Simon rolled over as he heard the rooster crow. It was still dark outside. He lay there recalling the dream from the night before. It was the same recurring dream he’d had over the last year, since the previous time he had visited Jerusalem. He had dreamt of the man they called Jesus, who had so captivated his attention. This man who attracted such large crowds, and was somehow able to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, had invaded his dreams. And just as all the other dreams, he would hear the voice of Jesus saying,
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
Through his dreams over the last year, those words from Jesus had become so familiar to him. But he wondered, what did they mean? Take up your cross? Follow Jesus? Give up your life? Good News? What good news? Gaining the world? Losing your soul?
He lay there pondering… wondering… and then the rooster crowed again.
He jumped up and hurriedly dressed. He had a busy day ahead of him. But as was his custom each morning, he opened his small scroll. On it he had written key passages from the prophets that had always been an encouragement to him. He skimmed down the parchment and read these words from the prophet Isaiah:
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:3-7)
Some had told Simon this passage referred to Israel’s coming Messiah but he struggled to understand why He would be oppressed. If only Simon’s Messiah would come during his lifetime. What a joy that would be.
Simon reached for some bread as he left the small inn he frequented when visiting Jerusalem. He needed to take care of some business while in Jerusalem that day. Tomorrow he would visit the Temple for Passover before beginning his journey back to Cyrene the following week. He was eager to return to his family, and be reunited with his wife and sons, Alexander and Rufus.
The sun was shining through the clouds as Simon made his way into Jerusalem. While there were always many people coming and going, he detected that something was different. There was a huge commotion up ahead and he quickened his pace to draw closer to see what all the yelling was about. He rounded a corner in the road and all of a sudden he came face to face with a threatening group of Roman soldiers. They were stopped and screaming at a man who had fallen to the ground with a large wooden cross pinning him to the ground. The man hardly looked human, and his clothes were soaked in blood as he struggled and moaned.
As Simon took this all in, he heard the taunts and yells of many of the religious elite along the road. He recognized some of them from his time in the Temple. He wondered what would cause these men to express such anger and hatred towards the man who had stumbled and fallen beneath the weight of the large cross he was bearing.
As he was processing all of this, Simon was immediately jolted from his thoughts by one of the foreboding Roman soldiers, who grabbed Simon by the arm. The soldier’s grip was powerful. Simon was tempted to confront the Roman, but he quickly thought better as he counted the number of Roman soldiers that surrounded him.
The soldier barked out his order: “Hey! You! Get down there and pick up that cross. Give a hand to Israel’s King and Messiah,” the soldier mockingly jeered. The order was clear and threatening. Simon had no choice. It was either acquiesce or perhaps meet the same fate as this poor soul, who was clearly headed for his own demise soon.
Simon leaned down, pickup up the wooden cross, and began to heave it onto his broad shoulders. Simon was no small man, but the weight of the burden was a challenge, even for him. As he began to rise, he caught a quick glimpse of the disfigured and bloody man who was attempting to get back up to his feet. He looked familiar. Had Simon seen him before? How could he have?
Simon fell in behind the condemned man as the soldiers led the way up the hill. As Simon trudged along, all of a sudden the wounded, struggling man in front of him spoke out:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…”
The man continued speaking but Simon was no longer listening to his words. Rather, he was trying to place where he had heard that voice before. The face was familiar. Now the voice was also. Simon struggled under the load of the cross…
The cross! That was it!
Those recurring dreams all of a sudden burst into Simon’s mind. The voice and face in his dreams. They were the same ones as the man struggling to walk in front of him. Could it be that this was Jesus, the one whom Simon had heard over and over in his dreams, yet he had never met?
As they turned a corner, the bloodied man in front of Simon turned ever so slightly and Jesus’ eyes caught the eyes of Simon for a brief moment. In that millisecond he knew that Jesus understood everything about him. The battered and bloodied man knew Simon’s innermost thoughts, secrets, struggles and failures. Simon shuddered. He felt ashamed. He felt needy. It was as if God Himself had just peered into the very recesses of Simon’s heart and soul. Yet, he also sensed a deep love from that glance from Jesus. But how could that be?
As Simon neared the hill that everyone knew as Golgotha, he realized that this was their destination. He wondered how it was that the man who had performed such wonderful deeds and miracles for so many could now be facing this brutal fate? What could Jesus have done that could have been worthy of death by crucifixion?
All of a sudden the soldiers barked out some orders and Simon’s thoughts were interrupted. They had arrived at their destination and he eagerly dropped the heavy load on the ground and carefully backed away from the soldiers. As he did so, the words of Jesus all of a sudden resonated in his thoughts: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Simon fell back into the crowd of onlookers. His clothes were stained with the blood of Jesus that covered the cross. His body ached. His mind was swirling. He had literally taken up the cross of Jesus and followed him. But is this what Jesus meant when He challenged so many with those words a year ago and in his dreams so many times? As he continued to try to reconcile the events of the morning with the words of Jesus, Simon heard Jesus pleading from the cross,
“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
By now it was midday, but for some unexplained reason, the sky was growing dark and black. It was as if night had descended on the world. Fear began to grip Simon, as did many others watching this gruesome execution. Simon could stand it no more. As the tears welled up in his eyes, Simon turned to go down the hill, and as he did, he heard Jesus cry out one final time,
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
As Jesus’ lifeless body hung silent and still, it seemed as if the world was coming to an end. The ground began to shake and rocks on the side of the hill began to split and tumble down. People were running and screaming. Simon was terrified. He began to run as well.
Why was this happening? Did the death of Jesus cause all this? Simon ran back to his room at the inn where he had been staying. He was overwhelmed with emotion and his mind was swirling.
Simon entered his room and collapsed onto his bed, sobbing as if his own soul had been torn in two. As he lay there for what seemed like an eternity, Simon was processing the events of the day. He recalled the soldier mocking Jesus, referring to the bloody man as “Israel’s King and Messiah.”
The words from his scroll that morning came to mind.
“Despised. Rejected. Pierced. Crushed. Beaten. Whipped. The Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.”
Over the next three days, Simon remained close to the inn where he was staying. He was overwhelmed with the crucifixion and the role he had played in it. Yet, as he remained transfixed with the event, the mystery was becoming more and more clear to Simon, almost supernaturally.
Jesus was the Messiah! His coming as Israel’s Savior, and death as their Redeemer, was predicted 700 years earlier by Isaiah, the prophet. Jesus had willingly taken up the cross that He knew would ultimately bring His own death. But it was necessary because of Simon’s sins. That’s why he had felt so ashamed, and also loved simultaneously, when Jesus peered into Simon’s eyes along the road to Golgotha, the hill where Jesus died.
But how could a dead man be the Messiah? Jesus seemed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy perfectly, but if He was dead, what purpose did His death serve? How could Jesus be Israel’s Savior?
Simon decided to revisit the place that had caused his entire life to come to an abrupt pause. Perhaps by returning to the place of death he could make sense of life.
On his way to Golgotha, Simon’s route took him by a garden that he recognized as a place to bury the dead. As he passed the entrance, he tossed a quick glance into the lush garden. But what he saw next stopped him abruptly in his tracks. Just 30 feet away, he saw a large round tombstone rolled away from the entrance to a tomb. At the entrance, a man glowing in a radiant white was speaking to a woman who had fallen down at the man’s feet.
Simon recognized the woman as one of the ladies who had been at Golgotha just three days earlier when Jesus was crucified. She was shaking uncontrollably, but he wasn’t certain whether it was out of fear or joy, or perhaps both. As Simon’s eyes moved from the woman up to the man with the glowing face, he nearly collapsed. His heart stopped. His eyes were affirming that the man he was peering at was Jesus. But his mind could not process what he was seeing. How could this be? He had seen Jesus die. But now here He was… ALIVE!
And then, in a millisecond, Jesus turned his gaze to Simon and their eyes met. In that instant, Simon’s eyes, mind, and heart affirmed the truth of what he was seeing. The same gaze that three days earlier had looked deep into Simon’s soul as Simon bore the bloody cross of Jesus, was once again looking into Simon’s heart. Simon fell to the ground, in submission and adoration, and as he did he yelled out, “Jesus, my Lord and my Messiah!”
The dreams now made sense. Simon understood that following Jesus might mean losing his life, but his soul would be eternally saved. He knew that there was nothing more valuable than his soul… not his business, not the prestige he sought, not even his wife and children. He would pick up his cross from that day forward and follow Jesus, no matter what it might cost him. How could he do less when Jesus had given His all?
Years later, the Apostle Paul referenced a man named Rufus, and his mother, in Romans 16:13:
“Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.”
Tradition suggests that this Rufus was the same Rufus that Mark described as the son of Simon, the Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus, in Mark 15:21:
“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)”
So while much of this Easter story involves my own imagination, it’s entirely possible that the personal encounter between Simon and Jesus on the road to Golgotha may have in fact led Simon to “pick up his cross and follow Jesus.” And if so, his example likely led his wife and children to follow Christ as well.
So what about you? Will you this Easter make the greatest decision you will ever make, and choose to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
From the beginning of time, God has always been straightforward in His communication with mankind — particularly when it comes to what is right and what is wrong. We see God’s first example of this simplicity when He created Adam and Eve. In the Garden of Eden God did not set up a complicated code of laws, or even a set of 10 commandments. He had just one law:
Don’t eat the apple!
While God’s law was simple and unambiguous, it was quickly complicated by the first couple. When Satan came slithering up to Eve in the form of a serpent to tempt her, Eve embellished God’s law. Eve complicated God’s simplicity by adding her own new requirement and interpretation:
Don’t eat the apple… or touch it!
From that day to this present one, man has continued to add to, embellish, interpret, and complicate God’s laws. We have attempted to “perfect” what cannot be perfected. By doing so, we have complicated what is simple. And we have altered what God established.
In our day, there is perhaps no greater example of man’s altering and complicating God’s simple and perfect law, than in the battle for Life.
The second major sin ever recorded by God in the Bible was the taking of an innocent life. We read in Genesis 4 that Cain killed Abel, his righteous brother. Since that day, man has been prematurely ending the most precious gift ever given to man: Life.
God was so displeased with man’s evil actions that He “complicated” His original law, and established 10 commandments. Amongst that list of 10 laws is this one simple command:
Thou shalt not kill!
Simple. Unambiguous. Direct.
Yet man has debated, argued, defined, redefined, and will continue to complicate, a simple standard.
What is life? When does it begin? When does it end? Under what scenario is it right to end life?
While man confuses, Jesus, the Son of God, simplifies and uncomplicates. Man muddies. Jesus clarifies.
When Jesus walked the earth, He regularly confronted the leaders of His day, both political and religious. As He did, Jesus would dismantle the complicated systems that these leaders had built up. And when it came to Life, Jesus could not have been more clear about the standard God established.
One day Jesus was confronted with the opportunity to heal a man. But doing so would have violated the complicated requirements that the Jewish leaders had established. These leaders had taken one of the original 10 commandments, “Keep the sabbath holy” and they had built around that simple standard an entire laundry list of codes and requirements. By doing so, the elite “interpreted” what man could and couldn’t do.
But Jesus, the very Author of Life, obliterated the complicated reasoning of the elite, when He had this to say:
“Then he (Jesus) turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.” Mark 3:4
In one sentence, Jesus destroyed every argument, debate, and discussion about the worthiness of every child in the womb. And this is the question every politician, judge, activist, and expectant Mommy and Daddy in America should ask themselves:
“Is this a day to save life or destroy it?”
Simple. Uncomplicated. Clear. Unambiguous.
When a heart is beating, we have two options:
Save Life: Allow the heart to continue to beat.
Destroy Life: End the beating of that little heart.
Last week I wrote about Annie, a little girl whose life was destroyed, because her mother allowed politicians, laws, peers, and her own personal desires, to complicate God’s simple standard. Since the writing of my story last week (An Aborted Life: The Thoughts & Dreams of Baby Annie), 30,000 little Annies and Johnnys have been lost in America — their lives destroyed because the hearts of 30,000 mothers and fathers were confused. They were deceived into believing that taking a life in the womb is okay because man’s law allows them to do so.
But there is only One Righteous Standard for life. It is God’s, not man’s. So when God established the standard, “Thou shalt not kill” there is a very clear and uncomplicated way for knowing if we have violated His law, as it applies to little Annie in the womb:
Do we save life or destroy life?
Regardless of whether you believe you have a right to control what goes on inside your body, if you end your pregnancy, are you saving life or destroying life? Is the heart beating? Will your “pro-choice” belief stop the beating of that little heart?
If you are a Mommy with a little heart beating inside your womb, I pray you will call out to God for His strength to Save Life and reject the temptation to Destroy Life. If you will call upon God, He will offer you the grace to help in your time of need.
It was the period before Time… better known as Eternity Past. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit opened the Book of Life. In it they wrote down her name.
Her beauty was angelic. Her features were flawless. Her heart was tender. Her birth was predestined. Her parents were chosen. Annie’s life to come was joyfully celebrated. The triune God along with the angels of heaven were eager for the day when little Annie would be conceived.
Annie’s future was to be a bright one. Not only would she bring extreme joy to her parents, she would also be the one to reconcile them to God, through the miracle of her birth. Annie would bring hope and relief to millions. As she grew she would become a medical doctor, and God would use Annie to discover the cure to a cursed disease that had taken the lives of so many in the world.
But wait. Eternity Past would first need to intersect with Time — for a few short millenniums.
As Time briefly took center stage, the day of Annie’s conception approached. And then it arrived. Annie’s first moment of life began as her parents, yet unwed, succumbed to their desires. While their passion was driven by pleasure, it resulted in the blessing of Annie’s life. God had ordained her precious life. As He looked upon that moment, knowing that Annie was not conceived according to His laws, God still loved Annie and her parents. In fact, it had been known in eternity past that Annie’s life would begin in this manner. It did not change God’s master plan.
Those first moments of Annie’s life turned to days, and days to weeks. As they did, Annie’s little body began to take form. As she began to grow, the first hints of thought began to materialize. Annie’s little brain, not yet completely formed, was nonetheless beginning to recognize sensations, warmth, sounds, even light. She was unsure of what she was sensing, but she felt safe… secure… wanted… loved. It was a feeling that she could not yet describe, but she relished it. She felt at ease. She instinctively knew that she was where she belonged.
The weeks passed and as they did she began to hear sounds. Melodious sounds. Music that gave her pleasure. She also heard a steady continuous sound that never ceased. In fact it was two sounds… one faster, the other slower. One louder, the other softer. Thump… thump… thumpity-thump. Her heart and that of her Mommy’s often lulled her to sleep.
But she also heard what she would soon come to know as voices. The higher one was always with her. The lower sound would sometimes be there — although it sounded a little more distant. Annie instinctively knew that the higher sound would always care for and love her. But that lower sound was mysterious, one she also longed to meet. Annie’s heart accelerated whenever she heard those two sounds together. They were sounds that she loved deeply.
As Annie became more aware of these sounds and emotions she became even more at ease. She felt so peaceful in this warm place. She would sleep often and as she did, she would dream.
Annie wasn’t quite sure how to relate to what she dreamed of since the thoughts she had were not borne out by any experience. But it was as if Someone was supernaturally guiding Annie’s thoughts and interpreting her dreams for her. She envisioned the smile of her father. She dreamt of the caresses of her mother. While she felt safe inside her mother, she also longed to see and touch the one who was bearing her. She sensed that this warm place was temporary… that there was a better place for her. Her dreams affirmed this. And so she began to grow restless to see the ones she had dreamt of often.
As the weeks had now turned into many months, Annie longed for something else. She felt confined. It was becoming more difficult to stretch her legs and arms. The continuous thumpity-thump she now understood was her heart and her Mommy’s. The sounds she now knew as voices. The low one was her Daddy’s and the higher one was her Mommy’s. Her dreams had revealed these things to her and so she longed to meet them. She could sense that the time was growing near.
As she began to sense the day was approaching, she suddenly heard the thumpity-thump sound of her Mommy’s heart accelerate to a pace she had never heard before. Instantly she felt something she had never sensed. It’s as if the fear of her Mommy had been transferred to her. Annie’s own heart began to speed up. She knew something was not right. For the first time in her existence she felt fear. She no longer felt secure, safe, or protected.
And then it happened. An intense moment of pain. Her cry was silent. No one heard her. Annie writhed in pain. She attempted to pull away from the pain. She tried to grasp her Mommy but the pain just grew exponentially. The sound of her own heart had accelerated to such a rapid pace that it seemed like one continuous thump. She thought her heart would explode. The pain was more than she could bear. She screamed one last time, hoping her Mommy would save her. And once more, no one heard Annie.
And then it stopped………..
The thump was gone. The sounds were gone. The feeling was gone. No more. Annie was gone. Her body was limp… bleeding… lifeless… apart…
Annie’s Mommy lay there, weeping as the procedure continued. For an instant she almost thought she heard her little baby crying. The physical pain Annie’s Mommy felt was dwarfed by the emotional trauma and guilt she was enduring. What had she done? Why had she done this? The precious life inside her was gone… forever… never to be restored.
Just as quickly as all had stopped for Annie, God’s little one instantly found herself in the presence of the Author of Life. Annie’s delicate rosy cheeks were wet with the tears of loss. Her life inside her Mommy was over… but her eternal life had just begun. The dreams she’d had were not to be. The joy she would bring to her parents would not occur. The cure that God had desired for her to bring to the world was lost — and many more would die because of her own death. As she thought of her Mommy and Daddy, whom she had never met, her body quivered with emotion and the tears continued to flow.
But as Annie looked up, she saw the face of a Glorious Man, and His voice said, “Come to me little child.” As Jesus spoke, He stooped down and wiped Annie’s tears dry, and as He did, Annie felt the embrace that she had dreamt of so often. She knew she was now safe, secure, forever.
“Oh that you would choose life…” Deuteronomy 30:18
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalms 139:13, 15-16
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
“Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” Psalms 127:3
America is a mess. The world is in even greater turmoil. If one is a prognosticator, the outlook for the future is less than favorable.
An honest assessment of our nation would leave any young person discouraged and depressed. Bankrupt is the word that might best describe our current status in these areas and so many more:
As someone who is the father of two millennial young men, I look at the condition of our nation, our communities, and our families, and there is only one place I can go to ascribe blame.
Yes, my generation, and perhaps those before, are accountable for the drastic decline in the bankrupt conditions we are grappling with today. Our focus, our attention, and our priorities shifted little by little, year after year, decade after decade. And this slight change of direction over the years has veered us of course from much that is good, pure, and God-honoring.
It’s possible that many of us in my generation are beginning to see the errors of our ways, and we are seeking to acknowledge before God Almighty, and a searching world, that we have wronged Him. But as we have wronged our Creator, we have inadvertently wronged our posterity.
But, while I may have run my leg of this ongoing relay race poorly, and while I may have even dropped the baton I was carrying, as I pick it up and hand it off to the next generation of millennials, there is only one way that this new generation can run a better race than their forefathers, and have hope for their own future.
That hope is in change. And the hope I am referring to is not in some change in a political message. Or a social justice message. Or an environmental message. Or even in a message of tolerance.
Rather, the hope for this next generation is in God, the One who has never stumbled, never faltered, and never wavered. Consider what the Psalmist had to say about the hope for each new generation, including millennials:
“So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. Then they will not be like their ancestors— stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.” Psalms 78:7-8
Yes, my generation was, and perhaps still is, stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful. We have refused to give our hearts entirely to God, being lured into many “good” things, but perhaps not the best. But if we are honest, we may have also been lured into many bad things as well.
But lest any of you millennials begin to pile on the criticism of your parents and forefathers, I caution you to consider that the same temptations and struggles that we have experienced will be presented to you as well. A foolish response would conclude that “I can stand; or I will withstand, the temptations that derailed my fathers.”
But God warns, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” A common thread that binds all generations to each other are the frailties, the struggles, and the failures that each of us experiences. We are all infected with a spiritual virus that, if left untreated, will always result in national, cultural, moral, and individual spiritual bankruptcy.
But there is hope by returning to God.
Perhaps that sounds trite, so just what does a life that “returns to God” look like? Does that person put on the attire of a monk or nun, and then retreat to a secluded corner of the earth somewhere? Or is it possible to have a fully engaged, productive, and exciting life, while still returning to God?
Yes, Yes, and Yes again!
Life will never be experienced to its fullest and it will never truly be fulfilling until a person embraces God fully. To embrace God though, it may require you and me to change our behavior, our priorities, and our values. So here’s a quick list of some things that will characterize a person who is embracing God:
Bible — this will become the most important Book in your life and you will seek after it like a thirsty man seeks water. So a life that returns to God will read the Bible, everyday, for the rest of his life. And read it a lot.
Pray — you and I will communicate with God many times daily, sharing our deepest secrets, struggles, needs and victories, just as we would our closest friend.
Repent — as we fail God, falling short of His clear standard, we will promptly acknowledge our sin, and in a spirit of humility and sorrow, repent of our transgressions to God, because of the forgiveness that is offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son.
Return — When we repent, we will return to the top of this list and begin reading and praying again.
Serve — Jesus taught, both in word and deed, that the greatest among us would be a servant. So one of God’s way to the hearts of men is through service. Ask God to soften your heart, seek humility, and then walk through the doors God opens as you begin to live the life of a servant. You will be amazed at the abundant opportunities that are all around you to demonstrate the heart of Jesus via service.
Glorify — man’s chief aim and purpose is to glorify God. That is what you and I were created to do. While this may seem like a vague purpose, if you begin to meditate on just what this means, and find how you can do so via God’s Word, God will begin to quicken your mind to the unlimited ways in which you can glorify the One who has given you the breath of life, and everything else you have. Remember, “whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I Corinthians 10:31
So as you consider the many bankruptcies confronting you and me, “let’s not get tired of doing what is good.” We will all be judged individually, regardless of what an entire nation is doing. The old, godly way is the one that will lead to true fulfillment in life, and it’s the only one that offers peace in the midst of the storms surrounding us.
I pray that you will grab the baton, and run the race, in a way that you will look back and know that God is pleased. In so doing, you will be assured of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And the eternity ahead, will be one beyond your wildest imaginations!
“This is what the Lord says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” Jeremiah 6:16
“Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young…” Ecclesiastes 12:6
I was recently reading an email from a friend of mine who was warning about the threat of Islam in America. It caught my attention because for many years I too warned folks about the threat of radical Islam. In fact, following an attack by a deranged Muslim in Chattanooga a few years ago, I personally organized an event that featured a prominent international expert on Islam. That event drew over 400 individuals, garnered plenty of media attention and as you can imagine, created a fair amount of controversy as well.
My friend’s email went on to warn that “the hand writing is on the wall” with regard to the Islamist incursion into America’s government. While I don’t disagree with the assessment in general, the “hand writing on the wall” took my mind to a verse I read a few days ago. Jesus was speaking with His disciples when He shared this truth:
“…You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” Luke 12:56
It’s likely many Americans are well versed in interpreting the dozens of warning signs that have been apparent for decades now in our nation. We see the threat of radical Islam, the pending repercussions of an exploding debt, the impact of a crumbling moral decline, the results of a failing educational system, along with the too many other obvious threats to mention here. And these threats are all real, without question.
But these threats, are merely signs of a much greater storm that is brewing — an eternal one. While the aforementioned threats pose great danger to the future of a nation, and they have no doubt awakened the passion and activism of many to expose and defeat them, I question whether there are some greater signs, of eternal consequence, that we are missing or perhaps ignoring?
I don’t assume that everyone who might read these thoughts will embrace the Bible, but I would venture to guess that many do. So if this is true, I’m also reminded of the verse that asserts, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?” Perhaps an amplification of this verse (which I believe is true based on numerous other passages) could be “What does it profit a man if he gains a nation, but loses the souls of his fellow citizens?”
As real as the threat of radical Islam is to our nation, the truth is that each Muslim has a soul. God loves every one of them. And God’s Son Jesus died for each Muslim. For that matter, He died for each of us. So as we may warn about the ideology of radical Islam, and its questionable history, (of which I am quite familiar), there is a greater sign that I believe Jesus was referencing when He warned His disciples. (By the way, I’m reminded of a radical Jew who went about persecuting and killing Christians, until Jesus transformed his life and he became one of the most widely read authors in the New Testament, who we know as the Apostle Paul.)
There is nothing bad about being informed about today’s highs and tonight’s lows when it comes to our weather. But the greatest value of forecasts is when a tornado or hurricane is bearing down on your home. At that point, having the most relevant info to protect against such a storm, is of great value.
Likewise, there is a spiritual storm brewing. The eternal implications vastly exceed the temporal impact of the myriad of issues, many of them good, that can distract us from one day to the next. But the truth is that the battle that is raging is for “all the marbles” and those “marbles” are the souls of men and women, not merely the future of a nation.
I do not share these thoughts to judge or convict anyone who might read this, as they are written to me as much as to anyone else. These are thoughts I have been thinking through for some time.
Someday each of us will stand before our Creator to answer for the use of our time, treasure and talent. Personally I must confess I’ve misused all three of these over the years. So I have wondered if attempts to save a nation, will be impressive to God, or will He ask me and you, a different set of questions?
What about your neighbor? Did you love him/her? Did you share My truths with him? Did you reach out to that one that you disagree with, but I died for? Did you show him the love My Son expressed towards Him? Did you love your enemies (as I instructed you to)? Did you forgive your enemies, as Stephen did when he was being stoned to death by his enemies?
Only you can weigh whether these questions are valid. Only you can evaluate what you believe to be the pressing “signs of the times” to which Jesus alluded. But as you consider these thoughts, and evaluate the signs, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of Luke 12 so as to gain the context within which Jesus warned His disciples about the “signs of the times.” For me it was instructive to better understand just what Jesus was discussing.
I look forward to any thoughts you might share as you consider my thoughts and this verse. And may we all be like the sons of Issachar who we are told were men who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” (I Chronicles 12:32)