Monthly Archives: March 2015

Discipleship – sometimes glacial

In Anna and the King, Anna Leonowens wrote of the uneven success she experienced in Siam.  The contest between enlightened and autocratic rule served to limit, not expedite success. She wondered if a cup of cold water would be all she could give.  If soothing a wounded spirit constituted her only ministry.  If the occasional rescue of a forlorn child made her efforts worthwhile.

She constantly struggled to decide whether the little she could accomplish outweighed the greater evils she couldn’t overcome.  As a result, “One day she would feel utterly futile, depressed; the next, strong with the satisfaction of accomplishment.”  p. 344-345

Jesus had that experience with the Twelve-in-Training.  Most always their spiritual progress was glacial, measured in inches.  Only rarely did they offer possibility.  And only once did they soar completely above themselves, Matthew 16:16.  Even then they immediately fell back to normal, Matthew 16:22-23.

Daily discipleship is like that.  Daily is the best way to live for Jesus, as he directed, Luke 9:23.  In reality it’s the only way, for it’s the increment of time in which we live.  Yet the efforts of a single day can be either satisfying or frustrating:  something or nothing achieved; little or much; progress minute or maximum; habits unchanged or finally reorganized.

Daily may be the only way we can live, but we dare not let any single DAY determine our fruitfulness or sterility in God’s work.  Perseverance in adding day to day, to become week to week, etc., is necessary for us to experience and see the progress in Christ-likeness the Spirit faithfully builds in us as we remain persistent.

Having a bad day today?  Persevere in your work.  Having a good day today?  Persevere in your work.  Perseverance offers the certainty of success.  Not what happens in any 24 hour period.

Grace – pray for God’s to be extended

General George Meade rightly stayed on the defensive when General Lee’s Confederates attacked all along the fishhook line at Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863.  The battered but victorious Federals held, despite several close calls at losing the battle.

Lee began retreating July 4—the same day that General Pemberton surrendered to General Grant at Vicksburg.  As he withdrew his badly-battered army, Meade held his victorious troops in their bivouacs.

President Lincoln sent him repeated attack-messages.  “Assault, harm, diminish, possibly-destroy the Army of Northern Virginia.”  Anything but do nothing and let Lee escape with his troops and armament.  This was an especially urgent demand with the Rebels backed against a flooded Potomac River.

When activity finally replaced inertia, he advanced July 12.  When he spied Lee’s Army, still backed against the swollen Potomac behind fortifications, he called a council of war—another action the President expressly forbade.  All but two of his officers counseled caution.  When Meade finally decided to attack July 14, Lee had crossed into Virginia.

When the President learned that Meade’s failure allowed Lee to withdraw uncontested, he was livid with disappointment and anger.  He wrote a scorching rebuke to Meade.  Then the President, always intent on justice, but more easily directed to mercy, filed rather than sent the letter.

In a later conversation with Simon Cameron, Lincoln explained, “Why should we censure a man who has done so much for his country because he did not do a little more?”  Sandburg’s The War Years II, 354

THAT was grace from  the greater to the lesser person.  Grace granted but undeserved.  Yet, but only a distant cousin to the Grace Jesus Christ gives those who obey and serve him.

May we always appeal for That Grace.  May we never appeal to our works.  May we never even appeal to our effort.  May we extend to others the grace Lincoln extended to Meade.  That will simplify and smooth personal relationships.  May we ask Jesus to give us the Infinitely greater Grace he gave the Penitent thief.  That will prepare us to enter Judgment with courage and pass it into God’s Presence.

Christ – message of never changes

Both the Tootsie Roll candy maker, and the J. Crew clothing maker, have suffered the vagaries of the market.  Tootsie Roll, make of the iconic “chocolate chew”, named after the inventor’s daughter, has seen sales slide for ten years.  The death of its founder in January, 2015, raised its stock 13%.  The uncertainty of its plans since has put giant question marks on its future.

Not a long time away, but in a similar fall, J. Crew clothing went from being the “envy of the retail industry” to “also ran trying to regain the public’s attention”.  This happened between 2008 and 2014.  J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler admitted the company’s fault.  In an astounding declaration of corporate ignorance, he said they made clothes “that women really just weren’t into.”  Really?  They didn’t have a marketing plan equal to their manufacturing skills?  What do they think they are—a Church?  San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/24/15

Obviously, the fickle public has to be pampered by manufacturer’s of whatever it sells, to say nothing about the even-more alarming styles in women’s clothing.

Their failure poses a problem preachers never have unless they witlessly create it.  Which many do in a frantic effort to tailor their preaching to the culture’s prevailing religious tastes.  Faithful preachers meanwhile base their preaching on God’s unchanging Word and unchanging Son.

Forget testing the market to see what people want to hear, preachers.  Preach the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ.  His prophets never adapted to the tastes of their age under Moses.  Nor did Jesus in the days of his flesh.  Nor did the apostles as his vicars.  We have no reason to do so in ours.  We do have a warning from him that if we do, we become part of the problem God sent Jesus to solve, when he makes us naturally THE SOLUTION by proclaiming Christ’s eternal Gospel.

Preach what John the Baptist preached:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” Matthew 3:2.  Preach what Jesus preached:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” Matthew 4:17.  Preach what Peter preached on Pentecost:  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you….” because the kingdom of heaven had COME!

In each message our need of repentance came first.  In none was God’s love mentioned.  For whether God is love or just, humanity has wickedly betrayed him and must repent.  His love merely gives us the chance to repent, where neither his justice nor wrath would.

Heaven – great joy

When General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Union Troops around the village began to cheer and to fire guns and artillery.  Not wanting to further humiliate the Confederates, General Grant ordered the celebration stopped.  In Grant’s rear, however, news of Lee’s surrender filtered, not of Grant’s prohibition.  The Army of the Potomac went berserk with joy, the usually imperturbable General Meade included.  Into the air went hats, boots, coats, shirts, blankets and canteens.  Soldiers fell on each other’s necks, kissing and hugging, laughing and crying, shouting and singing.  Grown men gamboled like kids, playing leapfrog, standing on their heads, dancing silly dances alone and in groups.  All around cannon roared and bands played, and soldiers surrendered to a transport of joy.

An officer wrote his wife, “Notwithstanding the privations and hardships I have endured, and the great suffering I have undergone, the glory of this day more than compensates me for all.”

How shall God’s people react when we see the Holy City?  When we enter the Holy City?  With no one to quiet us because “God doesn’t want the Enemy further humiliated.”  With the awareness that we HAVE OVERCOME by the blood of the Lamb.  That we ARE in the very Presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, in the eternal city.  Can we imagine any transport excessive, any shouting too loud, any display of victory too exuberant?

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem – Part III

It’s hard to understand how small things can have enormous consequences, but:

‑‑No more than 5,000 men on each side fought the Battle of Quebec on the plains of Abraham, yet the outcome of that battle decided the political, economic and religious fate of hundreds of millions in North America.

‑‑One cold December night in l955, a black named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  That single refusal, by that one lady, led to the active boycott of the bus company, to the emergence of the civil rights struggle, to fame for Martin Luther King, Jr. and an awareness of black power that didn’t get the name for l5 more years.

‑‑Luther  nailed  95  theses  for  debate  on  the  church  door  at Wittenburg, Germany,

October 3l, l5l7.  He wanted a debate.  He got a complete revolution.

‑‑Dante nearly wrote his Divine Comedy in Tuscan, an obscure dialect that few understood.  Instead he wrote in Latin, a language universal in Europe at that time.  By that small margin his work escaped oblivion and became a Catholic classic.

‑‑In the fall of l94l German and Russian forces fought a small scale, really accidental, battle at Mga, in northern Russia. But the consequences were enormous.  For that single engagement precipitated the encirclement of Leningrad, leading to a disastrous 900 day siege.

‑‑On the morning of July l, l863, outside a small Pennsylvania town, Confederate scavengers went looking for food and clothing. They encountered a Union patrol and engaged it.  This small skirmish catapulted the two armies into a full scale conflict that neither wanted just then.  But the Battle of Gettysburg proved the key battle in the South’s struggle for independence.  From that point it was obvious it must fail.

‑‑In San Antonio, Texas is an old adobe mission called the Alamo.  It’s unpretentious and unlovely. “There’s nothing to it,” one visitor said, having seen it firsthand.  The place itself isn’t important, however.  What happened there immortalized it. l83 men chose to stand by, not surrender, an idea.  That stand electrified the country, galvanized opposition to Mexico and inspired 900 soldiers as they attacked Santa Ana’s army at San Jacinto.

Things aren’t always what they seem in this world.    – End of Part III –


Things: aren’t always what they seem – Part II

You wouldn’t think it would turn out this way, but:

‑‑The land that gave Christianity its birth—and in which the apostles labored so diligently and fruitfully—is now one of the most discouraging mission fields in the world.  The same is true of all the area where Christianity went first, with the greatest success.

‑‑While Hitler was incarcerated in Landsberg prison, all he did was write a book‑‑a harmless enough avocation—or so his jailer said, for it kept Hitler out of mischief.  WRONG.  As Robert Payne wrote, he didn’t know the danger in the book.  For in Mein Kampf Hitler outlined his plans to conquer the world.

‑‑The single personality in the North during the Civil War who insisted that the South be defeated was President Abraham Lincoln.  When John Wilkes Booth took the President’s life, he thought he had done the South a favor, ridding it of its most ferocious enemy.  Yet Booth’s violent act irreparably harmed the South.  For, while he proved the South’s inveterate foe in war, no one in the North was more conciliatory towards her in peace than Abraham Lincoln. With his removal, no one stood between the South and the radical politicians who wanted her brutalized.

Things aren’t always what they seem.

I know this is hard to believe but:

‑‑Czar Alexander III of Russia had such powerful shoulders, arms and hands that he could take iron pokers and bend them double—and take horseshoes in his hand and twist them apart.

‑‑There once was a little duck—a Japanese duck.  But this Japanese duck happened to be in an American POW camp in Ofuna, Japan.  The POW’s shared their food with the duck.  At one time it had broken a leg and a POW splinted it‑‑and the duck survived, though it thereafter walked with a limp.  At every morning roll call, the prisoners would stand at attention in a straight line—and find their duck limping along to get in formation too, always at the end of the line. When the POW’s bowed to the Emperor, the duck would watch their heads bow—and then it would bob its head in obeisance.  It all seemed incredible to the POW’s that a birdbrain like a duck could have such intelligence.

But things aren’t always what they seem.  – End, Part II –


Things: aren’t always what they seem

We have sayings that indicate our surprise, delight or limitations.  One such saying is “things aren’t always what they seem to be.”  Another is “dynamite comes in small packages.”  And a third is “you never know how a thing will turn out.”  The saying I’ll repeatedly refer to now is “things aren’t always what they seem.”

You wouldn’t think it, but:

**Very little snow falls in the heart of Antarctica.  The temperature is so low that it contains very little water vapor.  The heart of Antarctica is not unlike the Sahara in terms of precipitation.

**The Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolution, where colonial soldiers soundly trounced British veterans, was for a long time considered such a disgrace for America that no one would accept responsibility for it.

**An American defeat in the Revolution assured French recognition of our infant nation.  The Battle of Germantown first brought together the massed armies of Britain and America.  When the French Foreign Minister heard details of the battle, he felt elation.  Having previously advised against supporting the Americans, he now changed positions.  “Nothing has struck me so much as General Washington attacking and giving battle to General Howe’s army,” he wrote.  “To bring troops, raised within a year, to do this, promises everything.”

Things aren’t always what they seem .       – End Part I –

God – sees each person as special

The Emperor Justinian built Santa Sophia (the church of Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople.  He adorned it with grace, beauty and countless treasures.  One could have thought that he expended all his love, exhausted his treasury, and all his architectural genius on that one building, it was so breath-taking.

But no, according to the historian Procopius.  He also built palaces, fortresses, monasteries and 24 other churches.  And, according to Procopius, “If you should see one of them by itself you would suppose that the Emperor had built this work only, and had spent the whole time of his reign on this one alone.”

In John 3:16, and in every phase of his ministry, Jesus made it clear that God loves each person as if he’s the only person alive.  Our Heavenly Benefactor pleasures himself by extending benefits to each of us as if we’re the only one he has.

With such a promise, how can loneliness, fear or doubt long exist in us?  Even in an age that has de-personalized the individual?  The awareness that we’re each God’s child, each one known, loved and protected, offers a source of lasting encouragement.  To God we’re never a “hey you”, or “what’s your name?”  To God we’re persons one at a time, each one loved  as if the only one to love, each one cared for as if God has absolutely nothing to do but provide our needs.

He treats every one of the 7 billion people on earth the same way.  Why not let him love you that way?  “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away”, Jesus promised in John 6:37.  That invitation is open to each person.  And Jesus is always as good as his word.

Christ – He’s the one

Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 film City Lights has a spectacular ending.  Chaplin plays the Little Tramp who befriends a wealthy man who wanted to commit suicide.  He has also discovered a blind girl who sells flowers for a living.  Chaplin finds that the girl can have her sight restored and, through a series of circumstances with the wealthy man, gets the money and gives it to the girl.  The Little Tramp spends time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

The closing scenes have the now-sighted girl as owner of a flower shop.  She keeps thinking, each time a male customer opens the door, that he might be her benefactor—perhaps a wealthy, young man.  She listens carefully as each man talks to see if he is the one.  But none appears.

When Chaplin wanders into her store, he recognizes her; naturally, she doesn’t him.  Seeing him as a penniless drifter, she offers to give him a flower and a coin.  When she gives him the flower she feels his hand and LO…she knows it as the hand of the man who befriended her and gave her money for the surgery.  Great lines follow.  “YOU!”, she exclaimed to the unlikely benefactor.  “Yes.  It is I,” he replied.

We fruitlessly search through the faces and feel the hands of all who promise to help us through life, to find God, to possess forgiveness, to live eternally.  Then, to our surprise, a total stranger approaches.  As he reaches out his hands to hold ours, we feel scars on his wrists.  Which draw us to his face.  And SUCH LOVE pours out at us that we instinctively know…Jesus…it’s YOU!  You’re the ONE I’ve searched all life for.  “Yes,” he kindly,  forgivingly replies, “I AM the One.”

Justice – apparently kind; really not; America – not always a pleasant destination

Eighteenth century England had what appeared to Europeans a just and lenient judicial system.  Prisoners could not be compelled to plead against themselves in court.  If they refused to speak when charged, they couldn’t be tried.

That didn’t mean what it seemed.  For back to prison the person went.  Laid on the bare ground, his arms and legs were “stretched with cords” and fastened tight.  Covered by a cloth over his privates, the prisoner then had “irons and stone” placed on his body.  The next day a slight meal of barley bread, with no drink, was served.  The next day, drink with no bread.  And so on till he died.  To hasten his demise, friends could lie on the stones to suffocate him.

One benefit accrued to any prisoner suffering this punishment.  Since he hadn’t been found guilty, his children could still claim his estate and belongings.

Point of fact, however.  Even this horrible torture to death was considered better than transportation to the colonies or to the West Indies.  That was considered a fate “worse than death.”  1700, pp. 313-314