Welcome to the February 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
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 2004
February 1, 2004
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Pet Resort Poor Felix. When it was time for the packers to arrive at our old house, we moved Felix into a kennel. This was done both for his own safety and to keep him out of the way of the work that had to be done. Last Saturday we took him out of the kennel, drove 600 miles and then put him right back into another. He cried for the first hour, unsure about what we were doing. Once he settled down, he really was very good. He slept for most of the trip, although he was quick to wake whenever I stopped the car. He would pop his head and look out the window, as if searching for something he could recognize. Once, he was certain we must be home again, he came to me at the door of the car. Suddenly, another car sped by in the parking lot and he sniffed the air. It didn’t sound or smell like home. He hid under the seat for the next leg of our trip.
Unfortunately, our final stop was not at home. Our temporary living facilities do not allow animals. We had arranged for a kennel before we left so that Felix would have a place to stay for at least a few days. When we drove into the parking lot, Vicki exclaimed, "Mom, its a pet resort!" I knew when I was booking his room we had some choice about the accommodations. We could put him in a normal kennel for just a few dollars a day, or we could get him the deluxe suite for nearly four times as much. I love my kitty, but he did not really need a television, carpeted shelves on which to stretch out, a fish bowl window or special personal play time.
"If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." 1 Timothy 6:3-10 (ASV)
We live in a time when it seems that bigger must be better, when we look for physical as proof of success and prosperity. It is said that the one with the most toys wins. The kennel offers bigger and better places for cats and dogs to stay, claiming that they will be happier with all the amenities. I’m not so sure that would be true. Felix is going to be lonely for us, for his home, no matter where we put him for these days of separation. He would cry in a palace as loud as in a cage. It is not the stuff that makes him happy, but the love of his family.
The Jews thought that obedience would bring them close to the Lord, and that in that closeness they would find happiness. In their striving for perfection, they missed the One who could bring them true joy. They did not see that Jesus was the fulfillment of all they desire, that only He can give them the closeness to God that they seek. We strive after so many things. Even in this move, we are working hard to find the right house in which to live. Yet, we know that the house and all our stuff will not bring us closer to God. The truth is exactly the opposite. God is with us and the physical proof of our success and prosperity are simply blessings from God and it is Him alone that can really give us joy and peace. Thanks be to God.
Space We have not yet taken possession of our new house, but we are trying to plan the space as much as we can. I would like to be able to direct the movers to put the furniture in the right room from the beginning so that I do not have to move it later. There are several problem pieces of furniture, things that just do not fit as we would hope. I would never have thought about changing a piece of furniture, particularly the old pieces we have that might be considered antique. After all, I would not want to ruin the value of a piece with a fresh coat of paint or by adding or removing so part of the item.
In the past few years I have enjoyed watching home improvement shows like "Trading Spaces." Though I do not always like the things they do with the rooms, I have learned a great deal about making things work in a room. It is better to change a piece and make it useful rather than protect the original look and have it useless. It will take some work to make our home all that we want it to be, but the bottom line is some paint or a new shelf will be much less expensive than trying to purchase a whole new piece to meet our needs.
I have to laugh when I watch those shows on television. There is always something that they absolutely, positively will not allow to be changed. They are adamant about their feelings during their opening interview. During the show, the friends who are doing the makeover fight for the pieces, but all too often they lose. The designers are strong and insist on doing what they believe will be best for the room and for the couple. Most of the time it works out fine. The people accept the changes and actually enjoy what has been doing. Sometimes, however, the homeowners are upset. They cry or scream because their beloved pieces have been ruined. They do not see the good that has come from the makeover, only their loss. Sometimes I agree with them. I still cringe when a beautiful piece of furniture is painted just so that it will fit into a strange colored room.
The thing we have to remember is that while these pieces are an important part of our lives, we should not rest our hope in them. Furniture will not make us better people, it will not save us from unhappiness or worse. A pretty room is nice, but is not the foundation of life, peace or joy. In reality, the wood will probably be no more than firewood in a hundred years.
"The smith maketh an axe, and worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with his strong arm: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth; he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth out a line; he marketh it out with a pencil; he shapeth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compasses, and shapeth it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the holm-tree and the oak, and strengtheneth for himself one among the trees of the forest: he planteth a fir-tree, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread: yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire. And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. They know not, neither do they consider: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none calleth to mind, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" Isaiah 44:12-20 (ASV)
We don’t necessarily have gods as they did in the days of Isaiah. I do not know anyone who has a statue of Baal in their living room. We don’t bow down to idols in worship these days. However, we do worship all the wrong things, protecting the perishable while ignoring that which is lasting. The idol maker took a small portion of the wood from a tree to make the statue, the rest is burned and used for heat or to cook food. When we rest all our hope in the things of this world, whether it is an idol or our furniture, we will be sadly disappointed because it is not lasting. There is no way something perishable can ever save us. Only God is our salvation and our hope. Only in Christ can we find peace and joy. For everything else we look to God in praise and thanksgiving and glorify Him in our lives. Thanks be to God.
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Location When you live in a place long enough, you know where everything is located. You know you will have to travel five minutes to the grocery store in the afternoon, but ten minutes in the evening. You know where to look for certain items, which stores have the best deals. You know which route to take when there is an accident to avoid the traffic jam. You know where to go for a quiet picnic and where to go for an ice cream cone. When you move to a new city, it takes awhile to find the best stores, routes and parks. I’m generally a bit more nervous on the roads as I learn to fit into the traffic patterns – more cautious about speed and turns as I become familiar with the local laws.
Since we are often stuck living in temporary facilities for a couple of weeks during a move, there is little for me to do while Bruce is at work and the kids are at school. I like to take this opportunity to drive around our new city a bit, to see what I can see and learn the lay of the land. Yesterday I went one direction, today I went another. Sometimes I get lost on these journeys, unsure of which direction I should take. Most of the time I have a general idea of where I am headed. During the trip I look for street names, check out the locations of my favorite stores and measure distances. Now, when I see someplace advertised on television or in the newspaper, I am more likely to be able to locate it using a map and the knowledge I have gained from my travels.
It always amazes me when people are not familiar with the towns in which they live. I used to do some work that took me on the road to several locations in an evening. I often stopped for directions and could not believe how often I heard the phrase "never heard of it" only to turn the next corner and find exactly the place for which I was looking. We really do not need to know every detail of every street in our own hometowns, but it is certainly helpful when we are familiar with our local surroundings. If there is something we need, we can be confident to go in search of the best place to find it.
"O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me." Psalm 139:1-10 (ASV)
Isn’t it amazing that God knows every detail about our lives? He knows the depths of our hearts and the number of hairs on our heads. He knows what we need and the best way for us to go. He searches every aspect of our lives to know us completely and perfectly. We are not able to know God that deeply, but He reveals Himself to us daily so that we might come to a deeper and fuller relationship with Him. I sometimes get lost on my journeys around a new town, but I always find my way home. With God, as we seek His face, He keeps us on a right path. When we make a wrong turn, He is never far away, ready to bring us home again. Each day brings us deeper into His grace and love. Thanks be to God.
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Chaos We began to move in on Friday morning. The moving truck arrived fairly early and established a routine for taking our things into the house. While Bruce worked at guiding the movers, I began the long process of unpacking the boxes. Things were not as orderly Friday afternoon. Along with the movers, we had a number of other deliveries made to the house. The mattresses and appliances arrived at the same time, while the security company was setting up our system and the phone company was turning on our line. It was rather chaotic having so many people in the house at the same time.
I have a system of unpacking. I try to begin with the kitchen so that we can sit down to a regular meal together quickly since we have been living off fast food or pizza delivery for too long. I also had to search through our piles of boxes to find linens and towels. Then we focused on getting as much out of boxes as quickly as possible. The difficulty comes when the packers put things into the boxes willy-nilly. We often find that they have put linens in with picture frames or one piece of china with some completely unrelated item. They do not always mark boxes clearly, so we are often surprised at what we find when we open a box. We have found that it is easiest to just empty the box, and then take the time to put the contents in the right place. Eventually order comes out of the chaos.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:1-10 (ASV)
I’m not sure we can imagine the chaos and confusion that must have existed before God ordered all things. What would the earth have been like when it was nothing but waste and void? I would like to think I understand these things, to see in my mind’s eye what God saw before the beginning, but even the most analogous experiences of our lives – such as moving day – can’t even come close. Yet, God was able to make good and wonderful things happen with only His Word. He spoke and brought order out of chaos. He imagined the world and it came into being with light, heavens and earth, land and sea.
We still have several large stacks that need to be opened, and most of our pictures and decorative pieces are just sitting wherever we could find room, but overall there is a sense of order in the house. Bruce and the kids returned to work and school today. There are still tasks to accomplish before everything is completely in order, but we are well on our way to having a new, lovely home in which to live. There has been one thing holding us together amidst the chaos and confusion – that God brings order out of chaos and He is working through our mess to establish peace in our hearts and our home. Thanks be to God.
Junk Once you open and unpack the boxes, you are left with a ton of paper and a bunch of empty cardboard. Bruce has already made one trip to discard the boxes to make room in the garage, but we quickly made another pile. We made arrangements for the city to come make a bulk pick up of our moving garbage. Early this morning a car stopped by our pile and two men got out to rummage through the boxes. I think they were hoping there would be more than paper. I’m not sure what they thought they might find since it was set out for the garbage man, but sometimes one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
That’s why we are collecting boxes of things we have decided we no longer need. Some of the items probably belonged in that garbage heap, but there is usually someone who can use those items even if they are a little dirty or cracked. Put a ten-cent sticker and set it on a table in the garage and someone is bound to buy it. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. I have found some amazing bargains at yard sales. I found a set of white glass luncheon plates in California, and then a year later found a matching set at another sale in Washington. It is funny, though, our yard sale boxes are getting filled with previous yard sale finds that are no longer useful for us. What was once a treasure has now become junk so that it can be a treasure for someone else.
Have you ever noticed that ideas are sometimes treated like the stuff we own? There are people who jump from one philosophy to another, digging through it like the guys in the garbage, looking for something valuable but often finding only discarded paper. Sometimes they find something, like a bargain at a yard sale, only to hold on to it briefly before moving on to something new. We certainly are called to learn and grow in our faith, studying the scriptures to grow in knowledge and understanding of God’s word in our lives. But we are too quick to discard something that might be valuable because we think it is useless.
“Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:19-27 (ASV)
Perhaps the guys this morning were looking for empty boxes to use, but all ours were filled to the brim with crumpled paper. Treasures can be found in the midst of junk. I am sure some of the items that I have selected for a yard sale will be valuable to someone, but for me there is no reason to keep those items. When it comes to faith, however, there are ideas that should not be quickly cast away as useless. Too many people dabble in religion, seeking to find the perfect fit, only to find emptiness and doubt. They cast off belief in Jesus Christ and all He taught about living in the kingdom of God because they do not know how to use what He has given. They are like weeds blown by the wind, rejecting the salvation freely given through grace to keep searching for something that will never give them freedom or peace. May we all hang on to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for He is the real treasure in this life. Thanks be to God.
Strangers Last week we all mourned with the family of a young girl who was taken by a stranger while she was walking down the street. She was found dead a few days later after an extensive search. Of course, this story could fit any number of incidents in the last few years. It seems that more and more children are disappearing off our streets at the hands of strangers. All to often the story ends in tragedy with another family mourning the loss of a loved one. Though there probably are no more abductions now than there have been in the past, these stories are making national news. Programs have been established nationwide to help find the children as quickly as possible. The story generally has a much happier ending if the authorities can find a child within a few hours.
These stories about missing children give journalists and the authorities the opportunity to teach about safety. One news program did an investigation to show how easily it is for children to be swayed by a friendly face into a dangerous situation. In one example, a man in a car called a young boy asking for help in finding his lost puppy. The child walked right up to the car window to look at a picture of the dog – close enough that a predator could grab the child and put him into the back seat without being noticed. These criminals have many ploys to draw a child close enough. They claim to be friends of the parents, even telling the children that there has been an accident and they have been sent to take the child to safety.
No matter how much parents teach their children not to go with strangers, some things just sound good so the child trusts the stranger with his or her life. Things have not changed since the beginning of time. The first one to try to fool a child was the serpent in the Garden of Eden who tried to convince Eve that what she really did not understand God’s Word.
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
Deception has changed very little in the history of human existence. The words and motives might be different, but the intent is to convince people to do something they know they should not do. Children have been taught over and over again that they should not listen to strangers, and yet the difficulty comes when they do not know if a person is really a stranger. Some of these predators are using symbols of authority to gain the child’s trust – pretending to be a policeman or fireman. Others are very convincing that they are friends and sincere about helping the child. The serpent asked, “Did God really say…?” to give Eve the impression that he really wanted to know God’s Word, when his intent was to confuse and twist God’s Word for his own purpose.
With our children today, this twisting can lead to very serious consequences as we have seen recently. Children have died at the hands of strangers because they did not believe the lessons they have learned over the years about safety. They believed the wrong person. Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they saw it was good so they believed the serpent rather than the Word of God. In what ways do we do the same thing today – believing what we see and hear from the world above that which God has spoken? The consequence for Adam and Eve’s indiscretion was death. We suffer the same condemnation unless we listen to God’s Word in Christ Jesus who provides salvation from our disobedience through forgiveness and grace. Thanks be to God.
Witness In the movie “Legally Blonde” the pool boy was acting as a witness for the prosecution in the murder trial of a beautiful, wealthy fitness guru. The prosecution’s claim was that this woman shot her husband and hid the gun while the daughter was taking a shower in another part of the house. The daughter and the pool cleaner were the key witnesses. The guy claimed he was having an affair with the woman. During a recess, Elle ran into him and he made a comment that gave the defense team their first big break in the case. She realized that he was gay and that the woman was telling the truth all along. He slipped on the stand, insulted his boyfriend and destroyed the cover story of the real murderer.
In the end, his lie was discovered and his life was turned upside down by the subsequent statements he had to make to keep up with the deception. We don’t know what his motive was to cover up for the daughter who meant to kill the woman rather than her father, but his lies did not work because the daughter was found guilty of the crime and his life was ruined. If the original lies were meant to save himself in some way, they eventually made it more difficult.
Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land with God’s hand guiding the way. The LORD promised that all who were in their path would be destroyed because His covenant with Abraham meant the land would be theirs. One nation heard of the destruction that followed the Israelite Army and they made a treaty with Joshua. They claimed that they were a distant nation, far from the land promised to Israel. They lied to protect their lives – they lived nearby and feared for their lives. When Joshua discovered the deception, he let them live but made them slaves forever.
“And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall never fail to be of you bondmen, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God. And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that Jehovah thy God commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were sore afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, behold, we are in thy hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do. And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of Jehovah, unto this day, in the place which he should choose.” Joshua 9:22-27 (ASV)
We may think a deception is for our best interest, but lies do not make life better or easier for us. The Gibeonites may have lived through Joshua’s march into the Promised Land, but what sort of life is slavery? They were no longer their own nation. They were bound to the curse and established as laborers for the temple of the God of Israel. Our own lies might seem good on the surface, but eventually they will catch up on us and we will pay the consequences. Our lives will not become easier because we have avoided something we feared by using deception. Instead, we will become slaves to the untruth and bound to something beyond our control. We may think there is no way out except through deception, but we will find that the truth is the only way we will be free. Thanks be to God.
Opposites My kids can be so funny sometimes, though some of their antics can be very frustrating. There are times when they are purposely contradictory. One child wants vanilla ice cream so the other will specifically ask for chocolate – even if vanilla is the favorite. They do this with food, games to play and things to do. They have even done it with chores – fighting over who gets to do what part of the work! You never know when they are going to start playing this game. Sometimes the disagreement is rather serious, but most of all it is easily solved. Usually I fix the problem by not giving them either choice. They don’t like that option, but I get rather tired of trying to figure out which kid likes which thing when they do the opposite just to spite their sibling.
All human beings tend to be contradictory at times. We all like one thing today and a new thing tomorrow. We all are happy sometimes and sad sometimes, often for unknown reasons. We get angry with those we love. We have moments when we simply want to be difficult.
Even God seems to have this human trait. Martin E. Marty, in his book about Martin Luther, writes that Luther saw this aspect of God. “He makes most sense to me as a wrestler of God – indeed, as a God-obsessed seeker of certainty and assurance in a time of social trauma and of personal anxiety, beginning with his own. However you choose to explain his life, it makes sense chiefly as one rooted in and focused by an obsession with God: God present and God absent, God too near and God too far, the God of wrath and the God of love, God weak and God almighty, God real and God as illusion, God hidden and God revealed.” Unlike the human trait, however, God’s opposites are not contradictory, but rather encompass the wholeness of His character, which is a God who is bigger than any human understanding.
“The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the floods.
I don’t really mind that the children change their minds about things. What is bothersome is that they do it to spite each other. God does not do things to spite anyone. Unfortunately, we see things from our own perspective, a perspective that is miniscule compared to God’s omniscience. We try to fit God into a box, to limit His character and nature to fit into our own needs and desires. We want God to be what we want Him to be. Yet, God can’t fit into our box. He is all that He is and all that He does is within His character. He can only be true to Himself. The God that Luther sought was a God of seeming contradictions, but the reality is that He is present and absent, near and far, wrathful and loving, weak and almighty, real and illusion, hidden and revealed. He is more than we can ever imagine, but always the King of Glory. Thanks be to God.
Substitute It is not easy being a substitute teacher. You usually only have a few days with the children, if that long. You barely have time to build up a rapport with the class. The kids spend much of the time trying to take advantage of the situation. They claim the teacher told them this or that, or that the teacher always does things one way when she really does it another. The substitute spends too much class time disciplining children who are talking or misbehaving rather than teaching.
Add to the difficulty the changing methods of one teacher to the next. The children grow used to having specific types of questions raised or tests done in a certain way. The teacher provides a guide for the replacement, indicating the schedule for the day and the curriculum that will be used. They usually give extra worksheets to fill in any extra time during the day. Even with all this preparation, the children often come home from school and say, “We had a substitute today and we did not do anything.” Too often the work given when the regular teacher is absent is more busy work, little substance for the children. The teacher is concerned about making sure the materials are taught in a way that will enhance her own teaching, but without knowing the substitute that is difficult to do. The substitute does not want to do anything that might overstep her bounds, concerned for the welfare of the children as well as her own position – present and future. So, she acts more as a babysitter, filling the time to keep the children busy, but not going beyond the simplest tasks.
Jesus had this habit of disappearing for a time to go pray on a mountaintop or minister privately when necessary. During His absence, the disciples were called upon to serve the people as they were able. Jesus had sent them into the country to preach the coming kingdom, and He gave them the power to heal in His name. They came back exhilarated from their journeys, having seen and done amazing things by the power of God. Yet, there were times when they were helpless, when Jesus was not around and they were unable to accomplish the work of the kingdom without Him.
“And it came to pass, on the next day, when they were come down from the mountain, a great multitude met him. And behold, a man from the multitude cried, saying, Teacher, I beseech thee to look upon my son; for he is mine only child: and behold, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth, and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely. And I besought thy disciples to cast it out; and they could not. And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and bear with you? bring hither thy son. And as he was yet a coming, the demon dashed him down, and tare him grievously. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” Luke 9:37-43 (ASV)
Though substitute teachers have the authority to do what needs to be done for the sake of the children, they are not able to use that authority because of the other problems they face in a classroom for such a short period of time. The children do not give them respect, and the regular teachers are concerned about the integrity of their curriculum. They end up being little more than babysitters, setting the education of the children behind for that time when they are replacing the regular teacher.
Jesus had been gone for a period of time with Peter, James and John. They were on a mountaintop where Jesus was transfigured revealing the glory of God. During His absence, the other disciples were unable to meet the needs of the people who were seeking Jesus’ mercy and grace.
There are times when we are the same – thinking we are unable to do the work of the Kingdom because Jesus is not with us in flesh and blood. Yet, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit, in faith all things which glorify the Lord are possible. We are called to bring healing and forgiveness to those who need the loving touch of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not with us in flesh, but He is always with us. It is His hand that casts out the demons and changes lives, but He does so through you and I. We need only believe that which He has promised to be true. Thanks be to God.
Church We are looking for a new church home. It is one of the most important tasks we still have ahead of us – to find a place where we can worship God and share our gifts with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have had plenty of suggestions – everyone has a recommendation for the best Christian fellowship in the area and I am sure they are wonderful churches. However, we are looking for a congregation that meets some very specific needs – a congregation that not only has solid Bible teaching and spirit-filled worship, but also draws from our heritage. We find comfort and peace amongst the liturgy and the traditions of our forefathers.
Though heritage and tradition should not be our first priority when choosing a church, the faith of our fathers is not something that should be quickly set aside. There are quite a few modern churches in this city, mega congregations that reach out to meet the needs of today’s Christian. They have wonderful programs for growth and healing. They have lively worship and friendly gatherings. These fellowships provide powerful experiences for many people. Yet, there is often something missing – a connection to the past, to those who had come before in the ages since Jesus and the Apostles ministered to the earliest believers.
In news reports from some of the recent wars from around the world, some of the saddest stories are those that tell of destruction of the museums and artifacts of the history of the nations involved. We’ve seen reports of rebels breaking into museums to steal priceless pieces for money to buy more weapons. They are sold on the black market and disappear. In other stories, oppressed peoples have stolen the things of beauty as payment for their suffering. Either way, the nation looses its history and its identity. Without heritage from the past, there is no legacy for the future. The same is true in the Christian faith. God has been building the church from the time of Christ until today. Each person’s gifts and witness are a part of what God is doing in this world.
“Except Jehovah build the house, They labor in vain that build it: Except Jehovah keep the city, The watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To take rest late, To eat the bread of toil; For so he giveth unto his beloved sleep. Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah; And the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, So are the children of youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: They shall not be put to shame, When they speak with their enemies in the gate.” Psalm 127:1-3 (ASV)
We are not looking for a church that is so stuck in the past that they can’t see the future, but neither are we interested in a congregation that is so hip and contemporary that they reject what has come before. We are seeking a place where Christ is preached, where the Christian life is lived and where all that God has done and will do is glorified. God has not built some of these modern churches. They have been built by men who think they know a better way of doing things. They preach self-help and meet physical needs, but forget the gifts God has given the church over the years. We are bound together by the Holy Spirit and our faith in Christ, but our heritage is the building block upon which Christ continues to build His body until that day when He will come in glory. Thanks be to God.
Shrove Tuesday I spent the best part of yesterday making donuts. Well, they are actually Faschtnacht cakes, a small donut like cake. It is the Pennsylvania German tradition that coincides with Pancake Day in England and Mardi Gras in France. “Fat Tuesday” is the eve before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Since Lent for Christians throughout the ages has been a time of fasting, families cleaned out their cupboards of all forbidden food on Fat Tuesday. The people abstained from eating meat as many do today, but milk, eggs, fat and flour were also forbidden. The typical food for this celebration used these ingredients, which is why donuts and pancakes are so popular on this day.
It is hard to imagine, when watching the festivities of Mardi Gras and Pancake Day, but Shrove Tuesday is also a deeply religious day. For many centuries the days before Ash Wednesday were a time ‘to be shriven’ which means to confess sins. We are to enter humbly into Lent, knowing that we are sinners in need of a Savior. This seven week period is seen as a time of penance, a time to seek God’s mercy for our failure to live as He has called us to live. The end of Lent – Easter – would be unnecessary if we were perfectly able to keep the Law. But even more than Easter, we need the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
“And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
The donuts I make are delicious, a special treat that I only make once a year. We have eaten way too many. Faschnacht (Eve of the fast), Mardi Gras (Greasy Tuesday) and Pancake Day are all fun celebrations. We eat until we can’t eat anymore, drink in excess and party until the cows come home. It is almost as if we are getting in the last bit of fun before we have to give up living. Yet, we should never forget the purpose of this celebration – to remind us of our need for forgiveness and healing. The next seven weeks are a solemn time for the Church as we journey toward the cross and watch our Lord crucified for our sake. It may even seem more solemn this year as the graphic images from Mel Gibson’s new movie “The Passion” are shone all over the airwaves. Let us never lose sight of the purpose of Christ’s life and death – forgiveness. As you party today, enjoying donuts, pancakes or whatever your own tradition offers, remember that you too are a sinner in need of a Savior. Confess your sins so that you might begin this Lent looking forward to the forgiveness that lies at the end of the journey. Thanks be to God.
Flesh One of the most wonderful things about the Lord God Almighty is that He has decided to use very real things from His creation to do His work in this world. A Christian’s life is not just spiritual; we are called to live out our faith in this world. Martin Luther said that man hides his own things in order to conceal them; God hides his own things in order to reveal them. So, through His creation He reveals Himself, His mercy, His love and His grace.
At one point in history, God smashed the wall that divided the spiritual from the natural. Jesus Christ was born into this world, a man of flesh in which dwelled the fullness of God. God used Jesus to reveal Himself to the world. If God were only interested in our spiritual beings, it would not have been necessary for Jesus to become flesh. But since God has chosen to use the temporal to reveal the spiritual, Jesus needed to be born of flesh and blood and exist in this world as every other human being. But for reconciliation to occur, it was necessary for Jesus to do so without sin, to be a pure and spotless lamb on the cross. He had to face the same temptations that every one of us face, but to do so without falling.
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and, On their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” Matthew 4:1-11 (ASV)
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting in preparation for His ministry around Israel. Then the devil came to tempt Jesus to do things his way rather than God’s way. The reason Jesus came in flesh was to save human beings from sin and death. The end result would be their destruction on the cross. Satan knew Jesus’ victory would mean his defeat and came to tempt Him away from His main purpose. Satan offered Jesus food for His belly, but also food for many. He tempted Jesus to make His ministry one about social justice – feeding the poor and meeting the physical needs of those who were hungry. Satan offered Jesus a ministry of miracles, tempting Him to focus on healing the physical ailments of those who were sick and dying. Satan offered Jesus the position of ruling the entire world, a kingship over all nations tempting Jesus with a ministry that did not include suffering and death.
Of course, Satan had no power to offer these things. They were only lies and Jesus easily overcame the temptations with God’s Word. Though He came in flesh to reveal God, His purpose was not solely physical. During His three years of ministry, Jesus would feed the hungry, heal the sick and guide many into the kingdom of God. But He came to die.
For the next forty days the Church will recall Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness during this season of Lent. It is a time to look at Jesus’ ministry, to follow His footsteps to the cross. For many it will be a time of fasting, giving up something that has become more important than God. It is a time for prayer, repentance, discernment and self-denial as we prepare for Holy Week. We will face many temptations, as we do every day. How will we overcome those temptations? We cannot do it by our own effort, and we will fail miserably if we try. By God’s grace we can overcome, and when we fail we can rest in the knowledge that Christ has already paid the price for our forgiveness. Jesus came in flesh to live as man and to take upon Himself the wrath of God. Now Jesus is revealed through us, using our flesh to continue the lifesaving ministry He began two thousand years ago. It is truly amazing that God would choose to use His creation for such an important task, fallen as we are. Yet, He has done so. Thanks be to God.
Apprentice The latest in reality television is a show staring Donald Trump. Sixteen wanna-be business people began the series several weeks ago. On each episode they are tested on their abilities. The winner of the series will be given a $250,000 a year job and the chance to work with Mr. Trump. The teams have to accomplish some sort of task. One week they had to buy and sell merchandise. On another show they bought, repaired and rented an apartment. The competition is fierce, even among teammates. At the end of the show, Mr. Trump meets with the groups and discusses their accomplishments. He pushes hard, asking difficult questions to see how each contestant will react. Are they honest? Are they willing to take responsibility? Are they wimps? Each week someone gets fired. Ultimately the decision is up to Mr. Trump, though he gets some input from other professionals along the way.
I don’t always agree with the decision that is made. There have been a few times when I was sure someone else would be fired – someone I thought deserved to be sent packing. I did not like their attitude, I thought they were mean or disrespectful, they cheated or did something that I did not consider good business practice. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think. This is Donald Trump’s show and his business. He has to be satisfied that the one who wins will be someone with whom he can work. He has the authority to hire and fire because he is the billion-dollar real estate tycoon. I have little business experience and I have in no way proven myself to be knowledgeable or qualified to hire someone to be my apprentice in big business affairs.
Authority matters. The show would not work very well if they had some actor pretending to be a businessman. The viewers as well as the contestants know Donald Trump’s reputation. They know what he has done in the business world. If they hired me, the contestants would easily question my decisions. “Who is she that she would make that choice?” They would want proof that I have the authority to make decisions that are going to affect their future.
“The Jews therefore answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he spake this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:18-22 (ASV)
The Jews demanded proof that Jesus had the authority to disrupt the business of the Temple. The money changes and merchants were in the outer court, the only place Gentiles were allowed pray. They did not care about those others, foreigners and aliens to their way. It was better to fill the space with the supplies necessary for the faithful believers to complete their pilgrimage with sacrifice. Jesus was offended that they would create a marketplace in a place that was to be devoted to prayer.
His authority came from God, but the Jews did not recognize it. They did not understand that the temple about which He spoke was not one of rock and mortar, but of flesh and blood. Even after Jesus died and was resurrected, many still did not believe that He had the authority to cut down the religious practices of the Jews. Only those who saw Jesus as Lord and Savior understood that God no longer dwelled among the rocks and mortar, but had entered into the world as the Incarnate Word – Jesus Christ. The temple was indeed destroyed and rebuilt in three days, and this act was the final proof of His authority to forgive sins and change lives. Thanks be to God.
House Our last home was not very big, and it was an older home. The walls were rather thin and the floor plan was laid out so that all the rooms were very close. I could be anywhere and know what was going on in the rest of the house. I could even hear some things that were happening in the other half of our duplex – when the TV or radio was too loud or when they were hammering something into the wall. Our new house is much larger and brand new. The floor plan and excellent construction makes it difficult to hear what is going on in another room. The kids could be bouncing off the walls in their bedrooms while I’m in the kitchen and I would never know it was happening.
Though it is difficult to hear, I’m still a mom and I have to know what the children are doing when I can’t see them. My hearing is becoming attuned to noises of our home and our neighborhood, so I am beginning to be able to pick out the ones that are inappropriate – particularly when the kids are harassing each other. Eventually, once I’m fully used to this new house, the kids won’t be getting away with too many antics again. As mom, it is my responsibility to make sure everything in the house is working properly – not just the material possessions, but also the relationships. So, I learn to listen and pay attention to the interaction between all the family members so that we can work out difficulties long before they become problems.
I’m certainly not God. I only have 2300 square feet of space and four people to worry about. Can you imagine what it would be like to try to take care of the entire earth and the whole human race? Plus, God not only sees what’s on the outside, but He knows what’s going on the very depths of our hearts and souls. And though He has responsibility for all of creation, He knows our names and our every need.
“Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely. Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem; He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds. He counteth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. Jehovah upholdeth the meek: He bringeth the wicked down to the ground. Sing unto Jehovah with thanksgiving; Sing praises upon the harp unto our God, Who covereth the heavens with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth, Who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, And to the young ravens which cry. He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, In those that hope in his lovingkindness.” Psalm 147:1-11 (ASV)
It amazes the children when I catch them doing something they should not be doing; they wonder how I could possibly know. They don’t realize how damaging certain behaviors can be to their emotional, physical and spiritual health. I’m just trying to do what God has called me to do at this time in my life – take care of my family. It is a very small piece of everything and I worry that at times I will fail. The comfort I have is knowing that God cares for everything – not only the world as a whole, but every single individual. He is the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the universe, and He loves each one of us intimately, caring about our hurts and joys, our hopes and dreams. Thanks be to God.
Briefing This week I went to a briefing at the Family Support Center. It was a “Welcome to the base” kind of thing. I expected that there would be information about our new base and about the city surrounding it, but I was somewhat disappointed. The briefing was geared more for the people who have not been with the Air Force very long. They talked about medical care, identification cards, how to cope with deployments and other vital information for those who are not experienced in the ways of the military. After so many years in the service, I could have done most of the briefings.
Yet, I am glad that I went because now I know what they do at those briefings. I know that the briefing is important to all new military spouses. There was information that could make the difference between a good experience and a bad one. It could even mean the difference between a good marriage and a divorce. When the spouse is informed, she (or he) can help make good decisions and encourage the military member to ensure that everything is legal and prepared. Take, for instance, powers of attorney. A spouse should have a power of attorney, and it should be current at all times. If the military member gets deployed on short notice, there is no time to take care of these things, and it could make a difference during the separation. So, as a knowledgeable spouse, I will make sure that I encourage all younger military wives and husbands to attend a briefing to become informed.
In a way, this experience is much like the evangelistic efforts of many churches. They hold classes in the basics of Christianity, and often fill the spots with long-term church members. Granted, all Christians need reminders about faith and what it means to our daily lives – many need more than others. Yet, they should not need to go back to the beginning. Those evangelistic classes are designed to teach seekers, non-Christians, about Christianity. They are designed for those who are hungering for information, but are not yet believers. The faithful grow through worship and Bible Study, not through a seekers class.
“And he said to him also that had bidden him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; because they have not wherewith to recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14 (ASV)
It is interesting that many Christians invite their Christian friends of other denominations to these evangelistic experiences. They do not seek out those who are starving for the Word of Truth, for faith or for salvation, but for those who have already eaten the Bread of Life. They would rather give the food to someone who is rich but who ‘eat’ differently, trying to change the type of food. The feast, whether it is taken through one type of church or another, is the same feast. It is the feast of faith in Jesus Christ, membership in the Kingdom of God. Our efforts should be focused on inviting the poor, the lame, the hurting, the unforgiving – those who need to hear the message of salvation and be saved. We may not always agree with the way people are living out their faith, or their understanding of the Word, however if they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ they are saved. Let us seek those who truly need to be invited to the feast, so that they too might be blessed with a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Leap Year God’s world works perfectly, but we human beings have always tried to make His world fit into our ability to define and measure everything. Take time, for instance. We have determined that there are 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, 7 days to a week and 52 weeks to a year. And yet, those man-made measurements are not perfect. Every day we lose a bit of time, so much so that every year we lose a quarter of a day. Instead of trying to make up that quarter of a day each year, those who established our understanding of time decided to add a day once every four years. February 29 is the Leap Day.
There is no February 29 three years out of four. The day simply does not exist. And yet, ask someone who was born on that day, or someone for whom February 29 is a special day, and they will tell you it certainly does exist. The day is a gift, something extra that is outside of the ordinary. It is like getting a whole extra day to live our lives. The reality is that we do not have any extra time; we have exactly as much as God has ordained – time according to His will and purpose is perfect and an extra day on the calendar will not change that fact.
“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction, And sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, And as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
There are so many who look forward to February 29th because it is their birthday or a special anniversary. Though I am sure they celebrate every year, the Leap year is special because they can celebrate on the actual day. We can think of Leap day as a gift, time we would not have had without the extra day on the calendar. Yet, our time is not extended by even a minute by means of a calendar or watch. God has designed the world around us to move perfectly according to His good and perfect will. We can’t make it fit into our own understanding of time and space. We can’t even work to make ourselves perfect, let alone the creation.
This is why we seek God. Only He can control the days, weeks and months, and only He knows the course our life is ordained to go. He gives life and He takes it. He guides and directs our footsteps. He even gives us all we need to live in this world and the next. He has mercy and grants forgiveness that we might truly have more than earthly time, giving us an eternity to spend praising His holy name. Thanks be to God.