Welcome to the April 2012 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 2012
“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned:-- for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many. And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment came of one unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous. And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:12-21, ASV
Jesus did many remarkable things during His ministry to the people of Israel. He healed the sick, cast out demons and taught the crowds about the God of their forefathers. There were others who did these things, prophets throughout the ages and in Jesus’ day. There were others that people followed in hopeful expectation of the Messiah. But there are three things that Jesus did that were signs of His power, power that could only have been given to the Messiah. Jesus healed a leper by touching him. Jesus cast out a demon from a person who could not speak. And Jesus healed a man blind from birth.
Jesus’ signs and miracles proved His authority to do other things like forgive. This was disturbing to the leaders, but Jesus made it impossible for them to deny His power. They constantly worried about how the people would turn to Him, while denying that He was who He said He was. They pretended to be interested in His teaching, but always sought ways to put it to a stop. They wanted to catch Him in an error to turn the people against Him.
The catalyst for action, at last in the book of John, was the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was not the first person that He raised, but he was the first to have been dead for four days, already placed in a sealed tomb. The Jews believed a man’s soul left his body on the third day, so Jesus arrived when there was no longer any hope. In Jesus, however, there is always hope, and Jesus was able to bring Lazarus back to life. This power frightened the leaders. Though the Jews were expectantly waiting the Messiah, the leaders only wanted a messiah they could control. Jesus was not that man.
When Jesus raised Lazarus, some of those with Mary and Martha believed, but others didn’t. They went to the leaders and told them what Jesus did. The leaders held a meeting to decide what to do. They knew their own power and authority was limited and Jesus could steal their place. Caiaphas took the argument to another level, claiming that a power shift could mean Roman incursion. He said, “Ye know nothing at all, nor do ye take account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” They justified the killing of Jesus as the saving of Israel.
Isn’t it ironic, then, that the killing of Jesus was not only the saving of Israel but all men. Caiaphas thought he was being smart, a strong leader, but his words were not his own. They came from God. He is able to use even the most hostile people to do and say what is true. Jesus was the One man that could do the work of God. His death was not about the earthbound nation, but it was given for the sake of sinners in an imperfect world. He died to make everything right. He died to restore His people to their God. He died so that grace would be available for all people and so that we will be eternally righteous through Him.
“Jesus therefore six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.” John 12:1-3, ASV
Our house is in the system and the sign should be in the yard any day now. Soon we will have potential buyers traipsing through our living room and bedrooms, peaking in messy closets and inspecting every detail. We’ve done a pretty good job with the details, getting everything fixed and cleaned for a new homeowner. Now we just have to wait, and to keep everything ready in case someone wants to see the house. Every morning I go through a process of making beds, cleaning counters, straightening desks. I have to bathe and get dressed early so that I don’t have to worry if I get an early call.
It is hard to live in a house while it is being sold, but our realtor assures us that we need to make only minor adjustments to our lifestyle for, hopefully, a very short period of time. He said that if possible, I should make sure all the lights are one, the air is set to a comfortable temperature, and that light music is playing in the background. I am supposed to sneak out of the house so that they do not have to feel uncomfortable snooping through my life. He also suggested putting air fresheners around the house to give the house a pleasant scent. He said to pick one scent so that it is not jarring as they walk from room to room.
I bought several heated oil air fresheners, the type you plug into sockets and put them around the house. These work very well, giving a slight but constant touch of scent which permeates the room. It is amazing how one little bottle of oil can make a large area smell so pleasant. I worry a little about this, mostly because I’m very sensitive to smell and there are moments when it is overwhelming. Bruce assures me that it is pleasant, and I’m sure it will be to those who visit, but what if it is overwhelming to them? Will they find the house unacceptable?
Many bible stories give us enough details to help us imagine what it must have been to be there. I think, however, that there are few that touch all our senses as dramatically as the story of Jesus’ anointing. John tells us that when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Imagine if you were there when Mary anointed Jesus. How would that smell make you feel? Remember, the anointment she used is meant for burial; it is probably a scent with which they were all familiar but with a negative implication. Jesus was already talking about death and the disciples knew that the leaders were concerned about Him. Would this scent have been pleasant, or overwhelming? Would it have created happy feelings, fear or even anger?
Scriptures for Sunday, April 8, 2012, Easter Day: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8; Other options: Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18
“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah.” Psalm 118:17, ASV
Peter and Paul may have disagreed on certain aspects of the burgeoning new faith that begins and ends in Jesus Christ, but one thing is the same: both understand that Christ died that we might live to be witnesses to God’s great works.
The passage we have from Mark is hard to read because it ends so abruptly. The final sentence says, “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” The women were too afraid to say anything to the others. Now, obviously someone figured it out. Matthew and Luke tell us that they did report what they saw at the tomb to the disciples. John tells us the story from Mary’s perspective. But in Mark, we are left hanging.
There are eight more verses that neatly tie up the story, but there is some controversy over whether those verses were part of the original text. There is another verse that is found between verses 8 and 9 in some manuscripts, that says, “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Again, this verse helps to alleviate the abruptness of Mark’s story.
These verses are helpful, but ending at verse 8 serves a purpose, especially for those who heard Mark’s story in the beginning. See, Mark was a storyteller. The book was not written at first, but was told orally over and over again. It was a story that developed over time. Imagine that Mark was a youngster (there is some suggestion that Mark’s mother owned the upper room, so it is possible that he served as a water boy on the night of the Last Supper) at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples stayed in the room for some time after the crucifixion. Mark may have overheard their stories, learned them by heart, and then repeated them to others.
You know how it is… when someone we love dies, we sit around in the living room and we tell stories. “Do you remember that time when Jesus…?” “Jesus always liked to say…” They worked out their grief through those stories. They worked out their understanding through those stories. And the storytelling surely went on after Jesus appeared to them, and then long afterward. Mark could see in the conversations of Peter and the disciples that the experience of being with Jesus was something to be shared. You could not believe in Jesus and remain silent.
And so he took all those stories and told them to others. I can imagine a group of people sitting around a living room, anxiously awaiting to hear about this One that was raised from the dead: seekers in search of the truth. As Mark tells the story, we are held mesmerized by the immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. I have seen people hearing this story told as it was in Mark’s day sitting on the edge of their seat in hopeful expectation. We can sense the fear and amazement of the disciples. We can feel the anger of the leaders. We are aware of the confusion and doubt in the crowds.
And then, after about two hours of storytelling, Mark says, “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” How would react? I can see the crowd erupting with questions and opinions. I can see them wondering what happened next. I can see them accepting the story and promising to take it to others. I can see them praying, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah.” There may be good purpose for adding the final verses we see in the book of Mark, because we are no longer hearing that story told directly from witnesses. Something had to happen after the women were afraid or we would not be Christian today.
But let us, for a moment, see that by ending the story so abruptly, Mark is inviting the hearers into the story. What happens next? You are like one of those women at the tomb. What do you do? Do you take the story to another or do you run and hide out of fear? Do you join with Mark, Peter and Paul by sharing what happened so that others might believe?
On Wednesday I usually discuss all the scriptures for Sunday in more depth, but there’s something about Easter that does not really need my babbling. We all know the story. We all know what happens on Easter. It is particularly hard to write about it today, even before we’ve experienced the Last Supper and the Cross later this week. Should we say “Alleluia” already, even though we aren’t really finished with Lent and the Three Days? You can certainly go back into the archives and read what I wrote in 2009, 2006 and 2003. But for this day, I think we will end as abruptly as Mark ends the Gospel lesson: “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.”
Where do we go from here? Do we let fear rule our hearts? Do we fall back into all the old habits we gave up for Lent, gorging on chocolate and expensive coffee and wasting time playing computer games? Or do we follow the example of those first witnesses, overcoming our fear to tell the stories of Jesus so that the world might believe? It is our story to write, and you are the next chapter. What will you do after this Easter Sunday? Christ has assured that you will not die, but live. Now, will you declare the works of Jehovah?
“But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.” Galatians 2:17-21, ASV
One of my favorite art stores asked this question on their Facebook page, “What do you consider a successful artist?” The answer to that question by the average, non-artist would probably have to do with money. While some of the responses talked about money, most of the artists suggested that success in the art world has more to do with impact and personal satisfaction. They thought that an artist who created what they love in a way that others love is successful. They thought that a successful artist evokes emotion and improves other’s outlook. They thought that the artist who is not afraid to do what they enjoy and say what they believe in their art is successful. In other words, a successful artist in the opinion of artists is someone who doesn’t care what the world thinks about their art.
Sure, the money would be nice, but which of the Masters ever knew wealth while they were alive? Their paintings might sell for millions of dollars today, but most of them could barely find rent or food money. Art is not a cheap occupation. Between canvas, paint and paintbrushes, most of my paintings cost me more than I can ever expect to receive from a buyer. Some crafters get paid little more than a dollar an hour because they can’t possibly charge for their time. While there are some artists that can be called ‘successful’ in financial terms, most of us have accepted the fact that we’ll never get rich off our work.
A similar question might be, “What do you consider a successful Christian?” I doubt that wealth or fame would ever come into the description of a successful Christian, but there are certainly ways we might measure success. Some might say the successful Christian has led many people to Christ. Another might say that the successful Christian is a good person, obeys the Ten Commandments and other laws. Yet another might say that the successful Christian volunteers and gives a large percentage of their income to charity. A successful ministry might have a lot of followers and have few concerns.
Are those really ways to measure success? There are those who might say that real success if found if a ministry is being plagued by the devil with persecution and trouble. But I wonder, is it an appropriate question to ask? Do we care about success? If you do a google search of “successful Christian life,” you will find dozens of websites with suggestions for success. They talk about being filled with the spirit, prayer, bible study, baptism, evangelism, attending church, service, tithing, and living by faith. They talk about the things we should do to be a successful Christian.
It is interesting to note that the words “success” and “successful” are not even found in the New Testament. I know that for the next few days many churches are having multiple services in remembrance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and of course Easter. There are many activities planned for these days, including Egg Hunts, breakfast, and sunrise services. The staff is already exhausted with preparation, and by Monday morning they will be ready for a break. When the dust settles, and then into the next Lent and Easter season, they were look back on these days and wonderful if their work was successful. Did they draw enough people to the services and activities? Were people moved by the music? Did the sermons impact the listeners? These might be important questions for the staff to ask next week.
But for today, let’s think only about God. Easter and the Christian life is not about what we do, it is about what God has done for us. Our striving for success just proves our own failure to live in God’s grace. So during these three days, let us recall our baptism as we died and were raised with Christ. He dwells in us and we live in faith in Jesus Christ who loved each one of us and died for our sake.
There is a B.C. comic that is circulating about Good Friday. In the first panel, one character says, “I hate the term ‘Good Friday.’” The other character asks, “Why?” In the next panel, the first character says, “My Lord was hanged on a tree that day.” The other character asks, “If you were going to be hanged on that day, and he volunteered to take your place, how would you feel?” In the third panel, the first character says, “Good.” The other responds, “Have a nice day.”
Most people would love Christianity if it was a “Have a nice day” type of thing, but the cross makes it difficult to understand. As a matter of fact, I think though all Christians acknowledge that the cross is part of our faith, most would rather ignore it. The world loves the idea of a loving God and people willing to serve one another, but the shedding of blood for the sake of the world is just foolishness. There is nothing good about Good Friday. Yet, without the cross we are just another service organization. Without the cross, we are hopeless.
Today is Good Friday. It is the day that Jesus took our place. We may not like that He hang on a tree that day, but the reality is that it is good. Though we can never stand in His place or do what He did, let us join in His sorrow for a moment to remember the loneliness He felt for our sake. As we do so we can see that even in the utter abandonment of His Father, Jesus still trusted in God’s promises. We can trust Him, too, because He is faithful.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not; And in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: They trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: They trusted in thee, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, Commit thyself unto Jehovah; Let him deliver him: Let him rescue him, seeing he delighteth in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb; Thou art my God since my mother bare me. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; For there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me; Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gape upon me with their mouth, As a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint: My heart is like wax; It is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; And thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: A company of evil-doers have inclosed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. I may count all my bones; They look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, And upon my vesture do they cast lots. But be not thou far off, O Jehovah: O thou my succor, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth; Yea, from the horns of the wild-oxen thou hast answered me. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee. Ye that fear Jehovah, praise him; All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; And stand in awe of him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither hath he hid his face from him; But when he cried unto him, he heard. Of thee cometh my praise in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; They shall praise Jehovah that seek after him: Let your heart live for ever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; And he is the ruler over the nations. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness Unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it.” Psalm 22, ASV
“And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation).” 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, ASV
I was flipping through the travel section of a magazine this morning and saw an advertisement for big summer discounts to a park in Texas. Now, this might seem odd, especially since summer is the big travel time for most people. They might look at that ad and think, “Gee, we should go there in July,” thinking that since it is so cheap they could get more for their money. What they don’t realize is how terribly uncomfortable the park is in the middle of summer. We know; we’ve done it.
Big Bend National Park has an extremely diverse landscape with river, mountain, canyon, rocky outcrops and sand dunes. All this is set in the middle of a desert which reaches temperatures exceeding 110 degrees in the summer. We did not spend much time in the park since there are plenty of other things to do in the town where we stayed, but we found it impossible to do much hiking during our visit because it was simply too hot. For most of the day we drove miles of roads, stopping only briefly to take some pictures, never wandering far from the air conditioning in the car. We managed to see the whole park, which you can’t do if you are hiking, but we’ll have to go back at a better time of year to spend time enjoying the natural wonders found there. We’ll have to go back in early spring or late fall to have the best experience.
Timing is everything. At our wedding, our pastor used the story of about the wedding at Cana as the text and talked about timing. He said that if he were the one planning God’s schedule, he would have sent Jesus at our time when it would have been much easier to reach a wider audience. Think about how differently the story would sound if Jesus arrived for the first time in our lifetime. With worldwide instant news, Jesus would have been known by every nation.
For many of us, there is a sense of longing to have been there. How awesome would it have been to meet Jesus face to face? How wonderful would it have been to hear Him preach and teach? How incredible would it have been to see Him perform even just one of His miracles? We often talk about being there when history happens, which is why we are glued to the television when something exciting happens. We like to remember where we were when things happened. We want to be able to tell our grandchildren about how we were there when. Intellectually we know that the ministry of Jesus would have been much different if He came now, but that doesn’t stop us from wishing we could have been there in the midst of it all.
Two thousand years ago or so was the acceptable time for Jesus to live, serve, die and rise. Two thousand years ago was the day of salvation, at least that’s what it seems to us when we celebrate the resurrection that happened two thousand years ago. However, Paul was quoting a text from Isaiah that refers not only to the specific saving grace through Jesus, but also all God’s saving actions throughout history. Paul uses it to highlight that Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to save His people, but it is meant for us, too. Now is the acceptable time; today is still the day of salvation. It might seem like Jesus should have come now rather than two thousand years ago, but it was the right time.
Though we did not get to walk with Jesus, see Him or hear Him, now is also the right time. Now is the day of salvation for those who have not yet been saved. The words of Paul, and Isaiah, are still relevant to us today. How many people experienced Easter without truly understanding what it was about? They heard the story repeated again, about how Jesus died and was raised, but they still have not experienced the saving grace of those words. Now is the time to hear and believe. How can you make a difference in the life of one who needs to receive the words they’ve heard this weekend with their whole hearts, lives and spirits?
“Like as a father pitieth his children, So Jehovah pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; And the place thereof shall know it no more. But the lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, And his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, And to those that remember his precepts to do them.” Psalm 103:13-18, ASV
I had to drive Zack back to school this week. It is a seven hour drive each way, so we left Tuesday, got him settled in Tuesday evening and I spent the night in a hotel. I left early Wednesday morning and drove home by myself. When I planned this trip, I decided that I would take the scenic route and do a little wildflower hunting with my camera. I added a few miles and a few hours to the trip, but it was lovely.
I drove some of the same roads a few weeks ago when I went on a wildflower hunt. The flowers then were bright and fresh; some of the flowers were just beginning to bloom. It had recently rained, and the budding trees and the grasses were bright green with fresh growth. We haven’t had any appreciable rain in the past few weeks, so those flowers are now at the end of their season. The grass is beginning to turn golden brown and the flowers are fading. There were more types of flowers dotting the landscape compared to the last time, so more color, but the flowers are dry and brittle with brown petals and the patches of color are sparse. It was still worth my time; the pictures of fields are lovely. But it was not a good time for close-ups.
As it turned out, I happened to be driving on a route that was being used for a funeral procession for an Austin policeman who was killed in the line of duty last week. I didn’t know what was going on as I drove through one small town, but I noticed that there were hundreds of flags, both American and Texan, decorating the streets. People were gathering in front of their homes, on lawn chairs and cars were gathering in parking lots. I thought they were getting ready for a parade, but I couldn’t figure out what holiday they might be celebrating. I knew something else was happening as I continued on my way. I saw police cars and fire trucks parked at every major crossroad, and the people were gathering at the entrances to their ranches well outside town.
I was listening to an Austin radio station and they talked about the funeral procession. I realized I must be on the route. I was going the other direction, so I knew it was likely that it would pass. And it did. As soon as I saw the flashing lights of the escort, I pulled over to the side of the road. The hearse seemed so small compared to the incredible outpouring of love and support that was manifesting all along the path. I had not even heard of the man until the brief story on the radio, and I didn’t really know his story until I got home and looked it up on the Internet, but I cried. Hundreds of cars were following the hearse, lights flashing. The police cars were from many cities, including San Angelo, which is where the man served before he moved to Austin.
It was a beautiful day, despite the reality that is mirrored in today’s scripture. Men, like flowers, will wither and fall. We will fade. We will die. But that is not the end. The flowers may be gone in a month, but even now they are turning to seeds which will drop and will spring up another year to grace the landscape with beauty. I don’t know anything about the policeman who died, but he was obviously loved and he made an impact on the world in which he lived. He planted seeds, too, though we may never know when or how they will grow. Our Christian hope is in what God has promised for His children, but God does not just impact our eternal life. He takes that seeds of our life and He makes the world beautiful with growth in ways we will never know.
“Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18, ASV
My mom was a soda jerk when she was young. This doesn’t mean that she was an unlikeable, annoyingly stupid person as might be expected according to our modern understanding. A soda jerk was a person who worked at an ice cream shop, called a “jerk” because they operated the soda fountain by jerking the handle to pour the soda. I imagine that could have been a fun job, although very tempting. My mom told me that when she started working at the fountain, her boss told her she could eat as much ice cream as she wanted. In the end, the soda jerks ate their fill to the point of being sick of it and they didn’t feel tempted. The boss understood that it was better to let the workers get sick of the ice cream rather than withhold it and tempt them to sneak or steal tastes behind his back.
I read an article this morning about those soda fountains. Actually, it was about ice cream sundaes, something we take for granted. We have had ice cream sundaes for as most of us can remember. However, they were not invented until the late 1800’s. Drug store counters were a favorite family destination on Sundays, where a family could share an ice cream soda. Unfortunately, someone decided that seltzer or soda water was impious, and it was illegal to sell ice cream sodas on Sunday. The owners of those corner fountains didn’t want to lose the business, so they decided to start selling the ice cream sodas without the soda.
What they had was ice cream with syrup whipped cream and a cherry on top, which turned out to be a delicious compromise. The sundae was named after the day of the week it was sold. Families that wanted to hang out together on a Sunday afternoon could go to the fountain and still have a treat. The store owner and the employees were still able to earn a living. Everyone was happy, even though they used a loophole to get around the law. I’m not sure there are even any places that sell old fashioned ice cream sodas anymore, but I’m sure we all know a place close to our home where we can get a delicious ice cream sundae.
It is not good to circumvent the law, because laws are given for our protection and well-being. I’m not sure that a fountain owner would give workers a free reign in this day and age because we know how unhealthy it is to eat too much sugar. Some laws may not make sense, like waiting at a traffic light at 3 am when there are no other cars on the road, but it is safer to wait until the light turns green anyway. Laws don’t always make sense; someone thought there was some reason to outlaw soda water on Sunday even though it seems like a silly law today. It seems silly especially since we know that they got around the law and continued to sell ice cream, syrup, whipped cream and cherries without the soda.
Jesus did not destroy the Law; He fulfilled the Law. This might be hard for many to understand because as you read the stories about Jesus, you see that He often circumvented the rules. He did things that had been established as unlawful based on the interpretation of the Law. Yet, Jesus could not be found to be a lawbreaker; He honored and glorified God with everything He did. He made everything new and better. He created an ice cream sundae when the world thought that seltzer was ungodly. He provided forgiveness for those who could not be perfect but who trusted in God. He restored His people to a right relationship with God and the Law so that they could live a life that honors and glorifies God.
“Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself. Wherefore, my brethren beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved.” Philippians 3:17-4:1, ASV
I was watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” laughing along with the rest of America at the hilarity or misfortune of those who sent their tapes to the show. Many of the videos show the antics of adorable children and cute pets. At least a few of the videos were quite embarrassing and a few seemed like the victim was lucky that they weren’t seriously hurt. I wondered, as I watched, why some of those people actually sent the tape. I said, “I would not want the world to see me in that position. I also wondered why we think it is so funny to see people bouncing off fences or falling into lakes. After all, they could have gotten hurt. Would we laugh if the video ended with a trip to the emergency room?
We live in a time when it is so easy to become famous. Those videos won’t make the people into household names. As a matter of fact, we don’t even know the names of most of them. I imagine, though, the people in their neighborhoods, their family and friends, the members of their churches or workplaces are still talking about the videos. “Hey, I saw you (or your kid, or your dog) on TV last night!” I don’t think there has ever been a time like now, when people are famous just for being famous. Celebrities do not make good role models, but we can’t stop watching their antics. Like those videos of people being hurt, we are fascinated by the hilarity of their foolishness and misfortune.
I read an article today about a man who would have been the hit of the Internet had he lived in this day. His name was Richard Williams, and he was one of the survivors of the Titanic. On April 15, 1912, Richard was pulled out of the ocean, legs frostbitten to the point of necessitating amputation. He refused, insisting that he could recover. “I am going to need these legs,” he said. He did recover and used those legs to take him into an incredible life. It took three days for the rescue boat to get to New York City and in that time he managed to restore his circulation by wandering the decks of the ship. Three months later, he played tennis in the Davis Cup in Boston, competing against another Titanic survivor, Karl Behr.
He went on to win two U.S. singles championship, a Wimbledon doubles title, an Olympic gold medal and was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame. He was a World War I veteran, a successful banker, a philanthropist and president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. His family has said that he never wanted any attention. “If you talk to my husband, you’d never even know he played tennis,” his wife used to say. He did not talk about his experiences on the Titanic except for writing a brief twenty-five page, double-spaced story telling it as he remembered it. He wrote the story for his family.
Most people who have heard of the Titanic have never heard of Richard Williams. Only a few experts even know his name, and yet he’s now gaining fame for his story. His family says that he’d be so embarrassed to know that articles have been written about his experiences. He preferred being anonymous, humble about his accomplishments and heroic in his actions.
How do we respond to the opportunities for fame in our world today? Do we post every movement on Facebook or tweet our every thought? Are we willing to send our videos to national television to win money or fame? Would we like to have articles written about our exploits or have our photos grace the pages of a celebrity magazine? Are we looking for our fifteen minutes of fame? Or will we live humble and heroic lives, serving where we are called to serve without concern for the rewards?
“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all that they chose. And Jehovah said, My spirit shall not strive with man for ever, for that he also is flesh: yet shall his days be a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them: the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And Jehovah said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the ground; both man, and beast, and creeping things, and birds of the heavens; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of Jehovah.” Genesis 6:1-8, ASV
Isaac Bashevis Singer was a writer, known especially for short stories. His stories were often adapted into movies, including Barbara Streisand’s moving “Yentl.” He was a Jew, wrote in Yiddish and often spoke of the afflictions of the Jews. He emigrated out of Poland just a few years before the Germans invaded, and though he escaped the horror, he understood the lives of his people. He was a great storyteller, often looking back to the past, to his life in Poland. He has won International acclaim for his work, particularly for using Yiddish, which he believed was a powerful language. Unfortunately, by the time he received the Nobel Prize, use of the language was fading.
Even with his great literary success, Singer knew what it was like to create a piece of work that is less than expected. He is quoted as saying, “Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.” I understand that point of view. I have worked on crafts, paintings and writings that never lived up to my expectation. I’m often disappointed because I could never figure out the right brush stroke or color to make a painting exactly what I envisioned. I am shocked how often I send out a writing, only to discover on later reading how many mistakes I’ve made. There are so many things I want to do, but I can’t seem to make it happen.
We stand in good company. We know that God created everything and that He has called it good. But even God was disappointed with the chasm between His expectation for the crown of His creation—us—and the reality of what we turned out to be.
God is not an imperfect Creator, but the creation is never what the Creator hopes it will be. It is amazing to think a writer like Isaac Bashevis Singer, who received so much acclaim for his work, might admit that his work was less than he envisioned. God, too, admitted that the people He created were not what He intended. Many artists might think the best thing would be to destroy the imperfect works and work until they manage to get the perfect one. God might have destroyed all human life, but decided that despite the frailties of mankind to spare Noah and his family. Noah was far from perfect, as we see in the stories after the flood, but God knew that His work was still good even if man wasn’t perfect.
We may be disappointed that the work we do does not live up to our own expectations, but we are created to be like God in every way. This means recognizing the goodness in that which we create even if it is less than we envision. Great things come out of failure, because failure is never really as bad as we might perceive.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 26, 2009, Three Easter: Acts 3:12-19: Psalm 4: 1 John 3:1-7: Luke 24:36b-48
“Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” 1 John 3:4, ASV
We like to find someone to blame. When we have difficulty in a relationship, we blame the other person. When we fail at work, we blame our boss or our co-workers. When we fail at school, we blame our teachers or some other circumstance that makes it impossible for us to learn. Criminals blame the system or their childhood. Celebrities and politicians blame the media or the public. Teenagers blame everyone older than 25.
There are very few instances in which blame can be attributed completely to someone else. There is usually reason to accept some responsibility for our problems. We can choose to be miserable. We can choose to allow someone to destroy us. We can choose to hold on to a grudge or not forgive. We can choose to wallow in self-pity and reject ways to make the situation better. We can choose to be a martyr and blame the world for our trouble.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the words of Peter in today’s scriptures have been used to blame certain people for the death of Jesus. These words, blaming the Israelites and the leaders, have led to incredible persecution of the Jews. People like Adolf Hitler have taken words like these and used them for his benefit, claiming that it the responsibility of Christians to do away with the people who destroyed Jesus. He put the blame on them, ignoring the reality of what Peter was saying.
Peter says, “And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” He was not blaming the Israelites for killing Jesus; he knew that they did not know better. Now, we might say that ignorance is no excuse. There are certainly times when we would like to claim ignorance even though we could have been informed. The Jews should have understood that Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets. They should have seen the truth in His actions and in His words. It is so clear to us, and we weren’t there, how could they miss it? And so we blame them for the death of Jesus.
Yet, Peter says they acted in ignorance. They didn’t know any better. As a matter of fact, they could not have seen what God blocked from their vision. If anyone is to blame, it is God. But God did what had to be done because of what we do. If anyone is truly to blame, it is us. It is time for us to stop blaming others and take responsibility for what we’ve done to make it necessary for God to send Jesus to the cross. If the words of the prophets had not been fulfilled, we might still be ignorant of God’s truth and grace.
Now is time to repent and turn to God so that our sins might be blotted out. Now is the time to cry out to God, to seek His goodness. Now is the time to hear Him and see that the blame game doesn’t fix anything. God speaks through the words of the psalmist, “O ye sons of men, how long shall my glory be turned into dishonor? How long will ye love vanity, and seek after falsehood?” God never intended us to put the blame of Jesus’ death on others. He never intended us to despise His people because they made the wrong choices two thousand years ago. He never intended the cross to be an excuse for the horrors that have been inflicted on the Jews throughout the centuries. The cross was Jesus’ moment of glory, the moment when everything God intended came into fulfillment. How can we ever use it as a reason to blame someone else, especially since by our own sinfulness we are equally responsible?
The psalmist writes, “Many there are that say, Who will show us any good? Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.” We have seen the greatest goodness. We have received the greatest gift. The light shines on us because Jesus has been obedient to God’s will. This may seem particularly hard to understand, but when we see the truth in it we can rest in peace. There is nothing to fear any longer because Jesus has defeated all there was to fear.
Did Peter expect to do the things Jesus did? Did he think during that first Eastertide that the sick would be healed with a few simple words? I doubt it; they didn’t even understand how Jesus could be there. They were still processing the stories that they’d heard from those who had seen Him.
Jesus spent forty days with His disciples after the resurrection, and in that time they began to truly understand. The Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed upon them was at work and they could see more clearly and understand the whole story of Jesus. In our story from Acts, Peter knew it wasn’t by his own power or ability that the man was able to walk. The power of healing came from Jesus. The transformation of lives comes from the grace of God. Peter is just a front man, willing to confess his inability to do such things while lifting up the story of the One who can. He doesn’t lay blame, he simply calls people to believe.
We have speculated from the beginning about the physical nature of Jesus’ body after the resurrection. Sometime was different because we have eye witness accounts that tell of extraordinary abilities. I can’t walk through a wall or a door, and yet it appears Jesus could do so. I think the actions of Jesus in this story are telling, though. Jesus asked for food. He ate with them. He took the fish and ate it so that they would not fear the phenomenon He had become.
The timing of this encounter is interesting. In Luke’s story, it comes right after the encounter of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus revealed Himself, the disciples ran back to the room where the others were hiding and told them what they had seen. They told the disciples, “It is true, Jesus is alive!” It was while they were talking that Jesus appeared before them. He greeted them with words of peace, knowing that they could not receive anything He had to give if they were struggling with fear and doubt. I don’t doubt that they might have been afraid. After all, Jesus appeared and disappeared. He could seemingly make people blind and see with a word. And yet, we know that Jesus was real. He still had a body that could eat fish and dwell with His disciples.
He says, “Peace be with you” to us, too. He knows we are afraid and we have doubt. He knows that we will try to find excuses for our failures and that we’ll look to put the blame on others. He knows we struggle with the stress and cares of our life in this world. But He says, “Peace be with you” so that we’ll see that He overcomes even our fear and doubt. Fear and doubt comes from not knowing. But the Holy Spirit gives us knowledge. Jesus spent those forty days with the disciples teaching them everything they needed to know. He is with us today, though not in the same physical body, and we have nothing to fear. We are now witnesses, just as Jesus’ disciples were witnesses, of all the things that God did in and through Jesus for the sake of the world.
And because of Jesus, we are made children of God. Isn’t that an amazing thought? Despite our failure, the Father loves us and has made us His own. Two thousand years after the resurrection, we are just beginning our relationship with God. We are individually just getting to know Him, one step at a time. The day will come when everything will be made perfect. He will come again and we will truly know what it means to be like Him. For now, let us live in the reality that we are not righteous by what we do but by being in a right relationship with God.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, Lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Proverbs 26:4-5, ASV
I don’t understand. I’ve heard the story of the woman who was shot in Houston and the baby was kidnapped too many times. It is big news, particularly here in Texas. The woman was leaving her pediatricians office after a check-up for her newborn baby boy who was only three days old when a woman approached, shot her and took the baby. She screamed and tried to chase the kidnapper but the car hit her as it left the parking lot and she and died later in the hospital.
I don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand why that tiny baby has been left without a mother. I don’t understand why a young woman who has been described as good person trying to take care of her family. They wonder why it could happen to her. These are the questions we ask when someone too young dies in a tragic and unexpected way. Her family is sad not only at the loss of their loved one, but also that the child will have to grow up without a mother.
We often ask the question “why” when faced with things we don’t understand, but that’s not what bothers me most about this story. I don’t understand what makes a person think that they can get away with this kind of crime. We often hear stories of stupid criminals who get caught in the most unbelievable ways. Take, for instance, the crooks that leave their identification on the counter of the bank or convenience store they rob. Or the criminal that thinks he can fit through the ductwork of a store even though he weighs three hundred pounds. I’d like to think that there are only a few examples of these scenarios, but there are many.
But the story of the woman who stole the baby is inconceivable. She is a nurse who had told her boyfriend that she was pregnant, but apparently had a miscarriage. For some reason she felt she had to show her boyfriend a baby, so decided to steal one from a new mother. She told her sister that she was going to adopt a baby. She must have planned to watch the parking lot of the pediatrician’s office until she saw a child that would pass for her own newborn. Though the victim was randomly selected, it appears that the crime was planned.
I don’t understand how she could ever think that she would get away with it. I don’t understand how a nurse could break the covenant she made to care for people by killing someone and stealing a baby from its mother. I don’t understand how she could think that she would escape without anyone knowing, especially since she committed the murder in the parking lot of a pediatrician’s office. There were witnesses in the parking lot. People knew the woman had a baby. Her senselessness meant that the search for the baby started quickly and concluded amazingly fast. She had no chance of succeeding; why was she so foolish?
Ok, so I would not make a good juror in this case because I have come to a conclusion based on the facts I’ve heard on the news. I’ve judged the woman. But sometimes we have to call a fool a fool.
The scripture for today might seem to contradict itself, but there is wisdom in the words. We should not answer a fool in a way that makes us like him but we should answer a fool in a way that points out the folly of their thoughts and actions. In the case of this story, we should be careful not to answer the foolish woman in like manner, but we should answer her in a way that lets her know what she did was not only wrong, it was stupid. She, and others who might think her plan could work, must hear a wise word so that they’ll think twice before jumping into a foolish plan.
I don’t think most of us will ever face this type of foolishness, but how can these words of wisdom from Proverbs help us? What circumstances do we face when a little wisdom could be the difference between doing what is foolish and what is right? How can we answer the fool not only to keep them from being foolish, but also to save our neighbors from unnecessary harm?
“And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Jehovah; Thy faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies can be compared unto Jehovah? Who among the sons of the mighty is like unto Jehovah, A God very terrible in the council of the holy ones, And to be feared above all them that are round about him? O Jehovah God of hosts, Who is a mighty one, like unto thee, O Jehovah? And thy faithfulness is round about thee.” Psalm 89:5-8, ASV
Several years ago I visited a beach on the eastern coast of England. The beach was rocky and the water was cold, but the day was lovely. English places are ripe with legends about the antics and faithfulness of the people from every age. This particular beach was not without its own stories, including one about a king named Canute. The Danish King Canute is said to have shown his people true humility and worship of God. King Canute ruled early in the 11th century. During those years, his people worshipped him as if he were ruler of the entire universe. They praised him about everything, claimed his greatness over all of creation. N o matter what he did, his people feared speaking anything but admiration.
One day, King Canute tired of this never-ending praise, so he walked to the beach at low tide and placed his throne at the water’s edge. He asked the people if he could hold back the tide and they agreed that he could. He shouted at the waves to stay back, but the tide continued to come in. The water rose until he could no longer sit on his throne and they all ran from the splashing waves. King Canute said, “You see how little I am obeyed. There is only one Lord over the land and the water, the Lord of the universe. It is to Him and to Him alone you should offer your praise.”
In our society we don’t have a King Canute to which we offer our undying praise and worship, or do we? How much of our time is spent chasing after the good things of life: better jobs, bigger homes, and fancier cars? We don’t have kings, but we do have celebrities, sports stars and politicians whose every word and action receives our admiration. Our priorities are often confused, putting the needs of our families and friends ahead of our worship to the Lord.
King Canute in his greatness could not hold back the rising tide, and no human being can control the elements of creation. Even the power of the sea and the majesty of God’s creation does not compare to the Lord. The angels fear Him and know that He is more awesome than heavens and earth and all that is in it. Most of all, they know He is faithful. The things of this world cannot compare to the promises of God or to the power of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
On that day, after King Canute showed his people that he was not Lord of the universe, he walked to the church and hung his royal crown in humble submission to the true Lord. He did not give up his throne; he ruled for three more years. But the Lord God Almighty was the one who received the praise in his kingdom, not himself. We would do well to follow his example, laying our own ‘crowns’ in humble submission to God. What priorities do we need to change? What do we place above the Lord in our lives? How can we worship God more fully? God is faithful and He is able to do more than we can ever imagine. He is worthy to be praised!
“And he said unto them, is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.” Mark 4:21-22, ASV
When you take a picture with a camera, it is necessary to make sure that the lighting is right. If the subject is too dark, the shutter will open and close too slowly and the picture is likely to be unfocused. This is why most cameras have a built-in flash. The extra light helps brighten the scene and the shutter opens and closes more quickly. Now, there are times when you might not want all that extra light on the subject, especially if the flash creates a bright, white light. It is possible, however to let the camera think it is overcoming the darkness, while blocking the light from actually illuminating the subject. Professional photographers can do this with fancy equipment and settings on their camera.
My equipment is not that fancy, but there are ways for even the amateur to fool the camera. Once, when I was photographing a play, I could not use the flash for the safety of the actors. I was standing so far away that the light would not help the situation, and would actually create a much darker picture. Yet, I needed the camera to think it was using the flash, so I turned the flash on, but covered the bulb with tape. The flash went off, but could not be seen. Many of the pictures turned out great because the camera shutter opened and closed fast enough to catch just the right amount of light.
Now, it might be helpful to hide the light of the camera flash under a piece of tape, but that is not the way God wants to live our life. Unfortunately, I think many of us do have times when we’d rather keep our light hidden. I am the type of person who would rather be behind the scenes. I’m willing to do any work that needs to get done, but I don’t like anyone to know. This might be defined as humility; it might also be a false humility, hiding my light under a bushel.
What we need to remember as we are shining our light to the world is that they understand the light is not our own: it is God shining through us. True humility is living the life God has called us to live, doing the work He has ordained for us. We don’t have to hide behind the scenes. As a matter of fact, even though hiding means we won’t be glorified for the work, God won’t be glorified either. They won’t know that He was the guiding force. They won’t know that He was the power. They won’t know that He was the source of the light.
Humility is a good thing, but humility does not mean hiding from being seen. Humility is giving the credit to the One who has accomplished the work in and through our lives.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now they are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness; whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked; that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, ASV
I type on my cell phone keyboard the way I type on a typewriter or computer keyboard. Well, I can’t type exactly like I would because the cell phone keyboard is a lot smaller. I can’t use all ten fingers; I use only my thumbs. However, I try my best to be grammatically correct and to spell words right, and I follow the usual spacing rules that I would use if typing on a word processor. The particular rule I’m thinking about is the one where you type two spaces after a period, question mark or exclamation point. You type only one space after other punctuation.
I have had my phone for a long time, and it has bothered me that the keyboard does not automatically capitalize the first word of the next sentence. What was particularly weird is that it did capitalize after certain other punctuation like an ellipsis. Why would it think that I would want a capital after that, but not after a period? I recently realized that it has to do with the spaces. If I type only one space after the period, it automatically goes to capital letters.
Unfortunately, I’m in the habit of typing two spaces after the period. I will have to force myself out of that habit, to follow a new rule of typing. I know that for most people text-talk is much different than regular writing, but that is taken to an extreme that is sometimes difficult to read. The rules have been established so that our thoughts will be clear and precise. I know that a space doesn’t really change the meaning of a sentence, but on paper it is easier to read.
A space is nothing, literally. It should be meaningless, and the reality is that most of us don’t even think about the spaces between words or at the end of the sentence when we are reading. I’m not sure we even think about them much when we are writing, since we naturally hit the space bar between words. And yet, they are vital. Whatwoulditbelikeifwedidnotusespaces? We would have a confusing blend of letters that need to be sorted out in our minds before we can actually read the words. Spaces might seem meaningless, but they are ultimately very important.
I led the devotions at a retreat I attended this past weekend. We were all artists and crafters, and the theme for the devotions was “The Christ We Share.” We talked about how people see Christ differently based on their perspective. We see Him one way, someone in Africa sees Him another way. We then talked about how God see us. He sees us through Jesus, and we are made righteous by His grace. Finally we talked about how we are one body, each with unique gifts, called together to worship and serve the Christ that we share.
Some of the ladies accomplished amazing things over the weekend, others attended for the fun and to learn something new. At the end we had a show and tell period, when everyone was invited to show what they did. Many of the ladies did not stand up. I’m sure a few of them just did not want to get up in front of the group, but some did not think they accomplished anything worth sharing. Do you ever feel that way about the work you do for God’s kingdom in this world? Do you feel that you haven’t done something amazing, so it isn’t worth talking about? Do you think that you are just a space in the text of some great story? Whatever you do for God, no matter how insignificant you might think it is, is important. You are part of the body of Christ, and without you and your work, we would not be whole.
Scriptures for Sunday, April 29, 2012, Four Easter: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
“And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.” Acts 4:12, ASV
I found an article today about text donations. It began with the example of the effort made following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. A non-profit company set up a relief effort using mobile devices and within hours the incredible sum of $170,000 was collected. At $10.00 a shot, that is a lot of people texting their compassion. Within days the amount was nearly $8 million and after a few months they’d collected a staggering sum of $50 million. mGive has made it very easy for people to be generous; it only takes typing in a few numbers and someone is helped.
Now, some would say that this makes charitable giving disjointed and impersonal. Perhaps there is truth to that, but let’s look at it another way. How many of us woke up on January 12, 2010 and wondered what we could do. Most of us did not have the freedom to go to Haiti, particularly when the need was so fresh, immediate and desperate. Over the years many people have gone to Haiti or they have given financially through other organizations, but at that moment millions responded with what they could. The moment they saw a need, they gave something to help.
I’m sure we can all remember times when the immediate needs of someone in need are met by the immediate response of someone willing to help. Anyone who has dealt with a death in the family can attest to the giving nature of neighbors who offer food and a comforting shoulder. Victims of fire can tell how neighbors collect clothes and furniture so that they can start over. Pictures from the scene of a tornado show complete strangers pitching in to remove debris and search for remnants of lives destroyed by a few seconds of wind.
These are natural responses to the pain and tragedy we see in the world. If a friend is in trouble, we automatically help without thinking about it. If someone is sick, we may not know how to make them well, but we do try to provide some relief. If someone comes to our home, we ensure that they are comfortable. When faced with real need, we respond as we are able. Do we always do enough? When John asks, “But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” is he measuring the amount of compassion by asking if we do enough?
In other words, should we be convicted because we did not rush to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake? If our response is not sacrificial, is it enough? We are all imperfect, and we can always do more, but that’s not the focus of this devotion.
When I read the words of John in today’s second lesson, I think about the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story of a man who was beaten almost to death. Several people passed the beaten man, leaving him to suffer on the side of the road. Only the Samaritan was willing to stop and help. Now, in that story we see someone who gave sacrificially. He gave more than was necessary. He gave above and beyond the typical response. He is a good example of what we can do to serve those in need.
But John writes, “But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” He is focusing on those who refuse to help, like those who crossed to the other side of the road and ignored the problem. Think about the other characters in the story, like the innkeeper. Despite the Samaritan’s good intentions, what would have happened to the beaten man if the innkeeper did not take care of him? The innkeeper also responded to the man’s needs, but we don’t talk about the good work he did. Yes, the Samaritan gave him money to help, but he had to use his time and his hands to take care of the stranger.
Many really wonderful people dropped everything and went to Haiti to get their hands dirty, but would they have been able to do half as much if there hadn’t been millions of generous people texting those $10 gifts? Both have responded to the need as they were able, responding to the call from God to do love the neighbor in need.
God doesn’t measure our generosity, He looks to the heart. How do you respond when you see a neighbor in need? Do you cross the street and avoid that neighbor, or do you do something, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem? Do you ignore or respond? Those who have the love of Christ, who dwell in the heart of God, find some way to respond. As we grow and mature in our faith, we learn to do more than just that auto-response. We learn to go above and beyond, to be sacrificially generous to those in need. Most of us could grow more and learn to give more, but all Christians who love God have that innate sense of compassion because God dwells in us.
What is love? We think of love as an uncontrollable emotion; this type of love makes us act in selfish or self-centered ways. We might do something for someone else, to win their love or earn their affection. This is the type of love that causes us to do things expecting some reward.
The kind of love that we see in the life of Christ and in the grace of God is an “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” This is the type of love God is calling us to live. We love because God first loved us, and our love is manifest through the ways we lay down our lives for others. As we dwell in the love of God, His love flows through us into the world. We love so that the grace of God will be manifested to others. The Shepherd cares for us so that we too will become shepherds and in doing so glorify God. That’s what Peter and John did for the beggar at the Temple in the chapter before our first lesson for today. They had nothing to gain from healing the crippled beggar.
As a matter of fact, they had everything to lose. They were arrested because they were teaching and preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His saving power. During the trial, the leaders asked, “By what power, or in what name, have ye done this?” Peter answered, “If we’ve been arrested because we kindly helped a cripple, then know this: it is Jesus’ name that healed the man.” Would they have arrested the disciples for healing someone?
The answer to the court’s question is that Jesus is the source of their power. But they did more than simply heal the cripple. They offered forgiveness of sins, the same blasphemous crime that Jesus committed. The Sanhedrin, especially the high priests, rejected the very premise that gave Jesus the authority to transform the world: His resurrection. That authority was the capstone of everything the disciples preached. Jesus is the only way to salvation. This proclamation took the power away from the Jewish leaders. This was really the ‘crime’ for which they had been arrested. The disciples’ teaching threatened their authority with the Jewish people. It was the same reason they destroyed Jesus.
But we are reminded again that though the leaders rejected Jesus and put Him to death, their actions were the catalyst for God’s saving work through Jesus. So, too, we see that the arrest, which seems so horrible, was a catalyst for Peter to glorify God.
Our response to the needs of the world will not always be accepted by the world. The world will claim that we haven’t done enough, or will question our motives. They will demand to know what authority we have to do what we do. It is unfortunate that many ministries are suffering at the hands of regulation. I’ve heard stories of people who respond to the hunger in their neighborhoods only to find their ministries closed due to ridiculous laws. Schools have been shut down because some parent has been offended and sued. Faith based hospitals are being forced to go against their conscience because someone claims they aren’t doing enough.
Despite the obstacles we face, God dwells within us and everything we do out of that deep and abiding love will be blessed. We may face rejection and even persecution, but God will be glorified when we respond with His heart. Whatever the world throws at us, we need only follow our heart. Of course, that can be a deceptive practice, particularly if we think of love as that uncontrollable emotion. Many people have followed their hearts into disaster because they were following in a selfish and self-centered way. We, as people of faith, follow God’s heart. That might just mean laying down our lives.
John writes, “Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.” What does it mean to lay down our lives for another? For Jesus it meant literally laying down His life for His people. He went to the cross as the sacrificial lamb so that we will be saved. He died so that we would have life. We are called to die on the cross. Few of us will ever become a martyr for our faith. I suspect that few of us will even know someone sent to prison for speaking the Gospel. But we are called to lay down our lives for another. This means living humbly in the world, unselfishly meeting the needs of our neighbors. It means responding to the needs we see in whatever way we are able.
Peter and John knew that some day they would face inquiry from the Temple leaders. Jesus told them that they would be hated as he had been hated. They knew they would suffer the same persecution; perhaps even drink the cup that Christ drank. Yet, Peter faced the arrest and false trial with confidence. It wasn’t his word or power that gave him hope; it was the knowledge that Jesus Christ was his Shepherd. Perhaps the comforting words of Psalm 23 were on his lips that night he spent in prison. He was walking through a valley, and did not know what would happen the next day. But he trusted in the One who did know, and who had prepared that table of goodness on which Peter could feast even in the presence of his enemies. He was happy, content. He knew God’s lovingkindness surrounded him, despite the circumstances he had to face.
We can’t love on our own. We are like sheep, chasing after the things we want rather than seeking the things that would be truly good for us. We think we can love, but in the end our love is shallow, built on all the wrong foundations. We try to control our circumstances, giving not as we are able but as we expect to receive a reward, unless we remember the source of true love. Real love comes from God and we love because He first loved us. As we dwell in that love, God’s love flows through us into the world. We love by responding naturally to the opportunities we receive so that the grace of God will be manifest to others.
The psalmist speaks like he is a sheep, and that is how we often experience the Twenty-third psalm. We are sheep and God is our shepherd. This is a life we could learn to love. It would be nice to have someone who will find me a bed of lush meadows in which to sleep or a quiet pool of water from which to drink. It would be so pleasant to have someone who will give me a chance to catch my breath and send me the way I should go. It would be comforting to have someone to walk by my side as I am faced with difficult times: the dark valleys of my life. As sheep we would have the security of the shepherd’s crook. He would feed us and revive us with anointing oils. Our cup would be overflowing with blessings.
However, God has not giving us faith to remain as sheep. He laid down His life and calls us to live like Him, laying down our own lives for others. We are called to be shepherds, partners with God in the saving work of grace. When we believe in Jesus’ name, we are given authority to share the healing power of Christ and the life found in Him. We are given the power to respond to the pain and tragedy we see. As we dwell in God’s heart, we will respond naturally with God’s grace to the needs of others as His love is poured out through our lives into the world. We can’t save the world, but God can save the world through those of us who believe in Jesus, so let us boldly proclaim His name in all that we do.
“And when even was come, the disciples came to him, saying, The place is desert, and the time is already past; send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food. But Jesus said unto them, They have no need to go away; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. And he said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they all ate, and were filled: and they took up that which remained over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And they that did eat were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Matthew 14:15-21, ASV
Chuck Colson died on April 21st. He was known for being the hatchet man for Richard Nixon and imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal. In prison, Mr. Colson became a Christian and eventually became a prominent Christian leader and commentator. His life change was manifest in a prison ministry and other good works. His own experience in prison convicted him of the injustices done to prisoners and the failure to rehabilitate them for a life outside bars. The prison ministry began in 1976, shortly after his release from prison. He also wrote a book called “Born Again.”
During the national tour to promote his book, Chuck Colson found himself with his friend Fred Denne in a coffee shop for a late night meal before going to bed to rest for another busy and exhausting day. While they waited their food, the men discussed their schedule for the following day and then bent their heads in prayer. The prayer must have lasted a long time because when they finally raised their heads they found the waitress waiting patiently with their plates.
The waitress was struck by the scene and asked the men if they had been praying. At this point, the other diners were listening. Now, Chuck Colson, though becoming comfortable with speaking about his faith in public settings, was still rather new to the experience. He answered, “Yes, we were.” It must have been an uncomfortable moment with so many people looking on during the conversation, but he persisted.
The waitress answered that it was neat that they prayed, and that she hadn’t seen anyone do it in the coffee shop. She asked if they were preachers. They answered that they were not. She then admitted that she was once a Christian, but “then lost interest, I guess. Forgot about it.” She had become a Christian as a teenager, accepting Jesus at a rally. Mr. Colson told her that she didn’t lose her faith, she just set it aside for a moment. She admitted that seeing them pray made her excited again. They talked to her for awhile about faith and forgiveness, told her the story of the prodigal son and encouraged her to embrace her Christianity.
She found the men later during their stay in the hotel and told them that she was joining a bible study and was looking for a church. Mr. Colson admitted later, “Until that night, I had felt awkward at times praying over meals in crowded restaurants. Never again.” Isn’t it amazing how the simple act of praying over our food can be the catalyst for a life changing experience?
Most of us will never have the impact, bad and good, that a man like Chuck Colson had. Our own stories may not be so exciting. We probably won’t become national leaders and we won’t have people who are interested in our words. I expect that most of us will pass from this life quietly; our obituary won’t be on the front page of the newspaper or on the evening news. We are not going to do anything big for the kingdom of God. However, it isn’t the big things that truly make a difference in the lives of those called to faith. It is the little things, like praying in a restaurant, which can make a life changing difference in someone’s life.
“In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge; Let me never be put to shame: Deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear unto me; deliver me speedily: Be thou to me a strong rock, A house of defence to save me. For thou art my rock and my fortress; Therefore for thy name's sake lead me and guide me. Pluck me out of the net that they have laid privily for me; For thou art my stronghold. Into thy hand I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Jehovah, thou God of truth.” Psalm 31:1-5, ASV
As you may know, we are looking for a new house. We want to move closer to the place where Bruce works, to save on gas and on the commute time. The road he travels can be terrible many days and he spends way too much time on the road. Since the kids are out of high school, we aren’t tied to this house any longer. While we search for the perfect location, we are also looking for a house that will meet our new needs. We may not need as much space for children, but we do need space for me to pursue my new vocation.
We have done a lot of research on the Internet. We’ve visited several different realty sites, checked out houses for sale, ‘driven’ through neighborhoods with virtual maps. We’ve tracked routes to Bruce’s job and mapped shopping. While there are thousands of homes for sale in our city, there are a limited number that offer the space we need in a good location. We have read the descriptions for dozens of homes and looked at hundreds of photographs. Our realtor has provided lists of houses to peruse. We can reject some houses based on what we see and read, but it isn’t always that easy.
Photographs on realty websites are a study in creative composition. I don’t think most realtors have the expertise or even the programs to edit photos to make them look better, but they are experts in putting every room in its best light. They can make a tiny bathroom look huge. The right lighting makes faded paint look like new. Creative composition can hide the worst flaws in any house. Houses that are well staged can make a seeker fall in love with space, even if the home is poorly designed. I’m also amazed at the creative use of words. I don’t think I’ve ever read so many flowery adjectives in my life.
You can’t always believe what you see or read. The words used to describe features do not always match what I see when I visit the homes. I wouldn’t say that they are lies, but can be deceptive if you don’t understand the terminology. When you visit the homes, you have to pay attention to the details. Small cracks, dirt and other flaws are not at all visible in the photographs, but can be real indicators of the state of the home. Are the rooms really as they appeared in the pictures? I have been shocked by the difference between the virtual and reality.
I am equally amazed, however, how often the online pictures and descriptions do not do justice to the house. We looked at a house yesterday that had some really wonderful features that we did not know existed. We weren’t thrilled with the house online, but we were curious, and we are so glad we went to see it. Some realtors spend so much time focusing on the furniture and décor that you can’t really see the space. What good is showing me a close-up of the owner’s dresser if I can’t see how it fits into the room? We spent weeks preparing to put our house on the market, cleaning and putting away superfluous items so that it looked good in the pictures. A number of homeowners and realtors didn’t really even seem to care. Some places have pictures with unmade beds and dirty dishes in the sink.
I don’t think I could be a real estate agent. I would want to put a house in the best light, and do what is best for my clients, but I would have trouble playing the games that apparently need to be played in the buying and selling of properties. I wouldn’t want my clients to leave their home messy because most buyers would not even want to look at the house, but I wouldn’t want to have to use creative adjectives and photography to make a crumbling house appear charming. As for our current house hunting experience, I’m just glad that Bruce and I are both savvy shoppers. We know to look for the truth behind the pictures and words, to find the good where it might seem to be bad and to find the bad that it hidden.
Real estate might give us a magnified view of the way the world tries to fool us, but it happens everywhere. Truth is often difficult to find. Between advertising and ‘reality’ television, creative editing of the news and one-sided reporting on both sides of every issue, people who put up false fronts to hide their secrets, you never know what you are going to get. There is only one who is truly trustworthy, and that is our God. The rest of us fail, sometimes to extremes, by showing ourselves in the best or worst light. Whatever house we find, we can trust that God is faithful, and in Him we can take refuge from the foolishness of real estate and the world.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, ASV
I saw a photograph today taken in some mountains. The photo was taken from the bottom of a hill, a cliff actually, probably created in the making of a roadway. It is obvious that years have passed since large chunks of the hill have continued to fall and the weather has eroded the rocks. There are trees at the top of the hill, some of which appear to be hanging by a few roots. The exposed roots are just hanging over the edge. One very large, very old tree seems to be balancing on a rock, ready to fall during the next heavy rain. It certainly does not have solid ground below it.
Since the forest floor reaches to the very edge of the cliff, the trees are surrounded by brush and bushes. The large tree that is hanging over the edge is also very near other trees, so close that the roots are probably tangled together. It might be the roots of the other trees and that brush and bushes that are holding the large old tree to the hill top.
I have a friend who has recently gone through a very difficult situation. I’m sure we’ve all had friends who have been through difficult situations. So, my friend is not a particular person, but represents that person we all know. It would have been easy for my friend to deal with the difficult situation alone. We don’t want to bother others with our problems. We don’t want to face the embarrassment of others knowing what is happening in our life. We think we can deal with it on our own. We put on a brave face, let the world think that everything is fine.
Yet, I’m sure we can all attest to the reality of what a good, strong community can do in the midst of a difficult time. Which one of us hasn’t said, “She has such a good support,” at the funeral of an elderly woman’s husband? Who hasn’t said, “I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without my church?” We talk about how much easier something is with faith. It isn’t easier to deal with these things alone. We are better off when we reach out to those who love us, because they will keep us from falling over the cliff when it seems like there is nothing to keep us up.
At times of trouble we are like that tree, hanging over the edge. The only thing keeping us from falling off the cliff are those around us. We need to keep hold to our neighbors, to wrap our roots around theirs. Even the small brush and bushes help to hold us up. We need one another. We are stronger when we can rely on others. We might think we can handle it alone, and perhaps we can, but we’ll find that the strength which comes from our friends and neighbors make the burden lighter. We don’t have to hold on with such ferocity that we get too exhausted to hold on. We need each other, just like that tree needs the rest of the forest to survive.