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The Elephant is Still an Elephant

by on Apr.19, 2015, under Hope

There’s an old story about six blind men who wanted to know what an elephant was like. They were allowed to touch a tame elephant and each described what he felt.

“This animal is like the pillar of a house,” said the first man after touching one of the legs of the elephant.

“No, it’s more like a rope,” said the second, who was grasping the tail.

“I’d say the elephant is like a thick tree branch,” argued the third blind man, who had encountered the trunk.

“You’re all confused,” proclaimed the fourth, touching the elephant’s ear, “An elephant is like a fan.”

“A fan?” said the fifth, “I should say not! This animal feels like a wall.” He was, of course, touching the animal’s belly.

The sixth man, with a hand on a tusk, could hardly contain himself. “You must be fools!” he cried. “The elephant is just like a spear.”

This story is often told to describe how our own experience limits how we view things. People with different perspectives can look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions.

But I think there’s something that we need to remember as we listen to this story. The elephant never stopped being an elephant. Despite what these men said, it wasn’t a pillar or a rope or a branch or a fan or a wall or a spear. It was an elephant.

When it comes to God, there’s also a lot of confusion. Some would argue that all viewpoints are valid, that the different religions in this world are just different understandings of the basic concepts.

The Bible doesn’t see it that way. The apostle Paul wrote:

“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:4–6)

And Jesus himself said:

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

There are many opinions, many theories, and many philosophies. But there is an absolute truth: there is only one God and the only way to Him is through Jesus Christ.


You Have To Decide Who Jesus Is

by on Apr.12, 2015, under Hope

It is up to you to decide who Jesus is.  That may sound like a strange thing for a Christian to say, but it is true.  Even when Jesus was here on earth, there was quite a bit of discussion about who he really was.  Jesus himself sometimes asked who people said he was.  The answers were often that he was one of the Jewish prophets—Elijah perhaps, or maybe Jeremiah.  Some thought he might be his cousin, John the baptizer.  But Jesus wanted to know one more thing.  He asked his closest followers who they thought that he was.  Peter answered for them all when he said he believed him to be the Son of the Living God.

You have to decide who you believe Jesus to be.

You might believe he is a mythical figure that represents an idealistic moral code.  In other words, you can get some good advice about an ethical way to live.  Or you may believe he was a real person who led a religious movement that still has followers today.  Interesting, maybe even worth studying.  Neither of those options make him any different than dozens of other people who have lived on this earth or in our stories.

If that is who you believe Jesus to be, it really does not demand much from you.

But if you believe him to be the Son of God, it changes everything.  That conviction demands everything from you.  That would mean he really did die for you sins.  It would mean he really was raised from the dead.  Mythical people are not real, and good religious people who die have nothing to do with forgiveness of our sins.  If Jesus is the Son of God, then that changes everything.

That conviction does demand of response.  Believing that will change your life.  Peter confessed his belief that Jesus was the Son of God.  He gave his whole life to following Jesus because of that belief.  You can read about him in the Bible in the book of Acts.

And I too believe Jesus to be the Son of God.  That truth has made all the difference in my life also. 

Blessings,

steve


They Ran!

by on Apr.05, 2015, under Hope

It was early; very early before the starlight gave way to sunlight. They trudged along the path, shifting their bundles, prepared to do the work as the stench of rotting flesh would fill their noses and convulse their stomachs. They would become “unclean” by touching a dead body, but they owed him the honor of cleaning and preparing his body.

Then as they gazed at the place where his remains should have been they hear the words “He is risen!” Those words changed their lives, changed the world. The story is so important that all four Gospels tell it, albeit from different vantage points.
During the Easter season it is appropriate to focus on He is Risen! for that gives humankind the promise that it too can live with God forever.

What is overlooked is what the people who hear He is Risen! did with that news.

Once the words were said, or the followers encountered the risen Jesus, they ran to tell others. Read the story in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. As you read you’ll notice words like: great Joy, disbelief, frightened, fear, trembled, amazed, wept. Emotions cross the spectrum of human expression describe the encounter that Jesus lives. And they ran to tell others.

In “church” there is talk about “sharing the Gospel”, almost as an academic exercise. Yet, it wasn’t an analytical exercise for those who first faced a risen Jesus, and maybe it shouldn’t be for us.

The example is very clear. He is Risen! and we need to run and tell others.

Who would your run and tell that Jesus is Risen!?


Surprising Service

by on Mar.29, 2015, under Hope

It was a hot day in the Uruguayan countryside. Gerhald Acosta wasn’t allowed to enter the factory that day because his I.D. card had expired. Now he was hitchhiking home, watching car after car pass by him without stopping.

Finally an SUV stopped, together with a car that was traveling behind it. A man from the second car asked where Acosta was going, told him they could take him part of the way, and invited him to get into the SUV. When Acosta got into the truck, he discovered that his benefactors were none other than Uruguayan president Jose Mujica and his wife Lucia!

Acosta says they only took him a short distance, as far as the next town, but that the famous couple was extremely friendly. Had Acosta not taken pictures during the ride, no one would have believed his tale.

We don’t often think of powerful people serving others; we expect them to want to be served. That’s how it was in Jesus’ day as well. That’s why he was such a surprising figure.

Rather than coming into this world in the nursery of a palace, Jesus was born in the stable of an inn. He had no castle to live in; he once said he didn’t even have a place to lay his head. Instead of receiving manicures and visiting spas, Jesus took up a towel and washed the feet of his disciples. Where others would ride in chariots or mount chargers, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s foal.

He told his followers: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

When the Creator of everything came to this world, he came as a servant. And he came to die on a cross so that we could have life.

It’s great to be given a ride by a president. It’s much, much greater to be given life by the King, Jesus Christ.


If I become a Christian, do I have to go to chrch?

by on Mar.22, 2015, under Hope

This is a question I have often been asked by people thinking about becoming a Christian.  I am never sure why they ask it.  Is it because they do not want to be locked in to weekly commitment?  Have they had negative experiences in their past that make them not want to go ever again?  Maybe they want to be sure they are still in charge of their life and time.  Perhaps they like to play golf on Sunday, or spend the day in their pajamas.  Or maybe it is a careful way to ask just how much is expected of them if they decide to follow Jesus.

But sometimes Christians have not been fair in answering the question.  They may say it is something to discuss after you become a Christian.  Or they may try to avoid having to give a straight answer.  They may even feel guilty because they have issues with going to church themselves.  Maybe it is just that they do not want to give an answer that may cause someone to say no to Jesus.

So if you are wondering if you have to go church when you become a Christian, let me answer the question clearly.  Yes.  Of course you do.  For one thing, when you become a Christian you are added to the church.  But you are expected to meet together with other Christians.  We do this so we can share a meal called the Lord’s Supper and proclaim to the world our unity and our belief that Jesus died, rose from the dead, and will return for us someday.  We do it so we can be inspired and motivated to love God, to love our neighbor, and to do good in this world.  We meet because we need each other.  We go to church because if we do not, it becomes much easier for Satan to pick us off while separated from each other. 

Following Jesus is not just a series of things to do, it is a lifestyle.  One that includes going to church. 

Blessings, 

steve


The One With The Power

by on Mar.15, 2015, under Hope

It’s easy today to feel like humans are pretty powerful. Given enough money and enough time, and it seems like we can do just about anything. We can build that bridge. We can cure that disease. We can invent that machine.

Then some snow falls, and we realize that there are forces much stronger than we are. Or a hurricane blows through. Or a volcano erupts. Suddenly we don’t seem as powerful as we did before.

When Jesus lived on this earth, he did a lot of signs and miracles. One of the most amazing was witnessed by only a small group of Jesus’ followers. Jesus was in the region of Galilee, near the large freshwater lake called Kinneret, the one sometimes called “the Sea of Galilee.”

He and his disciples decided to cross the lake. As they were doing so, a terrible storm developed. The gospel of Mark tells the story:

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”” (Mark 4:37–41)

Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him? It would become obvious to them later on: this was Jesus, the Messiah. This was God made flesh.

Here’s a suggestion: the next time you see a wonder of nature, don’t just wonder at nature. Wonder at the One who created it all. The One with the powerful to stop wind and waves with just a word.

For he is the same One with the power to change your life. He is the One with the power to give you endless life.


Setting up your family for the future…

by on Mar.08, 2015, under Hope

The numbers are so high I really cannot comprehend them.  Free agency in baseball is that time when certain players have the right to sign a contract with any team they desire.  It becomes a bidding war among teams desperate to be more competitive.  But it also one of the few times – maybe the only time – a ballplayer can secure his financial future.  And not just his future, but his children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren can be financially secure.  They can be set for life.  You hear the same kind of language when businesses are sold.  Setting your family up for the next two or three generations. 

Are you even able to imagine those kinds of financial resources?  Imagine the financial security your heirs would enjoy.  What if you could do that in other areas?  Take a vaccination that would prevent disease in your family for three generations into the future.  What if you could shield them from emotional pain?  Or how about setting them with a guaranteed academic degree?  Or a guaranteed job for everyone in your family for the next four generations?

Of course, it does not work that way.  Most of these are not possible.  Even the financial security can be lost in one generation.  But I do think there is one aspect of my family’s future that is possible to set up.  I want my children, their children, and the generations to follow to be able to live forever.  What an incredible legacy to set up their spiritual future, and to know that it is possible for us all to live together with God someday.  And here is the best part of this desire.   I can start a spiritual heritage in my family right now.  In fact, I have set my family up spiritually.  You can too.

It starts with your decision to become a follower of Jesus.  God sent Jesus to live among us and to die for our sins.  Believe that and you have started your spiritual legacy for your descendants.  Then teach your children.  Read God’s Word with them, pray with them, worship together.  Tell them of your conversion.  Help them to make the decision to follow Jesus.  Then they can do the same with their children, who will do the same with theirs.  And on and on and on it goes.  A spiritual heritage that lasts for generations.  

Blessings, 

steve


Reunion

by on Mar.01, 2015, under Hope

Subject line of the email simply read, “Mini Brant Reunion”. I received that note a few days after visiting my cousin and his wife on Long Island, a cousin I hadn’t seen in 45 years. The gist of that brief email was that we should have a family reunion. The next email’s subject said “Brant Reunion” and the next one’s expectation grew with “Big Brant Reunion”. As I visited with my family in Texas, I was surprised that they all wanted to go and visit with a great aunt, cousins X times removed and hear the stories about our family.

So this June, Brants from Texas, New Jersey, Ohio and other locations will gather in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, for a reunion that has been almost 50 years in the making.

It struck me as I imagined my grandchildren meeting my cousin’s grandchildren wanting to hear how their grandfathers grew up, that I wondered if that’s what Heaven will be like. I believe that we will recognize our family members who get to Heaven before us. While we will have a different body, a name God gives us on our forehead, and be in a place where there is no night or time, I think we will have a reunion with those we know and those family members we will be meeting for the first time. And then the sweetest part of the reunion will be when we gather in front of the throne and see our God’s face! And in my mind, that’s when he’ll say to each of us “Welcome Home my child.” The reunion in heaven is written about in the first five verses of the 22nd chapter of the book of Revelation.

The Brant reunion in June excites me and it will be marvelous, but it will be nothing compared to the one we’ll have in Heaven.

When you get to Heaven who do you want to see? Who will be there for your Reunion?

New email subject line says: “Gigantic Brant Reunion Bash.”


The Least Of These

by on Feb.22, 2015, under Hope

While on vacation in New York, a French tourist named Karine Valnais Gombeau was deeply moved by the number of homeless people she saw. When she noticed a disheveled-looking man searching through the trash near Grand Central Station, she quickly offered him a bag of leftover pizza she was carrying.

When the surprised man asked what was in the bag, Gombeau replied, “Je suis désolée [I am sorry], but the pizza is cold.” The man thanked her, and she went on her way.

It was two days later that Gombeau learned she had given pizza to actor Richard Gere, who was filming a movie on location in New York City.

The story reminds me of a story that Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus described what it will be like when people stand before the throne to answer for what they have done. To the righteous, he will say,

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35–36)

When they protest that they have never seen him in those conditions, Jesus will tell them,

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

In the same way, he will speak of being neglected by others and will tell them:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

You will probably never get the chance to give pizza to a famous actor. But you can reach out and help Jesus today. You can serve the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, or the prisoner. You can help “the least of these” and really be doing it for Jesus.

To those who show compassion to the people around them, Jesus will one day say:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Those are words I want to hear. I want you to hear them too.


How Can I Read Them All?

by on Feb.15, 2015, under Hope

I am an avid reader.  Always have been for as long as I can remember.  Right now I am looking at a stack of fifteen books I want to read.  That does not count the dozen or so I want to pick up and add to the stack.  I have shelves of books.  Many of them are so good I ought to read them again.  That must make forty or fifty I want to read right now.  So if I read two or three a week I can be done in few months.  But that is not realistic, so how about one a week?  Then I am done in a year.  Unless I add any more to my list.  And of course, I have not even considered the new books that will come out in the next year.  There will be books from my favorite authors, books from new authors, old books that are new to me.

I want to read so many books, but there is one book I must read.  It is the bestseller of all time.  It is the book God wrote:  the Bible.  It is the story of God’s relationship with man.  It is the story of God’s love.  It is a story that you can read for yourself.  It is a story of God… and you.

God knows you have lots of books out there.  He even said in the Bible that there is no end to the making of books.  He even recognizes that trying to read and study them all can be exhausting.  But God also knows that he has a message for you.  The Bible.  Read it.  It will literally change your life. 

Blessings, 

steve

 



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