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Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there, in the cool of the day, the Master of the garden was wont to walk. Of all the denizens of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest and gentle withal. And often when the wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness, to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the garden, Which most delighted the Master’s heart.
Now, once upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting.
The Master spoke: "Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use you."
Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny.
His voice came low: "Master, I’m ready. Use me as Thou wilt."
"Bamboo," - The Master’s voice was grave --- "I would have to take you and cut you down!"
A trembling of great horror shook Bamboo…"Cut …me… down ? Me.. who thou, Master, has made the most beautiful in all thy Garden…cut me down! Ah, not that. Not that. Use me for the joy, use me for the glory, oh master, but cut me not down!"
Beloved Bamboo,"-The Master’s voice grew graver still-"If I cut you not down, I cannot use you."
The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There was a whisper:
"Master, if thou cannot use me other than to cut me down.. then do thy will and cut".
"Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would cut your leaves and branches from you also".
"Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but would thou also have to take from me, my leaves and branches too?"
"Bamboo, if I cut them not away, I cannot use you."
The Sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away. And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low: "Master, cut away"
"Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… split you in two and cut out your heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use you."
Then Bamboo bowed to the ground: "Master, Master… then cut and split."
So did the Master of the garden took Bamboo… and cut him down… and hacked off his branches… and stripped off his leaves… and split him in two… and cut out his heart.
And lifting him gently, carried him to where there was a spring of fresh sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then putting one end of the broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in His field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo… And the spring sang welcome, and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of bamboo’s torn body into the waiting fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.
In that day Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, was yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.
An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the FIRING SQUAD and the BIG, BLACK DOOR. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the FIRING SQUAD, or the BIG, BLACK DOOR?” The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the FIRING SQUAD. Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide and said, “They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the unknown. Yet, we gave him a choice.” The aide said, “What lies beyond the BIG, BLACK DOOR?” “FREEDOM”, replied the general.
A. Todd Coget
[True Meaning of Repentance, Citation: Lesslie Newbigin, Mission in Christ’s Way, pp. 2-3]
In Mission in Christ’s Way Lesslie Newbigin (d. 1996), long-time missionary to India, writes about the true meaning of repentance:
I remember once visiting a village in the Madras diocese. There was no road into the village; you reached it by crossing a river, and you could do this either on the south side of the village or on the north. The congregation had decided that I would come by the southern route, and they had prepared a welcome such as only an Indian village can prepare. There was music and fireworks and garlands and fruit and silumbum (the performance of a South Indian martial art done on ceremonial occasions)—everything you can imagine. Unfortunately I entered the village at the north end and found only a few goats and chickens. Crisis! I had to disappear while word was sent to the assembled congregation, and the entire village did a sort of U-turn so as to face the other way. Then I duly reappeared.
This is what metanoia means. The TEV translation gives a misleading impression by translating it: "Turn away from your sins." That might make it look like a traditional call for moral reformation. That is not the point. There is nothing about sins in the text (Mark 1:15). The point is: "The reign of God has drawn near, but you can’t see it because you are looking the wrong way. You are expecting the wrong thing. What you think is ’God’ isn’t God at all. You have to be, as Paul says, transformed by the renewing of your mind. You have to go through a mental revolution; otherwise the reign of God will be totally hidden from you."
AN EASTER PARABLE: EDITH EASTER
Edith Burns was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a doctor by the name of Will Phillips. Dr. Phillips was a gentle doctor who saw patients as people. His favorite patient was Edith Burns. One morning he went to his office with a heavy heart and it was because of Edith Burns.
When he walked into that waiting room, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her.
Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: "Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved. Dr. Phillips walked into that office and there he saw the head nurse, Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure. Edith began by saying, "My name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?" Beverly said, "Why yes I do." Edith said, "Well, what do you believe about Easter?" Beverly said, "Well, it's all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up." Edith kept pressing her about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Phillips said, "Beverly, don't call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there is another delivery taking place in the waiting room."
After being called back in the doctor's office, Edith sat down and when she took a look at the doctor she said, "Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?" Dr. Phillips said gently, "Edith, I'm the doctor and you're the patient." With a heavy heart he said, "Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer, and Edith, you're not going to live very long." Edith said, "Why Will Phillips, shame on you. Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I'm going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!" Dr. Phillips thought to himself, "What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is!"
Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips. Christmas came and the office was closed through January 3rd. On the day the office opened, Edith did not show up. Later that afternoon, Edith called Dr. Phillips and said she would have to be moving her story to the hospital and said, "Will, I'm very near home, so would you make sure that they put women in here next to me in my room who need to know about Easter."
Well, they did just that and women began to come in and share that room with Edith. Many women were saved. Everybody on that floor from staff to patients were so excited about Edith, that they started calling her Edith Easter; that is everyone except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. Phyllis made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a "religious nut". She had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.
One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had the flu and Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face and said, "Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you." Phyllis Cross said, "Well, you can quit praying for me, it won't work. I'm not interested." Edith said, "Well, I will pray and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family." Phyllis Cross said, "Then you will never die because that will never happen," and curtly walked out of the room.
Every day Phyllis Cross would walk into the room and Edith would say, "God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I'm praying for you." One day Phyllis Cross said she was literally drawn to Edith's room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and Edith said, "I'm so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day." Phyllis Cross said, "Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, 'Do you believe in Easter?' but you have never asked me." Edith said, "Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked..."
Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith said, "Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?" Phyllis Cross said, "Oh I want to believe that with all of my heart, and I do want Jesus in my life." Right there, Phyllis Cross prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart. For the first time Phyllis Cross did not walk out of a hospital room, s...
Sermon Central Staff
ACCEPTING THE GOOD NEWS
A promotion by H. R. Block Inc. in 2001 offered walk-in customers a chance to win a drawing for a million dollars. Glen and Gloria Sims of Sewell, New Jersey, won the drawing, but they refused to believe it when an H. R. Block representative phoned them with the good news.
After several additional contacts by both mail and phone, the Sims still thought it was all just a scam and usually hung up the phone or trashed the special notices. Some weeks later, H. R. Block called one more time to let the Sims know the deadline for accepting the million-dollar prize was nearing and that the story of their refusal to accept the prize would appear on an upcoming NBC "Today Show."
At that point, Mr. Sims decided to investigate further. A few days later he appeared on the "Today Show" to tell America that he and his wife had finally gone to H. R. Block to claim the million-dollar prize. Mr. Sims’ final words were: "From the time this has been going on, H. R. Block explained to us they really wanted a happy ending to all this, and they were ecstatic that we finally accepted the prize."
God wants a similar ending as he offers salvation to every unbeliever.
(From a sermon by Terry Blankenship, Living in Unbelief, 5/16/2011)
Brenda was a young woman that wanted to learn to go rock climbing. Although she was scared to death she went with a group and they faced this tremendous cliff of rock. Practically perpendicular. In spite of her fear, she put on the gear and she took a hold of the rope and she started up the face of that rock. Well, she got to a ledge where she could take a breather. As she was hanging on there, whoever was holding the rope up at the top of the cliff made a mistake and snapped the rope against Brenda’s eye and knocked out her contact lens. You know how tiny contact lenses are and how almost impossible to find. Well, here she is on a rock ledge, with who knows how many hundreds of feet behind and hundreds of feet above her. Of course, she looked and looked and looked, hoping that she would be able to find that contact lens. Here she was, very far from home. Her sight was now blurry. She was very upset by the fact that she wouldn’t be anywhere near a place where she could get a new contact lens. And she prayed that the Lord would help her to find it. Well, her last hope was that perhaps when she got to the top of the cliff, one of the girls that was up there on the top might be able to find her contact lens in the corner of her eye.
When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye. There was no contact lens to be found. She sat down with the rest of the party, waiting for the rest of them to come up the face of the cliff. She looked out across range after range of mountains, thinking of that Bible verse that says, "The eyes of the Lord run to and from throughout the whole earth." [2 Chron 16:9] She thought, "Lord, You can see all these mountains. You know every single stone and leaf that’s on those mountains and You know exactly where my contact lens is."
Finally, the time came when it was time to go down. They walked down the trail to the bottom. Just as they got there, there was a new party of rock climbers coming along. As one of them started up the face of the cliff, she shouted out, "Hey, you guys! anybody lose a contact lens?"
Well, that would be startling enough, wouldn't it? She had found the contact lens! But you know why she saw it? An ant was carrying that contact lens so that it was moving slowly across the face of the rock.
What does that tell you about the God of the universe? Is He in charge of the tiniest things? Do ants matter to Him? Of course they do. He made them. He designed them. Brenda told me that her father is a cartoonist.
When she told him this incredible story, he drew a picture of that ant lugging that contact lens (as you see in the comics with a balloon with words in it over his head) with the words: "Lord, I don't know why You want me to carry this thing. I can't eat it and it's awfully heavy. But if this is what You want me to do, I'll carry it for You."
If God is in charge of the ants, don't you think He cares about you and me?
I guess Solomon was right. One could learn a valuable lesson from that ant -- trust in God. We could probably all say a little more often, "God, I don't know why you want me to carry this load. I see no good in it and it's awfully heavy. Still, if you want me to, I'll carry it for You."
John Bevere puts it into perspective. "The deceived take comfort in a knowledge of a God they simply do not possess." (John Bevere, Drawing Near, pg. 87, Nelson)
2. Gary Thomas, a friend of Rick Warren, noticed that many Christians were stuck in a worship rut. He raised the question, “Since God has intentionally made us all different, why should everyone be expected to love (worship) God the same way?”(1) Gary has discovered that for 2,000 years Christians have used many different paths to enjoy intimacy with God. In his book Sacred Pathways, Gary identifies nine ways that people draw near to God:
· Naturalists love God best when they are outdoors.
· Sensates love God best when all their senses are engaged.
· Traditionalists love God best when they are able to stick close to ritual, symbols, and familiarity.
· Ascetics love God best in solitude and simplicity.
· Activists love God best when they are battling injustice and evil.
· Caregivers love God best through caring for those who hurt.
· Enthusiasts love God best by experiencing celebration.
· Contemplatives love God best through adoration and meditation.
· Intellectuals love God...
THE RHYTHM OF OUR BRAIN
Studies of mechanisms in the brain that allow complicated things to happen in a coordinated fashion have produced some of the most spectacular discoveries in neuroscience. Our brain uses different rhythms in order to do complex operations like memorizing or remembering things. Scientists say that rhythms in our brain are key to the learning process. These are called brain waves. We can develop habits that are associated with the rhythm of our brain.
A habit is defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition. A habit is a learned rhythm of life.
We can exchange bad habits by good ones and learn a new rhythm in life. The three most important habits of someone who puts God first are:
Prayer - "Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice" (Psalm 55:17).
Reading of the Bible - "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11, NIV).
Assembling Together – “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near”(Hebrews 10:25, NLT)
Max Lucado (Angels were Silent)
Describes how in a similar way we cry out for something to cut through the clutter of life, turning to faith and religion to give us simplicity, instead finding things just as complicated:
Enter, religion. We Christians have a solution for the confusion don’t we? “Leave the cluttered world of humanity,” we invite, “and enter the sane, safe garden of religion.”
Let’s be honest.
Instead of a “sane, safe garden,” how about a “wild and woolly sideshow”? It shouldn’t be the case, but when you step back and look at how religion must appear to the unreligious, well, the picture of an amusement park comes to mind.
Flashing lights of ceremony and pomp. Roller-coaster thrills of emotion. Loud music. Strange people. Funny clothes.
Like barkers on a midway preachers persuade: “Step right up to the Church of Heavenly Hope of High Angels and Happy Hearts ….”
• “Over here, madam; that church is too tough on folks like you. Try us, we teach salvation by sanctification which leads to purification and stabilization. That is unless you prefer the track of predestination which offers …”
• “Your attention, please sir. Try our premillennial, non-charismatic, Calvinistic Creed service on for size … you won’t be disappointed.”
A safe garden of serenity? No wonder a lady said to me once, “I’d like to try Jesus, if I could just get past the religion.”
He goes on to tell a favorite story of his where this simplicity was found:
Once a bishop who was traveling by ship to visit a church across the ocean. While en route, the ship stopped at an island for a day. He went for a walk on a beach. He came upon three fishermen mending their nets.
Curious about their trade he asked them some questions. Curious about his ecclesiastical robes, they asked him some questions. When they found out he was a Christian leader, they got excited. “We Christians!” they said, proudly pointing to one another.
The bishop was impressed but cautious. Did they know the Lord’s Prayer? They had never heard of it.
“What do you say, then, when you pray?”
“We pray, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.’ ”
The bishop was appalled at the primitive nature of the prayer. “That will not do.” So he spent the day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. The fishermen were poor but willing learners. And before the bishop sailed away the next day, they could recite the prayer with no mistakes.
The bishop was proud.
On the return trip the bishop’s ship drew near the island again. When the island came into view the bishop came to the deck and recalled with pleasure the men he had taught and resolved to go see them again. As he was thinking a light appeared on the horizon near the island. It seemed to be getting nearer. As the bishop gazed in wonder he realized the three fishermen were walking toward him on the water. Soon all the passengers and crew were on the deck to see the sight.
When they were within speaking distance, the fisherman cried out, “Bishop, we come hurry to meet you.”
“What is it you want?” asked the stunned bishop.
“We are so sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name …’ and then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.”
The bishop was humbled. “Go back to your homes, my friends, and when you pray say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.’ ”
Those three fisher men had encountered that you don’t have to be too complicated in your faith, you don’t have to get it all right.
Instead, they had hearts that were focused and strengthened by simple trust in God.
The two men in our story in Luke—like so many of us searching for strength and security and sense in a complicated and confounding world—ended up finding their answer in a remarkable man that cut through all of their confusion.