Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Big Toe Advocate

My first school bus was bus #133, and it was so old that it looked like one of those school busses you might see in a cartoon that actually had a face and could smile and talk. You know, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I was in the first grade, and during my first few weeks I felt like young Forrest Gump as all the older kids staked claims on the best seats.

Of course the most prized seat was at the back, and only the toughest guy could stake that claim. Not only did this guy - a 6th grade bully who was twice my size – claim the back of the bus as his
fiefdom, but for some reason he decided that the big toe on my right foot was his enemy. For many days he would stomp the heel of his shoe on that toe until it was swollen, bleeding and infected.

I was afraid to tell my parents, but my mom saw my limp and after seeing the damage she made me show my dad. Well, my dad, Arthur Watkins, was your typical working-class guy who slaved in a local textile mill his whole life. He was neither the best dad nor the worst dad. He had hands made of steel, and I was generally afraid of his wrath. However, I was soon to see a side of him that I will never forget.

Instead of totally losing his cool my dad just asked me how long this had been going on and who was doing it. He usually said things like, “If a bigger guy bullies you just pick up the nearest stick and knock him in the side of the head.” But this time was different. He just quietly said. “This won’t happen to you again.”

The next day I was on the bus heading home, and dad would arrive home from work an hour after me. The bus soon squeaked to a stop near my house, the double doors swung open and as I began to exit the bus I met the towering figure of my dad getting on. It was a
Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western moment, and I knew that some kid on the back of the bus probably would not live to graduate 6th grade. People get arrested for stuff like this these days.

I froze as my dad passed me and went to the back of the bus. He approached the bully who by now was getting spiritual. He looked the kid in the eyes and said, “You have been hurting my son. It will never happen again.” And then without another word we got off the bus and walked home together.

I have never forgotten this day, and it reminds me that if our earthly fathers protected us as best they could then what about our heavenly Father? If I had known what my natural father was capable of doing on my behalf I would have confronted this bully with confidence long ago.

If we also knew the advocacy and power of our heavenly Father we would not put up with the harassment of the bully of our souls, the devil.

By the way, that guy never even looked at me again until I met him over 30 years later. I was preaching in a church, and he was in the congregation. I talked with him after the meeting, but I never mentioned the incident because he did not remember me.

I’ll bet he remembered my dad though!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Death, Hell & Taxes

Ben Franklin said that, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I for one have been afraid of both. Mind you, I am not actually afraid of taxes, but I have a phobia of filling out tax forms. I actually dislike filling out any kind of form for that matter.

There are many fears in this world, and there is nothing better to help us walk through or overcome a fear than a friend who has passed through the same ordeal and who is now living proof that it is possible to survive.
2 Cor 1:2-7. Anyone who has overcome any adversity such as addiction, depression, sickness, poverty or loneliness is an eyewitness to the fear, hopelessness and finally eventual hope and victory that we all long for.

However, who has gone through the ultimate fear – the fear of death – that we all must face? And the next fear is what may or may not follow, judgment and hell. If I asked a crowded room, “Has anyone here died recently and come back? I am really worried about what comes next?”

And then some guy says, “Sure, that happened to me just last week. The doctor said that I had little time left, and he was right. I died, but then I came back. It wasn’t too bad.”

This is of course absurd, but allow me to continue. Most religions offer some hopeful explanation about death and what may follow, but it is only a hopeful theory without living proof. Atheists offer absolute certainty that there is nothing after death, but even they grow anxious near their own end.

Then there is Jesus whose entire ministry addressed this question. He taught about it, but it did not end with teaching. He displayed such a mighty authority over creation that He was able to overrule sickness, the forces of nature and death itself. Those who were closest to Him even wondered who He might really be during such occurrences.

I cannot fully expound here on the magnitude of what Jesus did when He was crucified, buried and was raised from the dead. However, there is one place in Scripture where His closest disciple, John, sees in one moment the truth of who Jesus is and what He did.
Rev 1:9-20.

John sees the risen and glorified Christ just as He is in heaven, the Lord of glory, the Resurrection and the Life. And what a light! John falls as a dead man at the sight, but then something happens and if you can embrace this truth it will overrule your greatest fears.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Rev 1:17-18

  • The Risen Jesus is the same Jesus that John had fellowshipped with. Jesus lays his hand of authority, comfort and blessing upon John.
  • Jesus assures John that he should not be afraid because of who He really is. He is the first and the last.
  • Jesus tells John not to be afraid because He has gone though and defeated death once and for all. He is alive forevermore.
  • Jesus now has complete control and authority over the things that are our greatest fears, death and hell. There is no greater authority than Jesus.

When the main fear is defeated all the others will dim and eventually disappear.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?


But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:31-39

Imagine the potential of a life following Jesus based on such a secure foundation. Now embrace that foundation and live that life!