The Donkey Spoke

In the year 2000, I filled in as interim pastor for a couple of months in a small New Mexico town while the leadership searched for a new pastor. Then in December, the elders surprised me by asking me to be their pastor. I said “No.”

The church had a history of ups-and-downs with a poor reputation, and it couldn’t afford to give me a salary. It was 200 miles from where I lived, and I was already working 60-hour-per week; so you might understand why I didn’t want to accept the call. Part time at that distance was okay, but I didn’t want to commit to full-time.

The elders and I discussed the logistics, and they eventually offered a parsonage we could use; agreeing that I would keep the current employment.

But a 400-mile round-trip every weekend? Huh-uh!

They asked me to pray about it. Now I was trapped. Christians, especially pastors, can’t refuse to pray – that’s against the rules.

I found out that God must have a sense of humor, because after praying about it, it seemed like the Lord was prompting me to accept. So on January 7, 2001, I hesitantly accepted the call.

Now my attitude was different. Why? Instead of merely filling the position while they were supposed to be looking elsewhere for a pastor, my new objective was to find out why the church was having ongoing problems. Maybe I should have already known, but I had decided to let the next pastor figure it out. Now I was that next pastor.

However, as I did my pastoral homework, it didn’t take long to discover the problems. To put it mildly: a lack of Christian love ruled the roost. The owner of the local grocery store told me the church was known as “the Fighting Church.” That didn’t make me feel any better.

Part of the problem was, as is common in many local churches, poor communications and unwillingness to compromise on small issues in order to make headway on larger concerns. How was I going to turn it around?

Did I mention that God has a sense of humor? Keep reading.

After the service one Sunday morning, two of the elders and I were discussing an idea that I thought would help the church. They didn’t agree, so I invited them outside the church building to look at the situation. I hoped that by looking at the problem, it might help them understand my point of view.

Reminding me that they disagreed, they politely listened anyway.

The church building was in the countryside, and a ranch was across the fence. Choosing my words carefully, I laid out my thoughts, and I was convinced I had won them over. But at the very moment I said my last word, the donkey in the adjacent field spoke!

I haven’t heard a donkey bray that loudly before in my life! Of course, the elders and I began to laugh at the timing of the interruption. But to make matters worse, my lead elder said as loudly as the donkey, “My Sympathies, Exactly!”

The three of us broke out in an uproarious laughter. We had been friends for over a year and disagreements never hurt us. But that event brought us even closer together.

When I muttered, “Dumb donkey!” the other elder said, “He’s not dumb. He spoke his mind quite clearly.” More laughter ensued, and we went back into the building to get some coffee—mine with cream and sugar.

Then Romans 12:3b came to mind. “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (NLT).

Over coffee, I asked them to state their opinion—again—and I would listen carefully. In the next half-hour, I realized they were right, and we worked out an alternate plan.

That incident did more than settle a disagreement. As word got around to the church members that they now had a pastor who was willing to listen, they began to trust me.

Still working on the other problems, I preached on forgiveness four times a year for three years—that’s what it took to settle the other personnel issues. And when I eventually resigned as pastor, that same groceryman told me, “Your church has a new name in town: the Loving Church.”

I thanked God for prompting the donkey to speak.

Enjoying Life

When we lived in the hills in northern New Mexico, we had two dogs and a cat. Both dogs were larger than the cat, but the cat was still in charge. They grew up together and had no traditional cat-dog animosity. In fact, they loved each other. The dogs were Flicka and Tyke (Flicka was Tyke’s mama), and the cat was Tiggy. The family called her Tig. I called her Critter, but today we’ll go with the family name.

One day when I returned home from work, I saw Tig stalking something – or someone. I slowly got out of the car and crept up to look over the white picket fence.

The cat’s eyes were intensely focused, her belly was barely touching the ground, and her tail was twitching as she ever-so-slowly inched her way forward. Her target? A hapless Tyke, taking a nap about 22 feet away.

I almost held my breath, waiting to see what Tig would do.

Suddenly, like an F/A 18 Super Hornet being catapulted from the deck of the USS Reagan, Tig bolted toward Tyke! Reaching the sleeping victim in a second, she leapt over him, smacking him on the rump with her right front paw as she flew over. As she touched down, Tyke, jerked out of sleep, was up and after her. He instinctively knew the game.

But Tig had it all figured out. Her attack was not intended to include a chase this time, but to show superiority. By the time Tyke could get out an obligatory bark, but before he could generate any momentum, Tig was up the tree that was five feet away.

I can still see it: Tyke standing on his hind legs with his front paws against the tree, vociferously discussing things with the cat; while Tig, hanging onto the tree by her needle-sharp talons about eight feet off the ground, looked down and issued a gentle hiss at the dog. The hiss is translated as, “I win – again.”

 In a few minutes the game was over. Tyke asked for his evening dinner while Tig enjoyed a few minutes in the arms of her adoring owner: our daughter, Rebecca.

Do you enjoy life like that? No, I’m not inferring that you are an animal. Do you take time out of your busy life to have fun?

With all the stuff going on in the world – for example: one mighty nation invading a much smaller peaceful neighbor, people committing murder in the name of their religion, people manifesting intolerance while demanding tolerance from others, people insisting on political correctness while simultaneously distaining common sense, and more – it is sometimes difficult to find time to enjoy a happy moment; but it is possible, and necessary.

Some years ago dad and mom came to visit us. On the second day a gentle breeze was blowing, and dad said, “The temperature is just about right; how about a game of tennis? I’m here to take a break from my hectic schedule.”

We went to the court and began the contest. But within fifteen minutes it began raining. Not a gully-washer or a torrential downpour, but a gentle, refreshing drizzle that encourages rosebushes and lilies to blossom.

“Oh, goodnight! There goes our tennis game.”

“Why, dad? What’s wrong with playing with a wet ball? And with our new shoes, we won’t slip on the court.” Dad relented and we continued playing.

We played hard, and those balls looked like a sideways Saturn as the water spun off. After a half hour, the rain let up and the clouds parted.

“I haven’t had this much fun playing tennis in years. Where’d you learn to play in the rain?”

“You probably enjoyed it because you beat me.” I replied. “But you taught me long ago not to let little things bother me; and this rain was not a bother but a joy. We need the rain.”

“Thank you for learning and thank you for feeding it back to me. I needed the lesson, and YES! I enjoyed beating you.”

We laughed, got dried off and I treated dad to a chocolate milkshake. That was the price for losing. But spending time with dad was never a waste of time. We enjoyed being together.

Do you know that our Heavenly Father enjoys it when we spend time with Him? Hebrews 13:5 quotes Jesus saying, “I’ll never leave you.” That statement alone should give us a great sense of security.

There is nothing we can do about many problems in the world, but we can place our trust in Jesus. Then no matter what happens in the world, when we die we will be with Him forever. Rain or shine, enjoy the time with God as you study the Bible and honor Him in everything you do.

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?

Revisiting Noah’s Ark

A couple of years ago, I mentioned that we went to see Noah’s Ark. This one really isn’t Noah’s because he’s not here, and he didn’t build it. But according to the dimensions listed in the Bible, this structure is a life-sized model. Is it the exact same shape? We don’t know because no one alive has seen the original ark. Many people doubt whether the flood was world-wide, but their doubt does not disprove what the Bible says.

At the turnoff from I-75 onto State Road 36 in Williamstown, go east for about a mile, and the ark is behind several small hills. When it first comes into view, it doesn’t look so large, but there is still another mile to go. When the shuttlebus drops us off, the ark looks large, but not huge. But we’re still an eighth of a mile away.

As we walk up to it, the enormity of the structure is striking!

How big is this boat? Genesis chapter 6 gives the dimensions in cubits: 300 long, 50 wide, and 30 high. The length of the cubit has varied with time and people, and historically has been between 18-22 inches. The Builders of this model used a nominal 20-inch cubit.

The ark in Williamstown is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. The internal volume is equivalent to the volume of 570 modern railway boxcars.

For size comparisons, a football field is 360 feet long from the back of one end zone to the back of the other, so both the original ark and the model in Williamstown are too long to fit inside the football stadium. The size of the ark is truly impressive!

Can this boat in Kentucky float? No. It wasn’t built to float, but to illustrate what Noah, his boys, and probably many hired hands built. I believe it took Noah and company about 100 years to build the original because of what God told Noah in Genesis 6:3. “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh [meaning, evil]; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” I believe those words informed Noah that the flood would take place 120 years after that discussion.

Prior to entering the ark, we watched a video of the construction of the ark. It was quite a feat and was done without any government financial assistance. That means, no tax money was involved.

I wish I could show you some of the 545 photos Carol and I took. The builders of this model indicated how the thousands of animals might have been housed or caged. Noah might not have had full-grown elephants, hippos, giraffes, etc., but perhaps young ones. However, it was God who brought the animals to the ark, not Noah, so the age and size of the critters didn’t matter. God somehow tamed all the animals that He brought to the ark, and, as you might guess, the heavier animals were on the bottom of the three decks.

It’s also amazing how food might have been stored for a year for all the animals and for up to two years for the eight human passengers. With our current understanding of how much animals and people eat, and of how many kinds of animals there probably were back then, it’s easy to figure how much food would have been required. And there was still plenty of extra room.

Animal excrement removal must have been a chore!

I enjoyed the way they imagined living quarters for the four families, and the names they supplied for the four wives were relevant to the times. Much geologic, social, and cultural history is shown by several videos, and by many charts and graphs throughout the ark. Cultural history prior to the world-wide flood, therefore, the reason for the world-wide judgment, was highlighted.

In planning for this ark, the people did their research and identified many animals that have become extinct in the past 4,500 years, many of which would have been on the ark. That enhances the educational aspect of the visit to the ark. In fact, we saw four public school buses bringing students to the ark for an educational field trip.

If you ever have an opportunity to go east, go to Williamstown, Kentucky and visit the ark. It’s only 40 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It rained while we were there, but we were safe in the ark.

The Disappearing Light Beam

I’m sure many of you have seen a cat chase things. Butterflies, moths, mice, strings, almost anything that is small that moves. Kittens and cats do that, and I call that one of the many “cat antics.”

Our daughter had my laser pointer and was playing with her cat – Tiggy. Tig was in her 4-wheel-drive mode with all claws extended to get traction so she could make split-second turns on the carpet. Rebecca finally allowed Tig to “catch” the light beam. But you should have seen the perplexed look on the cat’s face when she lifted her paw only to find that the “bug” had escaped. After looking around for a minute, she walked away.

But our dog, Tyke, had been watching. He knew better than to interrupt the cat because Tig was older and had seniority in the family. Rebecca gave me the laser pointer because I had a different plan.

I put Tyke through the same maneuvers as Rebecca put Tiggy, but with Tyke’s size and slower reactions, I went slower. The dog tired out quicker than the cat and Tyke finally just laid down on the carpet. That’s when I employed my second thought.

I moved the light beam slowly just out of Tyke’s reach as the critter watched. I gave jerky movements with the light and Tyke’s head jerked each time. Then I did it. I ran the beam up and touched his paw.

You should have seen it! Tyke yelped and jumped off that carpet as though a big rock dropped on his foot. Then he looked at me, back at the light beam, slowly went up to sniff it, but I turned it off before he got to it. He looked back at me, then, using his natural sniffer, tried to find it. He never did.

Tiggy’s and Tyke’s perceptions were that the light beam was a solid object, and they reacted according to their perception of reality. Do you know that people do the same thing?

Years ago, I read of a professional basketball player who playfully pointed his gun at a friend. Sincerely believing the gun was not loaded, he acted on his perception of reality and pulled the trigger. When the resounding explosion subsided and the smoke cleared, his friend was dead.

Perceptions can be beneficial, a diversion, or a devastating error, and we must always get a reality check before we make a decision. I understand it’s quite difficult to give Tiggy and Tyke a reality check, but we can help people. Let’s look at two concepts.

Financial security. There’s nothing wrong with gaining financial stability. We are wise to plan for the future, including for retirement. But throughout history, money has disappeared like that light under my pine tree. Stock markets around the world have crashed. Expenses due to sickness have soaked up saving accounts. Casinos have gladly emptied people’s bank accounts. You can think up many other scenarios.

Millions of entrepreneurs have created companies that have given financial blessings to countless millions of people around the world. A great many business owners became prosperous and retired with an abundance of wealth. But many businesses fail. The average failure rate is 20% within the first year, and up to 50% within five years. Like the light the critters chased, businesses disappear.

Tree branches. I cut several branches off the trees in our back yard. When the grand kids saw them two weeks later, the younger one exclaimed, “Grandpa, the branches are still alive. We could plant them and make some new trees.” I explained that the needles on pine tree branches will stay green for almost a month after it was cut off the tree. The branches look alive, but they’re really dead. Appearances are deceiving.

Financial security and business ownership are wonderful, and grants freedom from worry.

But when our blessings disappear, when our securities vanish, when our health turns sour, when our lives become unstable, when a lot of what we perceive to be real dissipates, what should we do?

For those of us who have a dynamic relationship with God and have been trusting Him for our REAL security, the disappearing lights are disappointments but are not personally destructive. Our faith is not in temporal things that can vanish, but in Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 13:5, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And He won’t. Therefore, get to know Jesus and put your trust and your faith in Him. He is no disappearing light beam. He is Alive!

Lessons from the Flock: Joy

I could hardly believe my eyes!

Normally when I walk out the back door of the house, the four hens come running to me. They think I’ll have a treat for them, and they are usually correct. So, they run to me, stand as tall as they can, and sometimes jump as they try to get goodies out of my hands. One time I put my open hand down to their level. When they saw the wheat kernels in the palm of my hand, they rushed forward. As they began eating it, I found out what it feels like to be hen-pecked. (No, it didn’t hurt at all.) By the way, chickens have a 300-degree field of vision without turning their heads.

But today as I walked out the back door, I was quieter than usual; and the birds, who were out of sight, didn’t hear me. I stood there for a minute with no visible activity in the yard. I then began to hum a song. No words; I just softly hummed.

Pandemonium erupted in the back yard!

I don’t know how to accurately spell what I heard, so I won’t try. But these birds exploded from behind the 10 x 12 barn! They came half-running and half-flying as fast as I have ever seen a chicken move. With wings spread straight out like a hawk on the attack, the little head making more noise than seemingly possible, the four birds came racing to see what their benefactor had for them.

It amazes me to see the joy the birds express when they know I am near. When they either see or hear me, they stop everything they might be doing and come running. If they even see me through the kitchen window they come running. (In addition to seeing all the colors that humans do, chickens also see ultraviolet – but that’s another story.)

Stop and think about it: theses chickens joyfully interact with me, their loving benefactor. How many Christians do you know who joyfully interact with our loving Benefactor – Almighty God?

Okay, you might say that we cannot see God. Well, most the time our chickens cannot see me either because I am out of sight. But they LOOK for me. Are we “looking” for God?

The birds love me because of what I do for them. On a much higher level, do we love God for what He does for us? We don’t have to look far to see His blessings. In fact, if we don’t see them, we are blind because God’s blessings are so abundant and prevalent.

Sadly, some Christians are oblivious to what God has done for them. But on the other hand, many Christians do see the blessings – but still are not joyful. Why not? Let’s look at two definitions.

One definition of Joyfulness is: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. (Actually, that is the definition of happiness which deals with circumstances; but the modern world , including Christians, confuses joy with happiness.)

A definition and application that is more appropriate is: the spontaneous enthusiasm I experience when I am in fellowship with the Lord (Psalm 16:11). If God never did anything else for me, I would be satisfied because 1) my relationship with Him is intact, 2) my eternal future is secure, and 3) I have everything I need to fulfill God’s will for my life.

So, let’s look back at the chickens. Are they joyful or happy? They are a little of both: they get their treats, but they also walk with me as I traipse around the yard. The birds really enjoy being with me.

Dear reader, are you enjoying your relationship with God, your Supreme Benefactor, or are you worried, mired in the “mud” of everyday life? Do you invest time observing and enjoying the blessings God has heaped upon you, or are you immersed in some level of self-pity because things don’t go your way?

If we are purposely doing something – thought, word, or deed – that is contrary to Biblical principles, we will not have the Joy of the Lord. Could that apply to you?

So “Run to the Lord” with your whole heart. Be satisfied with what He gives you. Even while experiencing financial or material loss, God still blesses us. First Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

So, look for God; He is watching you.

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