Welcome to the February 2002 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
When writing, I used the New International Version of the Bible. Due to copyright restrictions, I have not included quotes for the scriptures, but highly encourage you to open your own bibles to read the scripture passages for yourselves.
A WORD FOR TODAY, February 2002
February 1, 2002
Central High Many people in America look back to the 1950's as a period of sweet innocence, family values and secure living. It was after the World Wars and Korea; before the turbulence of the 1960's. We watch shows like Happy Days and see the simplicity of life and love and long for a return to days like those. Yet, the 1950's were not sweet times for all people. Racism and segregation was a problem all over the country, but it was far worse in the south.
The children in Zack's class have been talking about the race problems from that era as part of a Social Studies unit. They have looked at the inequality that the southern blacks faced in every aspect of life - from education to employment to living conditions. It was a segregated world where blacks and whites co-existed in the same place and time but completely different situations. They used separate schools, separate buses and even separate water fountains. Segregation was a way of life and would have been acceptable if the schools, buses and water fountains were equal in quality.
One of the pictures in the children's book showed two water fountains. The signs above the fountains identified one for "Whites" and one for "Colored". The fountains were different. The one for the white folk was a modern fountain with a cooling unit so that the water was clean and cool. The one for the black people was old, rusty and had no cooler attached. The school situation was the same. All the funding went to the schools for the white children, so the black children lacked good teachers, materials and buildings. They were held back from success by this inequality.
In 1957, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was no longer acceptable, that black children should be allowed to attend any school. In September of that year, nine young adults attempted to enter into Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas so that they could receive the education that was provided. The Governor of Arkansas disagreed with the court order and sent the state's National Guard to the school to stop the nine students from entering. A federal judge ordered the soldiers to be removed and the Little Rock police were sent in to protect the students. There was rioting and federal troops were sent to provide peace during a difficult time.
Those nine black students were given the freedom to attend the best school available. All they wanted was a good education. The world around them fought against it with shouts and threats, but they did not fight back with violence. They fought back with faith and trust; by walking peacefully into the school they had a right to attend. How easily it would have been to give in to the hatred and fight back with violence.
What does a story like this mean to those of us in Christ? Those nine students were freed from the burden of laws that were wrong, but they were not given the right to attack physically those who disagreed. The same is true of our Christian life. Christian liberty does not give us the right to live as we desire, but the freedom to live apart from sin.
Read John 8:34-38
The country watched Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas carefully that school year. Outside the walls there was violence and rioting, but inside were students who made the best of the situation. While not all the students agreed with desegregation, they all desired a good education. The attitude of those nine black students - one of peace and trust - helped keep the school calm in the midst of turmoil. Any violence or hatred on their part would have harmed the work that had been done for all those years to bring equality to the south.
Jesus Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin through His death and resurrection. Through faith we become one of His family and we are made free from the yolk of slavery. In this passage, Jesus was talking to those who claimed to be children of God but did not live according to His Word. Jesus was showing them the truth of God and they wanted to kill him. We do the same when we willfully disobey Jesus. We are born in bondage to sin, without His life we are unable to live in His goodness. But Jesus died so that by faith we are reborn into a life of freedom from sin. Thanks be to God.
Prison The world is certainly a difficult place for Christians to live and witness, tempted daily by values and expectations that go against our faith. It is easy to become disheartened by the sin we see in this world and the lack of interest in anything of God. We try to share the Gospel but our words are often returned with blank faces or some sort of verbal attack. There are several ways we can react to such apathy and rejection. One way is to give up and just live in quiet faith without witnesses to the world about our Lord Jesus. After all, they aren’t listening, so why bother?
The other way is to speak God’s Word to every person who crosses our path. The larger the group of people we touch, the more likely we are to be heard by at least one. The danger of this is that we become desperate to speak to the large groups and we forget about individual people. Sometimes we are so anxious to share the Word of God with the lost, we even forget to talk about our faith with other Christians. What we don’t realize is that we never know how God will use our words. There may be someone with a heart prepared for the seed of faith that is overhearing our words.
Chuck Colson tells the story of a trip he took into a prison to preach the Gospel. He carefully prepared a message filled with the message of Christ to share with so many that are lost in their sin. The crowd was expected to be three hundred of the over two thousand inmates, and though Chuck would have liked to preach to every prisoner, he was excited. Several days before he was scheduled to appear, the officials had discovered hidden weapons and they locked down the entire prison. When Chuck arrived at the chapel, there were only a few men waiting to hear the message, and they were all Christians. He was discouraged and was ready to just give them men a few words of encouragement.
He noticed a video camera and thought perhaps he was being recorded for the prison library. He decided to give the entire message as planned in the hopes that one day someone might view the video and hear God’s love and forgiveness. After the visit was complete, Chuck was told that the video would be aired to all the inmates at a later time. In the end, every one of the 2200 prisoners saw the video, not just once, but as many as a dozen times. Chuck trusted that God’s Word would accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, despite the disappointing circumstances he faced.
Read Isaiah 55:10-11
God loves us so much He sent His Son to die for our salvation. The seed of faith is planted in our hearts by hearing God’s Word. In Christ we have all we need to live in faith and He sends us into the world to spread the Good News. He doesn’t expect us to change the world, or even to share the Gospel with huge crowds of people. He simply asks us to trust that He will do His work through us no matter what the circumstances may be. Thanks be to God.
Cliffs Cliffs have long fascinated people. When we stand at the top and look down, we are awed by the thought that one slip of the food could bring our death as we plummet to the bottom. When we stand at the bottom, we long to climb to the top just to see what is beyond our view. Some of the most incredible scenery is seen near massive cliffs, from the White Cliffs of Dover in England, to the cliffs found in Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon. As we gaze upon these sheer, ragged rock walls, they give the appearance of having been ripped apart by some awesome force. Geologists have found this to be true; some sort of erosion has created the cliffs whether by glacier, river or ocean. Seaside cliffs continue to be eroded by the pounding waves of the ocean. Eventually the ocean wears away the rock at the bottom until the whole thing gives way with the rock tumbling into the ocean. All along the coastline there are homes and other buildings at risk.
Cliffside adventures can be dangerous. One slip and we might tumble into a ravine; one loose rock could land on our head. Many adventure movies include some dramatic scene where the hero is perilously close to falling over an edge or needs to climb some rock face to catch the villain. We are always left on the edge of our seats as they slip, for just a moment. They always survive by catching their footing or with the help of a friend.
In the book, “Putting the One Minute Manager to Work, Kenneth Blanchard and Robert Lorber use a story about cliffs to talk about faith. They tell of a man who slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountaintop. On his way down he grabbed a branch. He was twenty feet from the top and a long way from the bottom. He feared for his life and cried for help. “A booming voice spoke up. ‘I am here, and I will save you if you believe in me.’ ‘I believe, I believe,’ yelled back the man. ‘If you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.’”
As we read this story, it is easy to see the booming voice as the voice of God – one we have all heard as we have faced our own troubles. We don’t always believe the voice. In the case of the young man, his fear of death was so great he yelled up, “Is there anyone else up there?” It takes faith to let go of the branch and trust that our Lord will save us.
Read Psalm 124
This song of praise came after the Lord delivered Israel from her enemies. She hung perilously on some spiritual cliffside, but God was with her all along. She sang songs of thanksgiving after He saved her, but throughout the course of Israel’s history she often went looking for other help. They turned to the strength, power and might of other nations, unwilling to be obedient to God’s words.
As we look back on our lives, we can see moments when we have slipped off a cliff. When we cry for help, the voice of God asks, “Do you believe?” All too often we cry back, “Is there anyone else?” Yet in hindsight we sing this hymn of praise knowing that our help is in the name of the Lord. We will continue to face new adventures – looking down from the top of a cliff in awe of the potential danger or gazing up to the top of a cliff pondering what lies beyond. As we do, let us remember that if the Lord had not been with us we would have been destroyed and face each new adventure with faith in our Lord.
Evangelism There has never been a greater time in our lives for evangelism. After the tragedy of September 11th, many people are seeking some sort of spiritual understanding. The Barna Research Group, an independent organization that studies trends in Christianity, recently compared studies from before and after the attack. They found that even though more Americans are likely to attend church, they are less sure of their faith. In the study, fewer people believe that moral truth is absolute, believe that God is all-knowing and all powerful, believe that Satan is a living being not just a symbol of evil.
The Barna Group has found some shocking statistics about Christians and evangelism over the years. 70% of adults do not know what “John 3:16” means. Nearly 90% do not understand what the “Great Commission” means. Almost half of all born-again Christians feel no personal responsibility to share the Gospel. Only a third know the meaning of the expression “the gospel”.***
So, at a time when we most need a strong Christian witness in the world, few Christians really know how to evangelize. For many, evangelism is a job for a few gifted people – pastors in the churches, missions and on television. Evangelists are writers who publish books about faith and traveling speakers who visit towns to have revivals every few months. Too many Christians are willing to step back and let others be witnesses because they are afraid, lazy or simply don’t know how to share their faith.
Early in His ministry, Jesus Christ came across a woman who was getting water for her home. She was a Samaritan and a fallen woman. According to law and custom, Jesus as a Jewish rabbi should have avoided her. He asked her for water. During this brief conversation, Jesus revealed Himself to her as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Her heart raced with excitement. She ran back to the town and told everyone who could hear. “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They went to where Jesus sat to listen to him speak.
Read John 4:39-42
The job of an evangelist is not to convert people; it is to draw people to Christ so that He can reveal Himself to them. Ev-angel-ism means literally, “good-messenger-izing”. An evangelist is one who goes out and shares the Good News of Christ with the world. The woman in the story from John was so filled with joy about what she’d heard; she could barely keep it in. Why don’t we feel the same passion to share our faith with the world today?
As you go about your business today, keep your eyes, ears and hearts open for those who need to hear the Gospel. The answer is as simple as quoting John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then invite them to join you on that church pew, into Jesus’ presence, so that He can bring them into His Kingdom.
***For more studies, visit Barna Research Group.
Loophole The newest tax laws can be found in a book thousands of pages thick. It would be difficult for any person to know and fully understand the entire law. Those who have the resources are able to hire the right people – accountants and lawyers – to help them with their taxes. These employees are able to find the loopholes in the law so that the employer can save money. It is vital to have a good lawyer when fighting a criminal or civil case, someone who knows the law, because they can best present a case that will be judged in the defendant’s favor. Unfortunately, this means that the guilty often go free and the innocent are not granted justice or mercy.
God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, were given a set of laws through the prophet Moses. These rules were to help them build into a strong nation. These laws included dietary restrictions designed to keep their bodies healthy, civil law to help them stay moral and just, and religious practice designed to keep their spiritual lives in tune with God. The Law was created to be a joy for the people, a way to be obedient to God and stay healthy in body, mind and spirit. Yet, the leaders took those laws and interpreted them, making them a burden on the people.
One of the greatest controversies in Jesus’ day was the keeping of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to the people long before Moses; it was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was a day designed to stop work and focus wholly on God. However, there were things that could be done. On several occasions, Jesus went against the burden of the Law to show the right use of God’s Law.
Read John 7:21-24
There were things allowed on the Sabbath, for the sake of the law and of mercy. A man could circumcise his child. A man could water and feed his animals. He could save a horse that had fallen down a ravine. But it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. In John 5, Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. He told the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” It was the Sabbath. Jesus healed the man out of mercy and love. The Jews saw the man carrying his mat and condemned him for being disobedient to the Law.
It is hard to make a right judgment. We know what is right to do – be merciful – and yet we do not want to be disobedient to the authorities. In modern tax laws and trials, loopholes often seem unfair. The Jews were looking for something so that they could condemn Him, because His teaching was against their ways. In the story of the man who was healed, Jesus used the loophole in the Law – mercy – so that the man would be made whole and glorify God.
Jesus teaches that we should judge according to His ways not our interpretation of God’s law. It is through Christ, in mercy and love, that we will make the right judgment – one for justice and truth that will continue to keep us healthy in body, mind and spirit. Thanks be to God.
Snow Day We live in Arkansas – the south – and I was hoping this geographic location would mean we could avoid snow for a few years. Unfortunately, snow comes occasionally, even to the south, and we are sitting here today looking at several inches of the fluffy, getting slushy, white stuff on the ground. Everything is closed – schools, businesses and government offices. The southern states are unprepared for such weather and the people are inexperienced drivers, so they call a snow day quickly for sake of the welfare of the people. Even with the closures, there were several bad accidents on the roads this morning.
The children were excited about the snow. Vicki has been hoping for a snowstorm for weeks. They got dressed into their winter wear rather early so they could go outside and play. They threw snowballs and attempted a snowman. After a few minutes, they came inside cold – and tired from their fun. How quickly we realize the negative aspects of the things we desire. After they warmed up from the games, Zack told me he wished they had school. He remembered the special things they had planned for today and did not want to miss them. Neither child is happy that we have suggested they shovel the snow off the driveway and sidewalk. Sometimes the things we want come with unfortunate consequences.
In yesterday’s story, Jesus healed a man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. When He came across the man, Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. The man was laying near a pool that was known for its healing properties. It was said that an angel of the Lord would come down and stir the water of the pool, and the first person to enter after would be healed. The man was unable to get into the pool because he had no one to help him, so someone was always there before him.
In this story, Jesus just told him to get up, pick up his mat and walk. The man did. There was no discussion about faith or repentance, just a command to walk. The man did not even know the identity of the One who healed him. Jesus disappeared into the crowd. When the Jews questioned the man about his disobedience, he told them he didn’t know who did the healing but that He was the one who told him to carry his mat.
Read John 5:14-15
The man was certainly very excited that he’d been healed after so many years of disability. Yet, when Jesus found him again, Jesus’ words seemed very harsh. He told the man to stop sinning, yet in thirty-eight years of lying near a pool, what sin had the man committed? The only one we see in this story is a sin against the Law of Moses as interpreted by the Jews – carrying his mat on the Sabbath.
To survive for thirty-eight years, he must have made his living by begging for support. If the man were healed, he would have to work to support himself. What would he do with his life? When Jesus met the man, he was wallowing in self-pity. He passed the blame of his ailment off on those who did not help him and those who beat him into the water. He did not recognize his own sin – lack of faith, idleness, and greed – that kept him lame for so long. Jesus told him to go and sin no more.
The children are facing consequences for their snow day. They are missing exciting things at school and are expected to shovel the walk. The man faced consequences too. First, the Jews accused him of sinning by carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Then Jesus, who told him to carry his mat, told him to stop sinning. He would no longer be able to depend on his ailment for his welfare. He could no longer pass the blame off on other people. It was time to take responsibility for his actions. The man answered Jesus by turning him over to the Jews. This was not an act of praise. His report gave the Jews reason to kill him.
Jesus’ warning to the man was not about physical punishment for sin. If the man continued to rely on the wrong things for his well-being, he would face the eternal consequences. Sin means separation from God, and the man’s sins of self-pity, greed and idleness kept him from knowing the One who could bring true healing. We are made well by the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; by His Word we can walk in His life and never face the eternal consequences of our sin. Thanks be to God.
Icy Roads We woke up this morning and quickly turned on the news to see if the children had school. They did, but unfortunately their bus service was not running. This meant that I had to drive them. It was a difficult drive since the roads were still wet and slippery. They were even icy in some spots. The traffic was terrible. There were accidents on every major roadway and cars were backed up for miles. It took twice as long as normal to get to school.
We have visitors staying with us this week. Bruce’s parents have come to attend a special dinner Saturday evening. I had to leave them to fend for themselves this morning, while I took care of this situation. It changed my plans for the day also. We were planning on spending some time at the school this morning. They were going to spend time with Zack’s class while I spent time with the young girl that I mentor. Then we were going to eat lunch with Zack.
Since I rushed out of the house early this morning, everything we planned was changed. I spent time with the girl right after dropping off the children, which gave us more time together. It was a lovely visit, even better than usual. Sometimes our plans change, but God will use every opportunity to make things good.
Read James 4:13-17
We’ll have to go back this afternoon to get the kids from school. Nothing is going quite as we expected today, but it is even better because of the changes. This afternoon I will have more time to show Bruce’s folks around Zack’s school and Little Rock, before we have to rush home to get ready for our plans tonight.
James writes that we should not boast and brag about tomorrow. This boasting can come in a negative sense as well as the positive. I have been somewhat stressed about the activities of this week. We have so many responsibilities that it is difficult to take care of our visitors. When we woke up this morning, I thought the changes would make today even more difficult than they were already going to be, but the day is turning out much better than I expected. We never know what God is going to put in our path each moment, but when we walk each day in faith we can expect everything will turn out good. Today, the stress of change made me anxious about our plans, but when we stepped out in faith, God made everything work for His glory.
Since we cannot even predict what tomorrow will hold, we should not put too much effort into planning what we will be doing in a few years. When we plan too much for our future, we are bound to face circumstances beyond our control that will change everything. If we don’t face the changes with joy and thanksgiving, we may reject God’s good and perfect work in our lives. Only God knows if your icy roads are His way of setting you on a better path. Thanks be to God.
Pipes When we lived in Washington, we had trouble with our sewage pipes. There was a large, fast growing tree along the path of the pipeline. The roots constantly worked their way into the pipes, clogging the way for our wastewater. A plumber had to come in regularly with a chopper to clear away the roots so that it would run freely. We discovered this problem one day when the waste backed up into the kitchen sink one day. We tried everything to clear the blockage to no avail. We finally called the plumber, and he explained what happens with tree roots. Even though the roots were cleared away, the tree does not stop growing. Over the years we lived in that house, we had to have the pipes cleared a few times.
It was disturbing the first time the sink backed up because we didn’t know what was happening. The second time wasn’t much easier, but eventually we handled the situation with ease. We even learned the warning signs and called the plumber early so that we could keep the roots from completely blocking the pipeline.
We don’t live very long in this world before we are hurt by sin. Every day we fail to live up to the expectations of our Creator and the people in our lives. Our failure, our sin, touches the lives of others. They are harmed in body, mind and spirit by our thoughts, words and deeds that go against God’s good and perfect will. It is the same for us – we are hurt by the sins of others. The wages of sin is death, but during our lives sin brings small defeats that destroys relationships.
Read Matthew 5:23-24
The most important relationship that is affected by our sin is our relationship with God. Sin separates us from our Father in heaven, but thankfully God has breeched the gap by sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. Now, God sees our sin through Jesus-colored glasses, forgiving us each time we fail. It is only in forgiveness that we can be reconciled to God, because without Him it is impossible for us to live according to His Word. The same is true of our relationships with people. We can only be reconciled through forgiveness. We need to forgive one another and ourselves of the sins that block the pipelines between people. God gives us the strength and courage to seek reconciliation between those who have been harmed by sin. If you are hurt, forgive. If you have hurt, ask forgiveness.
The pipes in our house needed cleaning regularly or the wastewater would back up into our kitchen over and over again. In time we learned to see the signs of blockage and called the plumber to deal with the situation. In this life, sin will constantly create problems between people – we are being made perfect, but perfection will continue to elude us while we live in the flesh. But though we are imperfect, we can live in harmony with others as long as we live in the forgiveness of God and let it spill over into our relationships. Today, if you remember that your brother has something against you, go and be reconciled. Do so in Jesus’ name, it is the greatest gift you can give to your Father. Amen.
Blind One of my all-time favorite television shows is MASH. It played in first run for eleven years and has been in syndication ever since. One of the funniest characters is Hawkeye Pierce, a non-military type doctor who makes fun of everything he can. In an episode I watched recently, Hawkeye was helping the nurses with the heater in their tent and something went seriously wrong. The stove exploded and Hawkeye’s eyes were damaged. He had to wear bandages for a while until the eyes healed. They did not know if he’d ever see again. During the show he learned to see with his other senses. He couldn’t operate, but he spent time in the operating room. He could smell the body fluids and feel the organs. Outside, he could hear the rain fall better than he ever had. It was an enlightening experience, seeing without his eyes. When the bandages were removed at the end of the program, he could see again. He appreciated his sight all the more when it was returned, but he also appreciated all his senses because of his blindness.
It is said that there are none so blind as those who won’t see. Jesus tells us that it goes even deeper. There are none so blind as those who think they see, but are really blind to the truth.
Read John 9:35-41
The man who confessed faith in Jesus Christ was a man who was born blind. Jesus healed him. He put mud on his eyes and told him to go to the Pool of Siloam to wash the mud. When the mud was gone, the man could see. The Pharisees questioned the man; they could not believe a man of God healed him. After all, no one had ever healed someone who was blind from birth. When the man continually confessed his faith in Jesus, the Pharisees hurled insults at him. “You are one of his disciples. We are disciples of Moses.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
Jesus opened the man’s eyes and his heart. He believed in the truth about God, about God’s plan for the world, and about Jesus Christ. The Pharisees claimed to see; yet they were truly blind to the truth. Jesus warned them that if they claim to see, they would be judged accordingly. The same is true for us. If we claim to see, then we will believe in the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we do not believe in Him as He is, then we will wallow in our own guilt.
In the story on MASH, Hawkeye learned what it was like to see without his eyes. Faith is like that. When we believe and see, not just with your eyes, but also with your whole being, we worship Jesus by living our faith in every thought, word and deed. We are cleansed of the guilt that comes from seeing only through the eyes of the Law, and live in the grace given to us by our Lord. Amen.
Transfiguration Peter, James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus had the twelve disciples as well others who followed Him wherever He went. However, Peter, James and John seemed to have key roles in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers place them with and near Jesus at crucial times. One of those moments was at the Transfiguration.
Read Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus and His disciples were in Caesarea Philippi six days before the transfiguration. Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” At that moment, Peter confessed his faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus blessed Peter and told him that the only way he could confess such faith was by the hand of God. God revealed the truth to Peter, but even then his understanding was not complete. The disciples’ expectations of the Messiah – God’s anointed One – was still political. They were looking for an earthly king.
After that moment, Jesus began sharing the plan of God with his closest friends. He told them He must die. Peter took Him aside and said “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter did not really comprehend the words he’d uttered just a short time before. He did not understand the role of Jesus as suffering servant, pure Lamb of God.
So, Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain. While there, Jesus was glorified and stood in the presence of Moses and Elijah – representative of the Law and the Prophets. Once again Peter did not understand the meaning of the event and he tried to hold onto it by offering to build shelters, tabernacles, for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Peter thought this was the beginning of His time of glory, when it was simply a foretaste of what was to come. It was a beginning – the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life. After this moment, He set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.
We have an advantage over Peter, James, John and all those who lived in that day. Hindsight is 20/20 vision; we know the end of the story. We live in the hope of the glory to come, but until day let us never forget that God’s way is far better than our way. Jesus’ death meant life for us. If they had never come off the mountain, we would still be burdened by our sin.
We are no different than those three men who wondered at the transfiguration of our Lord on that day. We don’t understand God’s ways or recognize His timing. Just like Peter we want to hold on to the mountain top experiences. The Lord God Almighty has revealed Himself to us, through the life Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. We still get confused, thinking we know what God intends and trying to hold onto the glory. But God’s good and perfect plan for our lives is far greater than anything we can imagine. Thanks be to God.
Chief The highest enlisted rank for an airman in the United States Air Force is Chief Master Sergeant. This select group of men and women comprise only 1% of the entire listed force. It takes a special person to make it to this grade – one who has earned the position by his or her abilities, commitment and integrity. The rank of Chief is the pinnacle of an airman’s career, and we celebrated this mountain top experience Saturday night, as my husband Bruce was welcomed into the select group of men and women who call themselves Chief.
Such an honor is not a free gift. It comes from hard work and brings with it a great deal of responsibility. The guest speaker at Saturday’s induction ceremony spoke about expectations. The troops will expect the Chiefs to remember where they came from – that they once wore the lower ranks on their arms. The troops will expect them to support them in every way possible so that they too can move through the ranks to become a Chief someday. The officers will expect the Chiefs to help them command the troops in a way that will keep order and accomplish the work at hand. Most of all, the other Chiefs will expect them to uphold the integrity of the position bestowed on them, to embrace the responsibilities and duties, to work closely with the other Chiefs to maintain the standards that have made the US Air Force what it is today.
As Christians, we have been chosen to be part of an elite force of warriors – men and women called to fight the darkness and evil that blinds the world to the love and mercy of the Lord God Almighty. We didn’t get to this point by any action of our own, and we don’t fight with F-15’s or weapons of war. We have been called into this position by the grace of God who has saved us by the blood of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross that we might have life.
Read Matthew 16:24-28
Jesus expects much. Being a Christian is not easy. We are drawn into His heart and kingdom so that we will shine the light of Christ to others and draw them into the kingdom – making disciples of all nations. The cost of discipleship is to give up our selves and our world so that we can receive all that our Father has for us in His Kingdom.
Bruce has accepted a great responsibility by receiving the rank of Chief Master Sergeant. At work he has even given up his name – from now on he’ll be called Chief. He will be an example both at work and in life for the men and women who are the future of the force. He is always on duty, he must always uphold the standards and must always be above reproach. However he doesn’t have to do it alone. He has the support of the other Chiefs who will work together, unified by a common creed and purpose.
The same is true of our walk with Christ. Jesus expects much, but we have the support of other Christians, who are unified by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can do the work our Lord Jesus has planned for our lives. In Matthew 28, Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He doesn’t leave us with just a command; He gives us a promise. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We have been given our marching orders and Jesus expects much – everything – but He will not make us go it alone. By His love, mercy, grace and strength, we will have life and share it with the world. Thanks be to God.
Interruption I once had a friend with whom it was impossible to have a conversation. No matter what I was talking about, she would try to finish all my sentences, even if she had no idea what I was talking about. I would often have to stop talking, wait for her to finish the interruption, and then correct her with what I really wanted to say. I was never sure if she really heard what I meant, or if she went away from the conversation with her own interpretation. At times she became angry with me because I was always correcting her, yet if she had allowed me to finish my own thoughts it would have never been necessary.
Several days ago we looked at the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus was on the mountain and was transformed in glory before Peter, James and John. At this most incredible moment, Peter interrupted God and told Jesus it was good they were there. He offered to build tabernacles for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. While Peter was still talking, a cloud descended over the scene and God spoke. He said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Peter thought he knew what was happening there on the mountain. He thought Jesus was being anointed to be king of the Jews. He thought that they were seeing the beginning of the final harvest of salvation, but his idea of salvation was not what God intended. Peter was seeing a glimmer of the glory that Jesus would have one day, but he did not understand God’s timing. He thought this glory proved Jesus would not have to die. He was wrong.
When God spoke, He said, “Listen to him!” Jesus spoke the truth, and it was time that Peter stopped interrupting him with his own interpretations. At the moment God spoke, Peter, James and John fell facedown on the ground, terrified. Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid. He set His face toward Jerusalem and they left the mountain. Peter, James and John still misunderstood, but they listened to Jesus and learned the best they could. They still made mistakes. James and John wanted to be at Jesus’ right and left hands when He came into His kingdom. Peter would not allow Jesus to wash his feet. They were all frightened and discouraged by the crucifixion. Yet, they did hear and by His Word they were saved.
Read Romans 10:8-15
Today, Jesus speaks through His Church, through believers who share the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We listen to Him as He speaks through the Holy Scriptures and those who have walked in His light before us. It is tempting for us to interpret God’s Word for ourselves and interrupt God’s plan with our own understanding – just like Peter, James and John. However, we must listen to Jesus, and then take His Good News to the world. It is not complicated. It is not necessary to be a theologian. When my friend interrupted me during our conversations, she made it difficult to get a point across. She went away confused and sometimes angry. The same thing happens to those who are lost in the darkness when we interrupt God with our own interpretations of His Word.
The Good News is simple. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV) Thanks be to God.
Ash Wednesday From the earliest days of the Church, the period that precedes Easter was set aside as a time for penitence and education for new believers. The church spent forty days entering into a wilderness experience such as Jesus had before He began His ministry. Through fasting, prayer and study, new Christians were instructed in the tenets of faith so that they would be prepared for baptism at Easter. Today the Church continues this tradition beginning with Ash Wednesday. For the next six and a half weeks (Sundays are not counted as part of the forty days), many churches will hold special lent services or do special devotional studies so that each Christian will grow in faith and prepare their hearts to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday. Many churches will hold services for the imposition of ashes, placing ashes on one’s forehead or hand, to recall from whence we came. As the ashes are placed on the penitent, the pastor often recites the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Read Ecclesiastes 3:19-21
In flesh, we are no different than animals. Our bodies will fade from existence as we perish and are consumed by the natural course of physical reality. In time even the memory of our existence will disappear. But God gave man something greater than the animals. He created man in His image and made us the crown of His creation. He gave us emotion and the ability to reason. He gave us minds to think for ourselves and He gave us the freedom to reject His love.
Today, and through Lent, we remember that without His grace we are nothing more than the animals. The writer of Ecclesiastes asks the eternal question, “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” As Christians we have the answer to that question. We know our spirit will live eternally with our Father in heaven, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.
Many are considering today how they will spend Lent, what they will give up through this period. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, away from all people and earthly provision. He spent that time in prayer and fasting so that He would be ready to begin the work God sent Him to do. Though our own wilderness experiences are never so intense – it is nearly impossible for us to forsake everything for forty days – the Lord will use any discipline to help us see the truth of who we are without Christ, so that we will know who we are with Him. Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return. But in Christ you will have eternal life. Thanks be to God.
Valentine’s Day Bruce is going to Louisiana for the day, to a graduation dinner at Maxwell Air Force Base. He’s glad to go and share in the special day with the students, but he is not happy about missing Valentine’s Day with the kids and I. Valentine’s Day in the twenty first century is about love and romance, chocolate and flowers. Kids all over America will have parties in school where they share cute cards and candy with their friends. Parents will give small gifts or treats to their children. Couples will go out for a special dinner or other event. All because of a man named Valentine.
Who was Valentine? There were actually three men named Valentine in the early years of the church. The legends surrounding St. Valentine are a combination of the three, though the most likely candidate was a Roman priest who died in the third century. Emperor Claudius II Gothicus had a mighty army and he decided it would stay mighty if he made marriage illegal. Valentine, and other priests during those years, continued to marry men and women. Valentine was beheaded when it was discovered he continued to perform marriages.
Marriage is a gift from God; a union between two people who not only live together, but also become one flesh. This union is not just the physical bond, but it is also a spiritual bond. When God created Eve for Adam in the garden, her presence made him complete, and through marriage, the two became one. The scriptures compare marriage to the union of Christ to His Church.
Read Ephesians 5:22-27
Paul writes about submission. This is not meant to be like the old caveman cartoons, where the man drags his woman by her hair. A wife should be to her husband as the Church is to Christ, willing to do according to his authority. The counsel does not end here, though; Paul goes on to say that the husband should love his wife, as Christ loves the Church. Jesus Christ would never expect His bride to do anything that is demeaning or cruel. Christ died for His Church, to make it holy. Likewise, a husband should give everything he is to his bride. After all, in marriage two people become one flesh – body, soul and spirit. When a man does not love his bride with his whole self, he is disrespecting his own body, soul and spirit, and dishonoring God’s purpose for marriage.
Though Bruce would like to be here for Valentine’s Day, we know that marriage is far more than one day of flowers and romance. It is a lifetime of love, commitment, encouragement, unity and helping one another. The same is true of our life as the Church. Christ died to make us holy, cleansing us daily with His love and forgiveness. His love is more than one special day – it is for eternity. He provides His Holy Spirit so that we will have everything we need to live in a relationship with Him. Thanks be to God.
Mississippi Bruce told me several weeks ago that he would be going on his trip yesterday. For a long time, I thought he told me that he was going to Texas. One day I was confused about his trip, he told me where he was going, and I thought it was Louisiana. Yesterday on his way out the door he cleared up the confusion again. He was going to Mississippi. I don’t know why I kept forgetting. Perhaps I didn’t hear him right, but it is more likely that I simply didn’t want to know. He was going to be gone on Valentine’s Day – ‘where’ didn’t matter much to me.
Children do that all the time. They hear what they want to hear and remember what matters most to them. They ignore the things they’d rather not deal with, particularly mom’s requests to clean their rooms. We do the same with our Father in heaven, hearing only what we want to hear and ignoring the things that we’d rather not deal with. A child’s disobedience can be a frustration for a parent, particularly when they ignore the things that are most important – words that will guide and protect their lives. We don’t always want to hear the Word of God either.
Read Isaiah 29:13-16
Obeying God is a difficult thing. He has extraordinary expectations for our lives. The world promotes righteousness based on our abilities and the work we accomplish. God’s expectations are much different – He expects us to be humble and to rely on Him. The world looks at outer appearances; God sees our hearts. Isaiah was writing to the self-righteous of Israel whose hearts were not humble before God though they appeared to be doing everything right.
I really didn’t want Bruce to go away yesterday. I supported him with my mouth, yet my inability to remember where he was going showed that my heart was not there. Our kids say “yes, mom” when we tell them to do something, but they never quite get around to it. How often in our Christian walk do we do the same to our Lord God Almighty? We say with our mouths that we love Jesus, but in our minds we are planning things that are against God’s will. We hide the truth from others by putting up a pretty façade, but God knows our intent. When God speaks, listen. His Word will have an extraordinary impact on your life. He’ll make you into a vessel for His glory. Thanks be to God.
Symphony Thursday morning I went on a field trip with Zack’s third grade class. We went to the local Discovery Museum for a presentation from the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Eight men and women, as well as a teacher from the museum, presented a program called “The Science of Sound.” They explained the concepts of sound and how they are used to create beautiful music with the instruments.
They showed us how sound is created first with a vibration and how the different instruments take that vibration to make different sounds. The musician then controls the instrument to produce the specific notes needed for the song being played. We saw several different examples of the different types of instruments. They compared a violin to a bass violin. We saw how the long strings make deeper sounds. They compared the trumpet to the trombone. They showed us the difference between a woodwind and brass piece. We saw the different ways percussion instruments can be used to create a beat.
The purpose of our field trip was to enhance their current science unit, which is about sound. However, I think there may have been an added bonus to the visit. The musicians brought along several old instruments for the children to try. Today’s modern technology age has brought us electric guitars, pianos and even drums, all of which work much differently than hand carved wooden violins or bassoons. An electronic piano has many added features that cannot be found on a regular piano. The musician can add other instruments, bass, harmony and even unusual noises. It is possible that the sound of a piano can be completely lost in the music played on such an instrument.
Someone once said, “The Christian life is simply God’s life vibrating through us.” We are the instruments, and God begins the vibration of sound in our spirits and works our lives to make beautiful music in the world. At times, however, we are more like an electric piano, doing the work for ourselves while the true music is lost in the noise.
Read Psalm 131
Music is a wonderful way to express our thoughts, our hopes, our understanding of God’s love. We use music in worship – singing hymns of joy and praise, chanting the psalms and liturgy. God uses our lives to create a symphony so that the world will hear of His love and mercy. Sometimes we try too hard in our witness, presenting great theological ideas and showing the world our intellect and abilities, while God gets lost in the shuffle.
As we go about today, let us humble ourselves before the Lord God Almighty and listen for His music in our spirit. Turn off the extra sounds, be still and let God’s vibration move through your life. The sound of a violin played by a master musician is nothing compared to God’s love that resonates through the life of a Christian who is humble and meek in the Lord’s service. He is the Great Musician; thanks be to God.
Satan Satan has done two things very well. First of all, his press secretary came up with the most ridiculous image – a guy in red tights with a tail, horns and a pitchfork. People laugh at this image, consider it a joke and refuse to believe such a creature exists. Then, with this ridiculous image in our minds, Satan whispers doubt about his existence. If we do not believe that there is a tempter, an adversary, a slanderer, then we will believe many things that are not true. If Satan can convince us that he does not exist, then it is easy to convince us to fall to the temptations that will turn us from our Father.
A tempter does not remove our will; he or she – whether it is some supernatural being or something from this world – tries to convince us to do something. Through lies and manipulation the tempter tries to change our will. Satan did so with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He planted seeds of doubt in the hearts and minds of God’s creation. He caused them to question God’s provision and doubt His Word. Then he made promises that weren’t his to make – he offered them the life of a god.
The tempter tried to do the same thing with our Lord Jesus when He was sent to the wilderness to be tested. Jesus refused to fall for the lies – He would not accept Satan’s words against God or his foolish promises. He was tempted without falling into sin. He was obedient to God’s Word, even unto death on the cross. That death gave us life. By His power, we too can stand against the tempter’s lies and stand firm in God’s Word.
Satan has assumed power that was taken from him. He uses lies and manipulation to convince the world that what is wrong is actually right. He causes the nations to laugh at those who try to stand firm in their faith in God, who try to walk rightly before Him. It is hard to stand against such things in the world. We are still tempted by the lies of the adversary. But we have an advantage. We have a Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ – who stood firm against the foolish games of Satan and won the victory for us. He became death and died so that we would no longer be bound by the sin that came from Adam. He was then raised from the dead to give us new life. He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God and rule over our lives in mercy and truth.
Read Psalm 47
We live in tough times. The world has fallen for the lies of the adversary and refuses to believe that Satan exists. Christians are seen as foolish and superstitious because we believe the Word of God. Yet, through all this, we rejoice in the knowledge that God is King; He has won the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise God. He gives us all we need to stand firm in His Word, to live as He intends in this world. Never forget that the adversary does exist, and he is working hard to deceive the world. But for today, and every day, just sing praise to our awesome God!
Mountain Climbing Bruce and I drove through Estes Park in Colorado one June a few years ago. As we climbed the Rocky Mountains, we could see fields of snow on the mountainside that had not yet melted from in the spring thaw. The higher in the mountains we drove, the more tempting the snow became. We hadn’t seen snow at home for months. Finally, we could see some just a few feet down the mountain. It was muddy and rocky, but I climbed over the guardrail and slide down the hill. I formed a snowball or two, even made a mini snowman. Then I climbed back to the top. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but it was fun. Just a few miles up the road we came across a huge snowfield right by the road, a place to play without risking life and limb.
At Land’s End in Cornwall, England, I climbed about twenty feet down a cliff to get the perfect picture of the rocky coastline. The rocks were a little slippery from the ocean spray, but I was careful. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but it was fun and the pictures are gorgeous.
We went to a local park here in Arkansas to hike along the trails. Along the path is a mine hole filled with water. It is a beautiful place with high cliffs at one end and piles of rocks along the sides. There are warnings posted so that people will not climb on the rocks. I started to make my way around the pond to get a photograph and my kids said, “Mom, you aren’t supposed to do that.” They had read the warning signs and stopped me. I felt quite safe and I really wanted that picture, but for their sake I got off the rocks. The park posted the warnings to protect their visitors, and it was my duty to obey their rules. Also I would not have been a very good mother if I provided such an example to my children.
Read 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
Life in Christ grants us the freedom to do many things that were once considered against the Law of Moses. Though we are given new life, we still live in this world that God created. As Paul writes, everything is permissible because we are forgiven by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and we are given the freedom to live here and now while we wait in expectation for the Day of our Lord. Though everything is permissible, we must consider those for whom we are an example. Climbing the rocks at the mine hole was not really constructive or beneficial. It was dangerous and stupid. For the sake of the children and anyone else watching, it was better to stay off the rocks and continue our hike.
Paul’s example in this scripture is the meat given to idols. There is nothing inherently wrong with such food, for everything in God’s creation is good when we thank and praise Him for it. However, if our eating will cause another to think it is ok to partake in the worship of idols, then we should not eat. What exists in our world today that we should avoid for the sake of others? Books about witchcraft? Movies with violence? Sexual jokes? Consider your thoughts, words and actions each moment, so that you will not cause anyone to stumble and so that they may be saved. Thanks be to God.
Keys A story is told of a young man who was about to graduate from college. He had worked hard for those years and was prepared to enter into the world of business and a successful career. His father asked him, “What would you like as a gift for your graduation?” The young man did not even have to think about his answer. He gave his father a picture of an expensive sports car with detailed notes – right down to the color he wanted. It was his dream.
The day of graduation came and the young man was as excited about his gift as he was to receive his diploma. His father called him into the library and handed him a box. Inside was a bible. “What is this?” he asked. The father explained that a life worth living was not one that was filled with things like expensive sports cars, but rather with the Word of God. The young man was upset by his father’s gift and stormed out of the house. He did not return for many years.
The day he returned was the day of his father’s funeral. He wandered the halls of the place he once called home and eventually found himself in the library, his father’s favorite room. He looked at the books on the shelves and skimmed through the papers on the desk. In one of the drawers he found a box – the box with the bible his father gave him for graduation. Tears began to fill his eyes as he recalled that day so long before and the lost years since. He opened the box, pulled out the bible and began flipping through the pages. In the center of the book was a key, one that would fit an expensive sports car, just like he wanted for his graduation. There was a note in his father’s writing that said, “Read Psalm 49 and remember it always.”
Read Psalm 49:16-20
The young man could have had everything he wanted and far more. He found the car in the garage waiting for the day he would return to claim what his father had given him, but he never came until it was too late. He had lived those years without love or peace and he missed the joy of sharing his life and success with the one who loved him so much that he risked everything to give him the most important gift of all – the Word of God. The young man realized that the keys he sought were found in that book, not the ones to the car but the words of grace found in that passage. “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay… But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.” (Psalm 49:7-9,15 NIV)
*** This story is an adaptation of a story found on the Internet, author unknown.
National Prayer Breakfast James Stegalls was in Vietnam from the age nineteen to twenty one. He watched his buddies fall around him over the years, and finally wished for it all to end. On February 26, 1968, he prayed for death and he was certain he’d die before dusk that day. When his base came under attack and he heard a rocket heading straight for him, he began to count the seconds until he would die. But a friend shoved him in a pit and the fuse malfunctioned. He was not killed.
All those years he had carried a Gideon New Testament in his pocket, but never had the strength to read it. Finally, in that pit shivering and cold after five hours on his knees, Jim pulled out his bible and began skimming through the book of Matthew.
Read Matthew 18:19-20
At the same moment, Jim’s wife’s grandmother awoke from sleep in terror. She sensed Jim was in trouble and began to pray and read her Bible. When she came across the scripture from Matthew 18, she called her Sunday School teacher who rushed to her side and joined her in prayer. Together, they sought God’s blessings for Jim until they felt the peace of God. Years later she told Jim about that night and showed him her Bible. At Matthew 18:19-20 were the words, “Jim, February 26, 1968.”
Throughout our short history, the United States was a nation built on prayer. It isn’t prayer that was forced by the government, but the prayers of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and children, neighbors and friends, all joined together seeking God’s blessing. For nearly sixty years, the President has held an annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Many local governments and federal agencies have similar breakfasts around the country in February. This time of fellowship is a reminder that despite our differences, we need to turn to our Creator, the One greater than ourselves for the strength, courage and wisdom we need to live from day to day. At last year’s prayer breakfast, George Bush spoke about all those Americans who have said, “We pray for you.” Those words meant a great deal to him. Prayer is powerful, whether it is said for a young man on a battlefield or the most powerful man in the world. Where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there.
Our nation needs prayer. We suffer many troubles in heart and mind as well as in body. We still have young people on the battlefield – both in distant lands, but also on our streets. Our leaders need our prayer support so that they can make the necessary decisions and do what is right for the people and our nation. Today I will join with other men and women of faith at our base and pray with them for our nation. I hope you will pray with us, not only today but every day. Together, we can make a difference. Thanks be to God.
***Story found in Nelson’s Stories, Illustrations and Quotes.
Messenger Things are much different in modern warfare than they were in ages past. Certainly the weaponry is far more advanced. In the ancient days, most wars were won by siege. The soldiers usually fought with hand-to-hand combat. They used mostly knives and swords, so the armies needed to be at close range. To strike an enemy who was far away took some sort of projection. They could throw stones, but as time passed they developed weapons that could project larger stones much faster and farther than a man could to on his own. The bow and arrow, slingshot and catapult are just a few examples.
Most of the people lived within walled cities. When battle became too difficult, the army closest to their fortress would rush inside and lock the doors. The enemy would try to breach the defenses, however those who were behind the wall had the advantage. They used hot oil, which they poured on the heads of the soldiers attacking the walls. They also dropped stones on their heads or shot with arrows. The attacking army would eventually give up and set up camp outside the gates. They cut off the supply of the army inside. After several months, the invaded army gave up or died from hunger and starvation. When the invaders attacked again, they were faced a far less formidable foe.
We don’t live in fortresses anymore, and the combat is rarely hand-to-hand. Laser guided missiles can be sent from an airplane that is miles away from its target, and the bomb will hit. Other weapons are remote controlled with computers, so there needs not be any soldier close to the danger.
Another major difference is in communication. The advent of photography, telegraph, telephone, television and the Internet, many people are able to witness the action from the comfort of their own home. We watch the news happen as it happens, almost as if we are living it with those who are fighting. The technology helps on the battlefield also. Those at the front lines can send messages instantaneously to those who remain in a central command location. In the ancient days the armies communicated by messenger. The messenger was usually a young boy, one who wanted to be part of the battle but was not yet strong enough to actually fight. When an army needed help, or when there was news of the battle for the king and people, a messenger was sent with the news. When the war was over, the messenger was sent ahead of the army to announce victory or defeat.
Read Isaiah 52:7
In ancient wars, the messenger who brought good news was treated with honor and was warmly welcomed home. The messenger with bad news was not quite so welcome. At times they people even killed the messenger. When Isaiah wrote the words in this passage, it referred to both an earthbound war and the one we are still fighting today. Jesus has one the Victory over sin and death, and we are His messengers. We are sent to give the people this good news!
In modern warfare, it is at times difficult to discern the enemy from a friend. The lines of battle are no longer clearly drawn. The enemy has breached the wall and is inside the fortress. When we take the good news of Christ Jesus to the people, we often give that news to people who do not consider it good, because they have fallen for the deception of the devil. Let us always remember that it is the Good News we carry, whether we face the enemy or our friends. The Victory has been won – our God reigns! How beautiful are you who share that with the world. Amen.
Confession I don’t know much about the law. I’m not trained in lawyer-ese and I have no personal experience with the courts. What I do know comes from books (mostly fiction), television and movies. That means my knowledge of law is shaky at best. However there are some observations that can be made from the fictional representation of courts and law enforcement that are based, even loosely, on the truth.
Have you ever noticed how quickly a case is wrapped up when the guilty party confesses that they have done it? Oh, the investigators usually look for some hard evidence so that there will be no question when the case comes up in court. But once there is a confession, other suspects are dropped and the investigation focuses on that one person.
The word confession is defined in Webster’s as “to acknowledge or disclose.” Confession can go both ways, either as an admittance of guilt or a statement of innocence. However, when a suspect emphatically states, “I did not do this crime,” the investigators pursue the case even harder, searching for the hard evidence needed for a conviction. Why do we readily accept a confession that speaks of guilt with little or no physical evidence, but reject a confession of innocence?
The third chapter of the book of John tells us the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He’d heard about the things Jesus was doing, and knew by those signs that Jesus was from God. As a leader of the Jews, he was well educated in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, so he had a foundation of knowledge of the things of God. He went to Jesus one night. He wanted to understand what Jesus was doing. Jesus was very blunt with Nicodemus, using Old Testament symbolism to prefigure the cross. He told Nicodemus the only way anyone could believe is by the power of God, that they needed to be “born from above” to have faith. Nicodemus just didn’t get it, he kept looking at the words of Jesus through that which he knew, the Law.
We see Nicodemus two more times in John. In chapter seven he stands up for Jesus in the court. “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?” Then in chapter 19 he helps Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, bury Jesus after his death on the cross. We do not see a confession of faith or evidence of belief in any of these stories. If we judge by the evidence given, we might question whether Nicodemus ever really was saved. We can all be thankful that it isn’t a human court that judges our salvation.
Read Romans 4:13-17
As we travel through our lives, we make many judgments about the people who cross our path. We judge their words and actions and we judge their affect on the world. We are quick to accept their confessions of guilt as surely as we are quick to reject their confessions of innocence. At times, we even judge one another’s salvation. However, it is by God’s word we are saved, not by the judgments of others or even by the law. “God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” I prefer to look at Nicodemus with hope – that in the midst of his darkness Jesus spoke words of faith into his life. Though we do not see the evidence of faith in the scriptures, his story did not end with the words written in the book. As I look at Nicodemus, I see myself – a story in the making, one that only God has the final chapter. The same is true of every Christian. We would all fail in a human court of law; the evidence of our innocence is non-existent. However, by His grace God has spoken and by His Word we have the only thing we need for life – faith. Thanks be to God.
Point of Grace The Christian singing group called “Point of Grace” was in town for a concert last night, and it was a most wonderful experience. The evening began with a welcome from the church and Christian radio stations that sponsored the event. They offered a prayer of blessing for all those who had come. The stage was set with all the usually paraphernalia – lights, speakers, a screen for video images. But this was not going to be an ordinary concert.
When the girls – Shelley, Denise, Terry and Heather – began to sing, you could see and hear their love of the Lord. They are obviously gifted by the Holy Spirit to share His Word through music. The songs and their chatter in between were filled with love, hope and encouragement. We went there to be entertained, and we were. But it turned out to be far more. They worshipped God with every note and those of us who were listening could not help but join in the worship. With our own voices we sang along, with our bodies we danced and clapped.
Too often we think of worship as just that time on Sunday morning when we go to church to sing hymns and listen to some scripture. But worship is more than one short period of time. During His temptation in the wilderness Jesus reminded Satan that we should worship the Lord and serve Him only. Worship extends far beyond our church attendance to our daily service to the Lord. Every step we take and every time we use our gifts to His glory, we are worshipping our Lord.
At most concerts, the focus of worship tends to be the artists themselves. We have all seen images from such events where people have thrown themselves down at the feet of the singer, or just fainted in their presence. Some fans even set up shrines to the star in their homes. The focus of worship was much different last night, as the girls kept the name of Jesus on their tongues and in our hearts and minds. They showed love and respect to their band and shared the stage with FFH, another Christian pop group. They warmly welcomed people before the concert, gave autographs and smiled for pictures. They were there to praise God with their whole lives, and they did so with grace and love.
Read Psalm 95:1-7
There are many things about this world that are topsy-turvy. People go to church to be entertained and go to rock concerts to worship the singers on stage. However, last night was a wonderful experience where we all went to be entertained by a group of singers and ended up worshipping the One true and living God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD and praise Him daily. Shelley, Denise, Terry and Heather praised God by living their whole lives in worship, praising God with their music and sharing their faith with all who cross their path. May we always praise God with the music of our own lives, using the gifts God has given us to glorify Him to the world. Thanks be to God.
***For more information on Point of Grace, visit their website at Point of Grace Official Website.
Fish We have a fish named Caesar. He is a Beta fish, one of those pretty fish with long fins that you can keep in brandy snifter or a regular fish bowl. He needs very little attention. A pinch of food every day and clean water once in awhile and Caesar is happy. Unfortunately, things can get quite hectic around here sometimes and we tend to forget him. He makes no noise; he doesn’t pester us like kids or the cat. He just swims around his bowl hoping for some food. When he is hungry and he sees me standing near his bowl, he begins to swim frantically as if to catch my attention. Out of the corner of my eye I do catch his act and remember that he needs to be fed.
I wonder how often we miss the needs of the people who quietly cross our path. We are so caught up in our busy schedules and our commitments that we forget to feed those who are in need. Many people are unwilling or unable to make their needs known. We don’t see the need because we live and work where everyone seems to have plenty. Those who hunger and thirst often do not have the willingness or ability to reach out for help. The food isn’t always something to eat. Though most Americans have enough food for their tables, many people hunger for other things – love, comfort, peace, hope, faith. They do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and need to be fed His Word.
Read Luke 12:42-48
Caesar is forgotten too often because he cannot get our attention from his little bowl. His silent needs go unmet because we aren’t paying attention to our responsibilities. We run from one commitment to another and rarely stop long enough to see who really needs our love. The world needs to hear the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. The hungry need to be fed the Word of God. The thirsty need the living water that flows from our lives in Christ.
We shouldn’t stop meeting the known needs of those around us. Felix and the kids still need to be fed. However, we should be more aware of the silent needs – the people who need to see Jesus Christ and know His mercy, forgiveness and love. Let us always be aware of the fish quietly swimming in the bowl waiting for someone to remember they need to be fed. Be open and ready to serve the needs of those God places in your path, so that they will hear the Word of God and have their needs truly met – the need for love, comfort, peace, hope and faith that comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Girl Scout Cookies Several weeks ago, young girls in Girl Scout uniforms came to our door or approached us at work, school and church, selling us their special cookies. We wait expectantly for this time of year, longing for the taste of Thin Mints, Trefoils or Samoas that we can only get once a year. We bought plenty of boxes of our favorites, hoping they will last a little while so that we don’t have to wait so long for the next time. There was a time when the only way you could get the favorite cookies was through the Girl Scouts, but in recent years cookie companies have imitated the cookies, making them available year round. Somehow, though, they aren’t quite the same.
Our world is filled with imitations of everything. There is fake fur, fake Rolex, fake fruit and plants. Coats are made of imitation leader. Producers create movie and music spoofs that are close to the real but purposely make fun of certain aspects of the original. On an episode of “Friends” Monica had a job making up recipes for a product called ‘mocolate’ an imitation chocolate. At the end of the episode, the employer asked her how much she had eaten. She lost her job because scientists discovered that mocolate was a potentially hazardous product.
Impersonators make their living by imitating other people. The movie “Dave” is about an impersonator who is hired by the White House to pretend to be the president. After awhile Dave realized that what they were doing was wrong. In the end he arranged things so that the Vice President would take over and he went back to his normal life. This story may seem ridiculous, and yet in this world today there are many people who pretend to be who they are not. Even within the church there are false prophets and self proclaimed apostles, people who are not properly called or trained pretending to be God’s mouthpiece in this world. They teach false doctrine and convince people away from the truth of Jesus Christ.
Read Acts 13:4-12
We need to carefully discern what is true and what is false. The imitation Girl Scout cookies taste good, but we still enjoy purchasing the real thing – to support Scouting as well to have the cookies we have loved for so long. Fake fur and imitation leather has its advantages, sparing the lives of the animals that would once have been killed to create the coat or piece of clothing. Movie spoofs and impersonators make us laugh, but we need to be careful that we don’t believe lies that can occur when people pretend to be who they are not.
Most importantly, we must seek knowledge of God through His Word, not the words of false prophets – no good can come from them. We must carefully discern what is being taught and line it up to the words found in the scriptures. If Christ is the center of the teaching, and it agrees with sound doctrine, then we can trust the actions of the one speaking. Men like Bar-Jesus are self appointed prophets, using false signs created by manipulation of nature rather than by the Spirit of God. Beware because such prophets still exist and are as plentiful in this day as they were in the days of Paul.
Spring Last week it seemed as though spring had sprung in our corner of the world. The temperatures were in the upper sixties, even seventy. The daffodils are blooming and other flowers are peaking above the surface of the ground. People have been out preparing their gardens, even planting flowers. However, we have had a sudden and extreme turn in the weather. We awoke this morning to temps in the low thirties and the expected high will not go beyond that. There was snow in the mountains and we are preparing for the possibility of flurries tomorrow. We had to pull winter coats out of the closet and relocate hats and gloves for the children today.
The temperatures began to drop yesterday afternoon. As I did my business out and about town, I noticed that many people were wearing springtime clothing. They had not prepared for the coming cold. One girl at Vicki’s school was even wearing shorts. She seemed very cold during the lunch break, shivering from the blowing wind and light drizzle that fell. Even today there will be some caught in the cold. The sun is deceiving and those who don’t pay attention to the weather reports will be unaware of the cold front passing through.
Read Matthew 24:36-41
Many were caught unaware of the cold front passing through our state. This sort of change in the weather is often to blame for the increased incidence of colds and flu, partially because people are unprepared to face the damp, cold weather. Poor health is also caused by the fact that germs pass more easily from person to person when we are gathered together in close, confined quarters to keep from the bitter winds.
In today’s scripture, Jesus warns his disciples that no one will know the time when the Son of Man will come. He gives them this warning so that they will be prepared in heart and mind for the time and not be confused by every wind of doctrine that blows. As the day grows closer, Satan will become more desperate to deceive the children of God. His tactics will become harder to detect, easier to pass from one another. As we long for the coming of our Lord, we will face unexpected circumstances, times when we are forced together to keep warm and safe from the blowing winds. However, in those times it is easier for false doctrine to pass from one another.
Jesus tells his disciples to keep watch for the time of His coming, and to be doing everything He has commanded – loving God with our whole heart and loving one another as ourselves. The same is true for us. May we always stand firm on the Truth that is the Salvation that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ and we pray that He will give us the strength and wisdom to wait with patience and expectancy and keep warm from the winds of change in this world. Thanks be to God.
Soup Our church has a Soup and Salad supper each Wednesday during Lent followed by a midweek worship service. Women and men pull out their favorite recipes to share with the congregation. We enjoy good food and fellowship during these special times. As we eat the food that we receive with thanksgiving through the love of God and the blessings of our friends, we talk to one another about our hopes and fears, our lives of faith and the things that keep us busy in this world. It is a chance to get to know one another, to share our needs with one another and to hear how we can help our brethren in Christ.
A church along the route I take into Little Rock has a sign that says, “Christian fellowship is essential to spiritual growth.” This is a true statement. We need one another for many reasons, which is why God created His Church on earth. We join together to share the Gospel with each other and the lost, to build each other up for ministry, to keep one another on the right road and to share the love of Christ. Our brethren in Christ help us when we fall, lift us when we are down and pray with us when we need healing in our body, mind and spirit. It is through the fellowship of the Church that God helps us to stay on the right track. When our ideas wander from the truth, other Christians help us back on the right path. When we become tired, hurt, angry or when we begin to doubt, our brothers and sisters help us to see the light, which is Christ. We need one another.
Read 1 John 1:1-7
I look forward to our weekly soup and salad suppers, because it is during those times when I experience the fellowship of believers in a simple way. Our worship times are wonderful, as we raise our hearts and voices as one in praise to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. This, too, is fellowship. But it isn’t enough. We need small group bible study, prayer meetings, Sunday school and other opportunities to gather. We also need to share the gifts of God – the talents of our brethren and the provision of everything we need from His creation – with joy and thanksgiving. Through fellowship with one another in God’s Church, we will stay in the light and shine it for the world to see. Thanks be to God.
Fountains I love fountains. Fountains are used to bring some peace during our hectic lives. Have you ever noticed how shopping centers and corporate buildings often have some sort of fountain placed near the entrance and in high traffic areas? I know that when I’m shopping, stressed by the people and the task at hand, I find a bit of peace when I’m near the fountains. The tinkle of the water, the constancy of the flow is relaxing. I find strength to go on when I spend just a few minutes near the water.
I’m hoping someday to have a home with a backyard in which I can put a quoi pond with a waterfall. Until that time, my family bought me a lovely small indoor fountain. These have become very popular lately; stores are filled with all types. Some are made of ceramic or resin and are sculptures of some natural place like the beach or forest. Others are made to look like buildings such as a mill or country village. Some are abstract designs made of rocks and glass. They all serve the same basic purpose – to bring peace and relaxation in our hectic lives.
We have to take special care of these fountains. Since water evaporates, it is important to check the water level often. If the water runs out, the mechanism can overheat and stop working. If the fountain is not run regularly, the water can become stagnant and impurities can ruin the pump. Fountains are wonderful, but they need careful maintenance to keep them running in the best condition.
For Christians, Jesus Christ is a fountain of Living Water, sent from above to take away our sins and give us everything we need to live as children of God in His Kingdom. By our faith in Jesus, we are given the Holy Spirit, God flowing in and through our lives. That flowing water begins at baptism and continues through our lives.
Read Isaiah 55:1-5
The Holy Spirit, the fountain of faith that comes from Jesus Christ, is given to us freely by God our heavenly Father. It is like any other fountain, it needs constant renewing and refreshing of the waters, which we get through prayer and scripture study. God gave us faith and gifts so that they would be used to share His covenant with others – the nations. If we do not use those gifts and share our faith, it will become stagnant. Like a fountain, impurities will get into the system and it will no longer be useful. Our faith brings peace, not only to ourselves but as that living water flows into the world it is a place of rest for others to see the glory of God. You have come to the water, now be a witness for those who need to see the Lord Jesus in this hectic and stressful world. Through Jesus, He has endowed you with His splendor for this very purpose. Lord, let the living water flow through us! Thanks be to God.