The Little Door

The exterior of a butterfly egg has at least one tiny opening called a micropyle, while the egg of a different species may have an entire “system of tiny canals.” These microscopic openings permit the entrance of the sperm, so that the egg may be fertilized shortly before it is deposited by the female. Interestingly, micropyle is the transliteration of a Greek compound word meaning “little doors” or “little gates.” Plant and insect eggs have these miniature openings. Otherwise, there would be no fertilization.

Jesus mentioned moths and gnats in his teaching, but I don’t know whether he ever talked about their eggs. But he did talk about doors and gates. In fact, he specifically mentioned a small gate in the Sermon on the Mount:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mat 7:13-14).

Later on, he said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9).

There’s another scripture that ought to be included in this discussion. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone hears my voice, opens the door, and welcomes me in, I will come in and fellowship (Revelation 3:20, paraphrased). This is a specific invitation for Butterfly Believers who are looking for spiritual direction and fulfillment.

A friend of mine has a saying: “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship.” I like that emphasis because it captures the essence of what Jesus is all about. Living for Christ is not about liturgy, ritual, traditions, or rules, even though many of those might be good and helpful. I’ve discovered that genuine Christianity involves growing a deep relationship with the Savior who calls himself our friend.

Room for Individuality

I used to assume that all butterfly eggs were identical regardless of the species. Maybe some were slightly smaller and some a bit bigger, but otherwise, one butterfly egg would be just like every other butterfly egg. Oh, how wrong I was! When I started investigating, I discovered that the eggs of different types of butterflies are sometimes quite different from every other kind.

Some are round and others hemispherical. Some are conical, cylindrical, or shaped like a barrel. Some resemble a cheese wheel, while others actually look like a turban. Many butterfly eggs are angular, and many appear to be flattened at the ends. There’s a wide variety of textures, sizes, designs, and colors. There are blues, reds, greens, yellows, purples, oranges, whites, and browns. Oh, my goodness, there are some fascinating differences among them!

The same is true among human beings, and even among Christians of similar theology or the same denomination. We have different personalities, talents, and preferences. We don’t have the same spiritual gifts, callings, or interests. We definitely don’t look alike. We don’t agree on every doctrine, type of music, or choice of liturgy. In addition, there are many different relationship styles among us. Who we are and what we are like depends so much on our genetics, our upbringing, our experiences, our health, and so much more.

The Apostle Paul takes this into account when he discusses the Gifts of the Spirit.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. There are many parts, but one body. 1st Corinthians 12:12, 20.

Another take on the differences among the people of God can be seen in Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It’s important to understand that the differences among us are good. We shouldn’t try to be like one another, nor should we try to force others to be like us. In fact, there is greater health in our fellowship and friendship circles when we invite diversity into the mix.

A Butterfly Believer in the egg or embryo stage might want to keep in mind that even though there may be some important changes ahead, you don’t have to become just like everyone else. There’s plenty of room for individuality. You can still be you. A better aim for all of us would be to give each other space to grow into the likeness and the image of the Lord. That’s what we were created for.

An excerpt from the book Butterfly Believers, a set of devotional readings based on Romans 12:2 and the butterfly metamorphosis.

Embryonic Faith

When a female butterfly places an egg on the leaf, it contains the yolk: a thick liquid that has the “germ” of the future caterpillar, plus the food it will need until it hatches. This is crucial because even though the critter might be in the egg for only a week or two, it requires immediate nourishment or it will die. It is fascinating that in every step of the metamorphic process, there is a marvelous combination of beauty and function.

I think this is also true for human beings, especially in the context of the quest for spiritual growth. When we start our journey as a disciple, everything we need to sustain our new life of faith is in place. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We have a sense of faith, even if it’s at the embryonic level. These two will sustainment us and carry us to the next level.

According to 2 Peter 1:3-4, His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

In the passage above, do you notice the goal of participating in the divine nature? That will be the focal point when we discuss the adult butterfly. The creature still in the egg isn’t even close to looking like or behaving like the mature insect, though. It’s not even a crawling bug yet. There are many changes that will have to happen before it gets to the finish line.

Similarly, there are many changes and much growth a believer has to experience before getting to where the Lord wants him or her to be. So, we take it one day at a time until we see the Lord’s handiwork manifesting in our life and character.

There’s nothing wrong with being in the egg if you’re brand new to the life of faith or haven’t even started yet. It’s totally fine to be where you are at this stage of your spiritual life. Take nourishment from what’s around you, learn from others, and ask the Lord for his help. I guarantee that his divine power will give you everything you need for a godly life, and if you hang in there, you are well on your way to participating in the divine nature. That’s God’s promise . . . even for those who are still in the egg.

The Butterfly Lays an Egg

When discussing plants and animals, a fundamental principle of modern science is that every living thing comes from an egg, and this is where the story about Butterfly Believers begins. After mating, a female butterfly deposits her eggs on or under a leaf, gluing it on so that it cannot be blown off or removed. In many species, the caterpillar hatches in just a few days.

Every one of us begins the spiritual journey somewhere. We might have grown up in a Christian family. Some are invited to a church or a small group that meets in a home. Others come to faith in Christ later in life. Whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves spiritually, the Lord reaches out to us and provides the spark of faith, fans it into flame, and our relationship with Christ begins.

This can be seen in my own family. My grandfather converted to Christ at about age seventy-five, living the last twenty-four years of his life as a dedicated Christian who read the scriptures every day and became a deacon in the little Baptist church near his farm. My father was a sailor in the Navy when he met a young lady who invited him to church. He became a Christian and they eventually married. I grew up in a Christian home.

I know people who turned to God during a crisis and found that the Lord provided the help they needed. I’ve talked with others who just felt there was something missing in their life and discovered a God who filled the emptiness inside. A few have told me they had a friend who changed so much after experiencing Christ that they were drawn to the Lord. There are others who came to faith because of a miraculous experience.

In 1st Corinthians 3:5-7, the writer uses a different metaphor.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

In these verses, the Corinthian believers are likened to a plant or a crop. Their faith journey began when someone planted the seed. The Lord sent someone else to provide the water. The seeds sprouted, took root, began to grow, and then flourished.

The point is that we all have to start somewhere. In the same way that every plant or animal comes from an egg, each of us begins the spiritual journey like that butterfly egg. We are alive. We have potential. The Lord wants to take us step by step on a path that will help us develop emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

Metamorphosis

Romans 12:2 indicates that we are to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The word in the Greek text is where we get the English word metamorphosis. Translated as transformed, it is what we use to describe the continuous, remarkable change of form or structure in an individual after hatching or birth.

Several insects undergo complete metamorphosis, such as bees, ants, ladybugs, wasps, and flies. But the most spectacular of the metamorphosing creatures are the butterflies. This is because they are safe, easy to observe, and they are beautiful. These marvelous creatures are called Lepidoptera, which means scaly wings.

Butterflies are special to me for several reasons. First is the fact that they represent the internal and external changes that take place when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. Second is the mystery, or as some writers call it, the “magic” of the changes that occur during the transformation process. Third is the gorgeous coloration of so many species. They are delightful to find and examine.

Amazingly, transformation occurs in every stage of the butterfly’s life. There is never a day when an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or butterfly is the same as it was the day before. Theirs is literally a continuous transformation. This is also true of people. We are always growing, changing, and becoming. There’s always more to learn, and always room for refinement.

The bottom line is that I find butterflies to be interesting and fun. In the same way, living for Jesus Christ is supposed to be interesting and fun. Many of the terms and processes we use when talking about butterflies are perfect for discussing our growth as children of God.

May the Lord continue his remarkable work of shaping and transforming each of us into his image.

Thank You Card from a Friend

A few days ago, I got a “Thank You” card in the mail from a man in Maryland. He had read my book, Butterfly Believers. In addition to thanking me for the book, he said that it provided some excellent topics for the “Saturday Morning” men’s group he is a part of each week.

I love it. That’s exactly what I hope will happen over and over again. Whether you’re part of a men’s group, a women’s Bible Study, a home group, a Sunday school class, or reading on your own . . . if you’re looking for something different and interesting that will provide food for thought, this just might be worth taking a look at.

Can Dreams Come True?

A question often asked by people around the world is whether dreams can come true. I think they can. Of course, it depends on what kind of dreams we’re talking about.

When I was a kid, I often dreamed about finding buried coins in the front yard. Lots of money, usually quarters and dimes. When I was eight or nine, this dream was so real that in the dream I took all the loot, wrapped it up, and hid it in my bottom dresser drawer so it would all be there when I woke up in the morning. I was so disappointed when I woke up the next day, ran over to my dresser, opened it, only to find that there was no money. I used to have that dream three or four times a year up until I was about thirty. Now it’s only once every other year or so. It never has come true.

Then there’s the dream where I’m in school or at church or some other public location, and all I have on is my underwear. Interestingly, in this dream, even though I am totally embarrassed, nobody else ever even seems to notice. Fortunately, this dream has never come true.

After returning from the war in Iraq, I frequently had dreams and nightmares for the next two years or so. Explosions, or gunfire, or dangerous situations. What a relief when those gradually faded away. It’s been several years now. The only two aspects of PTSD that still linger are the claustrophobia and eating in a hurry. I can’t seem to overcome those.

But there are some dreams that really do come true. Let me tell you about three of them.

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to teach a three-week intensive class at the Hungarian Bible College in Budapest. We taught the class every morning, then in the evenings and weekends, would preach in churches in Budapest and nearby towns.

One day, our missionary hosts had to go up to Czechoslovakia (now Czech and Slovak) for meetings with their regional supervisor, and told us how to get from their home to the college. The trip would require a bus ride part of the way, then the subway, and then we had to walk the rest of the way. Of course, the trip would be reversed after the class in order to get back to their home.

Up to this point, we had resisted taking the subway because the missionaries had told us about an American pastor who got lost in the metro. He had missed the station where he was supposed to get off and rode the train all the way to the end. Seven hours later, he called to ask them to come and get him.

When we got to the subway, there was a huge, long escalator that took us way, way down. Longest escalator I have ever seen. When we finally reached bottom and turned right, I stopped.  This was really strange, because the scene in front of me was familiar.

“Linda, I’ve been here before.”

“What are you talking about? We’ve never been to Budapest.”

“I know that, but I’ve seen this before.” It was a really eerie feeling.

“How could you have seen this before?”

“I don’t know. But if this is what I’ve seen before, the subway cars will come from the right, and they’ll be blue.”

In about fifteen seconds, the train arrived . . . from the right . . . and it was blue. We go in, the doors close, and the freaky experience continues.

“When we get to the next stop, the doors on the left will open, and the walls will all be yellow.” Sure enough, that’s what happened.

Even Linda was weirded out by now. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know! But at the next stop, the doors on the left will open and the walls will be orange. But when we get to where we need to get off, the doors on the right will open, and the walls will be blue.” It all unfolded exactly as I expected.

Then it dawned on me. Even though I had never been in a subway, a year-and-a-half before we came to Hungary I had a dream about being in this very subway, and the details in that dream were exactly the same as the reality we were now experiencing. That was a dream that came true.

Another dream I had as a kid was to be a Navy chaplain like my dad. But by the time I was ready to become a chaplain, the Lord redirected, I went into the Army instead, and had a wonderful career. Six years after retiring from the Army (which was thirty years after I became an Army chaplain) I was invited to serve as the Protestant pastor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, working with the chaplains. It was a one-year assignment, but a fantastic experience. I felt like I had come full-circle back to my dream of being a Navy chaplain.

One more dream worth mentioning here, was the dream of growing up, falling in love, and marrying the woman of my dreams. That’s another dream that came true. Life with Linda has been everything I had hoped for . . . and then some.

The Risk of Faith

Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed three times a day to his God. But the Lord protected him, and the ferocious beasts lay down and purred.

Not far from there, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were thrown into a blazing fire because they refused to bow down and worship a golden statue. Instead, they declared,

“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 NKJV)

Their faith didn’t depend on whether they escaped. They were fully prepared to risk everything, which meant they didn’t serve the Lord only during the good times. They didn’t trust God only to get their way. There was nothing selfish about their prayer, their life, or their religion. Their faith in God was genuine, even when it resulted in persecution. Even when it meant risking their lives. Death was certain, and they knew it—unless God did a miracle. Either way, they were determined to be faithful.

The fire was so hot that the soldiers escorting them to the flames died on the spot. But for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, not a hair on their head or their arms was singed, and not a thread of their clothing burned. They never even felt the heat. It was like they were taking a walk in the park on a cool, breezy day.

When the smoke cleared, King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, and to his amazement, there was a fourth man in the flames with them. The king couldn’t believe his eyes. Daniel 3:25 reports Nebuchadnezzar’s amazement.

“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25 NIV)

Daniel understood the dangers of breaking the law and praying to his God. Hungry lions can easily tear a man apart. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew the risks when they decided not to bow to the king’s statue.

However, God intervened, and Daniel survived to tell the King once more about the goodness and reality of the true God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, encountered the Lord right there in the middle of the blazing heat.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews makes it clear that not everyone who takes the risk of faith will escape pain or death. I would encourage you to read the entire chapter, but verses 32–38 show how the situations turned out for some of God’s people. And verse 39 adds,

“These were all commended for their faith.” (Hebrews 11:39 NIV)

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ always involves risk. Some will face ridicule. Others might lose their jobs. Some are abandoned by their family. Others experience physical torture. Some will survive. Others may die. What is God asking you to risk?

The bottom line is that your faith will cost you something. God is calling you to accept the challenge, count the cost, and take the risk.

Christians in many places around the world are experiencing persecution at this moment. In the same way, it might cost you something to follow Jesus. But like those men in the book of Daniel, you can be faithful regardless of the outcome, because the fourth man in the fire is going to be there with you.

This article was featured on CBN.org as the daily devotional reading on October 13, 2021. The link to the article is https://www1.cbn.com/devotions/the-risk-of-faith.

Should I Give This to a Friend?

I got this email through my website yesterday:

Hi,  Paul. A friend loaned me a copy of your book and I read it. I enjoyed it, so I bought a couple of copies. My pastors wants to read it. Here’s my question: I have a friend who served in Iraq some time ago, maybe 15 years ago or more. He did lose some friends and saw action that had casualties. Do you think this book would be appropriate to offer for him to read? Would it bring some perspective or healing? Or take him back to relive the horrors of war? I would appreciate your input.

And here’s what I wrote back to him:

Hello, friend. Great to get your email. Thank you. I think the book would be a good thing for your friend to read. While it mentions some of the painful stuff and the danger, it also shows how some of us processed the PTSD and got better. The Lord is a huge part of that, and I think it could be helpful for your friend. I’ve had a chance to talk with other veterans who went through some pretty horrible experiences, and they told me it was helpful. So go ahead and share it with him, and tell him he’s welcome to give me a call or an email if he wants to talk about his experiences over there.

The man’s pastor wants to read the book, which leads me to say this: Anyone looking for a book to use for a book group, a Bible study, or a home group discussion might consider using Safest Place in Iraq. There are discussion questions in the back. Plus, there’s a separate study guide. Consider using it in your group or at your church.

Running a Marathon

Nobody shows up the day of a marathon without taking the time, the effort, and the expense to get ready, because running a marathon will require months of preparation. The training has to include long distances several days a week. Eating habits need to be modified because nutrition can work for or against the body and the mind.

A marathoner will become an expert on things like foot care, clothing, and how to prevent chafing. Research will determine the best shoes for the particular shape of the foot and the unique way each athlete runs. Just as important is the training of the mind for the grueling ordeal of running 26.2 miles, because anyone who loses the mental game is already in trouble.

Another aspect of preparing for the race is being careful to stretch and warm up before every run. This is crucial in the prevention of injury. It also enables the runner to extend the stride for maximum reach, which equates to more ground covered each step of the way, and when running 26 miles, an inch or two per stride adds up, which means less time to complete the race, and a greater chance  of winning the race.

The same attention to detail must be considered when preparing for life, marriage, a career, or ministry. Putting in the time to pray, do the research, and count the cost will pave the way for long-term success. And in the same way a runner will stretch before running, the Christian will stretch and warm up spiritually every day. This is done by reading the Bible, singing a few worship songs, or spending time in the presence of the Lord. This daily “quiet time” enables you to reach a little farther each step of the way, just like stretching helps lengthen the runner’s stride. And it helps prevent spiritual or emotional injury, the same way stretching prevents physical injury. In the big picture, this daily practice will enable you to proclaim with the apostle in 2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (HCSB).

We never know what we might face in the future. That’s why it’s so important to continually add to our training, our learning, and our growing, both personally and professionally. The price of success is high, and we have to count the cost. Is it worth it? You have to decide for yourself. On your mark. Get set. Go!

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