‘I Heard God Walking…’

Sunday Chronicles #89, April 22, 2018

 

Greetings from Springfield, MO where morning rain has given away to high clouds. I was able to attend chapel today since Son Jon was here to chauffeur me up to the door. He left about noon to return home, so I’m starting another week of living alone.

After writing last week’s chronicles about following God in extending compassion to others, my mind went back to a story I wrote for the Pentecostal Evangel in 1988. It is the testimony of Rick Gail, one of the students I taught at CBC. Although I had not heard from Rick in years, I was able to contact him via e-mail this week and received his permission to add his story to this blog. It is a bit longer than the usual blog, but I believe it’s worth the space. I hope you agree. Thank you for your prayers, comments, gifts, cards, visits,– all the caring things you do that make life better for me. jwb

 

‘I Heard God Walking…’

The halls and waiting rooms on the second floor of St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were crowded that September day in 1981. Word had gone out that Rick Gail, a policeman injured in a high-speed chase, had only hours to live. Rick had lain in a coma for over a week, since the night the patrol car in which he was riding had been broadsided by a truck traveling without lights at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The impact spun the patrol car around twice, then sent it 80 feet down the street. The truck bounced against a tree, went through a chain link fence, and demolished an 18 –inch-square brick porch pillar before coming to rest partially under the porch.

The first officers to arrive found Rick pinned in a 6-inch space between the steering wheel and the door. He had no pulse. They worked to revive him and to free him, but neither effort had succeeded when another officer arrived. “Rick’s dead,” they said. The arriving officer, Sgt. Mike Birmingham, was a Spirit-filled Christian and a close friend of Rick’s. “O Jesus, no!” he cried, as he got into the car on the passenger’s side. As he worked with Rick, he prayed in the Spirit. Soon Rick began breathing, and after about an hour the officers were able to get him out of the car and into the waiting ambulance.

At the hospital doctors found that Rick had a split sternum, crushed rib cage with all ribs on the left side broken and all but one on the right; a broken collar bone, and a massive concussion. His lungs had collapsed; X-rays showed them to be a pulp that looked like ground meat. The doctor did not understand how Rick could be breathing, yet he was. It was the first in a series of miracles. Miracles were not new to the Gail family. Rick’s father, pastor of a Bible-believing church, had brought up his family in a home and church that experienced the power of God. Family and friends gathered at the hospital in the dawn following the accident. They knew another miracle was needed.

Eight days later, Rick was still in a coma in intensive care hooked up to numerous machines. One machine was to pump fluid from his lungs, but nothing was happening. Doctors, believing Rick’s death was imminent, called in the family. In waiting rooms and halls family and friends were quietly praying. In a separate waiting room about 50 off-duty policemen had gathered. After being told Rick had only hours to live, Rick’s father went in to talk with the policemen. He told them how Rick loved them. “He talked about each of you. He would be pleased if he knew you were here. Only one thing would please him more and that would be to know you were praying for him. I realize you are from different religious backgrounds, and I do not wish to embarrass anyone; but if you feel you could, I’d like to ask you to stand in a circle, join hands, and pray for Rick. If some of you do not wish to participate and want to slip out, I’ll understand. But I know how Rick loves you, and I know he would want you to pray for him.” The policemen stood quietly and formed a circle. One muscular lieutenant watched them carefully. He had decided that any man who left would have to answer to him. Later he told what happened.

“I didn’t know anything about standing in a circle and holding hands to pray, but I knew I could do it for Rick. So I watched to see if anyone was leaving. But no one left. The room was very still, and Rick’s father was praying. I heard a rustling sound like someone was moving quietly. I thought one of the guys was trying to sneak out, so I looked around to see who was moving, determined he’d settle with me. But everyone was standing still. The pastor was still praying quietly. Then I heard the sound again, like someone walking softly. I looked, but no one was moving. And suddenly, I knew! God was there. I had heard God walking! I looked around to see if anyone else knew He was there. Guys I’d never seen cry were weeping and hugging each other. A spirit of love enveloped the whole room.”

The prayer was hardly finished when a nurse came out of Rick’s room and asked for his brother. The family thought the end had come. But she took the brother to Rick’s bed and showed him the tube coming from Rick’s lungs. Bubbles were forming in it. “I’m not sure what it means,” she said, “but I think it’s a good sign.” She was right. Soon liquid was being drawn from the lung cavity, and healing started. Rick remained in a coma for 2 more weeks. Even when his condition continued to improve, his doctors gave guarded reports. He would never be able to return to police work; he would probably always need oxygen.

After 28 days in the hospital, Rick left weighing 70 pounds less than he had when the accident happened. He could walk only with assistance. Fellow officers took him to the Y where they worked out. Soon Rick was working out too. Nine months after the accident he passed the stringent requirements and returned to the work he loved. But Rick soon found his police work was over. When he and a fellow officer were called to a burning building to rescue children trapped by a fire, Rick’s damaged lungs failed under the pressure of inhaling smoke. He passed out, and his partner had to drag him from the building before he could rescue the children.

Rick realized his injuries might bring danger to others, and he would be a handicap to the men he loved. When he passed out again while giving chase to a criminal, he knew he had no choice but to change careers. Since his teen years Rick had known God was dealing with him to be a minister, but he had resisted, telling God he would work for Him on the police force. Now God’s voice was clear and insistent. Working as a policeman was over, but working for God in ministry was only beginning. Among the results of Rick’s miracle are other miracles: the two officers who reached him first the night of the accident became active Christians as a result of seeing Rick live after they found him dead. And the conviction in the lieutenant’s voice when he says, “I heard God walking!” leaves little doubt that God visited Rick Gail’s room that night when death gave way to life.

 

Rick continues to serve in ministry in Iowa.

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In the Footsteps of God

Sunday Chronicles #88, April 15, 2018

In the Footsteps of God

Dear Readers,

Another cold, cloudy Sunday in Springfield, MO with a few snowflakes drifting lazily past the window. Such weather triggers arthritic stiffness in my hands, knees, and hips and I stayed in. For some unknown reason, Maranatha Chapel was not on Ch. 84 today, so I had church alone; therefore, my writing will focus on my meditations.

On my annual trek through the Bible I am now reading I and II Kings. It’s a sad time in Israel; God’s people have forsaken Him and are worshiping Baal and other gods of the nations around them, including Chemosh, an especially demonic entity who demanded the sacrifice of their children in fire. How could they do such horrible things? When people who have known the true God turn away from Him, the depths of human depravity can come out. Now and then in Israel or Judah, a God-honoring king appears, but as soon as he is gone, the people revert to idols. I see parallels with what is happening in our nation. We read news stories about mass shootings, parents killing their children, teens losing their lives to drug overdoses, alarming increase in suicides, and tensions between races. Our leaders offer various reasons and solutions, not all wrong, but failing to get to the crux of the mater: the need for God in the human heart.

In I and II Kings, into the depths of Israel’s sin, a compassionate God sends His prophets, led by Elijah and Elisha. Even in dark hours, God always has people who remain true and serve Him. These are not people who never mess up or make mistakes, but whose hearts are set on pleasing God. After Elijah’s great victory over the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18) Jezebel threatens to kill him (19:2). The next verse begins, “Elijah was afraid…” What? This man whose prayer had brought fire from heaven is afraid? Oh, how I identify! God answers a prayer in a mighty way; then a mouse runs across the floor (not literally, but mentally) and I’m afraid! Elijah parks his servant in a safe place and runs…until he can’t run any more. Sitting under a tree, he prays to die. (Yes, I’ve been there. Haven’t you?) This is a prayer God doesn’t answer – at least not in the way the praying person intends. Instead He gives Elijah peaceful sleep! After he rests, an angel appears with food; Elijah eats, sleeps again, and the angel serves another meal. Now Elijah has strength to continue his journey to Mt. Horeb to meet with God. There, God gives him a new revelation and re-commissions him to ministry!

Oh, the compassion of our Heavenly Father. No scolding for being afraid, for running from the wicked Jezebel; instead He gives rest, and a ministering angel. Yesterday I reviewed a book for a friend about marriage. It contained good advice, and one writer summed up his ideas by saying, “Good old-fashioned compassion is what a marriage needs most.” I would add to that not just a marriage, but all our relationships. When we extend compassion to other imperfect people, we follow in the footsteps of God. This week I’ve been blessed by several helpers who were ministering angels to me. When I was almost out of eggs, the next person who came brought some. Neighbors Ben and Barbara Ackers bring the daily newspaper up to my door; Daughter Melinda and various friends helped with shopping since my volunteer shopper was on vacation. Greg and Kathryn Givens got new toner for my copy machine and put it in, a wonderful help to a non-tech-savvy person! Ruby Wisehart did repair on clothing. Others visited, wrote notes, sent emails or cards; some commented on FB or WordPress….Thank you, Thank you!

I have nothing to give back except my prayers and writing; or if you happen to be in the neighborhood on a baking day, you might get a muffin or two. Next Friday. (April 20) Nelson would be 85 years old. Remember him by showing compassion to someone you meet, thereby walking in the footsteps of God. Peace, jwb

God Has a Better Plan

Sunday Chronicles #87, April 8, 2018

God Has a Better Plan!

Outside, a cloudy, chilly day in Springfield, MO. Another blast of winter air from Canada brought temps down under freezing last night, but our weather people assure us a warm-up is on the way! Inside, it’s been a morning blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. I had intended to go to chapel, but the cold prevented that. However, I watched on TV and was blessed by the service. A spirit of prayer has come over the village this weekend. About noon on Friday, one of our groundskeepers had a freak accident with a riding mower. He is now in ICU with life hanging in the balance. We are praying.

Last spring, at a chapel service soon after Nelson’s death, Chaplain’s message was about praying with faith and how God answers with miracles. He gave examples from Scripture. I had prayed for Nelson to be healed with all the faith I could muster, and I know many of you had prayed also. Yet he died. As I was walking out of chapel, Chaplain walked along beside me. In my despair, I asked, “What happens when you pray with all the faith you have and God doesn’t do the miracle?” I admit I was hurting and bitter. Chaplain quietly answered, “God has a better plan.” I didn’t reply to him, but in my heart I was thinking: “For Nelson, yes; but for me there’s no better plan than having Nelson well and here with me.” That’s something I still wish God would have granted, but recently I have thought again on the words in the first part of The Lord’s Prayer “…Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” All of our requests to God must come under that heading: “Thy will be done.” Accepting disappointment as God’s will and “better plan” is hard.

That brings me back to the women at the tomb. We left them last week when they found the stone had been rolled away, and they saw angels who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they didn’t understand. They followed the angels’ instructions and rushed to tell the disciples, but Mary Magdalene returned to the garden and sat near the tomb weeping. Jesus came up behind her and spoke to her, but in her grief she didn’t recognize Him. Then He called her name. That encounter changed her sorrow into joy. She ran again to the disciples and said, “I have seen the Lord!” She was beginning to grasp part of God’s “better plan.”

Today Chaplain spoke from MK 4:37-41. It’s evening, and Jesus has been teaching all day by the sea of Galilee. The crowds have gone home for the night. Jesus said to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.” They got into the boat and started across the lake, usually about a 3-hour trip. Jesus, weary from the day’s ministry, found a quiet spot and lay down to rest. Soon He was asleep. The wind increased and the boat, caught in the midst of a full-fledged storm, was taking on water. Several of the disciples, experienced sailors who had grown up working on boats on this same body of water, knew they were in danger of sinking. They rushed to Jesus and ask, “Don’t you care if we perish?” Here they were, doing what Jesus said “going to the other side” but about to lose their lives. Jesus got up, spoke to the storm, and the wind and waves quieted. One translator gives His words as “Hush! Be muzzled!” His command put into action God’s better plan. Our journey of faith sometimes takes us into storms even when we are doing exactly what Jesus has ask of us. It’s in those times that we have to trust Him and submit to “Thy will be done.”

Many more thoughts are imbedded in each of these topics, but my word limit is approaching. Perhaps in your meditation, God will give you His message for you. Thank you for your prayers and patience as I try to find my place in God’s better plan. I made one leap of progress this week: I baked a batch of cinnamon rolls all by myself…first time I’ve done that since the pace-maker was put in. I gave them all out to visitors and neighbors by nightfall. As the familiar saying goes, “A good time was had by all.” That must be a part of God’s “better plan.” Your comments each week are especially appreciated! Peace, jwb

Walking Toward the Resurrection

Sunday Chronicles #86 Easter, April 1, 2018

Walking Toward the Resurrection

Greetings from Springfield, MO on a decidedly un-Easterish day. The temp is hovering around 31, and heavy clouds spit out cold rain that is predicted to include bits of ice and wet snow as the day progresses.

Let’s go back to another un-Easterish day…the Friday when Jesus was crucified. A strange, horrible day for Jesus’ friends! Seeing Jesus’ agony on the cross, then darkness for three hours and an earthquake. Finally Jesus is dead; the crucifixion is over. His friends wonder how this could happen. How could He die, He who had raised others from the dead? They didn’t understand. But they moved forward to do what needed to be done. Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Jewish Council and also a secret disciple of Jesus, went to Pilate and ask to take the body of Jesus for burial. Pilate is surprised that Jesus is already dead (Death by crucifixion was often extremely slow.) so he sends an officer to investigate. When the centurion verified that Jesus was indeed dead, Pilate assented to Joseph’s request (Mk. 15:44-45).

It was now after 3 p.m. and the Sabbath, which was also the Passover on this year and a special day for the Jews, would begin at sun down. No work could be done then until Sunday morning. Joseph, assisted by Nicodemus (For his story, see Jn. 3:1-19), quickly took Jesus’ body from the cross. Nicodemus had brought mixed spices of myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial customs, they wrapped Jesus’ body, along with the spices, in a clean linen cloth. In a nearby garden, Joseph had a new unused tomb hewed out of rock. The Sabbath was about to begin, so they hurriedly placed the corpse inside the tomb and rolled into place the huge stone that formed the closure. Matthew records, “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Mt. 27:61, NAS). Mark identifies “the other Mary” as “Mary the mother of Joses” (Mk. 15:47 NAS). Luke records, “the women who had come with Him from Galilee…saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Lu. 22:55 NAS).

The women rush to get back to Jerusalem before the Sabbath begins, possibly deciding on the way to stop and buy spices. The next time they appear is before dawn on Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene is definitely the leader, but several others accompany her. They are going to show their love for Jesus by seeing that He has a proper burial. Joseph and Nicodemus had to act so quickly on Friday that the women felt more should be done. They moved through the streets before daylight, heavily veiled and walking quietly, not wanting to attract attention. They knew that if they were caught near Jesus’ tomb the Jewish religious leaders would have no mercy. Under their long robes, they carried bags of spices. Their faces, half-hidden by veils, showed signs of weeping. They had suffered the loss of a dear friend and beyond that their hope that He was their long awaited Messiah. As they neared the garden where the tomb was, they whispered to each other, “Who will roll the stone away?” Emotionally drained by watching the crucifixion and seeing Jesus die, confused about what the future would be like, risky as their appearance at tomb was, and wondering how to roll the stone away — still they kept walking toward the tomb. Can you help but admire their courage and determination to do one last act of service for their Lord? Of course, when they got to the tomb, angels met them. The stone had already been rolled away; their Lord had risen. Their lost hope was replaced by joy! Thus, they, the women, became the first witnesses of the resurrection.

Thoughts to ponder: (1) The women started while it was yet dark. Jesus often asks us to follow Him in a one-step-at-a-time process. We move forward on faith, not knowing the end from the beginning, but depending on Him to lead. (2) We will face obstacles, but if we stay faithful to Him, He will see that by the time we arrive at the thing we can’t handle, He has already taken care of it. (3) Don’t succumb to fear. Jesus’ male disciples were in a room “the doors being locked” for fear of the Jews, If we stay locked in a room, we’ll miss the joy Jesus wants to give! Step out in the dark, trust Him to handle the obstacles, and rejoice in what He does!

Thank you for going on this Jerusalem journey with me. Your friendship and prayers are deeply appreciated! In many ways, I’m like the women…walking a road that I haven’t traveled before, trusting God for the future. Your comments, cards, and visits help me keep going…and writing, Peace, jwb

The Women at the Cross

Sunday Chronicles #85, March 25, 2018, Fifth Sunday of Lent

Even though the Bradford Pear trees are blooming and birds singing, it’s a damp, chilly day in Springfield, MO. I drove up the hill to chapel today where a scheduled guest speaker failed to appear and Chaplain Paddock had to do a “save.” He opted for a Palm Sunday message from Mark 11 about the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem amid the praises of the people who were expecting Him to free them from Roman rule and set up an earthly kingdom. Instead Jesus was headed for the cross to reconcile sinful men with the Almighty God. He would be betrayed by one of His male disciples and denied by another. Most of the others, in fear for their lives, went into hiding.

This week I have been thinking about the women who followed Jesus all the way to the cross. While Jesus bore the agony of hanging nailed to a wooden beam, a group of women who had assisted in His ministry stood at a distance (Mt. 27;25-26) huddled together around Jesus’ mother. The two thieves were there, too, on crosses, one on either side of Jesus, caught up in their own pain, but wondering about Jesus, who didn’t seem to fit their concept of a criminal. Among the milling crowd of soldiers and onlookers, tough men likely eyed the women suspiciously because in Jewish culture, decent women were not usually present at scenes like this. Apparently John, the beloved disciple, was standing with them.

Jesus’ mother was probably a widow by this time. Joseph, her husband, is last mentioned in the Gospels when Jesus was 12 years old (Lu. 2:42), more than 20 years before Jesus’ crucifixion at age 33. The average life span in Galilee at that time was about 40 years. Assuming Joseph may have been 20 to 25 years old when Jesus was born, had he been living he would have been 53 to 58 by the time of Jesus’ death. Since Jesus was the oldest son, it would have been His duty to care for His widowed mother, a duty He was mindful of as He was dying. His last act from the cross was to transfer her care to John, and John took her into his household (Jn. 19 26-27).

The Gospel writers give different lists of the women at the cross; Luke covers all the bases by simply saying, “…women who had accompanied Him from Galilee, were standing at a distance, seeing these things” (Lu. 23:49). Matthew writes, “Many women were there, looking on from a distance, …among whom was Mary Magdalene, along with Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt. 27:55-56). Mark names “…Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joses, and Salome” (Mk. 15:40). Salome was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of Jesus’ disciples James and John.

Mary Magdalene “out of whom went seven devils” (Lu. 8:2; Mk.16:9) was the leader of the group. She began following Jesus early in His ministry. We know only a few things about her: From the term Magdalene attached to her name, we can assume she was from Magdala, a tiny village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum and Tiberias. Second, she had control of her own money, an unusual circumstance for a woman in first century Israel. She used it to support Jesus in His ministry (Lu. 8:3). Unproven tradition says she had been an exotic dancer in Rome until seizures brought on by the evil spirits wrecked her career. Broken in health and spirit she returned home to Magdala and met Jesus who changed her life.

Some may ask “What good did it do for the women to be present at the cross until Jesus’ death?” If you have been through a season of grief, you know how much it means to have friends present with you. Jesus had gone though the emotional ordeal of betrayal and false accusations, as well as the physical pain of beatings and being nailed to the cross. On the cross He even felt His Father had hidden His face from Him. The women couldn’t relieve His suffering, but they could be there to show their love, to let Him know they cared. They did what they could, instead of focusing on what they couldn’t do. This week, as we move toward celebrating the resurrection, let us be faithful to “do what we can” even when it seems so small. As the song says, “Little is much if God is in it…” We do the little things; He does the miracles. Thanks for being faithful in doing what we can. Peace, jwb

For Simon: A Friday Afternoon Interruption

Sunday Chronicles, #84, March 18, 2018, Fifth Sunday of Lent

For Simon: A Friday Afternoon Interruption

Lent is a season of taking inventory – remembering what Jesus did for us at Calvary and looking at how we are honoring Him. This week I have been thinking about Simon, the man Roman soldiers pulled from the crowd to carry the cross for Jesus. Ordinarily Romans had the condemned person carry his own cross, and likely Jesus started out that way (John 19:17), but Jesus had already suffered through three trials with Jewish religious leaders, and then three trials with Roman officials: one with Pilate, one with Herod, then back to Pilate, who discerned that the charges against Jesus were false, but “for fear of the Jews” handed Him over to be crucified.

In addition to the six trials, Jesus had been up all night and forced to march from one court site to another. His last meal was with His disciples before they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrayed Him and soldiers arrested Him. In addition to being without sleep or food for hours, His disciples had deserted Him. Roman soldiers had mocked, beat, spit on, and crowned Him with thorns. Can you imagine His physical and emotional pain? The cross was heavy, and perhaps Jesus was moving too slowly to please the Romans, so they exercised their power to force into service anyone they needed. The man chosen was Simon.

Simon is identified by Mark as being the father of Rufus and Alexander who must have been known to Mark’s readers. About Simon we know very little. He is identified as a “Cyrenian” by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Cyrenaica was a Roman province on the North Coast of Africa. Its capital, Cyrene, had a large population of Greek-speaking Jews. Whether Simon had emigrated to Jerusalem to live or whether he had come only to celebrate the Passover, as hundreds of ex-pat Jews did each year, we do not know. Luke adds a bit of information that Simon “was coming in from the country,” (Luke 23:26 NAS) when the soldiers commandeered him to carry Jesus’ cross. Whether that means Simon had been outside the city for some reason or whether he was just arriving in the city for the Passover, is not clear. One translator renders the phrase “coming in from the fields.” If he is correct, then Simon must have been working there and possibly would have seen or heard of Jesus.

Two questions come to mind: (1) Where were Jesus’ disciples who had been so brave (?) when they thought He was going to restore the kingdom and they would have prominent positions? (2) Simon must have been on his way somewhere, possibly to prepare for the Passover, which would begin at sun down. Being both a Sabbath and a holy day, no work could be done after sun down for the next 24 hours. How did he feel about being pressed into service to bear another man’s cross?

These two questions made me search my own heart. Could I be true to Jesus if I knew it meant imprisonment or death? That’s what the disciples were facing and also what many Christians in places such as North Korea, China, the Middle East, and North Africa endure to follow Jesus and bear His cross in their world. I can only say that God gives grace for every situation if we cling to Him. The second question comes closer to home for me. Simon was on his way somewhere and his plans got put on hold. Most of my life I’ve worked at teaching, writing, publishing…all of which require strict adherence to schedules. When I have my day organized and moving on schedule, and God sends either a call to stop and pray or someone unexpected who needs a listening ear rings my doorbell, I have to remember that “time” as we know it is a gift from God. Can I accept the interruption as an opportunity to show my love for Him by offering whatever help I can to those He sends?

This week, can we bear the cross with Jesus? I’ll let you decide how that looks for you. I know that you are praying people, and I’d like to add two prayer requests: (1) Emily, a friend here at Maranatha, is scheduled for surgery early Monday (tomorrow) morning. Pray for good results and quick recovery. (2) Chris, (son of my friend Gloria Robinett) is scheduled for surgery at Colombia, MO on Tuesday. Due to an accident several years ago, Chris is confined to a wheel chair. He has had several surgeries and has come to dread them. Pray for peace, for angels to accompany him, and that this surgery will make his life easier. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 NIV). Peace, jwb

A Stop on the Way to the Cross

Sunday Chronicles #83, March 11, 2018  Fourth Sunday of Lent

A Stop on the Way to the Cross

Dear Readers,

How quickly our Missouri weather changes! When I went into Maranatha Chapel just before 10 a.m., the sun was shining and a warm breeze blowing. When I came out after 11 a.m., clouds had rolled in and a sharp north wind made me wish I had worn a heavier jacket.

Our speaker today was Doug Clay, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. For the basis of his message Doug chose the story of Zaccheus from Luke 19: 1-10. Jesus is passing through Jericho, the beautiful city of palm and balsam trees, on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate His last Passover before His death. Excited crowds are following Him, expecting Jesus to announce His kingdom. His disciples anticipate being given positions of honor and power.

But on His way out of Jericho, Jesus does something entirely unexpected! (Have you noticed that about Jesus? When things seem to be going well and you think you’ve figured out His plan, He stops the parade and does something that knocks everyone off balance.) On this occasion, He pauses under a sycamore tree, looks up into the thick branches, and calls out a man named Zaccheus. You probably know Zaccheus’ story. He had sold out to the Roman rulers to collect taxes from his fellow Jews, thus he was considered a traitor and shunned by his countrymen. Rome divided the areas they ruled into districts and levied a certain sum of taxes on each district. The head tax collector must turn in the amount levied, but could keep all that he collected above that. Zaccheus had riches but no happiness.

Note that Jesus knew where Zaccheus was hiding, and that he called him by name, not to scold him, but to say He was coming to Zaccheus house to visit. By the customs of the day, this would include a meal. Pharisees in the crowd were horrified. Eating with sinners was totally against their rules for holiness. Zaccheus came down out of the tree and Luke says, “received Jesus gladly.” The Pharisees grumbled because Jesus was going to the home of a sinner. However, just being in Jesus’ presence made Zaccheus realize his need to change. He immediately promised to give half his riches to the poor and to restore fourfold anything he had taken by false accusations. Salvation had come to Zaccheus and changed his priorities..

Maybe you want to see Jesus more closely, but the Pharisees you’ve met (in churches?) have been so ruthless in pointing out your failures that you are afraid to approach Him. Remember, Jesus knows where you are, He knows your name, and He wants to come to your house, to fellowship with you. By the way, Zaccheus’ name means “pure or innocent.” Jesus helped him restore those qualities to his life. On His way to the cross, Jesus stopped to seek out one man who needed His forgiveness. This week, can we lay aside our personal problems and look for someone with whom we can share Jesus’ love and acceptance?

One of the cards I received this week has this verse: “Though the road may bend and turn and dip low along the way, the Lord will be your comfort, your strength, and light each day.” Coping with aging does include days with bends and dips, but the prayers and encouragement that friends give help to shine the Lord’s light into the dark hours. When I discover I can no longer do some things I’ve been able to do in the past, I feel useless and want to give up, but another card contained this verse: “Each helps the other and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!'” (Isaiah 41:6). Thanks for encouraging me as I try to find new ways to cope with the limitations of aging…..Peace, jwb