Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot


Every blog needs a mascot, right?  Well, maybe not every blog, but this morning I decided this one does.  Before I introduce him, a little backstory on where he came from.

Boston is one of my favorite places to visit, and when I was there last October, we got this great picture of a squirrel in Boston Common.  The squirrels there ignore people most of the time, instead of running away like squirrels usually do.  But this one was not afraid of us at all; he walked right up and stared us down.  He stayed like this long enough for us to take a picture and was still around after we walked away.  For squirrels, fear of humans is a learned behavior and, in some environments, they just go about their business, unconcerned.

Ebenezer, at home in Boston Common

He was a great contrast to the “squirrel moments”[1] dogs (and people) have when they are “distracted by random nothingness.”  The Facebook page where I share this blog is called “A place to inject hopeful reminders of eternity into the distraction that is Facebook.”  I’ve used this squirrel as my social media picture before to joke that it was the best way to draw attention, and if people are easily distracted by squirrels, why not use one to distract people toward the blog?

So, this squirrel is now the mascot for Driving Toward Morning!  But he needs a name.  What to call him?

Meet Ebenezer
Many people know the name Ebenezer from Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but in the Bible an Ebenezer is a stone monument constructed as a tangible and visible reminder of God’s past help for His people.  Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and such monuments were built in Genesis 28:18, 35:14, Joshua 4:9, 1 Samuel 7:12 and elsewhere.  Only this morning did I make the connection that when I write, I’m often trying to create a type of written Ebenezer.

For example, inspired by a devotional about Ephesians 2:4, I wrote a post about the power of the words “but God.”  In it, James Montgomery Boice says: “The words ‘but God’ show what God has done. If you understand those two words – ‘but God’ – they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”[2]

So, I’ve decided to name him “Ebenezer, the ‘But God…’ Squirrel,” but you can just call him Ebenezer.  Whenever I see Ebenezer, I hope to be pulled back into awareness of God’s help when I am distracted or frustrated.  I hope to be reminded to store up treasure in heaven as squirrels store food for the winter.  I hope to fear God and not man.  I hope to be encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), as every squirrel I see reminds me that interrupting the seeming chaos of the world with “but God” can change everything.

Next time, and every time, you see a squirrel, I hope you are reminded of the same.  The world is not random, and God is relevant to your situation, whatever it is.

If you’re ever in Boston and see Ebenezer, say hello to him for me.


[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SQUIRREL%21%21
[2] From “November 7.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

Unlikely Heroes


Blogger Mitch Teemley posted this amazing compilation of human creativity and compassion at work! Check it out and it will make your day.  Click on the view original post link below.

Mitch Teemley

Not all heroes wear uniforms. Some simply wear their hearts on their sleeves. They may do nothing more than smile when they see someone in need of a smile. But make no mistake — in those moments, they are heroes. And as long as we have both kinds of heroes, likely and unlikely, there’ll be hope for the human race.

Click on any image to enlarge it, read caption, or begin slide show.

View original post

When Bad Things Happen to the Greatest Disciples


Did Jesus fail John the Baptist?  John was identified as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[1] prophesied by Isaiah.  John publicly announced the coming of Jesus, and soon baptized Him, then watched the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and heard the voice of the Father declare Jesus as the Son.[2]  Was testifying publicly about Jesus and His miracles John’s mission in life?  If so, why did John find himself in prison, unable to preach in the open?  As Matthew’s Gospel records, Herod Antipas, the Roman ruler of Galilee and Perea, had John arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral relationship with his brother’s wife.[3]  While under arrest, John began to have some doubts about Jesus and sent messengers to Him, saying “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?[4]  To John, his circumstances didn’t make sense and he reached out to Jesus for an explanation.

Matthew, in preparing his gospel message, intentionally placed this question from John to Jesus after a long section about followers of Jesus meeting opposition and persecution in the world. If you have time, read Matthew chapters 10 and 11 now, or keep reading here and I’ll quote key verses and ideas as we go, starting with these:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” – Matthew 10:24
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:11

I think Matthew was making several points, starting with this: living like Jesus does not mean Christians will avoid uncomfortable circumstances, including criticism and/or persecution.  Circumstances are not always a sign we’ve done something right or wrong. In Matthew 10, when Jesus said “a disciple is not above his teacher” the context tells us that what He meant was that His perfect life and obedience led to the cross, and if we are like Him we can’t expect to be treated better than He was.  Still, we may be tempted to think that if we live the right life, if we preach the truth of the gospel perfectly, if we do everything we should, then we will not be like “sheep in the midst of wolves,”[5] but loved and admired by the world.  By moving right to the story of John in the next chapter, and saying “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,”  Matthew is saying that not even the greatest disciple of Jesus who ever lived was exempt from the warnings of chapter 10, including “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:17-18

Even the very best lives and preaching meet opposition, perhaps even more opposition from those who have no interest in the kingdom of God.

Second, by placing these stories side-by-side, Matthew shows that John the Baptist is an example for us when we have doubts[6].  In prison, John had doubts, but did not give up on Jesus.  If Jesus was who he said He was, then not only the warnings of chapter 10 apply to John and us, but also the assurances and instructions:

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” – Matthew 10:27
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:31

John sent disciples to Jesus not to ask for rescue or to complain, but to confirm whether He really was the Messiah.  When we have doubts, we can also seek and find comfort.

Third, there is always more God is doing than we are aware of.  Instead of commenting directly on John’s prison situation to John’s messengers, “Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.[7]  In other words, Jesus was doing everything the Messiah should be doing, and even with John sidelined from public ministry, the kingdom of God was advancing spectacularly.  John had the information needed to believe and should not be “offended” by his unexpected circumstances. God remained in control of the situation.

Lastly, the circumstances of our lives may be what inspire others to better follow Christ, although it may be invisible to us.  Therefore, our patience and faithfulness in those times, or even the way we express and deal with doubt, can be a powerful witness.  As “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” John saw his audience as those coming out to see Him and be baptized.  From this perspective, being in prison made John feel useless or like a failure to his calling. What had he and/or Jesus done wrong?  But God (see related post on these two words), through Matthew’s Gospel, saw John’s audience as all future generations, who could be encouraged that even the “great” John the Baptist faced criticism, persecution, and even doubt.  John may have thought his purpose was to keep preaching publicly, but instead his example benefits other believers in ways that his freedom couldn’t.

Faith Over Circumstance
Don’t let circumstances determine your faith and willingness to serve Christ.  In Matthew 10, Jesus said political and religious leaders, and even our own families, will resist Christ in us.  Often, they will appear to succeed.  Also, some will tell us that when things aren’t going our way, we need to “have more faith”, “pray harder”, “go to church more”, and convince God to improve our situation.  They argue we need to fix something we’re doing and our circumstances will improve.  But this is not the message of John’s story, and Matthew made sure of that by the way he wrote it.  There is no record of Jesus or Matthew telling John the Baptist why he was suffering and in prison, or that he could do anything about it.  Jesus only asked him to trust.  However, when John was ultimately beheaded[8], he met Jesus face-to face again, but fully glorified, and I believe John understood.  There is always more to our circumstances than we can see or comprehend, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[9]

If even John the Baptist was not exempt from the warnings of Matthew 10, neither are we.  But also, if John could trust his Lord and Savior to love and provide for him, we can too. Odds are that nobody reading this will face what John the Baptist faced, but his story helps in whatever circumstance God asks us to glorify Him in.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” – Matthew 10:38-39, 42


[1] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.
[2] Matthew 3:16-17
[3] Matthew 14:3
[4] Matthew 11:3
[5] Matthew 10:16
[6] Also, I recently posted an example from the life of Jeremiah the prophet.
[7] Matthew 11:4-6
[8] Matthew 14:10
[9] Romans 8:28

The Meaning of the Bible in Sign Language


As a hearing child of deaf parents myself, I was thrilled earlier this week to see the movie CODA win best picture, deaf actor Troy Kotsur win best supporting actor, and Siân Heder win for best adapted screenplay.  CODA stands for Children of Deaf Adults and the story centers around Ruby Rossi, a hearing teenage girl who is an amazing singer but is the only hearing member of her family.  There are good lessons in the movie about overcoming differences and obstacles through some compassion and creativity.

It was a great movie but be aware: “Mr. Kotsur used the versatility of sign language to enhance Frank’s dialogue, which is sometimes salty enough to push the limits on the movie’s PG-13 rating.”[1]  There’s one scene in particular where Frank Rossi embarrasses his daughter Ruby in front of a boy with some improvised, erotic sign language.  Versatility has negatives but also positives…

My last post, focused on love, showed how multiple words for love in Greek conceal layers of meaning when translated to English.  After watching CODA, I was reminded of an example where the expressiveness of sign language also adds layers of meaning beyond spoken English. (maybe spoken English is just a bad language?)  Not all sign language is the same – there are many dialects – but the sign for Bible I use is actually two signs: “Jesus” followed by “book.”  Every time I sign what I would just speak as “Bible,” there’s a reminder built right in that the Bible is a book about Jesus.  From start to finish, the Bible is a record of why He needed to come, what He was like when He did, and what His followers should believe, know, and do.  Jesus Christ is described right in the sign for Bible!

But there’s still another layer.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends his ministry saying that his message needs to focus on “Christ crucified”[2], not on performing miracles to those who want signs and impressing with fancy speech those who love wisdom.  To sign “Jesus”, I touch the middle finger of my right hand to the palm of my left hand, then the middle finger of my left to the palm of my right.  What does that signify?  It’s an expressive reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the nails that were barbarically driven into his hands.  Thomas, one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus, said after the first Easter that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.”  Eight days later, Jesus presented Himself to Thomas and said “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  To which Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-29).  I don’t know if this was intended by the person who created the sign for Jesus, but it may be a liturgy recalling this encounter, reminding us that Jesus was crucified, yet lives!

So, whenever you think of the Bible, think of it in sign language where every single time you sign it, there is a reminder that the Bible is the book about Christ crucified.  After Thomas declared who Jesus was, Jesus responded: “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Every time I sign “Bible,” it testifies to those who have not seen Jesus of what He has done for them.


One Last Thing
By the way, to sign “book” you place your hands together flat, palms facing each other, in front of you, then open them as if your hands were the front and back of a book.


[1] Jurgensen, John. “Troy Kotsur of ‘CODA’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar.” The Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2022.
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23

Missionaries Saved By Mysterious Army: History Bit for March 28


Even people who believe in angels and demons may not see how they are relevant.  The Bible contains a lot of hints about a spiritual world we can’t see, but not a lot of detail about what it all means to us.  One of these hints is in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings during a war between Israel and Syria.  Trying to kill the prophet Elisha, the Syrian army surrounded the city of Dothan where he was staying.  Elisha’s servant saw the army, was worried and asked Elisha what they should do.  Elisha (and the LORD) responded:

“He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” – 2 Kings 6:16-17

On today’s date, March 28th, in 1953 something happened in Kijabe, Kenya which may be eerily similar to the events of 2 Kings.  I know several solid, Christian, professional people not known for sensationalism who were at the site of this event a handful of years later, and who spoke to people who witnessed it.  For this post, my primary source is the book “School in the Clouds: The Rift Valley Academy Story” by Phil Dow[1], but I could have written it entirely from second-hand accounts from people I know.  So, what happened?

In the decade of the 1950’s, Kenya was a British colony, but was embroiled in what is known as the Mau Mau, an extremely violent uprising against British rule.  Colonialism had added a new facet to tribal animosity in Kenya that existed long before the “Scramble for Africa”[2], where some Africans embraced and defended British efforts, while others strongly resented it and endorsed any means to repel the British and restore the “pure” African culture that existed before.

As part of a broader pattern of atrocities designed to scare the British into leaving, the Mau Mau planned an attack on Rift Valley Academy (RVA), a boarding school for children of missionaries.  Not only was the school symbolic of unwelcome outside influence in the eyes of the Mau Mau, but the school had also opened its doors as a refuge for Africans fleeing Mau Mau threats elsewhere.  On March 26th, Mau Mau fighters attacked a Christian group of Kikuyu (one of the Kenyan tribes) a few miles from RVA, killing 97 villagers and wounding 32 others, largely with machetes.  The Kikiyu tribe, historically a lower socioeconomic group, was divided between those who joined the Mau Mau for independence and those who backed British involvement because they saw Christianity and other Western influences as a positive.

RVA was on high alert, knowing the campus of schoolchildren and their caregivers were the Mau Mau’s next target.  Phil Dow wrote in his book:

“The sun rose Saturday morning accompanied by a host of rumors that confirmed an impending Mau Mau raid on RVA. Convinced that they would be attacked, several high school girls took time in the afternoon to write letters they hoped would be read by their parents if they were to be killed. That night the students went to bed under a star-filled sky fully clothed and expecting to be awakened by the sounds of gunfire and angry voices.”

They were awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of an alarm, some distant gunfire, but soon followed by an “all clear” bell.


Weeks later, some Mau Mau were caught hiding near the school and questioned about what happened on the night of March 28th.  They confirmed that an attack on RVA was attempted with the intention of burning the school to the ground and killing anyone they found there, but the attack was repelled by lines of British soldiers encircling the campus.  Later, other witnesses claimed the same.  However, “in March of 1953 there were no British soldiers at Kijabe.”  Multiple sources on RVA’s campus and among British authorities attest that the campus was vulnerable and mostly undefended, but something happened that spared the community and the lives of everyone in it so that the missionary work could continue.  The attempted attack raised the awareness of the British and provided time for them to install “protection of the very worldly kind” for RVA, including limited troops stationed there, along with defensive walls, barbed wire, and guard posts with mounted machine guns.

Dow concludes: “Whatever did happen that night, the Christian community at RVA was convinced that they had been kept safe by supernatural intervention. Indeed, the night’s events continue to be remembered as an example of God’s provision for the devoutly Christian community.”

What Elisha said in the Old Testament as:
Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them”

Paul echoes in the New as:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:31-32

Amen.


Interested in more History? Select “History Bits” from the “Blog” drop down menu at the top of the page.


[1] Dow, Phil. School in the Clouds: The Rift Valley Academy Story.  (2003).  P. 130-132
[2] See summary at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramble_for_Africa

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