“I acted out of who I was, not by how I felt.”

Those of us who are reading through the Bible this year using The Message paraphrase have been spending the last couple weeks in Ezekiel, and it hasn’t been pleasant. The messages that God gave Ezekiel to proclaim, and to even demonstrate, were primarily messages of judgment. And God was very explicit!

In an attempt to make the judgments of God even more explicit, the author of The Message sometimes makes it sound even worse than it does in the NASB. On the flip side, however, the promises of God, and the way He feels, are stated in ways that paint an even clearer picture of the heart of God. I especially like the way God is pictured in Ezekiel 20 expressing how He decides to act the way He does.

After expressing His anger over the repeated sin and unfaithfulness of His people, and His resolve to pour out His wrath on them, the NASB accurately says, “But I acted for the sake of My name.”

Peterson puts it this way: “They rebelled against me, wouldn’t listen to a word I said. None got rid of the vile things they were addicted to. I seriously considered inflicting my anger on them in force right there in Egypt. Then I thought better of it. I acted out of who I was, not by how I felt.” And then, after documenting a couple more times when God’s people sinned against Him, Peterson has God twice again saying, “I acted out of who I was, not by how I felt.”

That phrase really struck me, and I think that paraphrase really nails it. God acts out of who He is, not by how He feels. And since we are made in His image, I’m certain He would have us do the same. He even makes it possible for us to do so.

“For here’s what I’m going to do: …I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. …You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God.!” (Ezekiel 36:24-28)

Let’s make sure we act out of who we are, not by how we feel.

God Bless, Rick

A Brother in Need

The last thing she said to me before leaving the house was, “Don’t go alone to talk to him.”

He had left a message earlier in the day, and called again while we were in Bible study. His message was that he goes to a new independent Christian church in the Los Angeles area, was not too far from us, and needed a pastor or elder to talk with on the phone. When I called him back he asked if I had time to talk, and I told him I really didn’t, but would call him back in the morning if that was okay with him.

When I did, he informed me that he had AIDS, had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and was at Motel 6. He said he had gone to Maryland to see his mother and sisters, who he hadn’t seen in a long time. They didn’t know he was sick, and were shocked when they saw he had gone from 230 pounds to 119. They were even more shocked when he told them he had come to know Jesus, and had left his gay lifestyle. His mom was an orthodox Jew, but she and his sisters had all embraced new age beliefs. They made it very clear they wanted nothing to do with him now that he was a Christian, and tossed his luggage into the street, without his train ticket home. He ended up here because the person who picked him up along the road was heading to Springfield. His only remaining friend was sending him a train ticket, and had arranged for him to get from Litchfield to the train station in St. Louis, but he needed to get to the Baymont in Litchfield to sign for the ticket.

What do you do with a story like that? Are you being played, or is it a real need? It was decision time. I decided I would take a chance it was for real, and would drive him to Litchfield. When I called to tell Marilyn, she begged me to ask Mark to go with me, and he graciously agreed to so do.

After we got him a room and had lunch together, he said he had really enjoyed spending time with brothers. We felt the same way. Whether he really is a brother is not relevant to his current need, but it will be wonderful if one day we do meet again as brothers around the throne of our heavenly Father.

God Bless, Rick

Taking a Knife to the Sword

Would you ever tear out a page of the Bible? And if you would, why would you?

Thomas Jefferson didn’t actually tear out pages of the Bible, but he did use a knife to cut out passages he didn’t think should be in it. Others may not cut them out, or tear them out, but simply choose to ignore passages they don’t like. But is there ever a good reason to literally tear out some pages? The answer, surprisingly, is yes.

I recently read an amazing account of an attempted crossing of Antarctica by Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of twenty- seven that took place over a hundred years ago. They began their journey on the Endurance, a ship that didn’t endure. When it became trapped in the frozen sea it was crushed like an egg, leaving them marooned on an ice flow. When they abandoned ship they took the supplies needed for survival, drug two lifeboats onto the ice, and the men were allowed to each take two pounds of personal possessions with them.

By way of example, before the assembled men, Shackleton discarded a handful of gold sovereigns and his gold watch on the ice, followed by his silver brushes and dressing cases. He then took the Bible that had been presented to the ship before departure by Queen Alexandra. Ripping out the flyleaf and a few other pages, he lay the Bible on the ice. The pages he retained were those of the Twenty-third Psalm and these verses from Job:
Out of the womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone
And the face of the deep is frozen.

He may have read those verses while preparing to sail into the frozen deep, and they apparently spoke to him. And, unlike the author of Hebrews who prefaced a quote with, “One has testified somewhere, saying…”, he knew where to find it.

I’m not suggesting that we unnecessarily tear out pages of the Bible to keep with us, but if our memory doesn’t allow us to hide the word in our heart very well, we should at least mark the passages that really speak to us so we can find them in a time of need.

God Bless, Rick

Snappy Sportsmanship

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a sports fan, and that’s an understatement. I do, however, go to a lot of sporting events. In fact, there have been weeks when I have witnessed, and even cheered, at more games than I have fingers.

Why would someone who never played sports, and doesn’t really like sports, go to so many sporting events? The answer, of course, is that I have four grandchildren in the area who play basketball, baseball, volleyball, football, soccer, and golf. And we have two in Tennessee who are also into sports.

Having not grown up in a sports oriented family, it’s hard for me to understand the importance placed on sports by so many. I’m not blind to the benefits of working together and striving to win, or the personal discipline needed to excel, but my lack of love for sports probably causes me to overreact when I see poor sportsmanship on the field, and parents who forget it’s just a game.

While sitting in the bleachers at a football game on a recent Friday night I was appalled that a group of fathers were not only cheering on their boys, but yelling for them to hurt players on the other team. I know football is supposed to be rough, but I’m pretty sure there would have been some really angry men if their sons had been intentionally injured.

And then there was the time Carter’s soccer team was playing a team that is known for it’s “aggressive” style of playing. Why they play the way they play was made obvious when the coach was ordered off the field by the referee.

The boy who was to keep Carter from scoring not only played “aggressively”, but constantly attacked him verbally. After the game Carter told us of an interesting exchange that took place on the field.

After telling Carter that he sucked at soccer, but Jesus still loved him, Carter responded, “And you may be a bully, but Jesus still loves you.”

I do enjoy watching the grandkids play sporting events, and I’m proud when they do well. But Carter did especially well that afternoon.

God Bless, Rick

Thinking About the Box

Boxes serve a good purpose, and are used for good reasons. They contain, and they protect. We can even think of the boundaries God has set for us, and that we need to set for our children, as boxes. They are intended to keep us from harming ourselves, or others.

On the other hand, boxes can restrain and hold us back. Thus we are often told to think outside the box.

Sometimes, however, we just need to think about the box. Something I failed to do last Thursday.

On Thursday evenings I go to the gun range, and shoot competitively. Chuck, Jamie, my brother-in-law Frank, and I usually shoot together, and then head to the café for some food, guy time, and gun talk. Last week I really gave them something to talk about. In fact, even before I got there, they told the waitress to ask me about the box.

The stage that we were shooting required that we shoot from three areas marked on the floor called boxes. Two of them were small, and the long one in the middle had a couple of barrels in it we had to shoot around. After I shot the first time, the range officer pointed to my feet. I had failed to step into the middle box.

The stage called for 22 shots, and if all hits were in the A zone, you could earn 110 points. I had shot 12 times outside the box, and therefore received 12 ten point procedural penalties. 120 points were deducted from my score. You can do the math.

The second time I shot, I remembered the box. I would have done okay, if my pistol hadn’t jammed.

When I later shot my carbine, I did great. I only missed one A, and it was on the swinging target. Then I heard the groaning and laughter. I had once again failed to step into the box.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I guess it’s that it’s easy to forget to think about the box. And not only do we need to remember it, we need to remember why it’s there. So next time someone tells you to think outside the box, or you are considering stepping outside the box, just make sure you think first.

God Bless, Rick