The Parable of the Snail’s Tale

 

Herbert and Hobart were twins. Almost.

They’d spent every minute of the three months of their lives together. They liked the same things, did the same things and went to the same places.

Every morning when the sun came up, Herbert opened his eyes, moved to the bright pink wheel in the center of his home, and began running around and around and around.

Hobart would wake at the same time as Herbert, only he didn’t have a wheel, he’d just move to the edge of his house and swim around and around and around.

The two best friends, a hamster and a goldfish, kept busy going. They had so many places to go and things to see in their little world.

One day as the two brothers were making the circuit around the world, Hobart noticed something odd outside his glassy home. He stopped swimming to stare. Herbert stopped running in his wheel and tumbled to the wood shavings on the floor of his home.

“Hey, what’s up?” the hamster protested as he turned to see what his twin was so interested in.

Hobart ignored his brother and rose to the top of his fishbowl. Taking a big gulp of air he called out, “You! On the wall! What are you doing?”

The snail on the wall stood still in his thin trail of slime. Turning his antennae, he saw the two twins on the table, each peering over the edges of their glass houses.

“I didn’t see you fellas there. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Solomon and I’m on my way up the wall to the window. I’ve dreamed about a big-wide world out there just waiting to be discovered. More snails than I could ever imagine. This adventure has taken me three days so far, but I’m on my way. See, I spend the day climbing up the wall and then each night I slide down a bit, but I’m certain to reach the window sill in a few days.” Solomon couldn’t resist adding, “Then the world’s my … oyster!”

The twins looked at each other and sneered. “Up the wall.” They both laughed simultaneously, Hobart’s gills choking on a wave stirred up from laughing so hard. “That’s nonsense! A world waiting to be discovered. We’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do.”

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

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The Parable of the Grave Robber

Only two more months and Martin was going to retire, but this could ruin it all.

Martin worked at Shady Lawn Memorial Gardens. He began as the grounds keeper 40 years ago and worked his way up to supervisor. Nothing like what he found this morning had ever happened before.

As he walked into the graveyard this morning he was startled to see some of the graves freshly dug up. No, these were not newly dug graves, but only ones dug up, the caskets removed from the ground, and the bodies stolen.

Police from three different cities were swarming all of his freshly cut grass and a row of television satellite trucks from every newsroom were broadcasting live. Someone had stolen 17 bodies during the night. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to the robberies according to the police; the bodies were just gone.

Martin heard of this happening before over the years, but it had never happened at Shady Lawn. He suspected that new Christian man who’d moved in across the street of being the culprit. He even told the police so. That guy was a nut job, always reading the Bible and preaching about Jesus to everyone. A fanatic kook like that had to be responsible for the missing dead.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).

The Parable of Jasmine

jasmine

She’d never known anything to really call her own. She couldn’t keep a job or a friend. There were men she thought she could confide in, but it turned out that they only wanted one thing from her. So desperate for acceptance, she gave in, but there was no love. Every time she gave the result was only greater emptiness.

One October morning she suspected and a test at a local clinic proved her suspicion true. The little one growing inside her womb needed her, and needed a chance like she’d never been given herself.

She brought the baby to term, but the past wouldn’t stop stalking her. The habits were bad, but the way of life and the self-destruction were even worse. As much as she loved her little Jasmine, she knew that for her daughter’s sake, Jasmine needed more than she could provide. She put Jasmine up for adoption.

Honestly, my first choice wasn’t a newborn, but when I received the long awaited call from the agency, I hurried into the city. Jasmine was as beautiful as any baby could be, and the moment she took my finger I knew … I just knew. She wasn’t expected, but she was selected. I chose to make make her my own, loved her as my own, treated her as my own, and gave her my name. Everything I was and had became hers that day.

Now, 23 years later, Jasmine is the most wonderful daughter any father could have, perfect in all her ways. Anyone who sees us together would believe I’m her father, because I am. To her, I’m Dad; to me, she’s my daughter, my precious and fragrant flower, my very own.

Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as children by Christ Jesus to Himself  (Ephesians 1:4-5).

A Servant of God and God’s People

Pastor Mike and Ramel Wilson in Ireland

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus … took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5, 7).

One of the highlights of my 35 years in ministry has been serving with Pastor Mike Wilson. Our congregations met one block from each other, and over the years we discovered that we had identical beliefs.

When my congregation was forced to leave the property we had bought and built, Pastor Mike graciously opened the doors of his building to us and his congregation of saints opened their arms of fellowship to us.

My admiration for Mike was further cemented on the first Sunday our two assemblies shared a meal together. Throughout the years of my ministry, I’ve always seen that I was the last to eat, choosing to make sure others had their coffee, guests were welcomed, children were eating and having fun, and food was plenteous. While washing dishes in the kitchen, I watched Pastor Mike also serve God’s sheep rather than be served. I was proud to work with this like-minded servant.

In some congregations, the pastor assumes the position of visiting royalty rather than a humble servant. Some pastors, I suppose, expect that kind of partiality.

On the night of Christ’s “Last Supper”, He set the example of what it means to be a servant-leader. Jesus got up from the table, donned a towel, and washed the filthy feet of the disciples like a slave would do. As He washed, He taught them:

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you … If you know these things, happy are you if you do them (John 13:14-15, 17).

Pastor Mike Wilson is now a missionary-pastor with his wife Ramel in the Republic of Ireland, but I know that he is serving those the Spirit brings to him, setting the Christlike example of what it means to serve one another.

A Responsibility to Help One Another

Americans are outraged at the number of poor living on our streets without food or shelter, yet individual acts of compassion are replaced with the question: why doesn’t the government fix this?

Over the past 100 years, the nations of the Western world have created extensive government programs of caring for the poor. The poor are still with us in even greater numbers despite taxpayer-funded housing, medical care, education, and even food, clothing and cell phones. No such government welfare existed in the ancient world.

In the Law of Moses, God required Israelite farmers to not harvest the edges and corners of their land. This food was to be left for the poor to collect. This system of gleaning (Lev 19:9-10) is expressed in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2:2-23). Individual Israelites had an individual responsibility to help one another.

In the New Testament, God also has a means of caring for the poor in the local church. If a congregation had the means, widows could be given food under strict guidelines found in First Timothy 5:3-16. A widow had to be: (1) married only once and her husband was dead; (2) without any other living relatives or financial means of her own; (3) over the age of 60 years; (4) known for her good works; (5) above accusation of sin in the community; (6) consistent in a life of prayer; and (7) trusting in God as her provider and not expecting others to meet the need.

Women younger than 60 are commanded to remarry (1 Tim 5:14), families are to care for their own relatives (1 Tim 5:4, 8), and a widow must also be active in meeting the needs of others (1 Tim 5:10).

Why is God so strict with His rules for the Church? Doesn’t He care about people? Of course He cares, He gave His Son to die for the salvation of sinners; but the primary work of the local congregation is the spiritual ministry of teaching the Word of God – not social welfare. His rules are strict to ensure the most needy are helped. Individual Christians have an individual responsibility to help one another.

Whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).

The Kerux

One of the important roles in the ancient Greco-Roman world was that of the kerux. The kerux or herald was responsible for delivering the message (kerugma) of a political or religious leader. The kerux was a free man whose duty was to call out the message of his superior with a loud voice.

As the spokesman and messenger of the authority, it was the preacher’s duty to summon the citizens of a city (ekklesia) together to hear the message of the leadership.

Unlike the elders of a city, the preacher had no authority at all. He was only a messenger for the one who was in power. It was his message which carried the authority.

Preaching is not about the method or style of delivery. Preaching is not even about the one heralding the message. Preaching is about the message being proclaimed.

So what message are you proclaiming each day with your words and deeds?

When I came to you, I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-2).

The Testing of our Faith

God doesn’t pressure us to be what we are not, nor to do what we cannot do. He does, however, test us … but it’s not what you probably think.

When Daniel was a little boy, he’d ride his bicycle in the street with the other neighbor children. He was still young and had training wheels on the bike that helped him learn to balance.

One day I noticed that he was riding on the two wheels rather than on the training wheels. As happens with all children, bicycle-riding turned to some other game. While he was busy, I loosened the training wheels so they’d no longer hold the bike upright.

Daniel eventually came back to get his bicycle, hopped on and began riding down the street. I watched as sheer panic hit him when he realized the training wheels were no longer attached and holding him steady. I took hold of the back of his bicycle, steadied him, and assured him that he could do it without the training wheels. He could ride his bike … and he did.

The Bible says that God knows everything. His knowledge is perfect (Job 37:16) and beyond measure (Ps 147:5). He even knows what we’re going to say before we speak (1 Sam 16:7) and what we’re going to do before we do it (Mt 26:33-34).

When God tests us, He doesn’t do it to find out what we’re going to do, or say, or think, or be. He tests us so that WE find out what we’ll do, or say, or think, or be. We need to know if our faith in Him is genuine. We need to know if we trust Him enough to obey under every circumstance. We need to know if our hearts are truly loyal to Him. We need to know that we can ride the bicycle without training wheels.

You have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (First Peter 1:2, 3).

The Sign Reads: Resurrection Taxidermy

Resurrection Taxidermy

The sign on the little building near my home reads: Resurrection Taxidermy. Taxidermy is the art of taking the skin of an animal and arranging it over a form to make it appear alive. While the outside of the animal is forever preserved, it’s not living. It’s only an illusion of life.

The Christian doctrine of resurrection isn’t the rearrangement of skin over a lifeless skeleton.

When Jesus died, His body was buried (Lk 23:50-56). Three days later, His spirit returned to the body that was in the grave and that body returned to life (1 Cor 15:42-44). This is resurrection: when the spirit returns to the body.

The same body of Christ that entered the grave came out of the grave (Lk 24:39-40). His body, still sporting nail scars in His hands and feet, and a spear wound in His side, is the body that came to life (Jn 20:26-29). It is the body that Jesus still has, and is the body He will return in one day.

The Bible says that we all, the redeemed and the wicked both, will be resurrected one day to spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell (1 Cor 15:50-55; Rev 20:11-15).

Jesus said, The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of the condemnation (John 5:28-29).

True and Righteous Justice

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36).

There was an old preacher who hated to get his photograph taken. Every year he was required to get his picture taken for his new pastor’s identification card, and every year he refused. Finally the organization had enough of his disobedience and told him that if he didn’t get his picture taken, they wouldn’t renew his license to preach.

The old man reluctantly made an appointment for a new photograph. When the day came, he arrived at the photographer’s studio with a scowl etched on his face.

The photographer did all he could to make the preacher smile. Nothing worked. Finally the photographer sat down and asked, “Sir, why are you so grouchy today?

I don’t like to get my picture taken” he groused.

I’m sorry to hear that. So what’s the problem with getting your picture taken?” asked the photographer.

The preacher gnarled, “Pictures never seem to do me justice.

The photographer looked carefully at the preacher, then stood back up behind the camera. “Sir, it’s my professional opinion that you don’t need justice … you need mercy.”

You are mistaken if you believe you will ever find justice in this world. Flawed and sinful man will only ever dispense flawed and sinful justice; true and righteous justice comes only from God.

To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth”; who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Playing Favorites

The American phrase playing favorites means showing special treatment to one person or group rather than treating everyone the same.

We’ve all seen this happen. Politicians give special treatment to their friends. A company provides a discount to certain customers. A father shows favoritism to his daughter over his son. And it also happens in churches where some get preferred seating or have the ear of the pastor.

My favorite place to sit in a worship service is toward the back. From there I can see how the people treat one another, which reveals a lot about a congregation.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality … (James 1:26-2:1).

Lots of people say they are Christians but show no evidence of it; they hear the Word of God but don’t live it (Jas 1:25). James gives three proofs of pure religion, of true Christianity. First, a Christian guards his language, because a person who lies, swears, speaks profanity, and gossips has an empty faith (verse 26). Second, he guards widows and orphans from harm, the most vulnerable in ancient society. The word “visit” used by James means to oversee, protect, or guard (verse 27). Third, he guards himself from imitating the sin around him (verse 27).

Most of us like to hobnob with successful people, but that isn’t the Christian way. James said that the three proofs of pure religion shouldn’t come crashing down as soon as an important or wealthy person walks in on Sunday morning. Those in the church paid attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and gold rings and turned their backs on the poor. Favoritism in a church is sin (Jas 2:9).

Jesus didn’t play favorites. He spent time with the rich and the poor, famous and ordinary alike. He showed no partiality because they all needed the salvation He offered.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we ought to be no different from Him.