Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Living Stone that Causes Stumbling, by Pastor Ed Evans

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:2-10

2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-
2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
2:4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and
2:5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
2:6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
2:7 To you then who believe, He is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,"
2:8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This past week the children of the King, you who have become "God's own people" have been stressed and dressed down for not believing a lie.

The TV Cable wires, radio broadcasts and newspaper printing presses were burning up with the news that the world was ending on May 21st and the earth would be destroyed!

Oh my! Oh gosh! Holy cow! Yikes! Whatever will we do?!

The almost comical rush of media lemmings off the very edge of wisdom and sanity brought to mind the old two-line poem: "When confused, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!"

An 88-year-old civil engineer and radio network owner, Harold Camping, had declared the world would end at 6 p.m. -- local time all over the world in a rolling earthquake beginning in New Zealand -- and he had spent $2 million dollars putting up billboards to let everyone know. TV screens filled with wide-eyed followers declaring "It's true. He knows. Make peace with God, now!"

Of course, it's easy to say all that now, right? I mean, here it is May 22nd, a day later, with no rolling earthquakes, no appearance of our Lord, and so now we can laugh and make jokes about it. Got news for you. We could do that before.

I won't go into Harold Camping's entire history, it's out there on the Internet if anyone wants to look at this late date, information that was there all along about how many times he had played this same game, and the destruction of the world never came. What do you call a prophecy that doesn't come true? I'm not certain, but you don't call it a prophecy. Prophecies happen.

But there's an even better reason we should have been able to laugh and joke about it during that "stressful" week leading up to May 21st. What's that reason? The reason is because we are children of the King. Because we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the inspired Word of God.

If you are going to believe in such "prophecies", such false claims, then you are going to have to forget about Jesus Christ, because you are going to have to believe that He lied to us in Matthew 24:36 where, speaking to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, sitting beside a fig tree, Jesus described what would happen during the last days, ending with, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Jesus thought it important enough to repeat His warning just two verses later: " Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour."

In the context of that conversation with His disciples, just a few verses earlier, still there on the Mount of Olives, Jesus warns His disciples, in verse 11, that many false prophets will appear and "deceive many people." Mr. Camping has said the world was ending before, in the 1980's, again in 1994, and now, again; always false.

He has also for years been telling people not to attend church, claiming the Holy Spirit has abandoned churches, and relating how there was silence in heaven because no one was being saved. Oh please, how gullible do you have to be, how ignorant of scriptural discernment do you have to be, to be so easily led away from the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your understanding of holy scripture?

Harold Camping builds his entire false prophesy upon his private interpretation of Ecclesiastes 8:5. He takes that verse out of context and twists it to mean what it was never meant to mean. In fact, the true irony is that the context of chapter 8 is about the limitation of man's knowledge, how much we do not know, cannot know.

It's always possible, of course, that whatever Mr. Camping meant to accomplish, God meant for His own purposes, and perhaps many people came to accept Christ because of the actions of this false prophecy.

But sadly, it is more likely this debacle of false prophecy, for many, undermined what little they knew of Christ, and convinced them that, like Camping's claims, there was nothing to the claims of Christ. This is pleasing only to the god of this world, who delights in such false masquerades of the true Christ.

It is our individual responsibilities, as followers of Jesus Christ, to know enough about the inspired word of Almighty God that we can discern the true from the false. Our natural senses should alert, out of our own learned wisdom about God's word, when people begin twisting and misusing His word. For example, Camping twists scripture to change the dates of Jesus' birth and death, the times of Noah, and other events. For what purposes? Well, for one thing, to disagree with Bible scholars makes news, and Mr. Camping writes and sells books. Publicity also generates advertising sales, and Mr. Camping also has a $22 million dollar radio network.

So, how should Christians react to all this?

First, let us accept that there is a war in heaven. We have God's word that tells us that. Satan and his demons are the enemy of God. God's word tells us that. For that reason, Ephesians 6:12 explains to us, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

When that verse was posted on Facebook recently, someone responded, "Honestly I would like this, but I don't like the war. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, but I don't have to like it."

As I read that response, my jaw dropped. What? Do they believe we have a choice in this conflict between good and evil? Okay, that's enough, no more conflict between good and evil. We're not gonna do war no more. Satan, settle down and be nice. God, Satan says he'll behave so You and all Your angels can stand down and take a break.

Now, it is true according to God's word, that when we get to heaven there will be no more sin. But that means that those who want to do sin, who seek sin to do, they won't be there. But here in this life, we are still up for grabs by the enemy if we do not have the life of Christ within us.

But, if we do have Christ, we have a compulsion to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Love, purity, all the good things have come. As 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, 17, tells us, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again ... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the news has come!"

Those renewed in Christ have no reason to be concerned about this date or that date, but we can merely accept Jesus' word, that no man knows. Our job is to do as Jesus in Mark 16:15 instructs us, "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.'"

Note that there is nothing there about packing up and waiting for His arrival, nothing about making arrangements for who will take care of our pets left behind, who will get our house, our car, our fortune. He who loved us first will see that we are taken care of, but first, we need to share His love with all the world. Of course, that will not always be easy, for as we do move into the end times, the persecution of Christians will increase, even as we are seeing in China, India, Pakistan, and Africa today

In the case of those described in verse 9, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people," we will have the empowerment of the sons and daughters of God; we will have steadfastness and the living truth; the "living stone" which causes others to stumble.

The inspired Word of God makes it clear that there is "the judgment" coming, that God sees and God neither ignores those who become His enemy, nor those who accept His Son. His Word is clear, and true, and deadly to those who ignore Him, even before "the" judgment gets here. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that "the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword."

Let the false prophets do their worst. We the sons and daughters of the royal family have work to do, a mission for the sake of Christ, and the Word of God, which false prophets attempt to use against us, is a two-edged sword in the hands of the believer. Know your sword. For having received mercy, through the Word we now offer Christ to the world, and His hand of mercy.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Small Victories and the Run to Hue

by Ed Evans, MGySgt., USMC (Ret.)

April 11, 2011

It was the first warm Monday of a late spring in Nashville, and I was scheduled for an early morning stress test at the VA Hospital. My new doctor, a very conscientious young man, was attempting to determine the cause of my shortness of breath and sometimes loss of equilibrium. I tried to tell him the cause was 'cause I'm 70 years old.

The VA Hospital here in Nashville, Tennessee, is much improved -- from services to attitudes -- from what it was 20 years ago when I first began going there for treatment of my Graves Disease related lack of adrenaline and the after affects of a Vietnam-era gunshot wound to my lower left leg. And it should be one of the best in the nation, since an agreement with Vanderbilt Hospital makes it part of Vandy's teaching experience for new doctors. But to be truthful, at my elder age I'm skeptical of all doctors. My experiences lead me to remind everyone that doctor's are only guessing when they diagnose, and that's why they call it a medical "practice."

When I was in VA Hospital a few weeks ago, I had four doctors attempting to determine why I came into the hospital emergency ward on a Friday night in extreme pain and sickness. My symptoms were a feeling that something was eating my gut, with a steel band of pain across my upper chest. When I had left the house so my wife could drive me to the hospital, I had dry heaved in the bushes, a reaction to the pain in my gut.

When I got to the emergency ward, they determined my blood pressure and temperature was up, they needed to keep me in the hospital, but no diagnosis as to why the pain. It stayed that way all Friday night until Saturday afternoon when I passed the gall stone that I had said I thought was the source of my pain. Meanwhile they had taken x-rays, CAT scans, poked, prodded, taken blood, given me intravenous solutions and even insulin shots in the stomach since my aggravated pancreas had stopped making insulin. I don't know that they ever actually agreed on a diagnosis, after all, where was the evidence? But I'm satisfied that what they could not determine, the Divine Healer handled. For, being a retired preacher as well as a retired Marine, I was surrounded in prayer by a great company of prayer warriors.

Thirty years ago, when my Graves Disease first attacked my thyroid, dropping me in weight from my customary 160-lbs to 95-lbs, and robbing me of any ability to think ahead, the medical community told me I was depressed about my pending military retirement. It was only when I insisted they at least do a simple blood test that I was diagnosed with Graves Disease.

So you can see why I approach the medical craft as a necessity in our lives, but I tend to take their assurances and sureties with a smile and a wink. I feel certain they are well-trained and serious about their craft, but I probably know my body better than they do, and I know the Great Healer.

Now, I will admit to being a bit sensitive about my age. I hate when the young girls at the grocery store insist they should help me carry my groceries to the car. And i guess I should be pleased when clerks want to give me a senior discount. After all, this old face does show its age, a fact I'm not unhappy about. It's been a rough ride, and some of those roads weren't paved.

But getting back to my Stress Test this past Monday, once again my age led them to treat me with concern. And that was understandable. I have no complaints there. But I had my own agenda.

The doctor was a young lady of about 25, the friendly technician was about the same age. They probably each asked me at least five times, "Do you have any questions?" They were so thorough in their explanations about what was to happen there was no need of further questions.

They had given me some sort of intravenous radioactive material, then performed a 15-minute CAT scan of my upper torso, then I was to perform the treadmill exercise, then they would follow up immediately with another CAT scan. Actually, I had a choice of the treadmill physical event, or they would give me an intravenous medication that would artificially stress my heart. Perhaps you can understand why I chose the treadmill. I wasn't sure they could. They kept asking me if I was sure that's what I wanted to do. I assured them it was.

The technician fitted my left arm with an intravenous device into which he could fit a syringe that would be used during the treadmill test. He explained that when I reached the right heart rate, and when I was about at the end of my ability to keep on, they would pump a certain liquid into me that would help them determine the condition of my heart.

They told me my resting heart rate was around 80, and they would need to get it up to 128 beats per minute for a good test. Could I do that? At least three times I assured them I felt I could. As they rigged me with heart monitors and other wires and connections, the technician talked about the good weather we were having and how he looked forward to getting into the great outdoors. He had not heard about Tennessee's best kept secret, Big South Fork, a National Park in middle Tennessee near Jamestown, and I shared with him the joys of having such a wonderful wild area so near Nashville, full of natural arches, hiking and riding paths, and the abundance of wild deer, birds and other animals along the trails by spring-fed waterways. It was once a private hunting preserve, but now the beautiful ridges and waterfalls are open to everyone, and much closer and less crowded than the Great Smoky Mountains.

Finally they were ready. The treadmill had a bar across the front with which to steady yourself, and bars on either side to keep one from falling off. The technician told me how some people had never used a treadmill and what some of the dangers were. I assured him I was familiar with the equipment.

They started out with a gentle walk, the doctor and the technician watching a bank of blinking monitors, glancing at me now and then. She pushed a button and the speed increased. I walked faster and fell into a rhythmic breathing pattern. My heart rate increased dramatically as the speed increased again, reaching 128 and continuing to climb. Now they glanced at me more often. I was enjoying the exercise.

"When you feel you can only go for one more minute," the doctor advised, "let us know so we can put this liquid into your blood stream."

"Okay," I said as I huffed and puffed. I was almost running now.

A few more minutes and my heart rate was at 154. Now it was the technician telling me to let them know when I was about out of steam.

I told them to go ahead and choose when they wanted to put the syringe in, because I could keep going.

The technician looked at the doctor, she looked at him, he said, "Well, okay, you've impressed us!"

At that he leaned over me, attached the syringe and emptied the liquid into my vein. After a few more minutes of them watching the monitors, they began to slow the treadmill until it finally stopped and I stepped off. Since they had not slowed it to a walk for a few minutes, but stopped it rather quickly, I was still breathing heavily. They asked if I was okay.

I replied, "I don't recover as fast as I used to, but I'll be fine in a few moments," and even as I spoke my breathing began to return to normal.

That exercise was then followed by another CAT scan of my upper torso, then I was finished. They told me I would hear from my doctor at some later date concerning the results. As I walked down the halls of the VA toward the garage where I had parked my green van, covered with Marine Corps stickers, I almost felt like I was walking a little taller, even with my customary left leg limp. The words were echoing in my ears, "Well, okay, you've impressed us!"

Small victory, but a great moment when you're 70 years old. Now, if I can only still do that when I'm 80!

Postscript.....How It's Done

I'll share a secret that I learned in the Marine Corps for going beyond "what you can do." First, this "secret" is fifty years old, and it's not all that secret. It is simply "continuing to march" when you think you can't. How? You change your thinking.

It's a fact of life that when faith leads, courage will follow. And sometimes, even in something as simple as pushing your body beyond what you think you can do, it takes an element of courage. But if faith leads, courage will follow.

It's something I have practiced all my life. There was a time when three of my four sons were teenagers, while I was still in the Marine Corps, and they would go running with me. Obviously, being younger, they challenged me. My number two son, Michael, used to taunt me on the run by running backwards in front of me. "C'mon, old man, is that the best you can do?"

Michael seemed to be a natural athlete, and he could always outrun me. He told me one day he had learned the secret to running. "You just run until it hurts, Dad," Michael explained, "then you keep going." True. Different people have different ways for making that happen. Some concentrate on their breathing, some repeat a mantra in their mind, some pick out a target in the distance and run to it, then select another target ahead.

For me, it was always the story of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. When I was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C., about the time my boys would run with me, we had a base commander who was a spirited runner. He liked to go on runs, would do that every noon hour, and he wanted his Marines to be as enthusiastic about running and staying in shape as he was. So he arranged to have a formal three-mile cinder track built on the base. I was about 35 at the time, and my left leg gunshot wound from Vietnam was only about five years old. Running was difficult for me at that point in my life, but I had been promoted to the highest enlisted rank, Master Gunnery Sergeant, and led of team of about 20 enlisted Marines. Marines always lead from the front, so I had to make running work for me.

When I would go running, I would often see GySgt. Hartman out there. He always looked like he was in deep physical distress, but he kept on running. Always. He never fell out, never slowed, never walked. He ran.

One day I had the opportunity to sit and talk with him, and I asked him point blank, "You look like you're about to fall over out there. How do you keep going?"

That's when he told me about Hue, South Vietnam. I was in Vietnam when the enemy attacked the beautiful city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and I knew the Marines sent a relief column of tanks and infantry to help the outnumbered Vietnamese soldiers.

Hartman told me he was in one of those relief columns to Hue, about an hour's drive north from the 3rd Marine Division headquarters at Phu Bai Combat Base.

"We knew the best warriors in the city, the Hoc Bao (Black Panthers) had left the city and come south to assist our Marines along Highway One, our small teams of Marines within the villages who were being overrun by the North Vietnamese Army. So while they had a few South Vietnamese Army troops there, still the Hoc Bao's families and all of the Catholics there would be at the mercy of a merciless enemy. Other Marines were there ahead of us, and they needed our support. We had to get there.

"But our unit," he continued," had to go by shanks mare (by foot). All the mechanized traffic was busy elsewhere. We started out marching, then, as the Battalion Commander began to get updates on Hue, we realized the situation was desperate. At some point the command was given, "Double time, march!", and we began to run, still in ranks, our weapons before us at port arms, we ran toward Hue.

As Hartman paused, I thought I saw a misty look in his eyes.

"It was too far to run," he said. "But we ran. Women and children, the families of the Hoc Bao were being slaughtered. They were finding mass graves of priests and villagers. We had to get there. So we ran."

"Now," he said, "when I'm out here running, and there's just nothing left, I start running for Hue. I run to Hue. And I don't stop."

It's been about 21 years since I've seen Gunny Hartman, but I can remember every word. And like him, when the body wants to quit, when you just run out of gas, I run to Hue, the adrenalin flows, I run to Hue, and I don't stop.

That's the Marine Corps way ... improvise, adapt and overcome. Semper Fidelis.