Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
We don’t know that much about the life of Christ between the ages of twelve and thirty, but many of us have this image of Jesus in our minds doing the work of a carpenter with His father, Joseph.
One Hebrew scholar, by the name of James Fleming, makes the argument the word “carpenter” in Mark 6:4 and Matthew 13:56, could actually be a bad translation of the Greek word “Tekton.” Fleming points out that the homes in Nazareth were largely made of Stone, not wood. We also know that the Herod at the time, Antipas, spent a great deal of energy making the city of Sepphoris (Zippori) his “Jewel of Galilee” by giving it a total makeover. This developing city was located only three miles away from the hometown of our Lord.
There was a rock quarry half way between Nazareth and Sepphoris where Jospeh, and perhaps Jesus, could have spent their time cutting stones for the Herod’s great project. An undertaking of this size would have likely employed all the surrounding builders, including those in Nazareth. Of course, Jospeh and Jesus working as stonemasons is pure speculation.
Scripture doesn’t give us a detailed account of Jesus’ childhood, but Luke 2:52 tells us that He, “…grew in favor with God and men.” This passage indicates that Jesus was well liked by those who knew Him growing up, but when you compare this verse with Matthew 13:57, that “favor with man” isn’t there anymore. Matthew records, “And they took offense at Him.”
In both Matthew and Marks account of Jesus’ returning to His hometown, the locals ask the question, “Is this not the son of a carpenter?” After Christ is questioned, He doesn’t perform any great miracle for all to see, but He heals a few of their sick. He doesn’t try to argue with them, but He goes through the town teaching. The gospels don’t tell us exactly what He was teaching, but there’s a simple lesson here for all of us.
Don’t be a carpenter.
Jesus lost favor with many when He broke out of their social mold and when He did things they weren’t accepting of. People no longer liked Him when He also began teaching things they weren’t used to hearing. The identity of Jesus was not wrapped up in the job He was trained to do, He was and is much more than that. If you’re a follower of Christ, your identity is not your profession.
Jesus is not the son of a carpenter, He’s the Son of God. He’s given us a new identity, and we should never cheapen who we are by seeing ourselves as doctors, engineers, truck drivers, preachers, teachers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We’re Christians.
Even when He lost some positive popularity, Jesus looked for those who were willing to be healed and willing to hear. This is exactly what should be filling our time as well. Who do you know that needs to be spiritually healed by Jesus? Who do you know that needs to hear the wonderful soul-saving truth about the real Identity of Jesus?
I’m a Christian— not a preacher.
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
The definition is stark and candid: “A thing that is accepted as true or certain to happen, without proof.” We live in an age where making assumptions is rampant and relentless. In current society, we make assumptions about one another based on political affiliation, skin color, and even masks. Charity and the benefit of the doubt are disappearing from too many circles, and that should have us all concerned. But, instead of panicking and giving up, Christians should see this as an opportunity to reach hearts for Jesus.
Immediately after writing about how powerful the command to love one another is (cf. Mat. 22:40; Rom. 13:8), Paul warns, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15). The current, so-called “cancel culture,” public humiliation, online shaming, boycotting, etc., is presumptuous and worldly. While the nuances of what we are seeing these days may be unique to us, the mindset and behavior are ancient and basic. If you keep reading Paul’s words, you can identify the culprit. A failure to walk by the Spirit leads us to carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
How can we know which characterize us? It is palpably simple. Notice.
Check Your Deeds
Paul lists out 15 specific deeds of the flesh–plus an encompassing “things like these”–which keeps the practicers from inheriting the kingdom of God. Nestled among sexual immorality and drunkenness are “enmities” (hostility and hatred), “strife” (to express differences of opinion with antagonism or hostility), “outbursts of anger” (intense, passionate “boiling over” of displeasure; rage), “disputes” (a feeling of hostility or being against), “dissensions” (party strife within a community, TDNT 89; i.e., Republican, Democrat?), “factions” (division based upon different opinions or loyalties)(Gal. 5:20). If God chose to drop the apostle Paul into our country right now for a week, surely he would preach this text to us! He’s describing the current crises and even many Christians’ response to it and one another. These are very nearly half of the deeds of the flesh specifically mentioned. Read your newsfeed, look at the articles being forwarded, watch cable or online news, and the like. More personally, I need to ask if I am exhibiting these deeds of the flesh in my words and actions.
The antithesis of such deeds and the fruit which counteracts and conquers them. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (22-23). Insert each of these qualities into your deeds and see if those fleshly deeds can survive. It has become routine and expected to see the incivility and hostility of the deeds of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit will overcome them! But we must discipline ourselves to exhibit them, even in the face of those employing those worldly ways.
Crucify Your Flesh
Sounds painful doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like something that comes easily or naturally. But, if Jesus owns you, these “passions and desires” must be put to death (24). Kill them! Harness the hostility and defeat those desires. We cannot give ourselves the old “that’s just the way I am” pass. We are not our own. We belong to Him. Nail it to the cross of self-denial!
Chart Your Course
Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (25). “Walk” means “to be in line with a person or thing considered as standard for one’s conduct” (BDAG 946). It means living in conformity with a set standard. We don’t have to guess what that is, and understand that it will look very different from the world’s standard. We cannot stoop to their level or conform to their rule (Rom. 12:1-2).
Consider Your Brethren
To end this discussion, Paul tells us how not to treat others–“boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (26), then how to treat others (6:1-2). We gently restore one another and bear one another’s burdens. We are protective and constructive. We care about souls, and that takes precedence over winning arguments and having our incisive one-liners quoted. We see souls like Jesus sees them!
It’s discouraging to see our society losing the ability to reason and discuss respectfully. It is destructive to see our brethren giving in to such devilish tactics. May we be aware that we are not serving and honoring our Master if our means to accomplish our ends cause us to use fleshly ways. Paul says it best: “But each one must examine his own work” (Gal. 6:4). God help me to do so humbly and honestly!
Once I preferred laptops, but since the advent of Android and Apple tablets, I migrated back to the desktop PC. When attempting to accomplish work, there is something to be said for sitting at a dedicated workspace to help productivity. Even so, I usually choose desktop wallpaper to reflect my interests from the religious to whimsical. My capricious nature typically ensures that wallpaper is changed frequently.
One day after having selected an artist’s rendering of the Christ wearing a crown of thorns for my wallpaper, I noted how I had allowed the desktop of my PC to become cluttered with icons and files. Though they made finding things more manageable, they obscured the image I had chosen for my inspiration. I had to do some cleaning so that I could once again see Christ!
Spiritually, I feel as if we sometimes equally “mask” the presence of the Christ in our lives. It is not our intention to do so, of course. We are just going about our regular business. Yet, there comes the point in out lives in which we begin doing what we feel is most convenient, despite what this “convenience” does to the presence of the Christ in our lies. Soon, others are unable to readily see the Christ in our lives since He has become obscured by our ephemera. If this persists, others will be unable to see Him at all.
When this happens, it is time to clean up or bring order to the chaos. One needs to put things in their proper place so that the image of Christ becomes accentuated rather than obscured (cf. Matthew 6.33). It may take a bit of work, but the effort is worth more than anything else in this world because of its eternal implications.
Dear reader, are others able to see the Christ in your life? If not, perhaps it is time for spiritual cleansing. The only thing equal to the task, great or small, is the blood of Jesus Christ. For the one having never clothed him or herself in Christ (Galatians 3.27), baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38). For the immersed believer, the blood of Christ continuously cleanses us as we walk in fellowship with Him and fellow Christians (1 John 1.7).
Check your image in the spiritual mirror (James 1.22-25). If you cannot see the Christ, rest assured others cannot see Him either. Let us always strive so others can see the Christ in us.
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith.
What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith.
The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
A family decided they didn’t want their little puppy anymore and for whatever reason they decided to dump this dog on the side of the road after tying it in a black plastic bag. At some point there was a woman who was driving down that road and she just happened to notice that something wasn’t right. When she discovered that there was a dog inside the bag she took it to a vet and then, eventually, to an adoption shelter. One day I decided to walk into the pet store to simply look around— and that’s when I saw him. Huddled in the back of his crate, a shaggy and skinny puppy with tan fur sat quietly, while it seemed every other dog in that store was madly barking. I opened the crate and he timidly came out— there was nothing I could do. This dog was mine. I named him “Bro” and to this day he continues to provide loyal companionship and plenty of laughs. The fact is, I’ve never been more attached to another animal and I’d never even think about giving him away.
Solomon was a man determined to find the purpose of life. In Ecclesiastes we can read about these lavish experiments that he conducts all in the name of research. In the first two chapters he writes in a very depressing manner all the while Divine inspiration drives him toward the answer to life’s greatest question. He acknowledges the fact that everybody in every generation is just a small blip on earth’s timeline. The rich, poor, wise, and foolish all must embrace the same fate. They will all die and will eventually be forgotten. Solomon is concerned that everything, his wealth and kingdom, will be left to a fool after he’s gone, and that’s exactly what happened. Rehoboam, his son, proves to be an awful king and heaps destruction on God’s people. So, what’s the point? None of it matters. Well, without God nothing matters! The word most associated with this book is the word “vanity,” which means “useless or futile.” Without God, your life is worthless and it will amount to nothing. Solomon’s discovery of this unchanging truth will remain true throughout every age because it’s a truth that comes from the Creator of life.
It’s unlikely that not a single person on earth values your life. Still, even if that were the case, because God’s hand guides you and touches all that you do, you have everything. My dog is not an expensive pure bred beauty, but to me there is no dog that could take his place. Apparently someone didn’t think too highly of him in the past, but that mangy thing lucked out and found the right owner. Who owns you? If money owns you, you’re getting left on the side of the road. If anything in the world owns you, you’re getting left behind. If God doesn’t own your life, you’ll never find purpose or lasting joy in this life— or the next. It could be that you feel like you’ve been placed in a trash bag and the world has mistreated you your entire life. Maybe that’s crushed your confidence and taken your sense of self worth, too. Though our lives are just a blip in the grand scheme of things, God can make your life a big blip by providing you with not only purpose, but with a love far too great to comprehend. The God of heaven has given us a mission and if we accept His invitation we’re going to make a lasting mark on this world— and enjoy lasting bliss in the world to come.
Monday’s Column: Neal at the Cross
It’s something they never tell you in the romantic movie. The ending of the storyline so full of twists and turns, where he and she might not have ended up together but seemed destined to be together, is so happy and perfect. Both are all smiles, with stars in their eyes, when we see “The End” and the credits roll.
They never tell you what happens after the fairy tale wedding or the long-awaited kiss. He refuses to ask directions as they fade into the sunset. They argue over where to eat that romantic dinner. He speaks without thinking and says something thoughtless, followed by tense silence.
I am not critiquing one of the sacrosanct principles of romantic movies and books. Happy endings can be a great escape from reality and a feel good experience. Yet, when we hold it up as the unqualified expectation for our own lives, we set ourselves up for trouble. Social media is rife with posts and pictures which can perpetuate the fiction that the people we friend and follow are constantly living out “happily ever after.” Life is always grand, and success and satisfaction is the constant.
Don’t misunderstand. So much of what we experience in life is shaped by attitude. Being positive can help us negotiate those hairpin curves in the road of life. But, coping through positivity is different from allowing disappointment to make us disenchanted with failing to meet the unrealistic expectation that every problem and adversity can be wrapped up into a pretty, neat package with a frilly bow on top.
It’s quite the balancing act, isn’t it? Scripture teaches to think on healthy, beneficial things come what may (Phil. 4:8). Or, as Solomon puts it, “All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). Yet, Job (14:1) and Solomon (Ecc. 2:23) do not sugarcoat the reality that life is often painful, grievous, and full of trouble both day and night.
May I offer some encouragement?
- To the newlyweds, neither of you is perfect and there is no way you can always agree and get along without mutual compromise and effort. You will have so many great days, but there will be some mountains to climb and valleys you must pass through. No couple out there is breezing through married life. Turning to one another (and God) rather than on one another when marriage is hard will forge your bond come what may (1 Pet. 3:7).
- To the new parents, though that baby looks perfect and angelic, he or she will introduce demands, needs, concerns, and challenges you never knew existed before. Each developmental stage will be accompanied by incredible highs and lows. As you look into the faces of your children, you will be looking at eternity and knowing the weight of your decisions and leadership. But, savor those little ordinary moments. You are placing puzzle pieces that will one day become your children’s picture of their childhood. How you handled the hard times will be at least as important as how you handled the fun times (Prov. 22:6).
- To the new Christian, it is right for you to relish the feeling of relief and joy over being forgiven and cleansed from sins. The burden of guilt has been lifted. You are experiencing something in Christ that you never knew existed. But, there will be difficult days. The devil lurks (1 Pet. 5:8). Selfish desires can derail (Jas. 1:13-15). Suffering for your faith should be expected (1 Pet. 4:16; Acts 14:22), but by hanging on your eternal destiny is better than you can imagine. Along the journey, you will grow, mature, and develop into someone better and stronger as Christ lives in you (Gal. 2:20).
- To the Christian who publicly repents, you had no idea how much support, love, and encouragement you were going to receive. You feel the relief of forgiveness and restored hope. There’s clarity and purpose where there had been confusion and distraction. Things are better now (cf. Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9), but the battles and temptations that led you away are still there. You will still have to face the consequences of bad choices, but you will not regret turning to God and your spiritual family for help. This is the first step of your rededication. Keep walking and never stop (Mat. 7:13-14; 1 Th. 2:12).
There are so many other phases and circumstances deserving the same kind of encouragement. The bottom line for each is the same. When viewed with heavenly eyes, each of us is staring at the ultimate happy ending. Even as our exterior deteriorates, our inner man is renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16). Our momentary difficulties will give way to incomparable glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18). The best is yet to come (2 Cor. 5). But, between now and then, we all have to negotiate bumps in the road. That’s OK. Keep following Christ on this narrow road and the “ever after” will transcend your greatest hopes (Mat. 16:24ff).
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
Death Valley. The very name is foreboding. Yet, Death Valley is the home to an extraordinary phenomenon known as “sailing rocks.” On the border of California and Nevada, there is a section of the Death Valley National Park called the Racetrack Playa. It is a dry riverbed. Why is it referred to as a “racetrack?” Dotting the Racetrack Playa are those sailing stones that seemingly move of their own accord. No human eye has observed one of the rocks move, and yet, it is evident that they do. Stones weighing even hundreds of pounds move across the dry riverbed, leaving evidence of their journey in a trail through the sand behind them. One of the longest observed tracks was 1,500 feet long. And so, these rocks race across Death Valley.
First recorded in the early 1900s, scientists have endeavored to discover the truth behind the sailing stones. In 2014, scientists were finally able to capture the movement of the rocks using timelapse photography. As the National Parks website suggests, “The results strongly suggest that the sailing stones are the result of a perfect balance of ice, water, and wind.” 1 The National Park Service further detail the findings of cousins, Richard and James Norris:
Their observations show that moving the rocks requires a rare combination of events. First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to allow formation of floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form sheets of “windowpane” ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa pool. The ice sheets shove rocks in front of them and the moving stones leave trails in the soft mud bed below the pool surface. 2
It is undoubtedly a remarkable sight. The wonder this phenomenon instills likewise reminds us of the majesty and power of the Invisible Intelligence (cf. Romans 1.20), creating the very physics making moving rocks possible.
As I read about the sailing stones, I could not help but recall the words of Jesus when asked by the Pharisees to rebuke His followers. The occasion was Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people were crying out their “hosannas” to the Lord. Jesus told the Pharisees, quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, that “if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19.40 NASB; Habakkuk 2.11) Indeed!
If you ever question your worth to God, recall the sailing stones. Without the benefit of intelligence or purpose, they still point to their Creator. They appear to be immovable, and yet are pliable by the laws God put in place. As I take stock of what I can do, I note that even I can do more than the sailing stones, possessing locomotion and free will. How shameful, then, when I choose to sit silent as a boulder. May God use me like a rock so others can see my deeds and give God the glory (Matthew 5.13-16).
1 The Sailing Stones of Death Valley. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/sailing-stones-death-valley
2 The Racetrack. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/the-racetrack.htm
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog