Welcome to the January 2004 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2004
January 1, 2004
New Year’s Day It is January 1st again. Another year has come and gone, leaving us dazed and wondering where the time goes when it flies by so quickly. There have been many events over the past year that have changed the world, yet in our own personal lives there isn’t much different. Once the holiday passes we will go back to our daily schedules of work and school, cleaning our homes and paying our bills. Today is the same as yesterday and will be the same as tomorrow. Yet, I wonder how true that is. Think about your life a year ago. Perhaps everything was the same then as it is now - same home, family, job, and church. Are you still really the same person? I don’t think so. If we are not constantly moving forward, growing and maturing, we are stagnant. If we stay the same, we might as well be dead.
We normally spend a lot of time at the beginning of a new year making resolutions about the things we would like to change, resolutions that often do not last a week or even a day. We start out in the beginning with high hopes and expectations, and then quickly fall back into the old routine. Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the real changes that have occurred over the past year, the deep, inner transformation that has taken place in our hearts and minds. Our resolutions tend to focus on the outer self - the things other see about us such as weight loss, attitude or life choices. The real changes are much deeper, often unseen and unknown to the world. These are the changes that matter, more because they are not the things we can do for ourselves, but the things that God does for us.
Perhaps this is what we should consider as we go into the new year - not what we can do or even what we have done - but rather what God is continually doing in and through our lives. This is a brand new year, but then every day is a new day. We have a chance to make a new beginning with every breath we take. Instead of remembering the past or focusing on the future, now is the time to praise God.
“I will give thee thanks with my whole heart: Before the gods will I sing praises unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, And give thanks unto thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. In the day that I called thou answeredst me, Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks, O Jehovah, For they have heard the words of thy mouth. Yea, they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah; For great is the glory of Jehovah.
It is fun to celebrate the coming of a new year, to look back over the old stories and remember all the things that happened to our world and our own personal lives. It is wonderful to consider all these things mean today and in the future. It is fun to set goals for ourselves for the coming year. At this time, however, it is even more appropriate to remember the source of our greatest gifts and transformation. Jesus Christ brought the dawn of a new day, He is the source of all our new beginnings. Through the grace and mercy of God we are changed, transformed and set on a journey where our pasts are forgotten and our futures are set in His blood. According to our calendar today is the beginning of a brand new year. Let us begin this day with praise and worship for the One who has brought through the past into today and who will be with us until the end of all the ages. Thanks be to God.
Self-motivation Managers look for take-charge people who are willing to take on a task and accomplish it without much supervision. Managers do not have the time to look over someone’s shoulder every other moment, and they are pleased when they find employees who are self-motivated and able to do what needs to be done. This gives the supervisor the time and freedom to do other tasks, making the entire staff more productive. There are some things, however, that are the responsibility of specific persons and should not be taken on by just anyone. For instance, it would be quite disturbing to the manager to discover his stock boy decided to clear the register drawers because there was too much cash inside. What if a janitor bought an office full of new equipment from a door-to-door salesperson? It is not the job of a teacher’s aid to hire and fire teachers in a school.
There are aspects of every business that needs special attention from the person in charge. The stock boy does not know the proper method for dealing with so much cash. The janitor does not have the authority to approve the funding for such a purchase. A teacher’s aid does not have the power to decide which teacher stays and goes. The success of a business depends on these things being handled properly and a self-motivated worker does not always have the knowledge to handle every situation. A good manager would appreciate an employee’s concern and suggestions, but would need to be informed of the situation to make the decisions for the sake of his business.
Jesus was in the business of healing people. He carefully selected twelve men to be trained to follow in His footsteps. He taught them all they needed to go forth and do the work of sharing the Kingdom of heaven with the world. Jesus sent the twelve on a mission to go out to the villages to share the message of God’s mercy. They healed the sick and cast demons out of people. Many came to believe in Jesus because of all they did. They returned excited about all they did, sharing their experiences with Jesus. Some time later Jesus was away with Peter, James and John when a man approached the other nine with his son who was in desperate need of healing. No matter what they tried, they were unable to make the demon leave the boy.
“And he answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him grievously; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? And he said, From a child. And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. And when Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out: and the boy became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and raised him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, How is it that we could not cast it out? And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer.” Mark 9:19-29 (ASV)
The disciples were so confident of their ability to do the work from their previous successes that they forgot the most important thing – that Jesus is the source of their power. They did not take the time to pray, to ask God into the situation and to call on Him for the healing. They tried to do it themselves. There are many things we as Christians can do every day for the sake of the Gospel, to bring the Kingdom of God to the people who are dying in this world. We can love, serve and speak the Word into their lives. We can step forth in faith and do the work of the Kingdom in this world. Yet, we should never forget the source of all we have and look to Him in prayer. God does not want to be the kind of taskmaster that must stand over His people to see every little thing we are doing to share the Gospel. Yet, we should never forget that we can do nothing without Him. Jesus reminded the disciples that they need to turn to Him to accomplish the work, that it is not their own power or authority that brings healing and peace into the lives of those who suffer. May we never forget this lesson and always turn to God in prayer as we take on the tasks we find to do in this live for the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Found! Several months ago Zachary lost a very important document – a membership card from his golf club. They have been patient, allowing him to use a temporary ID until it was found or until they were able to get him a new one. I thought perhaps he had dropped it on the golf course one day. We have been searching at home, through the piles of misplaced cards at the clubhouse in the hopes that it will appear.
With our upcoming move, it was time to do a major cleaning of Zack’s bedroom. Bruce and Zack spent most of yesterday and part of today going through every toy, book and paper, casting away those things that Zack no longer needs. They have done an amazing job, leaving the room clean, organized and ready to be packed. The best part of such a cleaning is that we often find forgotten treasures. Zack found toys he had forgotten, but most importantly, he found his membership card. It really wasn’t very lost, just slipped underneath something on his desk. It was really very easy to find once the unnecessary things were out of the way. Now that the room is clean, he can easily access his favorite toys and have room to play with them. Plus, the boys weeded out a lot of unnecessary garbage from the room. It will be better to pack and unpack in a few weeks.
We keep a lot of unnecessary garbage in our lives, not only in the physical sense, but also in the emotional and spiritual sense. We remember heartaches, harbor bitterness and anger, hold on to favorite doctrine and practices that really do not mean much one way or the other. We get buried under these things and lose sight of the real treasures. Love gets lost under piles of lust and desires. Mercy is hidden by pride and arrogance. Our lives are cluttered and we can’t get them under control. We end up spending more time moving things around, searching for the treasures we know are there but are covered by so many other burdens. We need to be purged of so many things, but we can’t do it ourselves. This is why we need Jesus.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom.
It took both Zack and Bruce to get the room into the condition it is today. Zack could not do it himself. Bruce, Vicki and I have been doing the same thing in other places – purging closets, bookshelves and file drawers of unnecessary stuff so that everything will be ready for the day of our big move. It is never easy to give up the things we hold on to, and we could not do it on our own. We need each other for encouragement and strength. Sometimes all it takes is someone asking, “Do you really need to keep that?” for it to end up in a garbage bag.
Even though we are more than willing to have people help us with the physical aspects of our lives, we all too often think that it would be best to deal with the emotional and spiritual on our own. Thinking that we do not need anyone poking around in our mind or heart, we prefer to suffer out our pain or deal with our questions without someone to help. It is so helpful to have partners for prayer, encouragement and strength. But most of all, we need to remember to turn to the One who can truly purge us of the things that hide the hidden treasures of our lives. Our Lord knows where they can be found in our hearts and souls, and He came to restore us to our Father in heaven so that we might know the greatest treasures of His Kingdom – faith, hope, love, peace and joy - that will be found when the garbage is gone. Thanks be to God.
Fans On the road into Little Rock there is a store that sells lawn statuary. They have fountains, birdbaths, figurines, park benches and many other things made of rock or cement to decorate a yard. For the past few years, I’ve had my eye on one particular piece. It is a three-piece bench. One piece is the head and the other piece is the back end of a razorback. The third piece is a flat connecting block that sits on the two and acts as the seating area. It is all painted a bright red – a must have piece for any University of Arkansas fan. Every time we drive by the store, I joke about needing that for our front yard. It has been particularly funny since we found out we are moving to Texas. The Universities of Texas and Arkansas have been long time rivals on the football field. We decided it probably would not be a good idea to get one of those benches for my new house in Texas.
Fan loyalty is strong. I remember a number of years ago having a discussion with a friend shortly after the Super bowl. My favorite team was playing his favorite team, and my team won. This was the Super Bowl, the national championship. No matter how many times I made him aware of the situation – that his team had lost – he refused to accept that his team was anything but the greatest. “They are number ONE!” he kept insisting. Greatness is in the eye of the beholder.
It is hard to imagine the national of Israel as the greatest nation in the world. There was a time when she was prosperous, having fame and wealth that was known around the world. Yet, for most of her existence she was nothing more than a people, often oppressed by nations much greater, destroyed by their weapons and controlled by their authorities. She had little to offer the world, but she had the greatest gift to give – the One true and living God. Her greatness had nothing to do with money or power. She was great in the eyes of God.
“For thus saith Jehovah, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Jehovah, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither. They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.” Jeremiah 31:7-9 (ASV)
A football team might have a moment of greatness, but tomorrow they will lose to another. Yet, those who love the team will cry out in joy, praising their accomplishments until the end of the age. No matter what they do, win or lose, some fans will always consider them the greatest team. The loyalty can even go too far, in that someone from another team will be a source of anxiety and unease. It makes the diehard fan willing to argue the point whether they have good reason or not.
Israel would not be considered the greatest anything based on their history, wealth or power, particularly at this time. Yet, she is called the chief of nations in the scriptures. Her greatness is in the eyes of one beholder, the Lord God Almighty. He has promised to do great things for His chosen nation, and He has done so. He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, through the weak and powerless so that the weak and powerless will become great. In Christ we who are nothing become heirs to the kingdom of God. When the world looks at Christianity, they see a bunch of sinners in need of a Savior and wonder what is so great about a religion where the main character dies. How can such a religion be great? It is great, not because Christians are perfect or special or powerful, but because God is a loyal fan. He brings us our greatness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
Mute Once in a dream, an angel gave a man a vision of what the world looked like from heaven. The angel took the man to a church while the congregation was in worship. It looked like normal, but the man could hear nothing. Though the people were singing with gusto there was no sound. Though the preacher stood at the pulpit to speak, nothing reached the ears of the man. He asked the angel why it was so quiet. The angel answered, “God hears the worship and praise of the heart. Though these people are here and are joining in the worship, their hearts are far from this place worrying about the things of this world.” The people worshipped in body but not in spirit. Unfortunately, I think this happens to all of us at some point, we have bad days when our minds just can’t focus on the right things.
I do believe, however, that there is a greater danger. Too often, folk think that since they just can’t get into church, they should just stop going. “I can worship anywhere and anytime.” While this may be true, is it enough? I’ve heard some say that instead of sitting around with a bunch of hypocrites for an hour a week, they would rather spend that hour reading their bible. Do they? And if they do, what sort of dwelling are they building for the Lord? Each believer’s heart is truly the dwelling place of God, yet as a body in Christ, the Church is a much greater dwelling. When we drop away from the fellowship of saints, we stop building the body of Christ that is called the Church.
In 538 B.C. the exiles returned from Babylon to begin life anew as the people of God in Jerusalem. The temple had been destroyed; the whole town was a shambles. They went home with great expectations and within two years had completed the foundation of the Temple. They had opposition from the nations, but the people did not fight against the work stoppage. They got lazy and left the Temple of the Lord in ruins while they repaired their homes and lived well in their newfound freedom.
“Now therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith Jehovah. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith Jehovah of hosts. Because of my house that lieth waste, while ye run every man to his own house. Therefore for your sake the heavens withhold the dew, and the earth withholdeth its fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the grain, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands.” Haggai 1:5-11 (ASV)
We spend a great deal of time seeking the good things of life. Sometimes our worry and desires even stand in the way of our praising God for the good things He has already given. While it may be true that many Christians worship half-heartedly, a great many waste their time worshipping all the wrong things by not even joining together in fellowship with Christians. The Temple was not just a place for God to live, but for God’s people to gather together as one to worship. The Temple is no longer a building made of rock and wood, for the Lord God has made His dwelling within the hearts of those who love Him. Yet, He calls us all together to be one Church together. Personal prayer, study and worship is vital to the life of every Christian and should be a regular part of our daily journey. We should never allow our personal growth and maturity in Christ to replace the building we do together as Christians through worship together. God does not live in buildings, but when two or more gather together in His name, God is there. Thanks be to God.
Puzzles We had a fairly relaxing time together over the holidays. Our family gathered at my sister’s house, along with my dad. Though we did some preliminary research and house hunting for our upcoming move, we did take time to just sit around together and enjoy one another’s company. It can get a little boring for the children to be so far from their own things at such a time, so we got out a puzzle to keep them busy. It was a difficult composition – shelves of nutcrackers all lined up in a row. It did not look that hard when we began, but as we tried fitting pieces together we could see it would be a challenge. The combinations of color, the patterns and shapes were similar on nearly every nutcracker. Many pieces looked like they belonged in several spots, and it was just the smallest change in shade or the tiniest bit of another color that made the difference. It was so fun when we had an ‘a ha’ moment, when we found the uniqueness of a piece and its home in the puzzle.
Imagine what it must have been like for the wise men. They knew prophecy; they knew the stars. One day, out of the blue, a star showed up in the night sky and they knew it meant something special. Based on their knowledge, they recognized the star as a sign of a new king. This was not just any king, but a king worthy to be worshipped. So, they traveled a long way, it probably took them two years to find the place toward which the star was leading them. When they arrived they went to Jerusalem, certain that a new king would be born in the palace. Herod’s wise men explained that Jewish prophecy foretold of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem. Herod sent the magi on their way and asked them to return and tell him so that he too could worship the king.
These pieces just don’t seem to fit together. Why didn’t Herod rush along with the magi to go see the long awaited Messiah? Why didn’t they even know the birth had occurred? Why was this king born in such a lowly place at such a difficult time? Why did wise men from far away travel for so long to get a look at a poverty stricken child who did not even have a home of his own? It probably did not make much sense to those who were living the story. This Jesus was not what He seemed.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
Today is Epiphany, the day that we traditionally recognize the coming of the wise men to visit the Christ child. The story really makes no sense at all. Who were these men and why did they come? It becomes much clearer when we realize that Jesus was not just the king of a nation but that He was the Light in the darkness – the Christ, Savior of the world. Jesus was born among the Jews, but He came for us all. They did not recognize Him, they did not see Him as He truly is, the Lord incarnate sent to save them from death and the grave. They saw Him as an obstacle, a threat, to their way of life.
But the wise men knew that He was more. They knew that He was the King of Kings and offered Him gold. They knew He was the Great High Priest and gave Him frankincense. And they knew He would die for His people, so they gave Him myrrh. Perhaps they did not know the big picture, they may not have seen the future to know the way by which Christ would save the world. But they knew He fit, that He was the one worthy of long travel, wonderful gifts and their humble worship. They followed a star, a light in the night sky, to see the true Light of God revealed in the flesh of a small child. They did not come by this on their own, it was the power of God in their lives that led them to see the Word that became flesh. The whole story of Christ seems like a pile of unmatched pieces, until you put them all together and see that Jesus is more than just the child in a manger, but that He is the very Son of God sent to save us all. Thanks be to God.
Donkey There is an Aesop’s fable about a man and a boy taking a donkey to market. Along the path they met people who criticized the way they were taking their journey. First, as they walked beside the animal, the people thought they were foolish for walking when they could ride. They mounted the donkey, but then faced people who criticized them for breaking the back of the animal. The old man got off, allowing the boy to ride and they heard comments about how the boy should allow the old man to ride. When they switched places, the comments were against the old man for making the young boy walk. Finally, the boy and the old man hung the donkey from poles to carry him the rest of the way. Over a river, the ties broke and the donkey fell in the water, drowning. No matter what they did, there was someone ready with a word of criticism. The moral of the story – you can’t please everyone.
I imagine that those who had negative responses to the old man and the boy had very good reason to hold their opinions. We all have experiences that color our thoughts and when we come to some decision about something we do not want to let go. A great many people are willing to discuss issues and listen to others, but it is much harder to admit that our opposition has a very good point and that we are perhaps wrong about something. This is particularly true of discussions about politics or religion, when the opinions have a greater impact on the lives of others. After all, if you are wrong about an issue of doctrine or social justice, it could be a matter of life or death. So, we passionately hold on to our opinions about these things, even when we are proven wrong, because it means that we had been living a falsehood.
The people in Jesus’ day and in the days that followed did not want to hear what He had to say. They put Him to death because He spoke against the things that meant the most to them. Their righteousness was dependent on the Law and on all the happened in the Temple. When Jesus spoke out against their tradition and practice, they refused to hear what He was saying. The disciples followed Jesus. They were also rejected because the Jews would not listen, despite the fact that there was no argument that could stand against their words.
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people. But there arose certain of them that were of the synagogue called the synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake. Then they suborned men, who said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and seized him, and brought him into the council, and set up false witnesses, who said, This man ceaseth not to speak words against this holy place, and the law: for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered unto us. And all that sat in the council, fastening their eyes on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” Acts 6:8-15 (ASV)
The old man and the boy displayed one extreme when it comes to opinions – they listened to all their critics and did whatever they said, rather than considering what was best for them on their journey. Because they listened to everyone, they ended up loosing their donkey. The Jews who knew Stephen went to the other extreme and not only refused to listen to his words but they did all they could to stop his preaching. There may or may not have been a right way for them to take the donkey to market, but there was definitely a right way to understand the Kingdom of God. They rejected Jesus and then Stephen even though the words they spoke meant the difference between life and death, because they were so caught up in their own opinions that they could not see how the new thoughts were right and true.
Things don’t change. Even today we are more than willing to hold on to the things we believe passionately about, even when we are proven wrong, because to give them up would mean admitting that we had been living falsely. Just once I would love to hear a politician or theologian admit, “I had never looked at it like that, but you are absolutely right.” For the Jews such an admission would have meant the difference between salvation and death.
Penn and Teller My favorite magicians are Penn and Teller. They are entertainers, giving the audience more than the shock and awe of a normal magic show. They are humorous and educational. Most of all, I like their honesty. When they do a trick, they show how it is done, so that the people will understand how they have manipulated the natural to create something that appears supernatural. The tricks are still amazing, perhaps even more so because we’ve seen how it is done. Once I saw them do a trick with tissue ghosts. They were able to make these tissue ghosts fly into the air without use of strings. When the trick was complete, the camera zoomed out to show that Penn and Teller had been hanging upside down for the entire trick – perhaps five minutes long. Have you tried to hang upside down for that long? It would be difficult, especially without showing signs of in the face, hair or mannerisms. The trick was a joke, there was no magic involved in making those tissue ghosts fly, but the overall affect was stunning.
Most magicians do not like Penn and Teller because they think their method takes away from the mystique of the genre. Magic is nothing more than the manipulation of the natural; sometimes the effect of the manipulation seems supernatural. Whenever we try to change things by our own power, we are using a form of magic, even if we do not realize it. We do this mostly with people – manipulating the situation for our best interest, trying to get the world to do what we want it to do. I have even seen Christians do this with their gifts, manipulating circumstances to make it appear as if they have more power than they really have. Unfortunately, there are many people who are willing to take advantage of people’s faith by creating the illusion of God’s power when they are really just manipulating the circumstances to their own advantage. False prophets, healers and teachers are abundant in our world today.
Some of the stories in the Bible make it seem as if this is the way God does things, so the false teachers use the stories to appear as the men of God of old. The feeding of many, the healings of sickness and raising from death, the stories that tell of water being made clean make the prophet appear to be magicians, bringing something out of nothing.
“And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto Jehovah. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon him; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house once to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground; and she took up her son, and went out.” 2 Kings 4:32-37 (ASV)
The difference between the miracles of the prophets and the magic of the false prophets is that the real does not do these things to put on a show. They do not manipulate the circumstances, but instead take their troubles to the Lord in prayer and seek His hand and power to make a difference. They do not do their healing for an audience, often denying that anything spectacular even happened. The actions of Elisha in this story appear as though he is performing some sort of magic. As a matter of fact, I’m sure I’ve seen magicians do something similar in their act – as if covering the person with their body will create some sort of change in the person. With Elisha, it was not magic but rather the way by which God instructed him to bring healing to the child. Elisha did this behind closed doors and only with prayer to the One who could bring the child back to life.
God can’t be manipulated. He does answer prayer when it is asked with a humble heart for His glory. There are too many who create the illusion of God’s blessings on a congregation by manipulating the circumstances to appear as though God is moving. Many aspects of worship are designed to create an atmosphere that causes emotional and spiritual highs; people are drawn into the experience by those around them. God can, and certainly does, move among His people when they worship Him in spirit and truth. But beware of those who are not real and honest, for the illusion is nothing more than a manipulation of the natural and is not at all from God.
Elvis Yesterday was Elvis Presley’s birthday. If he were still alive, he would be sixty-nine years old. Graceland, his magnificent Memphis home, is having four days of celebrations including dinners and displays. Visitors can attend a special tour of Graceland and see what life was really like for the king of rock and roll. Collectors have gathered to share memorabilia with other fans at shows. All around the country, restaurants are having parties to celebrate the day, inviting Elvis impersonators to perform. In Las Vegas, hundreds of people dressed like Elvis attended a party.
I have never quite understood the hold Elvis still has on the world. People are fascinated with his life, wanting in many ways to be like him. I saw stories this morning of people who have decorated their homes with items similar to Elvis’, such as his gate and his car. Many people enjoy dressing up in costumes like he wore when he performed. Many have made it their vocation to sing and act like Elvis, performing his songs for fun or for money. All these people have kept Elvis young as we continue to see his movies on the television and his face on the news. It is hard to imagine that he would be sixty-nine years old because we still see him as the good looking young man from his glory days.
I suppose it was Elvis’ charisma that drew people to him when he was alive, and his fans want to preserve what he had in those days long past. He is certainly not the best role model. His life was chaotic, his relationships broken, his health unstable. He suffered in many ways, often because of his own failures. But he was charming and sexy, had a voice that could melt the coldest heart and eyes that could drive any woman wild. Who wouldn’t want to have that kind of affect on the world?
The pictures we have of Jesus are somewhat deceiving. In some of them, it appears that Jesus is a handsome, charismatic man with beautiful blue eyes and soft blond hair. It is more likely that he would be dark skinned and rough from traveling the dusty roads, with dark eyes and dark hair. He was probably healthy and perhaps strong, but it is unlikely that he would have won any best-looking man contests. Yet, he had something that drew people. His charisma was deeper than that of Elvis Presley. Jesus had the power of God and the Holy Spirit to draw people into his heart and ministry. He had a deep and abiding love for those who heard His word and followed. But His example is much different than the one we have from Elvis.
“And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all the things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel, and girded himself. Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” John 13:2-5 (ASV)
This was a strange thing for Jesus to do, so strange that Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus insisted, saying that He had to do it for Peter to be one of His. When He was finished, Jesus sat again with His disciples and asked them what He had done. They really did not understand, because washing a person’s feet was a task so far below Jesus’ position in their company. Only the lowest of all the servants ever cleaned feet. Jesus explained that since He was their teacher and was willing to humble Himself for their sake, they too should follow His example and humble themselves for others. The example Jesus gave to His disciples for living was a life of service, willingly helping another.
It is rather amazing how many people like to impersonate the king of rock and roll. Elvis has millions of fans world wide, all who are willing to celebrate his birthday though he passed away so long ago. Though we remember Jesus, I am not so sure that there are so many who are willing to follow His example, to live the life of active service He called His people to live. Would you be as willing to wash the feet of your neighbor as you would be to dress up like Elvis?
Explorer Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer who lived in the late 19th, early 20th century. He is known for several major accomplishments, including being the first man to reach the South Pole. He beat Robert Scott’s party by only a month. He was the first to navigate the entire Northwest Passage, from the East Coast of America to the Pacific Ocean. He was the first to fly over the North Pole, using a dirigible in 1926. He was also the first to discover the magnetic meridian of the North Pole. He made several trips to the top of the world. On one trip he took along a homing pigeon. When he arrived, he let the homing pigeon go. It arrived at his home some time later, much to the joy of his wife. When she saw the pigeon she exclaimed, “He’s alive! My husband is still alive!”
My husband is not an explorer, but military wives understand the joy that Roald’s wife must have felt. Exploring is dangerous work as is the military. At times when our husbands go away on a trip, we do not know if we will ever see them again. A letter, a phone call, but especially word that he is on his way home brings an overwhelming sense of relief.
How hard it must have been for the disciples when Jesus was about to go away. Despite His promises, they thought they knew they would never see Him again. Even after the forty days He spent in their presence after He rose from the dead, it must have been hard to believe that He was really alive. Then, when He left them to go be with the Father, they must have felt a million different emotions – abandonment, discouragement, uncertainty, and doubt. Could they really do all He was asking of them? How, if He were not with them?
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you.
The promised Counselor was sent at Pentecost, and from that moment the Spirit of God lived in all those who believe. Even though Jesus is not with us in flesh, we know He is alive because His Spirit dwells in our hearts and among His people. Imagine the joy of that moment, when the disciples were unsure of what to expect and the Holy Spirit came upon them with such power. “He’s alive!” Like Roald Amundsen, He sent a sign of His life to those He loved, so that they would know He was not gone forever. The Spirit came to them like a dove, like tongues of fire. But most of all, they knew by the power that Jesus was alive and with them forever, just as He had promised. Jesus continues to dwell among His people by the power of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us each like a dove to make us sure that Jesus is alive and dwelling among us now as He did so long ago. Thanks be to God.
Evangelism Dawson Trotman founded the organization that is known as the Navigators. They encourage evangelism, but mostly they teach discipleship. Being a Christian is far more than becoming a Christian. Many people have heard the Gospel, yet have not taken it beyond the initial belief. They go about their lives as if nothing has changed. Dawson learned this the hard way. He witnessed to all those who crossed his path, leaving the scene high on the knowledge that another person has come to know Christ. He even picked up hitchhikers in the hopes that he might share Christ with them. One day, however, he picked up a man that looked familiar. He quickly remembered that he had taken the same man just a year before, having left him and “sped on his merry way” with no concern about what would be next for the man. A year later, the man was the same, there was no change in his life. His witness might have given the man a peak at Christ, but he never followed up and the man did not go beyond the initial acceptance of Jesus.
Dawson learned a valuable lesson that day, and went back to check on others he had led to Christ. He was disappointed to discover that most were unchanged. They needed more than a hit and run evangelist. They needed mentoring, teaching, encouragement. They needed the fellowship of other Christians, someone to guide their maturation in faith. After this incident, Dawson began spending time with those to whom he witnessed.
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John: and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him: and when he was come, he helped them much that had believed through grace; for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” Acts 18:24-28 (ASV)
One of the greatest joys about our faith in Jesus Christ is that God has made us part of something much bigger than ourselves. We do not come to faith alone – He provides the great cloud of witnesses that comes before to give us what we need to become disciples of Christ. The saints of past share their testimony and teach about what it means to be a Christian. We are drawn into fellowship with others, to worship God together and grow in faith.
Unfortunately, many people receive the witness of someone like Dawson Trotman, who hits and runs, leaving the new believer to fend for themselves. They often make an attempt to grow. I know many new Christians rush out and buy bibles and studies. Without guidance and encouragement from mature Christians, however, they come up with strange doctrine or just fall away. Sometimes they rush out to be evangelists themselves, teaching a false Gospel that does not save. Apollos was an intelligent man, knew the scriptures and had come to believe in Jesus. But he needed more. He needed the guidance of mature Christians to fully understand what it meant to be a Christian. When Apollos was mentored, he became an awesome witness. Thanks be to God.
Change of Address There are two things that I hate most about moving. I spent the best part of this morning taking care of the first – changes of address. For the past few days I have been taking notes about the organizations and businesses that need to know we are leaving. Today I called to cancel some of those services – phone, cable and newspaper. I have collected together the subscription addresses for all our periodicals and I will send letters in the next few days. I still need to contact our bank and inform our creditors, but those will generally take care of themselves as I pay the bills. It is not a difficult job, just time consuming.
The more difficult task is saying good-bye. We have less than three weeks before we leave and we are already having teary moments when friends realize that it is the last time we will do something together. My schedule is getting filled with lunch dates and going away parties. Most of our friends are excited for us. They will miss having us around, but they know this is a wonderful opportunity for the entire family. There are a few for whom this news has been devastating, especially the children’s friends.
Paul knew what it was like to say good-bye. He traveled extensively sharing the Gospel message in many different towns. Each time he established a new church, he came to love those people as if they were his own children. He often refers to the people of those congregations as sons, and tells of his love and longing to see them again.
“But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire: because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 (ASV)
The world has changed significantly, but in many ways not so much. When Paul moved to a new town, he did not have to go to all the trouble of sending change of address cards or having utilities turned off. It was a simpler existence. It did not make it any easier to leave.
When we make our lives in a place, we come to love it and those who we identify with it. I am so very excited about this move because the opportunities for us all are wonderful, yet I feel bad about being happy. I do not want anyone to think that I revel in leaving them. We still miss old friends from previous assignments, and greatly enjoy hearing from them wherever we have settled. I’m sure Paul was much the same. He knew there was work to do elsewhere, that there were people waiting to hear the Word of God and believe in Jesus. He could not stay in one place forever, the Spirit moved him to travel to the ends of the world to share the Gospel of Christ. But he still longed for those he loved. Good-byes are never easy. We can only go forth in the faith that God is with us wherever we go and that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are never far apart. Whether we are a mile away or a thousand miles, the Holy Spirit binds us together in a way that the world cannot break. Our world has become much smaller in so many ways – email keeps us closer, travel is much easier. Perhaps one day we will be together again in this world, but we can live in the knowledge that we see one another again. Thanks be to God.
Reformers This week we celebrate the lives of two very different men. Both are considered renewers of society, but they lived in different eras and did not have the same impact on the world around them. Though the national holiday is next Monday, Thursday is the traditional day to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King boldly proclaimed the equality of all men and women despite race. He was a pastor and took his preaching to the streets. At that time many people preferred to change things using violence, but Dr. King was passionately nonviolent.
George Fox came from a different time and place, but his preaching also impacted society. This 17th century preacher lived in England and became disillusioned with the church in which he was raised. He found no comfort in the teachings, so he broke off all relationships, even with his family. He became a traveling preaching, emphasizing the light of Christ in the hearts of believers, which is the true source of comfort and peace in this world. He preached against slavery and began the abolitionist movement in England. He also founded a fellowship of believers called the Quakers, as others followed his example and traveled to preach. They eventually settled down into communities that are known for a more mystical worship. When they gather together they quietly wait for the presence of the Holy Spirit to join them, spending much of their worship in silence.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Fox approached the issues of their day from different perspectives, Dr. King on a more practical level and George Fox on a spiritual. Yet, both ministries were founded on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. They both undoubtedly faced persecution for their work – Fox was harassed and imprisoned, King was killed. Neither allowed it to stop what they knew should be done.
“But ye, beloved, remember ye the words which have been spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; That they said to you, In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have mercy, who are in doubt; and some save, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen.” Jude 1:17-25 (ASV)
Our world is different than it was in the 17th century and even than it was in the middle of the 20th century. Yet, we continue to face issues that need to be dealt with, hearts still need to know the comfort and peace that come from life in Christ. The people need to hear the message of the Gospel, both in practical and spiritual terms. Everyone needs to know about the light that is Christ, the love from God that was incarnate in the man Jesus Christ. Though we may not ever do so in a manner that will be remembered like King and Fox, we are all called to share this message with the world in which we live. We will face persecution, but what matters most is that we keep our focus on the one thing that will truly change the world – our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
Knife A police officer, when speaking at an award ceremony, told a story about a woman he met on the job. He was talking to this woman who had just stabbed her husband with a knife. She asked the officer if she could have the knife back. He wondered why and asked her the reason. “It was part of a set. I got it as a wedding present.” To her, the item she received as a gift was more important than the relationship that was created. We do not know the circumstances of the stabbing, perhaps her husband had become abusive and the knife was a form of self-defense. Yet, we can still wonder about her priorities if keeping a knife was so important.
She is not much different than the rest of us, though her situation is somewhat extraordinary. We too, however, have some things that mean far more to us than the relationships that are part of lives. We see this in the husband who works 80 hours a week to support his family’s desires for an expensive house with all that goes with it. I have known too many who buy homes that are beyond their financial ability and then grumble every day as they work overtime to pay the bills and manage the property. Of course, life circumstances change and sometimes we have to face financial difficulties. The trouble comes when we deal with such situations in a way that ruins relationships and the things that matter. Children are lost to gangs and drugs while parents leave them unattended to go to work. Spouses are forgotten and marriages die because there is no time or energy to build on the relationship. In extreme cases, people are willing to steal, lie and kill for the sake of the property.
“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? My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth. Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him: because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.” John 3:16-24 (ASV)
It is not bad to have pretty things or nice houses. Material blessings are a gift from God as much as that which satisfies our physical and spiritual needs. The trouble comes when things become the priorities of our lives and when the keeping of those things becomes the most important center of all we do. Our children need a roof over their heads, but they also need our love, time and guidance.
The woman with the knife wanted to keep it because it was important to her. It was a wedding present, and yet the marriage itself seems to have meant little because she was willing to use the symbol to possibly destroy the commitment. We tell our children, our spouses, our neighbors and others how much we love them, yet we spend so much time keeping up with an unsustainable lifestyle that we lose touch with those we love. We can say we love someone a thousand times, but they are empty words when we spend more time for the sake of our material possessions than we do with those we claim to love. Our needs are not just physical. We need love, companionship, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Let us never focus so heavily on the material gifts we love that we want them more than the relationships God has given to meet our deeper needs. Thanks be to God.
Disaster Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific of all the inventors, having patented more than a thousand inventions throughout his life. He focused on communications, developing telegraphic equipment, transmitters and receivers. With the money earned from successful inventions, he set up the first large scale industrial research laboratory. He is also known for his work with incandescent lighting and generators. He only made one significant scientific discovery, but he did not find a practical use for the finding so he did not pursue it. It is thought that his success was due more to perseverance than any special insight. He is quoted as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
In December 1914, his laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey caught fire, destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment and research. The record of his life’s work was wiped out. Edison’s son found his father watching the burning building. “My heart ached for him,” Charles said. “He was no longer young and everything was being destroyed. He spotted me. ‘Where is your mother?’ he shouted. ‘Find her. Bring her here. She’ll never see anything like this again as long as she lives.’” The next day as he walked through the charred remains of his work, Edison said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Edison was not a young man at the time, but he knew that we can always bounce back better than ever.
We all face disaster in our lives and somehow we find the strength and courage to bounce back. Illness is overcome; loss is regained. Most people are able to take adversity and make their lives better for it. It usually takes the help of others – a word of encouragement or an offer of support. Disaster is not permanent, though it may seem like it is. There is only one thing that cannot be overcome with perseverance or resilience, death. Only in Christ do we bounce back from the death of our flesh, though there are those who do not think this is important or even possible.
“Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ASV)
Charles Edison thought the fire was the end of his father’s career, but Thomas knew that there would be a tomorrow. Those who look forward with hope to what can happen after disaster find themselves stronger and better for the adversity. There are those who are truly devastated by illness or fire, who just can’t seem to overcome. When it comes to death, the difficulty is even greater because death is permanent. Those with no hope face the loss of a loved one with emotions that are impossible to overcome – mourning, fear, regret, anger, hatred and confusion. While we are face those emotions because death is difficult for those left behind, those who believe in Christ have His strength to help them triumph. If there is nothing, no way to bounce back after death, then our faith is in vain. But we know that Christ has been raised and in Him we too are raised to a new life. All our mistakes are burned away and we start anew in the eternal kingdom of God, to live and love forever. Thanks be to God.
Immediate We live in an immediate world. We can communicate within seconds with anyone around the world. We get our news as it happens, no matter where it is happening. We have drive-thru restaurants that provide hot meals with little wait. Fast food, fast cars, fast women – so they say. It is hard for us to wait for anything since almost everything is available on demand. Even marriage can be had without the wait at drive through chapels in Las Vegas.
We knew the possibility existed that we might get this new job in San Antonio well before we had an answer. It took weeks, nearly two months, to hear that Bruce was selected and that we would be moving. It is a very difficult wait. With every passing day I kept thinking about all the work that would need to be done to prepare our house for packers. I had closets to clean, stuff to purge, possessions to organize. As every moment passed, I wondered if I would be able to accomplish everything in time. I did a few small tasks, but the major work would not begin until we had a definite answer.
Moving day is now approaching rather quickly. It is hard to believe how much we have accomplished in this short span of time. Even still, I’m not sure I will really believe it is happening until everything is finished – until that day we are finally settled in a new house with a new life. We still have responsibilities here in Arkansas; there are things we are expected to accomplish. Though I have to look ahead to what will be, I simply can’t imagine that new life until this one is complete. But then, some things take time until they are absolutely complete. Even though we can know in the future things will be different, it will be awhile before we come to that point.
“The Jews therefore answered and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he spake this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:18-22 (ASV)
Jesus told the disciples many things during the three years of His ministry, yet they often did not fully understand what he was talking about. It was not until after it was all complete, after His death and resurrection, that they could see He was speaking about things they could not see. Everyone assumed that He meant He would destroy the actual temple in Jerusalem, several people later referred to this very remark particularly during His trial. Jesus meant something far different because He was not only working in the natural but also in the spiritual.
We do indeed live in an immediate world; anything we desire is available at the snap of our fingers. Yet, there are some things that take time, things we cannot truly know until everything has been complete. Our new life in Texas is a promise that will come into fruition in time. We can see glimpses of what it will be like now, but we will not really know all God has in store until we get through the move. The disciples heard Jesus say many things that did not make sense until after He was raised from the dead.
We experience the same thing on our own faith journeys; times when we wish we better understood what God was saying in the scriptures or why things are happening to us. In God’s time and God’s way, He reveals the fullness of His promises and we remember back to those times He spoke to us through scripture and we then believe it to be true. Thanks be to God.
Stonehenge Since Zack’s school is a magnet school with an International Studies focus, each of the classrooms is named after another nation, such as Spain, Kenya, Monaco or France. At the beginning of the year, each teacher chose a country; most tried to tie their country to something in the regular curriculum of that grade level. Since there is a heavy focus in history on early American history, Zack’s teacher chose Great Britain as their nation. She had no idea when she was doing so that we had spent four years living there and could share so much about the culture, history and people. Each week I spent twenty to thirty minutes sharing some memories, showing them pictures and maps, teaching them about the kings and queens.
I enjoyed doing this for the class because it is important to understand the similarities and differences of other countries, particularly when they have played such a major role in our own history. It has been interesting to see their faces light up when they made connections between what I was teaching and what they were learning in their other subjects. Most of all, I enjoyed sharing my own memories, talking about the things we did and saw on our travels.
Of course, on of my favorite and most memorable experiences was the day my sister and I visited Stonehenge. A number of years ago the preservationists became concerned about the state of decay of this ancient monument. They built a fence around the site to limit the number of people and surrounded the stones with a rope, keeping everyone about twenty-five feet away. It was possible, however, to get special permission to visit the site and have access to the stones. It cost a little bit extra and meant going before or after normal hours, but it was worth the trouble.
Bonnie and I spent an hour walking amongst the stones, taking pictures and experiencing the site in a way most people are no longer able. We were especially blessed because one of the security guards gave us a private tour of some of the more interesting aspects of the site. While we were inside, a number of visitors had stopped along the road to see Stonehenge, and were upset that we were wandering around inside. “Hey, why do they get to be in there and we can’t?” We had made the arrangements necessary.
“And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel? He saith, Yea. And when he came into the house, Jesus spake first to him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from strangers? And when he said, From strangers, Jesus said unto him, Therefore the sons are free. But, lest we cause them to stumble, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.” Matthew 17:24-27 (ASV)
The temple tax was paid by all men over twenty years old to help pay for the upkeep of the temple. The tax collectors went to Peter and asked why Jesus had not paid the tax. This was just another way to trap Jesus and make Him look bad to His followers. Peter thought he was protecting Jesus by jumping at the chance to pay the tax. Jesus did pay, but He taught Peter a lesson in the experience – they were sons of God, members of the God’s own house. There was no tax they needed to pay. To the tax collectors, it was the tax that made them part of the temple. To Jesus, the tax was only for those who are outside the family of God. We too are children of God, members of His household, and given great and wonderful blessings that those outside the family do not receive – grace, hope, love, joy and peace. Thanks be to God.
Painting I took art as an elective when I was in school. We have a few pieces I did hanging on our walls, including a painting and a piece done with pen and ink. I recently found photographs of several other pieces I had done and gave to friends. I really enjoyed making those pieces and have often thought about taking it up again. I have even gone out and bought paint, canvases and the equipment I would need for pen and ink. I have even played with the paint a bit, trying to get the feel again and become inspired to make something new. In my mind I can imagine a piece or two and I have some ideas for possible illustrations that might go with a devotional book.
No matter how many ideas I come up with, I seem to come up with even more excuses not to get around to it. We don’t have room in the house; I don’t have time to work on it. I tell myself that it is better to put all my energy into writing or the other things I do. These excuses sound good, but they are just covering for the real reasons. I really don’t think I could do it, besides there are people who are much better than me. I might as well let them do the painting and I’ll devote my time to other things. I’ve been inspired, but fear and excuses have kept me from trying.
I’m sure I am not the only person to deal with this. Everyone has something they think about doing but they never get around to it. Most of the time there are valid reasons, but that does not diminish the fact that they are avoiding inspiration. This is particularly true of that which God inspires in us. God does not just call people to ordained ministry. He calls us each to do a thousand little things to glorify Him in this world. Have you ever felt the need to write a letter or make a phone call, then later discover that you made a difference in that person’s life? You were inspired by God to do something for another, and through it God brought healing and peace. God quietly speaks thoughts into our lives that we either respond to or we find a million excuses to avoid.
“Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:13-17 (ASV)
God Himself revealed to Peter the truth of Jesus’ nature. That He is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, is not something we can know on our own. It must be given to us by God almighty. Peter was then inspired to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the truth. This is a revelation that God has made to each of us, and inspired us to confess our own faith in Him. Yet, there are many in the world have had the same inspiration, who have seen Christ revealed by the Father but have refused to believe. They have a million excuses why it cannot be true, reasons why they will not speak the words that will bring healing and peace into their own lives. They have rejected the inspiration and continued to live in the darkness of a world without faith. There is always hope, however, so we are called to continue to speak the Gospel into their lives so that one day the revelation will become real and the excuses will be cast aside for the saving grace of God’s love. He doesn’t give up on us whether He is calling us into His kingdom or calling us to do something that will glorify Him in the world. By His hand through our lives they will know Him. Thanks be to God.
Definitions Zack’s class has a list of vocabulary words every week that they need to learn to spell and to use properly. The vocabulary is generally related to their other lessons – words from Social Studies, Math and Science find their way on to the list. Their homework includes writing the words three times and finding the definitions for each word. They study the words throughout the week and are then tested on that list on Friday. Some of the words are difficult to spell and hard to define, but these words augment the other lessons they are learning.
I watched his teacher give the spelling test last week. She does not simply read off the words and expect the children to spell them, she gives them an opportunity to talk about their meaning. She might ask a question, “What would you call…?” or “A so-and-so that does this and that is what?” The children raise their hands and show their knowledge of the words and then they write the words on their paper. I was impressed by their knowledge of such difficult words, but I noticed sometimes they did not really know what word the teacher was referring to with her descriptions.
Vocabulary is not one of my greatest assets. I am thankful for Microsoft Word that helps me find my spelling errors, and I admit to using the online Thesaurus much more often than I ought. I was in a chat room one day while several people were discussing some issue. Though I do not even recall the topic of the conversation, I do remember that the chatters used words that I did not even know. I felt so dense because the discussion was meaningless without understanding those words. So, I looked them up on an online dictionary so that I could follow the dialogue with much more comprehension.
Even the most intellectual people can be dense about some things. We can misunderstand the intent of a conversation or misinterpret a person’s meaning. Words have different meanings from person to person, or we put a different focus on the ways the word can be used. We put our own experience into the stories we hear and expect them to have the same meaning as the other’s telling. We make assumptions every day and end up in conflict because we did not really understand what was being said.
“And the disciples came to the other side and forgot to take bread. And Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, We took no bread. And Jesus perceiving it said, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have no bread? Do ye not yet perceive, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not perceive that I spake not to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then understood they that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:5-12 (ASV)
The disciples thought they knew what Jesus was talking about, but He was referring to the spiritual things while they were thinking in the natural. We often do the same thing when we are in conversation with others. We do not know the definitions of the words, or the way our opponent is using them, so we make assumptions about their meaning. The children blurted out several different answers to one question, showing that the word was a confusing one to them. I have listened to conversations that have made no sense because one person means one thing and the other person means another, despite the fact that they are using the same language. We can be even more dense when it comes to the spiritual things. The disciples had spent so much time with Jesus and even they could not understand what He was talking about. The only way to overcome our misunderstanding is to continue to learn and grow, and we will discover the depths of God’s love through His Word. Thanks be to God.
Signs We knew for several weeks about the possibility of a move, but we did not tell anyone until we were certain that it was going to happen. In that time, I began to do small chores around the house such as cleaning out the craft closet. It was a job that needed to be done whether we were going to move or not, but it has made my tasks easier in this short amount of time. After we had word, it took some time to inform everyone. Even now I wonder if there is someone I should call to let them know that I will not be around for some regular event in which I’ve participated over the years.
The other day I was somewhat surprised to discover a neighbor we had not told was aware of our moving. I wondered how they could possibly have known since they had been gone over the holidays. As I think about it, however, I would say it is probably pretty obvious there is an upcoming change. We have been taking down the decorations on the outside of our house. Our garbage has grown significantly in the past few weeks as we have cleaned through papers and gotten rid of broken toys, dirty clothes and unwearable shoes. Bruce has taken two pick-up trucks full of stuff to Good Will. We are giving things away – fish, carpets, books and food. Though we have not talked about our move with everyone, the signs are quite visible.
St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.” This is a valuable lesson for all Christians to know. Evangelism is not just a particular task that we do once in awhile when we meet someone who does not know Jesus. It is a life we live so that all those who do not know Christ, whether we are aware of it or not, will see Him through out witness of action and He will be glorified. It does not diminish the need to speak the words, but rather increases the necessity of our living the Gospel at every moment, not just when it is convenient or necessary. As we praise God in our thoughts, words and deeds, His greater work is made known to the world.
“God be merciful unto us, and bless us, And cause his face to shine upon us; Selah That thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee. Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For thou wilt judge the peoples with equity, And govern the nations upon earth. Selah Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee. The earth hath yielded its increase: God, even our own God, will bless us. God will bless us; And all the ends of the earth shall fear him.” Psalm 67 (ASV)
Our blessedness, the visible sign of God’s mercy on our lives, shines out to the world so that they will see and fear Him. Those who fear the Lord are those who honor Him with their entire lives and live according to His Will because they revere Him. Witnessing and evangelism is never about causing the people to be afraid of God Almighty, but rather to show His great and mighty works to the world so that they too will sing songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving. In all we do, though we might not always verbally make the Gospel known to our neighbors, we can speak it to them in the visible witness of our lives. Thanks be to God.
Glass In the opening scene of the movie “Sweet Home Alabama” the main characters as children witnesses the effect of lightning on sand. They were on a beach in the middle of a thunderstorm when lightning struck very close to where they were standing. The heat of the strike melted the sand into an interesting sculpture that looked much like a tree in winter. This sculpture inspired the young man to become a glass worker and he eventually created a business out of his beautiful creations.
It is hard to imagine that grains of sand can come something clear, practical and beautiful as glass. Yet, humans have had the knowledge and capability to make glass for millennia. Even the Romans had windows and mirrors in their villas. It was not as clear as we have today, but the techniques for glass making have developed over the years. We now know how to make the furnaces hotter and how to prepare the materials so that the glass will become perfectly clear and shaped. It is fascinating to watch a glass blower at work, creating bottles or vases out of the hot, molten glass. There is no way to change sand into glass without putting it through intense work and heat, and once it is glass it can never be sand again. It can be ground and reused, but it will never again be as it once was.
“But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come? Thou foolish one, that which thou thyself sowest is not quickened except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, The first man Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 (ASV)
It is natural for us to wonder what it will be like when we die. We who live in Christ know that we have eternal life and in that day we will see His face and live with Him forever, but we do not have a complete understanding of the life we will have in heaven. Throughout history artists and writers have tried to imagine and describe in words or pictures, but it is impossible for human means to fully portray the things of God. The glory of God cannot be put on paper or in words. Someone once explained that heaven would be like taking the best of everything in this world and magnifying it a thousand times. The love we have for our spouses and children will be magnified well beyond our human capability, because we will be living in the presence of Love Himself. The beauty of a field full of wildflowers pales in comparison to what we will see in that day. Food will taste a hundred times better than a meal created by a master chef.
The sand is burned until it melts so that it can be made into a window, vase or dish. The seed dies to be transformed into a living plant. Our bodies will also go through a transformation. In this life we might suffer through intense work and heat as God makes us new for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eventually we will die in the flesh, but this is not the end. We will be raised with Christ into something new, to live forever in His presence and praise Him throughout eternity. Thanks be to God.
Alliance I have not watched any of the survivor type reality television shows, but we enjoyed watching the show called “The Amazing Race” that was on last fall. These shows begin with several groups of people, then weekly someone is kicked off. They each have their own way of choosing the losers. In “The Amazing Race” the teams of two are sent on a scavenger hunt, with the objects being clues to the next destination. Throughout each show, the teams have to perform specific tasks. The teams must show physical strength, courage and fitness as well as intellectual and emotional aptitude. It is tough, but hopefully by the end of the show, the winner is the team that really is the best in every way.
However, sometimes it does not happen. I’ve seen people who deserve to lose get help from others, putting them ahead of the real winners. Teams often made alliances, helping one another through tough times. In an alliance, one team that may not have really known the best way to handle the situation would get help from the team that did, leaving all the other teams behind. The trouble with alliances is that they are easily broken. At times they did not even verbally break the agreement, they just took off, leaving their ally stranded. Then they gained an enemy, someone willing to go out of the way to stop the team from winning. Alliances are not always a good thing.
We’ve seen this throughout history. In one century, countries worked together but by the next they were sworn enemies. In just the twentieth century, we saw so much change in the relationships between countries that it is still hard to know for sure if a country is an ally or an enemy. It is human nature to do what is best for the self, refusing to risk our own success for the sake of another. This is why an alliance can break so easily. As soon as it appears that the alliance is a threat to our security, we break ties. Then we end up with an even greater enemy. There is really only One who is reliable, who should be our ally in all our relationships – the Lord God Almighty.
“And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind. Then said Jehovah unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller's field; and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have purposed evil against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel; thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken in pieces, so that is shall not be a people: and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” Isaiah 7:1-9 (ASV)
I don’t expect that God is spending much of His time worrying about which team will win the million dollars on the next series of “The Amazing Race” or “Survivor.” However there is a reason why these survivor type shows are called reality television. We may not face the same tests of our physical, intellectual or emotional aptitude, but we do have to make decisions about how we will react to the situations of life we face. In our jobs and personal lives we have times when we make alliances that do not work. We do whatever is necessary to succeed. What we find, however, is that sometimes life is not fair. The winners lose and the losers win. Our allies become enemies and we are left alone.
Yet, through it all, God does care. He is with us, guiding and directing our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. The only tool we really need is faith, the only ally the Lord. He spoke to Isaiah in this passage with words that would be good for us to always remember. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” Faith is the foundation of all our success, faith in the Lord God Almighty. For He will not leave or abandon us, but will guide is in the right path of life and love. Thanks be to God.
Veterinarian One of the most important things we’ve had to consider as we have planned this move is our cat. Felix has moved before, he came with us from England. For the past few weeks, he has been quite aware of the changes around the house. Boxes have arrived, we have been cleaning, and suitcases are being filled with clothes we plan to carry along with us. I have made arrangements for his lodging the last few days in this house and for the time before we are able to move into our new house. One of the requirements for staying in a kennel is up to date shots.
Tuesday afternoon was the day to visit the veterinarian. I tried not to make a big deal of the trip until the moment we were to leave. Then I picked him up and took him toward the carrier. He began to scream and cry, pushing and trying to get away from me. He refused to go into the cage. When we arrived at the vet, he was unusually quiet until we tried to get him back out of the carrier. Then he cried again and refused to come out. I’ve never heard him hiss and growl as he did that day. After getting pricked four times, we can home and he pretty much ignored me for two days. He was aching the next day, seemed almost sick and would not allow me to pick him up at all. He’s finally back to normal, though still upset about the changes that are going on around him.
Felix is just a cat, but he’s an important part of our family. He needed special care for those two days even though he did not seem to return the love and affection we were giving. People also have times when they also are upset, afraid, confused or angry. They need tender loving care, whether they are our family, friends, neighbors or even enemies. They need to be loved no matter how much they seem to hate us back. We can be gifted in many ways that will help people through bad times, but if there is no love it will come to nothing.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love is often misunderstood. We expect that it will always be a two way street, that we will have returned the love we give. The image of love in this world is all romance and physical attraction, but in Christ we know a love that is different. God loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for a people that were self-centered and unrighteous. We are all like Felix at some point in our lives, when we hate everything and everyone around us because we do not know what is happening. We have times when we are impatient, envious, boastful, rude, self-seeking and easily angered. We remember all the wrongs done against us and forget the wrongs we do to others. Sometimes we even do these things with exclamations of love for those around us.
Paul describes the love we know in Christ. Love means being patient with the one screaming hateful remarks in your ear. Love means giving tender loving care to the one biting and running away. Love means being happy with what you have and rejoicing with your neighbor for their blessings. Love never fails. The only true love comes from God our heavenly Father, but those who live in Christ can know that love deeply and intimately. We can even share it as best we can in this world, and are called by God to do so. Our gifts might help our neighbor through his or her troubles, but only in love will it be lasting. Thanks be to God.
Desert The packers arrived early yesterday morning and began packing our life away into boxes. We are scheduled for three packing days – Friday, Monday and Tuesday. Then the truck will arrive Wednesday to load everything and carry it away. I was hoping that they would begin in the bedrooms, pack up the things we do not need and leave the kitchen alone for the weekend. I had planned to cook dinners so that we will not have to eat out too much over the next couple of weeks. There were still things that I had not prepared for packing – things to be emptied and cleaned. Unfortunately, our packers prefer to begin with the hard part, particularly the glassware. So, they began in the kitchen. I raced around, picking out a few essentials to get us through the weekend, then cleaning and drying the final pieces.
On this morning after day one, much of our house is like a desert. There are boxes everywhere. Several rooms are finished. Our stuff is right there in front of our noses, but we can’t use it. Thankfully our neighbor lent us a few pans so that I could make a meal last night, but we could not even use the dining room table because it is buried behind boxes. We are having a potluck dinner at church tomorrow, and I had planned on making a simple desert as my offering. I have all the ingredients and even managed to keep a disposable serving dish to mix and serve it in. When I was ready to begin mixing the treat, I realized that my recipe was already packed. Even though I have made this dessert many times, I can never quite remember the measurements for each ingredient. It wasn’t a real big problem, I knew someone who had the recipe. It was just inconvenient.
See, though this story sounds like I just whining about our current situation, it really is not that bad. We have friends who are more than willing to help. People have invited us to dinner. Others have offered anything we need to get us through. There are people who would be happy to be so inconvenienced. There are too many who barely have enough to live from day to day. Their cupboards are empty of not only food but also the basic necessities of life – if they even have a home in which to live. We have nothing to complain about because even in the midst of this chaos we are incredibly blessed.
“The poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst; I, Jehovah, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, the pine, and the box-tree together: that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.” Isaiah 41:17-20 (ASV)
We are certainly not going to hunger or thirst during this move, but there are times when it seems like it will be that way. The joy has come in knowing that we have people who love and care about us who will help us in any way possible. We will get through this desert moment and enjoy the blessings that await us on the other end. There is always hope when the Lord is our God. He promises to make rivers run through our deserts and trees grow where there is no life. He is with us and when we trust in Him, particularly through the desert moments, the world sees His goodness and mercy. Thanks be to God.
Recognition The other day I ran into a person I recognized but did not recall how I knew her. She would have had something to do with Bruce’s job, but I could not figure out exactly how. We spoke for a few minutes and through the conversation I figured out the mystery. It was somewhat strange because our contact would have been very limited, but she spoke as if I was a longtime friend. She had a close enough association with Bruce that she was familiar with me, but I knew little about her.
It is odd when someone knows you so well, but you barely recognize him or her. I am sure this has happened to all of us at some time. Our spouse’s co-workers know us from conversations they have during the workday. Our kid’s teachers know us because our kids share stories in class. Sometimes our neighbors know us from watching our comings and goings. There is one, however, who knows everything about us and we often do not even recognize Him.
That was the problem for Ahab. Ahab was a king of Israel who was chosen by God but he forgot from whence he came. He did not seek the Lord’s will, though God revealed Himself through the prophets to Ahab repeatedly. Ben-Hadad attacked Samaria and sent word to Ahab that he would take everything – gold, silver, women and children. Ahab agreed to give it all to Ben-Hadad. Then Ben-Hadad threatened to go into Ahab’s city and seize the valuables of all the officials. The elders and people told Ahab to refuse the request. Ahab sent a message and said he would not give in to such a steep demand. Ben-Hadad vowed to destroy the city completely, so the two nations prepared for war.
The Lord sent word to Ahab that He would give the enemy into his hands. Ahab did as God commanded and Israel won the war. Ben-Hadad thought that they lost because Ahab honored the god of the hills and prepared to do battle on the plains, sure that they would win such a battle. A prophet went to Ahab with God’s word, “Thus saith Jehovah, Because the Syrians have said, Jehovah is a god of the hills, but he is not a god of the valleys; therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thy hand, and ye shall know that I am Jehovah.” Once again, Israel won the battle against Ben-Hadad, and the king of Aram decided to seek the mercy of the king of Israel. God had another plan. God gave the enemy into the hand of Ahab, but rather than destroy them, Ahab decided to do a treaty and he set Ben-Hadad free.
“And he hasted, and took the headband away from his eyes; and the king of israel discerned him that he was of the prophets. And he said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people. And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.” 1 Kings 20:41-43 (ASV)
Ahab did not always recognize the hand of God in his life. He made decisions without consulting the One who had control of His life and he went against God’s will. Though the Lord knew him intimately, he did not know the Lord. In the end it would be his downfall. While we sometimes run into people on the street that we should know and do not recognize them, it really makes little difference in the grand scheme of things. However, there is One that we need to know, One who has control of our life and knows what is best for us. We need to know the Lord God Almighty and we see Him most clearly through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We get to know Him through prayer, through scripture study and through fellowship and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The more time we give to these endeavors, the better we will know Him and the more we will respond to all He has to say. Then we will live within His will and do as He has planned. For He has ordained great things for our lives, incredible blessings that will bring glory to Him as He is made known to the world. Thanks be to God.
*For the entire story of Ahab and Ben-Hadad, see 1 Kings 20.
Break-up I once knew someone who was a passionate opponent of divorce. In every possible situation, this person was certain to make some comment about the scriptures that talk about divorce, insisting on absolute obedience to what God commands concerning marriage. In this person’s eyes, divorcees were headed to hell; there was no mercy or grace for them. I found out later that this person was divorced. When called on the hypocrisy of his preaching, he claimed that his divorce was not his fault and that it fell into the parameters of what constituted right divorce according to Jesus. He kept passionately preaching against all divorce, putting down even those whose break-ups matched his almost exactly.
I once knew another person who complained constantly about people whining over every single problem in their life. I often heard statements such as “can’t she just shut up about it already?” Or “that’s not such a big deal.” She found fault with everyone, even felt called to assign the blame for the problems, usually putting it on the head of the one complaining. There may have been some truth to her comments, and yet what she did not realize was how much she complained about every trouble in her own life. Of course, her difficulties were always someone else’s fault.
We very easily see the faults of our neighbors, yet we rarely see our own. We justify our own judgment of others by claiming to want to help them. The divorced man wanted to save those Christians who were contemplating divorce from hellfire and damnation. The complainer wanted to help the complainers overcome their difficulties and was trying to lift them above their whining so that they could see their situation more clearly. Neither was able to apply the lessons they were trying to teach to their own lives, and so their so-called help became judgment against their neighbor.
“Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judges another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practise such things. And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God.” Romans 2:1-11 (ASV)
We are indeed called to encourage and correct our brothers and sisters in Christ so to that will grow and mature in faith and knowledge of God’s Kingdom during their journey in this world. We must be careful, however, to be certain we are not looking into a mirror when we look into their lives. All too often the faults we see so clearly in the lives of others are those that God would have us see in ourselves. Rather than screaming for judgment when we see sin in someone’s life, we should take time to look into our own hearts to see if there is something we need to repent of before God. He will do a good work in your life, and perhaps in overcoming your own weakness, the other will see the goodness and mercy of God and seek forgiveness for his or her sin. No matter what, we must not concern ourselves with judging others when there is work the Lord is trying to do in our own lives. Rather, we live in faith and help others with mercy and compassion, knowing that we too need to the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ that He gives so freely. Thanks be to God.
Edict Esther was a Jewish girl who found herself in an unusual situation. She was taken among many girls into the palace of King Xerxes as he was looking for a new wife. She was greatly favored by the king’s court and the king himself. He chose her over the rest and she became queen. Unfortunately, the king did not know her true identity, and among many the Jews were unwelcome in the kingdom. There was one man who was set to destroy the people. Haman was a powerful man who desired the honor and glory that went with his position. Mordecai, a leader among the Jews and Esther’s uncle, refused to bow down before Haman because that honor is due only to the Lord God Almighty.
Haman established an edict against the Jews, all would die on a particular day. He manipulated the king, convincing him it was the best thing for the kingdom, so the edict was sealed with King Xerxes’ approval. It could not be revoked. Queen Esther risked her life to approach the king with a plea for the lives of her people. He was upset with Haman for tricking him into doing something that was purely selfish. Haman was punished and Mordecai took over his position in the king’s palace.
This may have seemed like a happy ending to a sad story, but unfortunately according to the law of the land, even the king could not overrule the edict. The Jews would still die. The king ruled that another edict should be written, giving the Jews the right to protect themselves against the slaughter that was set to come upon them.
“And he wrote the name of king Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters by post on horseback, riding on swift steeds that were used in the king's service, bred of the stud: wherein the king granted the Jews that were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, their little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey, upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar. A copy of the writing, that the decree should be given out in every province, was published unto all the peoples, and that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies. So the posts that rode upon swift steeds that were used in the king's service went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king's commandment; and the decree was given out in Shushan the palace.
The lesson to be learned from this part of Esther’s story is that we are not always saved from the persecution that might come at the hands of our enemy. But we are not left without power in the situation. God does not leave us alone. He is with us through out troubles, giving us the gifts we need to overcome. We might suffer for a season, but in the end the mourning will turn to joy. For God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ is our strength, our refuge and our salvation. We need not worry when we see disaster ahead, when we cry out for salvation, God will answer in His own way. In the end our own mourning will turn to dancing and our sadness to joy. Thanks be to God.
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