Monday, August 31, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Touched By An Angel

When I was writing Miracle at DormelFarms, there was a sidebar story that many writers would not have included in the book. Cows have been a major part of my life, however – when I was a toddler my brother would sit me on the back of the cows as he milked them, and a connection was made that just won't go away, so naturally I had to include this little story.

In July of 2002, America was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. When nine miners were trapped in a flooded mine under a farm in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the country – and even the world – held its breath.

At one point the rescue workers wanted to use seismograph to try to locate and communicate with the miners. The order went out for total silence. They didn't even want people to shuffle their feet, because the seismograph was set up all aroud the area and the microphones and equipment were extremely sensitive.

This was taking place on a farm, remember. In a field, just up the road there were forty-five cows that could potentially stompa hoof or moo or munch on grass and mess up the test. One of the volunteer firemen was sent to “make the cows stand still and not make any noise.”

I don't know how well you know cows, but picture trying to do this with 45 preschoolers. The challenge is the same. It's not so much that cows don't understand logic; it's that they fundamentally dislike logic. Ever try to get a cow to go back into a pasture through the same hole in the fence by which it had escaped? It ain't happenin'. So as the fireman walked up the road that day he wondered what in the world he was going to do.

“God, I need a little help here,” he prayed.

When he reached the field, he was astonished when every one of those cows stood as still as statues and stared at him without a sound for ten minutes. This fireman was a farm boy – he knew this just doesn't happen.

I have a theory about that incident that I didn't put into the book. I don't think the cows were staring at the fireman. I believe they were staring behind the fireman – at the angel with his finger on his lips.

I have no evidence to prove my theory. (Animals do seem to be sensitive to the supernatural world. Take a look at the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22:22-33.) There were a lot of miracles associated with the successful rescue of every one of the nine trapped miners. Cows standing still for ten minutes might not sound like much of a miracle, but it was a piece of the puzzle that made the rescue as a whole possible.

I've mentioned this theory to a few people, but have never put it into writing. Angels played a big part in Scripture, and nowhere does it say that they stopped being active in post-biblical history.

You may have your own angel story. I have two. I was driving in to work one day on icy roads. Icy roads are one of the factors that influenced my move to Georgia. Not fun. I wasn't going very fast because of the road conditions, and as I was coming into town a big truck in front of me stopped. I touched my brakes which promptly locked up, and I started to slide. When you're locked up, there's just no stopping. I prayed out loud, “Lord, stop me!” And He did. I think in those situations He sends His angels, and one just stood in front of my car and stopped it.

The other occasion probably required a couple of angels. I was stopped on a two-lane highway to make a left turn. There was a small rise in the road behind me, but there was no reason why the tractor trailer driver couldn't have seen me in time to slow down if he had been going the speed limit. Unfortunately, he was flying. I couldn't move because traffic was coming from the opposite direction. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that big rig barreling down on me and just knew this was the end. Somehow he managed to get far enough off the road to zip past me. The whole car shook, and I'm sure the angels standing arm-in-arm around my car had brushburns. But I lived to tell the story.

Lest I be misunderstood, I'd like to make a few points about angels. Don't take my word for it – look up the verses I refer to.

1 - Angels are created beings and are not to be worshipped. 1 Peter 3:21-22 - “. . . Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Read the whole chapter for context. All creation, including angels will be subject to Jesus, and Hebrews 1:6 exhorts angels to worship Him. In Revelation 19:10 an angel admonishes John for falling down to worship him. And do I need to remind you of the first commandment? “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:1-6.

2 - Angels are called “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). They serve God and follow his orders. In Daniel 6, God sent an angel to protect Daniel in the lion's den. In Acts 5:19-20, an angel opened the prison doors to release Peter. The examples in Scripture are numerous.

3 - Christ didn't die for angels, so they cannot be saved. That's why the devil and his demons are fallen angels for all eternity: in Revelation 20:10, the devil is thrown into the lake of fire. See the fall of these angels in Isaiah 14:12-14. 1 Peter 1:12 (again read the whole chapter), in speaking about salvation tells us that angels long to look into the mystery of salvation. Imagine their amazement when Christ, who they worshipped and obeyed allowed Himself to come to earth and go to the cross for measly old human beings!

4 - Please don't tell your children that “grandma went to heaven to be an angel.” Humans do not become angels. Remember, angels cannot comprehend the whole idea of salvation. 1 Corinthians 15 gives a long dissertation on the ressurection and in a potentially confusing passage explains that our human bodies will be exchanged for imperishable bodies. Don't get lost in the perishables and imperishables. What it all boils down to is that we will have a glorified body like that of Jesus Christ, not that of an angel.

Why have I given you this theology lecture? Because we're exposed to a lot of misinformation about angels, and people are too quick to worship anything other than God. It's vital that we know what the Bible says about this or any other subject we're exploring.
I don't carry an “angel in my pocket,” but I do believe God sends His angels to protect us, minister to us or otherwise help us. There may be times when you are“touched by an angel,” but don't confuse the messenger with the God who sends that messenger. The miracle at Dormel Farms was aided by angels, but the God of those angels was the One who performed the miracles. And He alone is worthy to be worshipped.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

It's Just Ducky

We had a beautiful four days of revival services this week at my church. It was exhausting, and I lost track of what day it is, but four teenagers got saved and that made it all worth it. Perhaps you're wondering that it means to be saved. The verse above tells us about God's love for us even when we were or are sinners. I hope today's blog will give you some insight into just what that means.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5: 6-8 (NASB)

As an animal lover, I've gone to some extremes to take care of my pets. I've bottle fed kittens. I cared for my ailing llama for a month until I was finally able to admit that he wasn't going to make it. And I've jumped into the creek twice to rescue my ducks.

I know what you're thinking – don't ducks like the water? Yes, but in both cases there was a very good reason. And fortunately, unless there's been massive rain storms, the creek is usually less than 18 inches deep.

The first occasion was when a dog or some other nasty critter dragged my duck out of the pen. I looked for her a long time and finally found her in the creek, bloody, but alive. What else was there to do? I went in after her. Performed some ducky first aid, and she survived.

Years later a different duck got caught in a muskrat trap. Again, the search, and when I found her I went straight in and pulled her and the trap out of the water. It was an effort to get the trap off of her leg, but once we did it was again time for ducky first aid. That was followed by a call to the Game Commission. Did you know there's an identifying number on traps? There is, and since the guy had #1 - no permission to put the trap on our property and #2 - it was within 500 feet of the house, he was blessed with a $200 fine. The Game Commission officer told me the fellow was thunderstruck: “All this over a stupid duck!?”

But she was my stupid duck. By the way, ducky first aid isn't easy. In the photos you see that same duck on a later occasion when she damaged her wing. The only thing we could think of was to cut the leg off a pair of long underwear and use it as a splint. Somehow the duck always managed to get out of it. We have no idea how. Just call her Houdini.

There have been a number of illustrations given of why Jesus came to earth as a man. This is mine. I went into the creek, shoes and all, because I loved my duck. Jesus came to earth as a man to suffer and die, to bear the sins of the world on His holy shoulders because He loves us.

Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

God is holy, and we fall short of His glory. So then how can we be saved? On our own we can't. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There's our choice. Eternal death or the free gift of eternal life. It seems like a no-brainer. Who would choose eternity in hell? Any thinking person would opt for eternal life. Here's the thing: you can't work for a free gift, and the Bible says there is only one way to heaven. Jesus is the “way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” John 14:6.

Good news! It's Christmas, and a gift is lying there under “the tree.” All you have to do is accept it. I invite you to pray and ask Jesus to give you this free gift. There's no “magic prayer”, but you can use this as a guide.

Heavenly Father, I know that I'm a sinner. I know there's no way for me to save myself. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I accept the free gift of eternal life you have offered me, and I ask you to come into my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life and make me the person you want me to be. In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you've prayed this or a similar prayer, please email me. I can direct you to further information so that you can live your life in the future for the God who loved you enough to jump into the creek for you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Talking Animals

I'm going off the reservation this week.  Rather than a devotional, I'd like to share some memories of animal friends, many of them long gone. What brings this to mind tonight is the loss of my niece's dog, Monte, after a long illness.

Don't worry - I'm not going to be morbid. What I've been thinking about is how my mom related to animals.  On the farm we had cows, pigs, dogs, ducks, and of course, barn cats. What we didn't have was animals in the house.  Not officially, that is. I loved my cats and would always have a special one or two that I would bring into the house for a few minutes . . . or an hour. Sooner or later Mom would say, "Put that cat out."

They loved to walk all over "Grandma".
 At lower right under her arm is Oksana -
I still have her 21 years later!
As an adult I had my own apartment and for the first time a bona fide house cat. When it became necessary to move home, there was no question about Cindy moving in with me. It mushroomed from there. Together Mom and I bottle fed six kittens (not all at the same time). The deal was that they would stay in the house until they were old enough to go out to the barn.  Somehow they never got old enough to go out to the barn.

We had an initiation process for all of our dogs. Mom had an old plaid scarf. She wore that thing on her head for most of my life. At some point it became (my) tradition to bring the dog in the house and put the scarf on its head. There is nothing so funny as a dog wearing a granny scarf. I literally fell over laughing when I put the scarf on my dog Sara's head. Sara laughed, too (I swear she did) and ran over to Mom to get an opinion.

My animals all called my mom Grandma. And they spoke to her -- using my voice, of course. I've always made my animals talk. Some people might find that a little crazy, but it certainly helped out when I wrote my first children's book

What was funny was that when they asked Grandma a question, she never answered me. She looked at the animal who was addressing her and answered it. I remember one time we were doing first aid on a duck (more on that next week) and Joey the cat came over to sniff the duck. 

Joey said, "Grandma, I like this, this -- what did you call it?"

Mom picked Joey's front legs up, looked him in the eyes and said, "Ducky Lucky."

This from the woman who always tried to act tough when it came to animals. In many ways, she was as bad as me!  It wasn't unusual for me to have a cat or two or three in bed with me. They make great foot warmers in the winter.  But Mom always said she didn't like animals in her bed. That is, not until Daniel came along. She (yes, I know - we made a mistake on the gender, but she learned her name and I couldn't change it!) was one of the kittens we bottle fed. We nursed her through an illness and was the sweetest little thing. She always stayed petite, which made her even more endearing. When Daniel decided she wanted to sleep in Grandma's bed at night, Mom didn't chase her off.  Mom got a towel so Daniel could sleep on one corner of the bed.
"Grandma" and Sparkle

At Mom's funeral we brought an electronic photo album that we let run for the visitors. Many of the photos included not only her human family, but animals, as well. Almost against her will she became known as an animal person.

As my family bids farewell to Monte, I think Mom would have been sad, too. I doubt she would ever admit that she loved her animals. She always said, "You can't love anything that can't love you back." Her actions throughout her life spoke louder than her protests, however. And as any animal lover will tell you, animals do love you back.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Like A Magnet

I can't help but follow up Friday's blog about the Macedonian call. I encouraged you (and me!) to heed God's call. Sometimes it's not easy to know what that looks like.

I thought about that today. How many times had I heard or read someone's testimony: “I know God wanted me to talk to that person.” And they proceeded to share the gospel and met a need or introduced the person to the Lord. I've never been very good at just jumping in and starting a serious conversation with total strangers, and there have been times when I thought, “Should I say something or not?” Afterwards I wondered, did I miss God's call? How does one know God is telling you to talk to someone?

I think I finally know. My church is having revival services next week, and we have some flyers to hand out. That's still out of my comfort zone, but it's much easier to walk up to someone and hand them something than to feel obligated to start a conversation. Still, I haven't been as enthusiastic about it as I should be.

Yesterday I was pulling in to a gas pump and saw a man standing off to the side with a sign: “Homeless. Family will work for food.” I always wish I could do more to help someone like that. I know some of them are scam artists, but others are genuinely victims of circumstances beyond their control and need a hand up. I thought about him the whole time I was pumping gas. I only had about 80 cents in my wallet. That wasn't enough to buy anything to eat or drink. What could I do for him?

As I got back in my car and turned the key, I knew I had to stop. I had no choice. I was like a piece of steel being drawn by a magnet. I pulled around the corner and walked over to the man and poured my change into his hand. Then I noticed the word “family” on his sign. I asked him if he had children in the school system. As part of our revival services, we were giving away school supplies. I went back to the car and gave him a flyer. I invited him to church Sunday to get a free meal and school supplies.
I drove away knowing God had told me to talk to that man.
Will he and his family come to church Sunday? Maybe, maybe not. That's not my job. The Holy Spirit will work in his heart, and then it will be the man's choice to listen or not. My job was to respond to God's call.

What does that call look like? This is just one of ways He speaks to us. Trust me, when you feel the pull of that magnet, you'll know God is calling. All you have to do is respond.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Macedonian Cow

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9-10 (NASB)

I can still hear Mom's voice calling the cows. She stood either behind the barn or often on the front porch and let loose, “Come, Boss! Come, Boss! Soo-oook! Soo-oook!” Her voice could be heard a half mile away – far enough to be heard in the back pasture. Within minutes the obedient Bossy appeared leading a line of cows.

Like most farmers, I have a lot of cow stories. In particular, “the cows are out” stories. Those words bring mixed emotions. On the one hand, our day is interrupted and the cows have to be dealt with. Cows don't like being dealt with. On the other hand, it was a nice break in the hum-drum day-to-day routine of farmlife. As a kid I enjoyed the adventure. You'll be seeing several of the memorable adventures of the Dwire farm, but here I'd like to focus on a couple of wanderers.

Cows can be downright dumb, but young steers – like most teenagers -- are especially adept at making poor decisions. One pair of young steers broke out of the pasture and went on the run. A neighbor spotted them near a sawmill about a mile away. Unfortunately, there was also a large wooded area and nothing to slow them down. We searched for hours, and for the first time ever, Mom's cow call failed to draw them in.

I thought of those steers last Sunday as my Pastor preached on the Scripture text above. He pointed out verses 6 - 8, where Paul desired to turn east into Asia to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit let him know that east was not the right direction. So Paul decided to stick to cities on the west coast of Asia Minor, but that wasn't God's plan for his ministry either.

Verses 9 and 10 share the vision Paul had of a man across the Aegean Sea beckoning him to “Come help us.” We know it as the Macedonian call, and countless sermons have been preached on it.

I glanced ahead to the following verses in chapter 16. Paul and his team crossed the sea and their first ministry stop was in Philippi. There we find another story that has been the topic of many sermons and books - the story of the Philippian jailer. You know how it goes. Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the Gospel. They were beaten and jailed and in the midst of the miserable conditions and sufferings they sang hymns of praise.

Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey
The Lord responded with an earthquake that blew the doors of the cells open. The jailer hurries in, is about to kill himself because he knew what punishment he faced if the prisoners escaped, but Paul's voice stopped him in his tracks. The jailer and his family are saved as a result. Was the jailer the man Paul saw in his vision pleading for help?

The story of that Philippian jail begins with the Macedonian call. Paul's response to that call set off a series of events that led to the spread of the Gospel and took him all the way to Athens. If not for his obedience to the Spirit's call we wouldn't have the books of Philippians, Thessalonians or Corinthians, for all of these cities were stops on Paul's 2nd missionary journey in Macedonia

What does this have to do with our missing steers? Those stupid steers ignored Mom's call and so were left wandering in a strange woods, crossing roads, jumping over at least one person's car and dealing with other frightening experiences. Three days after their escape, a neighboring farmer called to say they had broken into his pasture and were relaxing with his cows. My brother retrieved them without incident, but whether they learned their lesson or not is a matter of opinion.

How often do we ignore God's call and end up in a strange wilderness? Sure, Paul's response to the call also got him a beating and thrown in jail, but would Paul say the suffering was worth the harvest of souls that came with it? We find his answer in Philippians 1:18 (Philippi, remember - the place of his beating and jailing). “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”\

The first call you need to heed is the call to salvation. Tune in next week to learn more about that. If you've already answered the call to salvation, then God is calling you to His service, whether across the ocean or across the street. Do you hear His call?

“Come Christian! Come Christian! Soo-oook! Soo-ooook!”