Welcome to the August 2003 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 2003
August 1, 2003
Anniversary On August 1, 1999, I took over the role as hostess of an email discussion group temporarily. The hostess was going on vacation and wanted to ensure that the group would continue to have daily interaction. I was not gifted in the same things as the hostess, so decided to try to write something inspirational each day for the members of the group. It was not easy. I remember thinking by the 10th day, “How will I ever get through two weeks of this? Today we begin our fifth year together.
A WORD FOR TODAY has gone through so many changes. As I reread those early postings I can see how I have changed over the years. The writing is a little smoother, the messages clearer. Oh, I could still use some grammar lessons and do a better job of editing before I send. There are still typographical errors and poor word usage. I am much too wordy at times and the theology is sometimes muddled and confused. Yet, over these years I believe both my relationship with Jesus Christ and my ability to communicate has grown. What I do know is that if no one even read these words, each day God has changed my own life by helping me to know Him more intimately and by transforming my life into His image more and more.
Several days ago I received a letter from a reader who just wanted to thank me for reminding her of God’s love. There is no greater blessing I could have received than to know that somehow out of all my ramblings, someone heard the words “God loves you.” The daily word is designed to help us all grow closer to God, to understand our place in His kingdom and help us to walk in the light of Jesus Christ. It has been my hope that these words would help Christians speak more boldly, act more godly and live more peacefully and joyfully with the assurance of God’s faithfulness. But no matter where we are in our journey of faith, we all need to hear the words on which our entire faith is built.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 (ASV)
We can’t help but be moved by these marvelous words. God’s love for us is so great that He was willing to sacrifice that which He loved the most, Jesus. Through faith in Him, we have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, made children of God and heirs with Christ. The Lord God Almighty has saved us, not from the world and the dangers found here, but from ourselves and our rebellion against His goodness and mercy. We have been reconciled with our Creator, restored to a personal and intimate relationship with the only One who is worthy to be worshipped. We still have battles to fight, but the war was won on the cross and God is with each of us to help us through our valleys and over the mountains. As we walk in faith each day, it is my prayer that we will all grow in love, peace, joy, understanding and hope, being transformed daily by His Word. Thanks be to God.
I would like to thank you all for your prayers, notes and encouragement throughout the years. You are all in my hearts and prayers. I could not do this without the grace of God and your support.
Toltec Archeological Park Yesterday we visited a local historical site, a Native American ceremonial and governmental complex that was in use from approximately 600 AD to 1000 AD. The site includes a museum about archeology techniques, local plants and animals as well as information about the people and their lives in Arkansas so long ago. It is not an easy task, since the site was completely abandoned without and explanations. Since the Native Americans left no writing, we do not even know the names of the people who lived there. Everything we know about this site is based on the artifacts that have been found and comparison to other Native American sites around the country.
The thing that makes this place unique are the mounds that litter the landscape. There are three mounds that remain out of the original 18. The tallest of these is 49 feet high and is believed to have been a platform for some sort of building – a temple or official’s house. One of the remaining mounds was used for burial, and the others show evidence of residential occupation as well as other daily activities in a community. Those who found the mounds in the 19th century mistook the site as being connected to the Toltec Indians from Mexico, thus put that name on the site. However, it did not take much research to realize that this was a completely different tribe. Yet, the site was so incredible that some could not believe that natives could have created such a place. It was even thought that it was built by divine beings.
Farming destroyed much of the site over time, leaving only the three mounds and whatever is hidden beneath the soil. It will take more time to discover the secrets of these people and we will never know the whole story. Yet, with every dig, they learn more about the people of this area and how they lived. It is interesting to learn about the uses of the local resources, amazing to consider the things they ate, formed into tools and used for medicine. People who would prefer a natural solution for their aches and pains are using some of these ancient remedies again.
Over the years the Toltec park has created as many questions as answers. We may never fully know the truth about the site. Over the years since the site was discovered, many theories have been put forth, some ridiculous and some more realistic. We gain understanding of the truth as more artifacts are found and pieces of the puzzle are fitted together. The same sort of understanding comes about for those who begin to learn about faith in God. We hear things that create more questions than answers and we have all suffered from theories that are ridiculous. Even those who lived in the time of Jesus, experiencing first hand the mercy and power of Christ, misunderstood what they were seeing in Him.
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus; who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also was Moses in all his house. For he hath been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house hath more honor than the house. For every house is builded by some one; but he that built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were afterward to be spoken; but Christ as a son, over his house; whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end.” Hebrews 3:1-6 (ASV)
The Jews looked to Moses as their salvation and hope, for he had delivered them from Egypt and given them the Law, yet in looking to Moses they missed the One who was greater – who had created Moses and was worthy of the worship they gave to a servant. Jesus was the one who revealed God’s mercy and grace, the true deliverer of the people. Jesus was not just a servant, He was the builder and it is in Him we can truly hope and confess our faith. Moses was truly a servant who loved the Lord and did His will, and we should remember what he did for the people in the Exodus and early days of their freedom. However, only Jesus glorifies God and gives us a hope that will last beyond this day into eternal life.
Some, as they learn about God and seek His grace, become confused with what they read and hear, glorifying that which is not the truth and give credit to that which cannot save. Some of the doctrine taught is even ridiculous because it gives credit to that which can never save. But as time goes on, just as with the research at the archeological park, more information points all people to the truth of God’s mercy – found only in Jesus Christ. For He is our hope and our salvation and more worthy of our praise and thanksgiving, for He has built the house in which Moses resides. Let us give Him the glory and praise Him for His love. Thanks be to God.
Imperfection Several books I have read recently had among the characters, one person who suffered a great physical imperfection. These malformations were painful and they brought social exile to the characters. Though the characters were rejected by their societies, they were close to God and understood the blessings that can come out of suffering. Yet, suffering is often the greatest stumbling block to faith. It is interesting to note that those who suffer the most are usually those who do not see it as a problem, but many who reject the notion of a loving God draw it out as a weapon against those who believe. “If God is merciful, why is there suffering in the world?”
We try to explain that suffering comes from sin, but to those who do not believe in original sin or a sinful nature, the words are fruitless. The characters were loving, moral and faithful people – why would God punish them in such a way? This is looking at the whole idea of suffering from the wrong perspective. Pain is not punishment; it is the nature affect of a world gone awry. There was a time when Adam and Even walked in the presence of God, but ever since the beginning we have been separated from Him. They did not trust God’s Word any better than the rest of us, and they had heard it from His own mouth? But the separation was not punishment. God removed them from His presence because He did not want them to eat of the tree of life and live forever afraid of Him.
The farther we get from ‘in the beginning’ the harder it is to believe that there exists a Creator. To many, suffering is proof that God does not exist and that we should spend out time overcoming the things that cause suffering rather than worshipping some foolish idea. To them, God is just some myth for the foolish ones in this world to hold on to as a crutch through their weakness. If He does exist, they say, then He is evil and cruel to allow good people to suffer such horrible pain. As the author of one of the books wrote, “It would be better to allow someone to remain an atheist than to have them believe in such a god.”
Jesus came to overcome the world, but that does not mean that He took away all the pain in this world. There are none who have in the entire history of the world lived as Jesus lived, perfectly and without sin. He had a right relationship with God, creation and with His fellow man. He lived an upright life, doing God’s will in all things. Yet, since the beginning there are none who have suffered more greatly than our Lord.
“For not unto angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, And didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he subjected all things unto him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man.
It is indeed difficult to understand how suffering can be seen as something good. Yet, those who suffer most for the Lord know that there is goodness and mercy behind their ordeals. They glorify God, not because they are in pain, but because they know God is there with them to help them through. Jesus took upon Himself the entire sin of the world, overcoming that which has separated man from God ever since the beginning. The pain, in body and spirit, was beyond anything we can even imagine. Yet, He was willing to go through it for our sake, to make us His brothers and sisters.
We will never help an atheist understand that suffering does not prove that God does not exist. We can only praise God through everything we experience – joy and sadness, health and illness, strength and weakness, hope and doubt, understanding and confusion – knowing that He has seen into the depths of our souls and loves us anyway. He loves us so much that He took our pain and put it on His own back so that we can become like Jesus and live in the Kingdom as a child of our Creator. Thanks be to God.
Over the top Last week a young man from Austria flew from England to France across the English Channel. This does not sound like much of a feat, since people fly back and forth daily. However, Felix Baumgartner made the trip in a most unusual way. He did not fly from Heathrow or Gatwick as the other commuters, but did it with a six-foot wide wing attached to his back. An airplane took him to 30,000 feet above Dover, England and in fourteen minutes Felix flew like the birds. His speed reached 217 miles per hour; he needed his parachute only to slow down for landing in Calais, France.
Felix has done similar stunts around the world such as parachuting from the top of Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, which is the world’s tallest building. I do not know what makes a man want to do such things, but the popularity of extreme sports shows that there are some who are willing to go over the top for an incredible experience. To someone like myself, who much prefers taking the safe path, these guys are nuts for risking their lives. Yet, if it weren’t for men like Felix, we might not have many of the things we take for granted today. The Wright Brothers were the nuts one hundred years ago when they first flew their rickety airplane in North Carolina. Perhaps one day we will all sport wings like Felix used to travel in a whole new way.
Just as there are those who go to extremes in physical experiences, there are also those who are extreme in thought. It is difficult for a conservative to talk to a liberal because they differ so greatly in their thoughts and perspectives. Those who hold to views that are extreme on either end of the spectrum find it impossible to even look at the world from the other’s point of view. To them someone who tries to look at things from every point of view is wishy washy and unable to come to an opinion.
It happens with any topic, even whether tea should be served hot or cold, with or without sugar. Yet, it is politics and religion that get the most attention. Listen in on any debate and you will see that the greatest clashes are between those who hold the extreme views, unwilling or unable to listen to the other side. This is true even of the question about salvation. Are we saved by grace or by our confession of faith? The answer is not one or the other, but rather both working together for the glory of God.
“For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby. But the righteousness which is of faith saith thus, Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down:) or, Who shall descend into the abyss? (That is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame.” Romans 10:5-11 (ASV)
Paul writes here that we cannot go to get Jesus for ourselves, that He is with us and near us in our hearts and in the Gospel, which is spoken into our lives. He goes to say that when we believe His Word in our hearts and confess Him as Lord with our mouths we are saved. When we try to take this to an extreme – either it is God’s grace or it is by our own confession of faith – we lose the beauty of the relationship God has ordained between Himself and each of us. He has made us to be an active part of His kingdom, joining in with our hearts and minds participating in the wonderful grace He gives so freely. It cannot happen without God’s grace, for without Jesus none could be saved. By His grace we receive that which He has promised, confessing with our lives that His is indeed Lord of all.
I think Felix is nuts for doing trying such an incredible feat, and I can’t help but wonder why he would want to do such a thing. Yet, I wonder if I would have thought the same of the Wright Brothers a hundred years ago. Now, I am grateful to those men who went over the top to discover a new way to move. When it comes to faith, I wonder about those who hold to extreme views, and yet by listening to discussions between people of different perspectives I have realized that there can be an understanding that falls in the middle, joining the good things of both extremes for the glory of God. Too many of the debates would separate grace and confession when they belong together as one. Grace and faith reveals itself in word and action so that we can live in the assurance of God’s promises. Thanks be to God.
Trial Last year in school, Vicki’s Reading/Writing class performed skits they wrote about a mock trial based on a book called “Monster.” They wrote sequel stories, continuing the life of the main character named Steven who had been found innocent in the first book. Each group of students created a whole new story and wrote dialogue as if they were trying a new case. In the version written by Vicki’s group, Steven was found guilty of killing a man while stealing a SARS vaccine. The students made up the circumstances and evidence, and then acted out the trial. Though it was not realistic, it gave the kids a chance to see what it might be like to be part of justice system.
It seems like we are always living out some sort of trial in today’s media. Over the years there have been numerous cases that have received a great deal of attention. Right now the world is focused on Kobe Bryant, but the famous are not always the center of attention. There are shocking stories of every day people that end up all over the headlines. The reporting appeals to our emotions and demands justice for the victims, who are sometimes the defendants themselves. The media plays up the stories, interviewing everyone from experts to family to the guy next door who might give some insight to the case. The trials we see in the news are real, but wander so far from the truth that they are as unrealistic as the made up trials in Vicki’s class last year.
This is not just a modern problem. Even before there was television, even into the ancient past, cases have been swayed by public opinion or the unjust ways of the courts. It was such a problem that Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, warned the judges to do their work rightly.
“And Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem: and he went out again among the people from Beer-sheba to the hill-country of Ephraim, and brought them back unto Jehovah, the God of their fathers.
It is difficult to live in this world and not get caught up in the excitement of these trials. There is rarely anyone who has no opinion on the case. There are always charges of improper behavior, of pay-offs or biases meant to sway the outcome of the case. Those who seek justice fear that the judge and jury will be swayed by untruths.
As Christians, we consider the words of our Lord Jesus who said that we should not judge or we will also be judged. Yet, God appoints judges and gives them the authority to bring justice to the world. When we are in a position to decide such a case, we should rule with integrity and faithfulness, not allowing favoritism or bribery to sway our decision. We must always remember that we will be judged with the same measure of justice we give. It is easy to be influenced by the world, but we are called to live in fear of God so that our judgments will be pleasing to Him who has preferred mercy to condemnation for those who believe in Him. Thanks be to God.
Breakdown A few years ago I had a bit of a breakdown. The stress was overwhelming because I was committed to too many projects. Everything fit into my schedule, but I was constantly running around for church, school and other community responsibilities. One day I could not take it anymore and I just started crying. It was at that point I realized I could not do it all. I learned that sometimes we have to say “No” because God does not send us so much work that we can’t give it our best. See, that was my problem. I thought that because someone saw that I was gifted in some way, then I should use that gift to the glory of God. Unfortunately, I had this idea that I was the only one who could do those jobs because I considered every request for help as a calling from God. I have since learned to pray and ask for His help as I discern His will in my life.
Have you ever known anyone like this? They are so busy with the responsibilities of life that they do not even have time to eat a meal or read a book. Do you ever want to just kidnap them for an hour or two, take them for a quiet lunch or a walk in the park? I wish someone had done that for me a few years ago when I was over doing things. It might have helped me to slow down, to find myself in the midst of that confusion and realize I was doing too much. Fortunately I did not get sick and I found out early enough that I could not do it all. However, I think we all recognize these symptoms in someone we know and love.
It was getting that way for Jesus. Once the stories of miracles began to spread, the people sought Him out, desiring a touch of His hand and a word of hope. They crowded around Jesus and the disciples, followed Him on His travels. They never let Him alone.
“And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
The word translated ‘friends’ in this passage is a Greek word meaning ‘people’ and is found in other versions as ‘family.’ I always read the passage thinking of Jesus’ family with the same disdain as the scribes. They simply did not understand Jesus’ work in this world and wanted to stop Him from it. Today I look at it much differently. They saw that Jesus was so consumed with His work, so overwhelmed by the needs of the people, that He was not even taking the time to rest or find nourishment. And He was dragging the disciples with Him. They were concerned and wanted only to take Him away for an hour so that He could find renewal and refreshment. The scribes saw a whole different problem. They thought Jesus was possessed by the devil. He refuted their claims by reminding them that Satan would not work against himself.
There is a big difference between this story of Jesus and myself, however. Jesus was much closer to His Father, completely aware and obedient of His Will. If I had taken more time to prayerfully consider the work I was being asked to do, I would not have said “Yes” so often. But I can be self-centered, thinking myself able to do anything and everything without looking toward God for guidance and direction. Jesus’ mother and brothers were simply concerned with His health and went to help Him. There was nothing to be concerned about; Jesus was being obedient to God’s will. He was in control, unlike myself when I broke under the stress. He answered their arrival with a question. “Who is my mother and my brethren?” Then He pointed to those listening and said that His mother and brothers were those who does God’s will. (Mark 3:31-34)
Jesus was not stressed or overwhelmed by the crowds and the work He had to do, but we often find ourselves burdened because we do not take the time to look to God. Are you on the verge of a breakdown because you are suffering from too much stress? Do you know someone who is getting sick from lack of sleep or nourishment? May God help us to do His Work in a way that truly glorifies Him without being burdened beyond our ability. He knows His plans for our lives and I pray we will each seek His will in all things. Thanks be to God.
Bickering Have you ever had a relationship in which you did nothing but bicker about the silliest things? Siblings tend to do this all the time – who will get the last Twinkie, who set the table yesterday, whose turn is it to do the dishes? I’ve seen childhood friendships break up and get back together daily over some small argument. Zack has had little friends who come to play, and if he’s not here or can’t go out they stomp home in a huff screaming that they won’t be friends anymore. An hour or two later, or the very next day, they are back at the front door looking for Zack. Even adults quarrel over silly things – a parking space at the mall, which restaurant to visit, whose turn it is to take the kids to the dentist. Unfortunately, adults do not usually bounce back in an hour. Sometimes it takes twenty years or relationships are completely broken.
Families have separated over the execution of a will, neighbors have become enemies over property rights, and co-workers have fought over promotions and benefits until they can no longer even work together. These issues might sound quite important, and yet is money, material possessions and position really more important than our relationships with our fellow human beings? It is even more upsetting when the bickering is over religious ideology. There are certainly things that matter, such as the character of God and the truth about Jesus. Yet, there are many things over which we bicker with our brothers and sisters in Christ, which are just silly, dividing the body of Christ and weakening the Church’s impact on the world.
“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another.” Romans 14:13-19 (ASV)
There are many things we all hold dear about our faith, and because we are passionate about those things, we tend to want all to believe as we do. There are battles in churches every day about silly things like the color of carpet or the placement of pews. They argue over deeper things like how to spend the offering or which ministries they should support. Christians are constantly bickering with other Christians about some doctrine or another. These issues can seem very clear to the believer when they read the scriptures, and they find it impossible to see how anyone can think differently. There are some things that truly do not matter, not enough to break off our relationships with one another.
Paul knows the scriptures about which food is clean and unclean, but when he became a Christian he realized that there is no such thing as an unclean food. So, he no longer worries about what he should eat, for he knows it would not be a sin to eat whatever is placed before him. Yet, he is greatly concerned with his brothers in Christ who are not as strong in their faith and understanding. This is why he appeals to the mature Christians to love their weaker brothers and sisters and not do anything that will grieve them. For it is better to give up a bit of freedom in Christ, to avoid the things which cause our brothers and sisters to bicker with us. Our bickering does not glorify God and our division with one another does not please him. He calls us to live in peace with one another, serving God loving and edifying one another. Is there some issue that makes your blood boil? Is there some ideology that sets you on edge? Think twice or a million times before forcing your opinion on others who disagree, for it grieves God to see His children bicker. Let us not let silly bickering cause another to fall, for Jesus came to bring peace into the hearts of all who believe. Thanks be to God.
Favorite things Maria was in her room preparing for bed while a storm thundered outside her window. One by one the children ran into her room, frightened by the lightning and thunder. Maria calmed their nerves by getting their minds off the storm by singing a song. She tells them that when she is sad or scared, she simply remembers her favorite things and then she doesn’t feel so bad. This song is from the movie “The Sound of Music” and is filled with remembrances of the most wonderful things. “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; brown paper packages tied up with strings… Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels; doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles; wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings… Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes; snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes; silver white winters that melt into springs…”
We all have something that can get our minds off the things that bother our hearts and minds. For some it is family, for others it is a favorite book, movie or song. When I am upset about something, I find it difficult to even think straight. It is best to take at least a moment to get my mind off my problems so that I can come back with a clear heart and mind and face it with strength and courage.
There are a great many storms brewing in the world today. War and rumors of war leave us frightened and angry. The suffering in the world – illness, hunger and pain – saddens us. Families are divided and communities are broken. Even the church is facing more schism because there are so many differing perspectives and ideas. It is heartbreaking to see this discord among brothers and sisters in Christ, to see so many people arguing, often over the most ridiculous things.
So, as we face these storms of life, we can look to the advice from Maria and get our minds off it, if even for just a moment. The best way I know to clear my heart and mind is to turn to God in praise and prayer, for He is always ready with comfort and peace.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Praise God in his sanctuary: Praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: Praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with trumpet sound: Praise him with psaltery and harp. Praise him with timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise him with loud cymbals: Praise him with high sounding cymbals. Let everything that hath breath praise Jehovah. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 150 (ASV)
Our problems will not go away this easily; the storms will not stop because we have said a few words of praise. However, we will look at things much differently if we keep God in the midst of our troubles. When we are sad or afraid, we should not let those emotions cripple us, but we should take them to the Lord in prayer. When we do so, we remember that He is in our midst, comforting and teaching, transforming and blessing us with all we need to bring hope and peace to the world. The storms do rage outside in our world today, but God is with us in our rooms, comforting us with words that will give us strength and courage to face the world again. Thanks be to God.
Incognito It is difficult for some people to go anywhere incognito. There is something about them that draws people’s attention – incredible beauty, awesome body, unusual voice or mannerisms. They go out into public and they are immediately recognized, even when they try to hide under disguises. It is said that Marie Antoinette tried to go to balls and parties incognito, but her gait was so unique that it was impossible. No matter what she wore, she still had the walk of a queen.
One day St. Francis of Assisi asked a young monk to walk with him into town. Brother Francis said, “Let us go preach to the people!” The young monk was so excited to be the one chosen to go with him to perform such a wonderful ministry. They walked around town, up and down the streets and alleys and finally ended up back at the monastery. The young monk was confused because they had never spoken a word. Francis answered, “We have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen by many; our behavior has been closely watched; it was thus that we preached our morning sermon. It is of no use, my son, to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere we walk.
Is our faith so apparent in our lives that we don’t have to say a word and they know we are Christian? Or do the masks we wear in the world – our identities at work, home, church – easily hide our faith from those who need to see it most? I think St. Francis is the one credited with an oft-used saying, “You are the only Bible some people will ever read.” Sometimes it takes nothing more than a walk around the block for people to see Christ and desire to know Him.
“But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place. For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as the many, corrupting the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (ASV)
There are very few people who need to disguise themselves from being recognized on the streets. We aren’t like Marie Antoinette who needed to pretend to be someone else to go to a party without being the center of attention. Yet, we should have one thing that stands out in our lives so well that it is impossible to hide it – Jesus. When we walk on the streets of our own towns, does the sweet smell of Christ manifest in our wake? Do we speak the Gospel through out lives, drawing people into Christ?
It is God in you that will bring peace and joy to the world. He lives in and through your life for the sake of those who are still lost and lonely in this world. When you walk in faith, He makes something about you impossible to hide. The sweet smell of salvation emanates from our lives to those who are saved by His mercy and grace. This is a most incredible thing – God can speak through us to bring joy and peace to the world, even when we do not speak a word. May we always preach to the people wherever we go, not hide our faith under masks. Thanks be to God.
Workplace There was an article in today’s newspaper about faith in the workplace. More and more companies are making policies that take into consideration the faith of their employees. Some companies have decided to stay closed on Sunday so that the workers can go to church, spend time with their families or simply rest. Other companies choose to play faith-based music, provide prayer groups, devotional email or bible studies. Some larger corporations even have chaplains on staff to help with the emotional and spiritual needs of the employees. One company has included the logos of Christian companies on their website.
It might seem strange in this day and age for any business to have such policies that affect their bottom line. After all, Sunday closure must cost a retail establishment or restaurant a great deal of money. Chaplains on staff need to be paid; prayer time, devotions and bible study take time away from business. Yet, there are positive affects – employees are rested and content. They work harder and accomplish more. Some customers are loyal because of the policies, and those who do not care one way or another have plenty of other businesses they can support.
What makes a company owner decide to institute such policies? They know that their faith is not just a Sunday morning visit to a church, but something that is to be lived every day. God does not call every Christian to a life of ‘church work,’ but He blesses every one of His children with gifts to use for His glory and the expansion of the kingdom. We can share our faith as a pastor or as a maid. We can work for the Lord as a Sunday school teacher or as a corporate executive. The reason these companies are turning to faith-based policies is that the leaders realize that they have been given faith for more than an hour on a Sunday morning. It is about shining the light of Christ into the world.
“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (ASV)
Though I am sure that the number of companies with faith-based policies is still rather small, it is wonderful that some executives have decided to let their light shine at their place of business. It does not have to be something that is overwhelming, insulting or forceful. The companies with these policies do not require employee participation. They only make it available. So many people just need to see what life can be like, even in the business world, when Christ is a part of it all. That is why God makes us a light no matter where we go – so that those who do not enter into the doors of any church will see that God is good and worthy of worship. Thanks be to God.
Acting The children are trying out for a play. The Missoula Children’s Theater is in town to lead a program for the youth of our community. MCT tours around the country, and the world, taking fifty or so children and transforming them into actors in just one week. They begin with auditions on Monday, practice for a few hours every day and then perform on Friday evening. They come with everything needed – scripts, costumes, props and enthusiasm.
It is fun to watch the children as they perform for the staff. The auditions are designed to bring out the personalities of each child so that they can be placed in the role they are most suited to play. This year’s play is “Red Riding Hood” but it is somewhat twisted, with unusual characters and a surprise ending. They need to find the crazy kids, the loud kids, the kids who are willing to fill the unusual parts. The things they do at the audition seem quite silly and meaningless, but it all has a purpose. Some of the children are very shy, quiet and nervous. Others are overdramatic and charming. The staff has an amazing ability of bringing out the best in each child. They don’t need to be great actors. They just need to have fun.
“Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” These could easily have been the words of some of the teenagers and other kids after two hours of auditions. But this dramatic bit of over acting was not from the children; these are the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes. It sounds like he is depressed, ready to end it all. If everything is meaningless, what is the point of going on? Perhaps things in this world are always moving toward and end, but there is one thing that makes it all worthwhile.
“Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; in the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows shall be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the street; when the sound of the grinding is low, and one shall rise up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; yea, they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond-tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about the streets: before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 (ASV)
The things they do at an audition of the Missoula Children’s Theater seem silly and meaningless to those who are watching, and even to those who are trying out for a part, but the tour staff knows the purpose of every line, song and action. The children need only have fun and trust that the play will be terrific by the night of the performance.
So it is with our life in this world. At times it truly does seem meaningless – much of it really is. Our bodies grow older, get sick and die. Our jobs change, our friendships pass and our stuff wears out. But there is something beyond the meaninglessness of today when we know the Lord and live for Him. He is greater than all of creation; He will never fade away. The teacher in Ecclesiastes sounded depressed with his dramatic words “Everything is meaningless” but he speaks a reality we should all know. Only one thing really matters – our Creator. Life is worth living when we know that someone is beyond this day, ready to take us home into His heart when everything else has faded away. Thanks be to God.
Teacher Teaching strategies often change over time. I have seen it in the school careers of my two children, which is quite different from the way I learned. As curriculum is developed to teach old lessons in a new way, it is difficult for parents to help their children with homework. I have noticed this problem in two major subjects – math and writing. There was a trend for a while to focus on problem solving, so math lessons were less concrete. The math facts we all suffered over – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – were ignored as the children did more hands on learning. There are advantages and disadvantages to both techniques, but the best teaching balances both so that the children get both the facts and an ability to think through problems.
In writing, some teachers have found it best to allow the children the freedom to express themselves without worrying about spelling and even grammar, leaving those concepts for later. With both these subjects – math and writing – parents are often shocked and disillusioned by the papers their children bring home. Over the years there have been math worksheets I could not understand and it made it impossible for me to help the children with homework. On a few occasions, I was so confused by the problem and the instructions that my help was a hindrance. Creative writing without concern for spelling and grammar was actually frustrating to many children and parents. It is hard to overcome these techniques once they are ingrained, unless there is a good foundation from early learning.
There was a problem in the early church. Once the Gospel had been given, many Christians went their own way with what they knew. We see these problems in the book of Acts and the letters to the churches. In Acts, the apostles went from city to city, affirming the faith of the believers and establishing right doctrine. There were arguments – should the new believers be circumcised? Should there be rules about food and fellowship? There were even questions about the character of Jesus and the Gospel. The Corinthians were becoming chaotic and their worship disordered. Paul wrote to encourage Timothy because some of the believers were questioning his ministry. John built upon the message of his Gospel so that there would be no question about the true nature of Jesus Christ.
In those days, as much as today, people were coming along with new teaching and confusing the believers who were weak in faith. They claimed that God had given them special revelation and that this new understanding was better than what the foundation on which their faith was built. Many could not discern what was right and true because the new teachings sounded good. After all, how can you argue with someone who claims they have heard this straight from God Himself?
“As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal. These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him.” 1 John 2:24-27 (ASV)
It is interesting that modern prophets claim this passage as proof that we should not listen to those who come before and teach us the faith of Christ. It is understood that we do not need to have someone teach us about Jesus because God will do so Himself. Unfortunately, many take this to mean that whatever pops into their head about faith and the scriptures should be accepted as truth because they believe that God gave them the revelation. Paul was writing here to counter the claims of a group of people who were claiming special revelation from God.
Yet, we can’t take the second half of this lesson without the first. There needs to be a foundation on which that learning is built. Otherwise it will bring only confusion and chaos. God does live within us and by the power of the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. He does this through that which has come before – the scriptures and the understanding that was taught by the apostles two thousand years ago. It is wonderful to know that God fills us and teaches us Himself, but let us always stand firm in the foundation that was laid, the Gospel that brought us into faith in Christ, so that we will not be deceived by every wind of doctrine that is introduced to our mind either by our own foolishness or by another who claims to have heard something new. God is with us and teaches us by building on that which He has given us in the Gospel. Thanks be to God.
At the door There was a very funny scene in the movie “Miss Congeniality” in which Agent Matthews was caught by his boss doing something very silly. These FBI agents were establishing a team to go into a beauty pageant to catch a wacko who had threatened the event. They needed a beautiful young woman to be in the pageant so that she could go everywhere, including the dressing rooms. They used computer programs to see which agents might qualify, but then it got silly. They were putting the male agents into bathing suits and evening gowns. The boss walked in just as Agent Matthews put his picture on the computer screen. Everyone got quiet and suddenly he realized what was wrong. “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” The boss broke up the playtime and everyone got back to work.
Have you ever been in a situation like that? Have you ever been in the middle of doing something that you probably should not have been doing, only to have a person of authority walk in and catch you? I am sure we can all recall childhood incidents when we were caught with our hand in the cookie jar or reading in bed long after we should have been asleep. How about those times when we are complaining about someone, only to have the person walk in and hear our gossip? Have you ever had friends or family show up at your door without calling first? There is no time to dust or vacuum. I have been embarrassed to welcome people into my home with toys or newspapers all over the living room. Bruce often comes home at lunchtime, after having been at work since 6 a.m., to find me still in my pajamas. It is not that I’ve been in bed, but it seems that way.
In all these situations, the embarrassment or guilt we feel can easily be avoided. We shouldn’t sneak around taking cookies or disobeying bedtime. It is not right to gossip about our neighbor. We can keep our homes presentable so that no matter when they arrive, they will be welcome with open arms. It is good to be clothed properly and prepared to meet those we love, whenever they arrive home. In most cases, these actions will not affect our relationships. A mother will still love a child who steals a cookie. A friend will listen to the complaint and do whatever is necessary to restore the friendship. A family member will not even look at a few newspapers on the floor. Bruce just laughs when he catches me in my pajamas. Yet, those relationships remain much stronger when we take care to be prepared at every moment for their presence. The mother has difficulty trusting the child. The friend wonders what else you’ve been gossiping about. The family member is tempted to gossip about the mess.
“Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the judge standeth before the doors.” James 5:7-9 (ASV)
We never know when we are going to get caught doing something we should not be doing. It is foolish to spend our lives looking over our shoulders wondering if something we do or say will bring punishment or suffering. Rather than sneaking a cookie, it would be better to ask. Instead of gossiping about a friend, it would be better to take the complaint straight to them. We do not have to worry about the messy house if we keep it clean. We won’t be caught unprepared if we are prepared.
In today’s scripture, it seems as though James is expecting Jesus to return any minute. While that may be true, for the Lord could come as we are reading these words, we should not forget that He is always with us. He is in the boss, the mother, the friends or family who catch us in the act of doing those things we should not be doing. When we risk the relationships of those we love, we affect our relationship with Jesus. We should not merely be patient, but in that patience we are called to prepare our hearts to see Him. Can we do so when we are being silly, sneaky, gossipy or lazy? Jesus is close at hand – in time and in space. By His grace, let us live as if He might walk through the door at any moment. Thanks be to God.
Exile The story of Cinderella begins in a sad and horrible way. Her widowed father marries a woman and then suddenly dies, leaving Cinderella all alone in the world. The stepmother agrees to allow Cinderella to keep living in the house, but she makes unreasonable conditions. Cinderella is forced to serve the stepmother and stepsisters as a maid, and they make her life miserable. How could her father do such a thing? He did not prepare for her welfare, though he must have trusted his new wife to care for his daughter as she cared for him.
Unfortunately, Cinderella’s stepmother was not so kind. Cinderella could not sleep in a room with fine linen or wear beautiful dresses. It was even ridiculous for her to think she might be able to go to the royal ball. Yet, Cinderella did not complain. She did the work she was asked to do, even when it was far beneath her former position. She found joy in the simple things and had an air of quiet contentment. She was, in a sense, exiled from everything she knew and loved. Her parents were both gone, the life she had before was out of reach. She lived on hope and that hope gave her the strength to go on from day to day. In the end, her hopes were fulfilled and she lived happily ever after.
The greatest problem that human beings face in this world, the foundation of all sin, is our desire to be in control and do what we feel is best, even if it goes against the Word of our Creator. That’s what happened to the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, but they had turned away from His love and law for their own thing. They conformed to the world around them, giving in to the false gods and worldly ways of their neighbors. It would have been right for the Lord to destroy them all, for they had broken the covenants made with their God. But God had mercy and rather than destruction, He sent them into exile. It may have seemed like the end of the world to those who were taken to Babylon – far from their homes, the temple and even far from God Himself. It would have been easy for them to give up and die in a foreign land. God had other plans for His people and encouraged them to stay strong.
“Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all the captivity, whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem unto Babylon: Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them. Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply ye there, and be not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto Jehovah for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 (ASV)
Cinderella could have run away. She could have argued and complained. She could have refused to serve her stepmother and stepsisters. But life would not have been pleasant if she did. Instead of fighting the exile into which she had been cast, she did all she could to make the time pleasant for herself. Of course, the fairy tale ending came with fairy tale magic, and Cinderella won the battle in the end with the help of a fairy godmother. Yet, her life was much better because she lived content in her circumstance, experiencing peace and joy in the hope of tomorrow.
There are times in our life when we feel we have been exiled into a foreign land, most of the time we do not even understand why. We can fight it or give up and not accomplish anything of value or we can embrace our situation and find peace. The exile might not be geographic like the Israelites. It might be more like Cinderella whose life changed completely because her father died. In such circumstances, God calls us to keep living in peace. God is able to use exile to make us stronger, more faithful and more obedient to His Word in our lives. Thanks be to God.
Blackout Yesterday the lights went out all over the northeast. The first instinct of most everyone affected was that terrorists attacked us again. It did not take long for the news to spread that this was not a terrorist attack, but it was still disastrous to some of the biggest cities in the U.S. and Canada. Careful investigation led to the conclusion that lightning had struck a plant in Niagara, New York, which affected the transmission of electricity for hundreds of miles in every direction.
City leaders realized quickly that they did not need to worry about how it happened, but that they needed to implement some sort of emergency plan to get people home safely and care for those who would be most affected by the lack of electricity. Many people were caught in subways. The roads were chaotic because the stoplights were not working. Hospitals and prisons had to minimize operations because they were running on generators. The heat was affecting the elderly, sick and pregnant women. City leaders organized relief projects – delivering bottled water, getting people home safely and protecting lives and property. Businesses closed to keep the roads clear. Warnings were issued about problems.
This morning the news programs interviewed people from the region affected by this situation, and each representative was pleased to share good news. The most vital services continued to run, the electricity was coming back up quickly and large numbers of customers had already been restored service. When this is over, I am sure we will hear stories of some people who were harmed or even died because of the outage, but everything went so much better than most people expected.
The mayor of Milwaukee gave a glowing report about their emergency plan, stating that without it things would have been far more difficult on the entire city. That emergency plan was established in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Every city had developed similar plans so that if the same type of disaster happened in their city, they could deal with it effectively with the least amount of casualty. Everyone hoped they would never have to use the plan, and most people never expected to have to use it, especially for something like this. But many are thankful that these plans were available to bring such quick solutions to this major problem.
“And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.
In the days following the attacks on New York and Washington, it was natural for Christians to look for God’s hand in the events. In the midst of our pain and fear, we could see that many people had turned to God, were praying and worshipping. Bible sales went up, church pews were filling. There was nothing good about that time; the suffering was too great to see it positively. However, God took the horror and brought good out of it. Unfortunately, church pews are back to pre-attack numbers, bible sales are back down, but God was not finished bringing good out of the horror.
We should not forget what happened that day, which seems so long ago. We should continue to pray for those who are still afraid, who are still not settled into lives without loved ones. We should not call good what was truly evil. However, in this day we can be thankful to God for bringing good things out of the bad. If He can keep chaos from reigning in such a large area of the U.S. and Canada, then He can certainly do the same in our lives. Thanks be to God.
Performance After a week of hard work and fun, the children were ready to present their show last night. Throughout the week the women from Missoula Children’s Theater taught the children everything they needed to know – the songs, dances and stage direction and practiced with them as much as possible. They gave tips on how to act, helped the children with mannerisms that would be in character for their role and encouraged them to know all their lines. The set was raised midweek and props were introduced. Friday afternoon the children first saw their costumes and for the first time they went through the entire play in costume.
The dress rehearsal was a disaster. I sat and watched as the kids forgot their places, their cues and their lines. They stepped all over one another’s lines and feet. The children backstage were loud, the children on stage were quiet. The directors became frustrated and even said “We have to do this in front of an audience in less than two hours.” They taught the children how to cover up mistakes and explained that they should not wait for a character to talk – forgotten lines were left behind. At least a few of the children realized that if they didn’t get their words out on cue, they weren’t going to have any. At the end of the dress rehearsal, the ladies told the children, “Everything that goes wrong at dress rehearsal always goes right during the show, so we should be in good shape.” I hoped so.
At seven o’clock the cast was hidden behind the curtains and the auditorium was full of people. The youth center director introduced the show and for an hour we were thoroughly entertained. The children were wonderful, the play was funny and the audience enjoyed themselves. There were a few mistakes, but they were covered magnificently and those who were not familiar with the show had no idea there was something wrong. The children who could not remember any lines just hours before were right on with their parts. It was amazing to see that they could indeed put on an hour-long musical comedy in less than a week.
The practice was not nearly as good as the real show. Even if things had gone perfectly during the dress rehearsal, it would not have been perfect because the directors had things to work out with the cast, props, musician and stage. Isn’t that the way it is with our life? We seem to be constantly in dress rehearsal for something greater to come, yet things keep going terribly wrong. We are tempted and fail, there is pain and suffering, we do not understand everything fully. Yet, we have to remember, this is not the final show. This is just a dress rehearsal for heaven, and there are still things the Great Director must work out in our lives.
“And I am no more in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them from the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.
The children had a wonderful time with the play and everyone was so proud of the job they did Friday night. I was glad that I saw the disastrous dress rehearsal because I was even more impressed with the over all show. Each child overcame their fears, remembered their lines and did what they were supposed to do. When there was a minor glitch, the directors were right there to cover up the mistake and the hour passed much too quickly.
There are many days that I wish I were eternally in the presence of my Lord Jesus right now, living in the joy and perfection of heaven. That day will come one day and the ‘show’ we experience will be greater than anything we can even imagine. Until then, by the blood and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ we are no longer part of this world, for we are heirs to the kingdom of God, saved from our own mistakes in this life. We are saved from this world but called to live in it. We need never fear or doubt, but instead go about preaching the Gospel to all who need to hear so they too can attend the Greatest Show ever known. Jesus is with us, guiding, directing, protecting and covering our mistakes while encouraging us to do better until that great day. Thanks be to God.
Answers Several days ago I wrote in great confidence that the blackout in the northeast began with a lightning strike at a plant in Niagara New York. It was not very long before I realized that I had jumped the gun on reporting such an answer. More power stations experienced trouble and investigators ruled out lightning very quickly. It may take a few days or even weeks before they can find all the answers, but they will continue to search out the reasons such a major catastrophe could happen. Then they will do all they can to fix the problems and ensure a similar episode will not happen in the future.
I wrote that the answer was lightning in Niagara because it sounded reasonable. The reports I saw made it seem like there was no question about the source of the trouble, so I went and reported what I’d heard without even considering the possibility that they were wrong. The answers were spoken with such confidence that I was surprised when I heard other stories. I simply should have waited until I knew the whole story.
Have you ever heard some news that sounded so good that you could not help but share, but soon found that it wasn’t entirely true? We do not always know the rest of the story, the outcome of what we have heard sometimes turns out much different than we expect. It is especially difficult when the reports come from an unreliable source. It is funny, because I rarely believe what I hear on the news until it is beyond doubt. This is why it is particularly important to beware of gossip and never spread what we hear because it is never the entire truth.
There is One whom can be trusted with the truth, even when we do not know the whole story. From the beginning, God spoke to His children about His love, mercy and purpose. Adam heard a bit, Noah another, Abraham yet another. From generation to generation, God renewed His promise to His people, building on what He spoke to their forefathers. What God spoke was trustworthy, even to those who did not see the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham knew that God would finish the story in a most wonderful way.
“Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
I doubt that my report about the source of the blackout really mattered to anyone. We can even forgive the national reporters who gave an early report because they only told us what they knew. We just have to put it in perspective. It takes time to investigate something so huge, yet they want to give some information to calm the fears and concerns of their listeners. But we are imperfect and we cannot see beyond what our eyes can see. We might receive new information at any moment and learn that our original thoughts were wrong. But when it came to the promise of God, Abraham believed. His faith, the assurance that God’s Word is truth, was credited to him as righteousness. He had a right relationship with God. Abraham never experienced the fulfillment of the promise, but he knew it would come to pass. We are the seed who are blessed with the end of the story. We know Jesus paid the debt of our sinful nature so that we can have life eternal in His name. Thanks be to God.
Back to School Today was the first day of school for most of the students in Arkansas. Vicki and Zack were excited about the possibilities for this year. Both are senior students (eighth in middle school and fifth in elementary school) and they are ready to rule their schools. They had backpacks filled with supplies. They wore new clothes and shoes. They had an expectation about meeting new teachers and seeing old friends again. This morning I waited with each child until their bus came to the door, almost a little sad that they are off again. We had a wonderful summer together; it will be very quiet around this house again. I’m going to enjoy the peace, but I will miss having them around.
It seems like it gets easier every year. I don’t feel the need to take them to school, to hold their hand all the way to the door of their classroom. They are getting older, more responsible and independent, so I trust that when they leave my sight they will do the best they can do. We have to let go as they grow up, but sometimes I miss those times when they used to cuddle on my lap or want me to be with them all the time. They kiss me good-bye in the morning, but don’t need me to wait for the bus with them. I did this morning, just to be with them for as long as possible before they begin a new year. There is something very special about those quick hugs and light pecks on the cheek as well as the time spent together. Even as it seems I have to let them go, they climb right into my heart with those sweet gestures.
Martin Luther once said, “Prayer is a climbing up of the heart into God. None can believe how powerful prayer is, and what it is able to effect, but those who have learned it by experience.” Luther knew what it was like to see God’s power at work. He spent many hours in prayer – for the sick, for the dying, for those who were lost. He saw the answers to some of his prayers, including the healing of several very close friends. He knew what it was like to climb on to the lap of his Father and feel His loving arms around him. The New Testament is filled with stories of healing, of people who went to Jesus to be made whole. Each story is unique – unique in the way Jesus accomplished the work and in the way the healed responded. Sometimes Jesus touched them, other times He just said a word. Sometimes they were thankful; sometimes they could not stop talking about the miracle. It is amazing to read these stories, to see how Jesus touched lives. The implications went far beyond the people healed. Whole communities came to faith at the signs and wonders of Jesus.
“And as Jesus passed by from thence, two blind men followed him, crying out, and saying, Have mercy on us, thou son of David. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it done unto you. And their eyes were opened. And Jesus strictly charged them, saying, See that no man know it. But they went forth, and spread abroad his fame in all that land.” Matthew 9:27-31 (ASV)
I wanted to be with the kids this morning as they left for school, so I stood out and waiting with them for their busses. They wanted me there with them, and as it came time to leave, they gave me kisses and hugs and waved from their seats. I’ll treasure those moments until I can see them again.
The two blind men wanted to be with Jesus. They sought Him out and called to in faith, “Have mercy, Son of David.” They knew He was more than just a great teacher, they knew He was the Messiah and that He could have mercy on them. Did they want healing? Perhaps, but they asked for mercy. Jesus was merciful in the most wonderful way – He gave them sight. That sight was not only with their eyes, but also in their hearts for they could see something better than all Creation. They saw the Lord. Though Jesus told them to be silent, they could not hold it in. They had entered into the heart of God by calling to Jesus, in faith they entered into His presence. They experienced the mercy of God first hand and could not keep it to themselves. People believed in Jesus because of their witness.
Do people believe because of our witness? Have we entered into the very heart of God, seen His power at work? Have we experienced the hand of God in our lives? All those who have faith in Jesus, who are saved by His blood, have something to talk about. We have something to share, for He has called us to climb on His lap and to enjoy His presence. How can we stay silent? Thanks be to God.
Mothers When I was a youth living in Pennsylvania, we had a number of cats that lived around our house. It began with just one cat that happened to be pregnant. After her litter was grown, but before we could take them to be fixed, the female cats also became pregnant. We had three females give birth within a couple of days. Each mother chose a different place for her babies – two in the garage, one on the porch. After a couple of days we noticed that some of the babies were not nursing, as they should. I did not know what to do until I looked out the window to see what was causing the problem. The mothers were stealing each other’s babies. I saw two cats passing each other on the path between the garage and porch and they were carrying kittens. At that point I did not know which baby belonged to which mother. We put all the kittens in one big box and everyone was happy.
I don’t know why these cats did this, but it was interesting to watch as they cared for the young. Mothers will do anything to protect their children. You certainly do not want to get between a mother bear and her cubs. Mother ducks work hard to keep her ducklings very close together. A human mother will fight any power or authority that may harm her son or daughter. One of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard is about a bird found during a forest fire. The firemen could hear the chirping sound of young birds, but they did not know where they were. The area had been completely destroyed by the fire. Then they noticed the burned carcass of a mother bird, wings outstretched near the base of a tree. When they picked up the bird, they found her babies safe under her wings. She gave her life for the sake of the children.
“Then are there crucified with him two robbers, one on the right hand and one on the left. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. He is the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on him. He trusteth on God; let him deliver him now, if he desireth him: for he said, I am the Son of God. And the robbers also that were crucified with him cast upon him the same reproach.” Matthew 27:38-44 (ASV)
Our Lord Jesus was just like that mother bird on the forest floor, willing to do anything to save all His children. The mother might have been able to fly out with one of her babies in her beak. She may have been able to save more than one. But she knew it would be impossible to save any of them unless she stayed right there and covered them from the flames.
Jesus could have easily saved Himself and given those witnesses a sign of God’s power. But in doing so, He would leave many, many more to die. The powerful signs during Jesus’ ministry did save some people. They had faith in Jesus and were healed in body, mind and spirit. Yet, it was not enough to bring salvation to the world. Jesus could never have done enough signs to reconcile the people to their Creator. It was His sacrifice, the giving of His body and blood, which made true life possible. The criminals and the chief priests mocked Him, thinking this failure to save Himself was proof that He was not who He said He was. But Jesus was like a mother, willing to do whatever needed to be done to save those who were in His care. He covered us with His wings as the wrath of God came upon Him on the cross and He continues to do so each day. Now, we have new life in Christ to live and breath in a world changed by the greatest love ever shown. Thanks be to God.
Audience participation Have you ever gone to a movie where there is audience participation? I don’t necessarily mean something like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” where the audience is dancing in the aisles, but rather one in which we find ourselves yelling at the characters. You can always tell when a scene with the monster is coming up in a horror movie, and around the theater people are yelling to the poor victim, “Don’t go there!” In westerns, the music makes it clear when the villain is right around the corner. “Watch out!” we yell to the screen. In romantic movies, there’s always a scene where the boy wants to kiss the girl who wants to be kissed, but for some reason they never get around to it. “Oh, just kiss her already,” we want to tell them. In the end, we were usually right about what was going to happen. The music, the plot of the story and the type of movie we are watching helps us to anticipate what is coming, and we want to be involved.
Does this every happen to you in real life? Walking down the street you see a child running after a ball. Certain that he or she will dart in front of a speeding car, we yell “Stop!” Our heart stops and we hold our breath when we see two cars nearly collide. We pray when we see an ambulance or fire truck racing down the road. Just like in the movie theater, we want to be involved in the things that happen around us, even when we aren’t part of the incident. Sometimes it is out of concern; sometimes it is about curiosity. Most of the time it is just instinct – someone is in trouble, we want to help.
“Arise, O Jehovah; O God, lift up thy hand: Forget not the poor. Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God, And say in his heart, Thou wilt not require it? Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: The helpless committeth himself unto thee; Thou hast been the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:12-14 (ASV)
It seems almost foolish to pray a prayer like this. “God, don’t forget the poor.” Of course God will not forget. We are much more likely than God to avoid and ignore the needs of the people around us. But we want to be involved. We see suffering, persecution and pain and we long to see it fixed. Most of the time, like our movie experiences, there is nothing we can do. We’ll never make the victim run the other way no matter how loud we yell at the screen. We’ll never get the lovers to kiss before the moment decided by the writers, directors and producers. Even in real life, holding our breath will not stop two cars from colliding.
I don’t think the Psalmist expects God to obey his words, but he is compelled to call out for justice. Throughout every age the helpless are oppressed by the wicked. You would think that at some point the wicked would realize that God is in control and He sees all that happens. He does guard the poor and help those in need. In the movies, somehow the bad guy always ends up stopped or caught, sometimes even killed. All through the story the villain thinks that he’ll succeed in his evil plans, but good wins in the end.
We do not always know what we are asking of God, and at times our prayers are much like these in the Psalm. We seem to remind God of what He already knows. His hand is lifted long before we know there is a problem and He is bringing comfort, peace and joy to those who suffer. We can’t always see what He is doing, for we do not see with the eyes of God. Let us always remember that God does see trouble and commit ourselves into His care, for He will help those who trust in Him. Thanks be to God.
Movie Parents of infants rarely have the chance to go out to a movie. They have become so expensive, and a young couple would need to add the cost of babysitting on to the cost of the evening. Moviegoers do not enjoy the presence of screaming babies while they are trying to watch a show. Children are simply not welcome. So, many parents of young children do not get to enjoy the movies until they are released on video.
I saw a report the other day about a movie theater that had introduced a “mother’s day out” program. They have a special showing of one of their popular adult movies, early in the morning one day a week before normal hours. Mothers are welcome to come with their small children. The owners have renovated the theater so that there is more room for the mothers and children to play before the movie. This tires the children so that they might sleep through the film. They leave the lights up enough so that the mothers can see into their diaper bags for whatever they need, and it is not as frightening for the children. The sound is turned down – loud enough to be heard, but quieter so as not to disturb sleeping children. No one cares if a child cries, they aren’t upset with people walking around. The children are welcome and after it is over the mothers are a little bit relaxed.
There are other places where children are not always welcome – expensive restaurants, meetings and sometimes even churches. Have you ever been in a congregation where the people annoyed by the antics of young children? They give dirty looks to the parents and groan whenever the child makes a sound. They push the parents to use nursery care, if it is available. They do not make it pleasant for families to come to worship. I know people who have just stopped going to church during those early years, because they have not felt welcome.
There are, of course, some churches that are very child friendly. There are cry-rooms, places for the parents to take the child if they are very disruptive where they won’t miss out on the worship. The parents are encouraged to come and worship with the child. Rather than being annoyed, the people make the parents feel at ease and even help care for the child during worship. Which church do you think would please Jesus?
“And he took a little child, and set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever receiveth me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Mark 9:36-37 (ASV)
It is hard for the parents of young children to do the things they would enjoy doing. They set aside the pleasures of living for at least a few years while they bring up their babies until they are old enough to behave in situations like movies and dining out. It is good to devote that time to the care of the child, since children are most open and teachable in the first six years. It is important to spend those days with the child. But there are some things a parent should never give up for the sake of the child – particularly not their fellowship with other Christians. It is vital for us all to have that time with God’s Word and the Sacraments, to praise God and pray with others. Jesus welcomed the children into His presence, because He loves us all – young and old alike. Thanks be to God.
Community It is nice to live in a close-knit community, a community where neighbors know each other and take care of one another. If something is out of place, we make sure everything is all right. We rejoice together in good times. We cry together and pray when things are not going so well. Oh, we do not always get along with our neighbors, but in a structured community we somehow manage to keep some sense of peace. There are communities that are not so lucky. Many developers have tried to create communities that avoid the normal problems that occur between neighbors. They have homeowners associations that help mediate situations. These communities often have certain rules to live by – house color, fence height, the type of landscaping, parking and even the types of things people can do in their homes. When a homeowner disobeys the rules, the association levies fines and demands compliance.
Unfortunately, with all things human, there are often people who abuse their power. I recently read an article about homeowners who had been badly treated in their communities. One story told of a couple that was never approached about the problem. When they tried to sell their home, they discovered that there was lien on their home because the association had fined them daily for yard decorations without informing them of the problems. Another association in a community with a “no business” clause claimed that being foster parents was a business because the government paid the couple to care for the children. Other horror stories tell of homeowners losing their homes over lawsuits about some of the most ridiculous things. For these people, living in such a community was not pleasant. The neighbors who claimed to be caring were really very unhelpful.
Jesus created a community with his followers. They didn’t live in the same neighborhood, but they did everything together. They cared for one another, watched out for each other. Jesus taught them how to be disciples and led them into the Kingdom. He corrected and rebuked those who wandered. They took care of His needs and even tried to correct Him and the crowd once in awhile. As with the homeowners associations, they didn’t always get it right.
“Now after two days was the feast of the passover and the unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him with subtlety, and kill him: for they said, Not during the feast, lest haply there shall be a tumult of the people. And while he was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster cruse of ointment of pure nard very costly; and she brake the cruse, and poured it over his head. But there were some that had indignation among themselves, saying, To what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made? For this ointment might have been sold for above three hundred shillings, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her. But Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor always with you, and whensoever ye will ye can do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could; she hath anointed my body beforehand for the burying. And verily I say unto you, Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” Mark 14:1-9 (ASV)
It is truly wonderful living in community, whatever type of community it is. Our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, churches and even our social circles are types of communities in which we take care of one another. Yet, as is true of the homeowner associations and even Jesus’ disciples, we aren’t always right when we attempt to correct those around us. Sometimes the way we do so is without mercy or grace. Sometimes our motives are self-centered or greedy. Let us always keep in mind how Jesus would have us deal with our broken relationships and do so with love, caring for one another even when things are not going so well. Thanks be to God.
Lucy There is a new book about Lucille Ball called, “Ball of Fire,” written by Stefan Kanfer. Stefan was on the Today show this morning to be interviewed about the book. He talked about the life of Lucille Ball, the difficulties and the successes. She was so popular on the television, a most beloved face. Her humor made generation after generation of people from all around the world laugh and find a moment of relief from the trials of this life.
Stefan was asked about her inability to move from television to movies. His answer was interesting. He said that she is a 68-inch actress, not a 68-foot actress. Though she tried very hard to make the transition, it was not something she was able to do. She was such a natural in front of the cameras that she was expected to succeed. However, she was at her best in the intimacy of the small screen and no matter how hard she tried she could not learn how to be good in the movies.
Is there anything that you are naturally gifted to do, or anything that you can’t seem to grasp no matter how hard you try? I know children who can read as soon as they pick up their first book and others that struggle with every word. Those kids, though teachable, never really find a love for reading. Other people are like that with math, sports, art or music. There are actors and actresses who are like Lucy, naturally gifted for television, but unable to move into other mediums. There are others who do well on the big screen who don’t do well on television. Of course, it is possible for many people to overcome their inabilities with hard work, and they can succeed in many things even if there is not some deep natural ability.
There is one thing that cannot be learned. That is faith. It is impossible for us to believe in Jesus if there is nothing deep within us calling us into that relationship. That gift of faith be learned or found through hard work. It is by God’s grace that we can know His love and pass on the wonderful message of the Gospel.
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles, -- if so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generation was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power.” Ephesians 3:1-7 (ASV)
Paul did everything he could to destroy the church in the early days, until Jesus came and revealed Himself to him. The other apostles seemed to come to faith in much different ways. Peter and the gang had been with Jesus for three years, ministering with Him and learning everything Jesus taught. Yet, none were able to believe or minister without the Holy Spirit and the gifts. They could not learn to be prophets or healers or intercessors. It came only by revelation and the indwelling Spirit. Paul knew that what he had been given was not something that came from hard work, but only by God’s grace. He revealed the mystery and now all can know His grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can’t learn how to love and serve God. We can’t learn how to speak His Word to the people. We can’t learn how to be a prophet or apostle. It has to come from within, the indwelling Spirit that brings faith and gifts to all those who believe. Thanks be to God.
Despair Vicki fell down at school on Friday. She badly sprained her ankle. It certainly could have been worse; she could have broken some bones. She has to wear a waking boot for four to six weeks. Friday afternoon, Vicki could think of nothing but the inconveniences. Her dance classes will have to be put off for a month or more. Her classes at school are all over the two-story building, she’s concerned that she won’t make it on time. She did not know how she was ever going to get around with the crutches and strange boot on her foot. All she wanted to do was lay on the couch and feel sorry for herself.
Things are much better today. The pain has subsided and the swelling has gone down. She knows that while this is an inconvenience, it is not the end of the world. She will manage to get around at school with the help of her friends. She will still learn at dance class even if she can’t move as smoothly for a few weeks. She will heal and learn from the experience.
It is easy when we are in the middle of trials and troubles to wish it were all over. Vicki’s problem is so very minor compared to the troubles of many. We have been praying for friends and family who are suffering illnesses that seem to be beyond healing. We know enemies that are unbeatable and troubles that have no solution. We just want to give up, to get away from it all. Sometimes, we even want to die, thinking it is the only escape we have from the suffering. David felt exactly the same way. He was suffering from a severe illness and his enemies chose that time of weakness to attack.
“O Jehovah, rebuke me not in thine anger, Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah; for I am withered away: O Jehovah, heal me; for my bones are troubled. My soul also is sore troubled: And thou, O Jehovah, how long? Return, O Jehovah, deliver my soul: Save me for thy lovingkindness' sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks? I am weary with my groaning; Every night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye wasteth away because of grief; It waxeth old because of all mine adversaries.
There are definitely times in our lives when we fall into such despair at the circumstances surround us that we think the only possible ending to our suffering is death itself. It does not help that our enemies use those times to take advantage of our weakness. They attack when we have no strength to fight. Our greatest enemy is Satan, who will do all he can to make us want to give up and turn from God. Yet, for those of us who live in faith, who trust in God, even the worst attacks are not able to put us down. We cry out to God knowing that He has made us to live not to die and He will hear our prayers and save us from our enemies.
After Vicki fell, she was afraid that she would never walk again. She answered her fears by letting them get her down. She still can’t see anything good about this experience and is concerned about some of the problems she will face, but I hope she will soon realize that God will use this for good somehow. When we face our most difficult circumstances, there is only One to whom we can turn, our Lord God. He is always with us, He knows our deepest pain and He will use it for His glory. With Him, even Satan has no hold on our lives. Thanks be to God.
Roundabout Have you ever listened to someone tell a story that takes so many side roads you don’t know where you are going? We all can probably remember a teacher like that – someone who could easily be distracted from the discussion at hand by simple questions or comments. For some students it becomes a challenge to see how far off subject they can take the teacher before he or she realizes they’ve accomplished nothing in the class that day. It also happens often when elderly folk are sharing stories about their lives. There is so much to say, it is hard to keep on track.
Such a conversation might go as follows: “Once, when I was a young child, I was walking down Main Street, that is the one they are calling George Pike Street now, after the hardware store owner who saved that little girl from the burning building. What was her name? She was the one who became a dancer and went to New York to be a Rockette but she never was selected so she is a waitress at that little restaurant on First Avenue. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I was on Main Street on my way to the soda shop. You kids really missed something great with the soda shop. We had so much fun there, eating ice cream and listening to the jukebox with our friends. My favorite song was…” The story goes on and on and you never really find out what happened on Main Street that day. But you learn so much about the times and people.
This same type of thing often happens during Bible studies. Often a subject will come up in the passage that brings questions or comments from the group. For some, this is a frustration. They would much rather keep to the topic at hand. I enjoy watching how God’s Word is living and relevant to the lives of those who read and study the scriptures. It is especially wonderful to see how the Old Testament passages fit together with the New Testament to complete the story of God’s mercy and grace for His people. Yet, we often prefer to ignore the ancient stories, focusing on the Gospels or the letters to the churches. As we see it, the wrath of God and the laws of the Jews make no difference to those who are saved by the Gospel of Christ. They seem like unnecessary tangents to the conversation.
Yet, as we read through the witness of the early church, the book of Acts in particular, we hear some wonderful sermons by Peter, Stephen and Paul. They all begin with the stories of God’s relationship with His people, Abraham, Saul, David, the prophets, John the Baptist. Then they tell of Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. They draw it all together with the promise of God. Then they tell us the purpose of it all.
“Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins: and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-40 (ASV)
There are those who are frustrated by anyone who can’t tell a story without going a roundabout way. They’d rather just get to the point and be done with it. They would prefer ignore the lessons found in the Old Testament. Why waste our time on old news when there are so many who need to hear the Good News? It is not a waste; at least it wasn’t to Peter, Stephen and Paul. It is part of the story; the promises were given to those who came before Jesus walked on the earth, and in seeing the promises fulfilled we realize that we can trust God to do everything He has said.
It may have been more than enough to preach these words of forgiveness to those listening that day. But Paul gave them more. He told the stories they all knew and showed them how their lives fit into the promise of God. They saw it clearly and asked to hear more about the message that Paul and the disciples were taking to the world. Isn’t it wonderful that even God takes a roundabout way of telling us about His grace, so that we can see how much He truly loves us? After all, He worked His salvation through many generations of people so that we – you and I – might be saved. Thanks be to God.
Sight A chemical explosion blinded Michael May when he was just three and a half years old, and he was unable to see for the next forty-three years. Three years ago he underwent surgery that restored his sight, but he is still learning how to see. Researchers have discovered that there is much more to our sight than just the physical workings of the eye. The brain is actively involved, and we actually learn how to see the world around us. It is such a natural process that happens day by day, something that we take for granted. We do not hear about such healing very often. In the history of the world, there are only thirty written records of people who have had their sight restored after being blind for a long period of time.
It has been difficult for Michael. Though he recognizes his family by touch, he does not know their faces. He can’t grasp the two dimensional worlds that dominate our lives – television and movies. In an interview on the Today Show, Michael said learning to see is like learning a new language. He needs to develop the part of his brain that analyzes what he sees with his eyes so that he can identify what he is seeing.
“When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed his eyes with the clay, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent). He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
Knowing what we know today from the case of Michael May makes this story even more incredible. The man Jesus healed was blind from birth. Whenever I heard this story, I thought of it as if it were like one of us removing a blindfold after playing a children’s game. It might take a second for our eyes to adjust, but then we see everything clearly. This man had no experience with sight at all. His brain had not developed the skills necessary for seeing the world with his eyes. Light, action, and color – he had no idea how to process these things or understand what he was seeing.
We do not know anything else about this man. What happened to him in the days that followed this healing? Did he know his family and friends? Was he able to find his home? What sort of work did he do? Did the people of his village accept the change, or did he have to go elsewhere to find a new life? It is likely that it took some time for the man to get used to this new thing, to learn how to see just like Michael May. What is certain is that Jesus did an incredible thing, giving that man sight – both physically and in spirit. Jesus gave the blind man a whole new world – the world of sight – and He gave him the faith to believe that Jesus is the One who brings the Kingdom to this world. Thanks be to God.
Race The show “Seinfeld” had a way of taking major issues and finding the humor in how we deal with them. On one episode, Elaine was dating a man who appeared to her to be African-American, but she wasn’t sure. Throughout the relationship, Elaine wondered if they were an interracial couple. She kept asking questions, suggesting places to eat and creating situations in which he would have to admit whether or not he was black. Finally, they were eating lunch at the coffee shop when a man gave them a dirty look. Elaine’s boyfriend said that he could not believe people would still have trouble with interracial couples. Elaine breathed a sigh of relief, thinking she got the answer to her question. He was shocked when she commented on his African-American background. He thought they were interracial because he assumed she was Hispanic.
This was a funny episode, because Elaine and her boyfriend did all they could to cater to the needs of the other based on what they thought about their race, but race is rarely that difficult to define. Skin color, body features and speech qualities are generally easy to identify. It is harder when we begin to look at the inner qualities that aren’t so visible to the world. Personal likes and dislikes may never help in identifying a person’s background. Geography means nothing in this age when people travel extensively. People from similar backgrounds have different education, material possessions and lifestyle choices. We can’t assume the race, creed or country of any person, especially in the melting pot of American society.
Unfortunately, we do sometimes make assumptions about people based on what we see or know about them. Take, for example, the incredible outpouring of rage at all people of Mid-eastern decent in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center and Washington. Some of the people harassed in those days were lifelong residents of America, naturally born citizens. Some were not even Muslim. Some were here working hard to become better people so that they could eventually go home and make a difference in their own countries. Some were not Arabic, but were assumed to be because of their features. So few were really terrorists that most people never encountered such a person. We make assumptions about people based on the wrong things, and we are usually wrong.
Even Jesus dealt with such trouble, though He was perfectly clear about who He was and what His purpose was in this world. But the things He said were frightening to some of the people. They were worried that He would destroy the status quo and they would lose their position in society. They did not agree with His ministry, they were angry about what He did. He was not what they expected, so they assumed He was something different.
“The Jews answered and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon? Jesus answered, I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and ye dishonor me. But I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.
We look at people and think we know something about them just by what we see on the outside. Sometimes we are right, some things are easy to know about the people we meet. Yet, how often are we wrong, making assumptions that are simply not true? Elaine and her friend based their relationship and the things they did on their misunderstanding about each other’s background.
The Jews assumed that Jesus surely could not be a Jew based on the things they heard Him saying and doing. And, He must have a demon to go so against what they believed to be right and true. Jesus told them bluntly, “I am who I am.” He identified Himself with God. The people were so shocked by such blasphemy that they tried to stone Him. Even today a great many reject the words of Jesus in this passage or claim they mean something else because they want to see Jesus as someone different than He really is. They want to assume He is just a teacher, just a prophet, just a wonderful man whom God used greatly. They look at the stories of Jesus and see what they want to see. But Jesus truly is who He is, and not because He says so. He is glorified because God has done so and if we believe Him we shall have eternal life. Thanks be to God.
Mississippi If asked, “Which way does the Mississippi River flow?” everyone would answer, “south.” This is a true statement, but as you travel along the river itself you will find that in places in flows other directions. Rivers do not run straight paths; they twist and turn around obstacles, cutting a path through the land. There are places that the Mississippi actually travels west or north, but ultimately the end of the river is south of the beginning.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.” This is providence, God’s hand guiding people according to His good and perfect will. Like the river whose direction is unpredictable, we never really know where we are going until we come to the end. We face difficulties as we journey through life, but we can trust that God knows exactly where He is leading us. Ultimately, our destination is home with our Father, but the path seems to twist and turn.
Daniel’s life was certainly not smooth sailing. He was among the Israelites that were taken in a siege on Jerusalem. He was selected to serve in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He and his friends were treated well, but life in a foreign land in the shadow of foreign gods could not have been easy. God used Daniel mightily during his time in Babylon, revealing the power of God and glorifying Him even when he risked his life to do so. God spoke through Daniel when all the wise men in the kingdom could not understand the signs and dreams. He rose to great power in the kingdom.
The other officials were jealous of Daniel’s success. They convinced King Darius to issue and edict that said for thirty days no one could worship any god or man but the king. The king greatly respected Daniel and if he thought such a law would have harmed him, he would never have agreed. But the group who went to the king claimed that all the officials were in agreement. The edict fed the kings ego, so he quickly signed it. Though it could mean death, Daniel continued to worship God three times a day. Darius was greatly distressed when the officials reported Daniel, but in that land even the king could not repeal and edict. So, Daniel was sent to the lion’s den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you.” He did not sleep all night and at first light he ran to the den. He called out to Daniel, “Has your God saved you?”
“Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, and they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God.” Daniel 6:21-23 (ASV)
King Darius reacted with such joy and commanded the people to fear and reverence Daniel’s God and Daniel continued to prosper in the kingdom where God had put him. To Daniel, life away from Jerusalem was difficult, but he trusted in God and knew that God had a greater purpose than what he could see. He was traveling down a river that seemed to be going in every direction, but God knew the destination. This incident might have been frightening, but through it God was indeed glorified.
Where is your journey taking you? Does it seem like there is no direction, or do you think there are too many obstacles in your way to make it to the end? Remember, God has not left us to fend for ourselves. He guides our path and uses each moment to bring us closer to Him. Through it all, God will be glorified when we do not fear, but rather thank and praise Him for His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Construction There is a great deal of construction going on along the routes I take around Little Rock. Churches, commercial buildings and homes are either being built or rebuilt. There are at least two places where homes are being moved. They have been ripped off the foundation and were sitting on trailers yesterday when I passed. Trucks will come and begin the slow, tedious task of pulling these buildings to their new foundation. Right now, they look horrible. One is large enough that it had to be sliced in two. The edges are rough the bottom is raged. The other house is so bad it is a wonder they are even bothering to move it. Seems like it would be best to just tear down the home and begin a new.
But there must be something of value in these homes or else the owners would not go to such time and expense to move them. The frame must be strong and the walls sturdy. When the homes arrive at the new site, workers will come in to glue the pieces together and fix the rough edges until it looks like it was built on that particular spot. I grew up in a home that had been moved and I would never have known it if someone hadn’t told me.
There is a church that is under construction. A good portion of the building has been leveled for the new addition. It was sad to see the building wrecked with heavy equipment and the pieces carted away. Yet, I’m sure that there is a very good reason for the destruction. Perhaps the congregation has outgrown the old facilities. Whatever the reason, the plans the congregation has for their building will come out beautifully and eventually we will not remember that they had to destroy it.
Sometimes it is necessary to destroy something to make it better. We have all heard countless stories of men and women whose lives were destroyed by some passion – alcohol, drugs, gambling or overwork. It was only when they hit rock bottom that they realized the error of their ways. It is a true joy when we hear testimonies from Christians who were changed by the Word of God, healed and rebuilt into new creation. It took losing everything before they would even look at God, who was always standing close ready to save. The same was true for the Israelites.
Jeremiah was not a beloved prophet. The kings hated to hear what he had to say, and Zedekiah even threw him into prison for talking treason against the nation. He said that God was going to give them over into the hands of the Babylonians, that Jerusalem would be left desolate. These are not happy greetings for a king, particularly since it would mean so much loss to his people and himself. “Why do you say these things?” The other prophets tickled the ears of the kings. They talked of peace and victory. Jeremiah told the truth. But, God’s Word is not filled with wrath. It is filled with promise.
“And now therefore thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, concerning this city, whereof ye say, It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: Behold, I will gather them out of all the countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my wrath, and in great indignation; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from following them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they may not depart from me. Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul.” Jeremiah 32:36-41 (ASV)
As I look at those homes that are being moved, I wonder about the future of those buildings. Will they survive the move? Will they be lovingly restored until they look like they are new? As for the church, I wonder what plans they have and what the new building will look like. Will these changes bring a fresh spirit to the congregation? Are they being healed and renewed on the inside while they are working on the outside? It will be exciting to see what happens in the days and weeks to come.
We can rest assured that when things look like they are falling apart in our lives, when we are ripped from the foundations God is with us. When parts of our lives are wrecked and carted away, we can stand firm in the promise. God is standing with us, ready to do a new thing, to restore our lives and make them even better. He will bring us home, stronger and more faithful than we ever could have been if we’d kept our old life. Do you know anyone who is on his or her way to hitting rock bottom? Show them Jesus, for it is in Him they will find healing and peace. God will rejoice in the work of rebuilding their whole beings to live in His glory forever. Thanks be to God.
Mars Have you gone out to see Mars in the night sky this week? According to astronomers, Mars is as close to the earth as it has been for sixty thousand years. It is seen in the southeastern sky beginning shortly after sunset, rising over the heavens until it sets in the southwest in the early morning hours. It is brighter than any star, with a slightly reddish tint. With a set of binoculars or a telescope you can see some details on the earth’s surface. Some pictures from space telescopes have been released this week that show an incredible sight, with dry ice on the polar cap and craters bigger than we can imagine.
The night sky is fascinating to watch, but for many the sky is much more. The earliest travelers had nothing but the stars to guide them at night. Farmers used the movement of the heavenly bodies to pinpoint the right time to plant and harvest. Others have used the stars to predict the future and for other spiritual reasons. Places like Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt have astronomical significance.
For the early astronomers, the sun and moon were easy to understand. They recognized early that there were some stars that did not move and others that reappeared at certain times of the year. From the ancient days, the constellations and stars were named and charted for many purposes. There were other heavenly bodies that were more difficult to understand. The planets and comets were mysteries to the ancients because they did not seem to have a regular pattern like the rest. Today, we know the reason is because they are much closer so we can see their movement much more clearly than the far more distant stars. We have learned that the heavens are not a dome above the earth and that the heavenly bodies are not all at the same distance from the earth. We have been able to look at the planets, stars, comets and other cosmic phenomenon through high-powered telescopes, even ones we have sent into space, beyond the earth’s atmosphere. We have seen the incredible beauty that exists in what was once thought to be an unreachable darkness.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; Their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4b (ASV)
In the ancient days, this event with Mars might have been seen as an omen or sign of some impending doom or some great promise. We look at it from a different perspective, knowing that it is the natural course of the planetary movements that bring us to this juncture. Yet, we all look at the night sky with the same awe. We can still use the heavenly bodies to guide our paths, to plan our schedules and even to see our future. We do it differently, with more understanding. We can track the course of asteroids and comets; discover heavenly bodies that are so far away that they are seemingly impossible to study. But even with our knowledge, we still look at the night sky with the same heart and questions. Who could have created such wonder and what purpose does He have for us? We know the answer is the Lord God Almighty, and our purpose is to glorify Him, just as the stars and planets do every night, bringing light into the darkness. In Jesus, we have a light that can overcome the worst kind of darkness – that of sin and death. In Jesus, we have life eternal, a life that is even more beautiful than the all the heavens. Thanks be to God.
Pilgrim’s Progress “Pilgrim’s Progress” is probably one of the most beloved books of all time. It has sold most copies than every other book except the Bible, and has been read by people all over the world. John Bunyan, the author of this special testimony of faith, died on this date 315 years ago. He was a powerful witness of the Gospel to many until the day he died, but he did not truly understand faith until later in life.
John grew up in the Puritan church, attended services regularly, but his heart was somewhere else. He loved to play games, dance and bell-ring, things that were considered improper with his brethren. He also swore and read trashy novels. He joined the army at a very young age, but was spared from death when a fellow soldier volunteered to take his place on guard duty. The soldier died and John knew that he had been spared for some special purpose. John married, but the couple lived in poverty. Her father, a Christian, gave them two books, which John read over and over. The words bothered him deep in his spirit. One day he heard a voice ask him if he would repent and go to heaven, or continue his life and go to hell. John felt condemned, beyond forgiveness. He tried to make up for his unsavory life – tried to keep the commands found in the Bible, read daily, stopped swearing and the other improper things. On the outside he looked like a Christian, but inside he had no peace.
Then one day he heard four women praising God and sharing their faith. They talked about the miserable state of their faith, about God's forgiveness and the love of Christ. He could tell they had a joy he had never known. Their words had an impact on his life and it was through reading Luther's commentary on the book of Galatians that he realized that none of the things he was doing would ever give him peace. He could only be justified by faith. He continued to struggle, but began preaching the Gospel, telling others about Christ. People came from far and wide to hear him.
“Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21 (ASV)
John Bunyan died on August 31, 1688 but was serving the Lord to the end. He had traveled in bad weather to help a father and son that were arguing to be reconciled to one another. He became very ill with fever and died. He risked his life to preach, he was imprisoned for his ministry and wrote his books while locked in prison including “Pilgrim's Progress.” During his lifetime he touched more lives than we can possibly count. We remember this great man of God on this day because through his life we see the truth of the Gospel – that we cannot earn righteousness or do enough to be rewarded with salvation. When he tried, he knew no peace. He learned that it is only in Jesus that we are made perfect and gifted to be witnesses to the mercy of God, glorifying Him in all we do. Thanks be to God.