Welcome to the February 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, February 2003
February 1, 2003
Columbia It is too early to guess what has happened with the Space Shuttle Columbia. There is even still the unlikely possibility that the astronauts survived. As our nation and the world is shocked by the images we have seen on the television today, we are joining in prayer for the family of those who have perished in this dangerous adventure that has become so normal to us. When I told Vicki about the space shuttle, she said, "I did not even know there was one up there this week." I didn't either. I'm sure there are those who have followed each mission with interest, listening to the news reports about what they are doing. Yet, I recall those early days when every aspect of a flight was big news. We all gathered around the TV for every take off and landing, amazed at the incredible accomplishment of those astronauts. It is still amazing and though it is still not an every day event, we don't pay it as much attention anymore.
Vicki and I went to the Aerospace center in Little Rock the other night. They have an IMAX theatre as well as displays on flight throughout history. One of the exhibits is a very early flying machine, one that preceded the Wright Brother's airplane by thirty years. Dr. Charles McDermott, a local inventor, invented the machine. It looked very strange, a curious contraption that did not even look like it would work. As we look at modern air travel, with airplanes that can travel faster and farther than ever imagined by the early inventors, we wonder about how it all came into being. What would make a man want to fly when he doesn't have wings or to take off into the farthest reaches of space, places we can't even see or imagine.
Dr. McDermott was interviewed for the Arkansas Gazette, the local newspaper, on May 3, 1873. He said, "It is mortifying that a stinking buzzard and a stupid goose should fly, and man, the lord of all the earth should be any longer confined to the land and water." This attitude is arrogant and even questions the wisdom of God our Creator. Yet, though God has not given us the wings to fly, He has given us the brains to overcome the obstacles that stand in our way. Since that day when Dr. McDermott first tried to fly, and even before when others made similar attempts, many have worked together over the generations to make even space travel possible. We will mourn the loss of these lives, thanking God for the blessings they have brought to us. Yet, we should not forget that though God has blessed us in our endeavors and we have succeeded in many things, He is still Lord over all the earth.
"O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein. These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season. Thou givest unto them, they gather; Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they die, And return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground." Psalm 104:24-30 (ASV)
I look forward to the new adventures that will come as we expand our understanding and experiences in this universe, which God has created. I pray that we will always remember the source of all our blessings - intelligence, abilities and the materials needed to create such wonderful things. I pray that as we mourn our losses, we also remember the incredible blessings that have come with the sacrifices made by all who have taken part in these programs. We should not take such an arrogant attitude as Dr. McDermott, but we should praise Him when He gives us opportunity to reach for the stars. Thanks be to God.
Groundhog Day Bill Murray starred in a movie called “Groundhog Day.” It is a very funny movie, where Bill Murray plays a weatherman from Pittsburgh sent to Punxatawny on assignment for Groundhog Day. He is an arrogant and condescending man, putting down his coworkers and the people of that small town. He hates the idea that he has to go on this assignment and grumbles the whole way. He can’t wait to get out of Punxatawny because he is awaiting news of a new network job. Unfortunately for Phil, someone had something else in store for him.
He gets through the day, but his weather forecast is way wrong and the crew gets stuck in Punxatawny for the night. At 6:00 am the alarm rings and Phil wakes up the exactly the same day. Over and over again, Phil relives Groundhog Day in the one place he would rather not be. For the first few days, Phil is confused, wondering why this is happening. Eventually he realizes that he can take advantage of the situation. He robs a armored truck, takes advantage of women and eats like a pig. He even ends up in jail, but wakes up the next morning back in bed with the same radio show blaring a wake up call. He decides that the day will never end as long as the groundhog exists so he tries to kill it. He kills himself in the process. When he wakes up again to Groundhog Day, he tries to kill himself. One day he electrocutes himself, another day he jumps off a building. Every day he wakes up again to a new Groundhog Day.
Through it all he falls in love with his producer, Rita. He realizes that if he is going to relive the same day over and over again, he might as well do something worthwhile. He learns to play piano and how to carve ice sculptures. He reads and learns about medicine and literature. He gets to know the people in the town intimately, and he experiences the same things every day. He tries to tell his coworkers about his problem, but they do not understand. When they do believe him, the day ends and Groundhog Day begins once again and they have no knowledge of what occurred. Finally, Phil takes the day to do many wonderful things. He saves lives and marriages, makes people happy with his talents and by the end of the day the whole town loves him. Rita sees this new Phil and falls in love with him. The next morning, the radio goes off a 6:00 am, and it is finally a new day. As they are leaving town, Phil decides he wants to stay in Punxatawny with Rita and live there forever.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (ASV)
Bill Murray’s character goes through a transformation that begins with his evil nature and he pursues the lusts of his flesh – greed, gluttony and sex. Eventually he realizes that this is useless and he becomes a transformed man – educated and caring. Instead of doing everything for his own benefit, he uses his days to do good and wonderful things. When he is finally transformed, completely selfless, the day ends and he begins a new life as a new person. In the movie, Phil’s transformation seems to be by his own works, yet you can’t help but think something or someone is leading him into a new life. Why this daily rerun of the same day, over and over again?
Do we ever feel like we are living the same day over and over again? The date on the calendar might change, but we get up at 6:00 am to the same old stuff – nine-hour workday, dinner, and the same old reruns on television. We lust after the same things and fall into the same traps. Yet, we have been saved by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus so that we can be transformed into a new creation. Just like Phil, each day we die to our old ways, learning new things about God and finding new ways to live in His love. For Phil, one day seemed to take a lifetime and a lifetime fit into one day. Tomorrow will be a new day for us. How will we use the time God has given us? Let us always live in God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Martyrdom When Romania was a communist country, there was an evangelical preacher who went about the country sharing the Good News of Christ. His name was John Tson. He was often called to appear before the government officials who tried everything to break his faith and convince him to stop. John never backed down, even when his life was at risk. At Ploiesti an officer threatened to kill him but John responded, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying.” John explained that if he was killed for his faith, the tapes of his sermons would become far more powerful. The people who had heard him preach while he was alive, and those who would subsequently hear his recorded sermons, would know that he spoke with integrity and faith. They would know he really believed in the words because he was willing to die for them. The sermons would be far more powerful and John was glad to have his life threatened. The officer let John go home.
There are very few of us reading this devotional that have ever faced such persecution for our faith. It is highly unlikely that we even know someone whose life was threatened because they were Christians. We may face rejection or verbal abuse, but little else, yet many are quick to bring up this idea of persecution, particularly when someone disagrees with what they have to say. It is almost humorous, but even sadder, when someone confronts a preacher about something he said, and the preacher responds with cries of persecution. I have seen them stand before congregations, lifting up their own ministries while humiliating the one who questioned their preaching. “Jesus told us we would be persecuted!” Then they go on in their error, leading others down a path of destruction.
This is not new; the earliest disciples faced similar problems when they were establishing the church on earth. Of course, the ones who questioned their preaching were the priests of the day, the ones who rejected Jesus while He still ministered on earth. This must have been a very difficult time for the people in the congregations. Who were they to believe? They had faith in Jesus, but the priests in the Temple had always been their shepherds. In the early church days even the priests listened to the disciples, but when it was obvious that they were following the radical ministry of Jesus, they rejected them too.
“Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
John Tson, Peter and John knew that they had to obey God no matter what might happen to them. They risked death to share what they had seen and heard. Are we willing to do the same, even if we have to go against the modern equivalent of priests in the temple? The people in the days of the early church had to decide whom to follow – the priests or the disciples. Who spoke the truth? In today’s world we are bombarded with so many people making claims about their ministries. We have to carefully discern between that which is competing for our loyalty – God and the world. John Tson’s life was threatened if he refused to follow the ways of his government. He had to obey God. Peter and John were threatened if they refused to follow the priests’ directives. They had to obey God. Will we follow men, or will we follow God? Following God means a willingness to die for the sake of the Gospel – dying to self, dying to everything in this world and perhaps even dying in flesh. No matter what, God’s Word will continue to be shared. What a joy it is to be a part of His plan. Thanks be to God.
Purpose I go to Zack’s school once a week to help the teachers in whatever way I am able. Most of the time I do mindless, time-consuming tasks so that the teachers are freed to do the work that will most help the students. I sort papers, prepare science projects or inventory books. I never know what I will be doing when I walk into the classroom each morning. Some days the teacher has nothing prepared, so I am able to help with the children. It is fun to be involved in this way, but as I travel to school I always wonder what will my purpose be that day. Some of the tasks seem so silly and meaningless that I doubt they are a worthwhile way to spend my time. Yet, I know they have to be done for the sake of the children, and I am glad that the teachers do not have to bother.
We often wonder the same thing about our lives in general. “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “Have I really accomplished anything or had an impact on the lives of others?” These questions are valid as we consider our lives, for if we do not know where we are going or what we should be doing; we waste our time on meaningless things when we could be changing the world. Sometimes we are trying so hard to be changing the world that we miss the more important purposes of our lives. In typical human aspiration, we tend to look toward the grandiose as being our purpose in life, when in reality God has created us simply to praise Him and live in His promises.
“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of the law, then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, According to thy word, in peace; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.” Luke 2:25-32 (ASV)
Imagine such a life. Simeon was a righteous and devout man who had the Holy Spirit on him. This was before Pentecost, before the Spirit had rained down on all believers. He was very special. We do not know his age, but he is always portrayed as an older man, white haired and wise in appearance. God made him a promise – that he would see the salvation of Israel before he died. One day, a couple with a young boy, less than two months old, came into the temple to dedicate their son. Simeon saw the boy and knew God had fulfilled his promise. He praised God and said, “Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” Simeon knew his purpose was to see the Light, which is Christ, and once that happened he could rest in peace. We do not know what happened to Simeon after that day and I have always assumed he died, but it really does not matter if he died immediately or lived a hundred years. He fulfilled his purpose to see the salvation of the world and praise God for Him.
Perhaps in some way he did die. The nation of Israel had certain expectations about the type of Messiah that would come save them. Simeon was in the temple that day, not because he was waiting for the Messiah but because the Holy Spirit led him there. Imagine his thoughts when he realized he was seeing the salvation of God in the flesh of a poor infant child.
What is our purpose? Well, every day there are things to accomplish – people with whom we can share the Gospel of Christ and love them in thought, word and deed. We have family to care for and vocations to follow. God has gifted us with abilities and opportunities to glorify Him in every aspect of our life. But ultimately, our purpose is the same as Simeon’s. We have been created to see the salvation of God in Christ Jesus and praise God for Him. That is our purpose and when we have seen the Light, the rest of our lives are living praise that glorifies God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Control There are certainly a lot of things over which we have no control. We can’t do anything about the weather, even though most of us spend a great deal of time discussing it and complaining. The referees at a game won’t change their mind and the victims in a horror film will always go into the path of the villain no matter how loud we yell at the television or movie screen. We can’t control the other drivers on the road. It is unlikely that we will ever change another person no matter how hard we try, though most of us try real hard to make everyone as we want him or her to be. Our words and actions may have some affect on their lives, but we do not have any control.
God does, and it is in remembering this simple fact that helps us to deal with situations in which we have no control. When the weather is bad, we can praise God for the way He takes care of all His creation, since even bad weather serves a purpose in the ecology of this world. When there is a dangerous driver in our path, we can pray God’s protection for that person and ourselves, and we can ask God to give us strength and wisdom to react accordingly. It doesn’t help to get angry with them, which will only cause our own driving to deteriorate. When there is something about someone that we think should be changed, we should look to God for wisdom in the matter. Do we suffer the same thing? How would Jesus deal with the situation? What scriptures might help encourage, correct or reprove that person? God is in control, so in all things for which we have none, we look to God for guidance and help.
Jesus had control. He knew exactly what He was getting into when He began His ministry. He knew that the people would seek Him out for all the wrong reasons, that they would not truly understand what He said until they saw the whole story. He knew that they could not handle everything about His purpose until the right time, and He held the tongues of even the demons so that none would be lost. Foreknowledge creates chaos and confusion.
“And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her: and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with demons. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed.” Mark 1:29-34 (ASV)
This story takes place very early in Jesus’ ministry. He had already shown the authority by which He speaks in the synagogue earlier that day. The people were amazed at how Jesus could even command the demons to leave the possessed. What harm would it have done for the people to know Jesus was the Messiah? It simply wasn’t time, and their understanding of Messiah was wrong. Jesus held the tongues of the demons so that He could slowly bring the people into a proper understanding of His ministry and purpose. They wanted a king to lead them, a king who would defeat the Romans and make them an independent nation again. That was not why Jesus came. He came to defeat sin and death and reconcile the world to the Lord God Almighty. If the people knew too early that Jesus was the Messiah for whom the longed, they would never have listened to what He was saying. When He did not fit their expectation, they would go to another who preached what they wanted to hear. Even later in His ministry, many left when they became uncomfortable with His teaching.
But Jesus touched a few. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law and gave her strength. He healed many and spoke the Word of God into their lives. He was always in control, even of the demons. Even at times like in this story, when things seemed to be getting out of control – people were seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons – Jesus still had control. Early the next morning, He left to go pray. When the disciples found Him, He suggested they go elsewhere to preach. Whenever it seemed as though the people were ready to declare Him to be king, He moved on. He would not be forced into anything that would go against the will of God. This is quite a comfort, particularly when we feel like we have no control. When the weather is bad or the roads are dangerous, when we face people who we think need to be changed – we can always rest in the fact that God knows these things and has us in His loving arms. He is in control and when we face life situations with God, we will see even the bad things in a more positive light. Thanks be to God.
Underdog Zack plays basketball with the local league. It has been a really fun experience for him, to learn the rules of the game and play with his friends. He is even excited when someone he knows is on the opposing team. Zack’s coach has worked with the children to help them understand sportsmanship, respect for the other players and proper technique. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw left them with the smallest players in the league, giving them a disadvantage against the other teams. There are also some coaches who are only interested in winning, willing to do whatever is necessary to go home with a victory. Fortunately, Zack’s coach is more concerned with raising these children with a joy for the game and a heart to do the best they can. They are the underdogs, but they do well each week despite the overwhelming odds against them.
The world is filled with situations where we are the underdogs. This is particularly true for those of us who live by faith, since so many think that Christianity is nothing more than a fairy tale and we are foolish for believing. In today’s society, the whole idea of the underdog being the blessed one is rejected, even in some churches. If you aren’t healthy, rich or successful, then ‘the gods’ have not treated you with favor. You must have done something wrong, or you must not have enough faith. Achieving great things is seen as blessedness, yet the reality is quite different. Zack may not get the first place trophy when this season is over, but I am thankful for what he has learned during this experience. There is blessedness in the life of the underdog. In faith this is especially true because God regards those of humble circumstances with great love.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Praise Jehovah, O my soul. While I live will I praise Jehovah: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish.
There are those in our society who pursue success to the detriment of all else. The coach who is willing to cheat for the sake of a victory is harming the children on his team because they are not learning sportsmanship and respect. The person who is willing to destroy a family for the sake of a career misses out on the incredible blessings of being part of a loving relationship. Yet, it is possible to take ourselves to the other extreme, to pursue underdog status, which can be just as dangerous. I know people who seek persecution, who see everything as being against them. They are bound by a desire to be the underdog and they purposely set themselves up for failure just so they can wallow in their humility, but it is a false humility.
God loves those who trust in Him. He is our help in our successes and our failures. He upholds us, gives us food, sets us free, gives us sight, and lifts us up. He guides and guards us when we are far from home or when we have lost those we love. He protects us from our enemies. He is the Lord God Almighty, and our hope is found in Him, through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether we succeed or we are the underdog, whether we are on the winning team or the team that just does their best, when God is our helper we will be blessed. Trust in Him for He is faithful. Thanks be to God.
Snow It snowed at our house last night, rightly called by the weathermen. When I woke early this morning, I peeked out the window and it did not look too bad. The grass was obviously white, but the roads were just wet. I thought we had only a dusting, less than expected. When the sun rose and the light shined on the land, I could see we had far more snow than I thought, at least an inch. Some places had more than that, enough that many lucky children had a snow day. In the dark I really could not see what was there, but the light revealed the truth.
Isn’t it amazing how a little light makes everything look different? A dark room is nothing but shadows, but even a small candle or flashlight can help you see what is in the room. The scriptures speak often of light, and Jesus Christ called Himself the light of the world. He came to shine the darkness of this world, so show all human flesh their separation from their Creator. When the Son shines, we see what lurks in the shadows and look to Him for forgiveness. We all have skeletons in our closet, sins against God and our fellow man. The first step is to see our sinful nature and turn to Christ. He draws us into the knowledge of our bondage to sin and death and shows us life in His Light. He saves us by bringing sight to our eyes and He melts our hearts. He then calls us to live in that light daily, dying to self and sharing the light. He shines through us into the world that others might see their sin and turn to God for forgiveness. Of course, the brighter the light the more we can see, which is why we are called to grow in faith and in our relationship with the Lord.
“For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them; for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of. But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” Ephesians 5:8-14 (ASV)
When I first got up this morning, I thought that the weathermen were wrong. When the early morning news began reporting school closures, I took another look. By then the sun was rising so that I could see that we really did get a measurable amount of snow. It was quite a surprise. As Jesus comes into our lives, He reveals that which we have done that harms our relationships with others. He calls us to repentance, to live in His light and grow in faith. He calls us to join Him in shining His light to the world to reveal to others the things that keep them from loving relationships with others. A little light makes everything visible, and that light brings life through forgiveness and reconciliation. Thanks be to God.
No WORD posted.
No WORD posted.
Treasures I have a book that is one of my favorites from my childhood. It is a Christmas story called, “The Littlest Angel.” The story involves a young child who died and went heaven. Things were never quite the same because this little angel was untidy and mischievous, causing trouble wherever he went. An understanding angel took the little one upon his knee. He knew the little angel was troublesome because he was unhappy. So he asked the little angel what would make him happy. The little angel whispered that there was a small box under his bed and if he could have it, he would be happy. The box was brought to heaven and the little angel began to behave more angelic. The time came for the baby Jesus to be born and all the angels were gathering gifts for the King. The littlest angel had nothing to give – he could not sing very well or write fine sounding prayers. Finally he decided to give his small box, filled with his treasures from his life on earth – a butterfly, an egg-shell, a couple of stones and the torn up collar from a dog that had been a loving companion. The littlest angel looked at all the beautiful gifts that were laid out for the baby Jesus, and he realized how silly it was to give such ordinary things. He tried to get the box back before anyone saw it laying there, but God took it to the heavenly throne and spoke, saying that of all the gifts, that one was most precious, because the child Jesus would also treasure those things and have to leave them behind when He died on the cross.
Though the story of the Littlest Angel is certainly not good theology, it makes us think about the things we treasure. There are few of us who have great material wealth. Yet, we all have some bits of memorabilia from those we love and the time we spent with them. We treasure our families, our churches, and our heritage. They are all part of who we are, and though God has created us, He has used the ordinary things and people of this world to mold us. While these things should never be held in greater esteem than our Lord God Almighty, the most ordinary things are often the quite precious, and God does honor our love for the simple things of this world. As we learn and grow in faith, those past experiences build one upon another to build us up for the sake of God’s glory.
“And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” Matthew 13:52 (ASV)
As we grow in faith we begin to look at our relationship with God and each other differently. Every Christian is at a different place in their journey, some are infants and others are mature in knowledge of God and deep in spiritual understanding. In the story of the littlest angel, we see the older angels looking down on the mischievous games of the child and the foolish love for those humble items in his small box. Yet, it was not the beautiful songs or the well-written prayers that God honored, it was the simple things from a child’s heart given in love. It is possible for us to become too spiritual, to forget everything from our past and lift up only the new things we learn. I’ve even known people to reject basic Christian teaching for more spiritual endeavors. Others go so far as to condemn the religious heritage of our youth, even suggesting we leave the fellowship of our past for something new. Many people have condemned the faith of their fathers and the experiences of their youth, forgetting that God uses even the simplest things to mold us into that which He created us to be. I have pondered my place today, where I should be and what I should be doing. Yet, I know who I am in Christ Jesus, and part of that is where I have been throughout my life. We will constantly learn and grow in faith, but we should never forget the old things. It is good to remember the basic lessons of Christian faith, to go back to the Gospel regularly and remember from whence we came. For the old and the new are treasures from God. Thanks be to God.
Valentine Bags I helped in Zack’s class yesterday and we spent some time making bags to be used on Friday to collect Valentine’s Day cards at their party. It was a fun time, where the children could get as creative as they wanted – to show their individuality. It was a rare moment in this school where parties and creative projects are infrequent and academics is the sole focus. Though the classroom is not a place for free-for-alls, there is value in those times spent in creative expression.
What I found most interesting during our activity yesterday was the way the children responded to one another. There were a few who quickly grabbed the best materials for themselves, unwilling to share with others. There were others who spent most of their time sharing, leaving little time to make their bags. There are always a few who are role models, whose actions are copied by the other students. Unfortunately, sometimes the role models are those who misbehave, setting a pattern for arguing and disagreement. But yesterday kindness won. Even the students who began the exercise in a greedy way, ended up sharing as the time progressed. Then the students began making cards out of hearts for each other, the teacher and I. Once one student gave a heart away, they all wanted to do it. It could have been a different experience if the children had given in to the greed displayed early in the activity.
Do you know anyone whose life is such a strong model of a godly life that even the ungodly follow that pattern in his or her presence? We could all name a few famous people who have had such an impact on the world, and I am sure we can name family members or friends from our church who obviously display a righteous life. There are those whose walk with Christ is so sure and visible that everyone who comes in contact with them falls into step, even for just a moment. Of course, the opposite is also true. There are times when the ways of the world are so powerful that those with weak or unsure faith can be led astray. This is especially true when Christians do not follow the example of Christ and live according to the pattern given to us through God’s Word.
“Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.” Philippians 3:17-21 (ASV)
We have a great responsibility during our walk of faith. The Lord Jesus has saved us from sin and death and given us incredible gifts so that we can have a real impact on this earth. It is very easy for our flesh to follow the ways of anger, hatred, greed and lust, our sinful natures are drawn into temptation easily and it is very difficult to keep from falling. But in Christ Jesus, we are given the strength, courage and wisdom to reject those ways and follow the ways of love, joy and peace. When we live those ways, every moment of every day, it impacts the response of those around us. We may never realize it, just as those children who gave hearts to their friends will never know what they did during that time in class, we may not even see the difference in the people who cross our path. But Christ calls us to be role models when He makes us citizens of heaven, to live according to His ways so that others will be drawn into His presence and find salvation in His mercy. He transforms us so that through us He can bring transformation. Thanks be to God.
Expectations The student handbook is an important document because it lays out the rules for everyone – students, teachers, administrators and parents – and it defines the expectations and responsibilities for each. The student handbook is not just a rulebook; it is also a book of promises. The school promises to educate and care for the children while the parents promise to cooperate. Unfortunately, many people have not read the book and they have their own expectations for the relationship. They have expectations of everyone else, yet are unwilling to take responsibility for their own participation. The ideal situation includes parents who are actively involved in a student’s school life and teachers who are in constant communication with the home. Without such a close relationship, everyone has expectations that are unmet because they are unknown to the other party. We make demands on one another without accepting our own part.
Our Master has given us a student handbook, a book that we believe to be God’s Word to His children. The Holy Bible lays out the relationship between God and man, establishes the expectations and responsibilities of each. This great book is filled with promises from God – promises to teach and care for His creation, to save us from ourselves and to provide us with all we need to survive. However, we often have expectations that are not based on what God gave as the foundation of our relationship. We know that God loves us, so we expect Him to love every part of us, even our sin. We know that God saves, so we expect Him to save us on our own terms. We know that God provides us with all we need, so we expect Him to provide us with all we want. We know that God heals, so we expect Him to heal us in a certain way and in our time.
The king of Aram had a trusted servant named Naaman, a mighty commander and valiant soldier, who had a skin disease. Naaman had a servant girl from Israel who told him about a prophet who could heal his disease. Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel with a plea for healing. The king of Israel mourned over the request, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” Aram expected the king to help Naaman. Naaman expected healing. The king of Israel expected war because he knew he could not heal Naaman. Elisha heard about the situation and asked the king of Israel why he mourned. “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” God was guiding this story, leading people into relationships that would show people outside of Israel that He is the one true and living God.
Naaman went to Elisha expecting to have a meeting with the holy man, but Elisha sent Naaman a simple message, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” Naaman was angry with Elisha because he did not get the answer he expected. He was a great warrior, a respected man, and one who had great wealth to give for the healing. Elisha would have none of that. God’s word was that Naaman was to wash in the Jordan. What good would that do? After all the waters of his home were much better than any of the waters of Israel.
“And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:13-14 (ASV)
The student handbook lays out the expectations of the relationship between the child, the school and the parents. It is filled with rules and with promises. The same is true of the scriptures we have been given by God. Through His Word, our Father establishes the relationship between Himself and His creations. It is filled with incredible promises of provision and salvation. Yet, we often base our expectations on what we want rather than on what God has said. In today’s story, everyone had expectations and they were upset when things did not go their way. Yet, when they listened to God speak – through the servant and the prophet, Naaman was healed and Israel was safe. God’s will was done and Naaman believed. We run into trouble when we do not listen to God but have expectations based on our own desires. God knows what we need. He will teach us, care for us, save us and provide all we need. We just have to remember that God knows how best to accomplish these things and let Him work in our lives as He has planned. We can expect great things from Him for He has promised and is faithful. Thanks be to God.
The story of Naaman is found in 2 Kings 5.
Gratitude The story is told of a time when King Alfonso XII of Spain taught the attendants of the courts a valuable lesson in gratitude. He had learned that they were not praying to God in thanksgiving for their food before meals. He held a large banquet and arranged for a beggarly man to crash the party. The guests all came in and none gave thanks to God for the magnificent meal. When the beggar arrived, they sat with bated breath expecting the king to have him thrown out. The man ate his fill, got up and left without a word to the king or the guests. The king overheard someone near him comment about the ungratefulness of the beggar. He rose and told them that they are no different than that man, ungrateful servants who never thank the Lord for their gifts. They are even more disgraceful because they ignore their Creator and Master.
How often do we do the same? Oh, perhaps we remember to pray at our meals, but do we thank God for all things? Even in the midst of trial, do we remember God’s grace and mercy as He guides, comforts and protects us from evil? We try to raise our children with good manners, so that they will say please and thank you. Yet, we often forget to teach them to do the same thing in their relationship with the Lord. God has been so very good to us. He gave us the earth and all that is in it and He provides for our every need. He gave us His Son and the salvation that comes from faith in Him. He gave us the gifts we need to carry on His work in this world. How can we not go through each day singing His praises?
“Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: Tremble before him, all the earth.
The art of gratefulness has been lost in this day. Thank you notes are a forgotten nicety and many people do not bother to show that they are thankful to their neighbor for the nice things they do. Even worse, however, is that we do not show the Lord God Almighty the praise and glory He is due for all He has done. It is hard to see the joy and live joyfully in a world that is filled with hatred, violence, greed and lust. Yet the whole creation sings of God’s majesty, even the lives of non-believers show His mercy and grace. But those of us who are Christians, who know the depth of God’s love and the peace that comes from knowing Him, are blessed to be living sacrifices for our Lord. Out of our lives flow the living waters that bring salvation to the world. It is in joy to be able to sing to the Lord that new song, the song of praise and thanksgiving for all He has done. Today, let us join together with all of creation and sing His praise. Glorify Him with every thought, word and deed, for He is worthy of praise! Thanks be to God.
Valentine’s Day The Today Show has been doing a series about finding a mate in today’s world. They picked a man and a woman who would go through the process, hoping that in the end they will find someone with whom they can spend the rest of their lives. Each of the contestants has three friends who have been helping for the past few weeks. They have looked into three types of modern dating – cyber dating, dating services and speed dating. Each friend picked one possible mate and then they played the dating game with the three choices. Who knows what will become of those relationships but at least for Valentine’s Day, those two people have someone interesting to spend some time getting to know.
I’ve recently heard the question, “Is Valentine’s Day for Christians?” After all, it started as a feast day for the saint called Valentine, but the church has stopped celebrating that festival and it is now focused solely on romance. It is the biggest day of the year for florists, who are selling roses by the dozens. Chocolates and stuffed animals are other favorites. Lovers try to find time together, restaurants will be packed full of men and women holding hands and enjoying each other. Children celebrate Valentine’s Day with a little less romance. Schools will celebrate with parties and the children are encouraged to give a special greeting to all their classmates, but even in Elementary school the children are concerned with giving just the right valentine to the ones they love. It is a day about making the right impression, certainly not a Christian concern.
Yet, Valentine’s Day is all about love, lifting others up an encouraging them with remembrances of our relationships. Because romance is the focus, the standing joke is that if a man gets the gift wrong, he’ll end up in the doghouse. Every sitcom has done a bit involving this humorous aspect of Valentine’s Day. The boyfriend buys something he thinks the girlfriend will like; the girlfriend reads more into the gift than she should. They have an argument and by the end of the show the boyfriend manages to find the perfect gift, they kiss and make up. There is so much more to love than this.
The Bible speaks repeatedly about the kind of love we are to give one another, a sacrificial love that is not concerned with the ‘stuff’ but rather loves despite the stuff. Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV) While He lived, He loved His disciples and the people who followed Him. He even loved those who would try to destroy Him. He fed them, gave them God’s Word and led them in the ways of righteousness. He showed the greatest love when He laid down His life for us, even though we were enemies who sinned against God. Though we will never be called upon to die on a cross for the sake of the world, we are called to lay down our lives. Loving someone sacrificially means putting them first, not caring for our own concerns but doing whatever we can to meet their needs. Jesus loved us so that we will love others. It is His love in, with and through our lives that we can celebrate this day, to make Valentine’s Day a day for Christians.
“Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (ASV)
On this Valentine’s Day, enjoy those you love, even give them flowers, candy or stuffed animals. But take a moment to remember the greatest love of them all and share it with someone. Share the Gospel message, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV) Sacrificial love is not necessarily willingness for death, but rather a giving of one’s whole self – first to God and then to one another. Christ did this for you and now lives in, with and through you as His love flows into the lives of others. Thanks be to God.
See Spot Run We are well into our second semester of the class in New Testament Greek I am taking. Our class last night was one of the most exciting since we began in August, because we are finally looking at examples of sentences that are actual scripture quotations. Up until now we have relied on made up sentences that used the words that we have learned. That is how it is when we learn a new language, even for children learning to read English. It does no good to hand an early reader a copy of Homer’s “Odyssey”, because there are words he or she does not understand. They read stories such as “See Spot Run” which includes very simple words. As a child grows older, he learns more words and can read harder stories.
The same has been true for this class in Greek. Early in the book, we learned simple words that follow normal patterns. With each week, new more complicated words were added to our vocabulary. Each lesson is designed to help us learn how to recognize the different forms of the words, to use them in sentences. After seven months, we finally learned the word for Jesus. It was not worthwhile to know such words until we understood the various tenses, voices, moods, cases, genders and numbers of the words. Now that we are more familiar with the basics of Greek, we can translate real passages.
When children grow up in the church, they are taught all the favorite Bible stories, from Adam to Zacchaeus, from Moses the deliverer of the Israelites to our Lord Jesus Christ. They hear the stories in simple ways with activities that will interest children. It would be foolish to try to teach deep theological lessons to a five year old, they need to hear the stories of people who loved God and of God’s love for them, so that they can grow in faith and love for Him. This is one of the advantages of learning about Jesus when you are a child, for you grow into knowledge one step at a time. It is an incredible joy when an adult comes to faith in Christ, but unfortunately too often they try to jump right into confusing doctrine and religious debate. They try to learn too much too fast, to learn mature language before they really understand the simple lessons. It is like a five year old trying to read Shakespeare. It is just like learning a language, we need to take it one step at a time, always moving forward in faith.
“ We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth; even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
It is such fun to watch children grow in knowledge and start reading harder books. It was great to finally be able to use the little knowledge I have in Greek to read real passages from the Bible. It is a joy when young adults begin to witness their own faith based on their early learning of the stories of God. It is wonderful when a new Christian grows in knowledge through study and prayer. The whole Christian Church began with our One Lord, Jesus Christ our Savior and brother. He chose twelve men and many others followed. Since Pentecost, the Church has grown day by day, one person at a time. Every child of God, everyone saved by the grace of God, has grown individually, walking in faith and living according to the ways of the Lord Jesus, sharing the Gospel with others so that they might begin a similar journey. One step at a time. Thanks be to God.
Bataan We went to a promotion dinner for the new Chief Master Sergeants on our base last night. It was a lovely time as we celebrated this major step in their lives. There is something very beautiful about the traditional ceremonies, particularly the remembrance of our POW’s and MIA’s. A small table is set for one person with a white cloth, a rose, a plate with lemon and salt, a single chair and a rose in a vase with a red ribbon. Each item represents the sadness, loneliness and bitter fate – the fact that they are not able to share in such joy and celebration because they have sacrificed even their lives. This is a moving tribute to the men and women who never returned from war, particularly emotional at a time like this day in our history.
The guest speaker last night was one of those men who managed to return, but not until after he suffered through three and a half years of captivity. He was among the troops stationed on Bataan, who were forced to walk the Death March in spring of 1942, which lived in slavery for years with little food and water. This is a story from our history of which I was not aware; though I had heard of it, I had no idea of the suffering those soldiers endured. The speaker said there were three things that got him through it – his faith in God, the prayers of his family and the determination to survive. By the time the Japanese took Bataan, the men stationed there had nothing left – no food, no medicine and no ammunition. They were starving, dying. They surrendered, only to face more difficult times under the Japanese. The Death March was sixty-five miles in tropical heat. They had little rest, no water or food. Any people who tried to help them were executed. They endured horror after horror during and after the march. Those who survived the march suffered even greater humiliations as prisoner of war slaves. By the time they were freed in the summer of 1945, only a third of the original captives were alive. If it weren’t for the Russians who liberated the camp, this dear man would have had to dig a mass grave with the other prisoners, they would have been executed and their bodies burned so that no evidence would remain of those brave men.
I am sure he could have talked for hours and it was not easy to share those experiences, but he feels it is important that people, especially young people, hear about the horrors of war and remember those who sacrificed even their lives for the sake of others. One story he told touched me deeply, both emotionally and in spirit. The marchers were not given any water to drink in that searing tropical heat. At mid-day they would stop at a field, so that the Japanese soldiers could rest. They would sit in the shade and drink their fill of the cool, clean water that flowed freely out of artesian wells that were near the road. The prisoners were not allowed to drink. If they tried, they were killed. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be so near to fresh water and yet unable to drink without dying for it? For some Christians, that’s exactly what living their faith could mean. They want to drink the living water, which is Christ, but doing so could lead to death. It is only faith that gets them through the persecution.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (ASV)
In America we have no idea what it is like to face such persecution, even those soldiers at war in the Pacific during World War II had no expectation that they would suffer such great horrors during that war. Our guest speaker survived because of his faith, he looked to God to help him through his captivity and the many attacks to his life and his emotional well-being. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but for a Christian persecution is always a possibility. We can only trust that if someone refuses to allow us to drink of the living water, God is with us no matter what persecution we face. He will not allow us to be crushed, to despair, to be abandoned or destroyed. Our bodies might die, but in Christ we will live forever. May we all face tomorrow with the faith that God’s power is greater than any power in this world. Thanks be to God.
Worship Sir Samuel Romilly once attended worship with Marie Antoinette and France’s King Louis XVI. He wrote his impressions of the experience. When the royal family entered into the sanctuary, the attention of all turned to them and they focused their energies on getting a peak of the spectacle. The women attendants were fancily dressed, catching the eye of the king who laughed and acted as if he were at a party rather than a service of worship. The people paid no attention to the priest, even at the most sacred moments of the mass. The worship that day was of a man, King Louis, and the glitz and glamour of the life of the rich and famous.
We can listen to a story like this and be offended by such a dishonoring of the act of worship, yet can we? How often is our worship just half hearted as the things in our life distract us? A story is told of a dream a man once had of worship from the perspective of heaven. An angel took him into church one Sunday. Everything was as normal; the people were singing with the musicians and listening to the minister speaking God’s word, yet there was no sound. When the man asked what this meant, the angel answered that it was how worship was heard in heaven, for though the lips of the people were making the motions; their hearts and minds were elsewhere.
Things have always been this way; it is not a modern problem. Even the ancient Jews did not know how to worship God as He desired. They gave their sacrifices according to the rules, presenting offering of bulls and lambs in the hopes that the LORD would accept them and bless the people. Yet, it is never enough to just go through the motions, God expects true spiritual sacrifice. He wants our hearts. He wants our attention. He wants our whole lives, not just a few minutes of singing or our presence on a Sunday morning.
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; And thy burnt-offerings are continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, Nor he-goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; And the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Psalm 50:7-15 (ASV)
The people were giving many burnt offerings and sacrifices to God, but they were not giving Him their heart. Though we do not kill bulls or lambs in our modern worship, what sort of offerings are we giving Him? Do we grumble when we write our weekly check? Do we moan as we roll out of bed on a Sunday morning? Are we like the people at the service with Marie Antoinette, checking out the clothes of our fellow worshippers rather than listening to God’s Word? Is our worship silent in heave because we are thinking about the cares of this world, turning our attention away from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ? Just like the Jews in days of old, it is almost as if we think that God needs our bodies there at worship, but we will use that time to accomplish other things.
Also, our worship should go beyond the church doors, not limited to an hour a week when we are in the company of other Christians. God desires lives of praise, not the things we think we can give Him. He owns the whole world, the creation and all those who live in it. We cannot give Him anything for nothing is ours to give. We can only sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and look to Him above all else in this world. He is the Lord God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Comforter. True spiritual worship will focus entirely on Him, not only during a worship service but for all time. That worship will bring blessings. Thanks be to God.
Creation Over the years, I have seen some pretty incredible things. I have seen a sunflower that grew ten feet high with a head over two feet in diameter. I have seen kittens born. I have seen sunsets that fill the sky with every color of the rainbow. I have seen flowers grow bloom in a pot of rock without any soil to nourish the plant. I have seen babies smile their first smile and toddlers take their first steps. I have seen war and peace, hate and love. My life is no different or special than anyone else’s in this world. We have all witnessed the incredible power of God in the lives of people and His hand moving the whole of creation day by day. It is impossible for me to look at any aspect of this world and not see God’s sovereignty over it. When flowers grow, it is because God sent the sun and the rain. When kittens are born, it is because God has knitted them in the wombs of their mothers. When the sky is filled with color at the close of the day, it is because God keeps the heavens moving according to their purpose as they count the days and the seasons as He designed them to do.
Unfortunately, it is easy to miss God in all these things, many people do. Some outright reject the idea that God even exists. Creation can take care of itself; we do not need something or someone greater than ourselves to explain the way the world works. Others believe that God created everything and stepped back leaving us to go it on our own. After all, doesn’t the suffering of this world prove that God either has no power or has refused to take responsibility? However, it is even in the midst of the pain and turmoil of this world that I see God is still active, loving and powerful.
Though it seems possible for people to do good things on our own, history has proven over and over again that people are for more likely to be selfish. Greed, lust, anger and hatred are natural responses to the things in this world. We desire everything that will make us happy. Love, truth, unselfishness and peace are far more difficult. Love brings pain, truth brings persecution, unselfishness brings rejection and peace very often brings death. We could never do it on our own. We need God.
“Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion; And unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, Unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: As for our transgressions, thou wilt forgive them. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, That he may dwell in thy courts: We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, Thy holy temple. By terrible things thou wilt answer us in righteousness, Oh God of our salvation, Thou that art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, And of them that are afar off upon the sea:
When things become overwhelming for me in this world, I simply remember that God is in control. He created all things, and His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? Yes, I’ve seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the times of war and the times of peace. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done. Let us rejoice and sing today. Thanks be to God.
Sleep Felix is lying on the bed near where I sit as I write this devotional. It is where he would normally be at this time of day, his mid-morning nap. He does not lead an exceptionally exciting life. He eats, sleeps, runs around the house a bit and stares out the window. He spends some time in the family room, another hour in the living room, and yet another time on our bed. There is a good chance that you will find him exactly where you think he will be, because he does not veer very far from his normal pattern of living. It is such a joy to see him at times like this, while he is sleeping so close to my chair. He looks almost angelic, with such a peace and contentment that is found only in those who are secure and happy in their state of being. Of course, there are other times when he gets a naughty look in his eyes, when he goes crazy either running around the house or play fighting with us. Right now, however, I am happy to be in his presence. His peace brings me joy.
Have you ever seen the affect that a smile can have on a person? Just a simple smile shared with someone who is rushed and anxious can change his or her attitude. A few kind words can make a person slow down a bit, turn their day from one filled with darkness into one filled with light. The same is true of an act of kindness, a service to one who needs to see the love of God. We may not stop our enemies from persecuting us; as a matter of fact they will often heap more condemnation on us. Yet, even a smile may change the course of events and bring a moment of peace in a world filled with anger and anxiety.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did far more than simply smile upon us. He did more than act as a role model for our lives. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sin of the world and died that we might be reconciled to God our Father so that we can live in His kingdom free from the burden of death. We have eternal life because Christ first loved us. In that life we are called to share the peace and joy we have with others, so that they may be changed by His love. Christ lives in us so that His presence will be in this world. People see Him when we are content, happy and willing to give of ourselves.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him.” Ephesians 1:3-10 (ASV)
Felix can get pretty crazy sometimes. He bites when he plays he gets this really nasty, almost mean look on his face sometimes. But at times like this, when he is so obviously content and secure in our home, that I love to be in his presence. How do people perceive us each day? Do we manage a smile, a word or a small act of love through which the world might see Christ? Christ certainly does smile upon us with His mercy and His grace, a life-changing gift. It is a mystery why or even how He does this, but it is a mystery into which we have given access. He did it out of love, and living in His presence changes our lives. Thanks be to God.
Workshop I recently co-led a workshop with another writer at a Christian women’s conference. We had devised a specific plan for guiding the discussion based on our understanding of the purpose established by the organizers. As the women arrived in the classroom that day, we realized that their expectations were different, so we changed our plan. As is typical of these types of events, I think I learned more than those I went to teach. Even with our last minute changes, the workshop went well. I never really understood why I was asked to speak that day. It was a workshop on writing and the other panelist was a published, well-respected poet. I have had just a few years of experience, published only one or two articles and know little about the art of writing. I simply share a few thoughts about my faith every day with whoever is willing to listen. What could I offer at a workshop about writing?
There is a saying that goes, “Those who can – do, those who can’t – teach.” This is particularly found in business schools. After all, if that guy up front can really make a million dollars as he is teaching the students to do, wouldn’t he be out there in the world doing it? There was an episode of “Friends” where Joey started teaching soap opera acting. He was between gigs and needed a job. He made a big deal about his work history, the role he played on one of the soap operas as a doctor, but his heart was never really in teaching. He even auditioned for a part, giving bad advice to one of his students so that the kid wouldn’t get the job he wanted. It is easy to think that teaching is for failures, and it doesn’t help when it is seen as just something to fall back on.
Yet, teaching is a difficult job. It takes patience, commitment and knowledge. A good teacher is not one who only knows the facts. He or she also has experienced what they teach. A good business teaching is not just sharing knowledge with his students, but is also doing business in the world. A successful actress makes a much better teacher than one who has failed, because she knows what she is talking about. This is especially true of those who teach about faith.
When asked to describe Jesus, you will get a wide range of answers depending on who you ask. Most religions recognize that Jesus was a real man, that He walked on this earth about two thousand years ago and that He was a wonderful teacher and rabbi. Some will even agree that He was an amazing prophet who did incredible things. But Jesus was more than just a teacher. He is the Savior, and this is where Christian faith is so much different. We do not simply have a leader who told us or showed us what to do; He did all that was necessary for us to be able to follow His example.
“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were going astray like sheep; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25 (ASV)
It is my hope that the women who attended the workshop were blessed because I was able to do more than just teach them about spiritual writing. I hope my own life experiences acted as an example, which they can follow for their own growth in faith and discipleship. One thing I do know for sure is that I could not have done it without the work of Jesus on the cross. Oh, there are so many good role models for us to follow, teachers who can share great knowledge with us. However, when it comes to faith, our role model had to be more than just a teacher. He was the Shepherd who took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we could be healed and reconciled with God. He now lives in us, living through us and guiding our footsteps to be examples to bring others into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We die in Christ so that He will live through us. Thanks be to God.
Prophet One of the things we talked about at the conference was the need to discover our spiritual gifts so that we can use our natural talents for the glory of God. Talents and gifts are different. A talent is a natural ability to do something such as cook, teach or play music. Everyone is born with some talent, some with many talents. Spiritual gifts are given to a believer when they receive the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts make the believer’s natural talents work for the glory of God and the edification of the Church. A person can be a great teacher, but if they do not have the gift of teaching they will never open up the scriptures for someone’s understanding. A person can be a great speaker, but if God does not put His words in their mouth, they will never be a prophet.
One of the women was confused about the definition of a prophet. She thought he or she is one who can predict the future. A prophet is not a fortuneteller, but rather a forth-teller. They speak forth the Word of God. The Old Testament prophetic voices were filled with warnings and promises to be found in the future, they pointed forward to Christ. But every word of God points toward Jesus. So, modern prophets do not necessarily point forward to a future date. Rather, today’s prophecy still points to Christ who was, is and will be.
Unfortunately, there are many prophets in our world today, and not all of them are truly speaking the Word of God. I once met a woman who believed she was a prophetess. She shared some of her writing with me, sermons she had spoken at the home church she had started because no church fulfilled their needs. I was shocked at how many mistakes were found in the writing. I wrote back with some corrections, including scripture to set her on the right path. She responded that she was just learning to be a prophet; she thanked me for my correction and said she would get better. How can we get better putting God’s Word in our mouths? We can’t. Though we do grow in our gifts, we become confident and more knowledgeable, it is impossible for human effort to enhance that which God has given. Her words showed that she is a false prophet because they did not line up with the Word of God. She would lead all those who followed down a path of destruction.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own heart, Hear ye the word of Jehovah: Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets have been like foxes in the waste places. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither built up the wall for the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of Jehovah. They have seen falsehood and lying divination, that say, Jehovah saith; but Jehovah hath not sent them: and they have made men to hope that the word would be confirmed. Have ye not seen a false vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, in that ye say, Jehovah saith; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye have spoken falsehood, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord Jehovah. And my hand shall be against the prophets that see false visions, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the council of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord Jehovah.” Ezekiel 13:1-9 (ASV)
There are many people who claim to be prophets today. Some have grown in such popularity that they have multimedia outlets to reach larger audiences. They go on road shows, sell books and use computers to share their message. Much of what they speak sounds good, but their message is no better than an article from a grocery store checkout magazine. Now, no man is perfect and we all do make mistakes. However, when we declare that we speak God’s Word, it better be exactly that, or we will have spoken a lie. Be careful to whom you listen, check out everything against the witness of the Holy Scriptures and the Church universal through the ages. A prophet’s utterance will point directly at Jesus. Everything else is false. God does not lie and He proves Himself through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Dirty Laundry Some of you may remember the song by Don Henley called “Dirty Laundry.” He writes, “I make my living off the evening news; just give me something, something I can use; people love it when you lose, they love dirty laundry.” In another stanza he says, “We got the bubbleheaded bleach-blonde, comes on at 5; she can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye; it's interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.” I was reminded of this song as I watched the news this morning. There have been so many terrible things happening around the country in the past few days – deaths in nightclubs, weather related problems, a young girl dying due to the error of her caretakers. The stories are followed with threats of arrest and lawsuits. The news reporters have interviewed people who survived these horrible events and the families of those who died. The questions are designed to bring out the most emotion – pain, anger and hatred. Lots of dirty laundry.
At the end of the first segment of news, the anchors talked about how depressing it was to report such sad stories. They hoped that the next segment would be lighter and uplifting. The promo for upcoming stories included tape about how more and more Broadway shows are using nudity. To them, ‘lighter’ means risqué behavior and sexual innuendo. Even the reporter flashed the camera, beginning the story wearing only a white robe. At the appropriate moment, the producers scrambled the picture to hide his nakedness and the reporter opened the robe. Those who were interviewed talked about how their nakedness made them feel vulnerable, how it was important to the show and how much they have matured in their craft because of this experience. Even more dirty laundry.
This is seen as hard hitting news, the reporters giving the audience everything they want. It was not this way in the early days of television. It was shocking when a sitcom decided to use a full size bed for a married couple rather than the expected twin beds. Though the news reported about death, we were not likely to see photos from the scene, video of a dying girl, or reporters disrobing for national television. They were more considerate of the victims and families of those who perished. But, as American grows up and people become used to the seeing this type of presentation, we become immune to the horror of what we are seeing. We can see this also in the way children are growing up too early; they see death and sexuality as no big deal, getting involved in these things through dating and gangs way before they are emotionally and physically ready to properly deal with the temptations. After all, if adults think dirty laundry is a good thing, then it must be ok, right?
“The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:7-14 (ASV)
Unfortunately, in our modern age, the words of our mouths are filled with things that are displeasing to God. Death is not a good thing, it is not what God desires for us. He has created us to glorify Him with love and life. We live in a world filled with sin, the only thing the Law does is to show us how we are separated from God by our words and deeds. But we have set aside what God says is good, right and true. We ignore God’s Law because that’s just not the way we do things anymore. The news this week has shown us in very dramatic ways where sin leads us – into death. And while the Law will never save us, for it is only through Christ where we can have eternal life, remembering God’s Law will help us to walk more safely in this world in which we live. The Psalmist here shows us the only way we can live righteously for God. “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” Only with God’s help, God’s hand in our lives will we ever be kept blameless. It is my prayer that in the days to come that dirty laundry will become unwanted jabber and that our words will be pleasing to God.
Shoelaces During Zack’s basketball game yesterday, several of the players were having difficulty keeping their shoes tied. Over and over again, we saw kids crouched down on the floor. The referees even stopped the clock on occasion so that they would not be hurt tripping over flying laces. At one point the ref yelled, “Every, check your shoes.” Almost as if they were synchronized, ten kids looked down at their feet. When one young lady was having trouble with the knot, he bent down to help her tie the shoes properly. I started to giggle, thinking about how a scene like that would go over at an NBA game. Can you imagine a referee bending to retie Michael Jordan’s Nikes? Yet, Michael Jordan has been playing basketball for many years. He has earned a high salary for his ability to do so. It seems he should be old enough to make sure his shoes are tied properly. The children in Zack’s basketball league are just learning about so much. It is hard for them to remember everything they need to know when they get onto the basketball court. So, a ref is more likely to tie a 10 year old’s shoes than a grown professional player’s.
We treat people differently; this is a fact of our lives. For some people, the differences are quite visible. Some people treat others differently based on beauty, others their intelligence, others their gifts. We treat our family with one type of love, our neighbors with another. We talk to children with one type of language, our coworkers another and our friends yet another. We put certain faces on for certain situations, to keep peace or to establish relationships. It does no good to use fifty-cent words with a five year old, and baby talk will never help your position at work. It is good to recognize how we do treat people differently so that we do so in a manner that encourages and uplifts all that cross our path.
Unfortunately, the way we treat people often comes off in a negative way. We play favorites and reject people because of their differences. A racist’s attitude will never glorify God because he will separate himself completely from those with another skin color, perhaps even do so in a violent manner. The bachelorette who only seeks good-looking men to date might never find true love because she is basing her desires on one thing. Young people often set aside the elderly as no longer being useful. Older people often ignore the presence of children, considering them unworthy of their time. Jesus was concerned about these attitudes, and He showed us how we can treat people differently, while still treating each other equally. Equal in Christ does not necessarily mean being the same. It means all have access to the Father’s love and mercy.
“He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.” Matthew 10:40-41 (ASV)
I wonder if Michael Jordan ever wishes he were back in the early days when he was just playing basketball as a kid for the fun of it. Of course, he still seems to enjoy what he does, even after all these years. Yet, I think we all would enjoy such a moment, when someone would stop what they are doing just to take care of such a simple thing for us, to show us how much they care. How simple it is to show our love to one another, to receive each other for who we are and to accept our differences. Jesus just wanted to be received by those to whom He was sent, and in receiving Him they were blessed. And that’s how every person should be received, as unique individuals with different needs and gifts. When we receive them in this way, we will truly be blessed. Thanks be to God.
Grammy I did not watch the Grammy show last night to see the artists receive their prizes, but I have watched the follow-up stories today. The big winner last night was a new artist named Norah Jones. For the past few days, Norah has been all over the news programs as most experts expected that she would do well. Even at that, I don’t think anyone expected her to take every award for which she was nominated. Her light jazz/pop hit “Don’t know why” has had a lot of radio play, but Norah has not let this newfound fame go to her head. She received her awards with grace and said, “I never thought that the music I made would become popular music, so this is amazing.” During her pre-Grammy interviews, she showed little interest in winning. She loves music and sharing her gifts is its own reward.
I don’t think any of the winners will be quick to be rid of their Grammy statues. Human beings need tangible evidence of their accomplishments. It is nice to have trophies or certificates. Doctors display their degrees on the wall so that their patients will be comfortable, knowing they are qualified to practice. We keep pictures of our family and friends around so that we can be reminded of their love when they are not in our presence. We can all think of something that we keep around for one reason or another, things we have gotten that reminds us of wonderful times or makes us feel secure.
In the ancient days, the people had household gods that they kept around to worship. They were small statues that were easy to carry. They took these statues wherever they went so that they could be sure that they would have the protection they thought the gods afforded them. When the LORD revealed Himself to the people, first to Abraham and then to his offspring, those who believed in Him realized that those small statues had no power to save, heal or protect. It was harder to believe in the LORD God, because there was nothing tangible, nothing on which to hold, except for the promises. It was difficult for some to set aside their gods and follow the LORD with nothing to hold. But when we receive the love and mercy of God, He expects us to leave them behind and worship only Him.
“Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments: nd let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hand, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and a terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.” Genesis 35:2-5 (ASV)
It is part of our human nature to need to hold on to tangible things. We like to have something to show what we have done with our lives. This is particularly true in American society where the worth of a person is often seen in their home, cars or other material possessions. It is wonderful to win an award such as the Grammy, so that we can see how others appreciate our work so that we will know that we are doing well. Yet, we cannot allow those things become like gods to us, holding them of more importance than the LORD God Almighty. They cannot save us, heal us or protect us from the things in this world that can bring us harm. The same is true off all our things. Our worth in God’s eyes has nothing to do with what we have or even what we have accomplished. He sees us through Jesus, our Lord and Savior. He is the one on which we should rely, for nothing else will bring us the same joy and peace as what we find in Jesus. Thanks be to God.
Survivor For the past few days, we have watched with horror and sadness the events surrounding the death of so many people in the club in Rhode Island. Video from that evening shows the fire engulfing the building, screams from the victims and the chaos that ensued. It is hard to believe that any survived when so many people were so panicked. Yet, on an early morning news program I saw an interview with a man who came out of that mess with just a few minor injuries. He had been pushed to the floor and he laid there for nearly an hour and a half until he was able to get up and escape. People pushed past him, others fell and some were crushed, but he survived.
He survived because he knew to lie on his side, not his stomach or back. In a situation like that, death usually comes from suffocation. The people do not even realize they are walking on bodies, they press down on the chest of the victim, making it impossible for him or her to breath. This young man kept on his side, and though people did walk over him, he continued to breath until it was safe to move. He said that he did not fear death. Rather, he feared leaving behind his wife and child. He did not want them to have to go through that visit from the authorities telling them that he was dead. So, he survived for them and somehow walked away.
It seems as though every major disaster has some sort of incredible survivor story connected. There was the guy on the bridge after the San Francisco earthquake. There were people who survived the World Trade Center bombing. There are people who manage to get through avalanches or snowstorms, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes. It gives us hope and comfort in the midst of tragedy. When interviewed these survivors often say that they persevered for the sake of others. They had the strength to go on because they had someone or something that pushed them to survive. Sometimes it is their spouse or children, other times it is something they have left unaccomplished.
For Christians, it is our faith in God that helps us to persevere. Perhaps we will never face such tragedies, but we have our own situations that we must survive. Most people face things like financial problems, disease or family quarrels. These events in our lives can leave emotional and spiritual scars, which are sometimes worse than any physical scars. But as we walk in faith, God helps us through the bad times so that we come out even stronger for His glory.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.” Hebrews 10:19-25 (ASV)
Most of us will never face the kind of persecution that the earliest Christians faced. We may never experience an incredible event like that man in Rhode Island. Many of us may never even know what it is like to deal with terminal disease or other problems in our lives. Yet, no matter what happens in our lives, we have one thing on which to hold – our Lord Jesus Christ. As we live every day in faith, we will survive everything this world has to throw at us, even death. For we have eternal life in Christ, this life is just a brief moment in time, which will pass in one way or another. It is my prayer that none of us will have to suffer in any way, but I pray that whatever we suffer will pass with little harm as we do so resting in God’s arms. Thanks be to God.
Obstruction There is a lovely house that I pass in my travels nearly every day. It hangs off the top of a cliff overlooking the city of Little Rock. It has been there a long time, probably needs some maintenance, but it is lovely. There is a large deck on the back of the house, which I imagine once afforded the most incredible view of the city. Over the years, however, trees and shrubs on the hillside have grown so tall that the view is obstructed. Little has changed on the house or in the city over the years, but circumstances have made it a different place to live. Though the house no longer has a view, those trees have been a blessing. Without them, erosion probably would have taken the foundation from under the house and sent it falling down the cliff. They block the wind and protect the home from severe weather. We may not like the loss of the view, but there is good in the presence of the trees.
We are told in the Bible that the name of God is “I am who I am,” which means, “I was, is and will be.” God does not change. He is the same today as He was yesterday and He will continue being the same tomorrow. Since He does not change, we can trust that He will be faithful. His promises last forever, even if the circumstances that surround our lives change. There may be obstructions that make it impossible to see what He has done and what He is going to do, but we can know even without seeing that God will accomplish everything He set out to do. We may not like our situation today, stuck in a job we do not like or suffering from some emotional or physical problem. We appeal to God for change, or even to make things as they were. But He knows best and is working in our lives to bring us to a place of true peace and joy. Throughout the history of His people, He promised a day when there would be no fear or tears, when people would live in His presence in peace. That day started at the cross of Christ and will come into fulfillment when He returns.
“But in the latter days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem; and he will judge between many peoples, and will decide concerning strong nations afar off: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of Jehovah of hosts hath spoken it. For all the peoples walk every one in the name of his god; and we will walk in the name of Jehovah our God for ever and ever.” Micah 4:1-5 (ASV)
Things change in this world; it is a fact of life. We grow older; our things pass away. We never know what tomorrow will hold since everything is unpredictable. There are some things that seem static, the love of our family, the security of our home, and the rising and setting of the sun. Yet, even those things can change. Our family members will die, our homes can burn down and even the sun can be blocked by a storm cloud. But nothing can change the love of God and His promise to His people. One day we will all stream to the mountain of the Lord, though this is something we can do today. Jesus Christ is where we find God, He is the mountain and the fullness of God dwells within Him. Though this prophecy has already begun, it will not be complete until the Lord comes again. For this we say “Marantha, Come Lord Jesus.” How I long for the day when all of God’s people will walk in His name for ever and ever. Yet, no matter what obstructions the world sends our way, we can know for sure that God is faithful and His Word is true. Thanks be to God.
Bumper Stickers I was once talking to a non-believer who wanted to know why he should believe in Jesus. He told me stories of his experiences with Christians, stories of hypocrites who did not act as if they were changed. “They are just like everyone else.” He told of a time when he was driving on a highway. There was a speeding car, weaving in and out of the traffic, which nearly caused several accidents. He told me he was shocked to see an “I love Jesus” bumper sticker on the car. “Is that Christian love, to be in such a rush that the driver risked the lives of others?” He didn’t want anything to do with it.
It is hard to overcome such an attitude, particularly with statements like “We aren’t perfect, we are forgiven.” To a non-believe, that’s a cop-out. We are supposed to be known by our love, our testimony, and our faith. When our lives show the same traits as non-believers – hurried, frazzled, uncaring, angry, bitter, foolish – they won’t even want to hear the Gospel – that we are saved by the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It is when they see Christ in us that they ask about our faith. Though we know we are forgiven of our hypocrisy, we should strive to be the best witnesses we can be so that those who do not know Jesus will want to know Him.
Paul was that type of Christian. The book of Acts gives an accounting of Paul’s journeys as a missionary. Whatever he did pointed at Christ and caused those around him to want to know more. When he healed, he did not allow the witnesses to believe he was anything other than a man. He gave all the credit to God. When he was being beaten, he rejoiced in the love of God. When he was persecuted, he stood firm in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. He did not live a life of hypocrisy, and many came to believe because they saw a man willing to actively live in the faith he was given, no matter the circumstances. He had been transformed, and that new Paul made an awesome witness to the love and mercy of God. They were willing to listen, because he responded to the Gospel with his whole life.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.” Acts 16:25-34 (ASV)
Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned, but spend their time praising God. When the violent earthquake set all the prisoners free, they could have easily taken off into the night and freedom. Paul and Silas could have even claimed it to be an act of God setting them free from the bondage of injustice. Yet, they stayed. They saved the life of the one who imprisoned them. The witness they gave at that moment was far greater than the power of God that set them free. They showed the jailer they were concerned for his life. He was amazed by that simple testimony they gave by not running away, and he wanted what they had. So, they shared the Gospel and he was saved along with his entire household. He cared for them, cleaned their wounds and fed them.
It is difficult to answer when non-Christians ask me questions like the young man who was disturbed by the actions of a Christian driver during rush hour. There is no excuse for that type of behavior no matter who is behind the wheel of the car. Yet, it is my prayer that whenever I am faced with such questions that my life will be a witness to the love and mercy of Christ, so that those who do not know Him will be willing to ask about my faith. Then I can give a testimony they will hear and come to believe in the one who saves us from our sin. Thanks be to God.
Mr. Rogers Mr. Rogers has been coming into our homes for more than three decades, helping children learn to love themselves and others. Though he stopped recording the popular PBS television show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” in December 2000, stations have continued to play some of the nine hundred episodes he recorded over the years. Some aspects of the show have changed. The problems children deal with in today’s world are more complicated – divorce, drugs and violence – but the message has remained the same over the years. Mr. Rogers made sure every children heard the words, “You are special.” That was Mr. Roger’s mission, to work with families to build kids up. In the process he also taught the children lessons about the world, about how to live in it. He helped them to face their emotions – their fears and their doubts. He did it through video of real places and in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and he helped children see the difference between what was true and what was false.
The thing about Mr. Rogers that is most extraordinary is that he was not an actor. The Fred Rogers you saw on the television show was the Fred Rogers that lived in this world. He did not put on any masks for the children. He humbled himself, crouching at their level so that He could speak to them face to face. But he did not patronize the adults. He spoke to whoever was listening in a language they would understand. Those who knew Mr. Rogers in person always commented that he was the same on camera and off -- humble, genuine and special.
Mr. Rogers died yesterday morning, but he will not easily be forgotten. His shows will continue as long as children are able to identify with the stories, experiences and lessons. Even then, he will be remembered as one who truly lived his faith. He loved with his whole heart, and he did so not just in words, but also in deeds.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us: hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Many people will miss Mr. Rogers. For some children, he was the only one who showed them any love or helped them to see they were of some value in this world. He was often asked to speak at graduation ceremonies, and rather than give the students a pep talk on how to be successful, he told them that even if they never accomplished anything spectacular they were still extraordinary people. He never thought of himself as a television star, he thought he was just a neighbor coming in for a visit. And that is what he was to millions of people. His life is a testament to what it means to love. He loved others with a sacrificial love, always putting them before himself. I pray that we might all learn to love as he loved. Thanks be to God.