Welcome to the January 2005 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, January 2005
Rain It is raining at our house. It is nothing major, it began yesterday with just some light rain showers. It seems hard to believe, after our major rain a few weeks ago, but I’m glad it is raining. The flooding from November had finally passed, the drainage ditches were dry and the empty creek beds were finally empty again. We could use some water for the trees and plants. The rain is light so that it will refresh the earth without flooding and it is making everything seem so fresh.
The problem with this weather is that it has not rained for several weeks and the roads are covered in motor fluids. Oil and other slippery substances constantly drip from the car engines as they move along the roads. It is hard to see these substances when the roads are dry. Usually a normal rainfall will wash the fluids away, but during the first moments of rainfall when there is just a little bit of water on the roads, the roads become very slick. There were four hundred accidents in San Antonio yesterday. Most of them were minor, nothing more than fender benders, but it reminds us how dangerous it can be to go too long without water.
When those storms hit in November, I did not think I would ever want it to rain again. The experience with my car was so frightening and the raging water seemed so dangerous. The news showed terrible damage and some people were killed. Yet, now that we’ve had time to dry out, I can see how important it is for rain to come regularly. The rain itself is not dangerous and is actually vital to the movement of the earth and living of all of God’s creation. We need water, even to keep the roads clean and safe for us to drive our vehicles. The problem is when the weather turns extreme. We just have to remember during the frightening times that even in the midst of disaster, God is faithful to His promises and He will make good come out of it.
“For this is as the waters of Noah unto me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my lovingkindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy pinnacles of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy border of precious stones. And all thy children shall be taught of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall because of thee.” Isaiah 54:9-15 (ASV)
I knew I would be nervous the next time rain fell at our house, because the experience with the floods really affected me emotionally and materially. I did not know if I could drive again. I have recovered and I recognize the value of this rainfall for the earth, including us human beings. I just have to remember that God has promised that He will not send a flood like He did in the days of Noah and rest in the promise that God cares for His people. He is in the midst of tragedy, whether it is personal disaster like my broken car in November, or it is international disaster like the tsunami in Asia. He does not do these things to punish His children, but rather takes these experiences and uses them to rebuild the lives of those involved, puts hope in their hearts and shows His love through renewal and grace. Thanks be to God.
Responsibility On the last season of “The Apprentice” the contestants were given a special incentive to win when they were the manager of a project. If their team won, they were given a free ride the next time their team lost. In other words, the first time they were on a losing team following a win, they could not be taken into the boardroom to be fired. One of the early contestants had this promise, but decided to take responsibility for his failure and go into the boardroom willingly. He thought that by volunteering himself for possible sacrifice that he would be protected and would perhaps even gain the trust and confidence of Donald Trump and his fellow contestants. Instead, Donald saw this move as idiot and not something a top level executive would do, so the man was fired.
It might not happen in the boardrooms of the top companies, but I personally respected the man for standing up for what was right. His motive was not necessarily right, because he thought that such a stand would be rewarded with an act of compassion and sympathy. Instead, in the man eat man world of big business where the strong and powerful rule, he was fired for being weak and humble. This is so different from the way it is in the world of faith.
“Hear ye now what Jehovah saith: Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear, O ye mountains, Jehovah's controversy, and ye enduring foundations of the earth; for Jehovah hath a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of bondage; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him; remember from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteous acts of Jehovah. Wherewith shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:1-8 (ASV)
In the opening lines of this passage, God asks Israel to plead her case before Him. She has turned away from her God, has walked away from the covenant and been unfaithful. God gives her a chance to defend herself. He calls the mountains and the foundations of the earth to be witnesses in this judgment, because they were there when the covenant was made. Then God turns it to Himself and asks His beloved what He has done wrong, defending His own actions by recounting his redemption of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
Israel responds like the man on “The Apprentice,” perhaps rightly recognizing that they should do something for forgiveness, but speaking with wrong motives. They think that bowing before God or giving some sort of offering will be enough to cover their sins. They even offer to sacrifice their first born sons, an offering God would never accept. As a matter of fact, their sin includes sins against men, injustice and a lack of mercy. What could be more unjust or unmerciful than child sacrifice?
No, God answers that He has already shown His people what is right and good to do in this world. A right relationship with God means right relationships with other people. He says, “Do justice, be merciful and walk humbly with God.” Humility does not mean bowing or giving with a hard heart. It means recognizing our own sinfulness and submitting ourselves to that which God has already done. The irony of this passage is found in the fact that God Himself sacrificed His first-born for the forgiveness of our sin. The One who lived out what is right and good also laid down His own life so that we to might be just, merciful and humble before God. Thanks be to God.
Sea World We have season tickets for Sea World San Antonio. We bought the two-year passes as soon as we were able after we arrived here last year. It seemed like a great deal of money at the time, but we were sure the investment would pay off. It certainly did save us money, because we used the tickets quite a few times this past year. Day tickets to these theme parks are quite expensive, sometimes fifty or more dollars for one day. When you pay that much per person for a day’s worth of entertainment, you want to get every penny’s worth but such activity can be exhausting. With season passes, we could go to the park for just a few hours, enjoy a ride or two and a show, or just spend a few hours in the water park. We can go home knowing we had a good time and still got value for our dollar.
There is an additional advantage – season pass holders get special privileges. We are informed about upcoming events before the public, we get invitations to special events just for pass holders, we get discounts and coupons for our friends. In a month or so, we should receive information about a grand opening weekend for the park which will be for season pass holders only. It is an opportunity for us to get our IDs and coupons and we will be able to enjoy the park without the crowds of guests that will invade in the summer months. There are some advantages to membership.
As we read through the story of God as it is found in the Old Testament, it seems as if God only cares about Israel. All other nations suit His purposes and He gives them power and prosperity when it will benefit the work He is doing with His people. But when they stand in His way, they are destroyed while Israel is repeatedly met with mercy and love. Yet, we know in this post-Resurrection world that God did have a special relationship with Israel for the benefit of the entire world, and His promises are for all who believe. This is not a surprise for those who have read through the promises of the Old Testament.
“Also the foreigners that join themselves to Jehovah, to minister unto him, and to love the name of Jehovah, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. The Lord Jehovah, who gathereth the outcasts of Israel, saith, Yet will I gather others to him, besides his own that are gathered.” Isaiah 56:6-8 (ASV)
Reading through the genealogy of Jesus, you find that His heritage was built on foreigners as well as God’s chosen nation. Ruth was a Moabite – and enemy of the Jews – and she found a place in the people of God. When God chose Israel through Abraham, He said that they would be a blessing to the world. They are that blessing because they have been given the gifts to share God’s love with others. His promises were never meant to make one nation separate and special, but so that they would be a light in the darkness for the whole world to see God’s mercy and grace.
We know now that the promises, like this one found in Isaiah, were meant for us also. We don’t need a special membership in any club or citizenship in a specific nation to enter into the presence of God and enjoy the benefits of being one of His people. We need only believe in the One who was sent to break down all barriers between people, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ there is no difference in nationality, gender or race. There is no special requirement. We need only believe that Jesus Christ came in flesh to live and to die for our sake, so that we will be reconciled to God our Father through His blood which was shed the forgiveness of our sin. In Christ we become one of the family, we are made right before God and share in the covenant promises of our Creator. Thanks be to God.
Epiphany Throughout the history of the Jews, God promised to send them a Messiah, a king who would deliver them from their bondage. The Old Testament is filled with words from the prophets and kings that speak of that promise and God’s faithfulness. The Jews longed for the day that promise would be fulfilled. This was especially true at the time of Herod the Great’s reign. The people wanted to be a free nation with a proper king, a king from the House of David. They thought the promise was for just Israel and that the promise would be fulfilled with an earthly king.
The Glory of Zion would not be prosperity – wealth, fame and honour. That Glory was to be the Light of the World. From the beginning, the Jews were chosen and blessed so that they would be a blessing. The Saviour of the world was to come through them and the world would see the greatness of God through their lives. Isaiah writes, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:3)
Jesus Christ was the morning star, His birth was the dawn of a new age. He was light and brought light into this dark world. A star shown in the sky at the moment of His birth, it was a light to the Gentiles. Far away magi who were studying the skies looking for signs saw this new star appear. They were learned men who were aware of the prophecies of the Jews and knew the sign told of the birth of a king. The left their homes and traveled to Jerusalem seeking this newborn king of the Jews.
They went to Herod; certainly the new king would be born in the royal household. But there was no child there. Herod called to the priests and asked of the prophecies found in the scriptures. They told him about the words of Micah that foretold of a king to be born in Bethlehem, a shepherd from the House of David. Herod told the magi they would find the king there. He asked that they return and tell him the location of the child so he too could go and worship him.
Isn’t it amazing that the promised nation did not see the signs of the coming fulfillment? They did not see the light appear; yet foreigners knew something incredible was happening and traveled far to be a part of it. Even when the magi informed all of Jerusalem of their quest, no one followed. Not one person went with them to find the newborn king. During Jesus’ life and ministry, many of the Jews still did not recognize Him, though He often showed Himself to be the fulfillment of the promises. From the beginning of Jesus’ life, from the moment He was laid in manger, His light shined to the entire world, not just the Jews.
“And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” Matthew 2:9-12 (ASV)
The passage from Isaiah says, “And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.” The magi fulfilled this prophecy by coming to honour the newborn king and by bringing Him gifts. The gold and incense were symbols of royalty and priesthood. They knew that Jesus would be like the kings of old who not only ruled the people but also ministered to the Lord. But the magi brought another gift, myrrh. Myrrh was a spice used for the burial of the dead. These strangers from a foreign land somehow knew that Jesus was to be more than an earthly king. The gift foretold of Jesus’ suffering and death.
The word Epiphany means, “a revelatory manifestation of a divine being.” On this day the Church recognizes that through the magi God revealed His divine nature of Christ to the world. The promise of a King was not just for the Jews or for this life. Jesus was the light, revealed by God in the light of the star that drew strangers into His promise. The light shines for all the world to see but Herod and the people of Jerusalem missed it. Do you see the light and will you follow like the magi of old? Thanks be to God for His revealed light, that by His power we may see and know Him even today.
Boxes We keep our Christmas decorations up until after Epiphany, after all, we are still in the Christmas season according to the calendar of the Church. Now that it is January 7th, it is time to think about taking it all down. I love having my house looking pretty for the holidays, but I sure do not enjoy the clean up. I keep looking at the trees and the hundreds of ornaments I need to put away, as well as the dozens of other pretty things we used this year. I have been purging our decorations, getting rid of the things we never use, but we still have so much. We purchased new storage containers this year, and I can’t help but wonder how it will all fit. It is a daunting task that I must get started very soon.
It will not take as long to clean up as it did to put everything out. We took days, even weeks, to get the house looking as it does today. We took our time because we wanted everything to be right. I moved things a couple of times as we opened new boxes and found more of our favorite things. The tree took four days, mostly because we did not have the time to do it immediately after we bought it. Now I will take it all down in an afternoon. Even still, it will be tempting to do it even more quickly, to rush through and not worry about packing the items properly. A hasty clean up can make a bigger mess. Ornaments that aren’t packed well will be broken and we can fit more into our storage space if we take the time to do it right. It might be harder, but it is much better if we take the time to clean up properly.
Our faith life can is much like Christmas. We prepare and build up to some sort of crescendo – perhaps a conversion moment or a mountain top spiritual experience. The preparation is some sort of seeking, study, prayer or learning. This can take time – sometimes years before it makes a difference in the life of the person. Some people reject God or live a shallow faith for much of their life, but eventually something gets through, the Holy Spirit lights the spark that exists in their heart and they grow into a deeper or more real faith. But it does not end at the mountain top experience, and we can’t stay there forever. We eventually go back into our normal world. Now, we don’t pack up our faith in boxes like we do our Christmas ornaments, but we shouldn’t pack away the Christmas spirit when we clean up our houses, either.
Faith is meant to be shared. We are blessed to be a blessing. Yet, when we are passionate about our faith, we tend to rush out without considering the way we are called to share the Gospel. God has blessed us with certain gifts and certain opportunities through which we are to do His work in the world. We don’t take the time to package our faith; we don’t take the time to discern God’s will in our lives. We don’t wait for God’s instruction, even sinning in our desire to rush into service. It is sin because it is not according to God’s way.
“Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, none that wait for thee shall be put to shame: They shall be put to shame that deal treacherously without cause. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Jehovah, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindness; For they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: According to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, For thy goodness' sake, O Jehovah. Good and upright is Jehovah: Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of Jehovah are lovingkindness and truth Unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name's sake, O Jehovah, Pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. What man is he that feareth Jehovah? Him shall he instruct in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; And his seed shall inherit the land. The friendship of Jehovah is with them that fear him; And he will show them his covenant. Mine eyes are ever toward Jehovah; For he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; For I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged: Oh bring thou me out of my distresses. Consider mine affliction and my travail; And forgive all my sins. Consider mine enemies, for they are many; And they hate me with cruel hatred. Oh keep my soul, and deliver me: Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for thee. Redeem Israel, O God, Out all of his troubles.” Psalm 25 (ASV)
Now that the holidays are definitely over and we are getting settled back into the normal routine of life, I wonder how many of us are considering how we might take the Christmas spirit into our daily lives. With the decorations put away, it is easy to forget the giving, loving and caring that happens so easily throughout the holidays. The same is true of our daily lives of faith. It is so easy to forget we are Christians in a world where Christian faith is not acceptable or appropriate for normal living. So, once the excitement or the passion passes, we go back to doing things as we once did. Yet, if we walked daily as if we were preparing for something, we would find everything going well. That kind of faith journey includes taking the time to pray, study and listen for God to speak His word into our lives and He will lead us to do what is right and good in this world. Thanks be to God.
Model There is a show called “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” that runs every Sunday evening. On this show, carpenter Ty Pennington and his team help a family rebuild their lives by rebuilding their home. Last night, the team visited a family whose home had been completely destroyed by fire. They lost everything and did not have enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding. They were living in a storage shed, though the daughters were spending most of their time at their friend’s homes. Their life together was falling apart because they had nothing to keep them together. EM:HE gave them a new house and filled it with every possible thing they could want or need and the family was looking forward to being a family once again.
A few weeks ago they did the home of a family whose parents were both deaf and the youngest child was both blind and autistic. They were concerned about the young boy, because the changes could be very frightening for him. Ty and the team do whatever they can to not only give the family a new home, but also to ensure that the transition is easy for the family. To ensure a sense of calm, they sent a model of the home to the family so that the boy could feel what his room would look like. It was a simple model, with all the furniture in place. The doors opened and closed, the windows were right where they should be. The boy enjoyed feeling the model and he may have been more comfortable going into his room because of that model. Yet, the model was not the room and his first few moments in that space were anxious minutes for the parents and the team. When he discovered all the special features of his new room, he excitedly wandered around, touching everything until he knew every square inch.
Many designers and builders will use models to help their clients see the vision before the plan is put into action. Some get very detailed with the models, including fabrics and miniatures of the accessories. The client can almost imagine him or herself in the middle of the room, enjoying the design and if they do not like the way something looks, they can change it more easily. Unfortunately, a model does not always do the design justice. Certain features demand to be experienced life-size and real to fully appreciate their value. No matter how good a model is, the family can not live in it. The room must be built to be used.
God gave us a model of what He intended for our lives of worship. That model was the tabernacle of Moses, and each part of the tabernacle had a specific meaning and purpose. But the tabernacle was only a model, given to Moses to show the people what life is like in a full and joyous relationship with God. The light, the bread, the incense and the ark were part of the vision of what the real temple would look like. But the worship done in the tabernacle was not whole or complete. The sacrifice was not lasting. We could not fully enter into God’s presence until the real tabernacle was built.
“Now even a first covenant had ordinances of divine service, and its sanctuary, a sanctuary of this world. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, wherein were the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the Holy place. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies; having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally. Now these things having been thus prepared, the priests go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services; but into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing; which is a figure for the time present; according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect, being only (with meats and drinks and divers washings) carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation.” Hebrews 9:1-10 (ASV)
Just as Ty prepared the boy for his new room by giving him a model to explore, so too did God give us a model of what it would be like when He restored creation to Himself. The tabernacle was that model, the real was found in Jesus Christ. In Him we see the light, the bread and the mercy of God and it is made real by the power of the Holy Spirit in our relationship with Christ. The tabernacle served an important purpose for the people. They offered the sacrifice that would ease their hearts for a moment, but it was never fully realized by the blood of calves. It would take the pure and perfect blood of Christ to make the final sacrifice. We still see the tabernacle in the pages of the scriptures and learn to understand what it means, because in the model we see what God intended all along, that which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God.
Children’s sermon You never know what the children are going to say when they go forward for a children’s sermon. It is always a risk to give them an open forum to share their thoughts in front of the congregation. They say shocking things, embarrass their parents and make us laugh. One pastor invited the children up front and noticed one girl with a very pretty dress. He asked her, “Is that your Easter dress?” “Yes,” she said, “and my mom says it is a bitch to iron.” We have all probably heard something similar from our own kids’ mouths. They are like parrots, repeating what they hear and sharing what they know.
It might be embarrassing like the comment from that little girl, but at times it is amazing to hear them talk. We usually think children do not really know or understand faith, the bible or the whole church experiences. Yet, when asked about the things of faith at a children’s sermon, many of them can answer in ways that seem far beyond their years. The lessons we learn from this special time don’t often come from the pastor, but from the children themselves. They know Jesus is the heart of the Gospel and they know it is about love. They are honest and innocent, unstained by the cynicism or intellectualism of adulthood, so they share God’s grace in the most simple and pure form. We have much we can learn from them.
We normally listen to the story of the boy Jesus in the temple and think how odd it would be for a twelve year old to go on his own to learn and talk about the scriptures. Yet, when we think about how much our children really know about faith, it is not so unusual. Perhaps if our own children were given the same opportunity, they too might be able to share a bit of wisdom with their elders. Jesus was certainly unusual, He was the Son of God, the living Word in flesh, and had all the wisdom of God written on His heart. As adults we tend to know the scriptures in our heads, but kids know it in their hearts.
“And the child grew, and waxed strong, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up after the custom of the feast; and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not; but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day's journey; and they sought for him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance: and when they found him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for him. And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? knew ye not that I must be in my Father's house? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and he was subject unto them: and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:40-52 (ASV)
The children’s sermon can certainly provide fodder for our sense of humor. Some of the children’s answers are very funny, embarrassing and shocking. Yet, there are times when they have something very real and very important to say. We should listen to our children when they want to share something about faith. There is an innocence that we lose as we grow older; there is a foundation of faith that gets buried under our maturity and knowledge. We make things so much more complex than it really needs to be. It is not that we should stop growing and maturing in our faith. We should, however, remember that God can and will speak through the weak things of this world. Children have faith too, and we should not suppose that they have nothing to share about the Gospel of Jesus Christ just because they are young and unlearned. They are also children of the Father and we should not be surprised when they want to be in His presence and share what they know about Him. Thanks be to God.
Rain It is raining, and snowing, in California with precipitation amounts dangerously high. Pictures on the news have shown flooding, mudslides and other problems associated with the extraordinary amount of water. One report mentioned that more rain has fallen in some towns in this first week of January than normally falls in a whole year. This unusual weather has caused much damage and death. Many folks will be relieved when the skies clear and the ground dries. The rain will mean beautiful wildflowers in the coming spring, but unfortunately, that will mean a greater risk of wildfires in the summer.
I heard a report the other day from a man who was driving to work in the rain. It was pouring as he’d rarely ever seen. Yet, as he drove through the city he noticed that many homeowners forgot to turn off their sprinkler systems. As the rain poured down, the sprinklers shot up, giving the yards far more water than they could ever need. Now, while this is a waste it might not seem like such a big deal. After all, the rain and snow will likely fill reservoirs so the only real affect is an unnecessarily high water bill. However, that water has to have somewhere to go. With the streets already flooding because the water can’t soak into the ground fast enough, sprinkler systems are adding to the problems. Neighbors flood out neighbors. The extra water will create more erosion. We may never know the actual effect of this water because the rain has caused so much devastation – no need to blame homeowners for their foolishness.
Yet, isn’t that the way it is with most sin? There are few of us who have fallen to the major temptations like murder, adultery and theft. We certainly have not done so in a way that is noticeable compared to the rest of the sin and sinners in the world. My own minor infractions don’t touch the lives of others, especially those who have fallen victim to the real sinners. Though it may seem like our sin won’t affect the lives of others, we don’t realize how much our actions flow into the world.
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not, so much as one: Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:9-20 (ASV)
The little bit of water shooting out of the sprinkler systems probably won’t do much to add to the problems created by the excessive rain. It is simply foolish and wasteful to let the water run when it is not necessary. Most of our daily sins seem like no big deal, but we are called in Christ to live differently. We are saved by the grace of God, forgiven of our sins by the blood of Christ and His judgment has ruled us righteous according to His promises. Yet, we should never think we are sinless and without blame.
In this passage, Paul quotes a number of Old Testament lessons. This confession of faith, though written in the third person should be spoken in the first person by all of us. We are those who have turned aside. It is only by the grace of God that we are justified in His sight and only by His Word can we be saved. Thanks be to God.
Age appropriate This is my first year teaching preschool and the first time I have taught in a classroom of children in many years. It has been a time of adjustment, relearning what children are capable of doing and of learning at this time. There are some things that are completely inappropriate to try to teach children and techniques that simply do not work with four and five year olds. There have been several things that have not worked at all. The concepts involved higher thinking or motor skills than that of a four or five year old. Sometimes we work through the activities the best we can and I reassure the children that it is ok that they can’t do it well today. I remind them that we go to school to learn and to grow and sometimes we will face activities that are difficult. Even still, I have set aside a few of our activities that I feel are completely inappropriate for this age and I will not use them again.
I try everything because I am often surprised by their understanding of concepts that I thought were beyond their years. We did a group exercise about offering and while many of the children wanted to keep their pennies, several understood that Jesus wants us to give everything to Him. They put all their pennies in the offering basket and did it with great joy. When we left school that day, I asked the other teachers what they thought of the lesson about giving to God – I knew it was one that even many adults do not fully understand. The other teachers thought it was good and that the children ‘got it.’ It is amazing what children can understand that adults often miss. It does not take a smart or mature person to have wisdom, sometimes true wisdom is seen as foolishness.
“Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (ASV)
In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, we read the story of Nicodemus, a very intelligent man. He was among the elite of the day, an expert in the scriptures and a teacher of Jewish law. Yet, Nicodemus did not know the simplest things about God. For the intellectuals of Jesus’ day, many of the things which Jesus was speaking was nothing more than foolishness. What wisdom could be found in a story about a field or a vineyard? What truth can be shared by doing the miraculous things Jesus was doing? Yet, Nicodemus knew that Jesus had come from God. He was afraid to visit Jesus in the daylight, but he came searching for some answer to the questions that were raised in his heart.
It is funny that even though it takes knowledge and maturity to truly understand the theological concepts of Christianity, most children understand better than the adults. We seem to lose a sort of innocence and trust that is found in a child’s heart as we grow older and more knowledgeable. Yet, much of the world has missed out on the true wisdom of the Gospel because it seems like foolishness and weakness. It is my prayer that even though we might study the scriptures to better understand, we can look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ with eyes of a child. The foolishness of God is truly the wisdom of life that can only be seen through faith and trust. Thanks be to God.
Public mistake There has recently been a great deal of upheaval in Britain and the royal family over the costume Prince Harry wore to a party. A friend took the picture which appeared on the front page of a British newspaper – a picture that drew a handsome price for the photographer. The world has been offended by his choice of costume – rightly so, since a swastika has come to represent violence, death and destruction. Jewish leaders have demanded apologies and the prince has been invited to tour Auschwitz so that he can see the horror of the holocaust and so that he can realize the reality of Nazi offensiveness.
Since the story first came out, I’ve heard reports asking why people in the public spotlight make mistakes. How can they do something so stupid and foolish? Perhaps it is not that they are any more foolish than the rest of us, but rather it is because every movement they make is watched closely by the reporters and the people. Why do we remember Dan Quayle? We remember him because he misspelled the word potato. How many of us have made similar mistakes, but were lucky enough to not be on national television at the time? Janet Jackson will forever be remembered for her costume malfunction last January, even though it was not entirely her fault. The rag newspapers are filled with pictures of celebrities doing stupid things and we shake our head at their foolishness. Yet, I don’t doubt that if someone were constantly following me with a camera they would catch my stupidity on film also. Human beings do stupid things. We should not assume that such actions are purposeful. Rather we should have the grace to understand that even those who in the public spotlight are human and make mistakes.
“Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. And he spake also a parable unto them, Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit? The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” Luke 6:36-42 (ASV)
The costume was inappropriate. We hope that our politicians can spell simple words and appear intelligent before the camera. There are some performance gimmicks that simply should not be tried on public television because they are unsuitable for the audience, particularly if it fails to work as planned. We remember those in the spotlight for their failures, forgetting that we too have moments of stupidity as we journey through this life. What would happen if a camera followed me every day? It would probably catch me tripping over my own feet, saying something unhelpful to a friend or spilling food on my blouse. We are all imperfect and deserve the mercy and grace of our fellow man who is also imperfect.
Harry should learn from his mistakes. I hope he accepts the invitation to visit Auschwitz so that he too might understand how offensive his costume was to the world, even if he meant it to be a representation of something which he is not. He will eventually learn that in his position, everything he says and does will be watched and judged. For this day, let us remember mercy, for our Lord Jesus Christ has had mercy on us even while we are still sinners. Thanks be to God.
Forgetfulness Zachary needed a copy of his latest report card to get a prize from his golf coach. Somehow, in the normal course of cleaning up around the house, I seem to have either misplaced or thrown away our copy of this important paper. I sent a note to Zack’s teacher asking for another copy on Friday morning. Friday afternoon he came to me and told me he forgot to give it to her. Since the missing document was probably my fault, I felt responsible. I went to his school to get the copy myself. How much easier it would have been for everyone if Zack had given the note to his teacher as I had asked.
At least he remembered to tell me early enough that he forgot so that I could still make it to school when there were people in the office. Saturday morning would have been too late. That’s what happens with forgotten promises – they are often remembered too late. A mother promises to take a child to a movie, but remembers the day after the movie is no longer playing. A father promises to take a child to a basketball game, but remembers after the game has been sold out. A boyfriend promises to buy a special gift for his girlfriend for a birthday, but forgets the day and realizes too late to find the right gift. These experiences might hurt, but they are forgivable. It is much harder when the forgetfulness affects the person’s life.
The story of Joseph is one of heartache and bad circumstances. First his brothers were jealous and sold him to slave traders, while telling his father that he was dead. Then he was accused by the pharaoh’s wife of rape when he was the one who was attacked. While in prison, Joseph did well and was liked by the jailers and the inmates. Two men – a baker and cupbearer – displeased pharaoh and were thrown in prison. They both had dreams which Joseph interpreted. When the two men were released, Joseph’s interpretation came true. The baker was hanged and the cupbearer was set free. When the cupbearer asked Joseph for the interpretation, he promised to help Joseph if it came true. Unfortunately, he forgot Joseph for two years until one day the pharaoh had dreams.
“And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day: Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker: and we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged. Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.” Genesis 41:8-14 (ASV)
It is a human tendency to forget things, particularly those things which do not seem that important at the time. Oh, that movie or basketball game can mean the world to a child, but he or she will forgive and forget easily enough. A forgotten present should not permanently affect a relationship. It seems like a mistake like the one the cupbearer made – forgetting Joseph for two full years – would make Joseph angry and bitter. Yet, Joseph never held it against the cupbearer and confessed at the end of his life his faith that everything that happened was according to God’s good and perfect will. He found a blessing in the forgetfulness of the cupbearer, because he remembered at the right time and in the right way.
There are times when our remembrance of our promises seems to come too late, after the movie has passed or the game has been sold out. However, sometimes that leads to something even better. When we do forget, we can rest in the promise of forgiveness that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in the faith of knowing that God is never late with His promises. It might seem like we are trapped because of someone’s forgetfulness, but God will make good and wonderful things come out of it. Thanks be to God.
Golden spike The transcontinental railroad was built in the mid nineteenth century to bring the east and the west of the United States together. It was a difficult project. A great deal of money, time and labor was used to make this extraordinary achievement. The builders started two sets of workers, one in the east working toward the west and another in the west working toward the east. Golden Spike National Historic Park celebrates this great achievement at the place where it was complete, Promontory Point, Utah. There, on May 10th, 1969, Leland Stanford had the honor of placing the ceremonial spike, a golden nail with the engraving “May God continue the unity of our Country as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”
Of course, in today’s world we know that there is no real sense of unity found in the United States. Too many people disagree about too many things. Such disagreement is found in our homes, neighborhoods, cities and even our churches. We try to come together, discussing the issues that divide, sharing our opinions and trying to find common ground. Unfortunately, we tend to hold on to our ideology like it is a treasure. We refuse to compromise because it could be seen as weakness. We stand firm on our principles and have difficulty finding a middle ground. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened with the railroad if one side or the other deviated even a few feet from the planned route. The two sides might not have ever met in the middle and the whole project would have been a failure. Though the work began in the east and the west, both sides knew where they were headed. They may not have known the exact place where they would meet, but they had a line on which both had to travel to be whole.
I think one of the difficulties with the church is that we are trying very hard to find a common agreement between two ideas, but we do not come at our disagreements from our true common bond. We don’t start at the cross, where our unity is truly found, we don’t begin at our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God where we are bound by the Holy Spirit. It is like we are each beginning at one side or another and we discuss ways in which we might find unity. Yet, as we move toward one another, we never really are on the same line. There is only one way to be united, it is to begin at the foundation of our faith and move out from there.
“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)
The transcontinental railroad certainly changed a great deal about the way America was able to do things. Since the coasts were connected by a much easier form of travel, communication was quicker and goods were transferred more easily. It connected the people in the east with the people in the west in a way that was not possible without the trains.
The ways of God work much differently than the ways of men. God does not ask us to come together from different sides to find our common bond. Rather, He has given us our common bond and He sends us forth together to live out our confession in faith. We don’t start at different ends of an issue to find where we might meet in the middle. We start at our foundation, at our Lord Jesus Christ, and together we live out His mission and purpose in the world. If only we would start at Christ, we would stop working so hard to find a way to get along and we would work at what He has called us to do. This day is the day we remember the confession of St. Peter, and in this confession we find our starting place for everything we do. We must remember, however, that this confession does not come by our own will, but by the Spirit of God. Thanks be to God.
Paintbrush Earlier in the year, Tigger was much too small to even think about getting up on my art table. Felix was known to use it as a pathway to the banister above the stairway – one of the few places where he could get away from the kitten. Even as Tigger has grown and can get to the more out of the way places, my desk was too messy for him, so he never even tried. That is until I cleaned it the other day. I managed to restore order on my table and organize my materials for my next project. I had my paintbrushes neatly stored in cans pushed back against the banister.
We came home from church the other day to discover one of my paintbrushes under the desk in the den. It was a rather large paintbrush, a foot long with a four inch wide set of bristles. Since Tigger is the cat that likes to carry things, we assumed he must have been the one to steal it and carry it down the stairs into another room. I went to my table and noticed that he did not spill anything else on the desk to get this brush out of the can. I deduced the only way that he could have managed this is to have gotten onto the banister, grabbed the brush with his teeth and tossed it over the banister on to the steps. Then he could get the brush from the steps and carry it anywhere he wanted. Later that evening, we heard a thump on the steps and Tigger came walking proudly down the steps with this paintbrush in his teeth. We would love to catch him in the act, to see exactly how he manages to get this brush that is almost as large as he out of the can, but he won’t do it when we are watching.
When we think about the work of God, we realize that what He does and how He accomplishes His promises is truly a mystery. We do not see the sanctifying work of the Spirit, but we see the changes that occur in the people whom God has touched. We do not see the salvation of Christ, but we see how those who have been saved are different. The story of Paul is incredible. One minute he was murdering Christians and in the next he was making them. Most Christians do not have such a dramatic experience, and we normally do not even see the work of God. We simply know He is present and active in our lives.
“Praise ye Jehovah. Praise, O ye servants of Jehovah, Praise the name of Jehovah. Blessed be the name of Jehovah From this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same Jehovah's name is to be praised. Jehovah is high above all nations, And his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto Jehovah our God, That hath his seat on high, That humbleth himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, And lifteth up the needy from the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, Even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, And to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye Jehovah.” Psalm 113 (ASV)
Certainly Tigger’s little game is not a good thing. He has chosen a rather expensive paintbrush that I can’t even think about using any longer because he chewed the bristles beyond salvation. Yet, it is fascinating to think about how intelligent he must be to figure out how to get away with it. We may never discover all of his tricks, but we will certainly watch for the signs of his escapades in the future. God’s work is a good thing. He changes people and gives true life to those who are dying. We do not see everything He has accomplished because so much of it is hidden in the hearts of those who are saved. Yet, we are called to praise God in all things, whether we see Him or not. Even when our eyes can not see or our ears can not hear, God is present in the world doing what it good and right and true. Thanks be to God.
Inauguration One of the more interesting aspects of the Presidential Inauguration which is being celebrated today is the balls. All over Washington D.C. groups are gathering to show their support to the newly inaugurated leaders as they begin a new term in their offices. This year there are nine official balls, all of which the Bushes hope to visit for at least a few moments. Eight years ago the Clintons visited with fourteen groups of people who were partying and enjoying the events of the day.
It might seem strange that there would be so many different balls, but each one is designed for a certain group of people. Last night the Texas State Society hosted The Black Tie and Boots Ball for the people from the state of Texas who live and work in Washington. Though the society is not exclusive, the ball is only for those who are members of the society. The most sought after tickets for this evening is the Commander-in-Chief Ball, given in honor of those who have just returned from service in Afghanistan or Iraq and those who are about to be deployed. This ball is by invitation only, and the two thousand guests will be active duty military, most specifically veterans of the wars.
Though the balls are exclusive, there have been other events open to people who would like to attend – even those who chose to protest. It is impossible to house every person who would want to attend a ball, logistically it would be difficult to feed them or even get them to the site. As it was, the Black Tie and Boots Ball was attended by far more than were expected. Many people had to wait until others left because the fire code limited the numbers who could enter at a time. The thoughts of feeding two thousand people is daunting, I can’t imagine if the door was open to everyone who wanted to attend. That’s why each group limited their number and established some sort of exclusivity so that they would not be overwhelmed by door crashers.
“Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh truth in his heart; He that slandereth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his friend, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah; He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; He that putteth not out his money to interest, Nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.” Psalm 15 (ASV)
This psalm speaks of a exclusivity of those welcome in the Temple of God. Who can live there? Only those who walk rightly and do good works. It is a place where only those who speak truth and do no evil. Those who hate evil and love those who love the Lord are those who are welcome in the presence of God. Perhaps this sounds like something we can do, but it gets harder when we consider the rest of the psalm. We have to honor our oaths even when they are painful, lending our resources to others without expectation and never accepting anything that might hurt another.
I would like to think that I can be welcome in the house of the Lord, but quite frankly the words of my mouth are not always right and my actions are not always just. I take advantage of my neighbor and I do not always do what I should do for their sake. This is an incredibly exclusive group, those who would be welcome. As a matter of fact, I can only think of one who was truly righteous and that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the only one who will never be shaken, the only one who can dwell in the house of the Lord. We simply can’t get an invite to that party on our own. That’s why we stand firmly on Christ Jesus who can’t be shaken. That is why it is by His invitation we are welcome in the tabernacle and loved by the Lord. He makes us right with God and grants us the grace to enter into His presence. Thanks be to God.
Retaining wall I recently heard a story from a friend about a problem with a neighbor. She told me that they have always gotten along well, cordial and somewhat social. The lady had a problem with water washing across her yard. She built a retaining wall to ensure that the water would not erode her landscaping. Unfortunately, the water was redirected into the yard of my friend, causing a great deal of damage to her own landscaping. The retaining wall was rather expensive and was meant to be a permanent addition to her yard, so removal was going to be difficult. It is situations like this that makes us wonder what it means to love our neighbor.
Certainly the woman with the retaining wall should not expect her neighbor to go to the expense of overcoming this situation. Yet, she is not wealthy enough to deal with the additional expenses. Neither neighbor has set out to purposely harm her neighbor, but our actions are often self-centered and affect the lives of others without our realization. This is why many new housing developments make use of housing associations, because this kind of work can cause greater problems for others in the long run. Security lights can shine into bedroom windows, storage building roofs can clock views and landscaping can change the flow of water. When we want to make a change to our home, we need to seek permission. This might seem strange, since we have purchased the land and house, but the home owner’s association helps keep us from doing something that will harm our neighbor.
“Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law. And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:8-14 (ASV)
When Paul speaks about love, he is not referring to a romantic sort of love. He is referring to a sacrificial kind of love. It is the kind of love that considers one’s neighbor before considering one’s self. While we might want to make our home extra safe by putting bright spot lights on every side, we have to consider how those lights will shine into the windows of our neighbor’s homes and keep them awake all night. Loving neighbor means finding a less disturbing way of keeping ourselves safe.
Paul specifically notes the commandments having to do with our relationships with one another, yet I do not imagine there are many of us who are guilty of murder, adultery or theft. He makes a list of sins and we look at these with a holier than thou attitude, thinking that we are never guilty of orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, debauchery or even in dissention of jealousy. Yet, even our seemingly minor and unwitting sins against our neighbors do harm to them and show our lack of love. We are called to ensure that as we are clothed in Christ, our every thought, word and deed are given into His care and live according to His sacrificial love. In Christ, we no longer need to consider our own wants and needs, but rather we are to make provision for our neighbors before serving ourselves. This is the way of light to which our Lord Jesus calls us to live in faith. Thanks be to God.
Castles Trading Spaces, the television show where neighbors change houses to redecorate one room, visited Scotland on the episode aired last Saturday. The neighbors were thirty-three miles apart and did not know one another, but the show wanted to experience what it might be like to work in a real castle. They found two willing victims – participants – and sent the crew to redo a room. It made for fun viewing as the Scottish and English attitudes came in contact with the headstrong American designers. In the end the rooms were beautiful and acceptable to the participants and the show was a success.
It was somewhat strange to see these castles as regular homes. Both families had purchased the castles – they weren’t in the family for hundreds of years. When we lived in England, we visited many castles and other remarkable properties, all of which had historical significance. These two castles also had history, which is what made them interesting, but the history was distant to the people living there. Though each home had antiques, some of which would have been typical of the past, the decorating was more in line with modern tastes. Electricity, heating and indoor plumbing has been added over the years. These are no longer cold, stone fortresses, but have become home.
Throughout the show, the participants asked the designers repeatedly “Is this fitting with the rest of the castle?” They weren’t necessarily concerned that the color matched or the styles were identical with the other rooms. They were concerned that the design was more in tune with an American suburban home than with an ancient Scottish castle. Lava lamps and fake fur rugs were not appropriate. Of course, that was not the intent of the designer, but the participants were obviously aware of the tendencies of those particular designers and wanted to keep them in check. The question to ask is “Was it the job of the designers to decorate the room in keeping with the age of the building, or was it to make the room comfortable and beautiful for the family that lived there today?” They chose to make the rooms modern with a sense of history.
It would be ridiculous to decorate in our modern age in a manner fitting the Middle Ages. The purpose for the rooms is no longer true. When the castles were new, hundreds of years ago, the world was a different place. Though they were homes to the ruler, they were also the center of life in that realm. Many of the rooms that we would use for entertainment were used for a very different purpose. The parlor may have been the guardhouse; the kitchen was likely outside in another building. Rooms that would have held gunpowder and supplies are now television lounges or guest rooms. The walls would have been covered with tapestries which are beautiful, but they would have served to keep the cold stone rooms free from drafts. The throne room would not have necessarily shown the grandeur of high office, but would have been a place of business where taxes were collected and cases judged. The rooms and the décor was practical, serving a much different purpose than now when the castle is a home rather than a fortress.
“The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction; To discern the words of understanding; To receive instruction in wise dealing, In righteousness and justice and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion: That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning; And that the man of understanding may attain unto sound counsels: To understand a proverb, and a figure, The words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:1-7 (ASV)
It was fun to watch the show and see how the designers dealt with the complexities of decorating a building that is hundreds of years old while keeping it up to date and practical for the modern age. It was even more fascinating to think about the history that must have happened at those places and the people who would have lived there throughout time. The purpose of the building has certainly changed over time – what medieval knight could have ever imagined that castle to become the personal home for a small family? Our world has changed, so the places we love change to meet new needs and cultural expectations. Even the idea of a king has changed. So long ago, there were hundreds of kings that ruled only small areas of property and small numbers of people. Today there are few kings, and those who still rule do so for whole nations and millions of people.
Yet, while things change, there is still value found in old ideas and practices. Tapestries are no longer needed to keep out drafts because our homes are insulated, but they are still beautiful to hang on our walls. We do not need a throne room, but there is still value in having a specific establishment for collecting taxes and judging cases. Even the wisdom found from ages past has very real application in our world today. For the next few days we will be looking at some of the Proverbs, to see how they relate to us and our lives of faith.
Banana bread We had three bananas sitting on the counter that were getting a little past fresh, so I decided to make some banana bread. The bread is always better when you use very ripe bananas for the base. Banana bread takes a few other ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, salt, baking soda and butter. When we learn to cook, unless we are learning to be a chef who will create new foods, we normally do not concern ourselves with understanding the reasons why we use those specific ingredients. I do know that once I was trying to make a batch of cookies and I completely forgot the sugar. I tasted the first batch that came out of the oven and realized my mistake. The cookies tasted terrible. I had to throw the whole batch away and begin again. I also know that without yeast, bread won’t rise, but yeast is not enough. I also need warm water and sugar to make it work properly. Even with knowing this, I haven’t studied yeast to fully understand what happens to make it grow. It isn’t important for me to know everything about it; I just need to know how to make it work.
When someone gets a job working in a kitchen with a great cook, he or she might teach certain aspects of the business, but it is likely that the worker will be given a task to do with little explanation as to why. That worker can easily do his or her part without knowing what happens in the rest of the kitchen. If he is to make the salad, he need not know the temperature at which the pie is baked. He needs to know only his part of the task for the food to get to the customer.
At times we have a hard time with this because we like to know how things work. We want to have our hands in the middle of the whole project, perhaps even to get some of the credit. If we want to move beyond line prep in the kitchen, it is necessary for us to know more, but there is a right time and place to learn. When the chef is busy preparing food for a restaurant full of customers, he can not spend the time teaching the line help how to turn on the oven. Knowledge can rightfully be limited by the boss so that the task will be completed in good time. Yet, the boss should know everything. He should know what’s going on in all parts of the kitchen so that he can keep the work flowing properly. When there is a problem, he needs to identify the situation, search out the conflict and find a way to justly solve it. If there is a quarrel among staff, it is necessary for him to know both sides of the story. If there is something wrong with the food, he needs to find out what is being done wrong. If the equipment is not working, he must find a repairman to deal with the situation.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” Proverbs 25:2 (ASV)
The difference between God and man is like the difference between the chef and a worker on the food prep line. The chef knows everything that goes on in the kitchen, but the worker need know only as much as is necessary to complete his job. There are many things about God which we will never know or fully understand. We ask these questions daily. Why? How? Who? What next? We demand from God answers or seek in all the wrong places to get some sort of understanding. Yet, God is so big that it is impossible for our human minds to fully grasp all that He is and all that He does. We need only know what He has revealed to us and is calling us to do. He gives us all we need.
The second half of this proverb tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter. This is like the chef who seeks to understand everything that is going on in his kitchen. He deals with conflict, ensures quality, and fixes what is wrong. His glory is a working kitchen that produces delicious food. Though we will never fully understand God, we can know that He will provide us all we need to follow the vocations in which He is calling us to live. Our quest for God begins with the knowledge that God need not tell us everything for some things are best left as a mystery. Thanks be to God.
Email I receive a great deal of email. Far too much of it is spam, but it is still worthwhile to keep my email so that I can receive the mail that matters. Some of it is mail that comes from discussion groups. Some of the mail is advertisements from companies and organizations I support. Some of it is personal mail from family and friends. The final category of mail is the email with those nice stories, jokes, devotions and other forwards that we share with one another.
I don’t mind getting these emails but they can become overwhelming sometimes. Once a joke makes the circuit, I might see it twelve times. Sometimes the sender does not understand his or her mail program and ends up duplicating the text in the mail so that the mail is much bigger than necessary. I hate going through a dozen lists of names to find the text and I get somewhat annoyed with all the symbols that end up in the text of one of these emails.
I think what bothers me the most is when an email ends with a plea to send it on to others. Some of these forwards include promises for good health or even wealth if the mail is sent to all of your friends. I often read these emails, enjoying greatly the stories that are offered, but then I get to the bottom and I see the requests and wonder why this is a necessary part of the mail. One I read today even talked about how quick we are to forward those jokes, but we are afraid to pass on the things that really matter. The writer encouraged everyone to pass it on for the sake of those who might be saved by the message. He or she even offered a prayer for the readers and a confession of faith that God is present in the lives of those who believe. This was lovely and appropriate.
Then it ended with the typical plea, “Just send this to four people and see what happens on the fourth day. Please pass it on. There are not costs but lots of rewards.” The truth is there are costs. Forwarded mails end up in the hands of spammers who use every email they can find to send garbage that not only ties up our mailboxes, but also ties up the Internet. They cost us time, particularly if we receive the same mail a dozen times because all our friends feel they must send it to the required number of readers. Besides, what reward can any writer guarantee for a sender they do not know at a time or place that he or she can not identify?
“The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways; And a good man shall be satisfied from himself.” Proverbs 14:14 (ASV)
I would not want my friends to stop sending me those emails because I am greatly blessed by many of the stories and jokes that I read. I do however, hope that the reason for the mail being sent is simply because they believe that I will find it inspiring rather than because they think something good will happen to them because they sent it to others. There need be no physical rewards for our good works because the very knowledge of knowing that we are passing on a blessing to someone we love should be more than enough to make us do it. Very often our good works do bring us other types of rewards. Kindness is often returned by kindness. However, as we live and walk in this world we do not need to seek kindnesses or rewards because we have a God who loves us. If we believe that God is present and doing good things through those who believe, we need not entice others to do what we think they should do.
Honey The Chinese do not use the Gregorian calendar like we do. They have a lunar type calendar and is based on a twelve year cycle. The Chinese year lasts twelve months, but the start of the year is dependent on the moon. This year the Chinese New Year will begin on February 9 and end fifteen days later with a Lantern Festival. Each year is named after an animal and the Chinese believe that if you are born in that year then that animal is hidden in your heart and you are ruled by the attributes of that animal. This year, 2005, is the year of the Rooster. Those who are born in the year of the rooster are hard working and willing to speak their minds, sometimes appearing to be boastful.
The Chinese have grand celebrations for New Year, with dragons, lanterns and special foods. They are also quite superstitious about the future and have some observances that they do to ensure a good year ahead. It is believed that the kitchen god goes to heaven the week before New Year to report the good and evils of the family to the supreme deity of their faith. To ensure a good report, the family makes sacrifices to the idol, laying cakes and other things on the table in front of it. Some people put honey right on the lips of the idol, as if feeding the god with some sweet so that it will speak sweetness on their behalf. There are some that think that perhaps the honey might make it hard for the god to open its mouth to speak.
Many people use honey as a sweetener. They put honey in their tea, especially if they are sick, hoping it will help bring healing. I’ve been told that people with allergies should eat local honey with their food because it will help your body become accustomed to the pollen that is found in the air. Honey is used in preparing some alcoholic beverages like honey beer. Honey is often substituted for sugar, since it is a sweet and healthier alternative. If you use honey instead of sugar in baking, it is important to amend your cooking times and temperatures because it reacts differently. Honey is still empty calories, so too much will make you feel full but the carbohydrates will burn off quickly and leave you hungry again. I found all this information while researching today’s proverb. There is a great deal of wisdom to be found in this book, hundreds of bits and bytes to make our life more pleasant and prosperous.
“Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, Lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it. Let thy foot be seldom in thy neighbor's house, Lest he be weary of thee, and hate thee.” Proverbs 25:16-17 (ASV)
While most of the proverbs stand alone, I found it fascinating that these two passages were kept together when printed in the NIV version. Honey is sweet and wonderful, but it is not health to eat too much. I don’t know if it will make someone vomit, but I have no reason to doubt. Too much of any sort of sweet will do the same to me. When something like this happens, it makes us dislike that which has made us sick. There is certainly a connection between these two bits of wisdom. Spending time with those we love is wonderful, a sweet experience. But if we are constantly visiting they will become annoyed and perhaps even hate us. The modern proverb encourages us to be careful not to be a guest too long in another’s house lest you become unwelcome.
Though we do not believe in the superstitions of the Chinese faith, it is somewhat amazing how closely the characteristics of the yearly animals really do fit the people who were born in that year. Some things are timeless. The proverbs certainly are as valuable for us today as they were in the days of Solomon, teaching us wisdom and guiding our lives in a way that will be pleasing to God.
Wedding Ross was attending a wedding on one episode of the television show “Friends.” While there, he met a lovely woman he wanted to get to know better, so he asked her where she would be sitting. He acted surprised when she said the number and answered, “That’s where I am sitting also!” Then he raced around the room to find his name tag so that he could put it on her table. Unfortunately, he mistook the number on the table where he put his name tag and ended up at the little kids table. He spent much of the evening dancing with the little girls, leaving him little time to get to know the woman. His plan to make a place for himself backfired and he ended up in an unwanted position.
The book of Luke tells us about a similar story. Jesus was having dinner on the Sabbath with a group of Pharisees and he was teaching them about the kingdom of God. He pointedly asked the guests questions they could not answer and humiliated them by being merciful to a sick man. The story continues as we are told that Jesus noticed that the guests picked the best places at the table. He told them a parable about a man who went to a feast and took the place of honor, but the host asked him to move so that another person could sit in his seat. He encourages the listeners to choose the lower seat so that the host might move him or her to a better place.
“Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king, And stand not in the place of great men: For better is it that it be said unto thee, Come up hither, Than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince, Whom thine eyes have seen.” Proverbs 25:6-7 (ASV)
The Pharisees knew this proverb; they knew that it is the truth of God because it is part of their own scriptures. The wisdom of Jesus was not something new, it was age old truth that He spoke with authority to remind the Jews about their ancient knowledge of the way to walk in the fear of God. This is wisdom that probably appears in other ancient texts outside the Judeo-Christian witness of God. It speaks of humility and grace. There is wisdom in this passage even in today’s world.
Yet, Jesus took this proverb a step further. He not only addressed the guest, but directed the wisdom to the hosts. He told them to have parties not for those who can return the favor, but rather for those who are poor, crippled, lame and blind. He encouraged the hosts to invite the outcasts and lowly, to lift them up in the presence of those who are seemingly in power. His wisdom is a call to the rulers to grant grace to the humble and humiliated.
The problem with Ross’s decision to seek his own special place at the wedding is that he assumed the host did not take into consideration his circumstances. Perhaps Ross’s original seat was even better than the one he sought. We often seek to lift ourselves and find a special place for ourselves in this world. In doing so we move away from God’s good and perfect will and miss out on incredible blessings. We may not think our place is good enough, but when we humble ourselves before God and trust in Him, we will receive our invitation to come up hither into His presence. Thanks be to God.
Pompeii Last night I watched a special on the Discovery Channel about the lost Roman city of Pompeii. This city is famous for being buried by the volcano Vesuvius under which it rested so long ago. The show was not a boring documentary the spoke only the facts of what was found. Instead they created a fascinating story describing life at that time based on the evidence they have found while excavating the site. There was a family huddled around a pregnant woman, a wealthy woman in a gladiator dormitory and people found clinging to bags of gold as they ran from the terror.
Using the writings of Pliny the Younger which gave detailed accounts of the eruption of Vesuvius as seen from across the Bay of Naples, the producers recreated the eruption which began at around noon on August 24, 79 A.D. The average people of that day had little knowledge of volcanoes. They knew there were fiery mountains, but few had ever seen one and no one thought that Vesuvius was one. Though it had erupted some two thousand years before, there was no written or oral tradition that indicated that the mountain could erupt. Seventeen and a half years before the region had suffered incredible damage from an earthquake, but they did not know the there was a connection. So, when the mountain blew no one ran.
Pliny the Elder, the uncle of Pliny the Younger, was a sea captain with a scientific mind. He had the most knowledge about fiery mountains but even he did not quickly respond. Eventually a message arrived from people seeking aid – many of the people from Pompeii had gathered on the beach hoping for rescue. Pliny tried, but the coastline was unrecognizable from the ash and falling pebbles. As the day wore on and the volcano continued to spew ash and rock, the city was buried and the people who had sought refuge in their homes were trapped. Some were buried under fallen roofs, others were incinerated from the heat of the air and others died from inhaling toxic fumes.
The amazing thing about Pompeii is that when the ash buried the city, it preserved life as it was at that moment. The people were left right where they died. You can see how people sought the comfort of other people; you can see how they clung to the things they loved. You can see how they sought comfort in their faith in the gods and how they tried to escape. The excavators did not find actual bodies, but as the ash hardened around the bodies and the flesh disintegrated, it left a cavity where the body once was, the only thing left were the bones. They were able to use plaster to create casts of the people so accurate that you could even see the lines of the clothes they were wearing. It is a haunting image.
The destruction was not immediate. It took hours for the volcanic ash and pebbles to fall to the ground. The eruption was unusual and it has only been in recent years that scientists have fully understood the nature of this event. Throughout history, many did not believe the words of Pliny the Younger because it seemed impossible for the mountain to explode in the way he described. Those who were afraid and left immediately were able to escape, but many perished because they waited until it was too late.
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night: and they that are drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God appointed us not into wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.” 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ASV)
The people of Pompeii had no idea that August 24, 79 A.D. would be the last day of their life, even when the signs pointed to the possibility. They could not read the signs and had no thoughts for tomorrow. Even while they were trying to escape, many were clinging on to the past, looting coins or carrying possessions. Unfortunately, they did not see the destruction coming and waited too long. When they realized that they were going to die, there was no way to escape. I think that would be the most frightening part of having lived in Pompeii. Throughout the show, the narrator kept asking, “How do you breath when the air is too hot?” I could not help but wonder; how do you live when you know you are going to die?
Yet, we are all going to die. It is a fact of our flesh that it is perishable and frail. Though it is unlikely any of us will face the terror of a volcano or other such disaster, we will face death. But while we live in the truth of our limited life, we as Christians also live in the promise of eternal life. Though we do not know the moment when our bodies will stop, we do know that Christ is waiting to take us to our heavenly home. We need not live according to the ways of the world. Those who walk in darkness try to hold on to the past or they seek comfort from all the wrong places. We need only walk in the faith given to us by Christ, wearing the gifts of faith, hope and love until that day when we are in the presence of God forever. Thanks be to God.