Arms Wide Open

Every Wednesday Lisa and I pick up our grandchildren, Annalee and Ryder from school. We have our AWANA children’s program at church that night so we bring them home, help them with their homework, teach them their AWANA Bible verses, play a game and eat dinner. When we go to pick them up from school Ryder and the other kindergarteners are waiting in the foyer. When he sees me coming he bursts through the door like a horse leaving the gate in the Kentucky Derby. He yells, “Grandpa”, at the top of his lungs as he runs toward me with arms wide open and a backpack bouncing behind. It kind of reminds me of one of those movies where they show two people running toward each other on the beach, in slow motion, with arms wide open; except Ryder is a quick little guy.

It also reminds me of a story Jesus told about the “Prodigal Son”.   In this story a man had two sons and the younger of the two asked for his inheritance early. Upon receiving it he left home and spent all his money in reckless living. Out of money, out of friends, and away from home he finds himself envious of the pigs he was hired to feed. He finally comes to his senses and decides to return home, apologize, and ask to be a servant. “ But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.   And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-24).

I love the arms wide-open receptions I get from my Grandson partly because he is so darn cute, partly because I love him and I know he loves his Grandpa, and partly because it reminds me of the reception I got from God on a June day back in 1984 when this prodigal son came home.

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How Original?

During the confirmation hearings of judge Neil Gorsuch he was repeatedly questioned regarding his “originalist” approach to the interpretation of the Constitution. Some senators commend him for it while others are critical. The idea behind originalism is that you have to interpret the constitution in light of the authors’ original intent. In other words the goal is to find out what they meant when they wrote it and apply the laws accordingly. As a pastor I deal with this issue every week as I interpret the Bible. There are three steps to Bible study: observation, interpretation, application. So before you can apply the meaning to your life you have some work to do. One principle I have often told my congregation is that “you do not know what it means to you until you know what it meant to them”, speaking of the original audience.

The key to this is context. There is the grammatical context where you examine word usage and definitions as well as sentence structure. The Biblical context, where you recognize how the passage you are studying fits in with the rest of the book or Bible. An understanding of the cultural context in which it was written will help you see the meaning more clearly. The passage was also written within a historical context. The events that occurred around that time also lend clues to an accurate understanding. The more we know of these the more accurate is our understanding of what they meant when they wrote it. This is what we call “Exegesis”, it means to draw the meaning out of the text; as opposed to “Eisegesis” which inserts meaning into the text, which was not originally there.

It seems to me that it is the job of the court to find the original intent. Some, however, argue that the constitution was written to be adaptable. This is true but it was to be adapted, not through the opinion of a judge with a lifetime appointment, but through the amendment process, which is directed by officials we elect. In fact the constitution has been amended twenty seven times. Our constitution was written to hold our government accountable. This does not occur if the judicial branch reads meaning into the constitution rather than drawing it out.

We also must be careful with our understanding of the Bible. Otherwise we will be like the religious leaders of Jesus’s day about whom He said, “This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”
(Matthew 15:8,9).

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Patient Titus

My grandson, Titus, began speaking at a very early age. At first he just repeated words we said or asked him to say. We would say something like, “Say banana, Titus” (he loves bananas) and he would say “banana”. Then it grew into phrases. If we would say something like, “Say banana Titus” he would say, “Say banana Titus”. But if we would ask him, “Do you want a banana Titus?” he would respond, “Do you want a banana Titus?” But then he did expect to get one. It wasn’t long before he was initiating the conversation but the form of his sentences often stayed the same. One day I sat down on the chair in the living room with a piece of cake on a plate. I might have taken a bite or two when Titus made his way over to me. He stepped up to the chair, put his hand on my knee and said, “Want some cake, Titus?”

Recently, we went down to see Titus, and of course his Mom and Dad. We all went out shopping but couldn’t fit in one vehicle so Lisa and I took Titus with us in order to get more time with him. A little later we decided to meet at a coffee shop. We pulled into the parking spot and were gathering our things before getting out when I heard Titus saying, “Grandma will get you out Titus”. He repeated it three or four times while he waited. I am not sure if he was thinking we were a little slow, reassuring himself that we would not forget him, or just excited about getting our of the car seat and going to somewhere new.

What ever his motivation it reminded me of our relationship with God at times. As we walk with God we are often waiting on one of God’s promises, or for an answer to a prayer. We are also often excited, anxious, or a little impatient while we wait. In Hebrews chapter 11 in the Bible we read about many faithful people: Abraham, Moses, Gideon, etc… It then points out that, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” Hebrews 11:13, 16. Some of the promises and prayers were answered in this lifetime, some would be answered a little later, and some are fulfilled in our eternal life. We only see our past and present. God sees our future, even into eternity. In the mean time we would do well to take a tip from Titus. Keep reminding yourself, God will get you through this. He is trustworthy.

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Burden Bearers

Recently our sixth grandchild was born to our son, Dan, and his wife, Liz. He is a beautiful little boy named Silas. Lisa and I were getting ready for work that morning when we received a text from Dan letting us know that they were at the hospital and that there might be a baby here later this afternoon. The hospital is about four hours from us so I was trying to decide whether to go in to work for a little bit or to take the whole day off and head right down there. Lisa began packing a bag. About half an hour later we received another text stating that the baby would definitely be here by noon. Now we are in a hurry trying to get on the road. Less than ten minutes after that came a third text that said, “Breach, emergency C-section. He’s here”. Silas was born and we were not even out of the garage yet.

Once we were there we got a more detailed picture of the morning events. As we realized the stressful situation our kids had been through a few hours earlier I felt bad that I had not been there. I know that it was impossible. Everything happened so fast there was just no way to make it there in time but you still like to be there for your kids when they are facing difficult situations.

When our first grandchild, Annalee, was born to our son Tim and his wife, Leslee, Lisa and I were out of town. There were no indications that the baby was coming yet so we felt free to leave town to visit some friends. Bright and early the next morning we received a call that she was on her way. We gathered our belongings, jumped in the car, and were on our way within minutes. We were still hours away when Tim called to let us know there were complications. I could hear the concern in his voice and wanted so bad to be there. This also resulted in an emergency C-section and everyone was fine.

I am very proud of both of these young men for how they were there for their wives and children. That is what love does. There is not always a lot you can do but care, and pray, and wait; but to come along side and help carry the burden in any way you can. The Bible says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

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Sin Free

My daughter-in-law Liz’s father is also a pastor of a church in a small town in Northern Minnesota. His name is Dave. Their church has an AWANA ministry for children where they learn about God, memorize Bible verses, sing songs, and play games. One evening Dave was teaching the children the gospel but one little girl was having trouble coming to terms with it. The part she was struggling with was that God cannot tolerate any sin in His presence. Which means we cannot go to heaven in our sinful state. She just could not understand this. If you, for the most part, do good things, but only sin a little here and there, why wouldn’t God be okay with that? She, like the rest of us, did not see her sin to be that big of a deal. Of course sin does not look that bad to us because we are sinners.

God, however, is holy and the Bible has ample evidence to support the fact that God will not just overlook our sin. Adam and Eve ate just one piece of fruit from the one tree that they were not suppose to eat from and sin and death came into the world, and they were kicked out of the garden of Eden and the presence of God. The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Down through the ages people had to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin in order to be accepted by God. All of this points to the necessity of Christ whom John the Baptist referred to as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This is why it is so important for us to realize how unacceptable our sinfulness is to God. Then we can repent of it and come to Christ to have it removed. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

However, Dave was having a hard time convincing that little girl. That is, until the conversation turned toward something else. The little girl mentioned that her entire family has a serious allergy to glutton.   They have to be very careful what they eat or even come in contact with. She emphasized that they cannot allow any glutton in their house. Dave saw a connection and mentioned that surely a little glutton would be fine. As long as they kept out most of it, that must surely be okay? Absolutely not! She insisted that they cannot have any glutton in their home or diet. The tiniest bit would cause huge problems. Dave then pointed out that sin is like glutton to God. He cannot tolerate any. When you realize that, you are ready come to Christ to have it removed.

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What Did Horton Hear?

In the children’s book, “Horton Hears a Who”, by Dr. Seuss, Horton is an elephant who hears a voice coming from a speck of dust. He determines that there must be a tiny person living on that speck of dust but soon discovers it to be a whole community called “Whoville”. He then places the speck of dust on a clover and vows to protect it stating, “A person’s a person no matter how small”. It is only because of the invention of the Whoscope appliance by Dr. H. Whovey, who is the Mayor of Whoville, and Horton’s big ears that he is able to hear them. The other animals, who cannot hear the Whos, ridicule Horton for his odd behavior and threaten to destroy the speck of dust. In the end Horton gets the Whos to make enough noise for the other animals to hear them, and they vow to protect the tiny community as well.

This story serves as an interesting allegory of a current issue in our society. Replace Dr. H. Whovey with obstetrician, Bernard Nathanson; and the “Whoscope Appliance” with the ultrasound machine. Dr. Nathanson was an abortion provider and founder of “NARAL Pro Choice America”. NARAL originally stood for: National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws but was later changed to  National Abortion Rights Action League. He was also the director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health which was then the largest freestanding abortion facility in the world. By his own admission he had presided over 60,000 deaths and even aborted a child of his own. His efforts to legalize abortion in America saw success in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

However, with the development of ultrasound Dr. Nathanson’s view of abortion would change. He would come to see, as Horton did, that “A person’s a person no matter how small”. The Doctor turned from abortion provider to prolife activist referring to abortion as “the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States”. Nathanson used ultrasound to make a real time movie of an entire abortion, which he narrates. The movie is called “The Silent Scream” and is viewable on the internet. Most people have not seen the movie, yet most people have seen ultrasound pictures of children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, or the children of friends. I saw a news broadcast a while back that reported that in the last ten years ten percent more Americans have become prolife. The reason given for this change was technology. Through ultrasound we get a glimpse into the womb and what do we see? “A person’s a person no matter how small”. As the Psalmist confirmed, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13,14).

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Good As New?

I recently went to the doctor. I have struggled with a pain in my right hip for a long time.   A couple weeks ago pain started radiating down my leg as well so I went to see an orthopedic doctor. They x-rayed my hip and it looked okay. The prognosis is inflammation around the tendon that connects to my hip. When I described the pain to a friend of mine, who is a physical therapist, she said it sounded more like a problem in my back. So I went to another doctor who x-rayed my back. It turns out that, by favoring my hip for so long, I have put pressure on a joint in my back causing it to become inflamed as well. Thankfully the same medication should fix both.

Some friends at church asked how I was. I explained to them that the x-rays did not reveal any major issues and that hopefully the medication would solve the problem. One of them commented that hopefully I would be as good as new. “Good as New” Doctors used to use terminology like that with me. However, this time, after seeing two doctors and a chiropractor, nobody said anything like “good as new”. Instead they use phrases like, “for your age group”, or “considering your age”. The x-ray reveals a little arthritis around my joints and they say it is, “to be expected”. How did I get from “as good as new” to “for your age” so quickly?

It could be worse. I once had a friend that cut off his finger with a saw. I later asked him if he was experiencing much pain. He said, “No”, and that the part that hurt the most was when the doctor told him that if he was younger they would have sewed it back on but “considering his age” they pulled the skin over it. I may not be there yet, but as quickly it seems I have gone from “good as new” to a little arthritis is “to be expected”, I know I will be there soon.

This year I will turn fifty-two. It seems like I was just recently turning thirty but now some of my children are at that mark. Life goes by so fast. The Bible asks the question, “What is your life?” and then answers, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Life is so short. And it seems that the closer you get to the end the faster it goes by. This is why Psalmist writes, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In other words, you don’t have much time. Use it wisely.

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