At least Jeffrey Dahmer is reported to have been penitent for his sins. Many don't realize that. It might have been interesting to see how this man would have developed had he not been murdered by a fellow prisoner.
I don't know much about some of these notorious murderers, but I have heard their names. John Wayne Gacy often portrayed a clown who used puppets to entertain children in hospitals. He is the one attributed to the rise of people's fear of clowns.
Ted Bundy is represented in the museum, as well. Dental impressions, Bundy's typewriter, and his VW Beetle are here: real artifacts representing a man with evil weighing on his hands.
I'm a sucker for a theme park that takes theming seriously. For years, I've both been impressed and disappointed by parks when they carry through or fall away from their own theming. The theme for the proposed American Heartland park in Vinita, Oklahoma, is broad enough to allow a lot of flexibility, while at the same time, it's tight enough to immerse guests.
Once inside, visitors will encounter six "lands", based on regions in the U.S., and the immersive theming appears to be intact for each. Circle through the park, and you'll see Liberty Village, The Great Plains, Bayou Bay, Big Timber Falls, Stony Point Harbor, and Electropolis. I'll write more about what I see in each of these lands in future articles on this page.
Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:17: “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” Verse 19, we read, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Then in verse 24, He uses the word everyone: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…” And then in verse 26: “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
But there in the middle is verse 21, Jesus begins another paragraph with Not everyone. Not everyone. That means, He’s about to pull some people out of the lineup. I picture a whole, long line of Christians, queued up to enter the pearly gates of Heaven. We’re all there with our feet approaching a golden sidewalk. Everyone in line. Every Christian in line for the attraction that has caught all of our eyes for a long time. We all have our eyes on what Paul calls “the prize”.
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace,
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.
But Jesus arrives for judgment, and begins pulling some of us out of the line. Jesus shows up and yanks people to the side.
Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day,
Just one glimpse of Him in glory,
Will the toils of life repay.
Let’s make this clear, we’re all in line. We’re all getting ready for eternity. We’re all calling on the Savior. Great chants are beginning: “Lord, Lord,” “Lord, Lord.” We’re all so worship-filled, anticipating the glory of being in the presence of the Light of lights. We look forward to seeing some of the light leaking through from the throne of God and the river and tree of life. We hear the faint voices of the apostles and martyrs.
Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open,
We shall tread the streets of gold.
And Jesus starts plucking some of us out of the line. It’s not like when we get pulled to the side in the TSA line at the airport to be patted down or questioned about our luggage. In that case, we answer the questions and soon we’re still on our way to the concourse to await our flight. No, in this case, Jesus stands some of us to the side for another purpose, and we realize the song that we sang was hopeful, but not representative of eternity’s reality.
When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory.
“When we all get to heaven”? Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
And those people pulled out of line begin to get nervous. Is my entry into the gate of solid pearl going to be delayed? Am I going to have to go to the back of the line? Or is He about to have an angel escort me to a different location altogether? Not everyone in this line will enter, He says.
And the pleading begins. Verse 22: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’”
Oh, now it seems that these Christians understand that belief alone was not enough. We don’t look at Jesus at this point and argue that we believed and that was all He told us to do. Suddenly, we get it - that He told us in Matthew 7 to hear and act, that He told us in Mark 16:16 to believe and be baptized. Now we make our cases based on our response and service.
Yes, now we want Him to take note of our spreading His Gospel and showing people the errors of their ways. Now, we want Him to give us credit for reaching out and helping others. The people on the side of the mountain would have understood prophesying, exorcizing demons, and performing miracles, but we could just as well substitute some of the things that are done in the name of Jesus, today.
Does begging make a difference once we’re pulled out of the line? Do we think Jesus doesn’t already know what we have done “in His name”? No amount of pleading, no amount of getting on our knees and begging, no amount of tears, no amount of respectful praise at this point will change His decision to yank me out of that line and send me tumbling into another destination forever.
Verse 23 (a very climactic line in His sermon): “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Who is He talking to? The people in the line to the pearly gate? No. Non-Christians who have already sat in torments awaiting the final day? No. In Matthew 7:23, Jesus speaks to Christians, believers, people who are praising Him. He’s talking to the ones He has pulled out of the line.
We thought we had our tickets in hand. We had our bags packed. We’ve looked forward to our Heavenly mansions. How disappointing to think we had it all wrapped up, only to realize that we have been practicing lawlessness. Jesus has pulled us out of the line. We’re not going to take this ride with the Creator.
When I was at Disney World for the 50 Teachers Celebration (2022), I was introduced to Zach Riddley. Riddley was the Imagineer who designed the $500 million Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction for EPCOT. It was opening on the day that he spoke to us, and that evening, 90 minutes after the park closed, we were surprised to walk into the ride with no waiting line at all.
The anticipation was pouring off of the teachers in the room. People were smiling from ear to ear. Some were in tears. We stood in that line, ready to ride the biggest ride of our lives, and we were going to ride it with its creator.
Had someone come to some of us at that moment to tell us we only thought we were qualified to ride, but that we were sadly mistaken, we would have been sorely disappointed. All of the applause, the smiles, the laughter, and the praise of Disney World and Zach Riddley would have stopped cold.
“But Zach, didn’t we earn this,” we might have said. “But Zach, we came all this way.” “But Zach, we’ve watched all the Marvel movies.” Some would do anything they could at that point to get to ride on Cosmic Rewind. I imagine some would have emptied their purses or jumped through hoops to buy their way back into the experience.
Zach, at that point, could look us in the eyes and tell us, “I don’t even know who you are.”
A $500 million ride through the stars with comic book heroes is not the same as admission into Heaven, so how much more does it hurt when we hear the voice of our Savior telling people, “I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
“Leave me…” We see that this is not just one person pulled from the line. Verse 22 indicates that He says this to many who plead with Him - many who thought they were going to enjoy the attraction of Heaven with the Creator. He says, “Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord…” Many.
Was it a lost cause, this following of Christ? Does He just randomly pluck you from the line? Is it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Why would Christ punish us in such a way?
No, as He explains. More than belief is called for. How did He put it in verse 21? “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Aha! There it is: hearing and believing means righteously adhering to the will of the Father. We had better make sure that the traditions of the church are in line with God’s desires and instructions. We had better analyze our worship, our fellowship, our service, and our innermost thoughts, to confirm that we are doing the will of the Father who is in heaven.
Many fail to do that. Please don’t be one of the “not-everyone”s. Don’t be like the foolish man, building your house on a sandy foundation. Don’t be like the tree that produces bad fruit. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness instead. Build your house on the solid foundation of the Gospel. Stop blindly following a preacher, teacher, or false prophet; study the word of God so that you can know what His will is for you.
Did we connect the dots in this lesson? I hope we have seen that there is a flow to the ending paragraphs of Matthew 7 that guides us to understanding. I can appreciate the intent of the Christ here - that He wants the people on that mountain to put aside what they thought they knew about the coming Savior, what they had been taught by church leaders who promoted church traditions and did not speak with authority. Jesus wants no less from you and me today. It is the most inclusive lesson of them all - that one day, everyone will fall into the hands of the living God, who has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
An interesting news item emerged from the negativity, last week, in Northeast Oklahoma. The Mansion Entertainment Group in Branson, Missouri, held a grand press conference in Vinita, Oklahoma, to announce an ambitious new venture to be located on about 1,000 acres, five miles west of town. The largest RV park and campground in the region, Three Ponies, is forecasted to open for business in 2025, followed by a two billion dollar theme park promised to rival a Disney or Universal destination. Accompanying the park will be a 300-room resort hotel and indoor water park, all predicted to open in the fall of 2026.
"The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings."
I've never looked into organized crime as much as other aspects of history, but this section of the Alcatraz East museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was pretty interesting just the same. Here we were able to learn more about Pretty Boy Floyd, Al Capone, John Dillinger, and things like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Real artifacts were here, as well as movie props from Scarface, The Untouchables, Gangs of New York, and other crime-based cinema.
Here's to doing something different on our vacation. We didn't really know what to expect from a place called Alcatraz East, but I had found some information about it, and we decided to take a shot at it on our way out of town. This "crime museum" is at an area called The Island in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We parked the car and rode the shuttle to the shopping area.
At the very front (We could have parked there.) of the island is the ominous-appearing Alcatraz East.
A visitor to this place might expect to get goosebumps looking at items that extended backwards in time as far as pirates, then moving forward in time through the outlaws of colonial times, cowboy times, and organized crime. One cannot look at these items without feeling the imagined presence of Gacy, Dahmer, Bundy, and other serial killers. One cannot help but reflect on those assassinations that stand out in our history - Garfield, Kennedy, Oswald, and more.
The entire museum is chock-full of stories that don't normally float to the top of a general history book. This is the seedy underbelly of our genealogy as a nation (and internationally). I'll share pictures of just some of the items in the next several days.
After a day of fun activity, we finally made it back to the bottom of Ober Mountain, riding the thin cables of the aerial tram. The employee on board told us of three or four bears earlier in the day. Seen from the tram, these bears were breaking into a fellow's pickup truck down below. She said that later, the truck had been moved.
I’m pleased and proud to work with this institution. We don’t try to break students; we coach them into improvement.
Animals in nature are always something to behold, but we don't always get to behold them. Ober Mountain in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offers guests the chance to see local wildlife up close. This is not a global zoo, boasting of owning a collection of animals from all the continents. One does not find giraffes and lions here - only local fauna.
I was especially interested in the owl with a dead rat in its beak, the raccoons (including an albino) playing and trying to get comfortable, the otters that almost eluded my camera. The he turtles, the snakes weren't very active (I guess they never really are.), but the black bears were. It's not the same seeing them in a confined setting, but one might stand and appreciate the power and beauty of these creatures.
And yes, there is an average amount of cleanup of scat to keep these animals presentable to the public.
While inside the building where most of these animals are housed, one family simply refused to read, assuming they could tell each other all about what they were seeing. To them, the albino coon was an arctic fox (They didn't even question how the fox and the raccoons were getting along so well.) and the big turtle was something else altogether.
Another family was quite interesting to listen to. They were properly Amish and spoke with rich and thick Pennsylvania Dutch accents. I had to really pay attention to understand the dad in the group as he narrated to his young family, but it was intriguing to eavesdrop just a little bit on this culture that is very different from my own. I suppose we would find many similarities, as well, given the time and opportunity to sit and converse with one another.
Remember when Jesus said these words: "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). And remember when one of the scribes came to Jesus and asked, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" in Mark 12:28. What was the reply? Verse 29: Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”
If the first thing on your “To Do” list is loving God, everything else will fall into place. With God at the top of my list everything else will come under His control, including me.
I want to return to Matthew 6, but this time, I want to begin in verse 25 so we can see what He means by “these things” shall be added. Jesus says, "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? Do not be anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?'”
All these things, clothing, food, life, drink, health, are added to us, He says, and here comes verse 33 again: "But..." The first word is but. He says that instead of asking about what we will eat or drink and what will we wear, we should seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
We are correct in saying that the gifts of God, the kingdom He offers, our citizenship in Heaven, our eternal glorious life, all these things will only be added to us when we seek Him. For this reason, I’m changing the way I write my “To Do” lists. From now on, I’m listing them in order of importance, and from now on, I’m making a point to write: Number One: Seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. I think it’s important that I physically write it in my daily plan and then do it, and not just keep it in the back of my mind.
Maybe it’s time to start on our New Year’s resolution. Maybe by getting started now, and practicing what we plan to do in the new year, we’ll be better prepared to keep the resolution when January comes around. Maybe we should seek God now – first.
OK, so what does that mean? What does it mean to seek? How actively should we seek? The 63rd Psalm may give us more of idea how much effort to put into our seeking. In the first verse, David prays, "O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water."
David is in the wilderness. He writes that the land around him is dry, and weary. The land is worn out from lack of water. We can imagine he is physically thirsty, and yet he seeks first God. He earnestly seeks God. How many of us thirst for God? Yes, we seek Him, but do we have the thirst David describes.
Water sustains physical life. God sustains spiritual life. Daily intake of each of these is necessary. We couldn’t go four or five days without water and live. Likewise, we can’t go without the Living Water offered by Christ and survive. Edward L. McAdams of Searcy, Arkansas, put it succinctly when he wrote, "We are thirsty for Him now, and we drink in His word, His love, His life! We are satisfied."
How does the song go?
I heard the voice of Jesus say
Are we thirsty enough to make seeking a priority? Are we leading our families to do the same? Let’s return to Psalm 63 to see the urgency, and significance of this seeking to David: "O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water."
Continuing in verse 2, he writes, "Thus I have beheld Thee in the sanctuary, To see Thy power and Thy glory. Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise Thee. So I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember Thee on my bed, I meditate on Thee in the night watches, For Thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Thee; Thy right hand upholds me."
Did you hear it? David defines his thirst for us. If we seek God’s “better than life” lovingkindness, God’s satisfying love, and if we want His right hand to support us, we must bless Him, use our hands for Him, meditate on Him, sing for joy, and cling to Him. In short, in David’s example, he does what Christ, many years later, teaches us to put at the top or our “To Do” lists: Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you…
In preparation for one of this summer's teacher institutes for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and in preparation for our recent Wednesday evening Bible classes about the cultures of the Bible, I came to the same conclusion - that history is not flat. History is not two-dimensional. Every single person on the planet - living, dead, and future - has a history, and those histories are layered with cultural bias, traditions, backgrounds, religious beliefs, politics, and much, much more. Simply by the introduction of time, history becomes four-dimensional. Or...maybe that's too literal an interpretation of dimension. Actually, while history includes geography and location, we're not just measuring length, width, and depth here: we are tracking all of those illions of people who have ever walked the planet since the beginning.
We use timelines quite often in the history classroom, so consider that now. The word timeline should almost never remain singular. It might be simple to track the history of our great nation through the perils of time, but for it to remain that simple does an injustice to many others who lived and died as well. Our history is more than Colonization>>>Revolution>>>Civil War>>>World Wars>>>Civil Rights>>>Terrorism>>>Today. That's all well and good; it's easy enough to follow, but it leaves out entire groups of people.
Our nation began in more than one location. It began with more than a simple British influence. Our founders were more than second grade biography versions of themselves. They were complex, flawed, and insightful individuals with all kinds of influences. And their personal timelines weave in and out of each other. They are layered with other lines of time, those of other complex, flawed, and insightful people. There are arguments and disagreements, dustups and scuffles, romances and comraderies, alliances and friendships. The overruling cultures change, reshaping themselves at whim or breaking with the forces of a majorities that are not always right. Nope, history is definitely not flat.
The same is true for the Israelites of the Old Testament of the Bible. While three major religions follow their timeline, it also becomes necessary to consider the Egyptian influences in the region, the Assyrian and Babylonian movements coinciding with Scripture, and eventually Grecian and Roman powers that overwhelm the world with technology, education, and sheer power. All of those cultural timelines overlay the personal timelines of individuals as much as current world governments, military powers, and social justice machines.
Those complicated timeline tangles are the things that keep us coming back for more. We will never scrape the bottom of the history barrel.
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