Seven Things That Are Uncertain

7The Biblical number seven is interesting. It may represent a numerical value, such as one, two, etc.  Or it may also represent the idea of completeness or maturity. The term seven occurs through scripture. For example, it took seven days to create the world, seven spirits of demons, seven trespasses, and so on until the Book of Revelation where the term seven occurs frequently.  Here, I’ll be using the term seven in both ways.  I will share seven actual verses (New King James Version).  Also, there are so many other uncertainties that space will not permit the listing of them. These seven verses here are representative of Life’s Uncertainties:

  1. Beauty  “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing: but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30) 
  2. Men’s Promises  “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is not help.” (Psalm 146:3)
  3. Riches  “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings, they fly away like eagles toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:5)
  4. The Future  “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
  5. Friendship  “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:32)
  6. Life  “ Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
  7. Earthly Glory  “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24)

In our next devotional thought, we will look at comforting certainties. I’ll share seven verses that encourage the believers.

~ Brother Roy

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For Unto Us a Child Is Born

unto usI love Handel’s Messiah.  Has there ever been a more beautiful, more thorough artistic rendering of the life of Christ than that great musical masterpiece?  I always try to take advantage of any opportunity to hear Messiah performed, and tears stream down my face as the choir proclaims: “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ!”

Originally intended for the Easter season, it is interesting that Handel’s Messiah has become known as a Christmas tradition.  But I am so thankful that it has become a tradition of the Christmas season, because it helped re-form my view of this time of year.  As a child growing up in a wonderful Christian home, we were taught very clearly that Christmas was not about trees, stockings, or flying reindeer (though those were fun traditions to celebrate), but that the real reason for the season was the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  However, it was Handel’s comprehensive treatment of the story of Christ in Messiah that first brought home to me the great truth of the birth of Jesus – that He was born to die.

Handel drew extensively from the Old Testament prophecies for his oratorio, and two pieces in particular brought the full truth of the incarnation to my mind through two passages from the prophet Isaiah:  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6); and the great “Surely He has borne our griefs” passage of Isaiah 53.

In the light of the Christmas season, these two passages seem to call to each other through the pages of Scripture:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
Unto us a child is born.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Unto us a child is born.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
Unto us a child is born.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; 
Unto us a child is born.
The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Unto us a child is born.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Unto us a child is born.

At Christmas, we are thankful for the incarnation, when God so loved the world that He sent His only son to be one of us.  But let us not forget the reason He came: to take upon Himself our iniquities and redeem us from the guilt and power of sin.  It was, as the hymnwriter said, “the dawn of redeeming grace”.

“And He shall reign forever and ever.”

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

The Light of the Star

wise men starStarting well before Thanksgiving, the marketers have been pushing Christmas merchandise. It seems to me that merchants start earlier every year. Stars are often prominent among the season’s decorations. They top Christmas trees, hang in windows, are centerpieces in displays and advertisements, and etc. Unfortunately, across time, much of the message ‘the star’ represents has been tarnished or lost.

The true significance of the Christmas Star is found in Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (2:1-10). Matthew tells of wise men from the east who had been following the star. They had followed the light of the star to Jerusalem. They inquired about the one “born King of the Jews.”  They reported seeing His star in the heavens and had come to worship the newborn King. After conversations with the Jewish King, Herod, the wise men started toward Bethlehem. Again the star appeared and “went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was.”

One can only wonder how many thousands, perhaps millions, of people in that ancient world saw the incredible star. The light of the star most certainly would have been clearly visible to everyone. The people of that time would undoubtedly have been aware of the new light in the night sky. There is no record of anyone but the wise men that followed the light to the Christ Child.

We should learn a great spiritual truth from the Biblical account of the birth of the savior. It’s not the light we see, but the light we follow that counts. This Christmas season, we will all see the light of ‘stars’ on every hand. Will the light simply be another seasonal adornment or will we follow the spiritual light and find “a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

 “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10)

~ Brother Roy

Sandy Hook, Longfellow, and Peace on Earth

US-CRIME-SCHOOL-SHOOTINGOn December 14, 2012, our nation was shocked by the horror of a gunman opening fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  When the chaos was over, twenty children, six teachers, and the gunman were dead.  It was the second most deadly mass shooting by a single killer in United States history.

The horror of Sandy Hook stood in stark contrast to the joy and celebration of the Christmas season.  For me, it immediately brought to mind the words of a great American poet who found himself in a similar Christmas season of seeming hopelessness.  During the American Civil War Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lost his wife in a tragic fire, and in 1863 his son, a Union soldier, lay badly wounded in a hospital.  The seemingly endless war was at its height, and all around were conflict, death, division, and strife – a distinct absence of peace and goodwill.  Longfellow heard the church bells ringing the celebration of Christmas, but there was no joy in their pealing for his heart that was overwhelmed with grief and depression.  In that spirit, he penned the words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

And in despair, I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
“Of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

In the wake of Sandy Hook, many of us shook our heads and wondered, Of all times for something like this to happen – the Christmas season.  No one who was touched by that tragedy would ever be able to celebrate Christmas in the same way again.  But when I recalled to mind the fourth verse of Longfellow’s great poem, I began to think that there may be no better time to take heart:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep!
“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
“With peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

The good news of the incarnation is that God cares – cares enough about us that He sent His Son to be our Immanuel, God with us.  And in this Christmas season we look forward to a day when Christ will come again – when the spiritual truth of “peace on earth” that was proclaimed by the angels at His birth becomes a literal reality, and “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain,” and we will live in the presence of Immanuel – forever.

If you have experiences that make the Christmas season a painful time – a loss, a tragedy, bad news, a troubled relationship – rest in this message of the season: God cares, and He is with you.  And trust in the hope that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

The Harmonica: A Christmas Story

harmonicaMany years ago, I was deeply involved in mission work in Jamaica. One of the primary ministry points was an extremely needy boys’ home. On one of my initial trips to this home, I was struck by the austere conditions in which the children lived. Months passed, but I couldn’t get those children out of my mind. As Christmas drew near, I worked feverishly and with the help of family and friends, I gathered items to take to the home for Christmas. I didn’t inform the superintendent of my intentions of a Christmas visit. I wanted it to be a complete surprise.

When I drove up in front of the main building at the home, the superintendent came out. I showed him the packages each boy would receive. Each would get a washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, underwear, a pair of shoes, and of course some Christmas candy and a small toy. He told me this had been one of the worst years financially the home had ever experienced.  The children had been informed there would be no Christmas party that year. But then he confidently said, “I knew you would come.” I asked, “How could you possibly know I was coming?” The superintendent then shared with me the following account. It was indelibly etched in my mind. 

John’s Story

When I was a boy, about eight years old, I lived in this very home. It had been a particularly hard year for the home. We were often hungry, our clothes were rags, and we had no toys or little else to take our minds off our deprivation.  Then came a sad day when the old gentleman in charge assembled all of us boys in the chapel. With a heavy heart, he told us that there would be no gifts or special celebration because of our dire financial situation. He said he would try to have toto, (a sweet cornbread), half a banana, and some weak tea for our Christmas morning breakfast. He would also try to get some chicken backs, necks, and feet to go with our rice for our Christmas dinner. We were all sad and solemn as we left the chapel.

I slipped away to my bed. Under my mattress, I had hidden a few pages from an old Christmas catalog that I had taken from the book room. Missionaries sometimes brought magazines along with some worn children’s books to put in our book room.  The pages from the catalog had pictures of toys that the white children in America would get for Christmas gifts.  One picture captured my attention. It was a little boy about my age playing a harmonica. The picture showed the notes rising in the air as the boy played. The boy’s family was gathered around the Christmas tree and were singing together. I dreamed of getting a harmonica for Christmas.

We had been taught that Jesus loved children and heard their prayers. With all my heart, I prayed. Hoping against hope, I prayed and believed Jesus would see to it I got the harmonica. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning. I didn’t sleep much that night. Before daylight, I searched all around my bed and couldn’t find it. My fear increased as the minutes passed. Then I thought maybe the harmonica had been placed far back under my bed so no one would see it and take it. My hope began to rise as sunlight filtered into the dorm room and I was better able to see. I slipped quietly out of bed and searched under and all around the bed. There was no harmonica! At breakfast, I was hungry and the meal was meager, but I couldn’t eat. I had never known disappointment and sadness so deep. I asked to be excused and walked down the drive to the big entry gate by the road. I sat in the shadow of the gate with my back to the home so none of the boys could see me. I cried and cried. There was no harmonica and Jesus didn’t care about a poor Jamaican orphan.

Through the sobs and tears, I heard noise down the road toward the banana fields. I looked up and saw a dirty old man in tattered, stained clothes step out onto the road. He labored beneath the large stalk of bananas on his shoulder.  He slowly made His way up the road and stopped by the gatepost where I was sitting. He looked into my tear filled eyes and asked why I was crying. Through the sobs, I told him what had happened. I told him that I didn’t get the harmonica and that not even Jesus cared for me on this Christmas day. The old man told me not to cry and tried to reassure me that Jesus really did care. He gave no other explanation or comfort and gradually walked on.

Just before he disappeared from view, he turned around and called out, ‘little boy, come here.’ Still crying, I got up and walked up to him. He reached into his old shirt pocket and pulled out a shiny Harmonica, like the one I had prayed for. He handed it to me. Without another word, he walked on and disappeared from my view.  Could this have been an angel? (Heb. 13:2)

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform (Cowper).

~ Brother Roy

A Pinch of Salt

salt_of_the_earth

In my eastern Kentucky home, food was usually the same and normally bland. My grandmother would say, “a pinch of salt will bring out the flavor.” A pinch of salt would add needed zest and savor to our ordinary fare. Mountain folks, in the day, seldom used saltshakers. Small dishes called ‘salt cellars’ were placed on the table. We would take a pinch of salt between our thumb and forefinger and sprinkle it on our food to season it. A pinch of salt made the beans and taters more palatable.

Salt has been a part of man’s life across time. Not only did our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrews, make use of salt in their food; but they also used it in their religious services as an essential accompaniment to the various offerings presented at the altar. The altar was the table of the Lord; therefore, salt being always set on their tables, God would have it always used at His. It is called “the salt of the covenant with your God” (Leviticus 2:13) . The Hebrew people confirmed their covenants with each other by eating and drinking together. Salt was always used at these special meals. Sacrifices were a type of feasting with God, and salt confirmed the covenant He had made with them. Eventually, when the temple was built, there was a court in temple called the chamber of salt (Ezra 7:22-22). Salt was required in all offerings (Leviticus 2:13). No injunction in the laws of God was more sacredly observed than the application of salt.

Because salt possesses strong preservative properties, it became an emblem of incorruption and purity. Used in sacrifices, it symbolized the unbending commitment of self-surrender and willing service. The use of salt was representative of casting off all impurity and hypocrisy. It was also a sign of a perpetual covenant, a perfect reconciliation, and a lasting friendship with the heavenly Father.

In the New Testament, as in the Old, salt had a special significance religiously as well as an article of food.  Salt was used to represent spiritual principles. Salt had a typical meaning referred to by our Lord concerning the effect of the Gospel on those who embrace it (Mark 9:49-50). As salt generously applied preserves food from spoiling, so will the Gospel keep men from the corruption of sin. Jesus, speaking to God’s people, said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned.” (Matthew 5:13)  God’s people are expected to make their world better, as opposed to corrupting it by their sins. God’s people are to season their world with peace. Mark 9:50, “Salt is good … Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.”  The Apostle Paul had this advice for the believers at Colosse, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”  (Colossians 4:6, EVS). 

Paul, speaking to believers in Romans 12:1 (EVS), says, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”  In order for our sacrifice to be acceptable we must be salted with salt. We must be pure and free from corruption. We must have in our souls the savor of grace. 

A final thought about salt:  we must be aware that if salt has lost its power to season, it is no good and should be cast out and trodden under the feet of men. Pure salt maintains its flavor and preservative properties. In Israel, some salt was mixed with other ingredients. When it was exposed to the elements, the salt would be “leached out.” Leached out salt was used to coat walkways. We must, through the help of the Holy Spirit, keep ourselves free from contamination of the things of this world.

Prayer: Lord, may we be ‘salt cellars’ filled with pure salt. May we add zest and savor to the lives of those around us. Jesus said to us,

“You Are The Salt Of The Earth”

~ Brother Roy