It’s About Time We Acted Like Children

When you are 4 years old, each new season is a revelation, but no season is more astonishing than winter. When you are 3, you know only that something wet and cold has slipped into your boot, and you howl in protest. When you are 5, you remember the shape of a snowman, and you shed disappointed tears when the promised storm does not materialize. But when you are 4, winter’s pleasures are pleasurable, and they are entirely new.

She would not trudge behind her family to this mysterious place we called “The Big Hill.”

Elsa, our youngest child, was born in autumn, only a few months before another snowy Pennsylvania winter, and yet it is the winter after she turned 4 that I remember as her first. That was the winter she learned to settle herself carefully on a red plastic sled, and that was the winter she told me snow tasted like ice cream. This was not the winter she learned to zip up her own coat, but it was the winter when she learned to stand still, mittened hands resting patiently on my shoulders, while I did the job for her.

No 4-year-old likes mittens in which two fingers inevitably fill the slot meant for one, but Elsa now understood what was at stake, and on snowy mornings, she surrendered herself to my care and the scratchy wool of her brother’s hand-me-down hat.

One late January day in this “first” winter of Elsa’s fifth year, my cheerful, accommodating youngest child dug her small red boots into the snow that had fallen overnight and refused to take another step. Surrendering to the necessity of hats and mittens was one thing, but she would not trudge behind her family to this mysterious place we called “The Big Hill.”

Of my four children, it is Elsa, with her shorter legs and smaller tummy and need for naps, who is the weakest link in our family adventures. For the most part, we walk as far as Elsa can walk, we stay away from home until Elsa needs a rest, and we never, ever forget the snacks. But small is also precious. The age gap between Elsa and her siblings is large enough that rarely does anyone resent her limitations. Her so-called inadequacies are essential to what we most love about her at this age. Look at her little legs! we say. Listen to her squeaky voice! we laugh. Quite often these observations lead to other family stories, and my children never fail to delight in my tales of their own small years.

Elsa was content with her own small hill, conveniently located near the back door, where she could wave to her father watching from the kitchen window. But we wanted to give her more.

When she was 3, my older children left Elsa behind and pulled their sleds single-file through the gap in the split rail fence and on across the street to The Big Hill. The trek to this spot is not easy. First, there is the steep decline that leads from our back fence to the neighborhood street down below. Snow has a way of piling up there, and even a few inches can leave drifts half Elsa’s size. Traffic on the street is light, but the snow banks created on either side by plows are always either slippery with ice or dense with slush. Elsa was content with her own small hill, conveniently located near the back door, where she could wave to her father watching from the kitchen window. But we wanted to give her more.

When we rebel, planting our metaphorical boots in the snow and refusing to budge, it’s often because we imagine that something precious is being taken from us, as if God is a cruel father snatching away our favorite snowy hill. In those moments, we associate giving in with defeat and weakness. We fail to understand that the loss we fear is also an invitation. Determined to hide our weakness from others (and perhaps even from ourselves), we forget how beautiful smallness can be. We forget how precious we are to the One who calls us out beyond the familiar fences of our comfortable life.

The birth narratives in the Gospels are shot through with astonishment that the God of the universe came to us in a vulnerable and small form. Jesus did not descend on a cloud but was born. Yet as early as the age of 12, Jesus began to say yes to the invitation of His heavenly Father. When He stayed behind at the temple in Jerusalem while His family journeyed home, “all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:47). My own children have, very occasionally, amazed me with their understanding, but my amazement speaks to the fact that this is rare with most children most of the time. We are big, they are little, and their littleness is precious to us. But it also means that we know more, see more, and, yes, understand much more than they.

Why did Jesus say we must become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3)? I imagine He looked at the crowds gathered to hear Him and saw what we so often fail to recognize: We are already small and there is so much that we do not see or understand. To become like a child, then, is to wave a white flag of surrender. It requires walking through life with the perspective most small children take for granted—that we need a loving hand to hold, strong shoulders to lift us, and the best way is always to be guided by someone bigger and more able than ourselves. We may be weak, but we are precious, and our surrender is not a defeat. It is the beginning of a great adventure.

When Elsa dug in her boots and refused to budge, we pleaded, “Elsa, please. Elsa, come with us. We promise you’ll have more fun if you’ll only follow.” But when you are 4, your memory of winter does not extend beyond the snow that fell last week. You do not remember that you were once a fat baby in a pink snowsuit, sitting contentedly on a wooden sled. You do not remember how your father pulled you far beyond the yard and on toward The Big Hill your siblings speak of with reverence. All you know is the small hill on which you sledded, happily, only yesterday in your own backyard, beneath the bare limbs of your mother’s peach trees.

How could I convince my daughter that the cold trudge toward The Big Hill was worth the struggle? Worth frozen toes, even? It lay far beyond Elsa’s limited range of vision. She had only my pleading and her siblings’ tales of joy to entice her in the direction she had no desire to go. It takes a great deal of strength to yield and walk a hard way.

We forget how precious we are to the One who calls us out beyond the familiar fences of our comfortable life.

Where would such a small child find that kind of strength? As the terrible beauty of the gospel narrative unfolds, it’s almost as if Jesus grows smaller. First, there is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He is above the crowd; He is hailed as king. Then, there is the fierce showdown in the temple as Jesus drives out those who “have made it a robbers’ den” (Luke 19:46). But after all that, Jesus kneels like a servant to wash dirty feet. He does not resist arrest. He does not speak up in His own defense but is silent. Then comes the heavy weight of the cross, and our larger-than-life Jesus appears diminished to a concentrated core of suffering and love.

Jesus wasn’t a survivor, but He was victorious. He gave Himself up to death and so secured, for Himself and us, a whole new world. Is it weakness or strength to pray, as Jesus prayed, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36)? We simply do not have a category for the kind of strength in weakness Jesus demonstrated for us. If power is perfected in weakness, as Paul writes, then surrender may be the toughest and bravest act of all (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Something beautiful waits for us on the other side of that difficult choice. When John the Baptist said, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease,” he explained that “this joy of mine has been made full” (John 3:29-30). In Hebrews, we read that Jesus surrendered to the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). Surrender does involve loss, but that loss is finite, like something circled by an old split rail fence. What is gained is infinite, eternal, belonging to a world without end, and worth far more than any price we might pay.

That January day of fresh-fallen snow, I watched Elsa lower her head and walk past the small hill that meant so much to her. Stepping carefully in the footmarks left by her older siblings, she let go of the familiar. Why did she do it? Perhaps four years of love from a mother and father, a sister, and two brothers was just the right amount to steady those little red boots with trust.

Something beautiful waits for us on the other side of that difficult choice.

My husband lifted Elsa over the drifts, the older kids called out encouragement, and I matched my pace to hers. The red boots left footprints so small they might have belonged to the deer that live in the woods nearby.

Elsa and I navigated the snow-plowed ridges of the street, her tiny pink mitten hidden in my warm glove. We climbed the last rise, Elsa focusing on the snow-caked boots beneath her.

“Elsa, look!” I said.

Only then did she lift her eyes. Only then did she see the new world spread out beyond her feet. Still holding hands, we gazed out over a forest quieted by snow and a sledding path through trees that seemed, almost, to have no end.

And Elsa laughed for joy. ffffff ffffff

Arm Wrestling with God

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1, NKJV).

This memorable messianic prophecy of Isaiah introduces yet another meaningful symbolism of Jesus Christ. Here He is portrayed as the arm of the Lord. The arm represents physical power and strength as in the case of the heavyweight boxer, the weight lifter, or the sturdy blacksmith. The arm is used as a symbol of strength, power, and security. The phrase “the arm of the Lord” occurs thirty-six times throughout the Old Testament. It is used to describe the active, creative, and saving energy of God (see for example, Psalm 98:1; Jeremiah 27:5).

Employing this powerful symbolism to the coming Messiah, Isaiah asks, “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1, NKJV). As one reveals his arm as a sign of strength, so is Christ revealed as God’s instrument for the salvation of the human race. Jesus, the arm of the Lord, defends us in our conflicts, supports us in our weakness, and gives us security in life’s tempests, Sir Isaac Watts, in his magnificent hymn based on Psalm 90, expressed it beautifully: “Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.” Christ is all we need when life’s battles rage. Not only is Christ our strong arm of defense, he is also our secure arm of protection and security. By his strong arm He embraces His people in the secure grip of infinite love. This blessed truth of the believers’ security in Christ is further reiterated by Jesus’ pledge, “Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28, NKJV). That’s why we are safe in the arms of Jesus.

To help us appreciate the security and defense of the arm of the Lord, Ellen G. White offers this comment: “If we lay hold upon the arm of Infinite Power, it will sustain us through every conflict and discouragement of life, and will finally place a crown of glory upon our heads, and bring us to share the eternal reward of the righteous.”–Signs of the Times, August 6, 1885.

My Prayer Today: Lord, may I never let go of Your mighty arm. Amen!

Your Money Can Go to Hell

Reading: Acts 8:18-24

Reflection: Simon was a Samaritan sorcerer who had exerted great influence over the people in his community by the magic he performed. But, when Philip began to preach the Gospel, the people believed and were baptized – including Simon himself. He was amazed by this new encounter with God and followed Philip around. Then, when the apostles came and began to lay hands on people for them to receive God’s Spirit, Simon was even more impressed, and he wanted to be able to do the same.

So he offered the apostles money for them to teach him. Peter was, of course, deeply offended by the offer, and rebuked Simon, who quickly repented. We all know the temptation of viewing God’s Spirit as a commodity that we can “purchase”.

We are all tempted from time to time to try and find short cuts to God’s grace and blessing. We may not try to use money, but we often try to bargain with God, promising greater devotion and service if God will just give us what we want. We also fall into the trap of trying to get God “on our side” in manipulating other people to do what we want. Whenever we do this, we cheapen God’s grace, and we resist the deep work of transformation that God seeks to do in us. Faith is not about getting what we want, it’s about becoming who God created us to be – people whose lives manifest the justice, love and grace of God’s Reign. How have you tried to bargain with God recently? How can you submit yourself a little more to God’s transforming work today?

Practice for Today: It is, unfortunately, all too easy to allow our faith to become about what we can get from God. But, this does not lead us to our best lives. Today, try instead to dedicate yourself to God, asking what God wants from you. Then, in every moment you can, follow God’s guidance and see how this impacts your life.

Prayer for Today: What do you want from me today, O God?

Morning Prayers

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2, NIV

Dear Father in heaven, we come before you and thank you with all our hearts. You know all that we are thankful for. Continue to sustain us, we pray, and give us strength for the paths on which you lead us. Even when we must suffer and fight long, hard battles, we know that everything has its right purpose and will still lead us to your goal. For all this we praise and thank you. Protect us in mind, heart, and spirit. Keep us courageous, and lift us above all discouragement through your Spirit, who will renew our lives forevermore. Amen.

Church Removes Pastor for Sign Declaring Homesexuality a Sin, Bruce Jenner a Man

A Presbyterian pastor who posted a sign calling homosexuality a sin and Bruce Jenner a man has been forced out of his California church.

Justin Hoke of Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church in Weed, Calif., said most members of the small congregation had promised to leave if he stayed.

“It was determined that it would be in the best interest of the local body for us (TBPC and the Hoke family) to part ways,” Hoke wrote on his Facebook page Saturday. “I would like to add this, I did not want to leave, I did not quit, and I was willing to stay.”

Hoke had posted a sign in front of the church that read: “Bruce Jenner is still a man. Homosexuality is still sin. The culture may change. The Bible does not.”

It drew protests outside the church building and sparked coverage in local media, too, including a story in The San Francisco Chronicle and The Sacramento Bee. About two dozen people protested outside the church Jan. 6. The church is located about four and a half hours north of San Francisco.

“We’ve really had to refine our message to be one strictly of love and support for anyone who feels like they are the target of the sign,” protester Amelia Mallory told The Chronicle. “Debating religion is unproductive, for one, and we also don’t want anyone to feel like we are against Christianity as a whole. People are welcome to their own beliefs, but can’t be surprised if people take action against such a public display.”

The sign’s message, Hoke said, is reflected in Scripture. 

“The ultimate purpose was to say that while the culture may change, the Bible does not,” Hoke said. “The culture is now demanding that we call ‘good’ what the Bible calls evil.”

The church, though, either didn’t agree with the message or didn’t want the attention.

“If a conservative mountain farming community is no longer a safe place to call sin, sin, then is anywhere in this country still safe for real Christians?” Hoke wrote on his Facebook page.

Most people on Hoke’s Facebook page posted words of encouragement.

“I feel sorry for that church,” one person wrote. “They chose the world over Jesus. Good job, Pastor Hoke! God bless you!”

The church’s Facebook page also was filled with words of support for Hoke.

“I was going to come attend this church, this morning,” a person wrote. “But when I read the pastor was leaving, I decided it was not the kind of church I wanted to attend. I prefer a bible believing church.”

Hoke said he wants to pastor a church again.

“Many people have reached out asking if they could help me in some physical or monetary way,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “I am really thankful for such thoughts and offers. But, I don’t want to use this 5 minutes of fame as a chance to capitalize on the sympathy and good will of others. The Lord has taken care of my needs. Please pray that God would open more doors for me to preach the gospel, that is all I want or need.”

The Rise of Women’s Rights and Religious Liberties in the Muslim World

Tunisia is now the front runner in expanding women’s rights and religious liberties in the Muslim nations. And the world is watching. In 2017, Tunisia’s President Essibsi celebrated his country’s National Women’s Day by calling for a change in the constitution to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

Historically, Islam has prohibited Muslim women from marrying men from other faiths, unless they convert to Islam. However, Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslims.

President Essibsi called on leaders to make changes to Article 73, arguing that the Tunisian constitution, in its sixth chapter, grants citizens the freedom of belief and conscience. In his mission to achieve gender equality, President Essibsi also called for amendments to women’s inheritance. According to Islamic law, women inherit only one half of men’s inheritance.

President Essibsi stated, “The state is committed to achieving full equality between women and men … and equal opportunities for them in assuming all responsibilities, as stipulated in Article 46 of the Constitution.”

On November 23, 2018, Tunisia became the first Arab country to achieve gender equality in inheritance, after the Tunisian Cabinet approved a law that would allow men and women to inherit equal amounts, contrary to what is stipulated in the Quran and Islamic world. Some Muslims object to the new law, claiming it contradicts Quranic verses which state that males should inherit twice as much as females.

However, President Essibsi shared that citizens should be given the choice to follow Sharia Law in inheritance if they so wish. But not through compulsion or force. President Essibsi shared that:

Tunisia’s Constitution supports a civil country that is based on three elements: citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law. The rights and duties of Tunisian men and women are equal, and the state is committed to defending women’s rights, and supporting and developing them.

For the Muslim world, the Quran reads in Sura 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” Accordingly, faith under force is ingenuine. Therefore, it is never in the public’s interest to force belief on individuals, and restrict their right to question, explore and fulfill their purpose.

The Muslim world is complex, and in growing numbers, Muslims value the ideals of religious liberty and pluralism. Many Muslims are writing and speaking about Islam and religious freedom.

When women are allowed to exercise freedom of conscience and contribute to the economy, communities experience greater peace and prosperity long term.

Religious freedom is an antidote to extremism.

Shirin Taber