Broken Marble

By Sam Whatley

In 1463 members of the City Council of Firenze (Florence) Italy decided they needed a monument to enhance the prestige of their city. They settled on commissioning a sculptor to carve a giant statue to stand in front of city hall. Someone suggested a Biblical character wrought in the neoclassical style, an expression of beauty and strength.

They approached Agostino di Duccio, who agreed to their terms. Duccio went to the quarry near Carrara and marked off a nineteen-foot slab to be cut from the white marble. However, he had the slab cut too thin. When the block was removed, it fell, leaving a deep fracture down one side. The sculptor declared the stone useless and demanded another but the city council refused. Consequently, the gleaming block of marble lay on its side for the next thirty-eight years, a source of embarrassment to everyone.

Then in 1501 the council approached the son of a local official, asking him if he would complete the ambitious project using the broken slab. Fortunately for them, the young man was Michelangelo Buotarroti. He was twenty-six years old, filled with energy, skill, and imagination. Michelangelo locked himself inside the workshop behind the cathedral to chisel and polish the stone for three years. When the work was finished, it took forty-nine men five days to bring it to rest before the city hall. Archways were torn down. Narrow streets were widened. People from across Europe came to see the fourteen-foot statue of David relaxing after defeating Goliath.  The giant stone had been transformed from a massive waste of rock into a masterpiece.

The difference in the attitudes of the two sculptors toward the stone is striking. One refused to even begin the work. The other assessed the situation and then patiently endured the sacrifice and discipline necessary. Does that remind you of the difference between you taking charge of your life and God taking charge?

When we are so determined to remain in control of our circumstances, we keep God and His Holy Spirit at a distance. We hold on to the wrecks we have made through our ignorance and pride. We cling to self-pity instead of releasing our burdens into the hands of our Savior and Friend. We are resisting the touch of the Master’s hand. Can we not realize that He is infinitely more qualified to shape our future than we are?

Call on the One who inspired Michelangelo.  He offers you a new life, not just “one day,” but today. If you serve the Son of God, surely you can become His masterpiece.

           

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The Tattooed Number

By Sam Whatley

Some fifty years ago Bobby, a young seminarian, told me an intriguing story. The following is the way I remember it.

He was commuting from a country parsonage in East Alabama to a university in Atlanta each week. The stress of preparing for theological classes and delivering sermons to three small churches was wearing on him. He felt unequal to his task. He was overwhelmed and exhausted.

One day Bobby walked in a barbershop in Atlanta and plopped in the chair. As the barber pulled the apron around him, the young preacher noticed a series of blue numbers tattooed on the older man’s left wrist. He hesitated to inquire about it, but after several minutes curiosity overcame him.

“Why the numbers on your hand?” he asked.

The barber said, “Oh, those numbers. It’s a long story.”

Bobby waited a while, but asked about it again. The barber relented and said:

“Like many other Jews in Germany during World War II, I was taken to a concentration camp. The first week they lined the men up and gave us these numbers. Each morning after that we were assembled in formation and told to step forward when our number was called. Those who stepped forward were marched away and never seen again, but we knew they were destined for the gas chamber and the ovens. Week after week all of us stood shivering in formation at dawn waiting for a soldier to call our number. Finally one day someone called mine.

I just stood there. I couldn’t move. The soldier called my number again. I just froze. He called it a third time and this time he was angry. I decided I had to move, but before I could, another prisoner stepped forward. I couldn’t believe it. I did not even kn0w the man, but he took my place. I watched him and the others march away to their death.

I stood in formation every day for months after that. My number was never called again. Finally the American army freed the camp. When the war was over I came here and became a barber. I thought about tattooing something over the number, but I don’t want to.”

The seminarian left the shop stunned. His weariness and insecurity were gone. His spirit had caught fire again. 

I think that story is worth remembering, even in 21st century America. Many of us have no connection to Auschwitz or Dachau, but we carry our own blue numbers tattooed on our wrists. Not because we were born into a particular race, but because we were born into sin. And there is something inside us all that tells us we will stand in a line somewhere to answer for it.

 I have been caught up in the entanglements of my own sin and scheduled for a certain death. Jesus stepped forward for me, for you, and for everyone who has, or will, let Him take our place of judgment by giving our lives to Him.

Some will not let Him. Some will be too proud. They will step forward on their own. Unwilling to allow the Lord to take the blame for their sins, they will take care of it themselves.

            Maybe we have guarded our rights so zealously in this culture that we cannot envision giving up control of our lives, even to God. We want so badly to be the master of our souls that we are oblivious to the stark and terrible consequences.

Someone you know is standing in a line today with a tattooed number. Tell them not to step forward when their number is called. Tell them there is Another who has already taken their place.

By the way, the barber kept his number and you can keep yours.

Someone may plop down in a chair near you today. They may see evidence that your life has not been perfect. If they ask you about it, don’t hide your past. Share something with them about your concentration camp. Tell them how you were rescued by God’s love.

 It may a message they are dying to hear.

 

Sam Whatley is a member of Legacy Anglican Church.

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Let Your Light Shine

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16 English Standard Version)

One of the themes of the season of Epiphany, which begins January 6 and ends the day before Ash Wednesday (Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras) is Light. The light came to the people who did not know God. The light that came is none other than the Messiah, Jesus our Lord.

Jesus condescended from his heavenly throne, becoming like us, taking on our flesh and living among us. In his incarnation, he brought into the world the perfect light, as he is the light. “The true light which gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (John 1:4 ESV) Yet the world did not recognize the light. His own people didn’t recognize him. Yet he was the living God made man – the light for all.

In the 21st century the light is still in the world living in the hearts of believers. Each one of us who has become a disciple of Jesus carries in our souls the light of the world through the gift of Holy Spirit. We bear in our bodies the Spirit of God and we either let the light shine or we hide it from others.

If we are to let the light shine, then our actions and attitudes will be the points of illumination to a world groping in the darkness. People will be drawn to the light in us because of the genuine love of God shining through us. Genuine love is more than being polite or proper. It is heartfelt care of others. It is the light that Jesus brought into the world and that God uses to draw people to himself.

As we begin a New Year, let your light shine and bring glory to God. This is most readily done by allowing God to have more of you – your thoughts, your words and your actions. Fill yourself with his Word by reading the Bible, joining Bible studies and worshiping on Sunday mornings. As you take in more of the things of God, the more light shines through you. Let It Shine!

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Holy Visitation

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was going about her daily work when suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared to her with a message from God. Mary was betrothed to Joseph and had not had relations with him. She was a virgin. The angel appeared to inform her that she would do great things. She had been chosen by God to bear his only Son, Jesus the Messiah. (see Luke 1:26-38)

“And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35) The power of God, through the Holy Spirit, caused the virgin woman named Mary to conceive a male child who is Holy.

Why was it necessary for the Messiah to be born of a virgin? Wayne Grudem suggests three reasons. First, it shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord. Second, it unites the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human. Third, it makes it possible for Jesus to be born without sin. [1]

Salvation comes from the Lord

If Mary was able to bear the Messiah by joining together with her husband then the Messiah would be born merely of human effort. Even if one argues that God filled Jesus with His spirit, it would still be human effort that started the entire process.

God promises to bring about salvation through the offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15).  Jesus is the promised gift of salvation to humankind. It is God who causes the Messiah to be born and it is God who initiates the process with the holy visitation of Gabriel with Mary.

It is only through the supernatural work of God that any can be saved. Each one of us is saved not by our own efforts but through the power of God reaching out to us in our own “holy visitation.”

Divine and Human Natures Unite

At the point of conception the union between God and Man is consummated. It is because of the virgin birth that the Messiah could be fully human and fully divine, as is stated in the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451… “two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two person, but one and the same Son and only begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is important that Jesus is God and Man. He was tempted in everyway as everyman is tempted  yet without sin. He is able to sympathize with us and yet He is divine and therefore a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Taking away from either of Jesus’ two natures would denigrate his sacrifice or his ability to overcome sin.

Jesus Is Born Sinless

Each and every human being born in this world after the fall is born with original sin. Original sin is sin passed through our humanity from parents to children. It is our inheritance from Adam. He sinned therefore all born after him are born into sin.

In order to break the curse of original sin, Jesus had to be begotten of the Holy Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary and impregnating her that the curse of original sin could be broken. When this Holy Visitation occurred, Mary’s sin nature was overshadowed by the holiness of God preventing it from being passed on.

The Holy visitation that changed the world came to Mary in her routine life. God chooses who to visit and when to visit. He did so with each and every person who is born again. God chose to visit us and to redeem us, reconcile us, justify us, sanctify us all because the Holy Spirit visited Mary and bore His only Son who had the nature and the mission to save the world.

 

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pp. 529-532.

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Vacation

August seems to be the hottest month of the year in Montgomery and sometimes driest. But it is also the last month of Summer vacation for many. It is also the month when we get back into our routines. School starts in August, people take their final vacation, the routines we let slide during the summer start up again. It is also a month where we begin to see visitors and people returning to church. The summer slump in church attendance is over and people get back to church. For whatever reason, summer is seen as the vacation months.
What if God took a vacation every summer and we only realized his presence after a break? Similarly Israel experienced God’s increased presence after what was a season of divine inactivity. The Psalmist writes, “Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine.” (78:65 ESV).
This is a strong and daring image of the Lord. What the Psalmist metaphorically communicates is the Lord, who after a period of divine rest from aiding Israel, awakens like a warrior ready for battle and is emboldened by strong wine. We see this image in Isaiah, “The LORD goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. (Isaiah 42:13 ESV).
In some ways, the church in America is experiencing a period of divine inactivity. Attendance is down, bible reading is off, and beliefs lining up with the Christian Worldview have faded. Church members actually emulate the world when it comes to what they believe regarding fundamental Christian beliefs such as: Christ died without ever sinning, God is supreme ruler of all creation, Satan is a real fallen angel (not just an evil force), there is an Absolute truth revealed by an all knowing God, etc.
The First and Second Great Awakenings in America occurred first in 1730s-1740s and the second in 1820s-1830s. Church attendance rose, conversions occurred, belief in Christ was strengthened. These periods were spiritual highs in America. They helped unite the Colonies before the revolution and the second resulted in growth of Methodism in America. The Methodist church in the South was the largest benefactor of the Second Great Awakening.
Many have prayed for a revival in America. Christians are crying-out to God to do something. America’s ills are obvious with legalized abortions, high divorce rates, rampant sexual promiscuity, and easily accessible pornography. The state of the economy gets more attention than caring for the weaker, underprivileged and downtrodden in America. Something needs to give. However, God is the only one who can bring about the needed change.
When the Lord moves in the Church in America, and perhaps the Northern and Western hemispheres, it will be like a strong man awakening and shouting for wine as a warrior ready for the fight. For too long we have acted like God has taken a vacation or has fallen asleep. When he wakes, we need to be ready for him personally, spiritually, and corporately. Lucy, in the Chronicles of Narnia, asked if Aslan was safe or not, and Mr. Beaver replied, “Safe…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God is good and what he does is good. It may not always feel safe but we are safely with him in our salvation. Summer vacation is over for us and we return to our routine. But who knows when God will be ready to move again like he has in the past.

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Quipu Runners

By  Sam Whatley – a member of Legacy Anglican Church

We have all felt our contribution to the Lord’s work was of little importance. The needs of the world can overshadow us. Our physical and financial resources can look so small. But before we are tempted to give up something we are doing for the Lord, let us be encouraged by a secret discovered in Peru in 1533 AD.

When the Spanish conquistadors invaded the land of the Incas they were astounded to find that whatever the Inca emperor declared was known in villages the next day 150 miles away. In ten days it was known 1500 miles away. This was done without horses or vehicles of any type. The secret was a cadre of boys known as chasqui who formed a very effective postal system.

Each boy ran with all his might about two miles from one hut to another along a stone road. Just before each runner arrived at his destination he blew a conch horn to alert the next boy to be ready. As he approached the hut he drew from his pouch a handful of knotted cords called quipu. The new runner would put these coded messages in his pouch and run to another relay station.

For fifteen days at a time a runner would be prepared to make this journey at top speed. He only ran from one hut to the next and back. Therefore he knew every rock, tree, bush, and stream in all kinds of weather, day and night. That two miles was his and he memorized every step of it. He could not read the hidden messages contained in the colored cords of the quipu. Other men were trained for that. The runner could only run and only on that one stretch of road. Yet his performance of that solitary task was critical to the livelihood of six million people.

I think we in God’s service are much like the quipu runners. We are part of God’s kingdom, part of the very body of Christ. Yet we have what seem to be menial tasks: teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, mowing the grass, or cleaning up the church. Sometimes we wonder what real difference we are making. The needs all around us seem to dwarf our efforts and resources.

If we could only learn from those young men who ran to their physical limits without even knowing the significance of their messages. Thank God we know how important our message is. It is life to those who are dying and sight to those who are blind.

Therefore as the writer of Hebrews 12:1 tells us, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (NIV)

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Joy in it All

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6

Paul’s circumstances were dire when he wrote this letter of encouragement to the Philippians. He was in prison waiting for the inevitable outcome to his sentence, which was execution. Paul knew that his death would lead him to the place of eternal joy with his Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. In spite of his circumstance, Paul still has other people on his mind and in his prayers and he is filled with joy.

Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi is not a corporate prayer for the church as a whole, but a personal prayer with each one of them in mind. He pauses daily to express his heart felt concern for each of them and for their spiritual well being. Paul’s attachment to the Philippians is from his own desire that their relationship grow even though he is suffering great adversity. The prayer he prays is called and intercessory prayer. An intercessory prayer is a prayer of one pleading with God to fill up that which is lacking in another. Paul is saying to God, “More, Lord,” as he desires their spiritual cup to overflow.

His thanksgiving and prayers for the Philippians are under-girded by their partnership with Paul in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. What joy it is for Paul to pray for those with whom he has labored in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and to know that the good work that Jesus Christ has begun in the Philippians will continue on long after Paul’s death.

Our joy can be the same as we acknowledge the work we are doing now will continue long after we are gone. Our joy is also based in the spiritual camaraderie we have with our fellow brothers and sisters who work alongside of us spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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