Welcome to the February 2010 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 2010
“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit.”
It is time for the rodeo in San Antonio. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is two and a half weeks of entertainment, competition and all things agricultural. There will be a carnival, musical acts and plenty of rodeo events. One building will be filled with commercial exhibitors with the latest in farm equipment, country gear and all things cowboy. It is certainly the hot ticket in town for the next few weeks, and many will enjoy the festivities.
The purpose of the San Antonio Livestock Exposition is to provide a showcase for agriculture and livestock. But the mission is about more than just giving cowboys a place to play. The San Antonio Livestock Exposition recognizes the need to raise up children who know how to work in the agriculture fields. We may live in a technological world, but we still need food to eat. We need farmers and cattlemen. So, the mission statement of the organization is this: A volunteer organization that emphasizes agriculture and education to develop the youth of Texas. They provide millions of dollars of scholarship money to help young people grow into the people who will feed the world in the years to come.
In the 1940’s, a man named Joe Freeman recognized the need for a facility in which to hold a stock show in south central Texas. Freeman Coliseum was built for that purpose. By 2003, the Stock Show and rodeo outgrew Freeman Coliseum and so the show was moved to what is now the AT&T Center. Now, the AT&T Center is home to many activities, including the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. For the next few weeks the Spurs will travel to other venues to play, while the Stock Show and Rodeo is in town.
See, it is impossible to clean up between events during the time of the rodeo. The literally move the earth to create the right arena for the rodeo events. In the next few days, twenty tons of dirt will be hauled by seventy trucks into the AT&T Center. It takes days to remove the dirt again, so nothing will take place in the Center until the rodeo is over, unless it can take place on a dirt floor.
I’ve always found it amazing that they move so much dirt into the Center for the rodeo, but I heard a bit of information today that is even more amazing. They have been using the same dirt since the 1980’s. They store it somewhere for the rest of the year. It makes sense; after all, where would you get that much dirt year after year. But I can’t help wondering about the dirt. Do they clean it after the show? I know: it is dirt. But for nearly three weeks, that dirt will host hundreds of animals which, quite frankly, do not bother to use the rest rooms. There would be natural decomposition if the dirt were outside, washed by rain showers and moved by worms. But what happens to the dirt for those eleven months in storage? Is it stored in a closet or is it stacked outside nearby? Do they allow critters to wallow in the dirt or do they keep it protected from the outside world?
I suppose it is a sign of the times that I would be concerned about whether or not the dirt is clean enough to create an arena for the animals during rodeo. We spend a fortune on cleaners and hours of our time making sure that our homes and lives are spotless. We work very hard to make sure that everything around us is perfect. We do this in our spiritual life as well as our physical world. We work very hard trying to make ourselves perfect. We try to clean up even the dirt.
No matter how clean they make the dirt at the rodeo, it will still be dirty. Dirt is dirty by nature. No matter how hard we try to clean ourselves, we’ll still be dirty. We are sinners by nature. But we are also created good, which is why God has done all He has done to wipe our lives clean. It is by His hand that we’ll be made right to do what it is we have been called to do in this world. It is by His blood that we are cleansed and made righteous to live in His kingdom forever. We’ll never do it on our own, but He has promised that we will be white as snow.
“And no man putteth a piece of undressed cloth upon an old garment; for that which should fill it up taketh from the garment, and a worse rent is made. Neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins: else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish: but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17, ASV
Today is Groundhog Day. If you don’t know that, you are probably hiding under a rock with Punxsutawney Phil, although if that is where you’ve been, then you would know about Groundhog Day. What I found fascinating as I listened to the news this morning is that there are lots of groundhogs making weather predictions today. According to a list at Wikipedia, there are at least eleven groundhogs whose appearances caught someone’s attention today. Punxsutawney Phil is just the most famous.
The question on Groundhog Day is whether or not the winter will end soon or will go on for another six weeks. How did Phil come to be known for having such incredible prognosticating abilities? Well, first of all we know that today’s Phil can’t possibly be the same Phil as has done this in the past. After all, the first official Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney happened in 1887. Groundhogs were predicting the weather long before that day. Besides, groundhogs simply do not live to be one hundred and twenty-three years old. So, as one groundhog retires from the business of prognostication another is honored with the role. The prediction does not come from the groundhog, but from the circumstances of the day.
If Phil sees his shadow because of a cloudy day, then the winter is almost over and the spring will arrive soon. If the day is sunny and bright, and the groundhog sees his shadow, then he will hunker down for another six weeks of bad weather. Doesn’t that seem backwards to you? I would think if it was sunny and bright, then the signs of spring must be near. However, there must be some meteorological reason for this. The historical origins go back much farther than written history, as early agricultural societies had similar traditions. The animals were not groundhogs, because there were not groundhogs in those ancient places, but they had looked for the return of the sleeping animals as a sign indicating when to begin planting. If the animals appear after early February, then the weather will be mild, and early planting will grow. However, if the animals do not appear, then the farmers know that they should wait until later in the year to plant. We have calendars and meteorologists who help us to know when to begin to plow the fields. The ancients looked to the signs in nature. They weren’t predicting whether or not winter would last a few more days or six more weeks, they were looking to the creation for the signs they needed to decide how to proceed with their farming.
One of the reporters on the news today discovered that there were more than one groundhog predicting the weather and he was shocked that the groundhogs didn’t agree. The agreement was about fifty/fifty; half called for an early spring and half predicted another six weeks of winter. How could these groundhogs all be correct? Of course, many will say that they aren’t correct. If Punxsutawney Phil says there will be six more weeks of winter, he might well be correct for Punxsutawney but incorrect for Cibolo, Texas. As a matter of fact, it is likely that he will be wrong about the weather in Texas because he is predicting for his home. It is interesting that the groundhogs listed at Wikipedia that predict continued winter weather are all from the North Atlantic (Pennsylvania and Canada, as well as one groundhog from New York). Two of the New York groundhogs (one on Staten Island and one in western New York) predicted an early spring. Otherwise, the rest of the groundhogs that predicted an early spring are from the Midwest or the south. The weather can be much different for those areas than the North Atlantic coast. If the rest of our winter is mild, we can’t blame Punxsutawney Phil for getting it wrong. He wasn’t predicting the future for us. And we can’t compare Phil’s prediction to that of the other groundhogs; we have to judge the prediction on the actual weather where Phil did his prognosticating.
Groundhog Day was probably brought to the United States by the early German immigrants who had a similar tradition in their home. It is interesting how we take those beloved traditions with us wherever we go. I do things here in Texas that I used to do at home. I still follow the Groundhog Day hype even though I haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for more than twenty years. Now, if a groundhog were predicting the weather in Texas today, he would not see his shadow. It is cloudy, drizzly, cold and miserable. Would that groundhog’s prediction be for an early spring or more winter? I’m not sure I would trust the old tradition because historically February is the coldest month for us and we are most likely to see snow in the next few weeks. Can we believe the myth or should we look for different signs in the creation that surrounds out home? Interestingly, Pennsylvania is very similar in landscape as Germany, and is at about the same latitude. So, it is possible that the old ways will work. The old ways won’t work everywhere.
Unlike the patches and wineskins in today’s passage, the old ways are not always bad. As a matter of fact, it is still fun to watch the revelry from Gobbler’s Knob and perhaps one day we’ll go join in the fun. But we have to put the beloved things of the past into perspective: they are not always valuable to us today. Sometimes we hang on to traditions that do not do us any good. What if a farmer from Georgia believed Punxsutawney Phil over their local groundhog General Beauregard Lee and waited six weeks to plant his crops? He would waste a lot of growing time. But then, most farmers do not rely on groundhogs to determine their calendar. There are new and better ways to do it, now. We just have to judge what is best for us today, not destroying the old ways but adapting to that which is new and better for our time and place.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 7, 2010, Five Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11.
“…yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10c
The big game is this weekend, and while many people are looking forward to watching the New Orleans Saints play against the Indianapolis Colts. The experts are already comparing records and making predictions about who will win and who will and who will impress. Fans are getting ready by gathering snack foods and beverages to enjoy during the game. Many will host parties where crowds will gather in front of their big screen televisions to cheer and boo the action.
But the game is not the only thing that is drawing attention for this game day. As it is every year, a great deal of hype has been made over the commercials that will play during the game. The big game is one of the most watched television programs during the year, so advertisers line up to spend a fortune to buy air time. The network hosts can charge almost any amount and they will get advertisers. This year CBS is asking $2.6 million dollars for just thirty seconds. They’ve had no problem filling the commercial time; they’ve even been able to turn some advertisers away.
So, at $2.6 million dollars for half a minute, you can imagine the work that has gone into those commercials. Those advertisers are going to do everything they can to make the campaign successful. They certainly get their money’s worth: the best commercials will be watched over and over again in the days and weeks to come as they are discussed on news shows and websites. There is even an official website where you can vote for your favorites.
It is funny, though, on first watch many of those commercials do not even leave a lasting impression about the product. I can’t even remember what was being advertised during some of my favorite commercials from the past. They get creative to catch our attention, but need repeat viewing to really get our business.
Now, can you imagine going to all this trouble to create an advertisement to convince people to not buy what we are selling. Can you imagine an advertiser saying, “I don’t want you to believe in me or my product?” That’s exactly what Isaiah was called to do.
The Lord said to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.” Why would God want Isaiah to make their hearts hard? Shouldn’t the prophet be calling for repentance, for the people to turn toward God? It had been done before, many times. And though the people did turn back to God, the repentance was shallow and they quickly turned back to the old gods. Isaiah’s job was to make the rebellion and rejection so great that God could finally do the work that would make Israel’s repentance real and lasting. The threat of exile was built on the promise of restoration and healing. The task might have seemed ridiculous to Isaiah, but it was the first step of a larger plan.
Isaiah gets is, but he is uncertain about this plan. “Lord, how long?” he asked. Isaiah would preach this unbelievable message until Jerusalem no longer stood and all the people had been taken away. When everything is gone, then God can start over with His people.
We see this in the attitude of Isaiah early in the passage. Isaiah has a vision that is incredible. He sees God sitting on a throne with strange beasts all around Him. Isaiah knew He was in the presence of God, a place no human truly wants to find himself. Isaiah knew he wasn’t worthy. He knew he was a sinner. He knew that if he saw the LORD face to face, he would die. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.” The greatest moment of his life was the worst moment of his life because he knew that he did not belong there. He was a fallen man and knew he would not survive standing in God’s glory.
But God is filled with promises and He does what has to be done for restoration and renewal. An angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, an act of cleansing and forgiveness. “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven.” Once cleansed, God called for a helper. “Who should we send?”
This moment always makes me giggle. After all, the only one standing in front of God and His angels is Isaiah. It is like a father playing with a child, pretending not to see the child in front of him. “Where is my little girl?” Or a mother who has a yummy cupcake pretending not to see a hungry child, saying “Who should I give this cupcake to?” God knows that Isaiah is there and that Isaiah is the one who will go, but He is calling Isaiah, but wants Isaiah to volunteer. He doesn’t force anyone to do the work, although He can be very persuasive.
How do you think Isaiah felt when he found out about the work he was being sent to do? Do you think he had second thoughts? Do you think he doubted that he could do it? Do you think he thought the whole idea was ridiculous? “Why do I have to convince them to reject you? I’d much rather convince them that you are forgiving and merciful and just.”
He doesn’t vocalize his doubts or misgivings, but if he’s human like you and I, he probably had them. Yes, I can sense the excitement of surviving the presence of God and responding to God’s grace with enthusiasm. But we tend to say and do things in the heat of the moment without truly thinking them through. I can’t count the number of times I’ve volunteered and quickly realized I shouldn’t have raised my hand.
Now, I can relate to Peter. He has a similar but different experience as Isaiah. Peter spent the night fishing on the lake with his companions and they did not catch anything. It was a wasted night; they were tired and ready to go home to rest. Jesus came to them and asked to borrow their boat, so Peter took him out onto the water. From there, Jesus could preach and reach a larger group because He did not have to worry about the crowd pressing in on Him. When He was finished, He told Peter to go back out onto the lake and let down the nets. Peter was a fisherman. He knew fish and everything about fishing. He knew it was a bad day for fish. He was tired because he had already spent all night at the nets and they had gotten nothing. Jesus was not a fisherman; Peter was more qualified to decide when and where to fish. Despite this truth, Peter agreed and went back onto the lake.
They had much better luck this time. Their luck was so great that they needed a second boat, and even then they nearly suck under the weight. Why would the haul be impossible for Peter to handle? Why would there be so many fish, probably more than they had ever seen at once? Since Peter was a fisherman, the sign had to be one that was so out of the ordinary that he would clearly see what Jesus was saying. The catch had to be bigger than anything they had ever experienced, astounding in numbers or else Peter would be able to think it was a fluke.
As it was, Peter realized that he was looking into the face of God, hearing the voice of God. Isaiah’s vision was also extraordinary, purposely so that there would be no doubt that he had stood in the presence of God. Isaiah and Peter were being called to something extraordinary.
I would probably respond much like Peter. He wasn’t unwilling to follow Jesus, he just thought he was unworthy. “Go away, Lord” Peter said, not because he did not want to be near Jesus but because he was afraid. A sinful man can’t stand in God’s presence without being changed. Isaiah thought he would die. Perhaps Peter thought so, too. But God’s grace overcomes our fear and uncertainty. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus said, “I have an incredible offer for you.”
Peter and his companions dropped everything and followed. I wonder how long it was before they began to wonder whether they made the right decision. They believed, but they didn’t believe. They understood, but they didn’t really understand. Jesus had a powerful message of love and hope and peace, but He also spoke harshly, warning sinners of the coming judgment. The perceived promise of a position in a palace near the throne of a king was exciting, but the risks were great. How many times did they say to themselves, “What was I thinking?”
It isn’t hard to see ourselves in the apostles. Paul came to believe in Jesus in the most extraordinary way, but he never let that get to his head. Though he sometimes sounds arrogant and judgmental in his writing, he is also very humble and modest. In today’s passage, Paul writes about his work among the people in Corinth. He writes, “Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.” He insists that the congregation believe his message or their faith will have been in vain.
The problem that Paul is addressing is that some had stopped believing in bodily resurrection. They did not believe that Jesus had been raised in flesh and that they, too, would be raised into a new body. It was in Corinth that we see evidence of the Gnostic heresy that was permeating the church. In Corinth there were those who were ‘spiritual’ to the point of rejecting all things physical. For them the resurrection of the dead was simply spiritual. They did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body. That understanding leaves no room for hope—the work of the Gospel was complete in their spirits and they were already perfected. Paul reminded them of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and laid it on the line: if Jesus was not resurrected, then Christian faith is in vain.
His proof of Jesus’ resurrection lies in the witnesses who have testified to seeing Him alive. The list is a long one: Peter, the Twelve, five hundred, James, all the apostles and then to Paul. These witnesses established the foundation of the Church and the faith to which we now belong. The beliefs of the Corinthians had parted from the fundamentals. It was Paul’s job to bring them back.
This could not have been an easy thing to accomplish. After all, there are still people today who would rather believe the Gnostic heresies than believe in the resurrection of the physical body. There are too many questions that we can’t answer about the afterlife. The idea of resurrection is extraordinary. For many, the promise of keeping the body we’ve had in this life is not hopeful. I’d rather exist spiritual without this imperfect flesh that aches on rainy days and doesn’t fit into a decent pair of jeans anymore. Now, I might be happy if I were resurrected with the body I had in my mid-twenties, but after two kids and old age, I think I’d rather just be spirit. But that’s not the reality; it is not the promise. Jesus was resurrected so that we, too, will be resurrected and restored to the way we were created to be in the beginning: living in the presence of God for all eternity.
Even though Paul sounds a bit superior in the beginning of this message when he says, “believe what I told you,” he reminds them that it was not his message that he was sharing. At the end of this passage he says, “I labored more abundantly than they all.” I read this and think, “There you go again, Paul.” But Paul reminds us that he knows where it comes from, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
I get it. I’m the same way, especially about my kids. My children are terrific. They are successful, well-adapted and accomplished. Just this week, an article about Zack appeared on the school district website reporting about a major accomplishment. Several people have congratulated me for his success. The idea embarrasses me because he’s the one who has put in all the work. And yet, Bruce and I did have something to do about it. We gave our children the love, encouragement, opportunities and tools they needed to grow into successful adults. I worked hard to make them what they are today, but not really. They are who they are because God created them that way. He gave me the grace to be the mother and to provide them all they need. My kids are terrific because I labored for them, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
That’s what we learn from our stories today. We are going to have doubts and uncertainty when it comes to the work God is calling us to do. Sometimes it is ridiculous. Sometimes it is impossible. Sometimes we will insist that we are the wrong person for the job. But as God calls, He also provides all we need. It is not us doing the work, but the grace of God in us and with us that is accomplishing God’s work.
Our task is simply to live in the faith which by God’s grace we have been given. We might just experience something extraordinary, like a vision of God in heaven or the tangible evidence of God’s power like a boat load of fish. Whatever our circumstances, God is calling us to believe, to live in His grace and to share what He has given to us. He might just call us to something specific like Isaiah, Peter or Paul. However, we learn from this week’s passages that the work we do will not bring us a position of honor or glory. Instead, the visible manifestation of God’s power will bring us to our knees. We will see clearly our own unworthiness. We will also see God’s mercy and His grace. He won’t let us do His work alone. He will be with us, giving us everything we need.
And so we face the ordinary and the extraordinary with a heart filled with thanksgiving and praise. As the psalmist sings, “In the day that I called thou answeredst me, Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks, O Jehovah, For they have heard the words of thy mouth. Yea, they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah; For great is the glory of Jehovah.” As we keep our eyes on God, He will guide our footsteps and lead us into the work He has called us to do. Perhaps we will find, someday, that there is something extraordinary for us to do. It might even seem ridiculous to us. But let us never forget that God’s grace is made manifest in His will and purpose for our lives. The greatest calling is not to be a powerful prophet or a prolific apostle, but to serve God in the ordinary and ridiculous opportunities, and to share His love with the world.
“At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-29, ASV
In yesterday’s WORD, I talked about how advertisers would not spend a fortune creating advertisements meant to convince people not to purchase a product. This is mostly true. Unfortunately, there is one market that seems to thrive off this concept of negative advertising: politics. With an upcoming primary election here in Texas, a majority of the political ads these days are trying to convince us how bad it would be if we made certain choices. There are very few commercials proclaiming the advantages of a particular candidate. It is as if they all need to bring down the others to lift up themselves.
I’m not sure how well negative advertising works when it comes to political commercials. It seems to me that most people have the intelligence to consider the information being offered in thirty second sound bites and check it out for themselves before making such a major decision. Unfortunately, many people don’t care or think they have the time to pay much attention to what is happening in the world. They are too lazy to do it themselves, so they believe every sound bite they hear. I have heard several news reports digging for the truth in those ads, and as it happens, the truth is twisted in all of them. The ads are useless, except for those who don’t care enough to get beyond the sound bites.
Faith can be reduced to sound bites, too. Many churches teach a Gospel message that can fit onto a bumper sticker, and Christians lean on those messages as the foundation of their faith. Now, it is true that God is love, but is that enough to really live faithfully in this world? Can the Bible really be reduced to three words? It is true that God is love, but the Gospel message is so much more. God is love, but He is also Lord, judge, provider, Father, teacher, Creator, refuge, master, and comforter. God loves, but He also forgives, rebukes, corrects, transforms, disciplines, and encourages. It is not enough to know that God is love and that God loves because we have a human and skewed understanding of love.
Sadly, many reject the message “God is love” because they can not understand how a loving God could allow so much suffering in the world. How can a loving God allow one of His faithful to be diagnosed with cancer? How can a loving God allow an entire county be destroyed by a natural disaster? How can a loving God be responsible, forgiving and merciful to angry, hurtful and imperfect creatures like our sinful neighbors? It is easy to discount this ‘loving God’ when our world is falling apart around us and we have no hope.
But that’s why it isn’t enough to preach or believe in sound bites, whether they are positive or negative. There is so much more to the God we love and it is important that we introduce our neighbors to the entire story. To do so, we have to know more than a few sound bites. We have to know Him and His story from beginning to end. We have to meet the shady characters who became His faithful people. We have to walk with the imperfect people who did His work in the world. In knowing the whole story, we see how God is also working in our own lives. We’ll see His forgiveness as well as His correction. We’ll see how He has disciplined and transformed us. We will know His love, not from a three word sound bite but from His presence in our lives.
God calls us to a life of living wholly in His story. To do so, we have to know it like our own. To know it like our own, we must spend time in the Bible, studying His Word, learning the lessons of grace from the people who have lived it before us. It is hard for us to focus so much time on such a large book. After all, we have become accustomed to small bits of information constantly being thrust upon us. Who has the time to sit down and read hundreds of thousands of words, especially since many of them don’t make much sense? But as with our political decisions, we should take the time to look at the whole story, to see beyond the sound bites. In this way we’ll live wholly in God’s grace, experiencing Him as He is, not as we think he should be. It isn’t as hard as we may think if we take it one day at a time. Besides, God is with us on every step of our journey. He’ll help us see Him as He is, fully and faithfully.
“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!” Matthew 10:8-15, ASV
Here is one more devotional about commercials. The commercials slated for this year’s big game are not without controversy. The network carrying the game has rejected several commercials for various reasons. They don’t want to be associated with the advertiser or they think the commercial itself will be offensive to the viewers. As a business, they have every right to accept or reject which ads will air on their station on Sunday.
What is most interesting about this situation, however, is that those rejected commercials are getting plenty of air play anyway. As soon as the companies knew that they would not get their minute on Sunday, they posted their commercials in other places. YouTube is visited by millions of people and they want to watch the hottest videos. In the days leading up to the big game, the hot ones are often the rejected commercials. The rejected commercials are also discussed on all the news programs. Experts debate whether the network should have rejected the commercial and the viewers are asked for their opinions. This gives the advertiser a huge advantage: plenty of exposure for free.
The ads that make it to the show have to pay. The price this year is between $2.5 and $3 million dollars. They consider it money well spent since the game is expected to pull a hundred million viewers. It is hard to know for sure whether or not that is money well-spent. Some commercials will succeed, others will fail. The best commercials will get more airtime after the game because they will be discussed on the news shows and viewed on the internet millions of times in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, the bad commercials will get lost and the advertiser will have wasted the effort.
Even then, however, they’ll get more airtime in the days following the big game because the experts will debate how it failed. Meanwhile, every time any of these commercials—controversial, excellent or horrible—are aired, the company and product names are broadcast to the world. Commercials are not always about convincing someone to buy a particular product, but to make their name known. It is about name-recognitions rather than product sales. Someone is not necessarily going to change from one brand of chips to another based on one commercial, but the next time they go to the store they will be drawn to that brand because it has been seared into their brains. We don’t even realize it is happening, but after seeing that chip a hundred times on the television, we won’t miss seeing it on the store shelves.
We don’t like talking about our faith. We would rather people ask us about Jesus rather than mention Him in our daily conversation because we don’t want to be offensive or seem judgmental. We hear the stories of men and women in the Bible and in our world who suddenly are converted, and we think that it will happen to our neighbors. When it does, we are more than willing to share our own faith with them. But, can the idea of brand recognition make a difference in someone’s life when it comes to belief in God? Can hearing about Him on a regular basis make it easier for them to see Him in the world?
I think so, and so does Paul. In today’s scriptures, Paul reminds the Romans that people can’t come to faith if they haven’t heard the Gospel message. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we should be out there carrying sandwich boards or taking out thirty second ads advertising God. But why are we so afraid to tell our neighbors about our faith? Why are we so cautious about the words we use when sharing God’s grace with others? How many times have you heard it said, “My thoughts are with you,” instead of “I’m praying”? How many times have we said “Bless you” instead of “God bless you”? Do our neighbors even know that we are believers by our words and actions?
It is scary, because we know that sharing our faith is risky. A friend posted a funny bumper sticker onto her Facebook page the other day that happened to mention God. A lengthy discussion developed about the existence of God. There were several posters that insisted believers are foolish, following fairy tales. One said, “I don’t understand how such an intelligent human being can still believe in a child’s story.” But we have to be bold and brave, sharing God’s name with our neighbors. It is only when we do so that they’ll hear the story and come to believe. Who knows, it might just be that one word that helps them to recognize God just when they need Him most.
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.” 1 John 1:1-4, ASV
Our church’s regional outdoor ministry has two sites which are used for summer camp and retreats. Camp Chrysalis is a lovely camp nestled in a secluded valley with a creek and hiking trails up to a bluff where the campers can worship God while watching the sunset over the horizon. They have the usual activities: sports, canoeing on the creek, arts and crafts and hiking. They have a swimming pool, ball field and basketball court. There is also a ropes course which helps to develop trust, community and faith. The cabins are comfortable and the food is excellent. The staff at the camp takes very good care of all their visitors.
What makes our outdoor ministry truly unique is the second site: Ebert ranch. The ranch is located on a high flat plane in the Texas hill country with scrubs and cactus and live oak trees dotting the landscape. The ranch is home to a number of animals which are given the freedom to roam wherever they please. The horses, goats and longhorns nibble their way around the square mile of land, filling their bellies with whatever greens they can find. There are also a number of chickens on site. Scout and Gizmo are the barn cats, although there are times when it seems like they don’t want to live in the barn! It is a ruggedly beautiful place, with a sense of peace that comes from being so far away from the distractions of the world.
I attended a retreat at the ranch this past weekend and the first thing I saw was an incredible sunset. We worshipped beside a campfire that first night with a starry sky above unencumbered by the light pollution of the city. We toasted marshmallows over the red hot coals and shared stories of our lives. That was a theme for the weekend: sharing stories. Actually, it was a retreat focusing on Biblical storytelling, but it seemed like we all had plenty of other stories to tell. Whether gathered around the campfire or the fire place, walking the paths of the ranch or sitting together at meals, we forged a bond based on our common experiences. The names were different and the places far apart, but the laughter and the tears were the same.
We were greeted Saturday morning by the horses as we sat on the porch of our cabin sharing more stories. I think they heard our voices and came to see what was happening. They walked right up to us, seeking our attention and perhaps hoping for a treat. We weren’t allowed to feed any of the animals, but we were able to love them with a pat on the shoulder. Throughout the weekend we managed to see most of the animals as they wandered past our cabin on their way from here to there. Scout spent most of the weekend trying to sneak into our cabin, to join our fellowship and enjoy the comfort of our weekend home.
I think what is most amazing about those storytelling moments is how quickly we all found ways to get into the conversation. When one person had a story about a bus trip, we all had stories about bus trips. And we all respected one another, giving each person the chance to share. Someone was always ready with a new topic when the old one lost steam. And we laughed together, a lot, both at our experiences and at our own foolishness. The catch phrase for the weekend became “good times” because of one story that was told. The reality of it was that the experience being shared was not really very good at the time, but the speaker can laugh about it now and it is a time remembered fondly despite the difficulties.
Our stories draw us together. They help us see how we are different and how we are the same. They help us to get to know one another in ways that we might not think to tell a person we have just met. I not only learned about one friend’s work, but about her relationships with her co-workers. I discovered needs that demand prayer and joys that deserve praise. Most of all, I saw how my fellow storytellers were living out their faith in the world, not necessarily in the way they told the bible stories but in how to dealt with the experience of life, both good and bad.
It is easy to share stories in such a comfortable place. We were all there for the same reason, with a common purpose and heritage. But storytelling is a practice that crosses so many boundaries. After all, even when we are different, we are all human and despite our differences, we share so much that is the same. We aren’t very comfortable sharing our faith stories or our understanding of the Bible, but we can tell others about our lives, and in doing so we might just reveal something about the God who has created and redeemed us. The more we tell our stories, the more they’ll see God’s grace in our lives. The more we share ourselves, the more the world will realize that there is something or someone in the midst of it all.
We should not stop telling them God’s stories, but telling our own stories is a place to start. In doing so, we’ll establish relationships with people who we may never have thought could be part of our lives because we’ll see that they, too, have similar stories to tell. And then, in the midst of the conversation, you’ll see God’s face in your neighbor even while they can see God’s grace in you.
“O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known his doings among the peoples. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvellous works. Glory ye in his holy name; Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah. Seek ye Jehovah and his strength; Seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, O ye seed of Israel his servant, Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” 1 Chronicles 16:8-13, ASV
I was standing at the sink in my room in the cabin this weekend with my travel bag open and ready. As I looked at it, I suddenly thought about my dad and had a brief moment of sadness and a little giggle as his life flashed before my eyes. It is a very strange thing because the travel bag has no direct connection to my dad, but it always makes me think of him. But then, memories are often triggered by odd experiences or unusual objects.
I think of my brother when I see a bag of M&M’s because one day we sorted a bag by color as we chatted about our lives. It was one brief moment, but one that I’ll always remember. I think of my sister when I see rabbits, not only because she used to collect rabbits but also because of her pet rabbit when we were kids. I remember my mom whenever I make Christmas cookies, but also when I make Jell-O. Now, the cookies bring back very pleasant memories, but I always think about her lime Jell-O with grated vegetable salad topped with Miracle Whip: a memory not so pleasant. I still wonder how anyone concocts that combination! I don’t make green Jell-O, but it doesn’t matter. Anytime I make any color, I think of that green glob with carrots and cabbage topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip and I cringe.
The reason the travel bag reminds me of my dad is not so pleasant. Five years ago my dad was living just north of Houston when he got sick, a long drive from my house. I had to go to be with him. I quickly threw a bag together and ended up staying overnight in a hotel for a few days. For the next five weeks, I went to Houston several times, spending a few nights in the hotel each time. Daddy never got better, and as the weeks passed it became more important to be ready to go immediately if I got a call. I learned to keep my travel bag ready with everything I might need so that I didn’t have to worry about getting everything together. Now I keep my travel bag ready at all times, even though it is unlikely that I’ll need to leave for an overnight trip so quickly. It makes packing so much easier.
Of course, since I never know where I might be going, there are things in my travel bag that I probably don’t need on any particular trip. I won’t need sunblock if I am going to a convention where rooms and meetings are in the same building. I don’t need a bar of soap if I’m going to be at a hotel. I keep certain medicines in the case that I am not likely to use sometimes.
So, when I am rummaging through the things I don’t need in the bag, I think about why it is like that and I remember my dad. The memory is sad for a moment, but then I think about all the good times. I even giggle at some of the pictures I see in my mind or think about some of the things he said. And then I smile for having spent that moment with him. I think God gives us those triggers, to help us remember not only the people we loved but the lessons we have learned from having known them.
Odd things trigger our remembrance of our God, too. I think about Him when I hear a siren and I say a quick prayer that everything is alright with those who are suffering in that moment. I think about God when the thunder rumbles because I remember that when I was a kid we used to say that the thunder was God bowling. I think about God when I have an email from an old friend and thank Him for friends. The world around is designed to point toward the God who has created everything. He moves in and through our life, constantly getting our attention with the little things, bringing to our mind the good things He has done. Let us always remember, and look for Him even in the things that just don’t seem very holy. But He’s there, calling us to praise and prayer and remembrance.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 14, 2010, Transfiguration Sunday: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 96; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36 [37-43]
“This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.” Luke 9:35b, ASV
We have a few choices for focus with Sunday’s scriptures. This is the last Sunday before Lent, so we can continue to follow the Epiphany readings or we can look at the texts for the Transfiguration. We can also consider the secular holiday of the day: Valentine’s Day. Now, Valentine’s Day, with its hearts and romance, is not really appropriate for Sunday morning worship. I can’t imagine reading Song of Solomon as the center of our worship (although Song of Solomon 2:8-13 is offered as a choice a couple times in the Revised Common Lectionary.)
Some churches may have Valentine’s Day dinners and dances for youth or seniors. The person giving the children’s sermon may give Valentine’s Day cards to the kids. Some pastors may focus on building better marriages and relationships. But with a powerful story like the Transfiguration, do we really want to focus on Valentine’s Day even though it so rarely falls on a Sunday?
It is interesting that the feast of St. Valentine is no longer celebrated in the Catholic Church because so little is known about the man. Some suggest that Valentine’s Day is meant to honor a number of different martyrs with that name. He is described as a priest or a bishop in Italy or a martyr from Africa. The myth that has grown up around his name, not found in print before 1493, is that Valentine was martyred for marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted by the Roman emperor Claudius. Claudius actually liked Valentine until he tried to convert the emperor, and then he was beaten, stoned and beheaded. This story is the reason why St. Valentine’s Day became a celebration of love and romance. St. Valentine is still the patron saint of affianced couples, happy marriages and love.
But in reality, the man is a mystery, so, St. Valentine is not a saint whose feast we celebrate. And yet, on a day like today, it is worth considering the idea of a mysterious man whose life was about love. After all, the story of God is a love story between God and His people. It is also a love story between God and His Son. And finally, it is a love story between God’s Son and His people. The scriptures often describe our relationship with God as like a marriage. We are the bride, He is the bridegroom. That’s what Song of Solomon is all about. He is the King, we are His beloved. There is some sense of this love in today’s scriptures.
After all, have you ever seen someone in love? They get this indescribable glow about them. It isn’t an actual light radiating from their skin, but there’s something about them that seems different. They are happy and it shows. When they are in the presence of their beloved, they are transformed. Though they look exactly the same, there is something about their appearance that is different. There’s a twinkle in the eye and a sense of contentment in the face that comes from this love.
I wonder if that is what we see in today’s Old Testament lesson. The scriptures say that Moses’ skin was shining in a way that frightened those who saw it. And yet, Moses was not aware of any change. Perhaps there was a literal light shining off his face, and yet it might just have been the same unexplainable glow that we get when we are in love. They knew he’d been in the presence of God and they believed that it was dangerous to be in God’s presence. Did they think he was no longer human? Did they think he was a spirit? There was something different about Moses. He’d crossed the gap that separated the human and the divine.
Love does other things to us. Take, for instance, the person who will try something new because it is an interest of the beloved. They’ll go hiking or attend the opera or eat Mexican food. They will boldly stand against friends or family. They will quit their jobs and move three thousand miles to marry the one that they love.
Love for God makes us, bold, too. Now, Paul shows us a different perspective than that we see in the first lesson. In Exodus we see that the people were afraid of Moses because his face shone with the glory of God. He took the veil off when he was in God’s presence, and reported God’s words to the people without the veil. After he finished, he returned the veil to his face. Paul gives us a hint as to why he used the veil: the glory faded. Moses did not want them to see that the glory disappeared. Perhaps he was afraid that they would not give him the honor and respect due his position if they remembered he was merely human.
Love fades. Well, love doesn’t fade, but that initial glow does. We settle into the reality of life and the love is transformed from some romantic passion into the lasting relationship that gets through the bad and the good, the sickness and the health, the poverty and the richness. Does the golden anniversary couple love each other any less than the love-struck teenagers because there is no glow? Of course not. As a matter of fact, I would count on that anniversary love lasting longer than the passion of youth. If Moses was afraid of what the people might think as the glow faded, then he wasn’t trusting God’s presence in his daily life.
And that’s what had happened to the Israelites. Paul writes that their minds were hardened. They preferred to keep God separate. With Moses as their mediator, it was not necessary for them to be in the presence of God. They could send Moses in to receive God’s commands; they could listen and then go about their daily work without concern for God’s closeness. They never had to risk being changed by God. Even in the days of Paul, they preferred having someone else deal with God directly. Then, when they failed to live up to the expectations of God, they could go about their business without fear that God would deal with their unfaithfulness.
It is frightening to become what God wants to make us, because to become His we have to let go of something of ourselves in the process, just like in marriage. Yes, we keep our individuality, the aspects of our lives that make us unique. But we have to let go of that which can keep us separate. In our relationship with God, He asks us to let go of our sin. Sin is that which keeps us separate from Him. But in Christ, we have nothing separating us from the love and glory of God. He has lifted the veil forever, so that we can dwell in God’s presence without fear. We do not need God’s glory to be veiled from us because by God’s grace we are able to look upon Him with peace. Yet, for now, we look upon Him as if in a mirror, for we are still bound by the things of the earth that keeps us from seeing Him fully.
I wonder what it was like for Peter, James and John to climb to the top of that mountain with Jesus. In the Gospel story, Jesus was praying on the mountaintop when His appearance began to change. His face was different and His clothes became a dazzling white. I’m sure that this description does not even come close to what those disciples saw that day, but what they saw was undoubtedly beyond human description.
Yet, in this scene, we have two men—Elijah and Moses—talking to Jesus as if they were just having a conversation about His future over the back fence with a neighbor. Peter, James and John wanted to take a nap, but they had not fallen asleep, so they saw this scene happening before their eyes. What a strange and wonderful vision this must have been for them. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets and it was believed would come again to announce the Messiah. Moses had experienced the presence of God so completely that he was transformed by it, and in those encounters he was given the Law by which God’s people were expected to live. Jesus’ work, and His death, would bring about the completion of the work both Elijah and Moses had started. God’s people would be finally delivered and redeemed from that which kept them apart from God.
In a brief moment, Peter, James and John saw the reality of Jesus. They saw Him in His glory; they heard God’s voice declare Jesus as the beloved One. In this story, the men were frightened not by the glory, but by the cloud that enveloped them. Peter was in the middle of trying to make the experience permanent, by building booths in which Jesus, Moses and Elijah might dwell. But God had other plans. He covered the disciples with a cloud and said, “This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him.” It is not for us to decide what to do with Jesus and His ministry. We are called to listen to Him and to do what He has said.
If Moses was concerned about the fading glory, Jesus was not. He did not stay on top of the mountain or try to dwell in the glory that had come over Him there. He had further work to complete. It was time to turn His feet toward Jerusalem, to finish the promise, to do what was necessary to set the people free. The first act of this final journey was the setting free of a young boy who was possessed by a demon. He, too, was an only son, seized and harmed by a spirit of the world, nearly to death. Even as Jesus is about to heal him, the demon throws the boy on the ground in convulsions. But Jesus is greater than the demon and with a word turned it away. The boy was healed and restored to his father.
In that brief encounter we see what Jesus is doing to experience in the coming days. It is interesting to note that the disciples were not able to deal with this one. He would be accompanied on His journey by the disciples, but they would not be able to do the work. Only He could overcome the spirit of this world. In the process, however, Jesus would suffer greatly, as the world would try to defeat Him.
So much of the story of God is mysterious. Even in today’s passages, there are questions we might never be able to answer. We can only trust that God is in control when we are faced with such mysteries. We need not fear because God is with us. We need not keep ourselves separated from Him, but instead live in the hope we have in Christ and boldly dwell in His presence. The psalmist reminds us that He is King. As King, He is worthy of our trembling, but even more so our praise. We don’t deserve to dwell in His presence or to behold His glory, but He is merciful and forgiving. It is because of His grace that the veil has been lifted. We are free to love Him, to be made one with Him through Jesus Christ.
And as we are being transformed into His likeness, we are called to live in praise and thanksgiving, loving in Him in our thoughts, words and deeds. When we cry out to God, He hears us and He forgives, perhaps the greatest mystery of all. The psalmist writes, “Thou answeredst them, O Jehovah our God: Thou wast a God that forgavest them, Though thou tookest vengeance of their doings.” This is perhaps the greatest of the mysteries: that God is able to be both justice and grace. We are reminded that in that holy relationship brought to us through the work of Jesus Christ, we are still sinner even as we are saints. God’s grace helps us have the boldness to live in faith. God’s justice keeps us humble. Through it all we trust in Him because we know that He loves us with a love beyond our understanding.
So, while it might not be appropriate to celebrate in worship the life of this unknown man named St.Valentine, it is a good time for us to remember that the story of God is a love story. We are called by His grace to live in the most intimate relationship of all, drawn into His presence and embraced by His glory. We might be tempted, like Peter, to stay at the top of the mountain or like Moses, hide the fading glory. But we are being transformed by God to be like Jesus, and as we live in this world we should be like Jesus down in the valley doing the work of grace.
“But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:14-17, ASV
A movie was released yesterday in France called, “The Other Dumas.” The movie tells the story of Alexandre Dumas and his ghostwriting scribe Auguste Maquet, pegging Dumas as a cruel master and Maquet as an abused slave. There are those who believe that Maquet was the brains behind the classic novels of Dumas, including “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” They paint Maquet as a victim who was never given proper credit for the work he did.
Auguste Maquet was known to be an assistant to Dumas, and there are those who believe that he was as responsible for the lack of credit as Dumas. Maquet wanted to be a writer himself, but he lacked the name to become prosperous as Dumas had already become. Alexandre Dumas began his writing career as a playwright, which was very successful. He wrote more successful plays and eventually tried his hand at novels. He recognized the popularity of serial novels in the newspaper, so he rewrote his first play and published it as his first serial novel, and then created a company to produce even more. He was an excellent marketer and he became a very popular writer.
Dumas collaborated with Maquet, and Maquet saw the value of Dumas’ name. He agreed to stay behind the scenes, knowing that the name Dumas would sell books, but his name would slow down sales. Maquet took a healthy payment for his work, becoming quite wealthy from the sale of those books. Though Maquet eventually did fight for recognition and more money and lost, he was far more prosperous in the end. Dumas enjoyed life and wasted most of his money on parties and women. He married but also had affairs with many other women and fathered four illegitimate children.
Does it matter whether or not Maquet played a role in writing those novels? As a writer, I’m sure I would not have appreciated having someone else take credit for my work. But we do not know how much Maquet put into the works. Some believe that he wrote the books in their entirety. Others believe he simply laid out a plot and established historical context, leaving the creative aspects of the story to Dumas. Many writers today have assistants that help them with research, form and editing—should they get the credit? Or is it enough to be a footnote or acknowledgment?
There are those who spend a great deal of time debating over the authorship of the scriptural texts. Historians, linguists and theologians lay down theories about when and where the texts were put onto paper. There may have been a time for such debate, because those who established the cannon needed credibility to accept a text for inclusion. But the Bible as we know it has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. Did Paul write the letter to the Hebrews? Or did someone else write that letter? Does it matter?
Men may have put the stories and lessons to paper, but Paul reminds Timothy that God breathes life into those words. It is an amazing thing that God chose to use human vessels to proclaim His Word to the world, but the words are inspired by God. Each writer is an imperfect human being, whether it is the one who has been historically credited with the work or some person later in the Church. But we trust in these texts, and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, to teach us all that we need to know about faith. It is not the words themselves, or the writers, that transforms us, but the God who dwells in those words. Let us be thankful for those who put pen to paper, who gave us what we know as the Bible. But let us give credit where credit is due: the God who inspired those writings and who has breathed life into them for our sake.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; is any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, ASV
“Three of these things belong together, three of these things are kind of the same; one of these things just doesn’t belong here, now it’s time to play our game.” Do you remember this song from Sesame Street? The words might not be exactly right, but I can surely remember playing along with the game when I was a kid and then when my kids were little.
The game was one that helped develop the skill of telling the difference between things. They showed four pictures, one of which was very different than the others. In one game, they had three girls and a boy. In other, they showed three football players and a basketball player. In another they had three tall children and one short one. In yet another, they showed three children wearing one color shirt and one wearing another. It might seem too obvious to us that the basketball player was different than the football players, or that the red shirt was different than the yellow shirt. These games are very simple, even too simplistic from our adult point of view. But for small children, the games gave just the right amount of difference to make it challenging for their skills.
Now, suppose we gave each of the four children one unique characteristic. Suppose there are three girls and a boy and that one girl is short, one girl is wearing a yellow shirt and one girl is playing basketball. How do you answer the question in the game? Which one doesn’t belong? Do you choose the boy because he’s not a girl? Do you choose the short girl because she’s not tall like the other three children? Do you choose the girl wearing the yellow shirt because she’s not wearing red? Do you choose the girl playing basketball because she’s not playing football?
It is hard to imagine the visuals as you are reading this idea in words, but each of us would have a different response to this game. Those who are sports minded might notice the balls first and choose the basketball player. Artists might notice the colored shirts first. Others will see gender and still others will notice the height. Which answer is right? Each answer is correct in its own way. Yet, this conversation might just kick up a rousing debate because people can’t see beyond their own point of view. We see the world through our own experiences and we have our own opinion about what characteristic is most important, so we will disagree.
The game is certainly unimportant, but it teaches us an important lesson. We disagree on so much more important things, like politics, religion and whether tea should be sweet or not sweet. If we approached our discussions or debates with the understanding that every opinion has some value and that each one comes from our experiences and world view, we might find that our understanding of one another is much greater. Unfortunately, we face differences in opinion from the point of view that the other guy is wrong and we are right and we leave no room to see the puzzle from their point of view.
In the end there might just be a right and a wrong answer. But in most things in this world, there are different ways to look at it. It is our responsibility to listen to each other and to consider with grace the possibility that there is another point of view. We might have to find a way to live with one another, but we should never expect our neighbor to accept our point of view without taking theirs seriously. There might just be a good reason they see the world from that perspective and we may realize that it isn’t so ridiculous if we see it through their eyes.
As we live trusting in God’s grace, we’ll realize that our opinions do not matter nearly as much as we think they do and that God is able to overcome our foolishness. He will be glorified not in our winning an argument or making the world appear as we want it to appear, but in the humility of serving each other with love. A politician might change the world for a minute and a theologian might find a new way to talk about God, but God is eternal and He is who He is. Our time is fleeting and His is constant. When we humbly accept that the world is filled with people who see things differently, we’ll know how to love as God has loved us.
“And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which Jehovah commanded, saying, Take ye from among you an offering unto Jehovah; whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, Jehovah's offering: gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair, and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia wood, and oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense, and onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate. And let every wise-hearted man among you come, and make all that Jehovah hath commanded: the tabernacle, its tent, and its covering, its clasps, and its boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; the ark, and the staves thereof, the mercy-seat, and the veil of the screen; the table, and its staves, and all its vessels, and the showbread; the candlestick also for the light, and its vessels, and its lamps, and the oil for the light; and the altar of incense, and its staves, and the anointing oil, and the sweet incense, and the screen for the door, at the door of the tabernacle; the altar of burnt-offering, with its grating of brass, it staves, and all its vessels, the laver and its base; the hangings of the court, the pillars thereof, and their sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court; the pins of the tabernacle, and the pins of the court, and their cords; the finely wrought garments, for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest's office. And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and brought Jehovah's offering, for the work of the tent of meeting, and for all the service thereof, and for the holy garments... The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto Jehovah; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which Jehovah had commanded to be made by Moses.” Exodus 35:4-21, 29, ASV
Organization is a good thing. When planning a gathering or event, it is important to know that you have enough people to cover the activities and enough food for those who will attend. It is important to have everything under control so that it will run smoothly. I would hate to have a pot luck dinner with a dozen bowls full of macaroni salad. There are certainly ways of avoiding this problem, such as assigning certain people to certain types of food.
But sometimes organizers prefer to have more control of the outcome, so they get very specific with the assignments. They make lists and ask for details: what kind of salad? What kind of sandwich? How many cans of soda? This can be helpful information, but is not always convenient to answer. I like to have some flexibility, especially if the plans are being made well in advance. There are certain pot luck dishes I like to take to an event, but schedule sometimes demands that I do something different. I might think I can pull off one dessert, but something comes up in my schedule when it is time for the event making it impossible to do so. I have delicious fall back recipes for those times, but know that any changes will confuse the plans.
The events may be well organized and very smooth, but the really fun potlucks are those when everything is left to luck. At the planning of a recent potluck, the organizer said, “Just bring whatever you want. If everything is sweet, so be it!” Now, there’s a woman after my own heart. Can’t beat a dinner of chocolate chip cookies and banana crème pie! The amazing part of it is… potlucks usually work out. There is usually something for everyone and enough for all to be satisfied. The parent with the finicky child manages to bring food that all the finicky children like. The meat lover brings meat, the salad fanatic brings salad. In the end, we have experienced something incredible.
As I read today’s scripture, I thought it sounded a lot like a potluck dinner. Moses sent the people back to the tents to find an offering for the tabernacle. He didn’t tell the people from the tribe of Benjamin to bring wood while the people from the tribe of Judah brought jewels. He trusted that everything needed would come, and it did. He trusted not in good organizing, but in the will and purpose of God. He trusted that God would stir up in His people the willing spirit to bring what he or she had to offer. And God did.
Now, I’m not sure I would be comfortable trusting such a big project to luck, but we learn an important lesson in this story that we should take to heart. When it comes to God’s Work, He accomplishes it without our help. He calls us to be a part of it, but we need not worry about every detail because He is in control. Are you involved in something new, helping to plan an event or gathering? Is something new in your thoughts and prayers? Is your heart being stirred to do something? Do you feel called to do an extraordinary thing? Listen to the stirring and heed the call of God to step boldly in trust and faith, for He is able to use each of our offerings to create something amazing.
“Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6:25-34, ASV
We live in the tension between now and not yet. This is certainly true in our spiritual lives where we are saints and yet still sinners, saved and yet still being saved. But it is also true in our daily lives. We have to live in today even while we are looking forward to the future. The tension we face as Christians is how much do we prepare for tomorrow while still trusting that God will provide? Do we put our fortunes into IRAs or do we use our resources to take care of today? We have to find a balance that will meet the needs of both, which is difficult because we can’t see what will happen tomorrow.
Bruce and I met with our financial advisor yesterday. His job, as he understands it, is to help us to make best use of our resources so that we can get the most out of our money. He knows that having ready cash available for our day to day needs is important, but he is looking more towards the future, building as much as possible so that we have enough available to take care of the needs of tomorrow. As part of his process, he wants to know our budget down to the last penny. He wants to know how we spend our money so that we know how much we have left over at the end of the month that can be added to our program, making that money work for us. He appealed to our desire to do good things for others, asking, “Don’t you want to have the money available to help when it is needed?”
The problem is that if I use that money to work for the future, it is not available for today. If I put every extra penny into what might happen tomorrow, I won’t have anything left to share now. You can’t plan for disastrous emergencies like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. You can’t know that the food bank down the street will have a surge of clients because of a weather crisis or that your neighbor will need help when something tragic happens in their home or family. If every penny is tied up in some fund, then there is nothing available to meet those immediate needs we see around us. And as we see in today’s scripture, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
It is good to be prepared for the future. We want to have the resources available so that the children do not have to find the resources to help us. And yes, we would like to have enough at hand to share with our grandchildren when that time comes. But I don’t think we’ll change much about what we are already doing. We have found a good balance between what will be tomorrow and what is today. At the very least, we’ll try not to worry about what happens to every penny, knowing that God is with us and He will provide today and tomorrow just as He has always provided for those who trusted in Him. There is no need to worry, for God is in control. Good times or bad, God will see us through. Rich times and poor, God will provide. In those rich times, He will provide us with opportunities to share, and in the poor times He’ll provide others to walk with us and to share their resources according to our needs. There is a tension, but we need not worry about it. God is in control.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 21, 2010, the First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2, ASV
We live in tornado country, although at the very southern end of where they are probable, so we don’t see nearly as many as they do to the north. But since they are possible, we receive the yearly reports instructing people how to survive a storm if we should find ourselves in the middle of one. They want everyone to know what is safe and what isn’t safe. The reporters want to dispel misinformation and give everyone the knowledge they need to do the right thing.
Many people think that the safest place to be is under a bridge. They’ll often park their car on the side under the bridge, and then climb up to where the bridge meets the hillside. They think that because the bridge is strong and those corners seem protected, that they’ll survive better there than out in the open. This is not true. In reality, if a tornado crosses at that point, the winds created underneath the bridge are fiercer than those in the open. You are more likely to get hit by debris or get thrown against the metal and concrete of the bridge. The vacuum created by the tornado can suck you out of your safe place and into more danger. The proper place to be protected during a tornado is face down in a ditch.
Now, we’ve had a lot of rain lately, with the slight possibility of severe storms. If I have to be out during nasty weather, I think about those lessons I’ve learned about safety. “Turn around, don’t drown” is one of the most important ones in our area, because flash flooding is expected when it rains. A road can be covered in water in minutes and if there is water on the road, a car can be swept away no matter how good the driver is. We think we can handle the water, especially since those flash floods usually run where there is a dry creek bed for most of the year. We think, “How dangerous can that really be?” and go around the barricades. But the barricades are there because it is very dangerous.
As I was driving the other day, I looked at those ditches by the side of the road and while doing so I thought about the tornado lesson. The problem, as I see it, is that those ditches along the side of the road become raging rivers during a rainstorm. So, where do you go for safety? I hope I’ll have the wisdom to know if I’m ever in that position.
Living is risky. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. We might face an enemy that seeks to harm us or we might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We might have challenges that seem beyond our ability to overcome. Our troubles aren’t always physical; they are also financial and emotional. How do we deal with the storms of life when they come? Where do we hide from the wind? How do we hold on when it seems like we will be washed away?
The psalmist writes, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Dwelling in the shelter of God does not guarantee that we won’t see the storms. As a matter of fact, living with God often means that we’ll be sent out right in the middle of it to share God’s grace with someone who doesn’t know where to turn. But dwelling in the shelter of God means that God will be with you through it, to get you through.
This does not mean that we walk out into an open field when we know a tornado is coming. We who trust God have no need to test Him. We live obeying His call with wisdom and knowledge. It is tempting, however, to do what seems ridiculous to prove that we believe. We think, “If I really believe, then I must do this to show the world how good and gracious is my God.” We tell ourselves that it is for God’s sake, to prove to the world His greatness. Yet, it is really a selfish and self-centered attitude to test God’s promises.
The devil quoted this very psalm in today’s Gospel lesson. He said to Jesus, “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to guard thee: and, on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Yes, these things are written, but not for us to test. They are written so that we’ll face the world dwelling in the shelter of God, knowing that He is with us when the storm hits.
But that’s the job of the devil: to twist God’s Word in such a way as to make it sound good. Imagine what a wonderful vision that would have been for the people of Jerusalem, and how they would have looked at Jesus in a whole new way. The story, as we know it, would be very different. If legions of angels had swept out of the sky at the Temple to save Jesus, the people would have all seen it: Roman, Jew, foreigners alike. They would have been awed by the vision and drawn to believe in this “being” that has angels serving Him. He would have been made into a god, like the other gods. The Temple would have become a temple like the other temples. He would have gained the world’s notice, but lost the reality of God’s purpose for His life.
That’s what the devil was giving Jesus when he placed Him on the pinnacle of the Temple: the easy answer. “Do this and you’ll have them eating out of your hands. No one will question your authority. No one will wonder who you are. They’ll listen to you, follow you, and do whatever you say. Do this one thing and you will be the Messiah.” But the reality is much different. Jesus didn’t come to make everyone look to Him, but to make it possible for everyone to see God. If He threw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, He would be worshipped, but for all the wrong reasons. It may have been tempting to Jesus, for He knew the rest of the words of the psalm, and He lived them. He did abide in the secret place of God, but He didn’t have to prove it to anyone. There was no need to test God’s promises. Jesus knew them to be true and He lived accordingly.
Jesus also knew the rest of the scriptures. He answered the devil with a quote from Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) Jesus was not willing to demand from God special privileges, just because He was who He was. Neither are we to demand special treatment just because we are children of God. The mission and the ministry are not always easy. Sometimes we end up in the middle of a storm, but walking in faith means knowing that God walks with those who love Him wherever we go. We abide in God’s shadow and live according to the wisdom of His Word.
Jesus faced two other temptations during His time in the wilderness. We begin the Lenten season with this text because it helps us to enter into this time of contemplation and preparation. Lent lasts for forty days (not including Sundays) as a remembrance of the wilderness time of the Israelites. It is a time to remember and to worship God, considering all His promises and what He has done for His people. That’s what the Old Testament lesson is all about. When the people finally finish their wilderness wandering, and they enter into the Promised Land, they will worship God with their gifts and their voices, believing in their hearts and confessing with their mouths all God has done. Jesus knew this scripture, and He most surely thought about this scripture as He came to the end of His own wilderness wandering. As He was entering into the Promised Land, His mission and ministry, He would have worshipped God in the way of His forefathers for bringing Him through the wilderness.
The Spirit led him in the wilderness for forty days where He was tempted by the devil. Though all three of the synoptic Gospels have temptation stories, each are unique to the purpose of the writer. We need to remember that the Gospel writers each had their own perspective and that their stories might differ from the others, not because the experience was different for Jesus but because they had different reasons for reporting the event. So, as we consider Luke’s version of the story, don’t get confused by the things you know from the others.
Luke tells us that the Spirit led him in the wilderness. Jesus was never alone. Just as the Israelites were led through the wilderness by the manifestation of God in the cloud, so too, did Jesus have someone to lead the way. Luke also tells us that Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days. I can almost imagine Jesus in the wilderness with two miniatures of himself on His shoulder, like they show in the movies. On one side would be a Jesus wearing white, on the other side a Jesus wearing black. For forty days these two fought back and forth, trying to keep Jesus on the path that they wanted him to walk. Did His own conscience wrestle with the purpose of His mission? Perhaps. We certainly wrestle with what we believe to be God’s will for our life, and Jesus identified with us in every way.
So, at the end of the forty days, after Jesus had wrestled with His thoughts, the devil was ready to go in for the kill. After all, Jesus was now weak from hunger, tired from wandering for so long and vulnerable in mind. The devil went after His physical hunger first. “If thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it become bread.” The temptation here is to choose the easy life. After all, Jesus could make the stone become bread. He made wine out of water. He fed thousands of people with just a few fish. But that was not the way of God: being chosen did not mean that we should take advantage of the power God has given to us.
Jesus answered the devil, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.” This quote is taken from Deuteronomy, at the end of their wilderness wandering. Moses is instructing the people in how to live. He warns them to be careful to obey God’s commands, because in doing so they will prosper in God’s promises. He tells them to remember why God lead them in the wilderness for forty years: to humble and to test them. He reminds them of the manna they ate, which God gave to them so that they would know that man does not live on bread alone. If the Israelites had done what they wanted, which was to return to Egypt where they could eat their fill, they never would have reached the Promised Land. They learned that God does provide and that they need not take matters into their own hands.
The devil thought he could appeal to Jesus’ hunger by suggesting He eat a loaf of bread, but Jesus stood firm in His trust of God. He learned the lesson in the wilderness: that God provides. He did not need to take matters into His own hands.
So, the devil took another shot. He led Jesus high and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus would be King; that was prophesied and promised in the scriptures. So, the devil gave Him the easy way to power. It was a lie. We can’t take the easy way out or settle for less than what God intends. Ruling over the entire world is not the kind of King Jesus was meant to be. It might have been tempting to think that if He got the whole world to listen to Him, then they would hear what He has to say about God. However, He could not worship the devil and God. Jesus reminds the devil, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
Then the devil made his final offer at the pinnacle of the Temple. While the second temptation focused on worldly power, the third takes us into spiritual. Jesus could have proven His divinity without question at that moment; the whole world would have turned and worshipped Him. But He did not come to be worshipped; He came to share God’s grace so that God would be worshipped. It is so easy for us to make ourselves the center of God’s will and purpose for our lives, but Jesus shows us that isn’t the way. We learn from this story, just as the Israelites learned during their wilderness wandering, to keep God at the center and to abide in Him.
That’s what Lent teaches us: how to abide in God even as we have to face the difficulties and temptations of this world. The end of our wilderness wandering for the next several weeks is not pleasant. We have to face the cross with Jesus, deal with His death and the end of our assumptions about what He really came to do. We want Jesus to feed us, to be our king and for the whole world to believe in Him as we do. But we realize as He is hanging on the cross that this is not how it is meant to be. Our troubles are far more complex, our pain is even deeper than we can imagine. Our sin is beyond our ability to overcome. There was no easy way to fix what was wrong with the world and we have to face that reality on Good Friday.
And so we’ll spend the next six weeks learning how to dwell in the shelter of God, so when the storm does hit, we will trust that He can pull us through. We may use this time as a time for fasting, as Jesus fasted during His forty days in the wilderness. But even more so, let us take this Lenten season to listen to God’s words, so that His Word will truly be near us, on our lips and in our hearts so that we, too, can face the devil with God’s truth when he tries to tempt us to go by a different path.
Jesus fought the devil with scripture, we can do the same. It is not enough for us to memorize the words on the page: we need to know God’s promises by heart. As Paul writes, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Faith is internal, confession is external. We are made right before God by faith through grace and that righteousness is made manifest in our confession. In our hearts and through our mouths, faith is made sure.
When we are tempted to take care of ourselves, or take control of our destiny, or worship the wrong gods, we will be ready with God’s Word on our lips and in our hearts. The temptations we face may be external, very real people, places or things. But temptation can also be internal, as we battle over what we want and what we know God wants from us. The key is to remember, like Jesus, what God has done and what God has promised. There we will abide in the shadow of our God and make it through whatever storms we encounter. This does not mean that we should be running out into an open field in the path of a tornado to prove we believe. But by God’s grace we can trust that He will be with us when it can not be avoided. He is faithful to all who believe, just as He was faithful to the Israelites and to Jesus.
“And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee? I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” Luke 11:1-13, ASV
Lent is a time of discipline. For many, it is a time to give something up, to break old habits and to begin anew. Some will give up chocolate, or soda, or Starbucks. Others will give up video games or networking sites. They choose the things they love the most so that it will truly be sacrificial or they choose the worst of their habits, hoping that at the end of Lent it will be broken and they’ll never do it again. It is a good way of making a real change in our attitudes and our lives.
For others, Lent is a time for developing new spiritual disciplines. They take up a book that will help them walk more closely with Jesus or set aside time every day to study the Bible. They go to more worship services, often special services help in the middle of the week. Some will follow specially designed devotional books or receive a daily message in their email. Yet others will develop a discipline of daily prayer.
I think most of us are pretty good about praying, especially when we have very specific needs. We believe that God hears our voice and we do go to Him regularly in prayer. And I don’t think that most of us seek God’s ear only when we are in need. We do praise Him and worship Him and seek His forgiveness often. But I’m also certain that many people have difficulty establishing a specific time and place for prayer. We turn to Him whenever we think about it during the day, but finding a regular moment during the day is so much harder. Even if we commit to the time, we don’t always know what to say. It is like the friends who find a million things to talk about when the run into one another at the grocery store, but can’t think of a thing when they go out to dinner. We are ready to pray at a moment’s notice but struggle to find the words for a lengthy conversation with our God.
But Jesus has given us an outline of things about which we should pray. We can certainly begin our prayer time with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, found in part in today’s scripture lesson. But the Lord’s Prayer also gives us something about which we can talk with God; it helps guide us through the different types of prayer so that we won’t just ask God for things, but will also give Him the attention He deserves,
The different types of prayers are as follows: Petition is a solemn request to a superior authority; Supplication is humble, earnest entreaty; Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude; Communication is the exchange of thoughts, messages or information; Adoration is the worshipful demonstration of love; Confession is the admission of guilt; Submission is the act of yielding to the authority of another; Praise is the statement or attitude of approval or admiration. Can you see how the Lord’s Prayer directs us toward all these types of prayer?
So, as we begin this Lent journey, consider how you will use it as a time for discipline and growth. Can you find a few minutes every day to pray to God? I included in today’s scripture quote the rest of Jesus’ commentary on prayer. In this story, He tells about a man who needs bread for a friend who has arrived at a late hour. He goes to his neighbor for help. The neighbor does not want to get out of bed, but because he is bold to ask, the neighbor gives him what he wants. This story talks about seeking help for our needs. But remember, boldness before God is not only about asking for things. We boldly call out to God as our Father, offer Him thanksgiving and praise Him for all he has done, confess our sins and seek His forgiveness, admit our failures and seek His help.We can talk to Him, as if He were a friend with whom we have gathered for a meal. This takes boldness, because God is the Lord God Almighty. We can’t expect to be joined by kings but we can have tea with God. Don’t you think He deserves at least a few minutes of our time? Now is a good time to begin the habit of sitting down with God every day to talk with Him, to seek His grace, to profess our love and hope and faith. It can start with a simple prayer like the Lord’s Prayer. So, if you can’t think of anything to say, reach for those words that Jesus has taught us and He’ll lead you from there into a boldness you’ve never known is possible.
“Jehovah answer thee in the day of trouble; The name of the God of Jacob set thee up on high; Send thee help from the sanctuary, And strengthen thee out of Zion; Remember all thy offerings, And accept thy burnt-sacrifice; Selah Grant thee thy heart's desire, And fulfil all thy counsel. We will triumph in thy salvation, And in the name of our God we will set up our banners: Jehovah fulfil all thy petitions. Now know I that Jehovah saveth his anointed; He will answer him from his holy heaven With the saving strength of his right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will make mention of the name of Jehovah our God. They are bowed down and fallen; But we are risen, and stand upright. Save, Jehovah: Let the King answer us when we call.” Psalm 20, ASV
Our Sunday School class has been following a Bible reading program. We read a different portion of the Bible each day of the week, and by the end of a year we will have read the whole book. We read a lesson from the Epistles on Sunday, the Pentateuch on Monday, the history books on Tuesday, the Psalms on Wednesday, the poetry books on Thursday, the Prophets on Friday and the Gospels on Saturday. Reading from the different parts of the book means that we won’t give up when we face a difficult section of the scriptures. We know that tomorrow will be better and so we get through the hard reading.
Some of it is really hard to read, because the stories of the Old Testament judges, kings and prophets just do not make sense to us. There was so much bloodshed and so many irrational expectations. How can we understand a God who would ask Abraham to sacrifice his beloved child? How can we accept the word of a God who would require the destruction of even the animals and property by His invading army? How can we believe the stories when they seem completely unbelievable?
Take the story of Gideon, for instance. He’s got an army of thousands available to defeat the enemy on his doorstep. Yet, God tells him that he has too many for the task at hand. Gideon tells the people that whoever wants to leave can leave, and many leave the battlefield and go home. Even with a big loss of men, God tells Gideon that 10,000 is too many. “I’ll tell you which men to take.” And in the end, God allowed only three hundred men to go into battle. Now, imagine you are one of those three hundred men. Do you really follow Gideon?
We know that poor Moses was stuck with a nation of people who were not thrilled to be wandering around in the desert for forty years. They complained about everything: no water, no meat, no bread, too much meat, weird food that’s kind of like bread. They wanted to go home. They wanted it to be done. They wanted someone else to lead them because Moses was not doing things the way they thought it should be done. Yet, in the end they followed Moses because God was with him and God proved Moses to be true.
Is God with our leaders? I suppose there are times when we think that is not true, yet God has a purpose for all of them. We might not agree with the way they are accomplishing their work. We may not like their agenda. We might think that their expectations are ridiculous. I’m not sure I would follow some people into battle or move to a new place if the circumstances were like those found in the scriptures. Yet, we are called to pray for our leaders, to hold them up before God and seek prosperity under their leadership. We might not understand why God has chosen them for this time and place, but we can trust that God knows what He’s doing in all things.
And so, we pray that our leaders will remain true to God and that God will bless them. For when the leaders are blessed, whether they are leaders in a local organization or a global enterprise, whether they are kings or prime ministers or presidents, whether they rule over ten or ten million, then the group will be blessed. Whether we like them or not, the community is centered on them for a season, and it is up to us to pray for them so that they will remain true to the promises of God.
“But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye have revived your thought for me; wherein ye did indeed take thought, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me. Howbeit ye did well that ye had fellowship with my affliction. And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need. Not that I seek for the gift; but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account. But I have all things, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, and odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God. And my God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now unto our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Philippians 4:10-20, ASV
Our local library had a sidewalk sale of books on Saturday, and I went to check out what they might have to offer. I really don’t need any more books, I already have too many on the shelf that I need to read, but I thought there might be something I could use some day. I did not buy any fiction that I wanted to read, or even anything I thought my family would enjoy, but I found a few books that I thought would make excellent resources for possible workshops or classes that I could teach in the future. I also found a reference book I thought Victoria might like to have. It doesn’t really matter if the books aren’t what I hoped they would be: each one cost just a few pennies and I can sell them at a yard sale, take them to a used book store or even donate them back to the library.
The book I found for Victoria is an anthology of drama classics, a book that appears to have been a textbook. It is an older book, so even if she needs that particular book for one of her classes, this copy will be an old edition without recent updates. It is a shame because some of her college textbooks cost a lot of money. It is hard to imagine how a few pounds of paper can be worth hundreds of dollars, but her textbook bill is one of the most overwhelming parts of beginning a new semester. She gets around the cost by buying some of her textbooks used, and this year she actually rented a book from an online company. Instead of paying $150 for a book she’ll never use again, she paid $20 and will send it back to the company for another student to use next semester.
I was thumbing through the drama book this morning, and I discovered a sales receipt in the middle. Now, there is no way to know what was purchased on this receipt, the scribbling does not make any sense to me. But, the receipt made me laugh because it was for fifty-five cents. Now, that was in 1973, and would have been equal to $2.79 today. So, it could very well have been for a used book on a clearance table at a college bookstore, but it seems impossible to me that anyone would pay fifty-five cents for a textbook!
But then, we know that the value of money changes. I’m not an economist, but I do know that in days long past things used to cost a great deal less then they do today. A penny got you a pound of flower in another century. The house I grew up in cost less than most cars do today. Which of us hasn’t seen the cost of a candy bar rise from ten cents to a dollar or a movie from a dollar to ten dollars?
It might seem like things cost a lot more today than they did in the good old days, but then so have our paychecks. Minimum wage in 1973 (in current dollars) was seventy-five cents. Today it is $7.25, ten times as much. So, if a candy bar cost a nickel in 1973 and costs fifty-cents today, you are getting the same bang for your buck. How much nicer would it be, however, if we got paid today’s wages and were able to buy at 1973 prices!
We might think we want to return to the good old days, but we should realize that every time is good in its own way. It might seem better to pay a nickel for a candy bar, but would you want to pay for a television in today’s prices or those from the past? Could you have afforded the computer you have twenty years ago? Would your house have had three bedrooms and an attached garage? It might seem like we could have purchased more when prices were so low, but technological advances have made our money more productive.
Technology has made our life easier in many ways, even while it has made our life more complicated. The same is true about money. I just finished doing our taxes. Victoria made a great deal less than Bruce. Her tax forms took me a matter of minutes to complete. It took me much longer to do Bruce and my tax forms. We make more money, but we also have much bigger responsibilities. We own a house, pay insurance, and buy food and clothes for the family. We also pay college costs and all the other expenses of the family. As our salary went up, so did our needs. When we had $10,000, we needed $10,000. Now that we have more, we need more.
Do we need more? Yes, but we need to be careful that we do not put all our energy into chasing after more. We are all blessed with what we have and what we can do with what we have, and it is good to be content in our circumstances of today. It isn’t helpful to look back and wish we could pay fifty-five cents for a college textbook or a nickel for a candy bar. We need not worry whether we’ll have enough to buy the things we’ll need tomorrow. Contentment does not come with having more; it comes from understanding when you have enough. Enough tomorrow will be different than it is today because money changes and so does the world in which we live.
One thing doesn’t change: God. We can trust in Him whatever our circumstances because He is faithful. He won’t cause us to win the lottery, but He’ll always ensure that we have enough. We just have to remember that enough is rarely as much as we think it is. Contentment comes with praising God in good times and in bad, looking for the blessing of our todays whatever they may hold.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds. Verily I say unto you, there are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Matthew 16:24-28, ASV
I don’t know about you, but when I read the scriptures, I find it difficult to think of the characters in the story as having been real people. I know they are. I believe they existed. But it is hard to make a connection to them because they don’t seem real like the people found in our history books. It is almost like they are the myth that precedes the reality, with a missing link between the two. It is for this very reason that some people in our world today completely reject the Christians story. They believe it is nothing more than myth, that there is no real connection to reality.
Yet, today we celebrate that missing link. Polycarp lived between 70 and 155 A.D. and became the Bishop of Smyrna. He was a direct disciple of John the Apostle. It is believed that John was the one to assign Polycarp his bishopric. We still have the text from a letter he wrote to the congregation at Philippi in which Polycarp encourages the Christians to remain strong in the faith ad to beware of materialism. He also talked about financial dishonesty that was beginning to become part of the church. He wrote against Marcionism and Gnosticism. Along with the letter and other possible writings, he was a teacher to at least two of the early church leaders: Ignatius and Irenaeus. Some of Polycarp’s teachings were recorded for us in their writings. So, Polycarp is the link between the biblical church and the early church fathers.
Polycarp was martyred as a very old man. He was 86 years old, and this fact is said to have bothered the proconsul who was sending him to his death. After all, how much harm can a man of such old age do? So, he was given the chance to declare his faith in Caesar. Polycarp replied, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” The record of his martyrdom is the first of the Christian church besides that which we find in the scriptures.
It might seem hard for us to identify with the men and women whose stories are recorded in the Bible. They seem almost beyond the reality of our world. They are like characters in a story rather than people who once had lived and breathed. I suppose in some ways the early Church fathers are the same, except that we still have their words recorded in documents outside the canon. By studying the life and words of a man like Polycarp, we realize that those men and women were just as real as those on this side of the Bible. They lived, they loved, and they died. Most of all, they believed so much that they were willing to be burned at the stake for their faith.
Those who think Christianity is a lie or a fable will often claim that the saints and martyrs in later years were just foolish for believing a myth. They died in faith, but in faith of something that wasn’t real. It is easy to say that about people who lived and died centuries after the fact. Yet, in Polycarp’s life, and his death, we see a man willing to die for that same story. Many people will die for what they believe, but will anyone die for a lie? Polycarp was too close, he knew the apostles, he was connected to the first churches. He would not have willingly died if the story of Jesus was a lie. Polycarp knew the promise of God: that though he would die in the flames, he would never die.
The story is told that the fire did not consume Polycarp, and so the soldiers had to stab him to death with a dagger. Whether or not there is truth to this story, we know he died for his faith. It is interesting that Polycarp is quoted as saying, “The martyrs should be seen as our supreme models in the pursuit of our spiritual well-being.” I doubt that he meant we should pursue martyrdom for the sake of our spiritual well-being, and we live in a world where it is unlikely we will face such a threat. But, are we willing to suffer injustice for to stand boldly and faithfully for our King and Savior? That’s the lesson learned from the martyrs. Polycarp lived 86 years before facing martyrdom. It would have been easy to assume God wanted him to die of old age. He certainly touched many lives and did many good works. But in the end, he was unwilling to succumb to the ultimate temptation: to choose life over God. Are we willing to do the same?
Scriptures for Sunday, February 28, 2010, Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
“Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample.” Philippians 3:17, ASV
My mom had a friend, in a roundabout way she was sort of a relative, that my mom could call on the spur of the moment to go out and have a piece of pie. They would sit in the restaurant for hours, talking about their lives, complaining about their husbands, sharing their hopes and dreams. She was a very good friend to my mom, and my mom was a good friend to her. When this woman was having marital difficulty, my mom was there to give her support, to comfort her and to give her advice.
This is a special kind of friendship that not everyone is blessed to have. A news report several years ago stated that the number of people without someone in whom they can confide is only 75%. That might seem to be a good number, but it means that 25% of the people have no one. Among the 75%, I suspect that a much smaller number have a best friend, or someone outside their immediate family, with whom they can share their thoughts and troubles. As a matter of fact, the report noted that more people are relying on their nuclear family for support.
The report also showed that people have fewer contacts with clubs, neighbors and organizations. In other words, people are becoming centered in self rather than in the world around them. This is not good for society in general, because it leads to loneliness, depression, mistrust and fear. It also means that we keep many of our problems bottled up inside, rather than getting them out in the open. If we have a fight with our spouse, and have no best friend with whom we can vent, our anger builds up until we explode. In the end, instead of finding a compromise or solution to the problem, we end up making everything worse with either separation or even violence. Loneliness, depression, mistrust and fear are not good for the community. The key to a strong community is strong relationships between people.
What must it have been like for Jesus? Yes, Jesus had a close circle of friends, but they often did not understand what He was trying to say. Jesus was never alone, but I have often wondered if He was often lonely in the crowd. His friends could not really identify with Him. The people looked to Him for their support and courage, but did He have anyone to whom He could find support and courage? Perhaps He didn’t have a human friend with whom He could confide, but He did have that kind of relationship with God.
Righteousness is about having a right relationship. It is about trusting and having faith that tomorrow is secure. Righteousness in our homes means a right relationship between spouses and with children. Righteousness in our neighborhoods means having a right relationship with our neighbors. Righteousness in our cities and states and country and the world means having a right relationship with the people who live with us there. We are righteous when we do what is right so as to build a relationship rather than destroy. The Hebrew understanding of righteousness is, “upright, just, straight, innocent, true, and sincere. It is best understood as the product of upright, moral action in accordance with some form of divine plan.” The divine plan always takes us toward stronger relationships with one another, toward community.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, Abram believed and it is reckoned to him as righteousness. What did he believe? Did he believe that he would have so many children that he would never be able to count them all? Certainly not: for it would be impossible for any one man to have that many children, even if he had a harem as large as Solomon’s. After all, have you ever seen the sky on a clear night? Perhaps if Abram were counting the stars we can see over the city at night, we might believe it is possible. But climb to the top of a mountain, or view the heavens from the middle of a desert, far from the light pollution of our modern age, and you’ll know: it is a number too large for any man to count.
So, Abram believed in a promise that he would never see fulfilled. And he believed that it would begin with the fruit of his loins. A servant would not inherit his house, a son would be heir. Abram was convinced by God’s words that the future of his life and his legacy had been secured. It was a promise that would not be fulfilled immediately. It would be shaped through time. It is a promise that is still being shaped for us today. Our relationship with God continues to be shaped by His promises daily,
God sealed the promise by making a covenant with Abram. Notice that faith came first. But though Abram had faith, he also needed some assurance to stay faithful. Abram didn’t need a covenant to believe in God’s promises; the covenant simply ‘sealed the deal’ so that Abram would continue to believe.
So, God followed an ancient ritual that established an unbreakable bond between Him and Abram. Cutting a covenant ensured that the deal was firm. The parties sacrificed several animals and laid them on either side of a path. The parties involved walked through the animals, in the blood as it ran from the carcasses, in essence saying “May what happened to these animals happen to me if I do not keep my promise.” God made the covenant with Abram, so that he would know God's promise is true. What is particularly fascinating about the covenant ceremony in today’s lesson is that Abram did not walk it with God. As a matter of fact, he fell into a deep darkness while it is happening. God walked the covenant path alone.
And yet, was He alone? The scripture says, “And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces.” I had never noticed before that it was two separate items—a smoking furnace, or pot, and a flaming torch—that passed through the pieces. What do these symbolize?
One thing that has always bothered me about this scripture is that in the legal sense, how could only one walk the covenant path? Can a man witness for himself? Though it is not man but God, there is still a question of the legitimacy of a covenant between one party. But with two “walking” the covenant path, this is no longer a question. Though the covenant is still between Abram and God, God Himself has provided the second party. So, if (or when) the covenant is broken, the guilt will fall on one of those parties.
I have checked a number of websites, and found a number of different ideas on what this imagery might mean. Taking into consideration the thoughts in the previous paragraph, perhaps the smoking pot represents God and the flaming torch represents Jesus. Jesus is, after all, the Light of the World. If we think about the imagery of the Old Testament, smoke and fire were often used as ways of representing God. The Israelites were lead through the wilderness by smoke and fire. The rituals of the Temple centered on smoke and fire. Judgment was represented by smoke and guidance by fire. Sin is burned away, light leads the way. Smoke also represented affliction and the lamp offers comfort in affliction.
Though it might be a stretch to say that God and Jesus walked the covenant path together that night, it isn’t a stretch to realize from our post resurrection point of view that Jesus stood in the covenant for Abram. He went willingly to the cross. He took the punishment for all humankind’s rebellion against God. No man, including Abram, could pay the price for sin. So Abram was not taken down the covenant path. Jesus stood in his place then, too.
In my notes I wrote, “The covenant was unilateral and unconditional.” In a sense that is true, because it is only God who can provide the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. Yet, the covenant was made with the end already known to God. He knew we’d fail. He knew we could not live up to our part of the bargain. So, He planned to send Jesus long before we could fail. No conditions were placed on human shoulders for this covenant. It didn’t depend on us in any way. The entire burden was placed on Jesus.
The covenant established a lasting relationship between God and Abram. The covenant is extended to all Abraham’s offspring. Abraham’s offspring are all those who have the faith of Abraham: to believe is to trust that God has secured the future. Our righteousness is founded in the righteousness that was reckoned to Abram on that night, and secured in the covenant ceremony that God walked with Jesus. This was not a covenant that was fulfilled immediately. As a matter of fact, Abraham never saw his offspring as numerous as the stars. The relationship between God and His people has been shaped through time. Righteousness means waiting because we know God is faithful. Our relationship with God is built on this reality.
The psalmist writes, “Wait for Jehovah: Be strong, and let thy heart take courage; Yea, wait thou for Jehovah.” In this passage, we see fulfilled all those needs that we have. God provides us a place to go to vent, to lent go of our anger, to find peace in our doubt and comfort in our fear. The one thing the psalmist asked was to dwell in God’s temple forever. This is where we start our right relationships with people. Then we can, as the psalmist writes, “see the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living.” Believing in God gives us the place to begin believing in others. Dwelling in God’s Temple is where we begin really living in the world today.
Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The cross and its benefits are ours today, but they will not be fully realized until the Day of the Lord. Though we have been transformed, we continue to be transformed daily. Though we share in His glory, there will come a day when that promise will be fully realized. For now we have to wait and remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. That is what Lent is all about—being transformed by God’s Word into something new, something humble, something real. We are transformed and conformed: this is sanctification. We are conformed not to the ways of the world but to the body of Christ, made children of God and children of Abraham by His grace.
In the passage immediately before our Gospel lesson, someone asked Jesus, “Lord, are they few that are saved?” (Luke 13:23b) Jesus answered that many would try to enter into the kingdom of God in their own way, and they would wait until it was too late. The only way in is by faith in Jesus Christ. We might think that we can fulfill the covenant on our own, with our own strength and abilities. We might think that we could have walked that covenant path with God. Self-righteousness has always been a problem for human beings; it is only those who realize that it is in relationship with God that we are made citizens of heaven who enter into the Kingdom. Faith in Christ is the open door. And faith does not come from our actions but from God’s grace.
We don’t know very much about the Pharisees who came to see Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. Were they friends concerned about Jesus? Or were they enemies who just didn’t want to deal with Jesus? Perhaps Jesus’ teaching didn’t bother them, but they just wanted Him to go somewhere else to do it. By sending Jesus away from Jerusalem, they would not have to deal with the questions and accusations. Jesus could quietly disappear into the wilderness to teach and preach to the animals. Outside Jerusalem, He would not rock so many boats. Jesus was unwilling to submit to the temptation. He knew His task took Him to Jerusalem. The covenant was broken; it was time to pay the price.
Jesus calls Herod a fox. Foxes are not trustworthy, and that was certainly true of Herod. But the word “fox” is understood among the religious leaders as being someone who was worthless and insignificant. Herod Antipas might have been the ruler, but he was worthless and insignificant. He was a puppet prince with no authority, a pretentious pretender, doing someone else’s bidding. Herod might have seen himself as a lion, a king, but in reality, he was just a fox, an insignificant peon.
Herod might try to kill Jesus, but it wouldn’t be done according to anyone’s will but God’s. Jesus had no need to fear, He was in a right relationship with His God. He dwelt in the Temple, lived daily in His presence. He knew His purpose and knew that it was necessary to finish His journey to Jerusalem and the cross. The promise to Abraham depended upon it. Our future depended upon it.
But it made Jesus sad. In this passage, Jesus mourns the unbelief of Jerusalem. Jesus wants for them the best of God’s Kingdom—the hope, the peace, the joy. He wants to gather them under His wings, to give them fully and freely the gift He has to give. Perhaps He even wants all this without having to face the cross—how much more wonderful would it be to have Jerusalem repent like Ninevah! Yet, Jesus knows this is not the way it is to be. He knows that He is destined for the cross, for death. Salvation will happen according to God’s time, in God’s way. Jesus will not be moved from the path on which He was set, for it is the path of true life for all those who believe. If Jesus were a narcissist, He would have grasped onto the temptations of the devil and gone for the self-control and self-satisfaction. But Jesus dwelt in God’s presence and willingly submitted Himself to the plan of God.
We will never be expected to give our lives the way Jesus gave His for us, but we are called to live our faith in this world while we wait for that day God promised. We live that life of faith by building relationships with people, by being part of a community. We may not all have a friend like my mom’s, but we can’t be alone. We begin our community in the heart of God and then share His grace with the world. We continue what was begun with Abraham, living in the righteousness of faith. Just like Abraham, we might not see the completion of what Jesus began, but we wait in hope knowing that God is faithful.
“Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth: Sing forth the glory of his name: Make his praise glorious. Say unto God, How terrible are thy works! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee. All the earth shall worship thee, And shall sing unto thee; They shall sing to thy name.” Psalm 66:1-4, ASV
“Alice in Wonderland” opens next week and it looks like it will be a terrific movie. The costuming and cinematography look incredible and I’m sure everything about it will be well done. We are all looking forward to going to see the movie, as much because it is an age old story. I was talking to Zack one day about the story and mentioned that Lewis Carroll was a mathematician and that the book is full of logic and illusions. The story is crazy, non-sensical, and that is the point of it. It was first told orally to the daughters of the Vice Chancellor of Oxford; Carroll taught mathematics at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford. The girls were bored during a rowing trip and so Carroll began to tell them a story about a bored little girl who got into a great deal of trouble. It is said that Alice’s character is based off one of those girls, although Carroll always denied the fact. Carroll included caricatures of people he knew and places he’d been in and around Oxford.
At the request of one of the girls, Carroll eventually wrote the story and it was illustrated by John Tenniel and published. The adventures of Alice continued in “Through a Looking Glass.” “Alice” has never been out of print and is published in 125 languages, hundreds of different editions. It is covered in film and stage as well as in other forms of print media, such as comic books. Over the years, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” have merged, to almost become one story, making it even more confusing because the characters and stories have been mixed together. In a Disney version of the story, the Mad Hatter’s tea party became an un-birthday party, even though the two ideas came from different books.
The un-birthday was first seen in the story “Through the Looking Glass.” Alice comes across Humpty Dumpty who is wearing an cravat that had been given to him as an un-birthday present. The nonsensical conversation becomes a math lesson as Humpty helps Alice discover there are 364 un-birthdays and just one birthday. I like the idea of an un-birthday. First of all, on an un-birthday you don’t actually become any older. And who doesn’t like a surprise gift on a nothing day for no reason? Movies moved the un0birthday to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, making it an un-birthday party.
I was thinking about this scene from Alice’s adventures (despite the fact that the un-birthday scene is not in the book as it is remembered by so many) and I decided we should be celebrating every day whether there is a purpose for it or not. Every day is a blessing. Every day we awake to new life and new opportunities. Every day we have the chance to thank God for all He has done and all that He continues to do. Un-birthdays might seem silly, but rejoicing in God’s grace is always a blessing. It might be your un-birthday 364 days a year, but it is always a graceday for all those who believe.
“According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, ASV
Yesterday we talked about the adventures of Alice from the upcoming movie and the beloved books by Lewis Carroll. I enjoyed reliving the story as I read through some of the chapters online. I didn’t want to rely on my memory in sharing the story of Alice, and it was a good thing I didn’t. My memory is based on the twisted versions that have been retold in other mediums. Though I’m certain I read the book at some point in my life, I remember the tea party as Disney recreated it on screen.
As I was doing my research, I discovered something fascinating: Lewis Carroll attained something besides the books about Alice’s adventures. As a matter of fact, he was a very accomplished man. Along with the children’s books, he wrote poetry and short stories. He published a dozen books about mathematics. He was capable of magic trips. He was also a religious man, and was nearly ordained into the priesthood of the Anglican Church. He did take the deacon’s orders, but finally declined the next step. Some of his writing has a Christian point of view, especially “Sylvie and Bruno” (and the follow-up, “Silvie and Bruno Completed.”)
He was a photographer, which was both an accomplishment and a source for controversy. His favorite subject was nude children, which has led modern experts to suggest that he may have been a pedophile. Added to the evidence is his apparent lack of adult female friends. Though we may not fully understand the man behind the mystery, we have to be careful not to judge him based on a twenty-first century point of view. The reality is that in Victorian times, photographs of naked children made a statement about innocence, not sexuality. And, the family of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s real name) might have hidden evidence of his liaisons, especially since there had been rumors of affairs with important women (including the Vice Chancellor’s wife.)
He was extremely intelligent, succeeded academically wherever he went, although he did not live a totally charmed life. He had a stammer, and eventually suffered difficult health issues. He wrote in his diary about migraines and described a condition that has come to be known as Toddy’s Syndrome (or Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.) It is a brain condition that causes distortions in perception. Based on his writing, it is also thought that Charles probably suffered from epilepsy. It is possible that these health issues actually helped him with the writing of “Alice in Wonderland” as many of her experiences may have just been how he perceived the world when experiencing an episode.
He was also an inventor. He created a type of writing system that could be used at night without lighting a candle. This was important for a writer who might come up with an interesting thought or idea in the middle of the night. He was known for creating logic and math games, as well as word games. He invented a predecessor to “Scrabble” and possibly invented the “word ladder” (beginning with one word and by changing one letter at a time, end with another word. For instance: hat, has, his, sis, sit, sin.) He also developed a type of steering for a tricycle, a measure for liquor and a forerunner to double-sided tape.
Though he was a Christian, he leaned toward a more mystical point of view, which is perhaps why he was never comfortable taking holy orders in the Anglican Church, especially since his father was a very conservative Anglo-Catholic priest. He was friends with George MacDonald, which is perhaps why he wrote “Sylvie and Bruno,” a story meant to integrate the fantasy world of Alice with his Christian faith. George MacDonald was also an author who fictionalized Christian ideas. Lewis’ “Sylvie and Bruno” books were never successful, however, because it was confusing to the reader.
Charles Dodgson died in 1898, just short of his 66th birthday. In the end, Lewis Carroll was a wealthy and famous man, although his wealth and fame did not change the way he lived his life. He was an accomplished man, doing more in his years than most of us manage to accomplish, but he will always be remembered for the stories about Alice. How will you be remembered? Will you have a long obituary filled with fascinating accomplishments? Or will there be one thing in your life that stands out from the rest?
I’m not sure it matters very much. As we look at the life of Lewis Carroll, we realize that people will see what they want of his life. Some see the author of a great children’s story. Others will see a man with evil tendencies. Yet others will see an educated and intelligent man. And others will see him as a giving, caring person who shared himself with those he loved. The same will be true of us. Some will see the good things we accomplished, others will remember the bad. Yet others will remember us because of who we are. However the world sees us, God desires that we be remembered for the witness we have given of His grace in the world. We have the foundation of faith on which our life is built, but what else will be left when the trumpet sounds?