American born painter, James Whistler, was as controversial as he was competent. The artist best known for Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (or, Whistler’s Mother), the famous painting depicting an aging woman in side profile wearing a bonnet, was as known for his arrogance and egotism (Peters, Lisa N. James McNeill Whistler. Smithmark: New York, 1996. p. 4). On one occasion, Whistler was told that a shipment of blank canvasses he had ordered was lost in the mail. He was asked if they were of any value and he replied, “Not yet, not yet” (Today In the Word, 12/3/92).
We are born into this world innocent and with endless potential. Some are born with many more advantages and opportunities than others. All of us who live to maturity leave this life, whatever we achieve, stained by sin having disappointed or transgressed against others. Yet, of what value will we be to those we meet? What to our families, our friends, the church, and the world? It depends upon what we allow God to do with our lives. He can take the most mundane, ordinary material and work a masterpiece through it. If we allow Him to work on the canvas of our lives, we will become infinitely better parents, spouses, and Christians. But, how can we become masterpieces in the hands of the Master?
Keep your heart soft (Eph. 4:32).
Have hands that are willing (Neh. 2:18).
Have feet that are ready (Eph. 6:15).
Maintain an open mind (1 Chr. 28:9).
Turn your face toward Him (cf. Job 22:26).
Strengthen your back (cf. Nah. 2:1).
Such is the possibility for everyone who submits themselves a blank canvas to be worked upon by the Master Artist. He is not arrogant. He is perfect. It is not a boast for Him to declare His ability to transform the dullness of our lives into the brilliance produced by the influence of His Word and will! You are not yet what you could be. When all is said and done, will you have been what you could be? The decision is made if you let Christ work upon you.
Pollards love singing and music. A few (and they usually are those who marry into the family) actually know a few things about either or both. We are thankful that “joyful noise” does not mean “pleasant melody.”
David was probably quote the songster. The “sweet psalmist” wrote the Jewish hymn book, songs used by God’s people over the course of two covenants and hundreds and hundreds of years. We still sing songs inspired by his inspired psalms, and some songs are derived, verbatim, from the sacred text. In Psalm 40:3, David declares, “He has put a new song in my mouth.”
Isn’t that true? Maybe, you used to sing “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” or “Am I Blue?” Now, we sing, “I’m Happy Today” and “I’m Redeemed.” Our favorite song might have been “Let’s Talk About Me.” Now, our anthem is, “Make Me A Servant” and “In The Service Of My King.” It used to be that our theme song was “We Are Living In A Material World” but now it’s “This World Is Not My Home.” Maybe, we used to sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” but now we can sing “God’s Family.”
The difference Jesus makes to us hits every facet of our lives. It impacts the very songs in our hearts. Not only will we sing the new song in heaven some day, we have a new song now.
This is not just something Janet Jackson once wondered. The late summer and early fall of each year, college football programs have alumni, boosters, and fans asking head coaches the same thing. Companies ask the same of employees, and stockholders ask it of companies. While it can be an unfair question, it cannot be unfair if God asks it.
God has a perfect view of our lives, knowing not only what we’ve done for Him in our past but what we are doing now. As He looks into our lives, could He be wondering, “What have you done for Me lately?”
“Have you won a soul to Me lately?”
“Have you been in My Word lately?”
“Have you been to My throne room in prayer lately?”
“Have you and I been close lately?”
“Have you been involved in My Son’s work lately?”
“Have you been the spiritual leader of your family lately?”
“Have you watched your example and attitude lately?”
“Have you been the source of unity in My Son’s body lately?”
“Have you encouraged a hurting, lonely soul lately?”
These and other questions are ones He has already asked in principle, when He addresses our hearts (Mat. 15:8-9), teaches us our responsibilities (Mat. 7:21), talks about our relationship with Him (Mat. 22:37), and examines our lifestyles (Mat. 5:13-16). We may have studied with several people in the past, taught a Bible class at some point for a long period of time, and been very close to and in love with God in days gone by. But how is it now? Is that really a thing of the past or does it describe the current state of things? The wonderful news is that you can start right now, building a better relationship with Him and serving Him more effectively. Today is as “lately” as it gets. If your zeal is zapped and your fruit has shriveled, get busy right now restoring that. Obviously, God will see it and He will bless you for it!
On his tombstone in Gloucester, England, James Bartley had written “A Modern Jonah.” Bartley was allegedly swallowed by a sperm whale while helping to hunt and kill the giant in 1891. The whale, as the tale goes, was ultimately subdued and conquered, and when its stomach was hoisted on deck two days later, an unconscious and crazed Bartley was found inside. He was a member of a party sent out to harpoon the beast, and in the melee that ensued Bartley was said to be accidentally ingested. By the mid-1890s, the story was published and circulated as fact on both sides of the Atlantic. For over 100 years, the Bartley story has been told by eager apologists to defend the veracity of the biblical account of Jonah. It has served as a theological pingpong ball vollied back and forth between believers and unbelievers. Research, particularly by a Bible-believing professor named Edward Davis (http://asa.calvin.edu:80/asa/pscf.html | 19:53:53 Mar 16, 2003), ultimately shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the story is a hoax. Too many aspects of the story do not stand up to scrutiny. The alleged ship, “Star of the East,” was not a whaler. There was no fishing off the Falkland Islands in 1891. Bartley’s name never appeared on a manifest of the aforementioned ship. The captain’s wife said that her husband never lost anyone overboard in all their years of marriage, and they were married in 1891. Atheists and skeptics have rejoiced in such findings, using them to discredit the Bible’s account of the Jonah incident. Apparently, some less than scrupulous (or, at best, sloppy researching) “Christian Apologists” have taken the Bartley story and run with it in an effort to substantiate that ancient account. Yet, opponents of Scripture have been as out of bounds in their response, making the nonsensical jump from the fraudulent Bartley story to try to discredit the validity of the book of Jonah. Because modern man fabricated a story about a man being swallowed by a whale does not mean that the account in Scripture should be rejected.
The account of Jonah is believable for at least these reasons. First, the Bible does not call Jonah’s captor a whale. It was a fish (Jonah 1:17). The NAS has “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40, but it is better translated “big fish, huge fish” (Louw-Nida, np). Second, this fish was “prepared” (appointed, NAS) by God for the occasion. We have no record of this “species” prior to or after this special occasion meant by God to persuade His pekid prophet. Finally, Jesus validates the historicity of the Jonah incident. In the aforementioned gospel account, Jesus refers to Jonah as fact rather than fable. If it was a fairy tale, Christ gives no hint of it. In fact, He says, “…just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of…” this creature (emph., NP).
Have creationists and “fundamentalists” ever overreached to try and prove their point? Undoubtedly! Have skeptics and atheists ever overreacted to try and protect their non-theistic bubble? Absolutely! When such battles as these are being waged, I find my confidence in going back and reading the text. Seeing what the Bible actually says is powerful in keeping us away from either extreme.
Buried in the headlines today is news that the doctor in charge of fighting an outbreak of Ebola in his country has contracted the disease himself. The health minister of Sierre Leone said that Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan has a confirmed case of the deadly virus that has killed over 600 of his fellow-countrymen in 2014. Three of the nurses working alongside Khan recently died trying to treat this disease for which there is no known cure or vaccine. Despite meticulous precautions, Khan could not evade contracting Ebola.
It is an unappealing prospect to consider having a job like Khan’s. Exposing yourself to something utterly deadly (at times, Ebola has as high as a 90% mortality rate) to try and save your fellow-citizens is about as great a risk as a person can assume on this earth. Not surprisingly, Khan has been hailed as a hero for using his expertise as a virologist to combat this frightful killer. Now, his own life hangs in the balance (via news.yahoo.com).
The writer of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the Levitical priests under the Old Law. They were “sick” with the very sin they were appointed to “treat” among the nation of Israel (Heb. 7:27). The writer says that Jesus had no need to do this for Himself because He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners…” (Heb. 7:26). In other words, though thoroughly exposed to the deadly malady of sin, Jesus never succumbed to it. Earlier, the epistle says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:16).
Simply put, the One God sent to provide a cure for the deadliest condition ever known was fully exposed to it but did not fall prey to it. He did, however, die because of it. Incredibly, that was God’s intention from eternity. Yet, His ultimate sacrifice makes it possible for us to be cured of this otherwise hopeless and eternally fatal condition! No wonder we praise Jesus as the “Great Physician.”
As part of the personal evangelism class I just taught in Cambodia, I had the students engage in role-playing for a couple of days. It was wonderful and memorable. Some of the students are brand new Christians and have no experience doing personal work. All of them got into it wholeheartedly. Perhaps the most poignant moment came about purely accidentally. We had a table set up, with a teacher, silent partner, and student. The “student” was to come up with the issue or dilemma for the “teacher” to solve. In one particular scenario, the “student” hit the teacher with his true background. He said, “When I was born, I did not even get to see my parents. They died and I am an orphan. If there is a God, why did this happen?” His teacher gently and unassumingly said, “I think I understand. I lost my parents when I was young, too, and I am an orphan.” There followed a beautiful lesson on God’s love and pretty good insights on why there is suffering in this world. But the fact his teacher not only comprehended, but experienced his situation made a huge impact on everyone in the room.
We will suffer in a great many ways throughout our short sojourn on this earth. At times, we may think that not another soul on earth understands. Perhaps, there will come a time when that is actually true. However, we will never encounter a single trial but that someone will always understand. He may not be on earth, but He is ever-present. He is actually omnipresent. The Hebrews writer says of Him, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). As we bring our biggest, most debilitating issues into His presence, He gently says, “I think I understand.” Praise God!
Yesterday, several of us traveled from Siem Reap out to Tonle Sap Lake to visit two of the graduates from the first class at the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, one of our Bear Valley extensions. They live on a raft and operate a water filtration system capable of servicing dozens of locals each day. The lake is over an hour from Siem Reap, and they have yet to establish a congregation so our visit was to encourage them. After visiting, we were having a devotional—singing songs and having a short lesson. During the lesson, the winds started to blow and the raft started to pull against the ropes tied to the dock. Suddenly, hard and heavy tropical rains had replaced sunny skies and we were in a storm. The dock was damaged by the raft tugging against it, and quickly we were tethered by only one rope. Currents were moving downstream in this, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and the surge flow produced fast-moving water intensified by the rains. In short, the visit could have ended much more dramatically and dangerously.
There were things that struck me about that storm—it was sudden, powerful, and intense. It is hard to think of disciples in a boat during a storm without thinking of the events recorded in Matthew 8:23-27. A storm arose, the boat was covered with waves, the seasoned fishermen and boatmen were frightened, and Jesus was asleep onboard. They awake Him, He rebuked the wind and the water, and then He rebuked them. Their faith was not as firm as the fracas. After yesterday, I am even less critical of their reaction. It’s easy to feel small and helpless when such a storm arises.
The Bible compares our trials and difficulties to storms. Job and David, among others, call them “tempests” (Job 9:17; Psa. 55:8). Jesus calls them floods and torrents (Luke 6:47-49). Solomon likens them to storms (Pro. 1:27). We appreciate the imagery!
These storms can blow us off course and can even make us drift. We can find ourselves barely hanging on and wondering how much more we can take. Let us remember that Jesus is still with us (Mat. 28:20), so no matter how fierce the storm we will ultimately survive. “Ultimately” may not mean being spared from physical death, but it does mean that we will preserve our spiritual lives. May our faith be strong enough to remember that as long as our Lord is near, we are more than conquerors (cf. Rom. 8:31).