First blog post

Advertisements

A New Fable for Christmas

The  subject line is a subtitle for the Christmas story, The Shepherd Left Behind.  It has become, among some families, a standard to read to their children or to listen to the masterful narration by Charles Kahlenberg.
Last year, I added a bonus story about an imagined midwife who helped Mary deliver the baby Jesus.  This short story is not narrated in the audiobook, but readers have found this part of the fable a good, short read.
Following are the first few pages of the original story, The Shepherd Left Behind.   It answers a question: do you think that shepherds who had been living in the fields with their flocks would leave them untended when they rushed off to Bethlehem to see the Messiah the angels had told them about?  No, they left a nine-year-old boy, Joshua, to stay with the sheep. What happens to him is the story.
~~~~~~~~~

Joshua should have been cold, but the campfire was burning and he had a lamb snuggled on each side. His woolen cloak was enough. Besides, the wonders of the night still made him tingle.

The glory he had seen and the music he had heard were more than anything he’d known in all his nine years. Nothing would ever be the same.

Although he was alone with the sheep, he was not worried. After all that brilliant creature of light had said, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy.”

Somehow, the deep feeling of peace had lingered. Then something pulled at his cloak and it wasn’t a lamb.

“Hello, are you lonely?”

When he turned around, Joshua saw a boy dressed in white robes smiling at him.

He was supposed to have been alone. The shepherds, including his uncle, had all gone into Bethlehem to see the glory the dazzling creatures had told them about.

“Who are you and how did you get here?” Joshua said.

“Well, I’m called Jude. I came along with Gabe to sing with the choir.”

“All those creatures are gone. They left after they sang that wonderful music.”

“Those creatures, as you call them, are angels. They, or we, came to announce the birth of God’s own Son.”

“Are you an angel?”

“Yes. After we had gone back into heaven, Gabe—more formally known as Gabriel—looked back and saw that all the shepherds had hurried away to see the baby Jesus. They left you, alone, to watch the sheep. He was concerned that you might be afraid, and sent me to be with you.”

Joshua had noticed that the robes Jude wore seemed much too white for a boy in the open country and they seemed to have a soft glow.

“I’m not scared. Not now anyway,” Joshua said.

Jude sat beside Joshua. The lamb on that side snuggled its head in the visitor’s lap as if they were old friends.

“So now, how long are you going to stay with me?” Joshua said.

The angel looked up from stroking the lamb’s head.

“As long as you need me.”

“What will the shepherds find when they get to Bethlehem?”

“When they search, as Gabe has told them, they’ll find the Baby, his mother, Mary and her husband, Joseph. They are in a stable near the inn. There was no room for them there. After He was born, they wrapped him in baby clothes and laid him in a feed trough on some hay. When the other shepherds return, they’ll tell you all about it.”

The sky was bright with a three-quarters moon and clear. It seemed dark, though, after the blazing glory Joshua had seen.

Jude sat beside him, still stroking the head of the lamb.

“Oh, how I wish I could see it all,” Joshua said.

“Gabe thought you’d say that. He told me to show you.”

“How?”

“Just remember what Gabe told the other shepherds, and look in the direction of the town.”

When Joshua followed the angel’s directions, the scene from the inn’s stable stood before him. It was certainly what Jude had described —cows, donkeys and sheep were there, along with the shepherd that had been watching over their own sheep with the boy, just hours before. They were kneeling on the dirt floor. Even the animals were quiet and seemed awed.

Inside the ramshackle building, though, a light—more powerful than candles—glowed. It came from the baby lying on the straw and gleamed in the face of his mother. The shepherds were kneeling before the wonderful mystery that Gabriel had foretold.
~~~~~~~~~

Now, the story really begins.

If you want to see what others think, look at Amazon’s reviews. https://www.amazon.com/Shepherd-Left-Behind-Thomas-Drinkard-ebook/dp/B017VL6LMG/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1542412720&sr=8-6&keywords=Thomas+drinkard#customerReviews

I love the Christmas season and fell in love with the people in these fables.

All That Christians Need

A friend, Ralph C. Hammond—who passed away in December of 2010 at age 94—once told me, referring to the 14th Chapter of John, “…if that’s all I had of The Bible, it would be all that I need.” Ralph had a storied life as a WWII war correspondent; a press secretary for Alabama’s governor, and president of the Alabama Writer’s Conclave as well as the State Poetry Society—then Poet Laureate of Alabama—to name a few of his literary achievements, he singled out this chapter as enough for his faith, if nothing else was available.

Looking at the chapter, the reader is immediately struck by the wonderful, comforting words, “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”

In Chapter 13, John reported that Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, teaching them about humility. He was also preparing them for His coming crucifixion and giving them a new commandment: that they love one another. Much had been happening in a short period of time and the disciples were confused. They’d heard Jesus say that one of them would betray him, they’d seen their Master acting as a servant and Judas Iscariot had left them. Jesus had also said that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.

Now was the moment when Jesus comforted them and showed them the way to The Father. He told them that he was going to The Father and prepare the way for them to join him. He told them, “And whither I go, ye know the way.”

Yes they did. They knew Him. I can imagine a loving smile on his face when Thomas spoke.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”

The Lord then used Thomas’ question to teach them even more.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

When another disciple, Philip, asks to be shown The Father, Jesus’ words are again loving, and mildly reproving.

“Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?’ Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”

Look closely; Jesus has now definitively identified himself as one with God The Father. None of the other three (synoptic) Gospels report this declaration. In fact, Biblical scholars estimate that ninety percent of John’s Gospel is unique.

Consider the opening words of John’s Gospel, some texts call it a prologue:

 “1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2.The same was in the beginning with God.

3.All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4.In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5.And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

 And then:

14.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Let’s go back about seven hundred years, to the prophesy of Isaiah:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

In John, Chapter 14, Jesus promises the Wonderful Counsellor, in Verse 16 and again in 26:

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

Now, in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see the Wonderful Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) and the Everlasting Father present in the person of Jesus.

The next verse in John, number 27, completes the Trinity.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Jesus was, and is, the Prince of Peace.

In many ways my friend Ralph was right. All that Christians require is expressed in Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John: the Way to salvation through Him; the Holy Spirit for our comfort; Jesus for our savior and source of Peace in our lives.

 

 

 

Thoughts on The Resurrection

After the Resurrection, the Romans—as well as those in the Jewish hierarchy who opposed Jesus and his ministry—said that his disciples had stolen his body away from the tomb. It came about when the chief priests bribed the soldiers who had guarded the tomb.

Matthew 28 tells the story:

“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the

Week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchere.

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord

descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the

door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow:

And for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men.

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know

that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come see the place where the

Lord lay.

And go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and,

behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo,

I have told you.”

What a story. The part about the Roman guards is amusing—in a way. There had to be a number of them, not just one or two. Notice the quote, “…the keepers did shake and became as dead men.” Also, given the high-profile nature of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, these weren’t just ordinary men. These guards, I would imagine, were handpicked, tough legionnaires.

They were so terrified when the angel came and rolled the stone back is significant when we consider the nature of the soldiers themselves. The hardened Roman warriors were shaking and paralyzed.

I’m reminded of a comment made by a preacher I knew long ago. He was talking about what happened in Gethsemane when Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus, rebuked Peter, telling him to put away his sword. And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” The old preacher’s comment was, “I’ll bet that man left Gethsemane and went home!”

Notice that Matthew’s Gospel says that the angel rolled the stone away and then sat on it. How long he had been there, sitting on the stone when the two Marys arrived, we aren’t told. During that time, the tough Roman soldiers were in a state of shaking paralysis. That was the scene that the Marys found when they arrived at the tomb. It must have been shocking and frightening, but the angel said, “Do not be afraid.”

A central theme in Christianity, not just in the story of the Resurrection, is embodied in the admonition, “Do not be afraid.” Notice that Jesus said these words to the Marys as they met him. Remember that the angels, when announcing the birth of Jesus, told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” The angel, Gabriel, said to Mary, “Do not be afraid…” We need to remember those words and root our faith in them. Our faith needs to be strong enough to keep us from fear. Although the women were still frightened by what they’d seen, the voice of the angel and their trust in Jesus had made them stronger than the Roman soldiers who were paralyzed with terror.

It has been pointed out, by the way, that the stone was not rolled away for Jesus to leave the tomb. He had already departed. The angel rolled the stone back from the tomb to show the world that “He is not here; he has risen…” We can imagine the angel pointing to the empty tomb as he spoke. We can only wonder what the trembling, catatonic Roman soldiers were thinking.

Some of them went to the chief priests and reported everything that had happened. Notice, that they did not go the military authorities or to the governor. Why, they’d probably have been flogged or executed—or both. Imagine a hard-bitten sergeant of the guards reacting to their story. “An angel, you say, came and rolled back that rock? That rock took five strong men and a donkey to put in place! Have you been drinking on duty?”

Needless to continue, but it would not have been pleasant. Now going to the chief priests was a different affair. Those were the people who feared Jesus so much that they had demanded his death. The guards correctly guessed that they, who had the most to lose from the resurrection of Jesus, and would pay for the guards’ silence. And pay they did. The chief priests apparently paid the guards handsomely to parrot a story they concocted about Jesus’ disciples stealing his body away while they were asleep. They even—probably at the insistence of the guards—promised to provide a cover story for them with the governor if he should hear the story.

Why? In most military organizations, falling asleep at one’s guard post is an extremely serious offense. In this case, the guards could—and probably would—have been executed.

Pilate  was personally involved.

Pilate said, “… Ye have a watch: go your way and make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulchere sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:65-66)

They not only posted guards at the entrance, they tied a cord across the rock and put a clay seal on each end so that if anyone disturbed the rock, the seals—doubtlessly imprinted with an official signet—would be broken. For the soldiers to be so asleep that all the commotion involved in moving the rock didn’t wake them would have been serious dereliction of their duty.

We aren’t told what happened to the guards, but I’d imagine that they took their money and became very, very quiet men. Those who were directly paid would have had to share the money with the guards who didn’t go with them to the priests. They would also have had to tell the others the “official line,” and cautioned them to stick to it. The story concocted by the chief priests was, however, extremely thin.

Consider: They were saying that they slept through the racket of the disciples rolling back the rock. All of them!

Consider: If the disciples—those men who had run away in fear at Gethsemane and had denied Jesus in public—had planned to steal his body from the tomb, what they’d have had to take into account. First, there were a number of soldiers guarding the tomb and most of the disciples probably didn’t have swords much less shields and armor. The disciples certainly wouldn’t have been able to count on the guards being asleep! And, they were demonstrably not all that brave in the face of soldiers. Second, if there had been enough of Jesus’ disciples to pull off robbing his tomb, there’d be enough people who knew of the theft that the story would get out sooner or later.

No, the angel did not roll the stone away so that Jesus could leave the tomb. He was already gone. When we look into the empty tomb, as Peter did, we see that it was there where the empty body of Jesus had been placed, the linens, and nothing else.

Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and because he was a prominent citizen, Pilate granted the request. “And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulcher which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchere.” (Mark 15:46) Joseph was a wealthy and well-connected man. He would have hardly done the physical labor of moving the stone himself. Later, Mark mentions that the stone was very, very large. No problem for an angel, though.

Luke is the only gospel that describes the reaction of the apostles when Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James told them of the empty tomb and the words of Jesus and the angel.

“Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulcher; and stooping down, he beheld the linen cloths laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.”

We call Peter, “The Rock,” and refer to “doubting Thomas.” It appears that there was enough disbelief among the apostles to go around. We consider the apostles, sometimes, as saints above us all. They were men. These were men who ran away when the soldiers came to Gethsemane. Their greatness came through their faith in Jesus. Peter’s wondering what happened was later replaced with a steadfastness that deserved the name, “The Rock.”

The empty shell that had been body of Jesus when he was alive, was placed in the rock cave, and lay there waiting until He returned and gave it new life. Jesus’ ministry and miracles included raising several people, recounted in the gospels, from the dead. A major theme of His ministry was resurrection from death—the conquering of death. Of course, the crowning event was His resurrection. Those He raised from the dead during his life on earth were people who were physically dead. Their resurrection is a bright symbol for the millions upon millions whose souls have been dead, but who may come alive again, for eternity, once Jesus enters their hearts.

 

Thoughts on Prayer

 

Lately, some of the music I grew up hearing has been playing itself over and over in my head. Some of the old Gospel songs whose lyrics are in the form of prayers have been especially prominent. One of them is “Just A Closer Walk with Thee.” Let’s look at some of the lyrics:

“I am weak but thou art strong;

Jesus, keep me from all wrong;

I’ll be satisfied as long

As I walk, let me walk close to thee.

 

Just a closer walk with thee,

Grant it Jesus is my plea,

Daily walking close to thee,

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

 

Make no mistake: I love that old song. I love the idea of a Christian wanting to walk closer to our Lord. But there is a problem with the song I have only noticed in the past couple of years.

We don’t have to plead with Jesus to let us walk closer to him. He is there, always. If we aren’t close to Him, it is our own failing—we are failing to walk close to Him. The Lord wants us to walk close to Him—if we feel we are too far away—then we need to change the direction of our footsteps.

Look at some of the lyrics and listen in your mind with me to another wonderful old Gospel song; Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

 

“When my way groweth drear

Precious Lord, linger near

When my light is almost gone,

Hear my cry, hear my call

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand, precious Lord

Lead me on

 

Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord

Lead me home.”

 

We can sympathize with the writer of this song, Thomas A. Dorsey, who penned Precious Lord in reaction to his inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932. He needed for the Lord to help him in the darkness of his soul.

 

But there’s a problem here similar to that which we saw in the first song. The Lord’s hand is there, waiting for us. We can always take His hand when we reach out.

In Isaiah (41:13) the picture is clear:

For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”

God will hold the hand of any of us who will reach out to Him.

Often in churches and other gatherings, when a person leads the group in prayer, he or she will say, “Lord, be with us…” We all know that the person is asking the Lord to bless the assembled people with His grace. The prayer really is asking, “Bless us, Lord, with a tangible sense of your presence and love.” But consider: at the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus gave the eleven disciples the Great Commission, and the final words of Jesus reported by Matthew are the most wonderful promise we can ever know.

 

Jesus said, “…I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20.

 

We don’t have to ask the Lord to be with us; he is, and has given us his promise that he always will be. The presence of the Lord in our lives can be compared to the electronic signal of a powerful radio station. It is always there—we simply have to tune in and listen.

 

Prayers of gratitude and comfort are exemplified by one of the most familiar of the Psalms. There is something that many don’t notice; the 23rd Psalm speaks partly to the reader, and partly to the Lord. Look closely.

 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want

He maketh me to lie down in green

pastures: he leadeth me beside the still

waters.

 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in

the paths of righteousness for his name’s

sake.”

 

Those stanzas are from David, the Psalmist, speaking to the reader.

 

Now, continue:

 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff

they comfort me.

 

Thou preparest a table before me in

the presence of mine enemies: thou

anointest my head with oil; my cup

runneth over.”

 

All those lines are from David, speaking to the Lord, expressing his faith in the Lord and his gratitude for the Lord’s protection and bounty.

 

Then he addresses the reader again:

 

“Surely goodness and mercy shall

follow me all the days of my life: and I will

dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

 

A verse from a song of my own, Trust Me that few have heard, takes its roots from the 23rd Psalm.

 

And when my courage falters, I listen for His voice, knowing that He’ll comfort and protect.

Then when I hear him speak, my joy overflows; for he restores my soul and cares for me.

 

Trust me, He says; be not afraid

I am your shepherd, have faith in me

Follow, though shadows darken the way.

Trust me, just trust me, He says.

 

That song began as hope, leaning totally on God’s love and grace. It goes to the 23rd Psalm for inspiration and shares in the joy of the Psalmist.

 

The simplicity of a prayer all of us probably were taught as small children can also instruct us in faith.

 

“Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

 

We don’t have to ask the Lord to take our hands; we only need to reach out to him. We don’t have to ask the Lord to grant us a closer walk with Him, we only have to make sure our feet are following the paths he has lighted for us. We don’t have to ask the Lord to be with us, he is. It is up to us to listen for his voice.

The Lower Lights

This is the first of several posts in the book that include Christian music lyrics.  All the quotes are from publicly-available sites and are in the public domain.
Separator.png

Listen, in your mind—if you can recall the melody—to the wonderful music of the old hymn, Let the Lower Lights be Burning, as you read this piece.
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Those words, and the music that accompanied them are from one of the best-known Christian and gospel music composers in history: Philip Paul Bliss—or as you may have seen it in hymnals, P.P. Bliss. Other music by Bliss includes: Hallelujah, What a Savior; Hold the Fort; Jesus Loves Even Me; The Light of the World Is Jesus; Whosoever Will; Wonderful Words of Life and the all-time favorite invitational hymn: Almost Persuaded, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list. He also wrote the music for the song, It Is Well with My Soul, which he sang at its public introduction only a month before he and his wife were killed in a tragic train wreck in December 1876.
Bliss wrote Let the Lower Lights be Burning —which was published in 1874—after hearing D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, tell the story of a tragic shipwreck. Moody had told of a passenger ship that was trying to reach the Cleveland, Ohio harbor from Lake Erie in a terrible storm. The ship’s pilot, Moody said, knew that he could only make the harbor safety by keeping the lower shore lights aligned with the main beacon of the lighthouse. As the ship approached the rocky shoreline, the captain of the ship knew that there was trouble and asked the pilot if he was sure that they were headed for the Cleveland harbor. The pilot told the captain that he was sure it was Cleveland, but that the lower lights were out and he was forced to try for the harbor without those guides. In the turbulence and darkness, the pilot missed the channel and the ship was hurled against the rocks and sank. Most of the passengers drowned in the cold, dark waters.
At the end of his sermon, Moody was quoted as saying, “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.” Bliss, who worked with the great evangelist at the time, sang the new song he had written, Let the Lower Lights be Burning at Moody’s next meeting.
The use of light in the Bible begins in Genesis 1:2-3:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

Creation, then, began with God’s command for light to burn and push away the darkness. The idea of light has, in the world’s literature, stood as a metaphor for understanding and opening of the minds. The words, illumination and enlightenment come from the same basic roots.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah’s prophesy of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, is expressed in terms of light:
Isaiah 9:2: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
Of course, Chapter 9 continues with the wonderful prophesy of Christ that says in verse 6:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The prince of Peace.

John begins his gospel, in Chapter 1:4, with this description of Christ:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” thus equating the Son of God with light and life. Then later, in 8:12, John tells us of Jesus’ words as he spoke to the people in the temple courts.
“…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Jesus, though, didn’t intend that the world at large find His light on its own. In Matthew 5:14, a part of the Beatitudes, he told his disciples that:
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick;
And it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and Glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

These statements aren’t contradictory. Jesus was, and is the light of the world. It is only through him and by his illumination that his disciples—then and now—become lights to the world around them. When Jesus told the disciples that they were to be lights in the world it was in anticipation of his departure from this world and the need for them to carry on His ministry.
A more modern example of the concept of D.L. Moody’s sermon can be found in many settings. Imagine the scene when a friend asks you to come visit for dinner in the evening: You might drive up to the friend’s house and park your car. Looking at the house you would probably see that the lights on the front porch are turned on so that the door to the home is illuminated. Along the pathway that leads to the front steps there may be a number of small—relatively dim—lights to shine on the paving stones so you won’t stumble as you walk.
Those little lamps, are so popular these days, are solar powered. They depend on the energy from the sun to charge their batteries so that their light can last through the night. Without sunlight, the little garden lights would not shine and the path would be dark, and maybe hazardous.
The play on the words “sun” and “Son,” is relevant here: without the power and light of the Son of God, Christians could never be what Christ told his disciples to be “lights of the world.” There would be no illumination in the world’s darkness, just as there would be no illumination from solar lamps without the sun.
Remember again now, the story told by the evangelist, D.L. Moody: The pilot of the doomed ship knew that he had to keep the lower shore lights aligned with the beacon on the main lighthouse in order to safely bring the ship into the harbor. If the lower lights have gone out in today’s world, it could be because they have not drawn enough energy from the sun to fulfill their purpose. If the lower lights, themselves, are not aligned with the beam from the lighthouse, they are as unreliable as if they were dark.
Those who most need to have the path ahead of them illuminated are not yet looking up to the “Great Lighthouse” of Christ. They need the lower lights, which draw their glow from The Son to keep burning to show them the way through the treacherous waters of their lives and finally to safety on shore at the foot of the lighthouse. Christians must draw their light from Jesus and stay aligned with Him so that they will provide stable markers leading to safe harbor in His love.

Thomas, The Good Student

This the first of the Christian essays from the book, Meditations of a Layman. The book is available from Amazon in both paperback and digital formats. Audiobook is not yet available.
More essays will follow. Please check back

Separator.png

 

Think back to a time when you were in school, or the last time you were in a class of any type. There were probably moments when something the teacher said, or did, that made you want to ask a question, but you may have held back for fear that someone else in the class would think you’d asked a dumb question.

Remember what relief you felt when one of the other students stuck up a hand and asked, “Teacher…?” Yeah, you remember that. And you can be sure that there were probably several other students in the group who had the same question and felt the same relief that you did.

Jesus was, and is, the master teacher. The twelve Disciples can be considered His first and closest students. Some of his students finally did ask the questions that I feel sure the others wanted to ask themselves. Let’s consider Thomas. We don’t know very much about him, except that he has been given the title of “Doubting.” Let’s look closely at how Jesus used Thomas’ outspoken questions and how He even used his doubts to teach. Through these, Jesus taught his disciples and through the Gospels, he teaches us.

I have an affinity for Thomas. I may have just been that student who impetuously stuck up his hand to ask the question that none of the others would voice.

In John 14, Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. in my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”

Then Thomas raised his hand. “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” Thomas, like probably most of the other Disciples, took Jesus’ words as describing a physical trip, as to Bethany or Jerusalem.

Some of the others were probably saying—silently—to themselves, “Whew, good for you, Thomas. I’m glad to have you ask that question rather than me! I didn’t understand either.”

Jesus must have smiled at Thomas, knowing the thoughts of the other disciples, and I picture Him as looking around at all of them with deep love as he told them: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Jesus, used Thomas’ question as a way to teach the disciples—and you those of us who read His Word—that, if you want to know the way to The Father, here it is: “I am the way…” John has recorded the words “I Am…” said by Jesus as the words that signify the oneness of Jesus with God The Father.

These words, remember, are the words God spoke to Moses from the burning bush when Moses asked who he should tell the Israelites had sent him to them when they asked, “What is his name?” God answered Moses’ question with: “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” The Jewish religious leaders were incensed at Jesus’ use of the phrase, “I am,” since it linked Him directly to the almighty.

He told Philip, in John 14:9: “[H]e that hath seen me hath seen the Father…” That was a part of the same conversation when Thomas asked his famous question about where Jesus was going.

Thomas was a strong and loyal Disciple. At one point when Jesus told his Disciples that he was going to Lazarus, who had been sick and died; they knew that He was walking into danger. Thomas’ grim but faithful statement to the other disciples was, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

These are the words and of a man who truly loved and believed in Jesus. In the scene that has forever stuck the label “doubting” on him, Thomas probably stood mentally where some of the Disciples had been before they had seen Jesus themselves. We aren’t told why Thomas wasn’t with the other ten Disciples when Jesus appeared to them on earlier occasions, but they had surely told him excitedly over and over that He had risen.

It is easy for us to understand why Thomas doubted the others. He had seen His Lord had brutally humiliated and crucified. The structure of his faith had been shattered. Like students in every class, Thomas had not listened closely enough. Jesus had told them of his impending death and the reasons for it. Thomas, along with the others, had run away and left Jesus in Gethsemane, but he had watched the scenes of The Passion and the crucifixion play out from a distance, and obviously knew what the physical wounds had been on Jesus’ body. The defining moment that tagged Thomas with the “doubting” label came when Jesus had been crucified and had risen.

The Gospel of John tells us that: “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord.”

Thomas, still in anguish over the loss of his Lord and the destruction of the very fabric of his faith, probably wished and hoped that they were right, but told them, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

We can imagine that those words were spoken through the awful pain of loss. We also aren’t told what happened during the next week, but I have to wonder if the other Disciples tried again and again to convince Thomas that the Lord had truly risen. A stubborn, hurt man; Thomas—probably with a hollow pain inside him—mourned his Lord. He didn’t, however, desert the others. He was with them in a locked room when Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you!” Imagine the flooding of relief and the glory of hope restored that must have swept through Thomas.

Imagine also, the awful, sinking feeling of shame and embarrassment that he had not believed what the other disciples had told him. At this point, Thomas didn’t have to actually touch Jesus to believe, but when Jesus told him to, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

His answer was what Jesus wanted him to finally say and understand, “My Lord and my God.”

We can only speculate what would have happened if Peter, or one of the other Disciples had not seen Jesus and was in the place of Thomas. Peter, who had denied Christ three times, may have been stronger. We don’t know. But we can be sure that Thomas was probably not alone in his doubts until he had seen Jesus for himself. Thomas, through his stubborn doubting, gave us the chance to know the words of the Master Teacher that echo down the centuries. “…because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Jesus used the doubts of a strong, loyal Disciple to tell those of us who, in time, are so far away from the days when He was physically on earth, that we are blessed when we believe in Him although we have not physically seen Him.

Autumn Caveat

This piece was written many years ago as a gentle warning for poets and writers who, moved by the changing of seasons, begin to write about the beauty and power of nature.

Too often, those people use imagery and words that have been in our literature for hundreds of years.

Even though we haven’t yet had cool weather here in North Alabama, the calendar says Fall is comings soon.

This is the warning:

It’s mornings like this;
The stingy sun trying to hold back
Even the warmth of its reflection,
Flashing icy fire In the lake.
When November leaves drop in sudden gusts,
like a red and yellow flock of birds
swooping at once to ground.
Or, even nights:
when winds reach wet hands
to take you spinning with random paper
down back street gutters, under straining bridges
to clogged rivers.
it’s this:
The time of year, along with spring,
When poets must take care
Not to sing the same old songs
Stolen from tribal memory.

Thomas Rowe Drinkard

Checkout Line Rants

There you stand: you have two items in your hands. The express lane is closed and there are three people ahead of you. None of them have a full, wheeled basket, so maybe this won’t take too long but here’s what happens.

The first in line, a sweet-looking little old lady (SLOL) is standing there with her purse resting on the counter. Her hands are clasped on top of the purse and she has a neighborly smile.

“That’s a total of thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says.

“How much?” SLOL says. “Thirty-three, sixty-four,” the cashier says again.

After digging in her briefcase-size purse, she looks up with a smile.

“Oh, let me see. I have two twenties here,” SLOL says.

She hands the cashier the two twenties and, before the cashier can ring up the sale, stops the action.

“I think I have the correct change, please wait.”

The cashier stands with the two twenties in her hand, waiting. So is everyone else in the line.

The SLOL now opens her little pink change purse and starts digging, looking for change.

“Oh, I guess I don’t have the correct change. All I have is three quarters. If I give them to you can you apply that against… what did you say it was? Sixty-four cents?

” “Yes, M’am. I can do that,” the cashier says.

The cashier hands the SLOL $7.11 and waits while the woman turns the bills so that they are all facing the same way and reopens her already-closed coin purse to deposit the eleven cents.

Meanwhile, I’m standing there with a cold half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. One hand is getting cold and I’m trying not to crush the bread—waiting for the next patron to check out.

The cashier, aided by modern technology, swipes two six-packs of beer for the man. He stands, waiting for his total.

“Eleven, eighty-eight,” the cashier says.

The man pulls his wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans and hands the cashier a hundred-dollar bill.

She stares, at first, seeming confused then finds a special pen to drag across the face of the greenback. After it doesn’t show up as counterfeit, she hands him his change.

He’s been holding his wallet open, waiting for his change. The cashier hands him his $88.12 by placing the cash on his open palm and the receipt and coins on top.

He has to put the billfold down; separate the receipt from the change and put the coins in a pocket. He then throws the paper back on the counter and puts the cash in his billfold. Finally, he grabs his Bud and leaves.

The woman in front of me has been reading one of those supermarket tabloids. The lead story was, “Has the Ghost of Princess Di Been Captured by Space Aliens?” The woman’s cart was half-full. When the cashier has tallied all the items, she announces what shows clearly on the computer screen.

“The total is $114.56, M’am,” the cashier says. The customer turns back and puts the tabloid back in the rack. “How much?” the customer says? The cashier repeats the total.

The customer then opens her purse and begins a search. After my left hand, holding the milk, is almost frostbitten, she finds a checkbook. The process of writing a check is, of course, long and arduous. Once she hands the check to the cashier for processing, she begins the subtraction from her check log.

By this time, three other customers have lined up behind me. There are a couple of not-so-nice comments filtering through the tense air.

“Didn’t she know how she was going to pay before she even got in line?”

“Is she having trouble spelling the grocery store’s name?”

I gratefully shift the cold—or now maybe not-so-cold—milk to the counter and slide my bank card.

“Debit or credit,” the cashier says.

“Debit.” I say.

Transaction complete.

By the time I get my purchases and head for the car, the severe weather that caused me to shop for the classic essentials has arrived. I’m drenched by the time I get to the car.

Shopping is an adventure.

A New Publication

Until recently, all my published work, except for individual poems in literary magazines and the chapbook of Vietnam poetry, had been prose fiction.  That has changed.

In May of 2018, I published a book of Christian-themed essays called Meditations of A Layman. The book is available on Amazon in paperback and digital (Kindle) formats.  There are currently no plans for an audiobook.

Following is one of the short essays from the book.  It comes directly from a personal experience with an old friend.

_____________________

All That Christians Need

A friend, Ralph C. Hammond—who passed away in December of 2010 at age 94—once told me, referring to the 14th Chapter of John, “…if that’s all I had of The Bible, it would be all that I need.” Ralph had a storied life as a WWII war correspondent; a press secretary for Alabama’s governor, and president of the Alabama Writer’s Conclave as well as the State Poetry Society—then Poet Laureate of Alabama—to name a few of his literary achievements.

He singled out this chapter as enough for his faith, if nothing else was available.

Looking at the chapter, the reader is immediately struck by the wonderful, comforting words:

“Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.”

In Chapter 13, John reported that Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, teaching them about humility. He was also preparing them for His coming crucifixion and giving them a new commandment: that they love one another. Much had been happening in a short period of time and the disciples were confused. They’d heard Jesus say that one of them would betray him, they’d seen their Master acting as a servant and Judas Iscariot had left. Jesus had also said that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.

Now was the moment when Jesus comforted them and showed them the way to The Father. He told them that he was going to The Father and prepare the way for them to join him. He told them, “And whither I go, ye know the way.”

Yes they did. They knew Him. I can imagine a loving smile on his face when Thomas spoke.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”
The Lord then used Thomas’ question to teach them even more.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

When another disciple, Philip, asks to be shown The Father, Jesus’ words are again loving, and mildly reproving.

“Jesus saith unto him, ‘Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father?’ Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.”

Look closely, Jesus has now definitively identified himself as one with God The Father. None of the other three (synoptic) Gospels report this declaration. In fact, Biblical scholars estimate that ninety percent of John’s Gospel is unique.
Consider the opening words of John’s Gospel, some texts call it a prologue:

“1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2.The same was in the beginning with God.
3.All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4.In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5.And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

And then:
14.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Lets go back about seven hundred years, to the prophesy of Isaiah:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

In John, Chapter 14, Jesus promises the Wonderful Counsellor, in Verse 16 and again in 26:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

Now, in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see the Wonderful Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) and the Everlasting Father present in the person of Jesus.

The next verse in John, number 27, completes the Trinity.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Jesus was and is the Prince of Peace.

In many ways my friend Ralph was right. All that Christians require is expressed in Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John: the Way to salvation through Him; the Holy Spirit for our comfort; Jesus for our savior and source of Peace in our lives.

 

Thoughts for Good Friday

The Darkest Sabbath

 

The four Gospels tell the story of Christ’s betrayal, mock trial and crucifixion, with few variations. All of these events took place on Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath. The Romans who crucified Jesus went about breaking the legs of those who had been crucified to assure their deaths before the beginning of the Sabbath, which commences—by Jewish tradition— a few minutes before sundown on Friday and lasts until three stars are visible in the Saturday night sky.

The bible does not directly tell us what happened to the people who survived, who were closest to Jesus, on the Sabbath immediately following his crucifixion and burial. We can only speculate. Based on what we do know about several of Christ’s closest followers, we can imagine how the night and day following the death of Jesus affected them.

John

In the Gospel of John, the Apostle often refers to himself as the “…disciple whom Jesus loved.” Not only was he one of the twelve, he was, along with his brother James, and Simon Peter, a member of those closest to Jesus and, more—considered himself as the Lord’s best friend. Recall that those three were selected to be with Christ during the transfiguration.

As darkness covered Israel the night after Jesus was crucified, John had Mary, Jesus’ mother, in his house. He had, at the foot of the cross, been charged with acting as Mary’s son. Possibly she was the one who lighted the candles for the Shabbat. John could hardly forget how, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had asked that he, James and Peter stay awake with him as he was in agonizing prayer before the crucifixion, but they could not. He, along with most of the Disciples ran away at the approach of the chief priests and temple guard. Remorse over his failure must have deepened his grief. Did he sleep at all during that during that dark Sabbath?

Peter

The fiery, impetuous leader—the disciple who became The Rock—must have had a much worse night and day, following the death of Jesus. Not only had he failed his Lord in Gethsemane, he had openly denied knowing Him three times before the rooster crowed. Peter was a strong-willed, proud man. He was the only one of Jesus’ followers who offered physical resistance when the Jewish leaders and guard came to arrest Christ. Recall, he drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the High Priests’ servants. Of course, Jesus rebuked Peter and replaced the man’s ear. I recall a preacher from my youth who speculated that the man whose ear had been severed and healed, “…probably went home.”

Did Peter sleep that Friday night? Could he truly rest during the following Sabbath day?

Mary Magdalene

The woman whose name is, after the mother of Jesus, most prominently mentioned in the Gospels, was faithful to her Lord throughout the Passion. She and Jesus’ mother did not leave the awful scene on Golgotha. They were there until the final moments and didn’t desert Him as his body was laid in the tomb. The women probably watched the mighty stone rolled in place to seal the entrance. Despair and pain must’ve filled her in the night and the following day.

We may speculate that she spent that night and the following Sabbath in the house with Jesus’ mother. This is because the scriptures describe them as being at the tomb together on the third morning.

Mary Magdalene, the woman who had been possessed by demons before Christ healed her, was faithful to Him through the hour of His death.

Did she sleep past tears and mourning during those awful hours following Jesus’ death?

Mary, Mother of Jesus

God chose Mary to bring Jesus into this world. Although the Gospel of Luke describes her as “…troubled…” when Gabriel told her of her mission, the sense of deep fear isn’t in the story. Remember, Luke was not one of the Apostles. His recounting of the Annunciation could have only come from interviewing Mary.

With no scripture that speaks of the desolate day following Christ’s crucifixion, it is possible to consider that the woman who was Jesus’ mother had a deep faith that her son’s death was not final.

She must’ve mourned and felt bereft of her reason for living and the treasure God had given her. Did she, could she, sleep?

Summation

Could any of these, who were closest to Jesus, find rest until they knew He was resurrected? Certainly, there was no peace in their hearts until they had seen Christ again, much as there is no true peace in our hearts until we have seen Him.