Welcome to the April 2005 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 2005
April 1, 2005
Spelling Have you ever noticed that the spammers and hackers can’t spell? I received an email this morning supposedly from a bank asking for my confirmation code. Now, this is a scam that has been flying across the internet in recent months – hackers trying to get important information from victims they think are too stupid to see their deception. I once got an email that appeared to be from a national florist asking that I verify my account. The hacker included official logos and linked to a very realistic looking website. It was fake – an attempt to get a hold of my credit card numbers. I recognized it for what it was and reported the email to both my internet provider and the florist company. The email I received this morning had horrible misspellings in the subject line. How could I possibly take this email seriously when the sender was asking for a “conformation” code? Even funnier are the times when the sender can’t even spell the name of the company they claim to represent. When these emails end up in my mailbox, they are so obviously false that I do not even open them.
Unfortunately, there are many people who are connected to the Internet that do not yet understand how many people are out to victimize the users. They trust that mail is safe and expect official looking documents to be real. They will click into the website in the mail and give the information that is asked because they think the sender is trustworthy. The hackers count on the foolishness of uninformed people for their scheme to work. If we are going to be safe on the Internet, we must be informed about the problems that can happen.
We live in a world in which there is evil. We might want to deny this fact, hope to see the best in everyone and do whatever we can to help wrongdoers overcome the desires of their flesh. But if we deny that evil exists, then we aren’t prepared to deal with it when it comes to us. We fall prey to the schemes of those who follow the ways of evil and we even face the possibility of it taking hold of our lives. We must be informed about the evil that exists so that we can keep ourselves and those we love from harm.
“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:11-14 (ASV)
All too many Internet users are unfamiliar with the problems that exist. They do not think that there are people who would want to do bad things, or they think that they are somehow immune to the possibility of hacking. They can’t believe someone would pretend to be a bank or national business to victimize them. The same is true when we consider the things of faith and religion. There are, unfortunately, many in the world that would see the sheep of Christ deceived and led astray. They will twist God’s word in a way that sounds real, but is destructive.
We have been saved by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and sent into the world to share His kingdom with others. Yet, in the world we face many challenges. We can only overcome the evil that exists by discerning what is good and evil. This takes knowledge. God has given us a way to know His will, He has given us His word as reported in the Bible. We must read and study it for ourselves, amongst other Christians so that we will grow in faith and knowledge and be prepared to face the world. Just as we should be informed about our Internet use, so too we need more than just the basics of faith; we need to keep learning daily by reading and studying God’s word. Thanks be to God.
Current events Victoria regularly reads the newspaper in the morning and uses the computer to search the news for the day. She has a teacher that requires the students to bring in articles of current events for discussion. This is an important assignment for our kids. They say that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, so it is vital for our youth to see what is happening in the world and learn the lessons that can be learned from the people and events that dominate the media.
It has been impossible to watch the news for the last few days and not be overwhelmed with the news from Rome – the pope who has served the Roman Catholic Church for the last twenty-seven years has died. He’s been in the news for the last few months as we have watched him suffer from multiple ailments, but it is not the first time he has been the center of the world’s attention. In the past twenty-seven years, Pope John Paul II has touched the lives of billions and affected world politics while heading the largest Christian organization in the world, with over a billion adherents.
While we might not all agree with the doctrine and theology of the Roman Catholic Church or Pope John Paul II, I think we can agree that he was a man who modeled the godly life. He lived life as a servant, humble before God. He began his papacy with the words, “Do not be afraid,” and constantly reminded Christians of the hope of Jesus Christ. He also reminded us of our responsibility in this world to live Christ-like. He took a word of forgiveness to the assassin that tried to take his life. He was a prophetic voice against oppression and tyranny, seeking freedom for those who suffered at the hands of injustice. He sought freedom for the captives, not only in the spiritual realm but also in the flesh. He loved the youth of the world and reached out to them with love. He was bold and humble, strong in faith and willing to serve for the sake of others. His life is one that will be remembered for many generations by many – even those who are not of the Christian faith. He was a godly man, one who endeavored to be all that he was called to be.
“The elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:1-11 (ASV)
The dust has barely settled on the news of Pope John Paul II’s death and I’ve already heard rumblings of the disagreements that exist between the different types of Christians. While some have been respectful to the mourners, I know there are those who are just waiting until they can start ranting about the wrong doings of the Roman Catholic Church. Even while the world will be fascinated by the ritual of choosing a new pope, there are many who can’t wait to find fault with the process and the one who is elected. For now, however, let us set aside our disagreements and join with all of God’s creation in thanking the Almighty for a man of faith who has touched the world. He is a man we can look to as an example of godly living and the entire world was blessed with his presence. Thanks be to God.
Writing We have been doing one letter a week during school this year, starting with “A” in September. We have finally reached the end of the alphabet, “Z” is next week. One of my students today asked if we could do “Z” now, she couldn’t wait until next week. When I asked why, she said, “Because when we are done with the alphabet, we are done with school.” I’m not sure where she got that impression, since we have six weeks left after we finish with “Z.” I explained that there will be more school, but that finishing the alphabet would mean that our activities would be more fun.
Unfortunately, some of our activities have been somewhat boring. We have been doing some testing of the children – to see how well they know their numbers, letters, counting, shapes and colors. The purpose of these tests is not to give the children grades, but rather to see what they know and what we should work on in the next few weeks. We have been doing writing exercises every day. I make sure they write their names regularly and the numbers because practice makes perfect. They don’t understand the importance and they would rather play than do those drills. Someone asked today, “Why do we have to write our name on every paper?” There are several reasons. First of all, it is one more opportunity for them to practice. Secondly, I can’t remember who did which paper and it makes it easier for me to put them in their folders at the end of the day. Finally, it is realistic for them to get used to doing it, since their teacher in the big school will require it of them next year.
While watching the children these last few weeks, it has been hard not to compare their abilities. I have several children who are quite advanced and others that need a great deal of work. One of the reasons for these differences is age. The younger children are not as mature in the skills necessary. Another thing is experience. Some children do school work at home as part of their young play. Mom and Dad are right there, giving them encouragement and everything they need to practice. Others do not get the same sort of attention. As a teacher, I have to take all these things into consideration and give each of the students what they need so that they can be the best they can be.
It must have been quite something to be around at the beginning of the Church. They did not know what to expect. God seemed to be doing everything different than any of them had planned. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted, He didn’t teach the lessons they thought He would teach. He did not fellowship with the right people or do all the right things. I imagine it was tough for those first disciples as they discovered that God was doing something new in the world through them.
“Forthwith therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord. And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:33-35 (ASV)
God taught Peter an awesome lesson that day – that His love and mercy is for all men who hear and believe the Gospel message. Peter expected to minister to the Jews, to his own people. But when God called him to the house of Cornelius, he realized that God did not play favorites. The people who heard the Gospel were not all in the same circumstances. God provided the opportunity and the gifts for the apostles to share Him with all sorts of different people. It is the same today. Just like each preschool child is different, so too are those who need to hear about the grace of Jesus Christ. Not all will be prepared for the message in the same way, not all will receive it with the same heart. But God does not play favorites. He does not care if people are from one place. It does not matter to Him if they are male or female, young or old. He does not look at a person’s credentials, their job or the people they know. He only sees the heart. His message is given for all those who will hear and believe. Thanks be to God.
Traffic There are several important roads near our home that are under construction. In each case the roadwork is causing a great deal of extra traffic. We are forced to go way out of our way, along with hundreds of other drivers, to get to where we are going, adding as much as ten or fifteen minutes to our trip. It is even worse for Bruce who has to deal with several different areas of construction. His new route has added miles to his journey each day. Things are not so difficult for me, except on those days when I have to take Vicki to school. Not only do we have to share the road with the others who are inconvenienced by the detour, but we also are doing so while other parents are taking their students to school. We pass two schools, which means we need to watch for the traffic and for the children on foot. It can be very frustrating.
Things are always much better when everyone is patient and considerate. At one point in the journey two roads come together into one lane of traffic. When everyone is thoughtful, allowing cars from the other direction to merge – one car from one road, one car from the next – the traffic moves more smoothly and quickly. Unfortunately there is always someone who thinks their time is more valuable or their destination is more important than everyone else’s. They will push their way into the flow of traffic, disrupting the flow and inconveniencing everyone else. On top of this, you can almost hear the other drivers groaning in frustration, even cursing the driver for their lack of consideration.
I would like to think that the people that are considerate are always the Christians, but it would be silly to assume such a thing. Christians deal with the same emotions and frustrations as the rest of the world. We all have bad days when we just can’t see beyond our own needs. We have moments when we think we are the center of the universe. We’ve all played the role of the jerk at some point in a traffic jam. We have also been the ones groaning in exasperation. We forget that our Lord Jesus Christ calls and gifts us to live transformed in the world.
“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:1-17 (ASV)
We can’t know when we are stuck in a traffic jam whether the other drivers are Christian or not. What we can do is like the life of Christ in every circumstance we face. I fail often, not only when driving my car but at many other times in the day. I am truly thankful for the forgiveness our Lord Jesus Christ has given to us. Yet, I have to remember that as I am journeying in this world, He has called me to live differently. He has transformed me to be Christlike. He has given us the ability to rise above the pettiness of this world, to put others first and take into consideration their needs. As a child of God, we put on a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another. He has done this for us, so that we might do good things for others. Thanks be to God.
Playground It was a beautiful day in Texas today, warm and sunny. It was the perfect day to go outside to enjoy some time on the playground. We play every day when the weather is suitable, but it is on days like today that we give the kids a little extra time. We can do worksheets when it is raining. When spring fever hits, it doesn’t do very much good to make the kids sit inside. Spring fever has definitely hit. The kids were a bit wild today, loud and active in everything they did. They needed to be outside running off the pent up energy they had.
A few of the boys definitely had energy to burn, and they were burning it with gusto. I stopped them at one point this morning because they were pounding one another. Though it was a game and it was not malicious, their actions were borderline dangerous. I gathered them together and sat them on a bench to explain the dangers of their play and to ask them to please find a game where they won’t kill one another. Even while I was telling them they should not be tossing the stones (the small smooth pebbles that line the bed where the playground equipment is situated), they were tossing the stones. It was a bit frustrating. They were suitably regretful and started a new game that was much safer for everyone on the playground.
Stopping their play may have seemed harsh to the boys at first, but when I explained that they could hurt their friend with the way they were playing, they were sorry. I think they were sad, also, because they really did not want anyone to get hurt. They just did not realize how hard they were pushing. I sent them on their way with a smile and a command to have fun and within a few minutes they were laughing and playing their new game.
The Israelites had been in exile in Babylon, as God used foreign powers to discipline His disobedient children. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of their return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been destroyed, walls as torn apart as the hearts of the people. In exile they were far from God, though the separation had happened much earlier. They did not know the law and they did not live according to the word of God. So, once the temple was rebuilt and the people resettled, Ezra brought the people together to hear the law. They were cut to the heart as it was read, they mourned about how they had been living.
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed Jehovah, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto Jehovah your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” Nehemiah 8:5-12 (ASV)
The reading of the Law cuts us to the heart because we see how far from God we are by its words. Yet, we are not to mourn because of His word – for it is truly a gift. We are to rejoice at what God has spoken to us, because in the words of law are also words of grace. He does not seek to punish us, but rather gives us guidance to discipline and make us disciples. He cuts to our heart not to break it but to grasp it in His hand and make it His own. When I stopped the boys this morning, it was for their own good. At first they were sad when they realized how they might have hurt one of their friends. But a word of love sent them off rejoicing. The same is true with us. We might be sad when we realize what we have done wrong, but we can go forth in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises and His promises are filled with grace. Thanks be to God.
Wildflowers Vicki is studying plants in biology class, so her teacher told them to collect specimens of flowers and leaves. They have to identify the plant and present a report with all the important information they can find about the specimens. Since it is wildflower time here in Texas, Vicki and I took a walk to a green belt in our neighborhood to pick flowers. We found more than a dozen different plants, some we could easily identify and others will take more research.
As we were searching the internet for wildflower information, I found a great quote. Someone once said, “A weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place.” It is funny to think of these beautiful flowers in this way, but I can imagine that some folk would not want them growing in their beautifully manicured lawns. It is ok when they are growing in a meadow somewhere, but the plant is removed or destroyed at the first sign of a broad leaf even before the flower can bloom. Even the greenbelt to some is considered an eyesore because they see it as being overrun with weeds. Yet, Vicki discovered so many wonderful plants as she was searching for her specimens. Several times Vicki told me how cool she thought it was that we had these plants growing so close to our home. It won’t be long before the landscapers come to cut down these weeds.
All too often we look at people in the same way. There are those in this world for one reason or another seem to have no value in our society. In Jesus’ generation, women and children were regarded as weeds. They had no voice and were disposable if that was the will of the man. In other generations the weeds were those with health or mental problems, the elderly, people of a certain race or the homeless. Though most of us do not appear to hold such uncompassionate biases against groups of people, I think we’ve all had a moment when we have looked at one individual and thought, “What good is he?” They aren’t worth our time, they aren’t worth our trouble. It may be a simple as refusing to offer a word of forgiveness because they aren’t penitent about what they have done wrong. Yet, by not sharing that word, by not offering to bring healing and grace into someone’s life, we deem them unworthy of God’s love and call them a weed. Thank God Jesus never felt that way.
“And he departed thence, and went into their synagogue: and behold, a man having a withered hand. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man of more value than a sheep! Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, as the other.” Matthew 12:9-14 (ASV)
While this passage definitely touches on one of the major problems in the time of Jesus – their concern for ritual and rules above people – it also shows how much regard Jesus had for the people who needed His love and mercy. That man had been ill for some time and was not even seeking healing. Jesus could have very easily waited a day to heal the man, but He saw no reason to let him suffer even another moment. For the Jews, the man’s illness was most likely considered a right punishment from God. They probably thought he’d done something wrong to deserve such a disability. They saw him as a weed, unworthy of anything but negative attention.
Yet, Jesus saw that man as a beloved child of God who needed God’s healing touch. We may not be able to display the same incredible power as Jesus did, restoring people’s bodies that were wracked with disease. However, we have an even greater power – the power of God to bring healing and peace to the lives of those lost in this world. By the grace of God we have the Gospel message of forgiveness to proclaim which brings light into the darkness and life to those who are dead. We might prefer to ignore some folk, thinking them nothing but weeds because of their lack of faith. Yet, God sees in them a beautiful flower, one that is worthy of our love and compassion. He saw the same in us. Thanks be to God.
Gulf of Mexico I had the pleasure of taking a short day cruise into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday. It was a casino cruise with a buffet lunch and an afternoon of gambling. Texas had not legalized gambling, so the boat travels about an hour from shore into International waters before the casinos open. Since there is nothing to see that far out, they just stop the boat and let it float for a few hours until it is time to head home.
I suffer from motion sickness, and though I took precautionary medication in the morning I did not supplement my dosage out on the water. I was doing quite well while the boat was in motion – the forward thrust kept it from rocking too much. However, once we stopped in the middle of nowhere, my stomach rebelled and I felt sick. I went on to the deck where the cool sea breeze helped me. I spent most of the afternoon watching the vast expanse of the gulf.
Now, the Gulf of Mexico is a rather large body of water, but it is small in comparison to the oceans. The gulf is surrounded on most sides by land – America to the north, Mexico to the west and south and the Caribbean Islands to the east – so it is almost like a huge round lake, but much bigger. It did not take long before we were completely out of sight of any land, with only the occasional oil rig or boat to remind us that there is life elsewhere besides the few hundred people on that boat.
As I watched the vast nothingness of the sea, I could not help but consider how inconsequential we really are – little more than a tiny spot on the big sphere of earth. It is hard to realize this when we are in the midst of a city – with the hustle and bustle of our every day life. We seem to have conquered the world, especially when we are sitting in the middle of a traffic jam on a Monday morning on our way to work. We build buildings that reach to the sky and can travel all around the world in a matter of hours. We can see the DNA make-up of a human child before he or she is born and we can send men into outer space to build a city. Yet, we could never make an ocean and though we might be able to build an oil rig out there, I doubt we could ever conquer it completely. There is still too much under the water we have not yet explored.
“Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For Jehovah is a great God, And a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, and he made it; And his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker: For he is our God, And we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To-day, oh that ye would hear his voice!” Psalm 95:1-7 (ASV)
The Gulf of Mexico seemed like a vast desert, though I knew that the water was teaming with a multitude of living things that we could not see. I watched, hoping to see something – a whale or some porpoises playing in the waves – but that far into the gulf even the sky was empty of life. I was awed by the endlessness of the water and sky, they seemed to go on forever. I was even more awed by the fact that this was made by God. And though God made the heavens and the earth, though He created the vast oceans, the land and all that lives here, though He controls it all with His hands – He also knows my name. He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. As I sat there feeling rather insignificant, I realized that through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, the God of all creation has given me a share of His eternal kingdom which is even more awesome than anything I can see on earth. Thanks be to God.
Zacchaeus At preschool this year, we have been learning our letters in alphabetical order. We began the second week of school with the letter “A” and this week we finally made it to the end. One of my students last week asked if we could do the letter “Z” then, even thought it was “Y” week. I wondered why she would ask such a thing, since the alphabet work was not the most exciting work in our day. She said, “When we are finished with the alphabet, we are finished with school!” Apparently other students were under the same impression, so we had to let them know that there are six more weeks of fun.
So, this week is “Z” week. One of the things we have tried to do all year is to choose some Bible subject that begins with the letter of the week. Some weeks were challenging – after all, the only “X” word is Xerxes and most adults do not even know that he was the king in the story of Esther. The letter “Z” is not much better, except it includes one of the student’s favorite stories – the story of Zacchaeus.
“And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (ASV)
It was interesting planning for today’s lesson as I looked at the materials available on the story. Zacchaeus, in the scriptures, is a short man. He is chief of the tax collectors, so he obviously is an adult. Yet many of the children’s pictures or activities show Zacchaeus as a boy. I suppose this helps children identify with the character, and it is probably why it is a favorite story. After all, what child hasn’t been in a situation where they could not see and needed a lift?
There is so much more to the story of Zacchaeus than just the idea that he found a way to see Jesus. Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree – was it because of his creative way of overcoming his trouble that Jesus called out to him? Would Jesus have found the little man if he had been buried in the crowd? I think Zacchaeus was destined to meet Jesus that day no matter what he did, because it was his day to be saved. This is not a story about Zacchaeus doing what is necessary to get Jesus’ attention, but rather it is a story about how Jesus reaches out to all men – even those who are seen by others as unworthy. When Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home – and his heart – he knew the healing touch of the Savior. He repented, turned toward God. He believed in Jesus and gave back the wealth he had taken wrongly.
Jesus came to bring salvation to all who believe. He calls out to every man, offering forgiveness and peace no matter what our physical attributes and what we have done. He wants to go home with us, to abide with us. We might try to get His attention by climbing our own trees, but Jesus will find us wherever we are and call out to us. Let us follow the example of Zacchaeus and come down, receive Him with joy and restore that which we have also taken wrongly. Thanks be to God.
Weeds A few days ago I wrote about the wildflowers of Texas. These flowers are in full bloom right now. Driving down the road is an inspiring experience because there are pockets of pink, blue or yellow flowers decorating the roadside. The blossom time will be short lived; the flowers are already disappearing in some places. There will be other waves of color, but none quite so impressive as what is happening right now.
I wrote about an alleyway in our neighborhood (it is an easement for a gas line) that was covered in wildflower blossoms. I assumed, rightly, that the landscape managers would be around soon to cut down those weeds. I do admit that from a distance the alley was an eyesore – it was not a beautiful mountain meadow or manicured garden. It was a hodge podge of weeds, some of which happened to be beautiful wildflowers. You did not notice the beauty unless you were walking in the alley purposely looking at the plants. When areas like this get overgrown, they become hazardous and can provide hiding places for unwanted activity.
So, this weekend the landscape maintainers were here to cut down the weeds. It does look a little nicer, but Vicki and I were quite glad we had done our nature walk last Thursday because if we had waited there would have been nothing left for her science project. It was necessary for us to go because she needed time to do all the research and preparation before Friday. I have not been as determined with my camera. I had planned on recording this season’s beauty, but I have not found time to go into the fields with my camera. Now it is too late.
“Come now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that. But now ye glory in your vauntings: all such glorying is evil. To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-17 (ASV)
All too often we allow our busy schedules to get in the way of the things we would like to do. I have not been able to take a day to photograph the wildflowers and now it might be too late. It is a good thing that Vicki and I did not wait or else we would have had to find another place to get her specimens. Now, the wildflowers will return another year and having photographs of the beauty is not a life or death situation. The world will still turn tomorrow if I do not accomplish this task. This is one of those things that really does not matter if I should die today.
There are things that we should accomplish immediately, because we may not have the time. There are people who are dying in this world, never having heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are broken relationships that need mending. There are people who need to be loved and encouraged in their faith. We might think we can wait until tomorrow to write that letter, but we do not know what tomorrow may hold. Very often, it is God Himself who lays it on our hearts to do these things, and to ignore Him sins. If we do not take the time right now to take care of these tasks – to share forgiveness and the love of Christ – we might find that it is too late. Don’t wait. We only have today to do the things we are called to do.
Violence We awoke to another day of shocking news. Last night a man allegedly went on a rampage against his ex-girlfriend. He shot her and several family members and then killed himself. In the end, four people were dead and two hospitalized by this tragic event. Yesterday a man died in a horrific automobile accident on a dangerous road in town. Days earlier others died in another wreck on the same road. It is being called the death loop because we regularly hear stories about victims of that road.
Other top news stories regularly include reports of home invasion robberies, some which end badly, gang activities and other violent behavior. There is news of dangerous situations around the world, war and terrorism that daily takes the lives of many, including innocent people who happen to be in the way. A day rarely goes by without hearing of some famous person who has died, most often from natural causes but still tragic. It is heartbreaking to hear when a favorite actor or singer has died. In recent days, through the last moments of Pope John Paul II, the news reporters stayed on camera as if on a death watch, waiting for that moment they could report his passing. They were so anxious to be the first, some even reported it too early.
There might be an occasional uplifting story on the news, but in general it seems most of the time is spent reporting about death. I suppose there is good reason – we need to know of the dangers of this world so that we can take care of ourselves and our families. If there are criminals on the loose, we should take the precautions necessary. If there is disease, we should learn how to defeat it. If someone we love has perished, we should know so that we can mourn. Yet, it is hard not to become depressed when all the news is about death. Where is life? Where is hope?
Unfortunately, we live in a world that is filled with sin. Ever since Adam and Eve turned away from God, believing the word of the serpent above the word of God, we have had to suffer the consequences. Even today we continue to turn away from God, doing what we feel is good, right and true, above that which God has shown us to be the way of life. He does not force us to live His way, but He has given us a way to live. By living that way, we will know life.
“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that thou mayest live and multiply, and that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:11-20 (ASV)
Obeying God’s law will not keep us from suffering pain and death. We won’t become rich if we can check off a list of commands like a to-do list. What is it that the LORD commands? We are too love Him and to follow His ways. It is very natural for us to turn away from God, to try to follow our own ways. Our human tendency is to want to control everything, even those things in which we have no control. This usually gets us in trouble because we have to turn away from God to go our own way. When we choose our own way, we choose death. It seems that much of the world has done just that.
However, when we love God we choose life. He dwells among us, putting His word in our hearts and in our minds. While we might still see pain and we will see death, we have at our hands an even greater blessing. He promises that we will not be forsaken to the dis-ease of this world, but that we will be blessed by His presence eternally. For the Jews, obedience to God meant possession of the Promised Land. For those in Christ, our possession is an even greater kingdom, the kingdom of God which is our inheritance as His children. Thanks be to God.
Tax day Today is April 15th and many people in American are rushing to get their tax forms prepared so that they can send them out tonight – just in time before the deadline. Most of the people who waited until today are those who will be paying money. Those who received a refund already filed weeks ago. After all, if you have money coming to you, you might as well get it as soon as possible. Since so many people wait until the last minute, the post office schedules extra hours and extra help to cover all the extra mail.
It might be tempting to wait a day or so to avoid the hassle, but doing so will mean serious consequences. Late charges are extreme and failure to pay can mean prosecution. Some of the experts on the news programs this week suggested that late filers should take precautions to ensure they have proof of on-time payment. Those going to the post office this afternoon or evening should spend the extra money to use registered or overnight mail. The receipt for the mail will be vital if there is some question about the forms. Disobedience to the law will cost dearly.
When it comes to U.S. tax law, I’m not anyone could give benefits of obedience because doing what is right will always mean giving away hard earned wealth. So, in terms of this law, the benefit is little more than the pride of doing what is right and not receiving punishment for doing what is wrong. We can be thankful for many of the ways our tax dollars are used, the good programs that are making a difference in the lives of many people. However, there are also many programs that are a waste of our money.
The Law, God’s Law, is quite similar to the U.S. tax law in terms of its benefits. God’s Law was created to guard, guide and protect mankind. Disobedience will mean severe consequences, not because God will necessarily punish the doer, but because His law was made for our best interests. We will not be rewarded for obedience, except in the knowledge that we have done what is right. And this is where we often fail. We become proud over our obedience, giving ourselves that pat on the back for our ability to be good. In this state of mind, righteousness is something to be achieved and faith is dependent on human will.
“And one of the scribes came, and heard them questioning together, and knowing that he had answered them well, asked him, What commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that he is one; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.” Mark 12:28-34 (ASV)
The scriptures are filled with commands. We are most familiar with the Ten Commandments, but there are also six hundred and thirteen laws in the books of Moses. Even the New Testament offers some rules for living, commands from our Lord and His representatives that are designed to make our life in this world better. The commands to go and preach the Gospel and to live holy lives will not bring us any reward, but they will glorify God.
All the commands, rules and laws that are found in the scriptures can be summarized by two – love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Obedience to these two laws will not earn us righteousness, because right living is not something that can be attained. We love because God first loved us and in that love we can love our neighbor. We are righteous, not because we have done anything right, but because Christ Jesus died on the cross for our sake. Our obedience is a natural response to that which Christ has finished, glorifying God and bringing the kingdom of God into the lives of those who cross our path daily. Christ has done such great wonders, transforming our lives with His love. How can we not share those wonders through a life of obedience to all that God has asked of us? Thanks be to God.
Amen and Alleluia We are very blessed to live in a neighborhood with neighbors that get along. We wave at one another as we pass and we stop and chat when we have time. If someone needs help, others are ready to help. No one is unruly or loud at night and everyone seems to be considerate during the day. It is a pleasure to live here. I have heard horror stories of other places where that is not the case.
In our experience, the worst troubles we experienced were loud music occasionally, but there are some who do not care if they disturb the neighbors. They have parties that last well into the night, park cars in an inconvenient manner or do house construction that is problematic to the neighbors. Sit-coms regularly use examples of this to create the humorous tension that makes us laugh at ourselves, but it is not always so funny when we are the ones that have to deal with the situation. It is no wonder that sometimes we consider our neighbor our enemy.
The Old Testament scriptures, particularly the Psalms, often talk about how God will save us from our enemies. We all, admittedly, hope for some relief from those people who seem to have made it their life goal to ruin our lives. I think we all can probably think of someone – perhaps not a neighbor, but a co-worker, family member or even a fellow Christian – who we’ve wished out of our lives. I doubt that we have ever wished them ill, but I know I that I would have liked seeing a few people move, change jobs or find a new church.
A story is told of a Romanian soldier in WWII named Ana Gheorghe who was separated from his company during a terrible period of fighting. As he was trying to find his comrades, he came across a Russian soldier. He dropped to his knees and began to pray, waiting in fear for the cold hard metal of the other soldier’s gun. Instead, the Russian also dropped to his knees and began to pray. At the end they both said “Amen and Alleluia.” They embraced and then went separate ways. Though they did not understand one another, they found peace in the praise and worship of God.
“My heart is fixed, O God; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Jehovah, among the peoples; And I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; And thy truth reacheth unto the skies. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, And thy glory above all the earth. That thy beloved may be delivered, Save with thy right hand, and answer us.” Psalm 108:1-6 (ASV)
Isn’t it amazing how in the midst of war, two true enemies were better able to find peace for a moment while praising God? And yet, we often have difficulty finding peace with our next door neighbors. Perhaps part of the problem is that we don’t turn to God in praise and thanksgiving when dealing with situations that might be difficult but aren’t really life threatening. The other problem is that we all too often forget that broken relationships are not totally the fault of the other person. We do not consider what role we might have played in creating a situation where compassion and consideration is lacking.
We might cry out to God and hope for a change of some sort to relieve ourselves of the trouble, just as David cried out for God to save him from his enemies. We forget, however, the identity of our real enemy. Our next door neighbor is not our enemy, our real enemy is sin. The salvation that comes from God does not come at our neighbor’s expense, but rather at the expense of our Lord Jesus’ life. When we sing praises to God especially in the midst of dealing with those who consider our enemy, we will see the salvation of God come to the situation, but it might not be what we expect. Perhaps our neighbor will kneel down and pray with us, just like the Romanian and Russian soldiers that day in the woods. Thanks be to God.
Since today is the tenth anniversary of the bombing on the Alfred P Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, I thought I would rerun the devotional written shortly after my first visit (April 2001). We remember these moments in time so that those who were lost are not forgotten, but also so that we can learn from the experience and try to overcome the evil that causes such tragedy. A great many people are still suffering from the loss, so let us join together to remember them in our prayers, that they might one day find peace again.
Memorial I visited the Oklahoma City Memorial. This park and museum were established in memory of the 168 people who were killed when Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in that city. It also honored those who worked so hard in the hours following the explosion to save lives and bring peace and love to those who were grieving. It was a powerful experience.
A book that was released a few years ago that claimed McVeigh had some conscience when he was planning the bombing. He intended to blow up the TCBY building in centre city Little Rock, Arkansas. However, as he staked out the building, he saw a flower shop on the ground level of the building. He wanted to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, since his target was the United States Government. Though destruction of that building would have served his purpose well, he chose to change to the Oklahoma building. He did not do as well when he surveyed the building in Oklahoma City. The building housed a day care centre. Nineteen of his victims were children, most who were in that day care center at 9:02 am on April 19, 1995.
Timothy McVeigh thought the best way to deal with his problems was from outside of society with violence. In the process, he brought death and destruction to the lives of many. He was paying back evil for evil.
“Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21 (ASV)
In the shocking moments that followed the bombing, America and the world drew together in prayer. People came from every direction to lend a hand, even from within the remains of the building. Many risked their lives to save others from death.
Timothy McVeigh felt the only way to solve his problem was to fight evil with evil. The people of Oklahoma City, however, fought the evil with love. Dennis Compton a rescuer from Arizona was quoted as saying, “We went to Oklahoma City to assist with a horrible situation that centered on death and destruction. But we went home with a life lesson about how a community should react to adversity.” May we learn the same lesson as we deal with our own problems in the world today. Thanks be to God.
Fiesta Fiesta San Antonio is described as “a 10-day, city-wide, fun-filled, multi-cultural, family-oriented celebration.” The website about the event states, “With over 100 different events, it's the biggest party and greatest community benefit in the state of Texas.” The city holds historical educational forums, parades, sporting events and coronations as part of the celebration. Fiesta is scheduled for April and began as a remembrance of those who fought for Texas independence in the mid-nineteenth century.
While there are very serious events planned for the week, as children learn about the Alamo and other historic events, it is basically a huge party. Evenings on the Riverwalk and in the old part of town are filled with entertainment, food and plenty of drink. It can get quite crowded downtown as thousands of people attend the events and enjoy the good things at Fiesta. I’ve heard interviews with a number of people who go out of their way every year to ensure their place at the party. One person said that working the booths every night can be difficult, things can get rather rowdy and crowded. Yet, despite the hard work they wouldn’t miss it for the world. They meet so many wonderful people and see them year after year. It is worth the hassles for them to be a part of it all.
I also heard on the news that there is a surge in accidents during Fiesta. This makes sense because of the number of people having a good time. Accidents happen on crowded walkways. Alcohol is a big part of the celebration and this always causes some injury. Drunken partiers tend to get out of control and those that drive bring death and destruction in their wake. The purpose of the news report about the dangers of Fiesta was meant to call attention to the consequences of selfish behavior. Perhaps the report will put fear into at least a few people who will act more appropriately while visiting Fiesta.
“For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it: though I did regret it (for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season), I now rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold, this selfsame thing, that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, what earnest care it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what longing, yea what zeal, yea what avenging! In everything ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter. So although I wrote unto you, I wrote not for his cause that did the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be made manifest unto you in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:8-12 (ASV)
Paul wrote an upsetting letter to the people of Corinth, a letter that was probably seen as harsh and inconsiderate. The Christians of Corinth were not living as they were called to live. Paul’s letter was written to encourage godly living among the believers. He did not want to frighten them or make them worry about their salvation – the worldly sorrow about which Paul writes. His letter might have upset them at first, but they experienced the godly sorrow that comes from hearing the Word of God and they repented.
The news report about the “Fiesta spike” was not meant to make people afraid to go near downtown to enjoy the festivities of this week. Instead, it was reported to ensure that the people who do attend do so responsibly. Hopefully more people will take the advice of the event organizers, not drink to excess or drive while intoxicated. How often do we not want to say the hard things for fear of upsetting someone? I’m sure it was difficult for Paul to point out the wrongdoings of the Corinthians. Yet, he stepped forth and spoke God’s word into their lives, which brought them back to the Gospel of grace and mercy. So, too, are we to call for the repentance of our brothers and sisters in Christ that they might live more fully in God’s grace. Thanks be to God.
Test This is the week when the students all over Texas are taking their state tests. These are standardized tests designed to evaluate the schools, including the effectiveness of the teachers and the growth of the students. Certain grade levels take certain tests, and the scores are used to ensure that the children are being served by the education system. When scores are low, administrators will do what is necessary to bring up the grades.
Unfortunately, in all too many schools – not only here in Texas but all over the country – the teaching revolves around the tests. My kids tell me all too often that they have taken another practice test. They spend a great deal of time going over the specific concepts that will be tested. While it is good to have a curriculum that is expected to be learned over the years, I am afraid that we are focusing so heavily on the test that some other aspects of learning are lost. I heard a teacher recently say, “I don’t know what I am going to do with the children once the tests are over.”
The most unfortunate part about this is that the students recognize the importance of these tests and they become quite stressed over the task. The teachers encourage the students to be prepared in body and mind, reminding them to eat a good breakfast after a good night sleep. They tell the children to relax and do their best, but it is hard for the children ignore the concern of the teachers and parents. Many children go into the text anxious and unable to concentrate despite the encouragement given that they will be fine.
Imagine what it must have been like for the disciples in those final moments of Jesus’ ministry. He assured them that they would not be left alone. He gave them the promise of the coming Holy Spirit. He taught them everything they needed to know. Yet, when Peter tried to tell Jesus that he would follow Him anywhere, Jesus answered with the foretelling of Peter’s denial.
“When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and straightway shall he glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered, Whither I go, thou canst not follow now; but thou shalt follow afterwards. Peter saith unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee even now? I will lay down my life for thee. Jesus answereth, Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.” John 13:31-14:1 (ASV)
I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had spoken to me as He did to Peter, I would have not been able to think about anything else. I could not concentrate on what was happening, I would only worry about what was going to happen later. Just like the children who can’t concentrate on the test for fear of failing it, I would be so distracted by what Jesus knew would happen that I would not do as He expected. It is no wonder that Peter responded to guards with a vicious attack, cutting off the ear of one of the guards. He wanted to prove himself, his willingness to stand with Jesus, and in the process he acted against the will of God.
We do not always realize how our words will affect those who hear them. The children know that the tests are very important because they see how much time and preparation goes into them. They hear how important it is to do everything properly so that they will do well on the test. With all these words of warning, it is hard to hear the encouragement. I wonder if Peter even heard Jesus’ words at the end of today’s passage. He told them not to be afraid. They were to believe in God and in Jesus. Even though He knows we too will betray and deny Him, he comforts and encourages us. He does not leave us hanging in fear. We need only hear His words and believe, for He is with us through it all. Thanks be to God.
Earth Zack bought a game the other day. It was one of those starter kits for the card games that have become so popular with boys. These card games are normally sold in small packages of ten cards, like the old baseball cards were sold. The starter kit he bought included eleven packs of cards, a hundred or so in total. Now, these cards could have easily fit into one small package. However, the manufacturer put them into a large display box, so that every package could be seen. There was enough air space in the box that they could have added at least forty more packs of cards.
There may be reasons for this type of packaging. These cards are quite valuable and in small packs they are easy to steal. Pre-teen and teenage boys are among the most likely to shoplift, particularly with such an expensive item. Certainly the manufacturer wanted the buyer to be aware that there were ten full packs of cards found in the box, thus the large display area. Even so, the packaging was excessive for this item. We threw a rather large, unreusable box in the garbage.
I am not a great conservationist, but we try to do what we can for the sake of the earth. We put our cans, bottles and newspapers in a special container provided by the garbage company for recycling. We try not to waste water; we take our toxic materials for proper disposal. We pick up garbage on the street if we see it as we are walking by and we try to use our resources wisely. It is not always easy, but it is worthwhile to do even a little bit for the sake of the earth.
I was not always willing to do even these little things. I used to throw garbage out of the car window and do other things that were not healthy for the earth. I suppose part of the change has to do with awareness. Today is the thirty fifth Earth Day, a day set aside to call attention to the problems we cause by our unconcern. However, I don’t think these celebrations in of themselves have done much to change my ways. Recycling has become so convenient – it is just as easy to throw the cans in the recycle bin as they are to throw in the garbage. I have also been more aware of my environment. I think this is the main reason. I stopped littering when I realized how disgusting it looks to have all that garbage on the side of the road. This is God’s world and we have been given the responsibility to take care of it.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Genesis 1:26-31 (ASV)
I have to admit that there are some environmentalists have extreme expectations and demands as to how we should take care of the earth. However, it is not that difficult to be a responsible care taker of the creation over which we have been given rule by the Lord God Almighty. Recycling has become very easy as most places offer special receptacles for cans, glass and paper. Many places have days set aside for taking toxic chemicals for proper disposal and there are products available to help with conservation.
When we look at the world in which we live from the perspective that it is God’s world, not our own, we will do what needs to be done to take care of it. The Lord God Almighty has given us this wonderful earth on which to live, and all of creation as our kingdom. Let us do whatever we can to help keep this world the beautiful, healthy and blessed place that glorifies God. We will offer praise to God by living as He has commanded, ruling over all of creation as God’s creative helpers in this world. Thanks be to God.
Priorities We are quickly nearing the end of this school year. We have only five weeks until the last day of school. We are looking forward to our summer vacation but we have to get through the next month first. I was going over our schedule the other day and I can’t believe how many events we have coming up – banquets, field trips and other special activities. Unfortunately, there are times when our schedules conflict and we have to make a decision.
Zack’s school has a huge picnic the week after they take the state tests. This is a way to congratulate the children for doing a good job and for surviving a tough week at school. They go to a large park and let them run free for a few hours. They have games to play like volleyball and basketball. There is a playground and plenty of room to roam. They eat their lunch on the lawn and relax for just one day. Moms and dads are invited to the park to eat lunch with the children. I went last year and we had a very pleasant time together for an hour or so. Unfortunately, this year I have conflicts and I do not think I can make it.
We are constantly making decisions, about our schedules and activities, about our financial resources and about the people in our lives. We have to take everything into consideration when making those choices. Where are we needed most? What needs to be accomplished? What promises need to be kept and duties to be carried out? Where is God guiding us and where will He be glorified? We need to be careful about placing importance on our decisions, because what we think is important might not really be what God would have us do.
I think it is interesting when we consider the work Jesus did as He ministered in our world that his priorities were often much different than those around Him. The disciples expected him to do one thing, the Jewish leaders something else. The people wanted Him to feed their bodies and their souls, to heal their dis-ease. These things were not always Jesus’ priority. When John the Baptist asked Jesus if He was the one for whom they were waiting, Jesus answered with a list of His work.
“And it came to pass when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent by his disciples and said unto him, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” Matthew 11:1-6 (ASV)
Jesus did heal their ills and cast out their demons. As we look at this list of works, we see they aer listed in ascending order from giving sight to the blind to giving life to the dead. Yet, the most important work that Jesus lists is preaching the Good News to the poor. I imagine the ones who were suffering saw His work of healing as being the greater act. After all, the miraculous things Jesus did proved that He was the Messiah and that He had come from God. Yet, the most important thing He did was tell the listeners about the love and mercy of His Father. He offered forgiveness and He touched them much more deeply than the surface of their skin.
We do not have time to accomplish everything we want to do. Sometimes we have to prioritize to get the most out of our resources. This is not only true in our daily lives, but it is also true in our work in and through the Church. How many of us would like to be a part of everything that happens? We want to give 100% to God, but it is impossible. Unfortunately, sometimes in our trying to do too much, we miss out on the more important things. We put our time into taking care of the physical needs that have to be met and we ignore the real task that glorifies God – preaching the Good News. No matter what we try to accomplish today, let us always remember what Jesus saw as the most important and miraculous work He could do – sharing the love and mercy of God with all who hear. Thanks be to God.
Retail There is a community close to where we live that is fighting to keep that retail giant that is invading every corner of the United States and a few other countries from building yet another super center in their neighborhood. Whether you love or hate the corporation, it is hard to deny that they are a corporate phenomenon. Many people fear the thought of yet another store and the impact it will have on the community. They worry that the corporate giant will destroy the home grown businesses that so many locals love.
So, they fight the big corporation in the hopes they can keep them from building. When the store does get built, the local businesses try to find ways to overcome. Sometimes they try to take on the look and the feel of the big store, but without the purchasing power they can’t keep up with the prices. So, what you have is a look-alike with higher prices. Other stores refuse to give in to the possibility of change, so much so that they do nothing to keep their store fresh and new. Even the merchandise on the shelves becomes old and dingy looking. The normally loyal customers drift away because they want to shop at a clean store with food that has not been on the shelves for months or years.
There is a store owner in Fairfield, Ohio who is fighting in a whole new way. He began his store more than thirty years ago with only a roadside vegetable stand and it has grown to a multi-million dollar enterprise. Jungle Jim’s International Market is more than a grocery store; it is so strange and fun that it draws shoppers as well as tourists. It is a maze of buildings, an adventure in shopping. Jungle Jim’s is not your typical grocery store with the usual stock of milk bread and other staples. He offers an array of unusual merchandise, products from all over the world along with the every day needs of the consumer. He is building a new center in his complex where the customers can experience different kinds of food events, like tastings, cooking demonstrations and festivals. The complex includes a train, which he purchased from a local amusement park. Jim Bonaminio is planning to open another supermarket soon, and while it will be somewhat different from the Jungle, it will be as unique and it will draw customers from the local area as well as visitors from other places.
Jim has some concern about the impending invasion of that superstore, but he’s not sitting around waiting to die. He is doing whatever is necessary to draw people in to his store. The other retailer grocers are also concerned, but they are doing the same old things to gain market share, hoping that they will keep enough customers to stay afloat. When they fail and have to close stores, they will blame the big guy and wonder how Jim is able to continue to grow.
“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they. And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.” Acts 15:5-12 (ASV)
Despite their faith in Jesus Christ and the incredible growth of the Church in Jerusalem and elsewhere, some of the Pharisees thought that things still needed to be done as they had always been done. They were unwilling to accept that God’s grace was being made available to both Gentiles and Jews. There were many Christians that thought it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews first, and then they could be saved. Paul went to the council to tell them about the amazing things God was doing in the lives of the uncircumcised, works that stood as proof that God was doing a new thing.
All too often, in our churches today, people expect things to be done in the same old ways. They exclaim “You can’t do that, we’ve always done it this way.” There is goodness in tradition, value in following the patterns of our ancestors. However, as culture changes we have to keep the Gospel message fresh and new. The Pharisees saw the old ways as the right way, but there is no salvation in circumcision. As Paul asked, “Why are you putting a burden on people that no one has been able to bear?” So, too, in today’s church, we all too often put burdens on folk that are unbearable, forgetting that the grace and mercy of God is sufficient for men to be saved. Thanks be to God.
Mayor We don’t live in San Antonio, so we will not be able to vote in the upcoming election for Mayor. Unfortunately, since we live so close to this big city, we have to listen to all the campaigning and news about the race. The television, radio and print news covers some aspect of the election daily. As is typical of any political campaign, some of the commercials have gotten nasty, focusing on the negative aspects of the opponents. It is not unusual for politicians to think that bringing down the public image of the other candidates will make them look better. So, rather than laying out their own goals and accomplishments, they spend their time talking about all the things the others have done wrong.
Unfortunately, when a campaign gets extremely negative, it is difficult for the candidates to find anything positive, even after the election is over. I do not know how this particular election will come out, but in some races the negativity lasts far beyond Election Day. The losers find it impossible to support the winners and fight until their last breath for a different outcome. This is a natural human condition – the need to be the best, the first, the winner – not reserved for political enemies. We find it difficult to be happy for those who do better than we. When we compete in sports and in life, always trying to get ahead, it is very hard to give praise and thanksgiving for the sake of another, even if that person is on your team. Have you ever been thankful that your co-worker got the promotion you wanted or rejoiced over the “A” your best friend got when you only got a “B”? Can you, with a sincere heart, congratulate someone for his or her good tidings?
Jealousy is a vice that most of us deal with at some point in our life. Though we can be really happy for the successes of others, there are times when we all suffer from envy of others, thinking we deserve to be the one getting the accolades instead of another. This is particularly true when we are as, or more, qualified than the other person.
Think about David. He was nothing but a shepherd boy, smaller in stature than his brothers and probably most of the men in Israel. There was nothing spectacular about his abilities, but God chose him to be king. The expectation of the culture in his day is that the leaders would stand out in some way – in height, in charisma. It was not much different than in our world today. I imagine there were those in the army who thought they were more qualified than David to rule over the people. Yet, the people knew that he was God’s choice and they rejoiced with him over his victories.
“The king shall joy in thy strength, O Jehovah; And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou hast given him his heart's desire, And hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah. For thou meetest him with the blessings of goodness: Thou settest a crown of fine gold on his head. He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, Even length of days for ever and ever. His glory is great in thy salvation: Honor and majesty dost thou lay upon him. For thou makest him most blessed for ever: Thou makest him glad with joy in thy presence. For the king trusteth in Jehovah; And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he shall not be moved.” Psalm 21:1-7 (ASV)
I would love to see the mayoral candidates that lose this year’s election go out of their way to be supportive of the man that wins. Wouldn’t it be such a gracious end to a political campaign if the ones that do not win praise God for the good tidings of their competitor? I doubt we will see in when it comes to something that so many work so hard to accomplish. However, we can, in our daily lives, look at the successes of others with the eyes of God and praise Him for all the good things He has done for them. How much better the world would be if we remember that God pays no favorites, but that He has a plan that is beyond our understanding. If we look at all things, even the successes of others, as part of that plan we might be able to get over our jealousy. And then, we will see that God is doing amazing and wonderful things in our own lives, even though it does not seem so on the surface of things.
David was the chosen one of God, despite the fact that he did not seem qualified to many to do so. We often look at others with the same doubt, not wondering why they were chosen, but rather focusing on why we weren’t. When we do this, we end up down that path of negativity against our neighbor rather than seeing the blessedness of our own accomplishments and goals. Though today’s psalm was a song of thanksgiving for the victories of a king, could we just once sing these words for those in our own life who are doing greater things than we?
Souvenirs As I look around our home, I see a great many reminders of our travels. We have nick-nacks and pictures of some of the places we visited. Some of my favorite souvenirs are my Welsh love spoon and the Belgian lace cross that are hanging just above my desk. We have a shelf full of books we purchased at many of the tourist sights we visited, especially in England. Bruce has been collected mugs from all over the world, so we have them displayed on our kitchen cabinets. The kids have many different t-shirts that remind us of our travels. It is fun to see these things and remember the places we’ve been.
You would think that such tourist tripe would be a modern phenomenon. After all, aren’t we far more materialistic than any other generation? Actually, our generation is not that different from any that have come before. There have always been people who have traveled to distant lands – some on pilgrimage, some for pleasure and some on business – in every generation. They, too, sought to have reminders of their trip or gifts for their family when they returned home. It was not unusual to find silversmiths or other artisans near the places visitors liked to visit. We once visited a castle in England that was having a living history day. We bought small pewter figurines of horses and nights that the man created right before our eyes. It amazed me to think that someone from another time and place might have stood there buying a similar gift a thousand or so years ago.
Even in the scriptures we hear of these artisans. Many took up residence near the great temples of old, the temples to the gods, where they created miniature statues for pilgrims to purchase. They made a great deal of money off these tourists and they would do anything to ensure their trade went on.
“And about that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no little business unto the craftsmen; whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this business we have our wealth. And ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands: and not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be made of no account, and that she should even be deposed from her magnificence whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. And when they heard this they were filled with wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesus. And the city was filled with the confusion: and they rushed with one accord into the theatre, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel.” Acts 19:23-29 (ASV)
The tradesmen of Ephesus were concerned that they would no longer be able to support themselves and their families. They were afraid that they would lose their position in society. They were important to the temple because they created idols of the goddess, and probably supported the work of the priests and priestesses, just as modern souvenir shops help support the tourist sights that feed their business. One was important to the other.
The Christian faith was turning people away from the gods and goddesses of old, making them irrelevant and their idols a waste of money. This is just one way the Word was changing the world. Eventually those gods and goddesses did fall from importance as Christianity spread. Eventually the artisans were forced to give up making those idols, though I don’t doubt that they found some other way of using their talents. Christians and their faith impact the world around them, not always to the pleasure of those who are affected.
Paul and his companions managed to escape trouble in Ephesus, but they had to leave that city. Word of the riot followed them and it made it difficult for them to continue their work. However, they went boldly in faith, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others in the hopes that some would hear and believe and become follows of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not likely to have the same kind of impact with God’s word as they had in those early years. Yet, we can still help people see the truth of where to find divine blessings – in the cross of Christ and the love of God. Thanks be to God.
Excuse The current season of “The Apprentice” is drawing to a close. There will be just a few more weeks – personal interviews and a final project – which will culminate in one of the three remaining contestants being hired by Donald Trump. To be honest, I do not think any one of them will do a very good job for Mr. Trump. In my opinion, I don’t think they have gotten to this place through talent or business savvy, but rather by the ability to do well in the boardroom. They are experts at making excuses and pointing the finger at their opponents.
Hopefully under Donald Trump’s tutelage, the apprentice will succeed in his company and grow to be a flourishing business person. Unfortunately, people who work so hard at finding excuses as many of these contestants have been, will not change even when given the opportunity to work with a man like Donald Trump.
Careerbulder.com recently had an article about the excuses people give when they are unable to make it to work. The percentage of actual sick people using their sick days is relatively small, compared to some of the other reasons people give. At least one third of workers have played hooky from work at least once in the last year, making up excuses much like the often used “the dog ate my homework” given by school boys. Twenty percent admitted that they had called in sick because they just did not feel like going to work. All too often, these folk are the ones who end up at work when they are sick – sharing their germs with their co-workers – because they have wasted their days for other reasons. Twenty-five percent say they consider sick days equivalent to extra vacation days and use them for that purpose.
The article includes a list of excuses. One employee said, “I forgot what day of the week it was.” Another said, “My brain fell asleep and I could not wake it up.” Another claimed that they were being chased by a hit man. Someone eloped. Someone could not find their shoes. One of my favorites is – “I tripped over my dog and was knocked unconscious.” Now, from the perspective of an employer, these excuses would not give much confidence that the person is right for the job. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what stupid excuses I’ve given – not only for my absences over the years, but for my actions in general. We sin daily against people and God, and we often make excuses for our foibles.
“If the world hateth you, ye know that it hath hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me: and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27 (ASV)
The ultimate sin, which goes back into the Garden of Eden, is not believing God’s Word. Adam and Eve believed the serpent and went against God’s command. The sin was not that they ate the apple, but that they rejected His Word. A great many people saw and heard Jesus Christ but they did not believe in Him or His words. By rejecting Jesus, they rejected God. Jesus might have had more mercy if they had not seen His awesome works, but the miraculous things He did were given as proof of His origin. He was sent by God for the sake of the world.
Jesus tells us that those who hate him hate God. In this case, hate is not used as simply an emotional response to what Jesus does, but rather it is a rejection of everything that Jesus said and does. It seems rather harsh that Jesus would say that all those who do not believe in Him would hate God, but the truth is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. All the roads that reject Jesus or diminish His word to less than that of Savior, lead people down a path of destruction. Those who have seen His works have no excuse, if they hate Him they hate God.
We would all find an excuse if it were not for God’s grace. The Gospel message is foolishness to the ways of our world. However, our Lord sent a helper, the Comforter, who continues His work of teaching the truth and bears witness to the work of Jesus Christ. By His power, we go forth in faith to do the same for all those who think they can just make up some silly excuse to reject Jesus, who has given everything for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.