He Ain’t Heavy

Walking along a country road, a little girl struggles under the weight of a heavy load. A passerby stops to see if she needs help, and notices that she’s carrying a rather large baby boy, not much smaller than herself, it seems.

“Don’t you get tired carrying him?”

The little girl matter-of-factly replies, “He’s na heavy; he’s mi brither.”

The story first appeared in Scotland in 1884, in a book on the Parables of Jesus. It showed up in the September 1924 Kiwanis magazine. Then in 1941, Father Edward Flanagan discovered a similar story with a picture in Ideal Magazine, and got permission to use the motto and image at Boys Town, the home for boys he founded.

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The movie Boys Town came out in 1938. A 1941 sequel, titled The Men of Boys Town, included the line, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” In 1969, Bob Russell and Bobby Scott wrote a song by the same name. It became popular and was sung by dozens of pop singers in the 60s and 70s. In addition, there have been numerous paintings and sculptures on the same theme. Click on the record below and you can hear the song.

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There’s something about the story of the little girl that captivates the imagination and begs to illustrate a key theme in the Bible. In Genesis 4:9, the Lord asks Cain about Abel, and the murderer replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer implied in the scripture is simple. “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.” Leviticus 19:18 instructs the people of God to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which Jesus quotes in Matthew 22:37. The apostle Paul adds in Galatians 6:2 that we are to “Carry one another’s heavy load, and by doing so, fulfill the law of Christ.”

In Victor Hugo’s timeless novel, Les Misérable, Jean Valjean is a former criminal who changes his name and his lifestyle in order to hide his past, eventually becoming the mayor of a town. But the new chief of police is the very same officer who was a guard at the prison, and is looking to re-arrest Valjean for breaking parole. One day, one of the men in town is trapped under the heavy weight of a horse-drawn wagon, and nobody is able to get him out from underneath. Then, while Javert, the police inspector, is watching, the mayor hefts the weight of the wagon, lifting it off the ground high enough for others to pull the man to safety.

The officer remembers a time when a prisoner had done something similar in the prison, and wonders if this is the same man. Knowing what’s at stake, Valjean risks his identity and his freedom in order to help the man.

Carrying one another’s burden is the essence of loving someone in the name of the Lord, loving someone enough to lighten the load, loving someone enough to risk everything in order to offer a helping hand.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10 has a similar motif. In this story, several righteous people see the injured man, but they don’t stop to help him. The one who provides the desperately needed assistance is an outsider, a despised Samaritan, someone you’d least expect to offer help. But he does stop, and he does help. In fact, he pays the innkeeper to care for the man until he returns.

After telling the story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” An expert in the law replies, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

It is this Go and Do Likewise that Jesus asks his followers to put into practice. Are we big enough to see every human being as our neighbor, and every person out there as a brother or sister? To put it into the words of the little Scottish girl, “He’s na heavy; he’s mi brither.”

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The Old Chevy

1When we drove up to the historic motel on Route 66, an old Chevy parked out front caught our eye. It had to be more than sixty-five years old, and though the paint was faded, worn-off, and rust-eaten the car still exuded a certain charm and beauty. A couple of the tires were flat and one window was permanently open. Yet, it had a stately dignity that spoke of a time when it ruled the road.

Once upon a time, this automobile was the lifeline for an entire family. Dad drove it to work; Mom took it shopping. Weekends were for family outings, and Sundays for going to Church. Each summer she took her family to a far-off destination, and special occasions saw her at family get-togethers. The kids learned to drive behind that huge steering wheel, and longed for the day they might get a car of their own: something new, shiny, and fast, with the latest technology.

But the old Chevy had long ago been discarded. Removed to the junkyard, where it sat for a decade: unwanted, untended, and ignored. Just taking up space.

Sometimes we look at people that way. We have no time for the elderly, no interest in what they have to offer or what they’ve accomplished. They had their day in the sun; now it’s our turn. We look at people of different ethnicities similarly. We too easily disregard their importance, their feelings, their dreams and ambitions, and what they can contribute to the community or the church. We treat children as though they were worth less than adults, and teens as if they should be banished to a remote island.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells us to honor people, value them, and care for them. To look for the beauty and the charm that are still there in every human being. Romans 12:10, for example, says to honor and give preference to one another.

James 1:27 reminds us that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction.” In other words, we’re supposed to honor those in society who are helpless or in less fortunate circumstances.

The writer of Job adds to this discussion by recognizing the dignity of the common person and by identifying with the hireling and the slave. “Do not mortals have hard service on earth? Are not their days like those of hired laborers? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired laborer waiting to be paid?”

In context, Job is saying there’s no difference between the rich and the poor, the master and the slave, when it comes to how hard life can be. We all want rest at the end of the day, we all want a better life for our family, we all have hopes and dreams, we all need love and friendship, and we all crave acceptance and respect.

The apostle Paul summarizes in Philippians chapter two, where he simply says we are to value others above ourselves.

The woman who owned the roadside hotel told us that a lot of her customers express an interest in old cars and the way life used to be on Route 66. So, she called a friend who had a junkyard, and asked if there was an old car she could buy. Her friend gave her the Chevy and brought it to her motel, where it has attracted attention and sparked conversation among people from all over the country and all around the world who see the car while driving by.

5

Bronze Wisdom

First Breath (2)While visiting friends and family in San Diego, my wife and I decided to spend an afternoon at Seaport Village, one of our favorite places. After lunch, we stepped into the Wyland Gallery and saw the sculpture of a humpback whale nudging her newborn to the surface for its first breath, and we couldn’t help but stop, stand, and stare. It’s a breathtaking work of art, designed to show the beauty, compassion, and wisdom of a mother as she instinctively helps her baby take that first breath of life-giving fresh air.

We’ve seen humpback whales bubble-net feeding, emerging from under water, up, into the air, to catch herring in their mouths. After that experience, we read about these school-bus-size behemoths, amazed at the wonderful work of the Lord in His creation. But to see the tenderness of this act of the loving mother caring for her young was overwhelming. And Wyland’s artisanship is impressive.

The bronze sculpture of the whale and her infant reminds me of a story in First Kings chapter seven, where Solomon brought in a skilled craftsman to create bronze decorations for the temple. The scripture describes the items Huram fashioned. There were two massive pillars, interwoven chains, pomegranates, and lilies. He made an ocean, encircled by gourdes and resting on twelve bulls. Next, he crafted ten movable stands that were adorned with lions, bulls, and cherubim. He finished his work with basins, pots, shovels, and sprinkling bowls, all out of cast metal.

But what really caught my attention was the word “wisdom” in 1 Kings 7:14. The artist was skilled, knowledgeable, and had great insight. But wisdom? That’s not what I expected to see in the description of the craftsman at work.

When I asked my wife about it, she mentioned that a good artist needs wisdom, not only to know how to work with the materials at hand, but to convey meaning to others. It’s this type of wisdom that God had given to Huram as he built the bronze artifacts for the temple of the Lord. His artistic ability was a gift from God, further developed and refined by study, practice, and hard work, and offered back to the Lord as an act of worship.

First Corinthians 12:8 says wisdom is one of the Gifts of the Spirit. We need this gift, not only in the Church, but in our homes, our families, and our careers. Wisdom can help us handle tough situations. It will provide guidance when we’re facing temptation, and insight for those difficult decisions that seem to come up too often. We need wisdom for knowing how to share Christ with our friends, how to pray for someone in need, and how best to answer questions from our children. Sometimes, a word of wisdom spoken at just the right time, can provide guidance for our church leaders or even the entire congregation.

If the Lord gives wisdom to a mother whale so she can safely guide her calf, and if He imparts wisdom to an artist or a craftsman in bronze, then we can be confident He will provide the wisdom and guidance we need for the circumstances, challenges, and opportunities in our lives.

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Attitude Check!

I used to drive more than 50 miles to work, and the same distance home in the evening. The traffic was usually pretty bad, often rainy, and as you’ve probably experienced, other drivers are sometimes not very nice. When I started despising drivers who made stupid decisions, I developed a bad attitude and realized I needed to do something about it.

After praying, I decided to come up with a phrase I could say whenever another driver irked me. Here’s what I ended up with.

You are a fabulous human being, fashioned in the indelible image of the Creator.

After I memorized the sentence, I started saying it whenever a driver did something dumb or dangerous: ten, eleven, a dozen times a day. Nobody else knew what I was doing. I’m the only one who heard me, even though I said it out loud. It helped me remember that every man and every woman has the divine image, even those who are not living for the Lord. Even those who are terrible drivers.

Being in God’s image and likeness is an important part of the Judeo-Christian world view. We’re not merely the product of a godless evolutionary process. While we may have many similarities with the animals, what distinguishes us from the rest of creation is the image of God. The very first page of the Bible says,

“God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism poses the question, “How did God create man?” And then provides the answer, “God created man male and female after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”

To be in God’s image has two meanings. First, it means we are like him. Second, it means we represent him.

How we are like God refers to his activity and character and the ways we are like him. God communicates. He creates. He relates. He loves. He keeps his word. He is loyal. He is compassionate. He has knowledge. We can make these same statements of human beings because we are fashioned in his image. We have the ability to create, to communicate, to relate, and to love. We have moral capabilities such as loyalty and honesty. We have the ability to show compassion. We have the capacity for knowledge. And like our creator, we have the ability to make our world a better place.

The fact that we represent God has a different focus and a different starting point for how we think and live. The emphasis is not on how we are like God, but that we represent the Lord. We represent God and his values to the planet and to other people. We represent him in matters of social justice and spirituality, which is why Christians should be involved in the community, setting an example of alleviating pain in the world, and caring for the needy.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the apostle writes, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.”

Not only do we have the divine image, we have the Holy Spirit in us, another powerful reason for understanding we are to represent the Lord at all times, even when driving on the freeway.

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This devotion was published at https://www1.cbn.com/devotions/attitude-check and is an adaptation from the author’s book WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage, Copyright © 2019 Paul Linzey, used with permission.

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The Power of Forgiveness

It’s crucial that you understand the power of forgiveness. When you forgive, you release yourself and the other person from the pain and wrongs of your joint past. But forgiveness doesn’t happen quickly. According to Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes, it happens slowly, with a little understanding, and sometimes with some confusion, because it has to sort out the anger and the injustice. When forgiveness has finished its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and set free from the pain of the past.

Sometimes, you have to forgive the person you’re still in relationship with because there’s been unfaithfulness, a betrayal, neglect, or abuse. This is hard, but with God’s help, and sometimes the help of a good pastor, counselor, or friend, you can be successful at putting the past behind you and moving forward in a fresh start.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. You carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and the forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group Point of Grace has a song that talks about the impact of the ugliness, pain, and shame of the past, which are often followed by scars that remain for a lifetime. Heal the Wound, written by Clint Lagerberg and Nicole Nordeman, focuses on the metaphor that even after an injury has healed, there’s often a scar that lasts a lifetime. But instead of seeing the scar as a negative, they reframe it as a reminder of how gracious the Lord was in bringing you through the struggle.

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God Is My Helper

You can probably think of several characters in TV shows, comic books, movies, and novels who have a sidekick. There are lots of them: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, Captain Kirk and Spock, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, Robin Hood and Little John, Shrek and Donkey, Moses and Aaron, Paul and Silas.

It seems almost every hero has a sidekick who provides comic relief, but also offers serious friendship and assistance along the way. It’s a classic technique in literature and drama, where sidekicks play an important role. They help the main character reach his or her goals and accomplish the mission. They offer friendship and provide insight. Usually, they perform tasks that are beneath the dignity of the hero. Sometimes they serve as a contrasting personality. The sidekick may be a commoner or a bumbler, allowing the audience someone they can relate with. Usually, the sidekick isn’t quite as smart, but helps the star come up with brilliant ideas. Always, the sidekick is of lesser importance.

A lot of people think of a helper as someone who is less important, less skilled, or less capable than the person who really matters. In our culture, a helper is considered an underling, a hireling, or a subordinate. We call them gophers. We even talk about the hired help—people who do the tasks the important people don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Words like assistantadjunctapprenticedeputy, and sidekick come to mind.

However, that’s not the biblical concept of help. The Hebrew word for helper in the Old Testament is ezer, and comes from a verb that means to rescue, deliver, or help. Whenever it’s used of human beings, it’s talking about someone who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, smarter, or richer who reaches out to the weak or needy.

Most often, the word refers to God himself. The psalmist wrote, “God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life” (Psalm 54:4) and “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

The point is that helping people is what God does. He’s always ready, willing, and able to help us in our time of need. No wonder Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (NIV).

Do you need help? Are you struggling at this point in your life? Have you felt like quitting or giving up? Let me encourage you, instead, to turn to the Lord and enter into his presence with confidence. You will find the help you need. That’s what God does. That’s who he is.

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When the Lights Go Out

It was Friday night, we’d gone out for dinner, and barely made it back into the garage before the downpour.

When the power went off, I was writing at my computer and my wife was reading an ebook on her tablet. The plan was to watch a movie a little later, but there we were with no electricity, no lights, no internet, and no television.

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“What do we do now,” she asked.

I reached into the desk drawer for the flashlight that doubles as a cell phone power source, plugged in my phone, and turned on the mobile hotspot so we could maintain internet connection. Then I walked over to the kitchen pantry where we keep two battery-operated camping lanterns, pulled one out, and placed it on the kitchen counter, where its light sprayed throughout the kitchen, dining room, and living room. Not a lot, but enough.

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For the next hour, rain poured from the sky as if God had picked up the Atlantic Ocean and was dumping it on us. Linda took the lantern over to the couch to read; my laptop had plenty of charge for me to finish the work I was doing.

Although the rest of the house was dark, and the temperature grew warmer because the air conditioner was off, we didn’t have a crisis when the lights went out. During the previous weekend, we had checked the batteries in those emergency lamps and charged my mobile power back-up. Because we were ready, there was no emergency when the storm caused a blackout. We didn’t panic, and there wasn’t a crisis.

The same can be true if something terrible happens and life itself comes to an end. If we’ve taken time to prepare in advance, even death isn’t a crisis, and we don’t have to panic.

In Philippians 1:21 the Apostle writes, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That doesn’t sound like a man who is afraid of the dark or of death. He was prepared for whatever might happen.

Job is another who had a deep confidence when facing the storms of life. Despite all the pain and ugliness that he faced, he still declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

When the lights finally came back on, we watched an old Alfred Hitchcock movie starring James Stewart and Doris Day. It was a lovely evening—despite the storm raging on the outside.

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When the Ship Sinks

Dorchester 1Fifty-five minutes past midnight on February 3, 1943 the USS Dorchester was on its way to Greenland with more than nine hundred men on board. Captain Hans Danielsen, aware that German U-boats were in the area, had ordered the men to stay ready and keep their life jackets on, but many of them disobeyed the order because the life jackets were uncomfortable and impossible to sleep in.

Four Army chaplains were on the ship: a Methodist minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Reformed Church pastor. All four had been Boy Scouts. All four were brand new lieutenants in the Army. All four were ready to serve their Soldiers, their country, and their God. All four were prepared to give their lives if necessary.

When the torpedo hit the ship, the lights went out. A lot of people died instantly; more died in the water. Others were injured. Men who were trapped below began to panic, looking for their life jacket, trying to find a way to the top deck so they could abandon ship.

As soon as the chaos began, the four chaplains sprang into action. They encouraged panic-stricken young men, guided Soldiers towards the upper deck and to the lifeboats, and helped them find life jackets. When there were no more life preservers to be found, they took off their own and gave them away in order to save the lives of a few more men, knowing that it certainly meant they themselves would die.

Dorchester 3Two hundred thirty men made it into the rescue boats that night. As they looked back at the sinking ship, they saw the four chaplains standing on deck, arms linked, praying and singing in Hebrew, Latin, and English.

What do you do when your ship sinks? How do you respond when your world is at its darkest and there seems to be no way of escape? Or when the future holds no promise and there seems to be no hope?

If Ecclesiastes 3:1 is true and there is an appropriate time and season for every purpose under heaven, and if different times and seasons call for different actions, then how we live, how we behave, what is appropriate, or what is best, may be more a matter of discernment than following rules. There is a time to shout and a time to whisper, a time to drop the bomb and a time to lay down the weapon, a time to wear the life jacket, and a time to give it away so another may live.

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An immoral man behaves inappropriately for selfish reasons. A moral man does what is right because of legal, humanitarian, or religious obligations. A hero rejects selfishness, takes his moral obligations into account, then discerns with artistic altruism a course of action that will benefit another human being, even when that act may bring harm to himself. That’s what love does. That’s what genuine spirituality aims for. That’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Most societies pay tribute to their heroes, and the four chaplains of the Dorchester are heroes who deserve that honor. They could have lived longer, ministering for many more years, making a difference, perhaps for thousands of people. Yet, discerning the time and the season, they chose to whisper, “I love you.” They decided to take off their life jackets. “Here, take mine.” They loved the men they ministered to, knowing it certainly meant they would die, and in making that decision, they painted a magnificent work of art.

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Attitude Check

los-angeles-2679490_1920I used to drive more than fifty miles to work, and the same distance home in the evening. The traffic was usually pretty bad, often rainy, and as you’ve probably experienced, other drivers are sometimes not very nice. When I started despising drivers who made stupid decisions, I developed a bad attitude and realized I needed to do something about it.

After praying, I decided to come up with a phrase I could say whenever another driver irked me. Here’s what I ended up with.

You are a fabulous human being,

fashioned in the indelible image of the Creator.

After I memorized the sentence, I started saying it whenever a driver did something dumb or dangerous: ten, eleven, a dozen times a day. Nobody else knew what I was doing. I’m the only one who heard me, even though I said it out loud. It helped me remember that every man and every woman has the divine image, even those who are not living for the Lord. Even those who are terrible drivers.

world-549425_1920Being in God’s image and likeness is an important part of the Judeo-Christian world view. We’re not merely the product of a godless evolutionary process. While we may have many similarities with the animals, what distinguishes us from the rest of creation is the image of God. The very first page of the Bible says, “God created man in His own image; male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism poses the question, “How did God create man?” And then provides the answer, “God created man male and female after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”

To be in God’s image has two meanings. First, it means we are like him. Second, it means we represent him.

How we are like God refers to his activity and character and the ways we are like him. God communicates. He creates. He relates. He loves. He keeps his word. He is loyal. He is compassionate. He has knowledge. We can make these same statements of human beings, because we are fashioned in his image. We have the ability to create, to communicate, to relate, and to love. We have moral capabilities such as loyalty and honesty. We have an ability to show compassion. We have the capacity for knowledge. And like our creator, we have the ability to make our world a better place.

The fact that we represent God has a different focus and a different starting point for how we think and live. The emphasis is not on how we are like God, but that we represent the Lord. We represent God and his values to the planet and to other people. We represent him in matters of social justice and spirituality, which is why Christians should be involved in the community, setting an example of alleviating pain in the world, and caring for the needy.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 the apostle writes, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ.” Not only do we have the divine image, we have the Holy Spirit in us, another powerful reason for understanding we are to represent the Lord at all times, even when driving on the freeway.

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