As I begin writing this newsletter (Sat., Aug. 25th) we are keeping an eye on the local weather forecasts monitoring the track of Tropical Storm Isaac. For the most part it seems that this meteorological event won’t be too terrible for our region. That being said, those of us who remember Hurricane Charley in 2004 know that these storms are no “laughing” matter (if you didn’t catch the humor there, just look up “Isaac” in your Strong’s Concordance). Though my family has lived in Southwest Florida since 1985, until Charley neither I, nor most people residing in the Gulf Coast, had ever experienced a full-fledged hurricane. (The last storm of Charley’s magnitude to hit our region was Donna back in the 60’s). The forecast in 2004 told us the category four storm was going to hit Tampa and that the effects here in Ft. Myers would be comparatively nominal. I, like so many others, made very few preparations. Procuring batteries for my radio and a couple cans of Vienna sausages seemed sufficient to me. However, sometime just after noon on Friday (the 13th no less) the forecast changed. Charley took a turn to the east and brought destructive 100-150 mph winds throughout our local region. Downed trees, fallen power lines, and blue tarped roofs were fixtures in the tri-county area for weeks to come. The 2004 hurricane season turned out to be a heavy one for us bringing four or five more of these tropical events in our vicinity. The coming of Charley changed the local “atmosphere” with regard to preparation for the storms that followed. Many folks who hadn’t taken hurricanes seriously in the past (though they annually get “treated” to hurricane preparedness seminars on the tv and tracking guides at the grocery checkout) began to do so after experiencing the consequences of “the big one” that made landfall. Unfortunately, that principle seems to hold true in many areas of life. Most times, we don’t take things seriously until we experience the consequences…and some times, that’s too late! In Mark 9:42-50, Jesus instructs us on some things that we should take seriously, but often do not.
Drownings—The Seriousness of Leading Little One’s Astray…I was about twelve years old when we moved to Lehigh Acres. The small town was largely regarded as a retirement community back then but the “suburbs” of Lehigh (streets upon streets with very few houses) were populated by a few younger families (and folks of all ages trying to escape the iron curtain of Cape Coral Code Enforcement!). One night, I was out riding my bike when the German Shepherd from the house behind ours, which normally was on a chain, went running loose and ended up taking a chunk out of my backside (perhaps a little better code enforcement would have been a blessing!). I went running home (maybe “hobbling” would be a more accurate word choice) and mom took me to the hospital where they gave me a tetanus shot. The doctors told us that the dog would need to be observed for the next 72 hours or so to ensure that it did not have rabies or the like. Mom got a call at work the next day from the authorities telling her that the family who owned the German Shepherd wanted to watch the dog themselves instead of having him taken into custody to be monitored. Now my mom, as those of you who know her could testify, is usually one of the kindest, sweetest, meekest people you could ever have the privilege of meeting. But, do something that she sees as a threat to her cub and the fierceness of the mama bear is easily aroused! She told them in no uncertain terms and in a no uncertain volume that the dog was to be monitored by the authorities! Those in her workplace who knew her normal demeanor heard the conversation and commented about the strong way she protected her son. (They probably went home and made sure their canines were properly secured, at least when I was around, lest they incur the wrath of the mama bear!) Every parent worth their salt has the same attitude towards their kids. If your little one is threatened, there is nothing you wouldn’t sacrifice or no battle you wouldn’t fight to protect them.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 that if we earthly parents, who are by nature evil and have a limited capacity to love due to our sinfulness, give our children good gifts, how much more will our Heavenly Father, who has no sin nature and a capacity to love that is beyond our comprehension, give good gifts unto His children! Now, if an earthly mother cares enough about her child to become more than a little protective and hot under the collar, how much more will our Heavenly Father look out for His children and make it more than a little unpleasant for those who would seek to do them harm! Though you don’t find that last sentence written just that precisely in Scripture, I believe the point is clear to anyone who reads Mark 9:42 where Jesus declares, with a child in His arms, that whoever should cause a little one who believes on Christ to stumble, would be better off to have a heavy stone hung around their neck and then be cast into the sea! Verses such as these should make every Christian leader, and every Christian at large, to live their lives very seriously, knowing that it’s about more than just us, it’s about those we influence, about being a stepping stone of holiness drawing others toward Jesus, instead of a stumbling block of hypocrisy causing them to walk away.
Amputations—The Seriousness of Sin…Before moving to the metropolis of Lehigh Acres, Florida my family lived in the slightly less urban sprawl of Cubbage, Kentucky. While in elementary school there my love for American History was born. Our class took a field trip just across the border into Tennessee to visit Lincoln Memorial University. As you might imagine, the college named in honor of our 16th President had an extensive museum focused on the Civil War. Part of the exhibits told of the medical treatment that those wounded in battle received. The field physicians did the best they could, but with limited equipment and primitive knowledge, compared to the vast advances in medicine we know today, the chances of a critically wounded soldier surviving to fight another day were not very high. One of the most used procedures of those offering medical assistance to the combatants back in the 1860’s was amputation. If someone had a hand, an arm, a foot, or a leg that was wounded, it would be quite common for the doctor to make the determination that the infected body part be cut off in an effort to keep the infection from spreading and to save the person’s life. They had actual scalpels and saws (yes I said saws!) that were used in such procedures on display and even had pictures of the amputees (thankfully, only black and white photos were able to be produced back then). It was not a pleasant sight, amputations never are. They are serious procedures meant to combat a situation that could be even more serious if left unattended.
In Mark 9:43-47 Jesus speaks of amputations. He says that if our hand (representing what we do) causes us to sin, it would be better to have it cut off and enter into life one armed rather than to have two hands and be cast into hell, where the fire doesn’t go out and the worms never die. In like manner He goes on to say that if our foot (representing where we go) or our eye (representing what we see and think) causes us to sin, then we should have them cut off as well for it would be better to enter into eternal life lame than to have our whole body cast into hell, where the fire doesn’t go out and the worms never die. Some think that Jesus never talked about hell, but the truth is that no New Testament figure speaks more on the subject than our Lord Himself. Others believe that if there is a hell, then it is only temporary and that those who go there will either be annihilated or will one day have the possibility of escape. However, Jesus’ words here in Mark 9 speak clarity to those issues. The word He used for hell was “Gehinnom.” It was a valley outside of Jerusalem where Old Testament kings of Israel who had fallen away from the one true God would sacrifice their children by burning them to the false god Molech. During Jesus’ day the valley was a place where trash, the bodies of dead animals, and the bodies of executed criminals were burned. Gehinnom was a place of constant fire, unquenchable stench, and perpetual home of worms and other scavengers that painted a vivid picture in the minds of those who heard Jesus’ words in Mark 9. Are amputations serious? Absolutely! Are they desirable? Absolutely not! But if an amputation is the necessary procedure to keep you and me from an overwhelmingly more severe situation, then bring it on! Perhaps one could make a case that they’d rather die than face the physical amputation of a limb, but no one in their right mind would make the argument that they’d rather be cast into an eternal lake of fire than to merely lose part of their physical body for the temporary time of their physical life on earth. May we take sin seriously, Jesus does!