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Four Stories: the last – Explosions

This story I heard told by a missionary.

The early morning was rock by thunderous roars. It woke people not already up, these explosions, and so worried the nearby residents that the elders went to see what was happening. A local missionary came, as well.

What they found were men dressed in construction gear who were setting out explosive charges. The missionary looked on as the elders engaged the civil engineer at the site.

What were they doing? They were blasting away rock to make a road to a town miles and miles up the road. The government had decided that a road was needed.

The elders told him that this was a crazy idea. The government did not realize how unstable this mountain was that they were carving the road into. There were rock slides all the time. Drivers were going to be killed. Rocks would hit vehicles, smashing them or propelling them over the precipice.

The engineer told them that they were aware of the problem and that they were going to remove all the rock above the road. The elders thought that this was crazy also. It would take years to haul away all that rock.

But the engineer was undaunted. He took the elders to the precipice and asked them to look down. Below them was a cove, a finger of the sea. The engineer explained to them what they must have already known: that for some unknown reason fish would not go into the cove and that meant that fishermen would not go their either. So they were going to just push the rock off the cliff and let it fall into the cove. That way, the job could be completed quickly and at minimum expense.

The elders were astounded, but the missionary just stood quietly, away from them all and wept. For you see, just the day before, she told a little girl that God wouldn’t really move a mountain for her  and now the upper half of Mari’s mountain was to be moved and cast into the sea, just as Jesus had spoken.

It is not wise to imagine that we know what God will or won’t do, except that he will do no evil. Eye has not seen,nor ear heard…

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Getting the Story Right

One thing that is necessary when reading the Bible is getting the context right. There is an old saying that goes “a text out of context is a pretext,” meaning that many people build their doctrine first, then go to the scripture to prove it. Theologians call this “eisogesis,”(eye-so-gee-sis),  from the Greek.

The problem  that we  all do a little eisogesis and argue with one another over our varied opinions. Years ago, two of the young men in our church frequently did a funny skit. They pretended to be two blind men that Jesus had caused to see. The first told how Jesus had touched his eyes and made him see. Then the second one told how Jesus had made mud and put it on his eyes and told him to go wash it off.

The first one immediately objected that Jesus didn’t put any mud on people’s eyes to make them see. He seemed offended at the thought. The second insisted that if Jesus made you to see, you had to have mud placed on your eyes. No mud, no healing. In a moment or two, they were at each others choking one another. It was all done with an exaggeration of  voice and movement that made the whole thing hilarious.

But the point of the skit, however, is really serious. You can’t use your experience as a guide, a template, as to how God will move next. For while we know that he will do nothing that is contrary to His word, He will bring it to pass in a way that is best suited to the person or people he chooses to bless, both in the perfect time and perfect circumstances.

This does not always make us happy while living in the moment, but sometimes, in retrospect, we can see that it was the better choice. Often, however, we are waiting  for an explanation that will only come when we go to be with Christ.

Our lives are also like a book. We are called by Paul “living letters” seen and read by all men. We can also do eisogesis on our own stories, our own letters. We can take some credit for the grace that God has put in our lives, to imagine that we were uniquely qualified for something that God has done in our lives and so dry up the well of grace which we so desperately need. We can make the blessing about ourselves. We can slip into pride, making ourselves and our analysis of our lives foremost, imagining that we have exceeded how far we have actually come.

It is a trap. We need to ask God to tell us the story of our lives. Autobiography is often self-promoting, even when we are telling ourselves of our own unworthiness. We need to ask God to tell us our stories., to be our biographer. His story of each one of us is more true than our own and will be far more encouraging than our own, if we have given our lives to Christ.

Four Stories: the Third – Mistaken Identity

This story is from 19th century missionaries. I read it long ago.

Several missionaries, back from the interior of China, were invited to a dinner at the British consulate, either in Shanghai or Hong Kong ( I don’t recall) and during the course of their stay they were asked about the place where they set up station.

They told how that when they came to this village of about eight hundred, they requested that the village elders might gather the people so that they might tell them something. This was agreeable to them, and so, when the people had gathered, the missionaries told them the story of Jesus, but at various times the people would slow down the story by sudden outbreaks of discussion among themselves, which became even more loud when they told of Jesus’ torture. The noise got completely out of control when they heard that He had been crucified. Nothing more could be said for the moment.

After things quieted down, the elders came to them and said that they were sorry to here that their Jesus had been so badly treated, for he had done so many good things when He lived in their village.

They tried to explain that Jesus had been crucified long ago, but they would have nothing of it. Jesus had prayed for their sick and they became well, he had lived a good life in the village, and hadn’t you said he was a carpenter? They showed them His work all over the village and then brought them to the river. They explained that in the past they had to walk three miles down the river to come to a ford, cross, and then walk back three miles, just to get to their fields each day . But, now, as they could see, there was a bridge across the river that went directly to their fields and they no longer needed to walk twelve miles each day. And it was Jesus, himself, who had built it!

Of course, everyone at the table was astounded and wondered what this story meant, but no suggestions could me made or even imagined. But after the dinner, one of the guests, the American counsel came over to them and said that he thought he might have the explanation.

It  seems that many years before, an American, desiring to be missionary had gone into the interior. After years in there, he came out, totally discourage, because he had never been able to master the language enough to communicate the gospel and he returned to the United States. But he was a civil engineer and it was likely he was their carpenter,their bridge-builder, their Jesus.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this. He seems to have been the only man in the history of the church who was mistaken for Jesus. From this we might learn that the only way we might be mistaken for Him is if we kept our mouths shut. Even then, it might be impossible.

More seriously, we should learn not to be discouraged by our failures. They may not be failures at all: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” – I Cor 3:6. Even when it seems that we have failed to reach someone, the case is not yet finished.

Four Stories: the Second – Father John

   This is a story from Ethiopia during the fifth century A.D.

There was at this time a village near the sea and living in that village was a family of three: father, mother, daughter.

In time the mother died and the father grieved deeply for her. Then his daughter became ill and he was beside himself in grief. He was about to lose all he lived for.

As her condition deteriorated, a man from the village came and spoke to him:

“As you know, my wife was born in this village, but I was not. In my village, when someone was sick, we went to a man named Father John. He can heal your daughter.”

“Then bring him here.”

“No, no. You must go to him. He lives far from here. It takes three weeks to go there and come back.”

Dark thoughts filled the man’s mind. He did not know if he dared leave his daughter. What if she died while he was gone? How much more would he grieve if he were not there when she passed?

But, in the end, there was nothing he could do for her other than hope that this Father John might heal her. So he set out.

The trip was arduous, what with the great heat. After about a week he came to a river. He would have to cross the river, then, three day journey he would come to the mountain on which Father John lived.

The land beyond the river was rocky and barren and as he approached the mountain, he saw a old man plowing his field. It was the worst soil he had ever seen and he imagined that the old man who was pushing the plow would have to till twice the land that he had to in his village, just to survive. He felt sorry for him, and, and at the same time, glad that he did not live here.

The old man had so much work to do that he thought it would be best not to disturb him, but, rather, go around his field and start his ascent of the mountain. but as he started to climb, the old man cried out to him, “Where are you going?’

“I am going to see Father John.”

” Well, his place is up there, but he is not in.”

He could not believe the old man. He had come too far.

“You may climb up to his place, if you like, but I assure you that he is not there.”

The younger man was stunned. So he walked back to the old man so that he could inquire as to where Father John might be. But before he could ask, the old man asked his own question:

“Why is it that you want to see Father John?”

The young man explained that he had come to see Father John so that he might heal his daughter who was near death. The old man replied:

” They tell such strange story over on the coast. I tell you I have known this man you call Father John all my life.  He is a sinful man and has done many awful things. I assure you he could no more heal your daughter than I can”

With that the young man broke down in tears, for he thought of all the time he had spent coming to this place and would spend returning, time that he could have spent with his dying daughter.

“All is not lost,” the old man said, “I know someone who can heal your daughter. I will walk to the river with you and I can tell you about him.”

So they walked together for three days and the old man told him the stories of Jesus and His love and when they reached the river, at the place where the young man had crossed before, they prayed and the old man told him that he was sure that when the young man  got home he would find his daughter well. And so it was.

When he reached his village, everyone was excited and happy for him because while he was a way, his daughter became well once more. They insisted that he tell them all about his meeting with Father John. But he told them that when he got there that Father John was not at home, about the old man and all that he told him.

After, he was finished and the others went away to do the things that they must do, his friend, the one who had sent him on his journey, said to him:

“I must come by this evening and you must tell me more about this man who slanders Father John so.”

That evening his friend came by and he told him of the small old man with his white beard and mustache and how he was dressed in the most wretched rags he had ever seen a man wear.

His friend laughed and said, “I see then that you have met Father John after all.”

But really he had met Jesus.

People do not have to see “my ministry.” They need to see another.

Four Stories: the First – Mari’s Mountain

    This is the first of four stories I like to tell in this order.

I heard a missionary tell this story many years ago. She had bee a missionary in post-war Japan and was running an orphanage.

One day, during the morning, she noticed one of the orphan girls named Mari, sitting by a window, looking out. As she was busy with many things, the missionary was going back and forth. Finally in the late afternoon she realized that every time she passed through the room with the window, Mari had been sitting there looking out the window. It occurred to her that Mari had to have been sitting there for hours and hours.

Something must be wrong she thought, so she stopped what she was doing to find out what the problem might be. Mari told her that it would be so wonderful to see the ocean from that window, but there was a mountain in the way. She had read that Jesus said that if you had the faith of a mustard seed you could say to a mountain, “be cast into the sea” and it would be so.

Mari did not suppose that she had even that much faith, but she did not need the whole mountain to be moved so she could see the ocean- only the top half. so she had been sitting there praying for the top of the mountain to be moved.

The missionary sat down with her and tried to explain that Jesus was using a word image, that He was not suggesting that we should be moving real mountains, but obstacles in our lives.

What would you have told Mari?

What am I Worth in God’s Eyes? Part V

If you were to buy a box of chocolates for, say, six dollars and there were fifty  pieces of candy in the box, it would be easy to find out what each piece of candy was worth. some of us could do it in our heads. some of us would feel more comfortable using a calculator. But either way the answer would be the same: twelve cents apiece.

Well, we said in the last part that we who are Christ’s have been bought with a price and I am persuaded that knowing that price is of utmost importance. You, too, I hope will feel the same.

But we have a problem to solve that you cannot do on your calculator and may even have some trouble getting your mind around. I am hoping that I can make that easier. However, whenever we speak about God we are talking about something, someone, that exceeds us, exceeds our complete understanding. Let’s give it a try, anyway.

We know the price that was paid; it was Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood. This leads to the worth equation:

Christ’s worth/# of the redeemed = my worth.

Try putting that in your calculator. It seems like an equation without a solution. Let’s look closer.

 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalms 90:2, KJV

When we read “from everlasting to everlasting,” we immediately think of that as meaning from time immemorial to forever in time. this is not so. When God created the universe, He also created time, and when this universe is no more, time will be no more. We really don’t know what everlasting or eternity means. It is beyond us. But we do know the implication: that God is infinite. God inhabits eternity.

We might be tempted, God being three in one to rewrite our equation:

(∞/3)/#of the redeemed = my worth.

But what is infinity divided by three? We can find out by representing infinity with an infinite series:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, … and so on.

It never ends. It goes on toward infinity, but never ends. Here’s another way to represent infinity:

3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, …   and so on.

Notice that this series, too, goes on toward infinity and has no more chance of ending than the first. We can further show that the two series are essentially the same if we divide each member of the second series by three:

3/3=1    6/3=2    9/3=4    12/3=4    15/3=5    18/3=6    21/3=7    24/3=8  27/3=9    30/3=10 … Notice our new series is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,.., the same as the first.

What this tells us is that infinity divided by three is still infinity. This may seem weird to you, but three is so small compared to infinity,that it really doesn’t matter much. So our worth equation now becomes simpler:

∞/# of the redeemed = my worth.

You might think, at this point, that since we have no way of solving the equation since we have no way of knowing the number of the redeemed, but this is not so, because, if you had started writing a number on the day of your birth and continued adding digits to it until the day you died, even if you lived more than a hundred years, the number you produced would be so small compared with infinity, it would be just like our second series. Mathematicians would put it this way:  ∞/N = ∞. N can be any conceivable number. So, our worth equation becomes this:

    ∞ = my worth. (Through Jesus’ death on the cross, I not only have imputed righteousness, but imputed worth. Astonishing!)

And we live as though we are worth little to God. We believe the lie.

 

Oh, in case you missed it,  God gives the same value to all His own. No one else is worthless, no one else is of greater worth. That’s not the way we think and so we sin against others or ourselves. There is no cheap salvation.

What am I Worth in God’s Eyes? Part IV

The answer to the riddle I posed to you at the end of the last post is that none of the answers is strictly right. But the answer is not difficult either. Any object is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

You may look at a painting and say, “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” but you don’t count. Only those who value it have a say in what it is worth. And the one who is willing to pay the highest amount sets the value.

To see how this works, imagine that you are at an art auction. the highlight of the auction is a painting by one of the great masters. The painting is expected to be sold for millions.

As the bidding goes on, one by one the number of bidders declines because the price exceeds what they are willing or able to pay. Toward the end there is a tense bidding war between the final two contenders.

Then it is over. Someone, the one with the most will and money, becomes the new owner. From that point on the value of the painting will be what that person paid. Of course, there will be those that will say that it was overpriced, but that will make little difference.

It may be an odd thing to say, but the painting had no say in determining its worth.     That brings us to the point- if you are Christ’s, you were bought with a price.

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.  I Cor 6:20, KJV

We know that the price that God paid for us was the death of His Son on the cross, but we might well ask ourselves, “What is my worth?” For that answer, perhaps, surprisingly, we need a little math. For those of you who are math averse, I make it easy.

Still more to come.