The Greatest Invitation

A party is not a bad thing if you like such things.  Not that I would know but I assume those who are the life of a party welcome party invitations unless it’s an invite with people that they if they had a choice, they’d see an orthodontist instead.  I don’t get many invitations and that doesn’t keep me up at night.  Coming up with a plausible excuse to get out of an invitation or dreading going to one does.  I have learned from observation that a simple “no” to a party invite with no excuse or a lame one is a social no-no.  Social interaction just doesn’t come easy for me and others on the autism spectrum.

One of Jesus’s parables was about an invitation to a great banquet.  You can read all about it in Luke 14:16-24.  The banquet was hosted by a certain man who I am speculating had a fair amount of wealth.  I assume that since the banquet was for many guests.  I have never hosted a party, but it just makes sense that the bigger the guest list, the bigger the price tag.

At the time of the banquet, the host sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  The servant went around giving the invitation and was turned down by invitees, one by one, who asked to be excused.  They all had their excuses and some of them were so lame that the servant might have scratched his head wondering why they couldn’t have come up with a better excuse.

Jesus gave three examples of those who asked to be excused from coming.  One said he had just bought a field and must go and see it.  Hm?  Who would buy a field before seeing it?  

Another claimed he had just bought five yoke of oxen and was on his way to try them out.  Hm?  Who would buy five oxen before trying them out?  That’s like me buying a car without a test drive.  

And a third said he had just got married and couldn’t come.  Hm?  He couldn’t bring his bride along?  Or, she laid down the law to him that his partying days were over?  

The servant came back and reported the bad news of repeated “please excuse me” responses.  The house owner was livid.  Now why all his invited guests did not want to attend a banquet given by the host isn’t told in the parable.  I gather that wasn’t the point Jesus was getting at in this parable.  The meaning of the parable wasn’t about how to get out of a party given by someone you’d rather not break bread with.

The owner of the house ordered his servant to go out into the town streets and alleys and bring in the poor, crippled, blind and the lame.  After the servant had completed the task, he reported to his master what had been done and that there was still room for more.  The master told his servant to go out to the roads and country lanes and invite the folks to come in so that his house would be full.  Instead of his banquet attended by those he had invited in the first place, it was full of strangers.  The master said he did not want one of those who asked to be excused to even get so much as a taste of his banquet feast.

Every parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  This one was no exception.  Jesus was like the banquet host in extending an invitation.  The Gospel was first given to the Jews.  Some believed but there were those Jews who did not.  Some of those unbelievers were Jewish priests, elders, and scribes among others.  On the other hand, there were believers who were the outcasts.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well, a short-in-stature chief tax collector named Zaccheus, and a woman who lived a sinful life whom Jesus allowed to anoint his feet with perfume.

Jesus gave His life to give the greatest invitation to all who will accept it.  The gift of salvation isn’t limited to a particular group of people.  My own personal favorite scripture of invitation is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  I’m so thankful for that “whosoever”.

I’m thankful, too, more than words can say, that Jesus’s invitation was one I did accept!

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The Importance of One

One of the many amazing things I find of comfort about Jesus was his showing of compassion towards a multitude, a few, or even to just one lowly individual. It wasn’t based on whether one was a Jew or not, whether one had wealth or not, or whether one was well-known or a social outcast. Jesus, by example, taught us that everyone is somebody.

The above picture is that of a city called Nain in Galilee, not far from Capernaum. It is now a small village inhabited by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

In one of Jesus’s travels, he visited this town along with his disciples and a large crowd who was following Him. (Luke 7:11-17) As he approached the town, he encounters a funeral procession. The dead person being carried out was the only son of his widowed mother. She must have had many who knew her and her son because there was a large number of the townsfolk with her.

The scripture tells us that when Jesus saw the widowed mother, His heart went out to her. He was so moved He spoke to her telling her not to cry.  This one widow did not seek Jesus’s attention. He was the one who made the first move towards her.

After Jesus told the mother not to cry, He went up and touched the bier. I can picture this compassionate scene in my mind. Imagine!  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the light of the world, taking time from his journey to speak to this one grieving mother and touch the coffin carrying her one and only child. The pall bearers stood still. Perhaps they sensed this was a special moment, one in which you could have heard a pin drop.

Jesus told the dead young man to get up. To the amazement of the witnesses, including the mother, the young man sat up and began to talk.  The townsfolk surely had some questions for this young man who is one of the few in the Bible who returned from the grave to walk upon this earth again. The scripture does not let us in on what the young man said. Jesus gave him back to his mother’s waiting arms.

The many who witnessed this miracle rejoiced with the mother who had her only child back for a while longer. The people acknowledged that a great prophet had appeared among them. He was unlike any other man they ever knew. They didn’t keep it a secret either. Word of what they had witnessed spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

I am drawn to this story by the compassion Jesus showed to this one distressed widow. This wasn’t a case where the person in need sought out Jesus. She did not run out to Jesus or cried out for Him to give her back her son. It was Christ who saw her and her tears mattered to Him. He sought to remove those tears and return the most precious thing in her life — her boy.

This story takes me back to another story told to me by a dear friend from years ago. She was the oldest child of her mother who was a widow. At some point after her father’s death, mother and daughter decided to visit where my friend’s father grew up. It was a trip from the U.S. to some Canadian town across the border. Since it was a long trip, a day at least, they were both concerned.  Before their loved one passed away, he was the one at the wheel on their Canadian trips.  Now they were on their own…or so they thought.

As they were headed north to the border, they both smelled cigar smoke and neither of them smoked. The windows were all rolled up and so the smell did not come from the outside. It was a familiar scent to them both.  The widow’s husband and my friend’s father was big on cigars and the smell was his favorite brand.

My friend can’t prove that there wasn’t a logical reason for the smell in their rolled-up car. Some might say they were imagining it. If so, they both imagined it at the same time. My friend and I agreed that it isn’t necessary to try to figure it out. The effect is what’s important. According to her, their trip was smooth-sailing from then on. The widow and her daughter took it as a sign from the other side of Heaven that they were not alone. The man they loved wasn’t completely lost to them. They’d see him again, but until then, he was okay and so were they.

The Lord does work in mysterious ways. He is still in the business of miracles for one or a multitude. Both these stories give me hope and comfort that I’m somebody to the Lord too. As someone once said, it isn’t that God is so far away that’s incredible, it’s that He is so NEAR!

He Who Has No Limits

One of the things God blessed mankind with is the ability to laugh. Along with the ability to cry.  Sometimes we need to have a good laugh or a good cry.  Both can be a release in good and bad times.  It’s just one can get in trouble laughing or crying at the wrong times.  Such as laughing when a grandparent is showing off school pictures of their adoring grandchildren.

There’s a Bible story in the book of Genesis where one laughed at the wrong time for the wrong reason. She never lived that story down either. There are multiple stories about Sarah in the Bible, but she is mostly remembered for the one where she laughed.

The story is told in Genesis 18:1-15.  Sarah’s husband, Abraham, received a visit from the Lord as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.  When he looked up, he saw three men.  It appears he knew they were from heaven because when Abraham saw them, he ran to meet them and bowed himself toward the ground. I doubt that was how Abraham normally greeted visitors.

Abraham, in fact, addressed one as “Lord”. Abraham asked the Lord if he had found favor in His sight, would they please stay so he could provide water for them to wash their feet and give them food to eat. The three accepted Abraham’s invitation.  He didn’t waste any time in going into his tent and telling Sarah to hurry and make a meal. He then fetched a tender calf and gave it to a young male servant who quickly prepared it for the meal. Abraham brought the three men some butter, milk, and the calf and stood by them under the tree as the three visitors ate.

They asked him where his wife Sarah was and Abraham said in the tent. Abraham was then given shocking news for a 100-year-old man. The Lord said He would return for another visit and when He did, Sarah will have had a baby by then. The scripture doesn’t say how Abraham reacted but it does Sarah who overheard the conversation. She wasn’t much younger than Abraham and was well beyond her child-bearing years. So it was understandable that when Sarah heard she and her 100-year-old husband were going to be having a baby, she laughed to herself.  She said, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

Unknown to Sarah, the Lord knew she laughed, knowing her innermost thoughts. The Lord told Abraham that his wife had laughed and questioned her bearing a child at her ripe old age. The Lord asked Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” He again stated that upon His return visit Sarah will have given birth to a son.

I do feel for Sarah in this story. She was already on the record for laughing at something the Lord had promised. She made matters worse by going out and denying her laughter to the three visitors and Abraham. Her lying only made the hole she was already in even bigger. The Lord rebutted her and said, “Nay; but thou didst laugh”.

I’m not one who can be hard on Sarah. If I had been in Sarah’s shoes, I probably would have laughed too. Probably more than a snicker but a roll on the floor laughing with the thought, “Who me? A baby? At my age? This is a joke, right?”

This story is a reminder for me not to the put the Lord in a box. Mankind is the one limited; not the Lord. I shouldn’t confine my prayer requests to what I think the Lord can handle and refrain from bringing up what I assume is a hopeless case. It’s not always easy to pray about something with full confidence that the Lord can change things around when what we I see looks like a dark hole with no light at the end of it. Before abandoning hope in a dark tunnel, I need to ask: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”  I have limits, but He has none.

 

No Doubt About It

I asked my home assistant device, Echo Show, for the definition of skepticism. I knew what the word meant but I like to give Echo commands just to see if Echo will do it or ignore me. Another reason I put her to work is she didn’t come cheap. Echo’s response was skepticism is having doubt about the truth of something. Such as being skeptical about what you hear a politician says. There’s a lot of that going around.

Jesus was familiar with skeptics. Folks who were doubtful of whom Jesus claimed He was crossed His path plenty of times.  Such as Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes, elders, and folks who had no title. But there were instances recorded in the Gospels of when His path crossed with those who took Him at his word that He was the promised one, the Son of God.  Such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom the Lord counted as dear friends.  There was also a time when Jesus encountered such a strong faith of one individual that Jesus Himself stood amazed.

This occasion took place in a town called Capernaum. One of the town’s residents was a centurion. (My Echo assistant told me that a centurion was a commander of one hundred soldiers in ancient Rome). One of the centurion’s servant was so ill that he was ready to die. According to Luke 7:2, the servant was “dear” to the centurion. I take that to mean the servant was more than hired help, but a friend as well. This to me speaks volumes of the kind of person this centurion was. I doubt that there were many commanders in ancient Rome, or in any other civilizations, who cared as deeply for their servant as this centurion did.

When the centurion heard that Jesus was in town, he sent the elders of the Jews to asked Jesus to come and heal his servant. The commander of one hundred must have heard about Jesus and given credence to what he heard. The Jewish elders did as the centurion asked because they thought so highly of the centurion. Again, this was another example of the centurion’s kindness towards those who were outside of his Roman circle.

When the Jewish elders found Jesus, they pleaded on behalf of the centurion to heal the servant. They spoke to Jesus of the centurion’s love for the Jewish nation and how the centurion had demonstrated that love by having built them a synagogue.

Jesus accompanied the elders to the centurion’s home where the servant lay dying. When Jesus was almost to the house, the centurion sent friends to greet the Lord with the below message:

“Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Luke 6: 7-8)

The centurion did not consider himself worthy that Jesus should enter his house or worthy to come to Him. This man was truly one of a kind. A commander with a healthy instead of a fat ego.

Jesus was amazed! It is one of the few times in the Gospels where Jesus was such. According to the scripture, Jesus marveled at the centurion’s statement of belief in Him. This was a rare occurrence where Jesus was impressed by belief instead of unbelief. Jesus turned to those around him and said to them that He had not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.

The centurion’s friends returned to the house. What they saw may have marveled them. They found the servant who had been on his death bed to be completely well.

It’s one thing to pray and ask the Heavenly Father for something that’s in our hearts. It’s another to do so with a heap of faith instead of a tad of skepticism. Faith sufficient enough to leave that request in the Father’s hands and not give it a worry minutes, hours, days, etc. later until the answer comes. The answer may be what one had hoped for, but if it isn’t, it’s still okay. Why? Our Father knows best. No doubt about it!

The Multiplication of One

The Gospel of John ends with stating “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”  (John 21:25)  I can’t help but wonder what the “other things” were, but I accept that what is recorded is sufficient for us to know.  One can’t help but notice in reading all the four Gospels in the Bible’s New Testament that Jesus took the time to perform many a miracle. He had compassion for the blind, deaf, lame, and the leper. Such as he healed the blind beggar on the side of a road, the demon-possessed man living in a graveyard, and the woman with a bleeding illness who touched his cloak in a crowded place.

Word of his miracles spread throughout the region like wildfire.  Crowds would gather when hearing that Jesus was coming to their neck of the woods.  Such as in the story told in Matthew 14:13-21 where 5000 men, plus women and children, showed up traveling on foot to see the miracle worker for themselves.

As evening drew near, the disciples told Jesus that since they were in a remote place, they should send the crowds away so they could go to their villages and get something to eat.  Instead of agreeing, Jesus told the disciples instead that they give the crowds something to eat.  I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point. They never imagined feeding that many people in one sitting.  Besides, the only food they had on hand was a mere five loaves of bread and two fish provided by a boy according to the version of the story told in the Gospel of John. It doesn’t take much math to figure out that wouldn’t satisfy a hundred, much less five thousand.

Jesus told them to bring the food to Him and directed the people to have a seat on the grass. He took the bread and fish and looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the loaves. Then He had the disciples hand out the food. The disciples and the crowd saw something amazing happen. Something they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.  The fish and loaves multiplied before their very eyes!

The crowd had plenty to eat and no one, so to speak, left the table hungry. After dinner was over (or supper as folks in the south call it), the disciples had leftovers to pick up.

Years ago, I heard a minister preach about this story. He had an interesting perspective that up until then, I had not given on this miraculous feeding. The Lord is in the business of multiplying. In this story, it was food. But it isn’t just food the Lord can multiply.

There are countless stories where the Lord has taken what a child of His does, such as an act of kindness or a display of one’s God-given talent, and multiply it many times over. After the minister finished his sermon, he then invited his daughter to sing a hymn. I don’t remember the hymn, but I do remember she had a lovely voice and her talent left an impression on me. It’s been over a decade and I still remember the minister’s lesson and the minister’s daughter putting the lesson into practice.

My own heart has been touched multiple times from observing a special talent possessed by a child with Autism.  For example, a boy around ten whose drawings is stunning for one who has yet to say his first word.  It does my heart good to hear a lovely girl sing who can’t yet hold a conversation.  She can sing words of a song with her beautiful voice accompanied by an angelic glow on her face.  I’m told she sings in the church choir.  Only the Lord knows how many hearts that child has touched from the choir loft.

The Lord can take what we do, no matter how small the action may be, and have it touch multiple lives for the better. Many testimonies have been given by those whose lives were changed by an act of kindness from a fellow human being. There are testimonies of those who came to know the Lord through the witness of one person and then that one goes on to share the gospel to multitudes of people.

It so often starts with “ONE” and multiplies many times over just as the loaves and fishes so long ago.

A Royal Extension of Time

I am intrigued with tales of kings, queens, and royal intrigue.  In particular, the royal family of England.  They don’t bore me whatsoever.  I follow news of them than other monarchs since their country is named after my family.  HA!

I have spent considerable Bible study time in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Bible.  These books cover multiple reigns that have the ingredients of drama, adventure, and romance.

One of them who had a longer list than most kings of accomplishments that met God’s approval was Hezekiah.  He purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood.  He destroyed the high places which became objects of idolatrous worship.  With that list of accomplishments, no wonder it states in the scripture that Hezekiah was a great and good king.

In chapter 20 of II Kings, Hezekiah was so ill he was near death.  It was a boil to be exact that had caused the King such misery.  I’ve never had a boil myself but it sounds terribly painful.  Isaiah, the prophet, came to see the King and had the worst news.  The boil was terminal.  The prophet advised Hezekiah to get his house in order because his time on earth was about up.  

Hezekiah was not ready to leave Earth.  I can understand that.  I am eager to go to Heaven, myself, but I can’t say I’m eager to go right this minute.  There’s that instinct to wanna hang on a while longer.  

Hezekiah took the Prophet’s grim news so hard.  The grown-up king cried his heart out.  To his credit, he prayed to God.  He asked for an extension of time.  He presented his case to the Lord as if he was his own attorney pleading his case. Hezekiah brought up that list of accomplishments.  He asked the Lord to remember how he had walked before Him faithfully and with his full devotion from his heart.  As he prayed, he continued to weep bitterly.   

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the Lord gave the prophet a message for Hezekiah.  This time the news was much better.  The King would have fifteen more birthdays.  The Lord had heard his prayer and seen his tears.  I take comfort in this part of the story.   This is an example of God hearing a prayer coming from a desperate man with a heavy heart.  God didn’t dismiss the King’s pleas and tears.  I believe He doesn’t mine either.

Hezekiah wanted a sign that his life extension was for real.  He could have taken the prophet’s words for it but that’s not as easy as it may sound.  I only have to look at my own track record.  So many times the Lord has come to my rescue and saw me through a storm.  But whenever a storm pops up in my life, it is so tempting for me to worry my way through it than weather through it on faith.

It should be noted that God honored Hezekiah’s request for a sign.  Isaiah, being the go-between, told the King the Lord’s sign would be one of two, the King’s choice: to have the shadow go forward ten steps, or back ten steps?  Hezekiah using common sense said it was a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps.  He requested the shadow go back ten steps.  Isaiah called on the Lord and the Lord responded with making the shadow go back ten steps it had gone down on the stairway.  I assume the sign satisfied Hezekiah that he had a 15-year life extension.

I wish I could say he spent those remaining 15 years wisely but his ego got the best of him.  A Babylonian envoy delegation paid a visit to Jerusalem and Hezekiah welcomed them with open arms.  They may have brought him a get-well gift for they had heard about his illness.  Hezekiah was keen to show off and he sure did at that!  He showed off his storehouses, his armory, and everything found among his treasures.  In fact, he went full hog and there was nothing in the King’s palace or in all his kingdom the King did not show off.  The problem was he was showing off to wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

When Isaiah heard about the delegation, he asked the King what the men said and where did they come from.  Hezekiah said Babylon and that alarmed Isaiah.  He asked what did the Babylonian gang see in the palace?  At least, Hezekiah was honest when he said EVERYTHING.

I can picture Isaiah nodding and scratch his head.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he thought he had been on the job too long.  How could Hezekiah fall for those wolves?

Isaiah had bad news for the King again.  There would come a time when everything in the palace would be carted off to Babylon, much at the fault of Hezekiah.  If that wasn’t bad enough news, some of Hezekiah’s descendants would be taken away and become eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonian king.

At the end of 15 more years, Hezekiah rested with his fathers.  A takeaway of this story is having a talk with the Lord come rain or shine.  To tell him all about whatever is on my plate whether it be a blessing or a concern.  If needed, have a good cry too.  I would never tell someone who has a terminal illness or a loved one who has that if they pray and ask for an extension, it’s a guarantee they’ll get it.   There are folks walking around whose doctor have no explanation as to why that is; however, there are those who didn’t get an extension and went home to be with the Lord.

I try to always remember when praying for whatever that I say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”  God always knows best, including the granting of extensions of time.

 

The Late Night Griller

I don’t like asking questions and I don’t like answering them. I have plenty of them running through my mind though, more than I want.  It’s one of my challenges of living on the Autism Spectrum.  When asked a question, even one that I should know the answer, my brain doesn’t pop up the answer in lightning speed.  My anxiety can get the best of me and give a dumb answer that I will kick myself later for.  As far as asking questions, I really have to work up my nerve to ask because of my fear of a negative or puzzled response.  Those times when I have gotten up the nerve to ask, then it was a question I probably asked out of sheer desperation.

When Jesus walked upon this Earth, He sometimes asked questions such as asking His disciples who people say He was and then who did they think He was.  He was asked questions, too, from His disciples and followers.  He also got questions from His enemies but they were seeking to discredit Him in front of the crowds.  On one occasion, he was grilled into the night by a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  An unlikely person to interview Jesus because he was a member of a group of Jews, the Pharisees, who did not care for Jesus’s teaching.  He was also a high-level official being a member of the ruling body of the Jews known as the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus’s grilling of Jesus is told in the third chapter of John.  John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night.  Many speculate Nicodemus chose to meet Jesus at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus in the light of day.  Perhaps he didn’t want his peers on the Sanhedrin to know he was conversing with their perceived enemy.  This may indeed be true but the Scripture only tells us it was a night visit.  It doesn’t say why.

At the start of their conversation, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again”.  (John 3:3). When Nicodemus seems skeptical, Jesus remarks that since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10).

It is in Nicodemus’s grilling that Jesus stated one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.  It was the verse recited to me by my pastor before I asked Jesus to save my soul decades ago.  The words in John 3:16 mean more to me than words can say:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.  That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   It sums up in a nutshell what the Gospel is all about.  I understand what a church leader of long ago, Martin Luther, meant when he referred to this verse as the “heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.”

It doesn’t say in the scripture if Nicodemus went home that night a believer of Jesus or not.  My thought is Nicodemus either came around that night to believe in Jesus or he eventually did because of other times Nicodemus is mentioned by John which put Nicodemus in a good light.

The next time he is mentioned was when he was on the job on the Sanhedrin as they were considering what to do about the “Jesus” problem.  Nicodemus comes to the defense of Jesus by stating Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him personally.  (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council didn’t take kindly to Nicodemus’s statement and rudely dismissed it.

The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial.  This is another sign that Nicodemus did take to heart Jesus’s words that night.  Nicodemus brought expensive spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb.

John’s Gospel leaves many questions about the one who grilled Jesus late into the night.  Was he born again? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions. Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith.

Since I have trouble asking questions even from those people I know, I give Nicodemus credit for asking questions from someone his peers was opposed to.  He’s a good example to follow for all believers can and should ask Jesus questions that are in their hearts.

After all, Jesus is still open to questions, even late into the night.

The Sign Seeker

Before there were kings of Israel, there were judges.  Their stories can be found in the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  One of them was Gideon who received three chapters worth of Bible coverage (Judges 6-8).  My impression of Gideon from the scriptures was a man who wasn’t a born leader.  He wasn’t bold and energetic like King David or outspoken like Apostle Peter.  This is one of those stories where God picked the weakest instead of the strongest to do His work.  It’s a comfort to know that the Lord can use all of his children who have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Gideon lived at a dark time in Israel’s history.  The first verse of Judges states the bad state of affairs.  The children of Israel had strayed from God as they sometimes did.  As a result, He delivered them into the hand of Midian.  The Israelites had a change of heart and cried out to the Lord for mercy.  Once again, the Lord heard their cry and chose someone to lead them out of the Midianites’ hand.  This is the part in the story where Gideon comes in.

An angel of the Lord came and sat under an oak tree near where Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.  The angel spoke and told him the Lord was with him.  Gideon responded by basically asking, “Where has the Lord been?” Gideon felt forsaken.  He had been living through seven years of slavery under the Midianites and longed to be out from under their brutal hand.

The Lord’s answer was He had heard Israel’s cry and chosen a leader to deliver them out of bondage.  There was a “but” for Gideon:  he was the chosen one.  That had to come as a shock “Who ME?”

Gideon told the Lord that his family was poor as if the Lord didn’t know that.  He added that he was the least in his father’s house.  I don’t know what Gideon meant by least, but he obviously saw himself as such.  His confidence was slim, but his ego wasn’t fat.  I can relate to that since I don’t welcome new challenges with open arms.

Gideon asked for a sign of assurance he was indeed speaking with the Lord.  Maybe he thought he was daydreaming or was hearing things.  He probably never would have seen himself as a military leader in a million years.  Now one might say Gideon should have just taken the Lord’s word for it and not asked for a visible sign.  Well, maybe so, but I being opposed to immediate and drastic changes in my daily life, I give Gideon credit for not running for the hills.

A sign must have been okay with the Lord because He gave one.  Gideon was instructed to prepare a young goat and unleavened cakes of flour; to put the flesh of the goat in a basket and put the broth in a pot and place it under the oak tree.  The angel told Gideon to take the flesh and cakes and lay them all on a rock and to pour out the broth.  Then the angel put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, touched the flesh and cakes; fire rose up from the rock consuming the goat and cakes.  Then the angel disappeared out of Gideon’s sight.

The roasting convinced  Gideon he was talking to the Lord all right.  What was wrong then?  He was frightened.  He believed that if one saw an angel face to face, it meant that one’s time on Earth was about up.  The Lord patiently assured him he wasn’t going to die; not then anyway.

This was the beginning of Gideon’s journey.  It wouldn’t be the only time Gideon would ask for a sign along the way.  The Lord was patient with him and granted Gideon a sign each time he asked for one.

For his part, Gideon followed the Lord’s instructions such as reducing the number of his soldiers.  Maybe Gideon’s weakness was in an odd way his strength.  Gideon followed God’s instructions because he sure didn’t know what to do on his own.  He relied on the Lord because he knew he couldn’t rely on his weak self.  He was well aware he could not go up against any army relying on his smarts alone. With the Lord at his side, Gideon did conquer the enemy with only three hundred men with no weapons; just a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

In thinking about this story, I have to admit I seek signs too.  I need, receive, and am thankful for signs that God does work in my life.  An answered prayer isn’t only about the answer, but a sign that my prayers go beyond the ceiling to the One whom I’m praying to.  That’s beyond awesome!

The 11th chapter of Hebrew is devoted to the word “faith”.  I’ve heard more than one person describe this chapter as the “Hall of Faith” because the chapter has a list of names like any hall of fame.  Each person listed in this chapter has a story of faith.  Gideon, the sign-seeker, made it on this list (Hebrews 11:32).  By faith, he believed the signs came from God.  He fulfilled his part in being part of something far bigger than himself — the conquering of the enemy and deliverance of God’s chosen people.

God calls His extroverted and introverted children.  The pessimists and the optimists.  The popular ones and the nerds.  The strongest and the weakest.  And the sign seekers.

 

 

 

The Right Answer

When I learned I was on the Spectrum, I had my explanation for why I’m not quick on my feet. It also explained why I am physically awkward on my feet.  If there’s something to stumble over, bump into, or trip over, one of my limbs will find it.  Anyway, my brain doesn’t operate at the speed of a dime. But in its defense, with sufficient processing time, it can come up with a good answer that sometimes even surprises me.

Quickness on one’s feet is a nice attribute to possess. It’s a good quality to have for those whose jobs constantly put them in emergency situations where they do what needs to be done with little or no time to think.  I can only wonder what it is like to be able to give a quick and accurate response to a question at the drop of a hat. Or be able to mouth off a “gotcha” answer silencing the asker.

Most folks can identify with being asked directions by a passer-by. I was recently put on the spot when a family driving by asked for directions. The location they were seeking was a place I knew like the back of my head. But they wouldn’t have known it by my hem-hawing. They patiently waited until my brain came up with the right answer. If I had given them an answer off the top of my head, odds would have been good they’d have to ask another stranger.

One of the many things I admire about my Lord and Savior is how He interacted with people when He walked upon this earth. Since social interaction is difficult at best living on the Spectrum, I appreciate how Jesus was a master of it.  He interacted with His disciples who sought His teaching, the multitudes who sought Him for miracles, the outcasts who sought His attention, and His enemies who sought to silence Him.

Jesus got lots of questions.  Some genuinely wanted His answer such as Nicodemus who grilled him into the night.  Then, there were those who were deceptive.  They were aiming to use the Lord’s own words against Him.

Such as in Luke 20:1-8 where we find Jesus teaching in the temple when a gang of chief priests, scribes, and elders came to Him posing a question: “Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?”

Jesus could have responded with a long answer.  He could have gotten into a debate with the group.  But instead, he answered with a question: “I will also ask you one thing, and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?”

The scribes, priests, and elders weren’t expecting to be put on a spot by a question themselves.  They got together and reasoned it among themselves before answering. I picture them in a huddle like they do on a football field. They thought if they said John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, Jesus’s comeback answer might be, “Why then believed ye him not?” If they said John’s authority came from men, the people would stone them for the crowd believed that John was truly a prophet of God.

So they came up with an answer that is still popular to this day.  I often use this answer myself.  It is a good one to use when it is a truthful answer.  It was basically:  “I don’t know”.  That answer fell right into Jesus’s hands.  In other words, the group walked right into that one.  The Lord, quick on his feet, just stated:  “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

I never cease to be amazed by Jesus’s answer in this story. In this round, Jesus had the last word. He gave them an answer they couldn’t use against Him. This was just one of a number of times when Jesus put his enemies to shame by His words alone.

It is tempting when confronted about one’s religious beliefs to respond in anger. But doing so may just give the confronter exactly what they want. It is better to give no response than to get in the mud with someone. One doesn’t walk away from a mud fight without getting muddied up him or herself.

Jesus’s answer was short and to the point. Sometimes a few words are best. How does one know what to say on any given day? Pray daily for the words from the Master of right answers.

 

 

A Wise Wish

Once upon a time, there was a king who was given one wish.  He could ask for whatever in the world he wanted and had the assurance from God he would receive it.  His name was Solomon who had just become king after his father, King David’s, death.  Solomon was given a wish from the Lord who appeared to him in a dream in a place called Gibeon.  “God said, Ask what I shall give thee.”  (I Kings 3:5)

I don’t know what I would ask for if given one wish.  It seems that no matter what I would ask for, there would be both positive and negative issues with it.  Such as money, for instance.  Money does pay the bills and buys things I need and extras, but there are headaches.  Not that I would know.  I’ve just heard too many stories of unhappy and suicidal billionaires.  

Solomon didn’t pick such popular items as wealth, a peaceful reign, or a long life.  Solomon instead said, Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9)

God was pleased with Solomon’s answer of wisdom.  Although he was new on the job, he realized he needed oodles of wisdom to recognize good from evil, to make sound judgments, and be the leader God’s chosen people of Israel needed.  God granted Solomon a wise and understanding heart so that there was none like him before him nor after him.

Even though he was the wisest king who ever lived, his reign did not run as smooth as silk.  His strength was wisdom but he had a problem with lust.  According to the Bible, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  A bit much if you ask me!  It wasn’t just that he had so many but the wives were described as foreign princesses.  Despite his better judgment, Solomon allowed his foreign wives to bring in their national deities, building temples to their gods Ashtoreth and Milcom.

Solomon does have me puzzled when it comes to women.  In the Biblical book of Proverbs, whose author was Solomon, Chapter 21:9 states,   It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”  This is coming from a man who had a household of 1000 of them.   I don’t get it but I’m one who has never been married.  Maybe Solomon would have much better off single like me or married to one woman who loved him, supported him, and believed, too, in the One who granted him his wish.

I have kept in the back of my mind a simple definition of wisdom:  the ability to use the knowledge one has.  One can have an extensive knowledge of the Bible, quote scriptures galore, but if one doesn’t put into practice the verses that fall easily of their tongue, one lacks wisdom.  On the other hand, one who couldn’t recite that much scripture but takes to heart and puts into practice “love thy neighbor as thyself”, he or she is not lacking in wisdom.

Solomon wasn’t a total flop as a King.  That moment he asked for wisdom above all else was a defining moment.  His failures don’t erase his successes.  Solomon had his achievements, but he could have done better with his wise wish.