March 21, 2012

What a Ukrainian Bird Told Me

A sharp clang jolted me awake. A moment later whirring wings passed so close to my head that a soft breeze brushed my cheek. I jerked with fright. Then another bang pierced the darkness.
The wake-up call occurred at the Ukrainian Institute of Arts and Sciences, an Adventist school outside Kiev. An association of Adventist journalists had invited me to speak at a weekend conference, and I was staying in a dorm room with three bunk beds, three regular beds, a roommate named Pavel, and —it seemed—one lost bird.
Whirrrrr. Bang! Whirrrrr. Clang! The poor creature flew blindly around the room. Pavel stirred on his bed. “It’s a bird,” he mumbled and fell silent, apparently unconcerned.
Rattled and groggy, I reasoned that the occurrence must be normal and, when I couldn’t sleep, began to look for an object lesson. I finally decided that the bird was like me, a Christian completely free in the Lord. But when the open window of sin beckons, I fly in, and then try to get out with my own efforts. I always fail; and suffer in the process.
In the morning Pavel sheepishly admitted that he had been too frightened to try to help the bird. He also offered his own interpretation of the incident. He said he had been reminded of worldly people who struggle to find meaning, but succeed only when they see the Light. He said the bird flew out only when dawn broke and it spotted the window.
2012 1509 page27One event, two insights. That’s one reason I love reading the Bible. One verse can hold so many truths, veins of gold just waiting to be mined with the help of the Holy Spirit. Consider, for example, seven nuggets plucked from this verse: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility’ ” (Matt. 27:24).
1. By washing his hands, Pilate, a Gentile, engaged in a Jewish tradition rooted in God-inspired ceremonial cleansing. This surely pleased the religious leaders, who had complained when Jesus’ disciples ate without washing their hands (Matt. 15:2). Jesus, however, downplayed this tradition and instead uplifted foot washing and the ultimate cleansing ritual: baptism.
2. A leader in name, Pilate was actually a coward because he folded to peer pressure. Cowards like him will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). Pilate’s cowardly actions teach me not to worry about what people think, but to embrace the truth under all circumstances, including when my leadership positions require me to summon the courage to condemn Sabbathbreaking and sexual immorality.
3. Pilate gave in to the majority even though their demands were wicked. This is a good example why the “majority rules” principle of democracy is flawed, and why I rejoice that many of today’s governments protect the religious freedom of minorities. Still, I’m glad that God oversees a theocracy, not a democracy; He alone judges.
4. Pilate was the ultimate unjust judge, declaring Jesus innocent when he condemned Him. May God give me the wisdom to practice fairness and not make contradictory statements.
5. Paul had good advice for individuals like Pilate: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). I must persevere in doing good, no matter the outside pressure or the seeming hopelessness of a situation. God promises a good harvest.
6. Help me, dear God, never to get to the point that I too pronounce myself innocent of Jesus’ blood. I am guilty. My sins put Jesus on the cross. I am in danger of declaring myself innocent when I give up my struggle with cherished sins, just as Pilate gave up his struggle to free Jesus.
7. Although Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9), we can’t always seek peace. Sometimes we must stand for the truth even if it leads to the realization of Pilate’s biggest fears: unemployment and an uprising.
One verse, many truths. That’s what a little bird told me.
Andrew Mc Chesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published March 22, 2012.