Welcome to the August 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
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 2004
August 1, 2004
Tourists We have family staying with us this week, our first official guests since we moved into this house. It is nice to share our home and we are excited about sharing Texas with Bruce’s parents. We have been pouring over the tourist books, talking about all the things we want to see. It is hard because their visit will be relatively short, just over a week, and it is impossible to fit in everyone in that amount of time. They came with their own ideas – the Alamo, the River walk, the German village. They want to try Texas barbeque and go shopping at for cowboy clothing. We are excited about their visit because we have found some wonderful things about living in Texas and we have wanted to share with someone.
That’s the way it is when you find something great – you want to share it with someone else. Word of mouth is the one way many restaurants and stores get new clientele. This is why it is so important for the employees to be friendly and helpful. If a customer is satisfied, they are likely to tell all their friends and neighbors, building business. This is also true of the things we buy. I have had people in the grocery store ask me what I think of a product. This happened just recently and I took the time to rave about the product, to make suggestions about how to prepare and serve the item. I was happy and I shared my happiness.
Isn’t it funny how we are quick to recommend a diet soda or prepared meal, but we are silent when it comes to the things of faith? I don’t know why we are not very good witnesses to the love of Christ. After all He has given us the greatest gift of all. He has made us heirs to the Kingdom of God, saved us for eternity from our sins and death. We rejoice in our salvation, but not so much that we are calling out to our neighbor to share the Good News with them.
There are times when we do talk about our faith, but we are generally hesitant, not wanting to insult or offend our neighbor. We think proclaiming God’s Word, preaching the Gospel, is a job meant only for those who are pastors. We let them take care of the evangelism because they are more versed in the subject and can quote the Bible much better than we. However, in Christ we are all given the Spirit and we can gain the knowledge we need with His help. We can read the Bible and know enough to teach those who are lost in darkness about the Light of the World.
“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; And sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; And my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; And my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Psalm 51:13-17 (ASV)
The psalmist was so overjoyed by the salvation of God that he was excited about sharing the message of forgiveness with others. The saving grace of God makes us into a new creation, filled to the rim with the love of Christ. We are more than willing to commend a product to a friend, why don’t we do the same with this great gift? That which Christ has done gives us the strength, courage, love, hope, peace and joy that should be overflowing into the hearts and lives of others. With the gifts He gives, we go out into the world to teach sinners about the forgiveness found on the cross of our Lord Jesus. We take the Word of God to them that they might repent, turn to Him and be saved. God does not want us to hide this Good News, but to give ourselves fully over to it for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.
Bananas We love fruit, but unfortunately it does not last very long, especially in the heat. I tend to over buy, which means we throw some of it away. Sometimes I wish I were more of a cook and knew how to make jellies, jams or pies and canning the fresh fruit for later use. Sometimes we are able to use the fruit once it has gone too far to eat fresh. We have a number of bananas on the counter at which the kids have turned up their noses. I will use to make banana bread. The bread will be so much better using the older bananas.
People who do make those sweet treats know when a piece of fruit is best for the different uses. A fresh picked peach is good to eat, but it is best to wait a few days for pie or cobbler. After a few more days the fruit will be right for jellies or jams. If you use the fruit too early, the pie and jelly will be too tart; if you eat it too late it has a strange flavor. Yet, even when we think it is too bad for use it probably does not need to cast away.
Have you ever known someone who has no hope, for whom you fear there is no hope? I once knew a man who had lost faith in God, as a matter of fact, he stopped believing God even existed. He had physical and emotional problems, which were leading to unanswerable questions. He completely lost hope, fearing everything he once believed was just a lie. There was nothing that could be said that would make him see the truth, and when anyone tried he rebelled against it even more. No matter how bad it got, however, I never lost that glimmer of hope that faith still existed in his heart. Perhaps one day God will reveal Himself to this man again, and he will remember the love of Christ.
The Israelites lost sight of God all too many times throughout their history. They turned to other nations for support, they forgot the good things God had done and sought other gods. They lived as if they were of this world, rather than of God’s kingdom. They rejected Him as King and sought the guidance of men. Yet, every time He was rejected by His chosen people, God knew there was still goodness in them.
“Thus saith Jehovah, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down in, for my people that have sought me. But ye that forsake Jehovah, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for Fortune, and that fill up mingled wine unto Destiny; I will destine you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but ye did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not.” Isaiah 65:8-12 (ASV)
There does come a time when fruit can’t even be used by a good cook – when fuzzy mould begins to grow it is too far gone for even jellies or jams. There will even be a time when it is too late for people to come to God. There are those who have rejected Him completely who will not live eternally in the presence of God, basking in the light of grace forever. However, we don’t know today who it will be that will never know faith. There are other people who knew this man who had rejected God because of his health and intellectual pursuits. They thought he was lost forever. Yet, I can’t help but have hope that one day God will reveal Himself to this man once again. There must be something of that faith left in his heart and soul.
It will be a loss if he never turns back to God, but it is an even greater loss for us to lose hope for him today. Though he has none, has no glimmer of the love of Christ in his life today, he will never hear the message of forgiveness and peace if we reject him as he has rejected us. We must continue to have hope for those who might still believe, to find the sweetness and the faith that is hidden beneath the bitter juice. In the end, it will be up to God to save the unbeliever from his lack of faith. Until then, we can live in hope that God will have mercy. Thanks be to God.
Hummingbirds We have several hummingbird feeders around our house. I love to watch the little birds flying up to eat the sweet nectar we have laid out for them. I don’t think we have very many here in Texas, I’ve only seen three at one time, however we can’t be sure if we are seeing the same three coming throughout the day. There are a couple we have come to recognize. One hummingbird does a cute little wiggle with his tail, another one fans it out as he drinks. Sometimes they come to the window and talk to us with their tiny voices. They are fun to watch.
They are also exhausting to watch. It seems they never stop moving. Constantly flying from one feeder to another, then they take off into the sky. Soon they are back to eat again. They show up out of the blue, as if they came out of nowhere. I’ve often thought it must be very tiring to be on the go constantly. I wonder how they even find the time to stop for a drink now and then. Until recently, I thought they never rested. Yet, don’t many of us live our lives that way?
Even though it seems as though hummingbirds are constantly on the move, I have recently see that they do indeed stop sometimes. There is a favorite branch on one of our trees in the front where they often rest. In the back, I’ve seen several sitting on the badminton net we have set up in the yard. They love to sit there for what seems like long periods of time. I don’t think they do anything. They don’t appear to be looking around or making noise. They are just resting.
I think there are many people that are like the hummingbirds when it comes to the things of faith. They are constantly searching for some truth, for something to fill the void in their heart. They try every different type of religion, just to find something that fits their time and their lifestyle. Human beings have a innate need to believe in something. If you take a few minutes in a bookstore today, you will find shelves packed with spiritual literature, books which offer directions for the soul’s quest for the divine. Most of these solutions offer nothing but more running after things. Most religion offers ways to work toward faith, they do not give rest.
“At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30 (ASV)
Religion is often referred to as a journey, as a quest for God. Yet, even the most inexhaustible travelers must take time to rest. You can’t go on a trip for weeks at a time without planning time to do nothing. When traveling to Europe, most Americans will fill every minute of every day. Yet, in the end they never really enjoy their time because they’ve seen and heard nothing along the way.
This is how it is with many people who are on the journey of faith. They are constantly on the go, trying to fill every moment with God. They want to read every book, try every faith, hear ever message there is to hear. Yet, in the process of hopping from church to church or religion to religion, they never actually meet God or hear His voice. They never find rest.
We, however, have found rest in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we no longer have to search for the divine because He is right here in our hearts and in our lives. He died so that we would no longer have to run after every ideology and work hard to be loved. He loved us long before we were born, had plans for our lives even before the beginning of time. We don’t have to run after God, He has come to us in Jesus Christ. Let us rest always in Him, not only for a moment here and there when we stop to listen. I also pray we will know His presence in the midst of our busy-ness, so that we can live in the faith that our journey is not one filled with necessary works or duties, but rather one of faith, hope, joy and peace. Thanks be to God.
Thread The teacher of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. Yet, there are a great many things we would rather avoid in our lives. There is an old French tale that tells of a boy who learned how important it is to live through the good and the bad. The boy’s name was Peter and he was a daydreamer. In school he was constantly thinking about what he would do when the day was over. He barely paid attention to his life as he longed for vacations to come. He wanted to be grown so he could marry his best friend Liese who was the woman of his dreams. His mother warned him to enjoy this day, to have patience until that day really comes.
One day when the boy was in the forest daydreaming, he awoke to find an old woman at his side. She asked him if he wanted a gift – a special ball that would help him make time pass more quickly. This ball had a golden thread, if he never touched the thread time would pass normally, but if he pulled the thread it would make an hour pass by like a second. She warned him that he could never get that time back, to use the thread with caution.
The boy took the ball home and learned very fast how easy it was to pull the thread to get him through bad times. At first he pulled just a tiny bit – when he was bored in school, he pulled it out so that the day was over. Then he pulled a little harder so that he would be finished with school and have an apprenticeship. He would pull the thread to get through illness. He did two years of military service in minutes. His children grew from babies to independence in days. Suddenly he realized that his life was nearly over and he’d accomplished nothing. The old woman returned to him and asked if he liked his life. He admitted that he felt cheated of so much time and that he would have been much happier experiencing even the bad things so that he would have memories to enjoy. He wished he could start again without the ball and live through it all. She granted his wish and he found himself waking as a young boy again. He looked forward to his life as he left his house to go to school that morning.
Do you ever wish you could get through something so that you might get to something better? When we are in school, we wish we were grown. When we are engaged, we wish for our marriage. When our children are troublesome, we long for the day when they are grown. We can’t wait for retirement, for special trips. Kids get excited about Christmas long before the day. We get impatient waiting for the things we want. These things are brief, passing events in our lives. What about the even greater things for which we hope? Are there ever times when you just wish this life might end so that you can spend eternity with your Father? I have to admit I would not mind having a magic ball if it promised to take me to that Day. However, we can’t rush things, not even eternal life. There is indeed a time and a place for everything. Even Jesus had to wait.
“But the Pharisees went out, and took counsel against him, how they might destroy him. And Jesus perceiving it withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all and charged them that they should not make him known: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, And he shall declare judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry aloud; Neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, And smoking flax shall he not quench, Till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles hope.” Matthew 12:14-21 (ASV)
It seems so strange when Jesus tells people to remain silent. Shouldn’t they be yelling from the rooftops that the Messiah had come to save them? Jesus was fulfilling prophecy with every word He said and every person He touched with His healing and grace. How much easier it would have been for Jesus to just step right in to the fray and take the death that the Pharisees sought for Him. After all, the cross was truly His reason for becoming flesh. Why not just be done with it? Though it is true this is why Jesus came, He also had other work that needed to be accomplished. The disciples needed Him to teach them about the Kingdom of God. He went into hiding so that the message, the healing, the promise would reach out to the world. There was a time for death in the life of Jesus. There was also a time for life, to heal and teach so that many would know that Jesus was exactly who He said He was.
While we might long for the day we will spend eternity in heaven with our Father, there is also a time to live in this world. We have work to do, just as Jesus had things to be accomplished. We walk in faith that God’s promises are true and that they will be fulfilled one day, but we are called to live daily witnessing to the love and mercy of God to bring hope to the world. Thanks be to God.
Robberies Things are a little crazy in American politics right now. With only 88 days until Election Day, the candidates are bussing their way through the country to lay out their plans for America to the people. They are holding rallies, meeting with city leaders, speaking before crowds. The Vice Presidential candidates are also running around the country, trying to get votes. The news is filled with reports and pictures from all their campaign spots, summaries of their speeches are found in all the newspapers. It is an exciting time for those interested in politics and an incredibly frustrating time for those who aren’t. It sometimes seems as though the only news these days has something to do with the election.
It is somewhat strange, but both George Bush and John Kerry seem to be following the same journey. They are stopping in the same towns, visiting the same people. And yet, those are the people who are undecided. They are the ones that the candidates are trying to convince. The tour busses are barely missing one another on the road. Their speeches are filled with quotes from one another’s campaign stops, almost immediately. One says something and then just a few minutes later down the road the other has a comeback for the comment. They are battling each other with words and though they are not in exactly the same place, you can tell they are watching and listening to their opponent very closely.
Others are also watching. Yesterday the two candidates were in the same town at the same time. Davenport, Iowa is not very big, only about a hundred thousand residents. John Kerry held a town hall meeting for the town’s businessmen and only blocks away George Bush had a rally. Thousands of people were involved in these two events, including most of the city’s police department. Security in the town must have been incredible, traffic congested and everyone distracted. That was all well and good for several bank robbers, however. They took advantage of the distraction and robbed three banks. There have probably not been that many bank robberies in that town in years, but there was so much excitement in other places, the crooks knew they could get away with it.
“Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9 (ASV)
In the book “The Screwtape Letters,” C. S. Lewis has written a sort of conversation in letters. Uncle Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood about the methods and practices of working for the devil in the world. He gives hints and pointers to his nephew to distract and discourage Christians. While this book is just a story, quite funny at times, it has in it the truth about the way the devil works. He is cunning, manipulative and sneaky. He doesn’t stand out on the street corners yelling “Hey, I’m the devil come follow me!” Rather, he sneaks in the back door of our lives, catches us when we are least expecting it. He is like the robbers who take advantage of a town while they are excited about the visits of two important people on the same day.
We have to remember these things and be on our watch at all times. There is so much we are called to do in this world, so many to whom we are sent to speak the Gospel of Christ. Yet, we must remember that the devil is waiting for just such a moment to squeeze into our lives and manipulate our thoughts and our actions. It won’t seem evil – just at the moment we reach a spiritual high, he will make us see how wonderful we are until we take credit for the grace freely given. At a moment of decision, when God is clearly showing us the right way to move, the devil will make other options look great. Always remember, Satan knows God’s word better than any human being and he knows how to twist it to his advantage. He is out there, waiting until we are busy with other things to sneak in and create havoc. Keep watch and be ready so that you will not be deceived.
Today’s Word for Today was first posted on October 3, 2002. Though the situations mentioned are past, they still loom over our lives in new and threatening ways. This message is appropriate for any time, even when our battles are not so big, but also when they are individual and personal.
Worship William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury as Europe was facing World War II. He was known by his admirers as “a philosopher, theologian, social teacher, educational reformer, and the leader of the ecumenical movement of his generation.” He was an excellent moderator; he was able to put forth both sides of an issue so convincingly that both sides often agreed with one another. During the war, Bishop Temple was opposed to the demands of unconditional surrender that the Allied leadership was demanding and supported a process of negotiation to bring about peace in Europe. He worked to help free the Jewish prisoners held by the Nazis. He was a leader in social reform in England, and as a leader in the movement to form the World Council of Churches he helped make great strides in the areas of ecumenism. Not everyone agreed with his policies, either political or religious, however he will be remembered for the impact he had on the world.
William Temple is quoted as saying, “The world can be saved by one thing and that is worship. For to worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” While this might seem to work well in the life of a Christ – when one puts God ahead of all else in one’s life, joy and peace can be found in all aspects of life, including the suffering – how can our worship save the world? Most people do not even believe that they need a Savior, even fewer believe in Jesus as Lord.
However, have you ever been in a situation that seemed hopeless, where people were arguing about the most insignificant things? When one person begins to pray or praise God in some way, the whole atmosphere changes. Others join in the praise. Though there may be non-believers in the group, they become quiet either out of respect or because no one is left to argue. Words of praise to God will quiet an enemy.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Sing unto Jehovah a new song, And his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto him with timbrel and harp. For Jehovah taketh pleasure in his people: He will beautify the meek with salvation. Let the saints exult in glory: Let them sing for joy upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand; To execute vengeance upon the nations, And punishments upon the peoples; To bind their kings with chains, And their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written: This honor have all his saints. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 149
I do not have any answers to the troubles we face in the world today. War is pending once again, as it was in the days of William Temple. I do not think 24-hour worship services would have stopped World War II, and I do not think it would stop war today. We have to trust that God has blessed our leaders with the wisdom to use their gifts and knowledge to make just and appropriate decisions. However, those of us who are not the president or generals, those of us who are not leaders in the political, social or religious arenas, can devote ourselves to praising God. As He is glorified, He will bring about His justice and perhaps change the hearts of those who promote violence and war.
After the attack on America last year, many people went to church – seeking something outside themselves for comfort, peace and hope. They gathered together to pray. Prayer is a form of worship, but people often pray to God as if He were a pop machine – put in your prayer and get whatever you want. Most who attended services briefly after the attack last year were looking for answers or asking for something from God – comfort, blessings, guidance or protection. Worship is far more than that. It includes giving fully of ourselves to the will of God – giving our soul to the holiness of God, our mind to the truth of God, our imagination to the beauty of God, our heart to the love of God. Worship begins with praise to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, thanksgiving for His incredible goodness, rejoicing in His presence. When we worship Him completely, things change. Let us live today in worship to God and watch what happens when He is glorified! Thanks be to God.
Counsel We all have people whom we turn to for help, spiritual guidance or counsel in decision making. When we are young, we turn to our parents and teachers. As we grow older, we find mentors or others we respect who will give us advice about how to get through our crossroads. Though we are independently minded, and will do what we feel is best in the long run, it is very helpful to have someone who has a different perspective. Sometimes they know us so well they can see when we are leaning in a wrong direction, or they themselves have experienced similar things and can tell us the pitfalls and consequences of our decision.
This is true of everyone, from a young child to the President of the United States. World leaders have always had men and women to whom they turned for guidance. Sometimes it was a good thing, sometimes not so good. Watch any of the political thriller movies, and you will always find that the leader is a puppet king, controlled and manipulated by someone who appears to be nothing more than an assistant but who is really in control. This is why we need to look at the people who surround our leaders as well as the leader himself, to know who will serve well.
Saul was the first king of Israel and he messed up, big time. He stopped turning to God for guidance and protection. He turned to his neighbors and their gods, and ignored the pleas from the prophet Samuel to do things righteously. The Lord took away his anointing and gave it to David. In the end, things got so bad it was beyond repair, and then Saul finally turned to the Lord. Unfortunately, Samuel was dead and Saul had no one left to whom he could turn. Rather than seek out the Lord, however, Saul went to a witch to have her contact Samuel and seek his aid. The spirit of Samuel came to Saul, but had nothing good left to say.
“And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. And Samuel said, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing Jehovah is departed from thee, and is become thine adversary? And Jehovah hath done unto thee, as he spake by me: and Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David. Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Jehovah, and didst not execute his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath Jehovah done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover Jehovah will deliver Israel also with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: Jehovah will deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines. Then Saul fell straightway his full length upon the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.” 1 Samuel 28:15-20 (ASV)
The best advice anyone can give us is to follow the Lord and turn to Him for help. This is what Samuel tried to do for Saul throughout his reign as king. Saul refused to listen and did what went against the word of God. He sought advice from all the wrong people and in the end he lost everything – including his life. His blessings were taken away and given to another.
God uses men and women like Samuel to guide us on our way. We can certainly listen to our hearts, but they tend to take us in the wrong direction – they focus our direction on what will benefit ourselves. We are called to follow God and do everything for His glory. God is the God of second, third and even forth chances. By the time we reach that point, it does no good at that point to turn to the wrong sort of mentor or counselor. There may come a time when it is too late to turn back to the Lord. There was one thing Saul could have done. He could have humbled himself before the Lord God Almighty and admit his failure. Saul continued to manipulate his world to his benefit, to stay in control. In doing so, the world held him captive and he lost ever blessing God had given him.
Landscaping Our house came with a small mount of landscaping. They put two trees in our yard, just like they put at all the other houses in the neighborhood. They also gave us several bushes and plants in a bed in front of the house. These beds have been made more personal by the owners of the houses as they have added flowers and garden decorations. There is still so much to do. We have been waiting before laying too many plants in our new yard. We have wanted to watch the weather, to see where the sun shines and where the rain falls. We have wanted to imagine the yard with plants before spending too much money on things that would not do well or look right.
A local nursery was having a sale this weekend, wonderful prices on typical Texas plants. Many of these plants are specifically grown for hot, dry areas. They are tolerant of the intense sunlight and desert-like conditions. We have to be careful about these plants because they can rot if they get too much water. Though it is dry most of the time, we have areas in our yard that get flooded during heavy rain. As we wandered through the nursery today, we asked questions about the plants and carefully considered where the plants would best be planted.
During our shopping, the clerk also suggested other things we might need, such as mulch, compost and root starter. By the time we were finished, we had bought a weeping willow tree, some crepe myrtle and some plants for potting. We also bought some of the things our clerk suggested. When we went to pay, the cashier mentioned the other things and gave us reasons we should consider them. We finally agreed.
At first we decided against these supplies because we thought we could save the money. We realized, however, that since we were investing so much of our assets in the landscaping to make our house a nicer place, that we should do it well so that the plants will survive and grow healthy and strong quickly. It will save us nothing if the trees and shrubs die before we can enjoy them.
Sometimes we see things only as we would want to see them, and we decline the ideas of others because they don’t fit into our own way of thinking. We set our minds on one thing, and when someone tries to help we reject the advice and guidance they have to offer. This is what happened with the Israelites when they left Egypt. Moses knew that the journey would not be easy, but he trusted that God would provide for them. After awhile the people grew tired of the wilderness. They were hungry and tired. They even thought it would be better to go back into the slavery of Egypt than to continue on.
“Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were of them that spied out the land, rent their clothes: and they spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If Jehovah delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it unto us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not against Jehovah, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is removed from over them, and Jehovah is with us: fear them not. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of Jehovah appeared in the tent of meeting unto all the children of Israel. And Jehovah said unto Moses, How long will this people despise me? and how long will they not believe in me, for all the signs which I have wrought among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a nation greater and mightier than they. And Moses said unto Jehovah, Then the Egyptians will hear it; for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them; and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that thou Jehovah art in the midst of this people; for thou Jehovah art seen face to face, and thy cloud standeth over them, and thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because Jehovah was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.” Numbers 14:5-16 (ASV)
Joshua and Caleb knew that the promise was real and that God was giving them something wonderful. They knew that with God’s help it was all theirs. They also knew they had to trust in God and follow His plan. The people only knew that they were tired and hungry. They rejected God and His plan for something they thought was better – a retreat into the world they knew.
We all have our comfort zone. It is a place where we are secure, even if we are trapped by some sort of prison. For most of us, the prisons are our own thoughts and biases. We won’t listen to the perspective of another because we are afraid of experiencing the difficulties that come from change. God has great and wonderful things for us ahead, but He might have to take us through a valley before we can come to the blessings. Even when we reject the ideas, God often blesses us with those who can see beyond this moment to the greater blessings beyond the troubles. May we always have the faith to listen and walk in faith into the tomorrow He has planned for our lives. Thanks be to God.
Threats Every day we hear more about the current terrorist threats that have been discovered around the United States. The intelligence information is coming together, making the plan clear to the authorities so that they can stop any possible disasters as we experienced three years ago. The latest threat has focused on the financial structure of the world, with several major corporations targeted.
What we don’t realize when we look at these buildings is how many people beyond their walls will suffer if an attack comes. When the news is reported, they tell of the workers in the building, but there are often homes, businesses and churches that will be affected if these attacks should happen. In New York City, St. Peter Lutheran Church shares a city block with the Citigroup Center. As I understand, this church has been built right into the building’s structure. There are glass windows through which visitors to the Citigroup building can view the worship in the sanctuary.
This church shares many things with the Citigroup building, such as parking and a loading dock. Doors that are normally left open must be locked. There is only one entrance into the church and the deliveries for the ministries of St. Peters have been inconvenienced for the sake of safety. Every person entering into the building must be checked. At one recent service, the associate pastor preached to the heart of our Christian perspective. Rev. Carol Fryer told her listeners that their security is in God’s hands and that everyone worshipping were witnesses to their own faith in God. She said, “We cannot live in fear. We must let our faith shine through in the midst of all this. We will continue to do what we normally do as a sign of hope.”
We live in this world, but we aren’t of this world. Though we will be affected by the sin that occurs all around us – even suffering the consequences of our own sin – we also have a hope that reaches far beyond this world. We must live in the flesh but we do so with a different kind of spirit than the rest of the world. The world around us takes care of itself, protecting the material possessions and physical flesh that they see as their only hope. They do not know that there is something greater beyond this world for which we should always live and hope.
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:32-34 (ASV)
The congregation at St. Peter Lutheran Church will continue to live in faith, worshipping God with joy and peace despite the confusion and fear all around. They will have to live with the inconveniences of being in a scary place, but they will not let it stop them from being witnesses to the greatest hope in the world. It is ironic that this center in which they do their ministry is focused on the material world, but it is a blessing that they are there to remind all those who are running around in search of manna that there is a bread that gives real life to their spirits.
We might not personally be living under the threat of a terrorist attack, but we face the troubles of the real world every day. We need not worry ourselves about the fears which the world faces. God has promised that no matter what happens in this day, that there is a tomorrow for which we can hope, eternal life which is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is a treasure that is greater than anything we can know in this world, for it is beyond our reach while we live in flesh and blood. But it is this treasure for which we should strive, living in the hope as witnesses so that the rest of the world will see God who is faithful to his promises. Thanks be to God.
Forgiveness Imagine what it would be like if a sailor on a ship drank the entire supply of the captain’s fine wine. The captain would be outraged and would insist on vengeance. Not so many years ago, that sailor would probably be fed to the sharks, killed for his insubordination and drunkenness. There was no chance for forgiveness. Even today, the sailor would be tried and severely punished for his actions. The captain would feel it necessary to make an example of the sailor so that it would not happen again. This would also affect the way the men deal with him; they would never be willing to approach him with their problems for fear that he would find some call for punishment.
On the other hand, there was a store clerk who presented the manager with a list of numbers needed for year end tax reports. Imagine that she made a huge mistake with the numbers, causing the manager to improperly report their finances so that he pays the wrong amount of taxes. An audit will easily find such a mistake, and the manager will be the one to suffer for it. The employee, when called to the office, will go forth in trembling. A bad manager will quickly blame the employee, fire her and charger her for the mistake. A good manager will realize that it was his responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the numbers, to double check the work. This good manager will offer forgiveness for the mistake, making assurances that the employee is respected and that mistakes happen. That employee and others will feel more comfortable approaching the manager, knowing he is filled with grace and mercy, if there are further problems.
It is hard for us to forgive. Very often we will say, “I will forgive if only he will repent” and yet we leave no room in our hearts to receive the apology. We build walls, making it impossible for those who have sinned against us to humbling come seeking forgiveness. We are angry, vengeful and more than willing to meet out punishment physically and emotionally. We say we are willing to forgive, but we do not show our willingness to those who need to be forgiven.
“For thus saith Jehovah, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Jehovah, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither. They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.” Jeremiah 31:7-9 (ASV)
God is not like the ship’s captain who does not know how to forgive. He is not like us, making it impossible for sinners to approach and seek His grace. Not only has He opened His heart to us, but He has given us the promise of the Savior, the hope of eternal life in Christ. Jesus died on the cross so that we might humbly go to God in repentance and faith, knowing that He has given us forgiveness out of His great love and mercy.
We can be like God, opening our hearts to hear the pleas of those who need to know forgiveness in this world. We have been commissioned to take God’s forgiveness to those who are living in darkness, that they might see the light of truth and hope found in Jesus Christ. We are just like Israel, constantly turning away from God’s blessings for the sake of our own attitudes and lusts. But God is not vengeful. We are welcome to turn to Him with weeping, being led by His own Son who died for our sins. He makes the path of repentance easy and embraces us, calling us into His heart like a father who opens his arms to his children. Thanks be to God.
Training In the movie “the Karate Kid,” young Daniel is a street wise kid who moves from New Jersey to California. They have little money, but Daniel finds himself in the middle of a bunch of snotty rich kids. He gets beaten by a group of boys and is saved by Mr. Miyagi, a gardener who becomes his karate teacher. Daniel ends up in a competition against the boys and beats them at their own game. Through the movie Daniel learns many lessons besides the karate, especially that violence does not solve anything and that you have to look beyond the surface to really know a person. He realizes that the differences between people are not found in their pocket book, but instead reside in the heart of man.
When Mr. Miyagi began the karate lessons, Daniel only wanted to learn to fight. Mr. Miyagi wanted him to learn more. So his first tasks seemed ridiculous. He painted a fence, waxed some cars, and raked the sand in a garden. Mr. Miyagi was very specific with the way Daniel was to perform these tasks. He was to paint up and down and Mr. Miyagi reprimanded him if he did it wrong. The wax was to be done a certain way, as was the raking. With each task Daniel grew tired. He finally went to Mr. Miyagi and complained. He wanted to know when he would learn to fight and felt he was being used as free slave labor.
Mr. Miyagi told him to do “paint the fence.” When he did, he showed Daniel how that was a karate stroke. Again with the other tasks, each movement was something Daniel could use in a fight. The repetition made it part of his natural movement, making the actual learning of karate much easier. If Daniel had continued to ignore Mr. Miyagi’s instructions – painting the fence or waxing the cars however he wanted – he would never have had the skills needed to do well in the competition.
With the Olympics just around the corner, I wonder how many of those athletes have had coaches like Mr. Miyagi. I am sure that at some point in their career they have questioned the teachings of those who have been given to make them better. They have probably thought that an hour a day is enough or that they only have to practice a skill a few times to have it right. However, I’m sure that the coaches were not so lenient on them. And the more they obeyed their coach, the more skilled they became. It is good to listen to those who teach us and do what they say because they know the right way to accomplish the task.
“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Every one that cometh unto me, and heareth my words, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who digged and went deep, and laid a foundation upon the rock: and when a flood arose, the stream brake against that house, and could not shake it: because it had been well builded. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that built a house upon the earth without a foundation; against which the stream brake, and straightway it fell in; and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49 (ASV)
Jesus has taught us a great deal about how to live in this world. He has not done this so that we will be obedient for the sake of earning His love or the salvation He gives. He has taught us these things because this is the way we are called to live in grace, as witnesses to the Lord God Almighty. He is the rock on which we build the foundation of our life and that foundation is built on the lessons He taught to the disciples about mercy, generosity, compassion, faith, hope and love. That which we are building is a life that glorifies God, a life that brings others into the light of Christ and shows them the salvation found at the cross.
Daniel wanted to do things his own way, but eventually Mr. Miyagi showed him why the lessons were so important. When Daniel faced the other kids on the battlefield of competition, he was very skilled and able to win. We face our own battlefields of this world, our enemy is sin, death and the devil. We have been given the gifts to stand – gifts that come from God Himself. We have been given the lessons which will build us up for battle. Why do we call Jesus our Lord but try to build our houses according to our own ways? Jesus has the right way to build that we will stand firm against all that comes at us throughout our lives. Thanks be to God.
Building We live in a fast growing community. Two years ago our development was nothing but an empty field and perhaps a dream of the builder. Today there are hundreds of homes with more being built daily. We can watch the workers out our windows and record visible progress each day as another home gets framing, walls, roofs and windows. It is harder to see the work inside the house, but we can see the skilled laborers going in and out to do the plumbing, electric and carpentry. It won’t be long before this development will be complete. These houses are complete. Though some owners might eventually add rooms on to their homes, it is unlikely this kind of construction will happen very soon.
It is different today than it was in years past. Last week we visited a living farm at the LBJ State Park. The Sauer-Beckman Farm has costumed caretakers who work the farm daily as if they were still living in the early twentieth century. The buildings at this farm are interesting because they cover generations of expansion. The first family built a one room rock and log cabin. As time passed, they added rooms to the house and other buildings to the land. Subsequent families made their own alterations. It took nearly a hundred years for the house to look as it does today.
One of the things I found most fascinating about the ancient cathedrals in Europe was the fact that there was always some sort of construction happening on the site. It is nearly impossible to find one of those old buildings without scaffolding somewhere. The original buildings often took hundreds of years to complete, the construction management being passed from one person to another. The one with the original vision often did not see the fulfillment of his vision.
“And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens. Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth. And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:32-40 (ASV)
I wonder what the Sauers would have thought about the look of the house a hundred years after they began their farm. The final construction had decorative tin walls, an indoor kitchen and separate bedrooms for the parents and the kids. The grounds are covered with all the different buildings necessary for the running of a farm. It would be even more amazing to see what the architect of those ancient cathedrals thought of the final product once it was completed generations later.
The fathers and others of faith, those men and women whose stories are told in the scriptures, walked in faith that God would fulfill all His promises. They did not live easy lives. They suffered for their faith and some even died doing what God had called them to do. They stand as witnesses to us, so that we might know the of God’s mercy and grace. We, who stand at the other side of salvation, still do not see what we have been promised, except through clouded vision. We know through God’s word and the lives of those who have come before what is waiting, and now we walk in faith until the day when all will be made clear. Thanks be to God.
Grades I read an article yesterday about cheating. It seems that more and more people are finding justification for doing things that are not right. It is so much easier to take a term paper right off the Internet than to do the research and write a paper on your own. Marital infidelity is growing. People are cheating on their taxes. Why is it a growing practice? We justify our cheating because it is obvious that if we do not do it, we will get left behind. A student who doesn’t cheat will get a “B” while all those who do will get “A’s” on their papers.
I don’t know why there is more cheating today. Perhaps it has become more acceptable for people to do whatever is necessary to succeed. It seems as though marital infidelity is less objectionable. I’ve even heard people suggest that an affair can save a marriage. There are similar justifications for other types of cheating that are common. They aren’t real or true, but they sound good, particularly since so many others are saying the same thing. In the end, many people are only willing to be as righteous as the lowest common denominator, figuring that if their neighbor is cheating, why shouldn’t he? However, the article ended with a question. The writer wondered if it wouldn’t be better to have a “B” in a class full of “A’s” that was earned. Yet, in our society it seems that the “A” is the goal no matter the means by which it is gained. Those who do not cheat are mistreated for their virtue.
Samuel had it rough. He did God’s will, speaking His word to His people. They did not appreciate the things Samuel had to say or the leadership he provided. They wanted to be like everyone else and have a king. Of course, Samuel took this rejection personally, though it was truly a rejection of God as their true King. Samuel warned them that their choice would cause them great heartache. A human king will tax them; he will take their sons for soldiers and their daughters for perfumers. He will oppress the people and lead them from God. Samuel was right. Though there were kings who were righteous and walked with God, none were really what the people expected or hoped for.
“Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before Jehovah in Gilgal; and there they offered sacrifices of peace-offerings before Jehovah; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly. And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walketh before you; and I am old and grayheaded; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my youth unto this day. Here I am: witness against me before Jehovah, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand. And he said unto them, Jehovah is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found aught in my hand. And they said, He is witness. And Samuel said unto the people, It is Jehovah that appointed Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before Jehovah concerning all the righteous acts of Jehovah, which he did to you and to your fathers.” Samuel 11:14 - 12:7 (ASV)
Throughout history there have always been things in society that have developed because something that was once unacceptable became acceptable. Sometimes these changes in culture were good. Certain laws have been made or removed over time because the general consensus was that they were necessary or unnecessary. Even Christianity was once something very small, unacceptable to most of the people until it became more tolerable until in some places it was even the norm for all people.
It took time for the people to be strong enough to demand that Samuel give them a king. It was not that they had the power, but they had the numbers. Once there were so many behind the opinion Samuel, and God, gave them what they wanted. The king they desired was not what they needed, but God allowed them to have it to learn that He was their only King. Samuel left his office hurt that they would treat him so poorly, but he showed them what they were missing. He finished his farewell speech with a list of God’s great works for His people, miraculous deliverances that would never happen under a human king.
It is easy to get caught up in the ways of the world, to find our own justification for the things we do. We can ease into actions that are not right in the eyes of God but are right in the ways of the world. The Israelites wanted a king, just like the rest of the nations. A student wants an “A” just like his or her peers. However, isn’t it better to do what is right even if seems like we are not succeeding like the rest of the world?
Auschwitz In the past year or so, Vicki has become far more aware of the terrible things people do to other people. She learned about the Holocaust at school and has read several books on the subject. During a trip to the Alamo, she realized what a horrible situation that was for the men who died there. We watched a bit of a show last night about a woman who was abused by her husband. She was upset when she heard the story of a kitten that was thrown out a window of a moving vehicle that sustained terrible injuries. She has heard about abused children and with each story, she wonders aloud how anyone could so such things.
The Nazi situation in Europe in the 1940’s was particularly troubling to Vicki, perhaps because of the sheer numbers and the depths of the brutality. It is hard for a girl like her to imagine an evil as great as occurred. Yet, the pictures, videos and personal eyewitness stories make it impossible to disbelieve that it happened. On a trip to a Holocaust Memorial with school last spring, the children all learned that we study these things so that we will know the evil of men’s hearts.
Interestingly, those horror stories are often juxtaposed next to stories of heroism, self-sacrifice and hope. For those who survived, lessons were learned and faith grew. They found hope in the simple things even when there was no hope. They lived in peace amidst the horror of war and destruction. They saw God in situations that seemed to be without any trace of God.
Maximilian Kolbe was one of those people who lived a life of grace in the midst of evil. He was a priest taken to Auschwitz because the monastery which he had founded and was running was ministering to the Jewish refugees. During his imprisonment, he constantly gave himself for the sake of others, refusing food so his brethren could eat and offering his life for the sake of others. His death, his martyrdom, happened so that the life of another could be saved. It was the common practice of the guards to punish ten men for the escape of just one. When a man from Maximilian’s cell block disappeared, ten men were selected to be put to death in the starvation chamber. Francis Gajowniczek cried out in fear for his wife and children, “What will they do?” Maximilian stepped forward and asked the commandant to let him take Francis’ place.
It surprised the group that the commandant agreed to the request, but those two weeks were incredible to those who experienced them. Maximilian comforted his fellow prisoners, he prayed for them, sang hymns and said psalms. He gave them hope, reminding them that suffering in this world will end and then they will know the glory of God in heaven. One of the guards said of the priest, “This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him.” Maximilian was the last to die in that chamber, injected with a poison to quicken the death because they needed the room for other prisoners.
“Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful.” James 5:10-11 (ASV)
Maximilian Kolbe is one of the few twentieth century men who have been officially recognized as Saints. He is known as the Saint from Auschwitz. His perseverance during his imprisonment, his unbreakable spirit and mercy has made him someone to whom we can look for hope in the midst of tragedy. Even as the men were suffering from hunger and thirst, drinking their own urine or the mucky condensation on the wall to survive, he held out hope that the escaped man would be found and they would be set free. The irony of this situation is that the man had not escaped but had fallen into the latrine and drowned.
We remember this priest on the day of his death, August 14. When Francis Gajowniczek went home from Auschwitz, he found that his wife and children had been killed in the war. All the reasons for Maximilian Kolbe’s death were meaningless, but God found a way to use this priest in a very powerful manner. He still stands as an example of perseverance, courage and faith providing a glimpse of hope in the midst of tragedy. Many people found reason to live when they could only see reasons to die. Those who did die in the presence of Maximilian Kolbe saw the heart of God and knew the peace that passes all human understanding. Thanks be to God.
Mary I’m sure we are all familiar with the expression “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” This refers to the practice we have of getting rid of something completely because there is a minor fault with the whole thing. Several years ago we bought Bruce a truck, which was not new but it was nearly new. The original owner only had it a short time when someone hit it while it was parked in front of his house. The damage was entirely cosmetic, nothing was wrong with the frame or the inner workings. It really did not take long for the body shop to make the truck look like new. The man no longer wanted that truck, so traded it in on another. We got lucky because the truck was an amazing deal for us. We were amazed that someone would so easily give up such an expensive vehicle just because it was no longer perfect.
Around the world today, Christians are remembering one of the greatest characters in the story of Jesus’ life on earth. Mary, Jesus’ mother is remembered on this day. For some Christians, it is believed to be the day that Mary ascended to heaven. Though not all Christians believe this particular doctrine, it is valuable to take a moment and remember the woman who was chosen to carry the baby Jesus in her womb and then in her arms. There are, indeed, those in the world who would like to put Mary on the same level as Jesus, making her god-like and perfect. She is equated, in some circles, with the goddess of pagan faith. Some doctrine becomes unsound when her sinlessness is questioned.
However, Mary need not be perfect to be blessed of God. Her life certainly was not pain free. She was just a child when she became pregnant – mistreated as a whore. She gave birth in a cold stable, and then went on the run with her husband and young child to save his life. She was widowed early since Joseph was much older, so her position in society was quite low. She deeply loved her son, but at times he seemed to disregard and disrespect her. Think about the stories – the day he went to the temple and they could not find him, the wedding at Cana where He told her that it wasn’t time, the time she and Jesus’ brothers went to talk to Him and He told her that those listening were His mother and brothers. And then, after all this, Mary watched her son die a horrible death – execution on the cross.
Mary’s story is not one of a goddess or a woman of sinless perfection. She was a woman, chosen of God to bring the good news of salvation into the world. She had the rare, single, honor of being the one to bear His body, but this is not why she is called blessed. She is called blessed because through all these trials, Mary remained humble and faithful to the God she loved.
“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. And his mercy is unto generations and generations On them that fear him. He hath showed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down princes from their thrones, And hath exalted them of low degree. The hungry he hath filled with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath given help to Israel his servant, That he might remember mercy (As he spake unto our fathers) Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.” Luke 1:46-55 (ASV)
It is true that Mary has been raised to a pedestal that is not hers. She has been made to be equal to Jesus in virtue. By claiming her sinless perfection is necessary for Jesus to be perfect, rejects the reality that Jesus is also fully human. Mary gives Him that aspect of His character. She gave Him the flesh and blood, the will that can be tempted and the heart that can cry out in agony on the cross. God, the divine aspect of His character, gave Him the ability to stay perfect and sinless. In this passage, Mary herself tells of her failings, crying out in thanksgiving to her Savior. If she were perfect, why would she need to be saved?
Mary deserves our respect, not because she is greater than you and I, but because she is just like you and I. She was specially chosen to bring the Gospel to the world in a very unique way, but her story as a sinner and saint is just like ours. There were times her actions as the mother of Jesus put her as an obstacle to His ministry. Yet, we should remember and honor her this day because she persisted in love and lived a life of faithfulness. Thanks be to God.
Football Well, it is still quite hot here in Texas, but football has started with practices and preseason games. Everyone is choosing their favorite team, checking out the players to see if they are ready and who will do well. I’ve already heard some people predict who will win in January and take the title. Zack has decided to be a Patriots fan this year. It will be interesting to see if he will continue to be a fan if they do not do as well as last year. Some people will continue to remain loyal to their favorite team no matter what happens.
I had a friend when I was in High School who was a very loyal Dallas Cowboys fan. That year the Cowboys played the Eagles for the world championship. If I recall, the game was not really even very close, Philadelphia had a great year and did extremely well against Dallas. Since I was living in Eastern Pennsylvania at the time, it was an exciting time for almost everybody. The celebration lasted for days. My friend, however, was not excited. Despite the great victory for the Eagles, he insisted that the Cowboys were still the best team. To him, they will always be number one.
It is interesting reading the Old Testament and seeing the reaction of the foreign people to the Israelites and their God. No matter what happened, they held true to their own gods. They saw the power of God and held Him in awe-filled fear and respect, but they did not stop worshipping their own gods. The Lord God Almighty was someone else’s God, not someone they should worship. Yet, they wanted to capture the power and blessings of this God without giving up their own.
In the days of the judges, before Israel had a king of their own, Israel was still a wandering nation as God established their place in the Promised Land. They fought bitter wars, but they had no rest because they did not yet have land to call their own. The stories from this time are incredible, the way God went before the people and routed their enemies. At times, the Israelites were outnumbered by thousands, but God gave them the strength to succeed. Sometimes they never had to lift a sword as God caused confusion and the enemy defeated itself. Water drowned the enemy and walls went tumbling down.
Though the nations came to fear God, they never came to believe in Him or love Him as their own. The Philistines thought they might try out the God of Israel, so during a battle they stole the Ark of the Covenant. They thought if they held the box where He lived that they could harness His power themselves. They put the Ark in the temple of Dagon, their god. After the first night, the statue of Dagon was lying on his face in front of the Ark. They replaced the statue, but after the second night, Dagon was found lying in front of the Ark, but his head and hands were lying at the threshold of the temple. The people began to suffer from the hand of the Lord.
“But the hand of Jehovah was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with tumors, even Ashdod and the borders thereof. And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us; for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel thither. And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of Jehovah was against the city with a very great discomfiture: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great; and tumors brake out upon them. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people. They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and they said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to its own place, that is slay us not, and our people. For there was a deadly discomfiture throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. And the men that died not were smitten with the tumors; and the cry of the city went up to heaven.” 1 Samuel 5:6-12 (ASV)
The cry of the city went up into heaven, but they never turned to the Lord. Throughout the history of God’s people, those who believed in Him were saved. Rahab the prostitute and Ruth the Moabite were both foreigners who are remembered for turning away from their own gods to trust the God of Israel. The Philistines thought it was enough to give God the same honor as they gave their own god. But the Lord God Almighty is a jealous God. He does not accept equal honor with false gods and those who try to live in that attitude suffer the consequences.
The Philistines decided to return the Ark to Israel and they sent it with a guilt offering to appease God and halt His wrath. They thought that by doing so they would be healed. I wonder what might have happened if they had rejected their own gods to believe in the One true God. I am sure that God would have had mercy, as He has always had mercy on those who believe in His name. Yet, their hearts were hard and they refused to let go of their own gods, so they suffered at the hand of God until Israel came to dominate the land under the house of David.
The world is filled with people like the Philistines who refuse to let go of their own false gods. Though they might not have temples set up to gods like Dagon or the Baals, they have rejected God by not believing in the only one who can bring healing and peace – our Lord Jesus Christ. They think they can believe in their own gods while still giving respect and honor to the Lord, but God does not accept equality to anything. He alone is God and all the other things we put before Him are false gods. I pray that the world will turn to Him and receive the grace that will bring forgiveness and healing that is so desperately needed. Thanks be to God.
Messiah It is said that there is only one God, and this is indeed true. However, there are many false gods, gods that people put ahead of the Lord God Almighty. For the sake of tolerance and peace, there are those who say we should believe that all gods are equal, just as those Philistines wanted to do. However, there is only one God who can save us from sin and death, only One who brings forgiveness and healing. That God, the Lord God Almighty, has revealed Himself in this day through grace in the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved.
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David saith concerning him, I beheld the Lord always before my face; For he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; Moreover my flesh also shall dwell in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, Neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou madest known unto me the ways of life; Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance. Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.” Acts 2:22-36 (ASV)
Salvation, healing and peace only comes through the name of Jesus Christ. All those who claim to believe in the one true God but reject His Son are believing in a false God. They hold their own understanding of God above that which He has revealed to the world through Jesus Christ.
Who do you say that He is? This is a vital question. Who is Jesus Christ to you? Is He Savior, or do you only think of Him as a good teacher, prophet or excellent example by which we should live? This is not enough. There is only one way to be saved from sin and death, to become heirs to the kingdom of God. There are many gods in our world. Some of them are easy to recognize and are more worldly reasons to reject God – money, success, relationships and family. We put these things before God daily. Other false gods are found in the religions of the world. Most of these religions put the human will above power of God. To these believers, it is the human ability to appease the gods with certain actions or beliefs that will bring them peace. Yet, there is no peace in a life of works righteousness. Only Jesus Christ offers the peace that the world seeks. He is the Lord, and only through His name will we be saved. Thanks be to God.
Loopholes Have you ever been taught how to play a game by a child? They will tell you the rules as you go along, making them fit their situation so that they will win. They forget to tell you some things until they will be to their advantage and they change things midstream. It is almost funny to see the things they will concoct in the middle of a game.
People play games the same way, although our games tend to be more real life. Some women are notoriously known for changing relationship rules midstream. She will love their partner as he is for a time, but eventually will try to mold him to fit her new expectations. It is no wonder guys don’t understand women! What works today in making the relationship work might not work tomorrow, and no one has told him that the game has changed.
This is not the way to do things. It is manipulation and cheating. It is unfair to punish someone who is doing something wrong when they had no idea it was a rule in the first place. Now that the children are headed back to school, the teachers are taking the first week or so to ensure that each student is well aware of the rules. Yesterday Vicki brought home a student handbook and we were both required to read and sign a paper stating that we understand. We have no excuse if she does something wrong. Since she is knowledgeable of the rules, she should obey them.
One of the problems that had occurred at the time of Jesus is that the Law of Moses had become like a game to the leaders and experts in the law. They had taken God’s commandments and made it unbearable for the average person. The Sabbath law was so precise that it would be impossible for us to keep today. There were 39 basic actions that were the foundation of all work. In today’s world, many of those things are even the foundation of our rest and play. You could not write two letters in a row – for most people the only writing they did was to sign their name. Now, if we followed this rule we could not write letters to our friends or do a jigsaw puzzle. You can’t build or demolish, so playing Mousetrap or Jenga with our kids would be out of the question.
This might seem ridiculous, that those things are not work and should not be considered unlawful, but this was how the leaders held control of the people. They held the power and could find them guilty of disobedience while they flaunted their own self-righteousness. In the book of Luke, Jesus did several things on a Sabbath day; He even healed their dis-ease.
“And it came to pass, when he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a sabbath to eat bread, that they were watching him. And behold, there was before him a certain man that had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not? But they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a well, and will not straightway draw him up on a sabbath day? And they could not answer again unto these things.” Luke 14:1-6 (ASV)
In an earlier story, Jesus healed a woman crippled for many years. He set her free from the bondage of Satan. The leaders were upset that Jesus had such power and authority over the things they were supposed to be able to control as God’s chosen leaders. So, they made it a Sabbath issue, telling the people not to come for cures on the day. They claimed it was the healing that was unlawful, yet in today’s story that comes a little later in the book of Luke, they had no answer for Jesus when He specifically asked if it was lawful to heal. He healed the man and they still had no answer against Him.
They changed the rules midstream to suit their lusts for power and control. They made the law say what they wanted to say to prove their authority over the people. In other stories, Jesus made them look foolish because they could not uphold their interpretation of the law against that which God had given them.
Even today people try to control others using the Law of Moses, particularly the law of Sabbath work, and yet there is no real foundation in God’s word for their interpretation. As a matter of fact, these rules do nothing but burden people and make it impossible to live according to God’s greater purpose. This is why Jesus came to set us free, to live in faith and pursue God’s interests rather than our own. Thanks be to God.
Commercial The election campaigns are just beginning to get hot and already there is controversy around some of the commercials that have been played. These commercials were not officially commissioned or authorized by the candidates, but they seem to represent their political points of view. Though there are disclaimers on the commercials saying that they are paid for by supporters outside the campaigns, there are many people who do not listen to the details and they assume the words are indeed those of the candidate.
This happens a great deal in politics and government, but it also happens in other areas of life. Some kids use this technique to get away with things at home and at school. They go to school and tell their teacher, “My mom said…” to try to get out of things they do not like to do such as gym class. Or they go home and tell their mothers that their teachers told them they do not need to do the homework. This ploy generally does not work since most teachers and mothers work together for the best interest of the children. Even more likely is the messages I receive from other mothers about birthday parties and play dates. The children decide they are going to get together and report the dates as if they are set in stone. Mom usually has no idea.
It is generally very easy to tell when someone is speaking for someone else. I know to call the teacher if the kids come home with some strange verbal request because a teacher will normally send a note or call themselves. I know to wait for the invitation. I also know that the words of one man or group of men should not automatically be assumed to represent the opinions of another.
There is a situation in the military. A commanding officer has been giving speeches which include official government information, but the speeches are definitely the opinion of the speaker. He seems to represent the government and the military, but his words are definitely not representative of the official perspective. He also talks as a Christian, claiming this war on terror is a Christian battle against Satan. It is interesting, because that perspective is not even typical among the majority of Christians. His words do not speak for the military, the government, Americans or even Christians. He speaks for himself only.
Yet, as a recognizable representative of the military, the government, America and Christianity it is easy to mistake his words and opinions as being officially recognized by those groups. The speeches are leaving a bad impression on many people, offending allies and neighbors. His attitude is placed on others. The saddest part is the misunderstanding of this Christian about the battle against Satan.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:10-18 (ASV)
As human beings living in this world, we might be called to fight the physical battles of flesh and blood. However, as Christians, the battle we fight against Satan is never with human tools and weapons. The tools we use when we fight the realm of darkness are spiritual, with God as our strength and our shield. We fight with the word of God, bringing the Gospel of hope and peace to the world. We fight with prayer and praise and thanksgiving to God, living in the promise that He will destroy all that is evil. We fight with perseverance, holiness, mercy and justice.
When the politicians claim that they speak for others, they cause misunderstandings and confusion. When the kids try to get away with something, they make it harder on themselves. Most wars begin because we don’t hear the truth, we hear someone’s opinions and place that perspective on others without listening to what they really have to say. “He said”/“she said” battles happen every day and they could be avoided if people would not try speaking for others. The commander is in trouble with many people because of his speeches and though he will be reprimanded it will take a long time to overcome his foolishness. We must remember that as Christians our battles are not necessarily physical, but they are always spiritual. Let us be armed with the truth so that we will be prepared to fight.
Features There is a museum in Austin where you can visit the history of Texas from the natives that lived here before recorded history, through the early settlers, the development of ranching and oil to the modern enterprises like the space program. It is interesting to see the variety of people and the things they went through to make Texas what it is today. We visited several weeks ago and enjoyed all the exhibits. In particular interest was a multi-media movie and a special traveling exhibit with old flags.
Though some of the displays have recreated objects, like a skeleton made of plaster and a moon Lander made of tin foil, others are the real thing. There is a movie theater sign that still lights up that was removed just before the demolition of the theater. There are antique gas pumps and display cases filled with bits of pottery and other ancient archeological finds. They even have the original figure that was perched on top of the state capital building in Austin. She was recently removed during restoration and replaced.
The statue itself is odd to see close up. The figure is of a woman with scales, a symbol of justice. From a distance of a few feet, she is the ugliest woman you have ever seen. The reason for this is because the facial features are highly exaggerated. The distance would make it impossible to see such detail, so the eyes, nose and mouth are completely out of proportion. The sculptor made it so that she would be beautiful to the people who would see her from the grounds of the capital building. It might be tempting to change those features now that the statue is displayed in such close surroundings, but there is value to the piece just as it was created.
I recently read an article about dog breeders who are playing with the genes of canines who can basically create any sort of dog a person might want. They can control the coloring, the temperament, the size and other factors. They can even make the animal genetically better able to learn and perform certain tricks. They can do this with other animals, including the exotic pets that people have begun to keep in their homes. When I read this article, I had to wonder – what was wrong with the way God created those animals?
“And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the ground after its kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food: and to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Genesis 1:24-31 (ASV)
The sixth day of creation was devoted to the higher forms of life – the animals on the land including human beings. This day was preceded by five days filled with glorious creations as God made the heavens and the earth and filled them with the most incredible things – stars, the redwood trees, mountains and oceans. Everything God created is good. He said so Himself as each day completed.
So, why do we spend so much of our time and resources trying to change that which God has created? Genetic engineering has been going on for decades – ranchers use it to breed stronger cattle with better beef. Farmers have been crossbreeding plants to make them hardier and more beautiful. While there are definitely valuable and noble purposes in this pursuit to make God’s creation better, there are also dangers. There are some studies that have considered the possibility that genetic engineering has caused some of the disease we see in our world today. I don’t know if we will ever really know the impact we have on the animals when we play with their genes – or the affect it will have when it is used on human beings. I appreciate the science involved and all the wonderful things that have come out of the genetic research. Yet, if all that God created is good, why are we trying to change it for our own frivolous lusts? Do we really think we can make the world better by playing with that which God has made?
Bobblehead Angels were very popular several years ago, with many different producers making angels for display. Some were given a cutesy look, others were meant to be more realistic. There were angel pictures, angel statues, books about angels, angel pins, angel wallpaper, and angel magnets for your refrigerator. These items are still available, but they are not as readily available. It seems the trend now is chickens and roosters. The trouble with all the angel merchandise is that the Christian symbolism became lost on those who purchased the products. They bought angels not because they were messengers of God but because they were cute and went well with their color scheme.
The world does try to influence the way we live or the things we buy. Very often, however, the influence is meant to bring us farther away from our Father rather than closer to Him. The angels did not make people more faithful. It just as often had the opposite affect. When something makes its way into general society, it seems like the world tries to provide something to counter the affect. For example, Jesus Christ has been on the front page this past year, particularly since there have been several popular offerings from Christians in the arts. Also, the world situation has made people more aware of world religions, studying the differences and learning about the truths of God.
I don’t know if these things have had a truly lifesaving affect on the people who have been introduced to Jesus through the movies and discussions, but Jesus has definitely been put on the forefront of people’s thought. So, now I have heard that some producers have jumped on the Jesus bandwagon. After all, Jesus sells – the movie “The Passion of the Christ” has proven that to be true. However, not everyone has the same respect for the man whom we call Lord. Novelties are appearing in stores, particularly stores that sell humorous items. There are now Jesus bobblehead dolls and a Jesus action figure. There are tee-shirts that say “Jesus is my homeboy” and other products that puts Jesus in the middle of pop culture.
I don’t know if I would call these things blasphemous, though I do think they are all in bad taste and some border on dangerous. They aren’t dangerous to the Christian, but to those who might be saved. If Jesus becomes the pop culture icon of the day – as a bobblehead wearing blue jeans and sunglasses, people will believe in a false Christ. They won’t get to know the Jesus of the scriptures, hear about His saving grace. He’ll be like the angels that are gathering dust on someone’s mantle rather than the living Christ living in their hearts.
“And God spake all these words, saying, I am Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:1-7 (ASV)
These commandments seem somewhat harsh, particularly since some of the most beautiful art in the world have been paintings depicting religious events. In the days when people did not read, they learned the bible stories from the stained glass windows that graced the walls of their church. The Sistine Chapel would be just another church without Michelangelo’s paintings. Yet, there is a danger in putting our image of God in paint or stone, and that is that it limits the understanding of God to only what we see. How many of us still believe that Jesus was that blonde-haired blue eyed man whose picture hung in our kindergarten Sunday School room?
Unfortunately, many people will only see the images found in the novelty shops, and they will never know Jesus beyond that bobblehead doll. They might even buy it and leave it sitting on their desk, but that won’t make Him become their Savior. The likelihood is that the figure will become something to disrespect, as visitors will tap the top to make the head bob. There is so much more to God and to Jesus. So let us go out in the world and counter the pop culture image with the Word of God which saves. Thanks be to God.
No Word Posted.
Access There is a character type in many movies that portrays a person who finds themselves in a place with unexpected authority. In political dramas, the character is generally a geeky, a-political type that usually does not even agree with the leadership on the issues, particularly the focus issue of the movie. These characters have some gift to offer, some knowledge of the situation that might make a difference. They are brought into the inner sanctum and given control – much to the dismay of some archrival of the leader.
These characters always appear out of place. They are uncomfortable with the situation because it is far out of their comfort zone. They never know where they should go and appear completely incapable of handling the problem. When they are caught roaming the halls or using a computer, they are questioned about who gave them the authority to be there. There is always a scene where the archrival makes a stand against this person – security is called, the person is beaten. Just as the viewer thinks all is lost, a major emergency breaks out and the leader saves him or her to go do what he or she had been called to do. They solve the problem, the world is saved and the archrival is discovered to have been the perpetrator of the situation in the first place.
That person, by invitation, has more authority than the one who appears to be in charge. The question would be asked, “By what authority are you doing this?” The answer, of course, is the leader, but does someone with less power even have a right to ask it of someone with higher authority? This is what happened in the temple of Jerusalem with Jesus Christ. The leaders in the temple thought of themselves as God’s appointed leaders, but Jesus had much greater authority.
“And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders; and they said unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? or who gave thee this authority to do these things? And Jesus said unto them, I will ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say, Why then did ye not believe him? But should we say, From men – they feared the people: for all verily held John to be a prophet. And they answered Jesus and say, We know not. And Jesus saith unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 (ASV)
The leaders of the temple thought they held all the power and authority, even to limit the access of others in the temple courts. Jesus walked, talked and healed as if He were personally invited to do so. They wanted to know who had given Him the authority to do such things in their temple. Jesus knew it would do little good for Him to answer “God” or “my Father” since they did not believe He was sent to do the work. Yet, because His authority came from God, He need not answer the question of those who are not doing what God had called them to do.
That which Jesus was doing was obviously from heaven – the healing and the words were life changing for those who received the grace of God through Jesus. They turned to God in praise and thanksgiving. Perhaps that was the problem the temple leaders had – they were not getting the recognition they desired and Jesus’ work was proving them to be the archrival of God’s work in this world. Jesus would not give them the satisfaction of an answer because they were not willing to accept the truth of God’s will. He just kept on doing the work of the kingdom, treating the people with mercy and granting forgiveness to those lost in their sin. Thanks be to God.
Gold The time difference between Athens, Greece and New York, New York is seven hours. This means that it is very late at night in Greece when television goes prime time. Therefore, the network Olympic coverage is not live, but is an edited show with all the best events of the day. Unfortunately, this means that there is little surprise to the outcome – most of the people who are watching the show have seen the rankings on the Internet throughout the day. However, the coverage is live, so the reporters do not know what has happened at the point of the taping.
My sister briefly caught the story that Paul Hamm had won the Men’s Gymnastic all-around event the other night. Paul Hamm made a serious mistake on one of the events and it looked like he would lose. My sister was sure that she remembered rightly about the win, but when she sat down to watch the event she became confused by the banter between the anchors. Then, as the evening wore on, it was obvious that Paul was having the most incredible comeback. In the end he received the gold metal and the Internet information was correct.
It was hard to believe the information when watching what was happening on television. I imagine a great many people thought there had been a mistake in publishing the list of winners. Such mistakes have happened in the past. The outcome of political elections has been announced long before the count is finished and some reporters have been wrong. Who do you believe? For many, the truth lies in their preference. The supporters of the early reported winner were ecstatic, the losers were sure there must be a mistake.
Israel was suffering and Jeremiah the prophet was not making things better. His words, the Word of God, were filled with doom and gloom. They wanted to hear a message of hope; Jeremiah only continued to tell them that they would serve under the burden of Nebuchadnezzar. The moment a prophet spoke of freedom and restoration, the people turned from God.
“And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of Jehovah, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying, Thus speaketh Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of Jehovah's house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went to Babylon, saith Jehovah; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Then the prophet Jeremiah said unto the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests, and in the presence of all the people that stood in the house of Jehovah, even the prophet Jeremiah said, Amen: Jehovah do so; Jehovah perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of Jehovah's house, and all them of the captivity, from Babylon unto this place. Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears, and in the ears of all the people: The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that Jehovah hath truly sent him.” Jeremiah 28:1-9 (ASV)
Israel had turned from God, and God chose Nebuchadnezzar to help Him bring them home. Jeremiah, the prophet of God, knew that it was necessary for the nation to experience God’s plan to be restored to Him. The people did not like what Jeremiah had to say, because it meant they had to continue to suffer. So, the false prophet Hananiah gave them the words they wanted to hear – that salvation would be quick and sure.
Jeremiah answered that he hoped the false prophet was right, because such words could bring great hope to the people. However, he went on to tell the truth. God had a plan, and part of that plan was submission to Nebuchadnezzar. He also warned that only when the peace comes can you really know that a prophet is true. Peace did not come for the people in the time spoken by Hananiah, as a matter of fact, that prophet died as Jeremiah foretold. In the end, God did bring peace, He did bring them home.
God’s promises are always true. We just don’t always know how they will be fulfilled. It is easy to believe good news, and there are plenty of people willing to tell you exactly what you want to hear. We must be careful to put our hope in His promises, not the words of false prophets. We might like what they have to say and we might even see hope in the words, but only God’s Word is true and faithful.
Independence Zachary was about seven months old when he learned to pull himself up to a standing position. We were very excited when he reached this stage of development, quite proud as all parents are when their children accomplish something new, but this happened at a most inappropriate time. See, before he could stand, he was quite content to be in his car seat or carrier. He did not mind the perspective he had from the floor. However, the minute he could stand, he realized there was a whole big world to experience. He did not want to be confined in any way. Unfortunately, he learned to stand while we were three thousand miles from home, having driven from California to Pennsylvania on vacation. When it came time to get back in the car, he refused. When it became obvious that we weren’t just headed down the street for an ice cream or a trip to the toy store, he rebelled.
It is exciting for parents to get through each stage of life with their children, but it can also be difficult. A parent has to recognize the moments that they need to be in control and also those times when they must let go, even when we are afraid that our child will fail. When a toddler is just beginning to walk, every parent holds their breath in fear that the child will fall flat on his or her face. Yet, we let them go even when we know it will mean a skinned knee. We make conditions as safe as possible and stay near to keep them from great harm. In the end, if everything goes terribly wrong, we do whatever we can to make it right.
One of the greatest difficulties the world has in believing the Christian message of redemption through Jesus Christ is why did Jesus need to die on the cross? All of the explanations – Jesus as Lamb for atonement, as payment for a debt, as substitute for each of us for forgiveness – make no sense to people who have no faith. Even the idea that the Old Testament promises point to the fact God would save the world from itself is questioned. Why would a merciful God create a world and a people that would need to be saved? If God is good, how could we be so bad? If He knew what would happen, why didn’t He stop us? Why would a compassionate God require blood for reconciliation?
“And he said, O Lord Jehovah, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me a heifer three years old, and a she-goat three years old, and a ram three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each half over against the other: but the birds divided he not. And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. But thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. And in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. In that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land.” Genesis 15:8-18 (ASV)
This story is about the making of a covenant. Abram cut the animals in half, laid them side by side leaving a 'pathway' through which the makers of the covenant could walk. This was the way of 'cutting a deal' in the ancient days. They did not have lawyers and a civil court system the way we have today. They did not write their promises on paper. The two parties involved walked between the sacrificed animals together, repeating the covenant aloud. In essence, they were saying "If I break my part of the covenant, you can do to me what we've done to these animals."
Notice that Abram did not walk the covenant path. God knew, even then, that human nature would make this covenant impossible for His people to keep. While God did give the land to the people (beginning with Joshua), it was His people's unfaithfulness that lost it to them. So, when the time was right, God paid the debt of their failure to remain faithful to Him with Christ on the cross. Ultimately, He also paid the debt of our failure to continue keeping the promises which have already been fulfilled.
Could God have done things differently? Of course He could have, He is God. However, would the world have been a better place if He had stepped in at every turn to keep His people in His total control? Eventually every child becomes independent, we can’t control them forever. God is like the parent that lets their child grow and mature through each phase of life, even when they know they might get hurt or go the wrong way. However, in His mercy and grace, He planned for the redemption of the world long before it needed to be redeemed. Thanks be to God.
Numbers I will begin teaching preschool two days a week in September. Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet some of my students and their parents. We gave each parent a packet that explained our expectations for this school year, including a list of themes for each month. We will begin at the beginning – with the first letters and numbers – and expand as we go on.
One mother noticed that we have only the numbers one through ten listed on our syllabus. She told me that her four year old already counts to twenty. It seems she had a concern that the plans for this class might not be challenging enough for her child. I explained that though there was a focus number for each month, we would expand our activities beyond that number as the children are ready and able. An entire month on the number one, even for our youngest students, would probably be unnecessary. As we discussed the issue further, the mother revealed that though the child could count up to twenty, there were still things about numbers that she needed to learn – recognizing and writing them properly.
I am sure if we all thought back to our school years, we can all find something we thought was a waste of our time. After all, when will ever use Algebra or Trigonometry? I know I won’t be dissecting many worms or frogs in my life. As fast as the world changes, I am not so sure that my seventh grade geography class did me much good. Half the maps I colored are no longer accurate and I can only remember one or two things I am sure I learned in that class. And yet, I’m sure some of the knowledge I learned in that class helped when we lived in Europe and traveled around America.
As we read through the Bible, there are things that seem pointless to us in this day and age. Some of the letters speak to some very specific conditions in very specific churches. Sometimes I feel like I am intruding on a private and intimate conversation. What does that have to do with our faith today?
“The elder unto Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. For I rejoiced greatly, when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth. Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. Beloved, thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest toward them that are brethren and strangers withal; who bare witness to thy love before the church: whom thou wilt do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God: because that for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to welcome such, that we may be fellow-workers for the truth.” 3 John 1:1-8 (ASV)
When we read this letter we see the intimate relationship that the early Christians had, but we also see how the acted toward one another. This is a letter of encouragement, of commendation, of unity in Spirit. Of course, when you read the whole thing, you also see that there were problems even in the early churches where faith and the Spirit of God was strong. People are people in every age. There are the faithful and the wicked. There are those who are humble before God and those who pride themselves in their power, wealth and authority.
We read these letters to receive encouragement. Through God’s grace, we can see that our problems have been faced and that they have been overcome throughout the ages. We find hope and peace in the midst of our troubles knowing That God has provided us with a look into the intimate relationships of those that have come before, so that we might know we aren’t the first and we won’t be the last. This gives us the courage to face our troubles and prepare future generations for similar situations. The Church on earth is not perfect because it is made up of all types of people. All we can do is learn to live with one another in love and share in the unity of spirit that God gives us through faith. We do this by reading and studying the witness of that former generation that God has given to us in the Bible, even when we aren't sure what it means to us today. Thanks be to God.
Shy When Zachary was in kindergarten, I walked him to school. The students lined up near the door to the school to wait for their teachers to come pick them up. I waited with Zachary and the other children, taking time to chat with the kids and hear about their lives. It didn’t take long for the children to expect that they would get a high five or a hug from me along with a listening ear. Some days I nearly fell over when the whole class attacked me.
There was one boy who was very shy. At first he did not want hugs or high fives; he did not want to talk about anything. Each day, however, I said hello and offered him my hand. It took a long time – months – but he eventually opened up to me. At first it was just a shy smile or a brief word, but by the end of the school year his smile was bright and his hugs were long. I could have ignored him after the first couple of rejections, but I did not let go. In the end I am sure it made a difference to the way he performed in school – a little bit of confidence goes a long way.
When I met my students the other day, each parent told me that his or her child is very shy, but they would warm up eventually. I am sure this is true – most of the children are not really as shy as their parents really think. The children usually respond as soon as the parent is out of the room. For those who are truly shy, it is necessary to give them the distance they need to feel comfortable, but to be persistent with an outreached hand and patient for the day they will come around.
Paul, first known as Saul, was zealous for the Lord, but he did not understand the grace that came to the world through Jesus Christ. To him the movement of The Way was nothing more than an attempt to destroy the faith of his people. He went out on a rampage, destroying Christians even to the point of murder. There were so many loyal followers who were quite gifted to speak the Gospel into the lives of the people who could have reached the Gentiles, but God had a special plan for Paul. One day on the road to Damascus, Paul met Jesus face to face and was immediately converted. He learned about Jesus and then went forth into the world taking Christ – to this day – to millions of people.
“I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (ASV)
There are not many people, even over the course of Christian history, who can claim to have had an experience like Paul’s. I don’t think I would have wanted to come to faith in such a dramatic and frightening way. Most of us come to faith after patient and persistent witness of those who have come before us. I wonder how many times Paul heard the message of the Gospel before God struck him down on that road. Perhaps this was the only way Paul could have had such an incredible impact on the world. The other disciples, who came to faith in a much different way, each had their own influence but none have reached so many people with God’s grace over time.
We never know the affect we will have on people. We might think we should just give up – that they are beyond hope. Yet, there are none that are beyond hope in God’s eyes. We all know someone who refuses to believe in Christ for one reason or another. Sometimes it is because they are afraid, the word of God is life changing and few people really want to be changed. Other people ignore the message because they think they are not worthy. Whatever the reason that they will not believe, we are called to reach out to them – not with bible bashing or manipulation, but rather with a kind hand and a word of hope. In this way they will see the grace of God shining through our lives and receive the love that He has to give. Thanks be to God.
Olympics I have to admit that I have not paid a great deal of attention to the Olympics this year. I’m not terribly interested in sports, though I appreciate the time and talent that has been showcased at this event. I have been aware of the major stories and watched some of the events on television. I have rejoiced with our athletes when they succeeded and cried with them when something went wrong. None of the athletes from any of the countries are failures – they tried and though not everyone will go home tomorrow with medals, they are all winners in my book.
We might be tempted to sit around and discuss the reasons for the failures, for some of the athletes it has been personal mistakes and for others it was unfortunate circumstances. Certainly the commentators and experts have added their own opinion to their reports about the events. I would find it hard to give any credible analysis since I am not much of an athlete or a sports enthusiast. I can only rely on the perspectives I have heard and read about these past two weeks.
One of the big surprises has been the failure of the American basketball team to win the gold medal. In the years since professional players have been welcome to compete at the Olympics, the Americans have dominated the sport. Since 1992, they have had a 24-0 record and have won three golds. This year, however, they have not worked together as a team and have lost several of their games. They will play today for the bronze medal.
Each of those players are stars in their own right, gifted players who help lead their home teams to victory. They went to Athens with the expectation that they would win – perhaps rightly so, considering their record and their talent. Yet, they could not seem to get together as a team. After their first loss, it was admitted that they had not practiced together very much. They may have thought it unnecessary and there was nothing to humble them. They did try to pull it together after their loss to Puerto Rico, but it was not enough.
Unfortunately this type of arrogance is often found within the Christian community. God blesses each and every Christian with personal experiences of His love and mercy. For some, these manifestations of God’s grace come in supernatural ways. They might have a vision or speak of prophetic word that comes true. They might see the Lord or hear His voice in a very unusual way. These occasions of God’s power are incredibly humbling experiences. They bring a believer to his or her knees in wonder and awe. Why me? Why now? What next?
However, these experiences also give Christians something about which they can boast. All too many take upon themselves the authority which God has not really given to them. They speak a prophetic word and think they are a prophet. They feel the touch of God’s hand and expect the world to accept them as specially chosen of God. They are humbled by nothing, then use and abuse the gifts they have been given. The pride they have in their spiritual experience – a gift from God – is the very thing that brings them down.
“I must needs glory, though it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. On behalf of such a one will I glory: but on mine own behalf I will not glory, save in my weaknesses. For if I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth: but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he seeth me to be, or heareth from me. And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-9 (ASV)
It does little good to sit around second guessing the players and coaches of the American basketball team now that the Olympics are nearly over. We can only hope that they have learned a lesson this year and that they will spend more time in preparation in the future. They have to realize that international play is different than the NBA and adjust their talents accordingly. Most of all they have to remember that there are many other gifted people who play basketball around the world. A win is never guaranteed.
God still does the most incredible things in the world today, touching His children personally and speaking to them of His love, mercy and grace. These experiences are not meant to put us on a pedestal, but to reveal Himself to us. They might seem good reason for boasting, since this is not an every day occurrence. Paul was certainly chosen by God for a very special purpose. Yet, his blessedness carried a huge weight of responsibility. To balance Paul’s life and keep him from this dangerous arrogance, God have him something which would keep him humble. May we all learn from him and realize that God’s blessings are not something which are given to glorify our lives, but to bring us to our knees to worship Him. As we live in humility, God will continue to bless the world through out lives. There is no need for us to boast of our experiences, for His grace is truly sufficient for us. Thanks be to God.
Books Yesterday I went through Vicki and Zack’s bookshelves. They still have some of our old children’s books – much loved stories and treasuries of favorite authors. I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the books we have in the house, so that I can use the stories for my class at preschool. It was funny to watch as I came across certain stories, some of which go back to my own childhood. Though these books are often yellowed and falling apart, they bring happy memories.
It is amazing how much we can still get out of those old books – the lessons learned are still important to us today, even as adults. What parent doesn’t tear up to the words in “Love You Forever” or find confidence in the story “The Little Engine that Could?” I giggle whenever I read “The Hungry Thing” and Dr. Suess’s “Green Eggs and Ham” will always make me smile. There are times when we all feel like returning to our childhood, to enjoy the simplicity of the lessons and the straightforwardness of the Gospel.
Today was Rally Day at our church, the day we register the children for the new year of Sunday school. The worship was geared toward the children, especially the music. We sang many of the old favorites, songs with which we all became familiar as children or as teachers at Vacation Bible School. We even sang “Jesus Loves Me.” It never ceases to astound me that there is such depth of truth and grace in such a simple song. Jesus loves each of us, and we discover this truth in His Word.
We spend a great many hours on Bible study, learning about God through the scriptures. We often make it so complicated, even arguing over the meaning of one passage or the application of another. There are libraries filled with books that interpret and explain the scriptures. My own library is made up of hundreds of volumes, some of which I do not quite understand because they written at an intellectual level far greater than my brain can comprehend.
All of this intellectual discussion of the scriptures is good – important and vital to our growth and maturity in faith. However, it does no good if our search for truth takes us away from the simple message found in that children’s song. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. This we know because God gave us the written word to learn and love and live out in the world with praise and thanksgiving. This is why we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21 (ASV)
The adult forum class will also begin with the new school year, and I am looking forward to delving deeply with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We will be starting with a study into the prophets of the Old Testament. Other small study groups are forming and choosing the materials they will use this year. It is good that we want to learn more about God’s word, to understand and interpret the scriptures for ourselves. Yet, as we begin a new journey of growth and learning, let us never forget that simple message that we learned as children – Jesus loves me, this I know. In His love, He has provided us with all we need to live in faith and walk in His light while sharing the Gospel with others. Thanks be to God.
Purge There is a show called “Clean Sweep.” This is a show for packrats and unorganized collectors. A professional organizer and a decorator who help couples change the way they live in their homes. When the crew arrives on the first day, the cameras pan over rooms that are often cluttered with so much stuff that it is impossible to even walk from one side to the other. Beds are covered with dirty clothes, desks are piled high with paperwork and closet doors hang open because there are too many pairs of shoes.
The professional organizers help these couples purge their life. They empty two rooms of everything and put it out on the lawn. The couples go through every item – from the furniture to the old bills – and they get rid of everything they don’t need. Some things are thrown away and other items are set aside for a yard sale. The pro will not let them keep anything that has no place or purpose. The hardest items are the ones with sentimental value – how do you get rid of those baby toys even though the child has long since grown? The purging time is hard – the pros are harsh and demanding. Inevitably one of the people will burst into tears over some item they can’t let go. In the end, the couples are always happy with the outcome. They are so glad to have a lovely bedroom and organized office. They are excited about inviting guests to enjoy fellowship in a dining room or living room with seats and tables that are clean. The things they keep are so much more appreciated because they are nicely displayed.
When I watch this show, I can’t help but laugh at the couples as they think they are going to be the ones to convince the pros that they are being unreasonable. They call in this help, expecting that the organizers will see how much they love their things and find a way to make it fit into the room. They blame the professionals and call them cruel, when they themselves invited these people into their home. If you don’t want the advice you are given, why ask? This is a problem even for those who seek the help of the Lord.
“Ye have wearied Jehovah with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? In that ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Jehovah, and he delighteth in them; or where is the God of justice? Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in ancient years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against the false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the sojourner from his right, and fear not me, saith Jehovah of hosts.” Malachi 2:17-3:5 (ASV)
The people were crying out to God. In Malachi 2:13, they ask why God no longer accepts their sacrifices. Malachi answers – they were no longer faithful. They did not much like the answer they received, which of us do when we are given advice that we don’t want to hear. They wanted the Lord to provide justice, but they weren’t ready to receive Him as He would come. The joy – the grace – in this is that God does not react in a knee-jerk way. God did come suddenly, in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet, it was not so sudden because He sent John to bear witness to the coming kingdom. They had a chance to hear God and turn to Him, to repent of their ways and follow God. What they did not realize when they missed the presence of God in Jesus Christ, is that the wrath would not be turned on them, but on the Son Himself.
Malachi did not keep the truth from the people – it would not be pleasant when the Lord returns to His people. And yet, there is always hope because God is faithful to His promises. This passage ends with a powerful word – “Do not fear me” says the Lord of hosts. The people on Clean Sweep might not like the experience, but they love the outcome. Their homes are clean and organized and they are happy. The thought of Jesus Christ on the cross is ridiculous and horrific, and yet we benefit from His sacrifice that we might live forever in God’s kingdom. Thanks be to God.
Experience We had an open house at our preschool last week and I have the chance to meet some of my students and their parents. While the children played I went through a spiel about certain policies and explained the things we want to do with the children throughout this year. The parents also had an opportunity to ask me questions.
One parent asked about my experience. I have none, at least none in a preschool classroom. I have nearly thirty years of experience working with children – having taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School since I was a teenager. I have raised two intelligent children who are academically successful and I have worked in their classrooms all through school. I have a degree in education and a large number of excellent resources.
I do understand the parent’s concerns. I’m untested and I am not the teacher they necessarily wanted for their child. My class has been added because of the growth of our school. We extended our hours to four days of week. Some of these parents would like their child in the class that meets all four days. Unfortunately, we do not have the room and they have had to settle for my smaller class. Even though my volunteer and home parenting experience has given me a great deal of knowledge dealing with children, this type of experience is never held as high as a paying job. It is easy to assume that a professional teacher will be better for a child’s education. Hopefully it will not take long before the parents will realize that I have something to offer the children.
Paul’s ministry took him on long and expensive journeys. There is some reference in the accounts of his travels that he supported himself as a tent maker, but he also received funds from the other churches. Apparently the congregation at Corinth had some highly trained speakers – speakers that were paid for their work. To the listeners, this payment gave those speakers a credibility that Paul did not have. He gave the Gospel away for free, relying on his own work and the gifts of other congregations for his support. To some, this made Paul’s message worthless.
“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive a different spirit, which ye did not receive, or a different gospel, which ye did not accept, ye do well to bear with him. For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. But though I be rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; nay, in every way have we made this manifest unto you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” 2 Corinthians 11:4-9 (ASV)
Getting paid for their work did not make the ‘super-apostles’ any more real or true than Paul. As a matter of fact, their message was often about a false Christ or a false Gospel. Their training and the money paid for their speeches did not make them credible witnesses of the grace of God. Paul entreated the people of Corinth to realize that the Gospel is given as a free gift from God. He went to them without want for anything in return, only that they hear and believe that which God has given to them.
I wonder how many times we give a pastor or ministry credibility because payment is given for books, music, tapes or personal appearances. I am personally saddened when I visit a website where the cries for donations are louder than the message of the Gospel or when I see large amounts of merchandise related to a book in a bookstore. Yet, these very ministries are also the ones that are supported by multitudes of people – they draw large crowds when they appear to speak and their books are on the New York Times bestsellers list. Surely someone with that much success must be speaking the truth, right? As Christians, it is vital that we discern those who are truly speaking God’s words verses those who are like the ‘super-apostles’ in Paul’s day. While a person’s success does not automatically mean they are teaching a false Christ or a false Gospel, it also does not necessarily mean they speak for God. Let us always be discriminating about the things we believe and base our trust on and in the Word of God.