Think on These Things
Make a Highway for our God
By Colly Caldwell
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth” (Isaiah 40:3-4).
I am not certain you are aware but Matt and L’Von’s son, Douglas Qualls, is according to his mother a fantastic engineer who works on streets, roads, and highways. What an important job that is. Have you ever imagined a world without roads? The pioneers who forged the trails on the American frontier west had to travel over barren terrain without a distinguishable path to follow searching for their future homes in an unmarked wilderness.
There are stories from the old west of frontiersmen whose farms were located miles away but who deci-ded to do something about being unable to easily go to town. They needed a road; so how did they do it? One man took his mule and plow and started in the direction of town. He guided his animal in as straight a
line as he could over several miles and over several months digging out a furrow in the ground from his farm to town. Other farmers living between his farm and town soon began to walk and ride on their horses and wagons along that furrow and before you knew it, a trail was worn in the ground. It became a road and today it is a highway.
Two-hundred-fifty years ago, there were few good roadways in our country, particularly west of the Mississippi River. The roads that connected towns were simply narrow unpaved dirt paths with untended potholes. Travelers were hardly able to pass one another in their horse drawn buggies. Now we have an interstate system that is a model for the nations of the world. We can travel hundreds of miles in a day without a bump in the road, thanks to people like Douglas. It is relatively safe to move at great speeds without anticipation of highway danger except from accidents involving mishaps with other vehicles.
How blessed we are. Some of you may think I am very old (I am really very young at heart), but I can remember going to college before there was an interstate highway between North Georgia and Tampa, Florida. Now before you say much about my age, the roads were paved and I had an old Chevrolet that made it just fine. But the highway was nothing like it is today. It needed to be straightened in many places and it needed to be smoothed out.
Before the Old Testament was completed, the prophet Malachi spoke figuratively of God’s recognition of the need for a smooth roadway on which His Son could travel in reaching the hearts of the people. Malachi was not the first to prophesy concerning this.
Isaiah had declared it three-hundred years earlier. But Malachi clearly described what the road builder would be and what he would say.
First, he would be God’s messenger to declare and prepare the way for an even greater Messenger. Malachi said, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).
Second, he would prepare the way by turning the hearts of men and women away from their sinful ways to the righteousness of God. Malachi said, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Third, he would call upon the people to likewise prepare the way of the Lord by preparing their own hearts through faith, repentance, baptism, and righteous living. John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:2-3; see Luke 3:1-20).
We should be thankful for the wonderful “highway” in the spiritually deserted wasteland of sin prepared for us. It will lead us to our ultimate destination which is heaven where we will live with God forever.
20/20 Vision in 2020 A.D.
By Colly Caldwell
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be estab-lished on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2-4).
As I said in our sermon last Sunday evening, I am praying that our vision will be 20/20 in 2020. An optometrist would say that if you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Of course we should be most interested in seeing clearly those things which God has revealed to us spiritually. Isaiah saw a wonderful vision of the Messianic kingdom pointing to Jesus.
Earl Shaffer is said to have been the first person to hike the entire 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail. It con-nects the beautiful visions from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the spectacular views from Mount Katahdin in Maine. Returning from World War II, Shaffer was grieving for his best friend and boyhood companion, Walter Winemiller, who had been killed in the invasion of Iwo Jima. Earl decided alone time on the trail would help him find peace. He hiked by himself through forests and over mountains and streams for 124 days before reaching his goal. Before Shaffer died in 2002, he hiked the Trail twice more. The second time, he went from north to south becoming the first to do it both ways. The third time, he was 79 years old. He was asked why he would want to do that at that age. He responded that he found inspiration in the view at the end of the journey.
From Jerusalem, Isaiah wrote to the people of Judah who were facing Jehovah’s coming judgment. It would bring a terrible captivity upon the people that would last seventy years, the rest of the lives of most of them. But Isaiah was also given a beautiful view from the top of God’s holy mountain. He was allowed to clearly see a vision of hope. He was to show that vision to the people so that they too could see clearly that God had a plan to restore His people someday: i.e.to bring justice, peace, and rest to all the nations through His anointed Messiah “in the last days.” Notice, in the vision, the peoples of all nations would flow up the mountain to the Lord’s house. It is as if waves of humanity would be so motivated to be in God’s house that they would appear as a river flowing uphill. Just imagine! It would take a powerful force of wind and wave to cause such a phenomenon for a river to flow uphill in the natural world. So the clear vision of
Isaiah for the spiritual world can only take place with the exertion of Divine power. The apostle Paul said, “What is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:19-21).
You realize, of course, that when we speak of 20/20 vision spiritually, we are talking about seeing clearly through the eyes of faith. That turns off many. It should not, for behind our faith is the reality of God and His Divine plan. So it was in Isaiah’s day more than 700 years before the Messiah would come.
In 1941, Hitler’s army besieged Leningrad. The Hermitage Museum staff worked around the clock to load priceless paintings and sculptures onto three trains to move them to safe hiding places. The siege lasted almost 900 days and more than a million people died. The director of the museum was determined to keep the beautiful building open even though most of its treasures were sent away, but it was severely damaged like many other landmarks in the city. He brought in Russian soldiers to help mop up after the bombings ceased. A guide named Pavel offered to give them a tour of the museum before they left. What was there to see? He took them into each room and described in vivid detail each piece of art that had been there and would be returned. Pavel, in the middle of war gave those soldiers a vision of hope.
Isaiah had a vision of hope. We want to see clearly God’s vision of hope guiding us through this new year.
By Colly Caldwell
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
My pretty little wife was cuddled up in her lounge chair the other day playing with FaceBook on her telephone while I walked “to and fro” from the kitchen to the den getting in my final steps for the day. Some music came out of the phone and I inquired what she was looking at. Her reply (as it often is) was, “Just a recipe.” Of course, wondering what she was going to feed me next, I asked, “What is it?” To my glad heart she replied, “Snickerdoodles.” I love “Snickerdoodles” but it always bothers me when it appears that Lynda is going to try out a new recipe for what is already per-fect. The fact is, Lynda has every Southern Living Annual Cookbook since 1979. We don’t need to mess with the tried and true “Snickerdoodles.” And we don’t need to be adding strange ingredients like nutmeg, pumpkin, peanut butter, or lemon. When you do, it is no longer a “snickerdoodle.” You may call it that, but it just isn’t. That goes for lots of new recipes!
By the way, a popular book called The Joy of Cooking claims snickerdoodles probably originated in Germany and may have gotten their name from a German word (schneckennudel) which refers to a snail dumpling. Huh? Not a misprint. On the other hand, there was a series of tall tales appearing in the early 1900s depicting a sort of mythical hero identified as “Snickerdoodle” whose name might have been attached to this cookie. I prefer to think, however, that it is a whimsical word among other creative terms applied to cookies: like, “S’mores,” or “biscuits” in England (“biscotti” in Italy), or the Girl Scout cookie called “Resistance” because resistance to it is futile.
My brother Stan, a very fine preacher, and his wife Sarah have a “Goldendoodle.” They also have two children who have two of these dogs each. These are not really pure bred dogs, although they are very expensive and becoming more and more popular. They are crossbred from golden retrievers and poodles. There are also labradoodles and several other canines crossed with poodles. But again, these become something other than poodles when they come from mating with some other breed.
Well, it is “Christmas” time and we don’t want to alter the perfectly good story of Jesus’ birth by adding assumptions, assertions and worship pageants that the Bible does not authorize and which God may not approve. We really do not know the date of Jesus’ birth. The Bible does not even tell us the season of the year, much less the month and day. We only know that Caesar Augustus had called for a general taxation of the people throughout the empire when Quirinius was the Roman governing Syria and that extended over some period of time.
Further, the Bible does not give us instructions for special worship ceremonies memorializing the birth of Jesus. Are we amazed at Jesus’ birth? Of course we are. Is that a part of our wonder at who He is and what His coming into the world should mean to us? Certain-ly. And should we study and glorify God in our hearts for the blending of God and man effected in His birth? No doubt. But we should always focus rites of worship upon those activities about which God has specifically instructed us how to please Him in our assemblies. The instructions for church worship center around the other end of His life when He knowingly, willingly, and actively redeemed us by suffering and giving His life on the cross of Calvary. This we observe weekly, not annually in the Supper of the Lord.
Perhaps all this might cause us to think more about how the beautiful story of Jesus’ Divine conception and birth as told in the Gospel According to Luke has been secularized and changed into something that appears only once each year in our lives. It has become virtually unrecognizable from a spiritual perspective. I would suggest that such is what happens when we go beyond the Scripture and attach our own commercialization and even our religious rituals to what God has revealed in His word. That goes far beyond the feeble illustrations of cookies and dogs because it turns something Divinely sacred into something humanly temporal and profane.
I encourage you to read the story of Jesus’ birth often through this next year. In doing so, ask yourself what it means that Jesus came into the world in the way in which He did. Study the virgin conception of Jesus and learn from that who He really is and give yourself again to reverent worship of the Lord.
God Knows Me
By Colly Caldwell
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:1-6).
King David, inspired by the Divine Holy Spirit, delivered to us this wonderful insight into the supreme omniscience of God. That means that God has total knowledge of everything. Particularly, as affirmed in this passage from the Psalms, God knows everything about everybody!
That is amazing. Current world population stands at approximately 7.7 billion and the statements of David rightly include everyone who has previously lived. However, it is a fact that should never be overlooked or denied. Among other things, judgment depends on it.
There is an old nursery rhyme about an old woman who lives in a shoe who has so many children she doesn’t know what to do. I like a version of that rhyme published in 1978 in a book entitled The Christian Mother Goose Book written by Marjorie Ainsworth Decker. She apparently edited the common version to say: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, and loved them all too.
She said, ‘Thank you Lord Jesus for giving them bread.’ Then kissed them all gladly and sent them to bed.”
Some who seek the source of this rhyme like to trace it back to a woman who lived in Boston and was married to a man named Isaac Goose (last name other-wise known as Vertigoose or Vergoose). Her name was either Elizabeth Foster or simply “Mary.” When they married, he brought ten children to the new family. She had six. When Isaac died not so long into the marriage, his wife was left to raise sixteen children. The story goes on to tell that Mother Goose used to sing little songs and read little rhymes to her children and grandchildren helping them to learn about life and true values. These were gathered and some printed for the first time by her son-in-law. You can see why she was called “Mother Goose.”
Of course, there are often fables within fables. This explanation of the origin of “Mother Goose” may or may not be true. It does, however, stress the fact that human beings struggle with the care and keeping of multiple children. Our point is, God is so capable because of His great intellect to take care of billions in every way. He does not have so many children He does not know what to do. Now what does that mean?
It means He knows all about each of us. Think about Jesus’ visit to Jericho shortly before going to His death in Jerusalem. As He was walking in the midst of a crowd of local citizens, Jesus looked up into a tree and spoke to a man named Zaccheus who wanted to see Him. Jesus saw the man. Jesus knew the man’s name. Jesus knew the man’s motives and responded to them (Luke 19:1-10). That illustrates the Lord’s interest in every person. Jesus said on another occasion: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8). He said, The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31).
It means He loves everyone. We sometimes teach our children to sing, “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” That is affirmed for all ages in the powerful statement: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that who-ever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It means He wants to save everyone. Jesus’ closing instructions to His apostles was: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15-16). The closing words of the Gospel According to Matthew are: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Get the Garbage Out
By Colly Caldwell
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
Every Sunday evening when we arrive home from worshiping with the church, the first thing I have to do is get the garbage out. Every Wednesday evening when we get home from Bible study, the first thing I have to do is get the garbage out. Early on Monday and Thursday mornings, the good people who take away the trash from our neighborhood swing down our street and Lynda wants it out there for them ahead of time in case they appear before daylight.
It’s interesting that it happens to be my duty to get the garbage out right after going to worship. You know what? What Lynda asks me to do when we get home is exactly what I have been admonished to do as we worship in the church: “Get the garbage out!”
Of course, one is literal and the other figurative. We call the figurative “repentance.” We are not taking trash out to the street, but we are to take sin and transgression against God out of our hearts and lives.
Having heard and believed John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles as they delivered the Divine message from heaven, what were people actively called upon to do? They were told to repent.
“Repent” was the message of John the Baptist in preparing people for Christ’s coming (Matt. 3:2).
“Repent” was an exhortation of Jesus to the masses who came out to Him (Matt. 4:14; Mark 1:15).
“Repent” was what the apostles were sent out two-by-two to preach to people in the villages (Mark 6:12).
“Repent” was a crucial word in the instructions He gave them when telling them what they should call upon people to do after He departed (Luke 24:46-47).
“Repent” was the first thing Peter commanded of the people following the first gospel sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:38).
“Repent,” turn to God, and do works befitting repentance was what Paul was told in a vision to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 26:20; 17:30).
So what does “repent” mean? We don’t use it very often in secular society. In fact, I doubt you can remember when you last heard it in common speech outside an explicitly religious conversation or setting. The word “repent” basically means to change one’s mind. In the context of the gospel, it means to decide to change one’s mind toward that which offends God. That is sin. God wants us to be sorry for our sins and to decide to take away sin from our lives. In other words, “Get the Garbage Out!”
You see, there are some questions each of us needs to confront. Am I ready to meet God and answer for my time here on earth? Am I ready to get in step with God’s plan for me and put away what offends Him?
A forest ranger wrote a short article about the most common questions visitors to his park asked. Many people, he said, come to the park to hike the beautiful trails that wander through the forest, trails designed to display the magnificent trees and plants, the birds and wild life. Some of these trails take hikers on to hilltops for breathtaking views of the country below. But the most frequent question that visitors ask the forest rangers, he said, was not, “Where does this trail go?” or “How long does it take to hike this trail?” or “Do I need any special equipment for this hike?” The thing most people ask is, “Excuse me, can you tell me where the trail begins?” What a good question. If you want to know where the trail to God begins, it starts with believing in Jesus and repenting of sins.
You see, repentance is about getting the garbage out of your heart and mind so that you can restore your relationship with God. That should be our goal. We should always keep that goal in mind.
I am told that the Magdeburg soccer team in Germany had a very rough season in 2012, much like our Tampa Bay Bucs had in years past. Magdeburg lost five matches without scoring a point. So the die-hard fans decided the team needed a little help. One day at the stadium the fans showed up with large, brightly-colored cardboard arrows. They gathered at the end of the stadium nearest their opponent’s goal. They aimed those arrows at that goal so the Magde-burg players would have no trouble finding the goal when they got the ball. It worked.
We need to get our eyes on the goal. We need to prioritize everything else below our determination to win. And that means, “Get Out the Garbage!”
Waiting Times for Joseph
By Colly Caldwell
“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
I sometimes marvel at the nature and character of Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly guardian while Jesus was growing up. He must have been a very patient man. First, he had to wait to take his bride. Then he had to wait to be with her until after the birth of Jesus. Then he had to wait to go home to Nazareth after Jesus’ birth, for however long we do not know, to secure his family’s safety. And then he had to wait to find Jesus, wondering what on earth had become of him when they left the Passover feast.
It is difficult to know for certain whether the phrase “after three days” describes the time between their original exit from the city until they found Jesus or three days of searching after their return to the city. Most suppose they were one day journeying toward home, one day returning to Jerusalem, and one day searching for Jesus.
In any case, this good man Joseph must have been filled with all kinds of anxious thoughts while patiently going about his search and wondering where this young twelve-year-old might be.
We know, of course, that Jesus was in the Temple grounds, probably in one of the halls where one could find spiritual teaching with Israel’s “spiritual leaders” daily. There were many other places a young boy might enjoy going in Jerusalem and many other things He could have been doing. It was after all the premier city of the day in Israel. While we cannot imagine Jerusalem having some of the wicked entertainment available in our cities today, there were behavioral options. But Jesus was not set on seeing the sights or experiencing the city’s amusements. He was in the midst of the teachers. That is yet another indication of His maturity. Apparently He was sitting on the ground engaged in academic study. This time provided a chance for Him to learn beyond those opportunities He had in Nazareth. He was not in the company of young friends. He was listening carefully to older scholars. There is a time for both, of course, but we should train our children to listen to their “elders” and learn when there are such special opportunities.
Back to our topic, we know that Jesus was probably in the safest place possible while away from His parents, but Joseph (and Mary) did not know that! Those three days must have been torturous for them.
As we have already seen, Joseph had already experienced times of waiting. How do we react to our times of waiting? Do we get angry, scared, cynical, self-pitying? Or do we focus on who God is and look for ways that God could be working in our lives through His Providence to bring us to greater blessings? And how do we use our times of waiting? Do we complain or try to work out all the various options and scenarios in efforts to second-guess the Lord? Such is natural, of course. But is it best? Does it express faith? Is it helpful? Is it even necessary?
I am reminded of a story you might remember as useful when you find yourself waiting like Joseph. Remember, Joseph had to go on about the business of being a Godly man and serving the Lord even in the “waiting times.” A man told of his skydiving experience. The instructor told the group that when they reached a certain spot, he would motion to them to grab hold of a bar in the doorway of the plane. When he told them, they were to roll out of the door, watch for his signal to let go of the bar, and dive out into thin air. The skydiving instructor ended his instructions with these words: “Now when you grab on and roll out, I’m going to tap you on the helmet when it’s time to let go. When I do, that is NOT the time to start a conversation with me. I don’t want this to be like: ‘Who, me? Yes, you.’ Or, ‘Let go?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Now?’ ‘Yes, Now!’ If you start a conversation with me I will peel your fingers off that bar if I have to.”
It takes faith in the difficult waiting times of life to declare to the world that you believe in Jesus. That 2000 years ago a Jewish carpenter was told by an angel that the Savior would come to his house. It takes faith to say that Jesus has saved me from the consequences of my sins and restored me to God. It takes faith to declare that God’s plan for the salvation of the world only comes through Jesus Christ and the way for me to receive that salvation is to be baptized into Him. But that faith sees me through the waiting times.
By Colly Caldwell
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16).
We are sitting on makeshift stands watching our Deacon pitch a complete game. We know that this victory is important in many ways to every player on the team. We excitedly hug each one and congratulate the coach saying, “Thank God we won.”
We are sitting in a surgery waiting room at Tampa General Hospital and the doctor walks in after hours in the operating room and says, “All is well. We got it all. The tumor was benign.” Through our tears of rejoicing we shout, “Thank God.”
We are sitting before our televisions on election night until the official results are announced. We voted for the winners. We say, “Thank God.”
The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made to God” (Phil. 4:6). Hopefully, we are thoughtful and sincere when we say “Thank God” in any of these circumstances. Each has a varying degree of significance to us in a variety of different aspects of our lives. But according to Paul, we should pray to God regarding everything and all those prayers should be accompanied with thanksgiving. And the writer to the Hebrews said we should “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God...giving thanks.”
There are some practical lessons we should learn from the instruction of the New Testament concerning our expressions of gratitude to God and our need for prayer accompanied with thanksgiving.
First, being thankful is a mark of character within us. None of us has much respect for a person who is ungrateful and who does not express appreciation. It doesn’t take that much time to say “Thank you.”
Steve Carlton was given a huge contract to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. At the time he was the highest paid pitcher in the major leagues. What you may not know is that at the end of the 1973 season, Carl-ton asked that his contract be renegotiated. He had won only thirteen games and lost twenty. He said he was grateful for the opportunity to play baseball and appreciated the Phillies for paying him but he had not lived up to their expectations and did not deserve that salary. His character said that he should show his gratitude and this was how he would do it.
Second, being thankful enhances our character. When we sincerely appreciate what God does for us
and what others do for us, we ourselves grow and gain additional character. We become better persons.
There is a story about Kathryn Lawes, wife of the warden of Sing Sing Correctional Facility, thirty miles north of New York City. She and her husband both sponsored prison reform and Kathryn found ways to show the prisoners how much she cared. She came to their ball games. She taught a blind inmate how to read Braille. She learned sign language to be able to communicate with the deaf. When she died in 1937, hundreds of prisoners went to the front gate as a sign of their gratitude to Mrs. Lawes. Her husband is said to have opened the gates and allowed the prisoners on their honor to go to the nearby house where she was lying in repose. That night every inmate returned voluntarily to his cell. Hardened criminals would not betray the Lawes because of their gratitude. They were better persons because of it.
Third, being thankful evidences our faith. When one says “Thank God” sincerely, they acknowledge the One to whom they express gratitude. One does not thank a person who does not exist and who has nothing to do with gifting that person in some meaningful way.
Fourth, being thankful improves our relationships. The writer of Hebrews calls on believers to accompany their praise to God and thanksgiving with doing good and sharing with others. How can saying “Thank you” help but support open communication and be a positive expression of well-wishes. And how is the best way to express our appreciation? It is to pass our blessings forward. If we do good toward others, our relationships with them can only improve.
“Contentment” is not “Contention”
By Colly Caldwell
“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).
Too often we equate contentment with total satisfaction, comfort, and happiness. In some minds contentment involves taking pleasure in constant contention with others and victory in all contests and disputes. One cannot be content unless he/she wins, gets everything he wants, or feels good about every-thing in his/her environment and experience!
When Paul said to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” he set his statement in a context where one variable in being content was contention. We all need to learn that being content does not arise from being contentious. Satisfaction with fighting and winning against our enemies, spending our time being contentious, and/or seeking material gain to support our personal ambitions does not produce contentment. Read the previous verses in which Paul defines this idea saying that some were “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,
useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” Yes, we are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) but that is not done from a contentious spirit. Contention is an enemy of contentment.
We also need to understand that contentment does not come from pursuing pleasure or even from avoiding pain. Preachers who build their appeal on health, wealth, and prosperity are just wrong. Contentment is not dependent upon what we own or who we think we are. Look to those who attain one more major possession (house, automobile, etc.) and see if their contentment is enduring. What about those who receive one more pay raise, solve one more problem, or overcome one more difficulty, pain, or handicap. We say “if only I had that, I could be content the rest of my life.” Really?
Notice again the Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” What is it that produces true contentment?
First, contentment comes when one has a meaningful purpose for living. Disputing, arguing over words, reviling others, and wrangling do not qualify. Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:34). Jesus’ solution to living without worry was to have a grand purpose for living: to be righteous and put aside concern about material things.
The famed cellist, Don Pablo Casals, is said to have arrived at his ninetieth birthday badly stooped and suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis. His daily routine amazed those around him. He also played the piano and every morning before he had breakfast, he hobbled to the piano bench, raised his swollen and clenched fingers above the keyboard, and after slowly unlocking them reached for the keys and began to play. As he moved across the keyboard, his back straightened, he breathed more freely, and his entire body took in the music until he was no longer stiff and shrunken but supple and graceful. When he finished, he arose and walked upright to the dining room with no trace of a shuffle. He never lost the purpose of producing masterful music and for him nothing else gave as much satisfaction. Our purpose is even higher and more noble... we serve God who gave us life.
Second, contentment comes when one orients his activity toward blessing others rather than himself. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful.” Paul said we should not be “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words.” There was a time when we would all agree to this saying, “God (or Jesus) first. Others second. Yourself last.” Somehow that has become reversed in our time. The “ME” generation is all too dominant in the culture we see around us every day. A young woman said, “When I was little, I put my own needs first and everyone said I was being sselfish and inconsiderate. Now everyone says I’m supposed to put my own needs first. But how can I have any self-respect if I’m being selfish and inconsiderate?” She knew she would never be content putting self first.
Third, “contentment” comes from “commitment” to Jesus Christ. How can I rest my head on my pillow every night at peace with myself and God? How can I live without worry? I tell you, contentment can only come with the peace that Jesus brings to our hearts.
He Didn’t Look Like Messiah
By Colly Caldwell
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Sometimes you expect a person and/or thing to look a certain way and then you are surprised when you see them. In fact, you cannot believe your eyes and you say to yourself, “This just cannot be...”
I find this particularly true of radio personalities. About three weeks ago Mark Govan passed away suddenly during a medical procedure to insert a pace maker. Lynda and I had listened to Mr. Govan almost every Sunday morning on the way to church services. He was host of a program called “Florida Gardening.” People called in to get his advice on nearly anything pertaining to their lawns and other plant maintenance. We learned what pesticides to use, what fertilizers were best, and even what plants thrive in the Florida weather and soil environment. We had listened for the longest time and, as one does, we had pictures of Mark in our minds. When I first saw a real picture of him, I was totally surprised. It wasn’t that I saw something I didn’t like. It was just not what I expected.
That seems to most certainly have been the case when the Jews saw the Messiah. He did not appear as they expected and as a result they rejected him. Rejection is a common experience. Sooner or later almost all of us find ourselves rejected. It may be in a school election. It may be in a relationship we anticipate could bring us happiness. It may be for a job that could bring us rewards we will never otherwise attain. I read recently that Sylvester Stallone was rejected more than a hundred times seeking backing for his script for “Rocky.” Imagine you had rejected “Rocky” (and all its subsequent sequels) and woke up one morning to realize that you had turned away hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now imagine waking up on resurrection morning having rejected Jesus and coming to realize you had given up heaven for all eternity. What a tremendous loss...much more than the loss experienced by those movie producers who rejected “Rocky.”
So why did Jesus’ own people reject Him? No doubt there were many reasons. We cannot get into the minds of every ancient person two-thousand years after the fact. Some of the reasons must have been similar to the reasons so many reject Him today: family influences, lifestyle desires, doubts, ignorance, etc., etc. But many apparently rejected Jesus because He simply was not what they expected and they could not get their minds around the fact that this One who was so different truly was the Messiah of prophecy.
He did not look like the Messiah they expected. Isaiah put it this way: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). I’m sure many
expected Jesus to appear surrounded by pomp and splendor, the outward appearances of a King of kings looking like a grand demonstration of manly physique. He did not. They who were impressed by outward appearances must have been terribly disappointed and could not see this One as the Messiah. Frankly, if God’s focus had been upon Jesus’ physical appear-ance, I wonder if we would tire of hearing His story.
He did not talk like the Messiah they expected. Unlike others, Jesus spoke with authority. On one occasion when “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more,” Jesus asked if the apostles would reject Him too. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66-68). Many rejected Jesus because of what He said. His message concerning the kingdom of God presented a totally different picture of “kingdom” than they were expecting nor seemingly could receive.
He did not act like the Messiah they expected. We want our leaders to project an image of strength and toughness. Jesus’ Messiahship exhibited humility and service to those He would lead. And, after all, wouldn’t it have been a tragedy if He came like the Roman emperors or the Herodian kings who truly sought to project the image of force and power.
He did not die like the Messiah they expected. It was an enormous obstacle to first century Jews to believe that the Messiah who was to deliver Israel from her enemies would die like a common criminal by execution on a Roman cross. But the apostle Paul spoke of it as the “foolishness of God” (1 Cor. 1:20-25). He did not look, talk, act , or die as expected, but He brings everlasting joy to our souls.
Increase Our Faith
By Colly Caldwell
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’” (Luke 17:5).
We can only imagine that the disciples were almost overwhelmed with Jesus’ teaching at this point in His ministry. By now they had seen powerful miracles and heard Him speak with authority saying things no other would ever dare to declare. And His commands were never presented as optional, however demanding they were upon the hearts and minds of His hearers.
On this occasion, the apostles listened to Jesus teach and what He said moved them to unanimously speak as a group in beseeching Jesus to “Increase our faith.” We all need to be asking God to assist us in the building of our faith. Personal faith-building is a constant, life-long learning and growing experience. Strong faith in Christ increases from study and constant effort. Each of us should want to be stronger in our commitment and in our ability to overcome temptation and draw closer to God. The apostles’ request was admirable and indicated a desire to serve better and an eagerness to receive help from the Lord.
Just what was it that immediately motivated these disciples to make this unusual request? You may be surprised. As indicated, Jesus seems to have over-whelmed them with his words.
First, He said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (vss. 1-2). In other words, Jesus is telling them not to ever cause someone else to sin. Now that might seem easy enough to avoid. But it was obviously important enough to Jesus that he would go on to say that if one does that, he will suffer extreme punishment. When you think of it, that is going to involve being good all the time. We must not lead another astray either with our teaching, our words, or our actions. Otherwise, we may cause them to sin. The disciples appear to have gotten the seriousness of that. It is going to require a lot of faith, a lot of humility, and a lot of character to keep from causing offenses (scandals) against God. When we think we can just go out with impunity with whomever we want, to wherever we want, do what-ever we want, dress however we want, and say what we want, we forget that we will not go unpunished if such causes another to offend God. Such is “scandal-ous.” So they appealed to Jesus, “Increase our faith” so we won’t be guilty of that in our teaching or actions.
Second, He said, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (vss. 3-4). Now believe it or not, for most this is even harder to do than otherwise being a good influence on others. Too many Christians who seem capable of nearly ever other virtue, cannot seem to forgive those who have hurt or offended them in some way.
You may remember the television series “Monk.” Adrian Monk was a bumbling but effective detective. In one episode, he went to New York in search of his beloved wife’s killer. At the end of that show, he met the man who had placed a bomb under Trudy’s car. The man was near death, lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a morphine drip. As Monk finishes his questioning, the man begs “Forgive me.” Seriously, Monk goes to the IV bag, turns it off, and says, “This is me turning off your morphine.” That, of course, would cause unbearable pain for his wife’s murderer. But a few moments later he says, “This is Trudy turning it back on,” which is what he does. He couldn’t forgive, but he knew Trudy would. Difficult? It takes faith, lots of faith sometimes to forgive. So the disciples begged, “Increase our faith.”
It is interesting to note Jesus’ response. “So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (vs. 6). A mustard seed was the tiniest thing they could imagine. Could it be that Jesus is saying that the faith we have will be sufficient if we will constantly watch ourselves so we don’t cause offenses and if we forgive those who sin against us. While we may all need more faith, perhaps our real need is to put the faith we have into the work of serving God. Is Jesus responding that only a little faith is enough to accomplish seemingly impossible things in God’s service if we are obedient to Christ’s will in our lives? It certainly seems so!
Why Do We Call the Samaritan “Good”
By Colly Caldwell
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him,, and departed, leaving him half dead.... A certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:33-34).
We have all heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” many times but did you realize that nowhere in the parable is the word “good” used to define this man’s character. Perhaps Jesus did not want to use that term to describe him as a person because as He says in another place, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is God” (Luke 18:19). Nonetheless, I think we can rightly say that there was “good” in the noble actions of this Samaritan; such “good” in fact that Jesus uses him as exemplary for His followers for all time. So what is there in Jesus’ message that causes us to call him the “good” Samaritan?
For one thing, it was “good” that he did not turn his back on someone in distress. Too often we see another person hurting and we look away. That’s what the priest and Levite did. They ignored a person who was no less than themselves and who was in need of help. We can only speculate why they ignored him but whatever the reasons they turned their backs on him and refused to grant him even basic human kindness.
There is a statement often attributed to Mark Twain which was probably said by Christian Nestell Boyee in his “Thoughts, Feelings, & Fancies (1857): “Kindness is a language the dumb can speak and the deaf can hear and understand.” Everyone can understand the language of kindness. It can be spoken in any dialect and comprehended by persons of any nationality. The rich and poor, the old and young, male or female, all appreciate what kindness says to both the head and the heart. The Samaritan was considered a foreigner, but he reached out to someone in need and he speaks volumes to us today.
Another “good” thing about this man’s actions in Jesus’ story is his willingness to disrupt his schedule to help another. Time is precious and the Samaritan had some place to go but he stopped. A study a few years ago found that the average American spends 8 months of his life opening junk mail; 2 years trying to return phone calls; and 5 years standing in line. How much of our lives do we give to others in need?
The story goes that Clara Barton, a nurse during the American Civil War and founder of the Red Cross, was treating injured soldiers at Bull Run when it appeared her station would be overrun. She was frantically bandaging a soldier when an officer rode up holding the reins of an unsaddled horse. He asked if she could ride bareback. She nodded that she could and he yelled, “Then you can risk another hour!” The Samaritan risked another hour. He was willing to get involved. He was willing to sacrifice his time. He was willing to walk and let the wounded ride. He was willing to pay the bill.
So often situations jump out at us unexpectedly. We need to be prepared for when we least expect a need. Inconvenience should not be our first thought. Unwill-ingness should not be our first reaction. Whatever the motive for the selfishness of the priest and Levite, we should cast it aside in ourselves.
And it was “good” that this man took compassion on the wounded traveler. Suffering is a universal human condition. Heartache and sorrow was experi-enced this past week by those at the bedside of a young dying boy. It is painful to empathize with others but if Jesus had not felt our human condition and borne our grief, where would we be?
Leading up to this parable, the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” We are all neighbors for we all share the same human needs. Money, power, social status or prestige do not make us immune. One poig-nant picture of Ronald Reagan was viewed by the nation as he went into Bethesda Naval Hospital carry-ing a plant for his wife who had undergone a serious surgery. At that moment he did not think about being the President. He was only concerned for Nancy. We need to feel ourselves in others, whoever they are, because they are God’s children and God loves them.
By Colly Caldwell
“Go your way; behold I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, sack, nor sandals...” (Luke 10:3-4).
Lynda and I always enjoy the opportunity to travel to Europe. The other day we received another invitation to visit Arrigo and Patrizia Corazza in Italy. Since we support both Arrigo in Piza and his brother Stephano in Rome, we may try to take them up on their offer next year if the Lord wills.
One thing we learned from Ferrell and Elizabeth Jenkins when we went to the Bible lands with them was to travel light. Carrying too much baggage only weighs one down and makes all the necessary walking more tedious. Besides, it is not needed. When going from city to city, you do not need to be so fashionable and/or have a different outfit for every day of the trip; unless, of course, you are trying to impress the others in the tour group who came to see the sites and could care less what you are wearing. We took a trip once in the States and our traveling partners mailed home their dirty clothes so they could buy more souvenirs.
Jesus once chose seventy disciples and sent them out on a mission that would prepare people to listen to Him when he arrived in their cities. It was not inter-national travel but they apparently were assigned specific locations and given a limited time frame before getting back to Him. They were to travel light so as to be unburdened by “stuff.” One of the sacri-fices that those who preach for extended times in foreign countries make is to discard or to store almost all of their possessions before leaving home.
I am told that typically a Jew in ancient Palestine had five articles of clothing: two tunics (one an inner gar-ment and the other an outer one used as a coat by day and blanket by night), a girdle or waistband (used to tie the tunics in place), a head covering, and sandals. When away from home, one would take a wallet or traveler’s bag in which he carried his money and food (no McDonalds or 7Eleven). But Jesus told the seventy disciples to leave behind the money bag and clothing other than what they had on. Too much “stuff” would only delay or hinder their mission.
I wonder sometimes if there is not a message in this for us today. Perhaps we find ourselves so bogged down with material things, burdens, activities, and concerns of this life that we can barely get out of our own way to do the important things of life. We drag around so much baggage that we become preoccu-pied with this world and fail to focus on the things Jesus has called upon us to do...serve Him, do for others, set good examples, etc. So many people and so many families have complicated lives trying to keep track of all the conflicting schedules while running in different directions with no time to communicate because they are trying to carry around life’s baggage.
Jesus warned that Christians can fall among “thorns.” Those are the ones who, “when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14). When cautioning those who forget there will be judg-ment, he said, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34).
Such warnings Jesus frames in an analogy picturing his disciples as sheep. They were being sent out with good motives and nothing in their spirits which would cause them to do harm. They were innocent of wrong but they would be vulnerable and there would be aggressive opposition. We need to understand that it will not always be easy going and traveling light (with-out all the world’s baggage) makes it easier. And traveling light knowing that the Lord will provide what we need makes it possible.
Someone has noted that sheep are sometimes like us in terms of carrying heavy burdens. If left too long without sheering, sheep’s fleece can become heavy. It can become matted with mud and burrs and other debris so that the sheep are weighed down with their own wool. They become helpless and useless. That is an interesting analogy to our situations in life.
Sheep do not enjoy being sheared, but it must be done and when it is over, there is great relief. There is no longer a threat to well-being and there is pleasure in being set free from the hot, heavy coat. You and I are like sheep. But we have a Good Shepherd. Travel light and enjoy the blessings of His oversight and direction without the burdens of this world.
By Colly Caldwell
“And the angel of the Lord came back the second time and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kgs 19:7-8).
Elijah prophesied during the reign of wicked king Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel (874-53 B.C.). Like Moses and others whom God gave great missions, he felt inadequate to his task. Perhaps the most glaring example of that came after his greatest success. You remember that God told Elijah to gather the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Jehovah would prove Him-self over their gods and vindicate Elijah. Well, God did that and hundreds of Baal prophets were seized and executed. But Queen Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah’s head and he was forced to run for his life. “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said: ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!.’” It was just too much for him to handle...he thought!
Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed by some mission you felt inadequate to handle? I read a story about Jimmy Stewart, the actor. He was a colonel in the Air Force stationed in England during the Second World War. Tomorrow he would command a squadron of bombers on a dangerous mission over Germany. He knew that some of the planes would not return and that some of the aviators would die or be captured. He could not sleep. During the night he pulled out a stained letter from his father back in Pennsylvania. The note was intended to provide reassurance to a beloved son. Included in the envelope was a copy of the 91st Psalm: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God in Him I will trust.’ Surely He shall deliver you...” (vss. 1-3). Those words gave Colonel Stewart the courage to fly.
Most of us take on some scary mission in our lifetime. We live in a scary world. It really doesn’t matter what your mission is. It probably won’t be flying a bomber mission, although some are needed to defend our country or protect our citizens domestically in police forces. It probably for most will not be calling out the advocates of social ills before the media, although all of us must stand up against the outrageous evils of our day. Your mission may be caring for a spouse or becoming a parent charged with raising a child. It may be taking on a new job or entering the medical or teaching profession where critical decisions affecting the lives of others take place every day. Your mission may now be dealing with some continuing or terminal disease or caring for someone with illness. Whatever our mission, the future looks confusing and uncertain.
Is it questionable that we will succeed?
Elijah felt overwhelmed by the obstacles thrown in his path by Jezebel. He longed for certainty, even if that meant the certainty of his own death. He cried out for the Lord to take him out of this situation by letting him die. He was hurting physically with hunger. He was hurting emotionally. He was even hurting spiritually. How could he survive?
It was at this point, as Elijah was sitting under a broom tree in the wilderness praying that he might just die, that God stepped in. You might think it ironic that Elijah’s crisis of confidence came so shortly after the great victory God gave him at Mount Carmel. He saw himself as one without the needed skills or abilities but he forgot that God was not going to forsake him. The writer of Hebrews articulated God’s constant promise to His children: “be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
Our mission may be (“should” be) to be a faithful disciple of Christ in this confusing and unsettling world filled with all kinds of temptation. Please remember the words of the apostle Paul: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). We sometimes think we are alone and that we are only human. But we are not “only human.” We have the greatest Helper to get us through the difficulties and provide what is needed to accomplish our mission. “Arise, eat and drink” God’s blessings and let Him carry you to success.