DISCLAIMER

These lessons are based on my personal studies and therefore my own opinion. The reader should not accept anything simply because I wrote it, nor should the reader accept anything anyone present to you as absolute truth. You should always check out a teacher or preacher or anyone else claiming to be an authority on their facts. Go to the Scriptures and conduct your own study.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

DEPRAVITY WITHOUT GOD PART 1: THREE HOMBRES WE HARDLY KNEW YE

It has been a while since you last heard from me, hasn’t it. I am sure you used that time when I wasn’t pestering you to  really dig into the adventures of those three dashing musketeers: Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar. Of course they really weren’t musketeers. The musket hadn’t even been invented yet. And no, Shamgar was not their pet dog.Truthfully, these guys might not even known each other.

Afterall, Othniel (The Big O as I call him) was from Judah and dead before Ehud grabbed any headlines.
And Ehud wasn’t from Judah; he was a Benjaminite.

 Of Shamgar, we are not told much. Even though his name comes up twice, but in neither time does it say where he was from or where he went after his brief moment of note. There is speculation offered by scholars based solely on his name that he was the offspring of a mixed marriage between an Israelite and a Canaanite.

But why am I telling you all this when you probably have often pondered and discussed these guys at parties and other  get togethers. Perhaps I should be asking you about them and their deeds.

But before we consider their deeds, lets look at some Israeli history because how did we ever get to the place where these three guys got the spotlight? Before them we had some superstars that everybody knows upon the world’s stage, Joseph, Moses and Joshua.Yet we got some kind of hiccup after Joshua passed away and people were left on their own without God, and without God depravity fills the void and into that vacuum came Ophniel, Ehud and Shamgar.

It took a lot of history to reach that point, so a flash review may be in order. First you got to realize the Bible isn’t a collection of snappy little stories. It is one big book written by God and everything is a connected, logical, continuing narrative. But we are not going to go all the way back to the beginning. We are going to begin instead with Joseph.

Most Americans have heard of Joseph. At least they know he had a coat of many colors. There was even a Broadway musical written about him called, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. My daughter was once in the cast of one such production. 

There is more to Joseph than his coat. You will find his whole story told from Genesis 30 through Exodus 1. Wow, that is a lot of press. He must have been important.

Joseph was the favorite of his pop, Jacob, aka Israel. He had 11
brothers, but his father singled him out for that colorful coat. Despite his father’s favoritism, or perhaps because of it, he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers because they didn’t like his colorful coat, but even more so resentment of his dreams, which in all honesty, he did talk about too much. He became known as the dreamer.

The slavers took him and sold him in Egypt, and so at least one Israelite came to Egypt. (I will tell you this though, he wasn’t the first.) But how did those many others get there?

Because of his faith and faithfulness to God, Joseph rose to greatness in Egypt. He became Pharaoh’s golden boy and God’s interpreter of dreams .God gave Pharaoh dreams that no one could interpret:

And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.
And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and  fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.
And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river,
ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.
And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.
And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.
And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. (Genesis 41:1-7)

It might just be fat and skinny cows and odd corn to us, but Joseph was able to understand this stuff. What he saw in the dream was the coming of seven great years followed by seven terrible years when a great famine would hit Egypt and the countries around it. God gave Joseph the insight to devise a plan that not only saved Egypt from starvation, but also provided a storehouse of food for others. It was through this famine and the need to eat that the other sons of Jacob (Israel) came to Egypt. They came to buy food, but were reunited with Joseph, not without some intrigue and drama, which we won’t go into here. Eventually, Joseph’s father Jacob, and all his family moved to Egypt, and perhaps at this point we would expect to say, lived happily ever after.

Happiness never comes that easily., especially in Scripture. There are some very interesting passages in Genesis 47:13-22, which tell us much.

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord's. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh's. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

You follow what happened here?

People came to Joseph, acting as Pharaoh’s agent, and bought the food with money, which Joseph turned over to Pharaoh. But the famine was long and severe, so the people ran out of money, then Joseph made a barter with the people of Egypt. Pharaoh would continue to give them food in exchange for their livestock, but the next thing you know, all the livestock had become Pharaoh’s property and the people faced famine again.
What did the people do? They not only sold their land and livestock, they sold themselves to Pharaoh and became his servants. Pharaoh came out of this famine, thanks to Joseph, richer and more powerful than ever and the people much poorer. This was the ancient equivalent of paying for one credit card with another. You just end up owing more to the credit card bank. In this case the credit card bank was Pharaoh.

Meanwhile, Jacob, now reunited with his lost son, brings his people our of Canaan to settled down in Egypt in an area called the Land of Goshen. Here the Israelites prospered. (Genesis 47)

Then at the age of 110, Joseph died. Genesis 50:26)

Jacob had come into Egypt with 70 people, but after Jacob died, and  Joseph died and all that first immigrating generation died, the Israelites continued to be quite prosperous and their population grew mightily. Before you knew it Egypt was full of these Israelites. (Exodus 1:7)
And generations passed and there were scads and scads of Israelites down in the Land of Goshen. There was also a new Pharaoh, who remembered nothing of this guy Joseph. What the new Pharaoh saw was a bunch of foreigners who he thought had gotten too big for their britches and too big for Egypt to contain as well. So he set taskmasters over them and they became forced labor (Exodus 1:10-14)

That wasn’t enough. The more Pharaoh came down on the Israelites, the more they seemed to multiply. So, in the end Pharaoh enslaved them. He even went further than that. He directed the midwives to kill any babies born of the male persuasion.

The midwives, brave souls, disobeyed Pharaoh because they feared God more than he, but to save their own necks they told Pharaoh these Hebrew women were just too fast for them. They had their babies before the midwives could get to them. Pharaoh then ordered all his subjects to throw any new born Hebrew boys into the Nile. After all, There were crocodiles needing to be fed and appeased.(Exodus 1:15-22)


Thus we see that because of Joseph’s dealings with the Egyptians, Pharaoh has increased his treasury, his livestock and had made the people his servants. Pharaoh had become very, very powerful. Meanwhile, the Israelites, those 70 who came down with Jacob, were growing and proffering in the Land of Goshen. So now we know the Egyptian government has grown very powerful and we know how the first Israelites came to be in Egypt. Actually we must go back to Abraham, to whom God made a promise if he would leave Er and travel to a distant land, to learn who was the first Israelite and how the prophesies to him played out. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

AFFLICTIONS OF BELIEF: PART 7 -- TUFF STUF AND ODD PUFFS

 I love God and I love his Book. It is full of things to contemplate. Some things are tough to deal with such as loving our enemies and forgiving really, really nasty people. We question what happens to children who die too young to have understood about Jesus, such as babies, do they go to Limbo? What about slavery? Can a Christian own slaves?

Then there are  things often skipped over just because they pop up in odd places or just seem peculiar. There are also common sayings people use that are generally off base somehow, such as “I don’t go to church because it is full of hypocrites” or “I can’t believe in a God that would do that” or “I’m glad my country has God on its side”

So to finish up this summer season I thought we could look at some of these things.

I say finish up the season because I have decided to take time off from my Bible Study between now to the Sunday after Labor Day. I need a time to renew and to consider lessons to do going forward. You should probably need a break from me for a bit as well. I expect we can get back in our yoke on September 9.

Now have you considered how God in his early relationship with Moses almost killed the guy.

 Read Exodus 4:1-17.
Moses was hanging about the wilderness watching his father-in-
law’s sheep. Suddenly what does he see but a bush in flame. Odd, this. Not only is this sole bush burning, but the fire isn’t consuming it.
What would you do? I wonder what would I do if out on one of my hikes and such a thing happened? Would I waddle as fast as my stick would let me to find water to douse the fire before the whole woods went up? Maybe instead I’d pull out my camera for a couple of photos to put on Facebook. 

But Moses was a curious fellow, so he moved up closer to see what this was all about and suddenly that James Earl Jones voice spoke to him  out of the fire and ordered him to kick off his sandals. Then the voice says what Moses already knows, the Egyptians are oppressing the Hebrews, and then of all things, the voice tells Moses he is to go talk to Pharaoh and tell him to let God’s people go.

Moses is a bit reluctant. Like right, I’m going to tell the Pharaoh of Egypt a burning bush has been talking to me.

But God isn’t taking any no for an answer. Moses gets stubborn and they have this little argument about it, until God angrily tells Moses to go get his brother Aaron to assist him.

Now we all know, because we all saw Cecil B. deMille’s movie, “The Ten Commandments”, that Moses-Moses did go back and eventually led the Hebrews out of Egypt across the Red Sea and all that despite having to put up with Yul Brenner.

Yet before all this drama, at the very beginning when Moses first obeyed the Burning Bush and started back to Egypt with wife and kids in tow something very odd happened between Exodus 4:18 and verse 27, didn’t it, even though they didn’t show this in the movie.?

Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand.
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death.

Whoa! Say what?

Did the Lord meet Pharaoh’s first born son and try to kill him there and then?

No, the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him.

Now wait a cotton-picking minute. I thought Moses was the guy God sent on a mission to save his people, so why in the world would God threaten to kill him before he even got started?

This is a pretty sticky wicket.

Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he (The Lord) let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.

What in the world is going on here? This is really getting weird, don’t you think? Weird and bloody.
So who was this Zipporah?

She was the daughter of Jethro, also known as Reuel. (See Exodus 2:18 and Exodus 3:1.)  Zipporah and Jethro were Midians, which may have been a league of Ishmaelian Tribes, but if Midian was a place it was located on the Arabian Peninsula. 

Jethro was also a priest and founder of a religion known as Druze. It was monotheistic and looked back to Abraham just like the Hebrews, but it really took most of its beliefs from high Islamic
philosophers. It would become a leading factor in the history of the Levant.
Okay, let’s not get too deep in all this, but you may have heard the term Levant.
First, think of ISIS, which former President Obama persisted in calling by the name ISIL. ISIS and ISIL both stand for the Islamic State of Levant and Levant does play a role in the Endtime confederations of Muslim States, consisting of much of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and if ISIS had it’s way, Israel. So lets just say that Moses and Zipporah were a mixed marriage or unevenly yoked.

Frankly, it appears that Moses had been something of a wimp in his marriage. He seemed to go by “happy wife, happy life”, so he had never pushed her on having his sons circumcised. This may have made his wife happy, but not God. How could Moses lead God’s people when his sons had not been circumcised as required by God so as not to be cut off from the Hebrews? (Genesis 17:1-14)
Zipporah, on the threat of death to Moses, jumped off her donkey and circumcised her son, yelling, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 

A number of scholars think she said this to fulfilled some kind of ancient marriage tradition. No one really fully understands this. They can’t even agree if she said it to Moses or to God. Actually, I think she was unhappy about the whole thing and said this sarcastically.

Moses and Zipporah don’t appear to have had a real relationship after this. He sends her and his sons away before the Exodus (Exodus 18:2) and when Jethro comes to visit Moses and brings Zipporah and the sons along, Moses greets Jethro, but ignores Zipporah (Exodus 18:60). It would appear Moses never had sex with Zipporah again.

Anyway, no one much talks about the passage Exodus 4:18-27. Most preachers simply skip right over it.


How about some Tuff Stuff:
Catch Him and Kill Him! Love Beyond Hate

 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemiesdo good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-44 & Luke 6:27-28)   


Yeah, right, love my enemies. Who are you kidding? How can I love someone who hates me? Come on, be honest, could you love some big-time mass-murdering terrorist who wants you and all your Christian friends dead? Do you really think you should pray for that guy?  No Christian could love such a guy...or should. Right?


There is tuff stuff in the Bible. That was some tough teaching by Jesus. God has some tough expectations of Christians. Love isn't a nice cozy word for us to reserve for the person sitting next to us in the comfortable pew. Love demands we get beyond that. It demands we get beyond how the world perceives things.

I prayed in the past for a certain well-known, big-time, mass-murdering terrorist and others of his ilk. He probably wouldn't like what I prayed, but I'm not concerned with what such a person thinks of me. I certainly didn't agree or approve of what he and his followers said and did. So what did I pray?

I prayed that he came to truth and would accept Christ as his savior. This all came to mote cause that big-time terrorist is dead and I’m sure he knows the truth now, but he never embraced Christ so much good it did him.


But why would have I prayed for that in the first place? Wouldn't that just save him from the hell he deserved?

Yes, it would have, just as I have been saved through Christ from the hell I deserve. But think further; what if people like this big-time mass-murdering terrorist came to Christ? Wouldn't that be better than what such a person was doing? Capturing and killing an enemy might satisfy our longing for revenge, but little else. Wouldn't it be better if such a person became a spokesman for Christ? At the very least they would have stopped killing. Perhaps they could even made a difference for good instead of evil.

This is really naive and far-fetched, such things just don't happen.

Ah, but such a thing did happened, so why not again?

When people began following Christ and spreading the news of His resurrection, they were condemned by the religious leaders of the day, looked upon as infidels. A powerful man was commissioned who then went about killing The Way at every opportunity.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).

He led his band from city to city, breaking into homes, slaying or arresting and imprisoning the occupants, and he wasn't slaying uniformed combatants in battle, but men, women and children of no physical threat to him. It wasn't that these people stole or murdered, only that they didn't believe as he did. This man took it upon himself to judge and avenge God. In many ways this man was a big time, mass murdering terrorist of his time.

The man's name was Saul, and one time he stood guarding the cloaks of those stoning Steven. He watched the brutal execution of a young man who didn't happen to agree with his view.  Saul listened to Steven's passionate testimony and wasn't phased. Saul left Steven's dead, bloody corpse to go find others to persecute and execute.

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:57-58) 
And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (Acts 8:1-3).

But on his way he saw the light, literally, and Saul, the persecutor, became Paul, the persuader. Why should we ever doubt God's ability to use whomever He wills to serve His purpose? 

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do”(Acts 9:3-6). 

Well, maybe so, but that love thy enemies stuff is hard enough to grasp. I mean, I could maybe buy loving my neighbor like myself, although it'd be hard to love the guy down the street who gives me the one-finger salute because of the political candidate sign in my yard, but love my enemies?   Why'd you pick someone like a big-time, mass-murdering terrorist as an example. That's pretty extreme. 

Yes, and the extreme case is exactly what people throw at you when you say things such as love your enemies. You know, like: "Come on, be honest, could you love some big-time mass-murdering terrorist, who wants you and all your Christian friends dead?" Remember?

Now, did Jesus say: Love your enemies, if they aren't real nasty and pray only for those who call you names and make obscene gestures?  No, He was pretty inclusive saying: "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).  If you don't think that pretty much covered all, then look at the next statement Christ gave as an example: “He (God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Matthew 5:45). 

Humph! Well, I can see maybe praying for my enemies. But love them. Love is a pretty strong word.

Yes, and the Greek, agapao, doesn't make it a weaker word. It could read, "but I tell you, love dearly your enemies, be fond of them, welcome them, entertain them, and pray for those who persecute you." 

So, you are one of those bleeding hearts, right? Don't matter what some dude does, he suddenly says "I got born again" and you'd let him waltz away scott free. Dress up nice and walk into the courtroom carrying a Bible, and if you're on the Jury the verdict has to be innocent on the grounds of insincerity. Thou shall not judge and all that?

Not at all.  "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…" (Matthew 6:9)

The Lord's Prayer? What has that to do with this?

Think about "on earth as in heaven".  Right now we are on the earth, in this world. "Then (Jesus) saith he to them, `Render therefore the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.’” (Luke 20:25) 

There are rules and laws that apply to the secular and there is the Grace of God in the Spiritual. My being Christian does not exempt me from the laws of my land.  If I robbed a bank and killed a teller, was caught and convicted to death by injection for my crime, accepting Christ as my Savior is not going to commute my sentence.  If the big-time, mass murdering terrorist is caught, he is subject to the full penalty of the law - period.

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." 1 Peter 2:13-14
Yeah, what happened to this person becoming a spokesman for God, his maybe making a difference for good over evil? How's he do that if he's dead?

Again, a Christian or non-Christian does not escape the consequences of their crime under the law of this world. If God has a further purpose for such a person, then God will somehow spare their life and open any doors necessary. Those doors shouldn't be opened simply because someone is "a bleeding heart" or because the convicted claims Christ.

If they sincerely have come to salvation through Christ, then death is nothing to them. If it was merely a gimmick to gain symphony, then they will go to hell. If that is the case, we should all be saddened.  Why? Because it is not God's will that anyone go to Hell. Because God so loved the world he provided a means through the death and resurrection of Jesus for all who accept it to escape Hell, thus we should love our enemies as well as our friends, for so does God, and we should pray none go to Hell.  If we would be perfect, as our Father in heaven, we will love even those we might not like, as tough as that may seem. This is tuff stuff.

(The illustration at the top is "The Martyrdom of St. Steven" by Pieter Paul Rubens.)


Philemon: Phabulous Example of Phellowship

Sometimes shiny gifts come in small packages often overlooked among the larger packages waiting to be opened.
Such is the book of Philemon. It is easy to skip right pass it since in many Bibles it takes up less than a full page.  

And what a strange story it must seem to many who stumble upon it. What could it possibly have to do with us today. In fact, it's a bit off-putting, this sending a slave back to his owner after he has escaped. What is Christian in all of this?

Lets take a look at the main people involved.  

We have Paul, who is writing the letter during a time he himself is under arrest in Rome.  The letter is being written to a man named Philemon. I am not sure just where Philemon was living at the time. Finally, we have Onesimus, who is also in Rome and one of those visiting Paul during his incarceration. Onesimus is the catalyst for the letter. Onesimus is a slave belonging to Philemon, who has run away and Paul is sending back.  Is there anything else we can know about Philemon and Onesimus from this little letter?

Quite a bit I think.  We know Philemon must be a man of some means since he can own a slave. We don't know if he has more than the one.  We also can gather that Philemon was converted to The Way by Paul (you owe me your very self - verse 19).

We know Onesimus was a slave owned by Philemon, but he has run away. Most likely, he stole something of value belonging to his master  (If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything - verse 18). Onesimus has also come to Christ through Paul.

So why not just let things stay as they are, allow Onesimus to remain free rather than return him to Philemon?  

Well, what future did Onesimus have? He was a fugitive, a runaway slave. What was the punishment if he was caught? Death, or at best, a severe beating. He had no status in that Roman world. He needed grace. 

Look at how Paul throughout associates himself with Onesimus as a person in bondage: "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus (verse 1), I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus (verse 9),  Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains (verse 10), while I am in chains for the gospel (verse 13) and Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus (verse 23)".

Bob Dylan sang in his song, "Gotta Serve Somebody" this lyric, "It may be the Devil, it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve  somebody".  Paul is a prisoner of Rome, but does he say that? No, he says he is a prisoner of Christ. He is a willing slave to the Gospel because he knows he serves a loving and just master in Jesus. We all become slaves by choice in this world. We can become a prisoner to sin and the servant of Satan or we can choose to be a bondservant to God. We can choose to run away from the loving master, because we have free will, but the punishment for this is spiritual death.

We don't know if Philemon was a kind master before he knew Paul and Christ. We know Onesimus was useless as a servant before he knew Paul and Christ. But now they have a new relationship as brothers in Christ, and Onesimus can return without fear to a new life with Philemon, and willingly serve because his master will be loving and just.  Philemon and Onesimus will uphold each other in their new faith, just as each of us should uphold our brothers and sisters in Christ approaching each other with both love and a servant's heart. Onesimus will not receive what he should under the law of that culture, but will live as part of Philemon's family, that is grace.

It is interesting how Paul plays with language. Philemon is a Greek name that means "Loving". Look at Paul's greeting to Philemon: I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.

Onesimus means "beneficial" or "useful". Here is what Paul says describing Onesimus in his redemption:  I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

At one time Onesimus was owned by Philemon and both were slaves to sin. Now they both are bonded to the Lord and they have a fellowship as brothers. We need to be the same. it is not our position or our old relationships that should prevail between believers, but our bonding together as the Body of Christ, our love and support to one and another willingly.

We could probably find much more in this letter if we tried. How about this in verses 18 and 19:  If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. Could Paul be reminding Philemon of what Christ did for him?

"Father-God, if Philemon has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Jesus, will pay it - despite, Philemon, that you owe me your very self." 

Most Hypocritical Statement of All
A word tossed about with as much frequency as beads at Mardi Gras is hypocrite. Usually we hear "he or she's a hypocrite" applied to anyone who doesn't agree with the accuser. But what is the English definition of the word?

1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion 2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings (Merriam-Webster Online)
1.a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. 2.a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, esp. one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements. (Dictionary.com)

I've heard this many times in my life: "I don't go to church because  it is full of hypocrites".

 Well...duh! Everything is full of hypocrites. Stop the world and let me off, the world is full of hypocrites. I guess I won't vote because politics is full of hypocrites. From what my varied friends tell me, depending on their party affiliation, Clinton and Trump must have been running for Hypocrite of the Year?

 I won't be Christmas shopping this year; the stores are full of hypocrites.  Do you know that jolly white-bearded, red-suited guy
at the mall doesn't go home to the North Pole to make toys? Boy, what a big hypocrite.
I wonder where I'll work for business is full of hypocrites. Or is everything they advertise true; is running up credit card debt actually priceless and drinking beer really what it's all about?

And when people say they don't go to church because it is full of hypocrites, they are being hypocritical. Why can't they say the truth? They don't go because they don't want to. Perhaps they find church boring. Perhaps they want to do something else. Perhaps they don't believe in God. Perhaps they believe the way they live will make them hypocrites if they attended church.

We all do or say hypocritical things in our lives some of us more than others. Do you know what hypocrisy is? It is a sin.
Here is a secret. Come close, I want to whisper. THE CHURCHES ARE FULL OF HYPOCRITES!

And do you know why? Because everyone in the world is a sinner. 

Admitting that fact is the first step away from personal hypocrisy and could be the first step toward wanting to be in a church. Be warned, the church is full of  the sexually immoral, the idle, the greedy, drunks, thieves and slanders, as well as hypocrites. For that is what some of us were. And whatever we were, or are,  is reason  enough to be there.

But be honest to why you don't want to be there. Your reason won't offend me and I won't think less of you for being honest.




Land that I Live in has God on Its Side
Did you know God was on the Republicans side and against the Democrats? Do you doubt me? How can you? It's right there in the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 10: 2 in fact.


The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.

Are you serious? You must be taking that out of context?

Maybe. Jump down a verse or too, perhaps God is siding with the Democrats in their criticism of Trump or maybe of Bush.

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions...Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. (Ecclesiastes 10:5-6;8-9)

Is this a criticism of Bush and the Iraq War or at least hinting the ruler who started it is a fool? Of course, some would say the fool that started it was Bush and others would say the fool was Saddam Hussein. And what about that log splitter remark? Was Lincoln a fool?

But perhaps we need to be cautious in case our missive is under surveillance, for a bit further down in Ecclesiastes 10:20 it says:
Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
or curse the rich in your bedroom,
because a bird of the air may carry your words,
and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

This illustrates the danger of taking Bible passages out of context to support one's (any one's) own viewpoint. Talking Bible verses out of context has led to all kinds of evil from polygamy to slavery to bigotry to war. Such cherry-picking has also been used to support ideas which are not God given that on the surface appear right, for instance that Christ was all about love and peace. This is an oft-quoted passage used to support that idea, especially in the Christmas season:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end. Isaiah 9: 6-7

But what did Christ Jesus say? Did he say he had come here and now to bring peace? Or is Isaiah looking far ahead of where we are right now. Here is what Jesus said:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34-35

"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Luke 12:49-53
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

We who believe in Christ have peace because we know in this world trouble will come, but so will Jesus come again to end the trouble. In the meantime "there will be wars and rumors of wars" as well as other rather bad things.

The title of this post was taken from Bob Dylan's song, "With God on Our Side." It is an antiwar song. Each verse tells of a war or conflict since America's beginning and each ends with the words, "God on our side".

I do not know if this particular truth was in Dylan's mind when he composed it, but we should never be asking, let alone claiming, that God is on our side. The prevalent question, the most important question, the life or death question to ask is are we on God's side.

The question isn't answered by saying some nations are more evil than ours or some people are worse than us. The question is, “Are we in full obedience to God's will.” Search the scriptures and see how often a nation that was totally depraved devastated Israel because it had strayed from God. Search the scriptures and see how often a good and Godly person ignored God's will and was punished by a ruthless and idol-worshipping opponent.

It is not a matter of whether we the people of this nation have God on our side, but whether we are on his. It may be in our will to have peace; it is only in God's power to grant it. We need to consider if we deserve it.

Here are two other quotes of Jesus that seem at odds. Why not contemplate why they aren't?

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24-25


Could God be a Preacher in Your Church?


Divorce and remarriage are topics of debate among some Christians. Is divorce ever acceptable? Is it okay to remarry, especially for the innocent party of a divorce? Does it count if the marriage was to a nonbeliever? Should a minister perform the marriage of a divorced person? Should a divorced person ever be ordained as a minister? Would your church allow a divorced person to preach?

Lots of questions, none of which I am going to address here. 
But here is a question to think about. Would God be allowed to preach in your church?

Well, of course, what a stupid question.

Would he though? After all, God is divorced. And not only did God divorce, he is remarrying.

How could that be? Isn't divorce considered a sin, isn't it forbidden, how could God sin against God?

God can't sin against Himself and divorce isn't totally forbid.  This is what Jesus said about divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32): "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery."

So, Jesus tells us divorce is acceptable if the spouse has been sexually unfaithful ("save for the matter of whoredom" in the literal translation). That if is a mighty big word.

But whom did God divorce? And who says He did?

God says:
Jeremiah 3:6-10: During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.  Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense," declares the LORD.

God looked upon Israel as his Bride, but she was unfaithful and committed adulteries. God justifiably divorced Israel.

Now he has a new Bride and new marriage in the Body of Believers.

But wait, even if the divorce was justified, could God be breaking the vows of marriage? Isn't there something about "until death do ye part" in there? Israel hasn't died. It's right there on the map and in the news a lot.

And God didn't die.

Ah, yes, He did, for you and for me, on a cross at Calvary. 

But He overcame death and He awaits his Bride in Heaven. And it is all according to Hoyle. I pray you are among the body of believers and will join in the marriage supper of the Lamb as the Bride.

(The illustration of "The Bride of Christ" appeared on several websites, but I could not find it attributed to any artist.)

REAL NIGHTMARES

The cowboy me, smiling at the dangers of the trail, ready for that bronco of a bicycle to buck me off into the marsh, ready to stand firm in the middle of stampeding railroad trains. I stood up to the challenges of the wilderness I existed in. I had faced down a growling, angry dog (well, actually I fled in abject terror, but why besmirch my adventure image now). I had my trusty companions by my side, Peppy and Topper. I had the daydreams of a blossoming Frank Buck.

But what of the nightmares.

Like the mist that rose in early morning across our marsh, nightmarish images can appear on the brightest days. They can blight a snowy road with a spray of blood or turn a summer flower into a siren of doom. And the most nightmarish aspect of all is they are real, they can't be changed and they claim squatter's rights in a back room of your mind.

Yes, we lived back behind a swamp in the middle of what was nowhere at that time. It was an insulated world in many ways, but it did have a great connecting link to civilization. We lived beside the great Lincoln Highway.

 The Lincoln Highway, Route 30, also called in our parts, the
Lancaster Pike. We were tied to the breadth of the country by that road, which began in Times Square, New York City and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, California.

The Lincoln Highway has been probably as dominate a landmark throughout my life as the Brandywine Creek. It seems to me it's been around forever, but it was just twenty-some years old when I was born. It started out
being named the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway and was the brainchild of the man who also gave us the Indianapolis 500 Speedway and Miami Beach, Florida. Carl Fisher [pictured on left] looked out one day in 1912 and realized with the growth of automobiles there was a need for a good road. He decided to build one coast to coast with the help of money from the automobile makers. Henry Ford didn't see the point and without Ford money it seemed a doomed dream, until Henry Joy, head of the Packard Motor Car Company suggested naming it after Abraham Lincoln. This struck a patriotic chord and eventually funds were raised and the highway completed.

And my first nightmare image appeared on it in the first winter after I moved to the swamp. I rode a school bus to school. It was late afternoon on the trip home. There was snow across the fields, a drifting here and there even across the well-traveled Lincoln Highway. The sun was bright, it glistened on the white of the fields and also off the lanes of the road. The bus slowed, as traffic in both directions had and we moved slowly pass the cause that lay on the center lines on the side to which I sat. A dog had been hit, its hindquarters crushed, its blood and other smearing the white. It struggled to get up, but couldn't, never would.

We passed, moved on. I do not know, will never know, if anyone stopped to tend the dog or to put it out of its misery. There was no carcass the next day, only the stain, so someone took it away somewhere. Beyond that I cannot know its fate anymore than I was ever able to erase that scene from my vision or my thoughts. Perhaps it was an omen.

Although I have been speaking of the isolation of this period, we weren't on a desert island somewhere. The house and land belonged to the owners of the trucking company my dad worked for and their terminal was a quarter mile or so up the highway toward the east. The terminal was across the highway and set back. Opposite it' s entrance drive on our side was a small apartment building. I suppose most the tenants worked for the trucking company. My father and mother socialized with two families who lived there. Joe Bender and his wife remained long time friends of my parents. They had a daughter, Dot, but she was older than me. (She was in a later time and place to become my babysitter and even later, she and her husband became friends of my wife and me. Those are stories for later times, but I will say that Dot ended up in a mental institution and her husband in jail for child abuse.)

The other family was the Humes. They had a son, Tom (he was the model for Thomas in "Ground Dog Day"), but he was even older than Dot. He wasn't particularly interested in being a playmate to a 7 year old. So when my parents visited with the Benders or the Humes, Dot or Tom spent time amusing me, but beyond that they were as invisible as anyone else in my day-to-day world.

Further up the highway their lived eighty or ninety boys, none
of whom were my age. It would have mattered little if they were. This was the Church Farm School (now known as CFS: The School at Church farm). It was a boarding school started in 1918 by the Reverend Dr. Charles W. Shreiner of the Episcopal Church. It took in boys of lower economic circumstances and gave  them a college prep and religious education. The students helped pay the cost of this by working the farm belonging to the school. As far as I know, this is still the case on the 1,600 acres of farm, school buildings and dorms.

But those boys were as insulated and isolated as was I. They lived in their self-contained world and I never saw them. That school could have been a hundred miles away in another state for all it touched upon my life.

Between the Church Farm School and the apartments was a factory, White Motor Company.


Based out of Cleveland, Ohio, the company made a variety of mechanical tools and vehicles. It manufactured sewing machines, roller skates, lathes and bicycles.

As you can see from their logo on the left, they also were once automobile makers.

The company existed from 1900 to 1981 as the White Motor Company. This particular plant of theirs between the Church Farm School and our swamp made trucks, perhaps their most famous product.

Running alongside the truck factory just before the Church Farm School were a row of small houses. The first was next to the highway, then they ran back along the driveway of the factory, sitting up on a high ridge. The outer edge of this ridge toward the truck plant was covered in gravel.

 I do not know how we came to meet, but living in one of those little homes was a family with kids my age. Perhaps the events, which occurred later that summer have erased some memories from my mind, because I cannot remember the family name or the name of any individual member. There were four children, three boys and a girl. The girl was the youngest. She may have been four years old. All the children were close in age and the oldest was seven or eight. I didn't know them until halfway through June of the year we came.

The reason for this was their father had been killed in the war (World War II). Since those little homes were company houses, I
suppose either he worked for White Motors before his death or the mother was working there then. The boys were students at the Milton Hershey Industrial School. Yes, the same Milton Hershey of Chocolate Bar fame. Milton and his wife, Catherine [pictured on the left and she looks as if she ate a lot of Milton's chocolate], established a boarding school in 1909 for orphaned boys. It provided care and education from pre-kindergarten through Twelfth Grade for boys in need (today this includes girls). Besides an education, Hershey provided for their clothes, board, nourishment, health care and career counseling.

Since we moved to the swamp over Christmas vacation at the end of 1947, the boys were back in Hershey, Pennsylvania by the time we settled in. But I did meet them somehow in the summer of 1948. Sometimes they would come down to my place and sometimes I would go to their home. I remember an instance at their place that summer.

I do not know who built it, but there was an underground structure atop that ridge amidst the houses. We used to use it as a fort or a hideout in our games. Once as we ran about in a game of war atop the high embankment, I slipped on the loose edge and fell face first down the gravel side to the drive below. I didn't feel hurt, but when I pushed my self up I felt a twinge in one hand. When I looked down, that hand was covered in blood. I had a strange reaction to my wound. I felt embarrassment. I didn't want anyone to see it, so after climbing back up the embankment, I stuck my bleeding hand into my pocket and hid in the underground hideaway.

I don't know who found me and took me into their house, but I remember their mother telling me to take my hand out of my pocket. She then washed it and dabbed it with iodine or mercurochrome. Which ever it was, it stung something fierce. After the cut healed I was left with another inch-long scar, this time running along the creases of my palm. (This was not to be my last battle scar of childhood.)

Summers fly by for children. It came time for them to leave again for their other life in Hershey. The boys came down to my place for one more day of play and they brought their little sister along. Late in the day, they left to go home, walking down our long lane, then up the shoulder along the Lincoln Highway to their house a quarter mile away.

My mom was outside when they left. We heard the screech and squeal together and my mom began to run down the lane. I followed behind, but before we reached the highway, she stopped me and told me to stay where I was. She then walked up the road where I could see traffic was coming to a stop.

Walking home, the oldest boy had noticed wild flowers growing on the bank across the pike. he wanted to pick a bouquet to give their mother. He had been leading their sister along, now he gave her hand over to one of his brothers and told the boy to hold on to her because she wanted to go pick the flowers, too. The older boy crossed. His sister struggled, but her brother held her tight, until she bit his hand and he let go.

She ran out into the traffic lanes and was struck and killed.

 I don't know what happened to the family after that summer. I didn't see them the next year so I assume they moved away. How sad to lose your husband and then your daughter. How awful to lose your sister that way. (Strangely, this scene was to repeat itself a couple years later.) I don't know how those boys dealt with the guilt they must have felt because I know the guilt I felt in her death was heavy enough. They were going from my home, from visiting me, when it happened. I wish my last memory of them wasn't the sound of car brakes skidding on a highway. I wish I could remember their names.

The portrait of me at the top of this essay was a detail from the one here. It is from the same year we first moved to Glenloch (1947), but was taken next to my grandparents’ house in town during a visit.

There was an itinerant photographer who came through town.
He supplied the hat, bandana and pony. This guy must have got around [note this was marked as 479 on the stirrup]. Almost fifty years later, when I was working for the bank, the subject came up. So many of us around my age had similar pictures, we decided to have a "Pony Picture" day. All of us brought in our old photo and there was a display put up. Lot of little kids in the same hat, same kerchief on the same pony were hanging on the wall. That hat must have been plopped on so many heads it's a wonder we hadn't all shared heads full of lice. Maybe the guy cleaned the thing every time.

The similar event I noted occurred in Downingtown after we moved back and I attended East Ward Elementary. It sat beside that same Lincoln Highway. I had made a friend of boy named Dave Fidler and he had two brothers, one older and one younger. They also had a younger sister not yet school age. We were outside for recess one day. Dave lived directly across from the school and his little sister was in the front yard watching us play. Somehow she got out the gate and tried to cross to us, but a delivery truck came too fast and ran over her killing her. We were hustled into the school. The man who’s truck hit her was the father of one of my classmates. The death of a young child once again haunted my nightmares.

TUFF STUFF: SUFFER THE CHILDREN

And then they [who] were there brought unto him young little children, also infants, that he should put his hands on them, touch them and pray: but when his disciples saw it, [they] rebuked them that brought them
But when Jesus saw it he was much displeased, [and] called them unto him and said unto them, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven -- the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
And he took them up in his arms and  laid his hands on them and blessed them, and departed thence. (Matthew 19:12-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17)

The essay before this, “Real Nightmares”, ended with the death of a child. She wasn't my child, but the sister of a friend and because she died going from my home, I felt guilt. The associated shock, nightmares and the guilt of the event eventually faded into the miasma of time.

The illustration on this post is the edge of a tombstone. It was for a baby who died at birth. He was the only child of my older cousin, Millie. I was very young myself when this happened, but I remember going to her home. Everyone was acting strange. They only spoke to each other in whispers and no one would tell me what was going on. People were crying. I was scared.

My wife and I were to endure seven tiny deaths of our own. Four were miscarriages, three - Sean, Michael and Amy - died in infancy. It is not easy to lose a child, but perhaps easier so early, before you have known their personalities, seen their aptitudes or heard their laughter. But it is still hard.

And it is natural to wonder where did they go?

Oh, sure, I was once an Atheist and perhaps those few real Atheists don't ask that question, but most people hold to some belief in an afterlife. Thus I think for the majority of people, they ask that question.

My answer is such children are in Heaven with the Lord.
The Apostles asked a question of Christ on a different matter once:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Matthew 18: 1-6

You might say, and rightly, these verses and the ones quoted at the beginning of the post, don't say young children who die automatically go to Heaven. But they show God has a special love and protective attitude toward children.

Yet, I don't base my premise on those verses. I base it on these:
But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, 'The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.' "
Then I said to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."
In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.
When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: "Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly."
Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, "You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea." Deuteronomy 1: 26-40

Probably most people who heard the story of the exodus know the Hebrews wandered about in the wilderness for forty years. They certainly know some of the events, how the Red Sea was parted as they escaped Pharaoh's army, how Moses went up the mountain and God wrote the Ten Commandments into stone and how Aaron carved a golden calf and the people danced about it. We've seen all that in Cecil deMille's movie, "The Ten Commandments". We all know Moses looked just like Charlton Heston. But you want to know something that stuff all happened in the first year.

Granted they hung around one spot there at Mount Sinai for that year, but it is only about 200 miles from where they left Egypt to Canaan. If they only walked five miles a day it should have only taken them 40 days, not forty years. God was leading them. Was he lost? I've had some Google Maps directions that took me the long way around, but forty years of wrong turns? Naw, God didn't need Google Maps and he didn't miss any turns. When they left Mount Sinai, God led them on a beeline right to the Promised Land and said, it's your for the taking.

Except they didn't have faith. They were afraid. They said those fellows over there are too big for puny little us. They forgot God is bigger than anyone. They turned down the offer. And as a result, they never got to enter the Land of Milk and Honey. That's is why they wandered around in the desert for Forty Years, until every one of those who refused God's gift of Canaan dropped dead (with a couple exceptions, Joshua and Caleb) and the children.

So tell them, 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. Numbers 14:28-33

Although the children, and here we find children defined as those from 0 to 19 years of age, who also didn't enter Canaan when it was offered, are viewed by God as innocent by their youth -- "your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land".

There is a picture of us coming to salvation in the Exodus. Like the Hebrews, who were slaves in Egypt, we are in bondage to our sins. Like the first Passover lamb, Jesus shed His blood to pay for our sins and the Word of God goes before us offering us salvation and entry into Heaven if we only accept His gift. If we lack that faith, then we will die in the wilderness of our sin and not set foot in the Promise Land.

And if we accept the model of the Exodus as a model of God's offer of salvation, then we can accept the special Grace shown to children.

At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam became ill, and Jeroboam said to his wife, "Go, disguise yourself, so you won't be recognized as the wife of Jeroboam. Then go to Shiloh. Ahijah the prophet is there—the one who told me I would be king over this people. Take ten loaves of bread with you, some cakes and a jar of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what will happen to the boy." So Jeroboam's wife did what he said and went to Ahijah's house in Shiloh.

Now Ahijah could not see; his sight was gone because of his age. But the LORD had told Ahijah, "Jeroboam's wife is coming to ask you about her son, for he is ill, and you are to give her such and such an answer. When she arrives, she will pretend to be someone else."

So when Ahijah heard the sound of her footsteps at the door, he said, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why this pretense? I have been sent to you with bad news. Go, tell Jeroboam that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I raised you up from among the people and made you a leader over my people Israel. I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back.

" 'Because of this, I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone. Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country. The LORD has spoken!'

"As for you, go back home. When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the LORD, the God of Israel, has found anything good. 1 Kings 14:1-13

I've seen it said Abijah died as a punishment on Jeroboam. This is not how I read it. It is true God promised disaster on the house of Jeroboam, but the LORD spared Abijah by letting him die as a youth. God found good in the boy, but apparently the state of Israel would be so evil it was better to take the boy out of it than allow him to grow to rule over it. I doubt God would have spared Abijah from the curse put on the males of Jeroboam to condemn him to the worse curse of Hell.

Speaking of David…

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die."
After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."
David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked. 
"Yes," they replied, "he is dead."
Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"
He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:13-23

This was the first child David had with Bathsheba, the offspring of that adulterous affair that resulted in murder. But the death of this baby was not a punishment on the child, but on David. Otherwise, God would be going against His Law: Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin. Deuteronomy 24:16

Now one could argue that David's statement to his servants merely means David will go to the grave as did his son; however, it is clear from David's life, and especially his Psalms, that David understood resurrection and salvation. No, I believe it was not just an acceptance of "that's that and nothing I can do about it, so I'll just get on with my life". I think David's ability to eat and snap back is because he knew that he would go to his son eventually, and to do that his son would also have to be in Heaven. And a child dead at birth has no opportunity to ask forgiveness.

But God is big enough to take to Himself those who have no ability to hear, understand or accept.

I believe someday I will go to those seven children we lost.

My grief for those children is for what I missed in not having them in my life, not for the life they missed, for their life is better than mine. My fear is for the children who are living and grown into the age of understanding. For the children who die too young we grieve for what we lost; for the children who die too late, we grieve for what they lost. Pray for all we children of the world that they do not die too late.


“WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS”: HARD QUESTIONS ABOUT AFTERLIFE MEMORY


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:1-4

Mem'ries, may be beautiful and yet 
What's too painful to remember 
We simply choose to forget

“The Way We Were” by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, © Columbia Pictures, 1973

It is said everyone has at least one story to tell. If you have accomplished enough in your life to be well known someone will write that story and call it a biography. If you are relatively unknown you can still write your story.

What does your autobiography consist of? Memories for the most part. 

Memories are bittersweet things. The song says, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”. We may choose to forget, but we don’t really. It is not easy to forget the painful things of life. Oh, there is selective memory, there are we old guys who bray, “Blogging on a computer, ha! Why back in the day we had to chisel our posts on stone tables…with a dull rock!”

There is suppressed memory where something so traumatic may be hidden from your consciousness, but it isn’t forgotten. It is still there, lurking, waiting for something to trigger it back as a nightmare.

Most of the things we reference come from memories. When we Christians give our testimony, it is memory and it too is often happiness mixed with sorrow. I have written mine in other posts and how was it I found God? His reality came to me through the death of a child. How many of us came to great joy in being saved while grieving a loss?

The photograph is of my maternal grandfather taken in 1950 at the Downingtown Iron Works where he worked. My grandfather and I were very close when I was a buy. I have very fond memories of our relationship, but I also remember great hurts during the time he was an alcoholic. 

He died at a relatively young age, 57; in the year I turned 16. I got his car. Another memory framed in gladness and sorrow. What sixteen-year old isn’t glad to have a car of their own the first year they can drive? What guilt do you feel in such gladness when it is the result of the death of someone close?

The title of the post, in case you didn’t recognize it, is a line from that great movie, Casablanca.

Ilsa: You're saying this only to make me go. 
Rick: I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. 
Ilsa: But what about us? 
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night. 
Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you. 
Rick: And you never will. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. (“Casablanca” by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch)

This is a bittersweet memory as these two people, who were once lovers, are about to part forever. The idea we can hold onto a pleasant moment at such a time does not wipe away the tears of parting, not really.

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

This is the promise of God to those who go to Heaven. In their afterlife there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, pain or death. I believe when we get to Heaven we will know each other somehow. But our relationship will be different from here on earth. Remember, when we marry it is until death do us part. Jesus has said there is no marriage in Heaven. We will be together again with our spouse, with our parents, with many old friends, full of love for each other, but it will not be as it was in this life.

But what of the friend or family member who isn’t there? In all honesty, we know family members who aren’t saved. We all have friends who don’t believe in what we believe and if we are correct in our belief, they won’t be there. How can we not have tears or sorrow if a good friend has went to hell? What if your mother didn’t believe; or your father; or your child?

I don’t mean to bring anyone down. This is just the reality of our faith is it not? This should also be emphasis for us to make sure all those we know have heard the Gospel and have been given the chance to know Christ personally. Still, not all will.

So here are my hard questions:

  1. Although we will be reunited with those we love here, will recognize them and be joyful to be with them again, will our memories of this life be wiped out when God makes everything new?
  2. Will me have no memory of those we knew who did not go to Heaven?
  3. Will those people who go to hell retain all their memories of this life?
  4. Will those in hell recall over and over the times they heard the Gospel and refused it?
  5. What memories would be the worse torment in Hell, those of the bad times or those of the good times?