A Tale of Two Sticks

As I lay in bed I scratched the itch on top of my head. My fingertips grazed over the sore spot. Damned Bobby Watkins*, I thought to myself. 

How long had I been dealing with this sore area on my head? It’s been over 40 years, I realized.

The long-ago scene easily materialized in my brain. I’d been reliving the incident for over four decades.

I was yucking it up with a couple of my friends on the playground at school. It was September of our 8th grade year and the weather was perfect. We were on our lunch break and everyone was having fun outside.

All of a sudden, I felt a whack on the top of my head. It hurt some, but not a great deal like you might think getting hit in the head would.

Instinctively, I reached up with my right hand to rub the area. I felt blood. I looked at my hand and saw a significant amount of blood on my fingertips. At this point, I had no idea what caused my injury.

I knew this was not a situation I could handle on my own—not with all this blood. I don’t remember what my buddies did or said to me.

Leaving them, I began walking toward the door to the school en route to the office. We didn’t have a school nurse, so the secretary always took care of matters like this.

As it turned out, my injury was not something she could help me with. It was bad enough that I needed medical attention. The secretary called my mom at work to come get me and take me to the doctor in our little town.

I learned from my friends that Bobby Watkins had taken a good-sized stick he found on the playground and decided it would be fun to throw it straight up in the air; it came down smack dab on my head.

The nurse at the doctor’s office had to shave a quarter-sized hole on the side of my head so they could put a few stitches in and apply a bandage.

That was the worst part of the whole ordeal—now I had a bald spot on my head with an ugly white bandage on it.

I strategically combed my hair during this time to try to hide the spot. Eventually, the bandage came off and the stitches came out. Soon, my hair was growing out and before long it didn’t matter anymore.

Now, years later, every time my fingers touch that spot on my head, it is noticeably tender to the touch. Not so much that there’s true pain, but enough that I feel some discomfort.

As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I happened to scratch my head in that exact spot. The stimulus immediately made me think of Bobby Watkins and his senseless act. 

I knew he had died a few years ago, but I wondered what his life had been like over the decades since we graduated.

He had seemed to have a hard life when we were in school, so I reasoned that his adult life had probably followed the same path.

Serves him right for throwing that stick. I knew that was the wrong way to feel, but it was late, I was tired, and I didn’t care at that point. 

I actually did care. I’m not one to wish ill will upon anyone. Hopefully, he had had a good life, filled with joy and all the things that make life fulfilling.

I wish I could say that that was the only incident I’d ever had with Bobby Watkins and a stick, but it wasn’t. 

The other incident, which happened a few years earlier, actually caused me more pain, so much so that I had cried.

When I was younger, I played Little League baseball in the summers. I loved it, and it gave me something to do to alleviate any boredom I might have over the summer break.

One night during a game, our team was on the field and someone on the other team hit a foul ball. Apparently, Bobby got to the foul ball before anyone else did, hoping to make off with it for himself. 

The details are a little hazy, but I had seen him grab the ball, so I told one of the coaches or the umpire or someone in charge that he had it.

He had to surrender the ball and wasn’t too happy about it.

After the game was over, my mom and I were talking to others and making our way to the car to head home.

Well, here came Bobby walking quickly toward me with a branch in his hand. I don’t remember exactly what he said to me but it was something along the lines of, “This is for telling on me about the ball.”

He then swung the branch toward me. He hit me at least a couple of times on my neck and face. I was stunned to say the least, because he had come out of nowhere. 

I’m not sure my mom actually saw it happen, as she had been talking to some of the other moms at that time.

The assault hurt a decent amount and I began crying. I’m not sure if I cried because of the pain or just from the fact that someone would do that to me.

After my mom realized what had happened, she tried to console me, while simultaneously walking me to the car.

The lashes left big, red welts on my neck. I’m not sure how long they were there, but I don’t remember worrying about them the next day. 

The thing I was worried about, however, was running into Bobby Watkins again somewhere and his continuing to take his vengeance out on me.

Fortunately, that was all there was to it, and I had no further run-ins with him—not until that September day when he inadvertently hit me in the head with a stick a few years later.

So, those are my two incidents with Bobby Watkins.

One thing I might mention about Bobby is that one of his arms was paralyzed. He couldn’t move it at all I don’t think. 

When we were in elementary school—second grade, I believe—he had been in an accident where his coat got caught in the door of a car that was pulling away. He had been dragged for several feet before anyone realized what was happening. 

I still remember our class sending him get-well wishes. Ever since the accident, he hadn’t had any use of his arm (I don’t remember which one it was).

You might be asking yourself what the point of these stories is. 

I suppose the takeaway is that no matter how hard I might try to put the past behind me, every time I touch that tender spot on my head, I’m reminded of Bobby Watkins. When I think of him, I reacknowledge the grudge I’ve held onto for so many years.

After all, is it right that I still feel discomfort for something he did to me over 40 years ago? 

Perhaps I’ve never fully forgiven him for either incident. The branch lashing was mean and vicious, while the stick to the head was an accident. 

However, I believe that I hold more of a grudge about the latter incident because I am periodically reminded of it.

As I mentioned earlier, Bobby passed away a few years ago, so maybe the incidents shouldn’t bother me any longer. 

However, they do. I’m still dealing with the repercussions of his stick throwing even though he is no longer around.

To sum everything up, I know I need to forgive him at last. I don’t believe I’ve ever really considered the need to do so before now. But I know that is what God would want me to do.

He’s forgiven me for many sins and trespasses, so the least I can do is forgive Bobby.

Oh Lord, help me forgive Bobby for what he did to me so many years ago. Allow me to let go of the anger and resentment that I have held onto for so long. Let my heart and mind be free of any animosity toward him so that I can be unshackled from the bondage of unforgiveness. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

*Not his real name

Are There Two Different Gods?

If you only read the Old Testament of the Bible, you might end up concluding that God is mean and wrathful toward His creation. 

Admittedly, there are many instances in the Old Testament where God exacts some form of punishment. Throughout its narrative, Israel is constantly sinning and making God angry.

Up until the time I accepted Christ as a teenager, I had read Genesis more than any other book of the Bible. 

The reason is because it is at the beginning and you always start reading a book at the beginning, right? Every time I would decide to read the Bible, I would open it at the beginning, Genesis. 

Consequently, my view of God was strongly shaped by what we find in the book of Genesis. I naturally grew up seeing God as a stern authoritarian.

While God is certainly all about law and order, there is also much more to Him. He is full of love and compassion for His people. Over and over, he forgives the Israelites for their sin and helps them out of predicaments they get themselves into.

For the most part, it is more difficult to see God’s love in the Old Testament, but it is there. You just have to look a little harder to see it. 

Of course, it’s easy to recognize God’s love when we read the New Testament. References to His love for His creation are abundant, with the crucifixion of His son depicted as the epitome of this love.

It is almost as if there are two different Gods — the stern God of the Old Testament and the loving God of the New Testament. 

There is of course just one God, the one Creator of the universe. The two testaments of the Bible emphasize different aspects of the nature of God. To get the true picture of God, you have to read both parts of the Bible.

In fact, the New Testament completes the image of God that is begun in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament., the law is given, and in the New Testament, we see how it is impossible for man to keep the law and that there must be a penalty for his sin.

Christ’s death and resurrection satisfy the penalty of man’s sin.

With the two sections of the Bible taken together, we get the full picture of God and His plan for mankind. You have to read the Bible in its entirety to understand God’s love and see the full scope of His plan.

So why is God seemingly presented so differently in the two testaments of the Bible? I don’t have a good answer to this question. 

The Jewish people, of course, only recognize and read the Old Testament. Does this skew their perception of God?

As a Christian whose Bible-reading time focuses more on the New Testament than the Old, I can’t help but think that the answer is yes.

I believe that as a believer in Christ, we are supposed to read the entire Bible. Doing so will help us develop our faith and become the people that God wants us to be. 

If we read only one of the two testaments, we will not end up with the right foundation. 

We have to see the judicial side of God depicted in the Old Testament so that we can fully appreciate the loving side of God that the New Testament gives us. Christ’s death and resurrection complete the law and put the believer in right standing with God.

As we’re told in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The Father’s loving nature shines through in this verse, as He provides a way (the ONLY way, in fact) for us to become righteous in His eyes.

He loves us so much that He gave His Son Jesus as the once-for-all-time sacrifice for our sins.

Love doesn’t get more intense or deeper than that. 

And if you read only the Old Testament, you’ll never even begin to grasp the idea of this love.

However, if we don’t have the foundation of God’s justice laid in the Old Testament, we’ll never fully understand and appreciate how wonderful a gift it is that through Jesus’ sacrifice we stand forgiven in God’s eyes.

The two parts of the Bible work together to give us the full message from God. This message is that He loves us and has provided a way for us to spend eternity with Him.

All we have to do is use our free will to accept this gift by asking Jesus to be our Lord.

And that is the simple truth of the gospel.

You Can’t Out-Sin God’s Forgiveness

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

As believers in Christ, we’ll never be outside of God’s forgiveness. 

Think about that for a minute…

There’s nothing we can do that God will not forgive us for—so long as we’ve trusted Jesus for our salvation.

That’s the key. Without Jesus, there is no forgiveness. 

Instead, there’s a great gulf between God and us because no one is able to completely keep all tenets of the law that God gave to His people. 

That’s the reason for Jesus. God the Father knew that man doesn’t have the ability to follow the law completely, keeping even the smallest detail without sinning. As we’re told in James 2:10:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

It doesn’t matter if we tell a so-called “white lie,” or if we’ve killed someone, guilty is guilty. 

However, the good news is that Jesus’ death and resurrection puts us right with God. God, being eternally just and good, couldn’t go back on the law He created, so He sent Jesus to fulfill the law. 

Through His crucifixion and subsequent rise from the grave, Jesus became the first fruits of all of us who believe in Him. All we have to do is believe in the lordship of Jesus and that He died and rose from the grave to pay for our sins. 

It’s that simple. Our works won’t get us into Heaven. Instead, our faith does. 

So, going back to forgiveness…once we become followers of Jesus, we have God’s complete forgiveness no matter how badly we mess up. All we have to do is repent and confess our sins and we can be confident that we have God’s forgiveness.

How great is that!

So, if you haven’t trusted your eternal destiny to Jesus yet, that’s the first thing you need to do. Your life will never be the same afterward. Take a moment now to invite Jesus into your heart.

Then you can rest easy, knowing that there’s nothing standing between you and fellowship with God.

Of course, as followers of Christ, we should want to avoid sin. However, being human, we will invariably fall short. When we do, thanks to Jesus we can know with confidence that we have God’s forgiveness. 

That should give each of us peace of mind!

The Essence of the Gospel

OK, here’s your tough question for the day…

What is the true essence of the Gospel? What is it all about anyway?

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Perhaps the Good News is about forgiveness. If we have placed our faith in Christ, then we know that we have forgiveness for our sins. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

His death and resurrection atoned for our sin (a fancy way of saying that He paid the price for our sin).

Or, we could say that John 15:12 sums up the Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Surely, if we don’t have love, then we don’t truly have the Spirit of Christ living in us. 

We are even told in Matthew 22:37-40 that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So, love is definitely a big part of the Gospel.

But so is salvation. We learn in Romans 10:9 that, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

We have to conclude, therefore, that the Gospel is about salvation.

However, that’s not all. In arguably one of the most famous and often-quoted verses in the Bible, we are told that, “For God so loved the world

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that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Eternal life is a key part of the Good News for sure.

So, what then is the essence of the Gospel?

Simply put, it’s Jesus. He is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith,” as Hebrews 12:2 is rendered in the NIV. The NKJV calls him the “author and finisher of our faith.”

So, yes, the Gospel is about all those other things. However, it is undeniably, unmistakably about Jesus our Savior, the One sent by the Father to make us right in His eyes.

All we have to do is believe