Thursday, October 25, 2007

Being Overwhelmed in Southern California

The prophet Ezekiel’s call to ministry to his own people, the house of Israel, is detailed in part in the third chapter of Ezekiel; it reads in part: “And he said to me, "Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says,' whether they listen or fail to listen." Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound--May the glory of the Lord be praised in his dwelling place! -- the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days--overwhelmed.” (Ezekiel 3:10-15)

Ezekiel is exiled in Babylon and the Lord calls him to minister to his people. The Lord tells Ezekiel something he already knows, the people won’t listen; they are hardened and obstinate. “But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.” (Ezekiel 3:7). The Lord encouraged the prophet to preach the truth whether they are willing to listen or not. (Ezekiel 3:11: Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says,' whether they listen or fail to listen."

As I read it, Ezekiel didn’t look forward to his task of taking this message to these hard-headed people. The Lord takes Ezekiel to the people. Ezekiel goes in “bitterness and anger of my spirit with the strong hand of the Lord upon me.” He went sulking and whining.

The Lord takes Ezekiel to the exiles living by the Kebar River and in Ezekiel 3:15: “I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days--overwhelmed.” If any of us today sat by our own Kebar for seven days overwhelmed, how would the church react?

This week in Southern California many people are experiencing their own personal Kebar experience. They are overwhelmed.

In West Central Minnesota, farmers are fighting mud and excess moisture to bring in the crop; they are discouraged; some may be overwhelmed.

From what I hear, the church in Southern California has responded in many great ways. I streamed San Diego radio all day yesterday on my computer at work trying to find out what was happening. What I heard on Public Radio about the church’s response was exemplary.

Our family in San Diego is fine (in fact, they returned to their home this a.m.) They are believers but I am sure at times this all becomes overwhelming. But what if they didn’t know Christ? What would be their hope? To be without hope would surely be overwhelming.

We, like Ezekiel, are called to “share” the message of Christ in word and deed. Whether people accept it or reject it is not our issue. We must tell them what the Sovereign Lord told us: “Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says,' whether they listen or fail to listen."

Are you at your personal “Kebar experience”? Do you know someone who is? What should we do? The world sends Prozac—we should demonstrate Christ crucified! In the midst of despair, we must demonstrate the reality of Christ. In Matthew 24:6 it says: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” In the midst of these “temporary trials”, we as believers must keep our head. The Lord is still on the throne.

When it is all done, we may need to go to our Kebar River, sit down and cry, be overwhelmed for awhile and let it all soak in; then we must get up and get back into action. Remember, no matter how dark it becomes, the battle belongs to the Lord.

Are we as the church ready for a widespread catastrophe? Would we minister or would we hide out behind our church walls justifying our own indifference? Remember, we are called to minister to a hard-headed world. We may not see any positive response; the results are up to the Lord. We are called to be faithful ministers of God’s goodness and grace found only in Jesus Christ. We should not expect the praise of men. Let’s go to work!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Do not be alarmed

Matthew 24: 3-12: "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

I tend by nature to be pessimistic. I realize when I’m around pessimistic people I become more pessimistic.

I visited with a man at work this week; he vented all the negative stuff related to our business, the culture and the world. He dumped the whole load, probably it needed dumping.

I realize the culture is heading towards oblivion (Matt. 24: 4-12), but Jesus in Matt. 24:6 says “but see to it that you are not alarmed.” He has told us in advance what is going to happen so we shouldn’t be alarmed, we shouldn’t lose our head or wring our hands in pessimistic anxiety.

When Jesus says “don’t be alarmed” He is telling us, when you see all this wickedness happening, remember, I’m still on the throne. I’m still in control. I am still God. I am Sovereign. Don’t be alarmed.

I heard a story recently about a scarlet fever outbreak in Stearns County Minnesota during the 1850's; Stearns County was just being settled. A farm family had five children, four had passed away from the scarlet fever, and the last little boy was in trouble. The doctor came and said, “If we don’t get some ice and pack him in it he will die.” In the 1850's in rural Stearns County in the middle of the summer, where were they going to get ice? The distraught mom walked through the yard praying to God to spare her son, she prayed for ice. God in His providence sent a hail storm, they collected the hailstones and packed the little boy in the ice and he was spared.

Think of this, the neighbors gathered with heads hung low as a hail storm damaged their crops, yet a few miles away a mom cradled her little boy with joy. For God had answered her prayer.

We need to be careful what we call a tragedy; it may be a blessing for someone else. The neighboring farms viewed the hailstorm as a tragedy; the mom viewed it as an answer to prayer and blessing from God.

It’s obvious we don’t always understand God ways. “Don’t be alarmed" - He is still on the Throne.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Half-Staff in Platte

On our way back from the Sand Hills, we decided to go home a different way, not unusual for us. We headed north out of Valentine, Nebraska; headed east at Mission, South Dakota and drove east towards Platte, just east of the Missouri River. If you like the prairie with the scenic Missouri River Valley included, this is a beautiful drive.

East of the Missouri River the land flattens out, the soil becomes better and ranching begins to turn towards farming.

As we headed into Platte, we noticed the flags were flying half staff. We wondered why.

We drove around this impressive town. One of the few small towns we passed through on our trip that seemed to be growing, not just hanging on with a sense of despair. We checked out Booms Drive-In, a restaurant in Platte owned by the VanderBoom family, friends of Judi’s brother Lowell. Like most Dutch towns, it was neat and clean.

Judi noticed a Dutch Bakery in the town’s grocery store. We took on supplies for the rest of the trip home. People were friendly and accommodating. I asked a lady why the flags were flying half-staff. She said a local soldier had been shot in Iraq, “not blown up” she said matter of factly, “he was shot”.

How many small towns have experienced this over the years through many different wars? Wars sometimes are necessary. I believe this one is necessary but the price is always high.

A small town flies its flags half staff in a soldier’s memory and I didn’t even bother to ask his name. I should know better. We view their sacrifice with so little appreciation or concern. Life must go on we say. Yes, it does and it will, but we are ungrateful as a nation.

To the unnamed South Dakota son of the prairie, another “coming home” soldier, I say thank you.

Exodus 15:3: "The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pencils for Oscar—Another Good Day on the Prairie

My Dad loved horses; we grew up working and training horses. We used horses to move cattle to pastures our dad rented. I like horses, but not as well as my brother Jim. Jim has horses, makes buggies, and uses his buggy to provide rides in parades and at area functions.

A couple of weeks ago Jim used his horse and buggy at a wedding in a small west-central Minnesota town. He must haul his buggy, horse, harnesses and his driving clothes in order to provide transportation at this wedding.

Before the wedding, he “warmed up” his horse by driving it around the small town. As usual, kids come and ask for rides but he can’t give them a ride before the wedding since the inside of the buggy needs to remain spotless as not to damage very expensive wedding dresses. One of the children asking for a ride was Oscar, a young Hispanic boy who rode his bicycle along side the buggy as Jim headed toward the church to pick up the bride and groom.

After delivering the bridal couple to their destination at the reception, Jim needed to put everything back into his truck and trailer. Once again, Oscar was there, he had waited patiently on his bike for Jim to finish his work. Jim asked him if he wanted to make some money. Oscar flashed a big smile and said “yes”. Oscar was an enthusiastic helper; young and willing to learn. Jim taught, Oscar learned, and the buggy, the horse, and all the equipment were finally stowed away.

Jim rewarded Oscar with some money. Oscar flashed another big smile and said “thank you.” They visited awhile and Jim asked Oscar, “What are you going to do with the money?” Oscar proudly replied, “I’m going to buy pencils for school!” Jim fell silent. Pencils for school; just pencils for school. No ice cream cones, no candy bars, but pencils for school; all he wanted was pencils.

As Jim related the story to me, we both had tears in our eyes. Oh, how little we value pens and pencils. We have too many; we throw them away without thinking. There are more where they came from. We have more than enough pencils. Oscar had none. Sometimes we pass great opportunities without thinking or knowing. Oscar has his pencils. Jim got everything loaded to head back to Olivia.

As Jim pulled out of town, he noticed a yard full of people waving. It was Oscar and his family! The Old German horseman was reminded how good God has been to him. Oscar got his pencils and a new friend. God was good to Jim and Oscar. As Jim moved on home, he pulled down his hat, looked into the sunset, the sound of the diesel engine under the hood of his pickup reminded him of the completion of another good day on the prairie. Yes, this had been a good day. Oscar had taught Jim a valuable lesson and Jim taught Oscar a valuable lesson. May God be blessed.

"Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.