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Our Broken World…and Our Longing for Another

The deep darkness of the world has come home to us in recent days. It’s a combination of things, really. The shooting of innocent young black men, the shooting of police, our nation’s finest, and then two political conventions with two candidates that, more than any election I can recall, define the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils. Truly this is a “Come, Lord Jesus” moment in our nation’s history. But there have been a lot of such moments, haven’t there?

So…I was moved to tears last week listening to Gary Sinese read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I hadn’t read the classic since high school (sophomore or junior year?), when I wrote a thesis on how the book shows that “man is basically good.” How I ever came up with that out of this book, I can’t tell you 35 years later. It sure wouldn’t be what I would say now.

But what touched me was one of the familiar scenes in the book when Lennie asks George to tell about the dream the two of them have. Do you remember? It’s a dream of a place of their own. It’s a dream of a place where they don’t “buck barley” for a task-master. But mostly, it is a dream of hutches, and rabbits and hope. And as I heard Sinese’s masterful reading, I realized that George and Lennie’s dream is really the dream of all mankind…a better place. A safe place. A place of belonging. A place, sadly, that is not of this world…

Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. “George?”

“Huh?”

“George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the lan’— an’ rabbits?”

“I don’ know,” said George. “We gotta get a big stake together. I know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain’t givin’ it away.”

Old Candy turned slowly over. His eyes were wide open. He watched George carefully.

Lennie said, “Tell about that place, George.”

“I jus’ tol’ you, jus’ las’ night.”

“Go on— tell again, George.”

“Well, it’s ten acres,” said George. “Got a little win’mill. Got a little shack on it, an’ a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, ’cots, nuts, got a few berries. They’s a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig pen——”

“An’ rabbits, George.”

“No place for rabbits now, but I could easy build a few hutches and you could feed alfalfa to the rabbits.”

“Damn right, I could,” said Lennie. “You…damn right I could.”

George’s hands stopped working with the cards. His voice was growing warmer. “An’ we could have a few pigs. I could build a smoke house like the one gran’pa had, an’ when we kill a pig we can smoke the bacon and the hams, and make sausage an’ all like that. An’ when the salmon run up river we could catch a hundred of ’em an’ salt ’em down or smoke ’em. We could have them for breakfast. They ain’t nothing so nice as smoked salmon. When the fruit come in we could can it— and tomatoes, they’re easy to can. Ever’ Sunday we’d kill a chicken or a rabbit. Maybe we’d have a cow or a goat, and the cream is so…damn thick you got to cut it with a knife and take it out with a spoon.”

Lennie watched him with wide eyes, and old Candy watched him too. Lennie said softly, “We could live offa the fatta the lan’.”

“Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunkhouse.”

“Tell about the house, George,” Lennie begged.

“Sure, we’d have a little house an’ a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an’ in the winter we’d keep a fire goin’ in it. It ain’t enough land so we’d have to work too hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn’t have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An’ when we put in a crop, why, we’d be there to take the crop up. We’d know what come of our planting.”

“An’ rabbits,” Lennie said eagerly. “An’ I’d take care of ’em. Tell how I’d do that, George.”

“Sure, you’d go out in the alfalfa patch an’ you’d have a sack. You’d fill up the sack and bring it an’ put it in the rabbit cages.”

“They’d nibble an’ they’d nibble,” said Lennie, “the way they do. I seen ’em.”

“Ever’ six weeks or so,” George continued, “them does would throw a litter so we’d have plenty rabbits to eat an’ to sell. An’ we’d keep a few pigeons to go flyin’ around the win’mill like they done when I was a kid.” He looked raptly at the wall over Lennie’s head. “An’ it’d be our own, an’ nobody could can us. If we don’t like a guy we can say, ‘Get the hell out,’ and by God he’s got to do it. An’ if a fren’ come along, why we’d have an extra bunk, an’ we’d say, ‘Why don’t you spen’ the night?’ an’ by God he would. We’d have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out them cats don’t get the little rabbits.”

Lennie breathed hard. “You jus’ let ’em try to get the rabbits. I’ll break their…damn necks. I’ll . . . I’ll smash ’em with a stick.” He subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits.

George sat entranced with his own picture.

When Candy spoke they both jumped as though they had been caught doing something reprehensible. Candy said, “You know where’s a place like that?”

George was on guard immediately. “S’pose I do,” he said.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (pp. 55-56). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Finish Line

It’s about 6:20 p.m. now on Wednesday night, and I am sitting here in our Living Room next to the Christmas Tree to write the final blog of the year 2015. As most of you know, I have been blogging every weekday (except Labor Day) this year through the New Testament. And it’s kind of funny – coming home tonight, I parked the car in the garage and starting to come inside, I realized, “I’ve got to blog!” It’s not the first time I have forgotten this year. But it was kind of funny, as it is the last blog of the year. Maybe it was my friend Kevin who made me forget – he sent me a congratulatory text this morning about having successfully blogged through the Year (and he read them all – a true friend!), so subconsciously perhaps I thought I was done. Not yet. I am close to the finish line though.

Finishing. I haven’t always done it so well. And I suppose I’m not alone.

Starting is dreaming. Finishing is…work.

But don’t be too quick to give me kudos, for with the blog there was significant social pressure. Not having written a blog sometime this year would have been like showing up on Saturday night or Sunday morning without a sermon. I may have come close to this pastoral nightmare sometime in my life’s work, but the sheer terror of letting so many people down has kept me from it. People-pleasing runs strong in my blood.

And so I finish today. And so do you, if you joined us on our journey through the New Testament. Congrats, and hats off to you! I know it has been a blessing (at least the Bible part, if not the blog!). For you regular readers wondering where the blog will go from here, I have an answer: I will be publishing a blog every Tuesday. There, I said it. Now the five of you waiting with baited breath each Tuesday should hopefully be enough to keep my keyboard to the blogstone (like “nose to the grindstone”, but clever, you know, for bloggers). Of course, I won’t be writing exclusively about Scripture, like I did (sort of) this year. I will also write about current events or books I’m reading and such – whatever strikes my fancy, I guess, but all, I trust, to the Glory of God.

If you enjoyed our Inspired reading program through the New Testament this year, and you’re interested in a reading program for the year 2016, you might consider The Discipleship Journal Reading Plan or the M’Cheyne Reading Plan.  However you plan to read the Bible in 2016, consider this thought from the Puritan Thomas Brooks in his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices:

“Remember, it is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

Therefore, if you choose to read the whole Bible this year, then may I urge you to be sure to slow down and meditate on some smaller portion of what you read each day. Draw out “the sweet” and be one, not who reads most, but who meditates most.

Now this blog was about the finish line, and it just so happens that the passage we are reading is also the last chapter in the Bible, and is all about the ultimate finish line, Heaven, and so let me close with the secret to getting there, from Revelation 22:17…

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (ESV)

That’s it – the message of the Scriptures is that God is Holy, and He demands our holiness too, yet not one of us has been holy. However, we can stand before God with the perfect holiness of Jesus Himself. All we need to do is drink the water of life, and that water is only available by the grace of God. You can’t pay for it, and in fact, if you try to pay for it, a sip of its cool refreshment will be denied you.

So, come, ye who are thirsty, come; and drink deeply.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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How is Heaven Like the New Year?

There is an idea going about that we can’t know what Heaven is like and will never know until we get there. Randy Alcorn, in his book aptly titled, Heaven, says this thinking comes from misunderstanding a particular verse…

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– 1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV)

Many have quoted this verse through the years to illustrate that we will not know anything about the eternal state until we die or Jesus returns. And, at first glance, it sure seems true. But in fact, this verse is ripped out of context. If you combine it with what comes after, you get a different picture:

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10 (ESV)

So, we can know, you see, by the Spirit of God, and one of the many things we learn in Revelation 21 and 22, two chapters devoted to a description of our future life, is that everything there will be new…

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5 (ESV)

There is something hopeful about newness, isn’t there? It’s one of the reasons we look with a smile on the New Year. “Last year had its problems,” we admit, “but in 2016, I’ll get life right.” We have this sense, don’t we, that we will be able to fix things with a do-over. Relationships will be better, health will be improved, goals will be reached, and all will be different if I can only start writing new numbers on my checks.

January 1 sometimes does lead to new things for people, but for most of us, hoping for new things with a turn of the calendar, we are left a bit disappointed.

But it won’t be that way on the first day of Heaven. Everything will be new on the day we step across the threshold into eternity. Disagreeable relationship issues will be a thing of the past, health concerns will be over, sadness over missed opportunities will be only laughed at. All will spread before us in glorious hopeful newness, and each day will hold the same hopeful happy possibility.

For behold…He will make all things…new!

 

For Thursday, New Year’s Eve! – Revelation 22!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Thanking God for the CERTAINTY of Eternal Life

Some ideas blow your world apart, and 33 years ago, I heard such an idea when I was at West Point on bivouac. Bob Maruna, an upper class cadet, stopped by my tent and told me I could know whether I was going to heaven. I had never heard such a thing before, but it is clearly biblical:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 (ESV)

John is wrapping up his letter, and the summation of all of it is in this verse. It is possible to know if heaven is yours. And if this is true, it stands to reason that there is only one way that is possible – eternal life must be a matter of faith, not works. If it were about being good enough, how could I ever know if I had met the standard, but if “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…” (1 John 1:7 ESV) then certainty was possible.

That was the idea that revolutionized my life at West Point in 1982: I needed not fear a Day of Judgment where my good works would be weighed against my bad. John said in verse 13 that certainty of eternal life came through believing in the Savior Jesus. In the two verses previous, it’s all about whether we have Christ:

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 (ESV)

John fills his letter with other ways we can know, clearly showing like James that works will follow our faith (James 2:22). As Martin Luther said, “Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” So the true Christian will seek to obey the Lord and will love his brothers, but the reason all this happens is because Jesus has “cleanse(d) us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, today is Thanksgiving. Are you giving thanks…because you know? If you don’t know for certain, you can. As Paul said to the Philippian jailer:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Acts 16:31 (ESV)

For Friday, November 27th: 2 John 1

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

If you were watching TV in the 1980’s, surely you remember the Old Milwaukee commercials where the guys were sitting around the campfire drinking that mediocre beer and saying, “Fellas, it just doesn’t get any better than this.” My recent trip around YouTube tells me that there have been some fine parodies made since that time, among them Will Ferrell holding a can of OM and quoting the slogan, and then saying, “Well, there was the birth of my first child…and then there was my first view of the Grand Canyon…” You get the idea.

But I’ve got to assume that the ad campaign was successful, for at least us old-timers remember it, and yet, I don’t think it was enough to keep Old Milwaukee in competition, for I personally haven’t seen an ad for the beer in a coon’s age.

We have our ideas about what is the “best thing in life”, that is, what is really living. At West Point, they made some of us plebes memorize a saying – I believe from the Conan the Barbarian movie – which was an answer to this question: “What is the best thing in life?” I still remember the answer our platoon belted out:

“Sir, the best thing in life is to destroy the enemy, see him scatter before you, and hear the cries and lamentations of his women.”

Or not.

By the way, are you feeling edified yet today? If not, try the Apostle Paul’s view of the best thing in life:

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:8 (ESV)

Paul loved this church at Thessalonica, and feared that they were not doing well, so when Timothy sent the report that all was sailing along smoothly, the Apostle was overjoyed. The New American Standard adds a word that seems appropriate:

For now we really live…

And you know why Paul felt so strongly about this? Well, yes, they were in a sense his life’s work, that is, among the other churches he had planted. But I think Paul was overjoyed that they were doing well for more than just professional reasons. No, no — he was over the top because eternity was on the line. And if they were doing well, it was a sign that they were truly believers…and going to heaven. And there is truly nothing better than knowing people you love are secure forever.

The Apostle John matches Paul’s enthusiasm when he thinks of his own followers:

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4 (ESV)

These two greats of the early church teach us a lesson about what is truly valuable: eternity. It’s interesting that Jesus wanted the disciples to feel the same about their own lives, when He said…

Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (ESV)

The upshot is this: heaven is what we need to be excited about.

And as for me, like many others, I can truly feel Paul and John’s passion when I think of my own children, the ones who, along with my sweet wife, I love so very, very much. 

When I know that my kids are doing well spiritually, I guess you could say that sitting around a campfire drinking beer isn’t even in the same universe.

 

For Wednesday, August 19th: 1 Thessalonians 4

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The One Thing That is Really Worth Getting Excited About

It must have been a heady experience: Jesus appointed seventy-two men and told them to go ahead of him and preach the Kingdom, and when they came back from their journey, they had an incredible report:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Luke 10:17 (ESV)

When this band of brothers went out in the name of Jesus, even the demons did exactly what they said. It must have felt like they were really making a difference, like they were doing something that really mattered. And so they came back feeling significant…powerful…used by God.

Personally, I’ve never cast out a demon, but like many others, I’ve had wonderful experiences serving the Lord and feeling used by Him. But Jesus puts all of this into perspective when he reminds the disciples what they should really get excited about:

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (ESV)

This is what matters, is it not? Heaven. Eternal life. Forever with Christ. Whatever is going on in our lives, good or bad, we need to occasionally slow down and think about the reality of this place…and of eternity in fullness of joy.

  • Did the girl just say yes to a first date? That’s nice, but Christ’s yes to you is far better.
  • Did you just get into the “right” college? Good for you, but you know that one day Christ has qualified you for someplace much, much greater.
  • Did you just get the job of your dreams? Congratulations, and keep dreaming, because you can’t imagine how wonderful this place is going to be.

Heaven seems so far away sometimes, ephemeral, more an illusion and a wish than actual reality. But heaven is as real as the chair you’re sitting on. And if you have trusted in Christ, you are going to spend eternity there…because your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And that’s worth throwing a party for.

 

For tomorrow, July 15th: Luke 11

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Knowltons Come Home

IMG_20130807_110019_741The Knowlton clan returned last night from a short term mission trip in Xpujil, Mexico. Well, I should say that some of us did – Annie and I had stayed in Waupun to keep the home fires burning – but Diane, Josh and Elisabeth returned with tales to tell.  And though it was late, we gathered to hear stories.  These are joyous homecomings indeed.

There is a certain pattern we follow when someone returns in our family, beginning with a welcome home sign to greet the wayfarers.  Annie the artist spent a good part of Tuesday on this – the results are displayed.  Then after hugs and “I missed you!”s, we settle in the living room to hear about the adventure.  Let’s just say there was not enough sleep last night – at least for me – for all I know the rest of the bunch is still snoring.

It’s been a summer of travel.  Annie and Elisabeth went to camp on different weeks.  Likewise Josh went to a two week conference in Colorado called Summit, an experience that would benefit any soon-to-be college freshman.  And on that note – our oldest child is shedding that designation and leaving in a week on a more long term adventure – to Wheaton College in Illinois.

This may be hard.

Except I know that on a weekend to be named later there will be more tales to tell, more dragons slain and maidens saved.  I look forward to that with relish, as I trust he does as well – the going is all the sweeter for the homecoming that awaits.

For years now, we five have gathered during the school year on 3 or 4 mornings a week to read and memorize Scripture, to pray for the day.  For a time we entered a pattern where we would finish our devotions, head into the living room, and put on Chris Rice’s Circle Up.   And we would dance.

Circle up, circle up around the throne
Old and young saints of every history
Great and small angels all and seraphim
Grab a hand, twirl a dance, circle up, and worship Him

Hear the thunder of unfolding wings
Feel the mighty wind their beating brings
Bring your grateful tears and flood the floor
Rise up and worship like a storm

One morning after the dance I was moved to look my children in the eye and speak of the coming day when we would be separated.  But this would be a harder and more lasting separation than a short term mission trip or 4 years of college or a job that might take them to another city.  The world might call it a permanent separation, but we would know better.  So I said, “In light of that, by faith, let’s plan to meet back around the throne, to circle up…and worship Him.”

For you see, though there is great joy in these short term homecomings, the ultimate homecoming is yet to be. And oh the joy we will have…and the tales we will tell.

I can’t wait to see that sign.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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