a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 138
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. James 4:13-14
We were still within the shores of the placid bay, and the ship was moving so slowly that I imagined it might take us days just to clear the final buoy. Yet already my stomach was rolling about and the bones in my legs were turning to gelatin. Suddenly this huge ship--a bulwark of steel seemingly as immovable as the pier to which it had been secured--was bobbing and swaying beneath my feet, offering little support for my quivering constitution.
It was the very, very beginning of my six months in the vicinity of Vietnam, and the small-town, heretofore landlocked boy from Iowa was getting his first taste of the sea. The first quivering moments notwithstanding, after about a week's time, I had gained my "sea legs" and was moving about the ship with the unfaltering step of the old salt I was fast becoming.
Then the real waves hit.
One night I dreamed I was clinging to the very tip of the mast. As the ship (in my dream) would roll to one side, I would reach down and touch the water on that side of the ship, then, as the ship would roll back, I would reach down and touch the water on the other. I awoke to the sounds of unsecured furniture sliding across the floor and crashing into bulkheads. Suddenly everything in my world was being tossed about like furnishings in an upended dollhouse. I awoke to the disturbing truth that my dream had been based on the reality of my surroundings--and that old, familiar quivering began again in my belly.
Years later, while living in San Diego, I was at work at my desk when, from out of the east, I felt the earth rumbling toward me. This was not like the vibration caused by a passing truck, or even the pounding iron wheels of a diesel locomotive. No, this was the earth itself rolling as if it were a subterranean steamroller, huffing and puffing toward me. The rolling approached from out of the distance--the earth quivered and shook like a huge carpet that someone had grasped from the other end and given a good snap. The rolling wave passed beneath my feet and the cement foundation of our house, then rolled on into the opposite distance.
Every so often we are reminded that we are not in charge. Every so often the earth will not just roll past, beneath our feet, but will give a mighty heave like something roused from confinement, like a huge beast rousing to claim its freedom. When it does there will be fires and explosions and great gushers where water lines are snapped, massive slabs of reinforced concrete will fall away and crash onto helpless victims as if made from papier-mache.
At such times we are reminded of an important Biblical concept: dust.
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return. " Genesis 2:7, 3:19
Mankind has become accustomed to thinking itself the highest form of life. We imagine we are masters of our universe--masters of everything we see. We can do what we want, build where we want, take what we want; we answer to no one and apologize for nothing. The present mindset eliminates the need--or desire--to answer to an all-powerful God. But in our arrogance we have forgotten that we are "but dust."
The earth has once again given us notice. In spite of all our efforts, there remain powers far beyond our control. To believe in the supremacy of man over the elements is to indulge in self-delusion. Disastrous earthquakes.show just what a puny position man occupies. We are the servant and not the master; we can attempt to understand Nature, but we can never hope to conquer it. (Karan Singh (Calcutta), in Time magazine; referring to an earthquake in Killari, India.)
The petty sovereign of an insignificant tribe in North America every morning stalks out of his hovel, bids the sun good morning, and points out to him with his finger the course he is to take for the day. Is this arrogance more contemptible than ours when we would dictate to God the course of His providence, and summon Him to our bar for His dealings with us? How ridiculous does man appear when he attempts to argue with his God! (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
Oddly, the proponents of the "green slime" theory have at least some of it right. In a recent article, a comparison was drawn between ancient (implied: silly) theories on the creation of life and modern (implied: serious) theories. You be the judge.
Scientific" theories on the subject are as old as civilization. The ancient Egyptians believed frogs and toads arose from silt deposited by the flooding Nile. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that insects and worms were born of dewdrops and slime, that mice were generated by dank soil and that eels and fish sprang forth from sand, mud and putrefying algae. It took the conceptual might of Charles Darwin to imagine a biologically plausible scenario for life's emergence. In an oft-quoted letter, written in 1871, Darwin suggested that life arose in a "warm little pond" where a rich brew of organic chemicals, over eons of time, might have given rise to the first simple organisms. (J. Madeleine Nash in Time, October 11, 1993, p69ff.)
And of course we all know that those "first simple organisms" then grew up to be our forebears. What I find fascinating is that there is essentially little difference between toads arising from silt, worms from slime, fish from putrefying algae--and man from a "warm little pond."
If the disciples of Darwin are so resoundingly wrong, what, then do they have right? That man is constructed from the basest, meanest elements of the earth--that man was plucked up out of the dirt--that he is "but dust."
All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Ecclesiastes 3:20
If we follow the argument, what, then, is the essential difference between the Darwinian position that we arose from out of the slime, and the Biblical position that we arose from out of the dust? Very little.
What is different, however, is the agent of that rising. The Bible says that God Himself--Creator of the universe, Lord of time itself--is the one who gouged His fingers into the mud to create man. But that isn't enough. It isn't enough to just say that God did it (as opposed to it being an accident of the cosmos). The real miracle--the wonderful, mind-bending truth to be acquired--is not that God did it, but that He cared to.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Psalm 8:3-4
There are those who point to Genesis 1:27 and claim that deity already resides in us all--thereby making superfluous any relationship with Christ.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27
But they ignore the second chapter, which states that we are simply another of His many created beings, made of the dust of the earth. At the same time there are those who consider mankind to be nothing more than worm meat, failing to acknowledge that God not only chose to create us, but to create us in His image. How do we balance these two?
Taking God's word as a whole, instead of lifting out convenient passages, we get a clearer picture of the truth. It helps to think of this in heavenly, eternal terms: We are not heavenly creations (such as the angels) being invited back to our point of origin (heaven); we are, instead, earthly creations being invited to share in the eternity of heaven through the grace of a loving God.
The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of love.
Jehovah, great I AM, by earth and heaven confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name, forever blest.
The God of Abraham praise, at whose supreme command
From earth I rise, and seek the joys at His right hand.
I all on earth forsake, its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only portion make, my shield and tower.
He by Himself hath sworn, I on His oath depend;
I shall, on eagle's wings upborne, to heaven ascend;
I shall behold His face, I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.
The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
Hail, Father, Son and Holy Ghost!" They ever cry.
Hail, Abraham's God and mine! I join the heavenly lays;
All might and majesty are Thine, and endless praise.
(Daniel ben Judah (14th Century); revised version of "The Yigdal" by Thomas Olivers)
The young man was being interviewed by someone from the national press. He and his wife were standing before a pile of rubble that had been their apartment. Just moments before, the video camera had recorded the scene as the couple's cat had finally emerged safe and sound from the shapeless pile of building parts.
The young man's face was calm, almost emotionless as he told their tale. He patiently described how, without warning, their home had crumpled atop their heads. Miraculously, he said, they all had survived unscathed.
Perhaps he was in shock. Perhaps he was still numb from his rude awakening that morning. We should be forgiving of those who have just been through such traumatic events. We should not be quick to jump inside their heads to rearrange the thoughts. Nonetheless, the words with which he finished the interview were smug and assured--almost chilling--and were illustrative of a society filled with people eager to surround themselves with the trinkets of success.
"I have nothing," he said with an unblinking countenance, "nothing. Everything I had was lost. I have nothing but the clothes on my back."
Nothing? I thought at the time. What about your life, your health? What about your wife, for crying out loud--doesn't she count? And let's not forget the family cat. How incredible, I thought; as this man's family was defined, his family was still intact. They were not only alive, but healthy and sound, standing on their feet. Yet, to him, he had nothing left.
Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine." Job 41:10b-11
From where have we learned to expect more? If everything belongs to God, then how can we feel cheated when we have less than others--or less than we had yesterday? If even those things we "create" are simply bits and pieces of things God has already created, how then can we boast in our creations?
While they can indeed be traumatic and unpleasant--even tragic--natural disasters are excellent classrooms in which to observe the priorities of this society. From floods that sweep away homes and whole towns, to raging infernos consuming everything in their path, to earthquakes that rend our globe as if it were paper--from all of these and more we may observe how some individuals have placed their faith in the accoutrements of living. Written across the strained and anguished faces we can see that some have even invested all of their self-worth and self-estimation in those things purchased with a paycheck.
They have become what they own--no more, no less.
Nothing that matters is new. Nothing is new that matters and nothing that matters can be modernized. Almost everything that men value today has been developed from some primitive archetype: the streamlined auto from the wheel, the skyscraper from the stone arch, the supersonic airplane from the kite, our methods of communication from hieroglyphics or the jungle drum. What really matters after all? My personal relation to God matters. That takes priority over everything else. A man may [have everything our modern society can devise,] yet what will all this profit him if he must later rise to face in judgment a God who knows him not and whom he does not know. To come at last before the bar of eternal justice with no one to plead his cause and to be banished forever from the presence of the great Judge--is that man any better off than if he had died a naked savage in the hinterlands of Borneo? The naked aborigine is as near to God (and as far from Him) as the Ph.D.
Nothing new can save my soul; neither can saving grace be modernized. (A. W. Tozer)
Must I go, and empty-handed," thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him, lay no trophy at His feet?
Not at death I shrink nor falter, for my Saviour saves me now;
But to meet Him empty-handed, tho't of that now clouds my brow.
O the years in sinning wasted, could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my Saviour, to His will I'd gladly bow.
O ye saints, arouse, be earnest, up and work while yet 'tis day;
Ere the night of death o'er--take thee,
strive for souls while still you may.
"Must I go, and empty-handed?" Must I meet my Saviour so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him: Must I empty-handed go? (Charles C. Luther)
The Christian is the most contented man in the world, but he is the least contented with the world. He is like a traveler in an inn, perfectly satisfied with the inn and its accommodation, considering it as an inn, but putting quite out of all consideration the idea of making it his home. (Spurgeon)
The earth need not be moved by great and terrible seismic forces for our trust in a sovereign to be put to the test. Life's moments of unbridled joy, as well, can demonstrate the difference between an earthly and heavenly perspective.
Outside chopping wood on the afternoon of November 19th, 1997, I listened with interest to the radio, and the first news conference. As I swung the axe and stacked the wood that would later be burned in the fireplace during the approaching winter evenings, I marveled and wept with joy over what I was hearing.
As most everyone who was paying attention at the time knows, on November 19, after 30 weeks of pregnancy Bobbi McCaughey, from Carlisle, Iowa, gave birth to seven premature but vigorous babies.
Present at that first news conference were the principal doctors who attended the Caesarean births. I was immediately impressed with their calm, comfortable demeanor. The two Iowa women--Paula Renee Mahone, M.D., and Karen Lynn Drake, M.D., both perinatologists--described with quiet good-natured confidence the events of the birth, and fielded the many questions tossed their way by members of the media.
This news conference with the attending physicians continued a pattern not always apparent to those getting their news from the national media, such as the broadcast and cable television networks. The general public in Iowa, following the story via the local television, radio and newspaper sources, knows very well that the entire event has been literally drenched in the words and behavior of Christian faith.
Bobbi, still groggy [after the delivery], still on the bed, was wheeled to the babies' room. She raised her head and reached out and touched each one and spoke softly. Her babies looked fine, the best. Then she smiled and slept. And the McCaugheys and the Hepworths, the aunts and uncles and grandparents held hands and sang. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." (Des Moines Sunday Register, November 23, 1997; story by John Carlson.)
As I stacked the pieces of wood and hauled them inside to restack them against the workshop wall, I marveled at the moving testimony of Christian faith being expounded from the lips of the doctors; the townsfolk of Carlisle; the few family members who spoke publicly (including the grandfather fairly bursting with understandable pride over his seven new grandchildren); the proud, happy father--Kenny McCaughey (pronounced, McCoy); and the members of the family's local Baptist church.
They spoke unabashedly to the reporters of prayer, of outbursts of praise and rejoicing in the delivery room, of glory raised to God, of dependency and trust, of quiet hope and unselfish devotion. These were not the standard, tired clich,s of religion typically bandied about in the press; these were not the bland, meaningless mutterings inserted into entertainment programs. These were the real thing, spoken by people who actually lived their faith, and were happy to give credit where it was due: to God.
With my arms sufficiently sore and my back equally stiff, I returned the axe to its place in the workshop and got cleaned up. It would soon be time for the evening network news and--though I do not normally watch what the networks call the news--on this occasion I wanted to observe their spin on the event. Specifically I wished to confirm my suspicion that the networks would go out of their way to scour away every last vestige of religion and faith from the story. To their credit, the local media had done a pretty good job of reporting this aspect of the story. But I doubted that the network news would continue in kind. I expected they would remove any mention of God from the story, and with this story, I thought, they'd have a real challenge on their hands--because faith in God was the story.
The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather led with the story and, just as I expected, there was not one word about God, or the almost staggering faith held by just about everyone involved. About that I was saddened--not surprised, but saddened.
What did surprise me, however, was the shameful, deplorably dark twist they gave to the story from the beginning, referring to the births as "controversial," and emphasizing the fact that although the mother was given the option to abort a few of the fetuses to raise the odds for those remaining, she had (implied: ignorantly or selfishly) refused. The clear implication from the report was that this would have been the sensible thing for her to do.
From the opening moments of the newscast through the on-site reports from Des Moines, the anchor and reporters were grim-faced and dour, as if this were some dark tragedy to be endured. There was none of the joy! Where was the reportage of the actual events taking place at the hospital? Where were the faces of the people--from the beaming father to the doctors, to the local people literally on their knees in prayer for the health of the little ones? Never has there been a better demonstration of the media's detachment from reality.
This sour-faced tone was also present on the ABC network, November 11th, prior to the births, with the headline: "As Town Awaits Births, Questions Arise: Is Having Septuplets Immoral?" That night, on the same network's Nightline program, the question was put: "Are Multiple Births of More Than Four Too Many?"
Trust placed in something higher than oneself is a frightening prospect for much of a world steeped in the religion of self-determination. Even many who claim membership in one faith or another still place more trust in their own abilities than those of an invisible God. The larger story of the McCaughey septuplets is the story of a small town's quiet faith in God and His ways amidst the self-important arrogance of news media and various "experts."
Let us pause for a moment to consider the two views: the temporal, soil-bound view of the unregenerate world and its minions, against the eternal, Spirit-winged view of heaven and its creator. First, hear the voices of the world:
Humans weren't meant to have litters."
She should have aborted half of them, to ensure the
health of the rest."
Who do they think they are?"
They did it just for all the free stuff!"
She was too young to be taking those fertility drugs."
Just look at the expense!"
That's nice, but the world's overpopulated as it is,
They can't take care of them on their own, so they
shouldn't have had so many."
I would consider this to be a failure of the system--to
This wasn't God; this was science."
Now hear the voice of heaven:
At 12:48 p.m., "Baby A" was lifted from his mother's
uterus, held briefly, his mouth cleared of mucus.
God is great," said [Dr.] Drake.
That's Kenneth," came a voice from the crowd. It was
Kenny McCaughey, behind the mask, smiling, announcing
the birth of his son to the world. One minute after
Kenneth's birth, the nurse looked outside and held up
two fingers. "Alexis," said Kenny.
God is great," said Drake, the doctor, thinking that
something greater than mere medical technology was
involved here. Every minute the babies came, [Drs.]
Mahone and Drake moving their hands down quickly, coming
up with these most special children.
This one's Natalie," Kenny told them.
God is great," said Drake.
One a minute.
God is great."
God is great."
God is great."
Finally, at 12:54, Joel, the last, arrived--with a
God is good."
And the McCaugheys and the Hepworths, the aunts and
uncles and grandparents held hands and sang. "Praise God
from whom all blessings flow . . ."
(Des Moines Sunday Register)
Trust in God is not modified by temporal events. God Himself is not changed by events transpiring throughout the course of earthly civilization, so neither is His sovereignty over them. God is never surprised, nor does He ever find Himself powerless against something someone else has done. The words "accident," "happenstance," "coincidence," are not in His dictionary, nor can they be found in the vocabulary of those who have placed their trust in Him.
Faith rests upon the character of God, not upon the demonstration of laboratory or logic. (A. W. Tozer)
Over the course of this most dramatic time the McCaugheys demonstrated a profound trust in God to a world leaden with faith only in itself. One could almost hear the strained desperation in the voices of the nay-sayers--desperate for their self-absorbed views to be proven correct--desperate for something to go wrong with the children, so their small-sighted opinions could win prominence.
But they just don't get it. As Dr. Drake recited,
God is Great--even if one of the babies had been stillborn;
God is Great--even if the mother had suffered harm;
God is Great--even if there was no money for all the bills;
God is Great--even if there were no one to help;
God is Great--even if their church had turned them away;
God is Great--even if the father loses his job tomorrow;
God is Good--even if next year brings disaster.
Real trust in God is not dependent on what we see happening around us. There will be evil giants in every life; there will be impenetrable fortifications encountered in every person's passage upon earth; inconvenience and insurmountable odds will be found at every turn--but God is still great. Great earthquakes and fires and floods--even the joys of birth--are all reminders of our small size. Like ants scurrying over a collapsing hill, we would be drowning in our own insignificance were it not for the new and forever standing we have obtained through His Son Jesus Christ.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand. Romans 5:1-2
It is elementary to know that through Jesus Christ we have gained access to the eternity of heaven. We are not owed this; it is not a return to that place from whence we came, but a permanent change of address to a place where we only now belong. But for most of us--certainly anyone reading this--that change of address has yet to take place. What about now? What difference does this make right now? How might this change our perspective?
Watching the news reports, it's easy to spot those who have this more eternal perspective--and those who do not. It's easy to spot those who are leaning on Christ, and those who are leaning on themselves. Those who are trusting in Christ have about them an almost supernatural calm. When everyone around is prodding them toward anxiety, they display a peace that is seen as inexplicable--and is often mocked--by those without Christ. In their uncomfortable ignorance, they struggle to discount such grounded trust as simple-minded.
Those who know Christ need not fear the uncertainty of tomorrow, or even the calamity of today. Those who rest in the Lord carry around with them a peace and a confidence that can only baffle those who do not know Him.
And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Mark 4:37-40
During an earthquake, the inhabitants of a small village were very much alarmed, but they were at the same time surprised at the calmness and apparent joy of an old lady whom they all knew.
At length one of them, addressing the old lady, said,
Ma'am, are you not afraid?"
No," said the woman, "I rejoice to know that I have a God who can shake the world." (Spurgeon)
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand.
Issue No. 138
Aspects is Copyright © 2002 David S. Lampel.
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