Welcome to the August 2002 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.
When writing, I used the New International Version of the Bible. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves.
A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2002
August 1, 2002
Daily On August 1, 1999 I began writing and sharing these messages of inspiration with a small group of friends. I belonged to an email discussion mailing list and the hostess was going on vacation. She asked if I would ensure that the members had mail in their boxes every day. I decided to write a brief devotional each day for this two-week commitment. At the end of the first week, I wondered how I would ever make it through to the end. By the end of the second week, I had ideas for more in mind. So I just kept writing. Today, by God’s grace, we begin the fourth year of A WORD FOR TODAY.
Many changes have occurred since those first writings. It is no longer part of another list. Many readers have come and gone throughout the three years. The website has been added and expanded with visitors from around the world. During those first days I never expected anything like this. One thing has remained the same - my love for our Lord Jesus Christ and for each of you. This would not have continued for three years without the blessing of God or without your faithful encouragement and prayer.
Read Philippians 1:3-11
Each day God shares some special message of love and He has opened the doors for me to share those messages with you. Without His mercy and grace, this would never have been possible. I am grateful for this opportunity because it has always been my desire to share the love of Christ with others.
I am also thankful to each of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ who have encouraged me and have prayed for me over the years. Paul’s words to the Philippians have long had a special place in my heart in connection with this ministry, because they speak exactly what I feel. Though many of you are strangers to me in flesh, I know you in my spirit because we are joined together through Christ our Lord. Sharing our faith and the Gospel is never easy; it is fraught with the dangers of persecution and spiritual warfare. Yet, I have never been alone. I am confident that God is with me because He has made me part of the body of Christ and we are unified by His Holy Spirit to share Jesus with the world. I pray that God will continue to bless each of you daily so that the light of Christ will shine and the kingdom of heaven will grow to the glory of God our Father. Amen.
Parts The scene opens with a man surrounded by a million little parts to some machine or piece of furniture. The directions are in Japanese or are simply too difficult to deal with, so he begins putting the parts together without it. Somehow he manages to create something that looks like it is supposed to look; yet there are still pieces on the floor. He shrugs his shoulders and says, “They must have given me extra pieces.” When he tries to use the piece for its purpose, it either blows up or falls apart because the pieces left behind were important to the whole.
This scenario is used often in sitcoms and other forms of media, leaving the audience laughing hysterically. This scenario also happens in many homes. How many parents have tried to put together a bike or toy on Christmas Eve, often frustrated until the early hours of Christmas with bits and pieces all over the floor. Then there are the attempts at installing multimedia units or computers. Somehow there is always a cable that just doesn’t fit, and the equipment does not work without it.
There is a trend in American Christianity that is much like this humorous scenario. But when it comes to the Church, it isn’t funny. God has created a perfect machine – the Church. It is through this fellowship of believers, which is Christ’s body, that He does the work of the Gospel. Every individual is gifted in some way to share Jesus with the world, but none are able to do the entire work on their own. One is needed to plant the seeds, another to water and another to harvest.
Unfortunately, since the Church is made of imperfect people there are many who believe it is best to go it alone – to separate from the body so that they can do the work God has commissioned to every believer. I believe this is the work of Satan, to separate the sheep from the flock to make them more vulnerable to attack. It is certainly proving true, because many who have left the church are teaching false doctrine. The truth of the Gospel of grace and the character of God is being lost to a Gospel of self and prosperity theology. God has created the perfect machine but we are still being perfected so there will be imperfections apparent while we live in this world. It is dangerous and foolish to separate ourselves from the body of Christ. It is arrogant and selfish to think we can do the work of Christ on our own. All the parts are needed to make the Church work as it has been designed to work.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to bring reconciliation to the world – between God and His people and between the people. When we receive faith in Christ and become a Christian, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit and gifts that manifest His love for the common good. God does not give us gifts so we can go it on our own and do His work alone. We are not islands in this world; we are part of the body of Christ. Every blessing of God is meant to build up the body for His glory. He gives as He determines, according to His good and perfect will. We should never consider ourselves able to everything ourselves. We need each other. We need every part. Without every kind of gift, service or working the machine will not work. Do not let Satan convince you that you can go it on your own. You are a necessary part of the whole, without you the machine will not work.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Mission Trip The youth group of our church left very early this morning on a two-day drive to McAllen, Texas, where they will live while serving the people of Reynosa, Mexico and McAllen. They will paint churches, share God’s Word through a VBS program for the children, do odd jobs at Comfort House, give school supplies to poverty stricken children and be witnesses to the Gospel to whomever crosses their path in the next nine days. These incredible kids will need our prayers – for safety, strength, courage and most of all wisdom.
In yesterday’s devotional, we looked at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he discussed the gifts of the Spirit given to God’s people. Each gift is given for the building up of the church – both in number as more people come to Christ and in the growth of Christians into maturity. Though some in today’s world have a flawed understanding the Holy Spirit’s manifestation through these gifts, He is still active in the lives of Christians in miraculous ways. We’ll look at these gifts this week as we pray for our youth and their mission.
The planning for the youth mission trip has gone on for a number of months. It all began with prayer, and prayer has continued throughout the process. It took many phone calls to find a place for them to stay and to discover the needs to be met during their visit. The people in Reynosa suffer from poverty beyond anything our kids have seen and their needs are great. They needed to know God’s will for their trip – where they could best use their gifts to the glory of God. This takes wisdom. But wisdom is more than just knowing what to do. It is about doing things for all the right reasons. Solomon knew this when he asked God for wisdom.
Read 1 Kings 3:7-9
Solomon did not simply ask for wisdom, he desired to do what was right. He asked God to give him a discerning heart so that he could rule the people to God’s glory. Because Solomon asked for this gift for all the right reasons, rather than seeking long life, wealth or the death of his enemies, God promised Solomon the wisdom he desired and so much more. God knew by his request that the desire of his heart was to do what is right and good in the eyes of God – to provide justice for the people He had chosen to be His own.
As the youth of Faith Lutheran Church travel to distant places to share their love of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that God will give them wisdom in all they do. I pray that they will be able to discern between right and wrong and do those things that will glorify God before the people of Reynosa and McAllen. Though most of their plans have already been made, they will need to be flexible as the Holy Spirit leads them into situations that they have had no way of knowing would occur. May they have wisdom to deal with every situation with mercy and grace, providing justice to all, as they are witnesses to the love of Christ.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Questions Several years ago in England, I participated in a Vacation Bible School where most of the children were not Christians. They were from a school in the neighborhood, invited by the congregation to enjoy a few days of exciting activities – singing, crafts and games – learning about Jesus and other stories from the Bible. Even the teachers joined in the fun. Some of the children and teachers had never been to church; they did not know Jesus at all.
One day while we were listening to a story, a young girl was sitting on my lap. She was a sweet little girl, very shy. She had adopted me during the week, always by my side, holding my hand. She loved being there, hearing the stories and playing the games, but she was never quite sure about what it all meant. During the story she looked at me and asked, “Who is God?” I was rather shocked by the question, because even those who did not believe at least had an idea of who people think He is. She had never heard of Him at all. I tried to explain, the best way I could for a five year old mind to understand, that God created whole the world, including her, and that He loves her so much that Jesus died for her.
During their mission trip to Mexico, our youth will face similar questions from the people they serve. One of the gifts they will need this week is knowledge. They have stepped out in faith, believing in the love of Christ and the power of God to guide their actions. While faith is the foundation of our every thought, word and deed in ministry for Christ, it is important to have this God given gift of knowledge to help us on our way.
There are two kinds of knowledge that God gives. First we need knowledge of the facts and an understanding of the Gospel so that when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?” we have an answer to give. We can have this knowledge through our study of scriptures. He has appointed teachers and preachers to help us understand. The other kind of knowledge is more miraculous. There are times when we simply know what people need without being told. These words of knowledge come from God, by the Holy Spirit, and they help us minister to the people.
Read Titus 1:1-3
Our youth may be teaching the Gospel to children who have never even heard of God. They were brought into faith by parents that love them and who wanted them to have the hope of eternal life that God gives so freely through the Gospel. We pray that all the Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes have passed on to them a knowledge of the Gospel so they are prepared with the answers to the questions they might face. Even more so, we pray that God will give them this gift of knowledge by the Holy Spirit that will help them to know the needs of those they meet this week. Just as Paul had been entrusted with God’s word to share the promise of eternal life, so too we have entrusted this work to our youth. This is only possible by God’s grace. He gives every good and perfect gift needed for the building up of His Church. Thanks be to God.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Barnabas The writer of Acts describes Barnabas, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24) Every Christian has faith, for without this gift from God it would be impossible to believe. Faith is a confident belief in the truth, the truth given to a person by the Holy Spirit through the means of God’s grace – His Word, the sacraments and the fellowship of believers. Faith is trusting in God’s presence and power no matter how ridiculous it seems to the world.
Though every Christian has faith, some are given extraordinary faith, like Barnabas. Throughout the book of Acts, we see stories about how Barnabas did amazing things for the sake of the Gospel. In Acts 4:36-37, Barnabas sold some property he owned and gave everything to the apostles. Later in the book (Acts 11), Barnabas heard that the persecuted Christians refused to meet with a man named Saul who had an incredible conversion experience. They feared this man, but Barnabas believed God could change even a murderer like him. In one other story (Acts 15), Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over a young man named Mark. Mark had left them sometime before, homesick and tired of missionary work. When Mark returned to continue the work, Paul did not trust him. But Barnabas had faith that God had renewed Mark’s faith. So they parted company, but not forever. Stories in the Epistles show that their relationships were restored. It was Barnabas’s incredible faith in God that made it possible for him to step out so boldly for the Gospel – giving all he had, taking a converted enemy before the leaders, encouraging a young man whose faith had wavered.
It is this extraordinary faith that led many people in the Bible to do the most unexpected things. It was by faith that Abram left his home to follow the voice of an unknown God. It was by faith that the widow of Zarephath fed Elijah and her family through a drought. It was by faith Andrew gave Jesus five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. It was by faith a bleeding woman touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. It was by faith a leprous man called out to Jesus to be cleansed of his disease. It was by faith a widow gave everything she had to the Lord.
Read Luke 21:1-4
During this week of mission work, our kids may face situations that will take extraordinary faith. They have the foundation they need for the work they are to do, they believe in Jesus through the faith He has given them by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the time may come when someone needs more than they think they have to give. May God grant these youth the extraordinary faith to give everything for the sake of the Gospel.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Dis-ease A few weeks ago Zack came down with a stomach virus. It only lasted a day, but he suffered greatly during that time. A few days later, Vicki was sick with the same thing. I was laid up a few days later and Bruce was the final victim of the virus. We all spent at least a few hours in bed resting, the virus took all our energy. Isn’t it amazing how quickly these things spread from person to person? We find the same is true during the school year. It is inevitable that every kindergarten class will have an outbreak of chicken pox, as the disease is passed from child to child before anyone even knows it is there. In our modern society, we accept these brief moments of illness as a fact of life. We drink plenty of liquids, take some medication and a day or so later we are fine to go back to our daily grind.
We don’t think much about healing when it comes to these colds or bouts with the flu because we know that tomorrow we will be better. Sometimes I am even happy to have this chance to just lay and rest, to set aside the hustle and bustle of life for just a moment. Besides, why bother God with something so simple? There are people who are suffering far worse physical problems. Yet, do we really step forth in faith and seek healing for even the greater ills our bodies suffer?
This week the youth from our church will spend time in Comfort House, a hospice for cancer patients. They will do odd jobs, sing and share the Gospel of Christ with the patients there. In Mexico they will see that the children often suffer from the physical ailments that come from poverty such as malnutrition and dehydration. But the dis-ease that these people face, the cancer patients as well as the children, go far beyond just their bodies. In their suffering it is often difficult to see beyond the pain, to know there is a loving God who cares for them in their illness and poverty.
Read Acts 4:29-30
This scripture is part of a prayer said by the disciples in the midst of their own suffering. Those who had killed Jesus were persecuting the believers, wanting to destroy His work in this world. They felt threatened by the power Jesus exhibited and could see the disciples displaying the same power. The disciples prayed for God’s presence in their lives so that they could heal the sick of all their dis-ease. They knew the power of God for all the ills; for Jesus healed those who suffered from fevers, skin diseases, deafness, blindness and lameness. He even raised people from the dead. But He also eased their aching souls, by granting forgiveness and sharing the love of God to those who were broken and lonely.
As the youth minister to the people, both in Mexico and in the hospice, they may face people who have given up on God. In the midst of their suffering, they no longer believe that there could be something like a loving God. However, we pray that during this trip the youth will be given this gift of healing – healing for both bodies and spirits. May they be given the strength and courage to speak boldly despite the rejection they may face, so that the souls that ache might hear the Gospel and many will be healed in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Miracles St. John writes at the end of his accounting of the life of Jesus, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” The four gospels tell of many miraculous things that Jesus did. Besides healing their ills, He fed thousands, raised people from the dead, stopped storms, walked on water and cast out demons. He healed lepers and made the blind see. Early in His ministry people were coming great distances to bring their sick and lame to Him to be healed. They went to great lengths. One group of men made a hole in the roof of a house to lower their friend into Jesus’ presence. He did many miraculous things.
I have to admit that I’ve never been witness to the manifestation of such miraculous powers. Though I have heard stories of people who have been raised from the dead, and I believe them to be true, I have never seen it with my own eyes. Though I have heard stories of people who have been healed with just a word and a touch by one anointed in God’s power, I have never seen someone healed before my eyes. I know God answers prayers; I’ve experienced things that to me can only have happened by the hand of God. Yet, for those who do not have faith, those experiences are merely coincidence. I certainly have never been the vessel by which God has brought physical life into a dead person or sight to someone who is blind.
Read John 14:10b-14
As I read these words, I often wonder why the Church is not doing the same miraculous things Jesus did. I think there are many reasons. First of all, we have forgotten that God gives such miraculous powers. Perhaps we are afraid to ask for these things, out of fear that we will look foolish or that we will be disappointed. God has given doctors and nurses the ability to heal scientifically, so we do not look toward the supernatural for healing. When a Christian dies, why bother bringing them back into this world of sin and evil when they have gone home, where we all long to be?
Jesus said we would do miracles and even greater things. What are the greater things? He did not only heal the sick and bring life to those who had perished in flesh. He brought hope to the lost, love to the lonely and forgiveness to those who sin. By His death on the cross and resurrection into new life, He gave us all eternal life in Him. Though we should be open to the great and wonderful things Jesus can do through us for the glory of God our Father, we are still doing those greater things. By sharing the Gospel message with the lost and lonely, we bring them true life and spiritual healing.
While our kids are ministering in Mexico and Texas, I pray they will experience the miraculous powers God has promised to give to His servants. Perhaps they will see something incredible. Perhaps the miracle will seem to the world to be nothing more than a coincidence. However, I pray most of all that Jesus will do the greater things through our youth – giving hope, love and forgiveness to those who cross their path.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Speaking Do you remember Cliff Claven from the television show Cheers? Cliff knew something about everything, or thought he did. No matter what topic came up in the bar, Cliff found something to say. His information was often less than true. It seemed as though sometimes he was making the stuff up as he went. It is difficult to carry on a conversation with someone like Cliff. They usually leave little room for others to share their own knowledge and ideas. We all know someone like this.
The Bible gives a great deal of advice about the words that come out of our mouths. Jesus warns that our words show the state of our heart. There are many proverbs that talk about the words of fools and the silence of the wise. Even the world agrees that it is best to think before speaking. Children are taught “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes it is just hard to keep quiet, particularly if you feel your message would help someone.
I once knew a woman who called herself a prophet. Whenever we met, she had many things to say; yet much of her information was less than true. She shared some of her writings with me, and I found these papers filled with error. She thought the words would help someone, much like Cliff Claven felt that his knowledge would expand the intellectual horizons of his friends. Instead, these prophecies would lead her readers on a road to destruction. Many misunderstand the gift of prophecy, particularly in this Church age. For some, the gift of prophecy is an open door to talk as much as they want and an excuse to say whatever is on their mind. Yet, prophecy is a gift given for a specific purpose. It is to proclaim God’s word.
Read Luke 1:67-79
God put these words in Zechariah’s mouth, a testimony of what God was going to do through John and the Messiah who would come after him. These were the first words Zechariah had uttered since the day he learned that Elizabeth would have a child. It was a song of praise and thanksgiving, but also a prophecy that proclaimed God’s Word.
During these days in Mexico and Texas, the youth may be tempted to talk a lot. They are excited about this trip, about the work they’ve been called to do. They want to share the love of Christ with everyone they meet. They are still young, have much to learn. Some of their ideas about God need to mature as they grow in faith. I pray that they understand the need to remain silent at times, keeping their own thoughts to themselves, so that God might speak His Word through them. This is the gift of prophecy that He has promised to those who believe, when God puts His Word in the mouths of His children so that others will hear the message of salvation. May God grant them this gift today and always. Thanks be to God.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Spirits The topic of spirits brings up childhood memories of “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and “Scooby Doo”. We are reminded of literary classics such as “A Christmas Carol”. The whole idea of spirits from another world can be frightening for some, but these characters and stories have fascinated generations of children.
We recently went to see Scooby Doo in the movie theatre, a funny movie and amazing in how they managed to make a live action film remain true to the original feel of the cartoon series. The characters had the same voice and mannerisms, duplicating the animation far better than I ever expected. With modern technology, animation has become so realistic, using computer graphics to make creatures that seem so real, but Scooby Doo is a hand drawn cartoon, somewhat distorted by design and practicality. To see Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby Doo in real flesh doing the things that the cartoons did, was simply remarkable.
The storyline behind Scooby Doo is that the kids at Mystery Inc. are ghost hunters. They find themselves in the most unbelievable situations, with some sort of ‘spirit’ creating havoc for their employers. They have to stop the ghost to save the business who hired them. Daphne always ended up kidnapped by the ghost and somehow Scooby and Shaggy stumbled into the truth. In the end, the ghost was never really something from another world, but a guy in a mask trying to take over or destroy the business. It was the job of the gang at Mystery Inc. to discern the spirits and solve the problem.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about discerning spirits, he wasn’t talking about characters like Casper or the villains in Scooby Doo. God has an enemy, and that enemy has helpers who are determined to keep people from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Satan has been roaming for many generations, deceiving people with lies about God, twists of the truth that lead people astray. False prophets give a false Gospel to people who do not know the truth and who willingly follow this destructive path. Fortunately, God gives us the ability to discern between spirits, to know who come from God and who are from the enemy.
Read 1 John 1:1-3
We never stop growing in faith and understanding. As it has long been said, “You learn something new everyday.” While this is true for everyone, it is especially true for our young people. They are just beginning their journey of service for the Lord. They lack experience and have so much to learn about the scriptures and the Christian faith. It is easy for those young in faith to be deceived by false prophets. Even when they are the ones who are sharing the Gospel, there may be people to whom they are ministering that know more about the Bible and have strong opinions about religion. We pray that while they minister, God grants them the ability to discern the spirits that they might know those that come from God and those that are sent by the enemy to cause confusion with lies. With this gift, they will stay on the right path, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need His love and mercy.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Spanish As the youth prepared for their trip to Texas and Mexico, one of the most important activities was to learn some Spanish so that they could communicate with the people to whom they were sent to minister. How can we share the Gospel of Christ if those who hear do not understand the words we say? So, the kids spent time learning some songs and key phrases in Spanish. The coloring books they were going to use were translated so that the children could read the captions. They practiced a mime skit that spoke about forgiveness without using any words.
Of all the spiritual gifts listed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I think the last two – tongues and interpretation – are probably the hardest to handle. There are so many conflicting ideas about the gift of tongues that it is a topic that brings heated discussion between Christians from many different backgrounds. Some believe it is a requirement as evidence of salvation, others believe it is a dead gift. Paul deals extensively with the topic in 1 Corinthians 14, comparing tongues to prophecy. He defines tongues as a sign for unbelievers, so that they will hear the Gospel.
There are different kinds of tongues. Speaking a foreign language, learned or unlearned, is just one. God gives both abilities, but one is a miraculous experience. I’ve heard stories of people who have found that they were speaking to strangers who do not speak English, but who understand perfectly the message of salvation through their words. The story of Pentecost is the most incredible example of such a gift from God. But I think that even when two people speak the same language, the gift of tongues can come into play. The kingdom of heaven and the message of salvation in Christ Jesus, are so strange to human ears that it takes the gift of God to speak the Gospel so that it will be received into the heart of an unbeliever.
We can easily reject the gift of tongues as being miraculous, particularly since this gift has been abused and misused for so long in the Church. In this modern age most evangelists leave for mission well versed in the language. Translators have made incredible progress in producing bibles for nearly every language in the world. These are in themselves gifts from God. However, God still does miraculous things in this world, including giving people the ability to speak His words in a way that is not typical of the person speaking. It is important to note that interpretation is required when tongues are spoken in a language that no one understands. God does not give a gift of tongues without giving the gift of interpretation. When tongues are spoken aloud in the presence of others, someone must understand what is being said, or it is simply not a gift from God.
Paul’s greatest concern in these verses from 1 Corinthians 14, particularly when it comes to tongues is to keep corporate worship orderly. Things were often out of control in the spiritually moved congregation in Corinth. The same things have been found in modern churches, so his words are still valid today. He warns against too many speaking in tongues and that if there is no interpreter the speaker should remain silent. He focuses on prophecy as the greater gift; because those revelations given by God through prophecy will be understood by the listeners will edify the church. But he does not dismiss tongues.
Read 1 Corinthians 14:39-40
The youth did what they could to learn the language of those to whom they were to minister. I do pray that in these days in Mexico and Texas, they’ve been able to speak – whether by learned language or miraculously – in a way that the unbelievers who hear would understand and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God.
Homecoming The youth group and the adults are on their way home from their mission trip. They left McAllen yesterday morning and spent the night in Houston. I am looking forward to their return, to hear about their experiences and share in their joy. I have received reports over the week. Vicki has called several times and I have talked to others who have been in contact with the group. There have been a few disappointments – at first the children did not know the VBS was taking place. Their first day was very quiet, but they had plenty of children on the other days. There were a few minor health troubles, mostly due to exhaustion. The worst trouble was the sunburn they got during their day at the beach.
These negative reports are small compared to the wonderful things that happened this week. The youth grew in their faith; they found great joy in serving the people in Mexico and Texas. They felt the Holy Spirit’s presence with them. Even the youth who are at times less than cooperative were right in the middle of the action – loving, serving and sharing Jesus Christ. They formed a bond with each other, a strong bond that will hold them together as they continue God’s work here at home. It will be interesting to see them as they return today. I hear they were all touched and transformed by the hand of God.
Read Colossians 1:3-6
As I hear the reports from the mission trip, I thank God for all the wonderful things He has done with and through this small group of youth. He prepared them, in heart and spirit, not only over the past few months but also throughout their lifetimes. He drew them into His heart and gave them everything they needed to step forth in the faith that He would be with them this week. He gave them the hope to rest in His promises. He filled them with love for one another and for those to whom they were sent.
God has also touched me through you, my beloved brethren in faith. I know that you have joined us in pray for these wonderful kids, for their mission and for the lost, sick and lonely in that small corner of the world. Though they were far from home, they were never alone, for you walked with them. The faith, love and hope given to you by God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ was made manifest in fruit that was born through the lives of twelve teenagers and three adults who gave of themselves for a few days to share the Gospel. It will be some time before we hear about all the wonderful things that happened to these kids this week. We may never know all the ways God touched lives with His gifts during this mission. One thing we know for sure, God is truly faithful to His promises and He has truly blessed our kids with His love. Thanks be to God.
Late Summer vacation is nearly over. School begins next Monday, so we have only a week to accomplish all the things we had planned on doing this summer. We have had a busy time with vacations and summer camps. It isn’t like we have sat around doing nothing. However, there were goals we had set for ourselves, places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do. Now we have one week to accomplish too many things. Since we still have some back-to-school shopping and a few scheduled commitments, we won’t get everything done.
Whatever the reason – either that we waited too long or have simply been too busy – it is too late for us to do many of the things we wanted to do this summer. But isn’t that the way life is? We make plans to accomplish many things, set goals for ourselves, and promise to see places and people. Yet, because so many things get in the way or we simply put things off too long, we run just run out of time. Sometimes we think it is too late to do the really important things. This is particularly true with our relationships. We put off telling someone we love them or granting forgiveness for past hurts. We wait too long to visit that family member or to share the love of Christ with someone we know.
Read Mark 6:32-36
The disciples thought it was too late. They were probably very tired; they wanted to be alone with Jesus. What more could He do for them at that late hour anyway? They would get hungry and begin to complain. The disciples were ready to send them away. All too often, when we think the hour has grown too late to accomplish anything – restoring relationships or doing the things we’d planned on doing – we don’t bother. “It is too late.” Yet, Jesus showed the disciples that time is precious and we should take advantage of every moment.
In this story Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, blessed it and fed more than five thousand people. I am certain that during that meal, Jesus also shared Himself and the Word of God. Not only were they fed in their flesh, their bellies filled with good food, but also being in His presence was a blessing to their souls. Jesus did not put off until tomorrow what He could do today because something stood in His way. He made it happen, accomplished His work for that day, touching the lives of those people.
The things we wanted to do this summer are not really that important. A trip to Memphis to go shopping or a visit to the zoo can wait. However, we all have things in our lives that should be accomplished. He have relationships that need restoration, we have words of faith that should be shared with the lost and lonely. We have friends that are sick in body, mind and spirit who need to know God’s presence and love. There are some things that just can’t wait. Take time today to feed the bread of life to those who are hungry. Share Jesus with the world. He will help restore those broken relationships and bring life into those who are dying before it is too late. Thanks be to God.
Television. Zack is really looking forward to going back to school and though we’ve had a really good vacation, I have to admit I am too. Zack has had fun this summer, with camps and clinics, the trip to Pennsylvania, our adventures around town. He has played with his friends, spent time playing with his friends and he has read some books. Even with all this activity, he has spent way too much time in front of the television. He gets up in the morning and turns on the TV. He lays on the couch or the floor and stares at it for a few hours, perhaps taking a moment to eat some breakfast. When it gets too hot to play outside, he comes in to do the same thing. If it rains, he does the same thing. If he’s bored, he does the same thing.
This is pretty typical behavior for a nine-year old boy. As is the whiney “Oh, Mom” when I insist that we turn off the TV to find something else to do. However, if a friend comes over he is quick to turn it off and go. Even if he is in the middle of a favorite movie or episode, he’ll step away to have fun with his friends. There are some kids who are so hooked on the talking box that they would rather stay inside with it than spend time with other kids. “I can’t leave now, my favorite show comes on in five minutes.” There’s always another to follow. The television is more important than life itself.
That’s how it is with idols. Idols are not just statues of stone or wood, they are the created things that take all our attention. Idols are the things we put ahead of the people we love, but even more importantly, above God Himself. For some people, their idol is their job. For others it is their social life. For yet others it is some sport or hobby. For others it is an addiction such as drugs or alcohol. As we look around our modern world, it is easy to say that we don’t worship idols. Very few modern religions have such practice. However, our lives are more complicated than the lives lived thousands of years ago, our idols are more difficult to pinpoint.
Read Habakkuk 2:18-20
Yes, it will be good for Zack to be back in school so he won’t have so much time in front of the television. Yet, we all should consider what idols we are hold above life, people and most especially God. What are we looking toward for comfort? Peace? Provision? What aspects of our life are we trying to give life when there is no breath? Have our jobs, hobbies, material possessions, television, families or relationships become more important to us than God? These things did not give us life and they cannot sustain our lives. We do not have to reject these things completely; we just need to consider how much importance they have in our lives. God our Father and Creator gave us life, breath and all we have. All honor and glory belongs to Him.
The idols made of stone and wood had no voice and could not do anything to make our lives better. Our modern idols are more difficult to discern. We need our jobs to eat and shelter ourselves. Our relationships are made with living, breathing people brought together to love and serve one another. Television is a learning tool with a variety of educational programming. These things seem to have life and do make our lives better, yet they are still created by man and should never become more important than the One who gave us true life.
Frisbee The Frisbee is one of the simplest and most successful toys in the history of child’s play. The idea came from Bridgeport, Connecticut where college students at Yale used the metal tins from Frisbie Pie Company as toys. With the development of plastic, Ed Headrick created a plastic flying disc that flew straight and long, which was then sold by Wham-O Inc. Generations of children and adults have enjoyed tossing Frisbees on the beach or in the park. As often happens, play became sport with the invention of disc golf and other Frisbee-related sports. There are now International competitions and people who devote their lives to the sport.
Ed Headrick died in his sleep Monday. Frisbee was his life and he leaves behind an incredible legacy. Mr. Headrick was once quoted as saying, “We used to say that Frisbee is really a religion – ‘Frisbyterians,’ we'd call ourselves. When we die, we don't go to purgatory. We just land up on the roof and lay there.” I don’t know anything about Mr. Headrick’s religious belief; this quote is probably more a humorous joke than a statement of faith. He did have an unusual last request. He has asked that his body be cremated and his ashes molded into a limited edition Frisbee that will be given to family and friends. The extras will be sold to benefit a museum being created to house Frisbee memorabilia and the history of disc golf.
How do you want to be remembered when you die? Presidents want to leave a legacy of prosperity. Parents hope their offspring will look fondly on their childhood and pass the love on to their children and grandchildren. Teachers rejoice with every student that leaves their classroom more knowledgeable and mature. Musicians want their music to live on forever. Some, like Elvis, leave far more than just a few songs. Everyone wants to be remembered for something.
Read Hebrews 6:9-12
Mr. Headrick joked about spending eternity on the roof like a lost Frisbee. As Christians, we are promised an eternal life of peace and joy in the presence of God our Father, and this promise has been given to us by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world benefited from the invention of the Frisbee. This simple toy gave many children hours of enjoyment. For some less athletic children it was the one sport in which they could participate with some success. These are good and wonderful things, but what we leave behind is just as perishable as our lives, unless we give those things that accompany our salvation in Jesus Christ. Many people live their lives and request in death things that will leave a legacy to help the generations that follow to remember. But it is the love, mercy and grace of God that will linger even while the memory of our life fades. People forget no matter how hard we try to change the world or leave something by which we can be remembered, but God never does. We are called to live our lives in the hope of eternal life, not in the hope that we will be remembered. It is this legacy – the faithfulness of God – that will live on forever. Thanks be to God.
Lost It seems like a lot of our children are disappearing these days. Day after day, the news has a report of a child being abducted from his or her neighborhood or home. Some of the stories end horribly, a body is found days or weeks later after an intensive search and investigation. Sometimes, like the case of baby Nancy Chavez, the family is reunited with tears of joy and celebration. The woman who allegedly took Nancy from her mother passed the child off as her own newborn child all around town until the police caught up with her.
Nancy’s mother Margarita tried to stop the kidnapper by grabbing her hair through the open car window. The woman kept driving, dragging her 40 feet, leaving Margarita bruised and bleeding in the parking lot. The first to try to rescue Nancy was a boy of 13, Robert Gann. By his own admission, Robert was a teenage troublemaker, but when he saw the child taken he approached the kidnapper and demanded her return. Margarita praised Robert for trying to save her baby, and in this incident he saw himself in a new light. He said, “It makes me feel good that everyone looks at me as a good person. Everybody always put me down, told me I wasn't going to make, I was a failure. Now I can stand proud.”
It seems like there have been so many more child abductions lately, and yet the experts are saying this is not true. What has happened is that in the last decade or so, several victims have set up associations that have created networks for finding lost children. America’s Most Wanted, the Morgan Nick Alert and other such programs have helped find lost children; they have reunited the children with their families and brought justice to their abductors. Though the stories do not all end happily, these programs have made it possible for more stories to end in rejoicing such as that of Nancy Chavez.
Read Luke 15:8-10
Though the woman in this scripture had other coins, she did everything she could to find the missing coin, carefully searching the entire house until it was found. In today’s world of modern communication and with organizations that work together for the sake of the children, it is much easier for these cases to be solved and the children found before something horrible happens. The police purposely use the media so that people who live great distances from the scene of the abduction will be aware and report anything they see. One police officer on the Today Show this morning said that these cases are being solved more quickly and with happier endings because of these networks working together.
The interesting twist to this story is young Robert. While the family is rejoicing over the return of baby Nancy, Robert has been changed into a new person by such a positive experience. He risked his own safety by approaching the kidnapper. Margarita did not look at him as a troublesome teenager, but as a young man willing to help. Her praise and her faith that Nancy would be returned may have impacted Robert’s life more than she’ll ever know. Today we rejoice that Nancy is home. We also rejoice over the life of Robert. Though we may never know what will become of him, it is my prayer that this young man has been so deeply touched by the love of God that he will no longer be in trouble with the law, but will truly be changed in every way. I can almost hear the rejoicing of the angels in heaven. Thanks be to God.
Computer I spent most of yesterday fixing my computer. Things have not worked quite right for several months. The CD-ROM broke, my Internet was not working very well, and error messages closed down the computer more often than I care to admit. I bought a new CD-ROM and installed it, creating a multitude of other problems along the way. The modem came loose and the floppy stopped working. Since the CD-ROM worked, I decided to restore the computer, which would solve my other problems. Unfortunately, something was still wrong and I could not install my America Online program. One thing led to another, I spent hours on the phone getting it fixed. Late last night I had everything in working order. But there are still inconveniences. Our settings were lost as well as some of our files. I also have to reinstall the software that I use regularly. It is amazing how quickly one little problem can build up into a major disaster.
The other day Vicki asked me “If two wrongs don’t make a right, what does a wrong and a right make?” We talked about how wrongs never make a right no matter how many there are. She said, “I know the answer. A wrong and a right makes a mess.” This was a very wise answer, one that I hope Vicki will remember when she is tempted by her peers in the days of adolescence that are coming very quickly. Too often when we get into trouble, we add to it by building one problem on another. For example, a small white lie often leads to more lies.
Sometimes we do not even realize that what we have done is wrong. We think our response to a situation is actually right, which is how we can get into a situation like Vicki described. When I tried to fix the computer, I probably should have taken it to a professional who could have fixed it without harming other aspects. When someone wrongs us, we usually try to find a way to get back at him or her. Though our action brings justice according to human wisdom, more often it just makes a mess. This is why God provided for restoration through the blood of Jesus Christ. We just can’t clean up our messes with our own actions.
Read Matthew 18:21-22
While I was fixing the computer, I just kept thinking how much I just wanted to dump it and buy a new one – start fresh without all these little problems. However, I knew that there was no way we could afford a new one now, so with every problem I just fixed it and moved on to the next. Yet, when it comes to our relationships, we are very quick to discard them based on minor problems. We even make them worse because we try to fix them using questionable actions. When someone harms us, we answer that harm with some sort of human justice. However, if there is no forgiveness then we only pile a right on a wrong and make a mess.
I should have gone to a professional. I didn’t and created more problems for myself along the way. How often do we forget to go to the one who can bring true reconciliation, Jesus? We try to handle it ourselves, piling what we think is a right on top of a wrong. Without forgiveness, all we get is a mess. Jesus made a right out of all the wrongs with His blood on the cross, and we can live reconciled to God and each other in that in every situation we face through His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Response Hans Christian Anderson wrote a story about an emperor was very vain. This emperor thought himself to be quite the looker, wearing the hottest clothes of the day. He showed off every outfit to his people. One day, a couple of lowlifes came to the empire having heard of the ruler’s vanity. They decided to use it for their own benefit. They approached the emperor and told him they were tailors who could make the most beautiful fabric in the world, something worthy of his magnificence. They told the emperor that this fabric would be so light and fine that it would look invisible. They warned that only the most stupid and incompetent people would say otherwise. He agreed and paid them handsomely for the work.
They worked for some time on the fabric, using the kingdom’s resources of fine gold thread and silk. All who visited the loom room raved about the wonderful fabric they were creating. No one wanted to appear stupid or incompetent. The grand day arrived when the two tailors approached the emperor with the new fabric. He agreed it was the finest he’d ever seen! The tailors then measured him for a new suit to be made with this special fabric. Days later they returned and helped the emperor into his new suit. The entire kingdom was called to the palace so that they could see him in his extraordinary finery.
The people gasped at the site of their emperor standing naked before them, yet none said a word because they knew that any who could not see the fabric were stupid or incompetent. The crowd of people yelled with joy and threw compliments toward their emperor. “That is truly the most beautiful suit in the world!” they said. They were in awe over the special clothes these tailors created for their emperor. None wanted to appear stupid or incompetent.
A small boy, who had no need to pretend, said, “But the emperor is naked.” Some of the people in the crowd realized the boy was right. The words he spoke were true. Those people realized the emperor was just a fool who had fallen for a trick. But the emperor and some of his followers, not wanting to appear stupid or incompetent, continued the charade.
Read Acts 17:1-9
Isn’t it amazing how differently people react to the truth? In the Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor and his people continued to believe that the fabric was real because they did not want to appear stupid or incompetent. Yet, by continuing the charade, they were even more foolish. When Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, many people saw that what he spoke was the truth and they believed in Jesus. Others heard the Word and rejected it, continuing in their own understanding of God’s kingdom. They did all they could to make Paul and the other disciples of Jesus appear to be the ones who were foolish troublemakers. They reacted to the truth according to their own desires and ideas.
We will face people who will do the same with us when we speak the Gospel of Christ. They will try to make us look bad, they will continue to live in darkness and sin. They will reject the forgiveness of Christ and the eternal life that comes from faith in Him. We know the truth, just like the little boy who knew the emperor was naked. We will be persecuted for our faith, but that should never stop us from sharing the truth that every sinner needs to be covered by Christ’s righteousness.
Walls Two brothers owned adjacent property and lived in fellowship with one another until one day they had an argument. The rift created between the two men was so deep that they decided to cut off their relationship altogether. Not wanting to risk seeing his brother, one man built a wall on the edge of his property. The other brother built a bigger wall to prove that he was greater. The two brothers continued this game of wall building – digging trenches, using stone and adding towers – until they had completely cut off any chance for reconciliation.
One day a poor carpenter came into town looking for work. The brothers happened to see him at the same time. He asked if there was any work to be done. One brother said, “I no longer have a relationship with this man,” pointing at his brother, “and I wish to never see his face again. Please build a tall wall between our property.” The other brother said, “I’ll pay you to make the fence even taller, for I have no wish to see my brother again either.” The two brothers went into their homes and the carpenter set to work. Some time later the men came out to see the progress on the work and discovered that the carpenter did not do as he had been told. Rather than a wall, he built a bridge. This simple act of a poor carpenter made the men realize how foolish they had been. They crossed the bridge and renewed their relationship.
Human beings are born with a sinful nature, a nature that wants to create walls. We take the good things our Father has given us and use them in ways that break our relationships with one another. In the early days of the Hebrews, God gave them a number of rules to help them live peaceful and healthy lives. Those rules became walls. Those who thought themselves righteous according to the rules cut off relationships with those who were unable to keep them. Any sinner in the eyes of men was outcast from the community.
But Jesus came to change all that. He came to show us that our understanding of those rules was out of line, that building walls was never God’s intent. Since we are all born with that nature that wants to build walls, He came to die so that we would be reconciled to God and each other. Jesus was the poor carpenter who came to build a bridge. He turned the whole understanding of the rules upside down, returned them to what they were meant to do – to sustain the peaceful, healthy world He created.
Read Mark 7:14-19
Jesus quoted Isaiah by saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” There are many Christians today who should heed these words and understand that Jesus was not just talking to the Pharisees. We have many reasons why we build walls against our brothers and sisters in Christ. Debate between Christians of different denominations can be heated and wicked. We break off those relationships, forgetting what that poor carpenter did for all of us – brought reconciliation between our Creator and all of creation. We consider those who don’t do things ‘our way’ as being ‘unclean.’ Yet, it is this very act of building a wall that makes us unclean.
Jesus died that we might have eternal life in Him, a life lived in reconciliation to God and one another. They will know us by our love. But if the walls we build separate our lives, they will never see the love of Christ. Jesus didn’t build a wall – He built a bridge. Thanks be to God.
First Day Today was the first day of school for the children. No matter how hard you try to prepare for every possibility, it is inevitable that something will go wrong. With the children back at school, I planned to make today a day of rest and relaxation – no responsibilities, no place to go. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often go astray.
There was some confusion with Zack’s bus and it never came to pick him up. That meant I had to get dressed and drive him to school. Though it changed my plans for the day, I made the most of my morning. It was nice to be with Zack for a bit on his first day of school, and on my way home I ran a few errands. I certainly grumbled when the day began, disturbed by inconveniences of the day. I was angry at the bus office for making such a big mistake. The early morning traffic and the lack of parking at the school were frustrating. Yet, by the time I got home I realized that I should not complain. The bus problem affected many parents, some who had to leave work or find transportation to get their children to school. The school administration had extra work ensuring that the children would have a ride home this afternoon. Some children have even deeper problems. They did not have the money to purchase the necessary school supplies. They did not have a healthy breakfast or a good night sleep. Some children live with physical, mental or emotional abuse, missing parents or chemical dependency.
When I was stuck in traffic today, I wanted to complain about this situation. I was ready to call the bus office and yell. By the time I arrived at school I realized that complaining would not do anything. I did whatever I could to help solve the situation for Zack and in the process helped the school identify a major problem. I offered to transport children this afternoon if necessary. I helped Zack’s teacher for a few minutes, hugged a few kids and wished many teachers and parents a happy new school year.
Read James 1:26-27
I had reason to complain, but instead I tried to make a difference. That’s how it should be with our actions in every situation. It really does no good to complain about the inconveniences that ruin our plans, particularly since there are many who have far more difficult problems in their lives. The first day of school is chaotic for everyone. A smile, an offer to help or a gift out of our material wealth might just make a difference to someone today.
James warns us to keep a tight rein on our tongue. We should take care to use proper language and avoid words that are offensive to the people around us. But we should also beware that our attitudes and responses to the situations of life reflect our faith to the world. When we complain about our problems and ignore those who have greater needs, we show that our religion is worthless. But God honors the faith that is openly lived in active service, even in our times of difficulty. How will you respond the next time that some aspect of life is chaotic? Will you complain, or will you do whatever you can to make the situation better for all? Your reaction to the adversity of life is your witness to the world. This could be impossible if it weren’t for the fact that our Father gives us the faith to live that religious life which He finds acceptable, through Christ Jesus our Lord and for His sake. Thanks be to God.
Routine We are getting back into our school day routine. Last night we were able to get into bed at the appropriate time, which meant it was much easier for the children to wake up this morning. They quickly went about their morning tasks and both were ready well before their expected pick-up times.
This return to the school day schedule has affected our whole household, even Felix. He has been so used to having the children around all day long this summer. He spent much of the day yesterday roaming the house, meowing. He was looking for Vicki and Zack. Thinking they must be outside playing, he tried one door after another, crying for them to come inside. He was unable to rest all day, even in the evening when they were in bed. He missed their companionship and was very uncomfortable the last few days. Rest comes easy when everything is as it should be. Felix does not understand the concept of school days verse summer vacation; to him things are just different. He will eventually get used to the new schedule and will go back to sleeping all day.
Read Exodus 33:12-17
There is security in knowing the routine and understanding why things are happening. Felix has no such understanding. For him, things were one way one day, then completely different the next. It upset his life and made rest difficult. God gave Moses a most extraordinary task – to deliver the people to the Promised Land. It was all new, different and frightening. The LORD assured Moses that He would be with him every step along the way. Moses knew that the only way He could accomplish this great feat was to have God present with them wherever they would go. He knew that if the Hebrews were to be witnesses to the power of God, that God would have to go with them. In His presence, they would find rest. That rest might not be physical rest – the journey, the wars and the settlement of the Holy Land would be demanding and difficult. However, in God’s presence they would have the rest that comes from the peace that passes all human understanding.
As Christians, we have that rest in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His presence goes with us every moment of every day – His Holy Spirit dwells within us. We rest in the assurance that God is with us, and rejoice in the knowledge that the world witnesses His power through our lives of faith. Just as He knew Moses by name, He knows each of us and does not leave us alone. Felix is already getting used to the new routine; he is resting comfortably today. He just needed to see that this new schedule is as it should be and that he won’t be abandoned. When God begins a new thing in our life, we just need to know that He will be with us through it, and in that assurance we can rest in the peace that comes from His presence. Thanks be to God.
Sunrise I am not a morning person. As a matter of fact, one of the best parts of summer vacation for me is that I do not have to get up at the crack of dawn. Over the summer months, our sleep habits changed dramatically, allowing the children to stay up later so that they could play outside or watch their favorite television shows. These later nights meant everyone wanted to stay in bed a little longer each morning. With few responsibilities, we could sleep until we were ready to get up and begin our day. Now that school is back in session and the children set off for school very early in the morning, it is necessary to set our alarms and go to bed much earlier.
Though I am not a morning person, I do love to be outside to watch the sunrise and listen as the world wakes up to another day. I go out alone for a few minutes before anyone else. The air is fresh and cool, much different than it is during the heat of the day. The crickets are still chirping and the birds are beginning to sing. The sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon, chasing away the dark of night. It is a time of prayer and I can’t help but know that God is still actively involved in His creation. The beauty and the peace I know during those moments makes it easier to get out of bed each morning. Though I’d prefer to be in bed, these few moments in the quietness of the morning help me wake up and begin the new day.
The other morning, Zack and I watched as the mimosa bush began to open its leaves to the early light. It was as if it was waking from its own slumber, having closed its leaves against the dark of night. Each morning, Zack looks at the bush and says, “Look Mom, it is waking up again.” There is a constancy in creation that is comforting. When things seem to be chaotic around us – with death and illness, changes to our plans, confusion, doubts and uncertainty – it is nice to know that God is always present and is faithful.
Read Psalm 36:5-9
When I roll out of bed too early in the morning, I think to myself that I will get back under the covers as soon as I send my family on their way. Yet I rarely do so. It seems unnecessary after those few moments in the quietness of the morning, thinking about the wondrous works of God as found in the songs of birds and the light of the new day. One we are in the light, why go back to the things we do in darkness? In a few hours the sun will go down as it does every day, the mimosa tree with close its leaves for the night and we will head back to bed to rest for another day. But while it is Today, let us praise God for the constancy of His hand in this world and His faithfulness to provide all we need for life. Thanks be to God.
Free Lunch It is said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The expectation when one is invited out to a meal is that something will be done in return – whether it is to do some sort of work, to reciprocate or even to buy a friendship. I think this stems from the human need to earn rewards for the things we do. Since we desire to have recognition, we do what we can to recognize others for their service. It is not a bad thing to show appreciation in word and deed, but too often we take it too far and expect something in return. So, we end up with phrases like “there is no such thing as a free lunch” because we understand this human need for give and take, the expectation of payment for all we do.
There is another phrase related to this topic, “everyone has his price.” Most people certainly would not do something against their principles for a free meal. Many people might do it for a large amount of cash. What would you be willing to do for a million dollars? Would you lie, steal or cheat? Would you commit adultery or do murder? Would you renounce your faith? We can easily say, “No” to all those questions in the context of a hypothetical situation, but do we really know how we would react if someone would offer such a thing to us?
Symphorianus was a man who lived in Gaul during Roman rule. The town was called Autun and the people worshipped with particular reverence the goddess Cybele, known as the mother of all gods. It was their practice to wheel a statue of Cybele through the streets of the city on her feast day while the people bowed and worshipped her. Symphorianus refused to do so, proclaiming the Lord as the one true God. He even requested a hammer so that he could destroy the statue. The governor, Heraclius, did everything he could to convince Symphorianus to convert. He even tried to bribe him with an army commission – a high honor that held great potential for wealth and power. When Symphorianus refused to recant his faith, he was killed. Heraclius wanted to give Symphorianus a free lunch, but the expectation was too high. There was no price he was willing to take to renounce his faith.
Read Psalm 31:1-5
Shortly before he was executed, Symphorianus’ mother yelled, “Do not be afraid, your death will lead straight to eternal life.” Symphorianus rested in the promise of God; he took refuge in love and mercy of Jesus Christ. The bribes of this world meant nothing to him, if it meant rejecting the One who gave him eternal life. For some people, perhaps there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Either they expect something in return, or think the giver will expect repayment. God’s way is different. He does not need anything we have; He gives freely out of His love for His creation. When we face persecution like Symphorianus, we might be tempted to take the bribe to save ourselves from a horrible fate. But how can a million dollars replace eternal life? It can’t. That is why we take refuge in God when we face such temptation, committing our souls to His care no matter what should happen. For no matter what happens to our bodies, God has rescued us from death through the blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t buy that gift, or earn it, or give it to anyone. It comes from God and God alone. He is our refuge. Thanks be to God.
Iron Mountain Legend tells of an island with an Iron Mountain that had an incredible magnetic force. The force was so powerful that ships that passed by would be affected. The metal anchors and chains were drawn toward the island. If the ship passed too closely, the very nails that held the ship together would be pulled out and end up on the side of the mountain. A ship without nails will fall apart and sink, leaving the crew stranded or dead.
There is a similar legend in Greek mythology about a creature that was half bird and half woman with an incredibly beautiful and sweet singing voice. Sailors were drawn toward the music, but then the rocky coast destroyed their ships. In the story of the Greek hero Odysseus, we hear of an encounter with those sirens. He knew of the danger so he had wax put into the ears of all the sailors, but he desired to hear the music for himself. As a precaution, he had himself tied to the mast so that he would not do anything to endanger the lives of his men.
These pictures of temptation show how powerful and destructive the forces that try to draw us away from our life can be. Odysseus knew that if the men heard the music, the ship would crash and their journey would end. So, he did what he could to protect the ship. He recognized the power and danger the sirens presented and did not even trust himself to be strong. Lesser men would have thought themselves able to handle the temptation, putting themselves and their crew into a perilous situation. I can imagine at least a few ship captains who would purposely pull close to the island of the Iron Mountain just to see if it was really true. When the ship got close enough to feel the affects, it would be too late to stop the destruction.
It is in our nature to think we are strong enough to handle things that tempt us. We think we can just try something once and never do it again, but too often our arrogance leads to our own destruction. Peer and societal pressures make us see those temptations as good and pleasant experiences, our friends help us justify our actions. “The music of the sirens is sweet and beautiful, what harm could it do to listen?” “The Iron Mountain is fascinating, our ship is strong and we will escape, what harm will come from trying it just once?” Unfortunately, presumptuous statements like these could lead to the destruction of too many ships. The same is true of those who think that they can taste temptation and walk away.
Read Matthew 18:5-6
Odysseus probably should have waxed his own ears rather than listen to the music of the sirens. The risk was too great, even with so many precautions. When it comes to temptation, it is best to avoid the possibility rather than test our strength in the midst of it. Even if we are strong enough to handle whatever tempts us, we might bring destruction to those around us. Our actions affect the lives of others, even if only by example. Our strength is found in Jesus Christ and we are forgiven when we fail to resist temptation. However, many watch our action and follow our lead. Though we may not fall into the temptations that face us, those who are watching and learning from our example might not be able to stop themselves, thus bringing destruction to their souls. Jesus warns us to beware of leading a child into sin, for their destruction will bring even greater destruction upon ourselves.
Though there is not much we can do about the affects of society and peer pressure on the lives of our children, we can teach them to avoid the temptations of this world and steer them away from the things that might cause them to sin. Most of all, we can teach them that their strength is in Christ Jesus, in His forgiveness and mercy. If they do fall, they can look to Him for salvation from the harmful affects of their sin. Thanks be to God.
Landslide There is a picture on the front page of our paper today showing the Nepalese village of Thapra. The incredible amount of rain that has fallen on Asia has created many problems for the people. There has been flooding and landslides, too many lives lost because of this natural disaster. The picture in the paper shows the line between where the landslide annihilated the village and the houses that were untouched. Some of those houses are just feet from the destruction, the people spared from death and the loss of everything they own. We often see similar pictures from the path of a tornado or a flood. I’ve seen examples of places where one house has disintegrated while the one next door is untouched. If the path of the tornado, or the landslide, were just a few feet to the right or left, more lives might have been destroyed.
The forces of nature don’t consider your spiritual or political beliefs when they strike. The rain falls on people from every creed and race. However, how we deal with the storms of life is dependent on our faith. Though Christians are often the ones whose homes are stripped from the hillside by a landslide or ripped apart by a tornado, it is in the response that the hope of the promise of God to a Christian shows forth in the world. The Christian continues to praise God and care for his neighbors even in the midst of tragedy and destruction.
Paul preached the Gospel of Christ despite the persecution he faced. He was thrown in jail numerous times, beaten and rejected. It was in the midst of his suffering and weakness that God proved strong. Many came to faith because Paul spoke boldly in faith even while in chains and pain. When it was realized that Paul was a Roman citizen, he was transported to Rome to be tried. That journey was filled with adventure, danger and amazing experiences. In chapter the twenty-seventh chapter of Acts, the ship was caught in a terrible storm. The storm lasted for days and was so bad that the men feared for their lives. They began to rid the ship of any unnecessary weight, just to keep it afloat. Through it, Paul remained filled with hope and faith. An angel of the Lord promised Paul, “Not one of you will be lost,” and Paul held onto that promise.
Read Acts 27:30-38
Paul’s hope in the promise of the angel was not just for the believers who were aboard the ship, but it was also for all who were with them – including the soldiers who were taking Paul to be tried for his crimes against Rome. He protected those who sought to save their own lives by stopping them from leaving. He praised God in the blessing of the bread and encouraged all the men to eat. God’s blessings flowed from Paul to all the men who stayed with the boat.
Though we may not all face the death and destruction that comes with natural disasters such as the landslide in Nepal, we will all face difficult times in our lives. Jesus never promised that our lives of faith would be storm free, but He promised to be with us through it all. When we face such difficulty, let us always share the blessings of hope and faith with all those around us, giving freely that which God gave to us. Who knows, that piece of bread you share or that prayer of thanksgiving you utter may just lead someone into faith in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Storms I set my alarm for very early yesterday morning with the intent of writing the daily before we left for church. I was going to be away from home the entire day with church activities, with no possibility of writing any other time. As the alarm went off, I thought I also heard the rumble of thunder outside. I waited a few moments too see if I was right. Very soon there was a flash of lightning and more thunder. Since I could not turn on the computer, I stayed in bed and rested, hoping that the storm would stop early enough for me to get the work finished. It did not.
Paul and his companies were traveling to Rome, accompanied by a centurion and some soldiers. Paul was on his way to be tried for alleged actions against the Roman Empire, false accusations by those jealous of the power of the message Paul carried about salvation in Jesus Christ. During their journey, the ship ran into a incredible storm, one which surely would have destroyed the boat and killed every passenger had God not protected the for His purpose. After doing all they could to lighten the load and keep the boat on an even keel, they found themselves near an island that had a bay with a sandy beach. They decided to run aground before they perished.
Unfortunately, they hit a sandbar, so they were not able to get very close to the shore. They decided to jump ship and swim or float ashore on the pieces of broken ship. The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners so they could not escape but the centurion stopped the plan. Every person made it to shore safely. The island was Malta and they stayed there until the stormy winter months passed and they could repair or replace the ship.
God had promised Paul that all would survive and that they would get to Rome because it was necessary for him to be tried publicly for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It seemed as though the storm had ruined God’s plan. Yet, the time in Malta was not wasted.
Though the storms of life are not necessary in God’s plan for our journey of faith – many come as consequences of our own sin and self-centered actions. Paul had warned the men that traveling at that time would bring danger to the ship and crew, but the centurion, captain and owner of the ship decided to move on to winter in a better harbor. Unfortunately, this decision meant that the entire ship was lost. God protected them through the storm and Paul glorified God through it all. The people of Malta saw God’s power and helped the stranded men in every way they could.
I don’t know what good may have come from my missing a day of writing, but I will trust that God used that day to His glory in some way. God does not forsake us when we are stranded and unable to continue our journey of faith. Instead, He will use that time for the sake of Jesus Christ. Just watch and listen, you never know how God will show His power through you in situations that seem hopeless. Thanks be to God.
Destination When Zack was just a baby we traveled across country by car from California to Pennsylvania. While we were visiting, Zack discovered the joys of personal upright mobility. In other words, he learned how to walk. The moment he realized this great accomplishment, he was impossible to get into a car seat. All he wanted to do was stand and walk and move and go. (Things have not changed much over the years.) We still needed to drive home from Pennsylvania to California. Vicki wasn’t much help. She was nearly four years old and quite vocal. While Zack wriggled and screamed to be set free, Vicki kept asking, “Are we there yet?” We could not wait to get home.
Paul was traveling to Rome for his trial, a journey that would last many months. Though he could not be certain of the outcome, it was God’s will for him to go and I’m sure there was some frustration in the length of the trip. He continued to share the Gospel along the way, preaching to the believers who came from long distances to see him as he passed through and evangelizing those who had not yet heard God’s Word. When he finally arrived in Rome, he was put under house arrest and allowed to live a relatively normal life. He had many visitors, including the Jewish leadership in Rome. He told them about the kingdom of God, using the Law of Moses and the Prophets to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. Some believed and some didn’t.
Read Acts 28:25-28
The writer of Acts tells us that Paul spent two years awaiting trial. During that time he welcomed visitors and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ boldly. We don’t hear how the story ends. From the Epistles – the letters to the churches – and other early church literature, we can suppose that Paul did leave Rome for more missionary work. However, the Biblical accounting of the history of the Church ends rather abruptly. We are left hanging. What happened at the trial? Was he punished or set free? Did anyone come to know Christ because of his testimony? When we finish reading the book of Acts, we long to turn the page and see the next book called, “Acts II”.
I think we are left hanging for a purpose. The church is constantly growing. Every day new people come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. New believers are freed from death and darkness by the Holy Spirit through Baptism and old believers are renewed and strengthened through Word and Sacrament. The story of the Church is never ending. Each day we are left hanging in expectation of what incredible thing God will do next through, with and for His people. Oh, there are still too many who will not hear, whose hearts are calloused, but God is still active in this world today, transforming sinners into saints by His grace. Paul was just one very short chapter in the long saga of God’s people. We don’t really need to know the end of his story. Life goes on from generation to generation as faith is shared and lives healed by God’s love. Thanks be to God.
Communication A motorist was driving in the country when he came upon a priest and a rabbi standing on the shoulder of the road, fishing. Next to them was a sign that read. “Turn around. The end is near.” The motorist didn’t like to be preached to, so he rolled down the window and yelled, “Mind your own business, you religious nuts!” A few seconds later the two fishermen heard tires screech, then a splash. The rabbi turned to the priest and said, “I told you we should’ve just written, ‘Bridge Out.’” *
The message of the priest and the rabbi was important to the safety of the travelers, but they made it too complicated for the motorist to understand. He saw two religious men and assumed the sign had religious significance. He quickly rejected what it had to say because to him it seemed unreasonable. If they had put the simpler words “Bridge Out” on the sign the man would have stopped and turned around.
How often do we try to share the Christian message in a way that is too complicated for the hearers to understand? We try to give people the grace of God through intellectual discussions about doctrine and practice, defining words and setting timelines for events in a Christian life. The motorist assumed the sign meant that the end of the world is near, probably because so many Christians are trying to lead people to Christ through knowledge and understanding of end-times prophecy. Though this might scare some people into following Christ, it rarely brings anyone into a truly faith-filled relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
That which brings people to Christ is the message of love and mercy found at the cross of Jesus Christ. By His blood He restored our relationship with God our Creator and Father by paying the price and providing forgiveness for our sin. By His resurrection we are raised to new life as His child to live and love in this world, sharing that message with others. We think we have to make it complicated, sound intelligent among the intelligent, to speak into the lives of those to whom we are sent as witnesses. We don’t come to faith by understanding the things of God. Rather, it is by hearing the Word of God, having Him move within our hearts to convict us and transform us by His love. It is the simple message, “Jesus loves you” that will plant seeds of conviction into the hearts of the unbelievers. Then God will do the rest.
Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Just like the priest and the rabbi, we often make things too complicated. We try to show our knowledge or make ourselves seem more intelligent with fancy words or ideas. What happens too often is that we are dismissed as foolish and our message goes unheeded because it is unreasonable to those who hear. Today, instead of discussing difficult doctrine with those who do not believe, instead share the love of Christ in word and deed that they might see what eternal life looks like on this side of heaven. They might just listen, turn around and be saved from crashing into the river where there is no bridge. Thanks be to God.
*Joke appeared in Reader’s Digest, September 2002, “Laughter the Best Medicine” submitted by Christi Riggs.
Disguise When the people of Israel cried to God for a king to lead them, through the prophet Samuel, God warned them that the kings would tax them and take their daughters for his own purposes. Though some were righteous, some of the kings seemed like pure evil, despising the things of God for the sake of themselves and their own wealth, fame and prosperity. Scripture tells us that Ahab was more evil in the sight of God than any other king before him. He allowed Jezebel to rule his heart and his nation with pagan actions and ideas.
One story about Ahab tells of his desire for a vineyard. Naboth owned a vineyard that was very near to the palace of Ahab in Samaria. Ahab offered Naboth a fine price for the land, but Naboth refused. He did not want to give up the land of his inheritance. Ahab was upset by this rejection and refused to eat. Jezebel told him to get over it, that she would deal with Naboth. She ordered the elders and nobles of Samaria to hold a dinner and invite Naboth as an honored guest. She told them to put two scoundrels near him at the table so that they could accuse him of cursing both God and the king. When they had done so, He was stoned for blasphemy. Ahab took possession of the land.
The Lord spoke through Elijah the prophet, warning Ahab that He would destroy Ahab for his sin against Naboth, promising that the dogs would lick his blood from the same place where they had liked Naboth’s blood. Ahab had turned Israel from the Lord by building altars to false gods and had murdered a man for the sake of a few acres of land. When Elijah spoke these words, Ahab tore his clothes and repented. The Lord said that because Ahab had humbled himself, he would not bring disaster on his house in his day, but he warned that it would come on his son.
Ahab decided to go to war with Aram over some land that belonged to Israel. He asked the prophets if he should go and they all prophesied great things for the king. Only one prophet spoke negatively. Micaiah told Ahab that Israel would be scattered because their king would be killed. Micaiah was imprisoned and Ahab went to war. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah agreed to help Ahab fight the king of Aram. It was common practice for the king to wear his royal robes for the sake of the soldiers. Seeing their king motivated them to fight. On the day of battle, Ahab disguised himself so that he would not be killed. Jehoshaphat wore his royal robes.
Read 1 Kings 22:31-38
Ahab thought he could hide from that which God had spoken. In every action, he looked out for himself, letting others suffer for his sake. He moped like a child when things didn’t go his way. He allowed his wife to rule his life and his kingdom, giving her free reign to murder innocent men for the sake of her religion and material possessions. He was willing to risk the life of the king of Judah so that he might live another day. In the end, he ended up just where God said he would.
We can’t hide from God’s Word, His Word will happen. Ahab lived a life apart from God, even tried to disguise himself to avoid being killed. In the end, Ahab’s self-centeredness was his undoing. Today we look at this story through the eyes of the New Covenant with God through Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ died for our own self-centeredness, to heal us and bring forgiveness to our sinful lives. We can’t hide from God in our own flesh, but in Christ we are hidden in His righteousness for His sake. In Christ our life is complete and without end, just as He promised. Thanks be to God.
London Bridge The nursery rhymes we use today to educate and entertain our children were not actually written for those so young. In the days of kings and nobility, poking fun at those in power was a dangerous venture. Today’s politicians might be upset with a negative rhyme or two, but they won’t burn you at the stake or hold a beheading. But the bards of the past were likely to lose their lives if they said anything that was disagreeable. So, instead of reporting events as they happened with humor like Jay Leno might do, they made up silly rhymes, changing the names to protect the innocent – themselves! Though we don’t always know the meaning of the rhymes, some ideas have been given for the origins of many of the poems we know today.
Humpty Dumpty is said to refer to a king of England that was killed during war, perhaps either Richard III or Charles I. It might also refer to a cannon that fell off the tower of a church during a siege. Georgie Porgie was likely written about George VI or another nobleman who was expended too much energy chasing the ladies, a man with a scandalous reputation. Jack and Jill may have been about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Baa Baa Black Sheep is about paying taxes. London Bridge is about a real bridge that crossed the Thames in London.
Unfortunately many tourists discover that London Bridge does not exist anymore. They visit Tower Bridge, assuming that is the one from the rhyme. However London Bridge was really falling down, and did fall down over and over again. The original bridge was made of wood during the Roman and Saxon eras and replaced several times. It was built in stone in the 12th century. Towers and other buildings were added a few decades later. By the fourteenth century the bridge was covered with homes, shops and even a church. Fire struck several times, the affects of the river and normal wear made living on the bridge hazardous. It was rebuilt many times, but eventually torn down completely and replaced in the 1820’s. Then in 1960, the bridge was sold to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it is on display today. A new bridge was built a few hundred feet upstream.
Things are not always what they seem, in nursery rhymes and in life. The bards sang of the news of the day, pointing to the particularly negative aspects of life. They sang to a different drummer, unwilling to cater to the desires of the world around them. We live in a world filled with evil and suffering, the consequences of sin affect our lives every day. In the midst of our difficulties, it is at times difficult to see how a life of faith makes any difference. Yet it is our faith that gets us through.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11
Many tourists are disappointed to find out that they have to go to Arizona to see the London Bridge, and even that one isn’t the original. It is almost shocking to discover the roots of the rhymes we love so much from our childhood – the sex, violence and greed that inspired the bards to produce such whimsical songs. The bards created songs to tell the news of the day in a humorous way, making the people laugh and poking fun at the lust, power and greed of their rulers. Though we live in this world where lust, power and greed still reign in the hearts of many, we are different. We are called to live in the faith, love and hope that is given through Christ Jesus our Lord. That faith, love and hope does not disappoint like the wishes and dreams of our youth, because these are gifts from God. In faith we believe, in love we give and in hope we live together in Christ in the expectation of eternal life as promised. As we walk in faith, love and hope, we share Him with one another, encouraging and building each other into witnesses who will speak the message of Christ Jesus to those who are still lost in the darkness of this world.
Leotards Vicki is beginning dance and baton lessons next week. For each class she is required to wear certain clothing. The best choice is a leotard and tights, which are comfortable and allow the dancer to move. It also helps the teacher to see that the student is doing as she has been instructed to do. Unfortunately, after many hours of searching, I have been unable to find an affordable leotard in our town. There are other options for her, exercise clothing is acceptable and we have found some sources on the Internet for affordable dance clothing. Unfortunately, we will have difficulty providing her with the best choice for her first class. We are going to try to check a few more places this weekend in the hopes of finding what we need.
How often do we do this? We willingly search every store for the perfect item. We went to several office supply stores to find Zack the exact notebook requested by his teacher. I have been to every arts and craft store to find the right size jingle bells for a project I’m working on. People visit dozens of houses for sale before choosing one as their home. When something matters that much, we are willing to go out of our way to find just the right one.
To God, everyone matters. He loves each of His children with a sacrificial love so deep that He sent His Son to die for our salvation. He went out of His way to restore our relationship with Him, and He loves us dearly. Yet, even in that relationship of grace, sometimes we stray. We go our own way, looking for greener pastures or following the desires of our flesh. We listen to doctrine that sounds good, but is not as God spoke. We do things that seem right, but are not as God intends.
Read Matthew 18:12-14
Vicki and I will go out later today to check a few more stores for a leotard. If we can’t get what she needs today, we will get something that will be suitable and order one from the Internet. She will be so excited when we have the perfect leotard for her classes. In our search for notebooks and jingle bells, we found plenty of possible substitutes, but none were just right.
God loves each and every one of us. He is our Creator, a creator with such love for His creation that He provided for our salvation and eternal life through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died for all men, and for His sake our sins are forgiven in the eyes of God. Unfortunately, even in such a wonderful relationship, there are times when we wander, looking for something better on the other side of the hill. In the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd did not care any less for the sheep that stayed on the hillside, but he went out of his way to bring home the one that wandered away. God does not want any to be lost, so He will do whatever He can to bring home the lost sheep. What a great comfort it is to know that He will find us when we wander, never leaving us alone in the wilderness. He wants our relationship to be just right and He will do whatever He can to make it so. Thanks be to God.