What magical sounds, sights, or smells transport you back to your childhood? When I hear the words, “Once upon a time,” I’m instantly a child again. I love story; it captures elusive truth and hands it to me so I can carry it close to my heart.
Once upon a time the prophet, Jeremiah, dared to tell a terrible truth. Judah, his homeland, was at war with Babylon.
“Babylon is going to win this war,” Jeremiah proclaimed in a message from God. “Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die, but those who leave and go over to the Babylonians will live.”
What? Defect to the enemy? Traitor! That’s how many people branded Jeremiah. His wasn’t a message any red-blooded patriot wanted to hear.
Some politicians who were members of the royal family were outraged. “Kill Jeremiah,” they said to King Zedekiah. “He’s bad for morale. He’s weakening the military and the people with his words.”
“Do what you want.” The king shrugged. “I’m not strong enough to stand against your wishes.”
The politicians wanted Jeremiah dead, but they didn’t want to murder him outright. That wouldn’t look good, and they didn’t want blood on their hands. So, they lowered him with ropes into a deep, narrow cistern where he sunk in mud. He could die a slow and painful death from exposure or starvation there, but they hadn’t exactly murdered him themselves, had they?
Shivering and miserable, stuck in mud and his own filth, unable to climb out of the pit, Jeremiah began the slow process of dying. What would claim him first, starvation or exposure? No wonder Jeremiah’s nickname was “the weeping prophet.”
What had he done to earn such terrible suffering? He’d told a hard truth God had instructed him to tell. He hadn’t liked sharing it; Jeremiah loved his country and wanted it to prosper as much as the next patriot. Now he was dying in agony, forgotten by God and man.
Or was he? God never forgets, and God always has a man.
Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian servant, was God’s man.
Bravely, he told the king. “Those princes of yours have done a wicked thing. Jeremiah is starving to death.”
The easily influenced king said, “Take thirty men with you, and get Jeremiah out of that pit before he dies.”
It wouldn’t take thirty men to pull one emaciated prophet from a pit; the men were for protection.
Ebed-Melech grabbed some ropes and old rags and hurried to the pit.
Someone defined compassion as “your pain in my heart.” Ebed-Melech felt compassion. He must have imagined what it would feel like to be in so much pain, half starved, and then hauled up by ropes. How could he make it easier for Jeremiah?
“Put these rags under your arms so the ropes don’t cut into your skin,” he called down to Jeremiah. Then they hauled Jeremiah up to safety.
Wanted: Kindness and old rags.
It seems that kindness felt but not acted out turns to callousness. We see and hear of so much need, so much agony in the world around us. People are suffering in pits of pain, mentally, physically, emotionally. We hear it on the news; we read it on Facebook.
What would Ebed-Melech do? We might want to haul everyone out of pits; that we cannot do, but a little kindness goes a long way to someone suffering. I think old E.M., if he were alive today, would find a way to send a rag even if it were just by a card or a name breathed in prayer. And if he could do more, he would do that too.
I love story, and Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” was one of my favorites. What was the rest of the story for E.M.? Jerusalem did fall to Babylon, just as Jeremiah had said, but God spared E.M.’s life. You can read about it in Jeremiah 39:15-18.
Ebed-Melech wasn’t even his real name; those words just mean “servant of the king.”
Once upon a time, there was a nameless man, who did a great deed of kindness with a heartful of courage and a handful of old rags. I bow to you, E.M. We desperately need more of you in the hurting story our world is writing today. May your tribe increase!
by Donna Poole, Lickley Corners Baptist Church, Pittsford, Michigan
Donna Poole has served for many years with her pastor-husband John at Lickley Corners Baptist Church in Pittsford, MI. The MARBC family has been praying for Donna as she continues treatments to deal with Stage 4 lung cancer. Donna is a prolific writer who shares often about the life she and John share as a pastoral couple in rural Michigan. Her new book, "If the Creek Don't Rise" has recently been released for purchase on Amazon. It is the second part of a two volume set titled, "Life at the Corners." The first book in the set, "Corners Church," is also available on Amazon books.
[Click here to see Donna Poole's books at Amazon](https://smile.amazon.com/Creek-Dont-Rise-Donna-Poole/dp/B08R8ZDFN5/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2EQQIYAFCG0GF&dchild=1&keywords=if+the+creek+dont+rise+donna+poole&qid=1614637747&sprefix=If+the+Creek,aps,188&sr=8-1)
Are you familiar with a man by the name of Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen? What a novel name for you prospective parents to consider! Nansen was a renowned scholar who possessed great knowledge in many diverse fields. Born in Norway in 1861, Fridtjof gained a reputation as an explorer, scientist, diplomat, and humanitarian. He was highly regarded for his wealth of experience until his death in 1930.
At the age of 27, Nansen led a team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888. Amazingly this courageous team made the traverse across the island on cross-country skis. A few years later, Fridtjof led a historic three-year expedition to the Arctic Ocean in a search for the North Pole. He retired from exploration after this challenging feat and returned to his native Norway.
Nansen’s techniques of polar travel, along with his innovations in equipment and clothing, influenced a generation of explorers who ventured in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions. He was ultimately recognized as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Additionally, the lead ships in the Royal Norwegian Navy bear the name “Fridtjog Nansen” in his honor.
One particular aspect of Fridtjof Nansen’s Arctic journey stands out. During the extreme challenges of the exploration, it became necessary for Nansen to guide his ship into very deep waters. As part of his studies, he would drop a sounding line to check the ocean’s depth. He recorded the date, time, location, and the length of line it took to find the ocean floor. As the ship made its way north, Nansen found that the measuring line was too short to reach the bottom of the ocean. So, he made a notation in his log that read, “deeper than that.”
Nansen would then instruct his crew to find an additional length of rope on the ship to connect to the one that had been used previously for measurements. When they lowered the longer sounding line, they found that it was still too short to find the ocean’s bottom. Having the same result, he used the same notation as before, “deeper than that.” Even after adding yet additional rope, the ocean’s floor was still out of reach. So, once again, the note was written as, “deeper than that.” Finally, he used all of the rope available on the ship but still came up short in completing his measurements. The explorer entered into his logbook a final notation that listed the final length of line used and a statement that simply declared, “still deeper than that.”
What was true for Nansen in seeking to find the depth of the ocean’s floor is even truer when it comes to God’s love for you and me. No matter how we may try to measure it, God’s love is “deeper than that.” John, the Apostle best known as “The Apostle of Love,” often sought to drop a sounding line in order to measure God’s love in the writings that became a part of the canon of scripture. The most famous of His sounding lines is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). After yet another futile attempt to drop a sounding line to measure the depth of God’s love in his letter known as First John, John proclaims, “See what kind of the love the Father has given [or “lavished”] to us!” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Ultimately, John runs out of rope for an additional sounding and writes in both profound and simple terms “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
The fact that God is love is a certainty. Yet we are overwhelmed and challenged by the task of trying to explain this incredible doctrine in terms that can be grasped. Theologian A.W. Tozer struggled to explain God’s love as well. He once said, “I can no more do justice to this awesome and wonder-filled topic than a child can grasp a star. Still, by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. And so, I stretch my heart toward the high, shining love of God so that we may be encouraged to look up and have hope.”
The last time in my life when the culture was in an uproar and upheaval that parallels today’s world, it was the spring of 1965. Famous contemporary songwriters, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, penned a song which they hoped would bring into focus what their world needed. They proclaimed in song and lyric, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. No, not just for some, but for everyone.” The lyrics contained an earnest sentiment that became a popular recording for several singers in subsequent years. One of those recordings included sound bites in the background of yelling mobs, stunning news reports of tragic events, and political commentary. However, while lamenting the world’s need of love, the song failed to point to the source of such love or the reservoir where that love can be found in infinite supply.
However, Christians and churches, you and I can! While we cannot begin to describe all of its facets and hues, we can indeed point not just to the source of such love, but the One Who IS Love! As Paul the Apostle proclaims, “[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV)
An obscure contemporary of Nansen was a man who lived in London, England, by the name of Samuel Trevor Francis. While you may not recognize his name, as a Christian you have been impacted by his life story. Experiencing great agony as a teenager in the early 1850s, Francis contemplated suicide while standing on a bridge that arched over the River Thames. As he looked at the body of water below that would soon seal his doom, he was overwhelmed by sight of the swollen liquid mass. His heart soon reflected on the vastness of the love of Jesus Christ and turned away for his horrific plan.
Reflecting upon his shallow thinking and the depth of God’s love, Francis penned the words to the highly regarded song, “O the Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus.” The first stanza illustrates the depth of Christ’s love: “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me! Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love, leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!” Francis found in Christ’s love Someone, as well as something, more significant and overwhelming than the despair of his life.
Much attention will undoubtedly be given to the theme of love during this month. My great hope for all of us is that we might desire a better understanding of the love of God and embrace it. What a blessing it is to discover that even when we think we have come to understand its depth, it goes even deeper than that!
Yes, very much deeper than that – you have His Word on it!
MARBC Ministry Director
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell,
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair bowed down with care -
God gave His Son to win.
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry -
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints' and angels' song!
Songwriters: Robby Shaffer / Jim Bryson / Mike Scheuchzer / Nathan Cochran / Bart Millard / Pete Kipley
The Love of God lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
I’m sure that you may be like me and have grown weary of reading countless articles and web posts with opening paragraphs that recognize the obvious: 2020 was an incredibly difficult and challenging year. While it is one thing to state the obvious, it is quite another to glean meaningful takeaways and lessons learned as we move forward.
Several years ago, author Alan Smith related the traumatic story of a missionary family in China in his column “Thought for the Day.” The missionary family was forced to leave the China soon after the communists took over the country many years ago. A group of soldiers knocked on the door and told the missionary couple that they and their children had two hours to pack up before they would be escorted to the train station in order to be removed from the country. The husband and wife would each be permitted to take belongings weighing no more than one hundred pounds. That amounted to two hundred pounds for the couple.
Once the soldiers left, the couple began to debate what belongings were the most precious and worthy of joining them once they were deported. Keepsakes, family mementoes, practical objects used in their ministry, books, and other items were evaluated for their importance. Each object was then placed on the bathroom scale to determine if the physical weight matched the weight of its value.
At the end of 120 minutes of frantic decision making, the couple finally had a pile of possessions that totaled exactly two hundred pounds. Even though they could take some precious items with them, they couldn’t help but greatly lament over what would have to be left behind.
Their lamentations were rudely interrupted as the demanding knock on the door announced the soldiers’ return. "Are you ready?" they demanded. "Yes." "Did you weigh your possessions?" "Yes, we did." "Does it weigh no more than two hundred pounds?" "Yes, two hundred pounds on the dot."
"Does the weight include your children?" "What? We have to weigh our children?" In an instance, all the items that had been deemed as precious and valuable also landed on the trash pile. None of it meant anything compared to the surpassing value of their precious children.
Perhaps one of the most significant lessons our world has struggled with in 2020 is what should be deemed valuable in life and what should not. A pandemic did not just reveal the human immune system’s vulnerability to a disease identified as COVID-19. It glaringly revealed the human race’s pre-existing terminal condition of spiritual disease as the result of sin.
Opinions and emotions were amplified and exaggerated under the duress of COVID complications. Angry shouting replaced reasoned discussion. Minor inconveniences became major points of contention which resulted in great acrimony. Major choices were demanded that were not just difficult but gut wrenching and life altering.
Sadly, the church has not been immune to some of the ungodly attitudes and behaviors exhibited worldwide. Which brings us to the issues of the year ahead. A valid question we should all be asking as a new year dawns is, “what lessons have we learned as a result of the year that just passed?”
Indeed, how will the lessons of the past year better prepare us for the choices that will confront us in the next? The timely counsel which Paul the Apostle shares with the Ephesian church is an appropriate admonition for today’s Christians moving forward: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Let’s not be guilty of once again accumulating what could end up being two hundred pounds of unvaluable “trash” while neglecting to acknowledge what is of spiritual and eternal value. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7-8)
We pray for the encouragement and strengthening of the churches and friends of the MARBC as the year 2021 begins as we trust God to provide wise guidance and spiritual enablement.
Walking by faith,
MARBC Ministry Director
What a remarkable time it is in which to live! Entire nations have been brought to a standstill by an unseen enemy that is no respecter of persons, nationalities, or social status. Standard operating procedures are being thrown out the window. Improvisation is the new normal.
“The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9, ESV)
How did it go for you, your family, and your church family as you experienced the second “unique” Lord’s Day during this COVID-19 pandemic? Before I share with you something I gleaned from this past Lord's Day, I need to share with you what occurred three days earlier.
I experienced personal sadness as a direct result of this dreaded virus this past Thursday. I traveled to southwest Ohio where an Assisted Living Facility is located. My elderly mother is a resident there and I was meeting my younger sister in the facility’s parking lot.
As a new year approaches, it is typically accompanied by a review and analysis of what transpired in the closing year and the anticipated challenges, opportunities, and outcomes of the approaching year. It is amazing how changing one page of the calendar can produce such an intellectual and emotional exercise of contemplation and anticipation.