Welcome to the August 2005 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2005
August 1, 2005
Paint I am currently working on a painting of a sunset over an ocean. I am using acrylic paint on a rather large canvas, so big it does not fit on to my art table. Acrylics are much different than oil paint because they dry much more quickly. The painter has very little time to work with the paint. I am trying to give the feeling of the colors radiating from the sun without stripes of color. I want the different shades and hues to blend together so that there are touches of each color with smooth transitions across the entire canvas.
It is hard to blend acrylics because they dry so fast. Oil colors give the painter some freedom to step away from the canvas and come back hours or even days later to blend the colors more. However, the painter has only minutes to work with acrylics. This has become a much more challenging painting than it would have been if I'd used oils because the large canvas is making it difficult to create the desired affect across the whole canvas. I worked with half of the canvas one day and was able to do what I wanted to do. When I returned on another day, it was nearly impossible to get the other half to look the same. I realized that I need to work with large areas, applying the paint quickly in layers.
The trouble with this technique is that it makes it more difficult to lay down the lighter colors I want for certain areas of the painting. If even a drop of a darker color, like red, gets mixed into the yellow it becomes a much darker color. On the next layer, I will have to begin with only the yellow and then slowly work orange into the scheme. This will make it even more difficult to blend, but it is necessary if I want to lighten the painting. This is why it is generally recommended that a painter begin with the lighter colors and then work to darker. Even a touch of dark paint changes the character of anything lighter and it is impossible to bring out the lighter color once the dark paint is mixed into it.
The religious understanding in Jesus' day was that a person was unclean if they had any hint of disfavor from God. Sick people were unclean. Women who bled were unclean. Someone who touched a dead person was unclean. There were ways to be cleansed – offering to be given, days to wait, prayers to be said – but the person was unwelcome while they were unclean. Touching someone who was unclean or anything they touched could make another person unclean. When there was no cure for the disease, the people were outcast. The people did not want to take the chance of accidentally touching the leper and becoming contaminated by whatever it was causing this displeasure from God.
"And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." Matthew 8:1-4 (ASV)
It might seem odd for us today to hear the stories of those who were untouchable in Jesus' day. We are offended by the idea that anyone would suggest that the sick are sick because God is punishing them for some unrighteousness. However, it was typical of the religious perspective of the day. Much of their law revolves around the idea of uncleanness and how to be restored to God and to society after the reason is healed. The very idea that a woman is unclean because she bleeds after giving birth and is unworthy to be in the presence of others is an outrage. That anyone should be outcast because they have dry skin is hard to believe.
They believed, however, that a little darkness in one's life was the manifestation of unrighteousness, and that the unrighteousness could be passed as the dark paint spreads through a lighter color. To touch one of the unclean made another unclean. Yet, in our story today, we see that Jesus not only heals the leper, but He first touches him. The righteousness of God and faith in Him is much more powerful than the dis-ease that contaminates our life. Jesus was not made unclean by the leprosy. Instead, the leper was healed by Jesus' grace. While evil does exist in our world and even in our hearts, we can overcome that which makes us ill through faith in Christ. He touches us in our pain and heals us of our ills making us clean by His Word. Thanks be to God.
Code It is hard to believe, but I've been writing A WORD FOR TODAY for six years. It began simply as a brief inspirational message for a few of my friends. In the years since August 1, 1999, A WORD FOR TODAY has become a website with hundreds of pages of text. You can find the archives, some Bible studies, some poems and stories, sermons and the travelogues from our time in England. The site expands daily as I add the message for the day and update other pages such as the topical and scriptural indexes.
I was extremely blessed to have a friend who knew how to write the code necessary for creating web pages. I remember trying several different programs to create the website, but they were confusing and I was unable to make them do what I wanted to do. There is probably a half dozen unfinished web pages floating out there in cyberspace that I abandoned in my quest to understand web design. Fortunately, Vic came along, helped me find a good server and taught me how to use the coded language of HTML. He has gone on to learn other languages, to create more complicated pages, but I never moved beyond my basic understanding. There are so many other codes that can be used to make pages exciting.
If you don't know anything about web pages, you might wonder what I mean about code. When you open a web page, you see pictures, words, colors and whatever else the programmer wants you to see. However, to make you see those things, the programmer must use special codes to make it happen. Certain letters or phrases are written into the code to give the page its color, dimensions, font styles and graphics. More difficult codes are used for forms and for movie or sound files. When you look at the code 'behind' the page, it is a mishmash of letters and symbols that make little or no sense unless you know what the codes mean.
HTML is a language understood by computers and there are other such languages available today. To the uneducated, the code is just a jumble of letters and symbols and without any recognizable meaning. The same is true of other foreign languages. When you hear someone speaking a foreign language you do not recognize, their words are little more than random sounds. It makes no sense and does nothing to enlighten you as to the topic of conversation. This is also true of the spiritual language of tongues.
"But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching? Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for war? So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification. If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me. So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else if thou bless with the spirit, how shall he that filleth the place of the unlearned say the Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all: howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." 1 Corinthians 14:6-19 (ASV)
You don't need to know HTML code to enjoy the millions of web pages that have popped up on the Internet over the years. You don't even need to know much about the code to write pages anymore since there are so many good programs that will do it for you.
However, you will never have an edifying conversation with someone speaking a foreign language if you do not learn at least some of the words they are speaking. It will sound like a cacophony of sounds and be meaningless to you. Paul understood the importance of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues and rejoices over his ability to do so. But he also understood that it was a self-serving gift unless the spiritual language could be translated for others. Otherwise it the words are useless to others. We are called to edify one another and to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church. A prayer language can be vital to our own spiritual growth and maturity, but we should also seek gifts that will lift others in their spiritual growth. It is to this end that I pray this ministry has ensued over the past six years. Thanks be to God.
Fame When we are young and have our entire lives ahead of us, it is not unusual for us to have high expectations and goals. When family and friends ask us about our career objectives, we rarely have a definitive answer. Even well into high school, our desires change from one season to the next. Girls might want to be a teacher one day and a ballerina the next. Boys go from wanting to be a fireman to a football player.
No matter what job they want to have as an adult, most kids are determined that they will be the best at that job and that they will become rich and famous doing it. Though their most immediate role models – parents, friends, teachers and neighbors – never see wealth and fame, they see actors and actresses playing those roles in the movies and know that the stars are rich and famous, so they are sure that they can do so also.
They don't realize the difficulties of stardom. Paparazzi constantly follow famous people hoping to get the hot picture or news story of the day. The rich have business associates or others who want to benefit from their knowledge or get some financial benefit from the acquaintance. These people travel with an entourage – body guards, assistants, servants and companions. They are never alone. It is amazing when a star is able to accomplish something without it making the front page of the tabloids because there is no privacy for the rich and famous.
That's why the recent marriage of Sandra Bullock was such a surprise to everyone. Sandra and her groom, Jesse James, planned a barbeque for friends. It was a covert operation, with all the guests taken to the undisclosed location by shuttle bus. The guests were having a wonderful time at the barbeque with no idea of what was to come. Shortly before the ceremony, Sandra and Jesse announced the purpose of their gathering, much to the surprise of the guests. The whole event went off very well and the bride and groom are said to be quite happy. They managed to accomplish the wedding without the usual interruption that comes from reporters searching for that photo or story that will make them rich and famous.
Jesus was not rich, but He was gaining a popularity and fame that preceded Him wherever He went. His healings were amazing and there was something special about the way He could speak. People were drawn into His presence and would not leave Him alone. Several times throughout the scriptures we hear stories of Jesus trying to go off to be by Himself to pray, but the crowds close in on Him, demanding His time and His presence. He has compassion on them and meets their needs. In Matthew 14, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. But that does not reduce His need for some time alone.
"And straightway he constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side, till he should send the multitudes away. And after he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into the mountain apart to pray: and when even was come, he was there alone." Matthew 14:22-23 (ASV)
The rest of this story tells about Jesus walking on the water. He approached the boat, which was far from shore in the midst of a storm, and frightened the disciples. I've always wondered why He bothered to send them away. In John's version of the same story, the people knew that Jesus had done a miraculous thing and they wanted to make Him king. Such and incredible event was bound to give Jesus even more fame and notoriety. Herod was upset by the healings and afraid that Jesus was a resurrected John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded. Jesus' fame was already putting Him in danger and it was not yet His time. Besides, Jesus knew the importance of time alone with God. It was important for Him to find a place away from the people, away from the hullabaloo of His growing ministry.
He was always there for the people when they needed Him. He had compassion on them, healed their sick and shared the kingdom of heaven with whoever listened. So, to find some time alone, Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the lake, which bought Him a few moments of privacy. As we grow older, we realize that fame and wealth is not nearly as important as we thought it would be as a child. We come to the reality that most jobs do not make us rich or famous. However, we learn to appreciate the gifts of those jobs, the joys found in the work and the benefits of a simple life. We also learn the value of privacy and time alone with God, time that is nearly impossible if we are constantly surrounded by people.
Cobwebs In his book "How To Be Born Again," Billy Graham tells a story about a time he was to appear on a well-known television show. They were planning to film the interview in his home, so Ruth spent many hours preparing the space. She cleaned every nook and cranny until it appeared to be spotless. When the film crew arrived and turned on the bright lights, they saw cobwebs and dust where they had never seen them before. Ruth said, "That room was festooned with dust and cobwebs which simply did not show up under ordinary light." The lesson Billy Graham learned from this experience is that we too are festooned with dust and cobwebs – sin – in our own lives that do not show up in ordinary light. It is when we see ourselves in light of God's Word and His holiness that the cobwebs and the dust are visible.
All too often we look at ourselves as good people. Most of us are clean, on the surface. We do good things, we live right lives and we walk in a righteousness that is based on worldly ideals. We define people's eternal destiny based on what we see happening in their lives and in their actions. When referring to the lives of the dearly departed, it is natural for us to say that they are going to go to heaven based on the good things we saw them do. As for our own eternal destiny, it is easy for us to look at our lives as compared to others and think that certainly we too much be going to heaven. "If my neighbor is good enough, then I certainly am!"
However, when the light of God's Word shines on our lives, we suddenly realize that our righteousness is like filthy rags and our goodness is stained by sin. We are not clean. The thoughts of our minds, the failure of our actions and the hardness of our hearts can't be seen on the surface in ordinary light. It is only by the light of Christ that we realize that we are unworthy for the blessedness of life eternal in the kingdom of God. The more we realize the hidden truth of our beings, the more we'd rather walk in the darkness of this world. However, Christ has made it possible for us to live eternally with Him even though we are unworthy. He makes us clean, by His blood and His word.
"And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:5-10 (ASV)
I'm sure that when Ruth saw the dust and the cobwebs all over her living room under the lights of the cameras that she went for a brush to clean more. During our journeys of faith we do the same thing. As God reveals our inner sins to us, He gives us the opportunity and the things we need to clean up our lives. We won't be perfectly clean in this life, anymore than we can really have perfectly clean homes. The point of seeing our sin is not so that we will make ourselves better, but rather so that we will see our need for the love and mercy of God as found in our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. God shines His light to turn us toward Himself, to bring us to our knees in humility and confession.
Its hard to walk in the light because we do see our imperfections. As we walk in that light, however, we also see the grace of God. Since He is faithful even when we aren't, we can walk assured of His forgiveness and salvation. Seeing our sin in the light of God's Word helps us to realize that we are sinners in need of the Savior, not good people who deserve to be in heaven because of the good things we have done. As we confess our sin before God, we will know the forgiveness He gives by grace through faith. Thanks be to God.
Stonehenge I watched a show last night about Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle found on the Salisbury Plain in England. We were able to visit the ring during our time living in England and it was one of the most memorable sites we saw. There is something very fascinating about the mystery behind it all. Why did the ancient people go to so much trouble? How did they manage to get those big rocks on to the plain from so far away and placed so precisely in the circle? What did the people do with the site when it was first built?
We purchased a special entry into the site on one of our trips to Stonehenge. This meant we were able to go in after hours all by ourselves and wander anywhere we wanted in the site. We could touch the rocks and stand in the middle of the circle. During normal hours visitors must stay behind ropes, so most visitors never enjoy the full experience. We were also lucky to have a knowledgeable security guard on duty that evening who loved his job. He took us around the circle and gave us a private tour, showing us some of the more interesting aspects and sharing his answers to some of the questions. The show I watched last night gave some of the same opinions and some others. Archeologists and scholars disagree often disagree about the who, where, when, why and how of these ancient sites. So the viewer must listen and come to his or her own opinion. We may never fully understand.
As I was driving around our town yesterday, I noticed the pillars holding up a bridge over a road and I wondered what future people would think about our monuments. Every major city has some junction of roads that looks like an octopus, with a dozen different dozen roadways going a dozen different directions. It is nearly impossible to know which road is which when you are beneath this jumble of bridges. Some of the pillars seem to reach to the sky. What will happen in a hundred or so years, when the roads crumble into a heap of ruins? Will the pillars still stand and will future generations know it was a highway junction? Or will they see it from another perspective, perhaps as some sort of ceremonial or religious site?
While it would be wonderful to have future generations know and understand us in a thousand years, most people are more interested in leaving behind a legacy of their own life. We want people to remember us after we die and we hope that the memories we leave behind are good. However, our sin also leaves a legacy. The things we do wrong are impressed on the lives of others. Sometimes the memory left behind is painful or destructive. It would be quite understandable if we spent eternity in hell for the things we have done and it is no wonder that human beings have created places like Stonehenge to appease the gods.
"Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that this high priest also have somewhat to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a ministry the more excellent, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers In the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt; For they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, And every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away." Hebrews 8 (ASV)
The archeologists and scholars disagree about the purpose of Stonehenge, but even if it was not a place for atoning sacrifices, it is likely that it was a religious site of some sort. All religion, in one way or another, seeks reconciliation between the divine entity and the human soul. The Old Covenant of Israel did so through the Law and a complicated sacrificial system. Lambs, bulls and other animals stood in the stead of the sinner. Their blood brought temporary relief from sin. However, the memory of sin remained, the affects memorialized sin.
We don't know what people will remember about us in a thousand years when looking at the ruins of our own monuments. We don't even know what memories will live on after we have passed away. Though we will probably be remembered for the many good things we accomplished as individuals in this world, the footprint of our sin will also remain. However, God sees our life through our Lord Jesus Christ. In this new covenant, sealed with the blood of Christ and given by His grace, He forgets our sin forever and welcomes us into the kingdom of heaven for eternity. Thanks be to God.
Bookmarks I'm working on several craft projects this summer. One of my projects consists of colored ribbon woven into plastic canvas to make Bible bookmarks. We plan to give those to the youth of our church as they begin more in-depth study into the scriptures this year. We wanted to use the colors of the rainbow so that they would be reminded of the gift of God's promises. For the past few days I have been searching for the right colors, but it has been very difficult. I found a few colors in one store, a few colors in another and a few in yet another. The final store had every color I would have needed and yet it was not the best choice because the ribbon was far more expensive in that store.
I love to shop in each of the stores where I found my ribbon, but none of them were perfect. The store with the ribbon on sale did not have all the colors. The next store had most of the colors, but the wrong shade of some. The final store had all the colors but the ribbon was very expensive. I find this is true for many of my projects. None of the stores perfectly fit my needs, which is why I shop in all three.
This type of shopping might work for craft supplies, but it is not a good way of looking for a church. Choosing our church home is an important decision. We want to find a place that has all the qualities we seek in a community of believers. It is different for different people, and that's why we have so many different types of churches. Of course, in our search it is important to choose a church that rightly teaches God's word and administers the sacraments, but that is just a part of what most people are seeking. For many, the perfect church is a place free of conflict, where everyone gets along and acts according to the expectations found in the scriptures. Unfortunately, a place like that does not exist.
The Church is not just a place where saints gather. Unfortunately, we are also sinners in need of the Savior. Despite the work that Christ has done and is doing in our lives, we still sin and still need forgiveness. As people of faith, we disagree with one another. Sometimes the disagreements are silly, at other times it is over very important issues. It is hard to see these problems when we first enter a church. Most of the visitors never know when there are conflicts within the congregation. However, every church suffers from disagreement. There is no perfect congregation. When we get involved in the ministries of a church, we can see what happens under the surface. This can be very disturbing and disappointing to the one seeking the perfect church.
It is no different today than it was in the days of the first disciples. The epistles – the letters of the apostles to the churches that are found in the New Testament – show us that even those first churches were not perfect. We might wish to go back to the time when the Church was first born, but we would not see much difference. They had conflict, too.
"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. I wrote somewhat unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth evil hath not seen God. Demetrius hath the witness of all men , and of the truth itself: yea, we also bear witness: and thou knowest that our witness is true. I had many things to write unto thee, but I am unwilling to write them to thee with ink and pen: but I hope shortly to see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be unto thee. The friends salute thee. Salute the friends by name." 3 John (ASV)
Despite the inconvenience of running all over town to my favorite stores, I do not intend on setting aside any of them because they are imperfect. Each has something wonderful to offer and I will still visit them when I need materials for my projects. I have to admit that there have been times over the course of my spiritual life that I've wondered about my own church – whether it is local or the denomination to which I belong. I have found imperfections in them all. And yet, I know that even the early churches had their own set of problems, many of which we have faced even in our modern day.
I don't think we should jump ship too quickly for we tend to walk away for all the wrong reasons. We are called to use our gifts for the building up of God's kingdom in this world. Sometimes it means dealing with people who are not acting as Christ has commanded, sharing the Gospel message of forgiveness and teaching them the commands of Jesus. There may be good reason to leave a church, but we best remember that the next one will come with its own set of problems, just like the craft stores in my town. Find peace in the congregation wherever you are. Where there seems to be no peace, take the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In today's passage we see that those who are evil do not necessarily come from evil. John tells us that those who are evil have not seen God. You have the peace of Christ and the gifts to show Him to them. Thanks be to God.
Commercial I heard a commercial the other day for some sort of weight loss product. In the commercial were two women talking about the program, one who had done it originally and the other to whom the first had recommended the program. They talked about how the second woman saw the wonderful affect of the program on her friend and decided to try it herself. In this current commercial, the two women shared their joy in how well the program was working for the second woman.
When we discover something we absolutely love, some product that has changed our life, we share out joy with others. We recommend the product to our family and friends because we are sure that it will have the same affect on them. Yet, when we make such recommendations we wonder if it will really work for someone else. Bad products can actually destroy relationships, especially if there is a negative affect. There would certainly be no commercial if the program did not work for the second woman and even worse could have happened if the product had dangerous side effects. However, we rejoice when it does work out and are thankful for the opportunity to share the product with our friend.
One of the things that keeps us from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people we know is that we are afraid of what might happen because of our witness. The Word of God is not always received with joy and thanksgiving. Sometimes the response to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ is rejected. When it is rejected, the bearer of the message is often rejected also. Families have split and friendships have been divided over issues of faith. We don't witness Christ because we don't want to lose those relationships. Yet, there is so much for which we can be thankful when our testimony reveals the love of God and the listener is saved.
"I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (ASV)
The two women in the commercial were very glad that the product worked for them. The first woman was particularly happy that her testimony made a difference in the life of her friend. The same is certainly true when we see the affect of God's love and mercy on the lives of those who cross our path. God uses our witness, in both word and deed, to bring faith into the lives of those who are in need of His forgiveness. Our witness does not save anyone, but God reveals Himself through our testimonies.
Just as we rejoice when a product recommendation helps our family and friends, so too we rejoice when we see the fruit of God's Spirit manifest in the life of those who have heard our testimony. Paul was filled with thanksgiving and praise to God that the work he was doing was actually changing lives. He knew that he had not saved anyone by his work, but he could see that the work he was doing was being confirmed in the lives of others. While we might be afraid that our own witness might have a negative affect, we should remember that it is not by our own power that people are saved. As we share our own testimonies, we can see God working in the lives of others and rest assured that He is the power behind our faith. Thanks be to God.
Storm We took a trip this week. It was a rather lengthy trek, several hundred miles from home. It would have been an fairly easy drive if we had not ended up in the midst of a terrible storm. The rain was falling at a rate of an inch or more an hour, causing flash flooding on the roadways. It was extremely dark and severe lightning was striking all around us. To add to my troubles, I was unfamiliar with the roads on which I was traveling and unsure of where I should be.
Though I was nervous, I drove carefully and we managed to get through the storm unharmed. I did travel as slow as I could safely drive in the midst of the other traffic, though it seemed like most of the traffic was moving much faster than I wanted to travel. I did not even feel safe stopping somewhere along the road because I was unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and could not see if there were stores or restaurants where we could rest until the storm passed. On top of that, we had no idea how long the storm would last.
Luckily, we were there during rush hour. It might seem odd to think that we were lucky to be stuck in rush hour traffic, but I found that I felt much safer in the slow traffic. At faster speeds I hit too many areas of rushing water and passing cars splashed our windshields making it difficult to see. I could see more clearly through my windshield when we were driving slowly or at a stop because the raindrops weren't slamming into my windshield as they do when driving faster. I wanted to drive as fast as I could to get out of the storm faster, but it was much safer to drive slowly and carefully.
I wonder how often we drive much too fast to get through the storm to safety, while risking our lives to do so. And this is not only true when we are driving a car through a thunderstorm, but also when we are trying to get through the storms of life. We plow into every situation, thinking it would be better to just get through it. We'd rather not deal with our problems, but by moving too quickly we make it far more difficult for ourselves. We are quick to speak and slow to listen. We get angry in a heartbeat but take forever to forgive.
"Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." James 1:19-27 (ASV)
I stopped as quickly as I could, finding a gas station and restaurant as soon as we were outside the storm. The trip was not without fear and worry, but we managed to get through it safely. I wanted to go fast, to just get away from the rain, but it seemed like the faster I went the deeper into the storm I was headed. I was thankful for those moments when it was beyond my control, when the traffic was so think I could not move quickly. We were still moving forward, but we were not risking our lives and car by driving too fast into a flash flood. I could see a little more clearly and I could move more safely to the right lane.
When we react to the world around us too quickly, we often react in a way that is not according to God's word and will. We speak dangerous words and act out in ways that will bring harm to ourselves and to others. If we do so in a religious context, we even think our rush to judgment is right and our anger is righteous indignation. Yet, God calls us to be slow to anger and meek before the LORD. In this attitude we see what it really means to be religious – to listen to God and do what He has commanded us to do. In faith, then, we go forth to serve those whom the world would run over in the midst of a storm and keep our eyes on Jesus as we too face the wind and the rain. Thanks be to God.
Supplies The kids will be going back to school very soon. It is an exciting time for us to go shopping, to stock up on all the supplies they will need to do well this year. The stores are filled with aisles full of notebooks, pens, pencils and crayons. Everyone is having sales in the expectation that their prices will entice parents to purchase even more than their children will need. Most of the stores have racks of supply lists from every school in the area to make it easier for the parents to find what they need. When it is over, the children are stocked with a backpack that is so full of supplies it is even difficult for them to carry.
Unfortunately, most of the lists are specifically for elementary age students. By the time the children get to Junior High and High School, they are following different paths with different expectations. It is impossible for the school to say that all sophomores will need five one inch notebooks because some teachers prefer larger ones or something else. Since both my kids have reached this time in their lives, we had difficulty knowing what we should buy them for school. We did purchase some thing we knew they would need, but decided to wait for the teachers' requirements before spending a fortune on things we may not need.
It is odd to send my kids to school unprepared. I realize that little will happen on that first day of school; it is a day for getting to know one another and establishing expectations. Even when the kids were in Elementary School, there were always things that were not on the list that they needed for class. However, I feel like we are unprepared for that first day of school. But then, I'm the kind of person who likes to be prepared for every possibility. I pack too much when we travel. I buy ahead on things and then forget I have it in the pantry or refrigerator. I keep too many supplies on hand "just in case" I might need something for a project. I like to be prepared.
"And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats. And into whatsoever house ye enter, there abide, and thence depart. And as many as receive you not, when ye depart from that city, shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere." Luke 9:1-7 (ASV)
Unfortunately, that first day of school is tough for the kids because they have so much to carry in their backpacks. Yet, I can't imagine letting them out of the house without the most basic equipment to begin the school year. They will still need paper, pencils, lunch money and other supplies.
In this story, Jesus sends His disciples on a mission trip with absolutely nothing. They weren't even supposed to take along a loaf of bread or money to purchase lunch. Jesus was sending them into the world to rely on God's gracious provision and the hospitality of strangers. There was an urgency to the mission and the disciples did not need anything to weigh them down. They would not always find people to supply their needs – Jesus warned them that they would need to walk away from some towns without having shared the Gospel or received the hospitality of the people. Yet, they were to travel light, to go quickly and to rely on God.
There are places in the scriptures that tell us to be prepared and there are times when it is valuable to have the right things with us when we go out into the world. However, the mission of sharing the Gospel is urgent and we should never let ourselves be so weighed down with our supplies that we forget God's gracious provision and the wonderful hospitality of those to whom we are sent. There is great value to going into the world unburdened, so that all we have is the gift of God to give others. We find then how wonderfully God gives everything we need and how we can't really be prepared by our own resources. Thanks be to God.
Porcupine I recently saw a cartoon that had two porcupines standing beside a river. They were at a river rafting place and inflatable rubber boats were lining the shore. One of the porcupines said, "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Needless to say, it probably would not be a good idea for prickly quilled porcupines to step into a boat that could easily be punctured and sink while they are on the water.
The scriptures often talk about getting into the boat, with stories that lead us to be bold in action and our faith. Jesus found the first disciples in their fishing boat and called them to be fishers of men. After feeding the five thousand, Jesus sent them to another place in a boat. Jesus used a boat so that He could speak to a crowd gathered on the beach. Some of the most amazing events the disciples experienced happened while they were on a boat – Jesus walking on water and Jesus calming the storm. Our church worship area is called 'the nave', which is a nautical term and reminds us that we have been called into a boat to journey in faith with Christ.
Yet, not all the boat stories are pleasant. Paul and his companions experienced a horrible storm and nearly drowned. Though it was right for Noah and his family to get on the ark, it was probably a frightening and sad time. After all, though they were being saved from both the wickedness of the world and the flood water, they were facing a terrifying journey and mourning the loss of all other human beings. Can you imagine what it must have been like knowing that you would be the only people left when the event was over? Might it have been better to just perish with the rest of the world?
Another boat story involves the prophet Jonah. God called him to do something he did not want to do. He was to go to Ninevah to tell his mortal enemies about the love and mercy of God. We discover later in the story that he did not want to go because he did not want his enemies to be saved. When God had mercy, Jonah said, "See, that's why I didn't want to go. I knew that you would be nice to them!" So, Jonah decided to run from God.
"Now the word of Jehovah came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah; and he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of Jehovah. But Jehovah sent out a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." Jonah 1:1-4 (ASV)
What might have happened if Jonah had someone standing beside him as he decided to get on that ship? "Is this a good idea?" he might have asked as Jonah considered his options. Is it a good idea to get on all the boats that come our way? Noah and Paul were called by God to get on the boats that took them on those frightening journeys. God was with them through the stormy seas and there was a future awaiting them on the other end. However, Jonah was trying to run from God.
I don't know if the porcupines would actually puncture the raft, but it is a danger that they should not test. Jonah never should have gotten on that boat to Tarshish. Though Jonah's life was not in danger because God had a purpose and plan for his life, his actions did put a number of other people in danger. The sailors were frightened by the storm and even sought the aid of Jonah's God for salvation. Jonah, realizing that running from God was a bad choice, ended up in an even more difficult situation – in the belly of a whale. How often do we decide to get on the wrong boat for all the wrong reasons? When we go forward in faith to follow God's call, we will find that even the rough seas will be a joy because He is with us. Thanks be to God.
Mimic We were sitting in the living room the other day watching television and the cats were relaxing with us. They prefer to be in the presence of people and will find a comfortable place to settle down to a nap in the same room no matter what we are doing. It is usually Felix who settles down first. Tigger is still young and is always willing to play. However, Felix has learned to sufficiently ignore Tigger long enough to get him to settle down for a nap also.
What is most amazing is that Tigger will often lie in exactly the same position. Yesterday Felix fell asleep on the coffee table, stretched out amongst the newspapers and magazines we were trying to read. Tigger normally does not sleep on the furniture, for some reason he prefers the floor, and he does not get too close to Felix. However, yesterday he jumped up right next to Felix and lay down in exactly the same position. Both were stretched on their left sides with their heads on their right front leg with their tail wrapped around over their back legs. We couldn't have positioned them more exactly.
Although Tigger is definitely an individual, there are other ways he has taken after Felix. He follows Felix everywhere, often eats when he eats and sleeps when he sleeps. Though he probably would end up doing things in these ways anyway – there's not much else to the life of a cat – he is definitely following Felix's example. I don't think he's doing so willfully, but rather I see it as a natural response to his love for Felix, he wants to be like his 'big brother'.
"And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all the things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. So he cometh to Simon Peter. He saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt understand hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For he knew him that should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them." John 13:2-27 (ASV)
In today's passage Jesus tells us that ought to do the things that Jesus did. He's not calling us to willfully do good things so that we will gain something from it or even that we will look like Him. Rather, He is showing us the way to live and out of our love for what He has done we will naturally respond with similar actions. Jesus lived as a servant to others, despite the fact that He was the Son of God and Savior of the world. How much more can we live as servants in praise and thanksgiving for that which He has already done. Our love for Christ, a love which comes from God Himself, brings us to the humble realization that Jesus has called us not to be powerful or authoritarian individuals. Instead, He has called us to be like Him, to live in His shadow doing all that He has done for the sake of others. Thanks be to God.
Presents I don't usually do my shopping this early. I don't ever go out purposely Christmas shopping at this time of year, but I have been known to pick up a trinket or two if I see something I think the kids will like. Just yesterday I found something for their stockings. Unfortunately, I'm not even sure if I will be able to keep them hidden for four months and if I hide them well enough I'll probably forget I even bought them.
I love shopping for my kids. They are a little spoiled I suppose, but not so much that they get everything they want. However, they have whatever they need and a little more. Though we can't, and shouldn't, buy the love of our children, remembering them in the midst of our mundane tasks such as a trip to the grocery store can show them how much they are loved. I've often found something in the sale aisle or on special that I knew they would like and it was so much fun giving it to them. They say it is not the gift, but the thought that goes into it. This is very true.
While it is such a joy to give good things to my children, whether they need it or not, I have great difficulty allowing them to give me things. Isn't it amazing how much joy I receive from giving, but then I make it nearly impossible to let my children share in the same joy? When they ask, "Mom what do you want for Christmas?" I usually give some flippant answer such as "I just want your love." I know how excited they get when they have found the perfect gift, but I often make it difficult for them to have that opportunity. We do not only do this with gifts, but we also do it with service. Do you know anyone who says "Yes" to everything? Any volunteer task that comes up, they jump right in to take care of it. They love to help, but are impossible to help. They serve willingly, but will not allow themselves to be served.
"For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another: not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth. Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." 1 John 3:11-24 (ASV)
In yesterday's lesson we heard the story of when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. It is a lesson we all need to hear, to be reminded that our task as Christians is not to be served, but rather to follow Jesus' example of service to others. We can be very self-centered at times and we need to remember that Jesus calls us to give all that we have to one another.
However, in the same story we learn another lesson from Peter. Peter wanted to refuse Jesus. "I can't let you wash my feet!" Foot washing was the job of the humblest servant in the household. It was menial and degrading. He could not allow his Lord to kneel at his feet. Jesus told Peter that he could not be part of the Kingdom if he did not receive this gift. That seems a harsh response to what was meant to be a statement of respect for Jesus.
In the scriptures we are told to love one another. We are commanded to serve one another. We are to honor one another. Some of us find it much too easy to receive the love, service and honor from others and we spend way too little time giving these things. For others, the road goes the other direction. They are more than willing to serve even to the point of not allowing any one else to serve them. It is important that we remember that Jesus command was to do so for one another. In this way our love for Christ, all of our love for Christ will be manifest to the world and we will share in the joy of His salvation together. Thanks be to God.
Job I started a new job this, working at my church as a coordinator of communications. While the pastor and church council had a basic idea of what this job would entail, they have not established a definitive job description and are still trying to prioritize the work I am to do. It will take some time for us to establish the responsibilities and parameters of my job, but I'm looking forward to the task. A second staff member in charge of recruiting disciples was also added, so we have to discover which tasks will be completed by each of us.
It is interesting to talk to different people that already work in the office or are on the council, listening to their expectations. There are so many needs in our congregation at present and so many things falling through the cracks, that we are almost desperate to do everything at once. The more we look at the state of our communication, the more we realize how much we have failed. Though we are only working a few hours a week, we could easily fill every day and still not have enough time. We have to prioritize and it seems as though there is little consensus as to the most important tasks.
We have been called to live faithfully to God's Word and commissioned to share that Word with others in evangelism and teaching, but we don't do a very good job of it. The more we look at our failure, not only in terms of the way we have communicated in our particular church, but also in the way each of us as individuals live in this world, the more we realize how unworthy we are to be called to do the work of Christ's kingdom. We can't imagine why God would pick us and we mourn over our inability to affect change and make disciples of all nations. This is not the first time God's people have mourned over their failure.
"And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto Jehovah your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. " Nehemiah 8:8-12 (ASV)
God's people had been lost for a time, the Law forgotten. They went into exile at the hands of the Babylonians because they had broken the covenant with God. However, God's mercy is never ending. He reconciled with His people, brought them out of exile and restored them to their homeland. By His grace, Artaxerxes helped the Israelites rebuild the Temple. In rebuilding they found a copy of the Law and read it to the people. They were cut to the heart by what they heard, every word condemning them for their failure.
Yet, God's grace is greater than our failing. Nehemiah sent the people to rejoice, for the Word turned them back to God so that they might live, even for a brief period, in the covenant. They failed again, and again and again. God's mercy is overwhelming and He sent Jesus for their forgiveness. Through Jesus we are also forgiven. Though we do fail, and fail often, to live up to the command and expectations of our Lord, we also know that God is our strength. When we can't seem to do everything we need to do, we need only look to God to guide and direct our steps. It will take time to figure out this job position, but through it all we can rest assured that God is with us through it all. We can rejoice, even as we mourn our error, because Jesus brings forgiveness to the world and transforms us daily into His people. Thanks be to God.
Flamingos The other day I found the most interesting pen – it is topped with a puff-ball and feather flamingo. It is not a pen I will ever use, but since I love flamingos I thought it would look cute in my pencil box on my desk. Unfortunately, I also have cats in the house and Tigger is particularly likely to steal things that do not belong to him. I was out of the house for no more than ten minutes this morning. In that time, Tigger stole the pen and pulled out at least half of the feathers. I'm still finding feathers all over the house. I knew this would be a problem when I bought the pen but I was hoping he would be a good kitty for once. I took the pen but left some of the feathers on the floor. Hopefully he'll play with those and leave the flamingo alone.
I'm not sure why I like flamingos so much. Of course, they are beautiful and interesting birds. I think the whole idea of tacky plastic flamingos in my yard has merit – as a matter of fact, I have two of them in my garden. After seeing my pen spread out all over the floor, I thought it might be interesting to read about these interesting birds.
As with all animals, you could spend hours researching all the details of their bodies and lifestyle. I've always wondered why some are brightly colored while others are pale pink. Some are even gray. Why do they walk the way they do? How do they manage to clean those feathers in the back? I could write pages of interesting facts, but here's a few things I learned. There are many different types of flamingos which is why there are so many different colors. Have you ever wondered why the flamingo's knee folds opposite of a human knee? The reality is that what you think is the knee is actually the flamingo's ankle which is located halfway up the leg. The flamingo's knee is close to his body. The black feathers that are only visible when the wings are spread are the actual flight feathers. Every flamingo has twelve of these flight feathers. The pink feathers protect the skin and provide for aerodynamics.
I always thought that the color of the feathers had to do with some chemical reaction to the environment or some other similar factor. Yet, I have noticed in zoological displays that the birds in a single display often had different color feathers. If the color had to do with environmental conditions, the birds should have similar coloration. I've learned that the gray birds are young – they don't get their color until they are at least a year old, sometimes not until they are two. Also, flamingos, like other birds, lose their feathers during a molting period. Before they lose their feathers, the feathers lose the color. So, you can tell that an adult flamingo is ready to molt when it appears lighter or even white compared to the other birds.
"When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and straightway shall he glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered, Whither I go, thou canst not follow now; but thou shalt follow afterwards. Peter saith unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee even now? I will lay down my life for thee. Jesus answereth, Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice." John 13:31-38 (ASV)
Peter is like a flamingo. When we think of his ministry with Jesus, Peter offers us the perfect example of the things we should do and the things we should not do as disciples. He is often seen as a leader, the representative of all the disciples, speaking for them in conversation with Jesus. However, he also fails miserably. He is the one that confesses faith in Jesus as the Messiah and then turns around telling Jesus not to talk about dying. In today's passage he proclaims that he will follow Jesus into death, but at the moment when he can stand up for Jesus he denies Him.
Since we are so often attracted to the color of flamingos, the light, gray and white ones seem less beautiful. However, now we know that they are going through a change of life and they will soon have the beautiful pink coloration. Peter does not look very attractive in this particular passage. First of all, he was somewhat arrogant in his proclamation of undying loyalty to Jesus. And we know he will fail. Yet, Jesus does not stop loving Peter. In the end, Jesus draws Peter back into a deeper relationship with His love. It was like Peter was molting – losing his old feathers to get new ones as he went from a follower of Jesus into being a leader in Jesus' kingdom. There are times we too will look ugly as we lose sight of Christ and His purpose for us for a moment, but these are often times of transition. Jesus won't leave us, He'll love us all the more and bring us back into a deeper relationship so that we can move forward in faith to do His work. Thanks be to God.
Payment One of the greatest problems that Americans face is the massive amount of debt we have accumulated. We love having wonderful things. We buy houses that are just a little bit beyond our financial ability, and the mortgage companies willingly approve the loans. We get notices daily that we are pre-approved for credit cards and we accept too many of them. Then we use them to buy things we do not really need or consumables that are gone before we even see the bill. We end up paying interest on meals that we couldn't afford and that have long since passed through our system.
Most people have manageable debt and some economists that say a little debt is a good thing. Your credit rating is higher if you have a record of on time payments and responsible usage of the cards. However, some people take it too far and end up with maxed out cards and monthly payments beyond their ability to pay. They begin picking and choosing the bills they are going to pay and hoping that they will have a financial windfall before the creditors start knocking at their doors. There are numerous companies willing to help people through their financial troubles. They will design a program that consolidates the debt and establishes a monthly payment program. A small payment is much better than no payment at all. It is tough but possible to overcome this difficulty in life.
When a family realizes they are drowning in financial debt, they realize they need to account for every penny. They find ways to cut back and to save money. They prioritize their budget and remove from their life the things that are unnecessary. This is something we should probably all think about, even if we aren't having financial difficulty. They will cancel the cable or stop going out to eat every Friday night. They might take a lunch to work rather than purchase something at the snack bar. There are a million different ways we can save money.
Unfortunately, all too many people decide that one of the things they can reduce is their offering at church. They end up putting a pittance in the plate because it is all they have left after paying their bills. Some people put only a pittance in the plate even when they have more to give. The first place many people cut back is in offering to God. For some, this choice comes with a guilt so great that they even stop going to church. They feel if they can't give enough to God, then they shouldn't go to be in His presence.
"And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." Mark 12:41-44 (ASV)
There are times when we face difficulties and we do have to make the decision to cut back in all things, even perhaps our giving to the church and our offering to God. However, there is never a reason to stop worshipping Him within the fellowship of believers. Now, there was a difference between the widow and the rich folk – she gave all she could and they gave a pittance out of their wealth. Perhaps we can't give a great deal of money, and perhaps we can't even afford in our current situation to give as much as we would like. But God asks that you give as you are able and from the heart. He understands when life gets rough and He is patient and longsuffering when it comes to those He loves. Giving all that you can, whether it is a fortune or a pittance will be received by God when it is done in faith. God does not love us because of what we do for Him, but rather He loves us and out of that love comes our response of faith and joy to His mercy and grace. Thanks be to God.
Play It was late and I was getting ready for bed. Now, the kitties usually follow us to our room, but since I stayed up a little longer than usual on the computer, Felix was sound asleep on the chair in the den. He didn't even know Bruce had gone to bed. Tigger was awake, as usual, because he would much rather be a night owl, playing into the early morning hours. Felix is definitely the dominant male in the relationship, but Tigger is still a kitten and very demanding of the time.
When I went to bed, the kitties did not follow me. Tigger did run up eventually, but he was terribly disturbed by the fact that Felix was still sleeping downstairs. I invited Tigger to sleep, but he ran away from me. He went down the steps just far enough to be out of reach. I laughed at his silliness and went back into the room. He ran back upstairs and tried to coax me to follow him. I followed. He ran down the steps just so far and waited. I followed. He ran a little further. We did this until I was at the chair in the den where Felix lay sleeping.
I don't know if Tigger wanted me to wake Felix so they could play or if he was just so bothered by Felix not being where he was supposed to be, but I petted Felix and said goodnight then went to bed. Felix followed and so did Tigger. We settled down and everyone went to sleep. Whatever his intent, Tigger invited me into a conversation of sorts with Felix.
"On the morrow he was minded to go forth into Galilee, and he findeth Philip: and Jesus saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." John 1:43-51 (ASV)
It almost seems as though Jesus is playing with Nathanael, but it was obviously what he needed to follow Jesus. We may not fully understand his conversation, though the fig tree was apparently a favorite place for study and prayer in the heat of the day. However, we can see from this discussion that Jesus touched Nathanael right where he needed to be touched to draw him into the relationship. Jesus does the same thing for us. He may not immediately say "Follow me" but He draws us into His presence and leads us into a life changing relationship. Nathanael needed Jesus to acknowledge his faithfulness to his religious life and believed. Then Jesus promised far more. He comes to us right where we are and then He takes us further than we have ever been. Thanks be to God.
Pinocchio We are all familiar with the story of the little puppet named Pinocchio. Pinocchio was carefully created by a carpenter and loved as if he were a little boy. The carpenter had no children and he longed for Pinocchio to be real. A spell is cast and Pinocchio, though still wooden, is able to move about on his own. The only admonition to Pinocchio was that any lie would make his nose grow. Pinocchio ran away but eventually learned about honesty and trustworthiness. Eventually Pinocchio is transformed into a real boy.
We all know dozens of stories like this – fairy tales with a lesson. The lessons, while not directly related to biblical stories have their foundation in the messages we find in the scriptures. Cinderella is about the transforming power of love. Sleeping Beauty shows us how love can bring us out of the darkness and sleep that is caused by sin. Little Red Riding Hood shows us how to discern good from evil and warns us to beware of the wolf. Hansel and Gretel is a story about the dangers of falling into sin. Pinocchio tells us that what is hidden will be revealed.
The most obvious way Pinocchio teaches us the lesson that the hidden things will be made know is the growing nose. When Pinocchio lies, his nose gets bigger, revealing to those hearing that what he has said is not true. However, in the end he makes a loving sacrifice for the sake of his father the carpenter and is transformed into a living, breathing boy. The real boy was brought to life by the love of his father who had left everything to search for him.
"And he said unto them, Is the lamp brought to be put under the bushel, or under the bed, and not to be put on the stand? For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear." Mark 4:21-24 (ASV)
Our lives are not fairy tales. We do not always marry the prince and the evil in this world is not so easy to overcome. We don't go on great and exciting adventures all over the world. Though we may wish it were so, our problems are not solved by a wish or the flick of a magic wand. The world in which we live is filled with sin and death. However, there is also goodness, mercy, love and hope. We may not have a nose that grows with every lie we tell, but lies eventually are revealed. We may not marry the prince, but love transforms us, most particularly the love of Christ. Though we chase after adventure, meaning and even love, in the end it is the love of the Father that reveals what is hidden – the real boy that is buried by the sin that separates us from God. This love comes to us through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by whose blood we are set free to really live. Thanks be to God.
Bananas Bananas last about five minutes these days, it seems. Bruce loves to have them in the morning to get a good healthy start, but it seems like I'm constantly buying new ones because they become brown and rotten within a day or so. No matter whether you buy perfect looking bananas or go for the green ones, they are inedible before they can be eaten. This is no surprise because we live in a perishable and imperfect world. It is true of not only the bananas, but of everything created. Even the hearts of men are filled with corruption.
It is fascinating to read the stories of God's people in the scriptures. As we delve deeply into the life and times of men like Peter, Paul, Abraham, Noah and David, we can see that they failed at times, but they were loved by God and He was always faithful to His promises. He brought them through the difficulties of life not because they were righteous in the eyes of men but rather because they had faith. They believed in the promises and though they suffered the consequences of doubt, they looked to God for their strength.
David made some pretty big mistakes, like his affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband. He was a warrior and a great deal of blood was shed in his quest to do God's will. The corruption of the world was deeply imbedded in the house of David, his own children fought against him as king and threatened his life. Absalom stole the throne and raised the support of the people of Jerusalem. David knew he and his allies were in danger so they ran. The palace officials, the Levites with the arc of the covenant, his army and foreign soldiers all left Jerusalem with David until a time when they might return. David trusted in God – if Absalom's rebellion was from God, then David would accept his fate. If it wasn't of God, then David knew he would return.
"And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom. And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for else none of us shall escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us quickly, and bring down evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword. And the king's servants said unto the king, Behold, thy servants are ready to do whatsoever my lord the king shall choose. And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, that were concubines, to keep the house. And the king went forth, and all the people after him; and they tarried in Beth-merhak. And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men that came after him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? return, and abide with the king: for thou art a foreigner, and also an exile; return to thine own place. Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us, seeing I go whither I may? return thou, and take back thy brethren; mercy and truth be with thee. And Ittai answered the king, and said, As Jehovah liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, even there also will thy servant be. And David said to Ittai, Go and pass over. And Ittai the Gittite passed over, and all his men, and all the little ones that were with him. And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness. And, lo, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God; and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city. And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favor in the eyes of Jehovah, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation: but if he say thus, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him." 2 Samuel 15:13-26 (ASV)
I probably throw my bananas out way too fast, but I rarely have time to make anything with them such as banana bread, so once they are inedible I toss them in the garbage. Unfortunately, I think we are very quick to discard people when they prove to be imperfect. How many have left churches because they have discovered that the pastor is actually a fallible human being? How many are quick to desert a cause or a leader because they fail to live up to some sort of standard?
David did not deserve the loyalty of anyone. He did not even feel he deserved to have the arc of the covenant with him. The arc represented God's presence among his people, not among David's people. David would see the arc again when God restored him to his throne. The foreigners had no reason to be loyal to David. The Philistine soldiers came from a nation that had been defeated by David. Yet, they followed the one they believed to be the true king. We know they were right, for Absalom was defeated and David did return to Jerusalem. Perhaps things would have been different if David had been perfect, but we know that we are all perishable and that we live in a corrupt world. However, we can live in trust because God is faithful to all His promises. No matter what happens, in Christ we can believe that God will find favor and do to us as seems good to Him. Thanks be to God.
Emergency It is a long story how we got to or through the moment, but at about noon last Wednesday it became clear that I needed to rush to Houston to take care of my ailing father. I threw a few things into a bag and headed east, not even sure of the details when I began driving east. It took some time, but I managed to get Daddy into the right place. We waited for hours in the emergency room to discover what was wrong and what needed to be done. He was admitted and prepped for surgery. He is now resting, somewhat uncomfortably, and being cared for by the compassionate doctors, nurses and other care workers assigned to his case.
You never know how you will react to a situation like this until you are in the midst of it. I never thought I would have the strength or ability to take care of anyone in such an advanced state of ill health. I didn't have any experience to know what sort of questions to ask or knowledge enough of Daddy's condition to know what I could tell the doctors. I felt helpless most of the time, lost in the city and lost in the medical center. I had no power or control. All I had was love for my father and the will to go forward with his care as I was able.
It was a difficult time, but in many ways it was a blessing. I saw the best of human behavior, compassion and kindness from all who crossed my path from the hospital workers to the hotel clerks. If I needed directions, they found them for me. If I had questions, they patiently listened and answered as best they could. I discovered that my car tires were very low and though the gas station attendant was going to charge me for the work, he would not take my money when he finished. Patients and family members had words of comfort for me in the midst of their own difficulties and I know many people were praying. It was wonderful to see goodness in the actions of people, particularly since the world is often an uncompassionate and wicked place. Through it all, I could see God's hand and I was thankful for His presence among my travels last week.
"O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. My frame was not hidden from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in thy book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee." Psalm 139:1-18 (ASV)
This crisis is not over. Daddy is still in the hospital and will be for several weeks. I will need to drive to Houston as often as possible during that time. My family and I will face decisions and every possible emotion. We will have moments of confusion, doubt and perhaps even anger. We aren't going to have it easy at every turn. While many things went right, some things were difficult. It is frightening to be so out of control and to see how fragile life can be.
Yet, through it all, we can rest in the knowledge that God is in our midst, both in Spirit and in the hearts of the people He has sent our way. Our Lord Jesus Christ ensures that our prayers are heard and though the answers are not always what we wish them to be, we know God's way is beyond anything we can fully understand. There has never been a time, from before I was born, that the Lord God Almighty was not near. It is, however, at times of trouble when we truly realize how close He is. We see Him in the faces of the compassionate and in the actions of our neighbor. We feel Him in the touch of a hand or a desperately needed hug. We hear Him in the prayers that are spoken for our sake. He knows what I need, what my dad needs and what the rest of my family needs. Even as I walk forward in uncertainty, I can do so confidently that God is guiding my footsteps. Thanks be to God.
Library Have you ever really considered the amount of knowledge that can be found in one library? My own bookshelves are covered with hundreds of books, from children's stories to novels to reference materials. I have books about Christmas, faith, health, history and language. I can't even count the number of books about prayer or the books I haven't even read yet. I have a pile that is at least twenty volumes deep of books I intend to read soon. Somehow the pile just gets bigger.
I have a general idea of what is available in my library. If someone asked to borrow a book about grace, I know which ones would be good for them to read. If I'm looking for a poem or a certain person's perspective, I can certainly find it. However, I can't imagine every knowing everything that is available in those books. Magnify it by thousands and you have a public library. I just look at the law section and find the whole thing daunting. Can anyone ever really know everything in those books?
It is even worse when you consider knowledge of God. A.W. Tozer, in his book "The Knowledge of the Holy" wrote, "Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire his wisdom, but his holiness he cannot even imagine."
"Jehovah reigneth; let the peoples tremble: He sitteth above the cherubim; let the earth be moved. Jehovah is great in Zion; And he is high above all the peoples. Let them praise thy great and terrible name: Holy is he. The king's strength also loveth justice; Thou dost establish equity; Thou executest justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt ye Jehovah our God, And worship at his footstool: Holy is he. Moses and Aaron among his priests, And Samuel among them that call upon his name; They called upon Jehovah, and he answered them. He spake unto them in the pillar of cloud: They kept his testimonies, And the statute that he gave them. Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings. Exalt ye Jehovah our God, And worship at his holy hill; For Jehovah our God is holy." Psalm 99 (ASV)
No one can know everything in every book ever written. It would be impossible for anyone to even read every book, let alone remember all the details. A librarian would have more knowledge than most people. At least she would know where to find a book on the subject. She might even be able to suggest the right book. The volumes found in a law library would be overwhelming to someone who has not studied law. Even the lawyers do not know everything found in those books. The best they can do is know where they might find the information we need.
The same is true when it comes to the holiness of God. We can study God, know the history of His people, learn and follow His law. We can try to live according to His wisdom and His love. However, there is no way we can possibly even imagine the holiness of God. His ways, His thoughts, His purposes are higher than human flesh can attain. The best we can do is to know Jesus Christ, and in Him we see the holiness in flesh and through Him we have a glimpse of what we will one day know in eternity. Thanks be to God.
Parade The Lord does not always answer prayers as we expect. When we are dealing with sickness, we pray for health. When we are in financial difficulty we pray for a windfall. When we are lonely, we pray for friends. When we are lost, we pray to find our way. There are those who teach that we should be very specific with our prayers. If we want a house, we should pray for the house we want, giving God every detail of our desires. They say that if we are in need of a car, we should pray for the car we want instead of asking God for transportation. If we are not specific, God may just give us a bike when we really need a car.
However, in the midst of our troubles He often takes us in a completely different direction than we think we need to go. Are we willing to hear God's answer to our prayers and receive it in faith, trusting that God's plan will bring us blessings we can never imagine? Suppose God's answer to a house is not exactly in the neighborhood we desire, but rather in a place where we can share Jesus Christ with someone in need. How often do we reject God's answers to our prayers because they don't fit into our expectation, even though the outcome would be far greater than anything we can imagine?
What must it have been like for Joshua? He knew God's promises. The Promised Land was to belong to Israel and he knew God would be faithful to get them there safely. Yet, at every turn they faced enemies. Wouldn't it have been easier for God to just remove the obstacles for His people? Then they could have marched to their new homeland without fear or war. They could settle safely and easily into the life had ordained for the nation. God's answer to Joshua's prayer would have been startling for us today.
"Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in. And Jehovah said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thy hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor. And ye shall compass the city, all the men of war, going about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And it shall be, that, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him. And Joshua the son of Nun called the priests, and said unto them, Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of Jehovah. And they said unto the people, Pass on, and compass the city, and let the armed men pass on before the ark of Jehovah. And it was so, that, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before Jehovah passed on, and blew the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of Jehovah followed them. And the armed men went before the priests that blew the trumpets, and the rearward went after the ark, the priests blowing the trumpets as they went. And Joshua commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor let your voice be heard, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout." Joshua 6:1-10 (ASV)
Joshua knew that God would hand Jericho over to the Israelites. How strange it must have seemed to the people that God was calling for them to have a parade. It would have been very tempting to use their military might against the city. After all, its fall was in God's plan anyway. Couldn't they just get it over with and move on? However, God had something amazing planned. The fall of Jericho was not meant to show Joshua's power or the might of Israel's army. The battle of Jericho would show the world the power of God. He can make the world fall apart with the blow of a single trumpet.
Our world may seem like it is falling apart all around us, and we may have a definite idea of what needs to happen to make things better. So, we go to the Lord in prayer. It is not wrong to ask God for what we need, He even assures us He will hear and answer. What we should not do is expect God to answer according to our every whim and desire. God's ways are higher than our ways. His holiness is greater than we can imagine. What we think would be best is not always best. Let us go forth in faith trusting that if God can make the walls of Jericho fall with the sound of a trumpet, then He do amazing things in our life according to His good and perfect word. Thanks be to God.