Friday, December 20, 2013


I've always wanted to be a shepherd.  No I haven’t really wanted to live alone with a herd of sheep; I have always coveted the experience of the shepherds on that first Christmas night.

God could have chosen to reveal this most important announcement first to anyone on Earth. But instead of assigning the angels to visit some of the most important people on earth, God sent the angels to speak to humble shepherds, who most people didn't consider important, but were very important from God's perspective.

The shepherds would have been watching over their flocks while the sheep and lambs rested or grazed on grass from the hillsides. While the shepherds were prepared to deal with any danger that threatened their animals, they were shocked and scared by witnessing the angels' appearance. That’s why the angels told them, “don’t be afraid”.

The angels reassured the terrified shepherds that they had good news for them. Since the shepherds raised the lambs that were sacrificed to atone for people's sins each spring on Passover, the shepherds would have well understood the importance of the Messiah's arrival to save the world from sin. Many historians believe that Jesus Christ was  born in the spring around Passover.  In John 1:29, the Bible refers to Jesus as the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".

Long before electric lights were invented, the fields around Bethlehem would have been very dark. Suddenly a bright light broke into the black night, as the sky above Bethlehem filled with a multitude of angels.

The announcement of the birth of Jesus was marked by the light of many angels appearing in all of their heavenly glory.  As amazing as the experience must have been, seeing angels appearing in the night sky, that’s not the part of the experience that intrigues me the most.  It is what happened next.

The Bible tells the story in Luke 2:15-18: "When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first people to see the baby Jesus!  I can just feel the excitement these humble shepherds felt.  The just had to tell people of their experiences.  Can you imagine being a part of those conversations! Even in the days before media such as television and the internet, word traveled fast that something amazing was happening.

Even though I will never be a shepherd or experience the things that the humble shepherds of Bethlehem experienced on that first Christmas, I can follow their example.  I can spread the word about the baby Jesus.  I can be excited about Jesus and what he means to this world.  That is what Christmas is all about.  Let’s all be shepherds!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The First Lie

Has anyone ever told a lie about you?  How did you feel?  A few years ago I spent quite a little time on a local internet forum.  I enjoyed being a part of conversations on a variety of topics.  The forum was supposed to be anonymous and it was against the rules to use people’s real names. One of the participants posted lies about me and my business on the forum.  I never knew who posted the lies.  I have no idea how many people believed them.

If you have had lies told about you, I’m sure you didn't like it. Imagine how God feels when lies are told about him.  From the very beginning, Satan’s plan has been to tell lies about God.  Speaking about Satan, Jesus said, “He is a liar and the father of lies”.

Satan told the very first lie recorded in the Bible.  In an encounter with Eve, while Satan was taking on the appearance of a serpent, Eve told him, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”  “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.

The very first lie that Satan told was, “You won’t die”.  Interestingly many people today believe this first lie. We know that Satan said “You won’t die”.  Let’s see what God has to say.

Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”.  James 1:15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death”.

God says that sin leads to death but many Christians say something very different.  They say that the wicked will live forever.  What did Satan tell Eve?  Even if you disobey God, You will not die.  Does the Bible really teach that God will keep people alive forever in hell suffering torment that never ends?

Let’s take a look at God’s character.  Psalms 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.”  Justice is the foundation of God’s kingdom.

Are we to believe that our heavenly Father hates unrepentant sinners so much that He tortures them in flames through ceaseless ages? What kind of justice is that? What kind of a person would burn someone alive and deliberately prolong the process?

Many sincere people are saying, "If the Bible teaches that God tortures sinners in hell forever, then I reject the Bible. And I reject that kind of God."

In Romans 2:5,6, the apostle Paul speaks of the “righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.”   Surely it would be all out of proportion to torture the wicked for eternity for the sins of a brief lifetime.

God has never been a vengeful tyrant—and He won’t become a vengeful tyrant when the time arrives to punish the wicked.

The Bible teaches that there is life only in Christ. 1 John 5:12 says, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”  A person burning in hell would not have a pleasant life, but he would have life. According to the Bible, the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment.

In Psalms 37:20, David said:  "the wicked shall perish, ... they shall be consumed; into smoke shall they consume away."   In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said:  "fear him [God] which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."   In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul wrote that the disobedient "shall be punished with everlasting destruction."

Another dilemma for those who believe in eternal torment is the measure of what it cost Jesus to ransom the sinner.  Jesus gave His life to redeem man from the grave.  Sin is a capital offense. The penalty for the unrepentant sinner must match the penalty Christ paid for sin, his life, not eternal life in hellfire.

If the wicked live eternally in hell, then they have the same thing as the righteous except in a different place. Who could give them eternal life but Jesus? John 3:16 settles this issue so clearly and simply.  I like the way it reads in the new version, The Voice.  “For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life”.

Those who do not believe in Jesus will perish. They will die. They will die the second death-an eternal death from which they will never be raised. It is everlasting destruction, an endless, eternal punishment, because it is an endless, eternal death.

And what about those who believe in Jesus and receive everlasting life?  John described their future home with these words in Revelation 21:4, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

Can you find any room in those wonderful words for any suffering on the part of anybody in the whole recreated universe? God said crying and pain would be no more. Would someone in eternal torment cry? Would they be in pain? If you knew that your loved ones were being subjected to the most horrible painful torture how would you feel? Would you cry?

The most wonderful news is that nobody needs to be lost or burned in any kind of hell at all. All of us can have everlasting life through Jesus Christ, through simple faith in Him, and I hope you’ll choose to have faith in Jesus.

Criticize or Encourage?

As we go through life, one of the constants seems to be criticism.  I'm sure that everyone has been the recipient of criticism and has more than likely been critical of others.  Criticism is not an effective way of solving problems.  What methods should we use in place of criticism? How about trying affirmation. During the Wednesday night prayer meeting at my church, we have been studying 1 Thessalonians. We have seen that even when Paul was addressing problems he included plenty of affirmation. It's been shown that, in order to neutralize the emotional impact of criticism, one must affirm five times.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, "so encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now". Are you encouraging those around you or are you criticizing?  Elizabeth Harrison, a pioneer in early childhood education in America stated, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize".

When I was in grade school I often heard the retort, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". That statement is not true. In fact, words may not break our bones, but they certainly can damage our spirits. In Proverbs 12:18 the Bible tells us, "sharp words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal".

When we speak words of criticism we are not following God's plan. Ephesians 4:29 says, "do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you". If we want to help someone we need to encourage them, not criticize them. I need to ask myself, "Am I encouraging others"?  God's Word certainly tells us to do so.

When we encourage and help others, we are showing God’s love. I encourage you to try it. Show someone how much you value them for who they are. Encouragement can drastically change a person’s life! I recently ran across a story written by Kathy Schultz. She said that, "pink is my granddaughter's favorite color. She had been telling me this since she first discovered colors. The other night as she chatted away, she added that yellow was another one of her favorite colors."

Kathy went on to explain why her granddaughter had added yellow as a favorite color. She said that when she asked about the new favorite color, her granddaughter began by telling her that when she went to music class, Mrs. Cooke, the music teacher told her she was a bright yellow crayon, bright as the sun.

Kathy wrote, "this is a wonderful description of my grandchild! The teacher was right. She is a bubbly, cheerful, child. Truly, she is a bright ray of sunshine." She concluded by saying, "words have such power. A small statement made by her teacher had truly inspired my granddaughter. It made her even list yellow as her favorite color. I doubt she will ever forget the teacher's kind remarks. This made me think of the words I say. Do I say kind, encouraging, inspiring words to others?"

The word ‘encouragement’ means to support. When we encourage we speak words that uphold someone to bring change for the better. By our words we need to let them know that we support their dreams, pursuits, and goals. We all tend to get discouraged from time to time and need encouragement.

Colossians 3:12 tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” If we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience we will be perfectly equipped to be an encouragement to others. We will not have a critical spirit.

To criticize or encourage, the choice is yours. I hope that your choice will be to encourage others. If you do, God will encourage you!


Over the past several months I have enjoyed attending several reunions.  In July I went to Tennessee for my aunt’s 85th birthday celebration.  Then in August I was able to attend my cousin’s 50th wedding anniversary.  He was the best man at my wedding.  I had a great time with relatives I seldom see.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I attended our 40th High School reunion. We both attended Campion Academy in Loveland, Colorado and graduated in 1973.  It had been 30 years since we had seen most of our classmates - we attended our ten year reunion.  As we pulled onto the campus of Campion Academy we were a bit nervous.  What would our old classmates be like?  Would we have anything in common? Would we recognize them?  Would they recognize us?

As I parked the car and walked up to the registration table my apprehension was confirmed as I couldn't place the first person who spoke to me.  But within just a few minutes all uneasiness melted away as old friends greeted us.  I was amazed as classmates bridged the forty years like it was no time at all.

While we were there, I looked up an old friend I hadn't seen in years. When I lived in Campion, he lived just a block away. He was a great friend and we spent a lot of time together. It was nice to be able to be together again like old times even if it was only for an hour or so. We reminisced about many things including our “muscle” cars; his six cylinder Ford Falcon and my Nash Metropolitan.

As we were leaving his place, he turned to me and said, “I need to apologize to you.  I was out of line”.  I wasn't sure what he was talking about.  It had been over 35 years since we had visited with each other.  I told him that even the best of friends disagree sometimes and all was forgiven.  I really had no recollection of a serious disagreement between us, but something had been eating at him for years.

I had forgiven him years ago and couldn't even remember what the disagreement was about.  It reminded me of the verses in Micah 7:18,19.  “Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.  He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”.

God want to forgive us.  He longs to forgive us.  He wants to reconcile with us.

In Romans 5:10,11 the Bible tells us,  “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation”.

Some versions use the phrase “restored our relationship” or “made us his friends” in place of reconciled. God wants us to be his friends; he wants to restore our relationship.  He wants a reunion.

Just like I was a bit apprehensive before my high school reunion, sometimes we are apprehensive about a reunion with Jesus.  We know that we aren't worthy.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a man who has two sons. The younger son asks his father to give him an early inheritance. Once received, the son goes to a distant land and begins to waste his fortune on wild living. When the money runs out, the son finds himself in dire circumstances. He takes a job feeding pigs. He is so destitute that he even longs to eat the food the pigs eat.

The young man finally decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness and mercy.  Realizing he is not worthy to be a part of the family he hatches a plan to ask to be a servant in his father’s house.

Let’s pick up the story in Luke 15:20, “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The son was focusing on how unworthy he was – and with good reason.  But all the father could think of was the reunion and how happy he was to have his son back.

Luke 15:22-24 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry”.

God wants a reunion, he wants reconciliation, and he wants to restore his relationship with you.  He wants to be your friend, but you have to come to the Father.  Don’t miss the reunion!

Reflections On Our Flooding

Victor Issa is one of the top sculptors in America today and is known for his remarkable ability to make bronze appear alive.  He attended Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska at the time I was there.  His studio is in Loveland, Colorado where I lived for 8 years.

Last week, Colorado experienced terrible flooding.  The Loveland area where Victor lives and works was very hard hit as was Estes Park where he has his Living Bronze Gallery.  He wrote an article about the flooding that I found very meaningful and I want to share it with you.

Reflections On Our Flooding
by Victor Issa

In some parts of the Front Range, life is returning to semi normal. At home and at the studio, we were only affected by temporary road closures, delayed work and delayed deliveries.

Yet others were stranded, placing them in great danger, losing property, and some did lose their lives. Some reports have documented the loss or damage to over 18,000 homes, and up to 8 lives have been lost due to this enormously destructive storm. All loss brings pain and sadness, and we join our prayers with others for all those suffering at this time.

While I am deeply grateful that the flooding had little effect on us, I must admit a discomfort at the tendency to offer a blanket: "Thank God" for such outcomes. Before you become angry or dismiss my comment, please read on. I believe this is an important matter.

My knowledge of, and faith in God has never been deeper or stronger in my life. I know beyond a doubt that God is intimately interested in me, and cares about my entire being as He does about all His created beings. What concerns me is this. If I am so quick to thank God for preserving and protecting me and my property, wouldn't I become as likely to blame Him for not protecting my friends and neighbors, those who experienced great loss? If He is to be attributed credit for the good, doesn't that also leave Him open for blame? Is this where the expression "Acts of God" came from? For example, where does the credit or blame lie when we make conscious or unconscious choices regarding the risks we chose to take?

The facts are always a bit more complex and nuanced for a simple reason; they involve humans with free will. We are always making choices, taking in as many factors as possible based on our own life experiences and on what we learn from the experiences of others. Those choices bear fruit. And even then, there are events that apparently occur completely out of the realm of our choices, with blessed or harmful outcomes.

We speak of God as Love, which is completely true. But love cannot exist in the absence of free will. And when free will is involved, unlimited variables enter the picture. While this is a HUGE risk for God, it was the only way He/Love can operate.

So where do these disasters come from, and why do they affect some but not all?

The answer is multi faceted. To begin with, I believe this is a "broken" world. It is not what God created or what He intended. It "broke" when His creation exercised their free will and explored rebellion. The long term plan includes redemption and repair on all levels. But in the meantime, humans are still involved and in charge on a daily basis making billions of decisions that affect their own lives and the lives of others on this planet.

While God is all powerful, His power is limited. There are things He can never do. He cannot lie. He cannot control my will without my consent. And He cannot force me to love Him. This is the ultimate beauty of God. He makes room for me to think, to be, to chose and to love. I can see destruction caused by a broken world (including the natural world) and I can understand that He is faithful to whom He is, Loving enough to take the biggest risk of all, risking the universe over the principle of Love that cannot be stopped or changed.

There is no denying that God has and does intervene directly into events that are actually miraculous. We don't always understand what is behind the inexplicable, but I have learned that trusting in, and surrendering to God (after we have made the most informed choices) can reap great rewards even in the presence of great disasters. (All things work together for good...)

There will come a time when destruction, death and disease will end. He will say: "It is enough!" The greater purpose of vindicating the Character and Nature of God against the accusations of the fallen angel will be fulfilled. This fallen angel, who introduced the rebellion through his pride and his choices, will be convicted and destroyed along with those who chose to believe him. Then this planet will be recreated as originally intended, and never shall the universe be visited by rebellion again, for its fruit has been completely revealed to be nothing but destructive.

My part moving forward? Seek a closer, more honest walk with God, relieve suffering where it visits my world, and continue to grow in faith, grace, gratitude, compassion and love. And I chose to live daily with the hope of the complete restoration of all things, and an eternity in close relations with God, and with all who seek the same.

Wishing you peace in your hearts, and a deeper glimpse into God's heart of Love through all things.

Victor Issa
September 21, 2013

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

What is your comfort zone? Do you like to be comfortable? I know that I sure do. Last year my leg started to really hurt. It was very uncomfortable. After several months of pain I finally went to see the doctor. After doing x-rays and other tests, he informed me that I have arthritis. The only treatment is medication to relieve the pain. I was happy that there wasn't a more serious problem, but a bit disheartened that this problem would never go away.

Going to the doctor got me to thinking about how disease parallels our human nature. We are sick spiritually, and God wants to heal us so we won't be sick with sin. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that "anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" We have all heard the term “Born Again” to describe the new life. It is probably one of the most common phrases in the Christian vocabulary. What is a "Born Again" Christian?

In 1 Peter 1:23, the Bible tells us, "you have been born again. This new life did not come from something that dies, but from something that cannot die. You were born again through God’s living message that continues forever". To be "Born Again" means to have a new life.

There is a law of life that states, "everything that is new eventually becomes old". That law has been painfully brought to my attention over the last couple of weeks as I have been going through lots of old pictures.  I recently read an appropriate quote, "youth is a disease from which we all recover". I am recovering nicely, thank you very much.

The next time you are in a big parking lot such as at the mall or at Wal-Mart take a look at the cars. There are some nice new cars. There are some that are in need of some body work. There are a number of old work vehicles. Here in rural Arkansas, there are lots of beat up pick up trucks in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Every car in the parking lot was once a new car. My Daddy has lots of antique cars. They all have something in common. Whether they are nicely restored or are nothing but a rusted out hulk, they were all once new.

What happens when the new wears off of our "Born Again" experience? What happens when our new life isn't so new anymore? We get in a rut. When we are in a rut, and are just going through the motions, don’t you think God notices?

All of us have a comfort zone in our life. To get out of the rut, we have to move outside of our comfort zone.

How do we get outside of our comfort zone? Here is a list of ideas that I came up with. Everything on the list may not be for you, but maybe it will help you get some ideas how to get out of your comfort zone, and get out of the rut. Maybe they will help your new life to actually be new again.

1. Expand your circle of friends
2. Study a subject you haven’t studied
3. Examine your core beliefs
4. Listen more and talk less
5. Try doing something that you have been afraid to do
6. Eat between meals - spiritually - don’t let religion be rote
7. Make your own list
8. Don’t be afraid of other religious viewpoints – truth withstands
9. Don't worry about what other Christians are doing
10. Hug somebody
11. Go on a mission trip
12. Don’t be afraid to express yourself
13. Be very gentle when you express yourself
14. Tell people you love them
15. Loosen up, don’t be rigid
16. Affirm a leader
17. Smile, be happy
18. Read a version of the Bible you haven’t read before
19. Visit another country or culture
20. Change the order you do things
21. Help somebody who isn't expecting it
22. Don’t be afraid of change – it isn't inherently evil
23. Call someone you haven’t called for a long time
24. If someone invites you to their church--- GO
25. Learn a new song. Buy a new CD
26. Be more gracious
27. Visit someone you have never visited before
28. Read a Christian book you haven’t read before
29. Take time to do something you really enjoy
30. Give a totally unexpected gift to someone
31. Ask for other peoples opinions
32. Volunteer to tell the children's story
33. Pray instead of being critical
34. Let go of resentment
35. Shake up your prayer life. Pray at different times or ways
36. Say thank you more often
37. If you see your devotions are in a rut shake them up
38. Sit somewhere different in church
39. Intentionally use different phrases when you pray
40. Never forget what Jesus has done for you

Let’s resolve to get out of our comfort zone. Ask God every day for a new life.

My Jewels

About a month ago Marjorie Maurine Jordan Burden passed away. She was born in 1922 on an Indian Reservation in Winnebago, Nebraska.  During World War II she was a real Rosie the riveter, working at Schrillo Aero Tool Engineering Co. in Los Angeles, California. She married in 1951 and had one child, Conrad in 1952. Her son had numerous health issues and passed away in 1956.  She spent the final years of her life at Peachtree Assisted Living in Mena, Arkansas.

I attended church with her since 1999. She was a quiet little lady who never talked about her past. She had no family in the area. When church members were going through her meager possessions while cleaning out her room they found file cabinets full of writing and family genealogy research. The following story was found in her writings and was read at her memorial service. It was a heart wrenching moment, but the story was so well written that I thought I would share it with my readers.

by Maurine Burden

"The disciples of Christ are called His jewels, His precious and peculiar treasure"

Many of us have treasure chests and in them we accumulate the treasure of our life's experience.  I have an old trunk that might well be called my treasure chest.  It is not richly carved like some old treasure chests that I've seen, but it holds my collection of treasures.

With the passing events of time, one by one these treasures are collected and placed in the chest for safe keeping. I had two dolls when I was a child that shared many of my childhood experiences. But there came a day when I washed up all of the little clothes, dressed the dolls in their best, bent over the old trunk - then for a brief moment before they were put away - I recalled the happiness we had had. As I closed the lid there wasn't the slightest wish to have those days back again, nor possible need for them in the future. Childhood was gone. Before me were other days and other experiences which would have to be met. And in the evening of those other days there would be other mementos to be put in my chest.

I said that I had "a" chest - now I have "two".  This second one holds my most precious treasure.  Well I remember the night I placed this treasure in the jewel box.

For days we had plead with God to preserve the life spark in this little body.  But now the anxious pleading had ceased.  God said that the time had come to place my precious treasure in the case for safe keeping.  As we entered the room this evening one of the first things that caught my glance was a beautiful little casket.  "Casket" means a place to put jewels.  What a beautiful little chest to put this precious jewel in - nothing so beautiful as this for my other treasures!

As with the dolls, so these little clothes had to be cleaned.  Tenderly we dressed the little body for the last time.  The little shirt, the pants, the socks, - each had a special memory.

When I lifted his cold little body to place it in the jewel box, for a brief moment I hugged him to my breast and was happy, terribly happy.  I recalled, as with the dolls, those former days.  Carefully I placed him in his resting place.  There was no wish to have those days back nor possible need for the future in this life.  As with childhood so these days too, were gone.  The time had come for this treasure to be placed in the chest.

Because I put my treasures in the old trunk doesn't say that they cease to be mine anymore; neither with my other jewel - it will always be mine.  However this chest God has placed beyond my reach, but I know it is safe for He has marked it's resting place.  We are sharers in "that blessed hope" of being united again on the resurrection morning.

Lest you should misunderstand, there were tears in this experience - lots of them - and it would not have been so easy as it was, even at that, had I not realized that he was now free from sin's power.  No wonder God says. "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints".  Polished and placed beyond the reach of sin as they wait the call of the Lifegiver.

It was as if God had said, there is much work to do and one cannot wear his jewels while he works.  I will take care of them for you but now we must hurry...  I have other jewels, some are lost. Will you ready yourself and help me find them before they are swept away? The urgency of His message impressed me.

Get ready! Get ready! Get ready!

Marching to Zion

You have probably heard the term Zion, but what does it mean?  The first time Zion is mentioned in the Bible is in 2 Sam. 5:6,7.  "When the king and his men went to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites who lived there, the Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe.  But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David."

In the New Testament, Zion also refers to New Jerusalem. Heb. 12:22 says,  "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels."

Zion starts out in the Bible referring to a particular rocky outcropping with a fortress on top of it protecting the city of Jerusalem.  It was later used to refer to the entire city of Jerusalem and then the entire nation of Judah.  New Testament writers used Zion to refer to heaven and the New Jerusalem.

Recently my wife has been doing some genealogy research.  In doing so she ran across a fascinating story.  It is the story of her great great grandmother.

Sophia Klauen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 17th 1824.  When she was a young girl she married Peter Peterson.  In 1853 he died of a contagious disease.  Sometime after his death, Mormon missionaries from America studied with her.  One thing that they focused on was the faithful gathering in Zion. To them Zion was the new Mormon settlement in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sophie was baptized on December 27, 1855, and later sold her homestead in preparation to go to America.  She trusted two Elders with the money from the sale of her farm but it was never returned to her.  On May 4, 1856, Sophie and her children sailed from Liverpool, England on the ship Thornton.

On the voyage across the Atlantic her eight year old son Thomas fell from the upper deck and was killed.  He was buried at sea.  Still she was determined to go to the land of Zion and she never lost faith. She believed the Lord would help her reach her destination.

After arriving in New York, she along with hundreds of other converts from Denmark and England traveled by train to Chicago and then to Iowa City which was as far west as the train went in 1856.

There she became a part of the Willie Handcart Company.  Prior to 1856, pioneers traveled to Utah in heavy, expensive wagons.  To save money, Brigham Young came up with the idea of Handcarts that could be pulled by humans rather than animals. The plan was to bring as many people as possible, for as small an amount of money as possible.

Over nineteen hundred European converts signed up to cross the Plains with handcarts in 1856.  The handcarts were designed to serve four or five persons each.  At Iowa City the emigrants were organized into companies of about 100 handcarts each.  Each adult was allowed only 17 pounds of personal belongings.

Sophie and the rest of the Willie Company left Iowa City in August 1856.  There were over 400 people in the company pulling 100 handcarts with 5 support wagons.  From Iowa to Missouri the roads were good and the game was plentiful.

When the Martin Company arrived at Florence, Nebraska a council was held, and they decided to press on, though there were those who advised against it because they felt it was too late in the summer to begin the journey. Three hundred miles later, a herd of buffalo stampeded the Willie Company's oxen and cattle, so the provisions from the stranded wagons were moved to handcarts and much of their possession had to be left behind.

The plans were to replenish their provisions when they reached Fort Laramie in Wyoming, but the Fort either had no food to spare or wouldn't sell it to the Mormon immigrants.  The people lived on mostly flour that was rationed out daily.  The portion of flour for each man was cut from 16 ounces to 10 ounces when they were not able to get provisions at Fort Laramie.

The strenuous work of pulling the handcarts on short rations caused much suffering and a number of deaths. When a harsh winter storm arrived on October 19, 1856, the exhausted pioneers faced starvation, hypothermia, frozen limbs, and death. Deep snow then made it impossible for them to move forward. On October 20th the group was completely out of food. They did not have adequate clothing and blankets to keep warm.  Their situation was desperate and it looked like everyone would be lost.

In early September, Franklin D. Richards, returning from Europe where he had served as the Church's mission president, passed the Willie handcart company as he was travelling to Salt Lake City. Richards and the 12 returning missionaries who accompanied him were in carriages and light wagons pulled by horses that were able to travel much faster than the handcarts.

On October 4 the Richards party reached Salt Lake City and told the church leaders of the dire circumstances of the handcart company. The next morning the Church was meeting in a general conference, where Young and the other speakers called on the Church members to provide wagons, mules, supplies, and teamsters for a rescue mission. On the morning of October 7 the first rescue party left Salt Lake City with 16 wagon-loads of food and supplies.  Throughout October more wagon trains were assembled, and by the end of the month 250 relief wagons were on the road.

On October 21st the first relief wagons reached the starving company. Although 68 of the 404 emigrants died on the way to Zion, the losses would have been much greater if the relief wagons had not reached them when they did.

Jens Nielsen of the Willie Handcart Company wrote, “No person can describe it, nor could it be comprehended or understood by any human living in this life, but those who were called to pass through it.

Sophie Peterson and her children all made it to Zion.  Through all of the hardships and disappointments she endured, she never lost sight of her goal.  She lost all of her money.  Her son died on the voyage to America.  She endured extreme hardship and hunger on the handcart journey.   Most of the few belongings she was allowed to take on the journey had to be left on the trail when the carts had to be used to haul provisions.

Put yourself in her shoes.  Would you still be focused on reaching Zion, or would you wish you had never started the journey?

Is your life as focused as that of Sophie?  Are you intent on reaching Zion no matter what trials and disappointment come your way?  I think that we can learn a lot from her determination and single mindedness in the face of extreme conditions.

1 Peter 1:4 tells us that, "We have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay."  Are you determined to reach heaven?  You have a priceless inheritance there.

2 Corinthians 5:1 says, "We know that our body—the tent we live in here on earth—will be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a house for us. It will not be a house made by human hands; instead, it will be a home in heaven that will last forever."

God has a place for you in Zion.  Are you focused on reaching it?

I hope that after hearing the story of Sophie and her determination to reach Zion you will be able to put into perspective the trial and troubles that come into your life.  Whatever hardships and disappointments come our way, let’s focus on making it to Zion.

Deep Water


Steamboats changed the face of America.  Before steamboats, freight had to be either hauled by wagon or on rafts, flatboats, and keel-boats. River transport was difficult, hazardous, and costly.

In 1811 the first river steamboats left the dock at Pittsburgh to steam down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and on to New Orleans.  With the use of steamboats, the freight rates per hundred pounds from New Orleans to Louisville dropped from 5 dollars to 25 cents, between 1815 and 1860.  Steamboat traffic including passenger and freight business grew tremendously during this period . So too did the economic and human losses inflicted by snags, shoals, boiler explosions, and human error.  From 1811 to 1899, 156 steamboats were lost to snags or rocks between St. Louis and the Ohio River and another 411 were damaged by fire, explosions or ice.  Travelling by steamboat was dangerous.

Back in the days when steamboats were common, a passenger stood watching the pilot guiding the ship through the river.  The passenger asked the pilot, "how long have you been piloting a boat on this river?"  "About twenty years," was the reply.  The passenger said, "so I suppose you know every rock and shoal and sand bank and all the other dangerous places."  "No, I don't," said the pilot.  "You don't!" exclaimed the passenger in alarm.  "Then what do you know?"  The pilot said, "I know where the deep water is."

Many Christians waste a lot of precious time and resources studying error.  They think that to avoid error they must understand all of the inns and outs of it.  Instead of focusing on Jesus they focus on these erroneous ideas and the people who are teaching them.  They become conspiracy theory Christians who spend more time focusing on these conspiracy theories than they do on Jesus.

In Philippians 4:8, the Bible tells us,  "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." That seems to tell me that God wants us to focus on the positive.  There is so much evil and error in the world that we could never hope to understand it no matter how long we studied it. Why would we want to take time away from Jesus to study such things?

I am quite often given materials or sent e-mails and internet links to articles that are meant to expose certain groups or organizations.  I don't want to take the time to study things that I already believe to be error.  If we know our Bibles and we know our Savior we will not be deceived.  We don't need to see the evil side of life to be able to seek the good.   Jesus tells us in John 8:31,32 - "If you continue to obey my teaching, you are truly my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We need to know where the deep water is.  We need to travel in the deep water as we negotiate the river of life.  To many lives have been wrecked by the rocks and sand banks of life as they have strayed from the deep water.  Let's resolve to stay in the deep water of Jesus.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church

This article was published in the June 26, 2013 issue of The Polk County Pulse.  The article was written by Michael Reisig.  I sat down for an interview with him last week.

The mission of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Fairgrounds Road in Mena is to make disciples of all the people, communicating the everlasting gospel in the context of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12, leading them to accept Jesus as their personal Savior, discipling them to serve Him, and preparing them for His soon coming.  The Seventh-Day Adventists believe particularly in the soon coming of Jesus Christ and that is essential to their philosophy. The history of the area church goes back over a century, to 1905, when it was first organized by Elder L. W. Feltner.

In 1957, the congregation purchased the old school building in Dallas Valley.  The church met there until 1990 when they moved to the current church building on Fairgrounds Road.  The construction was funded entirely by the congregation and was debt free at its completion.

The church has a pastor that serves several Seventh Day churches in the area, but the Head Elder of the church is Richie Lawry, who has been with the organization for over three decades.  Lawry grew up in Colorado, graduating from high school in 1973 and becoming involved in the auto repair industry.  He met his wife, Regina, in high school and they were married in 1975.

"My dad came to Mena to visit a friend and he liked it so much he ended up buying two houses," Lawry recalled.  "My wife and I visited here and liked it just as well so we moved here in 1981.  Shortly after settling here, I became involved with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and have been with them ever since."

Within a few years Lawry became an elder and went on to become head elder in 2000.  "To me, and to us here, it is the worshiping of Jesus on the 7th day that binds us," Lawry explained.  "Jesus, when he attended the synagogue, went on the Sabbath.  I want to live my life by the 10 Commandments, and one of those is to worship God on the seventh day.  We are also a church that has a passion for missions and helping the community.  We have a soup kitchen each Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and anyone and everyone is welcome to come by for a free meal.  We generally provide meals for over 130 people.

"We have also funded and helped build a church in San Pedro, Belize, and funded the building materials for 29 churches in Africa," Lawry continued.  "We work with a company that offers kits to build open-walled churches that can be framed in if desired.  The kits are delivered in large boxes and can be assembled in a day."

Lawry added that his is an extremely generous congregation, willing to help and to give, and although they are not generally a wealthy people, they always give from their hearts.

"If you'd like to see what the Seventh-Day Adventist philosophy is all about, we'd love to have you come out and visit with us and meet the people of our congregation," Lawry added.  "We meet on Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., which includes a Bible study period and a church service at 11 a.m., and as of July 1 we will be meeting on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. studying books of the Bible.

Your GPS

When my son was a young boy he belonged to the DeQueen Pioneers Pathfinder Club, and I was a Pathfinder leader.  One weekend I took the Pathfinders on a backpacking trip.  We left in the evening and headed to Alexandria, Louisiana. We made it to Alexandria at about midnight.  There I took the eastbound exit off of the interstate instead of the westbound exit.  I wandered around Alexandria for an hour trying to find the right road.  By the time we found the campground it was 1:30 and we still had to pitch our tents.

I would have loved to have some way of knowing the right way to go to reach the campground.  I'm not the only one who has wished for such a device.  For centuries, navigators and explorers have longed for a system that would enable them to locate their position on the globe with the accuracy necessary to avoid tragedy and to reach their intended destinations.

The answer came about because of the Cold War.  U.S. scientists began working on the GPS system because of an Air Force requirement for a guidance system to be used with a proposed ICBM that would travel on a railroad system. On June 26, 1993, the U.S. Air Force launched a satellite into orbit, completing a network of 24 satellites known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS.

This satellite navigation system was intended for military use and therefore the signals were scrambled, limiting accuracy for civilian use.  On May 1, 2000, President Clinton announced that this scrambling would be turned off. Civilians were then able to use the GPS signals.  Soon there were accurate automotive navigation systems available.  Now smart phones come with GPS capability.

I like using my GPS; we have named her Tink. She tells me when to turn. She tells me what lane to be in. On our last trip to Houston to see our son she took us a new way and saved us half an hour.

So now that I have Tink to guide me, I never get lost.  I always know where to go.  Except---

When we first got Tink we were going to Shady Lake. Now I have been to Shady Lake a number of times, and I know how to get there. When Tink wanted me to turn off of my normal route I decided to see where she would take us. She took us on an adventure. She guided us to Shady Lake over forest service roads that hadn't been traveled on in a long time. There was grass growing in the road. We arrived safely at Shady Lake about an hour later than if we had traveled our normal route.

A couple of weeks ago we went to Dierks Lake to see our granddaughters compete in the Pathfinder Adventurer Cardboard Boat Race. Tink wanted us to leave the highway and travel across dirt roads. We declined. On our way home I was curious as to where she wanted to take us so we followed her advice. After travelling on forest service roads we were within just a few miles of the highway when we came to the Cossatot River bridge that was impassable because there was three feet of water flowing over it.

We had to turn around and go all the way back to Dierks Lake so we could take the paved roads. On our way back to the lake we followed Tink and were stymied three different times by locked gates across the roads.  After an hour we finally made our way back.

Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road you just don’t know where you will end up.  Sometimes even a GPS doesn't help.

Have you taken any wrong turns in your life?  Have you been on any wrong roads?  How do you know which road to take?

In Psalms 25:4, the Bible says, "Show me the path where I should walk, O LORD; point out the right road for me to follow".

That sounds like a GPS doesn't it. God will point out the right road for us to follow.  You can trust him.  You might not always be able to trust your GPS, but you can always trust God.  No matter how knowledgeable you are, you aren't the best choice as navigator. Proverbs 14:12 tells us that, "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death".

The whole point of being a Christian is to have a knowledgeable navigator to guide us through this life to our eternal destination. Why would we decide not to listen to the best guide there is and use our own judgment instead?

Solomon explained it very well in Proverbs 20:24   “how can we understand the road we travel? It is the LORD who directs our steps.

The only reliable GPS for our spiritual life is God’s word.  The Bible gives us direction.  So many Christians I meet seem to want more than the Bible.  The old reliable Bible isn't enough for them and they want something new. Psalms 119:105 states, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path".  If David and Solomon understood that it was God’s Word that directs our steps why should we feel that there is not enough information in the Bible and feel the need to supplement it?

I hope that you know where you are going. Have you studied the map? Do you have your spiritual GPS? Do you use it?

I hope that you and I will be able to say what David said in Psalms 73:23-26. “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. I have no one in heaven but you; I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever”.

Back Roads

Not Suited For Trailer Traffic

I love driving on the back roads in western Arkansas. I love the scenery. I love the adventure. I love to just take off and explore new roads. When I see a road I always wonder where it goes.  Just last weekend we had an adventure on the back roads of Arkansas.

On our way back home from Dierks Lake, we took a "shortcut" over gravel mountain roads.  Within just a few miles of the highway we came to the Cossatot River bridge that was impassable because there was three feet of water flowing over it.  We had to turn around and go all the way back to Dierks Lake so we could take the paved roads. On our way back to the lake we followed our GPS and were stymied three different times by locked gates across the roads.  After an hour we finally made our way back.

Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road you just don’t know where you will end up.

In the fall of 2006 America was transfixed with the story of James Kim. He was traveling home from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California with his wife and 2 children. They took a wrong turn onto a logging road in bad weather. The snow became too deep to travel, and they became stranded.

After several days Mr. Kim set out on foot to look for help. He believed the nearest town was located four miles away. The distance to the town was actually 13 miles. He promised his family that he would turn back at 1 p.m. if he failed to find anyone, but he did not. Kati Kim and her two children were found alive when a search helicopter was led to the scene after seeing human footprints in the snow. The three were then rescued, and airlifted out of the area.

Soon after the rescue of Kati Kim and her children, search and rescue teams followed James Kim's footprints back along the road for about 10 miles where his footprints left the road and led into the heavily wooded Big Windy Creek drainage area. James Kim's body was found in Big Windy Creek. He had walked 16 miles looking for help.

Although Mr. Kim had walked 16 miles, he was found about four miles from his vehicle, and about one mile from Black Bar Lodge, a boating outpost. Though it was vacant at the time, it was stocked with food items. What a tragic story!

In Proverbs 14:12 the Bible tells us “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death”. When the Kim family decided to go down that logging road, they had no idea that the road was impassable. Had they known about it, I’m sure they wouldn’t have taken that path. It was supposed be a short cut, but only led them to tragedy.

What about the road you are on in your life? Have you taken any wrong turns in your life? Have you been on any wrong roads? How do you know which road to take?

In Psalms 25:4,8-10 the Bible tells us” Show me the path where I should walk, O LORD; point out the right road for me to follow. The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in what is right, teaching them his way. The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all those who keep his covenant and obey his decrees.

God has promised to be our guide. He will point out the right road for us to follow. As I have discussed spiritual things with people I have heard the following analogy several times. “You see it your way I see it my way, but there are many roads all going to the same place.”

Jesus has an answer for that way of thinking. We find his words in Matthew 7:13,14. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway that leads to destruction is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is narrow, and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it”. You know from experience that all roads don’t lead to your destination. I’m sure that you have been on a road that didn’t take you where you thought it would. James Kim found out this truth in a tragic way.

One of the last songs that George Harrison recorded was a song titled “Any Road”. The chorus of the song says “If you don't know where you're going any road will take you there”. His words are very true. They describe the kind of roads that I like to explore. I like to drive on them because I don’t know where I’m going. I like to just take off and explore new roads. When I see a road I always wonder where it goes. A number of times I have been completely lost, but eventually I made it home. It can be fun not knowing where you are going.

While it can be fun to explore unknown roads on a Sunday afternoon drive, it’s not a good plan in our spiritual lives. We should know where we are going. We should all have the same destination in mind.

I hope that you know where you are going. Jesus told us that not just any road would take us there. Have you found the road that leads to life? Have you studied the map?

I hope that you and I will be able to say what David said in Psalms 73:23-26. “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. I have no one in heaven but you; I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

Road of Death

Pastor Martinez and I attended high school together at Campion Academy in Loveland, Colorado. He recently wrote an article about a personal experience that I found very interesting. I asked him if I could use it on my blog and he graciously agreed.

The Road Of Death
by Pastor Robert J. Martinez Sr. 

This is a true story. It happened to me on Oct. 13, 1987. My family and I were missionaries in La Paz, Bolivia, where I served as youth director for the Adventist Church. I was traveling via bus on the most dangerous road in the world: “El Camino de la Muerte,” the "Road of Death."
My wife had just delivered our daughter three days earlier and I had to travel to a ministers' meeting five hours from the capital city. This meant taking a bus on the most deadly road in the world, “El Camino de La Muerte” or the “Road of Death.” I said goodbye to my young family, but I had a bad feeling about this trip. I could feel it in my gut and I was right.

The "Road of Death" was carved out of the ancient roads of the Incan Empire. It was also dynamited out of the cliffs that demanded some outlet. It is an incredibly busy thoroughfare of trade, large trucks bringing agricultural products to La Paz and more trucks carrying supplies in the opposite direction. The road is narrow and in some places only one vehicle is able to pass, so one of the vehicles has to move dangerously close to the cliff in order to let the other pass.

I boarded the bus. It was an old school bus, painted blue and red. Inside were 50 Bolivians, packed in like sardines. It was a long ride to my destination, so I fell asleep. During my nap, we passed a monument where Communists where thrown to their deaths 40 years before. It was a drop of thousands of feet, I’m not sure exactly how far, but on prior trips on this road I was amazed to see a winding river far, far below.

It had been raining that morning and the unpaved road was muddy and there had been some small landslides. The bus driver should have gotten out and cleared the landslide with a shovel. It would have taken only 20 minutes or so, but he chose instead to drive the bus over the loosely packed dirt. It was a mistake he would never forget.

The screams woke me just in time to pray what I thought would be my final prayer — “Save us, Lord!” was all I could think of saying. At first the bus tumbled over and fell 20 or so feet and hit hard on the roof of the bus. This short but violent fall fortunately opened the top of the bus and people began to be thrown out of the bus. I hit the roof hard with my head and fell unconscious and then drifted in and out of consciousness as the bus began its 2,000-foot trip down to our certain demise.

We were fortunate. Most vehicles that fell off the “Road of Death” were unlucky enough to fall down sheer cliffs; we, on the other hand, rolled violently down a very steep mountainside. It is estimated that for every mile on this twisting road, that 20 people have lost their lives. All we could expect was to be another statistic and we were all sure that we had experienced our final journey.

It was strangely silent as the bus rolled, and then hit the ground hard, then continued its rolling. It seemed like time stood still and gave us precious moments to contemplate our mortality, our vulnerability, our ephemeral nature. My thoughts turned to my newborn daughter, Natalie. She was all of three days old. My wife, Velia, and I had wanted her so badly and now she had arrived. Now that I was sure of my death, as time seemed to stand still, I thought how I would never see her crawl, never see her take her first steps, never hear her say “Daddy,” never see her off to her first day at school, never see her graduate from high school or from college, and never get to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day.

The top of the bus opened like a can of sardines and twisted open and then shut as we continued rolling down the mountainside. Each time the bus rolled, people were flung out either to their death or to their salvation. At about 1,000 feet down the mountainside, the bus flung me out with tremendous force, sending me flying ahead of the bus. I fell on some bushes with a broken scapula, back injuries and a concussion. The lady beside me was cursing at the Virgin Mary; with my peripheral vision she seemed to be folded together like a tortilla.

As I lay helpless there on the bushes I saw an amazing sight: a red and blue bus flying through the air 30 or so feet above me. As I contemplated the strange sight, I wondered about the fate of the people inside.

A co-worker of mine, Eduardo Patsy, was still in the bus as I watched its trajectory from the cold ground. As the bus continued its death tumble, Ed felt leaves and branches moving across his face … so he grabbed for whatever he could find and he was pulled out of the tumbling bus by a stationary tree limb. Ed hung on to the tree and found that he was 20 feet in the air. “I’m safe,” he thought. “No injuries.” Just then a heavy tree branch landed on his right leg as he dangled there. His leg was broken.

I had been shot out of the top of the vehicle and had landed on the brush below. I looked at my right arm, then my left arm, then I inspected my legs — yes, they were still connected. I was still in one piece. “How did I get out of a flying bus in such good condition?” I thought to myself. I wondered how I could have fit through the window and had still survived without becoming an amputee. I found out later that the roof of the bus had come off and that most of the passengers had been thrown out with violent force all way down the mountainside. One father searched for his son, saying with a sad voice, “My son’s head has been smashed when the bus rolled over him.”

As my thoughts turned again to my newborn daughter, I was overjoyed to realize that I was still alive. I would see my family again! I began to sing praises to God for His deliverance. “You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you. I will trust in you. Let the weak say I am strong in the strength of my Lord.” As survivors heard my song, I heard them say, “What’s wrong with this guy? Why is he singing?” Someone responded, “Oh, he hit his head when the bus tipped over.” They couldn't understand the joy in my heart of just being alive and able to see my newborn girl again.

Two friends of mine, both pastors, began rescuing as many people as possible. A lady began to cry out for her baby, who had been sitting on her lap when the bus fell off the cliff. “Where is my baby? Where is my baby?” she yelled. The minister looked about and spotted the baby, buck naked sitting on the freshly cut branches. He picked her up with his right hand and as he did he heard the bones of his own arm breaking. He put the baby down and picked her up again, this time with his left hand. He handed the baby back to her mother. “Thank you,” she said. “Now where is my husband?” He looked around and found her husband a few yards behind the woman. He was dead.

As I assessed the carnage all around me, I felt that it must have been like the aftermath of a firefight in the jungles of Vietnam. Fifty people were scattered down the mountainside, some dead, others seriously injured and still others walking about dazed and confused.

The accident drew looters to our valuables and they rushed to ransack our luggage. They scurried around their plunder, searching for loot instead of assisting the injured. One young pastor had been carrying the tithes from his church district; several thousand dollars were on his person. He was seriously injured. While the bus rolled downward, two heavy seats came unbolted and smashed together. He was between those seats and his lungs burst with the impact. When he arrived at a small local hospital, he was dead and the money was gone.

The hours passed slowly as the passengers were forced to rescue themselves. A light rain fell. As I lay on my back, friends encouraged me to get to my feet to begin the long climb to the treacherous road a thousand feet above us. I refused. I knew my back was injured (it turned out that I sustained a broken left scapula and compression fractures in T6 and T7 in my back) and I feared that I might sever the spinal cord if I moved. “I’ll just wait for the helicopters to arrive and rescue us.” I said. There was a chorus of laughter from the people around me. “The only rescuers you’ll ever see are those vultures circling above us,” one person said. “We’re not in the United States. Get up and start the climb up the mountain.” I still refused and moved my toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed. Finally I accepted reality and agreed with them that we should not expect to be rescued and that I should accept the limited help I’d receive from my friends. I tried to get up but crumpled to the ground in pain. “Can you find a blanket and help me up to the road?” I asked. Someone found a blanket and four people, themselves injured, dragged me upward a thousand feet. I felt guilty to ask these traumatized people to carry me on that makeshift gurney.

When we reached the road it was another four hours to a hospital in La Paz. I was loaded onto the truck bed of a small Toyota, where two other injured people were waiting to be driven to the hospital. One lady lay quietly in pain and an old man lay next to me. I tried to take in the scene when a rooster popped up between me and the old man and I just had to laugh to myself at the absurdity of the whole strange “rescue.”
I watched the old man as the life slowly left him. The trip seemed interminable. As we entered the outskirts of La Paz, people began to greet us, for they had heard of the accident. I yelled to a shop owner: “Sir, call my wife and tell her that I am not injured seriously. Tell her to meet me at Hospital La Paz.” My wife had heard of the accident and had been waiting by the phone for news of my condition. She knew that the accident was serious but somehow knew that I was alive.

She arrived at the hospital shortly after I did. Minutes before this the old man beside me died. Nine passengers died on that fateful day. I felt that I had been spared for a reason. Life took on new meaning to me; life was precious to me now. My children and wife needed me. My work was not yet finished. My last sermon had not yet been preached.

“You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”
Psalm 32:7, New King James Version

What Did Jesus Do?

As Easter weekend approaches, I have been thinking about the final week of Jesus' life.  One of the stories that is recorded during that final week is of Jesus crying for the city of Jerusalem.  If he cried over the city of Jerusalem, can you imagine how he is crying over the world today?

When I was growing up I attended a small church in Fort Lupton, Colorado with my family. The small church shared a pastor with another church. Sometimes when the pastor wasn't there for the mid week prayer service those in attendance would take turns reciting a favorite text. Being somewhat of a smart aleck, I thought it was amusing to say that my favorite verse was John 11:35 – “Jesus wept”.

As I have been studying recently, it has actually become a favorite verse of mine. I believe the simple words, “Jesus wept,” may reveal as much about Jesus as any other words ever said about him.

I’m sure that you remember the story of Lazarus. When he became ill, his sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one you love is very sick.” Jesus chose to wait until Lazarus had died before he came. We read the story in John 11:33-35. “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept”.

Let me ask you a question. Why did Jesus cry? Was it because of his love for Lazarus? He knew Lazarus would be alive in a few minutes. Jesus was crying because of the grief of his friends. He was moved by their sorrow. Jesus is painfully aware of your suffering. When you cry He is aware. Psalms 56:8 tells us, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

There is one other place in the Bible where it tells us that Jesus cried. We find it in Luke 19:41 - “But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry”.

Why was Jesus crying? Was he crying for a city?  I think that Luke 13:34 gives us some insight into this story. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!

Jesus was crying for the people of Jerusalem. He had come to save them, but most were not willing to be saved. Even though they had rejected him and his salvation, he had compassion on them.

As Christians our example is Jesus.  If we are to follow the example of Jesus, how should we relate to sinners? We should have compassion. It seems to me that many Christians have lost their compassion. As I look around I don’t always see Christians dealing with others with compassion. I am more apt to see hate than compassion.

I don’t want to meddle, but maybe I will just a little bit. Just think about a few of the hot button topics of our day and see what your response is toward the following groups. Gays, Muslims, Adulterers, Abortionists, Thieves, Drug Dealers, Prostitutes, Atheists, etc.

Do you have compassion on them, or is your response something different? Can you hate someone when you are praying for their salvation?  Should we hate someone that Jesus loves and was willing to die for.

Following the example of Jesus and having compassion on sinners is very liberating. It allows us to leave the judging up to God while we practice the self-sacrificing love He demonstrated on the cross. It allows us to hold ourselves to a high moral standard without feeling that we must hate those who do not see things the way we do.

Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life".

A very popular catch phrase in Christianity is,"What Would Jesus Do?".  WWJD is found on jewelry, emblazoned on bumper stickers and has made it's way into popular culture.  The only way to determine what Jesus would do is by learning what Jesus did.

Jesus cried for a city of sinners who rejected him.  He asked his Father to forgive those who tortured and killed him.  We should love the "sinner" as Christ loved us sinners and, by our own conduct and words, model a better way. When we uplift the right and the good, sin will appear in its true colors. However, if we do not model the love of Christ and give no evidence of His power in our lives, no amount of argument will induce the "sinner" to give up his sin. Holding a sign that says “God Hates You” is not an effective way to witness to sinners.

Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love”.

Who Do You Think You Are?

One of life’s biggest questions is our origins.  Where did we come from?  Genealogy searches have become very popular in recent years as the internet has made historical records more accessible. The TV program, Who Do You Think You Are, shows people learning about their roots.   I have really enjoyed watching the program.  During each episode, a celebrity is taken on a quest into his or her family history.

Why are people interested in genealogy?  They understand that their heritage is part of who they are today.  I have been researching my family tree and have traced the Lawry name back to Joseph Laurie who was born in Scotland in 1770.  So far the most interesting ancestor I have found is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.

According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777 and several others.  He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment was up, he came home to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781.  After the wedding he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown.  After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County Virginia where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.

My great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history. He experienced the hardships if Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war.  He helped America gain its independence.  He was a true patriot. I’m proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

As much fun as it is researching your genealogy, finally you reach a dead end and you can’t trace your family tree back any farther.  You are still left with the question, but where did I come from in the beginning?

Who do you think you are?  The answer determines how we live our lives.  If we are here by an accident of forces our existence is meaningless.  If we are here because of God, our life has great worth, purpose, and a promised future beyond death.

In the Bible’s account of human history we read “In the beginning God.”  God said, “Let us make man in our image.”  Who do you think you are? God says that he made you in his image and likeness.  Satan lies and says you were a cosmic accident.

Who do you think you are?  You don’t have to determine what your identity is because God has already revealed it. God has told us that He created us.  So many people are searching for their identity because they don’t believe that God created them.

Anytime we try to establish our identity and we do not understand it biblically, it results in problems. One problem is when people think too much of themselves and believe they are God-like; that there is divinity within them.  New age philosophy teaches that God is in us. That everything is universally connected through God.  A similar belief is found in Pantheism.  Pantheism is the belief that that nature is identical with divinity.  As a part of nature each person is in fact God.

Who do you think you are?  If you think you are God, there is nothing to control your behavior.

Another identity that many people assume is that of a highly evolved animal. They say that we’re just lucky animals with thumbs; that really all we are is just highly evolved animals. 

Who do you think you are?  If you think you are just a highly evolved animal, there is nothing to control your behavior.

The question should not be, who do you think you are, but who does God say you are.  The Bible tells us in 1 John 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  God says that we are his children!

Because we are all God’s children, you are not more valuable than anyone else and you are not less valuable than anyone else. All people equally bear the image and likeness of God; Male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor.  Some people are richer, some people are smarter, some people are more competent, capable, and able, but all are made in the image and likeness of God.  All have dignity, value, and worth. One of the greatest lies is that some people are more valuable than others.

That is why I don’t believe in the survival of the fittest. I don’t believe in Darwinian evolution that says those who are strong survive and those who are weak are worth less. Adolph Hitler’s plan for the Aryan race was based on his study of Darwin’s theory. Christians shouldn't believe in racism, and sexism, because all are equally made in the image and likeness of God.

Who do you think you are?  Your answer will profoundly affect your life, your actions, and your salvation.

Let Them Eat Cake

My favorite podcast is called Stuff You Missed in History Class.  I have always loved history and this podcast brings so many things to my attention that I never knew before.  Recently I listen to a podcast on the life of Marie Antoinette.  I learned something new about those famous words of hers, "let them eat cake".

Even if you know very little about Marie Antoinette, you have probably heard that when the peasants of France were starving from lack of bread she proclaimed, "let them eat cake".

Actually, Marie Antoinette never said it.  She was known to be concerned for the peasants.  There are records of her taking care of a peasant who'd been gored by a wild animal as well as taking in an orphaned boy.  Besides written accounts of her kind and generous nature, there are undisputed facts that prove she never spoke those famous words.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote "let them eat cake" in his book, Confessions, that was first published in 1782. Marie Antoinette was 10 years old under her mother's care in Austria when the book was published.  

The expression isn't as harsh as it sounds. What Rousseau actually wrote is "qu'ils mangent de la brioche." This doesn't mean "let them eat cake," it means "let them eat egg based bread". Brioche, egg based bread, was a more expensive bread than the typical flour and water bread of the French peasants. A French law required bakers to sell their brioche at the same price as their inexpensive bread if they ran out. What has been translated as "let them eat cake" actually meant, "if they have no inexpensive bread, let them eat the more expensive brioche.

In the late 18th century, much of the French population was living in desperate poverty, while the upper classes were living a life of decadence. As a result, dissatisfaction quickly spread throughout the city of Paris. Why should people go hungry when the King and Queen had enough to feed everyone? Why should people live in abject poverty, when those inside the palace had more than they could possibly consume in a thousand lifetimes? Why should people be content with poverty when there were people who lived a life of luxury on the back of their tax dollars?

In 18th century France, the contrasts between the palace and the streets were so strong that it led to widespread anger. The people knew from experience that the current government was not a solution to their problems. In fact, the royal family seemed to be making life harder with each passing day.  The person who drew the most criticism was Marie Antoinette, whose foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle made her an easy target for public anger.  It was easy to fabricate stories about the queen's spendthrift habits. Very likely, someone attributed the words to her, and the story seemed true enough.  

Here in the 21st century we still see these same feelings.  Frustrated people through the centuries have felt there has got to be better government.  Is there any hope for something better, or do we just have to learn to live with imperfect human government?

There is something in the human heart that longs for honest government. Maybe if we just had new leadership things would be better.  There is a longing for a system we can trust. 

The good news is that there is something better.  There really is a kingdom coming that is entirely free from corruption.  We can't expect honest human government, but God gives us this promise in the Bible, "During the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or given to another group of people. This kingdom will crush all the other kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will continue forever". Daniel 2:44

Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom does not belong to this world".  "God's blessings, which cannot be destroyed or be spoiled or lose their beauty, are kept in heaven for you".  1 Peter 1:4

"So let us be thankful, because we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. We should worship God in a way that pleases him with reverence and respect".  Hebrews 12:28

I'm ready for a change in government.   I'm ready for a kingdom that can't be shaken.  

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I come quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Revelation 22:20