Welcome to the April 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, April 2004
April 1, 2004
Lion and Mouse I suppose you have heard this story dozens of times. It begins with a lazy lion sleeping comfortably beneath a tree in the forest. A tiny mouse came upon the lion and thought what fun it would be to play on his soft fur for a bit. He ran up and down the lion’s back and slid down the lion’s legs like a sliding board. Suddenly the lion awoke and grabbed the mouse by the tail. “What have we here?” asked the lion. “Perhaps a morsel for an afternoon snack?” The mouse acted brave though he was very afraid. “I’m too small to make even a decent bite for you,” said the mouse. “Besides, I may be able to return the favor one day if you set me free.”
The lion laughed hysterically at the possibility that mouse might be able to help him. “You? You are much to small to be any help to me. But you are right, I need a more substantial meal than you can give me.” So, the lion let the mouse go and he ran far away. Some time later, a group of hunters found the lion and decided to take him to put in the king’s zoo, so they tied him to a tree until they could return with a wagon. The lion was miserable, unable to escape the ropes. The tiny mouse heard the lion’s complaints as he happened by. He said to the lion, “I will save you.” The tiny mouse quickly gnawed on the ropes until the lion was freed. The lion and the mouse lived together as good friends from that day forth.
In the story “The lion and the mouse” the lion thought the mouse was too small to be any help. Though that might not be a characteristic we reject in our day, we have other biases about people that make us think they are unable to do anything of value. Someone is too young, too stupid, or too weak. They do not come from the right side of town or have the right ancestors. They do not have enough money, enough education or the right kind of friends. We use a great many litmus tests in deciding a person’s ability to accomplish something.
“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of another woman. Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain fellows to Jephthah, and they went out with him.
Though Jephthah was a mighty warrior, his family rejected him because he did not come from the right mother. He was driven away by their cruel words and attitudes. Yet, a time came when they realized that they needed him. The one ridiculed became the one in charge, leading the people to a victory that would not have been won without his help. Just like the lion who escaped thanks to the help of the tiny mouse, Israel defeated her enemies thanks to the faith of Jephthah.
There are some people who just seem as though they will never be able to accomplish anything of value. They do not fit into our understanding of what it takes to be successful. Perhaps we even feel that way about ourselves. We are too small, too weak or too young. We have been outcast or have no place in which we feel we belong. We think we have no gifts or fall into the trap of believing others who cannot see that we do have gifts and abilities that will make a difference.
Everyone has something to offer, no matter who they are or what their circumstances might be. We simply need to look beyond the surface and help one another find that which we can do to make a difference in the world. For a mouse can save a lion and a bastard can save a people, if only we have faith. Thanks be to God.
Shopping I love to shop, I do not deny it. I especially love to find a good bargain. We now live fairly close to some outlet malls, and thus far our trips to these stores have scored wonderful purchases – dresses for under ten dollars, books at more than half price. I even bought a pair of sweatpants for fifty cents and a t-shirt for less than a quarter. I remember once, quite a few years ago, I found a dress on a rack that I loved. I decided not to buy it that day, could not think of a reason or purpose to wear the dress. A few days later I went back, thinking that it would be best to purchase the dress now while it was affordable so that I would have it when the opportunity arose. Not only was the dress still there, it was marked down even more than it had been before.
For some, the shopping is such a problem that they hide their purchases. I’ve overheard women tell a salesclerk that they will just slip it into their closet and then wear it one day without comment. If their husband even notices the dress, they were going to claim that they’ve had it a long time and ask them why they do not remember it. Oh, at times I am sure it is a joke; I’ve even said the same thing in the heat of the moment. However, there are those who would rather lie than let their spouses know they’ve spent more money – men and women alike. Women buy clothes and men buy tools and both are willing to lie rather than admit they have wasted money on yet another unnecessary item for their closet or shed.
Now, this is not a good attitude to take, lying to a spouse can cause broken relationships and wasteful overspending can bring financial disaster to a family. However, there are some things that should be done in private, some things purchased or given without fanfare. Our last church was planning a ministry that would use videotape and someone purchased a new big screen television to use. The congregation did not know who gave the gift. At the same time, a new VCR and DVD player showed up in the church. Again, the gifts remained anonymous. At other times, large cash donations have appeared out of nowhere, the benefactor unknown.
“Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.” Matthew 6:1-4 (ASV)
I do love to shop but I hope I will not fall into the temptation of buying too many things that are unnecessary. I also pray that I will not get so out of control that I find myself hiding my purchases from my husband. Many of my shopping excursions net gifts for my family, little trinkets I think they will enjoy or clothing that I’ve found on a sale rack. As much as I would not want to keep the secret, I’m equally prayerful that my attitude about these gifts will remain humble. It is too easy to give things to another and make a big deal about the gift. The television, VCR and DVD were incredible gifts that helped a new ministry at the church, without which the ministry might not have been started. Yet, the givers knew did not want credit, and refused to hold their goodness over the rest of the congregation. Yet, many of us do use our financial giving as a way of controlling others. We hold back our offerings to get our way or use our good gifts as a steppingstone into power. Let us never be tempted to hold up our gifts as a way of manipulating the world around us, but rejoice in the things God has blessed in our lives and use them quietly for the sake of others. Thanks be to God.
Aloud Bruce and I recently attended a Bible study together with a group of couples much like us. It was a fun evening of food, fellowship and intelligent conversation. The group was started some time ago, but this was our first chance to join in the fun. They began the evening with snacks, a potluck of appetizers that filled our bellies until we were not sure if we were going to be able to get out of the house again. During that time we got to know one another a little better. Then we gathered together to discuss the lesson for the evening. They are still establishing the group; there was some joking last night about who would lead the discussion. On one hand there was some consensus that one gentleman would be leader all the time, apparently volunteered on a week he could not attend. Another idea established the host of the evening as leader.
The study questions pretty much take care of themselves. Each member has some valuable input. The difficulty often comes when it is time to read. I have been part of several studies where there are people who refuse to read aloud. They are not confident in their reading ability and they are afraid they will make some terrible mistake in pronunciation. It was funny watching each member. Some jump quickly to take their turn, choosing those very short passages with no strange names. We came to a passage last night and one of the men volunteered to read it. When he came to the last line, there were a bunch of unpronounceable names. He stumbled through, doing an excellent job. At the end, someone joked, “See, you should read ahead, you never would have picked that passage to read!”
Most people are even more uncomfortable when it comes to public prayer. I am not sure why, at one time I would have thought it because they are afraid to talk to God. Yet, I have known many people who have wonderful, disciplined prayer lives in private, who hate to do so out loud. Perhaps they feel they will sound foolish, or ask for the wrong things. Perhaps they just prefer to keep their prayer secret. After all, in the passage following yesterday’s scripture, Jesus even tells the disciples to pray in secret and not like the hypocrites.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8 (ASV)
The trouble here that Jesus was addressing was not people praying together in study or worship. As a matter of fact, everything we do together as brothers and sisters in Christ should begin and end with prayer so that we keep God in the center of our comings and goings. We are called to raise up our voices together, asking God for His blessings upon all that we do.
However, there are those who do like to pray in public, but they aren’t talking to God. They use prayer as a way of preaching. They announce their opinions through prayer, supposedly asking God to bless the world according to their own agendas. They use prayer time as a way of convincing people that their way is right and every other way is wrong, rather than seeking God’s will in the situation. They use prayer to condemn the sinners and the weak. They use it to put themselves on pedestals, to raise their own image by babbling lengthy tomes with big words and flowery speech. This is the kind of public prayer that Jesus condemns, not the prayers said together with humble hearts. He calls us to be together in body, mind and spirit, not only in our fellowship, worship and study, but also in prayer. So, rest assured, the sincere prayer said in faith – whether it is eloquent or just a few simple words, is heard by God and answered according to His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Speechless One of the greatest difficulties we have with prayer is knowing what to say to God. After all, He’s the Creator of all that is, Covenant-maker, Redeemer of all who are His. He can make the seas roar like thunder and cover the mountains with snow. He brings forth the wildflowers and the winds that scatter the petals. He is harsh and gentle at the same time, bringing justice and mercy, vengeance and lovingkindness in the very same breath. What do you say to the One who is greater than all that exists? What is there to ask from the One who has promised to provide everything they need to those He loves?
It was probably not so easy for the disciples to even talk to Jesus. They loved Him, without a doubt, willingly following Him wherever He went. Yet, it seemed like every time they opened their mouths they said something stupid. They fought over who was the greatest, they argued with Jesus about the way He spoke to the people and what He was saying about the future. They tried to get Him to go places He didn’t want to go and to stay hidden when it was time to step into the limelight. It was difficult to talk to Jesus because they did not always understand what He meant and why He did what He did, even though He was the Lord in flesh and blood. No wonder it is difficult to talk to God whom we cannot see. So, Jesus taught them to pray.
“After this manner therefore pray ye. Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:9-15 (ASV)
Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. This is the day the people following Jesus expected Him to be crowned King and they showed their joy in shouts of praise as He entered on a donkey fulfilling the prophecy. Yet, for the disciples this must have been a confusing time. It was not so long before this day that the people were ready to make Him the king over all Jerusalem. It would have been much better then, before the authorities began to threaten His life. But he refused then. Now, when it had become dangerous for Jesus to even visit His friends, He decided it was time to enter into the city. He rode in on a donkey and the people recognized Him as the humble servant who would deliver them from their enemies.
The days following this triumphant entry will be a shock to the crowds, the authorities and to the disciples. Jesus’ words and actions will send those around Him into confusion. Why is He doing this? Why now? What will this accomplish? Yet, in everything Jesus is about to do this Holy Week, we will see that He not only speaks the words of the prayer He taught His disciples, but He lived them. He put God first, He was obedient to His will, He sought only what was necessary for that moment, He gave forgiveness and He overcame temptation. He became one of us so that we would find peace in coming to God in prayer because we can know He understands what we are going through. He’s been here. Now we can go to Him as our Father and know that even when we say something stupid, He still loves and listens. And He fulfills all He has promised. Thanks be to God.
Status quo You may have heard it said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are times, however, when we might think something is working just fine, but what seems like a minor symptom will turn out to be the sign of even greater troubles to come. When we hear a small rattle in our car, we ignore it because the car seems to be working just fine. Yet, in days or weeks, that small rattle grows and eventually something can go terribly wrong. The same is true for our bodies. We feel a minor pain in and ignore it, thinking it will go away. Yet, if we have it checked immediately, we might just catch something deadly before it spreads too far to be stopped.
The quote above is often used about the way we do things in our jobs, homes, churches or other relationships. We think that if it seems all right on the surface, then those minor difficulties are no big deal. Unfortunately, human nature is not that simple. Anger, bitterness and pain all simmer under the surface until it becomes so great it can’t be overcome. Then relationships are broken and are nearly impossible to restore. Yet, we would rather ignore the symptoms and pretend everything is fine. Eventually, marriages fall apart, jobs are lost, children suffer and nothing is right. It would have been better to deal with the problem in the beginning.
The people in Jerusalem were not happy with the way their life was going at the point when Jesus entered into the city. Yet, there were aspects that they refused to touch. The ways of their faith, their religious practices were a comfort in the midst of their troubles. Pilgrimage for Holy Days, sacrifice and worship together in God’s house gave the people some semblance of control in a world where they had none. Yet, there was a cancer in God’s house that was causing an even deeper problem that they refused to see.
“And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple. And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers. And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.” Mark 11:15-18 (ASV)
This action by Jesus was shocking to the people. They expected Him to respect the ways of the faith, to live rightly as a Jew, to be obedient to the ways of God as they knew Him. What they saw in the temple courts was a convenience. The merchants and moneychangers were there to help them with their sacrifices, providing the animals necessary for them to complete their pilgrimage and receive absolution for their sins. They thought they were honoring God, but Jesus saw it as a den of thieves.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to worship God in our prayer, to focus on Him and to hallow His name. The Temple was no longer a place of prayer; God was not glorified by the activities in His house. To hallow God’s name is to respect His word and to keep it holy, hearing what He has to say and living it in faith. God did not desire the sacrifice of pigeons and goats, but the sacrifice of a humble heart. Jesus’ teaching astonished them because it would change everything about the only thing in their lives that was in their control. They sought comfort through their worship, but Jesus wanted to bring change. He wanted them to honor God not with blood but with their hearts, hallowing God’s name in all they do.
Lessons A parable is a story that is used as a lesson to express a spiritual concept or moral message. We are not as familiar with the use of parables as they might have been in Jesus’ day, but we have something similar. We tend to use fairy tales as a way of conveying important lessons to our children. The difference, I suppose, is that parables are based more on real life experiences, where fairy tales use make believe characters and situations. Cinderella is a story about overcoming the odds, about faith and patience, about living righteously even in the midst of persecution. She treated her enemies with grace despite the injustice being done. Yet, there are no fairy godmothers or magic pumpkins or mice that become footmen. A similar story told as a parable might be about a slave gaining freedom. Such a story would not be an historical accounting of a real person, but there are characters and experiences that are real enough that we are able to identify with their situation.
The Tuesday of Holy Week was the most written about day in the Bible. On this day, Jesus spent time in the Temple, teaching and preaching the Kingdom of God. He shared with the people parables about what it was like – stories like the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants and the parable of the wedding banquet. In these stories, we see the difference between those who recognize the blessings of God and those who reject it for their own self-centered desires. Along with these stories, Jesus warned the people against false religion telling them the signs of the end of the age. He warned them that they would not see the day of judgment coming, but that they should be ready for it at any moment.
The Jewish authorities were not pleased with the direction Jesus’ teaching was taking, especially since many of the warnings were against them. According to Jesus, they were hypocrites, unfaithful and wouldn’t see the Kingdom of God if it were standing right under their noses. As a matter of fact, Jesus was the One sent to bring the kingdom to the people and they did not recognize Him. Since they did not understand, they questioned His authority.
“And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders; and they said unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? or who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus said unto them, I will ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But should we say, From men--they feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. And they answered Jesus and say, We know not. And Jesus saith unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 (ASV)
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. As Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, God’s kingdom comes without our asking for it, but we pray this prayer so that it might come to us personally, that we might recognize it in this world. The Jewish authorities could not see God in Jesus and they missed the kingdom of God that was right in front of their faces.
How often do we do the same thing? How often do we miss out on the opportunities to see God in the faces of others, to share the love of Christ and give them the Gospel message of salvation? Fairy tales and parables are wonderful stories, but what good do they do except to entertain unless you see the message that can be found within? We pray “thy kingdom come” but do we really want God’s Kingdom here and now? He changes things, not always in ways that we want them to be changed. The authorities refused to see the truth and the events of this day set Jesus even closer to the cross.
Listening I think one of the most difficult things a teacher must deal with is getting the class to listen, particularly at the beginning or end of a lesson. The trouble with these times is that at the beginning, the students need to hear what they will be doing, which page in which book they should open, what materials they will need for the lesson. At the end, the teacher gives the homework assignment. It is necessary for the students to hear these instructions so that the lesson goes well and so that they will do the follow-up work necessary for the lesson to be truly learned. So, the teacher must patiently get the attention of the entire class while giving these instructions. Unfortunately, with the rattle of books and other noises of preparation, the children take this as a moment to chitchat. Sometimes they ask their neighbor questions about the instructions, when all they really needed to do was listen to the teacher the first time. It is a time of chaos that could be avoided if the children listened carefully as the teacher spoke.
Adults are no different than children in this regard. Notice what happens at work, home or other places – even in church. What happens when the pastor announces the next hymn to be sung? The people begin grabbing for the books, without actually hearing the hymn number. The noise makes it difficult to hear, so the pastor often has to repeat the number. Even then the people often must turn to each other to ask what song is to be sung. It would be much better if we would wait that moment in silence to listen before jumping to follow the instruction.
If you read through all the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus Christ, you will find nothing mentioned about the activities of Jesus on the Wednesday of Holy Week. This was a day of rest, a day of prayer, a day of final fellowship with the people closest to Jesus. I imagine He spent the day in Bethany, with His disciples, Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and any other men and women who were still following Him. He probably did teach some, repeating lessons that they had already heard so that they would remember during the upcoming time of trial. He most likely separated Himself for a time to pray, to listen for final instructions from His Father. Most of all He rested – the coming days would be difficult in body, mind and spirit. Jesus may have had a quiet day, but there were others who were busy scheming.
“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might put him to death; for they feared the people. And Satan entered into Judas who was called Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went away, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might deliver him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he consented, and sought opportunity to deliver him unto them in the absence of the multitude.” Luke 22:1-6 (ASV)
Jesus took the time to stop and listen before jumping into the most important days of His life. He rested and prayed. He took the time to love those He loved before He would be sent to His death. This time gave Him the final strength He would need to accomplish the work of God. He waited until the appropriate time to do what was necessary, rather than jumping in too early. It must have been tempting to just go get it over with, but there were still things to accomplish before that final journey to the cross. There were still instructions to give to the disciples and a meal to eat. Also, the enemies of Jesus needed time to make the arrangements necessary to accomplish their work.
God’s timing is always right and His will perfect. In the Lord’s prayer we ask that God’s will be done, but it is impossible for us to do God’s will unless we take the time to listen for His voice in our lives. We can do so through prayer, through reading the scriptures, through fellowship with other Christians and taking the sacraments. But if we are always rushing ahead, jumping into the task before the right time, sometimes we will miss the full instruction of God’s will and miss something important. Let us live like Jesus and take the time to rest and pray, so that we will hear God’s will and do whatever it is He is calling us to do.
Dinner When we lived in California, we belonged to a church that had a Seder dinner on the Thursday of Holy Week. While we did a Christianized version of this traditional Jewish meal, it was reminiscent of the dinner Jesus would have attended on His last night of life. It was the Passover, a time to remember the deliverance of God’s people out of Israel and to look forward to the fulfillment of all His promises. There were special foods, certain rituals and specific table settings. The house was deep cleaned to ensure every crumb of yeast bread was removed and the food preparation included extra care. It took a great deal of work to prepare the Passover Seder dinner.
For several years, it was my responsibility to prepare this dinner for our church. We did not bother with most of the specific Jewish dietary regulations, and we were not concerned with removing every crumb with the kitchen, but it was still a great deal of work. For months before Maundy Thursday, I worried about every detail – decorations, dishes, cooking. How would we serve the ritual foods? How would we fit everyone into our small fellowship hall? How could we make this a meaningful meal for Christians and remain true to the purpose of the day for Jews like our Lord Jesus.
On the Thursday of Holy Week, the disciples asked Jesus where He wanted to celebrate the Passover. I imagine most families were well into the planning and preparation of the their family meals already, and Jesus was planning to have this meal with all His disciples, plus other followers. Such a meal should have been planned days or even weeks before this time. On that day, Jesus told Peter and John to go make preparations for the meal. When they wondered where they should go, Jesus gave them instructions and they found everything to be true. Perhaps Jesus had made previous arrangements for the place, but there were still many things to accomplish before the time. Unlike me, Jesus was not worried about the details of the evening. When the time came, Jesus and the disciples gathered for the meal.
“And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I shall not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: for I say unto you, I shall not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you. But behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. For the Son of man indeed goeth, as it hath been determined: but woe unto that man through whom he is betrayed! And they began to question among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.” Luke 22:14-23 (ASV)
Jesus never worried about where the disciples would get food and drink during their travels. Even this special meal was not a concern for Him. He knew that God would provide all that is needed. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to give us our daily bread. This reminds us also that we need not worry about tomorrow, nor ask God to provide what is needed in the future, we need only trust that God will provide our necessities today.
On this night, Jesus ate a final meal and gave His disciples a new covenant. The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion – by whatever name you call this special meal – Jesus has called us to join together to remember the promise that comes from His sacrifice. We are joined together as the body of Christ through the bread and wine. Jesus was about to become the true Passover lamb; He was close to the time of His death on the cross, the only sacrifice that would ever fully justify the people of God. His blood was about to become that which covers us to save us from sin and death.
It was a full evening. Besides the meal, Jesus prayed for the disciples, giving them final instructions. He washed their feet, teaching them that they are to be servants, not rulers. He directed Judas to go do what he had to do. After the dinner, Jesus took the disciples out to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, but they could not even stay awake to watch. In prayer with God that was so intense, Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood, He asked God to remove this cup, but He gave Himself completely over to the will of the Father. Through it all, Jesus did not concern Himself with what was to come, but instead lived each moment to the fullest, knowing God would provide for tomorrow when the time was right.
Shame and guilt Using the King James version of the Bible, there are far more references to shame and ashamed than guilt and guilty, nearly ten times as many. In other words, the Bible is far more concerned with our realizing our own sin than pointing out the sins of others. We are, however, quite adept at judging those around us, constantly trying to assess blame for our pain and suffering rather than seeking the root cause of sin in our own lives. While the Bible is concerned with our realizing our sin, God is also greatly concerned with our hearing His words of forgiveness, overcoming the shame and guilt of life separated from Him.
Forgiveness is the key to knowing God and the purpose of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is why He came and died. Throughout His ministry, Jesus often told people they were forgiven – not only for that which they might have done against Him personally, but also for all they did against God. During at least one incident with the Jewish authorities, Jesus granted forgiveness to someone they would have destroyed – making Himself equal to God. In their eyes, He had blasphemed and deserved to die. He did other acts, particularly during this Holy Week of His Passion, until they knew they could no longer wait.
After the Passover dinner in Jerusalem on Thursday, Jesus took the disciples to the garden to pray. They fell asleep, but were rudely awakened by the approach of a crowd. Roman troops and temple guards came to arrest Jesus and take Him to be tried. The next few hours were confusing to the disciples as they wondered what would happen to their Lord. Jesus stood trial against those determined to destroy Him. They lied, testimonies did not even fit together but it did not matter. Jesus was beaten, humiliated and judged, despite His innocence. They hung Him from a cross, left to die in the most horrific way possible. Yet, from that weapon of torture, Jesus cried out the words of forgiveness He has preached all along. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The only One who had no reason to feel shame did not judge the guilty.
“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elijah. And one ran, and filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let be; let us see whether Elijah cometh to take him down. And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. And there were also women beholding from afar: among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him; and many other women that came up with him unto Jerusalem.” Mark 15:33-41 (ASV)
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus lived that very prayer in His life and in His death. He did not point fingers at those who brought about His death. With the popularity of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” it seems to be daily conversation about who we are to blame for this day we now call Good Friday. Was it the Jews? Was it the priests and teachers of the law? Was it the Romans? Was it you and I?
While every one of us played a role in the death of Jesus, by virtue of the sin in our own lives, Jesus did not place the blame on anyone. This horrific event was the will of God given in mercy and grace to overcome our sinfulness and grant us the forgiveness we so desperately need for reconciliation to God our Father. Jesus was in control of every moment, willfully accepting the cross for our sake. In the end He cried out the words “It is finished” and then died exactly at the moment He chose.
We have a hard time forgiving. Those words of the Lord’s Prayer are perhaps the most difficult we ever speak, because we do not always forgive as we have been forgiven. We are called to forgive those who have done us harm, but also to forgive ourselves – sometimes impossible to do as we hold on to the shame and guilt of our own judgment. But these words are not true unless they are lived out in our every day lives. Forgiveness is the reason Jesus came and died, not only so that we might be forgiven, but so that we can live out that forgiveness in this world, sharing it with all who are sinners in need of salvation.
Bread Disney’s version of Aladdin begins with a scene showing the boy Aladdin in the marketplace stealing a loaf of bread. He is hungry and the only way for him to be fed is to steal a bit here and a bit there throughout the day. Though this might not be a common occurrence, it is a representation we often see portrayed in movies of the desperation of the poor. Desperate people are shown willing to do anything to get out of their troubles, including theft or murder. At times, the actions are even justified because the stolen goods are taken from the wealthy oppressors of the poor. It is deemed acceptable for a loaf of bread to be stolen from the rich merchant.
I doubt that most people would be willing to steal to eat, but we are tempted to do many things that might not quite be right in normal circumstances that seem perfectly tolerable in times of desperation. We are more likely to cheat our neighbor when we are hungry, use violence when we are angry, lie when we can’t find any other way out. We justify our actions by pointing to the extraordinary conditions that exist and hope in the end everything will work out for the good of everyone. A hungry child who steals a loaf of bread does not seek to harm the wealthy merchant, he just wants to eat and the loaf of bread will not really be missed. And yet, there are so many things we are tempted to do at times of desperation that we should avoid.
What must it have been like for those disciples on this day between the crucifixion and resurrection? They never quite understood what Jesus was saying about the need for His suffering and death. They certainly were not seeing the coming day as one of joy or peace. They were afraid of possibly dying, in hiding from the same authorities that had killed Jesus. In the garden while Jesus was alive, one of the disciples used a sword to protect his Lord, and yet Jesus stopped the violence. Were the disciples in the upper room plotting revenge while they mourned their rabbi? It could have been just as tempting to give up all the whole mission which Jesus began, to go home to their boats and homes to begin a new, normal life.
“Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13 (ASV)
We are tempted to do many things. We are tempted to fulfill the lusts and desires of our hearts and body. In Christ we have the strength to overcome these lusts and we usually do well. We know they are wrong and unnecessary, so we can avoid falling into sin. There are other temptations that are far more difficult. These are the things that we generally know are not right, but in certain circumstances they seem justified. We all face these temptations, even the disciples on this day of mourning. They did not know what to do. They did not have their Lord and teacher to guide their thoughts and their minds. It would have been justifiable to many for them to seek revenge for Jesus’ life or to walk away from the entire ministry.
Yet, we see in Jesus’ life and in His death that there is no room for giving in to any temptations. In the garden, He prayed for God to take away the cup. He had the authority to call down legions of angels to protect Him. Even His disciples were willing to fight to keep Him safe. Yet, He said no to these temptations and walked forth toward the cross trusting God’s will to be good, right and true. In His death He left the disciples alone to fend for themselves for a few hours but He also gave them prayer to help them through. In the prayer He taught us to say, we include the petition “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God does not tempt us, but He gives us all we need to overcome those moments of desperation when we might fall into sin doing what seems to be right even though we know it to be wrong.
Alleluia What a most incredible week it must have been for the disciples. Just seven days ago they were entering into Jerusalem with Jesus on a donkey being proclaimed King by the crowds. They had given up everything to follow Him and now it was paying off. Within days Jesus had stunned and upset so many people that they were afraid for His life and their own. At the Passover, just when they thought He might make some incredible announcement about revolution against the authorities, Jesus taught them to be humble servants and to live in love and mercy. Then He was betrayed and killed on the cross of crucifixion.
We do not know what they did after Jesus died. He was hurriedly wrapped and placed in a freshly hewn tomb because it was the Passover Sabbath, a particularly holy time for the Jews. It is unlikely they did much – the law had many restrictions that were more closely obeyed at a time like this. Besides, the disciples were in shock, afraid and in mourning. Perhaps they prayed, but it is more likely that they spent the time together discussing all that had happened, trying to decide what they should do. Without their rabbi, they had no guidance.
The scriptures tell us that early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus. They did not have time to complete the burial because of the Sabbath, so they returned to use spices for anointing and grieve for their Lord. Yet, when they arrived in the garden, they noticed the stone had been moved away. Jesus’ body was gone. Now we look to this empty tomb as the sign of the hope to come – our tombs will one day be empty because we have eternal life in Christ Jesus and we rejoice. Yet, at this point in the resurrection story, the disciples were not yet rejoicing. The women were afraid. Mary wept. The disciples were confused. They did not understand what was happening.
Then Jesus began appearing to them. He called Mary by name in the garden. He broke bread with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He entered through a locked door. He appeared to five hundred. Eventually, Jesus appeared to Paul. When He appeared to Mary, she ran to tell the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Then they believed and rejoiced.
“Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-9 (ASV)
We often think of the empty tomb when we think of Easter. While there is promise in that emptiness, there are also questions, doubts, fears and grief. The hope and joy of Easter is not found in a cemetery, or folded grave clothes, but rather in the Risen Lord. It was when the disciples saw Jesus that they knew all He spoke had been true. It was when He spoke their names, when He ate with them and showed them His wounds. It was when they heard His voice and saw His face that they believed.
All week we have been looking at the words of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, to see how Jesus lived those words even in the final moments of His life. For many generations, we have completed that prayer with the doxology – “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever.” On Easter day, we see that part of our prayer fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. He was raised from death into life, from servant into King, from weakness into power and from humility into glory. But it is not in the empty tomb we see the kingdom, power and the glory, but rather in the living Christ who continues to live through the words of His witnesses and the lives of all those who believe. Jesus is not just raised; He is alive. It is because we worship a living God that we have reason to rejoice on this day. May you too be a witness to the risen Lord and share His love and mercy with all who cross you path. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.
Movie The children had a day off of school last Friday, so I took them to a movie and for a little adventure in a town just up the road from where we live. Unfortunately, I misread the address. I thought it was in a certain town, but it was actually on a street with the town’s name, nearly thirty miles away. I thought I knew which theater it was in, but when we arrived at the theater we discovered it was closed for renovation. Since I forgot the newspaper, we had to guess what I did wrong. So, we drove a bit, thinking for sure that it must be somewhere near. Time was running out but we finally found a place we could watch a movie. It was a different theater with different movies but we enjoyed the show despite our difficulties.
After the movie, I wanted to take the children to see the historic part of this town. Unfortunately, I got somewhat lost. It seemed that whenever I was supposed to turn right, I made a left. When I should have turned left, I went right. We eventually found the place, but not until after we had spent an hour wandering around the town. We were never really terribly lost, and during our adventure we found some very neat things we hope to revisit one day. We eventually found our destination and enjoyed a delicious treat. I never stopped to get directions, did not think it was necessary but Vicki was getting more and more upset with every wrong turn. She does not like it when we get lost.
Such adventures do not always turn out so well. Sometimes when people try to find a place, they end up in the wrong section of town, perhaps even in danger. I have also heard of stories about people who suffer great difficulties because they have gotten lost – in desperation they end up driving unsafely, the car breaks down or they rely on the wrong people and end up in a dangerous situation. I was never worried, but I could understand why Vicki could get upset. I was relying on my own wits and mistaken understanding to get us where we wanted to go.
Today we are rejoicing because yesterday was Resurrection Day. This past week, as we considered the emotions and experiences of the disciples of Jesus – how they might have felt, what they might do. And yet, we spent little time on one particular character – Judas Iscariot. Judas is a character we just don’t quite understand. How could he have betrayed Jesus after spending three years living with Him? Why did he give up so easily? How did he get so lost along the way?
“Thus saith Jehovah: Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from Jehovah. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Jehovah, and whose trust Jehovah is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, that spreadeth out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat cometh, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:5-9 (ASV)
We do not know much about the motives of Judas. We do know that Satan played a role in leading him to destruction. We also know that his heart was set on things like money and power, not the kingdom of God. Some have suggested that perhaps Judas was just trying to force Jesus’ hands, to get him to fight back and step forth as the Messiah He was claiming to be. He never did believe and understand what Jesus had taught them all those years and he was hoping for a good position in this kingdom they were expecting.
And yet, in the end Judas did try to repent. He returned the money and begged forgiveness – from the wrong people. He never went to Jesus. He sought only the help of man. They rejected his plea, washing their hands of his guilt and forcing him to go the only way he knew – to his own death. He saw no hope in what was to come. He did not wait until the work of the cross was complete – when Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day. He was not there to witness the resurrected Christ, because he took matters into his own hands. He did not trust God and it led him to death. Blessed are those who trust God even when things seem to be out of control, for He will lead them to a place of safety and cause them to yield good fruit. Thanks be to God.
Tour Have you ever noticed that a tour guide sets himself or herself in front of the group when leading them on a tour – no matter what place we are visiting. When we visited an underground cave, the tour guide was always in front of us, shining the light on the path and keeping us from taking wrong turn. The same is true when we have visited manor houses or other such sites. It is the job of the tour guide to lead us in the right direction. There are people who do this in forests when leading hikes, or on rivers when directing a rafting team. Since the trail is unfamiliar to those who are visiting, it is important that the guide stay in front, to keep their charges from taking a wrong and dangerous turn. This is what God does with our journey of faith – He leads us day by day, setting our feet on the right path.
“Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Take ye heed before him, and hearken unto his voice; provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgression: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed hearken unto his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: and I will cut them off. Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and break in pieces their pillars. And ye shall serve Jehovah your God, and he will bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. There shall none cast her young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil. I will send my terror before thee, and will discomfit all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send the hornet before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year, lest the land become desolate, and the beasts of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. And I will set thy border from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness unto the River: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand: and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me; for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.” Exodus 23:20-33 (ASV)
God does not just send us out into the world to fend for ourselves, with the hope that we will know what we should do. He walks ahead of us establishing the right path by which we are called to walk. It is when we decide to take our own path that we get lost and suffers the consequences. If you leave the path in the forest, you could get lost. If you do so in a rafting group, you could drown. If you leave the group during a tour at the White House, you might just find yourself arrested by secret service agents. If you do so with your faith journey, following a different path than that which God has ordained, you may find yourself believing untruths and worshipping false gods.
God was with the Israelites through the exodus and their history. When they followed Him, taking the path He established, they were blessed beyond measure with peace and joy. He told them it would not happen immediately, but patience is not a virtue many people can claim to embrace well. Throughout their history, they repeatedly tired of waiting for God, so they tried to handle things themselves, taking an unknown path. Each time they found themselves far from where God would have them to be in spirit and in truth, and they suffered the consequences.
The same is true for us today. God goes before us in all that we do. When we follow that path, we are blessed beyond measure. However, we do not always wait for God’s perfect time so we rush ahead, taking a wrong turn and ending up lost or worse. May we always follow God as He leads us in the ways of righteousness and truth.
Receipts I imagine there are a great many people in the United States searching every nook and cranny of their homes and offices for the receipts they need to file their taxes. The deadline is tomorrow night, and if these late filers are anything like me, organization is not one of their most prominent traits. When we gathered our tax information, I had to search through several files and folders to ensure we had all the paperwork necessary. It was particularly difficult since we had moved so recently. Many of the year-end statements came while we had no permanent home; some mail was delayed as the post office transferred our mailing address. I had a difficult time remembering where everything was placed when we set up our new house.
It is funny when a sitcom approaches the subject of taxes or audits. The main character invariably produces a box filled with crumbled up receipts, overflowing with papers that have little or no meaning any longer. There are receipts that are meaningless when it comes to tax preparation – a receipt for an ice cream cone or a pretty black dress. There are always movie stubs or bits of half chewed bubble gum wrapped up in the most important receipt in the box. As they pick through the mess, they are conflicted about whether they can get away with using this receipt or that receipt. They wonder how much they can get away with this year.
While I know that many people are quite organized with their tax receipts, and few actually try to cheat the government, I think that many of us find ourselves in a similar situation as tax day approaches. We have to search through a bunch of garbage to find what we are looking for, unsure which papers are really important and which can just be tossed. As pathetic as our desks may appear, our spiritual baggage is generally even worse, and it is God that has to pick through everyone’s baggage to find the hearts He can use for His will and purpose.
“Howbeit Jehovah, the God of Israel, chose me out of all the house of my father to be king over Israel for ever: for he hath chosen Judah to be prince; and in the house of Judah, the house of my father; and among the sons of my father he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel; And of all my sons (for Jehovah hath given me many sons), he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of Jehovah over Israel. And he said unto me, Solomon thy son, he shall build my house and my courts; for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish his kingdom for ever, if he be constant to do my commandments and mine ordinances, as at this day. Now therefore, in the sight of all Israel, the assembly of Jehovah, and in the audience of our God, observe and seek out all the commandments of Jehovah your God; that ye may possess this good land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you for ever. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Jehovah searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. Take heed now; for Jehovah hath chosen thee to build a house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it.” 1 Chronicles 28:4-10 (ASV)
Have you ever thought about the garbage you bring into your relationship with God. We all bring anger, bitterness, confusion, misplaced intentions, false gods, misunderstanding, disease, loneliness, forgetfulness, unforgiveness, arrogance and a many other negative feelings. God searches our hearts, brings healing and forgiveness and transforms our lives. He builds up those hearts that will serve Him and He makes them clean. He does not reject anyone based on their baggage, but those who forsake Him he will leave to their own devices. He is looking for those who seek His face, who have a heart for God alone and are willing to be transformed by His mercy and grace. David and Solomon were certainly not perfect men or kings. But they sought the will of God in all that they did and He blessed them. He does the same for us, searches out our hearts and helps us to become all we have been created to be. Thanks be to God.
Post Office Today is tax day in the United States and the post offices are expecting large crowds as people go in to file their taxes. Millions of Americans wait until the very last minute and then end up standing in long lines to ensure that the envelope is properly stamped and on its way before midnight. Some people wait because they have procrastinated. Others wait because they could not find all their paperwork. But most people who file on the deadline date wait because they owe money and they do not want to pay even a second before they have to.
So, waiting until the last day means they get to wait some more – in long lines at the post office. They are, in essence, a captive audience. There are those who take advantage of the situation. In New York last year, a man in a gorilla suit giving away free bottles of Snapple met the customers. This year, they will be met by a bunch of lemons giving away samples of a new super sour lemonade. The representative from the company is quoted as saying, “Life hands you lemons on Tax Day. We’re saying, ‘Drink Lemonade.’” Krispy Kreme donuts will be available in some other communities. It is almost like a party.
Tax Day also brings out protestors. A number of groups have events organized, and many individuals will spend time at the post office today. Some will hold rallies; others will dress up in costume. In Florida, there is a rumor that Lady Godiva will make an appearance. These events are not always convenient to the customers, blocking the way and creating hazardous conditions. The post office is public property, so there is not much anyone can do about the extra visitors. There have been problems, however. After several years of playing on Tax Day, the Boise Philharmonic brass quintet were moved because they got in the way of the customers. They were given a spot across the street to play their funeral dirge, but the taxpayers could not hear the music, so they no longer make an appearance.
Some towns actually hold a party, with bands, food and fun. The purpose of these parties is to show community spirit and unity, as well as to help people through a tough time. The crowds at the post office tend to be rather subdued, even angry or bitter. If a man in a gorilla suit or a bunch of singing lemons can bring a smile to those grumpy faces, then they have done something good. The objectionable part of these Tax Day parties is trying to force people into a like mind, to coerce people to do that which they would not otherwise do.
“But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; for indeed ye do it toward all the brethren that are in all Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you; that ye may walk becomingly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (ASV)
Undoubtedly, the businesses that give away free food and drinks during Tax Day will benefit from the free advertising. The cities that have block parties promote civic unity. Yet, even though these groups may benefit from these schemes, they are also doing a service. Someone, somewhere, will have a smile on their face even while they have to mail out a check for a bill they’d rather not pay. The people standing in line will be entertained, making the time go more swiftly. It is an act of love to try to help fellow Americans overcome the bad feelings of Tax Day.
It is important, however, that we also ensure the well-being of those whom we claim to serve. The protestors should not expect that the taxpayers stuck in line would agree with their perspective. They should not force their politics on the captive audience. When we are excited about our faith, it is must too easy to force our ideology on others, to expect that our way is the only way. We stop loving those whom we have been sent to serve when we impose ourselves into their business and compel them to be like us. God has never forced any to become a Christian, never forced His people to be obedient. Love draws people without force, transforming people by the power of God.
The Apprentice Like a good portion of America, I was tuned in to the final episode of the reality television series called “The Apprentice.” The final two contestants worked hard to complete their tasks, to overcome all the obstacles that they faced. In the end, the events were successful and the contestants were praised for their hard work. However, only one man could be hired to head one of Donald Trump’s organizations, and in the end it was Bill who earned the honor.
During the past few days, NBC has been building up the show by including interviews and other stories about the show. They talked to the contestants who were fired, the producer of the show, experts in business and even Donald Trump – in an effort to discover the winner before the live announcement late last evening. There were many who were certain that Kwame would be the choice. Others were certain Bill had what it takes. When their teams entered the boardroom, they were each convinced that their own team leader was the man for the job. Even Donald Trump’s executives could not reach a consensus. It was ultimately up to “The Donald” to make the decision.
Without a doubt, they’ve proven themselves to be excellent businessmen. Both men gave up incredible business opportunities to be contestants. This was the one thing that concerned Mr. Trump about both of them. They assured him that it was the opportunity to work with him, undeniably the most notable leader in the business world today that made them willing to give up lucrative careers. Though Kwame lost the game, he was not a loser. Even the fourteen other contestants are winners. They have opportunity now that they never would have had if they had not been willing to give up something to try. Kwame already has job offers waiting, jobs that will make him successful and wealthy. If you asked any of the contestants if it was worth it, they would probably answer “yes.”
“Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (ASV)
Paul gave up so much to become an apostle for Jesus Christ. He was successful and powerful, a leader among the Jews. This new faith was different than anything he already knew, he had to learn the language, establish credibility. He had to fight for any respect he had from both the Jews and the Christians. The Jews stopped believing him because he spoke about the One who they were trying to stop. The Christians could not believe the change in him because he had persecuted them for so long. Yet, in the end Paul overcame all the difficulties and did well as an apostle, bringing many to faith in Christ.
Bill gave up much, but the outcome was greater than he could imagine. Not only does he have the job of a lifetime, but it is in his hometown. We give up a great deal to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We often lose friendships and family ties are broken. At time we are unable to even continue the work that we do because it contrasts the live we are called to live in Christ. We are transformed and in faith we no longer do the things we once thought were right to do, becoming a whole new person. And yet, everything we give up is worth setting aside so that we can journey in faith toward the ultimate goal – eternal life with our Father in heaven. Thanks be to God.
One-liners I like to visit the Internet chat rooms occasionally. It can be an interesting time filled with a few bits of wisdom and a lot of small talk. I usually visit Christian chat rooms where a wide variety of people gather for diverse reasons. Most people simply enjoy the fellowship with other believers, and while the discussion does often revolve around faith and our Lord Jesus, mostly they want a safe place to chat where bad language and porn mail won’t overwhelm them.
There are some people who come to preach or teach. Unfortunately, an online chat room is more like a party than a lecture and there are too many conversations happening to make it conducive to that type of teaching. There are a few regulars to the chat rooms who have made it an art to ignore the discussions that happen around them as they post long messages about some subject. Yet others come with an agenda, determined to convince everyone in the room that their idea is right. If the conversation doesn’t revolve around their teaching, they react negatively, even violently.
Chat rooms are better suited for one-liners, for short bits of information and wisdom. Though I have seen good studies occur in some rooms, most of the time they are better used for discussion and fellowship. There are more appropriate times and places for lecture studies. It is difficult to read long passages of scripture or history when there are 20 other people talking. The room simply moves too fast for that type of writing.
Not everyone learns well with that type of learning anyway. Even God recognizes the need for different types of teaching, providing us with many different forms of literature in the Holy Bible. There are long lists of genealogies, detailed histories of the people and other stories designed to teach a lesson. There are hymns and poems, as well as lists of laws. Our Father even recognized the need for a book filled with one-liners.
When people ask what they should read when first approaching the Bible, I generally recommend beginning with the Gospels, but also suggest Proverbs. There is great wisdom in that book, and it is provided in a way that it is easy to take just one verse or a few verses at a time, to ponder it and apply it to our lives. Our Lord has left nothing out of the book, it would do us well to listen to the words of our teacher daily.
“By mercy and truth iniquity is atoned for; And by the fear of Jehovah men depart from evil.” Proverbs 16:6 (ASV)
This one-liner sums up the life of a Christian. Our Lord Jesus loved us so much and was faithful to the promises set by God long before the creation of the world, that He died to atone for our sin. We rest in the salvation that comes from this atonement, and walk in the light that comes from life in Christ. In that light, we know our true selves, and know what we are in Him, walking in reverent fear of God and living as He has designed and called us to live. When we are obedient to His Word, living in His love, we avoid falling into the traps that are set by the world. Though evil things may still try to touch our lives, to put a halt on our work in Christ’s name, we will avoid falling into the evil if we remain faithful to God’s promises.
Isn’t it funny how that last paragraph rambled on, and it didn’t say anything more than the one line provided by God. “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.” Thanks be to God.
Stars We enjoy star gazing, particularly in the summer when the evenings are warm. It is so much fun to lie on a blanket in the yard and try to count the stars and to identify the other heavenly bodies. Over the years we have learned the names of some of the stars and constellations. Whenever we are out at night, the kids manage to find the major shapes in the sky. Orion is the most easily recognizable with his three star belt. Cassiopeia stands out as a large “W” in the sky. And who could miss Ursa Major – the Big Bear?
All these constellations have ancient stories about how they ended up in the sky. Orion was a hunter and he is still hunting with his dog, another constellation located nearby. Cassiopeia was a queen who still sits on her throne in the sky. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are two bears with stories of their own, but they also look like big dippers in the sky with a story explaining how a dipper could end up in the heavens.
The story takes place in a place of famine and drought. People were dying from lack of water, including the mother of a young girl. The girl, desperate to help her mother, took a ladle and she searched for water. She finally found a spring, nearly dry and dripping very slowly. With great patience the young girl held the ladle to the dripping water and filled up the cup. She went home carefully so as not to waste a single drop, but she met a dog along the way. The dog was suffering from thirst, so the girl had mercy and gave him a few sips. When she got home, her mother insisted that the water go first to a servant who’d worked very hard all day. Then the mother had her fill. The humble ladle had turned into a miraculous silver dipper that never ran out of water. Just as the little girl thought there might not be enough for her, there was a knock at the door and a stranger was there asking for water. The little girl gave him the ladle. After he took a drink, he spilled the water on the floor and it became a cool fountain bubbling up on the floor. The ladle turned into a diamond and was taken into the heavens by the stranger where we still see it today. The girl’s mercy was returned with great blessings.
“And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. And the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. And she said, As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said; but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it forth unto me, and afterward make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah, which he spake by Elijah.” 1 Kings 17:7-16 (ASV)
We certainly know the myths that surround the mystery of the heavens are not true stories, but they are the way the ancients shared important lessons with the younger generations. When star gazing with their children, parents could use the constellations as object lessons about faith, trust, honesty, courage, wisdom, strength and other virtues. Many of these stories have been translated to modern language, though we don’t often identify them with the constellation myths.
There are those who consider the stories found in the scriptures as nothing more than myths, something not to be believed. They often agree that there are valuable lessons, but reasonable people do not believe in bottomless flour and oil jars. Yet, in faith we see this story of the widow of Zarephath and we know that God can indeed do miraculous things for those who love Him. The widow heard the word of God and believed that He would provide for her and her son, giving her final meal – like the last drops of water – to Elijah. I often wonder if I ever came to the point of being down to my last meal whether I could have the same mercy as that young girl or the widow. I don’t think we could guess. We can only pray that God will give us the strength to trust His promises and know His faithfulness in our times of need, for He will provide. Thanks be to God.
Oklahoma City Today is the ninth anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with killed so many people. There has been little reference to this horrible event today, but it has most certainly not gone by without some sort of remembrance by those who lost loved ones that day. Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two young boys killed a dozen students, a teacher and wounded a number of other people. The morning news programs today remembered the victims and gave the survivors a forum to discuss the issues and remember their loved ones. I am certain that tomorrow will not pass without some sort of memorial service to remember.
These are not the only disasters that are remembered with regularity. Of course, 9/11 will never pass without our thinking about the collapse of the World Trade Center and all the other deaths of that day. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods often leave behind a trail of death that is remembered long after the event is over and the mess cleared. People still wonder where you were when JFK was shot or the Challenger exploded. We remember these events because they have impacted the world. But we also remember those events that have impacted our own lives. We remember the day a mother or father died. We memorialize our spouses or children when the pass before us. It doesn’t matter if it was a tragic event or a natural death, we still remember.
The sadness we feel at the death of a loved one does not really go away, but it lessons in intensity over time. The first hours, days and weeks are especially difficult, but it is strange how the worst is rarely right at the beginning. In the first hours, there is a sense of shock. I remember on 9/11, we were dumbstruck. We could only wonder how this could happen and guess at the toll the tragedy would take. I recently read that the mother of a Columbine victim committed suicide months after the event because she could not deal with the strain. It is those later days, when the survivors must deal with the business of death – paying off debt, clearing out closets and completing paperwork – when the grief truly affects the body, heart and mind. It also affects people in many practical ways.
“Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear Jehovah: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two children to be bondmen. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me; what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thy handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. And thou shalt go in, and shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and pour out into all those vessels; and thou shalt set aside that which is full. So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons; they brought the vessels to her, and she poured out. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy sons of the rest.” 2 Kings 4:1-7 (ASV)
When someone we love faces a difficult time, when they are grieving for loved ones who have passed away, we want to do something to help them. All too often, though, it is hard to know what we should do. Even Elisha had no idea how to help the prophet’s widow. Her husband, a God-fearing man, had died. She was left without a source of income and a debt that could not be paid. The situation was so bad that the creditors were going to take her sons – the only future she might have – and put them into slavery. The widow would be left with nothing and she would die.
In our times of deepest need, even when we do not know what to do, God is there to provide. The solution to our troubles may seem out of the ordinary. The widow was given a most miraculous gift of oil to sell. There are often stories of blessings coming out of grief that follows events like Oklahoma City, Columbine and 9/11. We do not always see the reason or the purpose, but we can trust that God is present in the situation and grant us the grace to see us through. We might never see a bottomless jar of oil, but God does bring goodness out of tragedy. Thanks be to God
Mean Girls This movie has not yet been released, but it is already gaining the attention of young girls around the country. Vicki has already indicated an interest in going to see this film about a girl who was raised by zoologist parents who lived in the African wilderness for most of her life. On returning to civilization, she enters a big city high school only to face the typical problems of fitting in, especially when faced with deceptive bullies – the mean girls. Her main enemy is the most popular girl in school, who is determined to ruin her life.
The clips on TV show the mean girl befriending this new student named Cati, cunningly gaining her trust so that she can destroy her later with some mean act. From what we can gain in the trailers, Cati finds a boy that she likes and the mean girl agrees to tell him about her. Cati walks into a party only to discover the mean girl was kissing the boy. It was a devastating experience. She can only wonder, “Why would she do that?” Other kids, the unpopular crowd, tell her that the girl with whom she had allied herself is a mean girl. From that moment, Cati fights for her place in the school, no longer falling for the deception of the mean girls. It is a story about the realities of adolescence, and overcoming the difficulties of high school life.
What we learn from this type of story is that we should be careful about the alliances we make. Many other movies and shows have been made showing the most popular kids accepting the stranger into the group for all the wrong reasons. They want someone to pick on and destroy. They want to play with emotions or prove themselves superior. They make bets over the lives of vulnerable victims and in the end cause great harm.
This is exactly what happened to Israel. The people made bad alliances with nations that eventually turned on them. In doing so, they also turned from God, leaving themselves even more vulnerable because they had moved out from under His protective wings by turning to men for their salvation.
“Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, but not like his father, and like his mother; for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom. Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master; and he rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams. But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses. And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way of the wilderness of Edom. So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom; and they made a circuit of seven days' journey: and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts that followed them. And the king of Israel said, Alas! for Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab. But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah, that we may inquire of Jehovah by him? And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of Jehovah is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay; for Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab. And Elisha said, As Jehovah of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.” 2 Kings 3:1-14 (ASV)
Ahab had established relationships with nations that displeased the Lord. His son Jehoram continued such relationships, though he did put a stop to some of the bad things that were happening in Israel such as the worship of false gods. Unfortunately, he still relied on the physical and material strength of his neighbors rather than the provision of God for their every need. When Moab turned on Jehoram, he had nothing but to align once again with his brothers – children of Abraham. Since Jehoshaphat was king over Judah, anointed by God and respected by Elisha the prophet, Jehoram benefited briefly from the alliance. Though it appears the people were victorious in battle against Moab, yet the passage indicates that the war was not yet over. God’s displeasure was still on the people of Israel and they returned to their own land. The Hebrew in verse 27 can be translated, “There was great dismay upon/in Israel.”
Though the movie “Mean Girls” is just a fictional story, such problems really exist in our high schools today. The Columbine massacre is just one possible effect of bullying in the real world. Making wrong alliances can have eternal consequences. The only thing that is certain is that God is our strength and our provider. We may think human alliances will provide deliverance, but when we misplace our trust we can be easily disappointed and destroyed. May we always remember that God is faithful and only our alliance with Him can be counted on to be true. Thanks be to God.
Apostate We all make mistakes in our relationships with others. This is most noticeable in the friendships between children. I can remember times in my youth when a friend and I would argue and scream hateful things at one another. We would swear that our friendship was over and we would never want to see one another again. It would not take very long and we would be playing together again, our argument long forgotten. It can be painful, even for small children who forget so easily, but we overcome our differences with forgiveness and go on living.
Sometimes the relationship is broken beyond repair. Sometimes this leads to a complete separation with no further contact. However, it often leads to a more active rebellion against the former friend, lifelong feuds and even verbal or physical violence. In the movie “War of the Roses” Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are a married couple that discover they just can’t live with one another any longer. The divorce is difficult. They fight over every detail. Eventually, the two lock themselves in the house, neither willing to give it up to the other even for a moment. The battle that ensues nearly kills them both and destroys the house – the thing they both claim to love. They are found on the floor bleeding in the tangled mess of their precious chandelier that came crashing down as they hung from it in a final battle of the will.
This movie was a comedy, but in real life this situation would be very sad. How can people who once loved each other get to the point that they are willing to kill one another for such seemingly ridiculous reasons? Yet, there are many suffering people who were once part of relationships that have been broken over the most insignificant things. They don’t know where to find healing and peace. They don’t understand about forgiveness. They can’t overcome their feelings of hurt and anger and so rebel, rejecting completely what they had once loved.
People make mistakes. We sin, we fight, we say hurtful things. We do this against one another, but we also do this against God our Father. Sometimes in the midst of our pain we shake our hands at the heavens and cry out “Why?” We do not always see the big picture as God sees it and we do not always understand how something so horrible could happen to us. Yet, just like that childhood fight, we turn back to our Father, knowing that He is truly merciful and that He provides us with healing and peace.
There are those, however, who never turn back. They rebel completely against the Lord God, refusing to believe that He is good, right and true. They reject His love and mercy. They even claim He does not exist. They scream, “How could a loving God allow evil and pain and suffering in the world?” And so they refuse to believe and they do whatever they can to destroy the relationship they might have once had. They even fight against all the good God does in this world by trying to convince those who do believe that they are nothing but ridiculous fools. What they do not realize that it is this very rebellion that leads to the suffering and pain that once destroyed their own lives.
“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who, when they heard, did provoke? nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses? And with whom was he displeased forty years? was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.” Hebrews 3:12-19 (ASV)
We do make mistakes in our relationships. We say the wrong things or do the wrong things. We sin against those we love. But we forgive, we forget and we move on. Those relationships often become stronger in the end because mercy and grace brings us together in love. However, there are times when people get so hardened by evil that they rebel completely, rejecting the love that brings healing and peace. This happens, not only through human relationships, but also in the relationship with God.
Apostasy is a word that is often used to describe those who reject certain beliefs and understanding of God’s Word. It is possible to use that word in relation to the connections between people. When a friend completely rejects us, or when a politician turns to another party, or when a Christian decides to attend a different denomination, they can technically be called apostate. However, we must be careful to not place that label on someone just because they disagree with us. A sinner is not apostate. It is a good thing, because we are all sinners. The apostate Christian is the one who rejects God altogether with a hardened heart, rebelling against our Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant us the strength to stand firm today so that we will always turn to Him and hold fast the confidence we have through faith in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Car A friend of mine is having difficulty with one of his teenage sons. The young man is having minor problems with his vehicle and is starting to beg for a new one. He has abused his current car, driving it hundreds of miles every day and ignoring the service needed to keep it running properly. Since he is spending ten dollars a day on gasoline, he is unable to make his payments, often looking toward his parents or grandparents for help.
They are not giving in to his games this time. They have tried to tell him for months that he’s abusing the vehicle and that when it breaks down it will be his problem. Now it is to the point of expensive repairs and the boy does not know what to do. He can’t afford a new one himself, but this one will make it difficult getting to and from work. His parents refuse to help him. The wisdom they have tried to teach him has gone unheeded and buying a new car will only make him continue on his current path.
We try to teach our children the right way to go, and sometimes we are blessed that they will follow. There are times, however, when they try to find their own way, following paths that are not right and good. This week I learned that Zack did something in school that made his teacher and I a bit disappointed. He was sharing answers with a friend. We talked to him about the difference between helping someone find the answers and cheating. We explained that his friend would never learn if he did all the work for him. Hopefully Zack will not make that mistake again. He had to learn the lesson, however, and both of the boys were given a zero on the paper.
“Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; And the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in paths of uprightness. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; And if thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: Keep her; for she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, And walk not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it; Turn from it, and pass on. For they sleep not, except they do evil; And their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is as the dawning light, That shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: They know not at what they stumble.” Proverbs 4:10-19 (ASV)
Teaching wisdom is not easy, but it is our responsibility to do what we can to lead our children down a good path. We can only pray that our children will listen and learn. All too often the lessons will be understood only after experience shows them that we are telling them the truth. Sometimes they have to live without a car for a season, get a bad grade or fall into unhappy circumstances.
We must teach, however, and pray that they will listen to the wisdom of this proverb. Ablessed life comes from walking in wisdom. Going in the ways of wickedness will cause us to stumble and we often do not even know what it is that making us fall. My friend’s son lives under the impression that somehow money grows on trees, despite the financial difficulties they are experiencing while my friend is looking for a better job. He will have to learn to live within his means and it will take a strong will for the parents to let him learn the lesson the hard way.
As for the rest of us, let us pray that we will listen to wisdom and learn how to walk in the light so that we will not stumble and fall in the ways of wickedness. The path of wisdom is an ever growing light, that light being Jesus Christ our Lord. As we grow in faith and knowledge of Him through prayer and study of God’s Word, the way becomes brighter and easier to see. Thanks be to God.
Train We live less than a mile from a train track that is used regularly. At least thirty trains a day pass by, hauling everything from army equipment to lime for cement. The track runs along a heavily road between Seguin and San Antonio. Since this road and train track run through a number of small towns, there is a great deal of cross traffic. Most of the crossings are well marked with electronic barriers that signal the cars of the coming train with lights and then block them with a barricade. There are a number of small country roads that also cross the tracks that are not as well marked. Also, some people just refuse to head the warning and try to cross anyway, thinking they have enough time before the train is upon them.
For this reason, the trains signal with a horn constantly as they are running through several miles of track near our home. We definitely know when a train is coming, whether it is at three o’clock in the afternoon or midnight. The engineer constantly pulls at the cord so that the cars at the upcoming crossings will know he is coming quickly.
Unfortunately, as one who has sat behind the barrier waiting for the oncoming train, it is not always easy to hear in the confines of a vehicle. Sometimes I think we hear them better a mile away at home than we ever hear them as we are waiting for them to pass. This is why trucks with dangerous chemicals and buses filled with school children are required to stop and open their door or window to listen and look.
Jesus was somewhat like a speeding train when He was ministering in Israel two thousand years ago. The things He taught were going to make a difference in the lives of those who listened. The disciples were changed by the presence of God in their lives as Jesus gave them forgiveness and understanding about the Father’s mercy and grace. There were many, however, who refused to listen or they simply could not hear. They were knocked over by Jesus’ teachings, refusing to believe what He said. It did not enter into their hearts and spring forth in faith. Instead, they rejected Jesus and missed the joy and peace He could give them.
“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? And he answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.” Matthew 13:10-17 (ASV)
The disciples did not understand why Jesus would speak in parables. Why not teach clearly so that everyone would understand? Jesus knew there were those like the drivers who refuse to pay attention to the barriers at the railroad crossings and try to cross. In terms off faith, those people are the ones who feel that they are righteous on their own account, they don’t need mercy and grace but live in haughty pride in their ability to be obedient to God’s law. For these men, the parables are nothing but nonsense because they have no faith.
But parables, when heard in faith, are filled with wisdom and grace, giving to the hearer a better understanding of God’s love. It is for these that Jesus speaks so that they will grow in faith and mature into active disciples sharing the kingdom of God with others. Thanks be to God.
Pretender There was a show on television called “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” This reality TV show took three possible candidates to be hired by a group or person with a task to complete. On one show it was a wedding planner, on another the group was planning a fashion show. The three candidates were not all experienced to do the task. One was highly qualified, a well-known professional in the field. The second had planned one or two events, none very successful. The third had never done anything like the task, was in reality skilled for much different work.
Of course, the group or person did not know which one was the good, the bad or the ugly. It was funny to watch them after the interview with each candidate. They rarely guessed the truth and often selected ‘the ugly,’ the candidate with no experience. Of course, these pretenders did not have the contacts or the ability to pull off the job as well as the professionals, though it generally worked out well. Sometimes, however, the inexperienced candidates got in over their heads and were unable to complete the task. In the end, the show’s producers ensured that the event was staged and everyone had a good laugh when the truth was revealed. In some cases, though the event might not have been everything they had hoped for, the people were impressed with the accomplishments those who had no experience whatsoever. Yet, the show finished with a feeling that the group of individual had wished they made a difference choice, picking the professional rather than the pretenders.
The early church was not much different than we see today. There were people who were true believers and those who went for all the wrong reasons. I’ve heard of people who go to church to network or to meet a mate. There are some who go for the neat programs offered or because they love the music. Though they also attend the study and worship, the reasons for going are because they are seeking something for themselves. The true reason for attending church is faith in God and to worship Him. The book of Acts tells the story of two people whose hearts were not in the right place before God. Ananias and Sapphira saw other Christians giving all their worldly goods to the fellowship of believers. They sold some property and gave a portion to the disciples. They hid the rest to keep for themselves. They weren’t required to give everything, but they lied about it to appear as though they were giving so much more. The offering was not in faith but for selfish reasons. The scriptures tell us that Ananias and Sapphira fell down and died when their lie was revealed.
“And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. But of the rest durst no man join himself to them: howbeit the people magnified them; and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of them and women; insomuch that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that, as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some one of them. And there also came together the multitudes from the cities round about Jerusalem, bring sick folk, and them that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.” Acts 5:11-16 (ASV)
Fear came upon the church, not in the hearts of those who were true believers, but in the hearts of the pretenders. They saw that the Spirit can truly read the hearts of men and that they were in danger of death if they continued to use the church for their own benefit. Unfortunately, we have lost this lesson in two thousand years of ministry. We think it is best to fill the seats and offer activities to draw people through the doors. We do this in the hopes that inside the people will hear the Gospel and be changed. Yet, we forget that the purpose of the Church is to take the forgiveness of God into the world so that they will believe and come to worship Him.
It would be better to have a tiny church of spirit-filled believers worshipping God than to have a huge church of pretenders seeking something for themselves. But the fear of God is lost to us today. The church is filled with demanding people who expect acceptance and tolerance in the name of God’s mercy and compassion, but they forget that God’s justice is merciful. We need to remember stories like that of Ananias and Sapphira and see that there are consequences to pretending to be faithful when there is no faith.
Grown-ups Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will be turning 18 on June 13. It might seem strange to be mentioning an event that won’t come for over a month, and yet this particular birthday is already making news. Eighteen is a milestone in the life of a child, a turning point between youth and adulthood. This is a coming of age for two young ladies that we have known for their entire lives. Mary-Kate and Ashley played the babies on the hit television show from that began in the late 1980’s called “Full House.” Even Hollywood has child labor laws, so the twins were used to double the air time of the character Michelle.
Their career was not over when the show was over. The girls began doing a series of teen movies and video shorts. They have amassed a fortune and run their own billion dollar company. We have watched these girls grow up over the years, first as babies and toddlers, then as children and now teenagers. They still have a particular market, most of their work has reached a well-defined age group – the ‘tweens’ – those who are not quite teenagers but are beginning to deal with the issues such as boys and clothes. The tweens are just beginning to define who they are and what they will do with their lives.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have grown up in front of our eyes and they are in some ways like our own daughters or nieces. Their eighteenth birthday is somewhat a shock. How could they possibly be grown up? They have tried to age in their movies, dealing with more mature issues, but they have to remember their audience. A mother viewing their latest film, “A New York Minute” complained about something that occurred and a short piece was edited out for the sake of the children.
So, how will these girls move from being children to being adults? It is likely they will take a break from making movies. Both are planning on attending New York University in the fall. They don’t plan on doing twins movies for the rest of their lives. The day may come when they are married with children of their own. They will have to move beyond being the Olsen Twins to discover the rest of their gifts. It won’t be easy, particularly if they want to continue in movies and television. Yet, if they are going to become mature, they must set aside the past and move toward the future. It is something all our children go through. We also do so as we grow in faith.
“Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations; Knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord; a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8 (ASV)
We have watched Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen grow up from childhood to their teens. Their upcoming birthday is exciting as we look forward to watching as they decide what to do next with their lives. And yet, as with our own children, it is a bit frightening to think that it is already time to send them into the world, to try new things. We want to keep them the sweet girls we have always known. Yet, they have to grow up and make their own decisions, including their own mistakes so that the successes will really be their own.
We go through a similar life of faith, from childhood into maturity. Each stage of faith has aspects that parallel our physical and emotional growth. As children we learn to walk and talk, as teenagers we learn to make decisions and seek our independence. Eventually we are sent out into the world to share our gifts and make a difference. The same is true of our journey in faith. We begin as children, but we have to grow beyond that simple faith we are given as children. We have to go out into the world to share the kingdom with the world. It won’t be easy. We will face difficulties. But God has provided all we could possibly need and will be with us along the way. Thanks be to God.
Mortgage The Trading Spaces Home Free Challenge was finally completed last night with Jon and Stacy – the blue team – winning the ultimate prize. After seven weeks of competition, the two teams that made the finals had three newly finished rooms and the chance to have their mortgage paid off. Each couple deserved to win, they worked hard during each competition and made some amazing rooms.
Trading Spaces Home Free was similar to the regular show, but there were some major differences. First of all, the homeowners – the contestants – were given charge of the room. Though there were designers to help guide the work and solve problems, the couples did all the planning, budgeting and work. They also faced extraordinary challenges. One week they had to buy something out of the newspaper want ads. Another week they were required to buy something from a high end shop and a thrift shop, and then in the end make the two items look alike. Other challenges included last minute changes of color, fabrics and even designers. For the final kitchen remodel, the couples were given an hour and $20,000 in a Home Depot to buy new appliances, countertops, floors or whatever they needed to make an incredible kitchen. For homework one night, the teams were given a brand new wood floor to install.
The teams did not get much sleep. For some of the couples, the challenges were too great and they fought with one another or they just fell apart emotionally. One woman ended the evening in tears – nothing was going their way and she did not think they would survive the cut. Another couple stopped talking to one another for a few hours, their anger making it very difficult to work together. The couples that went on to the final were the ones who persevered through the suffering. They were the ones who remained positive even when things seemed out of control. They took the challenges and made something beautiful.
I suppose in some way, it is hard to talk about persecution of Christians in this day and age in America, simply because we do not know what it is like to suffer the way they did in the early church. There are Christians today who are dying for their faith in places like Africa, China and South America. Through there have been times when American Christians faced verbal abuse or ridicule, and churches have burned, in general we have not faced the difficulties that the first disciples faced. Of the twelve disciples, only John died of old age. Judas killed himself, but the rest were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. To us, it seems strange to find joy in such a death, but the apostles understood the glory that came out of suffering.
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name. For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator.” 1 Peter 4:12-19 (ASV)
Peter was the disciple who was upset when Jesus told them He had to suffer. He rejected the notion of his Lord facing persecution and death. Yet, in this letter written after Pentecost, Peter saw things in a new way. Suffering is not something to reject or avoid. We are called to rejoice in our suffering in the name of Jesus and to stand on the hope we have in Him. Peter does not whitewash over the issue of suffering. Sometimes it comes from our own mistakes – when we are punished for our wrong actions, we deserve the discipline we face. Throughout the history of God, He has brought judgment on His own people for turning away. Though they have faced suffering, they also live in the hope that God is faithful. Not all suffering comes from our own actions, but it all is used by God to build our faith and draw us closer to Him.
Watching Trading Spaces Home Free, you could really see that the staff – the hostess, the carpenters and the designers – love the contestants, but the challenges were an important part of the task. Through those challenges, and their failures, the teams proved their worth and showed the audience who deserved to win. The challenges were not meant to cause fights or tearful moments. In the end, it was those who persevered, those who believed, that would get through the bad times as well as the good. The same is true of our journeys of faith, but even more so because we have the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ standing with us through all our challenges. Thanks be to God.
Violence There has been a disturbing trend among teenage girls. In ages past, we might have expected to see young boys having a fistfight on the playground, while the little girls stood back and watched. It was not acceptable behavior for the boys to be rolling in the dirt pounding each other with fists, the boys would face some sort of punishment if they got caught. But, the reaction was generally “boys will be boys.” If it were girls who were fighting in that manner, however, everyone would be shocked, even scandalized. Girls were expected to stay clean, to be proper and certainly not do any sort of violence.
The world has certainly changed and women are seen in much different light these days. This has been good in that women are accepted in many job positions they once were unable to pursue. We teach our girls that they can do anything they want to do, and many are following typically male oriented occupations and they are doing well. It is wonderful to see women succeed in today’s world.
The disadvantage of these changes in our society is that girls are also picking up the negative aspects of male behavior. It is far more common to see little girls rolling around in the dirt than it ever was as they turn toward physical solutions to their problems. In the past, the girls dealt with their battles in more emotional ways, with talking or yelling and perhaps a pull of the hair or a kick to the shin. Little harm ever came. They did not beat their adversary and blood rarely flowed. But now the girls are fighting like boys, often until someone is seriously hurt.
Recently a young girl attended a birthday party of a friend. The birthday girl’s boyfriend was dared to give this other girl a kiss. The mother was so offended, she told her daughter to “handle your business.” The birthday girl, her mother and sister and three other girls beat the girl until she was in a coma. She is recovering, but this story is just one among many. Last fall a group of girls beat a number of other girls in a hazing ceremony. Boys are still more violent by a ratio of 4:1, but it was 10:1 just twenty years ago.
I can’t say why such a trend is happening in our world today. One explanation is that the media is offering more women characters in more male roles that become the models of action for our girls. Laura Croft in “Tomb Raiders” is a character in both movie and video games that handles a gun and her fists with as much gusto as any of the other action heroes. I wonder how much of this trend can be credited with the less defined roles of men and women. God created man and women differently for a reason. That is, that together they will be whole.
“And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the heavens, and to every beast of the field; but for man there was not found a help meet for him. And Jehovah God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib, which Jehovah God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Genesis 1:19-24 (ASV)
It is strange that while women are finding their own identities, they are also losing their identity as feminine – a great gift to creation by God. Women have often been the catalyst for peace, laying a soft hand on the men who would run off to war at the drop of a hat. Women are more compassionate, more likely to find a non-violent solution to the situation if at all possible. It is the female calm that balances the male disposition toward violence.
Though we would rather live in a world with absolute peace between nations, we know that it is not possible while men continue to sin. Yet, God has created a world which He called good. All things created for a reason, all things work together for the glory of God. That includes male and female roles that have been designed to make the human race whole.
We certainly would not want to go back to the way it was in ages past, when women were nothing but the property of the men in their lives. I doubt we would even want to go back to the time when boys played with guns and girls played with dolls in such well defined expectations. It is good that both men and women have the freedom to follow their dreams and do what they are gifted to do. But let us never lose sight of the gifts we have specifically been given as men and women of faith, unique in our sexuality so that we might live together as whole people in God through Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Ruler Have you ever noticed how easily we fall into a pattern of hierarchy in all that we do? Even our children establish leaders and followers in their games, one person being the ‘boss’ telling the others what needs to be done. Of course, there is often some disagreement about the hierarchy, with the followers rebelling when the leader gets a little out of control. We see it in our businesses, our neighborhoods and in our churches. There is often a president or something like it who helps guide and direct the work of the group. This is visible in organizations of even just a handful of people. As soon as there is two or three working together it seems that order is needed to control the situation. Order leads to leadership.
Unfortunately, sometimes leadership leads to abuse of power. We have seen all too often throughout history how men in power rule without regard to mercy or justice. In the Old Testament lessons, the patriarchs and judges provided the rule over the people, and though they were appointed by God, they were not perfect in their leadership. It was often the sons who fell from God, abusing their power and turning to other gods. Once they stopped looking toward God for guidance and acted outside His will, they lost their position and the people suffered. Eventually the people of Israel decided they needed a king who would be their guide, so Saul was given but with a warning. God told the people that their king would steal their possessions and make their children into slaves. They agreed and in the later days of the Old Testament, the kings did just what God said they would. And as they fell farther from God, they stopped doing justice and left their people afflicted and destitute.
The leaders in the Old Testament times were often thought of as ‘gods,’ not in terms of God Himself, but it was a term used for the leaders of the people. Because they were in control and had the power to make a difference, and were given the honorific title because of their position. This did not mean they were gods, they had no power beyond that which God gave to them, but unfortunately a great many rejected Him and went against the people whom they were given to rule.
“God standeth in the congregation of God; He judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, And respect the persons of the wicked? Selah Judge the poor and fatherless: Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy: Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither do they understand; They walk to and fro in darkness: All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High. Nevertheless ye shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth; For thou shalt inherit all the nations.” Psalm 82 (ASV)
Even today we can see that power corrupts and that many of the leaders in the world abuse their position and harm the people to whom they have been given. It is natural for us to want a leader to guide us and take care of our needs. The trouble is that mankind is sinful by nature and we try to take control of those things that should not be in our hands. We forget that the Lord God Almighty is the true King and that He is the one who has absolute power. We take advantage of those who are less than we. We ignore mercy and justice. We might seem like gods when we are in power, but the words of this psalmist are important to remember.
We will die. The power we have at this moment is fleeting. God is still in control even when we thing we have the power to do anything we want. We must remember that the power which we are given is given for a purpose, and we should always use it for the glory of God. When we are in leadership, whether it is in our home, neighborhood, school or church, let us always remember that God is the ultimate judge and He will be here long after we have passed from life into death. When we have that power to make a difference in the world, let us hold even more securely to the promises of God and stay on the path He has ordained so that we do not do wickedness with our power and not fall under the temptations of the world that would call us gods when we are nothing but men. For God is the only God, the one in power to whom the glory and the honor belongs. Thanks be to God.
Lullaby I don’t know what it is like to be a nurse, I doubt that I could physically or emotionally handle the work inside a hospital, particularly in the emergency ward or where they care for the terminally ill patients. It seems like it must be overwhelming to not be able to fix all that ails human flesh. I could not help but mourn any time a patient is lost. I recently spoke to a woman who works as a nurse. The hospital where she serves had a practice of playing a lullaby over the loudspeaker whenever a child was born on the maternity ward. She said it never fails to amaze her how often they hear that lullaby just when they have lost a patient. In the quiet moment of grief, the soft sounds of life bring back hope to all who hear.
This type of experience happens in other places. I remember hearing about the man who survived the collapse of the bridge during the San Francisco earthquake a few years ago. We heard stories of miraculous rescues during the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing. People who survive the most extraordinary experiences provide a bit of hope in the midst of tragedy. It is like a light in the darkness that helps people to go on.
Capernaum was far to the north in the land where the people of Israel lived, perhaps eighty miles from Jerusalem. The northern tribes suffered greatly in Old Testament times from the attack from the Assyrians. Isaiah prophesied that the land of Zebulun and Naphtali would see a great light. Isaiah writes, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Matthew recognized the fulfillment of this promise in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Now when he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, The people that sat in darkness Saw a great light, And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, To them did light spring up. From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 (ASV)
We would expect the great men of God to come out of Jerusalem, to work in the heart of the religious community – the Temple. Many of today’s televangelists, the men and women who preach over the airways, establish their congregations in metropolitan areas so that they can build large congregations and preach to wider audiences. Yet, Jesus spent most of His ministry in the land of Galilee, far from the center of Jewish faith, ministering to individuals. He fulfilled the promise that there would be a light in the darkness, that Capernaum would see the child who would reign over David’s throne.
We do not always understand why things happen in this world. We can’t explain why a young girl is killed by a gang of hooligans or why our mothers have to die of cancer just when we need them the most. We do not know why people do cruel things like blow up buildings or why the earthly elements create monstrous disasters. We only know that God is in the midst of all our experiences, good and bad, and that He is able to bring light in the midst of darkness. The Savior did not come out of Jerusalem as many would expect, but rather out of the darkness, where the Jews were longsuffering and the Gentiles lived in ignorance. Yet, He brought to them the kingdom of God and they heard His voice. Thanks be to God.
Restless There are less than four weeks left to school here in Texas and the children are beginning to show signs of that restlessness that comes with the end of school. The weather is warmer and days are longer. The children want to be outside playing every possible minute. They don’t want to do homework or sit in classrooms. It is going to get worse now that the children have completed their state mandated exams. The teachers still have things to teach, but once the exams are over they can breathe a sigh of relief. So much of their school days recently have been taken up with preparation for the tests, so they relax a little when it is over. Add to that the special events that are coming up – field day, field trips, and picnics in the park – and the children think that school is over for the year. The children are well aware that the teachers are off guard, and they take advantage of the situation.
There are some days at the end of the school year when they are simply out of control. They don’t listen, they talk too much and they spend long minutes staring out the windows daydreaming about summer vacation. Even the most well behaved children lose control at this time of year. It takes extraordinary discipline methods to keep things on track for these final weeks. This includes extra playtime outside, given as an incentive for paying attention to lessons. But teachers must also be radical with their authority, ensuring that even the misbehavior of one child will impact the manners of the rest. One small bit of mischief by one child can destroy the fun for the whole class.
We do this in other aspects of life – putting upon the whole group the sins of one person. This is the trouble with stereotyping, because we make claims about a whole race, creed or gender based on the actions of one, and yet sometimes it is necessary to blame a large group to bring about a corporate change in attitude. God did this with the Israelites.
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the devoted thing; for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the devoted thing: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled against the children of Israel. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and spy out the land. And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to toil thither; for they are but few. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men; and they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them at the descent; and the hearts of the people melted, and became as water. And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of Jehovah until the evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust upon their heads. And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord Jehovah, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over the Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to cause us to perish? would that we had been content and dwelt beyond the Jordan! Oh, Lord, what shall I say, after that Israel hath turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and will compass us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do for thy great name? And Jehovah said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore art thou thus fallen upon thy face? Israel hath sinned; yea, they have even transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: yea, they have even taken of the devoted thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also; and they have even put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, because they are become accursed: I will not be with you any more, except ye destroy the devoted thing from among you.” Joshua 7:1-12 (ASV)
Only one man, Achan, took the sacred objects from Canaan even though the Lord had commanded that they not touch those things. His sin affected all of Israel. When the army went to take the city Ai, they lost the battle and thirty six men died. Joshua did not understand why the Lord would abandon them, but God told him that there was sin amongst the Israelites. The command against the sacred things of Canaan was important. They were to trust God to provide for them in all things, including their prosperity. They did not need the wealth of pagan gods to be successful in the Holy Land. Also, the sacred objects of other gods are too great a temptation for people who are just learning about their relationship with the one true and living God. It is too easy to rely on the pagan gods when they are in the midst of the people.
All Israel needed to learn the lesson, but in the end Achan suffered the punishment of his own sin. God called the people of Israel together and they came before Joshua for judgment. Eventually it was whittled down to Achan who admitted his sin. The sacred things were found. Achan and all that was his, including his family, livestock and material possessions, were destroyed. And God turned from his anger and for at least a season Israel lived as they were called to live.