Monday, May 9, 2016


Last Friday, May 6, Uni felt an urge to call Gracie, the daughter of our old friend Gladis Gibson, in El Paso, TX.  We had heard that Gladis was in hospice care and her health was rapidly declining.

When Gracie answered, Uni said simply, "I called to ask how your mother is doing?"

Gracie replied, "She passed this morning."

This was not a blow to us, as we had known it was coming for quite awhile; nevertheless, we still grieved.  Gladis would have been 92 on her next birthday.

We had known Gladis for over 60 years.  She and her husband Bill had had a great influence on our walk with Christ during that period.  I was honored to do Bill's memorial service in 2009 when he went to be with the Lord.

I first met Gladis and Bill in 1956.  I was 19 years old and it had been only a year since I had committed my life to Christ.  "Churchy" things were still new to me.  I knew that the little church we attended supported foreign missionaries, but at first my opinion of missionaries was that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids - people who couldn't make it in the "real world."  Two events happened to change that opinion.

The first was a news item about what the world considered a horrible tragedy.  On a sandy beach along an unknown river deep in the jungles of Ecuador, a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas.  The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country.  LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures.  Radio and TV commentators discussed the event.  It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless.  But this event had an impact on many in my generation.

The second was the meeting with the Gibsons, then in their 30's, not long after that event.  Bill was from our little church in Michigan and Gladis was from Oklahoma.  They had met in Bible college and had been sent out by our church as missionaries with Gospel Missionary Union, an independent mission organization.  They were at the time on a one year furlough from serving in the jungles of Ecuador.

Bill and Gladis had served with those martyred men and their families.  They were dear friends and had known of the plans to bring the Gospel of Christ to this stone-age tribe that had never had contact with "civilization" before.  They had prayed and planned with these men and their wives and families.  Bill regaled us and our church youth group with stories of their adventures in the jungles.  He had even flown over the Auca village with Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, one of the martyrs.

The Gibsons were not simply good story tellers, they were normal people, yet people who had given their lives completely to Christ, and they spoke of those martyred men as being ordinary people just as they were.  I was impressed with Gladis when she played softball with us at a church picnic; she was stronger than many of us men.  She could hit harder and run faster than any of us.  As she later confessed, "I spend a great amount of my time trekking and sometimes running, through the jungle."

The Gibsons took Uni and me under their wings.  They mentored us - not by teaching us theology or how-tos, but simply by modeling the Christian life.

Later, when we moved from Michigan to Texas, we lost track of each other for a few years.  Then when I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary, Bill looked me up and found me in the coffee room.  The Gibsons were then serving in El Paso as directors of GMU's ministry in South Texas and Northern Mexico.  The friendships resumed.

Down through the years, Bill Gibson would sometimes speak at churches I pastored.  They'd also sing and Gladis would play her accordion.  I was privileged to be the speaker at the biennial retreats held for the South Texas missionaries, as well as in the little chapel where they were active.  Sometimes I would receive a phone call from Gladis informing me, "Our church bulletin says that you will be preaching on _______.”  We'd make arrangements at home, jump in the car and drive to El Paso for the service.

Gladis and Bill never ceased being missionaries for Christ, even after they retired.  They continued to serve in Grace Chapel in El Paso.  They started a Bible study in the mobile home park where they lived; it's still going on.  Gladis served as an R.N. in a clinic.  When she could no longer care for herself and needed to live in an independent living facility, she immediately started some Bible studies in both English and Spanish, with other residents and the care-giving personnel.

"Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His saints."  Psalm 116:15

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Meditations on the Cross, 12

Though all four Gospels tell us much about the 12 men whom Jesus called as disciples and later named as apostles, we also find a much larger number who responded to His call.  The usual picture brought up to our minds is of a large crowd of bearded men accompanying Him in His travels.  However Luke in his Gospel adds to our picture.
Luke 8:1-3:  "And it came about ... that He was going through from town to town and village to village preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the twelve were with Him and also some women whom He had healed from evil spirits and sicknesses:  Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, Susanna, and many other women, who were providing for them out of their own means."
These were women, apparently all of some wealth, who like the twelve, had left all and were travelling with Jesus and providing support.  And they were there watching as Jesus was hanging from the cross.  They were there when He died.
Luke 24:49:  "And all His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee, were standing at a distance watching these things."  Matthew (27:55-56) and Mark (15:40-41) also tell us of these women.  Matthew and Mark name some of these women and both tell us that Mary Magdalene was among them.   John too, tells us that she was standing "by the cross" right there with Jesus' mother and some others (John 19:25).
Who was Mary Magdalene, the only woman mentioned in all four gospels as being with Jesus at the cross?  I'm afraid most people who have a bit of knowledge about the Gospel stories, believe they know who she was.  She was a prostitute, right?  We've seen her in countless movies - sometimes portrayed as a sad, worn, haggard woman, sometimes as a sex-bomb, but definitely a prostitute - at least a converted one.  We've possibly even listened to sermons in which we were told that Jesus can even save someone like her!  If we look up the word "magdalene" in our dictionaries, we'd find one of its definitions to be "a reformed prostitute."
But where in any of the Gospel accounts is there even a hint of this former occupation?  There isn't!  Though Luke tells us that she had been demon-possessed, the context implies that the demons were a cause of some illness from which she had been healed.  There is no hint of any misbehavior on her part.  She is rather presented as a woman of means who contributed to the support of Jesus' ministry.
Usually in questioning those who believe the gossip about Mary, I find that she is confused and conflated with other women found in the Gospels:  the "town sinner" who had anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36-50 (whose story immediately precedes the mention of Mary Magdalene); another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who also anointed Jesus in John 12:1-8; and sometimes the woman caught in adultery in John 8:8-11.
But though Mary Magdalene's story is not that of popular mythology or Hollywood romanticism and sensationalism, it is much more exciting and definitely more important.  She is presented in all four Gospels not only as a witness of Jesus' sufferings and death, but also as a witness to His resurrection.  In fact, Mary is the first person to see Jesus after He had risen.

The four Gospel accounts present different glimpses of the events of that first Sunday morning, and it is not my purpose here to harmonize them, though it can easily be done.  John's account seems clearest and the most moving.  After reporting to the disciples that the tomb was empty and following Peter and John back to the empty tomb (John 20:1-10) Mary was left standing weeping outside the tomb (11-13a).  Looking in, she saw two angels who asked why she was weeping.

John 20:13b -16: "She said to them, 'Because they have taken away my Lord and I don't know where they've put Him!'  When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but didn't know it was Jesus.
          Jesus said to her, 'Woman why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?'
          She supposed He was the gardener and said to Him, 'Sir, if you've taken Him away, tell me where you've laid Him and I'll get Him!'
          Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'  She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, 'Rabboni' (which means 'teacher')!"

We can almost feel Mary's tears.  She had followed her Lord; she had seen Him suffer and die a horrible death; she had gone to the tomb for one final glance; she had felt the horror of finding that His body was missing.  I'm sure that after she saw Him alive, her tears did not cease but became tears of joy.
The story continues.  Mary announces to the others what has happened and they disbelieve at first, till Jesus appears to them.  Mary's name is not mentioned again and she disappears from the accounts - except for one final note.  Luke in the Book of Acts - his second volume - tells us that after Jesus had ascended to Heaven, "The disciples returned to Jerusalem ... they went up to the upper room where they were staying ... All these were devoting themselves with one mind in prayer continually, along with the women ..." (Acts 1:2-14).

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Meditations on the Cross, 11
When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was forced to go through a series of "trials" in the night, conducted by the Jewish leaders, before being sent to Pilate.  The second of these was at the house of Caiaphas, the ruling high priest where we are told the scribes and elders were gathered along with the chief priests.  This was not a formal gathering of the Sanhedrin; that would follow.

Though Jesus had been on a hit list for quite some time, John in his Gospel lets us know that it was Caiaphas, the current High Priest, who was the one heading up the witch hunt.  John 18:14: "Now it was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was expedient that one Man should die for the people."

In John 12:47-53, we read of the meeting where Jesus' death had been determined.  Jesus was perceived as such a great problem that there was felt to be a danger of the Romans acting to destroy the nation.  Better for just one to die, then all.  Hence we can understand that the trial was more like a hearing in which Caiaphas and company were determined to find some accusation with which to condemn Jesus.  Perhaps we could call it a kangaroo court.  The Defendant was already condemned to death in the minds of His judge and jury.  Their task was to justify the decision they'd already made.

Mark in his Gospel describes the inquisition (Mark 14:60-64; also see Matthew 26:62-66).  "And the High Priest stood up in their midst and questioned Jesus, 'Don't you have an answer to these who are witnessing against you?'  But He stayed silent and didn't give an answer.  Again the High Priest was questioning Him, and he said to Him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?'  And Jesus said, 'I AM! And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power - and coming with the clouds of heaven!'
          Then the High Priest tore his robes and said, 'Why do we still have need of witnesses?  You've heard the blasphemy!  What is your decision?'  And they all condemned Him as deserving of death."

At first Jesus had simply remained silent while false accusations were made against Him, but when Caiaphas questioned Him directly as to who He claimed to be, Jesus could no longer be quiet.  And His answer was incriminating!

First His reply "I AM!"  The words in Mark's Greek text are "ego eimi."  If the trial was conducted in Hebrew, His words would have been "EHYEH" - the very words that God gave to Moses when asked His name!  (Related to the name "Yahweh," the One Who Is."  See:  Exodus 3:13-15.)

Then Jesus referenced two Scriptures which were not only considered Messianic, but even pointed to His deity.

The first was Psalm 110:1:  "Yahweh said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.'"  Jesus had previously used this passage in His debates with the Pharisees in the Temple just a few days before (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46), to point out that the hoped for Messiah would not only be the son of David - i.e., of human descent - but He would also be David's Lord - i.e., divine.

Then Daniel 7:13ff:  "As I was looking in the visions of night, I saw coming on the clouds of Heaven, One like a Son of Man.  He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.  And to Him was given dominion, glory and a Kingdom ... "  Jesus throughout His ministry had used the label "Son of Man" (huios anthropou in Greek, but if Jesus spoke in Aramaic, it would have been Bar Enash, the title used by Daniel) for Himself.  Though the expression could be understood as simply meaning a human being, in Daniel's prophecy it referred to a coming being Who would have both human and divine characteristics.

Was this the point at which Caiaphas finally realized that the Man whom he had been out to get was more than just a wonder-working troublemaker who was claiming to be their Messiah, as other crack pots and scoundrels had done?  I suspect that Caiaphas had finally come to the realization that Jesus was claiming to be God in the flesh!

Though many in our day, as well as in the last 2,000 years, will tell us that Jesus never claimed to be God, Caiaphas knew better.  The charge was blasphemy.  How had Jesus "blasphemed"?  He had said nothing against God.  The blasphemy charge was because of His claims to Deity!  It is not enough, however, to recognize Jesus' claims; they must be recognized as true.  It would appear that this had never occurred to Caiaphas.

Instead of recognizing the trust of Jesus' claims, Caiaphas tore his robes as a symbol of his grief and undoubtedly in his blind rage at the Man standing before him.  The tearing of one's garments was a common way of showing one's grief in that culture, as it is in many cultures today.  However, the Mosaic Law forbade this action to one person.

Leviticus 21:10:  "And the priest who is highest among his brothers on whose head the anointed oil has been poured, and who has been ordained to wear the garments, shall not bare his head and shall not tear his garments.  He shall not go in to a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother."

Previously Caiaphas had unwittingly prophesied that " ... it is advantageous .. that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish," which John interpreted to mean "that Jesus was going to die for the nation ... " (John 11:50-52)

Now for a second time, Caiaphas was unwittingly making an acknowledgment.  By tearing his robes he was signifying that the priesthood of the family of Aaron was coming to an end after 1,500 years.  Standing before him was the new High Priest who was about to become not only the Priest but the Sacrifice itself!

I wonder if Caiaphas' robes were patched back together or if he had a new set made,  It made little difference; that priesthood which Caiaphas had unwittingly shown to be over, would limp on for 35 or so years before finally coming to a close.

But as for the followers of Jesus, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us " ... we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God ... for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
          Let us come then with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the right time."

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Meditations on the Cross, 10

John, in his Gospel, in describing the crucifixion of Jesus, mentions almost incidentally, " ... the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city" (John 19:20).  Three of the Gospel writers tell us that the (Hebrew) name of the place was Golgotha which all four tells us means "Skull" or "Skull Place" - Greek Kranion).  It was obviously not very pretty place and one wonders little as to why the title.  It doesn't take a great imagination to come up with an explanation.  (The kinder gentler Latin name, "Calvary" is not found in the Greek texts of any Gospel.)

I've never been to the Holy Land and don't have any plans to visit in the near future, but I have read and seen photos of, and arguments for, the various places that are assumed to be Golgotha.

I have, however, often pondered John's remarks.  Golgotha was "near the city," so therefore it must have been on the outside.  And, of course, we would expect that.  The prescribed place of execution by stoning in the Law of Moses was "outside the camp"; we read of this over and over in the Torah.  "Outside the camp" was also the place where lepers and other unclean persons were to stay.  It was the place where one went to relieve oneself.  These places were considered unclean.  One exception was that the remains of animals sacrificed in the tabernacle or temple were burned "in a clean place outside the camp" (Leviticus 4:12; 6:11).

Jesus, during His last week spent time teaching in the Temple.  A parable that He told at this time was one we might call "The Parable of the Tenant Farmers."  It is found in Matthew 21:33ff; Mark 12:1ff; and Luke 20:9ff.  It is a story of a landowner who keep sending messengers to his tenant farmers to collect the rent in the form of "the fruit of the vineyard."  As the story goes, the tenants mistreated, even murdered the messengers in succession, finally culminating in the murder of the landowner's son.  As Matthew 2l:39 tells it, "They took him (the son) and threw him outside the vineyard and killed him."  Luke tells it similarly although Mark has a different order.  The story ends with judgment on the tenant farmers and their replacement with others.

Though there is much depth in the story, it doesn't take a great amount of interpretive skill to recognize the meanings of most of the details.  Jesus is the Landowner's Son and His murderers are the Jewish leaders who were at that time questioning Him.

So then, what is the significance of the fact that Jesus was crucified "outside the city"?  The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews says in 13:11-14);
          "For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the Holy Place for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus, so that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate."

Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers in Christ, who for some reason were considering returning to their old religion and apparently turning their back on Christ.  The book is a series of warnings of the dangers of these actions.  The author's final exhortation is this, Hebrews 13:14:
          "So then let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."

As mentioned before, the cross of Christ is ugly; it is stupidity in the eyes of the world, even of those who are religious.  We as followers of Christ, however, need to recognize that our identity with Him demands that we "go to Him outside the camp."  Following Him will take us outside of our comfort zone of conformity.  It may even require suffering for His Name.