What’s the Basis for Your Faith?

The title of this Reflection is a question I’ve been asked several times. Years ago, I often said: “The Bible is the basis for my faith.” But my answer has changed. Now I joyfully say, “Eyewitnesses, and the empty tomb where Jesus was buried is the basis for my faith.”

What’s the difference? To answer that, I’ll use a Protestant version of the King James Bible.

This version of the KJV Bible (printed around 1885) has 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, and 788,258 words in the text. It contains stories and narratives that relate information such as numbers of people killed in numerous battles, lists of kings, priests, and prophets, and genealogies of various people.

But that information, and a lot more, is based on various dating and numbering methods. For example: some cultures listed the second year of the king’s reign as the first year simply because some kings were killed before the first year was complete. Sometimes the second year of a baby’s life was counted as its first because 1st-year mortality was rampant. Sometimes, a king and a co-regent reigned simultaneously, yet their individual reigns seem to be listed consecutively.

Various versions of the Bible – even various KJ versions – have different word and verse counts. Other things are documented differently, depending on the original ethnic scribes or subsequent translators.

All of that, plus more, give people opportunities to call the Bible wrong – therefore, impugning the integrity of the Bible – which, consequently, tends to impugn the integrity of those of us who believe the Holy Bible.

Therefore, I no longer say the Bible is the basis for my faith because detractors, skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and adherents of other religions think they have grounds to prove the Bible wrong.

I now rely on eyewitnesses and the empty tomb as the basis for my faith. As surely as the person on the right of this blog witnessed the US Navy Blue Angles flying over Duncanville, Texas, there were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and of the empty tomb in which He had been buried. That means Jesus rose from the dead. How can you argue against a person who predicted that he would die, how he would die, by whose promptings he would die, by whose hands he would die, and that he would come back to life in three days – and it all come true? Are you going to call him a liar? Not me; especially since much of it was also predicted centuries earlier by others.

How can a person debate that? Jesus either rose from the dead, or he didn’t. It isn’t “The Bible” I have to believe – it is eyewitnesses I believe. Witnesses such as Matthew, Peter, John, and others who documented their observations. They had no idea that their writings might be saved for people to read centuries later. However, because their observations and stories were found to be authentic, they were incorporated into a group of books that became the Holy Bible.

Merriam-Webster defines the word bible as: a publication that is preeminent especially in authoritativeness or wide readership. Many bibles abound such as the Machinists’ Bible, Deer Hunters’ Bible, Flower Gardener’s Bible, the Holy Bible, and many more.

The topic of Jesus’ rising from the dead has been found by archeologists in ancient Roman documents because it was a political concern for the emperors. Therefore, it is worth our time discussing it, but not arguing over it.

But I don’t blindly accept the Holy Bible. We can believe it or we don’t have to believe it; but there isn’t much sense in arguing over it. The fact is that the Holy Bible is not just a spiritual book; it is one of the oldest and greatest history books in existence. It’s also a matter of faith. But faith goes both ways: you either have faith to believe Jesus rose from the dead, or you have faith that he didn’t rise from the dead. You have faith to believe the Bible, or you have faith not to believe it. You have faith to believe in God or you have faith not to believe. Everyone’s life is based on faith in something or in someone.

The historicity of Jesus living and dying has been proven by non-biblical sources, so that is not the issue. His raising from the dead is the issue. But you’ll also discover that Jesus’ resurrection has been proven by atheists and agnostics. Of course, they became believers in Christ once they verified the deity of Jesus Christ.

Not only does the empty tomb provide me with answers for this life, it also substantiates my faith for eternal life. And I ask you to turn to Jesus Christ and live for Him.

The Calaveras Jumping Frog

I had no idea what to expect when Carol and I went to San Andreas to visit our son and his family. Our first three nights were in the town named Angels Camp just eleven miles south.

No; that isn’t a place where celestial beings hunted and camped out. It is a town started by Henri Angell in 1848 as a gold mining town. Originally named Carson’s Creek, the town was incorporated under the name Angels in 1912 (located in Calaveras County) and eventually renamed to Angels Camp.

Although more than $20,000,000 in gold was processed there in the middle to late 1800s, one thing brought fame to both the town and a man: a story about a frog.

Sam Clemens, under the pen name of Mark Twain, was down on his luck and came to try his hand at panning for gold in the winter of 1864-1865. He didn’t do very well during his 88 days here in the California hills, but he heard a story in one of the taverns about a jumping frog. The veracity of the story is questionable; but embellishing it even further, Mark Twain wrote it up and sent it to his newspaper, The Territorial Enterprise, in Virginia City, Nevada.

That story, only 2,637 words including the title (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras by Mark Twain), brought him immediate fame and fortune; that story became his “gold mine.”

Our son, Ron, took me to visit the site of his cabin on Jackass Hill where Mark Twain lived for almost three months. The hill received that name because at least once a week, a caravan of up to 200 donkeys with supplies for the miners in Carson Creek (Angels Camp) would stop there for the night.

Today, the main feature of the Calaveras County Fair is the frog-jumping contest. It is called the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee and is one the longest-running events in the state of California—going back to 1893. Of course, as with any good county fair, it includes entertainment, livestock, food, music, and crafts.

The frog-jumping contest is usually in the third weekend of May; and in a town of about 3,900 population, about 50,000 visitors attend the jubilee. People can bring their own frogs or rent them from a company in town (who catch the amphibians in the local ponds). The winner of the contest each year gets a plaque and $900 in cash. But if a frog beats the world record of 21 feet, 5 ¾ inches, the owner gets a World Record Holder title and $5,000 cash. Now maybe you can see why this is a big deal in Calaveras County.

Frogs are placed at the starting line. They get three jumps. The actual distance they jump is immaterial – it’s how close the critter gets to the finish line that counts. They seldom jump in a straight line, but you should hear the noise of the crowd as they both cheer the critters and scare the daylights out of them.

Another event that takes place is the Mark Twain Wild West Fest on the third Saturday of October. Gold Rush village is a kid’s area with fence-painting, knot-tying, a petting zoo, historic town with candle and soap-making, and more. There is gold-rush era music, and in honor of Mark Twain, a liar’s contest. That’s a real hoot!

Mark Twain was a good story-teller. In 1899 he wrote an article titled, “How to Tell a Story.” He said, “The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic and the witty story upon the matter.”

Twain learned to tell stories in a dead-pan manner. The audience would be in a gale of laughter while Twain would sit there and watch them. That made it even funnier.

Mark Twain sent his story about the Calaveras County frog contest to The Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada. I read recently that although the paper had gone out of business sometime ago, it is now back in operation. It was in this newspaper that Twain wrote, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”

Angels Camp is about 132 miles east of San Francisco by road, and about 80 miles southeast from Sacramento. My favorite eating establishment in town is called Round-Table Pizza, and the best ice cream place is called Yummy Ha-Ha.

Jesus Overruled Physics and Politics

Before Jesus was born, His title was “The Word.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 14 tells us that the Word became a human and lived among us. God, the Word, was born under the name of Yehoshua (the Lord is Salvation) and translated into English as Joshua. Translated from Hebrew into Greek, his name is Iesous, and then translated into English is Jesus.

Historical records verify that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; lived in Egypt, Nazareth, and Galilee (and several other places), and His vocation was carpenter and stone mason. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus was no wimp. Although He had a gentle disposition, He was muscular, physically tough, and had a will of iron. Those who were hurting or oppressed received gentle looks of compassion, but some of His adversaries shriveled under his steely glare!

Jesus had no identity crisis. He knew who He was and knew why He left heaven to live on earth. This was verified in Luke 2:48-49. Joseph and Mary were looking for Jesus and found Him in the temple bewildering the teachers of the law. When Mary asked twelve-year-old Jesus why He didn’t stay with them, Jesus responded, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus never did anything worthy of execution, so why was He crucified?

A sacrifice had to be made to rescue us from the black hole of oblivion called hell so that we could live with God forever in heaven. But to complete this liberating task, the sacrifice could not remain dead. Only God could accomplish this other-worldly task, and that’s why Jesus came.

Historical records verify that multi-thousands of people, including the Roman Emperor, heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, although most folks didn’t want to believe it. When the guards told the leaders of the Sanhedrin that Jesus had left the tomb, the leaders paid them to lie and say that Jesus’ disciples took His body from the tomb while they were sleeping. But that lie was absurd. Any reasonable child understands that we don’t know what’s happening while we’re asleep.

In 1546 AD, John Heywood said, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” That reminds me of the verse in Jeremiah 5:21, “Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear” (NLT). Both Jeremiah and John were speaking to people who refused to believe the obvious: those who closed their eyes and ears to reality. But Jesus was seen by many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people during the forty days after He left the tomb. Jesus is alive!

Myths and legends have been created by those who refused to accept the fact that Jesus is alive, and I’ve been asked a number of times what happened to Him? The greatest history book in the world – the Bible – answers that question.

In Acts 1:9-11, after Jesus gave parting instructions to the hundreds of people standing with Him on the hill, He left earth under his own power. The verses say, “…as they were watching, He was lifted up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. As He was going, they were looking into the sky. Suddenly, two men wearing white clothes stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking into the sky? Jesus, whom you saw taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go’” (NCV).

Not only did innumerable people see Jesus for forty days after He walked out of the tomb, but hundreds of people also watched Jesus overrule gravity and ascend into the sky. As He disappeared into the clouds the angel told them how Jesus would return.

Return? How? Why?

Jesus was not ruled by the laws of physics nor the pressures of politics, and the same will be true at His next appearance. Accompanied by myriads of angels and people, Jesus will come out of the sky under His own power. He will end the prevailing wars and put an end to all evil empires, corrupt democracies, and inadequate kingdoms. Jesus will set up His own Kingdom, and those whom He calls righteous will rule with him.

This is not the end of the story: read the Bible for more.

Current Actions Produce Delayed Results

The phone rang. Looking at the caller ID, I answered, “Howdy Paul.”

“Hey Eugene, what are you doing June 21 through June 24?” Paul was an army chaplain, recently retired, and is now a supporting chaplain at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.

I responded, “Nothing’s on the calendar for those days – yet. What do you have in mind?”

“You want to fly to Montana with me?”

“Are you driving?”

“No, big brother. We’ll fly commercial.”

“Are you looking for grizzlies, moose, bison, or what?”

“Wrong on all counts. I want to see the shortest river in the world. You coming with me on this ‘brother’s trip’ or not?”

“Count me in!” And that started an adventure that two close brothers will never forget; and will result in a co-authored book.

Flying out of Oklahoma City, we changed planes in Salt Lake City, then made Helena, Montana home for two nights.

Over dinner, we discussed the purpose of the trip. Up near Great Falls, Montana, there is a natural phenomenon called Giant Springs from which flows what has been dubbed the shortest river in the world. Paul informed me, “Both the Springs and the River are why we are here.” The next day, we drove 75 miles to Giant Springs.

The Little Belt Mountains are sixty miles from Great Falls. As it rains and snows in those hills, water seeps into the Madison Aquifer. Most of that water flows underground into five surrounding states and up into Canada, but a portion travels to Giant Springs. There, approximately 150 million gallons push to the surface every day through openings in the limestone overlaying the Madison Aquifer. Situated on the east bank of the Missouri, some spring water flows directly into the Missouri, while the remainder enters the Missouri by way of the 201-foot-long Roe River. Fish eggs are called roe, and a portion of the short river is diverted into the fish hatchery. Therefore, the name Roe River.

As Paul and I approached the water, I incredulously asked, “That’s a river? That’s shorter than a football field.”

“Sure is. I was on a business trip in 2004, and I always wanted to come back and study it.”

Well, study it, we did – and still are. Various reports say it takes the water twenty-six to fifty-six years to make the sixty-mile trek through the Madison Aquifer, flowing from the Little Belt Mountains to Giant Springs. Yet other reports say some of the water is diverted through different layers of limestone and takes 3,000 years for the journey. Why is there a diversity of opinion about how long it takes? There is an answer, and we will find it.

Another point: the water becomes impure as it seeps into the ground. It can become contaminated by animal droppings, dead animals, mold, and so forth. But as it flows through the limestone, much of the impurities are filtered out.

But what’s the point of it all? I’m glad you asked.

There is a cause and effect working here. The mountain rain and pristine snow (the cause) and the beauty and majesty of the springs (the effect) remind us of the timeline of human life. As it takes many years for the water to seep through sixty miles of limestone to the Springs, things also happen in our lives that often produce a delayed response.

As a child you may have been told, “You’re dumb; you’ll never amount to much!” Or, “You can’t do anything right!” Those are devastating blows that contaminate life; and the clock begins ticking for results to push to the surface. But as the limestone removes the impurities from the water, someone’s intervention can remove those impurities from life. Loving interactions heal wounds.

On the other hand, you might have heard, “You are GOOD at this! You will do well in life.” That, also, sets the clock ticking, and what bubbles to the surface years later can benefit both humanity and God.

The point is: events and personal interactions shape us, but it may take years for the results to show.  So be kind to others and guide them. Help shape lives in a positive manner. Love others as God loves you.

Well, after the working part of the trip, we drove to the town of Stanford, Montana, where Paul treated me to lunch. He said, “I’m taking Stanford (my first name) to Stanford for lunch in honor of your first name.” It was sixty miles out of the way, but who cares? We had a wonderful time up in Big Sky Country.

Dickens and Christmas

Have you heard about the movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas?

Chris Knight, chief film critic for the National Post, said, “The movie is based on Les Standiford’s long-winded historical non-fiction from 2008, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.” Knight also said of the movie, “By all rights, The Man Who Invented Christmas should be a humbug. Instead, it’s a humdinger.”

Charles John Huffam Dickens was a prolific writer. One article says he is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, and that he created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters. Several of them are: Jack Dawkins, the pick-pocket in Oliver Twist; Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Mr. Pott, the editor in The Pickwick Papers; and David Copperfield in David Copperfield.

Dickens was a prolific writer. But did he invent Christmas? Humbug!

But some pagan activities did intermingle with the sacred celebration.

Another commentary is from Ronald Hutton, an historian at Bristol University in the UK. He said, “It’s a mistake to say that our modern Christmas tradition comes directly from pre-Christian paganism. However, you’d be equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon. As Christians spread their religion into Europe in the first centuries A.D., they ran into people living by a variety of local and regional religious creeds.”

One report says: “A Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian, pagan traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts.”  (history.com/topics/christmas)

Philip Shaw, who researches early Germanic languages and Old English at Leicester University in the UK, said, “Early Christians wanted to convert pagans to Christianity, but they were also fascinated by their [pagan] traditions.”

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of “The Battle for Christmas”; Vintage, 1997) made a good case for an old Christmas celebration when he said, “If you want to show that Jesus was a real human being, not just somebody who appeared like a hologram, then what better way to think of him being born in a normal, humble human way than to celebrate his birth?”

Christmas celebrations developed independently around the world for almost 2,000 years. And why not? Jesus’ birth was probably one of the two most important events in the history of the world!

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas – God became man in order to redeem us and restore our fellowship with Himself. And he came as a baby, born in a manger.

But as mentioned previously, many of the Christmas festivities became corrupted. Instead of candlelight services or worship services, rowdy and drunken revelries became common. Therefore, many protestants rejected paganized Christmas celebrations. Early Protestants wanted to honor Jesus Christ, our Savior – not have a festivity which obscured Christ. Denouncing sin and frivolity, they gave necessities for life as gifts; avoiding superficial parties, they shared sacred meals.

But as some Protestants squelched the pagan revelry surrounding Christmas, they also put down anything associated with Christmas celebrations. They threw out the baby with the bathwater. In this case, they threw out observing the birth of Jesus with the pagan celebrations.

Enter Charles Dickens.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in the 1840s, Dickens vowed to do something about it – and writing was what he did best. In six weeks, he wrote A Christmas Carol. If you’ve read it, you know why it became an immediate best-seller.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. Without ignoring the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them.

Did Dickens invent Christmas? No. But he did encourage joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

Jesus, who is God (John 1:1-3), came to earth to restore man’s relationship with himself. But he came as a baby (Matthew 1, Luke 1) so, as he grew, he could personally experience mankind’s trials, hardships, and joys.

Jesus loves you and desires for you to know him as he is today – God and Savior.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.

What Should We Do?

When people slander you, what do you feel like doing? When someone hurls insults in your face and maligns your integrity, how should you respond? What does human nature demand?

Please hear this: when we respond in our fallen human nature, war breaks out!

I grew up in a family of 10 kids, and if you know anything about children, peace does not always freely reign. We could sing When Peace Like a River Attendeth my Way, Let There be Peace in the Valley, or Peace On Earth, Goodwill Toward Men all we wanted to, but when one of us was offensive, only Dad or Mom could break us up. That’s fallen human nature. Why are we that way?

Now, lest my siblings find this and read it, I want to affirm that we had a lot of fun and have a barrel of good memories. Our family memoir, Looking Through the Rearview Mirror, bears this out. But we did have war at times. You might enjoy reading about the adventures and misadventures of our family, and can order the book at: https://www.amazon.com/Looking-Through-Rearview-Mirror-Linzey-ebook/dp/B09JM3N5TD/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1634619105&sr=1-2

When emotions get riled up, words tend to fly out of the mouth that might not be true. But if there is any truth to the words, the angry person tends to blow it out of proportion. And this problem is not relegated to children. Adults from 18 to 100 are just as guilty.

So, how should we react when someone attempts to destroy our character? How should we respond when someone broadcasts his or her disdain for us?

The wrong answer is to fight back; to fight fire with fire. Bristling, getting huffy, and trying to set that person straight tends to prove the angry person’s accusations.

There are several versions of the right answer. But since I have a habit of giving simple answers, let me give you one right now although I’m not the author of it.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (KJV).

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English says it this way, “I say to you, love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.”

But eighteen of twenty-eight versions I read simply say something very close to, “I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you.”

Loving others simply means, be kind to them.

When I was twelve years old, one of my school-mates hollered, “Your family isn’t fit for a pack of wolves!” When I complained to Dad, he said, “If kids say things like that, just respond, You’re right. we can’t stoop that low.” A few days later when the junior high school thug hurled another similar epithet, I responded as Dad suggested. Amazingly, that was the end of the potential feud.

The old saying, it takes two to tango, can be applied to many situations. Recently, when a man who despises my worldview hurled hateful words at me in a public setting, I told him I considered him a friend. Was he friendly? Of course not, but his actions do not mandate my reaction. I purposely chose to respond in the manner that Jesus taught, and I pray for the man.

Getting angry raises our blood pressure and increases our cholesterol level, both of which are hard on the heart. Anger confuses us and immerses us in a moral quandary. Angry people don’t merely offend people they dislike, it puts a wedge between them and their friends.

An angry person develops a hollow feeling that cannot be filled. The person then has a compound-problem: he must amplify angry emotions and increase his outbursts to justify the feelings of hate. As the situation intensifies, a false reality develops which deepens the deception.

What should angry people do? If they enjoy being angry, they’ll continue as they are. But if they want peace in their lives, they’ll need to realize that the answer to the problem comes from Jesus and can be found in the Bible.

Jesus, the Prince of peace, wants to heal us of our self-inflicted problems, and as Philippians 4:7 says, Jesus gives us peace that cannot be adequately explained.

What else should we do? Follow Jesus’ example and forgive those who offend you. You’ll be happier and healthier if you do.

The Passion Play

In our daily Bible study, we were reading about the Israelites at Mount Sinai and the Ark of the Covenant, and we wanted to see if we would be allowed to tour the Holy Land site in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was only a 2-hour trip, so we hit the road.

When we arrived, we were surprised to learn that the Passion Play was to be presented that evening, and our granddaughter had never seen the play. We quickly bought tickets for the play and for the buffet dinner merely 150 yards away. Touring the Holy Land site would wait for another visit. The meal was wonderful.

I may be mistaken, but I think most of you have read the account of the last weeks of Jesus’ life, His arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection in the New Testament. You might have seen a portrayal at church during Passover or Easter or seen a movie about it. But have you ever seen it live at Eureka Springs, or at Oberammergau, Germany? Seeing it like that enables the reality of the event to sink deep into our emotions and our mind.

The Passion Play in Eureka Springs started in 1968, but the production in Germany has been performed every year from 1634 to 1680, and one summer each decade since 1680, with the characters played by the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany. However, it was postponed in 2020 because of the pandemic, but will be presented in May of 2022.

The producers send scouts throughout the town and recruit those who look like they might fit one of the Biblical characters.

I don’t remember what decade in the 1900s this was, but as a scout was looking for someone to play the part of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, he saw a man who appeared to be down on his luck. He looked disheveled, scruffy, unkempt. The scout asked him if he would be willing to be Judas in the upcoming production.

The man looked at the scout, eyes opened wide, then filled with tears as he began to cry. The scout immediately apologized, thinking he had offended or insulted the citizen, but the shabbily-dressed man motioned for him to wait a minute. Regaining his composure, the man said, “Ten years ago I was a well-to-do businessman in town and a valued member of our church. I was highly respected throughout our community. Ten years ago, I played the part of Jesus.” He began sobbing again as he ambled around the corner and out of sight. What happened to him? Did pride overtake him after playing the part of Jesus? Probably.

I’ve never been to Oberammergau, but I have seen the production five times in Eureka Springs. It’s amazing that I, a spectator, a student of the Bible, can be emotionally and spiritually impacted by watching this highly-professional Bible production, but one who played the most important part of the play in Oberammergau, that of Jesus Christ, lost his sense of reality, lost his job, lost his family, and seemingly lost his identity.

Many of us today are also hurting in some area of our life. Some of us are angry at God because He won’t play by our rules. Some of us have become arrogant and use scripture against the One who inspired the writing of Scripture. Some of us hurl insults at God and at His people, thinking that we are hurting them.

Please understand that you are hurting only yourself and those close to you. You can never hurt God; He’s above that. The hurt, the suffering, the torture, the excruciating anguish Jesus experienced was associated with bearing our sin while being beaten half to death, then mercilessly crucified. All for us. Why? Because He loves us. Jesus loves you!

Jesus came to give us peace and life. He came to help us establish our identity and help us identify with God.

I don’t know if the man in Oberammergau ever played the part of Judas, but I hope he eventually restored his relationship with Jesus.

Please understand, God doesn’t play by our rules. The Creator of the universe has His own rules, and He came to give us eternal life.

The Meandering River of Life

The Büyük Menderes River is the longest river in Turkey that twists and turns in a tortuous path as it rushes to the Aegean Sea. The name Menderes is a derivation of Maiandros which is transliterated into English as Meander, and that name has become prominent in our culture.

A good illustration of meandering is when my dog and I walked the three-quarter mile dirt road to our mailbox when we lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. For every 50 feet I walked, Tyke ran to-and-fro about 200 feet. Another illustration is the Ohio River which flows from Pittsburg, PA to Cairo, IL. The Ohio is 981 miles long, but Cairo is only 549 miles from Pittsburg by helicopter. The meandering nearly doubles the distance.

Due to natural causes such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, and hurricanes, river paths change at times. Dad was raised in McAllen, Texas which isn’t far from Brownsville. Years ago, Dad said, “Brownsville is usually in the United States. But during flood stage, the Rio Grande changes course, flows north of Brownsville, and puts the town in Mexico.”

Of course, Dad was joking about Brownsville being in Mexico, but the Rio Grande did change course at times before the flood-control dams were built.

Not only has the Mississippi River changed course, but it also flowed backwards several times. The first time that we know about was after an earthquake in 1812, and the reverse flow generated a tsunami which wiped out a pirate’s den on a river island. When it resumed its southern flow, it cut a new channel and a portion of its course had changed. The second time was in 2005 when it reversed its flow for several hours during Hurricane Katrina. The third time was in 2012 when Hurricane Isaac forced the southern end of the river to flow backwards for 24 hours. You probably read about the mess it caused up and down the river.

As Carol and I were driving from Bloomington, IN to Worthington, IN last month, I turned onto a road that wasn’t on the map. It was headed in a northerly direction, and I knew I would get to my destination. The road meandered every-which-way like a stream trying to find its way to the ocean. Nevertheless, it was relaxing until we reached a T in the road with no indication as to which way we should go. Frustration was about to raise its ugly head, but a man in an old rusty car stopped and asked where we wanted to go. We told him, he told us to turn right, and peace reigned again. The road took us to Worthington, and we joined up with our son and his family.

Then while assisting our son in building his home, I came into contact with poison ivy. That changed my life for a month.

Events throughout life generate corporate change as well. Businesses closed and people lost employment because of our reaction to the recent pandemic. War affects political and financial decisions. I officiated at the funeral of a dear friend in Kentucky recently. Direction in life changed dramatically for that family.

Life is like a meandering river. Change is ever-present. Confusion is prevalent. Emotions are visible and anger often flares.

But stop. Let’s not react negatively. Change is guaranteed almost every day, so how do we establish and maintain a steady course?

The captain and helmsman of the ship must know the river. Sam Clemens, known as Mark Twain, studied the Mississippi and knew every turn. Some captains hired cheap help and lost their vessels to rocks, hidden logs, and erratic shorelines, but Mark Twain kept his boats in safe water.

As we sail the meandering river of life, we need help in keeping our “ships” in safe water. We dare not trust our lives to myths, fables, imaginations, and humanistic religions. We need a solid anchor with a reliable chain that keep us secure during the storms of life.

That anchor is Jesus Christ, and the double-chain consists of the Holy Bible and the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 14:26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” So read what Jesus said in the Bible.

Jesus our guide in the meandering river of life. You can trust Him.

What Did God Say?

God said, “Let us make man in our image.” And when I say “God,” I mean Jehovah, YHWH, the Creator, the Supreme God in the Bible. So, if we’re made in His image, what does God look like? Has anyone seen Him?

Not lately, but Abraham might have, Moses saw God’s afterglow, and Adam conversed with God daily – for a while.

Scripture tells us: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God is a spiritual being, and we are spiritual beings who live inside human bodies. Mankind was the high point of God’s creative work here on earth. God created us as an entirely new species, quite different from animals. And to emphasize this distinction, God placed man over the animals. In Genesis 1:28 God told Adam, “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Animals can’t do that.

How else are we different from critters? Evolutionist Julian Huxley noted that “only humans possess true language, conceptual thought, art, humor, science and religion.” And I add, only humans can record and direct the course of history. Humans can express themselves analytically and it is obvious that only humans have the ability to communicate through complex, multi-lingual skills. All this sets mankind apart from the animal kingdom.

And, quite interestingly, only humans have the ability to deny the existence of God.

Marriage is another example of how we’re made in the image of God. Adam and Eve’s union was much more significant than two beings openly mating in the jungle. Marriage was specifically one man with one woman. Marriage is a compassionate, loving, fruitful, social, and spiritual union.

As humans who are made in the image of God, we reflect many attributes of our heavenly Father. These spiritual and moral attributes allow us to commune and fellowship with people as well as with God. Attributes like love, mercy, and justice are only three examples of Godly qualities available to mankind. God created us to enjoy relationship with each other, but specifically, He made us to enjoy relationship with Him. God wants us to interact with Him and to be in fellowship with Him. This is not the nature of animals.

Some people say mankind is no greater than the animal kingdom and is why man should limit his population growth while protecting the animal species. I suppose they haven’t noticed several animal traits that civilized humanity does not endorse.

Such as: Some animals eat their own kind, but we do not condone cannibalism. Some animals kill and eat their offspring, but we don’t condone infanticide or eating our babies. (Correction: misguided and disobedient humans do commit infanticide in the form of abortion.) Animals don’t care for the elderly, but because of Godly compassion, humans do care for the elderly. Animals do not have the skills and ability to change their society, but man has created great civilizations and been to the moon and back. Animals have continued their lives without change for the past recorded 6,000 years. Chickens live as they have throughout history. Their change in living quarters is because of man.

When you hear or read some scientists say that 98% of our genes are shared with some animals, don’t get excited about it. They also say we share about 50% of our genes with bananas, so what might that mean? I think those statistics are meaningless.

Only humans can experience faith in God. However, it appears that some people were not happy with that arrangement and have created their own imaginary deities. Humans have the ability to choose to worship God or themselves; to acknowledge Almighty God as sovereign or claim another personage (human, spirit, tree, rock) as either a sovereign or co-existent deity. Humans gather for the purpose of worshiping a deity corporately. Animals cannot do any of this.

But of all earthly creations, only man can worship and trust our Creator and enter into a relationship with Him.  

God is a communicator Who cares for us and guides those who listen to Him. He made us to help others. He defeated sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus so that we can be with Him and enjoy our relationship with Him forever.

What did God say? Let us make man in our image.” And He did. But God gave us the authority to decide how we will use the attributes He gave us. How are you using them?

Protected by a Spider

Okay, I know that title above sounds a little goofy, but I want you to think about something. What does it take to protect us?

Since there are thousands of dangers in the world, let’s get to the spider and branch out from there.

Now, to put it succinctly – or bluntly, if you prefer – a busy spider protected the future King David when he was hiding from the current King Saul. I read a story some time ago in Hebrew literature, and I’ll write it here to the best of my memory.

When King David was a boy, he enjoyed walking through the fields while taking care of his father’s sheep and enjoying nature. He was thrilled to see how each creature gave something to the world. Several examples are, hens lay eggs, bees make honey, goats produce milk, and sheep give us wool. But he couldn’t figure out a good purpose for the lowly spider.  

“What’s the purpose of the spider?” David wondered. He didn’t even find a good use for the web, although he must have forgotten about it catching bugs. As an answer to the question, God seemed to impress on him that everything in creation had its purpose, and that one day he would understand that the spider also had a purpose.

Years went by and David became a hero who saved his people from the enemy by killing giant Goliath. King Saul was envious of him, feared for his throne, and decided to kill David.

David ran for his life and hid in the hills but Saul, with a portion of his army, was hunting for him. One day hearing that Saul was closing in on him, David hid in a nearby cave. Saul’s spies told him that David was in this area and figured they would kill him within an hour or so.

David was now in mortal danger and cried out to God, “Who will help me?”

Unknown to David, as soon as he entered the cave, a spider quickly spun a beautiful, well-developed circular web across the cave’s entrance. Saul’s men reached the cave where they were sure David was hiding and were about to enter it. But when they saw the intricate web, they said, “If David were here, he’d have torn the web to pieces. He must be hiding somewhere else. Let’s go!”

That’s how David realized that the spider, like all other creatures, can be useful, and he immediately thanked God for creating spiders.

What did it take to save David’s life? A spider.

That makes me stop and wonder how many times diversions, incidents, delays, etc., have saved me from danger.

Returning home from Maryland last month, I made a wrong turn somewhere in Pennsylvania which delayed me for about thirty minutes. No big deal. We normally give ourselves extra time because we don’t enjoy being in a hurry. But when we got back to the right highway, there was quite a slow-down. We eventually saw the tow trucks hauling off two mangled cars.

Would we have been in that wreck if we hadn’t taken the wrong turn? I’ll never know, but checking the timing of my wrong turn, that error could have saved our lives.

A spider protected David. A wrong turn might have protected us. What else protects us?

Some years ago, we were attending a local church that we enjoyed. I was a deacon, Carol and I sang in the choir, a couple of our kids were in the orchestra. But one day the idea came to me that we were supposed to leave that church.

I prayed about it, and the Lord impressed me with, “It’s time to go.”

I didn’t understand why, but I had long-since stopped questioning God. So we talked with the pastor and developed a gentle way of stepping out without raising too many eyebrows.

Within a short time, a major problem broke out in the church and reputations were hurt. But because we had already stepped away, we were not affected in any negative way. We were protected by “the still, small voice” we read about in 1 Kings 19:11-13.

Spider. Wrong turn. Still small voice. God protects us in many ways. All that’s required of us is to obey the Lord. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Don’t allow delays and problems to ruin your day. Those delays might prevent a bigger problems.

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