Consuming the Media Wisely

I have been teaching writing courses to high school students for many years.  There are many things about this job that I enjoy–well, come to think of it, there are really no aspects of this job that I don’t enjoy!  But one of my favorite units to teach is journalism.

Naturally, we spend some weeks analyzing news articles and learning the basic structure and techniques of news-writing.  Then I give them an assignment:  they must write their own newspaper article in proper form on an issue that deeply concerns them.  They may interview as many people as they like, but they must interview at least one person.  They must research their subject and give me their sources.  They usually pick a subject that they are passionate about and it’s always fun to read what they come up with.  Because, unbeknownst to them, there is a Part Two to this exercise.

After the students have handed in their papers and I have graded them, we talk about in what ways their biases on their subjects show through in their articles.  And then comes my favorite part.  I assign them to write another news article on the same issue, using the same interviews and the same research,  but from the opposite position.  I assure them that half-hearted attempts will not do–they must truly try to convince me of the opposite point of view.  Their reactions are always marvelously amusing!  They are certain that I’ve given them an impossible task.  I am the meanest teacher ever!

A  recent example is an Eagle Scout who had written of the virtues and importance of the Boy Scouts as an organization.  He had come up with some great examples and persuasive arguments as to Scouting’s vital role in helping to prepare young men for adulthood.  His article easily convinced me that the Boy Scouts of America is a wonderful institution.  So I had to grin at his crest-fallen face when I informed him that his next article must convince me that BSA is the very worst organization in the history of organizations! I had my work cut out for me to talk him out of his deep despair.  But after about twenty minutes of brain-storming together, he was actually excited about giving this assignment a try.

The second articles are inevitably better written than the first, obviously because the students must put a great deal more thought into the subject.  But the amazing part is, most of my students find this assignment great fun once they get over their initial panic.  Picking through the research to find facts that back their new point of view and taking their interviews apart to find quotes that agree is challenging and it makes them feel as if they have really accomplished something when they’ve finished.

Why do I give my students such a heinous assignment?  Well, obviously, to make them better writers, above all else.  But this exercise is designed to also make students better consumers of the news media.  From the time they take my class, they can no longer simply accept anything they read or hear in the news at face value.  Because, after all, if beginning students can turn the facts in either direction they choose, just think what a fully-trained professional journalist can do!

I am not a journalist myself, but I was trained in journalism in college and I am friends with persons who are or have been professionals in the news media.  Part of the learning process in writing in any news media, whether newspapers, magazines, television, or internet articles, is how to sift through the enormous amount of information available and pick out the bits that will support a particulate slant.  That news is biased is a given–it has to be!  How can any half-page news article or three-minute news story possibly cover all the available information?  How can a reporter possibly include every quote from every one of the dozens of people he or she interviewed? How can a news story cover every point of view available and still remain a reasonable length? It’s just a fact that the news must be filtered and cut down to a manageable size before it can be published or broadcast.  That’s just part of good writing:  keeping the news story from becoming unwieldy and unreadable and making certain it is both cohesive and coherent.  The only question is, through what viewpoint is it being filtered?  Once one knows the point of view, one can avoid being herded along into believing whatever the reporter in question wishes the consumer to believe.

But most Americans do not receive this training.  I’m dismayed by the passive acceptance by most of the population of whatever the news source of their choice feeds them.  Naturally, most Americans choose to receive their news from a source that agrees with their general outlook and with their politics.  It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they are receiving news that is tailored to their worldview.  This is true whether one watches Fox News or listens to National Public Radio or reads the Wall Street Journal.  The points of view are different, but they are necessarily there. I am not saying that this is a bad thing; it is, in fact, entirely necessary. But  the consumer needs to be constantly aware of it.  This is doubly true for sources on the internet.  At least in the newspaper business, there is (supposed to be) a code of conduct and a general consensus of standards the reporters are expected to follow.  But on the internet, anyone may write whatever they like about anything without fear of consequences.

How are we ever to get at the truth of an issue, given that the information our news sources feed us are incomplete at best ?  First of all, one must resign oneself to the sad fact that we probably won’t get at the whole truth of any current events in this lifetime.  Not only are the news media biased, they are relying on sources that are biased. The governments and businesses and individuals who give them official statements and quotations each have their own agendas.  And unfortunately, as we follow the career of a certain well-known newscaster, we must realize how easy it is for the reporters, on whom we rely  to give us accurate information, to lie to us.  I know–this is not helpful!  But isn’t it better to face the truth than to simply swallow whatever anyone wants to feed us without careful examination?

My suggestion is to consume our news from a wide variety of sources with various biases and pick out the areas in which they seem to agree.  If two opposing viewpoints concede that “x” is true, it may possibly be actually true!  I also suggest reading news from other sources outside of America.  Other countries’ media will be biased as well, but their biases will be different from an American’s bias.  Persons from outside our country often see our country’s issues in a clearer light, since they are not personally involved.   Conversely, it’s a good idea to get the news of a foreign country directly from a someone who actually lives in that country rather than relying solely on the viewpoint of a visiting reporter.  Finally, I suggest holding any “facts” presented in the media loosely, whatever the source.  Yes, this is a cynical viewpoint, but who has not read an article disproving a previously established “fact” which everyone believed for years and which is now proven false?

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it.  I am, I freely admit, biased in my opinion.

Coming soon:  Part Two–a more detailed rant–I mean, discussion– about specific news-reporting techniques!


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Hurry Up and Wait

I have just had the immense privilege of helping to care for my two-year-old grandson for a week.  It’s been a while since I’ve cared for a toddler, and I found myself pulling out ancient tactics and memories to help me keep up with the active little guy.  Hopefully, I taught him a few little things, like how to hug trees and the names of the flowers in the yard and how to play Calvinball with a plastic baseball bat and a rubber bouncy ball .(If you don’t know how to play Calvinball, you have not been reading the right comic strips . . . .)

He also taught me a few things, as well.

“MorMor, MorMor, MorMor!” he whined as I tried to scrape the last bit of yogurt from the nearly empty container. (He calls me MorMor, which is Swedish for “Mother’s mother”.)  It was time for breakfast.  He was starving!  And since he couldn’t see as high as the counter top, he had no idea that I was actually complying with his urgent request for yogurt as quickly as I could.  From his perspective, I was dawdling unforgivably, or even ignoring him altogether.  I tried to explain to him what I was doing, but he couldn’t hear me over his mantra of “MorMor, MorMor, MorMor!”

I didn’t mind.  I kind of like hearing his sweet little voice chanting my name.  But I knew that his frustration would be lessened if he would just listen to me.  Maybe not by much, but a bit.

And then, before serving him his breakfast, I needed to change his diaper and clean his snotty little face and hands.  To a toddler, this foray into hygiene was an entirely unnecessary delay and had nothing to do with getting what he wanted.

I know you all know where this is going.  How often do we bring our requests to God with all the patience and understanding of two-year-olds?  Chanting the same words over and over in our desperation, we can’t hear His calm, quiet voice assuring us that He has heard and is working on the solution to our problems.  With our limited perspectives and equally limited knowledge, we often feel He is ignoring us or at the very least taking an unconscionably long time about answering our prayers.  We can’t see all the work and preparation He is engaged in on our behalf, up there on His great counter top.

And then often, instead of just giving us what we think we need, He takes the time to prepare us for receiving it.  Like two-year-olds, we so often cannot understand the correlation between the preparation process and the desired end result, and so we resent it and often resist it with all our beings, struggling desperately against processes that are meant for our betterment.

Fortunately, God understands that we are all two-year-olds. Did I feel impatient with my grandson?  Of course not!  I know he’s two years old and I don’t expect him to act like an adult.  And God knows we are but dust.  I’m sure He smiles down at us as I smiled at my grandson, explaining to us in small words what we can barely grasp, knowing full well when we aren’t really listening, but continually trying to communicate His love to us all the same.

My little grandson, after being satisfied with a good breakfast, threw his sticky little arms around me and said, “Thanks, MorMor. I love you, MorMor,” and my heart melted.  I don’t need thanks, really.  I’d do anything for that little guy, even if he never responded to me; but those sweet words are a reward above silver and gold and all precious gems.

Easter proves that God will do anything for us.  Absolutely anything.  He doesn’t need our thanks or our love in return.

But doesn’t He deserve it?


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By Their Fruit You Shall Know Them: The Parable of the Pumpkin Patch

I have few and simple aspirations in this life–to raise my kids to know my Lord; to teach other kids to understand God’s Word; to write things that will be helpful to others; and to have a pumpkin patch.

Yes, I know, that’s a frivolous and irrelevant desire.  But there’s something deep within my soul that yearns for a garden full of lovely vines, great yellow flowers, and beautiful, round, orange pumpkins.  I have for the past three years attempted to achieve this humble goal.  The first year, my vines were devastated by a plague of squash bugs. I studied out the best ways to deal with insect pests and treated the ground accordingly.  The second year, my vines were sickened by blight and rotted away.  Again, I studied the problem and thought I had it licked.

Not one to give up easily, I again planted a pumpkin patch last spring.  I had received special heirloom seeds through a friend and I planted them with care, using all the knowledge I had gleaned from my past two, unsuccessful attempts.  Oh, and my dreams seemed to be coming to pass!  Lush, beautiful vines grew, luxuriant and healthy.  No thorny squash bugs appeared to threaten my garden, and no black or moldy signs of blight crept in.  Then the blossoms appeared, huge and yellow and wonderful.  I was filled with joyful anticipation–I would be harvesting pumpkins this year!  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pudding, decorations for our Sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles, jack-o-lanterns for my kids.

Then the flowers dropped off and the fruit appeared.  Brown. Misshapen. Wrong.

It seems my heirloom seeds were not pumpkin seeds after all.  I had cultivated a healthy crop of butternut squash.

Okay, this is where my analogy inevitably falls down, because there’s really nothing evil about butternut squash.  I like butternut squash, and we ate butternut squash.  Lots of it.  All summer.  Because there was a lot of it.  If you want some, I’ll send them to you, because there’s a lot of them.

But when  what you really need are big, lovely, round, shiny, orange pumpkins, nothing else will do.

In Matthew 7:6, Jesus warns us, “By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?”  A horticulturalists could, I am sure, have told me that my seeds and my vines were not pumpkin seeds and pumpkin vines–but look at pictures of the two and tell me, could an ordinary person really tell the difference?  Well, I certainly couldn’t, until the fruit began to grow.  I’m afraid it’s the same with people.  It’s impossible, sometimes, to tell who is genuinely serving God out of love for Him and desire to serve Him, and who is serving for other purposes.  Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference in ourselves.  The sincere pumpkin vines blend in with the butternut squash vines, and who can disentangle them before they begin to show their true natures through their fruit?

In Matthew 13, Jesus warns us again through the parable of the wheat and the tares.  He  planted good wheat in good ground, but the enemy planted tares in amongst the wheat.  These two plants look exactly alike until the wheat begins to form heads and bears good grain; the tares remain fruitless and are without use.  How to root out the tares without disturbing the fruitful wheat?  It can’t be done by human means, Jesus said.  Let them remain together until the end, and then He will Himself sort things out.  But in the meantime, He tells us to be discerning.  By their fruit you shall know them–we are not the judges, but we are responsible for being alert to deception, both in others and in ourselves.

So, what is this fruit we’re to be looking for?  John the Baptizer tells us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)  This is always a good measure for ourselves.  Are we truly repentant for our sins, or do we try to excuse them away or sweep them under the rug and hope no one (God!) will notice.

Paul tells us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”  (Philippians 1:11)  Are we living righteous lives through the power that Christ gives–lives that bring glory and praise to God?  Or are we trying to live good lives in our own strength, bringing glory to ourselves?  And again, in Colossians 1:10, Paul prays that we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”  Are we continuing to strive to learn of Him?  Or are we complacent in our present knowledge, content with what we have rather than longing to go deeper?

“Being filled with the fruit of righteousness” and “bearing fruit in every good work”:  what are these righteous good works we’re to be cultivating?  Jesus tells us this Himself in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.”  Believing in Jesus is the foundation of bearing good fruit.  The little book of First John is all about the work God expects of us, and it boils down to two things: to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

Believe in Jesus and love one another.  There’s the gospel in a pumpkin shell.  So what kind of fruit are we bearing?






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If God Wrote a Blog . . .

“Why do people die spiritually?” a friend of mine asked me recently, referring to believers who no longer seemed to want to be involved in the work of the church.  “What makes someone lose interest in spiritual things?”  I have also been musing on this subject for some time.  Coincidentally (or not!), the very nature of my relationship with this particular friend led me to a possible answer.

My friend and I met via an internet forum.  She lives half a world away, but we were brought together through a mutual admiration for each other’s work online and began to get acquainted through e-mail.  We then discovered each other’s blogs and began to read through the entries.  I quickly realized that, as much as I enjoyed getting to know my new friend through the almost instant methods of e-mail and private messaging, it was through her blog that I could really learn about her character, history, philosophy–her heart.  There I can come to understand more about who she was before we met, how she got to where she is today, how she interacts with others in her life.  I can’t talk to her face to face; we can’t sit down with cups of tea and have a heart-to-heart talk in person.  So I read her blog, and she reads mine, and this is how we each learn who the other truly is.

I hope the analogy I’m drawing here is clear.  I certainly believe that God speaks to us directly in our day-to-day lives, moving in our hearts and minds to guide us in an intimate and immediate way.  However, like the e-mails my friend and I exchange, this more direct communication generally addresses the concerns and events of the here and now.  In order to fully know God–His character, history, philosophy: His heart–I must study His blog.

Yes, my friends, God kept a blog for quite a long number of years.  Of course, the internet had not been invented when He started writing His blog.  He used the cutting edge technology of the day by dictating His entries to His various secretaries, who inscribed them on scrolls of parchment. These blog entries (we call them “books” today) purposed to tell the world who God is, describe His character, and explain His workings through history and through individuals as He strove to accomplish redemption for His creation.  The way to learn who God really is, therefore, would be to read His Word.

I believe that many Christians fall away from true faith because they neglect the one thing that would bring them more fully into it:  they fail to study God’s Word.  I know my friend will understand what I mean when I admit that, if our friendship were based solely upon our brief e-mails to each other, our relationship would be shallow and largely imaginary.  Without the insight of our blogs, we would have no foundation upon which to build a true representation of each other’s character.  We would be forced to rely on what little information we could glean through a few sentences or paragraphs and would most probably draw many wrong conclusions about each other’s motivations and philosophies.  We would, in fact, be inventing each other in our own minds based upon our own experiences and thought processes rather than actually learning the truth we reveal about ourselves through our written works.   After all, it is a fact that in order to truly know another person, one must see that person’s actions in many different circumstances and watch them interact with a wide spectrum of other people.  My friend and I cannot observe one another in person, but through our blogs we can “see” each other as we truly are.

When I asked my friend’s permission to use her as an example in this blog entry, she replied, “I would be honoured if you wanted to use me as an example. That’s why I’m on earth you know.”  Her answer brought to my mind another reason Christians may fall away from the faith when they do not study the Scriptures.  If you wanted to read an example of what living out the love and compassion of Christ looks like in this modern world, you need go no further than to read my friend’s blog!  She is daily living out her faith in tangible ways that brings hope and change to those around her.  And this is another purpose of God’s Word. In I Corinthians 10, Paul warns us to pay attention to the history of Israel. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did,” he tells us in verse 6.  And again, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,” he says in verse 11.  He was speaking of negative examples, of course, but there are many instances of positive examples and exhortations of how God wants us to live our lives throughout Scripture.  Unless we study His Word, we can only guess at what He wants for us and what He expects from us.

My friend told me a few days ago that she had been visited in person by another such internet acquaintance.  After a year of e-mails and reading one another’s written work, their first face-to-face meeting was perfectly comfortable.  She said it felt as if they’d known each other all their lives. Commenting on the analogy she knew I was attempting to write about in this blog entry, she concluded: “. . .like my friend from—–, when Jesus comes in person and I see Him face to face it will be like ‘old times’ and we will be completely comfortable in each other’s presence.” God forbid we should ignore the singular opportunity to get to know Him so personally through His revealed Word, so that we can indeed be comfortable in his presence when we see Him face-to-face at last!

“Why do people die spiritually?”  Well, I believe one reason is that they do not value God’s Word and pour over it as if their very lives depended on it.  This is more than unfortunate, because it really does.  It is the blog God gave to us as a direct line to His mind and heart. We neglect so great a gift to our own peril and detriment.




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Civil Conniption

My husband worked a great deal of overtime in the past two weeks.  We, rightfully I think, expected a big paycheck today.  But it was considerably smaller than we had expected:  over $500 had been taken out in taxes.

No, I’m not kidding.  My husband is not a businessman making money in the millions.  He’s a police officer–public servants don’t get paid much.  Five hundred dollars is a lot of grocery money, folks!  If I didn’t value my tea so much, I would have run down to the river and tossed it in.  That would have been a silly thing to do, anyway.  The fellows involved in the Boston Tea Tantrum didn’t dump their OWN tea in the harbor.  They dumped the king’s tea.  Hmm.  Does the President drink tea, I wonder?  Perhaps the Potomac needs a bit of flavoring?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July–the annual celebration of our independence from Great Britain.  What did the British do that literally had us up in arms all those years ago?  Were we protesting slavery?  Mysterious disappearances?  Wrongful imprisonments?  Mass slaughter by the government?  No, we were protesting taxes.

It’s my understanding that governments need money to fund all the stuff they do for us.  King George III said the same thing–the taxes levied against the colonists were paying for the French and Indian War, which had been fought (by the British) to secure our lands from the encroaching French.  Sounds like a good use of our money, actually.  (Yes, yes, I know King George was a nutter.  But it would make more sense to me to rebel against the king because he was insane than because of the tax issue.)

No, protesting taxes is a useless proposition.  There’s nothing sure in this life but death and you-know-what.  It was not really a compelling reason for starting a civil war.  And it really seemed to have started us off on the wrong foot.  Because we have become a nation of whiners and protesters, throwing conniptions at the drop of a hat.  Any perceived encroachment on our rights is apparently worth ripping into everyone in general on all possible forums.  It’s depressing.

I’m not talking about any particular group or political party or cause.  As a Tory, I don’t really have a political party, and I weigh each issue through the lens of reason rather than internet memes or party lines.  Some issues really do warrant concern and deliberation.  I act on my convictions quietly by contacting the proper authorities and by voting my conscience. But most issues are as trivial as taxation.  Before I wade into any argument concerning social or political issues, I ask myself, “Is this really worth starting a war over?  Is it worth the angst, the vitriol, the possible estrangement of others?”  Most of the time, it just isn’t.

It’s become the American way to expect to get everything we want and to get it now–and if we don’t get it, we have the right to thrown a temper tantrum over it.  And if anyone calls us on our attitude of entitlement, we accuse them of being intolerant, or ignorant, or even uncaring.  It all grieves me.

What would America be like today if we had started a war over a noble and selfless cause?  What if it were slavery, for example, that we were protesting?  Would we be a kinder, more loving people?  I wonder.

By the way–before you burn me in effigy, please have a gander at my first controversial Fourth of July entry entitled “An American Tory.”

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A Day In the Life of Cornerstone

Some of my readers may be aware that, once upon a time, there was an amazing yearly event on a remote farm in Illinois called Cornerstone Christian Arts Festival.  During that week, every form of music imaginable from all over the world would be showcased–Christian music one never gets to hear on “Christian radio”.  But it was so much more than music.  Every art form known to man was displayed, discussed, celebrated:  painting, sculpture, writing, film-making–from every culture of the world.  Seminars concerning outreach and ministry to every part of culture were held.  And two years ago, the very last week of this singular event was held.  Once attended by over 25,000 enthusiastic Christians in past years, the numbers dwindled to a mere 5,000 that last year.  Unable to continue such a costly event, the sponsors (Jesus People USA) decided to end it.  The farm has now been sold, and a special part of our lives is now over.  This is an essay I wrote two years ago to commemorate this wonderful once-annual event which was such an important part of us.  Of course, every day of Cornerstone is unique, but here are some of the things that struck me as especially poignant as I pondered our last experience there.

We wake up each morning about 7:30 and clean up as best we can to begin our day.  Things begin to happen at 9:00 and we don’t want to miss a moment.  Walking through the campsites of our neighbors to the footpath is always an adventure as we skirt tents and air mattresses, hammocks and pavilions, and sometimes people just lying on the ground on blankets.  The Asylum tent is close at hand, but it’s quiet in the morning.  Those who man that venue have been up all night dispensing free coffee and tea and talking with whomever came to hang out in spectacularly gothic surroundings.  Later in the day, speakers will conduct seminars and discussion groups about ministering to minority sub-cultures and Christian Goth bands will play.  My teenagers loved this tent.

Past the footbridge, the path towards the main venue area is lined with poles with artwork displayed on them.  Paintings, sculptures and montages depict Christ and the Christian life in beautiful and unique ways that help me focus my mind on why I am here as I trudged up the hill in the blazing sun.  The campers in this area are especially gregarious and generous.  Rather than ensconcing themselves up in the woods as we did, they deliberately placed themselves on the main path without a speck of shade to comfort them, and many spend the day offering to pray for passers-by or dishing up free bowls of Ramen noodles to the hungry who miscalculated the amount of spending money they needed for the week.

Passing by the Sacrosanct tent, I can overhear some heavy metal artists tuning up  like a migraine head-ache for a noon concert.  The lead singer, in leather, chains, and tattoos, stops to lead his band-mates in prayer:  “Jesus, if I don’t do everything for You, I don’t wanta do anything!” he exclaims.  Amen, brother!

The band in the Gallery tent is playing contemporary worship music while people sip coffee and cold Thai around the tables in the back.  Someone is playing a hurdy-gurdy in the Art tent as people line up to take part in various art projects such as needle-felting, bead-making, and collage techniques.  Glen Kaiser, an amazing blues guitarist, is showing some kids how to make instruments out of cookie tins and cigar boxes.

Across the way,  Creation Station is filling up with children eager to watch puppet shows, learn songs and dances from other countries in other languages, and squirt each other with bubble guns.  The Artrageous tent has as many adults as children playing with modeling clay, finger paints, and bins full of flour and buckets full of water.

In one of the seminar tents, I can see an orthodox priest conducting morning matins.  In another, I can hear a Catholic priest leading mass.  At the farthest end of the grounds, I reach the Imaginarium, where I will spend the next seven hours in geek heaven discussing literature, film-making, cultural icons, and comic-book heroes.  At night, I will be back in my home away from home watching movies with my people:  one night it’s Blue Like Jazz; one night it’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog– and how fun it was to sing along with a hundred people who all knew the words!

I did also spend time in other venues listening to bands.  It’s lovely to sit in the Gallery as the sun goes down and the air slowly cools from the oppressive 109 it’s been all day to a cool, crisp 80 or so, listening to Aradhna’s soothing Indian music or The Crossing’s rousing Irish folk tunes.  All over the farm, others are scattered about listening to heavy metal or screamo or ska or blue grass or whatever; or, they are playing volleyball, skateboarding, or swimming in the lake; or in other seminar tents they are discussing philosophy or ministry or relationship-building.

But Saturday morning, everyone is together in one place, worshiping together and taking the Lord’s Supper in humility and reverence.  Two little boys walk through the crowd carrying a jug of water, a dish pan, and a towel, offering to wash people’s feet.  Dozens go up the microphones to testify to God’s goodness and the power of Jesus in their lives.  Old and young; conservative and liberal; goths, hippies, hipsters and geeks;  long hair, short hair, spiked hair and dreadlocks; all colors, shapes, and sizes; all together because of the love of Christ; all worshiping as one body and sincerely loving and serving one another without reservation.  This is what heaven will be like.

So now it’s over.  Where else on this earth can we find such unrestricted, unbridled passion for Christ that is willing to look past all differences and focus on what all Christians have in common?  Knowing this love for Christ and His body existed somewhere made a great difference in my life.  Is it gone because Cornerstone is gone?  Or will this message of unity spread?  I would that this entire nation be Cornerstone; that everywhere a Christian goes, he or she will find other Christians as loving and as willing to reach out and serve others as those who used to gather once a year on a hot, dusty, smelly farm in the dullest state in the union.




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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Four

At last, the walls of Jerusalem were complete.  It was now a safe, secure place for the people to live.  Governor Nehemiah had plans for guarding the gates and for moving the people into the almost empty city.  He chose two men to be in charge of the city:  his brother Hanani and another man named Hananiah.  He chose Hananiah because this good man feared God more than most men do.  Why was this important to Nehemiah?  What does it mean to fear God?  Deuteronomy 10:12 tells us that, of all the things God wants us to do, to fear Hi is first on the list, even above loving Him.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and Prov. 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  Proverbs 8:13 says that to fear the Lord is to hate evil.  I think these verses are telling us that fearing the Lord means trying to always please Him in everything we do.  If we do this, we can truly get to know Him as He is, and only then can we truly love Him.  That’s why the fear of the Lord must come first:  we might love God for selfish reasons, for what He can do for us or give to us.  But if we really get to know Him, by truly trying to please Him, we can love Him because of Who He is.

The walls were finished in time for the festivals of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  This would have been the end of September and beginning of October on our calendar.  The first day of that month was the Feast of Trumpets.  The priest Ezra had come to Jerusalem to teach the Law to the people.  Ezra would have been very old by this time, but he stood before the people on the Feast of Trumpets and read the Law to them.  The people stood out of respect for the Law and listened from dawn until noon!  They listened carefully to every word, and if someone did not understand a part of it, the Levites would explain it to him.  The people grieved when they heard God’s Laws, because they realized how much of His precious Word they had forgotten.  They wept and mourned, which showed that they not only understood and believed God’s Word, but they were applying it to their lives.  Nehemiah reassured them: “Do not grieve.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  The people then went on to plan a wonderful celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which came two weeks later.   They had the biggest, most joyful celebration of this holiday since Joshua’s time.  God’s Word made them grieve because of their sins, and then God’s Word gave them great joy because it showed them how to live.

Do you reverence God’s Word as His people should?  How many of you have Bibles of your own?  Do you know how incredibly lucky you are to be able to own a copy of God’s Word?  In Nehemiah’s day, no one had a Bible of their own.  Few people were even able to read at all, and books were so expensive and took so long to make, there were very few of them.  That is why Ezra had to read the Law out loud to everyone.  Perhaps this was the first time some of them had heard God’s Word!  The priests were supposed to read it every seven years, but if you missed that reading you might not hear God’s Word for years.

Do you have to wait seven years to hear God’s Word?  You can read it or listen to your Mom or Dad read it to you any time you want.  Do you take advantage of this incredible blessing?  Do you respect God’s Word by listening carefully and asking questions if you don’t understand?  Do you apply His Words to your life, being sorry for your sins and feeling joy because of His many blessings to you?

There are about 440 million people in the world today who have no Bible.  I have missionary friends whose only job is to get Bibles to people in their own language.  How their eyes light up when they get a Bible of their very own in their language.  They know what an incredible gift God’s Word is and they treasure it above all things.  I am afraid that God’s Word is not valued as much here in America because almost everyone has one.  We should treasure His precious Word as much as those who can’t have it.  We should want to read it or listen to it every day, and hide it in our hearts.

It was not an accident that Ezra chose to read God’s Word by the Water Gate.  Many times in the Bible, God’s Word is compared to water.  Water quenches our thirst and makes us clean.  God’s Word also quenches our thirst for knowledge of Him, and it makes us aware of sin so that we can be clean inside.  Remember how it feels to be very thirsty and then to get a nice, cold glass of water?  It makes you happy, doesn’t it?  God’s Word should make you that happy.  Next time you pick up your Bible, think about how blessed you are to have it!

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