Welcome to the January 2003 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2003
January 1, 2003
Happy New Year New Year’s Day is a day of new beginnings. We make resolutions to change things about our lives. We set aside last year’s troubles and hope for better in the New Year. I don’t know about you but 2002 was not a bad year, although there are things that I might have changed. Today is the day to put the past behind and begin anew.
Why do we wait? Why do we say we’ll begin our diets or stop smoking on New Year’s Day, then in a couple of weeks forget our resolutions and fall back into our old habits? It is our human nature to revert to our old ways over and over again because our flesh is weak and our hearts are torn between what is good and what we desire. God designed us to honor Him by living well and caring for ourselves, but from the beginning we simply turn away from God’s purpose and do what will satisfy our flesh. Unfortunately, those things we think we want never really satisfies our bodies. Many things keep us from living as God intends - smoking, gluttony, bad relationships, overwork, alcohol and drugs. Some people spend too much time in front of the TV, too little time exercising. Other people spend too much time at the gym making their bodies perfect and too little time with their families. We study the bible and forget the poor or we spend all our time with the poor and forget our own spiritual well being.
On this day of new beginnings, perhaps it would be better to consider the way things have been designed to be, rather than try to make things the way we want them to be. God was before the beginning and our Lord Jesus Christ was with Him. In the beginning, God created. He created the world and everything in it out of nothing. He did so with just a word. Before He created all that we see, He brought forth wisdom. God’s wisdom is different than the wisdom of this world.
“Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth; While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, Nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there: When he set a circle upon the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When the fountains of the deep became strong, When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment, When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, as a master workman; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him, Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men.” Proverbs 8:22-31 (ASV)
The news programs this morning gave good advice about our New Year’s resolutions. They suggested that we take one step at a time, not set our expectations too high and expect to fail. When we fail we should figure out how to do better and try again. These are wise words, yet they are focused on how to make things better for us. God’s wisdom puts God first, remembers that we are God’s creation and He knows best how we should live. While it would be good for us all to eat better and live better, perhaps the best way to begin this new year is to remember God’s love for us, the promises we received when we were baptized into His life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than beginning this year with promises we may not keep, let us all begin anew in the beginning with wisdom. The writer of the proverbs tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Diets will come and go, our relationships with change, we’ll have new jobs, homes and hobbies, but one thing will never change - the love of God. So, on this day of new beginnings, may we each look back to the first beginning and the new beginning we have in Christ Jesus so that we will move forward in faith that God is with us. With that in mind, we’ll live to glorify God and He will transform daily to be as He intended. Thanks be to God.
Stuck We have all had it happen, we hear a song or a bit of a song and then we walk around all day long hearing it. Sometimes it is so loud in our heads we just blurt it out, start singing it out loud. The advertisers do well to use such jingles that stick, because then the product is remembered when the consumer is shopping. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work. I am singing the song today, but I don’t even remember what product is being advertised. Yet, throughout the history of television, some jingles have worked well.
These songs become part of us, partly because they are so catchy and partly because they are repeated endlessly on the television. When we listen to something over and over again, it becomes a part of us and we react to the world around us with them in mind. If I start humming an old soda pop jingle at the counter of a fast food restaurant, I am likely to choose it above the rest. Advertisers know this, which is why they choose catchy, memorable music to go with their products. It works particularly well when we are already loyal to the product being advertised.
God gave His chosen people a written law through Moses, which they followed to the letter most of the time. It was given as a gift to God’s people as part of His covenant with them. Yet, over the ages they got confused about how to live by those laws and it became a burden. The Law is still good, right and true, for it is better to love God and neighbor and to live in a way that shows honor to Him and respect to our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, human nature always gets in the way and we end up misusing and abusing the good things God has given. So, we use the law as a whip, we pound people with our rules to force them into submission. We use it to control people, to gain power over them. But when God gave His written Law, He knew it was perishable, that we would not be able to keep it. So from the beginning He had a plan. He patiently waited for the time when He would give a new covenant, a better one, by which we could live.
“For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers In the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt; For they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, And every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away.” Hebrews 8:7-13 (ASV)
The people could not keep the Law because they were trying to do it with their own strength and power. They didn’t really believe in the Word of God as it had been given to them, they believed in their own understanding. They abused and misused the gifts of the covenant and dishonored God with their lives. But God was ready with something new, and He promised it to them through the prophet Jeremiah. We are reminded by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews that Christ is the fulfillment of that promise.
Those who remembered God’s law and lived by it in the Old Testament stories were the ones who believed in the One who gave them that law. They had a right relationship with God, and so His Word was a true part of their life. Today we live in the New Covenant, given to us by God through Christ Jesus. It is in Him that we have a right relationship with God. The Law is no longer something outside of us, something we learn and try to live by, but it is a part of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Father has written it on our hearts. In the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus, it is a natural part of our actions. Like the old jingles that get stuck in our heads, we sometimes just start singing it out loud, not in words but by our lives that shine God’s love. We know God, not by our own works but because He has made Himself a part of our lives through Christ our Lord. In Christ we are forgiven our inability to keep the Law and given the gifts we need to live forgiven in this world. Thanks be to God.
TV Coverage Over the past few days, we have learned something interesting. Even though ESPN is a national network, individual markets have some leeway about what they air. Tuesday evening, my daughter had the honor of performing in the half-time show of the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Though the weather was rotten, we had a wonderful time. The girls performed with children from all over the US. There were six high school bands, a group of cheerleaders and a group of baton twirlers. They all danced and played with country music sensation Clint Black. The sidelines were a mass of humanity, but when they entered the field they looked great.
The ESPN cameras filmed brief shots of some of the performers, including our girls. Both the twirlers and the dancers from the studio were seen on the videotron in the stadium. After halftime was over, many of the parents called home to friends and family who were watching. Immediate word was that they were indeed seen on national TV, including a close-up of my daughter, Vicki. Yet, as we talked to our friends around the country we discovered that not everyone saw the same thing. Some people only saw reports from the sports center, others only saw brief glimpses of Clint Black singing, and others saw the entire show. Fortunately, several people caught the whole show on tape, so we will be able to see the girl’s appearance. Even though not everyone was able to see the show on television, they were still excited about the chance the girls had to be there that day and perform on the field. They would have liked to see it happen; yet it was not really that important to be actual witnesses to the whole event. They rejoiced with us and congratulated the girls on a job well done.
Have you noticed how much Christians tend to argue about things? We disagree on this, that or the other thing and we spend hours in debate about the proper definition of this word or the proper understanding of that doctrine. Most often the differences are miniscule, based on the person’s experience and learning. Culture plays a major role, as does gender, age and intelligence. We see things differently, but our faith is not based on our perception, it is founded on Christ.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6 (ASV)
We had such a wonderful time on our trip to Memphis, the television appearance was just icing on the cake. If the cameras had never found our girls, we still would have been happy for their experience. It seems odd that one television network would have so many different things shown at the same time, but each market chose only that which would interest their viewers. Yet, it did not change the fact that those thousand kids – our girls and the other children from all over the US – were on that field dancing and playing for us. It seems odd that so many Christians disagree about so many things, but that does not change the fact that Christ died for each of us. Whether we agree on the details or not, He did it. There is only one Lord, there is only one faith and there is only one baptism. God is as He has been and always will be. Let us remember that the foundation is Christ Jesus and be at peace with one another. Thanks be to God.
Clean-up One of the biggest difficulties we have with our children is getting them to clean their rooms. Oh, they will go in there, close the door and spend time ‘cleaning’. But in reality they are just moving things around, throwing a few papers away and leaving a mess anywhere they can hide it. One of the biggest problems we face is storage. We do not have enough room in our small house. We must use the children’s closets to store some things like suitcases and seasonal clothing.
This has, unfortunately, become a source of difficulty between our teenage daughter and us. We would rather not go into her room – it is just too messy. Yet, there are times we must go in to get things we need. This morning I decided to do something about our problem. We bought a new computer desk and some new bookshelves. I am hoping that with the proper furniture for the things Vicki has in her room, we will be able to help her become more organized and more able to keep her room clean. It is going to take some time, and in the process things are going to get even messier around our house for a little while. Yet, when it is all over everything should be better – her room, our relationships and even her confidence. We will do the same with Zachary.
Isn’t it amazing how sometimes it is necessary for us to make a complete mess of things for things to be made right? At this point, there is no way for Vicki to get her room under control without our help. I am going to help Vicki go through her drawers, get rid of clothes that do not fit and throw old papers away. We will work together to neatly arrange her bookshelves and put her computer on the new desk. We will make decisions about which things should be kept, which should be given away and which should be thrown out. Isn’t that what God does with us? He takes the mess we have made with our lives, throws out the garbage, gets rid of the things we do not need and teaches us to use the things we do need.
“ Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ASV)
Vicki is a teenager who needs her mom and dad to help her make something of her room. She can’t do it herself. We are sinners in need of someone greater than ourselves to help us make something our lives, and we have the Lord who has promised to do so. Our faith in Christ, a gift from God, is just the beginning of the work that God does with us. Sometimes it seems like everything is more of a mess after we come to faith, it is enough to make us lose heart. But God isn’t worried about how we look today, He is working toward what He intends us to be. I’m not looking forward to this task of cleaning Vicki’s room, it is going to be hard work that will take some time to complete. But I am looking forward to the end result. Sometimes I wish things were different for my life today, but I know that this is just part of the process of getting to where God has promised to take me – into eternal life with my Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Promise A week ago many people made New Year’s resolutions, promises that they would change some aspect of their lives. The news programs had reports, which gave people suggestions on how to keep these resolutions longer than a few days. The shows that focus on the humorous side of life have already sought out those people who have already failed to keep their resolutions. There were people who promised to give up habits like chocolate or lattes, who finished off a one-pound bag of M&Ms in one sitting on New Year’s Day or who went to Starbucks early on January 2nd to get their favorite drink.
Many resolutions are private matters for the people making them. The chocoholic or latte freaks do not generally affect the lives of others with their habit. It could eventually bring poor health, but in general the decision to change that aspect of their life is for their own well-being. However, some resolutions are promises made to other people. Some people promise to spend more time with their spouses or to be available to share in their children’s activities. Others promise their bosses that they will work harder at their jobs. Even children get involved by promising their parents and teachers that they will spend more time on their homework and less time on the Nintendo.
When we fail at those resolutions that affect those around us, we are breaking a promise we’ve made to them. Promises are important, but in our society we have become conditioned to the probability that promises will be broken, so we take them and make them lightly. When we watch the television, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements that promise that everything will be better with their product. The commercials show us our teeth will be whiter, our clothes cleaner and our bodies healthier. At New Years, we make promises that we will probably fail to keep. Even the promises of marriage are no longer sacred, with people divorcing almost as quickly as they marry.
Though human beings have difficulty keeping promises, there is one who is faithful. The Lord our God keeps His promises. He did so throughout the history of Israel, always fulfilling that which He has said. Some of those promises were for the nation, and ultimately God fulfilled them in our Lord Jesus Christ. However many of His promises were personal, given to men and women of faith who waited patiently for God’s word to be proven true. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day, two people saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to them.
“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of the law, then he received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, Now lettest thou thy servant depart, Lord, According to thy word, in peace; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples; A light for revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of thy people Israel.” Luke 2:25-32 (ASV)
The other person to be blessed on that day was a prophetess named Anna who never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. At that moment she came up to them praising God and speaking about this child. Simeon and Anna were both blessed with a moment in the presence of their Savior and the knowledge of the true identity of the child they held. The Lord promised this to be, and ensured that His promise would be fulfilled.
In this day when promises are taken lightly, when resolutions are easily set aside, we have One in whom we can have absolute trust. Though our family and friends may break their promises, God our heavenly Father will never do so. Rest assured that whatever God has planned for your life will come to be, and in that day you will sing with Simeon and praise God with Anna. Thanks be to God.
Membership Zachary plays basketball at the youth center on base. They have been practicing for a few weeks and began games this weekend. For Zack to become part of a team, we had to get him a membership with the youth center. Membership is not necessary to use the facilities, though there are some programs that require it for participation. We signed Vicki up at the same time even though she rarely uses the facilities. There are some benefits such as cheaper prices on activities.
The Old Testament writings are filled with promises of God, words He has spoken to His people over the years. He often specifically addresses the promises to Israel, His chosen people. Through the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets, God never let go of His children no matter what they did. He allowed them to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but He never abandoned them. God answered every defeat with a promise that He would draw them back into His heart and give them rest in His arms.
“But thou, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend, thou whom I have taken hold of from the ends of the earth, and called from the corners thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant, I have chosen thee and not cast thee away;
When we read promises like this from the Old Testament, it is easy to think it isn’t for us. After all, we are not Israel; we are not children of Jacob and we do not claim Abraham as our father as do the Jews. We are gentiles, foreigners from another place and time. We are thousands of miles from Jerusalem, living in the farthest corners of the world. How can this promise be for us?
Yet, we know it is, for the Lord has called us by name. He has brought us into His heart through the love and mercy of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He has wrapped His loving arms around us because of the blood that Christ shed on the cross. We should not fear or be dismayed because the God of Abraham and Jacob is our God also. He came for the Gentiles as well as His chosen people and we all know Him by the light of His grace.
The first Gentiles to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises to Israel were some wise men from the east. They saw a star in the sky, which they knew signaled the birth of a king. They followed the star into Israel and went to Jerusalem to find the baby. After all, the new king of the Jews would likely be found in the palace of the king. There they found Herod, a puppet king who did not even know the promises. He sought the aid of his priests who knew the king would be born in the town of David, Bethlehem. The wise men followed and found the baby lying in a manger. Despite the lowly circumstances of His birth, the wise men worshipped Jesus and gave Him amazing gifts. The gold honored His royal position, the incense symbolized His divinity, and the myrrh foresaw His suffering and death. These Gentiles knew that Jesus was the Messiah, sent to save the world. The promises of God were not meant only for the Israelites, but they were given to the whole world through them. They were chosen, blessed to be a blessing. God built them into a people to share His love with the world.
Today is Epiphany, the day we recall the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus. We are reminded that the light came into the world not just for a few, but for all men to see. While the Gentiles believed and worshipped, Herod and the Jews stayed in Jerusalem and conspired against the new king. Yet, Christ still ministered in the city, to those whom God had chosen to be His. They are not forgotten, even today, for God is faithful. Let us pray on this day when the light shines through Gentiles that all will see it and believe that Jesus is the One sent by God to bring salvation to the world. Thanks be to God.
Kidney I heard a story recently about a man who saw an ad in the paper that was seeking help for a young girl. She needed a new kidney and her parents were doing all they could to find her one. Some patients who need a transplant wait years before they find a donor; some even die while waiting. Sometimes a member of the family can share his or her organ with the sick relative, an incredible sacrifice done out of love. The kidney may be taken from someone who recently died, but it is difficult to match those organs to those in need in a timely fashion, particularly when there is a great geographic separation. It is done every day and it is a miracle when a patient receives a new organ whether it is given to them from beyond the grave or as a gift from a living being.
The newspaper ad offered money to the donor, but the man refused to take it. But how does someone come to a decision like this? That child was a stranger. In this day and age strangers are often seen as enemies. We tell our children that they should not talk to strangers. If someone that we do not know comes to our home or our church, we eye them suspiciously and wonder what business they have with us. In this age of terrorism and street violence, we even consider our neighbors as enemies if they have a certain look or background. So why did he do it? The donor said that it was his faith that made him want to help. “I'm just trying to relate what Christ would do.” What an incredible sacrifice.
“Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 (ASV)
No one is really sure where Jesus heard the phrase He quoted, it is not found in the Old Testament. There were zealous groups of people, like those who lived in the Qumran community who believed that anyone outside their covenant relationships were enemies. They believed that only they held the key to righteousness and eternal life. All others were damned. How often have we heard similar opinions in our world today? It isn’t always about religious ideas; sometimes it is political or geographic. People from another political party or a different geographic region in the world are considered enemies because they think and do things differently.
Yet Jesus took that phrase and turned it upside down for the zealots who considered themselves better than others. He told those who were listening that they should love their enemies, perhaps even in a sacrificial way. Did not Jesus Himself die for us – His enemies? We were sinners, lost in the darkness of this world but Christ suffered the cross so that we would be forgiven. There is no greater love than this.
The donor said he was apprehensive when he first read the ad in the newspaper, but when it was time for the surgery he had no doubt. The family was in desperate need of the love he could give and God gave him the strength, courage and wisdom to give them everything he could. We may never have such an opportunity, and we certainly can never fill the role of Savior, as did Jesus Christ, yet we can hear His words and live them each day. We can love our enemies, whether they are our neighbors or the man with the bomb across the ocean, because Christ loved us first. Who knows, perhaps it will be that very act of love, sharing Christ, which will put a spark of faith into the heart of an unbeliever and bring him or her into a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Repair Volunteer vacations offer a chance for a visitor to give something to the community they are visiting that often has global impact. For a reasonable amount of money, the visitor is able to experience the life and culture of their destination while helping those living in the area. One company offers a chance to help restore a medieval castle in France. Rebuilding a castle is backbreaking work and as the workers move around the site lifting rocks, digging through the dirt they see how difficult life was in times past. Such an experience helps us to appreciate the wonderful blessings of living in the here and now. While it may seem unimportant, there are valuable lessons we can learn from the past, lessons that will help us keep from making the same mistakes in our world today.
God’s people repeatedly made the same mistakes. For a time they lived faithfully to the covenants with God, but eventually they allowed other gods to get a foothold. In the end, they turned away from God, worshipping the Baals rather than the God of their fathers. Yet, when they faced the consequences of their actions, they cried out to God for salvation and He was always faithful. Josiah became king at a time when the people had been chasing other gods. He was very young but sought the LORD, the God of his ancestor David. He destroyed the high places and decided to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
As the priests brought the money from the temple treasury to pay the workers, they discovered a book, the Book of the Law. It had been lost, unread and forgotten for too long. Josiah repented and mourned how wicked the nation of Israel had become. The book warned of the doom that would come to the people who were unfaithful to the LORD their God. Josiah did all he could to restore the relationship between God and His people. He brought back the feasts of Israel history and reminded the people of the covenant they had with the LORD.
“And the king commanded all the people, saying, Keep the passover unto Jehovah your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant. Surely there was not kept such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah was this passover kept to Jehovah in Jerusalem. Moreover them that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of Jehovah.
This story does not have a happy ending. Though Josiah learned from what was found in the temple during the reconstruction and he tried to restore God’s people, God knew the hearts of men. He told Josiah that His wrath would remain and He would turn away from His chosen people. Josiah’s son and those who followed him did what was evil in the sight of God and He allowed them to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness. Foreigners invaded the land, the city of Jerusalem fell and the people were taken into exile. Josiah turned to the LORD, but God knew the hearts of men would continue in their old ways. Josiah died on the battlefield, a merciful act of God so that he would not see the destruction that followed. Yet, God still did not abandon His chosen people. Though they did not learn, He remained with them and when they cried out to Him in their suffering, He saved them.
Volunteer vacations give us an opportunity to share our gifts with others who need our help. Though rebuilding a castle in France may seem impractical, there are good things that can come from such an experience. We can learn from the past, open up new opportunities for growth and experience the lives of those who are very different from us. Yet, even if nothing good comes from our discoveries – personal, cultural and historic – we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us in our experiences, loving us and shining His light to the world through us. Thanks be to God.
Grapefruit We love to eat grapefruit in the morning. But we have to be out of the house so early in the morning that it is difficult to cut the sections so that the fruit can be eaten, particularly for the kids. So, I don’t buy fresh grapefruit nearly enough. Sometimes I buy the jars of fresh fruit found in the produce section, but those are way too expensive. What I like to do is buy a large bag of grapefruit, cut it all at one time and leave it in the refrigerator. Then we can just scoop out what we want when we want it.
The disadvantages of this are numerous but minor. I'm really much too lazy to take on such a task. When I do so many grapefruits at one time I tend to be less meticulous about getting every bit out of the shell. With so much fresh grapefruit easily available, we eat more than we would otherwise because it tastes so good and takes so little work when we want to eat. We add a small amount of sugar to help ease the tartness, though sometimes the fruit is sweet enough on its own. After all this, my family rarely appreciates the amount of work that goes into the task. Yet, these things matter little compared to the delight of enjoying fresh grapefruit in the morning.
Have you ever heard the phrase “you have your work cut out for you”? It usually means that the task you face is more difficult, yet that understanding has never made sense to me. When we think about eating the grapefruit, isn’t it much better to have it ‘cut out for us’? It certainly is for the kids who did nothing to get such a wonderful treat. The same is true about our salvation, for Christ did all that was necessary for us to receive that great gift. And that gift is given for you. Isn’t that a comforting thought?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
It seems strange to compare a container filled with grapefruit with the salvation of our souls, particularly since I waste some of the fruit, eat too much and add a bit of sugar to make it better. And yet, in many ways it is the same. Doesn’t God bless all of His creation with life and love, even those who reject Him? We don’t always understand why God would waste His wondrous love on those who cast it away or refuse His mercy. Yet, He gives to all of us beyond measure, more than we need and certainly more than we deserve. He gave His Son for you. We never appreciate His goodness or gifts, yet He delights in doing all this for us. Let us pray that God will soften the hearts of those who reject that which is given so freely, so that they will know the love and mercy of Him through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and be saved from sin and death. This salvation is not just the promise of eternal life or blessings from God, it is the opening of a personal relationship with the One who gives beyond measure, who cuts out the work for us and saves us from death. He did this for you, dig in and enjoy the gift! Thanks be to God.
Imagination I was just skimming through the stations on my television in search of some background noise while I work on the computer. I couldn’t find much of anything, and somehow ended up leaving a children’s show on the television. It was a cartoon where the children really got into the story of “Alice in Wonderland”. They used their imagination while they read the story and experienced in play the things they were reading. In one scene the children were visiting with the Queen and her playing card guards, when the cartoon faded to show the children playing with real cards in their living room.
Have you ever been so immersed in a book you are reading that it seemed almost as if you were living it with the characters? I just finished a trilogy about King Arthur that was so well written I could imagine the people and events happening around me. Yet, it was disturbing in many ways. The strange actions of the druids and the pagan practices, as well as the reliance of magic and negative opinions of the Christian faith made me very sad. The books took place around 500 AD and there was certainly reason to suspect the new religion in England at that time, but as I read I wanted to witness the love and mercy of God to those poor souls. Don’t worry; even I’m surprised at my reaction to a fictional story.
The Bible is a love letter given to us over the history of God’s people and it is filled with words that give us hope, peace, joy and comfort. Even if we cannot find solutions to our problems in the messages found on the pages, we know by reading this book that God will help us through. The Bible is more than just a bunch of stories, it is a living book that brings us into a relationship with the One to whom the words on the page refer – God. When we read those words, we immerse ourselves into the life and love of our Lord Jesus, so much that we live what we read – not only at that moment but also throughout our lives.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ASV)
The story of the children reading “Alice in Wonderland was fun to watch, but it was just a kids show. It was not real life. The same is true of my experience with the novels about King Arthur. They were just stories and it was silly to care so deeply about the state of the character’s souls. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we are reminded that the life we have in Christ Jesus is not something that should be lived occasionally, but at every moment. We are to be immersed in Christ, so that we always have joy, prayer is a lifestyle and thanksgiving is a constant attitude.
They say that you are the only Bible some people will ever read. It is by immersing ourselves so deeply in the Word that they see Christ in and through us that we are able to be witnesses to Christ’s love and mercy to the world. I will never be able to change anyone’s life, certainly not the characters of a fictional novel. However, our Lord Jesus Christ has the power to do so through His Word. Today’s scripture is three very short verses and yet they are filled an incredible message. God’s will in Christ Jesus is for us to become part of the story and to live it continually. I enjoyed reading those novels and experiencing the lives of those people, even though they were not real and were based on people who have been dead for more than a thousand years. How much more exciting it is to be part of a living book, the Bible, to share God’s message with the world. Thanks be to God.
Crash There was a crash on one of the major roadways yesterday afternoon during rush hour. Pretty typical situation, causing a back up that delayed the travel of the people who were on the road going home from work or to their weekend recreation destinations. Luckily I was able to use another road, so it did not affect my own trip. Later I heard a report on the radio that the accident was cleared from the roadway, but things were not over yet. The tow truck that carried the wrecked car was stuck in the median, blocking traffic going in the other direction.
Isn’t it amazing how one thing can lead to another? One accident often leads to fender benders along the way. “Rubberneckers”, the people who watch the clean up as they pass going in the other direction slow the flow of traffic. There might be injuries to the people involved, causing loss of work and medical bills. Some accidents even lead to civil lawsuits or criminal persecution. This is what it is like living in a fallen world. Sin builds onto sin, and all suffering is rooted in sin. It goes back to the beginning, when Adam and Eve believed the word of the serpent above the word of the Lord.
“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned: -- for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many. And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment came of one unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ." Romans 5:12-17 (ASV)
Even a minor accident can lead to a great deal of trouble for the victims, bystanders and service people dealing with the clean up. One thing leads to another. Ever since that day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word for their own, we have suffered from the consequences of sin. We see it in our every day lives. A small lie leads to bigger ones, bad habits lead to health problems, anger leads to violence, greed leads to thievery and lust leads to improper conduct. Some would like to believe that there are sins that affect no one but the person committing it, but all sin affects all people. We live in community and we live in a fallen world, so everything we do will affect others.
The only hope we have is in Jesus Christ. By His grace we are saved from sin and death and given eternal life. Though we still live in the consequences of the sin, the hope of the cross and the promise of life in Christ is far greater than anything that can happen to us in this world. What a most incredible gift we have been given! Thanks be to God.
Science Fair Science fair is coming up very quickly at Vicki’s school. She has been working on her project for months – planning, researching, writing and doing the experiment. This year she decided to do a project about the affect of light on plants. Since a flower can’t be grown in a day, it was necessary for her to begin the experiment last fall. She has been caring for the plants, taking down data and watching everything that has been happening. Unfortunately, the experiment really didn’t work out as she’d hoped. She wanted to test whether difference colored lights have an affect on the growth, but she used a normal fluorescent lamp covered with cellophane for the light. Plants need natural sunlight; they don’t live well without it. Many of the seeds sprouted, but the plants died without the sun. So, she began a second experiment, covering the windows with colored cellophane to see if the plants would grow differently with red or green light. The experiment is over, there was little difference and now Vicki is working on her final project board and report.
Today I noticed that the plants are wilting. They haven’t been watered for a number of days. I said to Vicki, “Please water your plants today.” She answered, “I’m not taking the plants into the science fair.” She is done with them and is willing to let them die. I told her, “You created a life and you should sustain it.” Of course, she hasn’t really created anything – as they say; “only God can make a tree.” The plants will die eventually, all life withers and fades. Even human beings, given the breath of life by God, will pass from this world. But we should not use living things for our own purposes and then abandon them when we are done. God certainly did not abandon us. He built up a relationship that culminated in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:1-3 (ASV)
The example of the flowers is somewhat absurd; they are only marigold plants. But I want Vicki to keep up with the plants to help her learn responsibility. We hear too many stories on the news these days of people who give birth to children and abandon them. Children are beaten and abused; newborns are dumped in garbage cans. A recent story told of a mother who ran off to Europe and left her children at home alone over Christmas – young children who could not care for themselves.
There are many who hold a view of God that He was one who created and ran, that He just lets the world revolve without His help. Another view of God, or the gods of the pagans, is that they have created human beings as playthings, whose lives exist only for their amusement. But that is not the truth about the Lord God Almighty, creator of the universe. He did not plant some seeds and then walk away. He continually creates and recreates the world and speaks life into our lives. We know this through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world of flesh and sin to save us from death and transform us by His powerful word. God created us and sustains us. Thanks be to God.
Snow We had snow last night, the first real snowfall of the season. It did not amount to much, just enough to make the streets wet and the grass white. I had to drive into Little Rock with Vicki during the worst of the snowfall and our reactions to this weather event were quite different. Vicki was excited about the snow, was hoping for enough so that she could make a snowball or two to throw at her old mom. Surprisingly, she didn’t want enough to get out of school this morning. Strange kid, but then she thought I was strange not liking the snow at all. She sees snow as a fun thing and does not realize how dangerous it is for driving. She has not been involved with winter weather accidents or felt a car slip on icy streets. To me, the ideal snowfall would be like last night – falling on the trees, grass and houses so that they will be pretty to see, but never sticking to the streets.
It was a joyous moment for those who have longed to see snow this year. There were children playing outside, making snowballs and trying to eat the snowflakes. Even though I do not like snow myself, I was drawn into their happiness and laughed as I watched. The snow stopped long before our return trip and some of the roads along the way were even dry. It seemed like everyone was happy for a moment, even if we disagreed about whether snow is a good thing.
“Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits.” Romans 12:14-16 (ASV)
I was not happy about driving so far in the snow yesterday afternoon, but it turned out to be a good trip. There were issues that we were going to deal with at a meeting last night that could have been difficult, but I think somehow the snow lightened the mood. The roads were not slippery and the cars around us were traveling safely. The kids enjoyed the excitement and during a time of prayer we laughed about whether we should pray for lots of snow so the kids could miss a day of school. We found a moment of peace with one another so that we could love our brothers and sisters and face the decisions together.
I’m not sure how we would have reacted if the weather had been worse. Arriving stressed by the drive might have made my mood more volatile. The kids may have been more difficult to deal with, excited by the expectation of a snow day and unwilling to cooperate in other matters. We may have also had a difficult time if there had been no snow, for it distracted us into a joyful mood before setting about out business. Unfortunately, we live in a world of sin in which we all have moments in which we find it difficult to control our opinions and feelings. We react and over react, forgetting the valuable words given to us in the scriptures about how to face such experiences.
These words are not easy, for I know I could not bless my enemies without the help of God. Nor do I find it easy to rejoice when I am sad or mourn when I am happy. I don’t do a good job about living in harmony with my neighbor, I am often proud and I prefer to avoid those who are different than I. Sometimes I am conceited. But then aren’t we all these things sometimes? This is why Christ died, so that by His grace we are forgiven and reconciled to God and one another, so that tomorrow we can try again. When we find it most difficult, I pray God sends more snow, just enough to make us laugh and be at peace with one another if even for just a moment, so that we can overcome our troubles together. Thanks be to God.
Monopoly After Christmas we went shopping with the kids so that they could spend some of their Christmas money. They both managed to spend quite a bit buying games and books – things they wanted but did not get for Christmas. Vicki bought a Disney version of the game of Monopoly. Of course, when we came home with these new treasures, we had to play them all. Over the next few days we managed to play Monopoly several times, a fun time spent together. I still remembered how to play, but I quickly discovered that the rules we went by in our childhood play were somewhat different than are printed on the box. When I was a kid, we always put all monies the bank should have collected in the middle of the board – a lottery of sorts. We did this with the fees from purchasing properties, taxes, chance and community chest cards. This built up a rather large fortune, and anyone landing on the Free Parking space got rich. It made for lengthy, very interesting games.
There were a few other things we did differently than is printed on the box, and Zack was sure to share that we were doing it all wrong. He had read all the rules and wanted to follow them exactly, a good idea, because a game where people are following different sets of rules can be quite chaotic. But we had such fun playing our way. It is rather amazing after all these years that I remember, but we played long and often. Whenever we began a game, which sometimes lasted days, we simply established that everyone agreed to the same rules. We never wrote them down, but we discussed the rules together and when everyone was happy we had fun.
I suppose this is a bad example to set for the kids. One of the greatest problems we have had in this world is that everyone does not follow a set standard of rules. Oh, most everyone agrees that we should not kill, but there are a million different opinions about what is meant by killing. Some consider war an unfortunate necessity while others thing there should be no war whatsoever. Some consider abortion murder, while others do not. Some believe that euthanasia is ok and others do not believe it should be allowed. As we consider our world today, we can see these disagreements about what it means has caused a great deal of chaos in the world.
“Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (ASV)
The LORD gave us a set of Laws, the Ten Commandments, which established the most basic rules for our relationships with one another. More laws were developed for the nation of Israel to help them deal with offenses against that Law and the broken relationships that ensued. Yet, even when things were so clearly laid out by God, it was impossible for God’s people to remain faithful to the covenant He had made with them. He asked His people to remember His words, to live by them every moment and if they did so they would be blessed. Yet, even then the people had difficulty agreeing about the rules. By the time Jesus came in flesh, God’s good and perfect Law had become a burden that none were able to carry.
So, Christ died to forgive the sins of His people. Those who could not keep the Law had only one place to go, to the cross of Christ to be released from the burden of sin and death that wreaks havoc on this world. He rose from death into new life and established a new covenant with His people, a covenant where the Law is grace and we have the blessed life because of the love of Christ. He still asks us to fix His words upon our hearts, but He now does so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, rather than teaching our children a list of rules, we are to share Gospel. There may be disagreements about the meaning of this and the understanding of that, but when the love of Christ guides our every moment, then we will be blessed. Thanks be to God.
Jury Duty I have been serving jury duty for the past few months. The way we do it here is a juror is on a panel for six months. We call in weekly the day before our allotted day – mine is Thursday – and if there is a trial we have to report in the morning for roll call. After attendance is taken, eighteen names are randomly selected from the pool available and then the judge and the attorneys question them. If for some reason a juror is unable to serve, another is selected to take his or her place. After the questioning is over, the attorneys choose which men and women they want to hear the case. When twelve are fairly selected, the rest are dismissed for the day.
We have met several times so far, different kinds of cases both civil and criminal. Some of the questions are pretty standard, asking if we know the defendants, attorneys, witnesses or the case. They try to get to know the jurors a little, asking about their opinions on matters of law. They often give away specifics of the case to be heard, to see if any of the jurors have a preconceived idea of how they would rule. The attorneys will quickly reject any juror who is likely to rule against their client.
One of the recent case involved an automobile accident. The defendant was making a left turn during which the light turned red. She insisted it was yellow when she began, but the plaintiff insisted she ran a red light. The defense attorney asked the jurors if any of us had ever found ourselves in a similar position. We all agreed there had been times when conditions warranted travel through the intersection when the light was changing from yellow to red. Several people shared stories of being rear ended because they stopped quickly to avoid going into the intersection, but the people behind did not. The attorney then asked if we wait when our light turns green, carefully ensuring everyone has gotten out of the intersection before proceeding.
The purpose of this questioning was set in our minds the fact that we have all been in the position of these two drivers. He wanted us to question in our own mind if we have a right to rule against his client, since we could all be in exactly the same place. He was hinting toward a biblical concept that is often abused and misused, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” We are often too quick to judge, to put a negative spin on the actions of others while twisting our own to make us look good. In the case of traffic lights, we are quick to claim the only safe thing for us to do is to run the light, which we complain of those going in the other direction claiming they could have stopped. It would do us well to remember our own offenses when judging others.
“O Jehovah my God, if I have done this; If there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (Yea, I have delivered him that without cause was mine adversary;) Let the enemy pursue my soul, and overtake it; Yea, let him tread my life down to the earth, And lay my glory in the dust. Selah” Psalm 7:3-5 (ASV)
I wasn’t chosen as a juror for that trial so I do not know the evidence that was presented or how it turned out. Without that information I could not judge fairly, yet don’t we do that every day with our family, friends, neighbors and most especially our enemies? We see something happen or hear about it on the radio and quickly jump to conclusions. We cry out for justice or revenge without having all the evidence. We make judgments based on our own perceptions, disregarding the notion that we hold some of the blame or do the same things.
These words of David are most difficult, for who wants to admit we have failed and ask for punishment? Yet, we have the assurance of faith in Christ that when we do cry out these words of confession and turn to Christ, we are granted forgiveness by His grace and are covered by His blood. We may suffer consequences – if I run a red light I might be hit, injured and even worse. Yet even in those times of suffering, God is my refuge and my strength, an ever-present help through those trials. It is good for us to consider our own role in the discord between people. Are we willing to speak these words, “O LORD, if I have done…” We should be if we are willing to judge our neighbors. When we do so, we have the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to fall back upon and the blessings that come from living in the truth. Thanks be to God.
Drip There is a drip in our shower. Even when it seems like we have turned off the water, the drip continues, one drop at a time. Every plop echoes in the shower and it drives me crazy until I just can’t stand it anymore. Then I jump up and go to the shower to give the knob that extra bit of turn that stops the drip. It is fine until the next time someone takes a shower.
I’ve known the Lord Jesus for as long as I can remember, but there has always been ‘stuff’ to deal with in my flesh. Quite a few years ago I went through a transformation about the way I dealt with the extra change I received when a clerk made a mistake at a checkout counter. I never had a problem with keeping those extra pennies, quarters or dollars. I justified it by claiming that it was the cashier’s fault and he or she needed to be more careful. Those big companies can stand to loose a few cents here and there, they certainly cover themselves with high prices. Besides, those cashiers also make mistakes that benefit the store, so those few pennies balance things out.
The time came when I was bothered by these attitudes. It was like the drip in the shower. I put up with it just so long and then I had to deal with it. It began slowly at first, a little twinge when there was an extra quarter or dollar in the change. I still walked away with it, knowing it was probably wrong but justifying my actions with a lot of excuses. I had not time to return, it was only a quarter, it was still the cashier’s fault. But the drip got louder and finally the day came when I could not stand it any longer. The culminating experience was a package of pictures that I’d had printed. I had taken a large number of rolls of film, a dozen or so, to be processed. It was quite expensive and was a time when we couldn’t really afford to have it done. The cashier forgot to charge me for one of the packages. I did not realize it until much later. Though this incident is fresh in my mind, I have to admit I do not recall if I ever went and gave them the money for those pictures. I do know that from that moment on I was a changed woman. It was not long after that I was in that store when a similar incident happened. I was purchasing a number of items and the cashier missed charging me for one. That time I did go back and pay for the item. It was something God wanted to change in me, so He made me aware of my sin and helped me to overcome. It was not overcome by the law, but by the grace of God who lives in me and transforms me by His love.
“Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly on the end of that which was passing away: but their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (ASV)
Everyone has similar stories of how they quit smoking, how they stopped yelling at their kids or some other bad habit that they have overcome. There is a twinge in our guts and our spirits that tell us that something is wrong, call it guilt, conscience or whatever. It is the Holy Spirit making us aware of our sin so that He can help us overcome. It is a lot easier when we quickly respond to the transformation. When we don’t, it is like that drip in the shower. Eventually it drives us so crazy that we respond to it.
We aren’t completely transformed at the moment we are saved. At that moment, God no longer sees us as the filthy sinners that we are, because He looks at us through Jesus colored glasses. However, at that moment we also begin a lifetime of transformation, as God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, frees us from the habits and behaviors that threaten the peace we have in Christ Jesus. Has God sent a twinge into your life lately? Is He transforming you and helping you overcome those things that bind your flesh in this world? When we look to Jesus when these things bother us, we see clearly that which He wants to change in us and we see His hand in the transformation. What a glorious experience! Thanks be to God.
Snow day A few days ago the weathermen were predicting a nasty winter storm would leave snow and ice on the roadways. The threat was great enough that some local events considered cancellation or late start. I was even looking forward to a snow day for the children yesterday, hoping that we could accomplish a few tasks around the house while we were stuck in the house for a day. I made a trip to the grocery store to make sure we had plenty of junk food as well as the essentials. Though the temperatures are quite chilly and we had some precipitation, the bad weather never came far enough south to affect our local area. The children went to school and I used the day to accomplish other things.
We did not have a snow day yesterday, but the children are at home today with a scheduled day off – a teacher workshop day or something like it. The school districts in the area do not follow the same schedule, so most of the students still have class today. Since we have no school and there isn’t a bit of snow on the ground, I was quite surprised to see a long list of school cancellations on the news this morning. Even though the announcements were meaningless to us, several places did receive several inches of snow and the snow day was necessary for the safety of the children.
I have recently had several conversations with people who have all agreed that we do not know how we would make it through our lives without our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly those times of pain and trial. After all, God is our refuge and our strength, and without the faith and hope we have in the promises of God, we would have nothing to hang on to. In those discussions, we all wondered about those people who have no faith. How do they get along without Jesus? It seems impossible to us. Yet, to a great many people, the Bible and everything within its pages is little more than a fairy tale. It isn’t real life and the words do not apply to them. They do not consider themselves in need of any help – life is life and you deal with it without the help of some figment of your imagination. They are surprised by those who rely so heavily on God when they really see no need to do so. By grace we are able to see how desperately we need the love and mercy of God and by grace we are given we need to get us through.
“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned: -- for until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many.” Romans 5:12-15 (ASV)
The snow day was meaningless to us because we didn’t have school today and there was no snow on the ground, but to those who were looking at the possibility of going out into the dangerous wintry weather, the announcement was important. Too many people in our world today have no idea that they are lost in the darkness of sin and death. They don’t see Adam’s sin as relevant to their lives, after all they are relatively good compared to everyone else. God’s grace and the message of the Bible are meaningless to those who do not know the truth. Yet, they are lost in darkness just as we once were and they need to hear the glorious message of the Gospel. Today, share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with someone and help him or her see their need for Him in their lives. Jesus helps us through all our days; share Him with those who need His grace and mercy in this world. Thanks be to God.
Snow cave Several days ago there was a story on the news about several climbers on Mt. Hood who got lost in a blizzard. This type of thing happens every year – hikers think they are able to handle the conditions and so take chances. But weather can be very unpredictable and even the most knowledgeable hikers can get lost in the woods sometimes, particularly when a sudden storm strikes. Such snowstorms make visibility impossible and confuse the senses of those who are out in it. They lose track of which direction is north, south, east and west and all landmarks disappear.
These five hikers stopped when they realized they were on the edge of steep cliffs, a very dangerous situation when you can’t see even a few feet in front of you. They built a snow cave and contacted rescuers with their cell phones – certainly an advantage for modern hikers. Even a few years ago, those men might have been stuck on the mountaintop for days while the teams searched for them. Many have died in such conditions. For those who live, smart preparation and knowledge about survival is what helped them stay alive. What is most amazing is that it was the snow that caused these hikers their problems, and yet it was the snow that probably saved their lives. By building a snow cave, they got out of the harsh elements and stayed warm by their own body heat. Their refuge was the very thing that threatened their lives.
We are afraid of many things in this world – illness, terrorism, poverty and oppression. With the threat of nuclear war from one enemy and the possibility of chemical war from another, we wonder if we will live to see tomorrow. It seems that the requests for prayer for those suffering from cancer grows daily and other diseases are spreading rapidly. Yet, even with these worldly threats, the Bible tells us not to fear those things. The reality, whether we want to admit it or not, is that we are enemies of God and it is Him that we should fear. He has the power to destroy us, for He is the One who created us. His judgment is right and His wrath is just. And yet, it is God Himself who is our refuge. He sent Jesus Christ to take His wrath upon Himself and all judgment fell on His shoulders as He hung on the cross. By His blood, God makes us His children rather than His enemies, and He protects us from all that might bring us harm.
“ I have called upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God: Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Show thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them that take refuge in thee From those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, My deadly enemies, that compass me about.” Psalm 17:6-9 (ASV)
We will face fearful things in this world, sickness and war threatens our lives. That fear can paralyze us; make us unable to live daily in this world. That fear can make us reject others people, persecute or avoid them. That fear can make us hate, kill or lust after things, which are not ours. Life in that fear is not life but bondage. Yet, fear in God is true life because it frees us to live in the salvation given by our Lord Jesus, with God as our refuge from those things of this world.
The hikers knew that their only hope would be to protect themselves from the snow, so they got inside a snow cave. There are lots of things in this world that can bring us harm, but the Lord God Almighty is truly the most fearsome of all and most of the people in this world ignore that fact. So they live paralyzed by fear of disease and war, without the salvation that will save them from true death. The love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ is our refuge from the wrath of God’s judgment and our peace in the face of our enemies. Thanks be to God.
Scorpion A story is told of a holy man who was sitting on the bank of a brook while meditating. He noticed a scorpion that was caught in a whirlpool in the brook. Every time the scorpion tried to climb on a rock, it slipped back into the water. The holy man took pity on the scorpion and tried to save it from certain death, but whenever the man reached out to the creature it struck at its hand. A friend passed by and told the man that his actions were futile because it is in the scorpion’s nature to strike. The man said, “Yet, but it is my nature to save and rescue. Why should I change my nature just because the scorpion doesn’t change his?”
What if God were like that friend along the brook, willing to give up on the scorpion because of its spiteful nature? We never would have been saved. But Jesus is that holy man, trying to save us from our own dangerous waters despite the fact that we fight back. He keeps trying even when we reject His mercy, because it is in His nature to love and save.
“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (ASV)
We live in a world where there are a great many people who’s nature is like the scorpion’s –quickly striking at anyone who wants to help. Even when we share the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly when we share the Gospel, those with such a nature reject it and us. We suffer persecution at their hands, just as the holy man risked being stung by the scorpion. Do we let it stop us? Jesus did not. After all, He left the glory of heaven to come to earth in flesh to reconcile us to God our Father. His nature is to love and save and He willingly suffered humiliation in life and death. Unfortunately, even though Christ now dwells in us, we would rather avoid suffering anything like persecution or humiliation. Instead of being like the holy man, we act like the friend who would allow the scorpion to die because we don’t want to be stung. We aren’t Jesus, but the Holy Spirit dwells in us giving us a new nature. The day will come when all will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, the day when all will know the truth that is sung in this early Christian hymn – that Jesus Christ is Lord. Will they come to know this because we have shared the message of His love and mercy? We might be stung because of such bold witness, but God calls us to such a life and He dwells in us so that we can reach out to those drowning in sin and death. This is possible only by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ and for the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Instruction Vicki takes lessons in dance and baton each week. She is having a great time with it and wants to learn as much as she can. Unfortunately, we live in a very small house, with low ceilings. There is little room to dance and no way she can throw the baton to practice. The other day we went to the youth center to use a room with high ceilings. She practiced and I made a few suggestions. I do not make a very good baton teacher, though. It is hard to describe in words how to do the tricks. I can twirl fairly well, but communicating what I do is difficult. I can’t give her my ability to twirl; I can only help her try to do it better. It doesn’t help that her teachers at the dance school do things a little differently.
I think for many of us, the same is very true about witnessing our faith to others. We understand in our hearts the love and mercy of God, but we can’t seem to communicate what it means to others. We talk to God all the time, in prayer and through study, yet when we try to tell others about our relationship with God, our words can be baffling to those who do not understand. This can be true also with other Christians, if we have practices or ideas that are foreign to others. There are so many different ideas about Christian faith that we often disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, if we can’t talk about our faith with others, it is useless to anyone except ourselves. While we have a wonderful relationship with God, He blesses us to be a blessing.
“Follow after love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God; for no man understandeth; but in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. Now I would have you all speak with tongues, but rather that ye should prophesy: and greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ASV)
One of the differences we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ is often the definition of words that we find in scriptures. What does it mean to speak in tongues and prophecy? For some, these things are frightening. “I don’t want to prophecy, I do not want to know the future.” “People who speak in tongues are out of control and I don’t want to be like that.” While these things are gifts from God over which we do not have control, they certainly are not frightening when understood as gifts from God. Tongues can be used as a prayer language, a way for the believer to talk to God intimately and personally. Prophecy is sharing the Word of the Lord with others. In the past and even today, sometimes that means to tell about something that will happen in the future, but all prophecy points toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Both these gifts, understood in these ways, are given for the edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our time at the youth center helped Vicki make progress in her ability to throw the baton, even though I was not a very good instructor. I showed her the tricks and gave her suggestions to do things better and in the end it helped encourage her growth. We can share our faith even though we cannot give it to someone. By God’s help, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given the words to speak the love of Christ to our brothers and sisters in Christ and help them in their walk of faith. Paul writes that we should desire those gifts that will edify the church, and God gives according to His good and perfect will. Thanks be to God.
Hugs Today is National Hugging Day. The calendar I use has a great many of these national days that are set aside for one thing or another. I don’t have much information about the creation of this national holiday, except that it was started in 1986 as a response to National Whiner’s Day and has apparently taken off over the years. Physical touch is a very real human need and hugs generally meet that need in a safe and healthy way. It is more personal and friendly than a handshake. Of course, not everyone is comfortable with such physical intimacy, particularly in a work environment, so it is best to ask before wrapping your arms around someone.
Jesus met a great many human needs during His ministry on earth. He fed those who were hungry and taught those who desired to know more about God. He healed their diseases and cast out their demons. He gave them the living water of God’s Word and shared the mercy of God in words of forgiveness. He protected them from their enemies, as He did for the woman who was to be stoned for prostitution. He loved them in Spirit, truth and flesh. He even touched them when they needed it most.
“And it came to pass, while he was in one of the cities, behold, a man full of leprosy: and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go thy way, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went abroad the report concerning him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew himself in the deserts, and prayed.” Luke 5:12-16 (ASV)
Jesus could have easily healed this man with just a word as He did for the other lepers who were healed in the Gospels. The man’s needs went far beyond that which we could see on his skin. He had been outcast, denied the opportunity to have his needs met by even those closest to his heart. We know little about the man, but the law demanded that he be cast aside with the other lepers so that he would not even touch his family and friends. Imagine if he were married with children? Jesus should never have touched this man, yet for Jesus mercy is far greater than the law.
Jesus touched the man and he was healed. The healing was more than skin deep, reaching into the soul and spirit of this man who had been outcast. How often have you seen a hug transform someone who is sick or hurting? We saw with the ministries of Sister Theresa and the way Princess Diana was willing to touch those who suffered from aids. They understood this need for human touch, and willingly gave more than just words of comfort and peace. They gave hugs. On this National Hugging Day, do you know someone who could use more than just a kind word, for whom a hug might bring peace? Go ahead and wrap your arms around them, while sharing the glorious message of God’s loving embrace in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. You never know how that one small touch might change a life. Thanks be to God.
Cold It is cold outside today, bitter cold with the temperatures falling over the next couple of days. Luckily there is no precipitation in our area or else we would be dealing with dangerous conditions. As it is, it is necessary for us to bundle up when we go outside to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, Felix just does not understand what we mean when we tell him that he should not want to go outside. He sits at the door and meows and tries to escape whenever someone goes out or comes in. It would not take him very long to realize that things are not better on the other side of the door, and he would want to come inside.
Sheep have a tendency to desire whatever is on the other side of the fence. Somehow it looks better over there, so they often harm themselves trying to get there. Don’t we all suffer from ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ envy? We know people with nicer houses, bigger cars, better jobs and we wish we had all those things. We think to ourselves, “If only…” and even work hard to achieve our goals. Our motives aren’t always to keep up with the Jones’. Sometimes we are simply unsatisfied with what we have and we desire something different.
Yet, things aren’t always better on the other side of the fence. Suppose our neighbor has a greener lawn, but what we don’t see is that they also have a water leak in one of their pipes. So, the lawn is well watered, but their water bill is extraordinary and the excess water is causing damage to the foundation of their home. The lawn looks lovely, and perhaps they don’t even know they have a problem, but one day the problem will surface and they will have difficult times while dealing with it. Though this is a hypothetical situation, there are often underlying causes that we do not see. We envy our neighbors with all their lovely things, but what we do not know is that the marriage is failing because it takes too much work to maintain the lifestyle. We may want the great job without realizing the stress can cause disease and substance abuse. We envy without really knowing and we run great risks pursuing things that are not intended for us. God knows what we need and gives abundantly.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” James 3:17-18 (ASV)
We know what is best for Felix. He is much safer and warmer in the house with us, rather than running around outside facing the dangers of the world. He doesn’t know that and thinks we are just mean for making him stay inside. The shepherd knows what is best for the sheep, but they think that if only they could get on the other side of the fence they could get that delicious plant to eat. Meanwhile, they harm themselves trying. We think we are pretty smart when we figure out ways to get everything we want, when I reality we are quite foolish pursuing those things. God asks us to be content with our life as He has given, to seek His wisdom and live by it. James writes of that wisdom, that it is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Imagine if everyone followed that kind of wisdom, there would be no need to envy one another. That wisdom comes from God and is given to us in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” James 3:17-18 (ASV)
Bedroom We have finally managed to complete the cleaning and organization of Vicki’s bedroom. It was a long and difficult job, made worse by the fact that we had to work in other places around the house. Vicki and Zack exchanged desks and several pieces had to be fixed to fit in the room. In the process, I’ve had to help Zack organize his own room and I’ve done work in ours. We are collecting things for a yard sale in a few months, so a stack of things is growing daily in the family room. Now that the room is complete, Vicki assures me that things will remain clean. I’m not so sure. I’ve already found little piles of misplaced items on the floor of her room – exactly how the mess started in the first place. I suppose since she is so much like me, her room will never be perfect, but at least for now it is clean.
What in this world is really perfect? Is there anything that is truly pure? Pure gold is too soft for many uses, so it is mixed with other metals to make it functional. Most cloth today is some sort of blend. The food we buy in the grocery store often contains additives of some sort, even the fresh meat and produce. We are so used to impurities in our lives, that we really do not know what it means to be pure. In yesterday’s scripture, James wrote about wisdom from God, calling it first pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. We’ll look at what each of these mean this week, to better understand God’s wisdom in our lives.
What does it mean to be pure? Webster’s defines the pure as “having homogeneous or uniform composition.” In other words, it has the same or similar nature or kind. Pure is also free from impurities or foreign elements. It means that it contains nothing inappropriate or unnecessary. Something that is pure is complete. That exactly defines God’s Word. It stands alone and there is nothing in this world we can add to it to make it better. God’s Word is complete; it was made complete in our Lord Jesus Christ, who came in flesh to fulfill all that God spoke in the days of the patriarchs, kings and prophets. In Jesus we have the whole wisdom of heaven given to us that we might know God completely.
“Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and greater works than these will he show him, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. For neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son; that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father that sent him.” John 5:19-23 (ASV)
I have recently heard several teachers who have spoken of things that make them sound very wise, and yet when I have looked up the references for myself I have found error in what they said. We all make mistakes, and earthly wisdom will pass. One thing is pure, that is the Word of God that is found in our Lord Jesus Christ. Only there will we find pure wisdom, the wisdom that comes from heaven by which we are called to live. Men make mistakes but God’s Word is complete. It is free of impurities and needs nothing added.
Vicki’s room may never be perfect. Mine certainly wasn’t when I was a teenager. I still leave clutter in my old age. Yet, perhaps in this experience of cleaning all the unnecessary garbage from her room we have all learned a lesson. Some things are meaningless and should be set aside for the important things. Man’s teachings that try to add or change the Word of God are like those things. That kind of wisdom will not bring righteousness. Only Jesus can do that. Thanks be to God.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.” James 3:17-18 (ASV)
War You can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without being reminded that the world is in turmoil over the possibility of war. Communication is instantaneous in our world today. Reporters, diplomats and military personnel are able to get information to and from the front lines quickly; pictures are often broadcast as soon as they are taken. The family of one of the men who were attacked in Kuwait the other day found out that he was one of the victims on the television. Though there have long been wars and rumors of wars, for many of us it seems like the danger is getting closer every day. For some children, the images seen on TV can be quite frightening because they do not know that it is far from them. For some adults, the news can have an opposite effect. We can become complacent about what we see on TV because it is far from us.
The news reports have been filled with calls for peace. No one wants war, but it seems more and more people are rejecting the validity of any military action in certain situations in our world. But what is peace? Our Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) He goes on to say that He does not give as the world gives and tells us not to be troubled or afraid. James also refers to peace – he says that wisdom is peace-loving. But what does this mean? If Jesus left us in peace, why are there so many wars about religion? Why is it so dangerous to be a Christian? Why have men and women been martyred for their faith since the beginning of the church? What sort of peace is that?
The wisdom that comes from heaven does seek peace, but it is much different the calls for peace in this world. I imagine that God also would prefer that we not go to war, particularly since it is usually over material possessions or misunderstandings. However, what He desires for all people is a deeper peace – an inner peace free from the turmoil of fear and confusion. When we have the wisdom of heaven, given us by our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a complete peace even when war wages around us.
“Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21 (ASV)
The wisdom of God is different than the wisdom of the world because it makes us complete. God gives everything we need to get us through our days, no matter what circumstances we face. We never know what tomorrow holds for us. While today’s wars may seem unimportant and even wrong to many, we may face an enemy tomorrow that we think we should fight. The only difference is how we reach the peace so many desire. However, there is an even greater peace that we should be crying for – the peace of heart that comes from a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is only that peace that is lasting. Wisdom from heaven is truly peace-loving, but the peace it loves is the peace that comes from life in Christ. Thanks be to God.
Shopping Carts I don’t usually allow the children to push the shopping cart at the grocery store for two reasons. First of all, they usually fight over who gets to push, and even if they share they fight over who has had it longer. The other reason is because they do not pay much attention to the other shoppers, often running into people or pausing in the middle of the aisle making it difficult to pass. When they are behind the push bar, the world is theirs; there is no consideration for the other people trying to do their shopping. It is much easier for me to just push the cart myself rather than deal with the bickering and apologizing when they do.
In the scripture lesson from James, we hear that the wisdom from heaven is considerate. When Vicki and I were shopping this afternoon, she was pushing the cart. At one point she pulled it around the corner, ramming into a store worker who was coming the opposite direction. Vicki wasn’t watching where she was going and someone nearly got hurt. Fortunately all was well, but I found myself saying the same thing I do every time, “You need to consider the other people here.” This is true in all circumstances. We do not live in this world alone – we live in community. When driving our cars, in our neighborhoods, at our jobs and schools, we are constantly interacting with other people. It would be nice if the world revolved around us, but it doesn’t. Sometimes we have to consider what will be best for the community rather than what would be best for others. This is not only true with our physical well-being, but also emotionally and spiritually.
Take for instance our corporate worship. There are times when I just can’t stand the song being played – it is too slow, the words do not make sense, or perhaps it brings back sad memories. I would love to just run up to the organist and steal her sheet music. However, I don’t do that. There is a reason that song was chosen, others enjoy it or it gives deeper meaning to the scriptures of the day. It would be very selfish and inconsiderate for me to disrupt our corporate worship for the sake of my own desires.
When I did a thesaurus check on the word considerate, I found it could be interchanged with thoughtful, kind, understanding, caring or selfless. Those with the wisdom from heaven recognize that they are not alone in this world and that other people have needs to be met. Sometimes those people have far greater needs and we have to sacrifice our own for their sake. With God’s wisdom, we take time to consider others, love them and meet their needs the best we can, even if it means that we have to give up something ourselves. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?
“Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?” 1 John 3:16-17 (ASV)
The wisdom of heaven is considerate – those who wise remember that they are not alone in this world and help to meet the needs of others unselfishly. Sometimes this means sacrificing oneself – not necessarily to death, but our wants and desires. If Vicki and Zack want to push the shopping cart, they need to pay more attention so that they do not bring harm to the other shoppers. This might mean they will miss browsing some counters. When we are driving our cars, we need to consider the other drivers, which might mean slowing down or letting someone into traffic at our own inconvenience. With all things, are we thoughtful about our actions and how they will affect others? Are we kind with the way we approach situations, understanding the needs of others as well as our own? Do we care about our neighbors and consider their interests? We can’t sacrifice our lives unto death for another, not like Jesus did. But sometimes we can give up an argument or give someone our place in line. We can share our possessions, time and talents with those in need no matter how it will affect our own lives. This is the wisdom from heaven, given to us by the Holy Spirit for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Follow the leader Do you remember playing this game when you were a kid? I do. We used to play it on the playground during recess at school. It could be a fun game, although I do recall not enjoying it sometimes when certain people lead the train. They always did things that were hard to do, often to provide a chance to ridicule the kids that were unable to physically accomplish the tasks – such as chin-ups on the monkey bars or a cartwheel on the grass. They would stand around watching the attempts, laughing or calling out impatiently. The game was fun any other time, trying to keep up with the leader and remember what they did ahead. If the train is long enough, the last people are so far behind that they can’t even remember what was done along the way, and everyone starts giggling over the foolishness of it all.
“Follow the leader” is a game of submission, where everyone follows one leader and does everything he or she says. It is fun because eventually other kids get to be the leader, and when your turn comes up you get to do the same things with others following you. Submission, however, is viewed in our culture as a negative thing. We think of slaves, abused wives and child labor and consider submission a thing that comes with force. At times those who demand submission are ones who would force people to do things that they cannot or should not do. But we can be greatly blessed by submitting ourselves to one another, but even more so by submitting to God.
“Be subject therefore unto God; but resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall exalt you.” James 4:7-10 (ASV)
The scripture is filled with encouragement for us to submit to one another and to those in authority over us. Wives are called to submit to husbands, slaves to masters, and children to parents. We are told to support the leaders of our nations and our churches. Although submission should never be forced, we live in an imperfect world with sinful people, and sometimes we play follow the leader with those who do things for all the wrong reasons. So, what do we do when the one we are to follow asks us to do something that we are unable or unwilling to do?
Wisdom is submissive, first to God then to one another. How does God feel about this thing you are being asked to do? Does it go against His Word or would it make you turn from Him? Then submit to God and He will protect you. Sometimes, however, submitting to one another can glorify God in wonderful ways, and by doing such we submit also to God. The wisdom from heaven knows that submission – voluntarily following another for the sake of Christ – starts first with God and continues into our relationships with one another. It is an incredible blessing to allow another lead us, even if it is only for awhile, for such an experience can help us to grow in faith and knowledge. In other ways or at another time, we will do the leading with God as our master. Thanks be to God.
Divorce A man named Joe decided to get a divorce. Things had gotten so bad at home – he considered his wife lazy, overweight and ugly. He no longer wanted to live with her and wanted to do whatever he could to make her suffer as he thought he had been suffering in the marriage. He went to a psychologist to find out how he could make life difficult for her before he served the papers. The psychologist suggested that he spend two months treating his wife like a goddess. He should wine and dine her, send her flowers and do everything he can to make her life wonderful. Then, after two months he should pack up and leave. “That should do the trick.” Joe did it. He took her on romantic vacations, sent flowers and made her feel like a goddess. After two months the psychologist called Joe and asked how the divorce was going. Joe said, “Are you kidding? I’m married to a goddess.”*
In yesterday’s post, we looked at the difficult topic of submission. How do we voluntarily follow someone, especially when that person is not a good leader? This is particularly true in relationships such as marriages, where the scriptures are clear about the roles that women and men are to play, but changes in the status of women in our society and our modern understanding of marriage sets aside the idea of man being the head of the household. What makes it harder is the misunderstanding that being ‘the head’ of the household means that the man is allowed to be dominating, manipulative and controlling. Women have been abused in many ways, often unnoticeable by even the participants in the relationship. This is probably what was wrong with Joe. He thought his unhappiness had to do with his wife’s actions, when it reality it was his own attitude that hurt the relationship.
Leadership holds great responsibility. Whether we are a spouse, parent, employer or leader of a group, we will be most successful when we remember that we should be a guide and encourager rather than a dictator. Joe only wanted to control the situation and he showed no mercy to his wife. When he turned his attitude around, had mercy on her and treated at her as if she were a goddess, he began to see her differently. She probably looked different, for when people submit under good leadership they are more likely to follow happily and do well.
“And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest: -- but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” Ephesians 2:1-9 (ASV)
In this life, there are times when we are called to lead and there are times we are called to follow. Yesterday we learned that submission to those in authority could be a blessing, as we learn and grow in our own knowledge and faith. When we are in those times of leadership, we should always remember how God leads His people – with mercy and loving kindness. Wherever the scriptures tell us to submit, the writers put more responsibility on those to whom we are to submit. Husbands are expected to love their wives, parents are expected to care for their children, and masters are expected to treat their servants well. In each case, mercy guides the successful relationship. God was first merciful, making us alive in Christ so that we will live to His glory. When we follow such wisdom from heaven, to lead with mercy, we will find the same thing for those who submit to our leadership. Thanks be to God.
*Story found in “Stories, Illustrations and Quotes” by Robert J. Morgan, from the book “The Fine Art of Friendship by Ted W. Engstrom.
Substitute We all remember what it was like to have a substitute teacher. We tried to take advantage of them, to get away with as much as we can. Even if a substitute is very good, taking over the class of another teacher is quite difficult. You don’t know the children. You don’t know the things that will help get the class under control. If there is a lull in the action, or if all the materials prepared by the teacher are used up, you don’t know where to go for extra work. With the kids trying to get away with misbehavior, a substitute’s task is very trying.
Zack’s teacher has been out of class a few times recently for meetings and workshops with the school district, so they have had a substitute. Yesterday the class faced the wrath of their teacher as she reprimanded them for disrespectful behavior last week. They went too far and the class ended up in chaos. There was even a fight. The worst part about days with substitutes is that the productivity of the children goes down. They lose the momentum they have with their regular teacher and it takes time to make up that work. When working with children, it is important to establish relationships that will get the most out of them. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, to know a child that well. This is why some of the slower learners need to have resource teachers who will be there for them year after year to help them grow and learn and produce good fruit.
God is our teacher. He knows us intimately because He is a part of our lives – not just outwardly, but inwardly also. The Holy Spirit dwells within, giving us that wisdom from heaven that produces good fruit for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we are distracted from that relationship by things of this world, we have only confusion and chaos. Though God never abandons us, there are times we turn away, as if looking for another teacher who might teach us something we want to hear. Unfortunately, when we turn away from God, we look toward the adversary who is Satan, and the fruit that is produced is not good but evil. We are often deceived, even though no one knows us like our Father in heaven. Thankfully, God is always there, nudging us in the right direction, forgiving us for our failings and transforming us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, we have this relationship with God that produces good fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-26 (ASV)
Isn’t it amazing how the fruit of the Spirit is so similar to the very characteristics of wisdom we’ve been seeing for the past few days? That is because of this intimate relationship we have with God through Christ Jesus. As He dwells within us, filling us with the wisdom of heaven, we become so full of Him that He overflows into the world, sharing with others the gifts we have been given. We don’t produce the fruit ourselves; it is God Himself who bears the fruit through us.
The children produce better work when their regular teacher is in the classroom because teaching takes much more than head knowledge. She needs to know the students, how to meet their needs and how to get the best out of them. Substitutes cannot do that because they do not have the time to get to know the children. God knows us so well that He knows exactly how to meet our needs and how to get the best out of us. Only God can bring out the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, for it is His wisdom, His nature, that flows through us into the world that produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Thanks be to God.
Jonah We are all very familiar with the story of Jonah. He was a prophet of God, called to speak God’s Word to the people. He willingly went forth with messages of love and mercy, as well as those of wrath, to his people. One day God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the people. The time of judgment would come quickly, but they had a chance to change. Now, if Nineveh were a town of Jonah’s people, if it were of Israel, Jonah would have gone without question. But Nineveh was an enemy to the people of Israel, had warred against them and killed many. How could Jonah share God’s Word with them and give them a chance to repent?
He decided not to go and ran the other direction. Unfortunately, you can’t run from God and Jonah found himself in the belly of a whale. He prayed to God and asked for forgiveness, and then promised to obey God’s command to go to Nineveh. He preached to the people that time was short and that they should repent of their evil ways. The people heard God’s Word and the Ninevites believed Him. They fasted, wore sackcloth and gave up their evil ways. The LORD had mercy and kept His wrath from falling on them.
But Jonah got angry with God. He wanted his enemy to be punished for their evil ways. He asked God to take his life because he just couldn’t live with that kind of mercy. For Jonah, God’s mercy was only for the chosen ones and everyone else should suffer. Perhaps that sounds like an exaggeration and I do not know very many people who would have such a pompous view of God. Yet, we are just like Jonah and we often show favoritism in some way.
“And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.)” Acts 10:34-36 (ASV)
The wisdom of heaven is impartial. Jesus Christ did not come to the world for only a few people; God’s mercy reaches far beyond our small corner of the world. His salvation is a very personal thing, He came for you and for me, but He also came for all nations. He came for our family and friends, our neighbors and our enemies. He came for those people we like and for those who drive us crazy. Do we favor some people over others? When God calls us to go to Nineveh, do we act like Jonah and run the other way? Do we get angry when God has mercy on those who do us harm?
Peter realized that God’s mercy is not given just for those we want to receive it, but God desires all to turn to Him because He loves us all. Christ does not play favorites, nor should we as we live our lives of faith in Him. Rejoice when God has mercy on your enemy who turns to Him in faith, for in Christ you are then no longer enemies but rather you are brothers. The world would truly be a much better place if we all lived according to this wisdom and loved our enemies by sharing the Gospel of Christ with them so that they will become our brothers in faith. Thanks be to God.
Big Bad Wolf Many children’s stories have as the antagonist a big bad wolf. These characters have traits that include beady eyes, sharp teeth and larger than normal body parts. They are always dressed in some sort of costume that is meant to hide their true identity and they speak as if they are kind and understanding. Yet, their words are always lies meant to trap their victim in some sort of web of deceit. They want to eat the little girl or the pigs or the chicken. Somehow one of the characters realizes that the wolf in sincere and calls it the hypocrite that it is.
I have heard it said that the church is filled with hypocrites and that is why many people do not go to church. I agreed with this assertion until I really started looking at these words for today’s writing. The church is certainly filled with sinners in need of forgiveness, for in this life our flesh is still week and we continue to fail despite the love and mercy of God. We are saved and being transformed by our Lord Jesus Christ and one day we will be perfect as He is perfect. Until that day, we are being perfected, a daily dying to self and growing in faith. Yet, though we are saints and sinners at the same time, most people in church are not hypocrites. We sincerely believe what we hold to be true, but in this imperfect flesh it is impossible to be perfect. This is why we need Jesus.
Hypocrisy is far worse. It is defined as “the practice of expressing feelings, beliefs, or virtues one does not hold or possess: insincerity.” There are some hypocrites in the church, people who do not believe a word of what is spoken but who attend the service anyway. They pretend to believe while undermining the ministry or working to destroy the faith of others. They wear ‘costumes’ to fit in and appear real, but they are like the big bad wolf in the children’s stories that only want to devour their prey. The church is not filled with hypocrites; it is filled with sincere sinners who need Christian fellowship to grow in faith.
“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.” Acts 2:42-47 (ASV)
The church – the fellowship of believers whether local or universal – is how we as believers gather with others to worship the Lord and grow in faith. This passage from the book of Acts shows us a beautiful example of a local congregation. Were these people still in the flesh and did they fail? I am sure they did, and we have the letters from Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude that shows us how even the early church needed correction and reproof. But they worshipped together with glad and sincere hearts. They did not deceive one another with false words or actions. They did not pretend to believe just so they could get something they wanted. They were sincere sinners who needed each other, but most of all they needed Jesus to live in faith.
There are indeed false teachers and false Christians, wolves who set out to deceive our Lord’s sheep. They lie and pretend that they are something they are not. We must discern those who are truly hypocrites from those who are simply growing in the faith they have been given. The wisdom from heaven is sincere. In Christ, we do not lie about our faith; we do not pretend to be something we are not. In Christ we know we need the love and mercy of God for we are sinners in need of a Savior who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
China Martha Stewart once said that we should not be afraid to use our china; she said that sometimes we should pull it out to make an everyday meal something special. Now, these days we are having trouble eating at the table at the same time, but I like the idea. Isn’t it funny though, the main reason we don’t use our china is the main reason we probably should. For many people the china they have comes from their mothers or grandmothers. For others, the china is one of the most expensive possessions they have. The memories and the price are exactly why we should use these dishes. Yet, we don’t because we are afraid something terrible will happen to them.
We tend to set aside the most precious things we have, allow them to gather dust on the shelf as a way to protect them from the dangers of this world. It might not be china for everyone. Some people might have a favorite dress or suit that they rarely wear because they fear stains or tears to the garments. For others it might be a collection of coins or stamps that they don’t want to get lost or ruined, so they never share it with others. There are even some people who are so afraid of dishonoring their Bibles that they sit on a table never opened for fear a page will rip or the binding will crack. I wonder how many of us do the same with the grace of God and the gifts we have been given?
The final sentence in this passage we’ve been seeing all week says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” When we are saved, Jesus does much more than just forgive our sins. He calls us to be disciples and He gives us all we need to follow Him. The Holy Spirit begins to dwell in us, filling us with the wisdom from heaven. He helps us to live actively in that wisdom so that His goodness will flow to others. We become part of the redemption process, sharing the Gospel with others that they too might come to faith. We are the peacemakers, because as disciples we share God’s peace with others. Why would we want to put these gifts on a shelf and let them get dusty when we can share them with others and help our Lord bring in a magnificent harvest?
“And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 (ASV)
This week we have seen the character of God revealed through the wisdom that comes from heaven. He is pure, complete with no need for anything we can give. He is peace-loving, desiring that all His creation be free from fear and conflict. He considers the needs of those He loves as well as those who are adversaries. He is submissive, giving Jesus Christ to die for our sake. He is full of mercy, forgiving the sins of those who turn to Him. He is filled with good fruit, fruit that feeds the hearts and souls of the world with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He is impartial, having no favorites. He is sincere, for there is only truth in the Lord God Almighty. We saw these traits in our Lord Jesus Christ, and now as we live in faith He lives through us. Thanks be to God.