Category: Reflections/ Messages (Page 1 of 18)

ANGELIC EFFORTS

Since the writing of the Bible and, particularly in legendary and mythological works, scholars, prophets, and laypeople have made angels a subject of interest. Why are angels such a fasination to us (me)? In Colossians 2.18 Paul warns the Christians: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.” The “worship” of angels was a problem at the time, and it seems that authors have often gone far beyond what the Bible has to say about them—although it says plenty.

Some religions do worship angels, for example, they are discussed in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, as well as in Christianity and Islam. In Christianity angels and demons are generally conceived as celestial or atmospheric spirits, and it about those that I wish to learn.

We read about angels everywhere in the Bible—they are mentioned 290 times in the NIV, 326 in the NLT, 283 in the KJV, and 520 times in The Message. In the OT, Zechariah refers to angels 20 times—mainly in terms of how they are involved in judgment.

It is, not surprisingly, Revelation in the NT that is replete with angels. I was aware of their activities in the book of Revelation, but other Bible books that mention angels more than 20 times (in various versions) are Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah Matthew, Luke, and Acts.

In the OT, Leviticus, Esther, and Ruth have no angels in the stories, nor do most of the “minor” prophets. In the NT, Philippians, 1-Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus and 1-3 John also omit any reference to angels (as translated in the NLT). But I am sure those authors could write about angels if they wished but did not concentrate on them so much as on other matters. Sometimes they may refer to “messengers of God” and not use the word angel, so I may have missed some references.

Although we know that humans were created by God, we have no such record about angels. We don’t know when or how God created them. The first angel occurs in a story that finds Hagar, where it (named angels are male) gives her instructions (Genesis 16.7). Giving directives seems to be one of the main functions of angels because, after all, they are messengers for God. There are millions of them and there is every reason to believe that they are all busy with their duties. And they are all around us.

The next time we read about angels in Genesis there are two and they visit Lot one evening. He thinks they are simply strangers and offers them lodging and—the rest is history—Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed by them, but they save the life of Lot (sadly, not his wife). In this episode, the angels appear like humans, although they are obviously different and beautiful because the men of the town come to Lot and ask for them—for homosexual purposes.

We also meet an angel in Genesis 22.11, when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and the angel calls to him (from heaven) and tells him not to hurt the boy. That angel shows up in the nick of time, although God gives Abraham the highest praise for honoring his command to be willing to sacrifice his son—his only son. It foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus. The angel was watching Abraham, so it cannot have been very far away, or it has better sight than humans.

An angel also helps Abraham find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24.7), the same boy an angel had rescued from death earlier. Then when Abraham leaves his homeland to strike out for a place that God will reveal to him, an angel leads him (Genesis 24.7). I think that many times angels led Joice and me when we were in PNG and, most often, we did not know or acknowledge it.

Abraham’s son Isaac married Rebecca, and she gave birth to Esau and Jacob. They were not nice to each other and Jacob tricked Esau into giving his birthrights to him. There follows a confrontation and Esau does not receive the blessing he anticipates because Jacob has tricked him and now has it. He therefore hates Jacob (Genesis 27.41).

Jacob has a dream while in Bethel and sees “the Lord standing beside him” (28.12). Later, in Genesis 32.22-32 he finds “a man” wresting with him and Jacob declares, “I have seen God face-to-face and I am still alive” (32.30). The “man” (presumably an angel) gets the better of Jacob and hits him in the hip, throwing it out of joint. Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” He  has several wives and many sons and there is some detail given about 12 of them. The story of Jacob’s encounter with an angel is repeated in Hosea 12.4.

The next person to meet an angel is Moses and it is as a flame coming out of a burning bush (Exodus 3.2). But it is God with whom Moses converses and God gives Moses miraculous powers. The story of Moses continues, and the Passover is so named because an “Angel of Death” (Exodus 12.23) passes over the firstborn of those who have their doorposts painted with blood.

Later, with the enemy pursuing them, Moses and the Israelites must cross the Red Sea. An “angel of God” moves in front of Moses and the Israelites and, with Moses, leads them safely across the sea.

The angel who has been leading the Israelites, changes position and moves to the rear (Exodus 14.19) and the pillar of cloud, offering cover and protection, moves with it. An angel continues to stay with them and leads them to a place prepared for them (Exodus 23.20). Moses is ordered to leave the place and the people but, again, the Lord promises Moses that an angel will guide him and give him victory over various tribes of enemies (Exodus 33.2).

There are no angels mentioned in Leviticus, but in Numbers 22 , when Balaam is supposed to meet the King of Moab, an angel blocks the road and Balaam’s donkey won’t go any farther. Balaam beats the donkey, which talks to him (Numbers 22.28) and the angel confronts Balaam about beating the donkey. If it had not been for the donkey stopping Balaam, the angel would have killed them both because Balaam was sinful in attempting a journey to see the King.

The only reference to angels in Deuteronomy is in the last verse of the Song of Moses (32.1-43) and other versions refer more generically to “nations” or the “heavens” worshipping the Lord. (In a later version of the NLT “heavens” is used instead of “angels”.)

Angels show up again in Judges, first in 2:1, where an angel goes from Gilgal to Bochim and reminds the Israelites how he took them out of Egypt to the promised land. Then, in the song of Deborah and Barak (5.1-31), an angel puts a curse on Meroz (v. 23). Angels have the power to bless or curse, according to the will of God.

In Judges 6, the people of Israel once again disobey the Lord and are confronted by the Midianites. They cry out to the Lord and an angel appears to Gideon (Judges 6.12) to assure him of the Lord’s presence and protection. Gideon calls him “sir” and asks why all this has happened. He is afraid and needs assurance. An episode takes place whereby the angel burns up Gideon’s offering and disappears. Gideon realizing it was an angel is terrified and says, “Oh. Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! have seen the angel of the Lord face-to-face” (v. 22).

The 13th chapter of Judges introduces a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan. His wife, whose name is not given, has not been able to conceive but an angel visits her (v. 3) and assures her that she will have a son. The woman tells her husband that “a man of God” has visited her and that he looked “as frightening as the angel of God.” She didn’t ask him his name or where he came from, but she repeated the stipulations the angel had told her: the child should not drink wine or eat forbidden food and they should never cut his hair.

Manoah prayed that the angel (“the man”) would come back so they could question him. They wanted to know his name and he said “It is a name of wonder” (13.18). Manoah wanted to prepare an offering from him but while the offering was being cooked, he and his wife “saw the Lord’s angel go up toward heaven in the flames (v. 19) and that was the last they saw of him. But Manoah was sure that “we have seen God” (v. 22). His wife reassures him that, if that were the case, God would not have shown them what he did—a bit of a puzzling answer.

The background for the birth and strength of Samson begins with the visit of an angel. There are many stories in the Bible that emphasize the same thing: God gives angels supernatural power and they can pass it on to those to whom He wishes.

1 Samuel mentions an angel only once and that is to compare David’s loyalty to that of an angel (29.9), so it is obvious the writer knew about angels. His wisdom is again compared to an angel of God in 2 Samuel 14.17 and 14.20 (as well as 19.27). The scene in Chapter 22 in “David’s Song of Victory” (also in Psalm 18), refers to God flying “swiftly on his winged creature” (GNB). which is a reference to some angelic being. 

In 2 Samuel 24, we read of an angel of the Lord who “was striking down people” (verse 17), which causes David to confess that it is due to his sins, as shepherd, and not those of the “sheep.” We read elsewhere of “angels of death.”

Sometimes we do not learn the names of prophets who hear from angels: 1 Kings 13.18 is an example. The main character is simply “an old prophet” from Judah who warns King Jeroboam that his sacrifices are not acceptable to the Lord. The King tries to subdue him but finds his arm paralyzed and pleads with the prophet to heal him.

Later in the book of 1 Kings (Chapter 18) Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal and overcomes them. He goes on a journey into the wilderness where, tired and confused, he wishes to die. However, as he sleeps under a tree, an angel wakes him (19.5) and provides him with food. The angel instructs him to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1.3) and still later Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2.11).

God also uses angels to kill enemies. King Hezekiah finds out when 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers are killed (2 Kings 19.35).

First and second Chronicles are mainly a repeat of what we read in Samuel and Kings, so angels are again mentioned and continue their destruction until the Lord stops them (1 Chronicles 21.15-16). David sees what has happened and he is “afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD” (21.30).

Angels are under the command of the Lord, and in Nehemiah 9.6 we read that “The heavenly powers bow down and worship you,” which certainly must include the angels.

Sometimes angels are called to appear before God, and for Job, the outcome seems disastrous. Satan is with the angels and God tells him to notice Job and the story of Job’s suffering and the questionable advice of his “friends” is one we know well. They tell him that God even “charges his angels with error” (4.18), referring to Satan no doubt.

In the long Job story, one “bystander” of those accusing Job is named Elihu, who is young and believes he has the answers for Job because his words are “sincere, and I am speaking the truth” (33.2). He challenges Job that “Perhaps an angel may come to his aid—one of God’s thousands of angels, who remind men of their duty” and in mercy the angel will say “Remember him, he is not to go down to the world of the dead. Here is the ransom to set him free” (33.23-24). We can question Elihu’s confidence because God has a different perspective and answer.

God answers Job out of a storm (Chapter 38) and he is not nice about it. He accuses Job of “ignorant, empty words” (verse 2) and in a long series of scathing questions shows Job that he is utterly incapable of understanding His mighty works. Even the stars sang with the heavenly beings (the angels) to show their joy in God’s creation.

Job concludes, fittingly, by saying “I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know” (42.3). That is my answer (to some degree) as well when I talk about angels.

In Psalm 8.5 we are reminded that we have been made “a little lower than the angels,” a verse that is repeated in Hebrews 2.7. But we are also crowned “with glory and honor.”

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34.7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” A similar promise is given in 91.11: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

David wants his enemies to be driven away, “like chaff before the wind” (35.5) and would be happy to have them on slippery and dark paths, with “the angel of the Lord pursuing them” (35.6). Obviously, he is not wanting the angel to help his enemies.

Psalm 78 contains a long series of incidents of how God has looked after his people, including having “destroying angels” (in some versions, called “messengers of death”) helping him (v. 49).The angels of the lord “do his bidding” (103.20) and they are commanded to praise God (148.2). People believed that a person had an angel, e.g., those who couldn’t believe that it could be Peter at the door in Acts 12.15. This is often the key episode for the belief in “guardian angels” and a “doctrine” pursued with great ambition by the Catholics.

Angels are not mentioned in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs, in fact are not mentioned again until Isaiah 37.36 when an angel puts to death 185,000 Assyrians (also mentioned in 2 Kings 19.35). Isaiah, in reflecting on the Lord’s goodness, points out that it was He who saved them by using “the angel of his presence” (63.9). In other words, it was not simply an angel who saved them from their suffering, but the Lord himself.

Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel do not mention angels, but the book of Daniel records how an angel saved the three men thrown into the furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3.28), as well as how an angel shut the mouth of lions when Daniel was thrown to them (6.22). Ezekiel 28.14 does mention that he was “anointed as a guardian cherub” which seems to be a category of angels.

So what is a cherub/cherubim and how do they compare with the seraphim? I read on line that “Cherubim are angels that … first appear as the guards of the garden of Eden. They work on God’s wish. They have four faces, the faces are of different animals, and they use their wings to wrap their body.” On the other hand, Seraphim in the 6th chapter of the book Isaiah are described as serpents. They have spiritual powers, and they are devoted to God. They spend their days and nights in the praises of God. They have six wings, and they have the highest rank among the angels. They sit on the throne and pursuit the will of God.”

What about archangels? Apparently, they are of a higher rank than angels. One claim is that “A person can call angels for any personal help but he or she cannot call archangels for any personal help.” That would need more follow-up, but I leave it for now.

The minor prophets Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Malachi do not record anything dealing with angels. However, Zechariah makes up for the lack and mentions angels 20 times (in the NLT), all of them in various exchanges, beginning in 1.9 where asks an angel what the four colored horses mean. Zechariah is shown various visions and angels are involved in all of them (1.11-14; 1.19; 2.3; 3.1; 3.3-6; 4.1; 4.4; 4.11; 5.5; 5.10; 6.4-5). In 3.1-2 the prophet Zechariah sees the High Priest Joshua standing before the Lord and Satan is there as well. As at the beginning of the book of Job, Satan is there to bring accusations to the Lord, but in this case he is rebuked and condemned. 

Finally, summarizing the future deliverance of Jerusalem, we read “On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them” (12.8).

The New Testament begins (Matthew 1:20) with an angel visiting Joseph in a dream to tell him that the Holy Spirit will enable his future wife Mary to have a child and that the child’s name will be Jesus, a name given to Him by angels (Luke 2.21). The angel also tells him to take Mary to Egypt (2.3) and, after Herod dies, notifies him to take her back to Nazareth (2.19).

Angels must be formidable and frightening because here they tell Joseph, then later Zechariah (Luke 1.30) and the shepherds (Luke 2.9-10) not to be afraid. When Zechariah is puzzled and discusses the situation with the angel, he replies that his name is Gabriel (Luke 1.19), probably the same angel that spoke to Daniel (8.16 and 9.21). Mary also converses with Gabriel (Luke 1.

On the other hand, after the resurrection when Mary visits the tomb of Jesus she sees “two angels in white” who talk with her (John 20.11-13) and she is not afraid. Mary had communicated with the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus (Luke 1.26-38). Many years later, when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, she does not immediately recognize him (John 20.15-17).

It is no wonder that the shepherds would have been afraid: “a great company of the heavenly host appear with the angel,” which would have been spectacular and startling. The angels return to heaven (Luke 2.15), but the shepherds know what their appearance signals, and go to Bethlehem to see what is happening.

The story of the temptation of Jesus occurs in three gospels: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 and in each of them Satan quotes Scripture, demonstrating how it is possible to recite the Word of God for one’s own purposes. Satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the Temple and the angels will protect him (Matthew 4:6; Mark 1:12; and Luke 4:10), which of course is true but not what God wants. Jesus tells Satan that we should not put God to the test.

Angels will be active in the judgment, actually the “harvesting” at the end of the age and will “weed out” everything that causes sin (Matthew 13:39; 41; 49) and will gather “his elect…from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13.27 and also 8.38 and Matthew 16.27). When will this take place? Not even the angels know (Mark 13.32; Matthew 24.36).

At that final judgment Jesus will bring angels with him (Matthew 25.31). In fact, he could have called for them at any time, as when the disciples wanted to shield him from arrest, he could have asked the Father for “thousands of angels” (Matthew 26.53). We have already seen a “vast host” of angels—the armies of heaven—appear to the shepherds and then return to heaven (Luke 2.9-15), so we know there are plenty around.

Turning now to the book of Revelation: it is a special story and relates the activity of angels and the future order of the world. In this book, angels are referred to 79 times in the NLT, 77 times in the NIV and 72 times in the NKJV. The angels in Revelation are acting out their future roles—this is a vision of John—and it is often impossible to interpret their actions literally. For proof, go to commentaries on the book or listen to TV evangelists interpret it. They give us ideas, but the actions in Revelation are forecast and have not yet happened, so they are imaginary. I don’t know what many of the images stand for.

The book begins (1.1) with Jesus sending an angel to John with a special revelation. However, things get complicated immediately as the number seven begins to appear: seven stars, seven golden lampstands, seven bowls, and seven plagues. There are also seven churches, each with an angel assigned to it. Furthermore, the seven stars are seven angels, and each has a message for each church. The angels convey their messages to the churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, outlining their good points and their bad points. 

An angel carrying the seal of the living God appears (7.2) and tells the four angels, who “stand at the four corners of the earth” not to harm the earth. A scene follows (7.11) where all the angels are around the throne and they “fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshipped God.”

The seven angels are given seven trumpets, which they will use later, but “another angel with a gold incense burner” mixes incense with prayers and pours it on the altar for God (8.3-5). In the meantime, the seven angels have been warming up their trumpets and are ready to blow them. After each blown trumpet a catastrophe or extraordinary event occurs (8.6-10.7; 11.15) and God’s “mysterious plan will be fulfilled…just as he announced it to his servants the prophets” (10.7). T

John is instructed to take the scroll from the angel standing on the sea and land and eat it (10.9). John does so and finds it sweet to taste, but it gives him an upset stomach. Two chapters later war breaks out in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon (Satan) and its angels (12.7-9). Satan is defeated and then John sees another angel “flying through the sky” with the Good News of the Gospel now available “to every nation, tribe, language and people (14.6). There are actually three angels, the second shouting that Babylon has fallen and the third shouting warnings about a beast (14.8-9).

The beast puts a mark on the forehead or on the hands of people. They are doomed for the judgment that follows. A series of angels then swing their sickles to carry out God’s verdict (14.15-19).

There are more angels: John sees seven more and they will destroy what is left of the earth and its people with seven plagues (15.1-16.17). After the angels are finished with their destruction, one of them takes John to see “the great prostitute” (17.1). She is a woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns” (17.3) and which has blasphemies against God written all over it.

The angel explains that the waters where the prostitute is located “represent masses of people of every nation and language (17.15). The scarlet beast and its horns “hate the prostitute,” which represents Babylon and it is destroyed (18.21) by a boulder cast into the ocean. 

Things finally get better and an angel tells John that those who attend the wedding feast of the Lamb will be blessed (19.9). An angel “standing in the sun” shouts to vultures to gather for the banquet (19.17). Vultures usually mean someone has died, so I’m not sure why they are here.

In the final episode John sees an angel coming down from heaven and it has the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain (20.1). Satan is thrown into the pit and one of the seven angels takes John to see “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21.9). It is the city of the new Jerusalem, and it is big and beautiful. For some reason, the angel decides to the measure the city and the walls are 216 feet thick and it is 1500 miles in every direction (including up).

In the end of his vision John sees the water of life flowing from the throne of God and it is there where his servants will worship—and they will see His face (22.4). An angel assures John that everything he has “heard and seen is trustworthy and true” (22.6).

John is overcome and falls at the feet of the angel to worship him, but is told not to because the angel is “a fellow servant” (22.9).

In 22.16 Jesus speaks and tells John that he has sent “my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.”

That is the end of the angels, but it is of course not the end of the story: Jesus has the last word, “Yes indeed! I am coming soon! (22.20). And we echo John’s words; “So be it. Come Lord Jesus!

Because this is a vision, which is much like a dream, the events sometimes seem out of order chronologically and the angels seem extraordinarily busy and even diabolical. They are not nice angels with wings and harps—replicas that I would hang on my Christmas tree.

There is no doubt that it is a book of warnings and calamities, with angels as the primary agents. I find it difficult to understand and most of us are content to skip to Chapters 21 and 22, with the streets of gold, no more tears, and so on. We are promised a “blessing” if we read the book, but probably best not to stay up late in a darkened room to ponder it.

Some things (but not all) about angels (not all references are given):

  • There are millions of them (Psalm 89.5; 103.21; Daniel 7.10; Matthew 26.53; Luke 2.13; Hebrews 12.22; Revelation 5.11)
  • They worship God (Deuteronomy 32.43; Nehemiah 9.6; Hebrews 1.6)
  • They come from heaven (Matthew 28.2)
  • They are special messengers (Job 33.23; Hebrews 1.14), sent by God (Daniel 3.28; Hebrews 1.7)
  • They are witnesses in God’s presence (Luke 12.8; 1 Corinthians 11.10; 1 Peter 1.12)
  • They can appear and disappear suddenly (Acts 12.10)
  • They are visible at times (1 Chronicles 21.16; 2 Samuel 24.17; Luke 24.23; John 1.51; 20.12; Acts 10.3; 12.3)
  • They can appear even as strangers (Hebrews 13.2)
  • They can change their appearance (Judges 13.6)
  • They look after “Little ones” (Matthew 18.10)
  • They may look after adults as well (Acts 12.15)
  • They may look after cities (Revelation 1:20ff)
  • They can blow trumpets (Matthew 24.31; Revelation 8.6)
  • They are not married (Matthew 22.30), which does not imply they are sexless
  • They provide comfort (Mark 16.6; Matthew 28.5; Luke 22.43; Acts 27.23)
  • They are strong (they roll away the stone at the tomb of Jesus—Matthew 28.2)
  • They protect (Exodus 23.20; Psalm 34.7)
  • They do miracles (Judges 6.21; Acts 5.19)
  • They pray (Zechariah 1.12)
  • They never die (Luke 20.36)
  • They speak and understand languages (1 Kings 19.5; Zechariah 1.9; Matthew 28.5; John 12.29; 1 Corinthians 13.1; Acts 10.4)
  • They give instructions (1 Kings 19.7; Acts 8.6; 10.22; Genesis 28.12)
  • They interpret (Zechariah 6.5)
  • They shout with joy (Job 38.7)
  • They are happy when someone repents (Luke 15.10)
  • They can speak to animals (Numbers 22.22-35)
  • They can control wild animals (Daniel 6.22)
  • They have special food (Psalm 78.35)
  • They can supply new clothing (Zechariah 3.4)
  • They escort people to heaven (or perhaps hell) Luke 16.10)
  • They will appear with the coming of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1.7)
  • They will preserve God’s people (Revelation 7.1)
  • Their face can morph into that of a human (Acts 6.15)
  • Satan can disguise himself as one (2 Corinthians 11.14
  • Some may not be trustworthy (a claim by Eliphaz in Job 4.18)
  • They seem to have a hierarchy (2 Samuel 22.6; Zechariah 6.5; 1 Timothy 5.21)
  • Some have sinned (2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6)
  • They can kill (Psalm 78.44; Acts 12.23; Revelation 9.15ff)
  • They can be angels of death (Hebrews 11.28; 1 Corinthians 10.10)
  • Their authority is limited (Jude 1.9)
  • They will not control the future world (Hebrew 2.5)

Therewith ends my study of angels—what an interesting and, in most respects, encouraging record of these awesome messengers of God.

Karl Franklin, January 2022

THROWING IN THE TOWEL

I was once listening to a a sporting event where the broadcaster said something to the effect that at least they weren’t “throwing in the towel” yet. He meant that they hadn’t given up and were still trying. Two other expressions that get across a similar idea are “they hadn’t been taken to the cleaners” or “met their Waterloo.”

Have you ever felt like “throwing in the towel”? It is an idiom that comes from boxing, when a losing fighter’s manager indicated defeat by throwing a towel into the ring. After losing an election, politicians often throw in the towel and try some other kind of career.

If you “take someone to the cleaners” you are swindling them in some way. You are taking advantage of them and relieving them of their money or possessions. Some etymologists suggest the phrase came from dry cleaners who examined the customers clothes for money and kept any they found. It seems more likely that if you take someone to the cleaners, you are the deceiver and robber and not simply the merchant who is cleaning the clothes. Perhaps you are a partner in crime (we all know what that means.) 

The phrase “meeting one’s Waterloo” is a bit more obscure. It refers to the 1815 battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo in which Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated by forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington. The term Waterloo has therefore become synonymous with anything difficult to master. For example, one can refer to Armenian as having a “Waterloo of an Alphabet.”

I thought of times when I wanted to “throw in the towel” and quit—not pleasant reminders for me but true nonetheless. I have met my Waterloo at various stages of my life and, occasionally, I have been taken to the cleaners.

I was the Director of the Wycliffe and SIL International work in Papua New Guinea for several years, commanding a force of hundreds of missionaries and employees. Missionaries are determined, with strong-minded opinions, or they wouldn’t be working overseas in difficult situations. It follows that a few had negative feelings about the way I handled some issues. I became discouraged at such times, but never wanted to throw in the towel. Part of the reason was because Joice was always there with one hand on my shoulder to stop any such action. She encouraged me even if I met a “Waterloo.” We all need that kind of help.

Some of the disciples met their Waterloo when Jesus reminded them of what it meant to follow him. It was after he told them that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60). Those who “turned away” seemed to think Jesus was asking them to be cannibals and literally eat flesh and drink blood. Instead, Jesus was asking his disciples (and us) to figuratively eat and drink of him to such an extent that we need nothing else to sustain us spiritually. It is a “hard saying” but it is also the way to be “fed.”

I have been “taken to the cleaners” a few times, mainly by buying something that I had believed was an excellent product and of course necessary, but which turned out to be not worth my time or money.

One such instance happened right here in Waco. Our small lawn needed help and a lawncare “specialist” said he would take care of it for me. He charged me over $200 for installing a section of grass that was about six feet square. I was annoyed and tried to get him to reduce the cost or install more grass. However, he wasn’t interested and I was not going to “fly off the handle” or “blow a fuse” about the matter. 

There are many idioms to express how I felt and you can probably identify with some of them:

“to flip out,” be “mad as a hornet,” or “mad as a wet hen.” We can also “get hot under the collar,” or “blow a gasket.” Expressing thanks and kindness is the opposite and we don’t feel that way when we think someone has taken advantage of us.

In today’s idiom, I suppose we “loose our cool” but, regardless of how we express our emotions, they can betray our understanding of the Scriptures and keep us from loving God with all our heart, mind and strength. We might then legitimately want to “throw in the towel” instead of asking God for forgiveness and fortitude. Paul reminds us in Romans 7:24-25 of how we can get help: “What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Perhaps it is then OK to throw in the towel, if it is at the feet of Jesus.

THE WEDDING RING

Men, did you ever wonder why you gave your wife a wedding ring? Peer pressure or history? Love or pride? Some combination? Here is some history: Way back in time Egyptian pharaohs used rings to represent eternity because a circle has no beginning and no end. It also reflects the shape of the sun and the moon, which the Egyptians worshipped. They also thought that the open space in the middle of a ring represented a gateway to the unknown. 

Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians and the Greeks adopted the tradition of men giving rings to their lovers. Many of their rings depicted Eros or Cupid, the god of love. Then, when the Romans conquered Greece, they followed the tradition and began using iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies.

In the U.S., the wearing of rings to symbolize marriage is a relatively recent practice. Puritans did not wear any jewelry, including wedding rings, because they believed that excess adornment was a sin. However, one common practice was for the man to present his fiancée with a thimble, used for sewing. Later brides began to cut off the cup of the thimble leaving only the outer ring, which acted as a woman’s wedding ring.

According to a “how to” book called Enquire within About Everything, published in 1903, “men would wear a ring to symbolize not only their marital status, but their desire for marriage as well. If a man wanted a wife, he would wear a ring on the first finger of his left hand. When he became engaged, he moved the ring to his middle finger, and when finally married he would move it to his ring finger […] if a man never wanted to marry, he would indicate this by wearing a ring on the pinky finger of his left hand. These rules for indicating marital status were similar for women of that time.”

A good story, but it was not true for most men, who did not traditionally wear wedding rings until World War II. Because of extended separations caused by the war, men’s wedding rings signified that the man was “betrothed to another.”

When I proposed to Joice in 1955 I gave her an engagement ring and in 1956 a wedding ring. By this time, it was traditional that the ring had a diamond (or some other gem) topping it. The bigger the diamond, the more love—right? Of course, if we believe the jewelers! But the engagement ring was a sign of our promise, and the wedding ring was the promise fulfilled. My diamond was not substantial, but it could be seen without a magnifying glass. The wedding ring was worn until it could no longer slip on and off Joice’s finger—due to arthritis about 15 years ago. It was then cut off and made into a necklace. I’ll return to it later.

When we lived among the Kewa of Papua New Guinea, the women were intrigued by Joice’s ring and that I had given it to her in marriage. They were also embarrassed that I could only afford such a little “piece of glass.” The women chided Joice: “My husband gave 10 pigs and 4 pearl shells for me,” indicating the inferior ring of hers (and perhaps the husband as well) was of little value.

We move on a few years until Joice and I were visiting friends in New Zealand and, after shopping at a large store, she discovered that the diamond had dropped out of her ring and was lost. Sometime later, however, a jeweler friend took the ring and put a much better diamond in it. I wanted to show it to my Kewa women friends and, to some extent redeem myself, but could not.

I mentioned that Joice developed arthritis in her finger joints and eventually was unable to remove the ring manually. Her solution was to go to the local fire station and have them cut it off. She then she had it made into a necklace and kept it hung by some other jewelry in our closet. After she died, my daughter and I looked for the ring but could not find it. We were distraught and prayed much about “the lost ring.”

Recently, while searching again, I saw something shining in a remote area behind a shoe rack. There, hidden in the crevice between the carpet and the wall, was the missing ring. I immediately called my daughter to tell her, even as I thought about the stories in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I didn’t call in the neighbors to celebrate with me, but I did thank the angels of heaven.

Something as “simple” as a wedding ring is symbolic of promises and pleasures, in our case for 65 years. In Revelation 2:17 we read that “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

Unlike our ring, it is a name that we will never lose!

DEATH

I am waiting for my wife’s “death certificate,” a legal paper that testifies to her death. Our mission is sending me a “death packet,” with various kinds of materials—all meant to help me.

The word “death” sounds so final, and it is. We all face it, and despite the best poetry and images, it is most often not pleasant. Our body, which Paul compares to a tent in 2 Corinthians 5, will eventually be “torn down.” It is therefore a temporary structure, but there is a house in heaven for us to live in and it will last forever.

The “final sting” in this life is death, a personal enemy, who is usually accompanied by sickness, and both are enemies of God. The literalness of this event should cause even the most hard-hearted person to reflect on the inevitable path to the grave. There is much more to it, of course, while we are still alive. However, those who believe the words of Jesus will “sprout to life” after they die (! Corinthians 15.36).

We don’t see this marvelous metamorphous take place. All we usually see in death is someone dying, and it should bring God into the picture. Did He really allow this? As Martha complained, “If you would have been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11.22) “If you would have been here…,” is a desperate plea for help and all of us will probably think or say it. 

How does God feel about the death of a human? Note Psalm 116.15: “How painful it is to the Lord when one of His people dies!” He knows the agony and suffering of death. His own Son suffered and died, and Jesus is the High Priest “on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” (Hebrews 12.2)

You can tell I have been thinking about death—not just because my wife just died, but because I am old and need to be prepared for it as well. We both joked: Who would go first? What would the other do when alone? But we were serious about it too. We had both prayed that we would be “faithful to the end.” Faithful to God, of course, but faithful to each other, to our family, to our faith, to our friends, and as a witness to the world.

Death is final in the sense that our mortal body (our tent) is dispensed with so that our immortal body can take shape. “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11.20) Then Jesus also asked, “Do you believe this?” Our faith allows us to be certain about it and to be confident of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11.1)

I don’t mean this to be simply a sermon on death or a walk down morbid main street. I want it to be a joyful realization that God has something much better for us than the things of the world. His wonderful promises and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our “tents” can compel us to live and think differently about what our culture provides with its enticements.

Death bringing life: We try to understand and live with this paradox, this “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” (Wikipedia)

The traditional wedding vow goes like this: “I, _____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.”

I’m sure I skipped over the phrase “till death do us part” rather quickly in 1956, but once death parted us, I realize how serious that expression is. I can’t take it lightly because our parting here is final. For almost 65 years we fulfilled that vow, “according to God’s holy alliance.” That is also my comfort—needed badly now.

Not many of you have been married as long as Joice and me, but if you are married you have taken a vow. It is a sacred promise and a privilege to fulfill.

LITTLE THINGS

Ellen Hopkins, a novelist who has published several New York Times bestselling novels, is quoted as saying “Sometimes the little things in life mean the most.”

It started me thinking of some “little things” that have meant a great deal to me (and to Joice). I’ll relate a few incidents—but there are many more!

From 1958 until 1962 we were living in a remote village in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (then called the Territory of Papua and New Guinea). Every week or fortnight we would send carriers for supplies and mail to an airstrip and government station about a 4 or 5 hour walk away (depending on the weather). We would supply waterproof bags and a small Qantas bag and hire young men to get our items. 

On one occasion the boys were given a pineapple at a mission station but, instead of carrying it and putting eggs in the small bag, one of the boys reversed the process and decided to carry the egg carton and put the prickly pineapple in the bag. When he arrived the eggs, which he had carried under his arm, were broken and dripping out of the egg carton. Joice was very upset—it was her only egg carton and had been used for several strips. While still internally complaining about the loss of her egg carton, one of the other boys arrived with the mail. He dumped out the contents from the waterproof bag and included was a parcel that Joice’s mom had mailed three months earlier. On top of the box was—you guessed it—an egg carton. When Joice asked her mother (a letter exchange back and forth to American took a month), she replied that she didn’t remember ever sending an egg carton. It was probably something she put on top of the contents for packing, but it made an impression we never forgot. If God was so interested in us that He would supply an egg carton, why were we anxious about anything? It was a little thing in one sense, but very big in another. Joice told that story many times.

When I had my 40th birthday we were at our mission’s headquarters in the Eastern Highlands. Not short on creativity, Joice decided to give me a “hillbilly” party (I am from the Allegheny mountain area of Pennsylvania and some of us so-called “hillbillies” did live there), one I would never forget. All the party participants dressed as hillbillies—blackened teeth, wrapped big toes, corn cob pipes, overalls, plaid shirts, and ridiculous gifts. It was a “little thing” because it didn’t cost much and everyone improvised and had fun, but I (and the guests) will never forget it—and I have pictures to prove it! “Little things” are often like that. (Of course, in today’s culture we could be castigated for portraying a class of people called “hillbillies,” although their still seem to be some “rednecks” around. In my defense, I respect both groups.)

Joice has always loved birds and there were plenty in Papua New Guinea. On one occasion when we were on a trip and visiting another mission station, Joice heard birds calling and watched a flock of the Bird of Paradise nest in a nearby tree. She was able to walk near the tree and observe them in all their beauty for some time. A little thing, but one never forgotten.

Returning from MD Anderson after one of our visits following Joice’s proton radiation, we stopped at a rest area. While I went inside, Joice waited in the car. Suddenly a blue bird, one of her favorite birds, landed close to her and they seemed to be as aware of each other. It was an experience that she viewed as a sign of God’s hope for her. It was just “a little thing” but the hope and joy it gave her (and, by extension, me) was immense.

Sometimes on April Fool’s Day I would try to do something unusual to fool Joice. Once I found a tree branch that I fashioned into what could resemble a bird if you had a good imagination and were still sleepy. I planted it some distance from the house and then called Joice to come and identify the bird. She examined if for some time, then got the binoculars and discovered my joke. She laughed and laughed and, of course, tried to fool me at times as well. Little things, but just enough to make us talk about them again and again.

Little things can be like that: they can give us delight and make us thankful. When you pause and remember some of the “little things” that have happened in your life, remember that God is not only the creator of the universe, He is also the initiator of “little things,” and these can be as marvelous to us as the Milky Way.

I think a lot about the “little things” that enhanced our marriage and there is, thankfully, no shortage of them.

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