Lest We Forget

His heart was heavier than his feet. Yet it was his breaking heart that put one foot in front of the other. He knew, when he started out, that it would take seven hours to get here. Even if he got what he came for, there was no guarantee they would return in time. For all he knew, it might already be too late.

When he had run from the house in Capernaum, his son lay at death’s door. But he couldn’t wait helplessly at that bedside, watching for the lad’s last breath. It might be the eleventh hour, but he would do something. There was a vestige of hope in Cana.

At the top of of that town’s hill, he had no trouble locating the man he wanted. But could he persuade the one with the healing touch to go back home with him? Name-dropping, he already knew, would not give him an edge.

This Jesus didn’t give a fig about the social ladder. The emperor was no more important to Him than the lowliest slave. Presenting himself as the distraught father he was, he “began to beg Him to come down and cure his son, for he was lying at the point of death” (John 4:47 AMPC).

He couldn’t believe his ears! Jesus’ response was some nonsense about signs. They didn’t have time now for an apologetic discussion! Every second counted! Desperate to make Jesus understand the dire circumstance, he tried again:  “The king’s officer pleaded with Him, Sir, do come down at once before my little child is dead!” (John 4:49 AMPC).

Time and distance were of no consequence to Jesus, as His decision proved. “Jesus answered him, ‘Go in peace; your son will live!’ And the man put his trust in what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 AMPC).

May we never forget that God has but to speak the word, and it is so.
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The Birthday Cake

“It’s just another day,” said Daddy as we were about to sing “Happy Birthday.”

No, Daddy, it’s not! I silently screamed. This is the day you were born. That makes it special. Why can’t you feel special? Mama’s showing you you are. She made you a cake.

When Mama made my birthday cake every year, I felt special. I had the same feeling about my brothers and sister when their turns came. Our mother had singled out each of us as being unique and important.

Our birthdays never came with presents. Daddy’s alcoholism stole that money. But we six children could count on a two-layer cake with buttercream frosting from Mama.

I wished my father, wrapped in alcoholic tantrums, did not say and do awful things to Mama. In spite of it all, every November 16 she would honor him on his birthday with a cake. In her heart she thought of him as special, and she wanted him to believe it of himself.

Eventually, it was for Daddy only that Mama made a birthday cake. Her children had gradually left home. Year after year, though, we all returned with our growing families for Christmas dinner. One of those Christmas nights, Mama started a new tradition.

“Come into the kitchen,” she called to her grandchildren. “We’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus. I made Him a cake.”

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Where Lies the Blame?

Eighty-five priests lay dead. All innocent. All slaughtered by Doeg. But he wasn’t through. Hotfooting it to the victims’ hometown, “He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:19 NIV).

The massacre was set in motion with a lie by–of all people–David. Fleeing again from his irrational father-in-law, he had gone into the tabernacle at Nob. David convinced Ahimelech, the priest, that the king had sent him in haste on a secret mission.

Willing to lend a helping hand, the trusting priest gave David what he had available. No harm would have been done if there had not been a malicious eyewitness.

For some reason, the king’s top herdsman was also in the sanctuary that day. As if it were a get-out-of-jail card, Doeg kept what he had seen and heard for an opportune time. That was not long in coming.

Years earlier King Saul began deceiving himself  with a lie of his own making: that his son and son-in-law were out to get him. There was no evidence of it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nevertheless, Saul’s tormented mind continually fueled his conspiracy lie. Once, during a woe-is-me mood, the king enlarged the fabrication to include his closest officials:

For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day” (1 Samuel 22:8 NASB).

Whether Doeg construed this as a do-or-die moment or a fleeting chance to suck up to the king, he played his card:

Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing with Saul’s officials, spoke up: “I saw the son of Jesse meet with Ahimelech son of Ahitub, in Nob. I saw Ahimelech pray with him for God’s guidance, give him food, and arm him with the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (1 Samuel 22:9-10 MSG).

When all eighty-five priests were brought to the enraged king, Ahimelech protested his innocence. At any point Doeg could have vouched for  the priest, but he did not. Instead, he carried out Saul’s command to kill the whole lot of them. Then on to Nob with his bloody sword for genocide! But there was a survivor.

Somehow Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped the massacre and found David. Receiving the heart-wrenching news, he took the blame:  “Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household” (1 Samuel 22:22 NASB).

Is it any wonder that Solomon, David’s future son, would someday include in his wisdom sayings:

Here are six things God hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family (Proverbs 6:16-19 MSG).

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The Brother Behind the Brother

Nehemiah got the kudos but his brother started it:

One of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:2-3 NRSV).

What could he do about it–he, a slave in this palace far from his homeland? Cut to the quick, Nehemiah “sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4 NRSV).

As God would have it, Nehemiah’s job required him to spend up-close-and-personal time with the king. Four months after his brother’s heartbreaking news, Nehemiah could no longer put on a happy face in the king’s presence. Reacting to that no-no, King Artaxerxes asked, “‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This can only be sadness of the heart”’ (Nehemiah 2:2 NRSV).

After Nehemiah divulged his ancestral city’s plight, the king asked what he wanted. Nehemiah answered but not before first winging a silent prayer to heaven. “Then I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:5 NRSV). The king gave his leave, tacking on the caveat that Nehemiah would come back.

So Nehemiah gets the credit for rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and gates. For lifting his countrymen out of ruin and despair. For making the Holy City a safe place to live and worship. His memoirs became a book in the Bible.

But what about his lesser-known brother, who had started the ball rolling when he carried the devastating news hundreds of miles to Nehemiah? “I gave my brother Hanani charge over Jerusalem, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel—for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many” (Nehemiah 7:2 NRSV).

Was Hanani’s ego bruised because he wasn’t noticed as much as his brother? Or did he believe and accept what Paul, the missionary apostle, later analogized:  “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each” (1 Corinthians 3:7-8 NRSV)?

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David’s Darkest Valley

Time and again, David found himself in the valley of the shadow of death. While a shepherd lad, he did hand-to-paw combat with a lion and a bear. Still a stripling, he faced the giant Goliath with only a slingshot. David went on to become commander of King Saul’s troops, leading them into battles. Then he was on the run for thirteen years from the jealous, deranged king. After ascending the throne, David often went to war.

So David, throughout his life, had times of living in the valley of the shadow of death. But none of his valleys was as dark as the one he went through the night his traitorous son usurped the throne.

Surprised by a message that Absalom was heading to the capital with a revolt, he fled the palace. Brokenhearted, “David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went” (2 Samuel 15:30 NRSV).

This event could have moved David to write the Twenty-Third Psalm with its ever-comforting promise, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV). Maybe he penned it then, maybe not. But there is little doubt about Psalm 3, whose superscription states that it is a psalm of David when he fled from Absalom.

During that dark valley of knowing his son desired not only his throne but also his life, David wrote:  “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head” (Psalm 3:3 NRSV). David again mustered up confidence in God.

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The Divine Legacy

His death would come before tomorrow ended. He knew it but not the friends gathered around Him.

Nevertheless, this was the moment Jesus must leave them His legacy. Soon He would not claim even the clothes on His back. What He now gifted His nearest and dearest followers, however, no one could ever take from Him:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27 ESV).

It wasn’t as if His disciples had never heard “peace” before. Like “aloha” in the Hawaiian language and “ciao” in Italian, “shalom” (peace) was the Jewish word used for both hello and good-bye. But mere hours before His crucifixion, Jesus bequeathed a peace that was beyond the ordinary farewell.

The peace Jesus bestowed was “my peace.” What divine peace did Jesus own and give on the eve of His death? The rock-solid peace that He was right with God. God the Son was in the will of God the Father with nothing between. They were, in the truest sense, on the same page.

Jesus’ legacy was the soul at rest with God. As St. Augustine, contemplating God’s ways, concluded, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.”


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The Valley of No Return

Newer translations have updated the words, but it is the older text that is most often repeated by and to those who are in the valley of grief:  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV). The assurance of God’s presence, protection, and guidance is consolation for the soul in sorrow.

Comfort, too, is in the phrase “through the valley.” The soul gets through the gloomy place, for God is guiding and shielding. There is, however, a valley where there is no way out: “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there . . . .” (Joel 3:2 ESV).

God is also in that valley but not as Guide and Protector. He comes there as Judge:  “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14 ESV).

The only decision made in the Valley of Jehoshaphat is God’s. Time for decisions by all others has run out. It is now the LORD’s time to hand down His verdict on their past decisions. From that valley there is no escape.

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Ethan Who?

Ethan who? Ethan the Ezrahite, that’s who! He was quite a big shot in his day, but he didn’t toot his own horn. However, he could be heard sounding a mean cymbal. And it goes without saying he was a chief choirmaster where everybody who’s anybody went to worship.

In addition, he was renown for his singing and composing. One of his songs even got published in the best-selling book of all time.

Besides being an acclaimed musician, Ethan was the wisest man ever. That is, until he was eclipsed by Solomon when he became king and God gifted him with being “wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite” (1 Kings 4:31 NIV).

Another strong Biblical personality was overshadowed by a newcomer on the scene. John the Baptist didn’t have a problem slipping to second place, however, saying of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). This itinerant preacher wisely accepted the waning of his role to prepare people’s hearts for the impending Messiah.

As the son of a priest, John the Baptist would have been familiar with the song Ethan had composed hundreds of years before his birth. No doubt he was aware of stanza six, in which Ethan the Ezrahite sang of the spiritual kingdom of the future Messiah–Jesus Christ, the Son of David, father of Solomon:

For I have sworn to David (and a holy God can never lie) that his dynasty will go on forever, and his throne will continue to the end of time. It shall be eternal as the moon, my faithful witness in the sky! (Psalm 89:36-37 TLB).

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How To Steal from God

There is something of God’s that is easy to steal. So easy that God issued a strong warning against taking it:  “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 NASB).

Even Jesus respected His Father’s rightful ownership of revenge and did not touch it:  “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV).

No matter how much we want revenge or eye getting it as justifiable, God says, “That’s Mine. All of it. Keep your hands off!”

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Righting a Wrong

“Get out!” Darius shouted, slapping the fruit tray out of his servant’s trembling fingers. “And take those dancing girls with you!” He was in no mood for wine and women tonight. How could he–ruler of this entire empire–let himself be outsmarted? Why hadn’t he suspected their ulterior motive?

He had handpicked every one of those territorial administrators. He had no idea they would band together and back  him into a corner. He should have seen through their conspiracy before it was too late. He should have realized they were out to destroy Daniel. That they would do anything to keep him from becoming prime minister. They weren’t about to let a man of sterling integrity have access to their financial files.

So they duped Darius into signing a law that he was helpless to rescind. Not that he hadn’t tried to think of an out.

All day long, like a trapped animal, Darius twisted and turned for a way to deliver Daniel from the death sentence. When the sun set, he gave up. There was no way out. He must go through with the execution, as the cutthroat conspirators smugly reminded him:  “But these men, all ganged together, came and said to the king, ‘You must realize, Your Majesty, that the law of Media and Persia, including every law and edict the king has issued, cannot be changed’” (Daniel 6:15 CEB).

Now his most trusted advisor was locked in a pit with lions. And the only thing he could do was say to Daniel, “‘May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!’” (Daniel 6:16 ESV).

As soon as his distressful, sleepless night passed on to dawn, Darius hurried to the death chamber. There he discovered that Daniel’s God had indeed delivered him.

Darius had been outsmarted but not outsourced:

And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces (Daniel 6:19 ESV).

Are we alert to doing the right thing? It is to our good that we are:  “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17 ESV).

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