Welcome to the August 2009 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 2009
August 3, 2009
Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2009: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.
We’ve all had this experience. We sit down at the computer just to check a few things on the Internet, and we get caught up in surfing. An hour later we realize that we’ve been sitting in front of the computer and we haven’t really accomplished anything. I clicked a link on a friend’s Facebook page this morning and ended up surfing through a dozen other sites. Nothing was wrong with the sites; as a matter of fact they were informational and inspirational. However, I lost a half hour of time without even realizing time was passing.
This happens with computer games, too. I know I shouldn’t open the game; there are other things that need to be done. But I promise myself I will only sit there for fifteen minutes and justify the time as a necessity. After all, we all deserve a break now and then, right? Then I open the game and end up playing much longer than my allotted fifteen minutes, convincing myself that just one more game, or two or three, won’t hurt anyone. When I look at the clock, I’m shocked to see that another evening has passed and the dinner dishes are still sitting in the sink.
Oh, the world is not going to end because I’ve waited until the morning to do the dishes. No one has been victimized by my enjoyment of a video game and actually, someone might just benefit from the information I find while surfing the Internet. But what has been lost? I’d planned to accomplish many things that have been put off another day because I was busy playing on the computer. It just takes one click of a button and we lose track of time. That’s my temptation. That’s the thing that I can’t seem to control. Your temptation might be different. Can you eat more than one M&M? Or potato chip? Can you enjoy just one drink? Do you get caught up in shopping and lose track of how much money you’ve put on your credit card?
We all have something that we know we should avoid but we think we can keep it under control. We click that button or eat that potato chip certain that this time we can stop before we go overboard. But as soon as we open the door, we find ourselves lost in the very things we vow to avoid. In the end, we’ve probably not hurt anyone by wasting our time or eating a few too many chips, but we have succumbed to temptation and next time it will be harder to resist.
Paul writes that we should not give place to the devil. Now, most of us wouldn’t think that surfing the Internet or eating potato chips are not tools of the devil. They aren’t evil, after all. But Paul shows us how one thing can build into something much worse. It is alright to be angry, and sometimes it is justified. Anger helps us to deal with aspects of our life, spurring us to action when things are not just and right and true. Jesus got angry and He dealt with it. But Paul reminds us not to let the sun go down on our anger. By doing so, we open the door to allow the devil into our anger which will take us to something worse, even violence.
So, instead of clicking that button on the computer, I have to find something better to do with my time. Instead of eating that one potato chip that will become a bagful, we can look for a healthier more filling snack. Instead of going to bed angry, we can respond to the situation with God-like qualities, spurred to action that will bring reconciliation and restoration. Like God, we close the door to temptation by walking in love, forgiving each other and being kind to one another. We can sacrifice our desires by offering ourselves as a sacrifice to God, for the sake of others, just like Jesus did for us.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2009: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
John 6:35, 41-51 Jesus said unto them. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst… The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, I am the bread which came down out of heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how doth he now say, I am come down out of heaven? Jesus answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he that is from God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth hath eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
I remember going on a school field trip when I was young to a local bread factory. We saw the huge vats of flour and the gigantic machines that kneaded, shaped, baked, cut and wrapped the fresh bread. I’m sure that I, like most of the other youngsters on that trip, was probably bored by the tour. But we all loved the day away from school. And at the end of the tour, we were each given a slice of fresh baked bread. Now, the brand was a great brand anyway, but when eaten minutes after it was sliced in the factory it is an experience we can all remember. The factory is located near a major highway near my hometown, and every time I drove by the factory and smelled that bread, I remembered the taste of that slice of bread eaten so long ago.
What sort of memories do you have of bread? I remember how my father used to purchase this type of bread shaped like a half circle and a type of chopped ham shaped exactly the same. The bread and ham made wonderful sandwiches. And when my mom catered a hospitality room, she used to make mini hot dog rolls to go with the mini hot dogs cooked in barbeque sauce. She took frozen bread dough and cut it into a million little pieces and baked it. It seemed like a lot of work for something no one expected, but it was so worthwhile because no one expected rolls with their cocktail wieners. Even now I can smell the crescent rolls baking for holiday meals.
From the beginning of time, every culture has had some sort of bread around which the community gathered. Whether it is leavened or unleavened, white or dark, flat or raised, hard or soft, bread is a staple in every household. We are blessed to live at a time when we can share in the cultures of so many other people, enjoying the bread of their homelands. When else in history could we eat pita bread from Greece and tortillas from Mexico, sourdough from San Francisco and the croissants from France? Sometimes we even eat bread made in its country of origin. But we have also brought with us the heritage of our forefathers. Some people are still making sourdough bread out of starter that came with their ancestors when they moved from the old world centuries ago.
When there is nothing else to eat, somehow there always seems to be enough grain and oil to make a loaf of some sort of bread. The Bible is filled of stories about desperate people eating bread when there is nothing left. In 1 Kings 17, God kept the flour and oil jars full for Elijah and the widow of Zarepath. The bread they made from those jars kept them alive through the famine. When three visitors came to Abraham’s tent, Sarah made bread for them to eat. In Acts 27, the boat on which Paul was being taken to Rome for trial was beaten by a powerful storm. Paul blessed some bread and made the men eat it so that they would survive the trial they faced. When Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, Satan tempted him by telling him to make bread out of the rocks. Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread.
It is so appropriate that Jesus would call Himself the bread of life. Who else could be the One around whom the world can gather in fellowship. Who else can provide us with the nourishment needed to survive? Who else could fill our bellies and our spirits with hope and peace and joy? The words in today’s passage were not well received by those who heard them, but they are remembered by us today as we gather together around the Lord’s Table. We have been given the greatest gift: eternal life. It is a present reality and a future hope. As we live, eating the bread that is on our table, we also have the bread of life to sustain us through the times of hunger and feasting.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2009: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
We have made God fit into a box of our own creation. In other words, we have decided what God likes and what God doesn’t like, what God means when He says what He says. We have made Him into our image. I don’t just mean you and me; I mean all human beings. We have always defined God according to our own biases and cultural preferences. We think God loves the things that we love. We think God hates the things we hate. We are certain that God is fighting all our battles for us, and that God is on our side of every debate.
We do not realize how we spin the words to mean what we want them to mean. We don’t realize that God has a wider view of the world than we do and so we expect that He will do what He does from our point of view. The box in which we have captured God might be beautiful. It might be good. It might be right. It might be biblical. But the box in which other’s have put their version of the God of heaven and earth might just be beautiful, good, right, and biblical. How can this be, we wonder? Can it really be both ways? We won’t fully understand the God who has been our Creator, our Provider and our Redeemer. We cannot fully comprehend the love God has not only for us and those like us, but also for the others, even our enemies.
The bottom line is this: we aren’t any different than those who have passed through this world from the beginning of time. We aren’t any different than Elijah who wanted to control the end of his life because he did not know how to deal with those who threatened his ministry and his life. We are just like the Ephesians who let disagreements disrupt the Christian unity of the fellowship of believers. The Jews in this week’s Gospel lesson wanted to make Jesus king, to make Him an earthly ruler without any spiritual consequences. They were not willing to hear the things that Jesus had to say to them. They were shocked by His teaching. This was fine when He was willing to give them everything they wanted, but they could not accept shocking and radical as the idea that Jesus is the bread of life. After all, He was asking them to eat the bread, and then He told them He was the bread. We react to His words in much the same way. We want to make Him what we want Him to be and interpret His words to say what we want Him to say.
What does Jesus say that we don’t want to hear? What is Jesus calling us to hear and believe that doesn’t fit into our tidy idea about God and His Kingdom? How is He prodding us to look beyond what we know and understand? Where is He showing us mercy and grace and asking us to be His hands and His heart? To whom is He sending us to love as He loved us? He didn’t come to fit into our box. He came to show us what it is like to live in God’s kingdom and to die so that we can do so. It is a shocking image of God that Jesus gave to us. Even though we have the benefit of the Holy Spirit and the faith He gives, we still try to make Jesus into the Messiah we want rather than the Messiah He is.
It is of Jehovah's lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. Jehovah is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. (Lamentations 3:22-24, ASV)
I won’t know for sure until later this afternoon, but we are well on our way to our 41st day this summer with temperatures over 100 degrees. The record was broken last week and though there have been a few days this summer with highs in the 90’s, overall the temperatures have been extraordinarily hot. The water is hot coming out of the faucets. People are buying ice to cool down their swimming pools. I begin sweating even as I reach toward the door of my house. A salesman came to my door today soaking wet with sweat from walking around the neighborhood. We could definitely use a change.
We don’t get any rain, either. We have gone for twenty-two months without any appreciable rain. Brown is the new green in our region, particularly since we are under water restrictions. In some places you can’t even add water to the swimming pool, and so some pools are being closed down even though the hot weather is expected to last for weeks to come. Even though we know a hurricane is not the solution to our situation, we could use the water that comes with a tropical storm to renew the ground and restore water levels in the aquifer, the rivers and the lakes. We could definitely use a change.
While there are things about the world and our lives that we would like to see change, change is usually very hard. I went into a favorite store recently only to find that it has been reorganized. I was expecting my trip to take just a few minutes, but I had to wander the aisles to discover where they moved all the things I needed to purchase. Perhaps the store needed a change, but it was a change I could have lived without.
I remember when I decided three years ago to write A WORD FOR TODAY using the lectionary. At first a number of my readers were disappointed because they enjoyed the spontaneous way I could work the exciting and boring aspects of our life into words of inspiration for others. Many readers enjoyed hearing about our adventures through the writing; for some it was even a way to keep up with our family. It was harder to be impulsive during the past three years of writing because I was limited by the lectionary. The advantage to using the lectionary is that we were able to look at the text together, guided by an established set of scriptures we spent more time considering how the Bible works together to tell us about God and His kingdom. We also saw those scriptures in the context of the church calendar. Since the lectionary is designed to give us the story of God in a year, and more fully over three years, I found myself using texts that I would probably never use if I were selecting the scriptures based on my experiences.
Reaction to my question last week was mixed, some wanted to continue with the lectionary and others wanted me to go with whatever inspired me. As you can see, I’ve decided to return to the more flexible format. With this return the old way, I’ll have the freedom to write a series of devotions if the calendar or my experiences give me that opportunity. I haven’t given up the lectionary; after all, I still write Midweek Oasis every Wednesday. If you enjoy my thoughts on the lectionary text, be sure to subscribe to that devotional. For one reason or another I was unable to write about every week during the past three years, so I will keep a careful eye on the lectionary and will occasionally use those texts for A WORD FOR TODAY.
Sometimes change is a good thing. Sometimes it is hard. I’m sure that as many of you will be disappointed with my decision as will be happy with it. The transition will not be easy. I’ll have to establish new patterns for writing and new ways to find inspiration in the world in which we live. But, it is often during those times of change when we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our God. Change is a time for a new beginning, a new day. Through it all, we are reminded that God is faithful and whatever happens with the weather or our lives, our hope is in Him.
“…in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will; to the end that we should be unto the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14, ASV)
In today’s episode of the comic strip “Cathy,” Cathy is typing away at her computer keyboard. “Joyce,” she says. “I hadn’t thought about her in 30 years… And then she popped up as a ‘Facebook friend.” In the next panel she says, “Spent the last 45 minutes trying to write a witty retort to her pithy comment on my clever quip about her funny user profile.” Then she asks herself, “Why? Why am I wasting even one second on this person?!” In the end, we see that it is her competitive spirit that keeps her going, and makes her worry when she can’t one-up her old friend.
I laughed when I read the comic, but I was laughing at myself. I hate to admit how many times I’ve sat at my computer keyboard with Facebook open, agonizing over what I should put as my status on my profile. After all, the news that you think it is hot outside is only interesting so many times. People do not necessarily care about every thought you have or every movement you make. There is a commercial about cell phones that shows two teenagers nagging their parents about their overuse of modern technology. “Stop writing ‘I love you’ all over my Facebook page!” the daughter says. Meanwhile, Dad is posting “I am on the porch” to his twitter and the son answers, “I know you are on the porch.” We can get pretty caught up with these things.
I know that not everyone is interested in Facebook or any of the other networking sites, but they all have users in the millions. As a matter of fact, at last count (which was months ago) Facebook had over 220,000,000 users around the world Some users rarely visit, but watching my own Facebook page tells me that a high percentage visit at least once a week, and many visit daily. Some are even accessing from their phones, sending status reports via wireless, making them completely accessible all the time.
It all came crashing down yesterday when hackers got into Twitter and Facebook, causing a disruption to service for both sites. Twitter was shut down completely for awhile, which upset some users. How were they going to tweet their friends? Some even complained that they didn’t know what was going on because they get all their news from their Twitter! Since Twitter couldn’t tweet the problem to the users, the users were left in the dark. Facebook was not as badly affected, but it was slow enough to make us post our frustration.
Does it matter? Of course not: life will go on if the world doesn’t know my every thought and movement today. The earth will continue to turn on its axis if I don’t use my free daily credits to buy puzzles or if I don’t feed my virtual pet. These are fun things to do, but is there a lesson to be learned on those days like yesterday when they are unavailable? If we feel like Cathy, worried about whether or not we can one-up our friends, are we using the tool as it is meant to be used or are we giving it a priority in our lives that is little more than a waste of our time? How great would it have been if Cathy had taken the opportunity to renew her friendship with Joyce rather than spend her time trying to make cuter posts? The restoration of that relationship just might have been more than a coincidence.
A crash like yesterday gives us the opportunity to reconsider the purpose of our time spent on the networking sites. Is there something we can, or should, be doing? Are there opportunities to encourage forgiveness and reconciliation? Are there people who could use a word of hope or who need to be challenged to live a better life? Instead of one-upping other users, can we use our time to restore people and share God’s grace?
“For thou wilt light my lamp: Jehovah my God will lighten my darkness.” Psalm 18:28, ASV
Victoria spent the summer working as a counselor at a church camp. She left home Memorial Day weekend and finished her contract on Saturday. We didn’t know exactly when she would be ready to leave, but she suggested that we should be at the camp between 8:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. to pick her up. They were going into town for dinner and then they would celebrate the season with one last worship service together.
We didn’t have any other details, so when we arrived at the camp we tried to wander around a bit to see if we could find the worship. The camp is located in a valley, with the cabins built along the side of one hill and a hiking trail up the other side to a lovely bluff with a large cross which overlooks the entire camp. They have typical camp activities: a creek with fishing and canoeing, a swimming pool, a sports court and a fire ring. The opportunities for places to worship are many. Despite the size of the camp, the valley makes it easy to hear activity from everywhere, particularly at night when everything else is so quiet.
We parked the car and tried to figure out where they were having their worship. The camp was extremely dark. The cabins were all closed and the path lighting was turned off, the only light came from the dining hall. My first inclination was to head toward the chapel, thinking they must be worshipping there because walking to any of the other sites would be dangerous in the dark. The chapel was quiet. I thought perhaps they were at the sports court, I know that singing can easily be heard from anywhere in the camp from there. We settled down on benches outside the dining hall and waited, knowing Victoria would call us when she was available.
Even though it was quiet, it wasn’t silent when we were sitting there in the woods in the dark, especially since I was constantly listening for sounds of worship. I thought I heard the strum of a guitar. The sound of a car came from what seemed like the wrong direction. I couldn’t immediately identify the sound of the ice machine working, so I thought it was something else. Eventually my phone rang and it was Victoria. “We’re about ten minutes from camp. See you soon.” They weren’t even on site. I was listening for something that wasn’t there, I was and trying make every sound be what I wanted to hear. When we finally saw the car lights of the vehicles coming back to camp, we relaxed and waited patiently for Victoria to arrive.
How often do we feel like we are wandering around in the darkness, desperately listening for something to give us an idea of what is happening? The darkness is not necessarily literal, like it was for us on Saturday, but there are times when we can see more than a few feet in front of us. We can be in darkness when we are dealing with health issues, financial difficulties, job stress or troubled relationships. We don’t know what is next. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Will be get well? Will we have enough money to buy food? Will we have a job? Can the relationship be restored? We listen for every sound, hoping to find an answer, but in the darkness it is hard to know whether the sounds are real. It is when the light shines that we realize that all will be well, no matter what happens. Because God is in that light and He is with us through good and bad. He is our light and in Him we can rest and live in peace.
“Then shalt thou understand righteousness and justice, And equity, yea, every good path. For wisdom shall enter into thy heart, And knowledge shall be pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall watch over thee; Understanding shall keep thee…” (Proverbs 2:9-11. ASV)
Zachary is volunteering at a golf camp this week and I have to drive him to the course during rush hour. The drive is not terrible most days, although it usually does take a few minutes longer on weekdays than it takes on weekends. It can take even longer if there is a traffic incident, and there are often minor problems and occasionally major problems during rush hour. Today was one of those bad days. An hour before we had to leave I saw a traffic report that made me groan. There were two major problems along our route. An hour is a long time, so it was my hope that the congestion would be gone by the time we had to leave, but I told Zack we should get ready to leave a few minutes early so that we would have extra time to get there.
There are few detours along our route and most of them are not really timesaving. What’s the point of avoiding stop and go traffic on a highway to travel through stop and go traffic of a city street with a stoplight every few blocks? However, as we approached the entrance ramp of the highway, I saw the traffic was moving very slowly even on the access roads, so I made a last minute decision to follow a back road that is not very well known by the commuters using the highway. It seemed like a good idea in the beginning. The speed limit was much slower and the road was more crowded than usual, but we traveled steady.
We traveled steady until we came to the stop sign. It was then that I realized how many more cars were trying to avoid the traffic jam on the highway. It seemed to take forever, but we eventually made it through and we managed to get back to the highway beyond the problem. We never came across the second problem so it must have been cleared, so we made it to the golf course in good time. I could occasionally catch glimpses of the highway as I drove on that back road and it didn’t seem like traffic was moving as slowly as I thought. I wondered all along whether I’d made the right decision to take the detour. In the end, I don’t know if our detour saved us time, but I was glad that it didn’t make matters worse.
We don’t always know the best route to take and we often make the wrong choice. The same is true about our daily living. We are constantly facing decisions; each one is like facing a crossroads. We might be able to see a little way ahead, and we base our conclusion on what we see and what we think is beyond our sight. Do we buy a new car? Do we go for that job? Do we have children or change our major at college or move to a new state? There might be good reason to choose one path, but there might be a completely different good reason to take the other. Even when we get to the end of the road we might not always know whether we made the right choice.
The Proverb for today talks about the benefits of wisdom. It calls for us to seek God in all things, to cry out to Him for wisdom. One way might not be better or worse than another, but when we seek to live in God’s wisdom we will rest in peace knowing that whatever path we take, we take it with God at our side. As we face God in prayer, we come closer to Him and His word is more deeply imbedded in our hearts. Then, with His grace, we’ll walk the good path, make the right decisions, and live in His mercy forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2009: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58 (Since some of the readers wanted to hear thoughts on the lectionary, I thought I would do something on Wednesday of each week using those texts.)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” (John 6:53, ASV)
As I read this week’s scripture, I found seemingly opposing themes running through the texts: fear and wisdom. It seems so odd that these two things would go hand in hand. We understand fear as an emotional response to danger. It is our reaction to the things we do not understand and is often a sign of immaturity, inexperience and naivety. As children we are afraid of the dark, but as we grow and mature we no longer suffer from that fear. Many people suffer from stage fright, but as they get used to public speaking they are not as afraid. The more we know and understand, the less naïve we become about the world, giving us the confidence to be bold.
So, wisdom overcomes fear, and yet we learn from the Bible that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Are we really supposed to emotionally respond to God as if He is dangerous? Our God is certainly most powerful, but He doesn’t call us to be afraid. Fear of earthly troubles makes us hide. It makes us react without sense or in a crazy manner. Fear of the dark or public speaking or the world makes it impossible for us to experience the things that will make us even more mature and experienced. When we hide from the world, we waste the time that God has given us to live and learn and love.
Paul writes, “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Paul is not trying to make the people of Ephesus afraid of the world in which they lived, although many people are living exactly like that in today’s world. It appears to many people that the days in which we live are also evil. We are afraid because we do not know what tomorrow holds or how to get through today. But Paul calls us to respond with reason rather than reaction. Foolish people respond to fear with senselessness. Wisdom responds to the times by seeking the will of God.
Imagine what it must have been like for the people in Jesus’ day. Over the past few weeks we’ve heard Jesus move further and further into this idea that He is the bread of life. Bread is meant to be eaten, but how could He expect them to eat Him? It is not until this week, however, that we get the full picture of what Jesus is trying to teach them. His words are shocking, disgusting and against the Law. This man they had followed, to whom the looked for healing and provision, was giving Himself as food to eat. They aren’t carnivores. They couldn’t drink human blood. It must have been frightening for them to hear these words. The man they looked to as their Messiah was turning the world upside down.
He answered their questions with an oath, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves.” To the Jews who heard these words, the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood would not be life-giving. As a matter of fact, it was cause for death! This was too much for many of the disciples and Jesus’ following became much smaller. They were afraid, but not of the God who offers eternal life. They were afraid of the consequences of the things they did not understand.
Those who followed Jesus were simple people, often even foolish. They did not fully know or understand the things He was teaching them. But like the psalmist, Jesus was teaching through word and dead a healthy fear of the Lord. He was calling the people to depart from evil, to do good, to seek peace and to pursue it. The fear of the Lord is doing good and seeking peace. It is about building right relationships and supplying justice. Feasting on the bread of life is sharing in the ultimate act of justice, where God Himself gave His Son over to pay for the sins of the world.
So, Wisdom calls us to feast, to set aside our simple and foolish ways to join in the meal she has prepared. What she has to offer is a new kind of life. It is a life that is not led by reactions to fear but with reasoned response to what God has provided. This is a life we are called to seek, and yet we need not seek because it is a life we have been called into. We become wise not by our own ability or actions but because the way has been prepared for us. We become mature not because we have grown older and have learned it on our own, but because God has invited us into His presence through His Son and a meal.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32, ASV)
“Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20, ASV)
We had a little bit of rain last night. It was just a little bit, not even worth mentioning when weather conditions are normal, but here in Texas where we are dealing with a drought that has lasted nearly two years, every drop matters. We had barely a trace, but some places received almost two inches. And it rained in the right places. The rain that fell will flow into the aquifer which will continue to supply the city and surrounding areas for at least a few more days. Since the residents have been doing a good job at conserving water, the city has been able to put off stage three restrictions. A little bit is not quite enough but it helped.
I made whipped cream a few days ago to have with fresh strawberries and white cake. I don’t use a recipe when I’m making whipped cream; I usually just pour a little bit of vanilla and add a little bit of sugar. Unfortunately, the bottle slipped as I was pouring in the vanilla and too much fell into the cream. There was no way to take out the extra once it was in there, so I added some extra sugar. It tasted fine, but I could have used far less vanilla and sugar in the dessert. A little bit would have been enough.
When Bruce was still an active duty member of the Air Force, I was taken on a tour of the base with other spouses. We saw the hangers and heard the stories about the important work that is done. We flew on one of the airplanes. We were even given an opportunity to play with the night vision goggles. The base had a small building with no windows and special lighting for the members to practice using the equipment. Inside the room there was a relief map with every type of terrain and human habitation, from small villages to big cities. The special lighting could be set to correspond to the type of conditions they might experience. One setting was for a moonlit night, another took into account the clouds. One setting was to help them see what it might be like if they were using the goggles in a cityscape, another was for use in heavily forested area. As we each had the chance to wear the goggles, we were cautioned to keep them off while the regular lights were on in the room. Too much light could seriously damage the eyes. Night vision goggles work best when it is very dark. They magnify the heat or energy in the air and make a dark place seem very light. As we were sharing the goggles the room was extremely dark, those of us without them could not see anything, but those wearing the goggles could see every last detail on the map. A little light is perfect; more light would have been too much.
Isn’t it interesting the things we try to measure? The rain we had yesterday fell hard and long in some places, but the airport where the official record is taken only received .04”. I could have used a measuring spoon for my vanilla, but I’m not even sure how much I need unless I taste it. It is impossible to measure light when there appears to be no light with our naked eyes. So, how do you measure faith? How much is a little? How much is enough? All too often it seems like I have not quite enough faith. Sometimes it seems like a little bit would have been more than enough. Sometimes a little bit seems like too much.
I don’t know about you, but I have never moved a mountain and some things seem impossible to me. Yet a little bit of faith is enough to get me through the dark times. It is enough to quench my thirst. It is enough to give flavor to my life. It is enough because with a little bit of faith we keep our eyes on God, and we know that in His presence nothing that matters is insurmountable. A little bit is truly enough when our faith rests in the God who can do everything and who always does what is best for those whom He loves.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13, ASV)
I have to admit that we screen our calls. I remember once when I was visiting my sister thinking that is was strange how she could ignore the telephone when it was ringing. What if it is an emergency? What if it is important? What if it is a friend? I couldn’t let the ringing go on and on. Then we moved here and we set up our phone to have caller ID. Even then I thought I’d answer it, but it didn’t take long before I was checking to see the number. If it is a toll free number or “unknown caller” I don’t even bother to pick it up. I do answer the calls from people I know and from local telephone numbers. Those I don’t answer can’t possibly be an emergency and if it is important the caller will leave a message on voice mail.
The one problem with this system is that there are occasionally calls from toll free numbers that have real business to do with someone on this end of the line. Unfortunately, most of the time these calls are for people who don’t even live here. We have received numerous calls from bill collectors who urgently needed to talk to a customer. When we get messages like this we have to make a decision. Do we trust that the caller was legitimate and let them know they dialed a wrong number? Or do we protect ourselves from possible phishers and ignore the call?
I usually call them back and report the error, knowing that it could be difficult for the customer. How can she call back if she doesn’t know there’s a problem? And if we do not let someone know about the error, there will be a misunderstanding between the company and the customer. Do we really believe someone who says, “I never got the call,” especially if they are in trouble already?
Most of the time the people who answer at the company are thankful for my return call. I have, however, also been questioned about my relationship with the person they think they called. They ask if that person lives in the house or if they have ever lived in the house. They ask if I know the person or if I have any way of contacting them. I understand the need to ask the questions, but not all the people are kind about it. I’ve gone out of my way to let them know that someone is wrong and they respond with accusations. It makes a person wish they hadn’t bothered.
Once I answered and it was a student from a local college taking a survey. The call ended up lasting over a half hour, time I really didn’t have. On another occasion, I answered to find on the other end of the line a very talkative representative from a credit card company who wanted to make sure I was happy with my service. She ended up chatting away about the weather and personal information about herself as she tapped away at her computer. These calls make me nervous because I don’t want to give out any information over the phone, but it is even worse when it seems as though the caller is trying to keep me on the line.
I still sometimes wonder, is it right to ignore those calls? After all, in some cases there is an important purpose to the call and it would be easier for everyone if I just answered it. The caller is just doing their job, and so by ignoring them, we are ignoring their person and vocation. There was probably a time that it would have been wrong to ignore the calls. However, modern technology has made it possible for computers to dial the numbers. Sometimes a person isn’t even available at the other end if you pick up. Is it right for those companies to harass customers with such calls? This might not seem important, or even a matter of faith. But it is a question about how people treat one another. And though we might rightly decide to continue screening our calls, it is worthwhile wondering how we might be affecting the people at the other end of the line each time we do.
“For this is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, I am the bread which came down out of heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how doth he now say, I am come down out of heaven? Jesus answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.” (John 6:41-44, ASV)
On this day forty years ago a major event came to a close: Woodstock. The three days of music has always been remembered as an event that defined a group of people. The Woodstock Nation came to identify the youth counterculture of the sixties. They stood for peace (no war) and freedom (to follow every desire) and these were definitely the themes for the three days. It rained, there were not enough facilities or first aid for so many people but though it seemed chaotic, the weekend passed with only two deaths: one drug overdose and one person accidentally run over by a tractor.
The concert began as a way of making money to build a music studio in the small upstate town of Woodstock. The promoters expected about two hundred thousand fans, but by the time the bands were playing there were nearly half a million people. Concerned that the crowds would knock down the fenses and cause a riot, they stopped selling tickets and allowed all who came to enjoy the music. There was something about the event that drew people together. They came from far away to gather for this incredible event and we are still remembering it today.
We can’t always identify the reason why people are drawn to a person or a place. Who would have thought that a concert, which didn’t even attract the biggest acts of that day, in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm would attract half a million people? It was, perhaps, the right time because of the culture of those who would be interested in the music. They had the freedom to travel and the desire to share in the excitement. The promoters must have done a good job getting the word out, an amazing accomplishment in the days before the Internet and Twitter. Whatever it was, people were drawn to that farm and despite the uncomfortable conditions they stayed to share in some of the most incredible moments in music history.
Have you ever thought how ridiculous it is that there is even a Christian Church? Jesus was a nobody. He was the son of a carpenter, born in a small town that was ridiculed for being outside the accepted culture of the day. Jesus gathered a ramshackle group of helpers, fishermen and other men who were uneducated and even sinful in the eyes of the religious class. They wandered from city to city, relying on the goodness of hosts. Jesus preached a word of hope and healed the sick, but he said things that didn’t make sense and even seemed to contradict what the priests taught and the people believed to be true. He lost much of his following when His words became unbearable, but a few people continued to follow. Then He was crucified! How could anyone believe in what He had to say?
Despite the rumors circulated by those in leadership, the people began to believe the reports that Jesus was raised from the dead. He appeared to a few: the disciples, a few crowds, individuals. Slowly but surely, others began to believe based on their testimonies. By the day of Pentecost, something was drawing the crowds to the disciples. Hundreds, even thousands wanted to see what was happening. It doesn’t make sense; it is even ridiculous to think about.
I don’t know what made so many people want to join in a music festival in upstate New York forty years ago, but Christianity did have something that would draw people: the Holy Spirit. God puts a flicker of faith into the heart, the Word fans those flames, and the faith He has given makes people want to draw near to learn more and experience God’s grace more fully. It is hard for us to see in today’s world because it doesn’t seem as though many people are being drawn to the Church any more. We spend a lot of money trying to promote the things we do as a people of God. We create fun experiences that we think will draw the people into our community. But I think we sometimes forget that it isn’t about what we can offer to the people, but what God has done. We try too hard and we do not leave the room for God to do what He does. After all, it is never the things we do that draws people into God’s presence; it is God Himself that does so.
“How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, My King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: They will be still praising thee. Selah Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; In whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; Yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; Every one of them appeareth before God in Zion. O Jehovah God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah Behold, O God our shield, And look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield: Jehovah will give grace and glory; No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Jehovah of hosts, Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee. “ (Psalm 84, ASV)
When we went on vacation in July, we decided to make our trip as comfortable as possible. We went to west Texas, and we planned to visit several different landmarks that were hours from one another. We decided to pick a central location to sleep, then drove in a different direction each day. The hotel we chose was affordable, so we upgraded to a suite to give us enough space to stretch our legs and rest from our daily adventures. It was very nice to have a large comfortable place to go after a long day of sitting in the car.
I saw an article online today about a hotel in New York that is making its mark by having tiny rooms for a cheaper than average cost. The rooms are barely big enough for a twin size bed, but with careful design has room for storage and a flat screen television. The guest must share a bath with other guests, but for one third the cost of a normal hotel room in New York City, it might be worthwhile. I don’t know how comfortable it would be if the guest needed to stay in the room for long periods of time, but if you are in town for business or you plan to spend long days touring the museums and attending the theater, you probably don’t need much more than a place to lay your head.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I spend a long time planning my vacations. I don’t necessarily plan every minute of every day, but I do as much research as possible, read as many books as available and find as many ideas as I can so that we have plenty of choices of fun things to do. I must have spent hours online, visiting websites about historic sites and fun places to visit, just trying to decide which things would be worth our time. I sought ways to save money, like buying a yearly pass for the state parks. I read reviews and checked out photography sites so that I would not miss those unforgettable pictures and experiences. By the time we left home, we were prepared with ideas and we had whittled the enormous list down to a more feasible list of options.
I had fun doing the research and I was glad to have that knowledge when we began our trip, but I think sometimes we can go overboard with the planning. I have known people who have planned every minute of every day, forcing the family to stick to a schedule that left no room for the unexpected. They worry when something goes wrong instead of enjoying the adventure that might come. Some of our best experiences on family vacations came when we wandered off the planned schedule. The trip is no longer fun because worry leads to frustration leads to anger. Though planning is helpful, we have to remember with everything we do that the world does not revolve around us or work to keep us comfortable. Sometimes we simply have to find comfort in the circumstances we face.
The psalm for today is a reminder that wherever we are and whatever we do, our rest is in God. Whether we have a comfortable suite or a small room with no private bath, we can find rest when we remember that our true dwelling place is in God’s grace. Whether we have an incident-free vacation or every minute is upset with wrong turns, bad weather and unexpected adventures, we can trust that God is with us through it all, and with Him nearby we can live in peace, blessed by His faithfulness.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 23, 2009: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 8:10-20; John 6:59-69
Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants; And none of them that take refuge in him shall be condemned.
We face decisions every day. Some of the decisions we make are mundane, like what to eat for dinner and what to wear to work. Some of the decisions are more important, like which career to pursue or whether we should get married. Though the wrong decision on both the mundane and important choices might have life-long consequences, there is no bigger choice we are asked to make than that in today’s scriptures.
Both Joshua and Jesus lay it before the people: which God/god do you choose? The early Hebrews had just experienced the amazing redemption of their nation, taken out of slavery into a new land with the promise that they will be a great people. The new land was already populated by other people, people who held faith in other gods. It was customary in that day to accept the local deities when moving from place to place, but the God of the Hebrews was a different kind of God. He was not limited to a local. He was not defined by the believers. He was, and is, who He is.
Centuries, generations, later, the ancestors of those first Hebrews were faced with the same decision. Over the years the people had lost touch with the God they chose as they entered into the Promised Land. They were once again oppressed by a foreign nation; they had made so many wrong choices throughout their history that they were suffering the consequences of their devotion to other things. They’d lost sight of the God who delivered them out of Egypt and found comfort in the self-righteousness of the law and by conforming to the world in which they lived. Jesus introduced them again to the God who was, and is, who He is.
It was a hard meeting because Jesus was offering something that did not fit into the box of their understanding. For the past few weeks, Jesus has been leading us on a journey closer and closer to the source of our life, into His presence, into the heart of God. But the words He has spoken are hard to hear, especially for those who were listening two thousand years ago. In essence, Jesus says, “Bite me” and even to us today this is shocking and inappropriate. And then He leaves us with a choice. Believe or don’t believe; accept Jesus despite the ridiculous sacrifice of His life.
In Joshua’s story, the people can’t see any choice. The reality of their life has been laid before them: God saved them from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness and is ready to welcome them into the land He’d promised to their father Abraham. Joshua knew the right answer. The people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods; for Jehovah our God, he it is that brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and that did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed; and Jehovah drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites that dwelt in the land: therefore we also will serve Jehovah; for he is our God.” They made their decision based on what God had done.
This week’s gospel lesson is always hard because I am saddened by the fact that so many walked away from Jesus at this point. How could they not see that He was all He promised to be? How could they not see that He is our Promised Land? Yet, He has not yet been crucified or raised. He seemed to contradict everything they knew to be right. Would we follow someone who asks us to set aside the beliefs that are most important to us? We would probably walk away if Jesus asked the same of us today. We have the benefit of living after the cross, after Christ has already been raised. We believe based on what God has done, not what Jesus promises God will do. It is easier for us.
Yet, we are reminded that it isn’t easy. Paul writes, “Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.” There are entities in this world that constantly seek to keep us from dwelling in God's presence. We are tempted by our physical needs and desires. Our flesh leads us to seek after all the wrong things – stuff – chasing after the perishable rather than looking toward the imperishable. Our busy schedules keep us from studying God's word or spending time in prayer, building up the relationship we have with Christ. This is why Paul writes that we are to wear the armor of God. Six things will keep us looking at the One who offers us life: truth, righteousness, readiness to proclaim the Gospel, faith, salvation and the Spirit. These are all gifts of God, the gifts He has given us through Jesus Christ.
It is hard. We are saved based on the work of Christ on the cross, but we have to choose daily whom we will serve. Will we continue chasing after the stuff, giving priority over the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the jobs we take and the people we love? Will we choose the gods of the world in which we live and suffer the consequences of that choice? Or will be do as the psalmist and live in a right relationship with God being blessed by His presence in all our choices?
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (Isaiah 55:1-2, ASV)
So, I have an account on Facebook, along with millions of other people. What makes Facebook great, besides the chance to reacquaint with old friends, are the applications. Applications are games and activities that you can do in the program and there are a million different things you can do (and I don’t think a million is an exaggeration.) You can take quizzes or answer polls. You can build a virtual farm or be part of a virtual sorority. You can send friends virtual gifts and wish them happy birthday with a virtual cupcake. You can even toss virtual water balloons or have virtual pillow fights.
There are many games to play, some of which include an element of competition with friends. I know very few people on Facebook who aren’t battling with friends over being the high scorer on some game. Many of them run weekly tournaments, so even if you get a very high score this week, you might just lose the next one if you can’t do as well. I have been watching some of my own family members trying to one-up each other on a game, spending hours trying to get the best score. Not that I’m guiltless. I’ve spent hours trying to keep ahead of my sister on another game.
The applications are generally free. I know I would not send every friend a virtual cupcake on their birthday if I had to pay for it. Why pay for something which is nothing? It isn’t like the friend actually gets a cupcake they can eat. The roses don’t smell; the steak dinner will never fill a hungry stomach. The bubble bath won’t make anyone clean. It is fun to send the gifts or throw the water balloons, but as we do it we know that we are sending a virtual gift that will be enjoyed virtually.
The creators of the applications need to get paid, so I understand how some of the more professional sites require capital to pay for the staff members that manage the games or keep the applications working properly. Most make some money from sponsors and advertisers, but some offer opportunities to also buy credits. I play one game that is played by thousands of people. They give a certain number of credits to ‘buy’ games for free. The amount is based on the level you’ve reached and the amount of times you play. Beyond those credits, there are ways to earn free credits by signing up for phone service or buying a magazine, or you can simply buy credits with real money. I like using the free credits: it limits the number of puzzles I can buy and the time I spend playing them. But I know some people spend hundreds of dollars on puzzles so that they can win faster and move farther than other players.
One of my favorite applications is my virtual pet Princess. Like all virtual pets, Princess needs a daily visit so that I can “feed,” “pet,” “bathe,” and “play” with her. Each time I visit, I get coins that can be used to “buy” items to place in her habitat to keep her happy. Princess has friends, which are the virtual pets of my Facebook friends. I get coins each time I play with their pets and I get coins each time they play with Princess. As with all the other applications, it is possible to purchase gold that can be used to buy special items for the habitat. These items are more complex than the things bought with coins. These items are animated or they change over time. Some of them are very cool. I saw one that I really liked, and almost considered buying it for Princess, until I saw the cost. The number of coins necessary at 10 cents a piece would have cost me $25.00 real dollars. I couldn’t do it. That’s real money I can spend on my real cats and my real family and my real home. As much as I enjoy the game, it is just a game.
Many people do not realize how much money they spend until they sit down and do a budget. Then they see how they spend hundreds of dollars a year on coffee from the local barista and waste money on useless garbage. One dollar might not be so bad to buy a little fun, but what is the limit? Is our life any better because our virtual pets have fancy habitats? We think these things will make us happy, but do they? Will we find peace in the time we spend our time and resources on virtual things? Or will we find greater pleasure in the free gift of God’s grace which is life-sustaining and eternal?
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness! No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-24, ASV)
Yesterday I talked about my virtual pet Princess, one of the applications I enjoy on my Facebook account. I talked about how we can purchase things for our pet in a virtual shop using coins we earn by playing with our pet and our friends’ pets. We can even use our coins to buy virtual gifts for our friends’ virtual pets. This is a fun game and generally costs nothing but a few minutes of our time. The application recently came up with a new feature: a special gift shop to send free gifts to our friends. There is a variety of items in the store that aren’t available elsewhere. It is easy to send the gifts, just a few clicks and our friends have something new for their habitats. You can send a new gift to every friend every day.
This is a fun feature because we can show one another how much we care about the pets. However, it has a disadvantage. There are only a dozen items we can send this way, and with at least that many friends, we are bound to get duplicates. I have, to date, received five or six of the same items; there are too many to use in a habitat, so the items just sit in my online storage. I really love how my friends take the time to share these gifts with my pet, but I feel bad that I’ll never get to use all the items they have sent.
I was playing with some friends’ pets the other day and I noticed one had a habitat filled with just the free gifts they have received with the words “Thank you” in the speech bubble. It was a nice way to acknowledge her friends’ generosity. I haven’t used any of the items, yet, they don’t fit into the habitats I’ve created. Creating the habitat is my favorite part of the game—I suppose it is the creativity aspect. I also like shopping without spending any real money. But I have to admit that I’m getting a little frustrated by my inventory of stuff. It is hard to find the things I want because I have to go through so many Internet pages to find out what I have. I’ve even bought duplicates because I forgot what I’d purchased.
It reminded me the other day of those television shows where the organizers and decorators go into a house and help a family overcome their clutter. I love to watch those shows because despite my own clutter, I can see that things are not so bad at my house. You can see the floor and the furniture in most of our house. The other day we were talking about how it would be great to have them come and give our rooms a new look, but I said that there wouldn’t even be enough to sell at the yard sale. “Our house is just not messy enough.”
I’ve learned from those shows how to purge our life of the unnecessary items that used to burden us. When we moved to England a few years ago, we put a bunch of items into storage. When we moved to Arkansas, those boxes were delivered after having been out of our hands for four years. I realized as I opened each box that there were so many things we did not need. I moved things from one box into another box to give away or sell at a yard sale. We had three hundred pounds of National Geographic magazines! Though I have cut back, I still have too many dust catchers and shelves of books, but we have been learning to let go.
I have fun with shopping and decorating the habitat for Princess, and though I have too much ‘stuff’ it really doesn’t matter. It is a little inconvenient when trying to decorate, but it doesn’t take up any space in my house and it isn’t really cluttered like one of those houses on the reality shows. But it is a reminder that we get so caught up in having ‘stuff’ that we forget where we find true joy and peace.
“Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:22-24, ASV)
School starts for most schools in our area today. Zack wasn’t ready for summer to end, but he did manage to get ready without any nagging on my part. His summer homework is complete and he’s looking forward to seeing his friends again. His course of study is a rigorous one this year; it will be the most difficult year he’s ever had, and perhaps will ever have. But he seems ready for the challenges and committed to being responsible and mature about the hard work. He has been making some life choices, contemplating his future and considering how to properly balance his work and leisure time. It is hard to believe he’s gotten to this point, but he is getting older and I am proud.
The best part of “Back to School” is that I can finally start my vacation. Not really, after all I still have my work to do. The house still needs to be cleaned and dinner still needs to be made. But now I have more time to do those things and more freedom to establish my own schedule. I don’t have to worry about planning my tasks around Zack’s needs. I have the freedom to do what I need to do when I need to do it. And I have the peace of knowing that the house is quiet and there is no one to disturb me if I’m busy with something.
The problem is that I probably won’t be very good with my time, especially not in the beginning. I can be easily distracted. I work so much better when I am faced with a deadline. When Zack is around, I have fewer hours to fill, and though I have so many things I want to accomplish, it is much easier to procrastinate. I’m more likely to get caught up in an online game because no one else is begging for the computer. I’m more likely to lay down with the kitties in the afternoon because there is less work to do around the house. I’m more likely to turn on a favorite television show because I don’t have anyone else in the house to dictate the how I spend my time.
I have failed in the past, but today is a new day, the beginning of a new year. I can start all over again. I can make the commitment to set deadlines, to make a schedule, to avoid those computer games and television shows. I can arrange my day in a way that will make it possible to fit everything I want to do even while having some free time to do the things I enjoy. I just have to establish the proper balance between work and free time.
I don’t know how long our commitment will last. I’m sure I’m going to have to nag Zack in a few weeks to ensure that he’s keeping up with his heavy work load. I’m going to have to do the same for myself and perhaps find a friend who can help me stay on track. Setting goals with deadlines always helps, as does seeing work completed. Keeping focused on one task at a time is also a good policy. As we both get back into the swing of things this school year, Zack and I will make mistakes, learn lessons and hopefully grow in the way we approach our work. It takes time to establish a new routine, to settle into a workable schedule.
This is something that every family with school children is dealing with at this time of year. The kids have to be taken to school. We need to work out new traffic patterns and plan our time so that they are where they need to be when they need to be there. This also impacts those who don’t have children, who have to drive through school zones during that arrival hour. It is a time of change, as we add new activities to our calendars. It is a time of change, but it is also exciting as we accept new challenges and meet new people. Whether we are staying home or headed off to school and work, we have so much we can accomplish and so much to look forward to in the year to come.
“The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? And who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood, And hath not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from Jehovah, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek after him, That seek thy face, even Jacob. Selah.” (Psalm 24:1-6, ASV)
We’ve all seen it happen. One day the ‘experts’ tell us that something is bad for us. They recommend removing that item from our lives completely. The next day another ‘expert’ tells us that new studies show us that the old studies were wrong and that the item is not harmful at all. Another ‘expert’ comes out the next day suggesting that moderation is the best choice. Someone suggests a little of the item is healthy. Another will give recommendations as to how much. All this information floats on the Internet and in the news, sometimes taking so long to get through the system that it has been proven wrong even before it has been announced. It is very confusing. What do you do? Whose advice do you take?
The thing we have to understand is that though science is an integral part of our understanding the world in which we live, it is also constantly changing as new discoveries are made. What was true yesterday might not be true today simply because the scientists and researchers have discovered something new. Scientists a hundred years ago did not have the equipment to do some of the things they can do today. With every new investigation we have more knowledge about the world which changes how we see individual aspects of it.
Take, for instance, the appendix. It is common knowledge that the appendix is a worthless organ. Scientists and doctors have long believed that it was an organ that once had a purpose for human health, perhaps to help digest food that we no longer eat. The researchers believe that the organ was once larger and that evolution has caused it to shrink and become useless. The only reason we even consider the appendix any longer is because it has become a danger to the human body. It can expand and burst, causing major health problems and even death in one out of twenty human beings. It almost seems like a joke. Why wouldn’t our bodies evolve out of having an appendix altogether if it is useless?
A recent study has discovered that the appendix did not serve the purpose once thought. And it is still useful in our bodies today, although it is rarely used in the manner that might keep us healthy. The scientists have discovered that the appendix is far more abundant in nature than first thought, which is why Charles Darwin suggested that it was a vestigial organ. They now believe that the appendix creates good bacteria which is readily available to enter into the intestines to help recover from diarrhea. It also can make white blood cells and send them to the parts of the body where they are needed. The appendix has become obsolete not because we no longer eat the food that it helped digest, but because modern understanding of hygiene has made it almost unnecessary. It is the modern ideas about hygiene that has also made the organ a danger. The lack of work the organ needs to do might be the very factor that causes it to inflame.
The current scientists want to make sure that it is understood these new facts do not negate everything Charles Darwin learned from his own studies. This different understanding of the appendix does not discount evolution. Charles Darwin had no way of knowing so many species have appendices or that our use of sewers and clean drinking water might make the organ obsolete. What the scientists do hope is that this knew knowledge can be used to help human health in the future. By taking advantage of the work the appendix can do, we might just find ways of curing or avoiding certain diseases, particularly allergies, autoimmune disorders and appendicitis.
We may want to stop listening to the experts that tell us the outcome of every study, especially when it seems like so many of them contradict one another. But science can answer some important questions for us and has offered us the possibility for longer and healthier lives. We just have to remember that science is ever-changing. What we know to be true today might be found inaccurate tomorrow because of new information. We can’t count on science to always be right, to always give us what we need, to always keep us well. While we can rely on science to help us with the information, we have to remember that science is only as perfect as the people who do the research.
But, we can count on God. He is faithful. Though we can’t expect that we won’t face the consequences of our failures and suffer the affects of our perishable flesh, we can know that God is true to His promises. The earth and everything in it is His, He is the Creator and He knows the purpose for all things. He gives man the intelligence and ability to search His creation to discover what we need to know. We don’t know it all today, and we might not know it all tomorrow. As the world changes around us the things we know might have to change. And so, it is good that we seek to know the world in which we live, let us always remember that there is One who is greater. God is good and right and true and His grace will last forever. Let us never forget to seek Him even while we search the world in which we live.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 30, 2009: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
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.
There are two different types of covenants used in the relationship between God and man: royal grant and Suzerain-vassal. Noah (Genesis 9), Abraham (Genesis 15) and David (2 Samuel 7) were given royal grants, a covenant that is given from a king to a loyal servant who was faithful without condition. The servant’s heirs benefited from such a grant only if they remained faithful. The suzerain-vassal covenant is between a king and a subject king. The king promises to protect the subject and the vassal promises absolute loyalty and service. This covenant is conditional, and remains intact as long as the vassal remains faithful. The covenant made at Sinai with Moses and Israel was a suzerain-vassal covenant. God’s protection was dependent on Israel’s faithfulness.
The psalmist reminds us that we are bound by the covenant and that our safekeeping is dependent on the way we respond to the relationship with our God. We can dwell in God’s presence, in His tent or on His holy hill when we walk blamelessly. The psalmist details the actions expected of God’s people: to do what is right and to speak the truth from their heart. Those who stand firm against God’s enemies are those who do not slander or do evil to friends or wrong their neighbors. The righteous are those who despise the wicked and honor those who fear the Lord. They keep their promises even if it will be a sacrifice. They do not harm the poor or weak by charging interest or taking a bribe.
In the text from Deuteronomy, we are reminded to remember the statutes and ordinances that God has given, those rules upon which the suzerain-vassal covenant is based. These rules make sense: the impact is that the world will see that those who follow them are wise and discerning. Of course, some of the rules found in the Old Testament scriptures seem irrelevant, and perhaps they are in our day and age. However, they were wise for the people in those days. Take, for example, the regulations against eating pork. Without modern processing and refrigeration, the meat from pigs can be dangerous. We all know, particularly since there is a renewed fear about an epidemic of swine flu, how valuable it is to wash our hands regularly.
The question we have to add, however, is what do we, or have we, added to the statutes and ordinances that God has given? How have we made those valuable commands a burden on God’s people?
I received an email from one of my readers yesterday (thank you Dr. Ross) about how modern hygiene practices actually made cases of polio surge in the 1950’s. Before then, children were exposed in low levels to the polio virus that was found in the sewage and water. That dose was just enough to make them immune to the disease but not enough to make them sick. When the water was cleaned up, they no longer received that low level dose and were then vulnerable to the virus. The polio vaccine was created to do what the poor water conditions had done naturally. Human ingenuity both created the problem and solved the problem, and for this we can be grateful. But we are also reminded that it is possible to take a good thing so far as to make it dangerous.
I know some parents that go out of their way to keep their children from getting dirty. They limit the children’s exposure to other children, especially those who might be sick. Unfortunately, what has happened is that these children have not been able to build up that natural immunity that comes with low levels of exposure that will help them stay healthy. When these do face the viruses and bacteria, they are more likely to get seriously ill because their body does not know how to fight the disease. It is good to wash our hands, especially before we eat, but we have to be careful about being so obsessive and burdensome about hand-washing that we allow our children’s immune system to fail when it is needed.
So, in the Gospel text, Jesus and his friends are eating dinner and they have forgotten to wash their hands. We don’t know exactly what they were doing before they sat down to eat, but it is possible that they had not done anything to have dirty hands. The problem here, however, isn’t just that they didn’t wash their hands. The Jews had made it a ceremonial ritual to wash hands before eating, and the Pharisees were offended that the disciples didn’t follow that tradition. They didn’t care about the possible disease that might be spread; they were concerned about the soul of the sinners. Hand washing had become a religious burden rather than a good idea for the health and wellbeing of the community.
Jesus responded to the Pharisees by showing them that they have turned away from God, that they are hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another. They claim to honor God with their ritual and ceremonies, but they put heavy burdens on the people that God never intended. It is not the hands that make someone unclean, but the heart. And we see the reality of our sin not in the failure to follow the traditions of men, but in the ways we harm our neighbor.
James reminds us that we have been born, and born again, to be witnesses to the goodness of God. We do so by being doers of the word. James takes the “don’ts” of Deuteronomy and turns them around to the things we should do: listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. We are the first fruits of God’s grace and are called to live in that grace. He writes, “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.” Those of us bound by the covenant are given all we need to be all that God has intended us to be. We are called to do what is right and good and true, to be faithful to God and loyal servants in the world He has created and given to us.
“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 13:31b-38, ASV)
You are probably tiring of my recent obsession with the weather, but here I go again. Yesterday afternoon we could see isolated showers dropping rain just a few miles from our house. As the evening progressed, the storms came closer and closer to our house. The lightning and thunder seemed to be right overhead. At one point, the radar indicated that one of those isolated showers should be right over our house dropping a pouring rain. We never saw a drop. It didn’t make sense. I went outside late in the evening and I briefly felt a very light mist. Nothing more.
Some friends posted the weather report on their facebook pages. Many were hopeful that the thunder meant we’d see some rain. A few lucky people did have some rain, but most of us continued to be dry. When one friend indicated that it was raining, several people posted, “Send it my way!” We are all sure that the drought conditions are worse for us than anywhere else and we desperately want every drop that falls to fall on our house. It is certainly a joke when posted, because we all know that there’s nothing we can do to send the rain elsewhere. But the humor has been lost, particularly if the comment comes from a place that has had rain recently, especially since we have had little more than a few drops in the last two years.
What we don’t always understand is how other factors affect our circumstances. A town just north and west of where we live has had some very good rain showers in the past few months, certainly more than we have had in our town. However, they are in a more severe water conservation program than us. While we have not had much rain, our water sources seem to be holding steady. The other town has had to call for harsher restrictions because they have less water available. We don’t know what else the other people have to deal with that is really causing the situation to be worse for them.
The same is true about other aspects of our lives. We might be suffering from the same illness or financial difficulties as someone else, but we don’t always respond in the same way. We might think it is worse for us, but we don’t know what other circumstances actually make it worse for our neighbor. We must be careful when we demand more compassion from them than we are willing to give because we think we have it worse. The reality is often exactly the opposite. Just when we get to the point of believing that we deserve to have our every need met by our neighbor is when we should stop and consider how our neighbor might also be suffering. It is then we see how blessed we truly are and how we might share what we do have with others. It is when we offer ourselves to others when God comes more fully to us.
The disciples must have been wondering about the things Jesus had to say. What could He mean by this talk of glorification and no longer being around? What could He mean by talking about His death? What is this really about? The disciples must have begun feeling sorry for themselves; after all they had given up everything to follow Jesus. Could it really be over already and what would happen? But Jesus was facing the most difficult event of His life. He was facing the cross. He was facing death. They looked to Him for comfort at the very moment when He needed their comfort. Just when He needed them most, they fell away, even Peter.
Our own suffering is hard enough to deal with without having to deal with someone else’s, and yet we are reminded that it is in the loving of one another that we truly see the grace of God. We will find God’s blessings are most abundant when we give ourselves to others. The moment when we are most inclined to feel sorry for ourselves is the very moment to share God’s grace with our neighbor, to love them with all that we have, for in doing so we will also receive comfort in our own trouble.
“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.” (Romans 5:1-5, ASV)
I was searching the Internet for an item I was considering as a Christmas present for a family member. I wanted the item to be decent, but not terribly expensive. I’m going out on a limb with this idea, not even sure if it is something the person will use. However, it is something the person has indicated an interest in and I’m sure they will use it if they have it. So, I went to one of my favorite websites that sells the item and checked out the clearance page. At the top of the list was an incredible bargain, almost too good to be true. A package with the item and more was on sale at 66% off the regular price. I sought the advice of someone I respect in the business and he said it was worth buying. So I ordered the item immediately.
We don’t know what we will get. As I read through the customer reviews, a majority of people said that it was worth the money. Some even suggested it was an incredible deal. Despite the opinion of our friend and the number of good reviews, we could still get the item and find it is unusable. We can only hope that it is good enough for now, and then if or when the recipient decides it is something they want to pursue, and then we can look into something better.
The Internet can be a great place to shop. It is amazing the deals you can find sometimes. A friend recently recommended a book that was available used for only a penny. Since many online stores do not have the overhead of an actual showroom, they can keep prices lower. I’ve purchased clearance items for almost nothing, and sometimes they even throw in the shipping costs. We even found a number of Victoria’s expensive college textbooks online for very little money. I’m rarely disappointed. I suppose when I am paying so little for an item my expectations aren’t very high. But I still want to get something out of the money I spend, and I’m usually happy with the purchase.
The trouble with the Internet is that you can’t really see what it is you are buying. Even if there is a picture, it is hard to see the quality of the item. You can’t whether inferior materials are used. Color is impossible to know for sure because the settings for the monitor might be different. Weight and size are also variables that are difficult to know for sure by pictures on a computer. It is a gamble because you can never be completely sure what you are going to get.
We must have faith in the goodness of the Internet company when we make a purchase like I did last night. We have to trust that they will send us the item and that it will be everything they’ve claimed it will be. It isn’t like the faith we have in an earthly company is nothing like the faith we have in the Lord God, and yet there is a certain amount of uncertainty possible even with that faith. Do we really know what we will receive for our faith? What is eternal life? What is heaven like? We can even ask the question “Is there a God?” For many people, faith is a gamble.
But we do have ways of knowing that what we believe is true. We have the scriptures that tell us about God’s grace. We have the witness of those who also believe. We have the whole of creation that magnifies the glory of God. We might find that the Internet companies are unworthy of our faith and trust, but we’ll never find the same to be true of our Lord. Though we can’t fully understand everything about Him, or even about Jesus, we can know that He is faithful and that His promises are true. We are not going to be disappointed when we finally receive that which He has promised. As a matter of fact, we will be surprised by how much greater it is than we ever expected.
“Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:9-12, ASV)
There is a very special and exciting project happening in San Antonio. We drive by the site on our way to church every week, and it has been terrific watching as it comes together. The project is called “Morgan’s Wonderland” and it is a park designed for the enjoyment of special needs guests. This park will be the largest of its kind in the nation and will be a model for future parks that will be built in the future.
The sad reality is that many special needs children do not get enough time in the great outdoors. There are very few places that meet their special needs. While many parks have tried to make the necessary adaptations to make a visit possible, there are still barriers that are hard to overcome. The trouble is that it takes more than a smooth pathway and wide doorways to make the experience pleasant. Special needs kids and adults need so much more.
“Morgan’s Wonderland” is a park that will give special needs children exactly what they need. Every aspect of the park has been developed with them in mind. Divided into many different areas, the park equipment is specially built to make it possible for children in wheel chairs and other mobility problems to not only visit, but also play. The special sand pit has tools that can be used from a wheel chair. The water area is built high enough for the children to reach. There is an interactive ‘village’ where the children can play in themed areas that are filled with items and activities that will stimulate their imagination. The swings are specially built and there is even a railroad on which they can ride. The off-road adventure area has jeeps that are wheelchair accessible.
There are plenty of shady places so that the children will stay cool while enjoying the fresh air. A “walk and roll” path has plenty of shady rest areas, each one representing a different country or area of the world. The rest areas use architecture, plant life and sounds to represent Mexico, Africa, Germany, Japan, Italy and the Caribbean. A lake is at the center of the park. A treasure island play area and fishing pier give the guests even more experiences. An amphitheater is available for shows and a multi-function building is ready for basketball or other games. A special music garden is filled with large and beautiful instruments to further involve the children’s senses. There is even a memorial garden, where guests can spend a moment in quiet prayer and thanksgiving for the lives of those children they have loved. Families can go to enjoy a day at the park, have a picnic, and share an adventure.
Most developers recognize the need to make certain changes to the design to make a park or play area accessible to special needs children and adults, but they rarely put so much attention to the design that will meet the extraordinary differences. Everyone needs sensory stimulation, but most kids can get enough in an average park. Everyone needs the play areas to be safe, but many children are able to avoid the dangers. Everyone needs to have a place to go where they can have fun, but some children need more than others to make it a good, healthy and exhilarating experience. “Morgan’s Wonderland” is a place where all children can play together and learn together no matter their circumstances.
I don’t have a special needs child, but I have been amazed and excited to watch this beautiful park as it has grown out of an old, abandoned quarry in San Antonio. It thrills me to know that the developers have always put the best interests of the guests into the design. The children will even be welcome into the park without charge. It might have been enough to create a place where the kids would have some conveniences. It wasn’t enough for the creator of this beautiful place. They went over and above. If a man, or an organization, can do such a thing, imagine how beautiful and wonderful it will be when we are finally welcomed into the place God has waiting for us in heaven?
For more information, visit Morgan’s Wonderland.