1989, 12/17-19. Sparrows.
These short writings are not about life in the Church of Bible Understanding, but some of the things I wrote, as well as the circumstances in which they were written, speak much about life in COBU.
I got the idea for writing meditations from Richard Wumbrand’s book 100 Prison Meditations which were sermons he wrote in solitary confinement as a prisoner of the Communist government of Romania. He didn’t have pencil or paper, so he composed the sermons in his mind and memorized them.
(Richard Wurmbrand visited COBU in earlier years, but after confronting Stewart Traill a few times, Stewart didn’t allow him to visit any more. Stewart’s reasons to no longer invite him to speak at our meeting were hidden from us, but I found out later when I left the church. Richard Wurmbrand always held out an invitation to Stewart for fellowship, but Stewart didn’t take him up on it. Wurmbrand said that Stewart was “a powerful backslider” and that he was trembling when we tried to speak to Stewart – this from a man who had survived 14 years in solitary confinement in Communist prisons for his faith in Jesus.)
I wrote these meditations during an intense period in COBU in 1989. There was little time for anything because life I was on the Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning schedule night and day, the rest of my time was spent in meetings and sitting around waiting for rides after we finished our carpet cleaning jobs. There was no time for anything else and certainly no time to read or study anything. So, as Richard Wurmbrand did in prison, I composed one meditation a day as I was working. I memorized the key points and went over the words during the day until I memorized them. When I got home and had a few moments, I wrote them down. It is ironic – but true – that life in the Church of Bible Understanding was like a prison labor camp. We worked day and night and we had little time for anything else. It is ironic that I looked to the example of Wurmbrand’s book as a way to cope with the conditions of life in COBU. I was a prisoner of the church and techniques that were used by a pastor to keep his mind alive in a Communist prison could be used by me here too.
There are only three meditations. The treadmill of constant work and long meetings wore me out and I stopped composing them.
The first thing I saw this morning, the first thing that caught my interest and put me into a thoughtful mood were the little sparrows that dashed and darted before me on the sidewalk. I was a little groggy until then and was not really paying attention to anything, as I walked on my way to get a church van that was parked several blocks away. I suddenly thought of early December mornings when I was a boy, on my way to school with my brothers, stepping off the curb to break the fragile ice that formed over the puddles in the early morning cold, surprised to find the street completely dry under the ice that shattered like glass. We entertained ourselves all the way to school with this. And the same, little sparrows darted around on the sidewalks, looking for something to eat, then at the last minute as we approached, they flew away into the bushes chattering loudly, waiting only as long as necessary for us to go by, then returning to the sidewalk. I don’t know why, but it is in the colder months that sparrows seem to do this more. And here they were, the same sparrows, the same frosty chill that bites the nose, on my way early in the morning going somewhere. When I saw the sparrows, this memory came to my mind.
Today was a routine day, with carpet cleaning and driving between jobs. I had a hard time keeping my mind on anything. It’s hard to account for what I did with my mind and my thoughts, except that I thought of some thoughts and observations that I would like to write in a book. But it’s hard to account for where the rest of me is during the day. It all seems so lost.
I had hard time keeping my mind on anything, so I finally decided to think about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is such a basic, simple and commonly mentioned verse that it is sometimes overlooked in our quest for higher knowledge. God loved us so much that he was willing to send his Son to die on the cross for us, so we wouldn’t perish and go to hell for all eternity, so we could have eternal life and live with him forever.
I must keep my mind on the basics more.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.”
I have been thinking about sparrows today. What? You might say I should be thinking about more important things than sparrows. Yes, but I think God was thinking about sparrows today too, because Jesus said not one sparrow is forgotten before God.
Here is how I got on this train of thought. While waiting for a brother to finish a carpet cleaning job yesterday, I parked the van in front of a church. There was a poster in front of the church with an Albert Durer picture of Jesus that said “Vive como él.” Live the way he did. (Or literally, live like him.) I thought I should pray, so I did. I couldn’t concentrate well and wasn’t saying anything, but the thought came to my mind to turn on Christian radio, so I turned it on.
A man began speaking about Matthew 6 and how not a single sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s consent. I didn’t think much of it and went on with the day.
This morning, when I was parking the van in front of the job, it occurred to me that I should pray, but before I did, I noticed a license plate frame on the car in front of me. It said “You are not forgotten.” (It was about soldiers who are missing in action.) It made me think. I took it as a message to me. It reminded me of the passage in the Bible where Jesus spoke of the sparrows, saying “and not one of them is forgotten before God.”
So I looked up the verses in the Bible on this. It seems that Our Lord spoke of sparrows a few times. He spoke about how he knows all about us and is concerned for all the details of our lives, especially the details we get anxious about. He’s got it all under control. I am praying to One who knows and is concerned about everything about me. I get the feeling sometimes that God doesn’t know, or isn’t concerned about the details of my life. It’s quite the contrary.
So, I think that God was thinking about sparrows today. God knows me and everything about me. He has not forgotten me. I am of more value than many sparrows. God was thinking about sparrows today. And I think he wants me to think about sparrows too.
God has weaknesses. I know it’s true because the Bible tells me so. In 1 Corinthians 1:26, the Apostle Paul wrote that the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God allowed Paul to write about his weaknesses; he did not hide his weaknesses from Paul. Shall I then, who was created by God, presume to act better than God by living and acting as if I have no weaknesses? If I was created in God’s image, I must have weaknesses too.
When Paul prayed to the Lord three times that a physical ailment should leave him, God’s reply to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That is why Paul said, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul accepted his weaknesses, because, as he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
But, what are God’s weaknesses? Well, we can’t know all of his weaknesses, but I think I know what some of them are.
In the book of Hebrews, it is written that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
God’s weaknesses are found in Jesus. For Jesus had to be made like his brethren in every respect (and that includes our weaknesses), so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.
Jesus had to be made like you and me in every respect, though without sin, in order that we could become like him in every respect, also without sin. Although I think that may not be until the next life. Our whole lives are spent in preparation for this.
God sent his Son down to us through his Love, Mercy, and Grace in order to raise us up with him through Faith, Hope, and Love.
This then, is the weakness of God. I too will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I will be content with my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Read the next part of The Tangled Web here: Stewart Traill’s Message To Jim LaRue.
These pages, as well as my other pages, A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member and Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader, are part of the source material of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.