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A Special Day

January 8 will always be a special day for me. My life was changed in inestimable ways!

Happy Birthday, Punk! I love you.

grace-birthday-20040108

From the Time Capsule: In the video below, you are one of the “stars” in a commercial for a ladies tea at our church in Jerusalem. You were 5 years old.

School Days: A Southerner

My daughter wrote the following story for her reading class.

Today is April 15, 1865. My name is Elizabeth Charles. I live in Boston, Massachusetts. It has only been 3 days since the Civil War ended.

While I was reading in my library, I got a telegram from my Aunt. My Aunt Sara lives in Washington D.C. She is so lucky, but this telegram wasn’t of joyous praise to the end of the war. It was actually of pain and sadness. The telegram said, “The President is dead!”

I was so shocked I could barely stand. I quickly went to my neighbors and asked if they had heard the shocking news. They were so shocked the the wife passed out. For days we wept and wore black. I asked myself, “Who could do such a thing?”

Then it hit me . . . a Southerner!

Connecting dots . . . wrongly

In my Acts of the Apostles course, one of the projects the students are required to complete is the Personal Application Paper, which requires the student to catalog twenty principles they have discovered in their study of the book of Acts. They are then required to formulate a plan to apply each of the principles to their lives.

An example of how this project works follows:

PRINCIPLE: Everything isn’t as it immediately seems, therefore, don’t draw definite conclusions hastily.

TEXT: Acts 28:3–6

BACKGROUND: En route to Rome according to his appeal to Caesar, Paul survived a treacherous voyage at sea and landed at Malta, battered but alive. Paul was among 276 survivors who were welcomed by the local residents. However, he was a prisoner, which apparently communicated certain things about him to his hosts; namely, that he was somehow shortchanging justice by surviving the shipwreck. This conclusion regarding their assumptions is based on what his hosts said in response to Paul being bitten on the hand by a viper,

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” – Acts 28:4 ESV

In the minds of those who were watching Paul, certain things were obvious: a) He was a prisoner who was guilty, likely of murder; b) he deserved punishment, though somehow he had apparently dodged it by surviving the shipwreck; and c) Justice (or fate) had finally caught up to him by way of the viper.

The dots were connecting very nicely . . . until Paul simply shook free of the viper and suffered no ill effects (28:5). However, being certain that “a” leads to “b” leads to “c”, their confidence was only slightly halted by the delay in any obvious effects of the snake bite. Because these dots were so easy to connect, they could wait expectantly for Paul “to swell up or suddenly fall down dead” (28:6). But, after waiting a long time and having none of their expectations realized, they had to reconsider their conclusions regarding Paul.

This time, though, things were more clear: a) a man who survives a stormy sea and shipwreck, b) which is immediately followed by a deadly snakebite that has no ill effect, c) is clearly “a god” (28:6). Paul must be a god. Yes, that has to be it; those dots connect very nicely! Or, . . . perhaps, there is still a better – more correct – explanation.

POINT: Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem . . . even when they seem so obvious or clear. For those of us who believe we can read people well, this is a difficult thing to accept. Better yet, it’s difficult to practice patience. And this lack of patience can be particularly harmful (to us and others) when we begin to assign motive for their actions. Here’s the truth: sometimes people do things for reasons that appear very obvious, but in reality, are for very different reasons or for no real reason at all. Sometimes we do dumb things or do things badly, just because we are people.

“Why did you throw a rock through Mrs. Jones’ barn window?” the teenager’s mother angrily enquired. “It’s because she told us she saw you smoking at the back of her property; it’s payback, isn’t it?” his dad accusingly interrupted, conveniently wrapping up the mystery. “No! I didn’t even think about whose window it was. I don’t know why I did it; Joe and I were walking behind her barn and we saw some rocks and a dusty old window, and without really thinking we thought, ‘let’s see who can hit the window.’ He threw first and missed. Unfortunately, I won; I hit it on my first try,” the teen explained.

In the fictional conversation above, the dots connected very easily for the teen’s parents: a) They knew their son, b) Mrs. Jones had reported his smoking, and c) that report obviously led to retaliation. Or did it? In reality – as much as a fictional story can portray reality – their son broke the window because: a) he is a teenage boy in the company of another teenage boy, b) with access to rocks and an old window, and c) it seemed like fun to see who could break the glass. Pretty simple. Pretty reasonable, … if you know teenage boys who have access to rocks and old windows.

But, if the glass is still broken, what difference does it make if it was broken for revenge or the result of a poor decision? It makes all the difference in the world in terms of how the matter should be handled. In this case, revenge is a matter of the heart; a poor decision is a matter of maturity. Furthermore, the revenge angle wrongly assigns evil intent to the teen, which unfairly harms his reputation and the relationship between him and his parents.

APPLICATION: I will endeavor to be slower and more considered (i.e., investigative) in connecting dots, particularly when the dots lead to negative conclusions about others based on their actions. Proverbs 18:17 offers wisdom to this end:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

 

He’s An Evangelist for Islam

A very close member of this guy’s family recently started to witness the glories of Islam to me. He described to me the emotion of going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and standing before the Kaaba. “Here and here,” he said as he tapped his head and heart, looking heavenward. “There really is power in the soul when you stand before the holy place.”

After that, he began to tell me of all the Christians who are converting to Islam, “even Baptists,” he added as a final push. Well, I didn’t say the Shahada. Why would I, when I already know the glory of Christ and his cross (Galatians 6:14)? What a treasure!

Hezekiah’s Life and Death

A study of King Hezekiah’s life is one that can be greatly beneficial for us.

In his life we can see a man of great accomplishment: He restored the Passover observance immediately upon ascending to the throne. He undid all the idol worship that his father Ahaz had promoted throughout the land. He withstood the pressure to submit to Assyria. He rerouted the Gihon spring into what we now call Hezekiah’s Tunnel. He accomplished so much. In fact, “He succeeded in everything he undertook (2 Chron 32:30).”

The foundation for these many accomplishments was a faith in the LORD. One of the reasons I think it is beneficial to study the life of Hezekiah is to see Hezekiah’s sin, the time his pride directed his trust away from the LORD and toward himself.

Yes, it’s possible for a godly person to fall in that way and to be restored. So often people think that being godly means never sinning or wavering in faith. However, we see from the life of Hezekiah that even godly men at times lose their way. That’s not to excuse anyone’s sin, but it is to say that we need to be careful in the way we define godly. And the definition isn’t “being perfect.”

Godliness deals with the heart. Certainly, the more God matures us toward godliness, the less we should sin. However, the focus of godliness is on the heart’s desire to obey and trust the LORD. Notice that God mercifully restored Hezekiah when he repented. And, in spite of his sin, he is described as a good king.

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