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Cliff Jumping

AdobeStock_14254754_email650“Don’t jump,” the wise voice of sanity said in the back of my brain. It was quickly followed by my foolish voice of insanity which mockingly laughed and said, “You can do it. Jump!”

I jumped.

A moment later I found myself clinging to a Grand Canyon outcropping which stood out like a finger reaching far into the sky. It stood alone about four feet from where I had jumped and about three feet lower. To jump back to safety would require an Olympian long jump I was not capable of making. The drop on all sides seemed at least one hundred feet.

I was alone. The sun was setting. I was in trouble.

The Bible is full of stories of men and women who are in desperate trouble. More often then not, it is a result of their own foolish decisions. Like me, they “jumped,” knowing full well it was a bad idea.

So why do we still jump?

I came across an article written by my father many years ago titled, “How Forgiven Are We?” It seemed rather appropriate for all of us foolish and sinful “cliff jumpers.” In it, he takes us to Romans 7 and discusses our “unrelenting struggle between our spiritual desires and our desires that are totally contrary to God.” Paul says it this way, “…the trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself…” Sound familiar?

In my Dad’s article, he goes on to explain the incredible Good News of what Jesus accomplished at the cross for us – a full pardon “even for the sins we commit today.” Oh, that is Good News!

He then asked his readers to do something. He asks us to open our Bibles to Luke 7:36-50. In this familiar passage a sinful woman pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Feel the incredible emotion as “…her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair.”

Now, in all the places where the passage refers to “the woman,” insert your name. Dad said, “Open your Bible and read it aloud to yourself. Do it right now.” Bring yourself to verse 48. Here Jesus says to the woman and thus says to those of us who believe in Him, “_________, your sins are forgiven.”

What a beautiful Easter message! What a beautiful message for every other day, too. Our sins are forgiven! Complete and unconditional grace. “At the cruel cross,” my Dad explained, “the blessed Son of God received from His beloved Father all the judgment and punishment you and I deserve. There at the cross Jesus exclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ He completed all that was required for divine justice to forgive us completely and totally – no matter the depth of our sin.”

Back on that cliff…

My brother Gregg and a college buddy, Paul, were with me there in the Grand Canyon. They had ventured off to find some food and water while I foolishly jumped out onto the precipice. I’ll never forget my brother’s look of confounded wonder as they found me stuck on the cliff. Gregg has literally had to save my life more than once so perhaps this was not completely unexpected.

Risking his own life, Gregg leaned over the cliff with an outstretched arm as Paul held onto his belt and leaned back to create a fulcrum. Gregg looked at me and calmly and confidently said, “I got you.” In one motion, I reached out, grabbed his arm, and Gregg pulled me over the ledge to safety. He then whacked me over the head – followed by a long embrace.

Happy Easter…and happy Every Day…to all of us “cliff jumpers.”

Moses’ Logistical Issues

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There’s been a lot of talk about numbers these days: inauguration day numbers, immigration numbers, cost of a 60-second Super Bowl commerical number, and even the Dow Jones surpassing 20,000 number. We like numbers.

All this talk about numbers reminded me of a report I read a while back about Moses and the ancient Israelites. Bible scholars suggest that when you include all the men, women, and children who walked out of Egypt, there were some 2.4 million people (see Exodus 12:37-38). Now that’s a big number. You also need to consider they also took along “a rabble of non-Israelites along with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38).

An apparent report by a Quartermaster General in the Army claimed that to feed that many people, you would need at least 3 million pounds of food and 11 million gallons of water every day. The report also claimed they would need a campground two-thirds the size of Rhode Island to pitch their tents, pen their animals, and roast marshmallows by the campfire. (OK, I made the marshmallow part up.)

Then there’s this: remember when the people of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army? God tells Moses to “pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:16).

The Quartermaster report said that if you tried to cross the Red Sea double file on a narrow path, it would take 35 days and nights to get everyone across. But Exodus 14:21-22 says,“…the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”

For the people of Israel to walk across in one day, the Quartermaster report stated, God would have cut a path through the Red Sea at least three miles wide allowing the people to walk across 5,000 abreast.

Now there is no way my mathematically challenged brain can figure out if any of this Quartermaster report stuff is correct. But it certainly brought a greater understanding that food, and water, and armies, and Pharoahs, and logistics, and oceans, and whatever other troubles we may be facing, are not problems for our God. He may not answer or move in a way we want or even expect, in fact I would suggest He usually doesn’t. But He is always in control. He is never caught off guard. He is always up to some much bigger plan than we can see or understand, and He will always accomplish His purposes.

How do we respond to such wonder and amazement? The Psalmist David gives us an example, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:4-6).

Grace & Traffic Signs

As usual, I was running a bit late taking my kids to school during my carpool days. I always had specific instructions not to be late.  But of course, I always was.

On this particular day my daughter, Abby, who was thirteen at the time, seemed relatively unfazed by our tardiness. Besides, she had me to blame.  My youngest son, David, however, who was ten, believes if he’s not five minutes early, he’s late. So while Abby and I were relaxed in the front seats, David was stewing in the back.

By the time we got near the school, the line of traffic was backed up for several blocks. “See!” David said exasperated, reminding me why Mom said to leave the house early.  We were inching along when we came to a side road that would enable us to circumvent an entire block or two of traffic. “Turn here, Daddy,” Abby said.  Immediately behind her, however, David, yelled, “No!  Mom said you can’t turn there because of the sign.”

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The sign in question simply read, “No thru traffic. Residents only.”  I paused for a moment considering the various interpretations of the word, “resident.”  Recognizing my hesitation, Abby began excitedly yelling, “Turn, Daddy, turn!” while David in the back seat yelled in horror, “No, Daddy, no!” I felt like Pinocchio with two opposing Jiminy Crickets.

I turned, of course.

I well understand why Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist anything except temptation.”  For a moment I was thrilled with my decision feeling certain I would circumvent dozens of cars and perhaps even get to school on time.

That’s when I saw the flashing lights.

“See!” David yelled out in anguish, clearly miserable with the foolishness of his father.  Abby and I looked at each other with big wide eyes.  Then we turned around and looked at David in the back seat. He was so visibly angry and upset, he looked as if someone ate his bowl of ice cream, left his baseball glove out in the rain, and canceled P.E. for the rest of the year.  And for some reason, this sight caused Abby and me to explode into fits of laughter.

About this time the officer reached our car and asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” speaking loudly to overcome our loud laughter snorts.  “Of course I do,” I said trying to compose myself.  “You saw the sign?” the policeman asked, apparently not accustomed to people being happy about getting a ticket.  “I most certainly did,” I answered, “but I turned anyway…because she made me” I exclaimed, pointing at my daughter who was wiping tears from her cheeks. “But my son told me not to,” I continued, “and now he’s so mad we could fry and egg on his forehead.”

The officer peered into the back seat and saw the steam rising from David’s ears. “Oh my,” he said, a bit perplexed with the stark differences emanating from the front and back seats.

Then the officer did the most unexpected thing.  He scratched his head, peered back in the car, and then smiled. “I can’t give someone a ticket who’s in such a good mood,” he said.  “Besides, looks like you have enough trouble in the back seat.”  With that he asked me to not turn there again and wished us a good day.

By definition, grace is “kindness we don’t deserve,” and I certainly received some from the police officer that day. But grace has far deeper and grandeur meaning. Christians define grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” The Bible describes grace as a gift we do not deserve, but one God gives us anyway. Church hymnbooks are filled with songs expressing the wonder of God’s amazing grace. The full impact is expressed in this succinct Bible verse, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Grace is a beautiful thing.  Receiving it from others will make your day.  Receiving it from God, however, will make your eternity.

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