed special angels, cherubim, along with a flaming sword that constantly flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree. And without eating from that tree, Adam and Eve could not live forever. 

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

Adam and Eve eventually died, never able to eat again for the Tree of Life. The life sustaining tree was gone from this earth forever. Or was it? If you think about it closely, the Tree of Life actually did return, though in a completely different form. It came back as a tree alright, but this special tree took on a new shape - the shape of a cross! The cross of Christ is our Tree of Life. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

That's right, God offers once again the opportunity to live forever! But it's not because we earned that right. Instead, God's offer is called grace, and it's only accessible through Jesus dying on the cross. We are no longer condemned because of our sin, instead we are offered forgiveness because Jesus paid the penalty, the price, to free us from our sins. The price was His life. 

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus' sacrifice was huge. Through the cross, He was able to reverse the consequences of Adam's sin!

"For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19)

And because we are reconciled with God through Jesus, we will live eternally with Him in Heaven after we leave this world. And guess what? There in Heaven, everything comes full circle. We get the Tree of Life back! 

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22:1-5)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dumb Ass Speaks!

I must say, I have debated whether or not to use "The Dumb Ass Speaks" as the title for this article. And I can't tell you how many times I have laughed hysterically over it, because I know what it may initially imply - that I'm talking about a particular person who is saying something absolutely stupid. And what's funny is that I'm not talking about a person at all, but a donkey!  

The word donkey or ass is interchangeable. The word 'ass' is actually derived from the last word in the species classification, Equus Africanus Asinus. That particular word "asinus" is where the word "asinine" comes from, which means extremely or utterly foolish. A great word if you ask me, and a truly hilarious one as well.

In our language, a male donkey is called a 'jack', thus a jack-ass. A female donkey is called a 'jennet'. A 'mule' is a cross between a jackass and a female horse. A 'hinny' is a cross between a jennet and a male horse.

I remember as a young boy, saying something foolish, and being told, "Don't be a jackass." Sometimes it was shortened it to, "Don't be an ass." When I reflect back on those words, I now laugh out loud.

Over the years, the poor donkey has gotten a notoriously bad rap for being stubborn, headstrong, and downright pigheaded. However, there's an interesting explanation for why they are sometimes that way. When a donkey perceives something as dangerous, of if they become scared, it's almost impossible to make them move towards it. It's an instinctive reaction.

Around the mid-1800's, the term 'donkey' became a more common term instead of 'ass'. The King James Version of the Bible, originally written in 1611, actually uses the word 'ass' instead of 'donkey'. And it seems to me that most people who are quoting a verse from the King James Bible containing this word, hesitate from saying it out loud, for fear that someone might chuckle. Most modern versions of the Bible substitute the word donkey instead.

There is even a Christmas carol that uses the word 'ass'. And many are too embarrassed to sing the verse that contains that word. It's found in the song, "What Child Is This", written in 1865. Verse two of the song goes like this, "Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading."

The word I use in the title, dumb, is not referring to stupid, but speechless - unable to talk - as in deaf and dumb. So when I say that the dumb ass speaks, what I'm saying is that a donkey, who of course can't speak, actually talks out loud. It's the miracle of a talking donkey - a dumb ass speaks. And what we only see in cartoons, or movies, actually really happened. This fascinating miracle is recorded in detail in the Bible. It's the story of Balaam and his donkey.

Here's the background for the story...... the king of the Moabites was afraid that the Israelites, God's chosen people, were going to take his land, so he sent for a man named Balaam to curse the nation of Israel. Balaam started on his journey to meet the king. Obviously, this was against God's will. So here's how God stopped Balaam. 

So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.

Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”  “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”  “No,” Balaam admitted.

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” (Numbers 22:21-33)

If you read the next few chapters, you will find that the Lord eventually allows Balaam to go ahead and meet the king of Maob, but his mission is totally reversed. He goes not to curse Israel, but conversely, God gives Balaam the words to deliver 7 messages that proclaim that Israel is God's chosen, blessed nation. And the messages ultimately even predict the destruction of the Moabites! 

When we look back on our lives, sometimes we can see how we once were headed in the wrong direction ourselves, maybe living against God's will. Maybe we were once ignoring God, or even living as opposed to Him. But Jesus has the power to change lives. And perhaps you are not who you used to be. And like Balaam, your mission, your purpose in life, your words and actions now proclaim God's glory, not go against it. I hope this describes you.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Has Anyone Seen God Lately?

So....have you seen God lately? I know, "It's impossible for anyone to actually see God." Well, that's true, literally, at least in this physical life. OK, so we can't literally see the ever-present, invisible God. How, then, do we "see" the One who is invisible? It's very possible, you know.

Things that are invisible are easily overlooked and ignored. I suppose that's a natural human tendency. After all, we live and function in a physical reality. However, the physical reality is not the only reality! There is a spiritual reality - one that we cannot see, but is just as real as the physical reality. Actually, the spiritual reality may be the "real" reality because it is the eternal one, the everlasting one, while the physical reality is really only temporary. 

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves the invisible is real, and this evidence is all around us, every day. Just think about what's invisible, besides the spiritual. For example, everyday you probably use your cell phone. If you had special magic glasses that could see cell phone signals, you would be overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of them coming back and forth in the space all around you. The same holds true for radio waves, over-the-air television signals, and every other mode of communication that is out there. You can't see the signals, but you can be sure they exist. Just because something is invisible, it does not mean it is not real. 

How about sound itself? Sound waves are invisible, yet when they reach our ears, we hear them. Another example is wind. We can't see wind, but we sure can see the evidence of wind - trees moving, objects being blown around. We can even feel the wind - it's invisible, but it sure is real.

This idea that there is evidence of an invisible reality holds true for the spiritual realm as well. You just need to open your eyes to see Him, or at least see the evidence of Him, at work. Sometimes, in the moment, you don't realize God is actively working in your life. Sometimes He doesn't show up in the way you expect Him to. There was a time when the prophet Elijah was waiting for the Lord to show up. Well, the Lord did show up, but in a totally different way than expected. Instead of with power and force, the Lord showed up in a very subtle whisper. 

 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord. Look, the Lord is ready to pass by.” A very powerful wind went before the Lord, digging into the mountain and causing landslides, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the windstorm there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a soft whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

There are times, however, when the Lord does actually show up right on the spot, in real time! Maybe it's in a moment of worship when you feel His Spirit touch you. Or maybe, it's a real-life situation when the impossible dilemma is solved in front of your eyes. Or maybe it's a close call where you've escaped danger and felt His protection. Or immediate provision when you were totally without some essential. Or immediate answered prayer. Or when you've experienced His blessings, His love, and His grace pouring down on you. Or in a moment of experiencing peace, knowing that He is with you.  

More often that not, though, reflecting back on your life is what brings out the realization that the Lord's hand was at work all along. It's the looking back in your past that prompts you to begin to see that He was with you all the time. Or that He got you through the tough times. Or that it was Him who worked things out for you  - things that seemed impossible at the time, or beyond all probability of happening. Or that He blessed you beyond what you could ever have possibly imagined or hoped for.

And what's amazing is that the more you begin to recognize the Lord's hand at work in your life, whether in real time, or reflecting back, the more clearly you begin to see Him. 

As Christ followers, we realize that we are children of God, adopted as His children. We are sons and daughters of the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords. And because of His grace, mercy, and love, He cares for us, He wants the best for us, and He wants to work things in our favor, as a loving father does for his children. One thing is for sure, if you are one of His, you can be sure that He will never leave you or forsake you. 

So what should be your response when you become aware of the Father's hand at work in your life, whether in the moment, or reflecting back? Stop what you're doing - and praise Him, and worship Him. And don't be afraid to boast to others about what you have seen Him do in your life - it gives Him glory, and encourages others in their own faith.

And as for now, keep your eyes open!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Another Bible TV Show To Drive Me Nuts!

I was flipping through the channels and came across this TV show, in progress. I could only stand 3 minutes of it, literally. My wife, in the other room, heard me repeatedly yelling out loud  phrases like, "you've got to be kidding", "this is ridiculous", "what?!!!", "give me a break", "I can't believe what I'm hearing!"

When she came into the room to see what was going on, I reversed my DVR to show her the 3 minute segment I had just watched. The show was called "Secrets Of The Bible - The Staff Of Moses", on AHCTV, originally aired 12/14/14. It was obviously a rerun, but it was the first time I saw it. I don't usually watch TV documentaries concerning the Bible because they drive me crazy on how inaccurate and misleading most of them are. Oh, they look good with nice visual effects. And they sound good with dramatic music. But don't let that fool you. They usually totally misrepresent the Bible. As far as this show, it didn't take me long to see the problem.

I'm going to give you direct quotes from the short 3-minute segment I saw. When I tuned in, the narrator was talking about the staff of Moses. Describing the staff, he said, "it becomes Moses' supernatural weapon."  Supernatural weapon? You've got to be kidding. Then right after that he said, "if we are to believe what we're told in the Old Testament, the staff of Moses became the most powerful artifact in History."  Then, talking about Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh, the narrator said, "time and time again, Moses uses his staff to threaten him." 

Do you see what is being implied here? Do you see the problem with this show's narrative? God is taken right out of the picture. It's not God performing the miracles through Moses, but this show is attributing everything to the physical staff of Moses!

I wasn't just imagining that. It wasn't because I was over critical. It really became clear in the next clip I saw. It was a brief commentary by Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulo, of the University of Exeter. Her credentials sound really impressive, don't they? Here is her direct quote, "Moses is a ritual(?) specialist. He pulls out all sorts of magical tricks to try to intimidate Pharaoh." 

What!? Magical tricks? Give me a break! The plagues aren't magical tricks - they are miracles by the power of God. Moses is not a magician. God is displaying His power and will through Moses. The truth is, for every plague, God tells Moses ahead of time exactly what He is going to do. For each miracle, God commands Moses what to do and say. It's not Moses who's in control. It's not Moses who has the power. And it's certainly not the staff that is some sort of magical wand. But that's exactly what this show's narrative implies.

Then the narrator continued, "but then Moses says, 'I can do far more with this staff'". Stop! Wait a minute! Did you catch that quote? "I can do far more with this staff." Where does he get this? Let me know if you can find this quote from Moses in the Bible. You can't! For one thing, Moses would never say that. It would be blasphemy against God - against acknowledging the sovereignty of God. And to usurp such power from God, and attribute it to himself would have dire consequences for Moses. Moses, as well as the staff, could do absolutely nothing without God. Moses would never boast those words. 

I could hardly stand it, but I let the show run another minute or so. Here's what I heard the narrator say next, "Moses unleashed plagues of hail and darkness." Let me ask you, who unleashed the plagues? Moses or God? 

About 3 minutes into the clip came the coup de gras - the grand finale - the finishing blow as far as I was concerned. I could stand it no more after I heard this statement from the narrator when he described the splitting of the Red Sea. "Once again Moses' staff comes to the rescue. It's the most amazing display of power in the Old Testament."

Hold it!!! Moses' staff comes to the rescue? Really? Wow. I'm in awe of his staff. Think of what it could do if we had this magical staff today! Think of it's power. The wizardry of Moses is amazing! Not!!!!!!!!!!

Remember, this all occurred in just a 3 minute segment!!! I wouldn't dare guess how the show went after that, but I can imagine. 

Here's my advice to you, and to the narrators of this show. Read Exodus chapters 7 through 11 for yourself!!! And see what conclusions you make about God, about Moses, and about the staff. And here's another piece of advice if you watch any of these TV Bible shows. Be skeptical of what they are portraying as truth.

I feel better now. I got this one off my chest. This show segment drove me nuts. I hope it would do the same for you too.