Inappropriate Attire

And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Matthew 22:12

The wedding date for my youngest daughter grows ever nearer, and the tensions are starting to mount. I had to make a quick sojourn to the big city last night to be fitted for a tuxedo, and I am a creature of habit in that I try and save those sorts of trips for weekends. By the time I get home in the evenings after work, I’m tired and my recliner calls out to me. I’ll be fifty years old next month, and it’s generally understood to be the case when you reach my age. I guess.

Due to the importance of the upcoming event, however, I utilized minimal complaint and simply made the trip. My wife and daughter had covered all of the arrangements beforehand, including style and payment—all that was left for yours truly was to be fitted accordingly. It was a five-minute visit to the men’s store and I was on my way back home. Done deal, no problems, and no issues. Happily chagrinned at dropping three inches from what I thought I would be when the tale of the tape had been told. (Eating right and visiting the gym regularly at lunch will pay dividends, I tell ya!)

Anyway, my point is that everything had been set up for my visit and all I had to do was be there at a scheduled time. I had the appointment, the suit was pre-chosen, and the bill had been paid for (by) me. I will be perfectly attired to walk my youngest down the aisle in three weeks and all has been set in order for the event up to this point.

The only person who can mess it up is me.

What if I decide to forgo the tux and wear my overalls instead? They are much more comfortable, you know? Or maybe dress it up a little with a polo-shirt and a pair of blue jeans—yeah , that’s the ticket—after all, a tuxedo is just too formal, stuffy, and overbearing for a simple country boy from McNeill.

I’m being facetious, of course, and would never wish to ruin my daughter’s special day by being so fashionably callous and uncaring. Anything less than ‘just what she wants’ is not an option, because I love her and she means that much to me.

Jesus mentions another wedding in one of His parables and the story is told in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter twenty-two. You’ve probably heard this story a zillion times in both Sunday School and through various sermons, but I am seeing it in a much different light these days. Please allow me to explain—but let me warn you ahead of time—if you are a Sunday-morning-only-Christian, you may not want to read any further.

The king in the story—after being rejected by his originally invited guests—decides to throw open the banquet doors to anyone who will simply ‘come’ to his son’s wedding, and by Eastern tradition provides all the amenities including clothing for his guests. All they had to do was show up in their garments that he provided and attend the wedding, and the associated feast would be free of charge.

However, as the king walks through the crowd while they are preparing to enter the chamber, he notices one man still in his street clothes, and asks him why he did not have on the appropriate attire. The man has no answer—the verse I quoted above describes him as ‘speechless’. The king then sends his servants to bind the man and cast him out from the wedding; the invitation and amenities were thus cancelled for that particular invited attendee.

What a sad story! Everything had been taken care of for this miserable soul! He had received and accepted the invitation, and he had even been provided with nice clothing to wear for the wedding. It should have been a night to remember, but the last time we hear from him in the story he is in outer darkness, where he is weeping and gnashing his teeth.

Jesus closes the story with what may just be the scariest pronouncement you will find from Him in the New Testament gospels: For many are called, but few are chosen.

I’ve debated that quote for much of my life, but I think that through the preparations for Keagan and Justin’s wedding, my eyes have been opened. I am starting to understand it all a little better these days and in my heart I have found myself not quite up to par in my daily Spiritual walk.

There is a Great Judgment coming one day, and all of us (including me) will be there. This will be culminated by the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-10). Everything has been prepared ahead of time, including our attire, and all we have to do is accept the invitation and show up dressed accordingly. The new garments were provided to us when we accepted Jesus as our Savior: we were advised to ‘put on the new man’ by Paul, and be ‘clothed in white raiment’, as John recorded it in Revelation chapter 3, verse 5: He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

But I have to admit that there have been many times in my life where I have preferred, even as a born-again Christian, to don my own clothes—although they will never do for this ceremony. My self-righteous rags (Lord, remember that I time I drove the Youth through a thunderstorm in a van in the middle of the night?)(Remember all those times I led the singing?) will never pass inspection at the Final Marriage Supper of the Lamb. No, I need to cast those filthy garments of self-worth aside, lest I be counted among those spoken of by the prophet Zephaniah in his book. (That I will admit I have also seldom studied)

Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD: for the day of the LORD is at hand: for the LORD hath prepared a sacrifice, he hath bid his guests. And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD's sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king's children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.    Zephaniah 1:7-8

Strange apparel versus the white raiment mentioned earlier? Guess I need to get dressed accordingly. Time is short. And I definitely want to be more than just called—I want to be chosen!

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
Edward Mote, 1797-1874

A Dilemma Worth Examing

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – September 9, 2012

Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. Esther 4:15-16

I’ve got a confession to make this week. I did the wrong thing. But it worked out.

OK, so I didn’t actually do the wrong thing; let’s just say I didn’t do things exactly by the book. But in the end it all worked out, further proving the old adage that the Lord takes care of fools and children—in that order. If you are thoroughly confused by this point, then join the club. So am I. With that being said, it’s best to start this off from the beginning…

I’m a veteran of the plague known in the medical field as kidney stones. I’ve passed this trait on to my youngest daughter as well. (You’re welcome, puddin’) There was a time when they seemed to occur in my body like clockwork, and I could pretty much pinpoint the time and date when they would hit me beforehand. I visited several very intelligent doctors and listened intently to all of their guidance, to the point of writing it all down and even (gasp!) following their advice. I gave up milk and salt and pepper. I made sure I stayed hydrated and drank two or three (almost) gallons of water a day!  I took some prescriptions and became a fanatic for Vitamin C and D. To the letter of the law, I was a convert, this despite the fact that a part of me distrusts doctors in general. In the end, they (the kidney stones) became less frequent and I was beginning to think I had turned the corner and life for me would be normal again.

As a result of my new-found health-arrogance, I became less obsessed with vitamins and prescriptions; and for old times’ sake I splurged with salt and pepper a little more often than usual. I began substituting tea for the generous helpings of water I was accustomed to—basically all the things medical law said to do, I stopped doing.

I got a kidney stone this week. It was painful. I didn’t enjoy it. No sir. Watn’t no fun.

But back to what I did that was wrong; I’m not talking about the preventative things of the medical law books, I mean, that’s a given that I dropped the ball there, right? There was other advice I did not mention from those sainted doctors, things that have to do with what you should do once you develop a kidney stone. Things like drink a lot more water to flush the stone, use a strainer (not going into details on that one), and visit your friendly emergency room at the nearest hospital, upon your earliest convenience.

Nah, I decided to tough this one out. I went to work, and I went to the gym at lunch, and I followed my normal routine and did what I wanted to do. It was tough. It was painful. There were a lot of strange looks as I did my Hunchback of Notre Dame impression on the elliptical machine in the gym. Later, on the way home from work, I stopped by my father-in-law’s house and climbed a ladder to repair some electrical wiring for him. Somewhere along the way—that evening to be precise—I must have passed the stone because I know it is no longer there. I don’t feel the pain anymore. Maybe I’m just getting used to them. Or I’m getting tougher in my old age. Or maybe G_d blessed me despite my going against what those professionals He provided for my well being—for such a time as this—told me to do. Hmm. Did I mention fools and children? Think about that before Sunday’s lesson. Everything (I’m convinced) happens for a reason. People come and go in your life, things happen, and it is no coincidence. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus Master’s plan in place.

In our study so far we have found the Jews living in Shushan, yet they had no business being there. Think about that. For 30 to 40 years the Jews of Daniel’s day had historically been returning to Jerusalem, on-schedule and on-time as promised. (And prophesied) So why do we find Esther, Mordecai, and others still living in Shushan, which I figure is about 300 miles from the Promised Land? Maybe it was wrong on their part, but as we have read so far, G_d was making His Will come to fruition despite this fact. And we get an even better glimpse of this by studying chapter four this week.

But something is missing here, and in studying this chapter the key is not what 'is' mentioned in the verse I copied above, but what 'is not' mentioned. Study this verse and tell me what you see—we will discuss it in depth on Sunday morning, bright and early. I’ll give you a hint here, and it revolves around the fact that I believe every Word of the Bible is important, and deeper and holier than we will ever comprehend while we inhabit this earth. We will see something within this chapter that should help us with how we deal with living daily in a lost and dying world, and how important it is on our part to truly transform and not merely conform to the world and what it supposedly offers us.

So study hard. I’d be sincerely blessed to see someone else unveil this gem through their own study of this chapter during the week.

It is the glory of G_d to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.      Proverbs 25:2

Remember What Katrina (Amalek) Did

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – September 2, 2012

The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed. Esther 3:15

It can’t happen again…

Those of us native to the Mid-South experienced another hurricane this week, and although on Monday it appeared to be no call for concern, by the end of the week most of us had changed our minds. No electricity and thousands of gallons of rainwater will do that to you. When we lost power, I connected a generator to the important appliances (air conditioning!) and saved a few amps for the television as our family hunkered down in the living room to weather the storm. Watching the New Orleans stations it came as a mild shock to see people being evacuated from Plaquemines parish via boat and National Guard trucks, despite the urgent requests well before the storm made landfall by all of the pundits in authority. This advice was given out during seemingly round-the-clock news conferences and punctuated by dire, not-so-subtle warnings. I found myself perplexed, indeed. How could this be?

However, later I witnessed an interview with one of the evacuees and it made a little more sense. The rain-soaked and much the worse for wear interviewee stated that “We didn’t figure that it would ever be as bad as Katrina, because we remember what all she did. There are new levees in place and everything was supposed to be taken care of. Plus—it was a much weaker storm!” A warning was given, but seven years of security and extra preparations along with a mere Category One storm classification had lulled her and her family (along with many others) into a false sense of security. I can understand that train of thought. Heck, I can even respect it. But then again, we should always remember our past trials and heed future warnings ahead of time, because you just never know.

In Deuteronomy 25, G_d warns Moses: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not G_d.”

G_d charged the Children of Israel to never forget what the Amalekites had done to them while they were on their way to the Promised Land. The books of Joshua and Judges, and later in 1st and 2nd Samuel, are replete with stories of almost constant warfare between Israel and Amalek. Finally, in I Samuel chapter 15, King Saul is ordered by JEHOVAH to slay all of the Amalekites. Saul failed in the task and did not complete the job. The prophet Samuel had to kill the Amalekite King named Agag and there is a graphic description of how he did so included in the chapter. (Incidentally, another Amalekite king named Agag is also mentioned in Numbers 24:7.)

This failure to follow G_d’s plan and heed His warnings is where we find ourselves in this week’s lesson from Esther. In the third chapter, we see an evil man gaining favor and a promotion in King Ahasuerus’s palace. We also learn that he is an Agagite:

After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with himEsther 3:1

Jewish literature considers Haman to be a direct descendent of Agag the Amalekite. The coincidences in the names of the two Kings we mentioned earlier and the heritage of Haman, along with his later actions, are too close to be ignored. G_d had warned his children from the wilderness through the times of the Kings of what they should do and how they should deal with the children of Amalek. Israel’s failure to eliminate Amalek despite several opportunities to do so would almost lead to the utter destruction of their nation in the book of Esther 800 years later.

But what can we learn from this?

In all of our lives, G_d has a plan in place and it is up to us to find it and follow it. He speaks to us through His Word; and through His Holy Spirit He guides us along the perfect path He has put in place for every Christian’s life. Sometimes the instructions appear hazy and open to our own interpretation, but we are warned against this many times in the Bible. We are commanded to “lean not unto our own understanding” and reminded twice in Proverbs chapters 14 and 16 that “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

In my own life, there are many times I can recall where I have gone against the plan I knew G_d had in store for me, and many times I thought I had slipped under the radar and gotten away with it. A lot of ‘if only’s’ are recorded in those dreary chapters of my life, and they all revolve around ‘if only’ I had listened to the Shepherd’s call at that moment in time, how much turmoil would have and could have been avoided.

Closer, and more personally to the point, I’ve also been known to have ‘pet sins’ that I hang on to—thinking of them as harmless compared to the sins that others commit—all the while knowing that any sin is against G_d’s Law and I will be held accountable for my actions at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Small, insignificant sins are still rebellion from G_d, and left unattended in my own heart can blossom into a proverbial Category 5 Hurricane in my soul. At that point there are no answers. You can find yourself stranded and looking for help all because you thought you were better prepared and, of course, it could never happen to you.

In my foolish heart you could picture me in that interview—dirty, dripping wet, hungry, and lucky to be alive—all the while knowing that I had been warned and had no one or anything to blame except for my own sense of complacency.

It’s a good thing I serve a Living G_d Who is always there to rescue me—even when I don’t deserve it.

Who Wants To Marry A Billionaire

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – August 18, 2012

And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:17

Intro: Theme music plays in the background as the camera pans across an immaculate throne room. The King sits on his royal throne, dressed in splendor with his crown and flowing robes, a golden sceptor in his hand.

Host: This is your E-Persia host Jeff Scoop, and we’re here today with King Ahasuerus, the star of Persian-TV’s new hit series, Who wants to Marry a Billionaire. How are you today, King?”

King: Ah, just call me King Xerxes, it’s much easier to pronounce, sort of. I’m doing great. Life is good. No complaints.

Host: Let’s see, it’s been four, almost five years since you and Queen Vashti parted ways; what have you been doing in the interim—besides this TV show?

King: Well, you know Jeff, I’ve conquered part of Greece. At least Athens. But then there was that little episode with King Leonidas which kind of put a damper on things. But I figured out that if you pit Athens against Sparta, and Sparta against Corinth, well, things kinda take care of themselves. (Smiles mischievously) We now have ‘peace in our time’ in the Kingdom, as those silly Greeks are now fighting amongst themselves. Ha!

Host: Hmm. Class warfare. Great plan, King. Future Kings will probably try and copy that.

King: I know, right? It works, (Spreads arms and smiles) what can I say?

Host: So tell us about your new TV show. How did that all come about?

King: Jeff, when I got home from Greece and after I put down a political coup that was being attempted against me, things got a little too quiet around the palace. Ok, ok, maybe I was missing Vashti a little bit. (Looks down) I was missing her a lot. I mean, man, she was a trophy wife, you know? And other than that one little incident when I was drunk and acting… foolish, well, she was a pretty good wife. (Looks reflectively off past the camera and slouches in a despondent manner)

Host: She was a beautiful woman.

King: I know, right? Well anyway, so I called on my lawyers again to see what they could do. I mean, after all, this was all of their doing, although I will admit—though I wasn’t wrong—it sounded like the thing to do at the time. It was under their advice that I dumped Vashti, and though I am the King and can pretty much do what I want, there is this silly little matter of the law that can’t be changed that I have to deal with. (Straightens up in his seat)

Host: So you trusted the lawyers again to come up with a solution for filling the Queen’s position in the palace?

King: Jeff, they are my brain trust, after all, I gotta trust them. But it reminds me of a joke: What do you have when a lawyer is buried up to his neck in sand?

Host: I don’t’ know, what?

King: Not enough sand. (Slaps his leg and laughs loudly)

Host: (Laughing along) Now that is funny!

King: I know, right? So anyway, where was I, (Puts finger under chin as if thinking hard) oh yeah. We decided to do this reality series, you know—since that is all the rage these days—get all of the fair maidens from across my great empire together in the palace, and let me pick one of them to be my wife and thus, (twirls finger) the new Queen.

Host: Was it any special type of woman you were looking for in particular?

King: Jeff, I set the requirements that they had to be pretty, of course. And then again, they had to be virgins. And once they were chosen by a panel of my most trusted people, well, they were brought to the palace to stay in special apartments I had built for them. We set them aside for a whole year so that they could be cleansed, so to speak, and taught how to act like a queen and so forth. Basically, they had a year to get ready and muster the most beauty they could squeeze out of themselves. (Squeezes his scepter as if to demonstrate)

Host: So what happened, after a year?

King: All of the girls were brought to the throne room one at a time, and they each got to spend an entire evening with me. My job was to pick the one that not only made me happy, but also would be fit to be the Queen of the Empire. Not an easy task, because as the theme of the show suggests, some of them were probably only interested in the title and my money. Probably most of them, I guess. (Face darkens in disdain) But I figured out a way to handle that one, too.

Host: What did you do?

King: (Smirks) The ones I didn’t choose, because you could usually tell where their hearts were only a few minutes into the evening, I returned them to their apartments. And since it would be wrong for them to spend the evening with me and then go on about their lives as if nothing happened, well, they now have to stay and live in those apartments by themselves for rest of their lives. They can never marry, and they still have to put up with me anytime I choose to drop by—if I actually choose to do so.

Host: Wow! It sure sounds like a ‘win it all or lose it all’ proposition. Tough contest, King.

King: I know, right? Heh-heh. But I gotta give credit where credit is due; it’s only what the lawyers came up with. (Frowns, playing to the camera)

Host: Hmm. So tell me about the girl you chose. Her name is Hadassah, right?

King: (Smiles radiantly) Yeah-buddy, but I call her Esther. Sweet girl. Simply beautiful inside and out. Everything I could ever want and even more in a wife or a queen. She has something about her that I didn’t see in any of the others.

Host: And what was that?

King: Jeff, don’t get me wrong here. When Miss Persepolis came in I was struck by her beauty, and Miss Egypt had the total package as well. And there were others, too. But this girl, who actually came from Shushan—I have a palace there you know—well, she just caught my eye. When she came in the room my heart started pounding and it was like bow-chicka-wow-wow! And then when I started talking to her, it was like it was meant to be. I was floored! Dude, it was perfect; like there was some other force present at work there that I can’t even explain.

Host: Like maybe the gods had a hand in you guys meeting?

King: I know, right? It was something else. And even old Hegai, who was in charge of all of these women as far as getting them ready to meet me, he told me after the show was over that she had been his choice for me from the very beginning.

Host: That’s a great story. So where do you guys go from here?

King: Jeff, I’m just living the dream, getting to know her as she gets to know me. We are happy together and look forward to what the future has in store for us. I’m VERY happy. Things are good both in the Kingdom and in my personal life.

Host: One more question; any thoughts still linger in your heart about Vashti?

King: Who? (Looks puzzled, then smiles knowingly)

Host: Well there you have it, folks. A love story between a powerful king and a completely unknown, small-town girl. A Cinderella story without all of that glass-slipper-muckity-muck stuff thrown in. Congratulations, King, and good luck in all of your future endeavors with Queen Esther.

King: Thanks. Jeff. (Gives a fist-bump to Jeff and then gives a thumbs-up to the camera)

The Ten-Count

Stay down, George.” As much as I wanted him to win the fight, I knew that it was over. His eyes were glazed as the referee counted him out, his facial expression providing Magnavoxian-proof that he probably did not even know where he was. Even if he somehow miraculously managed to get up off the canvas, it was certain by his posture and the glazed look in his eyes that he would simply go right back down again—probably before the 8th round was officially over.

I remember a lot of sporting events from when I was young, and can recall them in absolute vivid detail. (Sometimes it’s a blessing, while at others it’s a curse!) I do not remember the date as it was after the fight, but I was watching the replay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in late 1974 or early 1975. You remember the show, huh? Jim Mackay’s voiceover during the opening, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat...” with skier Vinko Bogataj’s dreadful crash punctuating that last line. I was 12 at the time, and because there was no ESPN or Internet back then, I was not aware of who had won the fight. To me, a country boy living in a culturally-bypassed McNeill of the time, it was just as good as watching it live. I was pulling for George Foreman in his heavyweight boxing title defense against Muhammad Ali in the now-famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle' that took place in Zaire in October of 1974.

Remembering that look on George’s face reminds me a lot of our country these days, and I see this in the political climate available for my viewing pleasure on the nightly news, no matter where I choose to get it. We have an election coming up in a few months, and I’m beginning to wonder if it even matters anymore. On one side we are reminded that if we do not vote for the Republicans, a dark curtain will descend across America and we’ll fall as a nation; a victim of our debt and the increasing entitlements we have locked ourselves into paying. We’ll become a nation of illegal immigrants with violent ‘flash robs’ and riots occurring in all of our major cities. On the other hand, if we do not vote for the Democrats, Medicare and Social Security will cease to exist while thousands will starve in the streets, and we will find ourselves in a state of perpetual war—bleeding ourselves dry in foreign countries that do not actually like us anyway.

Either way, we as a people have our eyes glazed over and a lost look on our faces, wondering where to turn and which direction it will take to get us out of here. And if somehow we heroically manage to get up off the mat and find a way to re-enter the fight, well, there’s a good chance we’ll only go down again. In the process, we could risk permanent damage to whatever’s left inside of us.

Before he was knocked out, it’s reported that Foreman managed to land a crushing jab into Ali’s chest, a blow that would have normally ended the fight. As Ali covered, he whispered to George, “Is that all you got?” and George quietly replied, “Yeah. I guess it is”.

Saturday as I watched the Olympics, the athletic events were interrupted by news that the Republican Presidential challenger had finally chosen a running mate. The choice is a good man with bright ideas and a notable hard worker—I’m a Republican—I like him. But at the same token, as the weekend wore on, while looking at the sum of the pair I caught myself (more often than not) wondering, “Is this all we’ve got?”

Are the two choices I mentioned earlier, Republican or Democrat, really all that is left to us as a nation and as a people? What will be the final verdict and how will history remember us? Will the United States go out with a bang, or will it be only a silent, pleading whimper?

The way I see it, nothing will change. And that’s not just the Ides of Cynicism rearing their ugly head from within my keyboard this morning. The downward spiral of our nation did not start yesterday, this weekend, or even three or four years ago. It’s been in the works for a lot longer than that. Using a logic/reasoning that the Republicans abandoned long ago, and the Democrats only ridicule these days, it appears to be straightforward: America has turned her back on G_d. We can point our fingers at Roe vs. Wade, or the removal of prayer from our schools, yet these are merely symptoms of the sinful disease of secular humanism that branched out across our country in the aftermath of World War II. We no longer need G_d—we have our intellect, our technology, and our enlightened reasoning—plus we have our government, by George, and don’t you dare forget it!

Meanwhile the dark spiral continues ever downward with each day that passes… unabated.

I guess I’ll apologize for my bleak mood this morning, but I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the epochs of time, those Old Testament prophets are pointing their fingers at our un-masked indifference. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget G_d.”

Yeah. That’s all we got. We’ve pretty much chosen to own that verse these days. Our eyes are glazed over and we apparently no longer know where or even who we are anymore.

This is where I should cue the patriotic music and talk about the glimmer of hope that yet remains and cite an uplifting example or two. But the means justifies the end in our case. What we really need as a nation is a leader to take charge and solve all of our problems, thus putting us back on the correct paths of old. You know, the ones we used to follow and our nation was originally founded upon. There is a leader out there, and His time is close at hand, but in the meantime all of the signs point to us reaching out to the wrong leader, one who will be a mere caricature of the True Savior, and who is at this moment probably as well as prophetically ready to make his appearance on the world stage.

As Christians we need to be faithful. We need to be wise. But most of all, we need to be ready... it may just be that our redemption is drawing nigh!

Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Matthew 24:44-46


So, how’d this happen? I asked myself, carefully shoe-horning another heavy box into my youngest daughter’s already too-tightly-packed car trunk. Yesterday she was eating Oreos in the kitchen, getting chocolate crumbs all over her clothes and cherubic cheeks. Today she’s loading up books and photos—cherished reminders from long ago when time meant nothing, and I was lulled into taking it for granted that she would always be here and things would go on as they’d always...


Crinoline dresses and taffeta hair bows. Goodnight kisses following prayers that were always deeply sincere; even when she was way-too-young to be doing so. Skinned knees and cheerleader practice, moving off to college and then back home again to commute the following semester, graduations accompanied by the obligatory dance recitals—where did the time go?

As I inspected the last box and its positioning to make sure it would be alright on the journey, I felt tired, and a part of me finally discovered what it really feels like to be on the door-step of becoming fifty years of age. Time truly counts, and keeps counting.


I’m a veteran when it comes to giving a daughter away during a wedding ceremony. I’ve been there, done that, and still have the proverbial tee-shirt hanging in the corner of my heart where I keep those things and their bittersweet feelings hidden from view. I should be merely happy, if anything, knowing that my youngest daughter has ‘driven her ducks to a good pond’, as my mother would so eloquently put it. And I believed it with all of my soul. Well, that is, until I helped her load her car while thinking, once again of always…


I still have a couple of months and figured I would deal with it when the wedding day arrived, but I was caught off-guard as I helped load those heavy boxes into her car. Some things needed to be moved three hours away to a distant town in another State ahead of time—I understand that. But I wasn’t ready for my epiphany of the hidden fragility concealed within maligned adverbs such as ‘always’.

She’s closer to her mother, that one is. They share everything. The little voice inside my head reminds me of what is patently obvious, even to others, most likely. But still, despite what I know and what is real in this life, (And what daughter is not slanted that way?) she is sincerely mine.


Subtraction from my household by a hairy-legged ‘Bama boy cannot and will not ever change that. A wedding, a move to another town, a career and even their own children—it makes little difference between what is and what will be in comparison to what always was. She will always be my tiny princess, twirling to music that only we can hear. (Her always; me only when I can glimpse it in her eyes) She will always have her mother’s looks, yet always my disposition; a Spiritual being born from within both parents and loved beyond the many miles that all-too-soon will separate us.

I’ll set her free—I owe her that and this is the time and place for me to do so. The happiness and feelings of a father are not the main course. They are not even issues worth considering. They merely meld into something that has to be. Daddy is neither Puff the Magic Dragon nor Peter Pan. He cannot remain frozen in time while his daughter grows up around him. I’ve learned that already. I’ve lived it.

Yet, always, I will pray for her. Always I will trust her to make the right decisions in life and learn from those rare but possible choices that will be wrong. Always, in a secret place that a daddy only knows, I’ll still see that tiny girl eating Oreos in the kitchen, asking a million questions, hiding no worries or cares at all behind an innocently beautiful smile. Always, always, I’ll always love her.

She had previously cleaned her room before asking me to help that evening; meticulously boxing keeper things, at the same time weighing them against those that were destined for a garbage bag. That was last Friday and today was trash-day. As I carried the bags out to the can and dropped them unceremoniously into the hopper, a soft sound emanated from the debris; musical, sort of, but with a broken sound at the same time. Peeking into the after-wash of a soon to be changing life, I uncovered an old music box, discarded like the Beatles not long after ‘Hey Jude’. I do not remember where it came from—as a gift or a singular purchase of her own, possibly. But the music it attempted to play was from a familiar tale, an old story from childhood days. The story of a princess who met her prince and lived happily ever after.

That works for me.

For Such A Time As This

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – August 12, 2012

I'm tired of looking 'round rooms
Wondering what I've got to do
Or who I'm supposed to be...”       Gavin DeGraw

We ended our quarter-long study of Elijah last week and I’m hoping (and working) to get all of the notes condensed and put into a blog-type format to hand out to each of you for future reference. See the thing is, I honestly consider the story of Elijah to be more important today than it was not even five years ago as we are in times/circumstances very similar to the ones he faced.

But you already know that by now.

Our new quarterly study will begin this upcoming Sunday and we will delve deeply into a tale of what I think is very closely related to the subject we have already been studying. If you want a title for these lessons, I can say that something Brother Randall preached from the pulpit last Sunday put an idea into my head, and it is a thought the Holy Spirit keeps pressing my heart about: For such a time as this.

First things first, let’s take a look at the key verse that keeps me awake at night and, when I do sleep—seemingly visits me in my dreams:

For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

The book of Esther in the Bible is a very ironic book. It reads much like a ‘Made for TV’ movie and is fairly easy to understand as a result. Let me give you a little background here... it is the story of a patently pretty, devout young-Jewish woman living in exile in a foreign country where justice and morals have twisted to a point very much akin to what we see in our modern world today. According to records in the Hebrew Midrash, Esther is listed among the four most beautiful women in Hebrew history. (The other three were Rachel, Rahab, and Abigail) Although she is the central character in the plot, there is also a powerful king, a watchful cousin, an evil villain, and even a slighted queen thrown in for good measure. So where is the irony, you ask? In the book of Esther, G_d is not mentioned in any of the chapters or verses, even though it is a book that has been included in the very same Holy Bible we study today. Although He is not mentioned, He is there in every verse and at every turn of events; in control and always on time just when He is needed most. That is very comforting to me when I wrap my mind around it. The G_d who is always in control.

Our last quarter’s study considered the powerful works of JEHOVAH as He delivered His message through Elijah. We witnessed ravens feeding Elijah by the brook Cherith, a widow’s son raised from the dead, fire falling on Mount Carmel—followed by an answered prayer for rain. And there were many other miracles too numerous to mention here without a severe dose of digression on my part. But as we are going to see in this book, sometimes, G_d doesn’t answer with fire or rain, or really via any miracles at all. Sometimes He merely chooses to use people to fulfill His will, even if they are unaware that they are doing so at the moment.

Why the Gavin McGraw lyric? The story opens in just such a manner; a beautiful queen named Vashti decides she is not going to conform to what either society or her husband expects her to do. She draws a proverbial line in the sand that ends up costing her everything and leaving her with nothing in return. Sometimes it’s like that when we take a stand for what is truthful and right—sometimes there will not be a miraculous deliverance and things won’t ‘all work out for the best’—at least in our perspective. But that does not negate the importance of choosing the right path in our lives and standing up for what we know in our hearts to be truth. Yet, by taking that stand, we might finally realize just who we really are.

Since we’ll be examining Vashti’s stand to begin this quarter, some quick historical notes on the first chapter are in order before we get started:

1. According to historians, she was the daughter of Belshazzar, thus the great-grand-daughter of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When her father had his ‘writing on the wall moment’ and was slain by Darius the Mede per the prophecy of Daniel, she supposedly was captured in the palace and Darius gave her to his son for a wife.

2. Darius was the king who regretfully sent Daniel to the lion’s den and repented of his deeds the next day. Unfortunately his son did not follow in his father’s footsteps, and he is this king in the book of Esther known as Ahasuerus, or secularly known as Xerxes. Yes, he's historically the same Xerxes who fought the Spartans and brave King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae.

3. At the beginning of the story, King Ahasuerus throws a 180-day-plus party which was actually a fund raiser for his expedition to fight the Greeks. In between (probably) chapter 1 and 2 of this book, he would conquer Athens, but eventually be forced to return to Shushan (and our narrative) by the beginning of chapter 2.

I welcome you to come with me on this journey through this wonderful book. We’ll learn how to stand up for what is right at opportune moments, and we’ll be reminded that G_d is always in control; not only in our lives but of the entire world as a whole. The G_d of Esther and Mordecai is the same G_d we worship out at the Chapel on Sunday mornings—and He still wants to remind us of who we are and what we’re supposed to be.

See you on Sunday!

Not A Word

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – May 27, 2012

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him’. And the people answered him not a word.”  I Kings 18:21

The would-be emperor of Rome, Mark Antony, had a flair for the outrageous even before he went down in the annals of history as Cleopatra’s ill-fated sire. It appears as though in his extravagance, at one point he drove a chariot pulled by two lions. Not horses mind you, or even mules, but harnessed lions—roaring and bellowing in rage as he drove them through the streets of Rome with his whip.

Many Christians try and perform the same feat today. They follow the ‘Lion of the Tribe of Judah’ on Sundays, and then follow another lion the rest of the week; one who’s only goal is to be ‘seeking whom he may devour’. Lions weren’t meant to be harnessed together and driven from the seat of a chariot, no matter how experienced or brave the operator.

This week we continue with our prequel to the showdown on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. At this point in our study, Ahab has assembled ‘all of Israel’ on the slopes, and Elijah steps forward to address the people. Notice that he has nothing to say to the prophets of Baal. He also has nothing further to say to wicked King Ahab. Instead he addresses the Children of Israel directly with a challenge. This challenge screams down through the ages to those of us living in our own sinful and wicked, modern and so-called enlightened world today: make a choice because you cannot have it both ways in your Spiritual life.

I see three classes of people on that mountain, and their stereotypes are still with us in our present day and age. One group ignores G_d completely, confident in following the wicked ways of their leader, Satan, who is in himself as much a false god in every design of the word as Baal was in Elijah’s day. This group sees no reason at all to change. Sadly, there is no hope for them as nothing will turn their hearts until they find themselves facing the Great White Throne judgment.

Then we see Elijah, and though he states that he is alone in following Jehovah, the truth is G_d had set aside seven thousand followers who had not bowed their knees to Baal. We also have the timid but erstwhile faith we saw in Obadiah from last week’s lesson. The faithful were still out there; maybe hidden from view with the exception of Elijah—yet there will always be those men and women of faith that hold fast to the things of G_d without wavering despite the circumstances of the day and age they find themselves in.

However, I believe that Elijah’s focus here is on the third and largest group present upon the bleak summit of Carmel that day. It was on those same ‘undecideds’ that still inhabit our churches today, as unable then as they are now to even verbalize a reply. Maybe you know a few of them, or just maybe you find yourself filling their shoes when you honestly examine your own heart. Many would like to ‘enter at the straight gate’ if only it did not cost them anything. If only they could still pursue the things of the world, while peacefully coexisting in the Spiritual realm—if only they could keep Christ on a shelf! You know, take him out on Sunday morning, dust Him off, follow Him that entire day, then replace Him on the self-same shelf that night and go about their business. By Monday morning it’s back to the rat race; to get gain and live life for all it’s worth, with merely an occasional pause to remember the things of G_d when and if merit calls for it. In far too many ways this is similar to those stoic Children of Israel back in their day; keeping an altar to Jehovah in their houses along with an altar to Baal placed next to it.

In the end, when we live our life in this manner, we'll find we cannot be truly happy as we try and serve both masters. We will not get the blessings and peace that comes only through following Christ, but at the same time, we can never totally fall into the worldly things of Baal that keeps that first group I mentioned above satisfied in some manner or another. At best, we will merely lose the respect of the other groups in sum and total. The Christians will see us for what we are as hypocrites, and the world will see us as merely wannabe-Spiritual-church-goers, all the while laughing at us behind our back. At the very worst, the Bible warns that we’ll become double-minded and end up unstable in all of our ways.

If we are truly committed to our salvation, then we need to go all out with it and follow Jesus seven days a week. We must bravely stand up and face the trials and temptations that are surely going to come our way. We have an eternal reward promised and waiting for us that will truly be worth it all. On the other hand, if we are not going to commit to Jesus, and instead merely pay Him lip-service for a couple of hours on Sunday, we may as well not waste His and our time at all. We should go ahead and live life to its sin-filled fullest, chase vainly after those things that tempt us most, and when the end finally comes, at least we will be able to proudly stand and sing, “I did it my way”.

Elijah admonished those conflicted citizens to make a choice: If the Lord be G_d, then follow Him as such. Believe in Him. Trust in Him. Serve Him. Love Him. Worship Him. If Baal (The World) is your god, then follow him. A choice must be made now/here in our same day and age because it should be easy to understand by all of us that we are rapidly running out of time.

Besides, you realistically cannot hitch your chariot to both.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Mathew 6:24

Many Days and Spiritual Leadership

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – May 13, 2012

And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah...” I Kings 18:1

We ended our class last week with Elijah living in Zarephath with a widow and her son. At the close of the lesson, the widow dramatically pronounced her trust in the prophet (and G_d) following the miracle of her son being restored to life.

Chapter 18 begins with the phrase “after many days”. Later in the very same verse, the writer tells us that it was “‘in the third year” when the next events recorded in this chapter occurred. This may seem like a redundant description of time-measurement to us as we study this chapter, but I believe that every word in the Bible, every phrase, every jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18) is important. If you used a newer, more modern version of the Bible, you probably would not see this redundancy—yet it is very important. In Elijah’s life (as in ours) we may measure the time we spend in our lives by the passing of years, but our true desire and focus should remain on walking with G_d in a daily fashion. You see, that is the way He deals with us and desires for us to deal with Him. (Matthew 6:34) Furthermore, through what we have studied so far, isn’t it obvious that Elijah truly entertained a daily walk with G_d throughout his life? After many days, indeed!

The story of Elijah certainly has its high and low points, and flows throughout a span of several chapters. We can easily see the miracles and the power of G_d recorded within the narrative of Elijah’s life, but if you pay close attention, there are smaller details not as readily apparent to the casual observer as they should be. This week we will ponder on one of those scenarios as recorded in this chapter. I’ll warn you, it will not seem like very much when we read it for the first time. If anything, it appears to be nothing more than a prequel to the penultimate show down on Mount Carmel—which will take place by the end of the chapter. I’m specifically talking about Elijah’s meeting with Obadiah, and what we can garner from this meeting that just might help us out in our modern, twenty-first century daily walk with G_d.

One note here before we start: there is no evidence that this Obadiah is the prophet that penned the small book later on in the Old Testament. What we do know is that he was the governor (or overseer) of Ahab’s house. As a testimony, the writer tells us that he “feared the Lord greatly”. Obviously, he was a righteous man of faith, and an example is given of his taking the initiative of hiding one hundred prophets of G_d from Jezebel during one of her political purges, while also taking care of them.

A comparison of Elijah and Obadiah would be a good place for us to start. Elijah has been safely tucked away in Zarephath for the last three years. G_d has taken care of him and performed many fascinating miracles in his life. Obadiah, meanwhile, has been on the front lines in the Spiritual battle of his life! He’s witnessed the drought that has utterly destroyed Israel’s agrarian society. He’s watched from inside the King’s house as Jezebel and Ahab, instead of turning to G_d, relentlessly pursue the false god of “rain and thunder” (Baal) are actively persecuting the Lord’s prophets—at a time when those prophets have the very truths their nation needs to hear the most. Man, that sounds familiar!

It is easy for us to feel close to G_d on Sunday mornings when we visit His house; the prayers and worship songs, the preaching from His Word, and the visitation of the Holy Spirit. We can get comfortable sitting in our padded pews and air conditioning during those times. But it is a different story when we are out in the world the rest of the week—a world that seems to merely become exponentially more wicked as each day passes by. We are called to be separate from the world, (I John 2:15) and yet we have also been chosen to ‘go out into the world’ (Matt: 28:19) at the same time. It can get confusing to us, and Satan will take advantage of it at every opportunity when we allow our Spiritual guard to slip.

Take Obadiah as an example here. He’s working—doing what Ahab the King commanded him to do and fulfilling his job requirements out in the world on a day just like any other day. Then he meets the man of G_d alongside the road. Immediately he begins pleading his case and making excuses, although Elijah only asked him to do a simple thing. Apparently, in Obadiah’s mind, the appearance of Elijah somehow meant he was going to get into trouble by the time the dust settled. Check out his words as they are recorded here: “What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?” And: “and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth.” Finally: “Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD”

I’m a good person. I’ve always done what I was supposed to do. Why is this happening to me? Have you ever felt this way in your own life? Have you ever questioned G_d? Wrapping up our study for this week, isn’t Obadiah’s questions closely related to the widow’s questions from the previous chapter? Again, throughout the Bible, when someone has a question for G_d, He always provides an answer.

Elijah does not get angry and chide Obadiah for his lack of faith. Instead, notice how he answers him:

1. Elijah affirms his credentials: "As the LORD of hosts liveth...

2. Elijah affirms his calling: ...before whom I stand...

3. Elijah affirms his mission: ...I will surely shew myself unto him to day."

Finally, notice Obadiah’s response: “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him:” Or, if you need a Shannonism to make it easier to understand, Obadiah said, “Gee, now I understand, I’ll go do what you asked me to do in the first place!”

Obadiah’s earlier attitude could have been because he was not sure of God’s will for his life, or possibly he was so busy with his daily responsibilities he could not see what was going on at this moment. Elijah changed his heart through his Spiritual leadership and by his example.

Whether we know it or not, we all have leadership roles to fulfill in the lives of others, and we should use both our testimony and our influence to help others in their daily Spiritual walks. Jesus reminds us that we are to function as salt and light, therefore we should be an encouragement to our Christian brothers and sisters. As we see in this week’s study, God wants us be sensitive to the needs of others and to set an example by demonstrating the reality of Christ by living an authentic Christian life in everything we do. “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thess. 5:11).

Electrically Abiding

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. John 14:23

When I was younger, I worked in an electrical transformer plant for several years. I was spurred to recall my time in that facility last night while attending our Pastor’s class on the promises available to new believers, and the vivid recollection was brought to the forefront of my memory by the Holy Spirit—possibly to prove a valid point to someone who thought he held all the requisite answers to live a so-called Spirit-filled life. Turns out I’ve missed the mark; and have done so for quite a long time. That the Spirit moved upon me in a class set aside for new believers is further proof that things work differently in the Kingdom of G_d, and a reminder to never take the guidance of His Spirit for granted.

In that transformer plant was an elderly black woman; getting close to the age of retirement and a veteran of building transformers for going nigh on thirty-five years. She had started the job when the plant was newly built in the late 1960’s; the era of Dylan and the Beatles—of Vietnam and Apollo. During her many years in the plant she had worked on every stage of transformer manufacturing, from winding coils and baking cores, throughout the tedious process of assembly and sub-assembly, and was finally spending the last few years of her career in the areas of inspection and quality control. If you asked her a question about how the transformer followed the assembly line from bare metal to finished product, she could tell you in intricate detail each and every step of the process down to which tap went to which paddock, or which size bolt or fastener was used in which place on every hinge. She was a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on all things transformer related, and an asset to her employers in every sense of the word.

One fine day, the wise men on the management team decided that in order to increase quality and performance, it would be a good idea to begin classes every week or so on transformers and how they function once they were installed out in the field. Looking back today, I would have bet the farm the elderly lady could have taught the class with her abounding knowledge gained via her many years in the facility. Flash-forward to the beginning class, however, and this is where the Holy Spirit brought the earlier golden nugget to my attention. In the classroom on that very first afternoon, we were inundated with technical jargon and proficient expoundment on Ohm’s electrical laws and Kirchhoff’s theories on coils for an educationally-packed hour or so. Finally, the time came for questions from the class. With a puzzled look on her face, speaking in a low tone she incredulously asked, “You mean electricity goes into these things?”

Although her knowledge was sound, her experience more so than anyone else’s employed in that plant; she had never made the connection in her mind of what the primary purpose of a transformer was actually all about.

But don’t be too hard on her, and I for one will definitely not stand in judgment, because people that live in glass houses should not be the first to throw misguided stones at each other. You see, I’ve found myself (with a still, small voice to remind me) in the same predicament in Spiritual matters. I study the Bible, but a little deeper than most folks. I look for those things on the highways and byways of the less travelled references. I know the intricacies of the Sons of G_d in Genesis 6, the reasoning behind the story of Abigail in the saga of David, the truth of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man, among many other things one could conceivably study in the Word of G_d. I’ve dissected the first three chapters of Romans, and I’ve stood dumbfounded by John’s proclamations both in his gospel and in his letters. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the divine manuscripts encasing our King James Version, I’ve studied the lion’s share of it with serious aplomb and (bragging a bit) not a little added skill thrown in to the mix. (KJV is not the only translation either—I’ve lately found myself using the ancient Douay-Rheims version to enhance my study.)

But somewhere along the way I’ve missed something. Although secure in my salvation, and comfortably sincere in my knowledge of the Truth as recorded in G_d’s Word, I seem to have overlooked the electricity that flows through each and every one of the lines of black and red recorded therein. It’s not enough to know the words and hide them away in your memory for random access as the situation calls for it. Instead, I am admonished to ‘keep’ the words by Jesus Himself in the original passage I began this column with. I have not always done that, I’ll confess—at least not in the manner that would justify exactly what Jesus was talking about here. Many times I’ve been quick to judge, and even faster to condemn. I’ve stretched the truth on more than one occasion. (OK, I’ve been known to flat out destroy the truth from time to time.) I’ve been less than careful when it comes to loving others, or at least accepting them—not just in my head but with my heart. Often times I’ve been the conductor of a sounding brass band, as Paul would have stated it, with more than a few tinkling cymbals thrown in for good measure. Although I’ve meticulously studied the Word, I have not always lived the Word.

It’s not just the admonishment to keep His Word that has been inspired in me by this verse, either. The charge from Jesus comes with a promise: A promise that both He and the Father will abide in me should I do so.

In the meantime, the breakers are closed, the circuits are energized, and the electricity is flowing. It’s what His design has been meant to be all along—from the ‘in the beginning’ of Genesis to the final verses of Revelation.